Death Ships – Maybe Arkansas EP Released – Upcoming Show at The Mill 9/17

Dan Maloney of Death Ships

Last February I reported about former Iowa City band Death Ships– a show at the Mill and a new EP that he was going to release on iTunes. Titled Maybe Arkansas, it was a 4-track EP of some really great guitar rock. I said that it was, “a flat-out charmer– hook-filled and standing out in my mind as a testament to the great music that comes from the Midwest. These guitar pop songs draw easy and complimentary comparisons to other Midwest greats like The Jayhawks, The Honeydogs and, yes, Wilco. Each of these songs stick in my head with earworm intensity.”

Over half-year later, I still feel this same way about the EP. Since Dan sent me the songs in order for me to review it, I was one of the fortunate few to get to hear it. Well, except for some tracks he gave to some blogs to post and all of the people to which I excitedly played it.

Last week the EP made it to iTunes and you can download it for $3.96 or Amazon for $3.56.  On a post frontman Dan Maloney made to his MySpace page, he announced the EP going to iTunes and also said that there will be a limited CD run of the EP. He also announced that they were going to start recording a new album next month.

Dan is bringing his Death Ships back to the Mill on Friday, September 17th opening for Ha Ha Tonka. In an e-mail to me this week, Dan said that they had a bunch of new jams he was excited to try out at this show.

I saw Ha Ha Tonka back in September of 2008 opening for Backyard Tire Fire and the then-Picador in Iowa City. They put on a really great show. You can see the pictures here. Since I saw Ha Ha Tonka, they have been signed to Bloodshot Records and released a new album in 2009 called Novel Sounds of the Nouveau South.

Also opening is Iowa City musician Brian Johannesen who performs as Grand Tetons.

Maybe Click to buy Maybe Arkansas by Death Ships on iTunes

Click Here to download “I Like It A Lot” from Maybe Arkansas.

Click Here for the Death Ships MySpace Page which has some of the tracks from Maybe Arkansas streaming.

Click Here for the Death Ships Daytrotter Session

Click Here for the Jay Bennett Daytrotter Session with Death Ships as his band

Click Here for the Splice interview with Dan Maloney from 2009 that has some unreleased tracks and a couple from the upcoming EP

Upcoming Show: Death Ships Set Sail for Iowa City 2/27

The story of Dan Maloney’s Death Ships is one of a band outgrowing a local scene, gaining embrace of the Indie Tastemakers riding an arc of success but ultimately stalling. A familiar story to be sure (see: Tapes ‘N Tapes).

For over nine years Dan Maloney has been Death Ships— a band whose beginnings in Iowa City were as a side project. According to his January 2009 interview with Splice, he was in an Emo band called Faultlines when he decided to work on some solo songs. “…on the side I was experimenting with writing songs along the style of the music I grew up with. It took me a while to figure out I could sing better within a certain range rather than “shout/scream.”

Death Ships started initially as a solo accoustic effort and then expanded into a revolving cast of members and became known for having different lineups for every show. In fact, the first time I ever heard about Death Ships was in the context of them seemingly opening for every band at the Mill Restaurant. My friend saw Low and Why? at the Mill and Dan’s Death Ships were openers both times (without drums) and I believe that they opened for Tapes ‘n Tapes and The Hold Steady during their early tours as well. “When Randall (Davis) and Adam “Lars” joined the ranks,” Dan said in his Daytrotter interview, “they really helped shape Death Ships into a functional band.” In September of 2006 the debut Seeds of Devastation was released to some critical acclaim and Alternative Press named Death Ships “Best Unsigned Band.”

The band met ex-Wilco member Jay Bennett through a shared manager and he took the band under his wing and on the road with him as his backing band for two tours. In a recent email exchange with Dan, it is really clear that this time with Jay– who passed away last year— made a big impact on him. “[Jay’s death] was a big blow. I didnt know him better than others did, but from touring with him twice and spending a lot of time with him I got a good sense of the man he was: a caring, compassionate man with a love of music and joy that only comes from a child’s first Christmas. He picked us up and gave us a boost that I will never forget.”

Dan moved to Chicago from Iowa City a couple of years ago and has been carrying on the Death Ships name with occasional shows in the area and watershedding the follow-up to Seeds which will be called Circumstantial Chemistry. Additionally, a four-song EP Maybe Arkansas will be released on iTunes. The EP is produced by Luke Tweedy who runs Flat Black Studios in Iowa City and is in (ft) The Shadow Government. “I started working on a follow up a couple years ago and only scraped together four of the songs for this new EP. I moved to Chicago and basically had to start from scratch again. It’s hard– like any band– to sell everyone on commiting to [it], forfeiting the fact that there may not be much money involved but also requiring a lot of time and dedication. I hope I have this with this new group and am finally ready to start pushing Death Ships forward and getting these songs and new songs heard.”

Dan generously let me listen to the songs that make up Maybe Arkansas, and it is a flat-out charmer— hook-filled and standing out in my mind as a testiment to the great music that comes from the Midwest. These guitar pop songs draw easy and complimentary comparisons to other Midwest greats like The Jayhawks, The Honeydogs and, yes, Wilco. Each of these songs stick in my head with earworm intensity. Dan’s soft vocal approach on “I Like It A Lot” gives a breezy lead up to the break down “it’s dreams like these/ little melody/ i got plans for you/ you got plans for me” which very nicely launches in the double time and urging cry “put it all on me!”

