Category Archives: INTERVIEWS

The Brian Jonestown Massacre: Book Of Revelation

BJM

The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Anton Newcombe finds himself in a healthy space

The best thing you can do when Anton Alfred Newcombe starts talking is get out of his way. Which is challenging, since Newcombe, who endured years saddled by a reputation for difficulty that far outstripped reality, is such an energetic and affable conversationalist. Today’s discussion, like the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s music, spills out all over the place. Mostly, though, it settles on Revelation, the new BJM album drawn from two years of work in Newcombe’s Berlin studio, and how a man who might have become one of contemporary psych/rock’s most tragic burnouts found himself in such a healthy space.

It’s been more than two decades now since BJM’s first show in San Francisco, a sold-out Masonic Temple gig that the group self-advertised (after backlash over the band’s name got it rejected by S.F. club bookers) with a series of posters reading “TAKE ACID NOW!” BJM followed these with a second round of posters with fake blotter attached to them, and a third set of posters reading “TAKE ACID AND COME SEE THE BRIAN JONESTOWN MASSACRE!”

“We also made some signs that read ‘FESTIVAL OF YOGA,’” says Newcombe, remembering how one bona fide Bay Area hippie statesman approached the band as it was tearing down amps and movie projectors to say, “Hey, the show was really groovy, and also, when does the yoga start?”

That’s how it was for years: BJM got tagged as inner-space drug-o-nauts, Merry Prankster egotists and—this was the part that galled Newcombe most—flameout-skirting head cases, a band whose frontman seemed determined to pull the rug out from under it again and again. Much of that rep came via director Ondi Timoner’s 2004 film Dig!, which drew much of its dramatic charge from the supposed rivalry between BJM and the Dandy Warhols—a rivalry both Newcombe and DW’s Courtney Taylor-Taylor have since repeatedly said was largely fabricated through selective edits. It’s an irresistibly watchable film, especially if you’re a fan of the self-immolating talent narrative, but Newcombe’s real story is dramatic in much more compelling ways.

Revelation isn’t the work of the antic young band the BJM used to be. It isn’t the kind of album Newcombe used to come out of the studio with after days of gorging drugs, feeding the manic demon that lived in his brain, the one that insisted he make music so he could direct that awful jittery energy someplace. But it is unquestionably a BJM record, a reverb-saturated hour’s worth of ear candy. Some pieces are sweet, some are dark, but overall the album is as drone-fueled, echo-drenched and compulsively listenable as the band’s most interesting work. It’s also the work of a musician who’s come through half a lifetime of dirt and emerged as unscarred as anyone who’d spent so much time chasing dragons could hope.

“My understanding of ‘psychedelic’ was really always less to do with paisley shirts and acid, and more about mind expansion, being open to different ways of assembling sound,” Newcombe says from his Berlin home. He’d been tinkering for months, writing “imaginary film music” on synth equipment he’s owned since he was a teenager, coming up with disassociated musical themes and segments. “Then my label partners said, ‘Hey, if you wanna tour next year, you’re going to need to put an album out.’ And I had no anchor songs. Maybe one, that I’d written last October or something.”

The initial panic over sequencing and album-shaping gave way to a kind of Zen moment. “Sometimes I have a backbone of an album,” says Newcombe. “Other times I have nothing. And I’ve always thought in terms of albums, even in album sides. But I realized, with Spotify and iTunes now, people manufacture their own playlists. So, maybe I can just put out a bunch of ‘songs’ this time.”

As a collection—a psychic mixtape, as it were—Revelation holds up fine, especially since more recognizably BJM-style cuts like the swirling “Days, Weeks And Moths” and the spacey “Memory Camp” segue gradually into more expansive, even cinematic songs, of which “Fist Full Of Bees” and gorgeous album closer “Goodbye (Butterfly)” are the strongest. Newcombe spent days shifting and sequencing different tracks on his YouTube channel, getting feedback and paying attention to the groupings that stuck in his head.

“Ultimately, I want people to be happy with it, because I want to keep being able to make music,” he says. “But what you’re trying to do is second-guess what other people are going to get out of it, which is where you get led into a deep, dark cave. I know there’s a certain amount of resistance, or people scoffing over my lack of production values. But that doesn’t matter. I’m not going away until I die.”

—Eric Waggoner

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Q&A With Robert Pollard

It’s gonna be all GBV, all day, kids. This is from 2007.

To nobody’s surprise, neither age nor the dissolution of Guided By Voices has slowed the prolific output of Ohio’s most famous schoolteacher-turned-songwriter. Robert Pollard has simultaneously issued two new solo albums, Coast To Coast Carpet Of Love and Standard Gargoyle Decisions (both on Merge), with help from producer and collaborator Todd Tobias. He’s also putting the finishing touches on a coffee-table book of lyrics and collage artwork titled Town Of Mirrors: The Reassembled Imagery Of Robert Pollard (due out next year) and recently staged an exhibit of his visual art at Studio Dante, Sopranos star Michael Imperioli’s New York City theater.

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My Impression Now: Obama Press Secretary Jay Carney Briefs Us On Guided By Voices

It’s gonna be all GBV, all day, kids. This is from 2012.

Back in the spring, MAGNET’s collective jaw dropped when we learned that White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declared, in the middle of a briefing with the Washington press corps, that Guided By Voices was “the greatest rock band of the modern era.” It’s not often that our musical tastes intersect with those of the spokesperson for the most powerful man on the planet, so we dropped Carney a line and asked if he’d be willing to sit for an interview about his love of Bob Pollard and Co. Surprisingly enough, he said yes, and we found ourselves in the West Wing of the White House grilling the President of the United States’ spokesman about the finer points of Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes.

You declared Guided By Voices to be the greatest band of the modern era during a press conference in the White House briefing room. I recently watched it again on YouTube, and I noticed that none of the White House press corps followed up on this very provocative declaration that you made. They all seemed to be more interested in Afghanistan and some place called China, and I really have to question the priorities of the lamestream media, as somebody we know would call it. And then last summer, you somehow interpolated (Senate Minority Leader) Mitch McConnell with Mitch Mitchell, who is the guitarist in Guided By Voices, and then you said, when trying to steer back to the matters at hand, “OK let’s motor on.” Pretty sure you meant “Motor Away” …
I did, I did.

… referring to the song from Alien Lanes. The reason I bring all this up is that nobody in that room got this reference, but we did, sir, and the question is, why doesn’t MAGNET have a permanent seat in that briefing room?
I hereby approve your application for a permanent seat in the briefing room.

Excellent!
I think you’ve earned it by recognizing all of my Guided By Voices references and appreciating them, because I can say, in this job, I get to make my views known in a way I never was able to as a regular reporter for Time magazine, and it’s been especially nice to be extremely declarative about my musical preferences.

My first proper question is a hypothetical: The flying saucers land on the front lawn, and they come down the gang plank and say, “What is this Guided By Voices that the White House press secretary is always talking about?” What is the one song that you would play them to set them straight?
I think “Echos Myron.” Because it might be the perfect pop/rock song. At least since the Beatles broke up, and the reason why I have so much affection for that song is both its perfection and because when I saw GBV at Irving Plaza in ’96 with my GBV buddies, there was a moment in the show—which was the best GBV show I have ever seen—when toward the end they played that, and there was so much extreme happiness there. It was just a perfect moment, a perfect rock ‘n’ roll moment. I just think it’s a fantastic song, and it’s emblematic of the so-called classic lineup’s capacity to take a simple song and make it unforgettable.

