Category Archives: INTERVIEWS

A Conversation With ANOHNI

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Antony didn’t become ANOHNI because it was convenient. The lushly forlorn composer and quietly operatic vocalist with pop’s richest other-worldly vibrato has forever gone far beyond androgyny, whether as an Avenue A performance diva or as the somber front-person of Antony & The Johnsons. The feminine ANOHNI—a change reflected on her new album, Hopelessness—is but one shift in sound and vision, one that finds her doubling down on the singer’s longtime identification as transgender. The other shifts in ANOHNI’s and Hopelessness’ mood and manner are a peppier, dance-ier groove and happy, plush arrangements that run counter-intuitively to her sudden loss of innocence regarding politics, nature and even the current president. This ANOHNI is angry, even if she never raises her voice.

So I spoke to Martin Schmidt from Matmos, with whom you worked on tracks such as “Molly Malone.” He mentioned that you were sort of aghast that they weren’t exactly proficient when it came to being instrumentalists; that you are very much a dominant musician—which they say they aren’t—and that you definitely like to be in charge. Are you really so exacting, so precise?
Hmm. I guess that I am detail-oriented. That’s definitely true.

It’s interesting that I’ve spoken to you many times in the past as Antony—here you are, same voice, same demeanor. Have any of your perspectives shifted as ANOHNI? I know that you’ve always identified as being transgender.
Yes, that’s true. My impressions of being transgender have been consistent. Now, I’m the same exact person, same form. Just a different name, a formal change. No matter what name that you’re using, would you say—at the very least, with this new album—that you’re angrier? You certainly sound it. Or actively disgruntled. This one takes a different approach than any of the previous albums, a stealthier approach. The aesthetic of the music of Hopelessness is fashioned to be contemporary, very seductive to the ear, I suppose. This album could enter the main thoroughfare of dance music today. Only here, I’ve used what I hope is a much more challenging lyrical content to go with that music. In the past, I’ve made more pastoral-sounding work, and, in a way, more internal work. This record is no less personal. It’s just a different sort of exploration of empowerment, self-determination and the world all around me. I think that I felt an urgency in wanting to participate in the bigger conversation this time out—that wasn’t true before. I think I was passive in that regard.

Now, you have sharper teeth.
I’m explicitly expressing the despair and frustrations of what’s going on around us. I’m flexing a muscle of participation that perhaps I haven’t flexed previously. You know what I mean?

Was there a societal or political flashpoint where you went from passive to active?
Maybe “passive” was the wrong word to describe my situation. My past work was so pastoral in that regard; it wasn’t holding space for a more galvanizing point of view. I wanted to throw a wildcard into the mix, use the platform I’ve been afforded to my best advantage, to be part of the conversation. There wasn’t one single moment that motivated me, however. These were all thoughts that I’ve had for many years. It’s a cumulative effect. Plus, I had to find the right context. Working with Hudson (Mohawke) and Dan (Oneohtrix Point Never) was that right vehicle. I couldn’t have made this album with my usual chamber-y orchestral sound. I wouldn’t have captured the energy that I feel toward things that are so pressing on my heart.

You wanted to be more vivid as a lyricist. And I hate to say it, sweeter sounding in its musical delivery?
It is sweeter. Much more candied. The content of the songs emerge in different ways. When I heard Hudson’s demos for “4 Degrees” and “Drone Bomb Me,” I wrote those lyrics. I was spurred. Some songs such as “Hopelessness” came incrementally. It’s not as if lyrics were lying around. They just needed the right vehicle. Once Hudson got on board, in particular, we found a direction.

Some of Hopelessness rails against what you once found beautiful, the representation of nature, President Obama.
My approach to Obama was quite naïve because I was looking for an easy way out, a silver bullet, to fix the world’s problems. I think we placed an unrealistic burden of hope upon him, which he invited us to do. My part in all this is that I allowed myself to be infantilized by the current system of representational government. I thought by casting my votes that I had fulfilled my obligations as a citizen. In many ways, I think that it’s just not going to work that way anymore. We’re not going to see any change in anything if we continue down the path we’ve been heading for far too long. There are things that are required of us if we are to maintain our diversity or prevent, at its worst, any apocalyptic effects when it comes to climate change. It’s all me, though. I have to participate more actively and in more deliberate, wide-reaching ways toward creating change.

You sound as sad as you are disgusted toward our current president within the walls of Hopelessness.
You know, I think that it’s like being a child who realizes that a parent isn’t going to fix everything; better still, in fact, that he’s incapable of fixing anything. The system is equally incapable of fixing itself, but he isn’t helping. There are successes and great disappointments, but the trend that I see is that we’re sliding inexorably toward something very, very destructive concerning the well-being of the world.

—A.D. Amorosi

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Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: The Julie Ruin Interviewed By Amy Poehler

JulieRuin

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

It’s been almost three years since the last album by the Julie Ruin, but the band is back with Hit Reset, an ambitious LP that’ll make you dance. And laugh. And cry. And then dance some more. MAGNET asked actress/comedian (and huge fan) Amy Poehler to interview riot-grrl icon Kathleen Hanna. It might get loud.

Photo by Gene Smirnov

The Julie Ruin’s Kathleen Hanna makes great music. In the Q&A below, I asked her about her new music. We also talked about other fun and interesting things. MAGNET listened in and took notes. (Fingers crossed!) —Amy Poehler

Kathleen Hanna: So where are you? What are you doing?

Amy Poehler: I’m in California, and I’m physically moving to a new house, so I’m currently sitting on a water bottle to soothe my sciatica. What about you?

Hanna: I’m sitting in a park with my mom in New York. She’s in from Pasadena, and then I thought, this is a really good place to do an interview! It’s the first really nice day in a while, and I really want to be outside. I’m sick of being inside.

Poehler: Are you on tour right now? Or are you going on tour?

Hanna: Yes, we will be going on tour in July when the record comes out.

Poehler: Let’s talk about the video for “I Decide.” Did you shoot that in Austin?

Hanna: Yes, my friend shot it at SXSW, and it was literally the first time that Katie (Crutchfield of Waxahatchee) had heard the song. You notice that she gets more confident, and then less confident, and then more confident again.

Poehler: It’s funny to notice who was noticing her. It was such a cool video. I think it really gets to how people experience your music; I know it’s how I do. You can listen to it, it’s very personal, but it’s still an “of the people” feel. The perfect way to listen to your music is walking around among people. Because you can feel like it’s speaking to you, and I always feel like you are speaking to me.

Hanna: I am, actually. [Laughs]

Poehler: Thank you for confirming that. [Laughs] I loved that. It’s so hard to capture the right tone for a video.

Hanna: It was my bandmate who thought of it. I think the thing is, being a woman and wearing headphones on the street, it’s a private time. And I was alive when the first Walkman came out, and that became my lifeline. It was how I tuned out people on the street who were hassling me or looking me up and down or whatever. You tune people out, and it’s perfectly wonderful and like a Toyota ad. But sometimes it’s not, and I’ve used headphones as a way to create my inner landscape. And now I’m the person helping create that, and I’m the 16-year-old.

Poehler: Do you think that when you write lyrics? Do you think about the person listening?

Hanna: I used to but not as much anymore. I see all these great younger bands doing whatever the fuck they want. I started to feel like I wanted to express myself a little more abstractly; it started to become a service job. I felt like I had to write about something, because I was getting a lot of letters about this issue. We have to address our fans. Sometimes that was successful, and sometimes it seemed overworked. Too planned and not spontaneous and exciting. Sometimes I write for people, but I write more for myself now. Like twisted Post-It note memos like, “You can do it!” and “You’re wonderful!” and “You’re a lovely person!” A lot of the writing has to do with getting into relationships and then thinking this isn’t something good … but how do I get out of it? And feeling like that’s OK. As a teenager, it was like, whoever wanted to be my friend or whoever wanted to date me, I felt like I owed it to them. And now I’m like, “You get older and you have less time, and you have more shit on your plate,” and I think, “I don’t want to waste my time with people anymore.” But how I grew up was to have good boundaries and all that kind of stuff.

Poehler: Does that transfer? Working on having healthy boundaries to being on the road? Now that you’re touring 20 years later, how does that work with managing your time? How do you keep energy and what helps you on the road?

Hanna: I guess I used to be more accessible. I used to go out and talk to people, but now I feel like the music is enough. I think a lot of my songs are pretty great, and if it helps someone out in the crowd, I think that’s great! But I’m not specifically writing for people or myself, I’m writing the music I hear in my head. I don’t have to also be counseling people after shows. Giving 110 percent onstage and going to voice lessons and eating right and all that stuff, I’m putting everything into the show; that’s all I care about. I’m not out partying. And that’s how I say thank you for paying the money and coming to the show. And now that I’m older, it’s enough. When I was like 21 and I was working at a domestic-violence shelter, I was totally down to counsel everybody at the party where everybody was getting wasted and I was talking to somebody about gang rape in the corner. But I can’t do that anymore. I can’t take it. I have my own problems. And that doesn’t mean I don’t care about other people and their issues. And that does happen, and it’s awesome and it’s the right timing, but a lot of the time, I just hide backstage! It used to be, I have to go sign every T-shirt, I have to go sign every album, talk to everybody.

