Category Archives: INTERVIEWS

Best Of 2016: Q&A With Lucy Dacus

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We caught up with Lucy Dacus just after she had returned from a short U.K. tour and almost exactly a year after her single “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” came out and started catching people’s attention. Back then, she was working a seasonal job in a photo lab. “This is kind of the first major break we’ve had since March, so I’m excited to sit around on my couch and not have anything to do,” she says, although she’s already looking forward to working on demos for her next album. She took some time away from her couch to talk to MAGNET about her surprising year.

Congratulations. No Burden is MAGNET’s number-one record of the year!
That’s so awesome. I didn’t know that. That’s so cool! It’s such an honor.

What were you expecting your year to be like when you were getting ready to put out the album?
It’s only been recently that I realized that I don’t have to go back to the photo lab anymore. I try to put myself back a year ago, because the single wasn’t even out yet, and I would never have been able to imagine what this year would be. It’s a huge change, to start a career. When most people start a career, they plan for it. For us, it just kind of happened and we realized after the fact that this is our job now. It’s been a lot of adjusting. It’s been weird, but it’s the best job in the world, so no complaints.

Was there a moment when it changed from people coming to shows and not knowing who you were to when it was apparent to you that they were there to see you?
I don’t think it was a moment, but there were small realizations that led me to believe that the music had reached people in ways I didn’t expect. At first, it was seeing people know the words to the songs. That’s always the biggest compliment that people can ever give because it shows that your music has taken up their time and their thoughts when you weren’t around; they had chosen to listen to you. It’s such a gift. A more recent response is that in response to Trump’s election, people have posted some of the lyrics of my songs as encouraging and as a way of finding comfort. I had never thought of the music manifesting itself that way, but that’s ideal. I’d want people to find comfort and solace in something that I’ve said. That kind of recently crystalized what this job is to me.

What were the lyrics they posted?
There’s a lyric in the song ‘Trust,’ which is just me and an acoustic guitar, that is “Beauty is the only way to make the nightmares go away/I’ll plant the garden in your brain and let the roots absorb the pain.” Seeing that line through someone else’s eyes, in their context, taught me what the song is about, even though I wrote it.

What were some highlights for you this year?
I guess it began with our album release and our tour. Going to SXSW felt like a touchstone moment; we’d never played a festival like that. Touring with Car Seat Headrest, another Matador band, was awesome in September, just because I love their record that came out this year. Playing with the Decemberists was really cool, because we’re all big fans of them. Playing Lollapalooza was awesome. I’m just talking about music highlights. Maybe our hometown show at the National here in Richmond where I’ve seen all my favorite bands like St. Vincent, Pixies, Neutral Milk Hotel. We played a headlining show there, and that maybe was the biggest deal of this year so far, because everyone in the crowd was someone from my life or someone I cared about; some people I didn’t even know who went to my high school but knew all the words; people who knew me when I was seven and singing at our church. It felt like a real surreal day.

What were some of your favorite records of 2016?
My most listened to records of this year, for sure: Big Thief’s Masterpiece—I love that record and that band. Andy Shauf’s The Party, Car Seat Headrest’s Teens Of Denial, Julia Jacklin’s album Don’t Let The Kids Win. Solange’s album is awesome. Chance The Rapper’s album: so good. Beyoncé’s album: really, really good. What am I missing? Oh, Y La Bamba put out an album this year, and it’s maybe the most underrated album of the year in my opinion. It’s so, so good.

Enjoy your time off!
It’s so nice just to lay around!

—Steve Klinge

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A Conversation With Bob Weir

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Not since 1978 has singer/songwriter/guitarist Bob Weir released a solo album with his name alone above the title. That’s until the new, country-ish Blue Mountain. Yet no one could fault him for laziness, as this founding member of the Grateful Dead has—since that psychedelic San Francisco treat disbanded in 1995 after Jerry Garcia’s death—worked and recorded as Bobby And The Midnites, Kingfish, RatDog, Furthur and in duo settings with Rob Wasserman. Famously in reunion with the surviving Dead, he played 2015’s Fare Thee Well goodbyes and continued to tour (yeah, we know) with John Mayer as Dead & Company in 2016. Starting with this year’s release of multi-artist tribute Day Of The Dead, Weir has thrown in his lot with the National, whose membership curated that boxed set and play all over Blue Mountain with other cats like Craig Finn, Josh Kaufman and Josh Ritter. Then there’s that beard …

Your last 12-16 months have been auspicious and relatively unceasing. Are you someone who needs to be moving nonstop because you’re easily bored, because there’s so much music in you that you must get it out, or do you owe somebody money?
Actually, it’s a combination of all of them. I’m not positive how much I do owe, but at this point, I’m doing OK. A lot of great stuff comes my way in terms of making music, and it’s hard to say no. That’s what I’m here for. Yeah, I’m easily bored, but I’m also as lazy as the next guy. For some reason, I’m staying busy.

Are you a man who compartmentalizes things, ideas and sounds, or do they intermingle among projects?
You know, that’s a good question. I have to wonder about that. This record for instance—I don’t think it sounds much like what I’ve done in the past, and you can put that down to people I was working and writing with. Then again, I did some of the writing myself. It’s not like other stuff, that it presented itself as an entity without a border or past connection. It wasn’t meant to be a part of what has come before for me.

You say entity without past, and there’s Josh Kaufman, Josh Ritter, Craig Finn and the guys from the National. Did they bring this to you, this country ragtime thing—did they have a mindset? What do you mean this came to you?
It came to me, and it came to us. Kaufman and Ritter had talked amongst themselves and brought the piece to me. Then it revealed itself to us more as we were writing it.

Got it. It was this arranged organic process that took off once you all got together.
Yeah, we had no idea what we were looking at or looking for. It all revealed itself through the sessions.

This question is not meant to sound vampiric: The two Joshes, the National, doing the Dead with John Mayer and Trey Anastasio. Are you purposely playing with cats outside your usual circle or younger players because you’re looking for a fresh coat of paint? Or are they great players, and age be damned?
Definitely the latter. If I’m working with younger guys, there’s always a certain amount of stuff I can impart after having played for a long time. Overall, though, I’m just looking to interact and to live it. To work with what they have to offer. It’s the back and forth.

Let’s look at how and what the National did in curating Day Of The Dead with alternative bands—and you—as part of the bigger Grateful Dead picture. What was your take on how they viewed your legacy?
It became real apparent to me—quickly—that what they hear is what I’m hoping people will hear. The National, for instance—I can hear in their playing what they heard in me; the roots thing that I’m working from, the heritage of country or whatever. Insofar as we revere the same traditions, we speak the same language, and that means we can converse easily.

There’s a fantastic photo of you, your daughter and your wife at the San Francisco Debutante Ball with you in dashing white tie and tails. What are you thinking?
It wasn’t my first Debutante Ball. I attended one in my youth, and we certainly played them. There’s a tradition. I had separated myself from that world for years—not renounced—but it creeps back in, especially where my older daughter is concerned. I was kind of tickled about that. I was born and raised within that dynamic.

You were forever the clean-shaven pretty one in the Dead. Not that you’re not still pretty, but what’s with the General Burnside beard? It’s gorgeous. Why grow it?
I was just on the road and missed a few shaves. Those several days turned into a week and a half, and the next thing you know I looked like a Civil War cavalry man. It just kind of happened.

On the new album, lyrically, you’re working with Ritter. It hit me—you’ve collaborated with other wordsmiths in the past. What level of trust must you have in someone to let them tell your story?
There’s a lot of back and forth, and rather than trust, I would say we share vision. That’s openness toward those involved, and Ritter’s one truly open individual.

Do you recall what song came first during the Blue Mountain sessions and how that guided the rest of its vibe?
I do. The title song—it’s like a cowboy tune, a place to hang our hat and to let the other songs circle around. It was a bunk house in Wyoming where I began that.

It’s not as if you haven’t worked on other projects since 1978, but Blue Mountain is the first to have your name out front, in lights, all by its lonesome. Why is that?
The other albums—they’re all me. This is just a little more me.

