Category Archives: INTERVIEWS

A Conversation With John Cale

JohnCale

If John Cale’s new album M:FANS sounds hauntingly familiar, you are both correct and obviously a Cale aficionado. The legendary Velvet Underground viola player and composer—with a solo career that’s lasted since 1970—recorded 1982’s Music For A New Society at an ebb in his personal life (read What’s Welsh For Zen: The Autobiography Of John Cale to see how bad). That hard druggy existence spilled over to the scarred, blood-lustful characters who roam sad songs such as “Chinese Envoy” for a most chilling effect—that’s saying something considering vicious Cale albums such as Fear and Slow Dazzle. Healed, but restless, Cale ducked backward in 2015 to move forward with both a remastered reissue of the old Society and 2016’s reimagined new version that borrows the bad feelings without wallowing in them.

Not to start on a bummer note, but when I first heard about the Paris tragedy at the Bataclan in November, I thought of you, Nico, Lou and your show there in 1972. You guys put the club on the map. Do you have any recollection of the space or the spirit of the night?
It was a very tender night—lots of walking on eggshells because we hadn’t worked together since I left the band. I thought it was an interesting idea, though. Lou didn’t really want to do anything with me. I was there with Nico, helping her—it all just happened. It was fine. Serendipitous. All made sense somehow. That said, that didn’t loom large in my legend then—reuniting with Lou—but I guess in a way it needed to happen, just to see where things stood. That said, I didn’t want to be reminded of it by what happened in Paris.

There are two recently released boxed sets out—Loaded and The Complete Matrix Tapes—neither featuring your Velvets. Did you have much of a chance then to consider what VU sounded like without you?
I had my own issues to deal with at the time that were pressing. I knew they were there, but I can’t say that I focused on them. I devoted so much time to the Velvets—it was my job—and all of a sudden, I had this opportunity to stretch my imagination on my own and become a producer, which I wanted to be, as well as do my solo stuff. So, when all that went down with the band, it was easier for me to just wipe the slate clean and get on with things, with my work. That was the first thing on my mind, not the Velvets.

Dozens of solo albums behind you—how did you wind up picking Music For A New Society to re-release and re-record?
The longer an album of mine is around, the more people would ask me to do stuff from it live, which I’d been doing already with songs such as “Taking Your Life In Your Hands” and “I Keep A Close Watch.” Promoters in Europe, however, love those single-album shows that I performed for the likes of Fear, Paris 1919 and eventually Music For A New Society. I got to dress the songs up differently—its arrangements and, suddenly, its songs made new sense. I wanted to hear them again—and some I did not, since that time was stressful enough. I digitized reel-to-reels and found things I never finished, and began thinking of new versions that would take the strengths and frustrations of the old album and put them in a contemporary context.

Going back to a bad moment couldn’t have been fun.
Yeah, well, I wanted something that wasn’t quite as exposed and raw as Music, but still had that emotion. So, I dressed them in different clothing.

New clothing that resembles, in part, what you did with your most recent album—2012’s Shifty Adventures In Nookie Wood—and its collage electronica. Was that difficult at all, as Music For A New Society was future-forward-sounding, but much sparser?
Some is just readdressing the lyrics. Others have ideas that I wanted to use to make existing songs grow. I took a lot of what was there in the first place—accepted it—but drove it further.

Whether you knew some of the people or not that populate M:FANS and Society, they’re a grotty lot. Does each character have or get redemption in the end? Is that a reason behind M:FANS?
I don’t want to leave any character hanging in mid-air, even though there is usefulness in that. The redemption comes from the character, what he is telling you about himself.

Where was your head in 1981 and ’82 that resulted in the original?
It was not in a good place. The personal side of things? There was a lot of grinding going on. You can see those attitudes in spades within the original. I knew that I had to get out of where I was, away from the people that were around then. You hear that in “Taking Your Life In Your Hands.” I was thinking of those old songs when Lou passed, you know. That threw in a spanner into the works, but it also helped me rediscover a moment. “If You Were Still Around,” for instance—written then—had all the elements that any tribute that I’d pay to Lou would have.

I wasn’t going to ask about Reed, but you brought him up. Why do you think—considering the original amount of time you spent together and how long ago that was—you’re still so tied to each other?
Whatever the work was—that was the driving force. That was why I came to New York City and America in the first place: to collaborate, to work with someone. There was the work with (early avant-garde composer) La Monte Young, obviously, but then in the middle of that, I realized what I was missing was my teenage years. The Beatles arrived, so it was in my face. All of a sudden, I meet Lou and I’m thinking, “Here’s somebody who can improvise.” From there, I wondered how could we stick within the realm of the avant-garde and have it thrive there in some new ferocious way. In the ’60s, we were graduating, coming out of where we were into what was next and pushing something new.

You still have that as your principal guiding force.
Yes, I’m still that guy thinking what is next. Once you’ve done something like the VU—well, we knew that it was going to bother people, that the audience would have to face it wherever they may go.

—A.D. Amorosi

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A Conversation With Roger Waters

RogerWaters

Roger Waters is not a man to shy from aggressive questions focusing on the personal or the geopolitical, especially if you’re discussing The Wall, his 1979 classic (then with Pink Floyd, which handed over this lengthy conceptual work in the band’s legal split) turned into a narrative-laced concert fi lm/Blu-ray in 2015, with its accompanying soundtrack. Instead, every moment of a face-to-face chat held atop Sony’s Manhattan offices found Waters staring straight at his interviewer, save for odd gazes averting to overcast skies while mulling a question. “Roger’s intense, unafraid to make his opinion known,” says Sean Evans, The Wall’s co-director/writer, about fashioning improvisational narrative episodes with Waters, including road trips through Italy and France where his father and grandfather are buried as veterans of the World Wars. These rejoinders give Waters’ Wall epic conceptualization via duality, particularly the politics its creator has doubled down on when facing the Israel/Palestine conflict by urging fellow artists to boycott playing concerts in Israel.

—A.D. Amorosi

Your name is above The Wall’s title. I know you got the rights exclusively in the Pink Floyd split. Why is this more important to you than other conceptual projects you’ve written, from Animals to even The Final Cut and its Falklands War twist? They have their own inner and outer monologues. Why does The Wall merit continued attention?
I guess because The Wall’s metaphor is so damn clever, so neat and so open to all sorts of extrapolation, conceptualism and interpretation. The idea is so simple and so good with conclusions that you can point to, conclusions that are very easy to arrive at. You can answer so many political and personal questions here. I wrote this in 1979, and am certainly more aware now than I was in my 30s. We get older, we get wiser … hopefully.

