It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Bay Area Pop Funk Chanteuse Karyn Paige. Today, I’m happy to announce that she’s dropping a new single to tide us over until she finishes her full length album.
Consistent with her first release, The KP EP (I reviewed here), her latest single “You Know I’ll Always Love You” pays tribute to the Pop R&B heyday of the 80’s with swelling and buzzy synthesizers. Ms. Paige transforms from the sexy fuming diva sitting on the bed in “Stay Away Tonight” to a sunny girl in love that reminds me of Paula Abdul’s great singles.
The smartly spare arrangements, and loping percussion draws us very close to Karyn’s lovely soprano with an adopted affected stuffiness that recalls 1920’s and 30’s jazz singers. Factor in the slightly-kitschy talk box harmony vocal effects and you have one perfect pop song.
I asked Karyn why she chose to release this single ahead of the full length album she’s working on.
“The motivation for releasing the song ahead of the full LP was simple: Fans who have seen us play it live are constantly asking when we are going to put it out. People are really drawn to it, from music heads to moms. I wanted to give my fans something new to enjoy until the LP comes out. It was written by my co-producer and keyboard player Matt Berkeley, and I’ve always been honored to sing it.”
Neal Casal is a musician who you discover when you start digging into his career, has a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon-esque connection to other musicians. The fact is that Casal’s personal mantra is to live a life of creativity, and he achieves this in spades through his own extensive solo career with 11 albums dating back to 1994, sideman work in countless recording sessions and stints in other bands including high-profile runs in Ryan Adams‘ Cardinals and currently Chris Robinson’s Brotherhood (which has an album coming out this year) as well as a blossoming photography career. Casal’s latest solo record Sweeten the Distance will be released on Royal Potato Family on April 10th. Neal was a generous interviewee, and I came away from the conversation very inspired about my own music collecting, performing and photography.
When I called Neal, he was in busy painting a bedroom. He had to turn down the music he was playing to hear me. After introducing myself, I opened by asking him about his ties to the resurgence of the “Laurel Canyon” scene that started around some jam sessions at Jonathan Wilson‘s house.
Yeah, I have a few of those connections for sure… Wilson is a friend of mine, yeah, we’ve played music a bunch, been around his studio and seen a lot. We’re all part of the same music scene really.
I played on Mark Olson’s solo record Many Colored Kite, I was asked to play bass on the Gary Louris solo record Vagabonds by Chris Robinson who produced it, but I couldn’t because I was in the Cardinals at the time and we were getting ready to go on a long tour for Easy Tiger. But, I also play some bass on the new Jayhawks record.
A great record– I’m so happy they are back together.
Yeah, I was a long-time Jayhawks fan– back in the early-90’s I used to see them play all the time. I loved them, they were a big band for me. So, I was really lucky to get to know those guys and to play with them a bit.
Let’s talk a little bit about your record collection, I assume you’re into vinyl?
I’m definitely into vinyl. I have a whole living room full of vinyl and I buy stuff all the time. I played in L.A. last night, actually, and there is a great record shop called Origami Vinyl and I bought the Michael ChapmanRainmaker reissue, which was his first album for the Harvest label in ‘69– amazing sort of skewed English folk with some Rock elements in it.
I listen to vinyl all day long, I buy vinyl all the time– I don’t even know where it begins and ends, you know?
Was vinyl a resurgence for you, or were you into it all along?
I started collecting vinyl well over 20 years ago and it just never stopped– it never died for me. I never let go of my collection or anything like that. It’s cool that vinyl is at an all-time high with all of the reissues and attention to detail– it’s amazing. And, now that I’m in the Chris Robinson Brotherhood the vinyl obsession goes even further. Chris is an avid music listener and he and I get along so well musically and in every town we play– we are in the record shops. So, last year touring around the country we were spending our paychecks on stacks of vinyl. It was great!
Did you end up shipping the records back or did you bring them on the bus?
Oh, they were on the bus! There was no where to even sleep in my bunk! It was just so full of records.