This is followed by the fun, piano pumping, Beatle-y “Somethings Gone Awry” with its superb use of horns. I love how the song goes from this ironically upbeat drive complete with “do-do-do-do’s” to the mood change as the song runs out “It’s hard to blame the darkness for the rain/It’s hard to see clearly when when we’re reeling from a long black cloud…”

“Let Me Think It Over” is a promise to a former love. It has a undeniable 60’s R&B tinge to it– kind of like when Springsteen used to cover Mitch Ryder in concert– particular with the 3/4 time switch from driving 4/4 at the chorus. “We can get together like we used to be/the same old fool you’ve been dying to see.”

The EP wraps up much too early with the title track. It starts as a melancholy aching sentiment of escape to starting over. “With a furrowed brow you slide across the seat/So, maybe Arkansas– another change in plans” It’s the narrator’s thoughts at the halfpoint of the song of the people they are leaving behind halfway that transforms the song to shouting anger. “Write a letter to your dear sweet mother/tell her that we’re only running from our halted, November mind…”What’s that you gain from this song??”

This EP is a calling card and statement of direction for this new phase of Death Ships. Dan continues from the e-mail he sent me, ” There were times after Seeds where I felt the fruit of my efforts were grossly being undermet and underappreciated, but I have come to peace about being jaded. This is music I make and part of my story. If a few people enjoy it I’m willing to accept that. It’s truly a labor of love and sometimes I forget that. If it ever stopped being fun I would hang it up, but clearly I can’t, because I’ve been doing this project for over six years.”

Dan is sailing his Death Ships to Iowa City on Saturday, 2/27 at The Mill Restaurant in Iowa City. They will be headlining a show with Datagun, Olivia Rose Muzzy, and the Vagabonds. 9PM and admission is a measly SIX BUCKS!

Click Here to download “I Like It A Lot” from Maybe Arkansas.

Click Here for the Death Ships MySpace Page which has some of the tracks from Maybe Arkansas streaming.

Click Here for the Death Ships Daytrotter Session

Click Here for the Jay Bennett Daytrotter Session with Death Ships as his band

Click Here for the Splice interview with Dan Maloney from 2009 that has some unreleased tracks and a couple from the upcoming EP

New Fan-assisted “Mash-up” Video of “Salt & Cherries (MC5)” by Wendy & Lisa

One of the great records of this year for me is the new Wendy & Lisa joint White Flags of Winter Chimneys. It is a self-released record, and the promotion and distribution is handled by their little-but-mighty camp. Talking with them earlier this year I could get the sense that this release and their truly-independent approach to managing their careers was going to be a developing blueprint that other acts could look to for inspiration. They twitter, they blog, they podcast, they Facebook, they Amazon.com.

Today they released the video to the rawking “Salt & Cherries (MC5)” which features Wendy & Lisa in a live setting interspersed with fans lip-synching to the song. They asked for submissions from fans and they apparently got some really creative results!

Tortoise Returns to Morning Becomes Eclectic Make Appearance at Amoeba Records

Tortoise is in L.A. and they are busy. They play a sold out show at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, but they are doing a couple promotional appearances ahead of the show.  Yesterday Tortoise returned to the KCRW show “Morning Becomes Eclectic” to perform a 43 minute set and interview. The show included three songs from Beacons of Ancestorship, but also included two earlier songs that I haven’t heard on tour in a while!

Tortoise kicked things off with “High Class Slim Came Floatin’ In” followed by “Prepare Your Coffin” from Beacons, and then did “The Suspension Bridge At Iguazú Falls” from T.N.T. and “Djed” from Millions Now Living Will Never Die. The band wrapped things up with “Minors” from Beacons, which was unfortunately cut short. The interview with the band mostly surrounded how the band works together collaboratively on their music, which was cool.

Today (July 9th) Tortoise makes an in-store appearance at the Hollywood Amoeba Music location, which they will stream from their website. The show should start at 6PM Pacific Time (8 PM Central, 9 PM Eastern, etc.). Tortoise is also featured on Amoeba’s “Music We Like – Handpicked Titles for $10.98 or less” sale.

Click Here for the Amoeba.com information on the Tortoise In-Store Live Stream (At this point the stream has been taken down, but there are pictures from the session).

Click Here to visit Tortoise’s Website

Click Here for Tortoise’s 2006 appearance on Morning Becomes Eclectic

The Horse’s Ha – Of The Cathmawr Yards (review)

The Horse's Ha - Of The Cathmawr Yards white vinyl LP

There is plague, said Tom Twp. ApLlewelyn in the organ loft reached for the bass stops. The white plague drifted through the church to the music of the savage voluntary. Parson and sinner stood beneath the reflections of the Holy Family, marking in each ginger halo the hair of blood. There was to one the voice of an arming God in the echo of each chord, and, to the other, the horse’s ha.

— “The Horse’s Ha” by Dylan Thomas

Things do seem to take place on this record in dark or darkening places, but that’s where all the interesting stuff happens, right?

— Janet Bean of the band The Horse’s Ha

While I was working on the review of Of The Cathmawr Yards— the debut album by The Horse’s Ha— I took the opportunity to read the namesake short story “The Horse’s Ha” by the Welsh poet and writer Dylan Thomas.  “The Horse’s Ha” was included in the posthumous 1955 collection of short stories titled Adventures in the Skin Trade and Other Stories.  Most of the reporting about the albums release earlier in the year pointed out the Dylan Thomas short story about the fictional Cathmawr Yards cemetery where zombies lived.