Poehler: Well, your music is about self-love and self-acceptance and struggling with that, and that’s what you’re doing. You’re taking care of yourself first and living by example. I think that’s the hardest thing. It’s hard to learn as a person of the world, and especially a female person of the world, because you’re really taught to sublimate your needs and desires for your entire life! How did you write this album? Did you write with the band or with yourself ?

Hanna: Wow, you really came prepared, Amy!

Poehler: You know it! This is MAGNET. I’m not gonna fuck around!

Hanna: I wrote the whole album, which is what I did with the whole Nirvana album, Nevermind. [Laughs] No, I’m just kidding. I brought in some samples with ideas for verses and people also brought in ideas, like Kathi (Wilcox) would be like, “Here’s a guitar riff.” It was really super-collaborative from everybody. It was the first time we had really great interchange and conversation within the band, especially when someone would say, “Oh, this isn’t working vocally. I like the thing you did on the earlier practice tape.” People really cared about what we were making, content wise, and formally. They didn’t say, “Oh, I’m not really loving that.” They would say, “I’m not really loving that, but here’s an idea.” You know what I mean? And that’s awesome. Everyone in the band is incredibly awesome. We signed with Hardly Art, which is run by Sarah Moody, and there’s so many great bands on that label, like Protomartyr and Tacocat and Chastity Belt, and a lot of feminism going on. I was actually interviewing Tacocat earlier today, and we were talking about how there’s actually male feminist bands now. You say you’re a feminist and your entire life people will say, “Oh, what’s that? What’s your process?” And I want guy bands to get asked, “Are you a feminist band? What do you think of Beyoncé having “feminist” written behind her at the VMAs? Why is it only girl bands and musicians getting asked that? Why aren’t I being asked about how I’m in bands that are usually all white?” It’s absolutely bizarre. Well, what are you up to right now?

Poehler: Well, I’m producing and directing some stuff. Broad City’s third season is on now, and Difficult People, the show for Hulu, and I’m going to be working on another film in a few months. After Parks And Recreation, I kind of chilled out for a minute because I knew how special that show was and how special that experience was, and I just took a minute. And it’s been really nice. It’s so rare to do that, to take a minute and to grieve and process something in real time. So I’m feeling really creative, and it’s great! I feel really rejuvenated because I’ve been doing something other than acting, which is not the most powerful of positions in a way.

Hanna: Is it because you’re pretending to be someone else? Lying for a living?

Poehler: [Laughs] That’s what I put on my résumé: professional liar. Let me ask you about this record again. First of all, I can’t wait to see you live; I’m blown away by you as a performer. I don’t think I’ve told you that in person. And what I love about the way you perform, not just your honesty, is that you love to party! And I love to party, too. I love a good party, I love to dance, you love to dance. For this record, do you consider it a dance record? Or a party record? Is it a strut-down-the-street record? Is it all of those things?

Hanna: Like walking down a runway?

Poehler: Yes! Or you pretend you get on the subway and there’s somebody watching you.

Hanna: I think it’s a loud, driving-in-the-car record. And I feel like it’s a walking-in-the-city-like-you’re-walking-a-runway-with-your-headphones-on record. There are definitely songs you can dance to, but we didn’t set out to make dance music. Sometimes you’re inspired by a certain band or a certain sound.

Poehler: Who inspired you for this record? What were you listening to? Hanna: I think it might sound more dance-ier because there’s more keyboard on it. The last record had more guitars on it, so it was more rock, but there’s definitely a message of “fuck you.” It’s a real “fuck you” record in a lot of ways. Whether it’s a sad “fuck you” or a happy “fuck you,” in a lot of ways.

Poehler: Explain more what you mean.

Hanna: There’s a song on it called “I’m Done,” and it’s just, like, “I’m done with you and all your bullshit. I’m done with this.” It could be about a friend or an ex or a group of people harassing you on the internet, but it was basically like taking power and saying, “I have the right to be here.” I’m fine disagreeing with people, but I won’t be someone’s punching bag. When you’re a performer, people tend to project their own stuff on to you, and for me, I’m totally done with that. There were songs where I was crying in practice. There are two songs about euthanasia on the record, one that I wrote and one that Kenny (Mellman) in my band wrote, and I was like, “Your song is about euthanasia, too?” [Laughs] We were destined to be in the same band. I couldn’t write that stuff as honestly when it was really happening. Like what you said, I had to regroup and have me-time. It was really like, “Now I can deal with this and how bad it really was.” And how much I was faking it to make other people feel comfortable. And when I dealt with it, it was really beautiful. I would start crying and losing pitch, and the band would be like, “Do you want to stop?” And I would say, “No, we need to work through this now, because if we are onstage, we will have to work through it then.” I can’t pick when I get too emotional.

Poehler: That’s interesting. It’s funny you say that because it is balancing that level: How much do I want to keep for myself, and how much do I want to share? Whether it’s onstage or on my record, how much do I have to keep balanced? How much real estate does everything take up? Onstage, you’re a very emotionally expressive person, but when someone gets out of control, I know it’s the same way with acting. You are kind of losing it that you lose your way in the scene. You become disassociated, just like losing pitch. Do you do any throat exercises before you sing?

Hanna: [Makes machine-gun noise with mouth, then laughs] But actually, yes. I sing scales and stuff like that, and I have a voice teacher, and with what you were saying, I do have to work at it. When you get good at something, like when I saw you at Upright Citizens Brigade, I was like, “Wow, these people are like major-league basketball players on top of your game.” To me, improv is the hardest thing in the world, and to make it look so effortless … I have to work really hard behind the scenes to be able to perform at the top of my game. And then to get to the place of bringing in emotion, I know it must be the same for acting because I’ve done lectures, and I have to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse to be able to bring that emotion. And being able to express the emotion without being the emotion? It’s hard to explain. Like, I have to cry at home so I don’t cry at the college.

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Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: The Kills Interviewed By Reggie Watts

Kills

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

With Ash & Ice, the Kills have once again pushed rock ‘n’ roll forward without forsaking its storied past. MAGNET asked acclaimed musician/comedian/actor Reggie Watts to sit down with Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart to see how you can get there from here.

Photo by James Elliot Bailey

Rock ’n’ roll is really a spirit. It’s easier to go back in time. It’s always borrowed from Mississippi blues to electronic folk to boogie woogie, then coming out with a mixture of jazz, then that bouncing to and back from the U.K. You can see the first time when an electric guitar influenced Jimi Hendrix. For me, this conversation—and the balance between Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart of the Kills—is about a derivative sincerity and responsibility that references the eras that came before. The Kills’ rock ‘n’ roll is Mosshart’s Detroiter four-track minimalism and Hince’s rock-music knowledge. It’s a heaviness and an accountability. Really, it’s its own thing: sparse, minimal ’60s reverb crunchiness, and then the vocals that dance between a few lines that are rough and get your hands dirty. It alludes to something older, but it exists in a space that is now—especially the Kills’ new record Ash & Ice. “Doing It To Death” has a trap beat mixed with EDM arpeggiations and this dirty guitar line that snakes with a distorted vocal approach. I remember the first time I heard it, I was like, “I don’t know, not sure.” It seemed like maybe these elements were forced together. Then I realized that was it, that was the song, and that there was something to be discovered each time I listened to it. It’s what you get when you arrive at one place from two different directions, where the struggling artist meets the pure conduit. Ash & Ice: a.k.a., the new rock ‘n’ roll. —Reggie Watts

Reggie Watts: Thanks, you guys, for agreeing to do this interview.

Alison Mosshart: Reggie, other way around! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview.

Watts: You’re welcome. [Laughs] Well, I’m not the best interviewer, but I’ll do my best. So you guys have a new album. You’ve been together for more than a decade, and this is the fifth record. Something that I think probably a lot of people already know, but I don’t: How did you two meet up?

Mosshart: Well, we met in London a long time ago. I was playing in a band called Discount, and we were touring over there. Two people who lived below Jamie, one of them booked our tours and the other one drove the van. So I met Jamie from being at that house. It was a really long time ago. I saw Jamie a couple times before we decided to play music. Actually before the last tour we did with Discount, Jamie gave me a four-track and encouraged me to write music on it. Before, I had just written lyrics, not full songs. And then he was really encouraging. So while I was on tour, I recorded a bunch of things that I brought to him, and that kind of started the whole thing.

Jamie Hince: It was good that you brought the four-track back. I was expecting songs, but she had also recorded these weird, cut-up montage things from the radio. There would be a little break, and it sounded fantastic. We put some of it on our second record, actually. What was it called, “Radio Germany”? It was really avant garde, really different.

Watts: So kind of like sampling or like a collage?

Mosshart: Yeah, it was recordings of foreign radio, so I didn’t know what they were really saying. And I would record bells during sound- checks and mess around with buttons. I just kept adding stuff; it was so cool. I got really into it. That’s all I wanted to do for a while, record on four-tracks. I was refusing to go modern. I loved it so much.

Watts: When you captured these things, were you capturing them on the four-track yourself?

Mosshart: I also had a little Sony handheld recorder that I would record vocals on and such, and I would feed it into the tape machine that way as well. I would collect things all day, then at night I would put them all together.