You made a speech at the United Nations several years back and discussed how we built walls out of fear, then broke them down when fears were conquered. What do you say then to someone such as a Donald Trump whose existence, whose platform is based on building and maintaining new walls?
Trump is interesting. He’s symbolic of the “amusing ourselves to death” society, because in order to be part of it, it is necessary for him to be completely un-self-aware. The Trump that you and I see is an obnoxious clown who upholds everything that I find reprehensible about American society, but also the entertainment industry. See, Donald thinks he’s admirable. He su ers from a syndrome—he may be brilliant, but damaged, but in reality, he appears to have a low IQ. There are people who are dipshits who think they are da Vinci, think they understand the world and how it works; that he has interesting political ideas. In reality, though, he’s a 16th of an-inch deep, this guy.

That’s remarkably dangerous.
Yes, because the rabble can be roused. We saw that in the Weimar Republic. I hate to bring up the Germany of the ’30s, but there are models you can see that are deeply important for us to understand why things happened. People were disa ected. The economy was in tatters. So, here that is now—part of the unequal distribution of resources going on in the U.S. where riches are controlled by less than one percent and living standards have gone down for middle and lower classes. It’s no surprise that people are pissed off, yet have no idea where to direct their actions. So, where do they? Communists. Terrorists, fucking Mexicans, whoever. It is very easy to convince people that somebody else is responsible for the trouble; that if you only corralled them, everything would be all right.

The idea that the U.S. is a still a democracy is nonsense.
Everybody knows this, but we all still lip service to the idea that it is. That’s kind of dopey. If you say anything against it, you are a pariah. You can’t criticize the state. I’m starting to get a bit of lashing, suddenly fi nding one or two doors closed to me here and there, especially in the media … It’s funny. The company is trying to insure that I talk about the product. Fuck you, say I. They say I shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds me. If I wasn’t busy biting hands, I wouldn’t have written most of the stu that I did. Have they forgotten “Welcome To The Machine”?

I know you auditioned to be in Alan Parker’s 1982 film. Did you intend to be in this Wall as you are now, reading letters about your father and such?
No, it actually didn’t happen until after we had finished the concert footage. I knew there had to be more; a “what if” where the film started with me driving away from a show and into this journey, a road trip …

Three tours, two films. Do you feel as if you placed a period at the end of the sentence that is The Wall?
I’m probably done, yeah. I do, however, keep quite a few of the props and bits of scenery around in the hopes that—and I have publicly declared this—if the U.S. figures out how to persuade the Israelis to end the occupation of Palestine and tear down that fucking fence, that I will go and do The Wall in Israel as an act of celebration. For both of the peoples, so that we can all join together just like we did when the Berlin Wall came down. I don’t know if it will happen in my lifetime; maybe they’ll have to wheel me on. I keep an open mind and heart to such a peaceful resolution.

I know you identify as an atheist, so this isn’t a phrase you want to hear, but from your mouth to God’s ear.

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A Conversation With Peaches

Peaches

When soft-spoken Merrill Nisker—a.k.a. nasty electro queen Peaches—asks the robotic musical question, “Whose jizz is this?” on “Dick In The Air,” it’s business as usual on the single from her newest album, Rub. Yet, with the rawness of that most recent release—as well as the publication of What Else Is In The Teaches Of Peaches, a book of photographs by Holger Talinski—the Canadian caution is more iconic than ever: a stripped-down, hardnosed, overtly sexualized artist untamed by any possible (and potential) mainstreaming.

I ask this only because I think she’s always been cast in a serious light. You worked on videos for the new album with Kim Gordon and Margaret Cho. Who was funnier to work with?
Wow, pitting them against other, huh? Well, Margaret is a comedian and totally up for anything that we were doing in the name of humor. “Here’s the mildly offensive yellow Asian outfit that’d I’d like you to wear while I put on the Caucasian pink costume.” “OK,” she’d say. “Margaret, we’re going to suck our own dicks in this video.” “Sure, no problem.” We have the same comic sensibilities, and I kind of knew that. With Kim, however, it was an incredible surprise. I told her that I wanted her to play my trainer, but she had to act as if she had no interest in training me. I just wanted her to be busy smoking an e-cigarette. She was totally cool with it, and easy being comic.

I know you directed theater stuff and taught drama before you got to pop music. I know you directed stage show Peaches Does Herself and the “Dick In The Air” video, as well as promo stuff for your first album. Did you live by the Hollywood dictum “Yeah, but what I really want to do is direct”? Was that a real goal?
I gave up the theater thing because I didn’t really want to work with actors. When I took up pop stuff, I realized that I could be everything: director, writer, producer, performer. That became a vision. So, I’m a control freak with a vision. By this point, I have an idea when I can direct something and when I can’t.

Yoko Ono. You’ve worked with her on her stuff—you did her conceptual art piece Cut Piece. She repaid the favor by doing a foreword for your photo book. How did that relationship come together?
She’s incredible, the very height of art and performance over the last 50 years. Yuka Honda (Cibo Matto) gave Yoko an album of mine for one of her birthdays, and then she called and asked me to do a remix for her “Kiss Kiss Kiss.” She came to Berlin on her 80th birthday to perform and asked me to join her and do my favorite song of hers, and I chose, “Yes, I’m A Witch,” which is just so relevant. While we were singing the song together, she turned to me and said, “You are a truly powerful woman.” Now, that was something else. Ever since then, we’ve remained in contact, and she’s brought me into several things—just like her Cut Piece, where I was quiet and naked onstage; things I would never be.

How did the photo book come together? It’s great fun—a sort-of anti-Madonna Sex.
The photographer was fresh out of photography school and was this skateboard kid, and he was curious if I was all that—like, “What’s the hype?” So, he started coming to my shows and taking pictures. We invited him on tour, and suddenly he’s asking to meet my family or to come over when I was alone and smoking a joint. He just wanted to be around, and I just felt comfortable with him. There were no weird ulterior motives, and it was never about him.

That’s very telling—this person breezed into your life and you were just open to it. “Come on in.” Is that a common thing?
No, that’s not normal. There has to be chemistry. And it wasn’t ever like, “Hey, I’m changing my panties. Wanna come see?” It was slow and gradual. He was thoughtful, and made himself invisible. He was respectful. You have to fi nd the people that you are most comfortable with in this business, because it can get crazy. You can’t have people pulling you every which way with their agenda.

It’s 15 years since your first album …
… to the day. This week, actually.

Would you say that making art/music with this persona—whatever you wish to call it— is the same on Rub as it was on The Teaches Of Peaches? Are there radical changes?
I think it’s much the same as when we started, but that it’s taken 15 years for people to get it. People might have wondered if I was a onetrick pony, but I have outlasted so many others. It’s pretty nice to stick around and reap the rewards. Within the same 15-year period, do you feel as if the onstage you and the o stage you have merged, or are they more separate than ever? Do you make certain that the gap stays wide? Yes, I think that the Peaches onstage is an extension of me and my real personality. I don’t think that it’s ever a problem or uncomfortable or anything. There are no issues. I feel like a normal person. The only time that’s compromised is when you release an album— because everything goes nuts all at once. The pressure of this, having to talk about myself every day, blah blah blah, is a bit much, but I set it up that way and in its time. I don’t want to disappear into that stage character. That’s how I can continue, you know. I don’t ever want to look at this or her as a chore. It’s funny: I had a bad day yesterday, all day, except for one moment—when I got onstage. Then all of a sudden, I was comfortable and enjoyed myself. It was truly special.