I’ve actually had that exact same experience that you’re talking about. It’s a very joyful song. On a related note, another hypothetical: Your house is on fire. God forbid, you only have time to grab one GBV album. Which one do you take with you?
That’s hard. And I won’t cheat by choosing some of the later greatest-hits collections. I would say Bee Thousand.

I would agree with you on that. OK, Tobin Sprout/Mitch Mitchell era or the Doug Gillard era?
Hands down, nothing against the Doug Gillard team, but Tobin and Mitch.

OK, this is a fill-in-the-blank question. The only bad GBV song is …
[Whistles] Here’s the thing: Pollard is so prolific and so good, but being that prolific I think requires that you write some bad songs. And you know, not all of them are great in my opinion. It would be impossible for anyone to achieve that, so I guess if I had to pick … I’m trying to think … I’ll have to think about that a little more …

Well, I’ll help you out here. The judges would have accepted “a song I have never heard and surely hope I never do.” Moving on, has the GBV song “Game Of Pricks” taken on a special resonance given your current vocation?
[Laughs] Well, I hadn’t thought of it before in that context, but I will never think of it otherwise now.

Are you listed in the Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory?
Absolutely. If diehard fans are listed in that directory, I’m in there.

Have you ever kicked an elf?
Ha. Never.

Have you ever met a non-dairy creamer explicitly laid out like a fruitcake with a wet spot bigger than a Great Lake?
Not that I remember.

We need to know: How does the president come down on the great Bee Thousand-vs.-Alien Lanes debate?
I confess, I have not discussed it with him. In one of the White House press briefings where it came up, somebody asked me if the president was a fan. I said, “I’m working on him,” but the truth is I haven’t. I haven’t brought that into our relationship.

Have you managed to convert anyone else in the White House to the church of Guided By Voices?
You know, I haven’t had the time to prosthelytize. We’re focused on other issues, but some of the younger folks here have come up and said, “Oh, I like GBV,” and I thought, “That’s great, that’s cool.” So they’ve got fans in another generation now, which is good.

Any truth to the rumor that the “In God We Trust” on paper currency will be replaced with “In Bob We Trust”?
[Laughs] I’m working on (Secretary of the Treasury) Tim Geithner to see if we can make that happen.

When you get done listening to all the Guided By Voices albums and assorted EPs, singles and side-project records, what do you put on?
The thing is, in my life now—which is a great life—I have two kids, a 10-year-old and a seven-year-old. I have a family and stuff, and there’s not a lot of sitting around listening to music. It’s running out to soccer games and baseball games or to (D.C.’s) 9:30 Club—my son has paced the stage of the 9:30 Club and belted out rock ‘n’ roll on three occasions.

What’s his band called?
They’re called Twenty20, ’cause that’s the year they graduate from high school. They just finished fourth grade. My son kinda looks like Bob Pollard. His name’s Hugo, and he and his pals have a little sort of school-of-rock band here, and they played a battle of the bands at the 9:30 Club. I’d been to the 9:30 Club many, many times—it’s a great venue, seen Guided By Voices there many times—and to see my son up there belting out “Teenage FBI” was just a great moment.

—Jonathan Valania

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Guided By Voices: Robert Pollard, Who Are You?

It’s gonna be all GBV, all day, kids. This is from 1996.

RobertPollard

Bob Pollard is a rock ‘n’ roll traditionalist. And music fans are better off because of it. Like baseball, rock music is in dire need of a return to its glory days. It needs players who respect and embrace the history of their art. It needs participants who understand the importance of performance, and who realize that fans are as integral a part as the players themselves. Pollard knows these things, but, more importantly, he cares deeply about them. Which is why Pollard looks with more fondness to the past than he does to the future.

“Music today lacks love,” says Pollard. “Music from the ’60s talked about love – not personal love, but this universal sort of love. I really miss that. People are afraid to express themselves and express love. In the ’60s, rock was about people getting together and having fun. That needs to come back. Now it’s all bandwagonesque, it’s all glamour. We need to get back to the heart of it.”

For more than a decade, Pollard has succeeded at getting back to the heart of it. The most prolific songwriter of the rock and roll era, Pollard is responsible for more great tunes than the Beatles, Stones and Who combined. In an age where sound outweighs songs and image is more important than talent, Pollard is the melodic (albeit often drunken) voice of reason, the only rock star in a genre of music that takes pride in its obscurity. Pollard personifies the belief that rock isn’t something you do on weekends or after work – it’s your life and it needs to be treated accordingly. Two years ago, Pollard quit his day job after almost a decade and a half, allowing himself the opportunity to rock and roll all night and, naturally, party every day. And his only regret is that he didn’t do it sooner.

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Q&A With The Psycho Sisters

PsychoSisters

I’ve had really good luck interviewing women in a writing career that’s gone on for 25 years. Unlike chatting with men, women seem to get right to the point and don’t waste a lot of time with bullshit. Best of all, their memory for historical and anecdotal detail is particularly admirable. In nearly 1,000 career interviews, some of the very best chats I’ve had have been with such notable female musicians as Grace Slick, Joan Baez, Roni Spector, Marianne Faithfull, Rosanne Cash, Siouxsie Sioux, Emma Pollock, Penelope Houston, Sam Phillips and Barbara Manning. Vicki Peterson (lead guitarist of the Bangles) and Susan Cowsill (with her family’s band the Cowsills since the age of eight) are currently tilling the fields as the Psycho Sisters, and it’s given them rare perspective on making music that many lesser talents would lack.

OK, could I have a vocal ID to compare your voices? I hope you guys don’t have voices of a smiiar timbre.
[In unison] “We do! We do! We do!”

Oh great, that’s exactly what I was afraid of. So, if something gets attributed to someone who didn’t really say it, you’ll understand. Then again we’re not transcribing the Nuremberg War Trials here, so it should be OK.
Vicki: We’ll forgive. We’ll identify ourselves if we’re going to say anything controversial.

I have to tell you, Vicki, I saw you play when you were still called the Bangs, back in early ’82 at the Old Waldorf with Rain Parade and the Three O’Clock in San Francisco. You may have just changed your name.
Vicki: Oh yeah, we just did some reunion shows with those guys. It was fun.

So, you’ve been doing Psycho Sisters for more than 20 years. Why take so long to record your first album?
Vicki: Oh yeah, that.
Susan: Your turn, Vic.
Vicki: Is that unusual? If there’s a reason, it’s probably not a very good one, so the only thing we can say is that this is just the right time for us. We started writing together and did a few shows in the early ’90s and then started falling in love with this band called the Continental Drifters. It was a great musical conglomerate. Originally, we were in L.A., but we all moved to New Orleans, the home of a couple of the members.
Susan: It happens. You get stuck in the swamp. We started thinking more in a Drifterly manner than a Psycho manner. And we had all the time in the world to get back to us.

Hey Susan, gotta tell you that I saw the Cowsills play at the Alameda County Fair in ’07. It was great to actually hear “The Rain, The Park And Other Things” performed live, at last. That’s one of the psychedelic classics. And the other connection I have with both of you is you’re old pals of a friend of mine, Howe Gelb of Giant Sand.
Vicki: Yeah, of course. The Psycho Sisters, sure; we sang on Giant Sand’s Center Of The Universe album and toured with them that winter.

So that was post-John and Joey, was it, the new version of the band?
Unison: No, no, they were still together. They’re all dear friends.

Is Howe still living in Tucson? Last I heard he was living half the year in Denmark with Sophie’s family.
Susan: No, he and Miss Denmark still live in Tucson and have a beautiful family.

Miss Denmark? Right, Sophie, or Sofa, as he calls her. So why did you and Vicki hit it off so well?
Susan: You know, that’s one of those who-knows realities. I often attribute many things to past lives. We had enough in common, I should think. Our musical likes, our ages. You know, for all the reasons you can’t figure out and all the obvious ones, too. Our love of the same kind of music, and we’re both equally insane.

