Category Archives: GUEST EDITOR

From The Desk Of Kleenex Girl Wonder: Liv Tyler In Chicago 1999

Kleenex Girl Wonder just released 13th LP The Comedy Album. Graham Smith, who’s been making pan-genre pop rock in bedrooms, studios, forests and everywhere in between under the KGW name with various people since 1994, joins MAGNET as guest editor this week. Climb inside his skull as he figures out what it’s all about, whatever “it” may be.

live

Smith: Obviously, as a professional musician, I have seen a lot of live music over the years. Well, that is actually not true (though it may indeed be obvious). Up until relatively recently (the past couple of years), I didn’t see very much live music at all. Even after I moved to New York, it took a lot to get me out of my house. I always wanted to hear the artists I like play either: a) the exact list of songs I really liked, or b) new songs I hadn’t heard yet. These things happened incredibly rarely in my experience, so I tended not to go to many shows.

I think part of the shift was that I started to enjoy playing live music more. Since live music represents a big chunk of income for most “living wage” bands nowadays, it’s also of some interest to me to figure out how to provide the most interesting (for both me and the crowd) live show I can. So as a result, I end up seeing more live music. But it’s not all grunt work; I also really have a good time seeing both bands I know well and bands I’m just learning to love onstage in a dark, dank environment. Or, you know, beneath the stars or whatever.

I’ve learned a lot about what makes live music so energizing to people, although I can’t claim to have applied it all to KGW’s approach to playing live. While I still would like to play new, unreleased, exciting songs (just as I would like to hear them from other bands), I understand that it’s important to play songs that people already like, or at least could go and listen to on record immediately after the concert. I think that there’s value to theatricality, but it can overwhelm the primitive experience of x people playing and y people listening intently and/or dancing. Backing tracks are interesting to me as a way to add variety to the sound palette in a live environment, and I hope we can expand that palette in KGW shows in the near future—especially since folks don’t seem to mind if there are some canned sounds in a live show, as long as there are compelling uncanned performances.

But hey, maybe what I think of as “a lot of live music” is not that much to you? Let’s see. Here’s a list of all the bands I can recall seeing from November 2015 to October 2016, in alphabetical order, de-duped. Note: Some of the bands, particularly ones I saw at festivals, I didn’t necessarily see full sets. But I even left out some I did see full sets of that I didn’t intentionally see, and I’m sure I forgot some I can’t find in my records, too.

Damn. It was a very good year.

Acrylics
Action Bronson
Air
Anamanaguchi (x2)
Angel Olsen
Animal Collective
ANOHNI
araabMUZIK (x2)
Band Of Horses
Basia Bulat
Battles
Beanie Sigel
Beirut
Boogarins
Brian Wilson (performing Pet Sounds)
Caveman
Chairlift (x2)
Dawn Of Midi (x2)
Deerhoof (x2)
Drive Like Jehu
Empress Of (x2)
Eureka California (x2)
Even As We Speak
Field Music
Frankie Cosmos (performing songs from Exile In Guyville)
Fucked Up
Guerilla Toss
Guided By Voices
Hatsune Miku
His Name is Alive
Hop Along
Jenny Hval (x2)
Jessy Lanza
Joanna Newsom (x2)
John Carpenter
Just Blaze
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Mbwongana Star
PJ Harvey
Protomartyr
Pusha T
Quinn Walker
Rocket From The Crypt
Saskrotch
Secret Shine
Selda
Shilpa Ray
SOPHIE (x2)
Talib Kweli
Tame Impala
The Avalanches
The Hood Internet (x2)
The Moles
The Oh Sees
The Railway Children
Thunder & Lightning
Titus Andronicus (x2)
Tom 7
Tortoise
Tunabunny
Watching Waves
Ween (x4)
Yeasayer
Young Fathers
Zomby

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From The Desk Of Kleenex Girl Wonder: Funny Funny Stuff

Kleenex Girl Wonder just released 13th LP The Comedy Album. Graham Smith, who’s been making pan-genre pop rock in bedrooms, studios, forests and everywhere in between under the KGW name with various people since 1994, joins MAGNET as guest editor this week. Climb inside his skull as he figures out what it’s all about, whatever “it” may be.

jokes

Smith: Since The Comedy Album is about, well, comedy, I thought it might be an interesting exercise to put together some of my favorite funny things. Perhaps you can glimpse a thread that runs through all of these entries, which will give you some insight into what makes me tick, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s not the case. One thing I realized relatively recently is that some of the funniest things are beyond explanation as to why they are funny; they just work, not necessarily for everyone, but for you. That kind of humor is the most sublime. Sure, there are good jokes that you can take apart and explain (“You see, Jimmy Fallon is playing with the notion of shame, and how it is interpolated by the zeitgeist … ”), but the best jokes just kind of sit there and do their job.