—A.D. Amorosi

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A Conversation With John Lydon

JohnLydon

John Lydon doesn’t need an introduction. A wind-up works, as the iconic punk (Rotten, late of the Sex Pistols) and post-punk (the ongoing-and-growing Public Image Ltd, or PiL) avatar is saying, singing and writing more than he has since his late-’70s start. While a second, more deeply personal and probing autobiography is now out, digging into physical ails and remarkable joys in Anger Is An Energy, PiL has just released its blabby new album,What The World Needs Now…, and an oddly comic single and video, “Double Trouble,” where Lydon presents the travails of wedded bliss through a handyman’s labor.

You’ve got one song on the new album, “Corporate,” which is about the prison of company hell, and another, “Shoom,” that seems to be about the futility of succeeding. You’ve been livingly noncorporately off-the-grid for a minute. What’s bugging you?
It’s the franchising of individuals. We’re still being flooded by mall-style clothing and ideologies. All of these attitudes are soul-destroying, wouldn’t you say? A sad example is how there’s so much great rap music, but the cottage industries around it are so sad. Nike is the biggest earners, yet their goods are not well-made, in my mind. I’ve had Nikes in my time, and they’ve fallen apart over the course of a year. In fact, they rot from the inside out.

John, a lot of things rot from the inside out.
I don’t, apparently. These are barbs against the record industry and entertainment complexes. No one should stifle you from the joy of your life. Corporate thinking is always the enemy. As for “Shoom,” well, that’s the first thing you hear on that song … a shoom from mucking about on a drum machine. The lyrics, however, are from the point of view of my father, whose sense of comedic timing was impeccable. I used to watch him from the time he came in the front door to when he was in the pub, all with that Irish accent of his. He was very dry and ironical, so “Shoom” is an homage to him and his point of view.

Were you close with your folks? Are they a natural part of your conversation outside of your songs and the book?
Well, you have to remember that I lost my memory for like four years being in a coma from having meningitis. For years, I didn’t know who they were, so when my memories returned, I wasn’t ever gonna let them go again. It’s nothing to take lightly, an amazing hardcore thing. Your personality, the core of your being; everything around you can be so quickly taken away. Luckily for me, it wasn’t permanent, but I was pissed.

One of the therapies that the doctors used was to harness your anger, yes?
Yes, to use anger as an energy. I slowly but surely recovered my memories, and I’ll never lose them again, I hope. That would be my worst nightmare. To endure that utter complete loneliness all over again, to not know that you belong to anybody—my love of humanity, my clinging to the world of other human beings would be lost. I know how quickly it can be taken away.

Would you say that you are a man surprisingly possessed of joy?
It’s not a surprise to me. I love life, but yes—I am nothing but gleeful. Sorry if it came off as something else, but no …

So, you’re a feeling man. Tender, even. Were your surprised to be so vilified at the start of your career? The Pistols, early PiL—you were demonized as an antichrist anarchist.
I was discussed in Parliament. Ah, institutions are foolish at heart. They are literally headless chickens running around in circles. If I could make that machine cease, it would be well worth any headache I’ve endured. I don’t need to get involved in pomp, circumstance and irrational attitudes.

Your ideology when you started PiL was to be self-maintaining. Has that carried on with this group (drummer Bruce Smith, guitarist Lu Edmonds, bassist Scott Firth)?
Be outside of the shit-stem so that we couldn’t be dragged down by it—that’s always been the goal. At the start, we were still attached to the label system. They were controlling purse strings. Certain band members back then smelt money, and that led to insider problems, but it was a good idea; one that I see coming together now, because all of us respect each other and are eager to work with each other, and absolutely love what we do. This new album shows that. We can’t all be perfect plumbers or perfect singers, but you do have to try…

Do you vote? Are you fully an American citizen by this point?
Yes I do, and yes I am. Very happily, too—a great idea, that. I got my membership. Made me very proud.

Are our politics funnier than England’s?
No. England is much more false and petty. They are absolutely still trapped in regime, some being thousands of years old. That club is a stranglehold that is very hard to achieve anything with or through beyond what you were born in or to. That’s a punishing regime—a form of enslavement. Here, you’re still young and there’s still many levels of hope, mostly personifi ed by our president and Obamacare. That is so particularly new American, and I’m more than happy to be here for that. In my mind, any society that doesn’t take care of its own—the unfortunate, the disenfranchised, the afflicted—is uninformed; the Wild West. At least England came up with a National Health Service, so good on that. That’s how a smart society handles things. All that and, still, America does have Donald Trump—a headless chicken if ever there was. He’s our best Christmas gift, and he’s arrived early.

—A.D. Amorosi

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A Conversation With Tame Impala

TameImpala

Kevin Parker is no less of a lone wolf on Tame Impala’s newest album, Currents, than he was on Innerspeaker or Lonerism. Yet, this time out, he’s focusing on more active (still melancholy) aspects of the isolation he’s felt/written about in the past. The moving parts of disgust and bitterness are found in the heartbreak within the record’s electronic framework; a sound with its guitars tuned down and the light spattering psychedelia of his previous albums wiped clean. Currents, then, is that: a new Parker, now.

Dog man or cat man?
I used to be a cat man—still love them—but my girlfriend is a dog girl and I dig walking her dog, so I’m in the middle. I’d probably get a dog before a cat at this point.

Last time I saw Tame Impala, you were touring with Flaming Lips and Sean Lennon’s Tiger band. That sounds like a hoot. Were you shocked when Lennon told you that you sounded like his dad?
That whole thing was like a festival atmosphere—the habitual drinking and such. The Sean thing? I hate to get into a big thing about it. I get the feeling it’s just something he said o the top of his head one night. I mean, wow, that’s his dad.

Let’s talk about someone else: Mark Ronson, who had you on his new album. Tame Impala is one of his favorite acts. You don’t do a lot of guest spots. How was that hookup? What was the takeaway?
He was fun to work with, if for no other reason than he’s got all these other artists around him—Bruno Mars included. He gathers an amazing team—musicians, singers, authors—and uses them like an orchestra, just conducting. Brilliant minds that in any other situation you’d be worrying about the old “too many chefs spoiling the broth” cliché. Mark had this great way of bringing people together and bringing out the singular thing in each of them—but shows there’s no one way to do things. He finds inspirations in groups of people, and that provides another layer. Collaboration is his instrument, I think. None of that reflects on me and the way I make music on my own, but I see it.

As a person now, do you like your own company more than you like the interaction of friends?
I appreciate both these days. I do need time alone to allow thoughts to rattle around my head—for instance, that’s the only time I hear melodies—but I do want to connect with people. That’s what Lonerism was all about, just that wanting to connect.

