Category Archives: FEATURES

Nada Surf: Reach For The Stars

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.

NadaSurf

Still thriving in their mid-40s, the members of Nada Surf are that much closer to unlocking heaven’s gate. By Hobart Rowland

Apparently, the rumors are true: Matthew Caws is never more than an offhand comment away from an impromptu live performance. Right now, he’s launching into a punchy acoustic rendition of Echo & The Bunnymen’s “Do It Clean” as his Nada Surf bandmate, Daniel Lorca, follows along on acoustic bass. The smoke from a pair of cigarettes forms a twisty plume above two bobbing heads as it drifts to the vaulted ceiling of the Sitcom—the band’s loft-style rehearsal space, makeshift studio and, if need be, place for expat friends to crash—situated in the once-bleak, now-hyper-hip Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

The song punctuates Caws’ giddy reaction to the suggestion that New York artist Graham Parks’ overexposed, mustard-yellow cover art for Nada Surf’s new album, The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy (Barsuk) bears a passing resemblance to that of the Bunnymen’s 1980 debut, Crocodiles. “Beautiful,” he gushes. “I’m an Echo & The Bunnymen freak.”

At 44, Caws is still as aw-shucks smitten with music as he was in his teens, whether it’s the classic rock and punk he grew up on, or his more recent infatuation with influential folk guitarists Elizabeth Cotten and Bert Jansch, who actually inspired some of the picking on Nada Surf’s latest batch of music. And even with plenty of other things vying for his attention these days—including a seven-year-old son living in Cambridge, England, Caws’ new home—he still embraces the clichéd notion that music is the ultimate remedy for pretty much whatever ails him.

“I’ve tried to meditate, because I know it’s supposed to be really good for you,” says Caws, between sips from a can of PBR. “I’ve tried to sit there in the morning for 10 minutes and think about nothing—and it’s very fuckin’ difficult.”

After a brief jaunt in Spain to film a video for Astronomy track “Waiting For Something,” Nada Surf has assembled at the Sitcom on a chilly December afternoon to discuss the new album and other recent developments, including an extensive international tour that’s a little more than a month away. Conversation begins in the kitchen area, but with a PBR 12-pack within easy reach, digressions are plentiful. Talk turns to the time Lorca was free-diving in Mexico and found a scorpion in his wetsuit, then onto the rhythmic merits of Neil Peart vs. Charlie Watts, the time Joey Ramone sang with Nada Surf at Coney Island High shortly before his death and the rigors of deciphering the Teutonic tongue. “I did at least four years of German,” says Lorca, who’s fluent in English, Spanish and French. “My girlfriend’s Austrian; I have an apartment in Vienna. I can order a beer and buy a pack of cigarettes, and that’s about all. It’s impossible.”

Things eventually shift to the lounge area, with its modest smattering of recording equipment, after Caws suggests an “Astronomy unplugged” preview of the new music. Caws takes a seat on the couch with Nada Surf’s Queens-bred drummer, Ira Elliot, who, without his set, briefly resorts to tapping away on an iPhone drum app. At 48, Elliot is the band’s most seasoned musician. “I played in reggae bands, goth bands, heavy-metal bands—all sorts of crazy-ass things,” says Elliot of his pre-Nada Surf work, which included an ‘80s stint with garage-rock purists the Fuzztones. “As a drummer, if you do your job properly, everyone will ask you to play. I said yes to everyone.”

The dreadlocked son of a retired Spanish diplomat, the 44-year-old Lorca is gregarious and free-spirited where Caws is more measured, meticulous and thoughtful. Both are exceedingly gracious and forthcoming, and it’s easy to see why the two have been so close since first meeting up as grade-school students at the exclusive Lycée Français de New York, a French-focused private institution on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The very definition of a healthy coupling, the two couldn’t be more different, yet they complement one another perfectly.

Lorca has a passion for soccer—something Caws couldn’t care less about. It explains Lorca’s brief disappearances throughout the afternoon, as he heads to a nearby bar across the street to catch portions of a Spanish league match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. After one such trip, he arrives just in time to grab his Guild B-30—a purchase inspired by a Violent Femmes show and paid for with a tiny inheritance he received from his grandmother—and join in on Astronomy’s lead track, “Clear Eye, Clouded Mind.” It’s a bracing start to an album of deceptively complex power pop produced by Chris Shaw (Super Furry Animals, Ted Leo + The Pharmacists).

“This is our Rocket To Russia,” Elliot quips, referencing Astronomy’s breathlessly efficient 38 minutes.

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

The Hives: The Boys Who Kicked The Hornets’ 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.