The white horse in the story and its associated “raw-headed” rider represents a plague that spreads through the small Welsh village of Cathmawr Yards. The plague seemingly is causing the zombification of the residents. To be “Of The Cathmawr Yards” implies that one is undead.

What does all of this have to do with the album? At first listen, it isn’t really clear. The obscurity of the band’s name and the title of the album is matched to the obscure dark lyrics penned mostly by James Elkington whose other gig is with The Zincs and one song by Janet Bean of Freakwater and Eleventh Dream Day. The CD and white vinyl LP of Of The Cathmawr Yards provide the lyrics to the album, which, when taken out of the context of the music, are impressively poetic. It would take a lot of literary chutzpah to name your band and album after a Dylan Thomas work.

Dead wrong, dressed right
for waltzes in starlight, the
house is dry, the flowers
grieve in their vase.

–“Heiress”

There’s a whirring to a dwindling word,
that fades in waves once it’s heard.
Once it’s gone and you return to numb
You’ll never retrieve, however you plumb.

–“Plumb”

Prior to reading the short story, the repeated listens of the album presented a common thread to me. I reached out to Janet to verify that this was the case, and she said that the album has definite patterns of certain words used.

The quote from Janet about “dark and darkening places” at the beginning of this article does a good job of summing the album up for me. Taken in whole, the album is a series of vignettes taking place on a dimly-lit stage. These stories of conflict and the human condition are presented without context leaving the interpretation up to the listener. In the dramatic structure, these songs are entirely exposition and mood, but the payoff is in the presentation.

Of The Cathmawr Yards is a jazz and folk amalgam that borders on a pop sound that draws quick and pleasing comparisons to The Smiths and later Talk Talk.  The instrumentation is a constant acoustic sound implementing smartly-brushed percussion as well as double bass and other strings to carry the Johnny Marr-ish clean electric guitar and the well-matched harmonies of Bean’s pretty soprano and Elkington’s soft baritone voices. This mixture reminds me also of the duet work of Richard and Linda Thompson on albums like their 1982 final work together Shoot Out The Lights. In fact, that could be considered a logical forebear of this album.

Unlike the rocky inter-personal relationship on record and off of Richard and Linda, James and Janet serve only as narrators of these songs, and it’s this almost-dreamy detachedness that provides a reserved tone to the album. A reserve that might not appeal to everyone or every situation. The album is best consumed in whole to appreciate the complete work. To my ears, this is flawless presentation with singular vision and purpose– a collection of verse set to polished music.

In the Dylan Thomas story “The Horse’s Ha,” Mr. Montgomery is presented with the irony of being the undertaker of the Cathmawr Yards, where his clientèle are undead. “Shall I measure the undead?” he asks aloud incredulously from within his own coffin– his boarded up home. It’s the feeling of being trapped in a particular situation and desire for change that is the unifying theme throughout both the short story and Of The Cathmawr Yards.

Of The Cathmawr Yards by The Horse’s Ha is out now on CD, digital download and limited edition white LP on Hidden Agenda Records.

Purchase, download or stream Of The Cathmawr Yards by The Horses Ha at Bandcamp:

B-Sides in the Bins – Record Store Day “Crawl”

Since Cedar Rapids, IA no longer has an Independent Record Retailer, there are no stores here participating in Record Store Day 2009.  Record Store Day has been going on for a couple of years and I haven’t participated in it.

This year, it seems like all of the record labels have made special releases, including one from Thrill Jockey– which is a first for them! Along with my friend Erik and Alex, we are going to do a “Record Store Crawl” by hitting three record stores in two cities in Iowa– two stores in Dubuque and one store in Iowa City. The total trip will be 169 miles accounting for 3 hours of driving!

View Larger Map

I will be doing a live twitter of the events, which will also include pictures. I’ll be doing updates here, too as I can.

Click Here to follow my twitter

B-Sides in the Bins #42 – Curumin Interview

Curumin

When presented with the opportunity to interview Curumin, I knew that it would be an education for me. I haven’t really been following the resurgence of Braziliana that has been taking place over the last few years.

It was on a trip to Brazil where Chief Xcel of the mighty Blackalicious hears Curumin’s 2005 album Achados e Perdidos and signs him to Quannum. Curumin’s latest album Japan Pop Show (Quannum, 2008) is a testament to his passion for collecting vinyl. As you might expect someone who is a music collector would bring that passion and influence to his own record and certainly a closer look at his record collection reveals the source inspiration for this great record. Curumin sat down with me following the intimate but electric show at CSPS in Cedar Rapids on January 26th.

Me: Can you tell us a bit about your record collection?

Curumin: I am a music lover, and as a music lover I am a vinyl collector, too. I focus my collection more in Brazilian stuff. I have some Jamaican stuff, too. I have some American Soul/Funk Music– but it is more Brazilian stuff. I live in downtown São Paulo and the best place to buy vinyl is there because most of the stores are there. I used to go to a shop a lot called Discos Sete— that means “Disco Seven”– it’s a really good shop the owner is a guy named Carlinhos and he knows everything about Brazilian music. He is the guy who really taught me were is the best records, who is the best artists– what they made, which records have a good song– or funky song, soul or samba good track. A very, very good store.

There are a few in São Paulo– another good store called Gordo’s Place…

“gordo?” like “fat?”