That’s fine for Lonerism, but what about Currents? Do you think you have the goal you set out for?
There’s not a story per se. I’m not playing one character, but I do think there is a realization. The feeling that we’re not so disconnected is there. Definitely.

You’re in this, I know, but are the other characters pieced-together facsimiles? Fictions? People you’ve observed? Are they closer to you than that?
There’s definitely something autobiographical about Currents. I don’t know if I would be able to pull such meaning from subjects more distanced. It wouldn’t be as meaningful to me. Then again, I can always run out of true stories.

Woody Allen just said that, given the chance, he would remake every one of his films. Even his newest. Considering where Currents goes sonically, how different it sounds than anything in you catalog, think you would you change anything?
That’s a hard question. I have to force myself to say no. There’s always that temptation, and I know there are flaws, but I like accepting it that way. People have done things with and people have fallen in love to my records. Luckily, I’ve gotten better at making records, but I think I like what each of them does in their present state. I can make them sound better, but I can hear them for their romantic crustiness. I can hear the romance in the ramshackle way in which they’re put together.

How did the new sound become a thing— your thing for this album—in the first place?
I’ve always loved electronic music and wanted to make more of it; I just had to find a way to make it mine. Air. R&B things that use electronics. I probably listened to that more than, say, the sort of music I was making at the time, but I’ve never really had a way of mixing it into my music, my songs—or had the courage, really. To bring those two sides of me into one sound. For instance, I’ve always been into Michael Jackson, but I never found a way of expressing that influence.

Courage—that’s a funny way to think of it. I don’t want to analyze every word you say, but why that?
I think because eventually you have to stop second-guessing what you do, not be careful anymore. I think I have been too careful in the past. Before I took a next step, I self-analyzed every reason why and why not. It’s a blessing and a curse, really, because you do have a filter—what to leave in, what rubbish must come out—but it also stops you from making brash decisions, finding the wild and crazy, the joy of things. I think it takes courage to say fuck it, to dodge the consequences.

What motivated “Gossip”? It felt very Bowie Low to me, which is what—just an album of interludes, really.
I love interludes on an album, a thing that connects everything, comes out of nowhere, but act seamlessly. “Gossip” is its own little thing.

Are you a guy who keeps notes/letters from your past, or writes down volumes of lyrics? Currents come from a deep emotional wellspring that I imagine you ruminated upon somehow.
I’ve got that dreaded book, but I’ve never really written down a whole thing in my life. I just scribble some things down, but mostly just put what’s coming out of my head onto tape or whatever, attach  them to a melody and hope they stick—and that I at least remember them all when I’m onstage.

—A.D. Amorosi

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A Conversation With Denis Leary

DenisLeary

On a summer evening, while hail raged onto Manhattan’s streets, Denis Leary took the stage of Webster Hall with fellow comic actor Robert Kelly (Louis C.K.’s brother on Louie) and comedy newcomer Elizabeth Gillies (a Nickelodeon star) to hawk their FX series, Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll. Conceived by Leary to skewer the tropes of ’90s excess as it’s played out in the PC/abstinence-filled/mopey indie/social media-centric present, its creator stars as a prototypical one-time sensation taken down by the (now) terrible trio of its title and looking for a comeback. The show gets funnier with each episode, there are appearances (onscreen and off ) by your indie-rock faves, and Leary’s hair looks fantastic.

This is a very specific moment that you start the action of the show—the year you broke. What were the models for it? People you knew?
A lot of guys I played with in Boston at Emerson College stayed my friends when they left town. Some of them, like Adam Roth, who I still play with, hit NYC and became the guitarist in bands like Jim Carroll’s and the Del Fuegos when each of those acts was hot. Then there was guys from Boston who made it super big, like the Cars. That fame, though, was much less interesting than watching the guys who didn’t make it, but wanted to be famous.

These bands had the same problem big bands had—the lead singer and guitarist not getting along?
I still know those guys. When we were filming Rescue Me, I would run into some of them on the Lower East Side, when you could still afford to live in that neighborhood. They were still doing it—few had given up the idea of stardom even in their 40s. Some, though, were bitter angry; blaming anyone they could for stealing their sound, their aura. My experience in show business? Everyone who’s famous has a dozen people left behind blaming them for their failure. For my Johnny character, those guys are Greg Dulli and Dave Grohl—that should have been me. But you’re not. You’re 50. Now what? You don’t find that in other professions.

Men who don’t make it in other professions rarely wear Cuban heels and leopard-skin pants.
You gotta pick a look. I remember running into Lenny Kaye—all in black, but in slightly baggier pants than usual. It wasn’t a new look. His daughter made him get rid of his skinny jeans and his jewelry because she was embarrassed when he took her to school. When I created Johnny, I had to consider guys who have had the same look their whole life, for better for worse. Bono chose a good look. My guy chose the wrong look, and it’s not aging well.

Why 1990? I had you sussed as a late ’70s/’80s music guy. Or was that to make the daughter a more plausible character, play into tropes such as the Twitter hoaxes you use in the show?
I started it in 1990 because that’s when I first got famous. My insight on fame came from me coming up doing all that MTV stuff like Remote Control. One of my best friends, Ted Demme, created Yo! MTV Raps, so I had that exposure. Big rock guys and up-and-coming rock guys were everywhere—the Stones, Grohl, Dulli’s Afghan Whigs started to kick. That was a rich time; I wasn’t into grunge, but I liked Nirvana. The Whigs got tied into that Seattle thing, even though they went against trend. They just thought they were rock ‘n’ roll. That’s why I picked Greg and Grohl—I had to find guys for Johnny to blame, and who better? You have two forms of the rock star: the giant star, which Grohl is, and the critically acclaimed indie god like Dulli. Johnny’s failure is reflected in those two guys. When they went onstage, they went to work—something Johnny had problems with then and now.

You invoke Bowie quite a bit during S&D&R&R. The title song sounds like “The Jean Genie.” You bring him up seven times in the first two episodes. Do you think his talent dried up before Let’s Dance, like Johnny says?
No … but Johnny believes that. And I thought the Let’s Dance tour was great. In my pantheon of stars, Bowie is at the very top. The Stones and the Who got me through the ’70s until the Clash arrived. Bowie was huge throughout all of that. I met him doing a television show from a London West End Theater where Bowie was the musical guest. I stepped outside to smoke when Bowie arrived, and all of a sudden, he asks me for a light. Swear to God, I couldn’t talk. Then he asks me what Bobcat Goldthwait, Sam Kinison and Steven Wright were like. I told him, they called him in for sound check, and that was it. I’ve never met him again, and I wasted the entire fucking conversation talking about Bobcat Fucking Goldthwait!

Are you really not much of a Radiohead or Morrissey fan, as portrayed in the show, or were you just looking for someone to hang mope-rock jokes on?
I’m actually a huge Morrissey and Smiths fan; Radiohead, too. Here’s the thing: I’m not a fan of pretentiousness. That’s tough, though, because some of my favorite rockers can be pretentious. Before Springsteen did “The Rising,” he was getting there. I hate pretense, prog rock, Yes and all that fucking bullshit. I like three-minute songs. After “The Rising,” though, I gave Springsteen a free pass to do anything he likes because that was an extraordinary comment about what we went through on that day—and so quickly after that event. Radiohead, I fucking love, but they get denser as they go along. Morrissey is great, but, dude, really—I can’t have a fucking hot dog? C’moooon.

