Philip Galanes, interviewing Cyndi Lauper and David Byrne in Greenwich:
PG: Was there struggle at the beginning of the Talking Heads?
CL: (singing) “This ain’t no foolin’ around.”
DB: It was a slow step by step, like on a ladder, and doing tours in a station wagon.
CL: That sucks.
DB: But there was never a rejection or a sense that this is not connecting. It was always connecting to a certain group of people. That’s good. Now let’s see if we can get it to another level.
CL: I was told I sang like a rat, but I didn’t care because I felt so great when I sang. I didn’t give a damn what anyone else said.
DB: And our connection with the audience seemed real and heartfelt. They really did care about us. They weren’t going because they had been told by some advertising agency.
CL: They didn’t stand in the back yelling “Free Bird”?
DB: Yes, they did that, too. But I think about what Cyndi was saying, there were periods, later on, when I would think: Oh, I’m no longer flavor of the month. What happens now? I think I’m still writing good songs, maybe even better songs. I’m more in control of my voice, it’s not that strangled squeak anymore. And I was willing to accept that people might go, “You sing good now, but we liked it when you sang bad.”
Elliott Smith died ten years ago yesterday (Oct 21, 2003). I hadn’t listened to his music in quite a while, though played through a number of his tracks last night. They hold up — and pretty promptly sent me back a decade. Pitchfork has created a well-designed, well-written, thorough ‘oral history’ of his music.
What follows is not an oral history of his life, but of his music; specifically, his solo career. The lines between life and music are tangled, of course, in ways that aren’t neatly prizable, and darker stories eventually creep into the frame at the edges. But the arc traced here begins with the emergence of That Voice: the flowering of his talent, the development of the intimate, inscrutable folk-pop he would mine for the rest of his career. That discovery dovetails with the dissolution of his first band, the loud-rocking Heatmiser. In some ways the development of the former triggered the latter. The story told here begins at this hinge point, as Smith begins exploring the possibilities of his fiercely intimate four-track solo recordings that would pull him away from Heatmiser and, eventually, into the national spotlight.
For those who knew him personally, the task of speaking for Elliott Smith wavers between privilege and burden. Many of the 18 people who spoke to me—bandmates, producers, managers, friends—emerged hesitantly, stepping gingerly over their own profound misgivings, issuing grave caveats. They’d been burned before, they warned me. They swore they’d never speak again. The story of their self-imposed silence, and their individual choices to break it or hold it, runs in powerful counterpoint to Smith’s own story. Some of the singer’s closest associates have simply declined to go on record: Having been prodded multiple times, they have understandably snapped shut. Some are speaking now for the first time. The combination of profound ambivalence and fierce conviction in their voices, as they opened themselves up, was chastening.
I stumbled upon a Jason Molina and Songs: Ohia fansite while a junior in college. I liked his music then, and still do, a great deal. Molina had been quiescent for a few years, dealing with his health and alcoholism. A note had surfaced suggesting he was okay, on the mend. Unfortunately, he passed away on March 18.
I got to meet Molina once, back in 2005. I’d heard stories that he could be prickly and unapproachable, to the point where I hesitated to say hello, but decided to suck it up as an act of selfishness; I just couldn’t resist the chance to tell him how much I’d come to love his music. The man was sweet and warm to the point where, when we parted, he reached into his bag and handed me a sheet of paper. He’d been scribbling some strange drawings — a little reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr’s album covers, but primitive and drawn in black pen — on the back of loose paperwork while bored on tour, and figured I might like one as a keepsake. He was right.
That sheepish generosity, coming from someone whose relationship with the world could be so difficult, stuck with me, and always will.
“If I’ve accomplished anything in these past 30 years,” Mr. Shankar said in the 1985 interview, “it’s that I have been able to open the door to our music in the West. I enjoy seeing other Indian musicians — old and young — coming to Europe and America and having some success. I’m happy to have contributed to that.