—A.D. Amorosi

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Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: My Morning Jacket’s Jim James Interviewed By Wyclef Jean

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

Interview by Wyclef Jean

Photo by James Elliot Bailey

For me, I got up on Jim James because I’m one of those artists who’s always in search of other artists who are bigger than just the music, who actually have a voice and lend their voice to the world. I think that we share the same undertone when it comes to the idea of looking at the world how we look at the world. For example, when he got involved and did the song for the election about where the stance of what was going on in the world with Trump, that’s just a prime example. For me, an artist who always puts the truth before the art … I definitely always respect that. In a sense, I’m a big Pink Floyd fan, and I love artists who when they’re producing music, it almost sounds like an audio movie. That’s some of the discoveries I’ve been finding out about Jim. I love a lot of that audio-film vibe. I’m a fan. —Wyclef Jean

Wyclef Jean: Sometimes I go through like 27 album names before I decide—making my labels so crazy—because they’ll be like, “What’s the name of the album?” I’ll be like, “This is the album name.” And then, a week later I’ll get an epiphany and be like, “This is the name.” So did you have a few names for this album, or this was just it—you just focused on Eternally Even?
Jim James: I did have a few names. It was funny. At first I wanted to call it Future Generations for many reasons, but then—it’s hilarious—the day before I was going to call it that officially, there’s a band called Future Generations that came out with an album called Future Generations. And then I was going to call it Silent Majority, but that felt weird as well—because I wanted it to have some kind of political feeling, because I was trying to talk about a lot of what’s going on today in the world. But it just seemed like the universe just didn’t want that to be so blatantly put out there. So I felt like “Eternally Even”—as a song it talks about a lot of things. But I have this thing: You know when you go out to have dinner with a friend or a family member or somebody you love, and one of you pays for dinner and the other person is like, “Oh, I owe you one.” I always feel like—I have friends and loved ones who don’t owe each other anything; you know, you’re kind of eternally even. I just feel like, in a larger sense, I wish humans could treat each other that way. I wish we could take pride in taking care of each other instead of taking so much pride in making money and trying to be successful and all this stuff. We could shift our focus on trying to take care of each other, trying to provide people with health insurance, trying to just be better people to each other.

Jean: It’s so funny, I’m telling you, we share the same goal. I just put out this 2016 version of “If I Was President.” The first time I did that it was on the Dave Chappelle show. So after we get off the phone, definitely check out Wyclef Jean 2016. I take everything like what you’re talking about—you’re gonna really enjoy it. I can share the same mindset. So my next question is a geeked-out question: Personally, my best work, honestly, always comes out when I build a tiny-ass fuckin’ studio, and I go in, and it’s not big—like when I did the Fugees; it was in my basement. Right now, I just built this small 5.1 room in the middle of a storefront. I’m weird like that. So my question for you was—as far as the recording process, I know we both have home studios—is it easier when you’re just in small studios or when you lay out in the bigger studios?
James: I’m into it all, but most of my life I’ve done renegade home recording. I moved out to L.A. in December, and I rented this crazy place out in the middle of nowhere with two tortoises living there and a big old storage container, and I just brought a few things—my laptop, a couple mic trees, a couple mics. It kind of felt like I was in a spaceship on Mars out in the middle of nowhere.

Jean: What part of L.A. is that?
James: Montecito Heights.

Jean: Oh, I know where that’s at. I’m telling you, man, I always find the renegades are best for me—out of nowhere.
James: Definitely. It’s weird, I feel like in big studios sometimes you can get great sounds, like great drum sounds or whatever, but I feel like you’re always playing with other people’s vibes that have already been there. Like, if you’re cutting in the studio where Prince cut Purple Rain or whatever—I almost don’t want to do that. You know, Prince cut Purple Rain—I don’t even want to try and compete with those vibes.

Jean: I so understand that. So I definitely checked the first single, and just the title of it, “Here In Spirit”—when I was going through all your stuff, I noticed there’s this constant thread. In John Lennon’s music, there’s this constant thread of consciousness. And it’s not a forced consciousness, it’s just a natural consciousness. So I wanted to talk about the release of this new single. What’s the vibe with it? How did it come to be?
James: I wrote it, like, the day after that Orlando shooting at the Pulse nightclub. And all the shootings going on, the police shootings and the ISIS killings and all this violence—not that there hasn’t always been violence on Earth with humans, but it just seems like lately shit has been so fucked up, and there’s so much hatred and bigotry and so much terrible stuff being broadcast. It’s really important that we speak out for peace and love, and we speak out for equality and we try to give that as much of our time as all the hatred and bullshit. You know, we need to speak loud for what’s right, to try to bring peace and love to the world. So that’s pretty much in a nutshell what that song’s about.

Jean: And peace and love is possible, right, through music.
James: Absolutely. Sometimes it seems like it’s not possible. Sometimes it seems like the world is so fucked up. I think there’s always a possibility for redemption and love.

Jean: You know I respect a lot of what you do. I got a chance to spend a lot of time with Bono—he’s one of my mentors—and he always says, “Listen, there’s a thin line between being a rock star and speaking up,” you know? And I’m like, “You motherfuckers did, like, ‘Bloody Sunday’ when it was necessary.” I always respect the people that say, “Come on, man, let’s use the art first for everything else.” And I think there are too many artists that are like—you know, I ran for president for my country, I’ve done stuff that was not popular, and they came after me. They expect us to be in a certain shell. So I always yield to musicians that understand their art. And speaking about this, this record “Same Old Lie,” where you don’t hold back on Donald Trump, presidential elections. Talk to me a little about that, because we got the last debate coming up in the next couple of hours.
James: Just the notion that a man like Donald Trump could even be entertained as the possibility for president just makes me want to cry. It’s so sad. You know, anybody who knows anything has known that since the beginning, how terrible his presidency would be, and when that tape came out with him talking so terribly—everybody was so shocked and surprised by that. But it’s hilarious because we’ve all already known that. I don’t know if you saw Michelle Obama’s speech the other night.

Jean: Yeah, definitely.
James: Oh, my god, it was so beautiful and so eloquent, and it just perfectly sums up that it’s just not about politics anymore. It’s just about human decency and people treating each other right. It’s not about any politics at all. And “Same Old Lie” is just kind of talking about how sick I am and how sick most people are of all the bullshit and all the lies—and can’t we just get back into a place where love comes first? Why is that so hard? Why is that so difficult?

Jean: Yeah, I dig that, and I think a lot of people definitely share your ideology, and then you got a group of people that’s still trying to find their way—I definitely respect that a hundred percent. I think the hardest thing for us to do as writers and producers is to find someone who can be like our sidekick at times. You know what I mean? Like a Batman and Robin. And we rarely have that in life. Me, I’ve probably found that, like, twice. It’s so hard to find a wingman—somebody to ride with you. So I wanted to talk with you about Blake Mills—he helped co-produce. So what’s the movement in the studio? When I have a co-producer, we move a certain way. So what’s it like with you? Let me know what’s up with Blake.
James: Blake’s great. I’m sure you know from working with people, it’s always different, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Blake was an experiment because I had never worked with him before, and this whole record was strange because I had already made the record before I had started working with Blake. But I felt like it could be better, and I felt like somebody could help me. When you’re working on something—especially if you’re working on something in your house and you’re the only one working on it—you kind of can lose perspective because you’re kind of buried in it. I need somebody to come in with fresh ears and help me bring it out. And I met Blake and really liked his vibe, and I went and played him what I’d recorded already, and he was into it and had some great ideas. So I just took a chance—it could have not worked out. But I was just feeling fresh. There’s been a lot of change in my life lately—I’ve moved, a lot of stuff’s been changing. So I’ve got friends and producers I’ve worked with in the past who I really love, but I felt like I wanted to try something completely different.