Hives

Twelve years after their first and last great album, the Hives cash out of the major-label casino and return to the sound and DIY roots of Veni Vidi Vicious with the new Lex Hives. But first they had to survive million-dollar lawsuits, severe concussions and nearly career-ending knife wounds. By Jonathan Valania

The NoMad Hotel is one of those swanky boutique hotels that bejewel the tonier provinces of midtown Manhattan. It is here, in this New Gilded Age outpost situated in the fragrant heart of the Perfume District, that the Hives have decamped for a four-day charm offensive on Gotham’s media elite, fresh off a triumphant return to stage-and-screen with a headlining slot at Coachella and a riotous studio-lot performance for Jimmy Kimmel Live. Inside the library lounge, suitably bedecked with gorgeously illuminated two-story dark-wood bookshelves lined with sumptuously appointed leather-bound tomes of unknown vintage, Hives frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist and his brother, guitarist Nicholaus Arson, are holding court. There is nothing particularly punk rock about staying at the NoMad; however, it is very rock ‘n’ roll, and the Hives ceased being a punk band and started being a rock ‘n’ roll band a long time ago.

The room is full of stylish, important-looking people nipping fancy beverages, poking at smartphones. The one confirmed celebrity in the room, in addition to the aforementioned Hives frontman, is rapper Mos Def, who gives Almqvist that barely perceptible tip-of-the-hat nod that the famous trade when they spot each other from across a crowded room. It’s been five years since we last heard from Fagersta, Sweden’s finest. A significant amount of drama has unfolded in that time. “There were some problems that pretty much had nothing to do with anything, but something to do with a lot,” says Arson.

First, the Hives parted ways with Universal Music, walking away from the $10 million recording contract that tethered them to Big Music and ushered these punk-rock refugees from a backwater Swedish mining town into the ranks of the upper crust. All told, this parting of the ways is not necessarily a bad thing—but more on that later.

Secondly, Almqvist suffered a rather severe concussion when he tried climbing up a lighting rig during a show in Switzerland and fell nearly 10 feet onto his head. “I then finish the show limping like a three-legged dog and speaking in tongues,” he wrote on the band’s website. “Turns out I have a concussion and god knows what else. The highly skilled doctors are still trying to find out. X-rays, brain scans and running other tests. I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that, shit, I may even be mortal.”

Before that, he dropped a knife blade on his foot and severed a tendon governing the movement of a big toe that doctors say they have never seen on a homo sapien. “Basically, my big toe is biologically constructed like a thumb,” says Almqvist with a shrug. “Probably means that I’m the last step in the evolutionary chain.”

And then there were the lawsuits, which have punctuated just about every period of the band’s career, starting at the beginning when they told Warner Bros., “Fuck you,” and Warner Bros. said, “No, fuck you,” and sued the Hives for, like, a bazillion dollars. After two years of lawyering up, they wound up settling for considerably less. In 2008, a band called the Roofies sued the Hives, claiming that the latter’s “Tick Tick Boom” sounded too much like their song “Why You?” (It quietly went away.) Then, in spring 2011, fellow Swedes the Cardigans threatened to sue the Hives to recover the remaining half of the $6 million they claim to have loaned the Hives that had not been paid back. (This, too, went away quietly.) Concurrently—and, quite possibly, not coincidentally—the Hives sued their money managers, claiming they had helped themselves to a little too much commission. The Hives won.

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

The Black Keys: Band Of Brothers

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.

BlackKeys

With the new El Camino having gone gold and a global arena tour on the verge of selling out, the Black Keys have achieved what surely seemed like the stuff of pipe dreams when they were still banging it out in their parents’ basements a dozen years ago: upward mobility. By Jonathan Valania

If rock is well and truly dead—not just as a sound or a sensibility, but as an escape hatch from the downward spiral of the middle class for a pair of white college dropouts from the Midwest—the Black Keys never got the memo. As much a brand as a band at this point, the Black Keys—Dan Auerbach on vocals and guitars, Patrick Carney on drums and attitude—have spent the last 13 years abiding by the same cardinal rule that has governed the rock and the roll since the day in 1951 that Ike Turner cut “Rocket 88” and got the party started: If thou doth rock hard and, more importantly, work hard, thou shall be rewarded. Handsomely. And the Black Keys have been working very hard, indeed.

Sure, it took 10 albums (including side projects and solo outings), a dozen videos, one marriage and more than 700 concert dates to get there, but the Black Keys have finally arrived. Two years ago, they were grossing $2 million annually. This year, they should triple, or even quadruple, that figure. Though he refuses to disclose an exact figure, Carney says the band will earn much more than $2 million by the close of fiscal year 2012. Not bad for a couple of weirdbeard, goggle-eyed ne’er-do-wells who cut their rock teeth banging out rude blooze in their parents’ basements back in Akron, Ohio.