Yeah, like “fat”– exactly. Another great vinyl store– there is some hip hop there, yeah– there’s soul, there’s a lot of funk. There is, too, Brazilian music. All of that in downtown São Paulo.

On the inside cover of Japan Pop Show you have some made up cover art?

Yeah, actually, this is an idea– my brother (Christiano N.A.) did the cover art. He was trying to get this seven-inch or vinyl feeling.

So, how come there’s no vinyl pressing of this album?

(Laughs) Yeah, yeah. We’ll probably try it some day, you know but it’s very specific people that buy vinyl and we don’t have a lot of money to [promote it].– so it’s hard for us, you know. But, my dream is to record in a good studio, in an old way, in an old style and make [a vinyl release].

So, where did you record Japan Pop Show? Did you use ProTools?

Yeah, we produced a lot in computers, and sequencers– you know modern production– with a lot of edits and ProTools and stuff like that. But we play [instruments] on it, too.

Are you buying records on the road?

Yeah, this is a problem (laughs). We already have a lot of stuff to carry on, and you know in airports it’s always hard with baggage.

Are you concerned about the records getting stolen? I remember when DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist were doing the Brainfreeze tour and Cut Chemist got his vinyl stolen.

Yeah, It’s a famous story in Brazil about DJ’s like Cut Chemist and Madlib going to Brazil and São Paulo and buying four boxes of LP’s– but they found a way to ship back to the US. But, we are always carrying on and taking care of [the records] because bringing on the airplane is hard and they don’t care too much about what you’re carrying on.

Speaking of Cut Chemist, he used a Brazilian singer on his album The Audience Is Listening— Astrud Gilberto, right? On “The Garden”

The song is “Canto De Ossanha” from a very famous album– that version that he uses is not from the original album. The original album called Os Afro Samba from Baden Powell and Vinicius de Moraes. I don’t know where he got his version. But it’s really good, right?

[Upon research, it appears that the version Cut Chemist is using is from Astrud Gilberto‘s 1966 Verve album Look to the Rainbow arranged by Gil Evans. Although, to get around sample clearance, Cut Chemist brought in some studio musicians to create new music. -ed]

What is one of the great finds you’ve had digging through crates?

Hmmm, well I found an album once that now is very rare to find– [in the past I found it] and said “I will not buy today,” but when it started to get rare I had to get it! There’s a lot of people looking for it– an album from Erasmo Carlos called Sonhos e Memorias and it’s a great Psych-Folk-Funk-Rock album from the 70’s and it’s a really, really good album. I think this is my precious one.

[The album was released in 1972 on Polydor, and goes for over $90 at different places on the Internet. –ed]

If someone wanted to get into some of the music you are listening to, where would they start?

I like a lot of the 60’s and 70’s– there were some guys in Brazil who started to bring that soul and funk feeling into their music. They used to play samba– so you can find that on Jorge Ben and Tim Maia— they were some of the first to try to make that mix of funk, soul and samba. [As far as current acts go] you can find something in Academia da Berlinda that plays more cumbia, salsa and merengue. You can find a singer called CéU who has a great sound and is a great friend– well there is a lot of great music– I could stay here talking all night about this!

[Notably, Lucas Martins who is the co-producer for Japan Pop Show and part of Curumin’s touring band as well as DJ Marco who does turntables on Japan Pop Show are part of CéU’s band. -ed]

Do you think you have a good home at Quannum?

Yeah, yeah for sure. They started as a hip-hop label, but now they are getting into more different stuff. I’m really honored to be there because I admire a lot all of the artists there– it’s a good family and great friends so I’m really happy to be there.

What are your plans after this tour?

We are in the middle of the tour and there are four or five shows left, then we’ll be back in February.

I’m not sure what I’m doing later this year. I have lots of work to do– I work with other projects with other acts in Brazil that are all releasing new stuff this year, so I will be focusing on those projects. But, I don’t know, I want to start something new this year, too– I don’t know if we’ll have the time, but I guess we make the time, right?

How was the Daytrotter session?

Oh, wow, it was great, it was great! The studio is amazing, right? Have you been there?

No, but I’d love to some time! It’s so close to Cedar Rapids. I dig all the stuff they release.

The studio is amazing. They have only vintage equipment and it sounds good.

So you had to bring your electric cavaquinho I assume– did you have to bring your MPC’s, too?

Yes, we did four songs. It was really great.

OK, well thanks for taking the time to talk to me today, I know you guys want to get to dinner. Have a safe drive to Minneapolis and a good rest of your tour.

Thanks, Michael!

Links for Deeper Digging:

Click Here to visit Curumin’s MySpace Page

Click Here to see a YouTube clip about Disco Sete Record Shop from the “Brazil in Time” documentary.

Click Here to see a YouTube clip about Gordo & Celio’s Record Shop from the “Brazil in Time documentary.

Click Here to visit the MySpace page for Academia da Berlinda

Click Here to visit the MySpace page for CéU.

Click Here for more information about Erasmo Carlos’s Sonhos e Memorias LP.

B-Sides in the Bins #41 – Wendy & Lisa Interview

Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman– collectively known as Wendy & Lisa are probably best known as the creative songwriting force in Prince’s 80’s backing band The Revolution. It’s my opinion as well as others that it was Wendy & Lisa who were a strong (and necessary) compliment to Prince and that relationship fostered the creative energy of the three that spawned music that was more than the three could have achieved individually. After Prince dissolved The Revolution Wendy & Lisa stuck together and continued to work through the 90’s on their career as a songwriting duo. While the four albums released through 1998 had been received well critically, none of the albums really took off for them– quite a bit of it due to label switching that was outside their control and it was this experience that formed their approach to their new album.