Here are some of my favorite funny things. I will present them without comment, per the above, but am also glad to discuss any of them if you like.

Sparks, “Something For The Girl With Everything” live
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“The Fesh Pince Of Blair”
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“Jimbo On His War Guitar”
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Pound House Episode 7, “Mansion”
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“Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (Dancehall Jamaican Patois Remix)”
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Salvador Dali On What’s My Line?
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“Leon Redbone: A Story About Leon From A Record Shop Owner”
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“Dinner With Friends With Brett Gelman And Friends”
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“3D Laser Hologram Tiger”
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2 Wet Crew, “3D Dream”
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“Steve Harvey Doesn’t Want To Host Family Feud Anymore”
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MIDI Nickelodeon Playing “Circus Galop Its Insane”
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“Society’s Lies”
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From The Desk Of Kleenex Girl Wonder: New York Daily News

Kleenex Girl Wonder just released 13th LP The Comedy Album. Graham Smith, who’s been making pan-genre pop rock in bedrooms, studios, forests and everywhere in between under the KGW name with various people since 1994, joins MAGNET as guest editor this week. Climb inside his skull as he figures out what it’s all about, whatever “it” may be.

nydailynews

Smith: The first song for The Comedy Album came about in Madrid, in late summer 2012. I was there on business, sort of—I was working, and visiting some colleagues in the local office, though I didn’t have a strong agenda. I was also traveling alone, so I had a lot of time to wander around the city, taking pictures, thinking about music, and so forth. One night during my weeklong stay, I realized I had two back issues of The New Yorker on my iPad that I hadn’t read, so I started reading them around 11 p.m. The next thing I knew, it was 3 a.m. and I had read both of them cover to cover. They both happened to be particularly good issues—if I recall correctly, there were features on the movie adaptation of Cloud Atlas and Bjarke Ingels’ nascent architectural empire—but that wasn’t why I was so surprised that I had gotten sucked in. There was a sentiment I had heard my mother and others express, relating to the fact that keeping up with a weekly magazine packed with so much content could become daunting as a stack accumulated. If one was to stay current, other things, such as sleep, perambulation and cultural events, might fall by the wayside. Thus the concept of “Fuck The New Yorker” was born.

On the surface, it seemed like a childish song title, and a childish conceit as well. However, the lyrics are pretty clear about praising the magazine’s purpose and writing, I think. Although I’ll definitely admit that I often think my lyrics are clearer than others may find them to be. It was certainly designed to get a response—hopefully a chuckle, but perhaps a sigh. In fact, after I had written and recorded a demo, I realize that perhaps this might be a good way to finally get featured in the titular magazine, although that has not come to pass just yet (TNY would likely never stoop so low, of course). For this reason, I initially called the song “Smith 2,” a reference to the rather polarizing “audio play” I recorded and released around the turn of the century, which engaged in a bit of listenership-baiting as well. But ultimately, it just had to be called “Fuck The New Yorker,” because that’s the kind of song it is.

When I got back to America, I shared this song with Thayer and Matt, and they cautiously approved of my ridiculous conceit. At the time, Thayer was working at New York magazine, and asked if I could also write a follow-up song called “Fuck New York Magazine” (he was not super thrilled with his job at that time and would resign shortly thereafter). I realized that I couldn’t just go around fucking every magazine, and in fact, by the same logic I had applied to “Fuck The New Yorker” would yield its converse in a song called “I Love New York (Magazine),” despite (or because of) the fact that I much preferred the reportage of TNY. For “ILNY(M),” I did my best to write “bad” lyrics, which is one of those goals you can set for yourself that ensures that nobody will win. Either they are successful, and therefore they are by definition not “bad,” or they fail, in which case they are “bad” by their own criteria. Me and my windmills. I hope there is some semblance of purple prose remaining in these lyrics; Matt accordingly beseeched me to turn in the most overtly operatic performance I could for the vocal takes, and I think I “took it there,” so to speak.

These two songs, along with “Daily Post Mortem,” hint at a theme of periodical obsession, but I think that that is only skin-deep. In reality, both “FTNY” and “ILNY(M)” are quite closely tied to the larger exploration of humor on The (appropriately named) Comedy Album. One was a “trifle” designed to get a reaction, and another was an experiment in ham-fisted populism. I like to believe I got some of the psychological need to be funny out of my system on this album, but I suppose only time will tell if that belief is accurate.