—A.D. Amorosi

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Exclusive Excerpt: Yo La Tengo Interviewed By Actor Michael Shannon

YLT

Here’s an exclusive excerpt of the current MAGNET cover story. To read the whole thing, order a copy of the issue here.

For three decades, Yo La Tengo has been one of the most important, diverse, influential and, well, best bands on the planet. Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew (along with former member Dave Schramm) revisit their classic Fakebook album on its 25th anniversary with latest LP Stuff Like That There, an odds-and-sods collection of covers, reworkings and new songs. MAGNET had Oscar-nominated actor—and longtime YLT fan—Michael Shannon sit down with Kaplan, Hubley and McNew to talk about their little corner of the world.

Yo La Tengo. “I have it.” Along with being one of the most formidable three-pieces in recent rock history, they indisputably have one of the greatest band names, as well. So banal yet exotic; so ethereally ambiguous, capable of embodying optimism and pessimism in equal measure. What do they have? The answers? The solutions? Or some affliction of the soul? All I can say is, after I heard I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One for the first time, they had my undivided attention. This band seems capable of inhabiting so many different realms, despite their claim that they aren’t terribly proficient at playing their instruments. On their new release, Stuff Like That There, they present yet another wonderland of popular and obscure covers, the occasional new song and, yes, covers of their own songs, which is where things get really interesting. Because when you listen to the new version of “Deeper Into Movies,” you realize you have aged quite a bit since the first version. Not just in years, but miles traveled, thoughts and feelings collected and expelled. And so has the band. And the song you used to rage to is now the song you listen to whilst sitting in your armchair sipping an IPA and staring out the window. And it’s the same song! That’s what Yo La Tengo has. I don’t know what it’s called, but I need it. Recently, I sat down to chat with them. I had no idea what to ask, even though I had been thinking about it for two weeks. So, here it is. —Michael Shannon

Michael Shannon: So one night—this is years ago—Gary (Wilmes) calls me and he says, “I’m hanging out with Yo La Tengo at this bar—do you wanna come by?” Because he knew I was a fan. I said, “Yeah, I’ll be there in a minute.” Then I came by, and I didn’t know what to say. I was just kind of sitting there … and then after 20 minutes or so, I was like, “Well, nice to meet you.” Then I left. Do you keep up with Gary? Do you still see him occasionally?
Ira Kaplan: It’s been a while since we saw Gary.

Shannon: How did you guys know Gary?
Kaplan: Through Jon (Benjamin). Did you ever see the Midnight Pajama Jam?

Shannon: No.
Kaplan: Do you know Jon Benjamin, too?

Shannon: Oh, yeah.
Kaplan: A thing they did together was a talk show where Jon Benjamin was the host and Jon Glaser was the co-host voicing two hand puppets—an eagle named Scott Fellers and an Octopus named Lumpy. And Gary was their bandleader for a while. He was replaced finally; I guess he became too busy for that. He did it in a Star Wars
James McNew: In a C-3PO mask.
Kaplan: And he would just lip-synch or mime—you know, he’d have a Casio—but it would always just be the Star Wars theme.

Shannon: Could he play the Star Wars theme? Some of those Casios have pre-recorded …
Kaplan: So, yeah, that’s how we know Gary.
McNew: I played Gary’s son in one production of the show. I also had a mask.
Kaplan: It was right across the street, wasn’t it? What was that place called?
Georgia Hubley: Yeah, it was.
McNew: It was a live show.
Kaplan: Marquee?
Hubley: I don’t know.
McNew: It started at that place up the street, which I think finally became The Daily Show studio or something.
Kaplan: Oh, yeah, I think you’re right.
McNew: The one you did was in Brooklyn.
Kaplan: No, the one I did was across the street. I missed the one in Brooklyn.
Shannon: But I remember meeting you, because I was thinking about it: That spot must have been around here somewhere. I was thinking, “I hope I have more to say now than I did that night. Because if it’s like that night, then it’s not gonna be a very good interview.” I think that’s actually what it was—it must have been after you guys had done that show.
Hubley: We really haven’t seen Gary in ages, actually. We saw him in a play the most recent time.

Shannon: Did you see Gatz?
Kaplan: Yeah.

Shannon: Wow, what’d you make of that?
McNew: Amazing.

Shannon: Yeah. I never had eight hours to make it through. How did you guys? You must be terribly busy all the time.
Hubley: We weren’t then. There’s no way we could do it now. [Laughs]
McNew: You were busy as hell that day, though; you watched a play for eight hours.
Shannon: Now they have The Sound And The Fury going on.
Kaplan: We saw that one, too.

Shannon: Would you recommend it?
Kaplan: Yeah, I’ve never read it. I think I probably tried and got like a page into it and went back to a comic book. But it’s amazing; the night we were there, they happened to have a panel talk afterward with John Collins and a couple of scholars, and I felt like I really should have started reading it that night.
McNew: But they don’t do the whole book, right? Just the first part.
Hubley: Yeah, and it’s like two hours.
McNew: Did you ever do any long-form or experimental type stuff?

Shannon: None of that, no. Not to that extent. But I’m a big fan of this playwright named Eugène Ionesco—last year I did a show of his called The Killer, out in Brooklyn in a theater for a new audience. That’s a pretty long show, pretty bizarre.
Kaplan: Rhinocéros?

Shannon: I’ve never done Rhinocéros. I’ve seen it. But I’ve never done it. You’re very cultured.
Kaplan: Highly cultured band.

Shannon: There’s a really interesting dichotomy, I’ve noticed, between your music—which a lot of times seems to be very emotional and quite moving—and the things that I read about online and the things you write and the people you hang out with: You seem to be constantly searching for humor and good times. I don’t know how to put it, but it’s this kind of interesting juxtaposition. You listen to one of your albums; you wouldn’t think that you guys like to hang out with Jon Glaser or somebody. I guess it kind of makes sense.
McNew: I think those guys, their work is intensely personal. You totally laugh more at them than you do at our reference. Just the way Jon Benjamin will say anything and the way Jon Glaser will, too …
Kaplan: As long as he’s wearing a mask. [Laughs]

Shannon: Like one of my favorite characters of all time is Ben on Dr. Katz, one of the characters that Jon (Benjamin) voiced.
Kaplan: I remember watching it and liking it and going back and realizing, “Wow, I think I’ve met everybody on this show.”
Hubley: Were you ever on that show?