Jean: That’s a good thing, man. I’m telling you, it’s great to sometimes step out. I think for people like us, we’re always searching. “What’s the next, what’s the next?” You know, “What’s our energy?” I remember with my first solo album, The Carnival, I was just like, “Fuck it. I’m gonna do something weird,” whatever was in my brain. And then it was funny: When I tried to depart from my first solo album and tried to prompt the second record, it definitely worked, but it was a little weird—because people are expecting something. It was constantly evolving and changing. So I was wondering: What did that departure feel like—leaving the solo joint, prompting for the second one? And of course, everyone would be like, “Why now?” You know they’re always asking us, “Why now? Why now? Why this second?”
James: Right. I don’t know if it’s the same for you, but for me music comes or it doesn’t, and I really don’t have much control over it—when it decides to come into my mind, you know, nobody really knows where it comes from, nobody knows why it happens. And I’ve kind of realized over the years of putting out so many records that whenever I put out a record, somebody’s always going to hate it and somebody’s always going to like it. So that’s really freeing, to know that I can really change whenever I want or do whatever I want just to find the music that I love. And you really have to almost forget that anybody’s ever going to listen to it at all. Because it’s just like every time: If you never change, somebody’s going to complain because you never change, and then if you do change, somebody complains because you did change. I feel like I just try to forget all that and make the music that’s coming into my brain and into my heart.

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A Conversation With Dweezil Zappa

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For 2016, Dweezil Zappa was just trying to reconnect to his solo career with his first album in a decade, Via Zammata’, before going on the road this autumn for his annual Zappa Plays Zappa dates, this year celebrating father Frank’s 50th anniversary of the Mothers Of Invention’s legendarily avant-psychedelic-free-jazz Freak Out. That is, until the hammer came down and the heads of the Zappa Family Trust (brother Ahmet and sister Diva) began tearing apart the rights and heritage/holdings of Dweezil and sister Moon, making it impossible for the former to keep his dad’s legacy (his guitars, let alone the brand-name ZPZ tour celebrating the elder Zappa’s genius. So Dweezil has renamed his October showcase “50 Years Of Frank: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants: The Cease And Desist Tour.” Here’s why.

How’s getting back to solo life been? In the last 10 years, we’ve seen you handling your father’s stuff exclusively.
There’s been a different audience for my Via Zammata’ tour than my straight Frank Zappa shows. There wasn’t a direct transfer of fan base. There are people who like what I do, generally a lot younger, as opposed to my Zappa Plays Zappa gig—which is now no longer called that. I will, however, add some Via Zammata’ stuff to the shows.

As a solo artist and a guitarist, do you feel as if you picked up where 2006’s Go With What You Know left off?
Not really, since each album was so different from the next, with Via Zammata’ being a big departure from my other music in that it’s very song-centric. It’s more defined in what my solo music will sound like moving forward. I have song-oriented stuff as well as a guitar-centric album planned next—two different directions.

Speaking of albums, do you have any criticism on those recently released rare Frank records like Frank Zappa For President, The Crux Of The Biscuit, Lumpy Money Project/Object or The Road Tapes? Even the Eat The Question doc?
I love the film. Those records? I haven’t heard them and had nothing to do with them since they’re through the Trust. They’re not exactly sending me copies of what they’re releasing.

That’s a perfect setup for the next questions. I know you all fought over the Zappa Plays Zappa name and the mustache imagery, but you don’t even get a crack at your father’s vaults?
The way they’re operating is without my or my sister Moon’s involvement. We’re shareholders without say in what’s done, so they do whatever they hell they want.

I’ve read many letters between you and Ahmet, or you and the Trust. Are you able to speak to Ahmet as your brother?
I haven’t spoken to Ahmet since my mom’s funeral, so there’s no communication.

You changed the name of the showcase and the tour has no Trust connection. What can you play?
It’s a good thing that I’m now unconnected because I have the freedom to perform what I want. They wanted to control everything: name, songs, merchandise. That didn’t sound appealing, so I emancipated myself from the Trust.

You can play whatever you want of your dad’s stuff, just as I could play it?
But I can’t even use my father’s image onstage. I’m not allowed to promote myself doing a night of Zappa music, though anyone else could. They don’t get cease-and-desist letters.

I know the answer to this, but your dad wasn’t the litigious type. It was your mom’s doing. When did you first gather this, that she was this person?
Was 100 percent her. It was only after my father died that she came into a role that she created—that of an oligarch. The problem was she didn’t have knowledge of the music, but on the outside, she wanted to pretend as if she was protecting his rights, the rights of the music. Nothing to spread the music to the next generations—she didn’t care and shot down so many opportunities. It was always, “How dare you?” rather than welcome anyone to further his music for future audiences.

That’s why you did ZPZ in the first place.
Because his music was stagnating when it deserved to be heard. And what people did know about it, as wrongly categorized by some media, was that it was novelty or comedy music. I wanted to expose people to a broader sense of Frank—more of his strengths as a guitarist/composer, to be better understood. Even as a member of the family, though, I had so many avenues blocked to me. It’s all ridiculous. The one person who did the most for the entire family … well, it’s like that old phrase, no good deed goes unpunished.

Do you know why your mom placed two of you in a situation of greater control and the other two with lesser control?
There’s not one simple answer, but one is that she had run herself and the business into the ground, spent $20 million on lawsuits, and by her demise was $6 million in debt. She had not paid me—on tour monies and merch—for the last 10 years, and I called her out on that. We were embattled. So that’s an easy place to start—she wanted to remain in charge over me even when she passed. It goes beyond all that, though. When my dad died, he gave me all of his guitars, which she later repossessed and is now putting into auction. She told us there was no will of his, which was a lie.

Is there anything the Trust or Ahmet can do to right these wrongs?
Well, it’s within his power to overturn or change a lot of what has been done—say with the guitars—but I don’t think that will happen soon.

—A.D. Amorosi

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A Conversation With John K. Samson

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Refusal to capitulate to expectations is the mark of an artist, and John K. Samson has that designation down cold. He will stay holed up in his hometown of Winnipeg for years, growing his hair and beard until he looks like Catholic Jesus. He will not update his website in a timely manner. He’ll let his former band, the Weakerthans, wither and die on the vine. And he won’t issue an album of clever, melodic pop/punk just because you want him to. What he’s been cultivating instead is his second solo album, Winter Wheat, 15 mostly doleful songs featuring vocals slow-dancing around fingerpicked acoustic guitar. The songs are quiet and emotionally intense, and they unfold like a collection of short stories in which characters and themes recur and play off each other.

On one hand, it’s an album about a dying planet and late-period capitalism: “Vampire Alberta Blues” (a riff on Neil Young’s “Vampire Blues”) protests sucking oil from the land, and “Capital” tells of how bankers fleeced the citizens of “a one-bar Wi-Fi kind of town.” But it’s not all Bernie Sanders rally soundtrack—the most affecting songs here are finely detailed character portraits of struggling academics, drug addicts and other assorted losers trying to stay afloat and alive. At times, Samson is mining a similar vein to the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle, inhabiting some dark psychic corners with laser-focused lyrics. Amid all this sad-bastardom, Samson’s notes of hope ring loud and true: “I believe in you and your PowerPoints,” he sings on “Postdoc Blues.” Who among us couldn’t be saved by a sentiment like that?

MAGNET recently caught up with Samson.

The majority of the Weakerthans appear on this album, so I assume the band’s breakup was somewhat amicable. How did that decision to disband happen, and how do you feel about letting that part of your career go?
We prefer “cryogenically frozen” to “broken up,” because no one ever really breaks up, it seems. It was a very slow and amicable process, so I was surprised that people were surprised. I took many of the songs along with me when I started playing solo shows four or five years ago, so I guess that gave me time to get used to the idea. I’ll definitely miss parts of it, but I’m happy to be working on a smaller scale.

