Category Archives: INTERVIEWS

A Conversation With Jah Wobble


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


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


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


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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Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: Dinosaur Jr Interviewed By Henry Rollins


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

What a long, strange trip it’s been. After making three seminal indie-rock albums in the ’80s, then imploding due to some serious inter-band conflicts, the classic Dinosaur Jr lineup—J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph—reunited 25 years later. The new Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not showcases why these guys are still the Lords Of Dinotown.

Interview by Henry Rollins

Photo by Gene Smirnov

Dinosaur Jr, then called Dinosaur, released its self-titled debut album in 1985 on the excellent Homestead label. It was a pitch-perfect independent-music release. The band followed up with You’re Living All Over Me and then Bug. There isn’t a bad song on any of these records.

After years apart, the material’s creators, what is known as the classic lineup of Dinosaur Jr—Lou Barlow on bass, Murph on drums and J Mascis on guitar—reformed. In 2007, the band released the Beyond album, and since then, it’s as if the group never left. The only noticeable change is that these guys have all improved as players, and the band—now a cohesive, more- than-the-sum-of-its-parts trio—is absolutely ripping live. Not only that, they are, thankfully for their fans, touring and releasing new material on a regular basis.

One of the most admirable things about the band is that this isn’t some washed-out unit trying to cash in on the past. The new records are really good, and while many of their peers of yesteryear wallow in best-ofs and occasional appearances at summer festivals, Dinosaur Jr is 30 years in, and doesn’t seem to notice. Some people (wink, wink) have been listening to their music and going to the shows the entire time and have concluded that the band is all kinds of great.

This month, Dinosaur Jr is releasing a new album called Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve listened to it. It’s a great piece of work.

Immediately after playing Glimpse, I went back to the band’s two previous releases, 2009’s Farm and 2012’s I Bet On Sky, to compare and contrast. There’s something very interesting happening on Glimpse that I think fans might very much appreciate. The band has evolved and, while not losing an ounce of melodic wallop, re ned its sound. It’s slightly leaner and, dare I say, more focused. When you hear it, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Sky was great. Glimpse is even better.

There’s an interesting division of labor on Dinosaur Jr albums. J is the principal songwriter and creates most of the tracks, but Lou, also a talented and prolific songwriter, always brings a couple of great ones. On Glimpse, Lou has brought his best Dinosaur Jr material to bear thus far. The two songs, “Love Is…” and “Left/Right,” are incredible and give the album great balance.

Dinosaur Jr conducts operations with little ash or fanfare. The band writes new songs, records them, goes out on tour and lets the music do the talking. Like Neil Young.

A little about me: I was asked to get a few words from Mr. J about the new album, upcoming shows and other things relevant in the Mascis universe. We connected via phone recently—he in Lyon, France, I believe, me in my office in Los Angeles. It was quite late for J, but he was a gracious subject and, hopefully, we created some conversation t for reading. If it lags at all, that would be my fault.

Most important is that the band has made yet another great album, and they’ll be playing all over. If you can make it to the show, do it. If you can get to more than one, do that. I saw them seven times last year and was so happy to hear them land on it so hard. Murph is a damn freight train back there, Lou is playing and singing incredibly, and J is always the same, and always different: a guitarist’s guitarist. What a band.

—Henry Rollins

Rollins: First off, before anything, congratulations on another amazing record. I’ve played it many times, I’m very happy about it.
Mascis: Oh, thanks.

Rollins: Were there any differences in the approach to writing the songs for the new album than on any of the previous Dinosaur Jr albums?
Mascis: No, not that I can think of. It was pretty much business as usual for me.

Rollins: Here’s why I’m asking: Because it came to me that the songs are really written with Lou and Murph in mind. The rhythm section is performing so great on this record, and it seems like the songs really work to show off the rhythm section. A lot of your overdubs really seem to be knitted into the rhythm section, much more than on previous records. I’m just noticing in all of the middle sections there are some really powerful changes. I’m just wondering if there was any kind of different approach.
Mascis: Well, no. I think it’s just that Murph played better on this album—maybe this is his best album. He’s just kind of on top of his game. And Lou kind of borrowed this bass for the shows in December, because it was the one he had on the first album. And he decided he really liked how it sounded, and I think it kinda fits in with our sound more, like it’s more audible. I think those are the two things.

Rollins: I’m glad you brought up that you think that Murph is really shining because I think, on a Dinosaur Jr record, this is his best performance. He’s really just so solid, and he and Lou are just amazing together. That’s one of the things that’s jumping out at me immediately. There seems to be less effects on the guitar, the parts seem to be much more focused. I hate to use this word, but it almost seems more “mature.” There’s a real direction to the songs that was not on the previous records, which is great. This record is different. It’s different from other Dinosaur Jr records, which I’m happy about. That’s why I’m asking if there’s any difference in anything you did. You recorded in the same place you worked at before, right?
Mascis: Yeah, just recording at home. I did get some different converters, which maybe made the sound a little bit clearer or something.

