Here we are again at the end of another year. 2012 was the 6th year of existence for this little blog. Looking back, it’s been kind of a year of recovery for me. Lots of fallout from being unemployed in 2011 finally came to rest in 2012 and I’m finally getting into the swing of a new home, job and direction.
From a music perspective, for me anyway, 2012 was a year of next-releases from a lot of my favorite bands– possibly signaling some confidence and support for the hard-working and long-touring truly independent bands out there.
Here are my 20 favorite releases from 2012 in no particular order:
The Right Now – Gets Over You – On my “12 Releases I’m looking Forward to in 2012” post– Chicago R&B powerhouse The Right Now delivered their sophomore release this year. A bit of a disclaimer– these guys are my friends and I helped them put out the vinyl version of their debut album Carry Me Home. The band traveled to L.A. to work with Sergio Rios of Orgone in his studio. The resulting record has a great tape-compressed and raw feel. This band gets better every release.
The Pines – Dark So Gold – A release I was looking forward to. It’s hard to believe that this is the fourth release for The Pines. Again produced by Bo Ramsey, we see the band really falling into their stride. Same formula, but more refined. Brilliant record from beginning to end. Check out their two Daytrotter sessions here and here.
Red River Dialect – awellupontheway – I found out about this band/artist through MC Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger, who played a show with him in the UK. He did an indiegogo to fund the release of this album. More British Folk, with a bit of Smiths thrown in for good measure.
Jack White – Blunderbuss– A release that is probably on a lot of lists for 2012. Jack White proves he doesn’t need Meg. This album is better than any single album The White Stripes ever put out, though not better than some of the high points in The White Stripes output. But really damn good.
Har-di-Har – word(s) of whim/Feudal Kind EP’s – Husband and wife band from Cedar Falls, IA manages to create some really amazing Choral Vocals layered on spare instrumentals. I reviewed for the January 2013 issue of Little Village coming up. A surprise Dark Horse addition to this list. Recommended if you like Renaissance, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear, and Trip Shakespeare.
Gary Clark Jr – Blak and Blu– It seems like this debut release has been coming for a long time. We’ve been hearing live performances for a while anyway. Brilliant album, though some might argue that it doesn’t stay in one style for very long– is it a straight up blues album or is it an R&B album? He did an amazing Daytrotter session that I had the opportunity to hear streaming live while they taped it.
Solid Gold – Eat Your Young – After I heard Solid Gold at the Gayngs Affiliyated showcase, I was really looking forward to hearing the next album from them. It took them a couple of years to get this release out the door, but what a release it is! Solid Gold still holds on to their 80’s New Wave roots (think later Talk Talk), but I think that the time spent in Gayngs may have helped refine their art, as Eat Your Young is the most consistent release to date. I look for them to get snagged by a larger label.
Polica – Give You The Ghost– This was on my releases I was looking forward to, but it was kind of a cheat since the band pre-released this album in December of last year. Another band related to Gayngs. Ryan Olson has the Midas touch, I think. Polica moved from his label to Mom+Pop this year and they opened for Bon Iver’s big show in NYC before I got to see them in Dubuque. They played new songs at that show, so I’m hopeful for another album! Check out Polica’s Daytrotter session here.
Calexico – Algiers– With the breakdown of Quarterstick records, I was afraid of the fate of Calexico. Fortunately, they have been picked up by Anti- Records and the band recorded in the flood zone of post Hurricane New Orleans (“Algiers” is a section of the city). Great record– lots of diehard fans are bitching because the album is closer to Garden Ruin than Hot Rail.
Jeff Parker Trio – Bright Light in Winter– On my releases I’m looking forward to. The main guitarist from Tortoise returns for his third-ish solo album on the mighty Jazz and Blues label Delmark Records from Chicago. This one spent a lot of time in rotation. Jeff’s a busy guy between all of the projects he participates, in so it’s cool that he returned to his own. I could listen to album opener “Mainz” on repeat forever.
Hiss Golden Messenger – Lord I Love The Rain – I mentioned this in the releases I was looking forward to for 2012. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I already heard parts of this release. MC Taylor decided to rejigger the “bonus” LP of outtakes that came with the preorders of Poor Moon called Lord I Love The Rain. He removed a track and added some and resequenced to make Lord I Love The Rain an album that could stand on its own. Check out the Hiss Golden Messenger Daytrotter session here.