In the ten-plus years since their last album, the pair have stayed together focusing on studio work, songwriting, production and some significant soundtrack scoring for shows like HBO’s “Carnivale,” Showtime’s “Nurse Jackie” and NBC’s “Heroes.” At the end of 2008, Wendy & Lisa self-released White Flags of Winter Chimneys which seems to be a new declaration of purpose with a vision towards the next phase of their partnership. It may prove that the long gap between releases is enough for the pair to be judged upon their own merits as artists and musicians rather than continuing in the shadow of their work with Prince.

I had an opportunity to talk to Wendy & Lisa during a short break in their busy schedules last week to talk about their new album, the promise of an upcoming tour, and their unique distribution model. They were very cool to talk to– funny and excited to talk about their new work. They had me on speakerphone and it was a lot of fun talking to them. They are kindred spirits with me in a lot of respects, their tastes in music are as varied as mine and their passion for their work is infectious as I found myself re-energized to focus on this blog!

Me: A lot of bands are looking into a self-distribution model. Yours is unique in that you are selling it from your website first and then moving to other electronic distribution channels– is it going to get regular distribution as well?

Wendy: It will get regular distribution later, yeah. We’re doing this in steps right now because we’re trying to make a little cash so we can get to the next level because we are distributing it ourselves in a little room with our little postage machines and our little weighing machines and our packaging and this-and-that. We bypassed getting a regular distribution deal because a lot of times the artist ends up having to pay back a lot of money to the distributor because the distributors ordered way too much product. So, we opted to not do that and just to do it as it’s being ordered. So, the best way to get a sense of what is being bought is to take it one step at a time. Basically, our manager Renata who is the computer genius in the family came up with this model– that we go ahead and release FLAC digital downloads and 320Kbps mp3’s and offer it at a reasonable price on the website first to get an idea of what was being sold. And, actually, it’s coming back that we are doing quite well on that. So, the little bit of money that has come in from that is being put into packaging now and getting more product out to people. On February 24th when it is on digital download sites like iTunes, Amazon, and Rhapsody–

Lisa: we have to mention TopSpin who has been with us since the very beginning and helped us get this up and going.

Wendy:  That’s right.

Lisa: I think it is important for people to know that what’s been really cool is that we’ve offered all of these different packages– including just single-song downloads– you know– to just the get things going. All we needed was just the first bit of artwork to have some design up on the webpage. So, you can download a single song, you can download the whole record, you can download the record plus order the CD when it becomes available– you can order the beautiful vinyl which we made a limited amount of– this blue-and-white splatter vinyl which is going to be FANTASTIC!

Wendy: Yeah, and the mastering on the record is FANTASTIC– it’s almost sounds better than the CD as far as I’m concerned.

Me: So, can you tell us a bit more about the vinyl pressing and who did the mastering?

Wendy: Yeah, Paul du Gré did the mastering of the vinyl and he’s from North Hollywood. He’s one of those guys who’s just done everything for ages– he’s a classic engineer, mastering and an audiophile kind of guy. You can Google “Paul du Gré” and find all kinds of wonderful things he worked on. The pressing is being done by Pirates Press using GZ Digital Media in the Czech Republic. There was a problem with doing the splatter– we found a plant that could pour the paint by hand instead of using machines. There is a whole environmental consideration and things like that. [It’s important to note, also that this first limited pressing will be in a gatefold sleeve. -ed]

To get people to pre-order these things over the website has allowed to finance getting these things done. I think it is helpful for other musicians to know that are trying to put things out– that you can start lining your ducks up and start selling things and it will help finance things like producing the product.

Lisa: For me, I feel like this is more satisfying than having a record deal.

Wendy: It really is, and more has come from this in satisfaction for us than any record label we’ve ever been signed to– and we’ve been signed to A LOT. And dropped from every one of them… This is so much better and I highly recommend it! Haha!

Me: So, did you create a label for this?

Wendy: Yeah, we just created our own thing.

Me: What is the label called?

Wendy: It’s called “Lisa Coleman/Wendy Melvoin” hehehe. Literally, that is what it is called. We don’t have a label name. It is just “L. Coleman/W. Melvoin”

Wendy: That’s it– we aren’t going to put out anyone else’s records.

Me: Well, yes I suppose you aren’t going to make a “Paisley Park” or something.

Wendy: Nah, it’s not going to happen for us.

Me: Will you be selling the LP without the CD at some point?

Wendy & Lisa: Oh, yes! Absolutely!

Me: It seems that the other part of the equation for working bands is touring and, in some cases the album is promoted by the touring. Do you see the success of this preventing the need to tour? Are you going to tour?

Wendy: We’re going to need to tour. All of this is leading into the two of us hopefully getting out this summer to do some gigs. We have so much work to do before we can even put our eye on that– but our sights are on being able to tour. I’d love us to be able to spend at least three months– six weeks here in the States to do just some key places and six weeks in over in Europe would be fantastic.

Lisa:  Yeah, it’s not a matter of even needing to tour, we really would like to tour.