Rollins: The thing about your sound on this record, it’s just so good and so strong.
Mascis: Yeah, I’m happy with it. I’m definitely happy with it. And Lou also moved back to our area, so I think he felt more relaxed not having to only come in for a short period of time. He was just around.

Rollins: That’s so cool that you mentioned that, because that was one of my questions. The band is now all on the East Coast, where for years it was this whole East Coast/West Coast thing where basically members of the band fly in just to make a record. Now, you guys are really within driving distance of each other, correct?
Mascis: Right.

Rollins: And so this time around, the band practice, songwriting, the sheer proximity—do you think it had an effect on making the record?
Mascis: Yeah, for sure. It was definitely a lot less stressed.

Rollins: I was talking to Lou last year when we were all in New York, and he told me that he’d moved back. And he seemed so much happier about being back on the East Coast. Whenever I’d see him out in Los Angeles it just never seemed like a fit. It just didn’t ever seem like he was gonna be a guy who lived in California, you know?
Mascis: I think he liked it. We weren’t sure why he moved back, exactly, but it’s working out good. Yeah, I never really saw him hanging out at Hollywood parties or anything.

Rollins: Here’s another question on the mechanics of making a Dinosaur Jr record. Do you make demos?
Mascis: Yeah, I make demos of guitar and drums. I make them maybe in the morning before giving them to the band and then come in with another one after we kind of work on that one. I need a song or two in the morning to start them out.

Rollins: This album cycle, how many months or weeks did it take to write the songs that would become the new album?
Mascis: About three or four months, I guess.

Rollins: Tell me how you work. Are there times of the year when you go into writing mode, or do you always have a guitar around thinking of another song?
Mascis: I definitely go into modes, writing for certain albums. I guess I’ll stay up later, watch TV and play the guitar. I’m writing a little bit here and there, but I don’t think about it as much. I usually focus on writing for the album that’s coming up.

Rollins: And what’s the inclination to do that? Does management give you a call, or do you just feel it’s time to wade back in?
Mascis: It’s kind of based around wanting to tour and wanting to have something to tour on. I think it’s still kind of in that mindset.

Rollins: You’ve been touring pretty ambitiously since the mid-’80s. That’s about 30 years now. How do you feel about touring in 2016? Are you still into it?
Mascis: Yeah. I go through cycles, but I think I’m definitely more into it as I get older. In my 20s and early 30s, I was I think the least into it. But then as I got a little older, I realized that I was fortunate to be able to do it, and I definitely enjoyed it more.

Rollins: In the story of independent music in America, Dinosaur Jr is kind of rare in that there’s what they call the classic lineup, the one you have now, and then there’s also the Blanco y Negro/Warner years. Yet, they were still recognizably Dinosaur Jr recordings that you were making. It’s just an amazing longevity that you guys have. And when you got back together, it was just one of the most well-received reunions. And you know, I’m not gonna name names, but other bands do it when they get back together and they play the small parties and they do some things. But when you guys got back together, you did it with the new album, the Beyond record, which is awesome. And then came Farm. It was real. So when you guys got back together, what did you think the reception would be and what was your feeling when you saw what the reception was?
Mascis: We weren’t sure, really. That’s kind of why we did it slowly. You know, we’d do one thing. First we’d do a gig and a TV show and go, “Oh, that was cool, maybe we’ll do some more gigs.” We did it all really slowly, and I guess we just kept going.

Rollins: It’s not exactly a “comeback,” it’s more like “resuming.” So many bands, when they do that, all you can think of is, “Well, it was better when they did it 20 years ago and I’m watching this, but there’s something kind of sad about it.” Again, I don’t want to name names because everyone’s working hard. But with you guys, I just haven’t gotten that ever. It’s really just straight ahead. It’s such a wonderful thing but kind of rare in this day and age. Let me kind of go back to a thing you said, which I really appreciated. You said that as you got older, you started to appreciate the fact that you can still tour, you realized that you are pretty lucky. Because statistically, as far as the numbers go, you’re rare. Not many people from, I dare say, our genre of music get to have a third decade of relevance, now going into a fourth. I’m not asking you to self-aggrandize, but what do you think it is about Dinosaur Jr that still keeps working with people?
Mascis: I’m not sure. We’re trying definitely not to suck whenever possible. I’m not sure really how it all works.