The Sea and Cake – Runner – With the four-year gap between One Bedroom and Everybody, I’m always a bit nervous that The Sea and Cake will disappear again. But, since 2007, The Sea and Cake have enjoyed a very fruitful and creative period releasing four albums and one split single in five years. A really great follow up to Moonlight Butterfly— in fact they kind of act as bookends to each other. Check out their Daytrotter session here.
Kopecky Family Band – Kids Raising Kids – The debut album for Nashville chamber-pop band Kopecky Family Band follows two really great EP’s. The band has enjoyed a lot of critical praise and some big festival appearances at SXSW and Bonnaroo. Though this album was released in 2012, It looks like 2013 is when it will get some real traction and buzz. Check the Kopecky Family Daytrotter session here.
Rob Mazurek Pulsar Quartet – Stellar Pulsations – Mazurek is back with a new release on Delmark with a kind of expanded version of his Starlicker lineup. Nice, kind of subdued album (for Mazurek anyway) really focuses on his playing more than any of his other releases. I love “Magic Saturn”– sounds like a modern Jazz classic to me.
Various Artists – Iowa City Song Project – Compilation of Iowa City artists commissioned by the Englert who was celebrating 100 years ( and, to an extent, The Mill which was celebrating its 50th). Bo Ramsey, Pieta Brown, Greg Brown, Sam Locke Ward, Brooks Strauss, Milk and Eggs, Dave Zollo, Emporer’s Club, and many, many more all lay down tracks inspired by Iowa City. I reviewed the album for Little Village.
Stay tuned for my list of releases I’m looking forward to in 2013!
I saw Duncan in 2009 at CSPS when he came through Iowa in support of his Whisper House album. He apparently likes to tour with an ensemble– as in 2009, he’s bringing other bands with him. This tour is sponsored by The Sunset Sessions which is an organization that puts on events which are specifically designed to draw together musicians with radio programmers and music supervisors (the people who put your new favorite songs into TV shows, movies, advertising and video games). These days, music supervisors are up there as the leading tastemakers (next to music blogs, ‘natch 🙂 ). This tour is designed as a showcase for some bands that have been featured in these events, so we get to hear some new music from Duncan Sheik, as well as Alpha Rev (who has music all over TV on VH1, Bravo, ABC, The CW as well as film, and Laura Warshauer (who has been recently signed to Def Jam/Island).
Duncan is touring in support of his latest album, Covers 80’s Remixed, which, as the title implies, is a remix album of his 2011 release Covers 80’s, which has him delivering interpretations of his favorite songs from bands like Japan, Psychedelic Furs, The Smiths, The Cure and Tears for Fears.
This promises to be a pretty spectacular evening, frankly– some up-and-coming acts coupled with some 80’s nostalgia delivered from a great songwriter. It can’t miss.
Duncan Sheik, Alpha Rev and Laura Warshauer will hit the CSPS big stage at 7PM. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Details at the Legion Arts Website.
One of the great things about Legion Arts is their annual Landfall Music Festival. They manage to fill their stages some of the best world music acts touring the nation. Back in 2010, I had the opportunity to catch one artist that really captured my heart with her boisterous Latin-infused pop, folk and rock.
Ani Cordero has a really colorful history in the music business. In addition to recording a few solo albums as bilingual band Cordero, she has also been a member of Man or Astroman?’s associated band the Gamma Clones and as a founding member of Pistolera. Since 2010, she has been working on her most personal work to date with Sergio Dias of Os Mutantes. Titled Recordar, the self-released album is comprised of covers of songs that were part of the Nueva Cancion movement. Including songs from Latin activists and musicians such as Victor Jara and Violeta Parra the album exhibits the inspiration she found in the movement from her friend and mentor Dr. Juan Allende, nephew of Chilean President, Salvador Allende, who was overthrown in a military coup d’état in 1973.
The album is clearly a labor of love for Ani, and the effort pays off. She tapped in some friends with great musical pedigree to help bring the beautiful recording to fruition: Charles Giordano of The E Street Band, Kelly Pratt from Arcade Fire and Beirut, percussionist for Malian musician Vieux Farke Toure, Tim Keiper, long-time associate of Wynton Marsalis, Omar Akil Little, who also collaborates with world-renowned producer Lee Scratch Perry, and Brent Arnold of Modest Mouse. The album is a fitting tribute to the songs she chose as she delivers the emotion and passion of the songs as if they were her own.