Wendy: Yeah that’s true…

Lisa: …And play this record out and play these songs and give them a life. But, we don’t have the financing to rehearse a band and pay for hotels and travel and things like that so we’re trying to raise the money first. Maybe find some smart ways of doing it– maybe pairing it with another band or a promoter or something that makes sense.

Wendy: Or what we talked about before is that we have this group of musicians that we have this band with called Edith Funker. It has members of the Roots– ?uestlove on drums, Erykah Badu on vocals, My brother-in-law on guitar Doyle Bramhall [Wendy’s sister Susannah Melvoin is married to Doyle -ed], with [Susannah] doing vocals and guitar, James Poyser on keyboards with Lisa, me on guitar, this really phenomenal record producer-musician named Mike Elizondo on bass. And, we want to go out possibly as each other’s band.

Me: Oh, like a package tour!

Wendy: Yeah, a package tour. So, for like 45 minutes we’re Eryka’s band, and for 45 minutes they’re Wendy & Lisa’s band, and for 45 minutes we’re Doyle’s band– you know what I mean? Kind of do that. We’d love to make that happen.

Me: That would be really great!

Lisa: We think that would be the ideal thing, but you know it would be pretty hard to coordinate. Everybody’s doing their records and tours and things like that. We’re hoping maybe by summertime. Also, that’s when the TV season ends because our day job, of course, is scoring TV.

Wendy: “Nurse Jackie” and “Heroes.”

Lisa: Yeah, so after the TV season is over and everybody kind of gets done doing what they’re doing right now…

Wendy: Which is the end of April…

Lisa: Yeah, we’re going to try aim for late June or something around there to try to get out and do something like that.

Me: Are you going to try to hit the festivals?

Wendy: You know, if we could get that group of people together, I don’t even know that we have to do the festivals. We could probably get a venue on our own and make it a two-and-a-half, three hour event with all of those people– bypassing the festivals.

Me: By the way, I think that White Flags is a brilliant record. You have somehow managed to hit a lot of the buttons I care about in music.

Lisa: Oh wow, Thank you!

Me: I had a pretty tough time describing it while writing the one paragraph I did write for the article talking about the upcoming release. The record either sounds like it’s been a long time coming or– I don’t know. It’s all over the place and it has one sound– a consistent production value. I’m going to call it “shoegazer” because I don’t know what else to call it.

Wendy: Yeah, and I related to your comparisons, I do listen to Lush a little bit and My Bloody Valentine and Radiohead– of course and I feel those things when I hear this record as well.

You know, this has been a long time coming for us, this record.  We needed to start fresh. We didn’t really use anything that we had in the can from ten years ago, but we opted basically to let all that got to define who we are right now. After being in film composing and TV composing for this long and producing for other people and being on a million other records during this time and writing for other people. And, when we got the writer’s strike– for good or for bad– the strike allowed us the opportunity to get in our room, shut the door, turn the red light on and keep everybody out and make this record. We were lucky for the time– really lucky for it because I’m really proud of this record. When my kid’s a teenager, I wouldn’t hesitate handing him this record and say, “here, give this a listen.”

Lisa: It was like opening the flood gates for us, too. After having the responsibility to write music all the time, having the freedom to write music was a totally different experience. The things that came out of us were– and we’re guilty of being all over the place anyway because we love so many different kinds of music– we like to groove and we like to be introspective, we like to trip out and then we like to get really classy or intimate. So, all these things just started pouring out, and when we hit a certain song or a certain place after a month or so of writing we knew we had stumbled upon the sound that could carry through. There was even this Mellotron “voice” sound that I think we used on every song or as a way to segue between songs was the emotional thread through the album– like it was one story.

Wendy: Michael, when you listen to the LP, we actually made this– segued this so it would sound as if you were having the LP experience. It’s been so many years since people have had that mindset and boy do I miss it!

Lisa: To listen to a whole record and to have it be different– so many times I put on a record and then it’s kind of the same song over-and-over again. I’ve never liked that– I like records that have different feels on it, like it takes you on a trip.

Wendy: Yeah, like one of the coveted LP’s that I have is the Bill Evans/Claus Ogerman Symbiosis. Side A is all of the horn arrangements that Claus Ogerman did– Bill isn’t even playing on side A! Symbiosis is this composition where side A is playing at double-time and side B is an orchestra and the Bill Evans Trio playing it at half time. That’s a fucking LP experience to me! That, to me, is a high achievement.

Me: Was that a Prestige title?

Wendy: I think maybe it was.

[Although Evans famously recorded on Prestige, this 1974 release was originally released on the German label MPS. It was re-released on CD in 1995 on Verve Records and is now sadly out-of-print, however you can download mp3’s at Amazon. -ed]

Me: It sounds like I need to find that one– I like Bill Evans.

Wendy: You need to find that. It’s breathtaking. Michael, this LP is BREATHTAKING, it’s so beautiful! Side B– that’s the heartbreak side. Side A is more like the bible of harmonics.

Lisa: It’s almost Supersax, but really um…

Wendy: It’s more Steve Reich-ian meets Supersax.

[I had to stop myself from talking about Reich’s “Different Trains.” I saw the original configuration of Kronos Quartet performing this in Madison, WI in the early 90’s.]

Lisa: Way more sophisticated harmonically. It’s really, really cool.

Albums are so much better when they aren’t just a collection of singles. Even though there is a place for that– you can go buy the “greatest hits.”