Watts: That’s amazing. Four-track was such an essential tool before computers. Did you find the limitations exciting? Jamie, did you use one, too?

Hince: I would mess around with four-tracks. I remember I did this solo project thing and was using a four-track, and I put an EQ on it. And people were looking at me like I was fucking stupid. When we first started playing shows, all technology was in complete limbo. So we started with four-tracks, then mini-discs, then digital.

Watts: With that style of songwriting, is that how you approached the new record? From the history of exchanging things? Or have you moved to something more modern?

Mosshart: Yeah, I use GarageBand, but I use it the same way I used the four-track recorder. Not in any fancy way, just to capture what I’m doing. But Jamie is totally of the times.

Hince: I kinda like it. You’ve got to want to be into that sort of thing, and I’m glad that Alison’s not. She can just sit down with an acoustic guitar and write songs. This is the first time we’ve put a studio together and worked out all the nonsense.
Watts: And that was done in L.A., right?

Mosshart: Jamie was working on stuff in London for a while, and then we moved to L.A.

Watts: How long was that?

Mosshart: We were there for about two and a half months, in this old 1920s Spanish house in East Hollywood. It was quite a massive undertaking. The whole house was a crazy mess of mics and amps and wires running everywhere. We wrote and recorded about 75 percent of the record there. And when the lease was up, we went to New York and finished at Electric Lady, and it was a lot more organized.

Hince: I like that most of the record is chaos. No restrictions; you can work until eight in the morning if you want. It’s quite punishing; it takes a lot out of you. I’m not very good at time management, so I need someone to pull me out of the pilot’s seat sometimes. I would gladly stay in the studio for another year. I really like it.

Watts: All the work you did in the house in L.A., how much of that material did you bring to Electric Lady? Or did you redo things?

Mosshart: We kept everything we recorded in L.A. We just finished them in New York. We started with about 40 songs and narrowed them down. Some were just not right for the record. We tracked almost everything at the house, and we were at Electric Lady for like two weeks.

Hince: We’ve never been a band that demos a song and then goes into the studio and tries to get it right. The recording part is more and more blurred. When I’m writing in the studio, I’m not too good to be around. I’m actually a nightmare. I’ll stay up all night a lot. That’s my magic moment. We did about six or seven songs several different ways because I’ll keep changing it. It’s a weird process for me. We had so much to listen to.

Watts: I’ve never been a person who would’ve thought to demo something and do it for real, so it’s nice to know you guys use as much as you can when you record it.

Mosshart: We only rerecorded a couple things, like if guitars were out of tune. We would figure that out when we laid a keyboard track down. But for the most part, we just cleaned things up in New York. And we actually wrote two more songs in New York. We didn’t stop writing until recording was over. Electric Lady is a really in- spiring place. It was a good place to work.

Hince: I can’t stop feeling that we could do better and write more songs. Alison writes songs all the time, and there was never a moment when I thought we should stop.

Watts: I understand the need for that.

Hince: Like they say, you have to drink an ocean to piss a cupful.

Watts: I agree with that. I saw in the bio that your music was described as being “emotionally attached.” Do you agree with that?

Mosshart: All of our records are filled with emotion. They document our lives at that time. But when we came to this record, we wanted to write lyrics that were more honest and open. In that studio and not seeing other people, you go far into your imagination. It’s really insular; it gets crazy in there. We wanted to open the doors a little bit and write in that way. I wanted to write songs that people related to.

Hince: Making a record in secret and creating our own little world, putting stuff up on the walls. When you do that, the point was to make our own little world. You have to rely on your imagination.

Mosshart: It was a really different state of mind that we needed at that time, and we wanted to do something different this time. We had people come in to play stuff. We had a drummer come in, and a piano player, and for us, that was new. We wanted to make a more welcoming record this time around. That’s what people are talking about, I think.

Watts: And being in California definitely had something to do with that.

Mosshart: Yeah! You have to feel the place when you’re there. You feel it inside of you. There’s California all over that record.

Hince: It was time to make a record that felt like that. When we started this record, I didn’t have anything to write about, which is weird, but I wanted it to have a language that spoke to people, rather than rock ’n’ roll clichés.

Watts: Do you run into that in the writing process? The history of the music of where you’re involved? I believe the younger generation does like to rock, but I wonder how educated they are about rock ’n’ roll and if they think it’s new, or if it’s a reproduction of an era.

Hince: I know exactly what you mean. There’s probably kids who are 20 and they think of rock ’n’ roll as a reference board. They think it’s leather trousers, and they aren’t sure how to feel it. It’s a weird thing.

Mosshart: Every generation hijacks from the generation before it. It just morphs and evolves and changes.

Hince: Rock ’n’ roll has become very referential. Every guitar band is churning out a replica of something. It’s tough to make a guitar record that’s new and doesn’t sound like the Rolling Stones. [Laughs]

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Q&A With The Figgs’ Mike Gent

Figgs

The prolific Figgs’ 13th album, On The Slide (Stomper), arrives just more than a year after 2015’s Other Planes Of Here and is another winning addition to a catalog full of pub-rock, power-pop and soul-inflected nuggets. We talked to guitarist/songwriter Mike Gent about the trio’s frenetic past and possibly restful future.

You guys have been together almost 30 years. Does this make you feel like you’ve accomplished something or just old?
Both! It’s a bit strange to think that it’s been almost 30 years. We still have a few more in us. We haven’t accomplished enough.

When you started the band, did you have any thoughts about the future?
Not that I remember. We were having a blast living in the moment. It was a little scary once we graduated high school, and everyone was moving on to college. I guess that’s when I started to think that it was either play music full time or continue getting lousy jobs, most of which I hated.

How surprised are you, if at all, that you’re still doing it?
I’m not surprised that we’re still doing it—just that it sort of very quickly crept up on us. I remember when I turned 20, one of my uncles told me, “Enjoy it because before you know it, you’re 40.” He was right.

Did you ever think about breaking up?
We’ve come very close a few times. It’s bound to happen at some point, right? I’d say it’s been around 26 great years and three crappy ones.

You started as a trio, expanded to a quartet and then back to a trio. Why did you end up staying a trio?
Well, when Guy left at the end of ’97, we may have talked about packing it in. I think everyone was expecting us to, but I knew our best years were still ahead. I was very afraid of going back to a trio. I didn’t think we were good enough to pull it off. It took us a couple of years, but by 1999 through 2002, we became a very, very good trio if I do say so myself. Some of our best tours and shows were in those years. I like being both a quartet and trio for different reasons, of course. The last few years, our friend Ted Collins has been playing keys with us.

The Figgs haven’t achieved the commercial success you guys deserve, but can we assume that given the band’s longevity that you’re making a living? Or do you all have day jobs?
Thanks. Yeah, hopefully, once we’re long gone, we’ll have some success for our kids to enjoy. We’ve been broke, made some money, been broke, made money. We’ve had day jobs. One thing we’ve never done since day one was take money out of our own pockets to fund the band. That’s something we’re very proud of. We worked our asses off for seven years before any label approached us. Throughout being on the two majors, we toured and toured, probably too much—then after being dropped, we worked even harder. In 29 years, we’ve never taken a full year off. Not once.

You’ve probably been asked this a lot, but “Je T’Adore,” a Pete Hayes song, I believe, was used in a ubiquitous Lexus commercial in 2013—was that a good or bad thing?
Both. It came at a time when the band was almost finished. It brought some new ears in, some cash in, some attention. We do have better songs that I wish people who don’t know the band could’ve heard. Hayes has better songs than that one. I always enjoyed the song. Who am I to complain? Every band or writer nowadays wants a song in a commercial. It’s the new radio.

You and Pete Donnelly don’t seem to have a strict “your song, then my song” policy on your records, but it feels like it works out that way a lot. How much do you collaborate on each other’s songs?
Pete and I probably collaborate more now than ever. The last few records, there’s been a lot of writing and collaborating while in the studio, whereas on the earlier records, each member would come in with a group of their songs pretty much finished, and we would pick the ones that we liked the most, rehearse them, play them live for a bit, then record them. We’ve always had a pretty good ear for what works on a record, and what to leave off. I’m not sure if Hayes writes songs anymore. He hasn’t brought a new one in for years.

On The Slide is being released a little over a year after Other Planes Of Here. I recall, hopefully not incorrectly, that you said they were originally intended to be released even closer together. Can you explain the thought there and why it didn’t happen?
Well, the original idea was to release them six months apart. I remember (Elvis Costello’s) King Of America came out, then all of a sudden I’m buying Blood & Chocolate, having my mind blown. I wanted to go for that instead of waiting the usual two or three years between records. It didn’t work out that way. Still, they’ll only be a year apart.

How long was the recording process for On The Slide?
A good chunk of it was recorded during the same sessions for Other Planes. After Planes came out and we were touring last year, we did some more writing and recording. I had an early mix and sequence of the record in my car, which we were going to call Smartest Of The Dumb Ones. Then Pete and I decided that we needed to cut a few more songs and drop some of the stuff that was in the original sequence. Once we decided on the art, the original title had to change as well. So to answer your question, about two years start to finish.