So, yeah, I’m listening to records all the time– in fact, I was listening to Captain Beefheart on the turntable and painting a room as you called.
Which Captain Beefheart record was it?
I was listening to a record called The Spotlight Kid. It isn’t exactly my favorite, but that was what I was listening to just now.
In your collecting do you tend to focus on any particular genre, or are you a completist in anything?
I’m not really a completist, although at the moment I’m trying to find every single Robbie Basho record there is. Robbie Basho was an acoustic guitar player in the John Fahey tradition or style who made records in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I’m currently obsessed with him and would like to get all of his records, actually.
I’m only just recently getting into John Fahey. I feel like I’m kind of late to the party.
John Faheywas amazing– he had his own record label called Takoma Records and Robbie Basho was on Takoma for a while. He wasn’t like Fahey, but he was kind of in that vein. Completing my Robbie Basho collection is hard, though because some of them are really rare– they’re quite expensive now.
Some of the Fahey records are getting reissued, so maybe some of Basho’s stuff might get reissued, too.
Yeah, exactly. For a while I wanted to complete my Incredible String Band collection, which I finally did, which is cool. But, it isn’t really about being a completist as it is about finding cool stuff and discovering what new music you can, you know?
When CD’s came out in the 80’s I jumped on that bandwagon– so most of my collection until the last decade or so was made up of that– I have thousands of CD’s…
Oh, we we’re all on that one, you know– me too, believe me. My CD collection is now– I got rid of almost all of the cases, and I just put them all in books. So I still have most of my CD collection and I have stacks of CD books as well, so…
Yeah, I’ve always had a turntable and my vinyl, but during the CD years I’d only pick up vinyl when there was something I wanted that was only available on vinyl– like maybe a remix or something and it has only been in the last decade or so that I started getting back into vinyl, and really in the last three years I’ve tripled my collection of vinyl. Thankfully, the majority of people still don’t seem to think that vinyl is a going concern, so you can still find good deals on some pieces. It seems like I’m spending a lot of time replacing albums from the 90’s that I originally bought on CD.
Yeah, CD’s as a format you can just see is just not very timeless, you know what I mean? CD’s are not wearing well as we move down the years. That’s a problem– the artwork doesn’t last, it looks like shit, they look horrible in your house– they don’t display well. They sound weird, too– they skip and they get all fucked up. They’re still around, of course, but they are just not a timeless medium. It’s amazing to see that with vinyl, they got it right the first time.
I recorded my last two records digitally, and that’s fine. I think that recording digitally isn’t particularly a problem if you do it right. I work with really great people who know what they’re doing with all of that stuff. But, I still like to work on tape as well. Recording digitally is a fact of life that I totally accept, and digitally recorded records can be mastered to vinyl beautifully.
Sweeten the Distance will be on vinyl, and the last Hazy Malaze record Connections is available on vinyl, too, right?
Yeah, actually all three Hazy Malaze records are available on vinyl. The first Hazy Malaze record was recorded on tape and mastered to vinyl– so that is a record that is completely analog which was really cool.
Speaking of Hazy Malaze, the two other members Dan Fadel and Jeff Hill are the rhythm section of the new record. They have played on my last three solo records records in addition to the three Hazy Malaze records which we all co-write together. Those two guys are are such a huge part of my musical life. they’re a team and we’ve done so much musical work together.
Also, two of my albums from the 90’s are coming out on vinyl as well.
The reissues that Fargo did?
Yeah, and they did a really great job with those. But, I’m most excited with Sweeten the Distance. Thom Monahan, the guy who produced it was a big key to the sound. He is such a great producer and he works with so many people: Vetiver, Fruit Bats, and he did the Chris Robinson Brotherhood record we just finished, and he also co-produced that Gary Louris record Vagabonds with Chris Robinson. And, Thom also worked with Jonathan Wilson on his album Gentle Spirit. So, you can see how all of these roads cross with this circle of friends we have going on here.
Yeah, I first heard about Jonathan Wilson about the time I started getting into Dawes and heard about the get togethers he was having at his place in Laurel Canyon.