So why the name Psycho Sisters? You both seem pretty level-headed to me.
Vicki: Don’t let the name fool you. We were opening for the Cowsills, but we weren’t a valid entity yet. And a good friend of ours, Bill Bartell, said, “You should be the Psycho Sisters.” We just kind of looked at him. We didn’t know he was referencing the infamous C-movie.

Do you guys remember the Ringling Sisters, the poetry-reading outfit down in L.A.?
Vicki: Of course, Annette (Zilinskas, onetime Bangles bassist) was in that. Yeah, poetry and an almost performance-art kind of thing.

Your song “Never Never Boys” is the best song I’ve heard this year, kind of a companion piece to “September Gurls.”
Vicki: Oh, my gosh, thank you. Oh, how cute. We’ll tell Bob (Cowsill).

What do you get from Psycho Sisters that you don’t get from your other bands?
Susan: All kinds of things. We get to hang out because we live in two different states now. And we’re related now. Vicki is my sister-in-law now. On a musical level, there is something there that is not my solo stuff and not Vicki’s. It’s its own creature. It has to do with just her and me, our thoughts, our own experiences of the two crazy ladies on the hill with the cats.

Most of these songs are from the early days, when you first started doing this?
Vicki: They are. But it’s all cut recently, brand new recordings of old songs. We did headline gigs in clubs as the Psycho Sisters. We didn’t play out a lot. The funny thing was when we listened to our old songs to see which ones we’d record and who sang what, it seemed kind of spooky, because I too can’t tell our voices apart. One thing about us singing together is it seems effortless for us. We can’t explain that other than we have similar backgrounds in our exposure to music. I wasn’t preforming at nine, but I was already writing songs and very alert to pop radio. And Susan was on pop radio. The first Cowsills song Susan performed on, “We Can Fly,” was the first record I bought with my own money.
Susan: Is that right?! How’d I miss that!

That explains why you guys were meant to sing together. Tell me about the photos on the CD. They’re great.
Vicki: The little girl on the front is from the 19th century, and we’re not quite that old. The other photos are of us while we were on tour in Europe with Giant Sand.
Susan: It was otherworldly, playing with those guys. It was another familial experience. It’s a component of our kindred experience. Howe is a good egg.

I really like your songs, about 180 degreees away from that crap they sing on American Idol.
Susan: These songs are written by people with real problems.
Vicki: And written by real people and not a songwriting consortium

Do you guys ever watch American Idol? What do you think of it?
Susan: It takes the purpose of making music, which is to save one’s soul and puts it into a meat market. It’s like, what the fuck? It’s like gladiators
Vicki: It’s just entertaiinment for the masses. It puts music into a circus. It’s not what we do, that’s for sure.

Well, it’s not entertaining me. What was the first time you guys met?
Vicki: Susan and I first met in a club down in Redondo Beach where the Cowsills were playing. My high school band, Those Girls—my sister Debbie on drums and my best friend Amanda on bass—had played there two weeks before. I saw the Cowsills were playing, and I freaked out. I was a huge fan. Susan would never remember me from that night. Susan’s brother Bob became a mentor to us and invited us to a rehearsal.
Susan: I just found those girls annoying in the studio. I’d been living this emancipated life since I was 12, and I didn’t understand girls my age living normal lives. They were in school and went home and ate dinner with people. But my animosity turned to absolute adoration. Several years later, I saw the “Manic Monday” clip on MTV, and I was sitting there going, “Oh my god! It’s those girls from the studio.”

Vicki, you played with the Go-Go’s to replace Charlotte Caffey when she had a baby. How was that?
Vicki: I was dating Jeff MacDonald from Redd Kross, and I became good friends with Charlotte and discussed certain things with her later when Jeff and Charlotte started dating. So I used to say, “Yes, I was touring with the Go-Go’s because Charlotte was pregnant with my ex-boyfriend’s baby.” But they were married at the time.

All right, ladies, on that note, it’s up to me to decipher who said what with your maddeningly similar vocal tones.
[In exact unison, as though they'd rehearsed it earlier, they break into a jazzy vocalese] “Good luck with that, good luck with that, good luck with that … ”

—Jud Cost

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Q&A With Doug Gillard

DougGillard

Doug Gillard is known (rightly so) for his guitar wizardry in bands such as Guided By Voices, Cobra Verde, Death Of Samantha and, for the last few years, Nada Surf, but that notoriety sometimes overshadows the fact that he’s an accomplished solo singer/songwriter. With his third LP, Parade On (Nine Mile), Gillard continues to show off his virtuosity—solos like the one on “On Target” are just ridiculous—as well as his knack for catchy, folk-inflected power pop. During some down time in Spain while Nada Surf records new material, Gillard talked about his guitar beginnings, recently joining Guided By Voices onstage and his Nada Surf status. He will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

MAGNET: You posted a photo on Facebook of yourself playing guitar at age 13 at your brother’s wedding reception. Was that your first public performance? How did it go?
Gillard: No, it wasn’t. When I was seven, I played snare drum at a talent show in the small town of Norwalk, Ohio. I was taking drum lessons, and my instructor’s wife played piano while I performed this recital piece for solo snare drum. It was simple but incorporated some rudiments and rolls. I won second place. A couple years on, I would play guitar at various school events. One time, a sixth-grade reading class held a classroom talent show. I made a backing track at home for a cover of Kiss’ “Calling Dr. Love,” primitively overdubbing rhythm guitar and drums onto two tracks. Unfortunately, what happened was I played the melody live on guitar instead of singing at all. I didn’t win that competition, either.

When did you start playing guitar? When did you realize you were good?
I was about six and had a Sears Fireball plastic guitar. It came with a guitar-tuning Flexi Disc, and I did tune it by ear to standard, but I had no idea how to form regular chords. So I would just open-tune the strings to chords that sounded good or play one-note lines. There will be an entry on these songs in this guest-editor series coming up. I started taking proper lessons in third grade, for about three years.

By the way, my upcoming guest-editor stories are mostly typically indulgent memories of band and touring life. Not a lot of personal interaction stories, but I also don’t believe in the sort of kiss-and-tell writing style, so any personal tales will be positive. Especially lately, I’ve come to realize how incredibly important friendship is, and to have a friend, you have to be a friend. Maybe the stories aren’t very interesting, either, but music is really all I know anything about. I tried to incorporate the ridiculous together with the sublime. I’m not much of a writer, so don’t expect sentences to be constructed in the best way.

I’m sure we’re all going to enjoy them, so don’t worry. Not to make this all about Facebook, but you also recently posted about meeting the late Tommy Ramone a couple of years ago. What was that like?
He appeared at a screening of End Of The Century for a Q&A. I saw Jon Wurster there, and we sat together. Later, I saw Tommy in the lobby, and he was happy to chat a bit. He was a gracious and humble man and was the one who really put that band together. A revelation to me was that he wrote some of those complex song intros with the math-y timing.

You’re busy playing with bands in addition to creating solo material. How difficult is it for you to balance it all? Do you sometimes feel unable to devote enough time to promoting your own efforts? I ask because you’ve put out these really solid solo LPs that deserve more attention.
It’s getting more difficult. Yes, I do feel unable to devote enough time to promote my solo things at times, but I enjoy all of the projects I’m involved in. Thanks for your compliment, and I agree with you.