You guys don’t seem to have any shortage of songs—the record previous to Other Planes, The Day Gravity Stopped, had 20 songs. Was there any reason why you broke up Other Planes and On The Slide into two records rather than one longer LP? Was there ever a thought of a Use Your Illusion-type of double-record effort?
I think Pete suggested doing another double record after Gravity. We thought about it for a minute and had a good laugh. I think even though they are kind of sister records; Other Planes is different from On The Slide. To release them at the same time? Nah. We do have some stuff already recorded for another record. It’s more experimental stuff in the Other Planes direction. We keep talking about a triple record.

Other Planes and On The Slide are right up there with the band’s best, but I feel like On The Slide is maybe more consistent and on par with records like Follow Jean Through The Sea, which is my favorite Figgs LP. Am I full of it?
Not at all. I think you nailed it. Follow Jean was a very focused LP—so is On The Slide. They’re similar. I really think we’ve made some of our best records in the last 10 to 12 years.

“Gimmicks” has some pretty pointed lyrics about music-biz phonies. Are you aiming at any particular target?
Maybe, but I’m not telling. Some of it is probably aimed at myself. Who’s not a sucker for a good gimmick? Show business! It was one of the first songs that I wrote after The Day Gravity Stopped. I had doubts on whether to put it on the record. It was a last-minute decision. Most of the lyrics on this record are very positive, forward-thinking kind of stuff. The track sounds so good though, I couldn’t resist. That’s just the three of us playing live, no overdubs. I remember the first time I saw You Am I. Mercury Lounge. The crowd was going crazy. The band was rocking, and Tim Rogers was singing his ass off. I noticed that they also had great, wild endings to all of their songs, which was a key part of the excitement to the show. It was a good trick. [Laughs]

“Open G Capo Position 3” seems to express certain resignation about the music business or being in a band and not reaching enough people. Is that accurate? I know the title refers to playing guitar, but can you explain the significance of it for us non-musicians?
We have so many songs now where I use open tuning and/or a capo, I forget which fret it goes on for each song. I’m always whispering to Pete onstage, “Which fret is this one?” I need to make a chart or something. It’s frustrating when we’ve been doing this for almost three decades and certain magazines have completely ignored us from the start, and late-night TV has no interest in having us on. You see a new band come out, get a ton of hype, then after a couple of years, or even months, they’re kaput. How many times has that happened? Countless. At this point, it really doesn’t matter. We have a great little fan base that loves and supports the band. We make records and play shows for them. It would be fun to play on TV again, though.

One of my favorite things on the new record is that short, gorgeous instrumental that’s tacked on to the end of the closing title track. Who wrote that?
That was Pete (Donnelly). I went out for dinner or something, and when I came back to the studio, he had that written, recorded and already placed at the end of the song. It reminds me of the vibe on Other Planes, and I like how it’s at the end of the record, kind of pointing the way to the next one.

Look into the future: What’s next for the band? What do you think you’ll be doing 30 years from now?
Well, 30 years from now, we’ll be in our 70s, hopefully. As for what’s next, we plan on touring a bunch this year. This new record is going to work really well onstage, I think. Next year is our 30th anniversary, which is a big one. It would be nice to do something special—maybe record and tour a little bit with Guy. There are some really cool reissues and other archive releases being discussed. After that, I want to take a full year off and recharge. We deserve it.

—Matt Hickey

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A Conversation With Andrew Bird

AndrewBird

Along with congratulating Andrew Bird on being married and having a son, the first notion you consider when talking to him about his newly released Are You Serious is how the complicated composer and abstraction-heavy wordsmith has now made his systems of messaging more blunt without oversimplifying things. Rather than beat cheerily or ruefully around the bush as he has for 10 albums before this one, Bird gets quickly to the point of folksy, jazzy, romantic songs. Bird isn’t too sweet, though—he’s currently responsible for the music for Zach Galifianakis’ dark clown comedy Baskets.

What’s your favorite new word, and why do you care for it?
I like when people address one another as “Sweetness,” especially men.

You often address what you’re doing within idioms such as pop or swing or whatever. What was the last classical thing—new or old, that you never really “got” before—that caught your ear as of late?
I was just playing a festival in Holland with Glenn Kotche and Neil Finn and there was a young violinist named Diamanda Dramm who played a Schoenberg piece, I think it was Pierrot Lunaire. She sang operatically while accompanying herself on violin. It was incredibly beautiful and mind-meltingly difficult. I realized that a lot of modern music turned me to at first because it’s played with such severity. Alban Berg string quartets also knocked me out recently. I think it’s the way they were played—perhaps more calmly. Too many string players strangle the music with passion and fury, so I’m taking another look at the Second Viennese School.

It’s been, like, 20 years since your first album. When was the last time you listened to it—and even if you haven’t tucked into it, what do you think of its music and ideas now?
I heard it a few years ago and thought, “Dang, that’s some tricky playing in a sort of self-taught-don’t-know-what-the-rules-are-yet spirit.” I started that record when I was 19. All those old records, I’m struck by how actionpacked and restless they are. When I hear them, I think, “Slow down, kid.”

You wrote the score to Jonathan Segal’s Norman, and recently did the same for FX’s Baskets. Other than the money, what must a filmmaker have to get your attention?
It’s certainly not money. I turn down a lot of stuff that just doesn’t need me. There are many composers who need the work and would do a fine job. I’m looking to see if there’s room to do something, make music that’s extraordinary, or if I respect the director so much that I’m happy to be a cog in their machine.

What sort of contact did you have with Louis C.K. or Zach Galifianakis? This isn’t a big celebrity question but rather one about interaction, as C.K. is famously hands-on.
I had no contact with Louis, as I think he has an executive-producer role. Zach, I’ve known for six years, and he asked me to do it back when it was being developed. I think Zach and Louis as comedians have as much to say about humanity as would a great art-house director.

You wrote “The Whistling Caruso” for The Muppets. What was that experience—puppets—like in comparison to the more serious work you’ve done? What is your son’s reaction to your Muppet employment?
Flight Of The Conchord’s director did The Muppets. Portlandia’s director did Baskets. I was familiar with their comedic sensibility, so when directors like that ask me to keep rerecording a cue, I was more than happy to. You have to make it so sincere or so virtuosic that it’s laughable. My son digs it. Dr. Stringz is his favorite.

I appreciate that you’re not hokey, always putting birds on your LP covers. Yet, when you do—the new album, 2007’s Armchair Apocrypha—it’s a parakeet, no? What gives? What speaks to you about the parakeet?
When (concept artist) John Baldessari puts a parakeet on your record, you say thanks for that.

I get that your lyrics have had the feel of the cryptic, something sometimes amorphous in their dealings with the human condition. Two questions here: Why do you feel that you were painting more abstractly for so long? And, are you crediting all of the more personal revelations within Are You Serious to being in love and comfortable with a like-minded being?
Every song I’ve written has at its root a personal story. With my more recent work, you just don’t have to dig as deep to find it. When I was younger, I thought getting married and having a family would risk making me more complacent, and that’s certainly not the case. It’s made me less patient with poetics and more determined to say what I need to say. Break It Yourself, Are You Serious, there’s more urgency and violence in those titles than, say, Music Of Hair.

What was your criterion on Are You Serious for a duet partner on “Left Handed Kisses,” and how did Fiona Apple hit all of your needs?
She sings the voice of my own self-doubt, not an enviable role. I knew it couldn’t be sweet or pretty. It was a short list, and after failing to summon Nina Simone, we called Fiona.

I recently saw a great photo of you with your wife and baby and thought to myself, “Wow, now that is a visibly happy man.” Do you ever see a photo of your family unit, or catch the three of you in a car window or mirror and go, “Hey, this is different from the guy I knew 10 or more years ago’?
How could I not?

—A.D. Amorosi

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Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: Les Claypool And Sean Lennon Interviewed By Wilco’s Nels Cline

LesSean

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

Les Claypool and Sean Lennon team up for some crazy extraterrestrial rock on the Claypool Lennon Delirium’s Monolith Of Phobos. MAGNET asked Wilco guitarist Nels Cline to take a space walk on the wild side of Planet Claypool/Lennon.

Photo by Gene Smirnov

As evinced by its inhabitants’ freshly completed document, Monolith Of Phobos (ATO), it is a fertile world filled with strange-yet-familiar Earth creatures such as a closeted homosexual dentist who dreams of becoming a sea captain, a girl in New York City dying from an overdose of Oxycontin, a voyeur perv who gets turned on spying on his daughter, Bubbles the chimp and … Buzz Aldrin. Born of pre- and post-set hangs/jams on a tour last year that put together Primus, Dinosaur Jr and Sean Lennon’s band with Charlotte Kemp Muhl, the Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger, the seemingly unplanned and truly unpredictable collaboration is just that: a true collaboration, to hear these denizens describe the processes that became the Claypool Lennon Delirium. Apparently this planet bears fruit at an astonishingly rapid rate. In a few weeks, Les and Sean wrote, recorded and mixed the whole thing.

Les Claypool, an acknowledged master of the electric bass as well as the driving force behind Primus, a writer, director and general instigator of seriously wacky seriousness of a high order, and Sean Lennon, the less-recognized yet insanely talented multi-instrumentalist and purveyor of artful psychedelic songcraft, decided, after sharing songs and ideas and stories on the road, to make their version of an early-’70s-style space/prog-rock record, and it’s good. It’s also no mere retro exercise. While it does generally resonate with some vintage flavors, it’s clearly the result of two potent artists collaborating freely and coherently.