On Saturday night Ani will be bringing the six-piece band she is touring though the midwest to CSPS in Cedar Rapids! When Ani and band played at the 2010 Landfall Festival, some of the crowd in Green Square Park got up and danced– maybe she can coax the usually reserved crowd at CSPS to get up, too?
The show will be this Saturday night, October 6th at 8PM. Tickets are $14 in advance and $18 at the door. For more information and how to order tickets visit the Legion Arts Website.
It’s difficult to summarize Nellie McKay’s very diverse career. Since the release of her first double album Get Away From Me– which is how I first heard her- she’s released four more albums, had a painful breakup with her record label, starred on Broadway, acted in a couple of films, and generally exhibited her resistance to staying in any one place for very long. Irrepressible, unsinkable, unbelievable Nellie McKay.
When I saw her in 2008 at The Dakota in Minneapolis with my wife and daughter (where the above picture was taken) she stayed primarily at the piano with a few ukelele tunes and performed a few songs from a proposed politically-themed musical that I’m not sure was ever produced.
So, when I heard that she was coming to our wonderful CSPS Hall, I was very excited to see her again– she draws from a very rich palate and Cedar Rapids will be guaranteed a very unpredictable and rich musical experience. Not to be missed, frankly.
The show will be at 7PM, and tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Visit the Legion Arts website for more details.
And, if Nellie’s flight gets in on time, she’ll be doing an interview with Gordon Paulsen on KCCK at approximately 4:20PM. Tune in on the radio at 88.3 FM in Cedar Rapids, or online at KCCK.org.
Since the last time California band Dawes graced a stage in Eastern Iowa in 2010 they’ve been busy. Last year they released their sophomore album Nothing Is Wrong, got their video for “Time Spent In Los Angeles” added to VH1’s Top 20, tapped as his touring band by Robbie Robertson (and backed him on Letterman!), toured seemingly non-stop around the world both headlining and in support of bands like Mumford & Sons as well as hitting the festival stages at Coachella and Lollapalooza.
After being spoiled with a bunch of performances in 2009 and 2010 (three Barnstormer shows, RIBCO, Barn on the Fourth in Maquoketa, Gabes) we’re excited to have the band back in Iowa with what should be an amazing show at the beautiful Englert Theater in Iowa City next Sunday, 8/19. Joining them is fellow Barnstormer and Daytrotter.com alum Nathaniel Rateliff.
Here is video I shot of “So Well” from when Dawes played Gabes in Iowa City in August of 2010:
This promises to be one of the great shows of this year, so don’t miss it. The crowd will be packed with Barnstormer regulars ready to welcome the boys back, so the crowd will be bringing the love and if past experience dictates, the band will respond with an amazing show.
Be sure to pick up the August issue of Little Village Magazine where I have an interview with Taylor Goldsmith. You can read the whole issue online HERE.
Tickets are $16 in Advance and $18 the day of the show and are general admission.
At the time of his sixth solo album The Seeds We Sow in 2011, Lindsey Buckingham is able to frame his life as a musician and family man in the context of his journey thus far. He attributes his peace to two things. The first is his personal life, “To finally meet someone and to have the family thing happen, that’s been a real gift,” he says. The other is musical. “If there is a level of contentedness that I’ve arrived at, part of it is because I think in the last three or four years what I experienced during the solo albums and then what I experienced on the last Fleetwood Mac tour I felt like I had come to a point where there was so much foundation that I had built for myself making incremental steps forward as a musician and as an artist.”
Certainly, the last few years have been very productive for Buckingham, starting with an out-of-the-blue solo album in 2006, a derailed follow up that morphed into a new studio album for a re-ignited Fleetwood Mac, a re-imagining of the derailed follow up in 2008, a live album and then The Seeds We Sow in 2011.
The Seeds We Sow represents Buckingham taking full control over his career handling all of the recording, production and also releasing himself. The album is a very up-close-and-personal perspective of Buckingham at times sounding like a really well-produced home demo, which I suppose it really is.
I consider Lindsey Buckingham to be a personal musical hero. His distinct sound and contribution to the canon of rock music with his solo work as well as his years in Fleetwood Mac have impacted me at a level that might be chromosomal. I started listening to music on my own around the time of Rumours and his music has been with me ever since. I have been fortunate to see him with the Mighty Mac three times in my life but never solo, so the news that he will be performing at the wonderful Englert Theatre in Iowa City on Labor Day Weekend is exciting news! He will be performing at 8PM on Sunday, September 2rd.