These days, Carney splits his time between Nashville, where he jets around in a 2011 BMW 528i and resides in a spacious, tastefully appointed crib complete with an in-ground pool and home recording studio in one of the Music City’s tonier zip codes (Harmony Korine is a neighbor; more on that later), and a New York City crash pad where his neighbors include one Tom Cruise.

Auerbach, who also drives a late-model BMW and owns a home in the Music City, has built an impressive recording studio somewhere on the wrong side of the tracks in Nashville (protected by a high fence and razor-wire that only those with the punch code can enter) kitted out with a vintage 1969 16-track analog recording console (that in a previous life, elsewhere in town, cut hits by Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard and Emmylou Harris), all manner of outboard gear, a kitchen, a lounge and a handsomely landscaped roof deck. A climate-controlled side room houses the 25 vintage 1960s guitars Auerbach currently owns, including his beloved Harmony Stratotone, which has enjoyed pride of place on every Black Keys album to date.

Likewise, the Keys have invested heavily in their live show, and these days it takes a full-time staff of 20 to ensure that the two dudes keep on rockin’ in the free world: lighting guys, sound guys (the Keys travel with their own sound system and lighting rig), bus-driving guys, lifting-shit guys, a stage-manager guy and a tour-manager guy. Plus, a touring bass player (Gus Seyffert) and keyboardist (John Wood) who have become a staple of the Keys’ live show in the last two years.

These days, the Keys can afford to live medium large. In the wake of 2010’s Grammy-winning commercial breakthrough Brothers, the duo has earned a pair of seats at the grown-up table of show business. The new, über-catchy El Camino (Nonesuch) sold 206,000 units the first week out of the gate, went gold shortly thereafter and is currently on its way to platinum. To ensure that it gets there and then some, the Keys have booked a yearlong tour. For the American leg of the tour—which crests early with a co-headlining slot at Coachella along with Radiohead, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg—they are playing arenas, and early sales indicate they are having no problem putting asses in seats. They sold out Madison Square Garden in 15 minutes. Likewise, the European legs are doing big box office, with the Keys selling 27,000 tickets in London alone. “We could have played the O2 Center, but we chose not to,” says Carney. Instead, they are playing three nights at London’s Alexandra Palace: capacity 10,400.

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Guided By Voices: Picture Me Big Time

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

gbvillushv2

In an excerpt from his forthcoming Guided By Voices biography, former band member James Greer recounts Robert Pollard’s early career as a local sports star.

“Going up to Northridge was almost like going to Twin Peaks. There was kind of this obsession with sports, and everyone was drinking.”
—Don Thrasher, Guided By Voices drummer (1990-1992)

Robert Ellsworth Pollard Jr. was born Oct. 31, 1957, the second child of Bob and Carol Pollard. Bob Sr. worked for Frigidaire, a division of General Motors, and had shown some athletic talent at the high-school level but never progressed beyond his early promise. As a result, he transferred, to a certain extent, his athletic ambition to his sons, of whom Bob was the first, and consequently the first subject of his father’s hopes. “He told me I had a ‘golden arm’ when I was, like, 10,” recalls Pollard. “But he was more encouraging than pushy. If I had a bad game, he always said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ He wasn’t like one of those Bobby Knight dads.”

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

MAGNET Exclusive: GBV’s Bob Pollard Deals On Decades-Old Diamond Dominance

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

Pollard

For reasons unknown, except that it’s the internet, news of Guided By Voices‘ Robert Pollard tossing a no-hitter as a college hurler on May 11, 1978, has gone semi-viral. We noted it in MAGNET’s Top 25 Of 2012 and thought it was relatively common knowledge among diehard GBV fans at the very least. Still, it’s a treat to see Pollard’s mug in the Wright State student newspaper account of his masterpiece, the first no-no in school history.

Given the unlikely resurgence of interest in his mound milestone, we asked Pollard to share any memories he might have of his gem 36 years ago. GBV, by the way, is releasing Motivational Jumpsuit (Guided By Voices Inc.) on February 18. It’s really good, so employ whatever positive baseball metaphor you’d like.

MAGNET: Before the no-hitter, how would you classify your stuff in general? What pitches were in your repertoire?
Pollard: I threw 80 percent fastballs. I threw a lot harder in high school before I injured my arm and developed tennis elbow. I had an imitation slider, which is basically a 3/4-armed curveball that my college coach allowed me to use. I developed a pretty effective curveball in college that I couldn’t control very well, but a lot of hitters would swing at it anyway after seeing predominantly fastballs. I had a decent brushback pitch.