“Of course now there is a whole new generation out there, so we have to start all over again. To a degree their interest in India has been kindled by ‘Gandhi,’ ‘Passage to India’ and ‘The Jewel in the Crown.’ What we have to do now is convey to them an awareness of the richness and diversity of our culture.”
Brubeck died Wednesday morning of heart failure after being stricken while on his way to a cardiology appointment with his son Darius, said his manager Russell Gloyd. Brubeck would have turned 92 on Thursday.
Brubeck had a career that spanned almost all American jazz since World War II. He formed The Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951 and was the first modern jazz musician to be pictured on the cover of Time magazine — on Nov. 8, 1954 — and he helped define the swinging, smoky rhythms of 1950s and ’60s club jazz.
The seminal album “Time Out,” released by the quartet in 1959, was the first ever million-selling jazz LP, and is still among the best-selling jazz albums of all time. It opens with “Blue Rondo a la Turk” in 9/8 time — nine beats to the measure instead of the customary two, three or four beats.
A piano-and-saxophone whirlwind based loosely on a Mozart piece, “Blue Rondo” eventually intercuts between Brubeck’s piano and a more traditional 4/4 jazz rhythm.
The album also features “Take Five” — in 5/4 time — which became the Quartet’s signature theme and even made the Billboard singles chart in 1961. It was composed by Brubeck’s longtime saxophonist, Paul Desmond.
“When you start out with goals — mine were to play polytonally and polyrhythmically — you never exhaust that,” Brubeck told The Associated Press in 1995. “I started doing that in the 1940s. It’s still a challenge to discover what can be done with just those two elements.”
DB and St. Vincent discussed their album, their collective powerless apartments, and their use of showers in Brooklyn. Colbert suggested the three of them shower together in his office. And that SV and DB were eseentially dating.
The interview was hilariously awkward, with Colbert being Colbert, DB being DB, and Annie looking uncomfortable. It’s awesome, as were their performances on the show.
A beautifully written piece from Zadie Smith for the NYT:
But asking why rappers always talk about their stuff is like asking why Milton is forever listing the attributes of heavenly armies. Because boasting is a formal condition of the epic form. And those taught that they deserve nothing rightly enjoy it when they succeed in terms the culture understands. Then something changed: “As I started getting life experiences, I realized my power was in conveying emotions that people felt.” He compared himself to a comedian whose jokes trigger this reaction: “Yo, that’s so true.” He started storytelling — people were mesmerized. “Friend or Foe” (1996), which concerns a confrontation between two hustlers, is rap in its masterful, full-blown, narrative form. Not just a monologue, but a story, complete with dialogue, scene setting, characterization. Within its comic flow and light touch — free from the relentless sincerity of Tupac — you can hear the seeds of 50, Lil Wayne, Eminem, so many others. “That was the first one where it was so obvious,” Jay noted. He said the song represented an important turning point, the moment when he “realized I was doing it.”
At times he restricts himself formally, like the Oulipo, that experimental French literary group of the 1960s. In the song “22 Two’s,” from 1996, we get 22 delicious plays on the words “too” and “two.”
Ten years later, the sequel, “44 Fours,” has the same conceit, stepped up a gear. “Like, you know, close the walls in a bit smaller.” Can he explain why? “I think the reason I still make music is because of the challenge.” He doesn’t believe in relying solely on one’s natural gifts. And when it comes to talent, “You just never know — there is no gauge. You don’t see when it’s empty.”
There is very little eye contact made in a room with David Byrne and Annie Clark in it. Seated a healthy distance apart from each other on a SoHo studio couch, the pair genially trade compliments and jokes, but their restless eyeballs seldom, if ever, light on each other’s, as if the energy exchange involved in a head-on glance might scorch their fragile nerve endings. Byrne’s legs joggle constantly, his hands clutching absently at the green fabric of his pants when he is lost for words, while Clark, carefully sipping water with her legs arranged neatly beneath her, gives thoughtful answers from beneath the partial shade of an artful hat.
On what they admire in each other’s work:
DB: I know I’m not the first to remark on this, but I hear an acceptance of melody without any fear in Annie’s work, which isn’t totally common in up-and-coming musicians. But these beautiful melodies are often undercut by very creepy or disturbing subject matter. When I met Annie, I complimented her on how disturbing her video was.