Yeah that was fun. That is where I met Jonathan and those guys– a really good scene. Jonathan was also really good friends with Jonathan Rice who is in Jenny and Johnny— have you heard their record?
Actually, no. I’m more familiar with Rice’s solo stuff.
Jonathan Rice has done two solo records, but his girlfriend is Jenny Lewis who was in Rilo Kiley and they are in Jenny and Johnny together. I used to play with Jonathan Rice many years ago– so this scene just kind of came together from people who knew each other. And, there is another guy name Farmer Dave Scher who is in Beachwood Sparks.
And, you toured with Beachwood Sparks, right?
Yeah, and they just make a new record with Thom Monahan that I play on as well. Crossing streams, you know.
There must be something in the water up there– it’s almost a corollary to the 70’s Laurel Canyon scene– Jackson Browne working with the Eagles, the Eagles working with Linda Ronstadt, Linda Ronstadt working with Neil Young and James Taylor…
Yeah, it’s people around– all in the same place doing stuff– people with songs– and it’s a good idea to get together. I don’t think anyone really thought about it, but when you look back on it, you’re like, “wow, we really did a lot of stuff together.” No one set out saying, “we’re going to make a new Laurel Canyon scene.” That would have been incredibly pretentious. It just started to happen.
When you get ready to work on your solo stuff, do you find yourself maybe water-shedding with your records?
Well, actually, I try to get away from my records, actually. So that it’s not so much like I’m trying to cop another thing, you know? For me, the record collection is useful as a subliminal influence. In my off-time I’m listening to records constantly, and I’m just absorbing stuff. But, when it comes time to really write or really record– that’s when I put the records away. Try not to make any direct references. I used to do it when I was younger– bring a record to the studio when you’re making a record and you tell the producer, “I want the record to sound like this.” That’s just stupid, it never really works. To try to cop something directly is not a good idea– you just need to do your own thing– you have to look for your own voice. My 60’s and 70’s influences come across strongly in my music, I admit– but I don’t sit around with Thom Monahan playing Jackson Browne records trying to replicate them. The fabric of who I am as a musician comes from my record collection, but it is absorbed in a much different way– a much more subtle or internal way. That said, when I worked on the Chris Robinson Brotherhood album, we did have a turntable in the recording studio– in the live room– and everyone brought in records, but that was just so we could listen to records on break and have fun.
How long had you been working on the songs on Sweeten the Distance? I know that you had an album out in 2009…
I started working on songs right after Roots and Wings, which was my last album. Just over the last two or three years. I’m just always working on music.
Looking at your career, I’m impressed at how capably you jump between your own music and helping other people with theirs.
I love doing a bit of both– it keeps things fresh. I love working with other people and I bring a little that back to my own music. Sometimes working on my own stuff can get to be a little isolating, so I love to be a guitar player for other people or bring in some harmony vocals. I just want to be playing music all the time. I like it to be an open thing. It doesn’t have to be just my music– it can be someone else’s as long as it is really good! I have so many friends that it just makes sense to go play with them. There are no rules that I should just do my stuff– I just want to do– I just want to do stuff and I want to be involved.
You do seem pretty adaptable– when I compare the music of the Cardinals, for example, to your music I don’t think that they are necessarily very similar.
Well what the Cardinals did and what I do fall under the broad umbrella of American music. Playing with Ryan was an amazing experience. He is so unbelievably talented, and such an absolute great songwriter that I was influenced by him. Again, though, not so directly, but more like raising the bar in terms of quality of songwriting and song quality in general and the desire to be great. But, I didn’t come out of that experience sounding more like Ryan. Before I had joined him, I had already been making my own records and had my own style. Part of the reason he wanted me to join his band was because I had my own style.
I read a comment that you made about how your photographs are in essence the songs that you couldn’t or haven’t written yet. It’s an idea that really intrigues me as an amateur photographer and musician myself– the idea that two different art forms could be tied together.