Wendy: In defense of a lot of records out there, I think it is just the Pop stuff that is geared towards that. I listen to plenty of CD’s right now that aren’t a collection of singles. It’s too blanket of a statement– it’s just not true.

Lisa: Well, I just think with the failure of the record companies (assumes stuffy documentary voice) “in our historic times”– record labels have completely failed the art and it makes the art difficult to master. When you’re making a record, you’re not sure what you’re supposed to be aiming at. I think that Wendy and I in this situation had the perfect opportunity to not care about that. We had our studio already set up, we had been scoring TV, and the writer’s strike hit and we had nothing to do.

Wendy: It was a perfect storm.

Lisa: Right, exactly, so we were “snowed in,” had all this gear, all this inspiration and nobody to answer to except each other and we just started writing and it was such a gift to be able to do that.

Wendy: Even our engineer kept looking at us and saying “What kind of music is this? What is this?” Just go with it man, just go with it.

Lisa: “Is this supposed to sound like a rock record? Should I make it tight or loose? Should I use echo?” We said, “Just make it sound cool.” He has great taste and great ears and great techniques.

Wendy: We just guided him and said, “Stay there! Don’t move! That’s just where we want to be!”

Me: So, you did this in one sitting, effectively? It’s a bit astounding that you could achieve this record like that.

Lisa: Yeah, it was easy– well I shouldn’t say that and jinx myself! With the exception of “Niagra Falls,” which we re-recorded, yeah. We just have a lot of music in our bones. It just comes out.

Me: I haven’t had this record to listen to that long, but the two songs that stand out for me are “Niagra Falls” and “Sweet Suite.”

Wendy: Yeah, those are the two that a lot of people are gravitating towards.

Me: I have to say that out of the whole Revolution catalog “Sometimes It Snows In April” [from Parade] is probably my favorite song.

Wendy & Lisa (in unison): Wow, thank you!

Me: So, I hear “Sweet Suite” and I kind of hear that in there.

Wendy & Lisa: Yeah, for sure, definitely.

Lisa: “Sometimes It Snows In April” was really the pinnacle of our relationship together [with Prince]. The three of us had kind of a love affair. And when we wrote that song– again– it was just the three of us sitting together in a room. I really loved it, and I had hoped we would follow that trail further, you know? Like make a whole record like that or something. But, that didn’t happen.

Wendy: He opted out.

Me: And there was that B-Side to “Mountains” What was it, “Alexa de…”

Wendy: “Alexa de Paris.”

Me: Yeah..

Lisa: Oh, wow, yeah…

Wendy: That whole Parade record, that was a great time. Parade, and Sign O’ The Times. Actually, the three albums: All Around The World In A Day, Parade, and Sign O’ The Times, those were incredible records to make…

I’ll tell you what my friend– we don’t want to– but, we have to go. We have to deliver thirty minutes of music for “Heroes” for tomorrow morning and we’ve only done one reel out of five! We have a deadline…

Me: I really appreciate the time, ladies, and it was really great talking to you at the beginning of this phase in your career!

Below is a full-album stream of Wendy & Lisa’s new album White Flags of Winter Chimneys:

Calexico Video at All Songs Considered and Joey Burns Interview

Thanks to the the Yahoo Calexico group, I bring another video clip from Calexico and Quarterstick. This one is from NPR’s All Songs Considered and is bundled with a review by Robin Hilton. The clip has some stripped-down arrangements of “Two Silver Trees,” “Man Made Lake,” and “The News About William” along with some commentary from Convertino and Burns about their hometown Tucson and the role it plays in their music. Apparently, this is the first of a series. So, visit that page for updates. These videos are filmed and edited beautifully, I would love to see these all edited together or possibly turned into a DVD.

NPR: Video: Calexico Previews New Album

NPR: Video: Calexico Part Two

Also, the fine folks at the Aquarium Drunkard blog published an interview with Joey Burns this morning about Carried to Dust complete with a couple of mp3’s to download. Go read it.

B-Sides in the Bins #21 – Mark Olson Interview

Mark Olson

Mark Olson as one of the founding members of the Jayhawks provided an early prototype of the revival of country-folk that would shape today what gets generally labelled “Americana” although he doesn’t necessarily believe in limiting his music by giving it that name. With his touring accomplices multi-instrumentalist Ingunn Ringvold and violinist Michele Gazich, Mark is back on the road supporting his brilliant 2007 release The Salvation Blues following a short break after last year’s run through the US and Europe. It was during his break in the middle of catching up on errands that Mark graciously accepted the invitation to talk to me from his current home in Joshua Tree, CA about collecting records.

Me: Thanks for talking to me today, Mark. Can you share with us some details about your record collection?

Mark: I’m a bit of a record collector from way back. I don’t do it so much now but. There is this Italian in the group who is, like, totally insane about going to bookstores and record stores and he buys way too much stuff for us to be on the road with it!

But, I did it at a certain point in my life and I guess it influenced my music all the way along and that’s collect records and stuff. I have a bunch of ’em. And books and things like that. I love to go into those kinds of stores. I’m one of those guys that wishes there were still more record stores around– and book stores. I get tired of the Borders and that kind of stuff.