You seem interested in the internet but you don’t participate in the social aspects of it: Twitter, etc. Why do you think some people find such solace and community online, while others just don’t connect that way at all?
Yeah, I’m definitely very interested in the internet, maybe obsessed. One of the themes that runs through this record is “delusional thinking” and how sometimes we need to figure out how to live with our delusions in order to survive. I think the internet is a kind of delusion—it can make some of us feel less alone, but it doesn’t actually make us less alone. In many cases feeling less alone and being less alone are the same thing. But for some of us the internet has the opposite effect—it makes us feel more alone, when in fact we are the same amount of alone as we ever were. I was thinking a lot about a book, The End Of Absence, by Michael Harris, while writing this record. Harris thinks that those of us who are among the last humans to know life both with and without the internet have a duty to preserve some valuable elements of that time—the joys of being lost, being separated by distance, meeting a loved one after a long absence, being bored, writing letters and so on. I do love the internet, but I’d be grateful for more skeptical thinking about it.

There is a kind of bravery in putting out an album like Winter Wheat: 15 songs, mostly acoustic, with semi-spoken-word things like “Quiz Night”—when you must be aware that there is a larger audience for an album of pop/punk anthems.
It was a relief to make something small and direct. It felt right. Maybe I never felt entirely comfortable being loud.

Three artists that I think–or have been told—influenced this album: Neil Young, John Prine, John Darnielle. Would you be able to pick a favorite or poignant song by each and say a sentence or two about it, either in relation to your work or just what you like about it?
Some of Winter Wheat was inspired by Neil Young’s record On The Beach, so I’m pretty deeply attached to those songs, but his soundtrack for the Jim Jarmusch film Dead Man had the biggest impact on me. I saw it in the theater when it came out in 1995, and the next morning I went to a music store here in Winnipeg and bought my first electric guitar. I hadn’t really thought of playing one before. I played electric bass and acoustic guitar, but it hadn’t crossed my mind that I could make interesting noises with an electric guitar. Dead Man made me think I could and made me want to try.

I love how John Prine animates the world. In the case of “Rocky Mountain Time,” he makes objects come alive and enlists them to play a song with him. It is a beautiful idea. He’s the master of starting a line somewhere and ending up way further ahead than you expected to be. Like you’ll hear, “The water tastes funny when you’re far from your home” and you think,”Yeah, that’s true,” and then he comes back with, “But it’s only the thirsty who hunger to roam,” and you go, “Whoa! Where’d that come from! And it rhymes, too!” It is like being shown a really good card trick. I also like that he lets you know the character might be an unreliable narrator, “I can’t even make friends with my brain,” but doesn’t hit you over the head with it.

I love John Darnielle’s entire body of work. The accretion of all his songs makes something beautiful and big and interconnected, and taken individually the songs are always surprising and smart. “Psalm 40:2,” for example, is a frightening and beautiful story, with enough room to let the listener wonder and wander a bit. I sing this one to myself often, I’m not sure why I find it so comforting, but I really do. I also adore the rhythm section on this song, so vibrant and propulsive and alive.

Last album’s “When I Write My Master’s Thesis” and this album’s “Postdoc Blues.” Did you go to college? I know you teach at one—what interests you about characters involved in academia?
I went to university for about six months when I was 18, failed wildly and dropped out, and I’m no longer teaching. It was an online program anyway, so I never really got a sense of what academic life is like. But many of my friends are academics, and I’ve always been interested in that world. There’s something beautiful about specialized knowledge and vernaculars. Almost all the academics I know are extremely thoughtful and caring, and I feel like the world would be a better place if some of them were given more attention in the wider culture. I think academics are often marginalized because their work is progressive and revolutionary. It is easy for the status quo to contain ideas within the academy, so they don’t leak out and threaten to actually change the world. And I think the academy itself often does the work of making sure that doesn’t happen. So I have a lot of sympathy for academics, for sure.

Who is Virtute’s owner? I used to think it was you, but this album hints that it is the character at the 17th St Treatment Centre.
I think of that character as an extremely exaggerated version of myself. For example, like the character, I am now sober and I do take antidepressants, but I’m also happily married, have never had to go to a treatment center and prefer dogs.

Which brings us to a theme in your work: rehabilitation and reconstruction of the spirit. I always get a sense of compassion from these songs, not voyeurism. What makes you predisposed to characterize addicts and fuckups and failed academics as sympathetic?
Thanks, I’m really glad to hear that. I think there’s something political about finding a way to have empathy for other people, especially people who have messed up, or are messed up. And that’s pretty much everybody, I guess. I love the people who can’t fit in, who can’t make their flaws pretty, and can’t disguise their struggles.

Is “Alpha Adept” the answer song to “Quiz Night At Looky Lou’s”?
Yeah, I felt bad about leaving that guy out there all alone at the end of “Quiz Night,” so I wanted to find a way for him to live and maybe even thrive with his delusions.

You have good taste in fiction and once recommended an excellent book to me (Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness). What books or genres do you enjoy that are generally considered in bad taste? Celebrity tell-alls, books about zombies from Mars … what’s in your closet?
Isn’t that a great book? I often return to it. I wrote “Winter Wheat,” the title track, partly for Nomi, the main character in A Complicated Kindness. Toews’ latest novel, All My Puny Sorrows, is exceptional, if you are looking for another good read. I like sports biographies. Some of them are great. Andre Agassi’s Open is a good example—the first chapter is a ghost-writing master class. I re-read Jim Bouton’s classic Ball Four every other year or so. But most sports bios, like David Ortiz’s Big Papa: My Story Of Big Dreams And Big Hits aren’t exactly good. I read and love them anyway.

Last question: When you turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana, was it really saving the best for last, or was the previous wine just a crappy vintage? (Sorry. I just saw your new press photos. Forgive me!)
Ha! I’m way too old to be Jesus now. But I’m Way Too Old To Be Jesus Now might be a good title for my sports biography. Would you like to be the ghostwriter? Split the advance? You’d have to brush up on beer-league curling and fantasy baseball.

—Matthew Fritch

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Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: Against Me!’s Laura Jane Grace Interviewed By Joan Jett

againstme

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

Interview by Joan Jett

Photo by Christian Lantry

I met Laura Jane Grace when Against Me! and the Blackhearts were playing the Warped Tour in 2006. This was before Laura’s transition began on a physical level—but on a mental level, the groundwork was being laid. I found her story to be very brave and raw: a story of Laura’s life, trials and tribulations, which shows the common ground of the experience of youth, music and the obstacles of transitioning. Her memoir, Tranny: Confessions Of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, is a courageous look at her work in progress, finding her true self. —Joan Jett

Joan Jett: Hello!
Laura Jane Grace: Hey, Joan!

Jett: Hey. How are you doing?
Grace: Good, I’m really good. Are you in L.A.? I just got to L.A. yesterday.

Jett: Really? Yeah, we got to L.A. around four this morning.
Grace: Oh, awesome, are you playing?

Jett: Yeah, we’re playing tomorrow night at the Forum.
Grace: Oh, no way.

Jett: Yeah, we’re in the middle of a tour with Cheap Trick and Heart. It’s about three months. It’s been going really well. Big crowds, you know; there are a lot of hits from those two bands, especially. What are you doing?
Grace: I’m just doing photo stuff with the band. I’d love to come out and see that show if I can.

Jett: Yeah, I think it would be totally great if you guys came to the show.
Grace: Yeah, we’re just out here doing photo stuff. We’re on tour in, like, two weeks.

Jett: I’m almost done with your book! I wanted to finish it before we spoke. It’s one of those reads where you just wanna find out what happens! Right now, I’m just starting chapter 10. You’re a wild motherfucker, man! [Laughs]
Grace: [Laughs] I’m terrified of the idea of people reading my book. I mean, you’re, like, my friend, and I’m terrified of the idea of people reading what is basically my diary, you know?

Jett: Right! But I don’t think it’s anything to be scared of, really; it’s just kind of a window into all the stuff you were going through. I think it’s very brave, actually, very brave. I really do see a lot of my own self in that kind of stuff—you know, the partying and just, you know, all the craziness of rock ’n’ roll, punk rock, the whole dream.
Grace: Right.

Jett: And how similar it can be to reality and how different your perception of it is. Does that make any sense?
Grace: Oh, completely, yeah. You know, like there’s all those moments where you find yourself thinking, like, “Woah, I’m doing that thing I imagined myself doing when I was younger.” And this is actually it, and it’s happening. And comparing what you thought it would be like to what it’s actually like is pretty stark.