It’s all part of one creative flow for me. Taking photographs is like what we talked about– it’s like playing with other people. Instead of just making my own songs, I play guitar with other people, and in addition to playing guitar with other people, I take photographs of those people. It’s the way to make life creative– a creative flow 24/7– all the time. You can’t play music constantly– so when I take a break from that, I pick up a camera. It’s interesting that my photographs end up looking like my music sounds. The same aesthetic that I have in one thing, I bring to another– and that’s very interesting to see. Like I might use space photographically the same way I do musically. You bring your personality into whatever you do, so things can kind of look and sound the same way. It’s not the medium– it’s YOU. In some of my music there is a kind of quiet aspect to things and I find myself doing that with a camera as well. I’m reaching for the same thing photographically as I am musically. I think that maybe my photographs are more diverse than my music, but there is a certain melancholy or introspection and that is a part of my personality that I’m working out and I do that with photographs as well. What is my psyche pushing me towards? That is one my my main revelations in my pursuit of photography.
My pursuit of photography started out as a way for me to document what I was doing– I was on tour constantly and I was losing track of time– I was never ever home– nor did I want to be at home at that time. But, being on tour can be really tedious. Not boring– but you don’t have control over your day. So, I started taking photographs to pass the time, but also so I could remember where I’d been. When you are on tour that much, I noticed that it was difficult to keep everything straight. So, I started taking photographs to make being on the road more tolerable. Also, to bring more creativity to being on tour– otherwise you end up in hotel rooms and coffee shops all day, and I can’t handle that. Then, it became a passion when I realized that I had a knack for it. That is what photography has done for me– It has make my life so much bigger than just music. (chuckles) I’m just trying to have a rich experience here!
What is on your vinyl wish list?
Let me look at my phone… I always have a running list of stuff. There’s so much…
Steve Hillage – Fish Rising : Chris Robinson played me that record…
The Collins Sisters – Anthems in Eden
“The Wicker Man” Soundtrack
Dr. Strangely Strange Records
Any Roy Harper records I can find
Robert Nighthawk – Bricks in my Pillow
John Martyn – The Tumbler
Robin Williamson (from ISB) – Myrrh – Really rare, I don’t think I’ll ever see it.
Neal, I really want to thank you for your time, this was a great conversation! I should let you get back to painting your room!
Actually, this is perfect timing– I was painting while we were talking and I’m now done!
The dusty desert highway of Tuscon-native band Calexico’s15-year career is dotted with a notable collection of passionate Latin infused Americana (for lack of another general category to place them). While the band may not be familiar to most, their music shows up in many places– from interstitial music in NPR to movie soundtracks and in their many collaborations (including one fantastic album with The Iron and Wine). If only for these works, Calexico will stand as one of the important and influential American bands.
Along this same highway of releases are the roadside attractions of Calexico’s self-released albums. These generally “tour-only” albums were released under Calexico’s own imprint Our Soil, Our Strength and served sometimes as a clearing house of studio demos and projects that didn’t make it to other albums, live albums or other experiments. Ironically, maybe, it was through one of these albums that I was first exposed to Calexico. Someone posted the instrumental collection Travelall as mp3’s on the internet newsgroup alt.binaries.sounds.mp3 which left me initially of the opinion that Calexico was an instrumental post-rock similar to Tortoise. (I didn’t know it at the time, but Travelall has Thrill Jockey artists Rob Mazurek (Isotope 217, Chicago Underground), Doug McCombs (Tortoise, Brokeback, etc.), and Noel Kupersmith (Brokeback, Chicago Underground Quartet) on it which lends some weight to that idea).
This misconception was quickly dismissed with the 2006 release of Garden Ruin which quickly made me a fan of the band and motivated me to get all of their albums, including the tour-only releases which were all limited releases and quickly fell out of print, so I had to resort to Amazon and eBay to track the ones down I couldn’t get from the band’s website and from the band during the Garden Ruin tour. All of these releases are essential to the fan of Calexico, as they provide valuable insight to the band’s creative workouts. Not forced into an album format that would have appeal to a more casual listener, we are treated to a much richer view into the true heart of the band which include an audio treasure trove of atmospheric instrumentals, audio experiments, home demos, live performances, one-off collaborations and outtakes.