There used to be a really, really cool record store– I forget the name, I’m sorry– it could have been part of Cheapo’s but I don’t think so– it was on Lake Street in Minneapolis down by the river and it was just in a grungy storefront. But, what they had that was SO different– they had all these BRAND NEW gospel records from like the Sixties and the early Seventies still in– and this is in the Nineties– still in the wrappers! They were on the Nashville Label and the Nashboro label and Folkways. I got a bunch of them for like a buck-fifty of people I’ve NEVER EVER heard of– you know? All this really neat stuff. So I bought a bunch of those back then. There used to be a lot of like little hole in the wall used record stores around there. I got a lot of neat records, there. I think that people made off with them, too. I think Karen [Grotberg– keyboardist of the Jayhawks– Ed.] and the Jayhawks they made off with one of my favorite ones.

Me: Of these gospel records?

Mark: Yeah. It had this piano and organ going at the same time and it blew her away. So, I dunno. I haven’t seen that one in a long time. (chuckles).

I’ve just got a lot of really wierd, rare records. Like the Glaser Brothers (Tompall & the Glaser Brothers- Ed.) they were really GOOD when they first started out. They had these three-part harmonies and they were singing kinda folk-country stuff. [Tompall Glaser] actually wrote “Streets of Baltimore” that ended up on the Gram [Parsons] record (his 1972 release G.P.– Ed.). So, I’ve just got a lot of wierd Sixties, country, folk gospel records. That’s the first place I would go to look– in those sections.

Me: Is this the segment you collect in, then?

Mark: Well, I do anything now, but back then I was totally obsessed with Sixties Country, Folk, and these wierd gospel labels. They were on small labels that weren’t in regular record stores and no one is going to see these records again! But, this one store had bought out this collection of records on really THICK VINYL.

My favorite albums– as far as albums go, the ones that had the biggest influence on me were the Doug Sahm Mendocino album and, then of course The Flying Burrito Brothers Sin City album. I like Jesse Winchester he’s kind of a folk guy. And, I like Fairport Convention. That’s the stuff I put on to just enjoy so to speak.

Me: You know, I never really got into Doug Sahm…

Mark: Oh MAN!

Me: But… I’m familiar with him through Calexico and their participation in that Border Radio tribute “Los Super 7.” (note: while songs from Doug Sahm are on both records, he only sang on the first one that was hosted by Los Lobos).

Mark: What’s cool about him is he could sing like nobody else– he had one of the most soulful voices. He came out of Texas doing all the different styles of Texas music– he could do R&B, blues, country… But then what he did was move to San Francisco for a while and that totally opened up his music into all kinds of different directions and he made this album called Mendocino that isn’t the most- ah– he made another one that’s even crazier– but this one is just the beginning of that. It’s not like albums that are made today– that are VERY LOOSE in the performance level, okay? There’s mistakes being made, there’s tempo changes, there’s all that stuff going on. But, his voice is so COMMANDING that it doesn’t really– and the recording quality is not that good, really, compared to modern records where everything’s CLEAN at the perfect levels and all that stuff.

Me: So, what label was he on?

Mark: He was on Smash and they put out a bunch of good albums! They put out all of the Jerry Lee Lewis records that were country– that are INCREDIBLE! But, no one played and sang like Doug– very loose– just incredible stuff.

Me: When you say “loose” like that, it makes me think of Howe Gelb from Giant Sand.

Mark: Yeah, sure! I really liked that “Sno” album (Howe Gelb’s 2006 release ‘Sno Angel Like You)! That is SHOCKINGLY GOOD! I can’t believe that that isn’t like a HUGE album! It’s just so fricking GOOD. Lyrically, musically, there is so much going on there, it’s just intense.

Me: Do you collect mostly vinyl, then?

Mark: Today, I’m about 50-50 vinyl and CD’s. But, leaving Minnesota– moving a lot is really rough on a record collection. We had a flood at one point. It’s unbelievable but there was a flood in the desert– if it rains too much it can flood. And, I lost about a quarter of my record collection. It was impossible to save them because there was too much silt.

Me: So you just wrapped up a tour of Europe?

Mark: Yep, three months– well we did two months in America and we did three months in Europe pretty much back-to-back. I’m home for a couple of weeks and then it’s back out.

Me: Yeah, you’re coming to Cedar Rapids, IA! I’m planning to be at that show. I had intended to go to the show at the Mill last Fall…

Mark: That was a CRAZY night. There was lightning everywhere It was seriously dangerous to be outside.

Me: I talked to a guy who went to the show and he said there was only like 20 people there.

Mark: I think that people decided to keep their life in good order and not step out into the lightning. Meanwhile we’re out in the middle of it playing!

Me: What are you doing in this little break?

Mark: Well, you go out on tour, come home and pretty much things have fallen apart– your vehicle, your house. I’m trying to put everything back together, clean up. I have a list of musical equipment I need to get. Then go back out again. I’m more used to touring, now, than being at home.

Me: It seems like you’ve been on tour a long time!

Mark: The album came out in June and the tour started in August. I feel like we just got through the first phase of it now and now we’ll go back out and see how it’s going. It used to be that you would go out for a promo thing and the record company would support that and then you’d go out on tour. Now, the tour is kind of like “promo.” That’s a business thing that has changed. I feel like we’ve done the touring, the promoing and now we’ll go out and see what’s going on– if people have heard this album and if they’re into it– in America at least.

Me: Thanks for talking to me, today, Mark. I’ll see you at the show!

Mark: No problem! See you.

Mark will be playing Wednesday night, February 13 at 8PM at CSPS in Cedar Rapids, IA. Tickets are $13 in advance, $16 the day of the show. Click Here for Details

Visit Mark’s MySpace page for other tour dates.