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From The Desk Of Kleenex Girl Wonder: Influence Ping (Saskrotch)

Kleenex Girl Wonder just released 13th LP The Comedy Album. Graham Smith, who’s been making pan-genre pop rock in bedrooms, studios, forests and everywhere in between under the KGW name with various people since 1994, joins MAGNET as guest editor this week. Climb inside his skull as he figures out what it’s all about, whatever “it” may be.

saskrotch

Smith: I became familiar with Saskrotch’s music the way a lot of people probably did (and he will probably hate me for saying this, and I would love to see the data contradicting it if it exists): via a compilation of Nintendo music married to hyperfast “jungle” (that’s what we octogenarians called it back then) beats, chopped and unscrewed into delicious oblivion. To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t really my favorite thing in the world, but I did notice something magical about the way he layered sounds together.

At some point after I had heard those, I found him somewhere on the internet; I guess it was probably Twitter? All roads lead to Twitter. But I discovered that he had a lot of original music, and though it plumbed the same territory (I forget if you plumb territories or just depths) as the Nintendo Breaks, it was a lot better, and incredibly original. Obviously, as an ’80s baby (ugh), I can’t help but feel nostalgic about chiptune music, but I am confident that all of the artists I love who traffic in it—Anamanaguchi is another good example—do more than just the easy nostalgia play. They use it to approach melody in a unique, complex way, while relying on the simple square/sine/triangle arsenal to push it urgently into your brain.

Saskrotch does that over and over and over, and as time has gone on he’s expanded into brave new territory—look up FKIN IGNVNT on SoundCloud and you’ll see what I mean—without losing a through-line that ties it all together. It’s really wonderful stuff. Which is why it was a true delight to steal his talent for “Cold Open,” the rollicking rap-song-that’s-not-exactly-a-rap-song nestled near the climax of The Comedy Album. And it was a further delight that he deigned to answer these questions for me.

Did you enjoy working with me on our song? I did, no pressure.
I don’t remember honestly, so it must have been good? I do a decent amount of game audio work, and I remember a lot of those projects because they can get super stressful (example: staying home by myself for Thanksgiving so I could get tracks done for a demo). Mostly I remember I was dating a bunch around that time, and I was stoked to get some money to take a girl I was really into out on a second date. Never actually saw her again.

Collaborations across genres are ever more constant on today’s records. Why do you think this is? Is it just a matter of technological advances, or is there something deeper?
I mean, as far as mainstream music goes, I think it’s just good business, to open up different artists fan bases to each other. I think for smaller, independent artists, it can be a lot of things. It’s a good way to learn new writing techniques, because everyone has their own way of doing things, unless they’re just loading presets into Massive. In this case it was a great way to get to know and work with someone I’d been a fan of. Like I used to put tracks from Graham Smith Is The Coolest Person Alive on mixes for girls in high school, and finding out you were a fan of mine through Twitter really brought me out of a dark place. But also I basically live in dark places, so I guess thanks for nothing. But for real, thanks.

You are, like me, empowered by home recording. Besides convenience or necessity, what do you prefer about that method? Do you enjoy more traditional recording processes, e.g. professional studios with premium bottled water and perhaps a bejewelled curtain for the vocal booth?
I’ve straight up never been in a real studio. My entire audio set up is a laptop and a MIDI controller, and I think I’ve recorded vocals once ever, for a Devo tribute compilation. I have a few game consoles/cartridges with MIDI in capability, but the sound is so basic it seems like I’d just be wasting an engineers time bringing that stuff in to get recorded. But it’s also sort of empowering how much you can get done on your own these days; it just depends on how much time you have to learn mixing and mastering.

What artists have influenced you repeatedly and/or intensely?
Probably one of my biggest, earliest, constant-est influences is Stunt Rock. He made a lot of depressing, sample-heavy, dirty breakcore (like, even dirty for breakcore) when I first started writing with a computer. His Regret Instruction Manual series is amazing. Jake Kaufman is a huge inspiration for game audio, although a lot of times he just makes me feel completely inadequate. Chibi-tech is along the same lines (to me). I always wanted to write something like the Avalanches’ Since I Left You, but never have. I’m bad at writing. I’m sorry.

Outside of income, what keeps you pushing forward and making new and exciting music?
The main thing I like about writing music is approaching a blank canvas and surprising myself. I rarely have an idea when I start writing, and a lot of times I just want to see where it goes. Or I just abandon it and start over.


Please do yourself a favor and check out Saskrotch’s amazing body of work; you can buy (or stream, most of it anyway) it here.