Parade On‘s first song is the jaunty, catchy yet lyrically dark “Ready For Death.” Are you OK, Doug?
[Laughs] Yes, I’m OK, but that’s a phrase I tend to think at times when I’m feeling fatigued, ill or foggy. I have some thyroid/adrenal issues that give way to a bit of depression at times, but I’m able to work through it. In fact, working gets me through it; then again, the condition makes me procrastinate the work. It’s a vicious cycle. Basically, I took the phrase and juxtaposed it with happy music. “Ready for death” was the starting theme, but as lyrics developed, I found the song isn’t so much about how I’m feeling physically as it is questioning a belief in deity. I thought it would be fun to create a Harrison-esque sound that instead begs the question, “My sweet lord, do you really exist?”

I interviewed Slim Dunlap years ago, and about Bob Stinson’s guitar skills, he said, “He was capable of things that were just not normal.” I thought of that when I heard the solos on “No Perspective” and “On Target” I don’t really have a question there, just wanted to offer that compliment.
Well, thanks, Matt. Death Of Samantha opened for the Replacements in ’84, and I got to see Bob live. He told me later he liked my playing, too, so I was elated. I think it’s true he did some wild stuff. I’ve always had a thing for taking chances like he and, for instance, Robert Quine did. I try do it in live situations all the time. You shoot for something and you may fail, but you have to try to be chancy. I love seeing others do that, and I think improvisation in rock or punk/indie has all but disappeared. Not so much with drummers, but in the guitar realm for sure.

You recently played a couple of songs with Guided By Voices in New York. How did that go?
It went wonderfully, thanks. I opened for them a few years ago as well. This time I joined them for “Teenage FBI” and “Fair Touching.” The week before, our reunited Death Of Samantha opened two shows for them as well, and that was a blast, too. Cobra Verde and my band Gem opened for GBV in the early ’90s, so we’ve all always been friends through the years with Tobin (Sprout) and Mitch (Mitchell). I was in GBV with Greg Demos as bassist in 1998-99 as well.

How did the Death Of Samantha reunion happen? What are your thoughts on how it went?
We reunited about three years ago now. John (Petkovic) ran into original bassist David James in Cleveland, and they discussed doing the band again. John already knew I was into doing the same. The first reunion show went amazingly well, and we all have so much fun playing as a band. Our double album (If Memory Serves Us Well) came out last year, and we’ve played several shows to support it, with more touring happening sometime in the future.

You’re very active with Nada Surf at this point. In my opinion, you’ve made a fantastic band even better. What has the experience been like?
It’s been really great. I enjoy being in the band because I love being with those guys. We’re all around the same ages, the mood and outlook is always bright, and we share similar influences musically. The touring takes us to some great places, and we have a crew of people who work closely with us in different countries who are now all very close friends of the band. Hell, knowing Ira Elliot got me into Bambi Kino, probably the most fun band I’ve ever been a part of. Plus, I get to be in two bands with Ira on drums—what’s not to like about that?

Is your involvement open-ended? Has there been any discussion of a more permanent role?
Well, no one seems to really be aware of this, but I am an actual member of the band. Whether that means I’ll start to be included in the promo photos now, I have no idea, but I hope so. We’ve started writing and recording a new LP, and it’s very much a collective effort.

—Matt Hickey

 

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Q&A With Josh Kantor

kantor

Fenway Park organist Josh Kantor is a utilityman of sorts, playing keyboards for a number of outfits in addition to entertaining the Red Sox faithful. His highest-profile gig is with the fantastic national pastime-themed band the Baseball Project; his hidden-track rendition of the group’s “Panda And The Freak” is a highlight of its aptly titled third album, 3rd (Yep Roc). We spoke to Kantor about song selection, interacting with fans and how he can’t get into the Baseball Project fantasy league. Kantor is guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

MAGNET: How does the organist job work: Do you have a full-time job and then play at games?
Kantor: I have a part-time job at a music library. I play a lot of club shows and recording sessions with a lot of bands. I play organ at Fenway Park for all the Red Sox home games during the regular season and postseason, and I play at a handful of other Fenway events—soccer games, hockey games, minor league baseball games, etc.—over the course of a year. These are the various things I do to pay the bills and stay out of trouble.

How long have you been the organist? How did you get the job?
I started at the beginning of 2003, so I’m now in my 12th season. I went in for two rounds of auditions. One of the people on the audition committee had previously seen me play several times and knew that I was knowledgeable about baseball, so he had recommended me for an audition. The auditions were basically a pop quiz on my knowledge of popular songs from a variety of genres, how well I could play short snippets of those songs and how those songs might (or might not) be successfully incorporated into a baseball game. I remember thinking that the first audition went relatively well and that the second audition went great. I was offered the job at the conclusion of the second audition, and I cheerfully accepted it.

How much leeway do you get in picking what you play? I saw that one time you snuck in The Best Show On WFMU theme.
As far as when to play, that’s determined by a variety of factors, most of which are outside of my control. As far as what to play, most of those choices are mine to make, though I very much enjoy getting suggestions from colleagues and fans at the games. Because I play for an enormous audience of people who may or may not be music fans, 90 to 95 percent of the selections are songs that are, or at one time were, pretty popular. The rest of the selections are little gifts for the rock snobs—and I use that term lovingly—on appropriate occasions. For the 40th anniversary of (Stevie Wonder’s) Innervisions, I covered the entire album. After Scott Miller passed away, a few people asked for a Game Theory song, so I played “Erica’s Word.” When the Big Star documentary came out and brought their music to the attention of larger audiences, I added a couple of those songs to my repertoire. If a lesser-known act with a devoted following plays their new single on a Letterman-type show or puts out a video that goes viral, I might play that song the next day, when it’s most likely to be recognized by the greatest number of people; Apples In Stereo, So So Glos, Redd Kross and Bob Mould are actual examples that spring to mind. After the Boston Marathon bombing last April, the Red Sox DJ, T.J. Connelly, and I made a conscious choice to play more songs by Boston-based artists as civic pride became a healing tool for the community. While this meant the Cars, New Edition and Aerosmith, it also meant Modern Lovers, Big Dipper and Morphine. The Best Show thing got a lot of coincidental attention because of the timing; if they’d announced the end of their terrific 13-year run during the summer, I’d have played their theme song then, and if they’d announced it during the winter, I wouldn’t have played it at all. Because they announced it during the World Series, I played it at a time when more people were listening.

How many songs do you typically play each game? Do you do some self-promo and play Baseball Project songs?
I usually play 15 to 20 songs during batting practice for the early-bird fans, maybe one or two more during the official pre-game ceremonies, about a dozen or so during the course of the game itself and then two or three more after the game as everyone is filing out. Because I play by ear and by memory, I keep a regular rotation of tunes that changes a bit from year to year in addition to all the one-off songs; I maintain a few hundred tunes in the rotation so that people who come to games frequently aren’t subjected to the same songs repeatedly. I rarely know what song I’m going to play more than a few seconds before I play it, since I’m often hoping to react to an instance of the game or the crowd. I’m not comfortable using the Fenway organ to promote a band that I play in, even when the songs themselves are about baseball. I played a Baseball Project song once because the band was singing the national anthem at that night’s game and many of their friends and fans had just come from the band’s nearby gig to attend the game, so it was a hat-tip to that contingent of Fenway patrons rather than an act of promotion.

