October 31, 2011

Review: Age Rings | Black Honey (Reissue)

What about when you lose control of the Adam of your labors? Most everything you read on the Internet about Age Rings fronter and songwriter Ted Billings references his affinity for the work of writer Bret Easton Ellis, but we can't stop thinking about Mary Shelley and her most famous protagonist. If you've not had the privilege of undergraduate instruction in English Literature, then perhaps you're unfamiliar with analysis of "Frankenstein" implicating what it means to create, the relationship between creator and creation, and the ramifications of the former losing control of the latter. Which is what happened to Mr. Billings, who left Age Rings' ambitious monster abandoned and lifeless on a gurney for 18 of the 48 or so months it took to gestate the original, 20-song iteration of the feverishly vivid and ear-burningly beautiful Black Honey.

"When we started the first leg of the recording, we made the moronic decision to play the 'let's release an Internet single!' game. Twice. So any momentum we had was completely stunted by trying to finish (recording, mixing, mastering) a two-song single to try and catch a buzz or whatever. Idiotic, never again," vows Billings, whose bandmates include bass player Andrew McInnes, guitarist Will Spitz, keyboardist Alex Sepe, synth player Peter Baker and drummer Steve Sherwin. "And so when this totally didn't work, it was frustrating and extremely embarrassing. That, coupled with a pretty nasty bout with depression/self doubt, led me to scrap the entire thing. I guess absence makes the heart grow fonder, 'cause a year-and-a-half later, out of the blue, I started thinking about it again... and made the decision to finish it."

We don't have our notes from 20 years ago, and don't recall what would be the important parallels here between Shelley's creation and Mr. Billings' bout with Black Honey. But we wonder whether, between dreaming the plot and agreeing to put her name on the book for its second pressing, Shelley was wracked with the kind of doubt that precipitated Billings walking away from Black Honey for a year-and-a-half. Thankfully, after devoting four years and at least a few thousand dollars of fan donations to finishing the follow up to Age Rings' acclaimed 2006 debut Look... The Dust Is Growing, a double-disc version of Black Honey was self-released May 21. Fortunately for us the record is getting another jolt across the bolts, because we don't know that we ever would have heard Age Rings' astonishing amalgamation of roots grooves, pop hooks and noisy interjections had Midriff Records' top brass not put it in our hands. Which is sort of the point of the Boston label's new, leaner, 14-song version of the record.

"It's like the 'if a tree falls in the woods, but no one hears, did it ever even fall'-type thing," Billings explains.

Midriff's new formulation of Black Honey isn't abridged so much as it is re-imagined and re-sequenced.

"There are little chunks that are in the same order, but the feel of it is definitely different," Billings says. "I actually really like listening to it this way. The interesting thing to me, as a listener, and having lived with this thing for so long, is that you can sort of start anywhere. I spent a long time thinking about how the [two-disc version] would play out. Like a long, long time. But now, listening to it pared down like this, I feel foolish for doing so."

In the final analysis it is likely time well-spent: Black Honey is one of the very best records of 2011. Even so, it's hard to envision a version of the record that doesn't begin with the amusingly self-defeating "Rock And Roll Is Dead" and end with the paralyzingly affecting "Caught Up In The Sound." The former tune bursts open with volleys of discordant notes before charting a verse with a melody that doesn't quite resolve. The chorus establishes a blissfully noisy center amid handclaps and a bed of what sounds like low brass. This one song is so perfectly realized that you start to understand where the months and years went while Age Rings was making the record. But there's still a lot of record to go, and it is all equally as brilliant. Album closer "Caught Up In The Sound" is perhaps Black Honey's biggest treasure. The tune touts a momentum and inevitability -- underlined by the fact that the verses and choruses drone into eachother -- that renders the love-stung vocal even more poignant. It's a devastating final track; it's a huge artistic achievement.

Remarkable moments appear at every turn in Black Honey: the brilliant swerve of the tape slowing the final moments of "Ender" through various keys only to resolve into a slow groove for the final minute; the twisting slur of the lyric "I smoke Parliament menthols /watch Headbangers Ball" in the opening number; the unhinged falsetto at the tail end of "Big Black Hole." The collection can also be vibrantly lucid, particularly the understated and downbeat travelogue "Ups And Downs" that features Gibbardian narration about bad times like "a crowd gathered outside when I got kicked out of The Middle East, I left my car and called a cab, told the driver 'Quincy.'" "Head Up High" has an undeniable chorus studded with a bright piano melody that will never leave you.

Midriff releases its concise Black Honey this Saturday, and Age Rings supports the release with a show the same night at Radio in Somerville, MA, with dreamy standouts Guillermo Sexo supporting. Marconi and The Future Everybodys will also perform. Age Rings is already looking to the future; the band will begin recording a third record tentatively titled Magnum Love in January at Watch City Studios in Waltham, MA, the same studio where Black Honey was tracked.