I suppose that the good people at MAGNET asked me to interview Les and Sean because … well, I kind of know Les from having opened for Primus the better part of the summer of 1995 as a member of Mike Watt And The Crew Of The Flying Saucer, led by the Minutemen/fIREHOSE bassist/composer/punk-rock icon. Years before that, I had been taken by a music writer friend in my hometown of Los Angeles to hear Primus open for 24-7 Spyz (does anyone remember this band?) when their first studio record, Frizzle Fry, was new, and he was right when he predicted that I would dig them. On the ’95 tour, Les and his people were super nice to Watt and his band (though I can’t say that for a lot of Primus’ ardent fans at the time!)—we were touring on Watt’s first solo record, a monolith of a different sort called Ball Hog Or Tugboat? But did the MAGNET people know this?

Perhaps they knew that, due to a strange series of circumstances—also related to Mike Watt, incidentally—I ended up meeting and marrying one of Sean’s best friends and sometime collaborator, Yuka Honda (of Cibo Matto, the first band Sean ever played in) while making a Watt-instigated recording in New York City called Floored By Four (with Dougie Bowne on drums and released on Sean and Yuka’s label Chimera Music, history buffs). Yuka was living upstairs in Sean’s house in the West Village, and thus so I have been for the last six years. Sean, Yuka and I have played together on various projects during these years, so I know a thing or 20 about this man’s abilities. As many people may discover by listening to his band and to the spankin’ fresh Monolith Of Phobos, on which he plays guitar, keyboards and drums on all tracks but one, he’s monstrously talented. May he now emerge finally from the shadow of his legendary parents and just be. And play.

Read on and you will feel the deep respect that Les and Sean have for each other. You will learn how creative and focused and fun the writing and recording of their record was. You will also hear, in their songs and as they speak, charmingly dark tales of humans much like you and me, except maybe a little weirder, in harm’s way or causing harm. You will hear about Michael Jackson’s famous chimp, Bubbles! And while I thought that the monolith of Phobos, considered by ufologists (that’s a real word!) to be possible proof of alien life and which I thought may be a clever metaphor for, well, rock (apparently, it’s likely the result of “impact ejecta” and has been described by learned scientists as “just extraterrestrial rock”; how perfect is that?), this title song was inspired by astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s odd on-camera rant about this strangely defined protuberance on Mars’ hollow moon, thus adding Mr. Aldrin to the colorful—if slightly disturbing—cast of characters inhabiting these songs. Les Claypool and Sean Lennon bid you welcome to their planet. Let the Delirium take hold. —Nels Cline

Cline: I guess the readers will be somewhat fascinated by the fact that, Les, I met you in 1995 because I was on tour for the better part of that summer with Mike Watt And The Crew Of The Flying Saucer opening for Primus. And you guys were super nice to us. I have to say your audience didn’t like us very much. We blew their minds by coming out with (Primus guitarist) Larry LaLonde. And covering that Madonna song, “My Secret Garden,” that I would sing, and that really messed with their heads. And Sean, I met you in 2009.

Lennon: We met through Mike Watt as well.

Cline: Yeah, I was going to say when I was making a record with Watt and Yuka and Dougie Bowne that was called Floored By Four.

Claypool: Mike Watt is the conduit for all.

Lennon: Yes, he’s the unified field factor.

Cline: It’s kind of bizarre because my still friend and former girlfriend Carla Bozulich I met through Mike as well. He’s punk Cupid. But anyway, because of this strange confluence of energy and falling in love with one of Sean’s best friends and musical collaborator, Yuka, I ended up living in your house, Sean, for the past six years, which I managed to keep under wraps, but the cat’s fully out of the bag now. But let’s talk about the record. The record sounds completely amazing, and I wanted to know …

Claypool: Are you afraid your landlord is going to kick you out of your place?

Cline: Nope, I’m not. [Laughs]

Lennon: As long as they call me “lord,” that’s my only requirement. [Laughs]

Cline: I know from press releases that you guys were both on tour with Dinosaur Jr, which I think is funny because I thought it was supposed to be this ’90s thing, and the Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger was on it, and you guys are not exactly a ’90s band, but I guess there’s a sensibility that merged there. In a way it’s kind of like the Ghost has this late-’60s/early-’70s psychedelic, crafty rock ‘n’ roll thing going on. And you guys jammed on the tour and became friends. I was amazed and chuffed, as they say in the U.K., to find out that you guys were collaborating, and I was wondering if there was something beyond music that drew you two together. I have a theory that there may be a bond via a shared love of dark humor, not just aesthetics, but also a similar taste for vintage band and military jackets, but I don’t know. What’s the deal?

Lennon: The outfit thing kind of surprised me, because I was checking out some of Les’ live shows and was thinking, “Oh, I kind of dress like that sometimes.” And then I’d check out another one and think, “Oh, I have that outfit, too,” so that came as a revelation that Les and I share similar wardrobe exclusivity. But for me, I’ll speak on my behalf: I was definitely a bona-fide fan of Primus, so for me I was already going into it with a shared feeling about their music and loving it and also just the aesthetics of Les’ videos and the whole thing, so I already knew there was a connection. I think that came from being influenced by Les when I was young. Those videos and stuff made me want to commit to the weirder side of life and the weirder side of the tracks. I didn’t know that Les and I would get along personally, you never know, and that was a nice thing.

Claypool: We just started clawing each other’s eyeballs.

Lennon: [Laughs] Yeah, well, you never know what someone’s going to be like in real life, so I didn’t have expectations going in, but Les and I got along because we share similar aesthetics and love for dark humor, as you said, but also because we’re both pretty mellow people. I think that kind of made it easy for us to hang out. Like, most tours you go on, people are just wild and drowning in beer and backstage antics, but we’re both kinda chilled out, so that made the tour really pleasant and led to us jamming more and so forth. What do you think?

Claypool: I never explored the notion of bonding by fashion.

Lennon: Yeah, I never thought of that, either, but then I thought of it after: “Oh yeah, we both do have those clothes.”

Claypool: Yeah, well for me, we were putting together this tour, and the notion of a ’90s throwback tour makes me somewhat vomit in my own mouth, but we were getting suggestions for opening acts, as we’re going through right now with the Delirium thing, and then (Primus manager) Brad (Sands) said, “Oh, Sean’s band wants to open up, check out Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger,” so I went online, I watched the “Animals” video, and it just blew my mind. So I liked where it was going, I loved the vibe, I loved the song. It’s my favorite song of theirs, so I said, “Yeah, let’s bring them on,” and it really added some interesting continuity to the lineup.

Lennon: And it’s cool because Les started playing music and records backstage that he wanted me to check out, and we were kind of trading off on stuff, and he showed me this band Dukes Of Stratosphear, which is a side project of XTC. And I’m sure you know it, Nels, because you know all records.

Cline: I do. [Laughs]

Lennon: I didn’t know about it, and he played this song called “The Mole From The Ministry,” and I was just, like, “Man, I totally connect with this,” and especially with the aesthetic of what me and Charlotte were trying to do with the Ghost, which was this neo-gothic, retro, psychedelic thing. That really blew my mind because I had listened to all of Les’ records, but I didn’t know he was off listening to things like Dukes Of Stratosphear from what he played. When Les was like, “Hey, jam with us,” we just had an easy time playing music.

Claypool: Well, we were up at your place, the country place, and we were backstage at that place on the side of the mountain, and I had my dobro bass and I was plinkity plunkin’ away, and Sean had his acoustic. We started playing, and I thought, “Wow, he’s not playing things that I would think would be played by somebody just playing an acoustic guitar with me.” So it immediately piqued my interest, and we started jamming in the back of the bus. And for me what was exciting is he would play these bits and pieces that I felt were very original, and I could see his thumbprint, which I thought was pretty cool. The original plan was to do another Oysterhead record this year because we’re taking a year off from Primus, and schedules just weren’t lining up, so I was talking to Sean: “Hey, I got a year off coming up if you wanna do something and get together and fiddle around in the studio.” And before we knew it, we had 10 songs.

Lennon: Yeah, it happened really fast, and we had a couple phone calls like, “We need our side project,” and I remember thinking Dukes Of Stratosphear was XTC’s side project that I didn’t even know was them, and I was kinda like, “Les and I should do our indulgent concept record or whatever.” And we were just chatting about it and coming up with songs, and then literally two weeks later we had 10 songs and were looking at mixing, so it was really fast and easy and fun.

Cline: That’s so unusual in music in general, I find, but I feel very lucky to have these very close and beloved collaborators to be able to do that. But I feel in terms of songwriting, that’s very unusual and very special. And I can hear, listening to the record, that I have myself in this western dichotomous mind feeling that, “Oh, that bridge, that’s a Sean part,” but none of this matters because it really sounds like one thing. I saw the press release that it’s this space-prog-rock, but it’s kind of not exactly that. It doesn’t sound like something that’s this singular retro genre project.

Claypool: Dammit!

Cline: It sounds like all of these stories that are obviously about space, which I feel like you guys have a bond with that you could call outer space.