Jett: Yeah, definitely. So … what are we supposed to talk about? Oh, I wanted to ask you something specific. You know how that North Carolina law went into effect? Of course, you do. We were gonna not play North Carolina, and then we started hearing from a lot of gay/trans fans saying, “Why are you punishing us for what those assholes did?” And so, I started thinking about it, and I thought, “You know what? Why not just go in there? Stick it up their asses, and give the money to organizations that help prevent discrimination, you know, across the board.” To me, that’s the way I want to fight ’em. Those politicians, who want to keep this stuff; we want to put it right in their face in some sense. I just want that government to take notice.
Grace: I agree 100 percent. That’s the reality of it, too. The people who make shitty laws like that and who are discriminatory—they have money. We need to fight against things like that. Unfortunately, the opposition needs to be funded, too. That’s just the way it is.

Jett: It is the way it is. So that’s why I think it’s a good way to fight it. Take the money that we make at the gig and just put it right back in the community. Say we’re real, we mean it, we want to play here, we don’t need these kind of politicians to go and screw up your state. I think that most North Carolinians aren’t at the heart of this. I don’t think they’re so hateful. If they explore their own lives, they’ll find people in their own families who, on some level, are in these communities—gay, lesbian, trans, whatever. They all know people who they care about that are in these communities, and we aren’t going anywhere, so they’ve gotta get used to it.
Grace: This relates: I know that one of the things that MAGNET wanted us to talk about was when we first met at the Warped Tour. And the Warped Tour has this similar thing to that. I know maybe not as much back then when we did it, but nowadays there’s, like, military recruiters at the Warped Tour. I heard something about them having a pro-life booth at the Warped Tour. A lot of bands have that argument—I’m against those things, but I’m doing the Warped Tour or doing whatever tour, so I can be there as a sign of opposition to that. Stuff like that though, the military recruiters and all that—when do you think the advent of all that was? Like, do you remember that in the ’80s/’90s, or was it strictly like the 2000s that that started happening?

Jett: What, seeing the military recruiters there? It probably did start … the beginning of the 2000s. I’m not sure if I remember seeing that in the mid-’90s. I just remember that I’ve been seeing them around for a long time. We were in eastern Europe in the ’90s, and my military take on this might be a little different. Because after the Runaways broke up, I was in a really bad place—way fucked up, partying way too much. My dream had just been destroyed; I felt like a whole city was laughing at me, saying, “Told you it wouldn’t work, told you it wouldn’t work.” And at that time, I kind of stood out—it was before everybody was dressing punk rock and it was sort of ubiquitous, the way it is now, you know, there’s a lot more kids out there. But I just felt really … I didn’t know what to do. It was at that point: “I don’t think I want to kill myself, but I’m sad enough that I want to think about that,” I don’t know, I guess at one point I thought, “Maybe, I’ll join the military.” It’ll give me a couple of years to figure out what the hell I want to do; I’ll get some kind of training. I was kind of thinking along those lines, seriously, for about two weeks. And then I met Kenny Laguna, who became my songwriting partner first and then my manager because nobody would manage me. And then producer. And so, when I look at the military, I see a lot of those people being me—I could be there. And it’s, like, a lot of people join the military not to fight wars but to do exactly what I was looking to do. Figure out a direction. Figure out what you want to be in life. I didn’t know if I was at the end of my teenage dream of becoming a rock star and I had to look for something different or if I could continue to play music. But at that point, I couldn’t, and I needed to figure out what to do. So I feel differently about the military in a sense that people are here—god forbid there ever is a war on our land or anything—to protect us. And given that there only is about one percent of people serving, that’s not very large. There’s not many people who really feel the need to give back at all. It’s an interesting angle, too—you see different countries where service is mandatory. I kind of think that’s a good idea.
Grace: I get that, too. I understand that conflict being, like, “No, I’m against militarization and I’m against war.” But at the same time, I grew up in a military family. I know the benefits that my family has from seeing the world and traveling at a young age. It is people like that. I have family members, too, who joined up for those reasons that you’re talking about, who probably would have killed themselves if they didn’t have that direction to go in. It was a positive thing in their life, for whatever reason, and it didn’t have anything to do with them wanting to start wars. It’s a tough conflict—it’s tough when it comes to recruiters being at a festival, but I don’t know, it’s one of those things, you know?

Jett: I guess they just go where the young people are, you know? That’s what it boils down to. I don’t have any kind of visceral reaction as far as going, “Oh my god, they gotta get the fuck outta here!” I just normally go, “Oh, you know, somebody might be interested, it might save somebody’s life today.” Who am I to judge? That’s when I start getting into that—who am I to proclaim that I know more?
Grace: Did you feel more like that when you were younger, or did it take you awhile to get to that place?

Jett: Oh no, it took me awhile! That’s why it’s so hard to grow up in our lifestyle. It’s hard to grow up; it’s a difficult thing if you make it, not just physically. It’s the mental aspect of it—you know, your brain is made to think, and that’s what it does. What we do is we get caught up in the thought. I read a lot of books trying to get myself away from my ego and away from all of those mind games. You know, if you’re in a car and you’re driving across town and all the sudden you think, “How did I get here? I wasn’t even paying any attention, and now I’m here.” That’s called the working mind. And the thinking mind is the mind that’s going, “Am I going too fast? Was I supposed to make a left?” All that bullshit that screws us up instead of us just being in the moment. I know that just sounds like the same old prose that people give about things, but you know that I find that growing up mentally has been … I like it!
Grace: Sometimes, you need those sharp edges to be grounded a little bit. That makes you a better person, when you have those experiences that kind of test those things.

Jett: Yeah, I mean, I can get very explosive. I recognize myself in you and parts of the book, and you know—quick to anger, ready for a fight. And I don’t want to be like that anymore. I want to be able to have some level of control over angry thoughts—there’s too much anger in the world now. I don’t want to contribute to that. That part of growing older and being able to say, “Take a breath, walk away, don’t talk now because you know you’re gonna say some stupid shit.” It’s stuff you don’t mean that’s very hurtful. That’s where you’ll go, you’ll go for the heart, and you don’t wanna do that. It’s becoming bad karma. If it’s somebody I don’t want to deal with, I just leave it, as opposed to trying to get them back or whatever. I don’t know if I’m making sense.
Grace: No, totally. That’s what’s fucked up is, in response to whatever your conditions are. For me, I was quick to anger and quick to fighting and everything like that because I always got my ass kicked. So, like, I had to become that way in order to survive through certain situations. But you get to the point where, because of the hassle that is caused by trouble like that, you have to unlearn those reflexes once you become an adult. Which is fucked up, because it wasn’t your fault to begin with!

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A Conversation With Jah Wobble

jahwobble

Despite being part of British punk’s early days—palling with Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious—John Wardle didn’t mesh with that music’s aggression, choosing instead spiky reggae as his calling card, and waiting until post-punk to make his move: becoming bassist/composer Jah Wobble. As one-third of Public Image Ltd., he crafted an ominous, muscular mix of dub and krautrock, a blend that steadied him for projects after leaving PiL with Can members (Jaki Liebezeit, Holger Czukay) and U2’s The Edge. When he wasn’t busy as a collaborator (Brian Eno, Primal Scream, etc.), Wobble found a solo sound mixing tones from China, the Middle East and North Africa with various forms of post-bop jazz for his Invaders Of The Heart project, whose newest album, Everything Is Nothing, is a lush, silvery Miles Davis-ish masterpiece. He’s a damned fine painter and writer (autobiography Memoirs Of A Geezer is frank and funny), and 2015’s six-CD Redux is a must-have for Wobble completists.

Considering your lengthy, wide-ranging résumé, I’m guessing you’re not a man to stand still in one job. What was your last proper non-musical gig?
I quit everything and did the clean-and-sober thing in 1986. I was out of music, maybe a few weeks, and got a straight full-time job while doing music part-time. I worked the Underground in London. I did some driving job. I also managed a glass warehouse during that time, which was the worst. All of it though, it was nice to be a regular guy in a canteen drinking tea. Very grounding.