Age Rings: Interwebs | Facebook | YouTube | Flickr

Rock and Roll Is Dead by Age Rings

Big Black Hole by Age Rings

Important Guy by Age Rings

October 30, 2011

YouTube Rodeo: Johnny Foreigner's "With Who, Who And What I've Got" Moral Hangover Blog Session


Rock Over Boston New York: Bambi Kino | Bowery Electric

The absolutely frickin' horrendous weather led us to abandon our plans to head to Brooklyn to see Obits and new J. Robbins venture Office Of Future Plans, but our worthy consolation prize was Bambi Kino. Doug Gillard, along with members of Nada Surf, and others, fun side project where they essentially play The Beatles' Hamburg repertoire. And, boy, do they know their stuff. A few Buddy Holly, Larry Williams, and Carl Perkins songs later, and we were almost over the drenching soak we walked through to get to the Bowery Electric.

-Michael Piantigini

October 29, 2011

Rock Over BostonNew York City | Harding's Cabinet of Wonders

In New York City for the WFMU Record Fair and got to see this fun night. A regular periodic series at City Winery, this night being recorded for NPR for the first time, John Wesley Harding's Cabinet of Wonders pulls in guests from music, comedy, and literature in a way that you can only seem to make happen in New York City.

Harding made for an affable host, performing a few songs now and then with his band, but making ample generous room for his guests John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, who performed a new as-yet-un recorded song and "High Hawk Season" from this year's triumphant All Eternals Deck; The Hold Steady's Craig Finn, who played a pair from his forthcoming solo debut; The Walkmen's Hamilton Leithauser, who surely must be the only person to ever cover Beach House and Frank Sinatra; former Coldwater Flat drummer turned Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Paul Harding and Emma Straub giving terrific readings, Eugene Mirman making with the funny, and oh, hey, Roseanne Cash too.

A well-paced continuous variety show-vibe made it feel like an old-timey supper club. 'twas fun, but now to bed. For tomorrow we rise... And buy records!

-Michael Piantigini

October 28, 2011

Today's Hotness: Travels, Projekt A-ko, The Jonbarr Hinge

>> Fans of hazy, dreamy minimalist indie rock rejoice! Boston duo Travels will release Dec. 1 a limited edition, 7" vinyl single and download package. The A-side of the single, "The Sun Shines Down On Me," is a Daniel Johnston cover, and the flip is a gently bouncing strummer titled "Stencil." The single comes with a download code to get digital versions of those songs as well as three more, turning the whole shebang into a digital EP, no? But wait, there's more: the physical package also includes a 7" x 7" colored still from an animated video that will be released concurrently with the single. Physical copies are limited to 150 pieces, and fans who pre-order now will get the disc, video still and downloads for $8 or 8 Euros, depending on which currency you rock in your locale. And it appears you can opt for just the digital version for $6, based on the pricing at this Bandcamp page. "The Sun Shines Down On Me" was first released by Johnston on his 1982 collection Don't Be Scared. Travels, you may recall, is comprised of Mona Elliot and Anar Badalov, who previously played with Victory At Sea and Metal Hearts respectively. We reviewed Travels' third full-length Robber On The Run right here in May 2010; the duo released a sophomore long-player The Hot Summer in 2009. Stream both songs from the forthcoming physical single via the embed below.

>> There's some news about -- well, tangentially related to -- the mighty Projekt A-ko. As we reported here in July, the Glaswegian indie trio earlier this year scotched efforts at completing a sophomore full-length, but fronter Fergus Lawrie (formerly of Urusei Yatsura), has been quite busy with other things. For starters, he and two partners have completed a documentary titled "Send/Receive" that chronicles experimental music in Scotland; the entire thing is available to watch at this tumblr. Additionally, Mr. Lawrie has a new band called Angel Of Everyone Murder, which is slated to soon release an album of "lo-fi drone shoegaze noise rock" via the label Kovorox Sound. In an email Lawrie told Clicky Clicky "the new band is entirely improvised," and its music is "mainly long (20 mins) single chord drones, no drums, just bass and [two guitars], but very textural, using specially modified 'halo' guitars I've built." All of the new music is recorded live in a rehearsal room, and Lawrie states its "quite different" from the brilliant indie rock on Projekt A-ko's immaculate 2009 full-length Yoyodyne. We've heard one of the new songs, "Child Of Nameless Time," and can report the fourteen-minute track is mid-tempo and boils like piles of charred snowflakes in hell. Read Lawrie's track-by-track dissection of Yoyodyne right here and watch the Projekt A-ko Facebook page for more information about how you can hear new music from Angel Of Everyone Murder.