Claypool: Well, you know Sean. He’s like Encyclopedia Brown throwing out these little bits of information and getting the wheels turning. And next thing you know, it gets lyric wheels turning.

Cline: You’re just lucky he didn’t get into string theory. I don’t know what that record would have sounded like.

Lennon: Well, Les is amazing at writing songs really fast, and I have to admit, a lot of the songs that I write are so belabored lyrically. I can write music really fast, but the lyrics I’m going to spend a week on. I think it’s this thing in my head. And working with Les … I don’t think I’ve told you this, but it really helped me write lyrics faster. I don’t know if it was seeing how fast you were, but it was also like you were very accepting and you’re a great producer in terms of songwriting. I would show you an idea and you wouldn’t shut it down, and even if you thought it should be a different direction, you would go about telling me while still keeping the momentum moving. I really enjoyed the lyrics side of things, because it’s one of the things that’s an artifact from being my dad’s son. He was so well known for his lyrics that I still have a hangup about it sometimes. And somehow writing around Les made me not think about that, and the lyrics came out as fast as the music usually does, which is really rare for me. The sound of the record to me is the sound of songwriting happening very naturally, which was very pleasant for me.

Cline: Well, Les, you often write from the point of view of a character, and it’s usually a very colorful or intense character. You inhabit these roles or this character to tell a story. A lot of the songs on the record are story songs, and most are cautionary tales. Was this something that was liberating for you, Sean? You don’t have to write about yourself ?

Lennon: Yes, exactly. Not only do I like that Les is a storyteller, he’s written a novel and most of the treatments for his music videos, obviously. And he’s got the author’s character, and it’s not just singing about his feelings. I felt that was liberating. And it’s kind of weird talking about you like this while you’re listening, Les.

Claypool: It is very weird!

Lennon: [Laughs] Les has a very good mood in the studio. He’s a good producer, and I’ve been around a lot of producers who might get the job done, but there’s a kind of stress going on. But we were having fun, and I felt it was a very creative environment in that way. And I remember talking to him and showing him videos of Buzz Aldrin talking about monolith phobia and laughing about it and saying, “How weird is this?” And then I fell asleep and woke up, and he had all the lyrics for “Phobos” written, and the melody. He’s really good at taking a piece of a concept and fleshing it out entirely. And Les, you chose to write it from Buzz’s perspective instead of writing about the monolith itself, and I learned a lot from that. It made the lyrics happen naturally. If you tried to write a song about a rock on a rock on a rock floating in space, it would be like, “All right, what do I talk about now? The sun floating behind it or stupid shit like that?” What the monolith meant to Buzz made the whole thing sound like a story.

Claypool: For me, when you were telling me about this and we watched the video, it wasn’t this monolith that was on this rock falling into the planet Mars. That wasn’t what was making us laugh. It was this old guy looking at the camera and having this freakout, spewing his very detailed perspective of what’s going on, and alternative and divine forces at play, or not. I have these friends who are just tortured when they go on tour or onstage, and they don’t hang out with anybody after and it’s the same attitude in the studio. But it’s a game, it’s fun! We all started out playing our instruments in the garage with our buddies from high school because it was fun. And I think when you start thinking, that’s when the material starts to suffer, but also, “What’s the point then?” If Sean and I were having any issues stumbling, then it’s time to go catch a fish! We were hunting for mushrooms and drinking pinot. We were having fun! We’re only on the planet for so long.

Lennon: It was also just me and Les in a room, too, which made it feel more like we were hanging out like two kids in a candy store playing around. There wasn’t any record-industry type pressuring us. There also weren’t other band members expecting anything. It was really fun, and we did get to go out on Les’ boat, and we did get to go mushroom hunting, which was awesome. I had never done that before.

Cline: I call it getting in the sandbox.

Lennon: It was very sandbox-like.

Claypool: We did not stumble upon any cat turds in the sandbox.

Lennon: I think Brian Wilson had some trouble. He and Van Dyke Parks actually wrote “Surf ’s Up” in a sandbox in his house, but the cat thought it was kitty litter.

Cline: And no clumping action.

Lennon: Yeah, they did end up writing great songs in that sandbox. I don’t know if there’s anything to this, but it’s interesting that Les is such a foodie and has his own pinot noir called Pachyderm, which has ruined other wine for me. I can’t drink any other wine but that now. But the fact that we’re both such foodies and musicians, it says something about our personalities. There’s something to that.

Cline: I know a lot of musicians, and I know when they aren’t talking about music, food is usually the next topic. It’s something to do with the sensory world. Maybe not just pure enjoyment of sensation, but having some kind of heightened awareness.

Claypool: I think it depends on the stage of your life. Like when I was in my 20s doing Primus records, I wasn’t talking about food.

Cline: You were just singing about it.

Claypool: Yes, that and trying to get laid. There was that camaraderie with all your comrades.

Cline: Half your song titles were food references.

Claypool: True. There’s my contradiction.

Lennon: I was in a band with Yuka that was called Crazy Food. That’s kinda funny. You were saying how you thought the record sounded good. I gotta say, the sound of the record is really about Les and his engineering and producing skills. He really has a specific and scientific way of mic-ing and recording the drums. And I gotta be honest, but he really has his sound tuned in in his little laboratory. I’ve never really recorded drums the way he does. It’s not just about mic placements but also about compressors, and also about his pace and what he’s looking for. And there’s this very huge, naturally punchy sound on the drums that I feel was sort of key to the backbone of the album. That’s all Les’ engineering and production wizardry. And that’s influenced me because I feel like Les’ method of recording was so different than what I’ve been used to. So I’ve been trying to stay out of my own box since we made that record, too.

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A Conversation With The Cars’ Ric Ocasek

Cars

With his lean frame and leaner musicality, Ric Ocasek led the Cars through the testiest, most experimental but hit-making music the new wave would know. Six sharp, strange, electronically seduced albums—The Cars (1978), Candy-O (1979), Panorama (1980), Shake It Up (1981), Heartbeat City (1984) and Door To Door (1987) —and a handful of deceptively simplistic smash singles (“My Best Friend’s Girl,” “Let’s Go,” “Good Times Roll,” “Drive”) turned the Boston band into superstars, and its other lead singer—the late Ben Orr—into a heartthrob. The Cars splintered upon Orr’s passing. Ocasek made a name for himself as a solo artist and, more so, a top-tier producer for Weezer, Guided By Voices, Le Tigre, Iggy Pop and Alan Vega, among others, before re-teaming with the Cars for 2011’s Move Like This. Now, Rhino has released a remastered boxed set of the band’s first decade.

Before we talk about the Cars, let’s chat production work: You did the Cribs last year and Weezer’s album the year before that. What does it take for an act to pique your interest?
First, I don’t want a band who is run-of-the-mill. Solid lyrics are important as a general attribute that a band must have. I feel like they have to have their own sound intact, because I’m not going to be there to change them. I’m someone who’ll be there to make sure that they sound stellar. Because, hopefully, I like the band, as someone that I would listen to.

Anyone out there now, whose work you’ve heard, you’d like to get your hands on?
Yeah, actually. There are a few acts out there whose sounds I love. Lana Del Rey, for instance. I love her soul. There are others—I don’t actually go out and look. I did before go after bands, more than I do now. If they’re someone not four or five albums deep, I’d find out about them. I like doing first albums. They’re the most exciting for any band. Making a new band feel comfortable is essential, speaking as a band member myself. That said, doing Weezer’s 2014 album—I love Rivers’ songwriting and would work with them any time.

That’s interesting that you’d equate yourself with being a band member. Why didn’t you ever produce the Cars? I’ll guess that you didn’t want the job.
I kinda didn’t. I mean, they were doing all my songs. I wanted to have an outside vision …

A distance?
Yes. Then again, I got the same producer for nearly all of the Cars’ albums—Roy Thomas Baker—save for the one Mutt Lange did. It’s hard to put yourself in the writing and performing position when you also have to produce.

Conflicting stories abound. Did the label get Baker for you? There was certainly the connection between Elektra and Queen—they couldn’t have wanted that sound for you?
Tony Visconti was in the mix, too. Roy was suggested by Elektra. I had never made an album in my life. Any suggestion was amazing, but Roy was funny. He came to one of our gigs at some high school in Worcester, Mass., him and 12 people during a blizzard. He was thoroughly into the idea of producing us but wanted to do it in England. That was great— we’d never been there, or anywhere.

The label did you a solid.
They did. Labels being involved with an artist didn’t have to be a bad thing. Plus, Roy taught me a lot about handling band personalities. He was an electronics whiz, a sound guy with a classical background for mic-ing the room’s sound. He got harmony. And he took things in stride; a very upbeat, elegant man. Spontaneous, too.

Having to remaster a Cars album seems redundant since all of yours were sleek and maximal. School me.
You’re right. It’s funny. All the Cars records sound beautiful; have the same polish as the album before. The box set doesn’t change anything. Remastering presents a different premise: leveling things out, propelling a bass line. Roy used to say, “If you want more bass, turn up the knob on your stereo at home.”