Shannon: No, I didn’t break that threshold. It was a little bit before I had the juice to get on something like that. So, there’s some pretty big numbers being thrown around here, like 30th anniversary, 25th anniversary of Fakebook. Does it seem like you’ve been doing it this long?
Kaplan: Sometimes. [Laughs] Some days.
Hubley: Not really. Not to be … I mean, it does kind of take me by surprise how long it’s been, that’s a really, really, really long time. I don’t even feel like I’m that old … which, obviously, I’m older. [Laughs]

Shannon: Maybe something about the fact that it’s music and it always stays vital versus working in an office for 30 years, which makes you feel like you’re being attacked by vampires. It’s that feeling of doing what you’ve always wanted to do.
Hubley: Yeah, you know, we pretty much do what we want. We do different things, and we do a lot of different things. Sometimes maybe too many in one week. But it makes it more interesting and it doesn’t ever feel … sometimes touring can feel like a lot, for me anyway.

Shannon: You hear that a lot—touring’s a real gauntlet. I think as like a fan out in the audience, the fans are going, “This is the greatest night of my life,” and you guys are out there like, “Hmmm … ” I guess when you’re actually up there performing, it feels different.
Kaplan: I’m not sure we all feel the same way about it. For me, right now, I feel like we’ve really got a lot of very different things going on simultaneously. It just felt kind of overwhelming at times. And I think, consequently, touring can be one of the most relaxing things to do because it’s only one thing. You wake up and even though you can be tired or something, the focus is so much easier. Georgia has more difficulty being away from home for a long time than I do. I’m happier to be out there for extended periods of time, I think.

Shannon: Right, the regimented nature of it, you enjoy. I feel that way when I’m doing a play; I know what my day is gonna be. It’s gonna finish this way, and some people don’t like repetition, but I’ve never minded repetition, really. It’s a good way to figure out what you’re doing. What are some of these other things?
Kaplan: We just started a movie score like a week ago. We’ve been working on that pretty much every day.
Shannon: Is this the first time?
Kaplan: No, we’ve done them a good amount for the past 10 years or so. We do them all ourselves at our place in Hoboken. We have a little recording setup, and we all kind of huddle around the screen and watch the picture and just kind of compose. That doesn’t really seem like the right word, but I guess technically that’s what we’re doing. It’s fun. It’s a really fun, interesting way to make music, as opposed to just jamming and the way we usually make music. I really enjoy it.

Shannon: It’s a real tightrope, because it takes so little to make such a big effect. I had a film recently that had a score that was just way over the top and overwhelmed the entire movie. And the director insisted on it, like, “This is a real old-fashioned score, it’s an orchestra; they didn’t make it on a computer or anything.” And I’m like, “You don’t understand—you’re ruining the movie.” But a lot of the best scores are just a few notes, kinda like a haiku. It’s funny—you can really get into a scene and think, “Oh, I have so many ideas,” and while you’re doing them, they probably seem like amazing ideas. But marry them to the film …
Kaplan: I think we do that without movies, too. When we’re making a record, we try to keep an open mind as far as, like, “Well let’s take out the drums.” Or, “Let’s take out this entire instrument and see how it sounds.” Just change parts that one of us was singing just to hear it. We try to stay open to trying new things just for the sake of trying.

 

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Exclusive Excerpt: Ben Lee Interviewed By Actress Rose Byrne

BenRose

Here’s an exclusive excerpt of the current MAGNET cover story. To read the whole thing, order a copy of the issue here.

On the new Love Is The Great Rebellion, Ben Lee continues his spiritual journey toward enlightenment and happiness. MAGNET asked Emmy/Golden Globe-nominated actress (and fellow Australia native) Rose Byrne to sit down with Lee in his L.A. home to discuss love and death. And why everything is OK.

Ben Lee and I met when I was 19, standing on Broadway in New York City. It was summer. I had been hearing about him, his name, his music, his friends and his world for some time, and when we finally met, it was an immediate mutual and lovely recognition—of respect and friendship. We went on to act in a film together, to start a pop-up cover band, to share a New York Christmas together and an enduring friendship.

Ben Lee is a music prodigy. He spent his early teen years heading up Noise Addict, being discovered by Thurston Moore and the Beastie Boys, then being thrust into the spotlight with a celebrity relationship and a hit record. I feel protective of him. He has been provocative—with his music and his words—and as a result, he seems to be a divisive figure for people. They want to rip him apart, then put him back together when it suits.

From the raw and rough-hewn DEF and Grandpaw Would, to his embrace of pop on Breathing Tornados, to the wild success of Awake Is The New Sleep, to experimental album Ayahuasca: Welcome To The Work, Ben is always seeking new frontiers. Of music, of love, of what it means to be alive. He is always striving.

We got to sit down in Laurel Canyon and talk about his new beautiful album, Love Is The Great Rebellion. We talked about philosophy, pop culture, a career and faith. About the idea of how having a great future does not require a great past. About rectification and reconciliation. This album is a love letter to his fans, to his music and to life. It is asking us back in and marrying his pop with his spirituality. We are in for a treat, ladies and gentlemen. —Rose Byrne

Rose Byrne: I was wondering when was the genesis of this whole thing?
Ben Lee: The Ayahuasca album, the last album, came out … I can’t remember [April 2013 —ed]. But it sort of was intended as a continuation of that. This record, when I went into it, it was going to be an even more abstract, dense, non-linear album. All of the thinking around the Ayahuasca record and the way music can reflect a shifting sense of consciousness—it got me interested in this music connection to death and dying. So, I started studying dead midwifery and hospice volunteered and all, and I started looking at how music interacts with that process. I was going down the road so that this record would really be a soundtrack to dying—I was going to call it Music To Die To. [Laughs] I thought, “That’s gonna be commercial—if you thought Ayahuasca was a flop, just wait.”
But I kind of realized at a certain point after a few songs came, the few songs I wrote with Jesse (Chapnik Kahn) at the beginning—“Body Of Love” and “Forgiveness,” those two basically—they came really spontaneously. And I was like, “They sound like radio songs, like singles.” It was really unexpected; there was no intention to write songs like that. It sort of opened up this idea that perhaps in my attempt to move into this abstract territory, I was kind of shooting myself in the foot. I’ve kind of realized more recently, when I looked back over my career, that I’ve had this impulse to move against my audience. I’ve sort of thought of them as the enemy, and I’ve always wondered why. And you know me—you know I’ve been through a lot of things. This feeling of “well, I’ll show them—they think I’m like this.” It was this sort of bratty impulse, and I think a lot of young artists go through that. I kind of realized more recently that I was really barking up the wrong tree in terms of where to put my rebellious energy. The people that understand my music, they’re on my side. And to put this energy into working against them and surprising them and working against their expectations, it’s really taking away from what I can do in the world in a larger system.
So, these early pop songs that came on the record, they made me think about re-exploring the idea I had some years ago of using the pop song form—talking about radical ideas and talking about dangerous ideas psychologically, but within a medium that kids like. And I always liked music that you don’t need to know before you go to the concert, and so much of modern music, it’s almost like you need an education in a band before you can appreciate them live. So, if you go with a friend that’s really into them, they’re just in ecstasy, and you’re like, “Ehhh” … After a few songs, you get bored. It’s not designed to engage you in that way, and I’ve always liked the idea that music should be like a pre-school teacher. Just going, “Come on, guys!” So, anyway, I got more and more down that road of, let me explore putting these ideas in a format that would be more accessible.