You grew up in Chicago as White Sox fan. How much of an impression did longtime (now retired) organist Nancy Faust make on you? I remember at old Comiskey Park, she was in an area where you could go up and talk to her. Did you ever do that? What was she like?
Nancy Faust made a monumental impression on me. Her playing got me thinking about the ways in which live organ music can complement and enhance the enjoyment of watching and listening to a baseball game, and it got me thinking about wanting to do that. Before moving to the Chicago area for high school, I’d grown up as an Atlanta Braves and Dale Murphy fan in Athens, Ga.—back when my Baseball Project bandmates Peter Buck and Mike Mills were in a local up-and-coming combo down there called R.E.M.—and I’d deluded myself into thinking that I could play baseball for a living. Then I discovered Nancy Faust at the same time I realized that I wasn’t a good baseball player, and I was inspired by seeing her do this other fun thing that I thought I could eventually be good at doing if I worked enough at improving my skills as a musician. Nancy’s playing was often my favorite part of the games. I mostly enjoyed just listening to her song selections, though I did go watch her play and talk to her a couple times. She was incredibly friendly, and that left a big impression on me as well about accessibility and self-conduct of performers. After I got the Red Sox job years later, Nancy was routinely generous with sharing her invaluable insights and advice about being a ballpark organist, without which I might have gotten overwhelmed and wouldn’t have been as good.

Do you interact at all with Fenway fans? Do you take requests?
Yes and yes. I get several visitors at each game. They might ask a question or take a photo or share a favorite Fenway memory. I especially enjoy when they have a memory of meeting or listening to John Kiley, who was the first Red Sox organist and held the job for 37 years before retiring in 1989. I never had the pleasure of meeting Kiley, but the more I learn about him from others, the more connected I feel to the 62-years-and-counting tradition of live organ music at Fenway. Sometimes I play songs in reference to his old repertoire, and some of the old-timers will get and appreciate the references. On occasion, a visitor will request a song. Over the past couple years, I’ve been using Twitter as a way to receive song requests and interact with fans in the stands. It’s been a fun way to learn songs that I may or may not be a fan of and then see which ones go over well.

How did you end up playing with the Baseball Project?
I met Steve Wynn and Linda Pitmon in 2001, when my good friend and former bandmate Jason Victor started playing guitar with them in the Miracle 3. I saw that band play several times, and we hit it off during post-show chats that often turned to music and baseball topics. The first Baseball Project album came out in 2008, and I liked it a lot. At some point around then, Steve and Linda came to a game at Fenway and heard me play. In 2010, the Miracle 3 was booked for a show in Boston where they were playing the entire Dream Syndicate Medicine Show album. It’s a great album with a lot of great keyboard parts, and they didn’t have a keyboard player, so they asked me to sit in for that one show. In 2011, when the Baseball Project was promoting the release of its second album, they invited me to play a few shows with them. I suspect that my Red Sox affiliation is part of what qualified me for that. The first time I met Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey and Mike Mills was the night before my first show with them. The whole band has been very welcoming and supportive and encouraging of my expanding role as their part-time keyboardist, and they’ve all invited me to perform with them on a variety of other projects. They’re a joy to play with and hang out with, and I continue to learn a lot from them.

Who’s the biggest baseball fan in the band? How would you describe your level of fandom?
Peter is a casual baseball fan who’s interested in the significance of the game’s place in American history and culture. Everybody else, including me, is pretty obsessed with just about every aspect of the game. As a result, the baseball conversations in the tour van are quite entertaining.

Steve Wynn told me that it might be a tossup between Scott McCaughey and Mike Mills as to who’s the most obsessed fantasy-baseball geek of the band. Can you shed any light on that?
I can’t even get invited into the Baseball Project’s official fantasy league—I think I’m still stuck somewhere near the bottom of the wait list—so I don’t know how much light I can shed. I think Mike might be in a couple more fantasy leagues than Scott, and I think Mike usually has better overall success in his leagues, but that may be partly because he has more time to devote to it in his “semi-retirement.” Because I see every game in Boston, Scott and Mike both hit me up occasionally for an assessment of certain Red Sox players whom they’re thinking of trading or acquiring or putting in their lineup for their various fantasy teams. But make no mistake, Steve and Linda are pretty into fantasy baseball as well.

Here’s your chance for more self-promotion: Fill us on in what your other bands are up to now or what they will be up to soon.
The Baseball Project‘s third album came out in March. It’s the first of the three that Mike and I have played on, and it was really fun for me to be a part of making it. And several ballplayers who are among the subject matter on the album have reached out to us to tell us they enjoy it, so that’s been very gratifying. The band will tour much of the U.S. this summer; I’ll probably join along for some of those shows when the Red Sox are playing away from Fenway.

I’m in a band called the Split Squad with Clem Burke (Blondie), Eddie Munoz (Plimsouls), Keith Streng (Fleshtones) and Michael Giblin (Parallax Project). Despite the sports reference in the band’s name, it is, unlike the Baseball Project, not a sports-themed band. Like the Baseball Project, the members of the Split Squad are spread out geographically, so we get together to play shows when our schedules permit; on a couple of occasions when Clem was busy with Blondie commitments, we were able to get Linda as our super-sub drummer. We released an album earlier this year called Now Hear This, which we had a great time recording near Boston at the studio of David Minehan (Neighborhoods), who has worked a lot with Paul Westerberg and the Replacements. Scott produced our album, and he and Peter guested on it, as did Hugo Burnham (Gang Of Four). The Split Squad played a handful of shows in the Northeast last month, and we hope to do more shows later this year.

I’m also in a Boston-based band called Jim’s Big Ego, fronted by Jim Infantino, who is one of the very best songwriters you’ve probably never heard of. I was a fan of this guitar/upright-bass/drums pop trio for about a decade before they invited me to make them a quartet in 2008. Jim’s Big Ego has seven LPs and three EPs. We don’t tour as much as we used to, but we recently started webcasting shows from our drummer’s studio, which has been great fun, and we occasionally perform “The Ego & The Oracle,” a theatrical show where we use our songs as fortune-telling devices for selected audience members.

And if you enjoy musings about the intersection of baseball and rock ’n’ roll from someone who’s a semi-insider in both realms—and let’s face it, if you’ve read this far, you probably qualify—then I’m worth a follow on Twitter: @jtkantor.

—Matt Hickey

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Q&A With The Faint

Faint

Nearly six years after the release of strangely desiccated 2008 album Fasciinatiion and one lengthy stroll down wait-is-this-a-hiatus-or-a-break-up? lane, the Faint has reemerged from the shadows to deliver up Doom Abuse—a vital, manic comeback triumph shellacked in an exquisite devil-may-fucking-care electro-sheen. Guitarist Dapose was kind enough to take a break from tour prep to chat with MAGNET about abusing doom, rekindling creative fires and rocking jams on the set of the children’s television powerhouse Yo Gabba Gabba.

How important was the break after Fasciinatiion to the creation of Doom Abuse?
It was critical. We just overdid it on Fasciinatiion. We tried too hard for too long for various reasons, and it sounds that way. We worked so long on that record that the idea of making more music as the Faint the same way just did not excite any of us. The Faint is about inspired ideas usually. Some of us went off and made club and party music. I went off and explored heavy noise and experimental improve music. Just pushing our ideas farther to see where is too far,

I feel like a lot of the disparate post-Danse Macabre sonic things the band dabbled in have cohered here. Does that seem fair or accurate to you?
Yes, but we just know a lot more about sound now. We pretty much know what every frequency is going to add or takeaway from a song because of all the years of labor making the last few records.

Did the 2012 Danse Macabre-in-its-entirety tour play into any of this at all?
Ha! No. That tour was fun to do. And that was the first step in doing this band again was learning to have fun again as the Faint. So I guess it was helpful.

So stepping back perhaps allowed you to see a little better how the pieces of the Faint puzzle might fit together?
Perspective can get lost for sure, and it’s always good to find some however you can. I like first impressions a lot. I like to walk out of the room and come back—helps me hear what’s good and bad about the music and lyrics quickly as apposed to convincing myself that something sounds great. If you have no context for the part or element in a song you’re working on you are just making more work for yourself by creating a problem.