Redux is a cool package, a real clearinghouse of who you’ve been in the last 30 years. In its text, you write about having an incredible love of family. I know you’ve worked with your wife (Chinese zither player Zi Lan Liao). Are you John or Jah to them?
My youngest son is a professional footballer. My oldest son’s a pro boxer. Both are musicians. I feel as if they like me, that I’m not the dumbest guy in the world. I joke with my wife how she came to this country, married “Jah Wobble” and that it must be a true fairy tale for her.

I wasn’t going to bore you with PiL, but … When John Lydon formed a band that was a self-contained corporation, what was your reaction?
Well, all John asked me, at first, was to join him and make a new band. We were both inclined to something dubby. He got Keith (Levine) involved, one of the best guitarists around at the time. John wanted people he felt secure with—it was only after that that he decided on making PiL a company; one at first, which was all about taking the mickey out of corporatism. It was good fun, until, eventually, it all became very corporate. It reminded me of what happened with the Pistols and McLaren’s Glitterbest. All the money went into the company, but none of it came out to us—certainly not into my hands, so the business side of PiL was very bad. What you don’t realize is that PiL went into receivership—chapter 11 and everything. It took forever to get any royalties out if it, and even then, our Virgin deal meant that we split that with them 50/50,

Everything Is Nothing is very Miles Davis in several ways. Why use that as a frame of reference going forward?
Miles truly became a part of me. So many people have turned me on to more Miles since I started. I hardly listen to him now, but it obviously lasted, not just the specifics of his trumpet sound but also how he went about doing music and living life. Like I did with Stockhausen, I’ve read every Miles interview. He was very anti-bourgeois, hated cliché players. And he’s right. You should never be cliché or too mannered—so it goes beyond musical influence into something more, a deeper part of you, really.

Beyond just Miles, his longtime producer Teo Macero—his spirit is very much a part of the new album’s sound, futurist post-bop, blissful yet aggressive. It’s as if you channeled Macero and Miles through the lens of the Invaders and your compositions.
I can’t believe you’re saying that. Wow. I just had this long conversation with Bill Laswell about Miles’ whole Teo Macero era. Now that my boys are older and I can work more, I started thinking of ways to segue from my ’90s stuff like Rise Above Bedlam into the present and future. I have a lot of new material, too. We did a show in Brixton early last year, and one of our favorite studios is there, so we went in for fun, and I just started calling chord changes out to the band—go to E, broad strokes, just express yourself. That’s very Macero.

You roomed with Vicious. Your best buddy was Rotten. Forty years since punk’s birth, what say you?
Well, years pass, the compound breaks down. Punk was very important because without having punk as a catalyst, there would be no post-punk, no PiL, pretty sure no Jah Wobble. I probably would not have become a bass player. It was a coming together of a lot of interesting people, punk was. Lydon and me were working-class London. Meeting Malcolm McLaren and his kind, dealing with Situation-ism, watching it all collide—that was magic; right time, right place.

You say you could not have become Jah Wobble without punk, but your musical instincts, sense of timing, innate jazziness—your chops—were there. No other musical inclination before punk?
No, that gave me the context to start to play. Like so many other people around me then, we were experiencing playing instruments for the first time. That said, I also had no interest in being in a punk band, so I kept my powder dry. I had no desire to hang under a bridge playing limited three-chord punk. I knew even then that I wanted to do different kinds of music.

—A.D. Amorosi

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Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: Okkervil River Interviewed By Tim Blake Nelson

okkervilriver

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

Interview by Tim Blake Nelson

Photo by Gene Smirnov

Weird emails come our way, and all we can hope for is that they be salutary.

One that’s not: “Mr. Nelson, I’ve been knocking repeatedly on your door. I’m in the apartment just below yours, and you’re leaking on us. Our ceiling, which was hand-painted by Mark Rothko, has been ruined by water damage. Our lawyer will be in touch.” Luckily, this one hasn’t come in yet, though our pipes do leak, and one never knows what adorns the ceilings of New York dwellings.

A few months ago, however, this email did, which I would call salutary: “Tim, you might remember me from the Low Anthem concert out in Brooklyn. I represent a band called Okkervil River, and they’d love for you to appear in their new music video. Would you be interested?”

My oldest son Henry and I have been listening to Okkervil River since Henry was in the eighth grade and their breakthrough album, Black Sheep Boy, came out. Henry insists that the album “got me through eighth grade.”

We love their lyrics, and we love their sound, which frontman Will Sheff has been developing since before his days at Macalester College. Of course I was going to appear in his video—Will is actually an accomplished (if burgeoning) young director, and he’d be directing. There was also a script and a concept that made sense in all the appropriately oblique ways, meaning the video would have a measure of subjectivity and mystery and wouldn’t just be some overly literal narrative redundant to the song’s lyrics.

I ventured upstate a ways to Ulster County, N.Y., and on the first of the two days allocated for the shoot, Will asked if Henry, who’s now 17 and hopes one day to do what Will does, would like to come up and be in the video playing guitar. It ended up being one of the best days of our summer.

As a sort of lagniappe, MAGNET asked if I’d interview Will in anticipation of the release of Okkervil River’s new album, Away. Will is a fascinating, wise and generous soul. It’s been a pleasure getting to know him, and I hope you’ll enjoy this interview.

—Tim Blake Nelson

Sheff: What’s going on, man? Where are you right now?
Nelson: I’m in New York, but I’m in the middle of shooting a film in Utah called Deidra & Laney Rob A Train. I’m headed out to finish that this week. Where are you?
Sheff: I’m in New York, too. I had a lot of work that just happened. We just played some shows. We went up to New England to play some little shows where we played the record in order for the first time, and that culminated with a show we did here with a live orchestra. And now I’m actually done with work for a little while, for three or four weeks.

Nelson: Can I ask you a question about playing the record in order? How do you decide the song order on a record?
Sheff: I used to have actual formulas. Brian Beattie, the producer who I worked with when I first started making records, he was a mentor to me in a lot of ways. A lot that have to do with music and a lot that have to do with life. He was really influential for me. He had a little formula. A lot of people put the most accessible songs first, but he always used to say, “The first three songs are the accessible ones, and they are for the audience, and track number four is for you.” It’s a confession in a way to open with something that feels really accessible and then you give yourself a bone after with the fourth. You know, in the past I used to follow that formula, and I used to make sure the tempo wasn’t slacking too much, but I kind of threw out a lot of that stuff on this new record. I started it with not a clear idea. It was really just for me; it was therapy. I was trying to help myself at a time when I was confused.

Nelson: When I was growing up—I’m 52—records were records and you had an a-side and a b-side. There were two factors that went into it. A first song on the record and a last song on the record, but also a first song on the b-side and a last song on the a-side. Now, we’re in this hybrid area where you have to decide the first and last song on the CD, but probably, since you’re going to put out vinyl because of the appetite for that in indie rock, you have to order them for vinyl as well. Is that true?
Sheff: It’s kind of a funny thing, because now with streaming and Spotify and all that, they might not even listen to the whole record at all. They might jump on to one song that they heard on a “recommended for you” playlist, and that might be the only song they know. And bands have made their entire careers on that one song. As an artist myself, I want to make the best art that I can, and I can’t come up with a replacement for a set of songs in order. If you really want to go deep into something and be transported to a place, it’s better to go there in 45 minutes than three minutes and 30 seconds.

Nelson: Like a record such as Black Sheep Boy that’s around an entire theme.
Sheff: Exactly. I like doing that. It’s the best way to go really deep into a world instead of having a single serving of something.

Nelson: What’s the theme of Away?
Sheff: I would describe it as less of a theme and more of a mood. I wanted to do something more open air, something more mysterious and more organic, as opposed to trying to make something more specific. I wanted to make a whole piece.

