From The Desk Of The Lilac Time’s Stephen Duffy: Poetry And The Acoustic Guitar

Stephen Duffy was the first singer in a little band called Duran Duran. He left them in 1979 and began a series of other musical projects before settling into the Lilac Time almost three decades ago with brother Nick. The band’s latest album is No Sad Songs. Stephen Duffy will be guest editing all week.


Emily Berry
Liz Berry
Chuck Berry

Duffy: I love the poets. Fiction guys are making it up. Poets are living it. Cartoonists draw cartoons. Poetry is the best. There’s never been any money in it. The internet has probably increased its popularity, unlike everything else, like journalism and music that have been diminished and almost destroyed. Poetry seems to be thriving. Readings are hip again. It’s hard to imagine that we have lived through times when it seemed that poetry and the acoustic guitar would be left to atrophy in a museum cabinet. I heard Dylan Thomas when I was in a weird Victorian annexe of our modern inner-city comprehensive school. His voice boomed from a portable record player.

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light

You can’t beat that.

Video after the jump.

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Film At 11: Chelsea Wolfe

Chelsea Wolfe is getting set to release her fifth LP, Abyss, on August 7. Wolfe just released a brand new single from Abyss, “Carrion Flowers,” accompanied by a video for the track. The song is also featured in the trailer for upcoming film Dark Places. Directed by Wolfe and bandmate Ben Chisholm, the video plays something like the famous killer videotape from 2002’s The Ring. Check it out here.

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Montreal International Jazz Festival, Part 1


It’s the 36th annual Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. MAGNET’s Mitch Myers translates the action.

One Nation Under A Groove
The 36th edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal is officially in full swing. The fest is 10 days and nights, running from June 26 through July 5, and although jazz is the byword, the ambitious music programming also encompasses rock, blues, pop, flamenco, folk, hip hop and EDM for a well-rounded, populist experience. Big fun for serious music lovers with plenty of distractions for the whole family, the Montreal fest features hundreds of concerts, many of which are free on outdoor stages as well as a number ticketed gigs held within a range of indoor venues. Hosting recognizable mainstream artists like the Steve Miller Band, Erykah Badu and hometown favorites like the Barr Brothers, the Montreal fest has fought off some rainy weather and ultimately seems just too big to fail.

Hardcore jazzers have had their hands full with tons of quality options. Italian trumpeters like Enrico Rava and Paulo Fresu both attracted attention, as did American horn-man Christian Scott, the hip-hop-inflected Robert Glasper Trio, the Bad Plus with guest saxophonist Joshua Redman, and the Joe Lovano-John Scofield Quartet. Veteran fusion stars Stanley Jordan, Al Di Melola and Stanley Clarke were all crowd pleasers, as was contemporary axe-man Kurt Rosenwinkle, who hosted three consecutive nights for his part of the vaunted Invitation Series. Jazz elders Gary Bartz, Al Foster, Buster Williams and Larry Willis brought the old-school back to life as the Heads Of State, progressive cornet player Ron Miles mixed it up nicely with guitar hero Bill Frisell and drummer Brian Blade at the Monument-National, and the amazing Wayne Shorter Quartet was once again a festival highlight.

Still, the Montreal crowd loves to move and groove, and nothing got them going like the Snarky Puppy show at the Metropolis dancehall. A swirling, funky big band with two drummers, two keyboardists and a thriving horn section, these guys have quietly grown from playing under the radar to recent Grammy nominations and nonstop touring. Playing original material as well as snatches of P-Funk and even the pounding melody of “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” these guys brought all the different jazz generations together, as in, “one nation under a groove.”

That’s the Montreal Jazz Fest, pure and simple, which keeps on trucking through the holiday weekend—how about you?

—Mitch Myers

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MP3 At 3PM: Ancient Warfare


Lexington-based Ancient Warfare has released a new song called “Gunsmoke” from its Alias Records debut The Pale Horse. A steady rocker with a unique vocal and lyrical approach, “Gunsmoke” builds into a burst of atmosphere and textured “ahhs.” The Pale Horse is out August 11, and “Gunsmoke” can be downloaded below.

“Gunsmoke” (download):

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Rachel Grimes: Chamber Of Secrets


Rachel Grimes’ evocative piano compositions willfully defy categorization

“Words get in the way of the emotions I’m trying to convey,” says pianist and composer Rachel Grimes from her home in Louisville, Ky. “I don’t feel driven by lyrics, language or verbal content. I do sing and love the idea of songs, but the thing I’m after in chamber music is expressing a complexity of feeling. I want to be generous to my audience and let them make the music their own, without language or the specificity of words.”

Grimes has been composing genre-spanning instrumental pieces since her days with Rachel’s, an ensemble that played music that was often labeled post-rock and post-classical, categories she finds confusing. “We’re living in a society where music from all previous time periods is accessible to us,” she says. “Everything in the past is post-something. All music is in reference to things that came before.”