Take us back to the game. What do you remember about it? Do you recall anything about what pitches were working, or any moments where the no-no was in jeopardy?
Well, first of all, I didn’t know that I had a no-hitter going. A run had scored, I guess on a couple of walks and errors, so I had assumed that a hit fell in at some point, which is actually a good thing because it took some pressure off. Also, I wasn’t really feeling that sharp. I only had about six or seven strikeouts, but I guess my placement was good and my team was playing pretty good defense. I struck out the final batter and our bench came running out and mobbed me, and I completely didn’t know what was happening. I was like, “What?” and they were like, “You threw a no-hitter!”

After the no-hitter, did you start to think maybe you were better than you thought? Or did you think it was just a fluke?
My dad has kept records of my pitching throughout my life, and last year he tabulated my best games. I threw 12 no-hitters, 19 one-hitters and 21 two-hitters between the ages of 10 years old and 20 years old.

Did you ever have any games that came close to the Wright State one?
Well, actually, I forgot who I threw the no-hitter against. Indiana something. But anyway, I pitched against them again the following year, at their place, and had a no-hitter going until the sixth inning with an out or two, in a seven-inning game, so I came pretty close again. I had no-hit that team for almost 13 straight innings.

What album of yours would you consider the aural equivalent of a no-hitter?
Of course Bee Thousand. From A Compound Eye. Alien Lanes. Moses On A Snail. It’s funny, I’ve thrown a lot of no-hitters, and I’ve never had a hit song.

—Matt Hickey

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

Robert Pollard: Scalping The Guru

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

RobertPollard

In the time it takes you to read this, Robert Pollard will have written and recorded three brilliant albums and disbanded Guided By Voices again. MAGNET stages a Beer Summit to find out how and why. By Jonathan Valania

No light or air or hope gets past the front door of Desmond’s Tavern, a grungy windowless tap room in midtown Manhattan that looks like a VFW hall crashed into a sports bar and smells like a frat house at low tide. And the afternoon crowd seems to like it that way. They like to do their drinking in the same place the fly got smashed. With its tobacco-cured walls, expansive array of Anheuser-Busch products and classic rawk on the jukebox, it’s the closest thing to a Dayton dive this far east of the Buckeye State. Which is no doubt why it was selected to host MAGNET’s summit with the clown prince of the menthol trailer park, a.k.a. Robert Pollard, the mic-swinging, high-kicking, Bud-swigging past-present-and-possibly-former frontman for Guided By Voices. We must count our blessings—an audience with Pollard is a rare thing these days. He hasn’t granted an in-person interview in two years.

For most MAGNET readers, Pollard needs no introduction, and space is in short supply, so I will be brief. But if you are new to the Pollard saga, know that he is, hands down, the most gifted, beguiling and—by a wide margin—prolific songwriter of the indie-rock era. By his own count, he has released upwards of 80 records, including 20 Guided By Voices albums, 19 solo LPs and countless albums, EPs and seven-inch singles from his endless string of one-off collaborations and side projects, among them Boston Spaceships, Airport 5, Circus Devils, Acid Ranch, Lifeguards, the Moping Swans, Lexo & The Leapers, Hazzard Hotrods and Howling Wolf Orchestra.

The sheer volume and velocity of Pollard’s recorded output continues to amaze and overwhelm even his most devoted disciples. “I think it explains his lack of extreme, worldwide fame,” says director Steven Soderbergh, an avowed Pollard superfan. “I think people don’t trust him. I think they’re just very suspicious of the amount of material. And it’s so unusual … I don’t know if they find it threatening, or if they’re just bewildered, or they don’t have the stamina to even keep up with it. But all I do is keep listening and marveling at his ability to generate really high-quality music. The last couple years … I don’t think he’s ever been bad, but the last couple years in particular he’s been very, very good.”

MAGNET’s interview with Pollard was occasioned by the release of Honey Locust Honky Tonk, his 19th solo record and arguably his best to date. We begin with Pollard dropping the bombshell that he has grown bored with the reunion of the so-called classic lineup of Guided By Voices after four albums and a couple tours, and may well pull the plug on it, at least as far as making new albums is concerned. But fear not, my droogs. Even if that happens, there will be plenty of Pollard to go around. The Fading Captain is a lifer. He shoots himself with rock ‘n’ roll. The hole he digs is bottomless, but nothing else can set him free.

Pollard: Honey Locust Honky Tonk is basically the songs I wrote for the next Guided By Voices album, but I’m not sure there’s going to be a next Guided By Voices album. I’m not gonna say for sure, but it’s already got a little bit stagnant. To me, it’s kind of run its course.

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

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.

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

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.’”

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

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.”

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed

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.

Read More »

Posted in FEATURES | Comments closed