Byrne: Yeah, right. Wow, so you’re sort of leaning in a bit more.
Lee: Right, and I’m even embarrassed to say it—that’s the most radical thing about this record. It’s the first record, while I was making it, I did consider—and not in a compromising way—“What would a Ben Lee fan like on an album?” And I’ve never asked that. I think most artists probably ask that all the time, and then they make decisions. I am now 23 years into my career, and I never considered that. In a way it was, I hope, a beginning of a stage of generosity with my audience. I mean, I think you’ve gone through this, too, realizing that great achievement occurs because you embrace what’s actually here right now.

Byrne: Oh, absolutely.
Lee: You can have ideals all the way home, but you can’t build anything on ideals. You have to build it on the opportunities available. What can I do with them? And if people think of you as one type of artist, you don’t just throw that away. You say, “Let me start there and see what I can do with that,” and that’s the rule of alchemy. What have you got? What can you build? So, I’m just starting to think like that. And I look at a lot of my peers who have built, in a sense, a career that is much more stable than mine.

Byrne: Who do you consider your peers?
Lee: I’m not sure. Like Bright Eyes or Ben Folds—you know, singer/songwriters who have had long careers, but sort of worked in a medium where there’s a lot of reliability with their audience. And there’s been a dialogue. They haven’t constantly been going, “By the way, you can’t trust me,” to their audience, which is what I’ve been doing. Not that I necessarily want to go to another extreme, but I’m realizing that there’s been an absence of generosity on my part, or perhaps a fear of intimacy, with my audience. Instead of going, “Hey, these are my people—let me speak in them in a language we developed together and continue to bring in new ideas, but with a way that builds on trust and doesn’t dismantle it every time.”

Byrne: No, it felt like that with the songs, like a return to form. I suppose more of a classic pop and rock, but it did feel like it was with a different voice. Like it was trying to marry the two, almost. You reaching a different point personally in your life—I loved all the stuff about the past, and reconciling with it and kind of acknowledging it. I definitely feel like, as an artist, you can just look back at your past and just go, “Why did I do this, why did I do that?” All of these repetitive mistakes and you’ve just gotta reach a point where you love yourself for it, you know?
Lee: Yeah, and you’ve also gotta, like, truly move on. If you’re still punishing yourself over mistakes you made 10 or 20 years ago, how much energy do you have for the present moment? That’s kind of what I realized—undeniably, there were errors, personally and professionally. There were types of ignorance that I displayed in my relationships and in my professional life. They’re undeniable, they involved selfishness, and they were sometimes mean-spirited. It’s always like part of you in the future wants to find a way to defend it and reconcile it and go, “Well, that was where I was at the time.” We have this funny culture, too, of, “Well, I learned from that mistake, so I’m glad I made it.” Whereas I don’t really believe you learn from the mistake; I believe you learn from coming back to the truth after the mistake. You know, the mistake didn’t teach you; the mistake was an act of stupidity. But, we each have an inner voice, a conscience inside us that ignites whenever we’re making a mistake, and that’s what we’re grateful for. It’s dangerous to have too much gratitude for our mistakes. I think they were mistakes, I’d rather not have done them, but here we are now.
You know, someone said, “To have a great future doesn’t require a great past.” And I realized the courage that it takes, and that’s a lot of what the album is about. What does it mean to say—I’ll be 37 this year—to say I would have done things very differently had I the chance to do them again? Do I now just fall into a sort of bitterness and resentment, or do I go, “Well, let’s start today”? What are the values I wish I had then? Let me implement them now. I’m not gonna be anybody’s victim, I’m not gonna just spend my life apologizing; I’m just gonna change.

Byrne: Yeah, I loved also—which I could relate to—the ebb and flow of a career when you sort of work steadily and have incredible lives, and I definitely relate to that. Constantly being the next big thing or the comeback or the big break, and I guess every artist’s journey is so different. Some people obviously hit really hard, and then other people never do. So, I very much related to that idea of the ebb and flow.
Lee: If you spend your life considering, “Well, where am I in the scheme of things,” you realize you have no relationship to your craft yourself. It’s all based on validation and considering, “Well, what do they think of me, or what do they think of me?” It’s all based on considering others. Instead of realizing, “Oh, this is a craft.” To some degree, we are here to get better at something. It’s really nice if you’re given the fortune of it going well for you and having an income, but there’s responsibilities that come with that, too; you know suddenly you’re managing a business. It’s one of those things where I have to become a grown-up and say, “OK, we’re artists, we’re in it for the long haul. This isn’t just about that glamorous bit that started.” Do you remember when we went to see the Vines at the Troubadour?

Byrne: Yeah.
Lee: And I was on one of those down bits where I couldn’t get a record made, I couldn’t find a label to put it out. Me and you were standing there, and there’s like such a sense of excitement around this band we’re watching. And you know, they’re a good band, good rock ‘n’ roll band and everything. But I felt so envious, not of the band or the music, but just of the moment they were at, of that sexy, exciting early 20s—everyone wants to be a part of it, you know? And that has truly been resolved in me in a sense that I actually see that now as one of the most dangerous times for an artist. Because the seduction into a wrong valley system is so intense that, if you make it through that and still want to be an artist, you’re doing great. But at that point I was like, “Ah, if only I could recapture that!” And with one of the songs in the record, “Everything Is OK,” I say, “What a waste/I tried to turn back time instead of chasing my destiny.” Because I realized I spent so much time trying to recapture a moment with the public or with my craft or something instead of moving forward. And the most dangerous thing is to stop moving forward.

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A Conversation With FFS’ Russell Mael And Alex Kapranos

FFS

Ron and Russell Mael formed Sparks in 1970, and since then have crafted iconic albums well-versed in high-pitched power pop, glam rock, art skronk, electronic disco and beyond, with startlingly sardonic lyrics. That’s their thing. What’s not been their thing in a 45-year existence is collaboration outside of the brothers’ very immediate circle. (Todd Rundgren, Giorgio Moroder and Jane Wiedlin aside.) Enter Franz Ferdinand, the hit-making, dancey post-punk ensemble and admitted Sparks fans, whose eponymous first album just happened to thrill the Maels. Along with forming a mutual admiration society, the bands united as one—under the name FFS—for a seamlessly interconnected self-titled album that sounds like both and neither simultaneously. We spoke to Russell and FF frontman Alex Kapranos about the union.

Russell, there’s this great Sparks-fan documentary being made by two documentarians, one in Israel, another in Philly. Have Sparks hooked up with them for your side of the story?
Russell Mael: I’m aware of that thing. We’ve chosen not to be part of it. There are slews of people who want to do documentaries on us.