Can you talk to me a little about process of writing and recording Doom Abuse?
This record was created with our live gear set up in our studio. We wrote a lot of the music just sort of live—jamming off of Todd’s demos; Clark will try some beats; Jacob and I will start making loud noises over it. And Todd might, too, but we’ll tell him to try his vocal melody over it. So Todd will bring lo-fi home recordings or some mumbling melody where he taps his phone with a pen and sings along. We’ll all listen to it and see if we hear anything in it we could turn into something. We tried some things, and on this record if it didn’t work it didn’t work. We move on. We used to focus more on the endless possibilities of the studio. We have learned the hard way that setting limitations or restrictions or deadlines for ourselves is a much more productive way for us to work.

Were you surprised at all by the material that flowed as you began to write?
Absolutely. We wrote so many great parts in this record very spontaneously. And much to all of our surprise most of those parts we still liked the next day and the next week! That’s just amazing to get all four of us on the same page about the direction of a song, and yet it just happened over and over this time.

Do you recall any initial songs or first impressions?
Fast. Punk rock. Noisy. Fuck it up has always been our mantra when one of us is on to something good.

Were there any new influences brought to the table?
We are pretty inquisitive dudes. And in the interweb era … I like looking to the past for inspiration.

Has this “let loose” attitude during recording bled over into the live performances?
We were trying to have our live performance bleed into our recoding sessions on this one. Studios can be comfortable. Live music on stage is not comfortable—it is pitch black except for constant strobing right in your eyes. You’re playing with ten times more vigor then when you’re writing. If your adrenaline wasn’t beating you into a full on sweat you’d realize you were drunk enough to get thrown out of a bar. In other words we were trying to have fun making this record.

Where did the album title originate?
It’s a mystery.

All right. Well, are there any particular manias explored in the lyrics this time out?
Mania is what we explored, really. We like to bitch about shit. And artfully craft it so it doesn’t sound like we’re bitching about shit.

I read Todd employed a “stream of consciousness” singing technique on Doom Abuse—are you still peeling back layers of meaning?
It’s just juxtaposing meanings to create contexts that you would otherwise never explore. That’s the fun part about being an artist is changing what things mean.

You suggested earlier that he worked the vocal melodies out beforehand, though?
Yes. The melodies very often help supply the words through their own subjective powers—the power of suggestion and subconscious gelling.


I noticed this is coming out on SQE, not the band’s own post-Saddle Creek label blank.wav. Any particular reason for the change up? Did running too much of the show perhaps take away from the creative end of things?
Absolutely! DIY is a fabulous approach to many things but it doesn’t work beyond a certain point. We are stoked to be with SQE! Our friend Zane is running it, and he is a badass. Couldn’t be happier with that decision.

When the Faint first started garnering real widespread attention, it seemed like one of very few bands trying to put a new spin on synth-y electronic/rock ‘n’ roll. Now we hear a lot of echoes of what you guys were doing more than a decade ago—though perhaps not as dark. I’m sure, if you consider it at all, that it’s flattering, but at the same time does it also serve as impetus for the Faint to continue to break new ground?
We love doing our thing. We’re pretty uncompromising and are always trying to reach new places with music. I am happier these days when music speaks to others or groups. I used to spend a lot of time listening to music that one dude made with tons of time on his hands and a laptop studio. Now I’m listening to ’60s jazz. Old country tunes. I like songs that people can relate too as opposed to songs that are isolating and personal or supposed to be for only punks or hippies or metalheads. I like feeling connected with others more than being on an innovative island. All art is borrowed.

All right, you’ve got this awesome new record finished, the band is firing on all cylinders again. How does it feel? Is there a renewed love there? Newfound appreciation? An excitement for the future?

I got my shades on.

And, finally, just because my daughter Ruth is such a huge Yo Gabba Gabba fan, I have to ask: What was the experience of performing on that show like?
Ha! It was cooler than shit! We loved it. People were super nice. We got to see fun behind-the-scenes, making-of stuff that kids should never see. The song was fun to do. I would do it again in a heartbeat!

—Shawn Macomber

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Q&A With Jason Narducy

JasonNarducy

Since having formed a punk quartet (Chicago’s Verbӧten, featuring Dave Grohl’s cousin Tracey Bradford on vocals) as a precocious 10-year-old, multi-instrumentalist Jason Narducy has kept busy with other bands (most notably Verbow) and as an in-demand sideman with the likes of Bob Mould, Superchunk and Robert Pollard. He’s also releasing his first solo record under the Split Single moniker, Fragmented World (Inside Outside). We talked to Narducy about rocking as a youngster, his famous Split Single bandmates and the unlikely influence of Michael Jordan. Narducy will also be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

MAGNET: You began playing an instrument early on. What do you think sparked your interest?
Narducy: I grew up with my parents playing the Beatles and the Stones and the Kinks. I immediately took to rock music. I remember when I was probably five years old, I got a Mickey Mouse drum kit from my parents and grabbed two cousins and made a band. I said, “You’re doing this, you’re doing this.” I wrote a song called “Wolf Man,” which was to the tune of “I’m Eighteen” by Alice Cooper. I loved werewolf movies, so that was the combination of things. And then my stepdad in ’76 or so co-founded a bluegrass band called the Special Consensus, which still exists though he’s not it anymore. So I would go see the Special Consensus at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn (Ill.). I specifically remember that. That’s 35 years ago.

Was there a “Beatles on Ed Sullivan”-type moment where you were like, “I’ve got to do this?”
Yes, but not yet. [Laughs] I remember seeing the Special Consensus and then my stepdad bought me this little mandolin, which I promptly put a Star Wars sticker on to make it cool. I learned mandolin first, and I would jam with him. My mom played piano, so the three of us would play music together. Then in ’79, when I was eight, my dad took me to see The Kids Are Alright on a Sunday. We were in line to get tickets, and there were two elderly women in front of us. The ticket-seller guy was yelling through the glass, “You don’t want to see this movie! It’s loud! It’s too loud!” Something in me was like, “Ooh, what’s going to happen here?” To this day, I get goose bumps watching that movie … just the opening with the Smothers Brothers and smashing the instruments. I had never seen anything like that, and that was it. I drew pictures of the Who for about a year and would constantly have air-guitar concerts with any kind of toy. When I was nine, my mom and stepdad gave me an electric guitar, and a year later, I had Verbӧten.

What was it like being a 10-year-old kid and playing in a band in clubs?
It made perfect sense to us at the time. We knew it was different because we were … I hadn’t gone through puberty. [Laughs] It was weird to be amongst teenagers and adults, but to us we were like, “We’re a band. We write our songs and record them and we go play shows.” There was never a moment like, “Can you believe we’re doing this?” It was like, “This is what we do.” I think that conviction came through because immediately people around us took to it. It’s only now in retrospect, I’ll meet a 12-year-old and look at them and go, “My first band was breaking up when I was your age.”

So Verbӧten only lasted a couple of years?
A couple years, yeah. We were all different ages. I was 10 when it started, the drummer Zack (Kantor) was 11, Chris (Kean) was 12, and Tracey was 13. By the time I was 12 and Tracey was 16, she said, “We need to make a 45 and get a van and tour.” That was another world we hadn’t even thought of. So we had a band meeting. It has to be the only band meeting where the parents were there. [Laughs] Tracey was like, “This is what we’re doing.” I was 12, and my dad was like, “No.” [Laughs]

What did you do musically from that point till Verbow?
I stopped playing music for a bit. I didn’t play guitar routinely until high school. I started a band when I was a freshman. From age 12 to 15, I wasn’t playing very much. I had to shake the rust off. I had some bands where I wrote some songs but not much else to speak of. We did some four-track demoing but nothing else. I was in a bunch of bands in college in Baltimore and here in Chicago, but it wasn’t until I stared playing with Alison (Chesley) in ’93 that things started again.