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From The Desk Of Kleenex Girl Wonder: Jokes

Kleenex Girl Wonder just released 13th LP The Comedy Album. Graham Smith, who’s been making pan-genre pop rock in bedrooms, studios, forests and everywhere in between under the KGW name with various people since 1994, joins MAGNET as guest editor this week. Climb inside his skull as he figures out what it’s all about, whatever “it” may be.

comedy

Smith: I came up with the album title The Comedy Album in 2013, as a batch of songs was growing into something resembling an album. Part of the logic behind doing a “concept album” (of sorts) has to do with superstition: By the math I use to determine how many Kleenex Girl Wonder albums there have been (which math is very non-scientific), this would be our 13th album, so there was a chance that it could be an unmitigated disaster, because the universe has a brain and feelings and is always trying to sabotage people’s dreams based on numerological significance. I decided that this newly named album should be four things: 1) a Kleenex Girl Wonder album (easy), 2) a comedy album (easy to technically get correct, but next to impossible in terms of getting it filed alongside stand-up concert recordings), 3) a dance album (unusual) and 4) a work of art (again, one of those 100-percen/0-percent goals I seem to love so much).

There is a lot of danceable material on the album, I think. Even the songs that are produced without front-of-house friendly electronic thumps have solid grooves that dance-floor revelers can sink their foot-claws into. As far as a work of art, I think the LP cover art proves that I technically achieved this goal; you could certainly hang the record on your sitting room wall and only the keenest eyes would find themselves batted. So that leaves the comedy part.

My lyrics have always had a certain amount of humor to them. This is completely unsurprising (to me), as I grew up idolizing two of the world’s greatest funny tunesmen: “Weird” Al Yankovic and Tom Lehrer. I still think “Weird” Al is great, and I’m glad that he has never stopped doing that thing he does (however you think it should be classified) and finally achieved the arena-sized success he so richly deserves. But in terms of actually influencing the way I write songs, Tom Lehrer is a much bigger influence. It took me many years to realize that while I think his material is funny, and that’s part of its appeal to me, his long-lasting replay value is more a result of just how good he was at writing melodies (the less-than-perfect singing voice helped too, but mostly in helping me feel less self-conscious about screeching my truth).

So once I started developing the “comedy album” concept, I tried to consciously plan what I wanted to explore. Concept albums are, almost always, a drag; either the concept is so broad that there’s really nothing separating it from “any old album” (cf. my own Ponyoak, which I and others refer to as a “concept album about breakups,” as though heartbreak was a radical subject matter to tackle through pop music, which usually concerns itself with topics such as how to build a shed or why some insects have so many developmental stages) or spend so much time on world-building and exposition that they are difficult to relate to on a purely emotional level. The inspiration for a comedy-themed album was rooted in my experiences interviewing numerous funny people for a podcast I co-hosted, and an increased interest in the business of stand-up comedy—surely, though, that would make for some weird-ass songs, although I did write a couple lyrics here and there that referenced that world (“tight fifteen” is not an ersatz Steely Dan homage, thank fucking God).

The solution was to explore a couple of discrete thought processes I’ve struggled with all my life, which also let me use a variety of rhetorical and narrative devices: Why do I get such a charge from being funny? Why is it a priority in so many aspects of my personal and professional life? And why do we, as a people, find it so useful to use humor to deal with our darkest emotions, e.g. fear of death, loneliness, isolation, alienation, failure, etc.? I don’t think these underlying themes are readily apparent to the casual listener, but that’s fine—see above for why you want to avoid the use of blunt objects (such as anvils) when tip-toeing through the tulips of this territory. If nothing else, it gave me a much better excuse to cram some knee-slappers in there. And the best case scenario is I provided some food for thought for other people who may struggle with the curse of being hilarious, as I do, every single day.

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From The Desk Of Kleenex Girl Wonder: Instruments

Kleenex Girl Wonder just released 13th LP The Comedy Album. Graham Smith, who’s been making pan-genre pop rock in bedrooms, studios, forests and everywhere in between under the KGW name with various people since 1994, joins MAGNET as guest editor this week. Climb inside his skull as he figures out what it’s all about, whatever “it” may be.

instruments

Smith: Kleenex Girl Wonder became a band in 1994. The first instrument I used was a ‘72 Fender Telecaster that had been sitting around in my house that originally belonged to my uncle. From there, I expanded somewhat logarithmically: a Yamaha arranger keyboard with drum pads came first, and a few basic pedals, all feeding into my Tascam four-track. Once I managed to get on board the internet, which was around 1995, I learned about rec.music.makers.marketplace, a newsgroup where instruments were bought and sold, and I went to town pretty quickly. There are probably relatively few electronic musical instruments produced in the ’80s and ’90s I didn’t own for at least a little while. My primary hustle was buying instruments below market rate, using them for a little while, and then selling them when I felt they had little more to offer me. I sold an Akai S-612 sampler to John McEntire of Tortoise fame; after tipping my hand by responding to his inquiry email with the question “Are you the John McEntire?!” he knew he could get away with taking all of my QuickDisks even though I explicitly told him to only take a few since I was keeping my second S-612. I couldn’t really hold it against him; he had driven all the way out to a fanatic child’s house in the suburbs, which is a gambit that carries with it all sorts of risks.