The presale for the show started on Tuesday for Friends of the Englert, and general sale for the show starts on Friday, June 22nd at 1PM. Tickets are $55 for Tier One Tickets and $45 for Tier Two.
Click Here for more information about Lindsey Buckingham at The Englert in Iowa City, including how to order tickets.
Click Here to find out about how you can be a Friend of the Englert and get in on great pre-sale deals and other perks.
I make no apologies for being a Ryan Adams fan of the first order, nor do I apologize for feverishly collecting as much as I can of his recorded output– including the PaxAm Records releases. I have most of them and they are wonderfully well done and always targeted at the vinyl fans as Ryan himself is a collector.
This week a picture of a vinyl boxset titled Live After Deaf was posted to Ryan’s Facebook page by the dutiful Val (who runs his social media outlets) with “Live After Deaf. Friday. This will not be repressed.” This was followed on Wednesday with some more information: “144 tracks of live acoustic Ryan spread across 15 vinyl discs…with a download card featuring all 144 tracks PLUS an additional 74 digital-only bonus tracks (yup, that’s a total of 218 tracks) all in a heavyweight cloth box. Super Duper limited numbers available ONLY at http://paxamrecords.com/ beginning 1:30 p.m. EST on Friday, June 15.” We also found out that this limited release would only be $130 plus shipping (which would be pretty steep considering it apparently weighs in at 13 pounds!).
The title is obviously a reference to his bout with Ménière’s disease which temporarily derailed his music output back in 2009. Ever the heavy metal fan, the title might also be a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Iron Maiden live album Live After Death. We still weren’t sure what this box would contain. 15 LP’s certainly didn’t make a very encompassing live box set– was it just one performance of every song he performed during the extensive Ashes and Fire tour? All we could do is sign into the site on Friday to see what it would be.
On Friday, unfortunately, the folks at KungFu (the people who host his website and merchandise site) were not expecting the heavy traffic at 1:30PM. I signed in an hour before to make sure that my account information was still accessible. At 1:30PM the website became unresponsive. Looking at the posts on Facebook, they were scrambling to address the issue and an hour or so later the posted a resigned message that they would work over the weekend and try it again on Monday, June 18th at 4PM EDT.
In the meantime the rabid fans over at ryanadamsarchive dug up some details on the boxset (this is the thread that contains it). A poster who goes by “Cowboycat” somehow found a picture of what I assume is the back of the box with all of the tracks.
The boxset is a compendium of the 2011 solo acoustic “Acoustic Nightmare” European shows, with each LP representing one show on the 15-date run. For each show to fit on an LP, Ryan had to edit the shows down to select songs, and possibly no inter-song banter that he’s known for. Another poster on the ryanadamsarchive board who goes by the handle hobbsy took the setlist database and showed what songs were and weren’t played for each show. Here’s the tracklist (thanks to hobbsy):
LP1: Cork Opera House, Ireland (7th June 2011)
01 Dirty Rain
03 Blue Hotel
04 Carolina Rain
05 Crossed Out Name
06 Dear Chicago
07 Ashes And Fire
09 Withering Heights
11 Please Do Not Let Me Go
LP2: Dublin Olympia Theatre, Ireland (8th June 2011)
01 Oh My Sweet Carolina
02 Everybody Knows
03 Damn, Sam (I Love A Woman That Rains)
04 New York, New York
05 In My Time Of Need
06 16 Days
07 Strawberry Wine
LP3: Stockholm Cirkus, Sweden (10th June 2011)
02 Please Do Not Let Me Go
03 Call Me On Your Way Back Home
04 Invisible Riverside
05 Dear Chicago
06 16 Days
08 Come Pick Me Up
11 Houses On The Hill
LP4: Oslo Foleteatret, Norway (11th June 2011)
01 Oh My Sweet Carolina
02 Don’t Fail Me Now
03 Let It Ride
05 The Rescue Blues
06 Dancing With The Woman At The Bar
07 If I Am A Stranger
08 Sylvia Plath
LP5: Malmo Concert House, Sweden (13th June 2011)
02 Damn Sam (I Love A Woman That Rains)
03 My Winding Wheel
04 Let It Ride
06 Cannonball Days
07 Star Sign
08 Chains Of Love
09 Lucky Now
10 Come Home
LP6: Copenhagen Kocerhauset, Denmark (14th June 2011)
01 Carolina Rain
02 Invisible Riverside
03 Jacksonville Skyline
04 This House Is Not For Sale
06 New York, New York
07 Sweet Illusions
09 Sylvia Plath
10 Do I Wait
LP7: Lisbon Aula Magna, Portugal (16th June 2011)
01 Don’t Fail Me Now
02 If I Am A Stranger
03 Invisible Riverside
04 200 More Miles
05 This House Is Not For Sale
06 English Girls Approximately
07 Strawberry Wine
08 I Love You But I Don’t Know What To Say
LP8: Porto Teatro Sa Da Bandeira, Portugal (17th June 2011)
01 Off Broadway
02 Sylvia Plath
03 Carolina Rain
05 Damn, Sam (I Love A Woman That Rains)
06 Sweet Illusions
08 Dancing With The Women At The Bar
LP9: London Barbican Night 1, UK (19th June 2011)