Rachel’s played instrumentals that drew on the minimal classical music of the late 20th century. The band started when Grimes met guitarist Jason Noble. “We started messing with songs he’d written, adding and subtracting parts in a slow, organic process,” says Grimes. “We wanted to record the pieces and didn’t realize we’d become a band until we actually put out a record and started doing shows. We had no definitive approach, just ideas for sounds that could be made with piano, cello, viola and guitar. When we played rock venues, we surprised people when they heard the textures we were producing. We got a kick out of the words people came up with to describe what we were doing.”

When Rachel’s went on an extended hiatus, Grimes continued playing and composing. She wrote film scores and orchestral works, did composing and sound design for the Portland Cello Project and the SITI Theater Company. She toured Europe, playing solo and with chamber ensembles like the Amsterdam Sinfonietta Trio and Orchestra Kandinskij. All the while, she was working on the music that would become The Clearing.

The Clearing sweeps you up with its cinematic strings, jazz-influenced chordal patterns and expansive classical string arrangements. The pieces are built around the simple pulsations Grimes plays on her piano, with cello, violin, sax and oboe darting in and out of the musical landscape. The lush, ambient sounds that give the music an intergalactic aura were generated by electro wizard loscil (Scott Morgan). “Scott’s a master at finding the perfect, soothing sonic complement to the organic sound of the strings,” says Grimes. “The heart and soul of the songs are contained in the idea of a clearing, with its implications of clearing the mind or a space in the woods that allows light to come out of the darkness. When I’m composing, I listen to the harmonic relationships and the emotional quality of the sound. What’s the picture the music is painting? What shapes is it building in your imagination? Music is about following something without knowing what it is. What I’m trying to describe are the emotional states we don’t quite understand.”

—j. poet

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From The Desk Of The Lilac Time’s Stephen Duffy: Flower Power

Stephen Duffy was the first singer in a little band called Duran Duran. He left them in 1979 and began a series of other musical projects before settling into the Lilac Time almost three decades ago with brother Nick. The band’s latest album is No Sad Songs. Stephen Duffy will be guest editing all week.


Duffy: I still believe in flower power. It came, it went. It was a Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In thing, a Tiny Tim thing, but oh not for Tiny Tintin? Hell yes! If we had invested more in flower power back then, we wouldn’t be on the edge of the end of the world presently. Now who’s mocking flower power? Sleep well, my sweet. But before you sleep, remember to buy the new album by the Lilac Time. It’s called No Sad Songs. It may make up for all the bad karma you’ve been collecting since your birth. In fact, I guarantee it will.

Video after the jump.

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Film At 11: JD McPherson

In February, JD McPherson released his second full-length album, Let The Good Times Roll, which was met with critical acclaim. Now McPherson has released a new video for “Head Over Heals.” The clip features McPherson and his band dressed very much like greasers, playing in the middle of a roller rink while folks skate around them. The 1980s vibe works perfectly with the track’s sound. Check out the video below.

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The Turtles’ Innovative “You Know What I Mean”


I was speaking with old pal Dennis Davison of Los Angeles’ Jigsaw Seen the other day about one of our favorite pop/rock groups from the ’60s, the Turtles. We both agreed the L.A.-based combo that showcased the rock-solid lead vocals of Howard Kaylan and the soaring falsetto of Mark Volman doesn’t get enough credit for its brilliant body of work.

In the final six weeks of 1969, I saw a handful of major rock performances in the San Francisco bay area by the Rolling Stones, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Creedence Clearwater Revival. But the Turtles, appearing at the same time in the suburban gymnasium of Santa Clara’s Buchser High School, easily equaled any of its hotshot competition.

The Turtles had plenty of hits, many penned by the songwriting team of Gary Bonner and Alan Gordon. The groundbreaking nature of one of these Bonner & Gordon gems, “You Know What I Mean,” may not be apparent to the casual listener, so used to hearing the classic American pop-song format. Normally, an eight-bar melody is followed by a repeat of the same eight-bar phrase. Then comes eight bars of a different “B” melody known as the bridge, followed by eight more bars of the original “A” melody. It’s Music Notation 101. Nothing could be simpler.

“You Know What I Mean,” which hit the top 20 of the U.S. singles charts in 1967, has none of that going on. A fervent plea (“You and I should be together”) to a potential girlfriend, Kaylan’s powerful vocal line unfolds like you’re opening segment after segment of a plastic tape measure, rising and falling so naturally the listener may never notice anything unusual going on. The heartfelt, non-stop entreaty is finished, and we’ve been waiting for her answer for almost 50 years now. If she’s a fan of innovative pop music, she’d be a fool to pass him by.

—Jud Cost

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MP3 At 3PM: C. Gibbs


NYC songwriter C. Gibbs has no problem keeping your attention. New track “Murmer And Belt” feels like two vastly different songwriters spliced their work together—one minute repetitive and peaceful, the next caustic and fiery. “Murmer And Belt” is all about dynamics, and if it’s any indication of forthcoming LP C. Gibbs Sings Motherwell Johnston, we might have something shocking coming soon. Download “Murmer And Belt” below.

“Murmer And Belt” (download):

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A Conversation With FFS’ Russell Mael And Alex Kapranos


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—A.D. Amorosi

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