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A Conversation With Micky Dolenz


The Monkees could do many things to celebrate their 50th anniversary. A cereal-box flexidisc set, a CD boxed-set classic-album collection and an upcoming BluRay box of The Monkees series (1966-68, all 58 episodes) with their psychedelic flick Head and 1969 TV special 33 1/3 Revolutions Per Monkee included seemed about right. Monkees Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork (Davy Jones passed away in 2012, Michael Nesmith hasn’t played regularly since 1971, but occasionally records and gigs) had other ideas: the band’s first studio album in 20 years, Good Times!, featuring unused, multitracked tunes from the ’60s along with new cuts from Monkees acolytes Rivers Cuomo, Ben Gibbard, Noel Gallagher, Andy Partridge and Adam Schlesinger, who doubled as its producer. Dolenz spoke to MAGNET about good times old and new and even sang a bit of “The Monkees Theme Song.”

Who’s better company on the road, funnier, cleaner, nicer: Peter Tork or Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits, with whom you tour occasionally?
I can’t answer that. It’s apples and oranges. I can’t compare them. They’re both very talented, very different personalities.

Obviously, and to your credit, you and Mr. Tork stayed Monkees and on the road, sometimes with Mr. Nesmith, after the untimely passing of Mr. Jones. Was there ever a thought that you wouldn’t be, considering it was basically just you and Mr. Tork?
No, we had discussions as to whether there’d be a market for just he and I. Would it even be something that he and I wanted? Peter didn’t sing many original leads on the records. So we did a few shows, tested the waters, and it turned out very well. Weirdly, too, it occurred to me that Peter and I had more similar tastes than any other of us ever did. Nes does his country-rock thing. Davy had his Broadway tunes and ballads. Peter and I, however, were always into rock ‘n’ roll and the blues. I had never really considered that before. So suddenly, we had a meeting of the minds. Peter and I have found a lot of common ground since.

Regarding a new album and a producer such as Adam Schlesinger, what was that conversation like?
A little more than a year ago, I went into Rhino’s offices. Rhino owns all of our rights, and I began discussing the 50th anniversary. Of course, touring came up, celebrations of the television series. There happened, though, to be a new regime who wanted to get into newer album production, something for which they’re not really known. So they wanted to explore that with us. Simultaneously, we found tracks in our vaults that were never finished from the 1960s.

From the show?
Well, yes, in part. So much frigging material for the series. You have to figure that we needed at least two new songs a week for the show. We found like 50 tracks, some demos, most mono, which we couldn’t use. Some, though, were multitracked and ready to go with the thought of releasing them. The show wound up going off the air, and we recorded a few more albums, but this material just sat until we found it: incredible stuff by Neil Diamond that Davy had that vocal on, Carole King, Boyce & Hart. Then there was this one, called “Good Times,” that Harry Nilsson wrote for me to sing with Mike on guitar.

You guys wound up being dear, best friends, yes?
Oh yeah. And this song—what with Harry being Harry—it wasn’t just a demo’s vocal. He never did anything halfway. It was this full-blown vocal. I heard that and thought, “Wow, I could do a duet with him.” Everybody loved that idea, and we even named the album for his song. From there, we just either used the songs as they were from the ’60s—used the multitrack—or built upon them. From there, Rhino reached out and introduced us to Adam.

Were you a big Fountains Of Wayne fan?
I’d heard them, but I’m an even bigger fan of Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do!, for which Adam did the music. I ran into Hanks at a party once, and he said, “Hey, I made a movie about you.” Rhino introduced Adam and I, we got along famously, and we reached out to the indie-rock world for songs. Now, I don’t really listen to modern-rock radio, but all these guys—Ben, Rivers—are tops. We asked if they’d like to submit tunes, and the songs came flooding in, incredible tunes, a plethora of great material, a real love fest. Peter wrote one. Mike wrote and played on it. I wrote one, played drums and did the majority of the leads and a lot of backgrounds. We’re very involved, more so than ever.

Is it true Rivers Cuomo had to tamp down his more youngish themes for his song, make his lyrics more age-appropriate to you guys? He does write very adolescently.
It wasn’t that big of a deal. There were a couple of lines we thought could be more appropriate. I worry about our fans worrying if we’re weird.

Well, that sets up this question. The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame is no validator, yet they won’t vote the Monkees in because of this weird, arcane stigma, that on many of your records, you guys didn’t play your instruments. Which was true of many bands back then. You just took the flak.
You hit the nail on the head: We took the shit for it, pardon my French. Something that was a common practice for the Byrds and the Beach Boys. It’s ironic. Everybody did it because the recording techniques back then were so different and so expensive. Roger McGuinn used to say that they used the Wrecking Crew because they’d nail a song in three takes. When the Byrds went in, it took 73 takes. But we took the shit for it, which is weird because we didn’t have a choice. We were the cast of this TV show.

—A.D. Amorosi

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A Conversation With ANOHNI


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


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


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


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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