My proclivity for buying and selling boatloads of electronic instruments (in addition to more “normal” musical gear based on the kind of music I was most closely associated with, like guitars and basses and microphones) has never really abated. I still scan the various news sources religiously to see what new and interesting hardware and software is coming out—hardware is at a disadvantage in a lot of ways because it takes up space, but it also has resale potential, so I’m split pretty evenly in terms of what gets my motor running. All of this consumption is in the interest of allowing me to either: a) translate the ideas I have in my head into real music or b) inspire me to come up with new ideas without having to get all theoretical about it. I like to have a large palette with all of my various soundspewers set up for use a moment’s notice, even though I’m usually only focusing on one at a time. What can I say, it’s my process, and it’s also a lot of fun.

I mention all of this as a relatively roundabout attempt to point out that the number of affordable options available to home recordists in this day and age is probably 10 or 20 times what it was in the ’90s; perhaps there were lots of options back then, too, but it wasn’t at the forefront of peoples’ minds. A guitar, a garage and a four-track were enough. I’m glad that I learned to try to expand that a little bit, even if it means I am complicit in the deluge of self-produced Garageband (capitalized, single-word) “electronic,” “R&B-ish” music we all get to enjoy in 2016. The more options we have and the more things we try to do, the better. It’s never a good idea to limit yourself to your natural voice, even though it’s a great idea to define and embrace it.

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From The Desk Of Kleenex Girl Wonder: A Change Is Gonna Came

Kleenex Girl Wonder just released 13th LP The Comedy Album. Graham Smith, who’s been making pan-genre pop rock in bedrooms, studios, forests and everywhere in between under the KGW name with various people since 1994, joins MAGNET as guest editor this week. Climb inside his skull as he figures out what it’s all about, whatever “it” may be.

change

Smith: If you read articles on the internet about “the music industry”—a phrase I use in these posts and also in real life, despite the fact that I don’t like it at all—and how it has changed in the 22 years since I’ve been recording and releasing music, you might think that it is done changing. In my opinion, it’s kind of only just begun. But it’s also progressed a lot farther than just “people used to pay money and now they don’t,” which is the general thrust of a surprising percentage of the canon. I can’t claim that I have an accurate prediction of where this lunatic hydrofoil is headed, but I sure do have a lot of ideas. Some of them may even prove to be partially correct! I’ve learned to set achievable goals for myself, at least when it comes to editorial content.

When I started in 1994, it was a pretty ridiculously plush scene. I have no interest in talking about Nirvana, so I won’t, but insofar as they ushered in an era of large music corporations (and a few smaller ones) spending absurd amounts of money on bands for no apparent reason, other than curatorial largesse, it was, as they say these days, that a time to be alive. No really, they all say that, all the time. But it wasn’t necessarily an entirely different world. There was a reliable stream of income from record sales, but manufacturing and distribution meant that the margins were relatively thin—even before you factored in the ridiculous costs associated with recording a professional-sounding album. A large majority of the money came, as it still does, from live music. A few years earlier, Lollapalooza had kick-started the festival fad (or whatever) into motion (or back into motion; I didn’t live through it, but it seems like there was a similar vibe in the late ’60s/early ’70s, though I can’t be sure that it was as commercially motivated as what we’re currently living through, although it’s probably a safe bet, since basically everything is), and with a network of small, mid-size and huge venues across the urbanized western world, it was pretty easy to squeeze some wicked juice out of the economics of scale.

The main aspect of music listening that has changed over the past couple decades is not so much about the way that bands or musicians or songwriters or record labels turn art into careers or businesses or money, but rather the way that consumers interact with it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the amount of money the average person spends on music is roughly the same now as it was in 1994, it’s just distributed in different ways. And so is the value. When I was growing/coming up, listening to a record (or sometimes even just a couple of songs) was actually an action that involved strategy, choices, investment and, potentially, consequences. I mean, OK, you weren’t going to go to jail, but you might lose money or feel stupid or whatever. You actually could go to jail, if you stole a physical copy of a record from a store or from someone else, and that may have been the only option for some people. This had a profound impact on your relationship with a collection of songs; it seems unintuitive that paying more money for the same thing makes it more valuable, but such is the nature of capitalism or art or both, I guess.

I think that most musicians reacted to the proliferation of illegal download services and consequently paid or free streaming services differently than I did. I don’t mean as a consumer—I unearthed some of my favorite music as a result of download channels, and continue to find stuff on streaming services, which I would never have discovered otherwise—but as a musician. Perhaps this is because I’ve never really sold enough records, so it’s difficult to be all that upset about the fact that I make $5 instead of $20 profit when I release something. But I think it’s something more than that, which also may be somewhat peculiar to me: the best outcome, in my opinion, of spending the time and money to put my music out into the world is having someone connect with the sort of thing I’m trying to do (and seemingly somewhat often succeeding in doing) and wanting to hear more of it. So the more opportunities that I have to reach those people, the better.