So, you can imagine my excitement hearing that Calexico is releasing a vinyl box set titled Road Atlas 1998-2011. Encased in a cloth hardbound box and limited to 1,100 hand-numbered sets, Road Atlas 1998-2011 collects the tour-only releases, plus the aforementioned live release and the Circo soundtrack as well as a 40-page book by music journalist Fred Mills. In addition to the 12-LP’s, the box will include mp3-downloads of all the tracks, PLUS BONUS other unreleased music not found on the LP’s or the band’s regular releases! Here is the breakdown:
ROAD ATLAS 1998-2011
Limited Edition Hand Numbered 12 LP vinyl boxset of Calexico’s tour only CDs
Includes: 98-99 Road Map LP (originally released on CD 1999) Travelall LP (originally released on CD 2000) Aerocalexico 2xLP (originally released on CD 2001) Scraping 2xLP (originally released on CD 2002) The Book And The Canal 2xLP (originally released on CD 2005) Toolbox LP (originally released on CD 2007) Ancienne Belgique-Live in Brussels 2008 2xLP (originally released on CD 2008) Circo- A Soundtrack By Calexico LP (originally released on CD 2010) MP3 download codes for all the albums MP3 download code for previously unreleased Calexico tracks A 40-page perfect bound book of photos, handwritten notes, and extensive liner notes A heavy duty, linen wrapped, screen-printed slip case to house it all!
Priced at around $130, the box will be available via the band’s website, Touch and Go, Amazon and Insound.com. For those that don’t want to drop that kind of cash, there is also a great compilation CD of tracks from the box available as well.
I created a special 32-minute mix of tracks from the box to get you in the mood including these tracks:
“Hushabye” from Aerocalexico
“Ghost Writer” from The Book and the Canal
“Waitomo” from Toolbox
“Escrito En La Piedra” from Circo
“Two Silver Trees” from Anceinne Belgique – Live in Brussels 2008
“Dona Lupe” from Circo
“Chachaca” from Travelall
“Griptape” from The Book and the Canal
“Wind Up Bird” from Scraping
“Glowing Heart of the World” from 98-99 Road Map
If last night’s Grammies shows us anything, it is that music that draws inspiration from the rich history of 70’s and 80’s Pop music is always going to be popular. Arcade Fire owes a lot to Springsteen, I think Lady Gaga should write Madonna a check for her new single “Born This Way” which is almost a direct rip of “Express Yourself.” John Legend and the Roots took home a trophy for an album of 70’s R&B covers.
Last year, I posted a couple of articles about another artist that puts her unique spin on her 70’s and 80’s new wave, soul and funk influences, Bay Area-based singer Karyn Paige. Her slamming single “Want To” and the follow up EP, known simply as the KP EP got a lot of play for me last year and I will admit that the “Want To” single sounds like it came right out of Prince’s stable of musicians when he held court in Minneapolis.
Karyn, along with video director and editor Justin Berger (who also does the popular Lyrics Born LBTV installments) and her backing band The Scoundrels (Joe Bagale (drums/vox), Matt Berkeley (keyboards), Chris McGee (bass/vox) and Teeko (keyboards/turntables)) visited Soundwave Studios for three days of shooting that make up the debut video for “Want To” Karyn’s smoky and funky testament to a paramour. The video makes its premier here, appropriately enough on Valentines Day!
The video showcases the singer by providing a number of different settings with and without the band. The video is clearly influenced by classic videos of the era she draws her inspiration but with updated video effects. This is a great song, and this video should prove to be an effective calling card for her.
Karyn’s great wardrobe in the video was custom made by Gracie Ginian.
The video premiered for the first time ever at Beta Lounge in Berkeley, CA just this past Saturday (Feb 12th) along with a special performance by Karyn and some of her friends (Aima the Dreamer, Dublin, Teeko, DJ Tap.10)
So, here for your enjoyment– I present “Want To” by Karyn Paige!