Category Archives: FEATURES

Devendra Banhart: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

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

DevendraBanhart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Band Of Horses: Mystery Riders

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

BandOfHorses

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

“Live action!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Flaming Lips: Somewhere Over The Rainbow

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

FlamingLips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Steve Earle: Drugstore Cowboy

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

SteveEarle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Johnny Marr: This Charming Man

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

JohnnyMarr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wilco: Paternity Test

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

Wilco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The xx: Back In Black

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

XX

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Grizzly Bear: Truth Or Consequences

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

GrizzlyBear

MAGNET plays 20 questions with Grizzly Bear in the hip wilds of Williamsburg where there are no wrong answers. By Jonathan Valania

It’s another blazingly hot and hip summer day in Brooklyn. Boomboxes, guinea tees, gold chains, water ice, open fire hydrants. It’s kind of like Do The Right Thing without the race riot. The girls walk by in their summer clothes. The boys walk by in their skinny jeans. The subway is redolent of stale urine and diesel. It’s high noon, and the sun is punishing and relentless. There are many things in abundance in Brooklyn—coffee shops, craft beers, beards—but shade isn’t one of them.  ¶  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t venture outside the igloo on a day like this, but today is special. The Bear has awoken from its three-year hibernation, grabbed the horn of plenty and started making beautiful music again. I always say there are only two things that get me out of bed:

A teenage riot. (Obligatory Sonic Youth reference. Look it up, son.)

A new Grizzly Bear album. (Actually, I never say that, but it just seems like the kind of thing that should go here.)

Said new album is called Shields (Warp), a fact Grizzly Bear kept a secret and teased well into late summer. That’s the kind of thing you do in the internet era: tease basic facts about your release. Basic facts that would have been given away for free in the pre-internet era will now cost you. Ironically, music is free (if you know where to look), but knowledge (which is not to be confused with information, a much baser coin) you will have to pay for with the most precious commodity in the Internet Age: your attention. And so the fan is strung along for weeks with cryptic hints on Brooklyn Vegan and Stereogum about the when and what and why of once quotidian details like cover art and album title and release date. And, hey kids, be the first on your block to Tweet/Facebook/Reddit to the world and be King Of The Goddamn Internet for all of 10 seconds! Whoopee!

Determined not to have the new album leak in advance of the release date the way 2009’s Veckatimest did, the band’s handlers have taken to sending out watermarked streams of the new LP to journalists with a fake band name (the Toddies), fake album title (False Salmon) and, just to make matters even more confusing for the likes of me, fake song titles like “Mango Lassi” and “Toad To Nowhere.” What japes!

Upon accepting the Grizzly Bear cover-story mission—which was relayed to me via mail drop on a cassette tape that played once and then self-destructed Mission: Impossible-style, totally fucking up my tape deck—I followed my marching orders: Go to Brooklyn, don’t call us, we’ll call you. When the call came through, the instructions were as follows: Go to the underground parking deck at 110 Livingston St., stand next to the pillar by space number 57, and a chain-smoking man in a raincoat who looks like Hal Holbrook will tell you what to do. Turns out the first chain-smoking guy in a raincoat to approach me was not an agent of Grizzly Bear, but just the sort of garden-variety sick-fuck perv often found lurking in the shadows of these underground parking garages, which explains why he wanted me to get into the back of a nearby Chevy Impala and give him a Cleveland Steamer. Which I did, because I’m a nice guy. Plus, he reminded me of my grandfather.

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Guided By Voices: Factory Men

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

 GBV

Working-class hero Robert Pollard and his fellow “classic-era” Guided By Voices bandmates clock in with Let’s Go Eat The Factory, their first album in more than 15 years. By James Greer

Twenty years ago, I interviewed Guided By Voices for a different magazine. It was in an RV belonging to Ed Deal—Kim and Kelley’s dad—parked in back of a club in Columbus, Ohio, after a Breeders show. The whole band was there, crowded around my enormous early-‘90s vintage cassette recorder: Robert Pollard, Jimmy Pollard, Tobin Sprout, Mitch Mitchell, Kevin Fennell and Dan Toohey, who would soon become an ex-member due to his propensity for leaving long notes to Bob about various dissatisfactions with certain band practices. Bob did most of the talking, which will come as a great surprise to exactly no one who has ever met, seen, heard or read about him.