AC: David is capable of so many shades and moods, and one of them is a rare combination of paranoid mania and ecstatic joy. It’s a really unmistakable, singular tone. He also has an ability, lyrically and musically, to talk about or address big subjects in a way that never feels pretentious or lofty. David never seems to be suffering from a dearth of creative energy. It takes many forms, but he doesn’t seem to be a nostalgic person. He always wants to be moving forward. That’s inspiring.
David Byrne on being David Byrne:
I feel like I’m a fairly boring, almost well-adjusted person. But I am fascinated by extreme mental states. I love outsider art from people who are making up their own worlds, exposing some part of human life that would be really uncomfortable for most of us. Or they do something that touches some part of you and you go, “I recognize this person is probably out of their fucking mind, but I recognize that part in myself, too.”
Anti- records has posted the first track from The Antlers’ Undersea EP at SoundCloud (embedded below). Combines all that lovely, layered ambience they are so good at with a wee bit less melancholy. Can’t wait for this EP.
Posted about this collaboration a few months ago and was pretty excited.
An email went out to DB’s mailing list today describing how the project - titled ‘Love this Giant’ - came to be, when to expect it, where to get tour details, and how to get the first song from the collaboration. A few highlights below:
I found that writing words to this brass-centric sound meant I had to re-think my lyrical approach. Brass has many associations—marching bands, Italian banda, New Orleans bands, classical chorales, RnB and funk. In general it’s not a subtle sound, so the words had to respond to that. We worked with a group of great arrangers, usually passing them midi versions of the parts that we had created on computers. They did their arrangements and often sent us synthesized versions to hear before the real players came in. The process involved a number of steps, so it took a while. On some songs I re-wrote the words about three times before I hit a direction I felt worked!
We both had other records and tours in the works, so this project was done in fits and starts, and each series of recording sessions involved a lot of players. It was an education that involved figuring out the variety of sounds and approaches one could come up with using more or less the same group makeup on every song—we could go funky or majestic with the exact same band. When John Congleton added some beats we could see a surprisingly song-centric record emerging. A lot of people, hearing a description of this project, assumed that it might be an artsy indulgence, but somehow it didn’t turn out that way. It’s a pop record—well, in my book anyway. I started to sense that we were ending up with a sound and approach I’d never heard before. There were elements that were reminiscent of things I’d heard, but a lot of it was completely new. Very exciting!
On an early May afternoon in the offices of Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium, a model of Saturn caught the eye of a 45-year-old high-school dropout, and a lyric was born.
“I thought, this is probably the longest spinning record in the world,” said GZA, the hip-hop artist and founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, referring to the ring system surrounding the planet. About a week later, the words crystallized and he offered them over a vegetarian lunch on the Upper West Side.
“God put the needle on the disc of Saturn / The record he played revealed blueprints and patterns,” he rapped in his signature rhythmic baritone, offering a taste from his forthcoming album, “Dark Matter,” an exploration of the cosmos filtered through the mind of a rapper known among his peers as “the Genius.”
Informed by meetings with top physicists and cosmologists at MIT and Cornell University, “Dark Matter” is intended to be the first in a series of albums that GZA—born Gary Grice in Brooklyn in 1966—will put out in the next few years, several of which are designed to get a wide audience hooked on science.
“Dark Matter” is scheduled for a fall release. Another album will focus on the life aquatic, a subject he’s fleshing out with visits to the labs of marine biologists and researchers, as well as meetings with the likes of Philippe Cousteau.
“After ‘Dark Matter,’ he said, “we’ll be back on earth, but in the ocean.”
Still, he believes that “Dark Matter” will tap into the innate curiosity of listeners—even those with no outward interest in science.
“I don’t think people have ever really been in touch with science,” he said. “They’re drawn to it, but they don’t know why they’re drawn to it. For example, you may be blown away by the structure of something, like a soccer ball or a geodesic dome, with its hexagonal shapes. Or how you can take a strand of hair and can get someone’s whole drug history. They’re different forms of science, but it’s still science.”