This is why I think that things are just getting started in terms of a real paradigm shift in recorded music distribution/consumption. By and large, people are still doing the same thing(s) they did in the past, they’re just paying less money for it and not feeling as much of an emotional connection to it. As we all get past the novelty of omnipresent ubiquity, I hope we’ll rediscover our sense of wonder and get deep into the catalogues of the artists we choose as our favorites. And yes, I realize this is both reductive and potentially condescending, but hey, that’s just the pendulum-swing of a pop musician, baby.

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From The Desk Of Kleenex Girl Wonder: Influence Chat (Max Tundra)

Kleenex Girl Wonder just released 13th LP The Comedy Album. Graham Smith, who’s been making pan-genre pop rock in bedrooms, studios, forests and everywhere in between under the KGW name with various people since 1994, joins MAGNET as guest editor this week. Climb inside his skull as he figures out what it’s all about, whatever “it” may be.

maxtundra

Smith: For The Comedy Album, I was having some difficulty getting motivated to actually record the long list of songs I had written for the LP, for reasons I will save for another post. At some point in (I believe) early 2014, I realized that if I could convince some of my favorite musicians to produce songs based on simple acoustic demos I had recorded, then I could kill two birds with one stone, or really three entire living birds:

Living Bird 1: Hear new music from artists who I really wanted to hear music from
Living Bird 2: Save myself some of the time and agony it costs to arrange/record songs
Living Bird 3: Incorporate different sounds to ensure that the album covered a wide tonal ground

It worked out pretty great. I totally murdered all of those dang birds.

The first track, sequentially, on the album produced by an outside producer was lovingly crafted by the illustrious Max Tundra, one of my very favorite musicians of all time.

I can’t even recall how he and I became friends, to be honest; I know it involved MySpace. I do know that in the early 2000s, he became an idol of mine after I became aware of his album Mastered By Guy At The Exchange, a kaleidoscopic, genre-smashing maxmimalist pop record that evinced an astonishing attention to detail. By the time his next album, Parallax Error Beheads You, came out, we were in contact personally, and I did everything I could to try to force him to record thousands of songs a year that I could buy and listen to. I remember we first met in person at (le) poisson rouge, and a proper friendship was minted.

In 2010, he sent out a request (via email? Maybe Myspace again?) for places to crash when he came to New York to play some shows with mash-up auteur Girl Talk. I responded saying, “Sure, if you don’t find anywhere else, you can sleep on my couch/floor/whatever.” I expected he would get tons of enthusiastic responses, but my house it was, and we hung out, I recorded him covertly playing an insanely great show at Glasslands (R.I.P.), and I always made sure to hit him up for a meal and a lengthy conversation every time I found myself in London.

So, all of these factors taken into account, it was a no-brainer that I would ask him to produce a song for The Comedy Album. He agreed, and we went back and forth trying to find a good fit; at some point, he asked if I had made a reference to Infinite Jest in one of my demos, and I said no. But I realized one of the songs I had kicking around was called “Permanent Humor,” which was conceived as a riff on permanent make-up, but also works as a synonymic rendering of infinite jest, so we called it kismet/a day and got to work. I think the end result is a thing of maximum wonder.

I sent him some questions that I asked to all three of my collaborators to get his insights and please my ego:

Did you enjoy working with me on our song? I did, no pressure.
Yes. Yes, I did. Though I love looking at your face so it would have been nice to be in the same room at the time.

Collaborations across genres are ever more constant on today’s records. Why do you think this is? Is it just a matter of technological advances, or is there something deeper?
I think people are growing tired of the strict rules and regulations qualifying a song as belonging to a specific genre. Why should a grime track be a certain BPM and have a specific drum pattern? Is there any necessity for ukuleles on advertisement music? Producers are tentatively stepping outside their comfort zones, but this can be scary, so hands are being held across ever-softer genre divides. I’ve always adopted a relatively genre-free attitude to music-making, which has led to classification issues when it comes to the sale and review of my albums.

You are, like me, empowered by home recording. Besides convenience or necessity, what do you prefer about that method? Do you enjoy more traditional recording processes, e.g. professional studios with premium bottled water and perhaps a bejewelled curtain for the vocal booth?
I have never had the pleasure of a vocal booth on any Max Tundra recording. If you turn up my acapellas you will hear passing Tube trains, stomping neighbours, car horns, ice cream vans, babies gurgling, leaves being loudly blown, grass being shriekingly cut, microwaves pinging, litter being dropped in the street and a fly scratching its eyeballs, depending on the quality of the microphone. I don’t know if this empowers me but it’s nice for those with an ear for texture.