01 Oh My Sweet Carolina
02 Why Do They Leave?
03 Let It Ride
04 Carolina Rain
05 The Rescue Blues
06 In My Time Of Need
07 Bartering Lines
08 Come Pick Me Up
LP10: London Barbican Night 2, UK (20th June 2011)
01 To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)
02 Damn, Sam (I Love A Woman That Rains)
03 Everybody Knows
04 My Winding Wheel
05 Invisible Riverside
06 Ashes And Fire
08 English Girls Approximately
LP11: Brighton Dome, UK (22nd June 2011)
01 Bartering Lines
02 Why Do They Leave?
03 The Rescue Blues
04 Let It Ride
05 Everybody Knows
07 Jacksonville Skyline
08 Houses On The Hill
09 Come Pick Me Up
10 Strawberry Wine
LP12: Manchester Bridgewater Hall, UK (23rd June 2011)
01 Blue Hotel
02 Save Me
03 Carolina Rain
04 Sweet Lil’ Gal
06 To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)
07 This House Is Not For Sale
08 New York, New York
10 Why Do They Leave?
LP13: Glasgow Academy, UK (25th June 2011)
01 Please Do Not Let Me Go
02 My Winding Wheel
03 Sweet Illusions
04 To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)
05 16 Days
06 Sylvia Plath
07 Come Pick Me Up
08 English Girls Approximately
LP14: Oxford New Theatre, UK (26th June 2011)
01 Why Do They Leave?
02 Carolina Rain
03 Sweet Lil’ Gal
04 Everybody Knows
06 My Winding Wheel
07 I See Monsters
08 Come Pick Me Up
09 Strawberry Wine
LP15: Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Netherlands (28th June 2011)
01 Oh My Sweet Carolina
02 To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)
03 Carolina Rain
05 Let It Ride
06 Bartering Lines
07 New York, New York
08 I See Monsters
It looks like a wonderful release, and Ryan’s solo acoustic shows have been really beautiful. Of course, people are hoping for a volume 2 that would include U.S. shows. It would be great to get those metal covers on vinyl (Ratt, “Round and Round” FTW).
The latest incarnation of the Zombies has bit bit more edge than the previous albums thanks to the production and engineering of Ian Williams (guitars for the Zombies and also in The Wheelers) and lineups, and I think that Lust for Rust is by far the best release from the band to date.
Tonight at CSPS, the Surf Zombies are taking over the big stage at CSPS for their record release show at 8PM. Tickets are $15 at the door. I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to take in the Surf Zombies– galloping drums and bass, gigantic reverbby guitars and a fantastic selection of beer and wine in the recently-opened bar which is operated by the fine folks at Brewed Awakenings.
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!
A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to hang out with Sean Moeller at the Horseshack during one particularly sweltery June afternoon over a couple of welcome PBR’s shooting the shit about a lot of stuff, but he shared with me that one of his dreams was to launch a boutique vinyl label. Really, it was the logical progression from the special recording sessions that happen at the studio.
In the ensuing years, we have been treated to a few Daytrotter-partnered releases– notably the Iron & Wine split release with Low Anthem last year comprised of two Daytrotter sessions.
The release was produced with the participation of Denver’s estate and features an interpretation by in-house artist Johnnie Cluney of the original cover art. The release will be limited to 1000 and available exclusively through the Daytrotter.com website and sold by Wolfgang’s Vault for $12 to peeps who are monthly subscribers (like your truly) or for $18 to everyone else.
This release is pretty damn special, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I got my order in before I reported this you ya’ll (sorry, but that’s how it is).
Click Here to read the post from the Official John Denver site.