When did it go from you being a fan of Bob Mould to him producing the first Verbow record (1997’s Chronicles)?
In ’91-’92, I would go to as many shows of his that I could. I’d go to soundcheck, and I’d bring him local press. Back then, there wasn’t the internet; he’d do the interviews, but he wouldn’t know what happened with them. So I’d bring a stack and hand it to him. He’d appreciate it and we’d talk. I never told him I was a musician, never gave him a demo tape. I had a friend whose dad knew a guy named Al Teller, who was running MCA Records. His dad said to me, “When you want Al to hear your music, I’ll do it, but don’t do it before you’re ready.” That rang a bell with me. I looked at the band I had and thought, “We’re not ready.” I felt the same way with Bob. When I started playing with Alison (as Jason & Alison), I was ready for him to hear it, but I don’t think I gave it to him because Jam Productions proposed to Bob that Alison and I open up three of his acoustic shows. Jam called him and told him about us opening and he said, “Tell me about this Jason & Alison thing,” and they told him that I’d booked a show at Beat Kitchen (in Chicago) where I played Workbook all the way through. When I walked into soundcheck, he just laughed: “Welcome. You would’ve been here anyway, you might as well play the show.” After we soundchecked, he asked us to do the rest of the tour. Then after the tour, he asked to produce the record. We didn’t have a label, we didn’t have a publishing deal, we didn’t have anything. We were free agents. He said, “Come to Austin, and we’ll make this thing.” We made Chronicles in six, seven days, and he sent the tapes to labels and sort of protected us: “This guy’s no good, don’t talk to him.” He paid for the whole recording and everything.

What did you do after Verbow ended?
I started a band called Rockets Over Sweden, which put out a self-released EP. We maybe played six shows or something. My painting company started doing well. We bought a house. My wife and I had a son. I sort of stopped music again. I was playing in fun cover bands just to drink some beer and play the Who, but it wasn’t until 2005, when Bob asked me to play bass in his band, that I got back into it.

So that’s all it took, him asking?
Yeah. But then I thought about it … I was a basketball player in high school, and I went to Doug Collins’ basketball camp, and Michael Jordan came to the camp to talk to us. He wasn’t there for very long, but the things he said really resonated with me. He said, “Never walk into a gym and just dribble and shoot and jog over and pick up the ball. You never do that in a game, so you’re practicing something you don’t do. Go into a gym and play at full speed.” He’s like, “People stand at the free-throw line and shoot 100 free throws. You never do that in a game. Shoot two free throws, run around the gym, come back and shoot two more.” I knew that I was not up to speed to play bass in the Bob Mould Band. So I thought of that and went to my garage and set up a full PA system facing me, with a mic and bass amps behind me, and I cranked Bob Mould coming at me at full volume all summer. Instead of sitting down and listening to tunes with headphones, I practiced like it was a show. That really got me ready.

You playing with Mould is how Tommy Keene saw you and asked you to play in Bob Pollard’s band in 2006, right?
Yeah, and Jon Wurster. They were both in the Pollard band, but no one else had been picked. They both saw me at different times: Wurster in North Carolina and Tommy in D.C. The last show of that tour was in L.A., Tommy was there, and that’s when he asked me. I couldn’t believe it. The last show of the tour and you want me to start up with another songwriter I love? It was pretty amazing.

How did Wurster join the Mould band?
In ’08, we were about to head out and (drummer) Brendan (Canty) and his wife were going to have their fourth kid. He was like, “I can’t do this.” Bob tried another drummer, and it wasn’t working out. We asked Jon first, but he had a Mountain Goats tour at the time. But we were two, three weeks in, and we were like, “Where are you now?” Two days later, he flew to L.A. and we started playing. We didn’t even rehearse.

What’s it like playing with Mould, a guy you basically idolized?
Bob is this unique person where he’s still impressive. He’s an incredibly hard-working guy. He’s a genius. You maintain that respect and reverence for him because he’s so intelligent. There are times where I’ll ask him a question about some city that we’re in, and he knows the main source of manufacturing income. He just knows these things. He’s also just a really good bandmate. He defers to Jon and I on a surprising amount of things. It’s his band and it’s his call, but there’s a nice interplay. He likes our feedback, and it feels good to be a part of that. We would gladly do it without that.

What has the Superchunk experience been like for you?
I was honestly hesitant about that because Laura (Ballance) is so iconic. I envisioned walking onstage and having vegetables thrown at me. [Laughs] So many guys have crushes on her and out I come … I was like, “This could be such a mistake.” But she really did an amazing job reaching out to the fans first with that letter and introducing me. It couldn’t have gone better. She’s still in the band, so I know I’m just the touring guy. It’s been super-comfortable—no pun intended. I enjoy the challenge of learning that many songs that quickly. Mac (McCaughan) changes the setlist every night. I’m not exaggerating when I say that probably every soundcheck, I’m learning two to five songs right there. That’s invigorating for me. I like that challenge, and it’s gone well so far.

So you’ve been doing all the sideman stuff and went a long time without writing anything—eight years, I think you said on Twitter. So what happened to spark this period of activity with Split Single?
At the end of 2011, (Dolly Varden’s) Steve Dawson asked me to (open) a show. I wanted to challenge myself: What if I wrote 10 new songs and played those songs at the show? I could fall flat on my face or it might go OK. Either way, I’ll feel good about having pushed forward instead of getting up there and playing some Verbow songs or Jason & Alison or whatever.

Do you think if you hadn’t been asked, this LP may not have happened?
Maybe not. I definitely needed that deadline. Those are always healthy. Looking back, though, the first two weeks of January, I was recording (Mould’s) Silver Age and that show was January 28, and I was asked in December and there were the holidays … I’m not sure how I did that. Three of those songs ended up on (Fragmented World). That’s really how it got going, that challenge to myself and the question from a friend to do a show.

I really like the record, and I’m glad I really like it because I didn’t want to have to sit here and pretend I did.
[Laughs] Oh, cool. I’m glad you do, though. Probably the back end more, with all of the power-pop stuff.

Well, I’ll get to that. How do you feel about how the record turned out?
I’m excited. I enjoyed this process more than any other time in my life. When you’re younger and you’re writing songs and you have a label, you put pressure on yourself. I put pressure on myself that was completely unwarranted, feeling like I had to write this super-important record. You get older and you realize there are going to be people who like it and there’s going to be way more people who don’t like it. Always. For every band. Once you know that, it’s sort of freeing. I really enjoyed the songwriting process, and I really enjoyed recording with (Wurster and Spoon’s Britt Daniel on bass) and interacting.

Never Look Back” is my favorite. It’s one of those songs that, depending on how much attention this record gets, is going to be on year-end best-of lists and CD mixes. I don’t know if people still do that, but it’s going to be on them if so.
[Laughs] Really? Thank you.

I was wondering, after you write a song like that, do you know at the time that you nailed it?
I’ve been writing songs long enough to not feel like I have any control over that sort of thing. On the second Verbow record (2000’s White Out), at the last minute I tacked on a demo for the very last song. It’s Alison and I playing a song I just wrote, acoustic. And that’s by far everybody’s favorite song. I don’t know—it felt good when I wrote “Never Look Back.” It was definitely one of the best songs I wrote in that first batch. I felt like it was strong enough to play for people. But I ended up not opening the record with it.