What artists have influenced you repeatedly and/or intensely?
Laura Mvula, Todd Rundgren, James Ferraro.

Outside of income, what keeps you pushing forward and making new and exciting music?
I am consistently motivated by the drabness of most commercial music. It seems that, certainly in Britain, there is a glut of ever-more maudlin cover versions of chipper songs from the past. The world really needs cheering up at the moment: the last thing it needs is a slowed down miserable acoustic version of ELO’s toe-tapping “Mr Blue Sky.” I make music for people to escape into, if they want. Welcome!


You’re way behind—but it’s never too late!—if you haven’t already gotten familiar with Max Tundra’s three albums and assorted side-pieces. In particular, there are some great covers and remixes floating around the dark web. Hunt ‘em down. But his advice is “Check out my brand new record label.”

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From The Desk Of Kleenex Girl Wonder: These Kids Today

Kleenex Girl Wonder just released 13th LP The Comedy Album. Graham Smith, who’s been making pan-genre pop rock in bedrooms, studios, forests and everywhere in between under the KGW name with various people since 1994, joins MAGNET as guest editor this week. Climb inside his skull as he figures out what it’s all about, whatever “it” may be.

kids

Smith: I often wonder what motivates people—young people, mainly, but I suppose the young at heart regardless of physical age—to get involved in a hobby as unusual as music-making in 2016. On the one hand, the barriers to entry are pretty minimal; most people already have the tools they would need to make music in their homes, and the only secret ingredients they need to add are time, practice and patience. On the other hand, due to this selfsame availability, the allure must be somewhat diminished compared to what it was in the previous century. And that’s before you even consider the financials.

When I started making music, which was right around 1994 (it gets a little hazy; in my own opinion, I had made completely unlistenable music for a few years before that, but from that perspective I continued for a few years after that, too, so I use the formation of the Kleenex Girl Wonder band-brand as my official start date), it was really exciting to think that I could just sit in the room adjacent to my bedroom and make something that was technically the same as the stuff that I was hearing on my compact-disc machine. Of course, this was only possible because I listened to a lot of really unprofessional music, but hey, it worked for me, so why couldn’t I make something that worked for others too, right? The one-two punch of Guided By Voices (who popped into my purview right around Vampire On Titus/Propeller) and Ween (circa Pure Guava) sealed the deal. So, after a brief detour that involved me scraping “I [HEART SYMBOL] THE POPE” on a nearly perfect stranger’s car hood with a Rapidograph pen and compulsorily paying for a refinishing, I bought a four-track and got to “work.”

Of course, it wasn’t just the fact that I liked these two bands’ music that convinced me to give it a go myself. Equally (if not more) important was the fact that my friends, and even a bunch of people I didn’t know, also liked it (and the bands themselves, as “personalities,” something I also aspired to have one day). That meant that there was a “market” for this strange creative outlet, or at least a market for convincing people that I was creatively outletting. Looking back, it’s surprising that I needed written proof of the artists’ home recording bona fides in order to be inspired by them. For instance, I knew that Trent Reznor recorded a lot of his music at home, too, but it just sounded too “good” (I use that term eschewing the benefits of retrospect) to have that special DIY tang. Plus it would be a few years before I could afford, I don’t know, a huge sampler and a bag of haunted pulsating intestines hooked up to an amplifier or whatever he used to get that pristinely gruesome Nine Inch Nails sound. So to a certain extent, accessibility and social approval were what drove me, plain and simple.

Nowadays, it’s actually kind of surprising how little terrible homespun music you encounter. It takes a lot of effort to make, or even find, second-rate amateurish nonsense (submissions welcomed!). So there is not as much of an esoteric advantage to knowing that you can buy, for example, a cassette four-track, some sort of effects pedal, a Yamaha family keyboard you name “Hank” and three gigantic chord organs from the classifieds section of your local newspaper, and then alchemize, out of these everyday ingredients and your copious free time, a musical artifact. Everybody knows (roughly) how to do it, and everybody can do it.

So as I said, I wonder why do people even bother? Would I start recording music at home if I were 14, terminally concerned (and correct) that I was not cool, and full of emotions (or at least assonant gibberish) yearning to breathe free? Or would I choose the carefree glamour of life as a Vine star, jumping into hot tubs filled with Sriracha and pulling goofy faces? I really do not know, any more than I know what sort of content is actually popular on the Vine website. I do know that I can’t stop, since I’ve built up this frothy head of steam. It doesn’t hurt that Ween is one of my favorite bands still playing, despite (or perhaps because of) how far they’ve come since Pure Guava.