According to Ed Deal, who has a better memory than me, after every answer, Bob would ask, “Was that OK? Was that a good answer?” In other words, Bob was nervous, and in retrospect, sure: It was one of his first “real” interviews (even though the piece I was writing was very short). Anyone would be nervous in that situation. He had not yet released Bee Thousand, the album that would come to define, for better and worse, the public perception of Guided By Voices as masters of short bursts of melodic lo-fi rock with mostly incomprehensible lyrics. He had spent the previous seven years nursing grudges and making records that he wouldn’t let anyone hear, because he was worried they weren’t good enough. Was that OK? Was that a good record?

Twenty years later, sitting in a bar in the Oregon District of his hometown, Dayton, Ohio, Bob is anything but nervous. He orders two buckets of Miller Lite in bottles (a bucket is really just a six-pack on ice, so it’s not as much as it sounds) and slides onto a chair in the back room of the bar next to Mitch Mitchell, who Bob has known longer than he’s been in the band, which means he and Mitch have known each other for about 45 years.

“I have some conditions,” he announces, before I turn on the tiny little machine I brought to record our conversation. I don’t know how it works. It’s digital. Maybe it doesn’t work. I hope it works. (Update: It works.)

“I’m going to talk about whatever I want to talk about,” he continues. “I’m going to tell you exactly what happened during the making of this record. But you can’t use anything that would hurt anyone’s feelings.”

Turns out over the course of the next four or five hours and several buckets of Miller Lite, augmented by shots of tequila so big they come in tumblers (and should be illegal), Bob doesn’t say anything that would hurt anyone’s feelings.

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Cold Specks: Being Mindful

ColdSpecks

Cold Specks mastermind Al Spx revels in anonymity … while she can

Singing lines like “Don’t you wait on me/I’ll shoot you down,” her voice is enough to send chills down your spine. But once she steps offstage, the woman who calls herself Al Spx is famously shy and unfailingly distant.

“I created a stage name, and it’s allowed me to remove myself from any sort of emotional attachment to the songs,” says Spx, who records under the name Cold Specks, borrowed from James Joyce’s Ulysses. “Al Spx can take care of that. For me, there’s no personal element to the songs anymore, or if there is, it’s disguised.”

Two years after releasing I Predict A Graceful Expulsion, Spx is bored with most of the album. Touring is “physically and mentally draining,” and though she still performs the singles, she’s tired of feeling like a bad actress. So, she’s crafted a follow-up, Neuroplasticity (Mute), that’s even bleaker than the first, trading in the acoustic doom-folk of her debut for a richer, more expansive goth-soul that’s one-part sturm and three-parts drang.

“I made a conscious decision to write songs to perform, songs that weren’t necessarily about me,” says Spx. “I made a conscious decision not to play any instruments, because I wasn’t loving it anymore. I’m not too precious about the songs, so if I’m not a convincing player, I’ll just get someone else to do it better and focus on my singing.”

As Spx, she has no past and no present; she’s “just the girl who sings the songs.” Taking a short break between recording sessions, she claims Spx is “the nickname I’ve always had,” though seconds earlier, said was it “top-secret information,” and seconds later said it was “a way to save myself from myself.” In between, she says she “just needed a name,” that it’s “not very interesting,” that “I didn’t want my name attached to the project” and that “I don’t want it to define me.”

Apart from “no comment,” that’s all she’s ready to say. Thankfully, we already know she was born and raised in Toronto as the daughter of Somali immigrants, and dropped out of university to become a singer. Somewhere along the way, she heard the field recordings of Alan Lomax, possibly through Moby’s Play, and since recording her debut, she’s been shortlisted for the Juno Award, and guested on albums by Moby, Swans and jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, who appears on Neuroplasticity.

We know the new songs were written in a cottage in Somerset in the winter of 2012 (“I probably didn’t choose the most ideal season to live there,” she says) and were recorded in Montreal, where Spx currently lives. That they were written on piano, and performed by her sometime band of “five English boys,” with an accent on portentousness, freeing Spx to deliver the songs with maximum undead theatricality. And for now, with the session about to begin again, that’ll have to do.

“We recorded Neuroplasticity over the course of a year, and I think the time I gave to the recording allowed for some growth sonically, thematically, vocally,” she says, comparing it to the 12 days spent in the studio for I Predict A Graceful Expulsion. “There was a lot of time spent avoiding surprises.”

—Kenny Berkowitz

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