Nelson: You said you got to the point as a songwriter where you figured out how to write songs, like a formula. You said you had come to that place and wanted to break out of it, to move away from it. Could you talk about that part of being a songwriter?
Sheff: Yeah, I think I used to be really impressed by smart songwriting. The apex of that would be Elvis Costello or something like that. Where you’re in awe of the lyrics and how everything ties in. A strong sense of an organizing brain. I wanted something different, like when you’re starting out and you don’t have a lot of success or something to claim as your own, you’re trying to stay alive. I wanted to demonstrate to the world on some level that I was good at that kind of thing, that I could write in that clever style. I felt that I got better and better at it, and then I started to realize that none of that yielded songs that I was particularly feeling. People were impressed, but I felt like I had done a parlor trick instead of made a work of art. My favorite music that really gives me reassurance and comfort and hope is not sort of smarty-pants, clever music. It’s music that I can’t really explain the wholeness. Or why it’s so beautiful or hopeful. I couldn’t even tell you what the whole song is about. I could maybe get close, but there’s kind of like an extra presence in the song that’s like magic or has an otherworldly quality to it. It doesn’t need to be smart or sophisticated; it just has this thing that’s a comfortable and beautiful quality. So I started to abandon what I thought about what I had figured out about writing songs and started to try to do the other thing. To open it up for the wind in the trees, if that makes sense.

Nelson: That’s interesting. So, Will, you directed a short film and this last music video in which my son and I were very lucky to appear. And you draw and make T-shirts, even. Can you talk to me about the synergy of the creative process, and for you personally, how songwriting opens up other creative avenues such as drawing or directing? How does that make you a better songwriter?
Sheff: I think the short answer for making a better songwriter is I’m fascinated by the rules that make artwork good. I guess not “good”; I don’t know if I believe in objective “good,” but what makes art communicate with people. Some of those rules are the same across other mediums, but some of them aren’t. I’m really fascinated with cracking that nut. Figuring out what about music is applicable to film and what’s not. When I was a kid, I was in the hospital a lot and I couldn’t see very well, and those things contributed to me being in a bubble. And creativity kept me company. I was a kid, so I hadn’t really thought about if I wanted to be an actor or a musician or a filmmaker, but it was just a fun, warm cloud of creativity keeping me company. As I get older, it becomes more clear to me that this is something really deep that motivates me, to keep communicating with that childlike quality. I don’t want to lose contact with that cloud of imagination. One of those ways to do that is always having a way to be creative. You seem that way, too. When you weren’t acting, you were writing or taking pictures. In a way, it’s natural. Do you feel it’s true for you, too?

Nelson: I get as much joy out of acting as I do writing and directing movies, and I certainly enjoy photography as well and keep a journal. My oldest son, Henry—who was in your video—we share a need to create something every day. The day isn’t complete until there is a tangible creative output, even if it’s something that people won’t see. In terms of acting, I’m dependent on others to do my work. So I started to write my own scripts so I didn’t need to depend on others to be creative.
Sheff: I can really relate to that. When I first started out, leaving high school, everybody would say, “Oh, he wants to be a director.” That was my passion. I would make movies with my friends. I would then realize your friends sometimes bail on you. [Laughs] Then I went to college and learned there was so much money involved, but music could just be me and my guitar, and me recording what I wrote. It was this really, really simple way to make art. I really love collaboration, but I always feel that I need space to come back to me just being me. When I wrote this record, I wasn’t thinking about the band. I wasn’t writing for anything to be released; it just came back to me. The muse, the gods of art or whatever—that sounds pretentious—but I felt like there was an invisible person around watching me, who I was trying to make happy. Sometimes, I think that’s what this record is, between me and everything I love to do.

Nelson: Like an amalgam of all of your influences.
Sheff: I guess so. The amount of delight I got from Marx Brothers movies or William Faulkner, it felt like a father and mother to me. During times when I felt very alone, I had these things to be my whole universe or my friend group—that stuff all gets added to a big, sticky ball of love and influence, and I wanted to keep in communication with that.

Nelson: Yeah, I wanted to say, as a parent, I got one kid who wants to be an actor and one who wants to be a musician, like you, and one who’s tremendous with math and history, and maybe he’ll be a lawyer or invent video games, but it’s amazing every time we go to a museum and stand in front of a Miro or a Picasso. I ask them as I ask myself, “How can this affect my creativity going forward?” It could be a cubist Picasso painting, and I’ll ask my son, “How can this influence how you write a song?” Or my son who loves math, Eli, “Is there a way that you can approach a math problem on a different plane the way that Picasso approached this painting? Is this applicable to the way you play a role?” In any creative enterprise, you have to draw from other media, especially in this day and age where technology gives us access in any given moment to any influence that we wish to receive.
Sheff: Yeah, there’s people who talk about if you go ahead and try to steal someone’s idea, it’s not a bad thing to do because unless you have a knack for mimicry, you’re going to do it wrong. Getting it wrong means making something original. I was into Irish music in high school, so I would hear all these different versions of songs, and I would hear how someone would add a verse or remove a verse, and then I got into old-time music and realized how far back that goes. Then I would hear a Dylan song and realize, “That’s a Carter Family song.” I realized there was this whole universe of people talking to each other through time. It’s a deep heart of what creativity is. I’ve always felt there’s something wonderful about taking a piece and using it as a jumping-off point into another piece. That’s definitely something I try really hard to do, like trying to revamp an old Washington Phillips gospel song. There’s another one that takes an old Western cowboy form as well. It takes lessons from those stories and puts them in a modern songwriting context.

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A Conversation With Fishbone’s Angelo Moore

AngeloMoore

Nobody answers a phone like Angelo Moore. “What’s happennnninnnnnnig?” he cackles, while heading from the front of the tour bus to its back (“Everything sounds better in the bathroom, and it’s the only place for privacy”) while driving with his longtime concern, Afro-punk avatars Fishbone. Together since 1979, Moore and his incendiary funny, fishy company have made raging ska-imbued punk funk that should make Red Hot Chili Peppers green with envy. Yet, it’s only since 2000 that the singer, instrumentalist and wise-assed lyricist focusing on all things racially equitable has created solo work. This month, he releases not only Centuries Of Heat (Rope-A-Dope) with his sampladelic the Brand New Step but also an eponymous album from his Project N-fidelikah ensemble. We spoke following the tragedy in Orlando where 49 people lost their lives at the hand of a terrorist—a story in league with several of Moore’s lyrics.

Speaking as an Italian-American, nobody calls a kid “Angelo” unless they have to. Do you have an uncle or grandfather who put you up to it?
My parents named me Angelo Carmen Christopher Moore. Angelo backwards is Olegna. I have this thing for the Olegna Phenomenon, a place for all of my stories, experiences I have amassed, a handful of audio plays. I got a lot of shit.

How is Fishbone? You guys have been doing this hard and remained crucial to the outsider black music. Has that been an easy road to hoe, preaching Fishbone’s gospel?
Not exactly. I mean, I get and hear a lot of gratitude from fans, old and new. I’ve experienced a lot of joy and a lot of triumph; respect and status for being an innovator and doing it for as long as I have—because it is not easy to not be bought. It’s hard to keep your art true.

True, but …
I have not sold out, and it’s good to have integrity, but Fishbone has had to do it all on our own, too. There have been record companies along the way, but when you are dangerous with your music—and daring and challenging—people on top don’t understand you. You may be fascinating to them, but rarely do you get the necessary help. They put you out there to grow and leave it up to you to water your own seeds. I wish I could redo certain things.

Like what?
I wish I would’ve stepped out of my comfort zone sooner, artistically. We did a lot of good, but we didn’t do all of it. That’s why I got solo projects like the Brand New Step thing with Jeff Greer and Chris Jensen. I don’t use drum machines or electronic things in my usual music. I don’t need that type of shit, but those dudes do. They took my hand and said, “Come with us,” and it’s been cool. I’m not used to those sounds, but they made them work for what I was saying.

How did you hook up with the Brand New Step guys?
I met them at a Q&A session after a screening of Fishbone’s documentary Everyday Sunshine. They approached me as fans and as collaborators. I figured, “Why not?” Shit. I’ll try anything once.