Who did you find inspirational in terms of lyrics? I know you were a big Beat Gen fan, and I get the Burroughs in you.
Dylan was my favorite. My second favorite was Lou Reed. I liked the early folk people of the ‘60s that I came up with; psychedelia, too. The poetry—I went toward City Lights hard. I did Richard Brautigan and Baudelaire. The Beats’ flowery words and images: so wonderful.

What would you say, thinking back, was Ben Orr’s strong suit, the thing that bonded you guys?
I met Ben in 1968. I had a band in Columbus, Ohio, called, of all things, ID Nirvana, very era appropriate—and he came to see us. He told me he could sing, came to my house and sang the Beatles’ “Yesterday” in the sweetest voice I ever heard. Next day, he joined that band and every band I had up to and through to the Cars. He was my best friend, we hung out together, lived across the street from each other. We were practically married. He had great ears. I adored his personality and that voice of his—it was so much better than mine. That’s why I picked some of the quirkier Cars songs to sing.

I’ve spoken with you previously, and never caught such genuine emotion as I am here. Going through the collection—did anything make you choke up?
I loved Ben Orr. Certainly some of the songs got me. I forgot some of them were even there. It was really nice. I even found some tapes of just Ben and me. That made me very sentimental.

—A.D. Amorosi

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A Conversation With Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano

ViolentFemmes

With the 2015 EP Happy New Year and 2016 album We Can Do Anything, Violent Femmes—the toast of Milwaukee, nervous and literate roots-punk, and frat boy fans of “Blister In The Sun”—made their first new music in 15-plus years, a minor miracle considering the dysfunctional tension between singer/guitarist/songwriter Gordon Gano and bassist/cofounder Brian Ritchie. Then again, since their eponymous 1983 debut, Gano and Ritchie never seemed like cuddly bonded types. “That wasn’t us,” says Gano of a distance that gives Femmes songs old and new (“Memory,” “Good At/For Nothing”) their poignancy.

—A.D. Amorosi

Squash or confirm—that yours and Brian’s first falling out …
That is interesting. I never really thought about what the exact falling out was, and when it was. The very fi rst thing was an illegal activity, so I can talk about not talking about it.

Did Brian really sue you about using “Blister In The Sun” for a Wendy’s commercial?
He did, but that was not the only thing that he ever sued me about or even the prime motivation for that suit.

How do you guys go forward knowing that all this litigation has gone on between you?
The courts eventually threw it out without prejudice because it was all that crazy. We didn’t equally sue each other. It’s not as big of a thing as it might seem, because it’s all done. And, really, it’s always been about the music, and the music has a unique sound, and that happens when he and I get together and have a kind of excitement. It’s something we’ve made a good living from, which has allowed us other things and other music. I can’t speak for him, but I think that he’d agree. It’s fun, sounds good and people love it.

So, the music is the only connection.
Yes. When we try to talk about anything, it doesn’t work. We’ve tried having business meetings and the end result was eight hours and no agreements. We found a way to make it work—we stopped having meetings. We completely and utterly disagree with each other. Everything goes through a manager who talks with us individually. The prime thing is not verbal, not philosophical, not analytical. Just do it. That’s how we make new music—which just happens to sound great.

I didn’t think that you guys were all warm and cozy, but that’s what makes your music intriguing.
There’s no internal turmoil. Some of the things that happened surprised me in a business sense, but not personally. We never had a friendship. We had a relationship through the music. How could you go? It’s easy, because it’s not as if a friend did something bad. Of course, he doesn’t see any of this that way.

Was new music a stipulation of getting back together? I’m not certain how I feel about bands that reunite just to play old material.
Why? I think just that is very good. People can make more money than they once did from their careers, which is good for them and their families. People want to hear the hits, what they grew up with. It’s positive for everyone. Brian, though, believes that a real group should be making new music. That said, at one point, he wouldn’t record any new songs that I wrote for years. I even offered to write with him, split 50/50. Didn’t happen. Now, through our new manager, we found a way to talk to each other in separate rooms. Actually, we live in different parts of the Earth, but I just like the imagery of separate rooms. That’s when the New Year’s Day EP was recorded, although even that had its disagreements. “What microphone? Where do you put it?” I’m not kidding. I suggested we do them a bunch of di erent ways … the most prevalent being where we learn them and just do them at the same time. That’s one thing—we’re very quick together. He knows what to play as he’s hearing them for the first time.

Why didn’t you go further with the Mercy Seat, your gospel/punk act?
That’s nice. There’s a second Mercy Seat record, too, though I have no idea what happened to it. I don’t know where the masters are. That’s when the first real problems with Violent Femmes set in.

When you finally had your one real shot to go solo with Hitting The Ground, you brought in mostly other people to sing your songs—Lou Reed, John Cale. Why?
Yeah, that never really occurred to me until I had a friend tell me, sarcastically, after it came out, “Great job. Like, you’re hardly on the album.” I just never thought of it.

I heard Reed changed some of your lyrics. Was that weird?
No, that was incredible. He had the song for a while, and I never knew if he was ever going to get around to touching it, then one day he called for me to come pick it up; he had fi nished it. As I walked in, he looked at me and said, “I took the liberty of changing some of your lyrics.” It surprised me, but he made it better; made it more him and just made it edgier, with more of a bite. He even changed the structure of the song, where the next line would come in. Absolutely brilliant.

OK, back to the Femmes’ new record. Are you writing songs in the same fashion you once did?
It’s more than similar—it’s exactly the same. I play the song and Brian starts playing along with it immediately. He’s a brilliant musician. We connect and play o each other really well.

One guy I thought you both were connecting with was Brian Vigilone—your ex-Dresden Dolls drummer who had played with the Femmes for the last few years. He just handed in his resignation. What happened?
You think that’s bad, let me tell you what happened with this other guy in 1985. No, he says he wants to do other things, and I believe him. He’s in a band, Red Sails, whose frontperson is his wife, so there’s that. I can’t help but think that our dysfunction—a word that isn’t quite strong or good enough to describe our working environment—comes into play. Oh well.

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Q&A With The Vulgar Boatmen’s Dale Lawrence

VulgarBoatmen

It’s a powerful thing, having a band that feels like your personal secret. As I’ve read other writers on the subject of the Vulgar Boatmen, I’m always struck by that very particular quality. Whether it’s Bill Wyman or Greil Marcus or little ol’ me, the Vulgar Boatmen inspire a kind of confessional tone. We’re telling you about them, about our precious secret, because deep down, we know that you would love their music as much as we do. Ultimately, we try to give away the secret even though it’s something we really treasure.

I first heard the Boatmen around 1990 or ’91, when their first album, You And Your Sister, was still their only album. It’s a beautiful record, full of songs that were as rhythmic as the Feelies (who were also influenced by the Velvet Underground) but as melodic and singable as an Everly Brothers or Simon & Garfunkel tune. The lyrics were a unique blend of the instantly relatable and the eternally mysterious and puzzling.

By the time I saw the Vulgar Boatmen live, their second album, Please Panic, was out. It may be even better, in the sense that the songs are really strong and the performances are really good. “You Don’t Love Me Yet” (which gave a Jonathan Lethem novel its title) belongs on every mix tape you ever made. But as good as that record is, You And Your Sister remains the first document from this one-of-a-kind band. It’s the first thing we heard, so it still has a hold on us.

The band was unique, led by a Florida college professor and an Indiana musician. They wrote songs together by mailing cassettes back and forth—no emailing audio files in the late ‘80s. There were two full bands, one in each state, and they all collaborated on the records.

It has been 25 years since You And Your Sister appeared. It didn’t reach a large enough audience. But for those of us who did hear it, and who embraced it like a precious secret, it is a classic. With the 25th anniversary re-release of You And Your Sister, Vulgar Boatmen co-leader Dale Lawrence (the Indiana half) is guest editing MAGNET’s website this week.

Expect some new secrets.

—Phil Sheridan

The 25th anniversary of You And Your Sister is kind of remarkable. First off, there’s the shock that so much time has passed. From that perspective, how do you view the whole Vulgar Boatmen portion of your life? Any regrets?
One always has regrets, decisions that could have gone another way. But honestly, it’s hard for me to imagine having had the foresight to rethink any of that at the time. At this point, I mostly just feel really lucky. The odds of any band getting their music heard and appreciated (let alone it leading to great success) are always slim. That there’s still enough interest in the Boatmen, 25 years on, that we get to play out and that that’s still as much fun as ever—these are major things to be grateful for.

Would a more standard band setup have allowed you to create more music? Or does the music that exists benefit from the unique circumstances it was created under?
I really don’t know the answers to those questions.

One of the qualities of You And Your Sister and the other records is the kind of out-of-time aspect to the sound. Was that intentional? Or was it more a product of your and Robert’s influences—from the Velvets to the Everly Brothers kind of being timeless themselves? That said, do you think that comes into play now? Some records made in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s sound terribly dated while YAYS and Please Panic sound like they could have been made last week or in 1975.
Thanks. Well, it wasn’t conscious, but I think you’re right: The production models we had in mind—Buddy Holly, Stax/Volt, Rod Stewart—do have that out-of-time sound you’re talking about. Certainly, we weren’t trying to emulate any contemporary records.