He plans to package “Dark Matter” with a short illustrated book that may also include the album’s lyrics and a glossary, “like an epic textbook,” he said.
Annie Clark: “… It’s not what I would expect— in a good way— though you will recognize both of us in it. It’s an honest-to-god, straight-down-the-middle thing. He wrote music, I wrote music; he wrote words, I wrote words. He sings half the songs, I wrote half the songs. I’ve never been that closely entwined in the songwriting, arranging, singing, and lyric-writing process with anyone. On occasion, I found myself writing vocal melodies that were very much like, “What would David Byrne do?” It ends up that I’m singing some of that stuff, though.”
“David has this amazing ability to not be critical of anything. He’s so curious and eager that he just throws out every wild idea from A to Z and then there’s this other process where he refines it and picks the best part. It makes him fearless— that’s why he’s David Byrne.”
Portishead played the Greek Theatre in Berkeley on October 21. B and I made it there a bit late, but had a nice view and great audio in the shared concrete throne area.
The band played a combination of old 'classics' and newer tunes from Third. None were necessarily strict reproductions of studio sounds -- nor where they complete reinventions. They occupied a middle space, filling out some parts and accenting others in new, exciting, and crowd pleasing ways. The stage and set designs were minimal, as was the lighting, leaving the bands' chops to drive the evening's narrative. While the band was undeniably awesome, Beth Gibbons stole the show.
She emoted in impossibly human ways, flitting between guarded and transparent. There was no lack of raw emotion, sometimes screeched, but mostly sung in her singular and devastating voice. The evening's wrenching interpretation of "Wandering Star" stood out -- boiled down to a baseline and Gibbons' voice, it left the audience stunned into silence.
And, if nothing else, it made B a Portishead fan -- for which I am thankful.
We got tickets to see the Arcade Fire and Calexico at the Greek Theatre at Berkeley on Oct 2. We arrived around 4:30p; doors opened at 6:30. There was a queue wrapping around the theater on both sides. It was pretty wild. The crowd waiting early ranged from little Justin Bieber-esque spring chickens to the gnarled and ancient. Hipsters, preps, 80s punks. The whole world turned out for this show.
And what a show. The setup was insanely elaborate, with a couple screens [one angled and made to look like an interstate billboard] and a large, highway-styled array of lights that shot down amazing sulfur-hued tones. The stage set-up managed to evoke a weird sense of nostalgia for suburban, off-the-highway living. Orange and yellow lights, imagery of overpasses, small yards, cookie-cutter subdivisions.
AF brought the noise, bombast, melodrama, and madness -- as usual. This is the third time I've seen them and it never disappoints. They sounded great and had the swagger of a much more popular band [though maybe my measure of popularity is irrelevant -- they seem to attract a huge following now]. We were about five rows back, slightly off center. It was a great spot, save the idiotic drunks singing-screaming along behind us.
Beth and I went to see Kristian Matsson, aka the Tallest Man on Earth, on Monday night at The Fillmore in San Francisco. The venue was fantastic. The show was outstanding. It takes serious gusto to get up on stage in front of throngs of the Ã¼ber-hip and perform like a maddened billy goat.
The setup was extremely simple. A man, three guitars, a smattering of peddles, and some amps. The Tallest Man seemed amused, entertained, and generally happy to be performing -- and the crowd loved him. We were lucky enough to be at the front of the audience, slightly off to the left. It was pretty outstanding; the combination of his unique voice, picking, and a pretty awe-inducing command of the audience made for a good night out. I wasn't sure what to expect -- sometimes a man and a guitar can be a bit boring -- but the show was great.
The show was at its peak for me when some of the showmanship and antics died down and the fellow just performed like an emotive mad man. Maybe the most amusing bit of performance was when, after a song, the tallest man flung his picks down pretty violently. He threw them at his amp, at his guitar, at the floor, always looking a bit pissed off and a bit bemused by the whole situation. I like that.