You’re playing more sax and organ with the solo stuff.
There’s some on this new joint, more on Brand New Steps’ first album, even more on The Angelo Show: The Olegna Phenomenon along with my other Dr. Madd Vibe solo shit. I got some organ too on Project N-fidelikah with Pancho Tomaselli from War and George Lynch from Lynch Mob and Chris Moore from Sammy Hagar’s band—that’s some bad-ass rock. Sometimes you go to Koreatown, and sometimes you go to the ghetto and talk Ebonics. It’s about integrity—how would you use it? Anything I do—sax, no sax, whatever else—it’s got to make sense and be good. Is it something that I would throw a tomato or beer can at if I heard it?

You’ve been faithful to the Fishbone brand for some time. Had you been thirsty for another way in?
Yup. Sometimes, man, we have musical differences and personality clashes. That’s nature. Every family has differences. Sometimes, though, you want to go hang with another family, someone else’s house.

Did you ever feel like you were cheating on Fishbone?
For a while, yeah, as if I was cheating on my wife. Then again, if your wife ain’t giving up no pussy or doing the cooking, you look elsewhere. Same thing if she is cooking and she throws the plate and napkin in your face and says, “Here!” Then it’s, “OK, bitch. I love you, but I have to get some other pussy, something else to eat.” Crazy analogy, huh?

I’ve heard worse. Racism in all its absurdity has always been a steady part of your lyrical diet with Fishbone. How did you navigate that with Brand New Step?
I don’t want to have to embrace it at all, but I do. Just a different musical filter with Brand New Step. That subject matter, unfortunately, is always there. It’s a constant thorn in the side of a black man; big and ugly, and it doesn’t need to be here. But, it is here. So I got to write about it because I’m always looking for a solution to a problem. It could be Black Lives Matter and the dreamy psychedelia of “Built To Love” or any of my older songs. No matter how bad things are, you should be built for love, you know.

You’re ahead of the curve talking about global terrorism hitting home on “Centuries Of Heat” considering what just happened in Orlando. How do you feel?
“Anybody out there lollygagging is gonna get knocked down by that dragon tail wagging.” My lyric comes to mind seeing that vicious massacre in Orlando. The killer had some prehistoric shit building up in his head—he’s Godzilla with that tail, slaughtering innocents left and right.

—A.D. Amorosi

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Q&A With The Connells

Connells

If there was ever a poster band for the college-rock aesthetic, it’s the Connells—if only for the fact that they always presented themselves as so unassumingly, well, collegiate. Founded in 1984 by University of North Carolina students Mike and David Connell, the core quintet realized early on that efforts to disguise its clean-cut averageness and adopt any sort of arty, self-important posturing could only lead to deception, silliness and, worse yet, R.E.M. comparisons. Instead, the Raleigh-based outfit focused on the music, reeling off a string of cleverly composed, overtly Anglophilic jangle-rock gems that, to this day, beg for wider acceptance.

Out today, Stone Cold Yesterday: Best Of The Connells (The Bicycle Music Company/Concord Music Group) marks the acquisition of the Connells’ entire TVT catalog by The Bicycle Music Company, so one would hope that this is only the beginning of a series of reissues that will bring this undervalued band some belated recognition and respect. It’s tough to imagine what the Connells might’ve amounted to if lead singer Doug MacMillan hadn’t abandoned his faux-British accent and locked into the delicately soulful charms of his upper register shortly after the release of the band’s 1985 debut, Darker Days. His vocals are as integral a part of the band’s sound as Mike Connell’s innate pop sensibilities and George Huntley’s clever guitar lines. 

MAGNET checked in with Connell and MacMillan to get their take on the new compilation and the potential for renewed interest in the band’s music.

MAGNET: Congrats on the new deal with The Bicycle Music Company. Was it difficult getting your back catalog from TVT?
Mike Connell: TVT’s entire catalog was in limbo for years. They didn’t want to break it up, but Bicycle was able to come along and do what it took to acquire the label’s entire catalogue. We were a part of that—long story short.
Doug MacMillan: What a great day that was. It was so frustrating for so many years.

Was TVT a mismatch?
Connell: In 1987, TVT was basically a two-person operation. At that point, they’d licensed the Saints from Australia, and we were the first band they signed. It was a clean slate, so it wasn’t a mismatch at that point. Obviously, what TVT became was quite different. To their credit, they carved out a niche for themselves with Nine Inch Nails right on down the line.
MacMillan: In hindsight, the problems we had with TVT weren’t that much different than anything bands experience with any other label—the day-to-day arguments, the differences of opinion. A lot of bands got signed to major labels back then, but six moths later, the A&R guy who signed them was gone and nobody knows who they are. So it’s frustrating either way. But it was good because Ring turned out to be great.
Connell: It did get to the point where we tried to get off the label, and Capricorn was standing in the wings—around 1991 or ’92. We tried; we weren’t happy. Then, we went in with Lou Giordano and made the Ring record, and we had some luck with one. Things got better [with TVT] for a while—until they weren’t anymore. [Laughs]

It really does seem like the Connells peaked in every way with Ring.

Connell: Yeah, I’d agree with that. Doug was writing some great tunes on that record, and it had a pretty good flow. Lou was meticulous and drove us as hard as we were going to be driven.

Choosing singles for the new compilation was an obvious way to go, but it does leave out some great contributions from original member George Huntley.
Connell: Yeah, that seems to be the way they went about it. We didn’t have any input, and I don’t endorse every selection they made—but I’m not trying to be critical. George’s songs weren’t treated as singles, but he should’ve had a tune on there—or more. But I took it as a decision by the people who were in the position to make that decision. Still, I would’ve come up with a different list.

Speaking of George, I hear he’s doing quite well in real estate these days.
Connell: Yeah, he’s keeping busy at this point. The real-estate market in this part of North Carolina is robust at the moment. A couple of years ago, we played a 30th anniversary show here in Raleigh, and he joined us for four songs that night. It was the first time he’d played with us in maybe 15 years. It was like riding a bike. I don’t know if he would want to be involved at this point. If he was going to, I feel like it would’ve been a couple of years ago.

It seems like there’s no middle ground with you guys. Either people have now idea who you are, or they’re desperately committed to the band. How do you view your relationship with your fans?
Connell: I’ve always marveled at how enthusiastic and supportive our friends and fans have been. It’s humbling. There’s a world of incredible music out there, and you’re choosing to get excited about us? I feel very fortunate.

You’re pretty average dudes. People see that. They see you go onstage dressed like you just walked off a college campus, and you make this incredible music. Maybe they see themselves in the Connells—at least, more so than in other bands. You offer hope for regular guys. [Laughs]
Connell: I’ve never really thought too seriously about it, but that makes sense—I like your theory a lot. A couple of bands came around in the ’80s that wore street clothes. None of us had any ideas or talked about what we were going to wear.

Every fan seems to have a different favorite Connells album. Which one are you most proud?
Connell: As far recording and touring, Ring—I really liked that album a lot.
MacMillan: Ring gets my vote, for sure.

One of the most interesting things about the growth of the Connells came early on, when Doug completely changed his vocal approach—for the better, one might add—after Darker Days. How did that come about?
Connell: On Boylan Heights, we made a conscious effort to get Doug into a higher register.
MacMillan: I was trying sing like Ian McCulloch and Morrissey on Darker Days. I didn’t know what I was doing—I was clueless. It’s amazing what getting out there and playing will do.

And then there were the amazing lead guitar lines. They were catchy as hell, and for a while there, it seemed like you had an endless supply of them.
Connell: I have to give credit where credit is due: That was Huntley. He came up with the majority of that single-note stuff. At the time, I don’t think I fully appreciated some of the stuff he was coming up with.

What’s the plan for additional reissues moving forward?
Connell: That’s a great question, and I don’t know the answer to that. I’ve always assumed that they would reissue the full catalog, and I hope so. All we know about right now is this compilation, and we’re going to try and get out and play some to support it.

—Hobart Rowland

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