I guess I ultimately chose to pursue this rigorous creative discipline because: a) it seemed fun to have a skill to focus on and improve over time; b) I desperately needed something to do with my aforementioned copious free time; and c) the musical-industrial climate suggested that with a bit of moxie and a few disused pensioners’ organs (preferably unhaunted, but I couldn’t afford to be picky), I could produce something out of essentially nothing and sell it for money. I am proud to report I technically achieved these barely-even-modest goals.

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From The Desk Of Kleenex Girl Wonder: Women

Kleenex Girl Wonder just released 13th LP The Comedy Album. Graham Smith, who’s been making pan-genre pop rock in bedrooms, studios, forests and everywhere in between under the KGW name with various people since 1994, joins MAGNET as guest editor this week. Climb inside his skull as he figures out what it’s all about, whatever “it” may be.

angelolsen

Smith: There’s a weird blip in the progression of my influences. Up until a time that I can’t pinpoint (roughly within the last 10 years), I basically never listened to female singers and songwriters. I mean, there were some exceptions, but they mostly proved the rule that I was a male-singer kind of guy. Then, gradually but also mostly all of a sudden, all of my favorite records were made, or at least helmed, by women.

I guess it would be nice to believe that this changeover synced up with a trend in the music industry in general, but looking back it doesn’t really seem like that’s the case. There has always been a relatively good mix of male and female singers and songwriters (I wish I could get away with abbreviating this, but nothing seems natural, so you’ll just have to bear with me and I’ll do my best to minimize the occurrences) of some renown. To be clear, there are still plenty of bands that I like that have male frontispeople (this is a word I just made up that I shall never abbreviate). It’s just that my favorites are most often women, across a relatively disparate range of styles.

I guess there may be an identifiable shift-point: In 2007, I recorded an album called Mrs. Equitone (which came out in 2009) that had a couple of relatively unusual conceits. I have never revealed these publicly (well, maybe I mentioned something at some point, and also, it’s not like I have people chasing me down on the street, screaming, “Please reveal your albums’ conceits to us!”), but here they are.

First of all, I wanted to make it a song-by-song response to Ponyoak, the 1999 album whose spectre continuously haunts me as I try to improve upon it in the ears of my listening public (for the record, I am very sure that I have succeeded on this account over and over within my own ears). I eventually cut the track count down to 20, partially because I had 20 good songs and didn’t feel a strong need to make any more, partially because I thought this conceit was a little too self-mythologizing/aggrandizing/aware/whatever and didn’t want it to distract from what I thought was a pretty good album on its own merits.

The second conceit was that it was a concept album about feminism. That’s the easy way of putting it, though it’s not entirely accurate—a concept album about feminism would be, strictly, an album about the history of women’s rights (or lack thereof), of activism, of sisterhood and all kinds of other stuff that frankly I am not very qualified to speak on (or, even more frankly, convinced would make for an enjoyable listen, even/especially if I were a published expert in the field). It’s really about how I view the ongoing struggle of women in the western world, the bullshit that they have to put up with, the hopelessness I imagine they must (and see that they do) feel. It’s not the most overbearing concept album in the world by a long shot; lots of the songs deal with these ideas in metaphor, because that’s the mode I am most comfortable operating in. This conceit too was not something that I felt I needed to sound a yawp from the rooftops about, fraught as it is with all kinds of connotations, and given the fact that I could very easily fail to contribute anything meaningful to the conversation, or worse.

It would make sense if that album’s development coincided with this shift in my preferences, but I guess it doesn’t really matter; it definitely happened, and I am very glad that it did. It’s always nice to find yourself open to new music that you can enjoy. In celebration of this, here are some of my favorite albums by (or prominently featuring) awesome women in the past dozen years or so.

Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire For No Witness
Joanna Newsom, Divers
Buffy Sainte-Marie, Power In The Blood; also everything she’s ever done
Chairlift, Something
Deerhoof, Offend Maggie; and all the others too
Eleanor Friedberger, New View
CHVRCHES, Every Open Eye
Ida Maria, Fortress Round My Heart
Imogen Heap, Sparks
Hop Along, Painted Shut
tUnE-yArDs, Nikki Nack
Beverly, Careers
Joan As Police Woman, The Deep Field
Rihanna, Loud and Unapologetic
Marnie Stern, The Chronicles Of Marnia
Lana Del Rey, Born To Die
Nellie McKay, Pretty Little Head
The Breeders, Title TK
Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers, Teenage And Torture
Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday
Fiona Apple, Extraordinary Machine (the unreleased versions of the songs)

I’m sure I’ve left some really great ones out, but this is a good place to start if you’ve never heard these records. And yeah, it’s a little weird to separate stuff out by this gender binary, but it’s fun to make a list of good records, and I explained why it’s relevant up there, so hey, I don’t need to apologize too much. Glad to have a discussion about it with you if you feel like it. Always.

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