There’s been some press about how Split Single is this “indie-rock supergroup.” There seems to be some confusion, like you three called each other up and said, “Let’s form a band,” and you wrote all these songs together. Does that matter to you at all?
It did in August of 2012, when the story broke. The story broke because Britt was talking to a blogger in Toronto, and that blogger posted this thing that had the name wrong. It had everything wrong about the story. That’s actually why I joined Twitter because Jon and I landed in Ireland with the Bob Mould Band, and he opened up his laptop and goes, “Uh oh.”

And then it came up the same way again recently.
Yeah, it did. I knew it would happen. My publicist was like, “They’re going to lead with the Britt Daniel thing because they love Britt Daniel.” And it’s like, and I love Britt Daniel. It’s just how the press works. I don’t mind that. Britt’s totally behind this thing and is excited about it. Both he and Jon were a huge part of making the record. Is it a little bit skewed? Yeah, but if you read further, it’s like, “Jason’s going to be playing shows with other people because Britt and Jon aren’t available.” It’s a solo project.

That’s why I ask. It’s your project, and it’s special to you. You’re not just the session man. This is your stuff, and it’s great that it’s getting attention, but people are getting the story wrong.
Yeah, it’s important to stress that because I don’t want anybody buying tickets to a Split Single show expecting to see Jon or Britt. That part’s important. But I think so many musicians have side projects now that it doesn’t really matter. I’m not offended.

Why is Fragmented World self-released?
I sent it to labels, and they said no. I mean, I sent it to a select few. [Laughs] I didn’t send it to everybody. I wasn’t offended by that, either. I’m 43 years old. I’m not going to get in a van and play every single club in the U.S. Labels are a risky endeavor these days. People don’t buy records. I think maybe some of them didn’t know my full story and maybe if they had … I don’t know. I’m glad it’s working out this way. I’m self-releasing, and I have distribution. I have a company administering the songs. I have a publicist. We’re going to try this out, just doing it out of the basement. It’s kind of exciting for me. There’s a lot of work that comes with it, but so many bands do that these days, and it’s a lot easier than it used to be. We’re going to try it out this way.

So you’re just going to wait and see as far as doing another record?
I don’t even know. I have a whole new Bob Mould record and tour cycle coming up. I’ve got Split Single shows. I can’t think two years ahead quite yet. We’ll see if anybody likes this record. [Laughs] Besides you.

—Matt Hickey

 

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Q&A With Steve Wynn

DreamSyndicate

On Sept. 5, 1982, Paisley Underground legends (well, not at the time but certainly soon after) the Dream Syndicate played a 2 a.m. gig at the studios of L.A.’s KPFK-FM. Broadcast live, the raw, ragged set documented on The Day Before Wine And Roses (Omnivore) found the quartet—singer/guitarist Steve Wynn, guitarist Karl Precoda, bassist Kendra Smith and drummer Dennis Duck—blazing and brooding its way through songs from its self-titled debut EP, released earlier in ‘82, covers (such as a smoking rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Outlaw Blues”) and tracks that would end up on the seminal The Days Of Wine And Roses LP, released about a month and a half later. A reconvened version of the Dream Syndicate with Duck onboard, but minus Smith and Precoda, has been playing shows since 2012. (Another member at one point, bassist Mark Walton, and Miracle 3 guitarist Jason Victor have been filling out the lineup.) Wynn is also busy with his national pastime-themed band, the Baseball Project, whose third record, the aptly titled 3rd (Yep Roc), is due later this month. We talked to Wynn about the Day Before show, the future famous person and bandmate in attendance and a couple of Eric Clapton songs. Wynn is also guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

MAGNET: Did you know the show documented on The Day Before was in the vaults? If not, how did you end up finding out?
Wynn:  Well, I knew it was taped, and I figured that KPFK kept a pretty good library and didn’t toss stuff out. Dennis and I both had the show on cassette and often talked about how much we liked it over the years. There’s really almost no documentation of that first lineup outside of audience tapes, the first EP and The Days Of Wine And Roses, so it made sense to put out the only other good recording that was out there.

If you hadn’t listened to it while prepping for the record’s release, what, if anything, would you have been able to recall from that night?
We were very aware that this would be the biggest audience that we would have ever played to up to that point. It was going to be on a very cool radio program, one that we all really enjoyed, and it would be live, no going back. Now, some bands would have taken that as an excuse to play a super-tight, super-professional set, but we looked at it from a different angle. We thought, “Why not get as outside as we possibly can?” It was a comfortable studio and performance space, all of our friends were there, we were pretty confident at that point—so we were ready for anything.

Why did the set start at 2 a.m.?
That was just the time of the show each week. But it was the latest we’d ever played, which I think we all thought was pretty cool as well. It felt like the Who at Woodstock or something. A few months later, we played our first New York City show at the Mudd Club at 3 a.m., so that personal record for a late start didn’t stand for long.

I mean this is the best possible way, but you sound possessed on “The Days Of Wine And Roses” at the end of the set.
Well, a few bottles of Mickey’s Big Mouth probably didn’t hurt. I used to scream a lot in those days. I didn’t consider myself a singer—I was a ranter. I just enjoyed letting loose and seeing how far I could push myself and the band and the situation in general. Oh, and also I had just had my very recently ex-girlfriend removed from the studio after she had been heckling me all night. Maybe that fired me up as well.

Did she say anything that pissed you off, or was she just being disruptive?
No, we were still pals, and it was just good-natured ribbing. But it was relentless, like some kind of Chinese water torture. Maybe it wasn’t entirely good-natured. Anyway, it was all going out live on the air, and I finally couldn’t take it anymore. Looking back, I do see that it fired me up to a manic point for the last song, so I guess I should thank her now.  

Was Peter Buck really in the audience?
Yes. He tells me about it all the time. He says he came up and said hi to me, but I don’t remember that part. Peter and I have three different versions of how we met. I think it was when he brought the first R.E.M. single to the Rhino Record store in Westwood where I was working. I’m sure I would have been the one to have taken it in on consignment. But really the first time we hung out was about a year later when we were making Medicine Show in San Francisco. R.E.M. had just played a gig, and he and I went out and drank and talked on the beach until the sun came up.

I recently rediscovered the Dream Syndicate’s version of Eric Clapton’s “Let It Rain,” which I’d first heard on The Bigtime Syndrome compilation in college. How did you end up covering that song?
We used to enjoy choosing unlikely covers—always songs we liked but songs that wouldn’t have been considered hip by our peers. So we would do things like “Let It Rain” or “Don’t Fear The Reaper.” I mean, even covering Bob Dylan or Neil Young or Donovan back then was not considered cool by any means. We would just strip the songs down to the basic, most primal elements and then kick them around for a while.  Kind of like we did with our own songs, I guess.

Do you think you’ll ever cover “Tears In Heaven”?
Oh, man. I wouldn’t bet on it. Too many chords.

How has it been playing shows with the reconvened Dream Syndicate?
It’s been great—in some ways, the best of every lineup we ever had. Everyone in the band plays really well, and we all play really well together, very intuitively, but we’re also not afraid to throw that out the window and let things get cathartic and freaky, just like we did back in 1982. It was great from the first reunion show and keeps getting better. I think we can take it in from very interesting directions from here, but for now, we’re just taking it show to show.

Inevitably, these reunions lead to new material. What are the odds of this happening with you guys?
As a fan of the band, I would like to hear that. I’d like that to happen.

What can we expect from the Baseball Project this season?
We’re all really excited about the new record, and we’re looking forward to hitting the road. It’s fun for me to be in a band where I can honestly say that we’re hoping to play as many stadiums as possible.

—Matt Hickey

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