Look at you.
Russell Mael: I’m not dissing it. We’re happy someone wants to do a film on us. It’s just that we have to pick and choose because of how we might be represented. We don’t really have time to sit over somebody’s shoulder. We could do the film on our own if that’s the case.

Which you are doing with one of two musical movies you’re making soon.
Russell Mael: Yes, neither of which I can talk about until the ink is dry. We like different parameters and conventions—nothing strict or defined that doesn’t allow us to retain 1,000 percent of our personality. Funny thing is, with the musical genre, there are negative connotations surrounding it—the razzmatazz of Broadway, the cringe-worthy stuff of people breaking into song and all those affectations.

Are you saying Sparks doesn’t like razzmatazz?
Russell Mael: Razzmatazz is so 2014.

Alex, let me duck back to that fandom thing. When did you get turned on to the Maels?
Kapranos: I actually didn’t come across Sparks until I was a little bit older. I was too young for their big British hits like Kimono My House or even the Moroder era. However, in my early 20s, I happened onto a secondhand copy of “Amateur Hour”—I would buy anything on the old Island label—and it was totally amazing, a genuinely different approach to songwriting. I realized too that they were still going, a band with great history, still active and still innovating.

What’s interesting, too, is that Sparks loved your first album and “Take Me Out.”
Kapranos: Really? I mean, they never expressed that to us per se. It’s a very male thing to tell other people about how you feel about them, but not the guy himself. Then again, American men are surely more emancipated.

You guys rarely work with people outside the brotherhood. I wouldn’t say you operate in a vacuum, but you do stick to your own lane. This sounds Oprah-ish, but is it hard to let people in? And why Franz?
Russell Mael: It’s not, in a certain way. We just happen to have an unwritten credo of what we stand for—our image, lyrics, melodies—and we have fashioned our own world. In that sense, it’s hard to open yourself to outside influences or input. The vision is strong. You want it to stay pure. (Upon meeting FF), there’s a kinship that’s hard to verbalize. Ron and I knew when we heard and met them that we wanted to see what it would be like working with them, as we got along personally and musically. Out tastes overlap. It wasn’t a stretch.

I know working together has been a long-delayed process from when the idea came about. What broke the ice?
Kapranos: It was supposed to have happened 10 years ago, but things got crazy for us. I’m sure the same happened with Sparks. We barely had time to record our own music, let alone one with someone we respected. When we met up again right before Coachella, we committed to making a time for the album. And as soon as we started sending songs back and forth, it came together quickly—like really quickly considering that’s two bands with their own identity doing something with its own separate identity.

How did the “Piss Off” demo you guys recorded set the tone for what followed?
Russell Mael: I’m not sure it did, although the album definitely has an irreverent spirit. Not every song is about frustration symbolized by something foul. Yet it does resonate.

Is it fair to say you share a sense of humor?
Russell Mael: The laughs were kept to an agreed 12 to 15 per day due to the tight recording schedule.
Kapranos: We do. Remember, too, that the lyrics are occasionally dark. It’s funny, though, when I think of a song such as “Collaborations Don’t Work.” They started the ball rolling, and their first whack at it was really ballsy. We had a good laugh. Then we hit it back hard and worried whether Ron and Russ were going to love it or totally hate it and never speak to us again. Humor prevailed and they loved it.

Ego—do you have to put it aside to be FFS?
Kapranos: Both bands have gargantuan egos. I’m wary of bands who say they don’t have one. For any band to work, you better have loads of it.

You said something previously about upholding your image. What is that? Does FFS suit it?
Russell Mael: I don’t know if it’s always up to us. You see Ron: what he says, wears and plays. He is that guy. I am this guy. The world we’ve made is us. We’re not in a boardroom and haven’t calculated it. There isn’t a Sparks brand or some method. What is methodical is that we work all the time to come up with new material, new ideas and new angles of presenting what it is that we do. FFS is definitely that.

—A.D. Amorosi

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A Conversation With AWOLNATION’s Aaron Bruno

AaronBruno

AWOLNATION (a.k.a. Aaron Bruno) is the coolest music nerd ever. Dressed in a summer-appropriate pink-and-blue collared shirt, baby-blue rimmed sunglasses, tan Keds and sporting a mop of stylishly disheveled blond hair, the Southern California born and bred Bruno speaks of early memories breaking down the chords and bridges of a Madonna song while in elementary school. “I became an obsessed fan of the music I liked,” he says. While he may have flirted momentarily with the idea of becoming a baseball player due to his success as a pitcher in middle school, he never deviated from his desire to pursue career in music, even when one record deal, and then a second, fell through.

Bruno sat down with MAGNET before his set at Firefly Festival to discuss his early years, his creative process and his current success.

How has your Firefly experience been so far?
Well, we just played a short, little, intimate four-song set at the Treehouse Stage. It was really cool, they spent a lot of time building that stage and it had a good vibe for sure. So far, so good.

Awesome. Well, first things first. When did you develop a passion for music?
I don’t know … as far back as my memory goes. It always seemed so untouchable to me, though. It seemed way too far-fetched that I could actually be a part of it. I just loved it and the way it made me feel. Early on, I became an obsessed fan of the music that I liked. I do remember at a pretty young age noticing chord changes and chord progressions and what that meant in terms of an emotion for me. Other things didn’t make me feel quite the same way, like sports. I played sports, surfing and swimming, like most Southern California kids. But I remember when I was younger, asking my mom what a part of a song was—apparently it was a bridge of a Madonna song, and it went to a minor chord progression, and that really impacted me. So I guess at an early age I was already trying to study music and figure it out, figure out why I was feeling certain emotions.

Not a lot of kids think about all the little elements of a song. They just like a song.
I know! My mom still brings that up to this day. It was a fun moment for her. It was a telling sign, I suppose.

Did you play any instruments as a kid?
Yeah, my dad and mom taught me how to play guitar, right around that age. I was never a shredding guitar player or anything like that, but I got good enough to be able to fiddle around in my room.

Have you always had a music career? Did you try anything else?
I wouldn’t call it a career, really, when I was younger, but that is always what I was most focused on, yeah. I had other jobs to make ends meet, of course, but there was never any other option for me. I mean when I was really young I was a great baseball player, believe it or not, so at one point I may have been thinking … I mean I was only 12, so who the fuck knows what you’re going to do at 12. But from age 11 to 14, I was the pitcher, so maybe at that point I was thinking I might pursue that. But that wasn’t going to happen either though because I never grew after that. It’s always been music, I’ve always been chasing it. When I was about to turn 30, my dad had a serious sit-down with me. It was a real moment to decide what the hell I was going to do to figure out how to survive.

At that point, had you had any success with your music?
Well, I’d been in two other signed bands. Which in a way is worse than not being signed, because I had false hope—twice. Two different times I was told by everybody that I was gonna blow up, and then it completely crashed and burned. So that is kind of my story in a nutshell. Then I started AWOLNATION, and it took off.

Did you get signed by Red Bull Records before or after you started AWOLNATION?
After.

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