The composition method you and Robert used—mailing cassettes to each other—was pretty unique at the time. With technology changing, it’s pretty typical for people to email each other files and work on music from different locations. Would that have been good for the Boatmen, or do you think the low-tech approach helped the music remain so organic and warm sounding?
You know, until the press started talking about it, it never occurred to me that the way we wrote songs was at all odd. If we’d lived in the same city, I’m pretty sure Robert and I would have written basically the same way, putting ideas down on cassette tape and working on what the other had come up with. The fact that we lived so far apart was the unusual thing, I guess. But I still bet lots of songwriting teams have used that basic method, just maybe not so long-distance. As for our songs, I don’t imagine that using files instead of cassettes would have changed things up much.

Is it satisfying that the music is still there and still available, having survived the revolution in how music is made and consumed, the decline and fall of labels and so many other events?
Very much so. It’s still not like we’re especially well known—and that would, of course, be nice. But, as I said earlier, given circumstances and the passage of time, I have to feel good about things.

Are there plans for similar treatments of Please Panic and Opposite Sex?
We hope so, yes.

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Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: Savages Interviewed By Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme

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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.

Three years ago, London’s Savages materialized seemingly out of nowhere, brandishing vintage post-punk austerity and provocative double entendres. They made superfans out of labelmate Josh Homme and MAGNET, so on the eve of sophomore release Adore Life, we asked the Queens Of The Stone Age shredder to riff with the ladies about prurient interests.

London post-punkers Savages enjoyed staggering buzz for their exacting, artful 2013 debut, Silence Yourself. We’re talking the works: Mercury Prize nomination, breakout Coachella set, universal critical acclaim (MAGNET proudly included). It’s no surprise that Queens Of The Stone Age/Eagles Of Death Metal co-founder Josh Homme—a fount of impeccable taste (and riffs)—was thrilled to interview the quartet (sans enigmatic guitarist Gemma Thompson) about its curiously titled sophomore effort, Adore Life (Matador). Sex, love, repetition, primitivism and emotional tugs of war are all on the table in the ensuing, sprawling exchange.

Josh Homme: Guys, congratulations. This album is wonderful. It’s really cool—when you do a first record, nobody knows who you are. There’s nothing to compare it to, you know, and everyone always talks about that sophomore record being very difficult, but I never felt that way. It’s the comparison record to your first one, the first time you can be compared to your old self. Did you feel any pressure in the way of that for this record?
Jehnny Beth: Well, yeah, I agree. The first record, you don’t even think. You’re just doing what you’re doing. Especially because we started playing the songs from the first record live. We worked all the songs out, and then we were thinking of the recording as a document of that. And I think you’re right, because on the second record, then you are writing songs for a record.
Fay Milton: You’ve got more context. I don’t think we felt more pressure in that classic way of the second record.

Homme: I never felt that pressure either. I know people respond to that differently, but I think it’s this great moment to put up your second tentpole. It’s fun to define yourself and show that your second tentpole is going to go in this location to define your wingspan a little bit. So, I had a question about “The Answer,” which is: Is there anything to do with your first statement of your second record being “The Answer”? Is there anything to calling your first song “The Answer” because the amount of questions that come about from your second record? Or is it just a coincidence?
Beth: It’s half a coincidence. The line in the song is “love is the answer,” and a lot of this record is about love, which was not the subject we wanted with the first record, for various reasons. In a way, maybe this second record is working as a diptych with the first record for giving answers to questions raised on the first one. It’s like the first one is raising problems and the second one is trying to work them out, you know?

Homme: Yeah, I wanted to ask you: Is love, for you, a mental illness? Or is it a maze that one can be trapped in?
Milton: Yeah.
Beth: Both. Definitely.

Homme: Is it a treatable mental illness? For you, the pursuit and trying to figure it out, is kind of like holding smoke, which is impossible to do. This album is so about love, but it’s a very slippery fish. You know? Love.
Beth: Love is a slippery thing, yeah.
Ayse Hassan: The record kind of represents all the sections that love can be. It can fuck you up, it can be amazing. I think everyone experiences love in such a different way. Even the love that fucks you up, you can get so much from, and that can really shape you. With this record, especially with the lyrics, it reflects the sections of how love can be on so many levels.
Beth: It’s kind of a psychotic record in the way that it goes through very extreme moods, as well as the opposite. It looks to the future of how love can be one day and the freedom of that.

Homme: I sense that need to almost capture it. There’s almost like a stalking of it, in a certain way—and in other moments, there seems to be these realizations that love is this transitory thing and you can’t put a pin in it and hold it down. There’s a conflict, it seems like. Do you feel conflicted by the love that is in your past, in your present and in your future?
Milton: Yeah, I think so. It can be a real conflict. Love and hate are so close, it’s like laughter and crying. They both contain each other, I think.
Beth: I think in Savages we’ve always been interested in bringing opposites together, sound-wise. Using that element of surprise, like true love sounds quiet or life and death. Bringing extremes together and seeing the collision it creates.

Homme: I agree—the positive friction of the car crash of music, ideas and love. It’s almost searching for the car crash in its extremes. I think that’s why your name is so interesting, because for some people it’s just words that eventually represent their band. I think there is a very savage, primitive element to your band that derives from those extremes. And I have a question: Do you think that English being a second language allows you to play with words and the simplicity of translation as you translate your feelings?
Beth: Yeah, it is definitely simple sometimes, and the girls remind me of that. [Laughs]

Homme: No, but I love that. Something said simply, like in titles, or how you’re able to do something like “Sad Person.”
Beth: It’s funny because “Sad Person” is a song that doesn’t have the same meaning to me because I’m French, originally. I think someone said to me that being called a sad person was an insult, and I never thought about it as an insult.
Hassan: I remember us explaining to you the concept of a saddo—like you’re sad or a loser, which we were explaining to you about you. [Laughs]

Homme: There’s this beautiful simplicity there that is of great benefit because it’s not mired down, like when translating something through a translator. It gives you the most simple version, and it’s often the most poetic. So, I wonder if you ever realize the benefit, or if you mess with that, knowing that you are the translator machine, you know?
Beth: Definitely. There’s also French expressions that I use, which are in me, which are the metaphors I use in French, which are not used necessarily in the same way in the English language. And I think sometimes I know I’m using metaphors from my original language. And I know these metaphors are kind of on a different level than people who use the English language, but I try not to think about that too much. The rare thing and the very precious thing is that everyone in the band is interested in what we are saying, you know? Although I’m the only lyricist, there is always a discussion in what we are trying to say here, and what the message is. And I think the music for us creates a connection and can say something that the lyrics can’t say. When we started writing the new record, I had lyrics that were very hopeful, very positive, very warm, and with the music, I didn’t know if we would be able to use them, but they still work on top of a distorted guitar.

Homme: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. I can hear how important the lyrical delivery is to everyone in the band. An example would be in “When In Love,” when you say “knocking at the door” and Fay starts knocking at the door on the drums.
Milton: I’m glad you caught that!

Homme: I think there is this importance there with the bass sound on moments like “Surrender” where the sound of your rhythm section is really paying attention and trying the extrapolate what you are saying lyrically. Fay, do you guys want to elaborate on that? Is that an importance for you?
Milton: Completely. Some of it comes simply, like when she says “knocking at the door” and it sounds like knocking, but then there’s another level where it all needs to mean the same thing. By the end of “Evil,” it’s like an exorcism, and when we are playing it live as well, it’s very physical with smashing things out.

Homme: I have that written here, too. [Laughs] As you said, there’s a certain onomatopoeia aspect that is very simple, but I feel like other bands overlook that. It’s important to take advantage of something simple to get your point across. But I also think, as it translates to your record, there are things that you must play live because this record is so much about capturing emotion like a photograph. So, some of these things you must have had to play live to get the arrangement down to capture the rise of the emotion. Is that more important than being like, “We do this four times, and then we go to this part”? Is that a big discussion for you guys?
Milton: Yeah, I think it comes naturally. I think it’s definitely important on a lot of things, like the end of “Evil” and “knocking at your door,” which started to become elements when we were playing the songs live in New York. Those are two examples of things that really came from being a little rhythmic idea or a little bass idea into more of an emotional idea.
Beth: Yeah, I think Fay’s lines ultimately shaped what the songs became on this record, because we needed to put them in that environment to get the aggression and the energy and feed off that between us. There are a lot of songs where, we finished writing them in January in New York, and it would have been a very different record if we had just stayed in the studio and went and recorded straight away. We needed that, and that’s how we started when we recorded the first record. We spend a year and a half just playing songs on the road, and I think it’s essential that we played them live.
Milton: I think when it came to “Mechanics,” we wrote that song a little later on; I remember thinking it didn’t have a drum beat because there wasn’t one—it didn’t exist. We looked for it, and it didn’t. Sometimes a song needs a part, and you look for it and you find it, and sometimes you look and it’s not right. And partly that was because with the emotion of the lyrics, I couldn’t find that on drums. I’m playing the vibraphone on that song at the end. It’s different than when “The Answer” came out and it was, you know, violent. [Laughs]

Homme: I love that, though, because you’re getting to what I was hoping to hear, which was that some things aren’t required to speak of, so that’s why you play. You let the situations and the songs dictate the terms of what you’re doing. You don’t force drums on something that doesn’t have them.
Milton: That’s called a remix. [Laughs]

 

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