>> It has been a year-and-a-half since we've mentioned The Jonbarr Hinge, the relatively new, full-band project that counts among its number Ben Parker, who is likely (hopefully?) better known for his hand in fronting Superman Revenge Squad and the legendary Nosferatu D2. When the last batch of The Jonbarr Hinge songs were released on a relatively unsuspecting world in early 2011, we were too tied up toiling away at an undisclosed location to make mention of it. But several days ago the Hinge unveiled three new songs on its Soundcloud page, "Limp Heart," "Spinning Rocks" and "Body vs. Brain." Each presents an exciting new face for the fledgling act, which despite our prior speculation remains unsigned (to our knowledge). Perhaps the strongest of the new tracks is the Parker-sung "Body vs. Brain," which boasts wonderful, shimmering guitar melodies in the verse that remind us of John Squire's guitar work in "Waterfall," among other Stone Roses tunes. The newer Hinge material introduces a bit more of a swinging feel to the proceedings, helped along by some able bass playing by Parker. The verse of "Limp Heart" rocks a bit of a Zombies groove. If you never heard the first three tracks The Jonbarr Hinge posted, you are missing out. Fortunately, all of the tunes are at Soundcloud, and we highly recommend you check out the nervous rocker "Looks Like A Nail." The songs features some of Parker's patented vitriol ("fed up with this city, get out of this city"), but tempers it with some sweet, melodic, mid-tempo passages. And, of course, some "oohs," "ohs" and "la la la la las." We're eager to hear more from these guys. Fans in the UK can catch them tomorrow (or today, if you are actually in the UK) at Oxjam Shepherd's Bush Takeover, which benefits Oxfam. Takeover details right here.

"Body vs. Brain by The Jonbarr Hinge

October 26, 2011

The Road To Somerville: The Hush Now Memos Tour Diary Dispatch 6 (From Lexington, KY to Boston, MA)

The End Of The Tour, The Hush Now Lives
[You didn't think they were going to leave you hanging, did you? That's not The Hush Now's style. In this episode of the band's Memos Tour Diary, bassist Pat MacDonald recounts the whirlwind of the tour's final days en route to the quintet's triumphant homecoming set at Precinct in Somerville, Mass. last weekend. Billmates Soccer Mom and Chandeliers also turned in jaw-dropping sets, as a result of which we were smiling all night. In case you are just tuning in, we reviewed The Hush Now's new record Memos right here. -- Ed.]

Oh, my old Kentucky home, and the bloody ground... Birthplace of Hunter S. Thompson, the man whose logo is permanently inked into my forearm. I think this is a great metaphor for this tour, something that will be permanently stamped on me until the day I die.

After a fantastic night with old and cherished friends in Nashville, we wake up and head to Lexington, KY and Cosmic Charlie's. It's a really groovy venue which was once called Lynagh's Music Hall, and was quite the place to play. Again the list of bands that have tread the boards at this hallowed institution is daunting. Every one from Del McCoury, The Bottle Rockets, Blue Mountain, Steve Forbert, NRBQ -- fantastic musicians one and all... so cool. Our gig was alright, not one of the best but quite a lot of fun. Joe the bartender at Cosmic Charlie's was a fun cat and Kate next door at the Lynagh's Pub made the whole night enjoyable. They were very nice, full of fun facts about the area, poured a mean drink and showed some fine southern hospitality.

Good morning Bluegrass State! So we got up, showered and shook off the cobwebs. Then it's on to Columbus, OH and Skully's, but first a quick stop at the Kentucky Horse Park which is 1,032 acres of equestrian love. If you are into horses/horse racing -- which some my closest and dearest friends are -- this is four-legged nirvana. Some of us have to deal with stuff back home, so the rest of us head for the paddocks, while still others head for the gift shop. We all walk away with a sack of swag after laying a big kiss on some horse nose. Back on the road. Now let me tell ya’ll, I did not know what to expect when I got to Columbus, but I was really surprised. What a cool burg. Very young, great record store right next to the venue (more on that later), cool bars and chow halls. The folks in the club were top notch, but in this case the old adage "hurry up and wait" was put to the test (at least 5 hours till show time), so we did just that. After some walking around the 'hood, hunting for a pack of smokes, wanting to get back to Boston and throttle my bank manager, and some food: It's show time! Seeing how this was Joel’s birthday, we shall use one of his favorite terms "do the dew" and some dew was done. Happy birthday you handsome man! Now, not to sound like a bitch, but as things were going so well I should have figured our kid Murphy and his damn law would get in on the act and oh my stars did he. Our kid Barry went to see the door man a bit after the set to be told that it was a pay to play gig. Pay to play ? Is this 1987? Now, thanks to the genius of our booker we are down 65 dollars ... WTF!! By the way, next time you are in Columbus and considering yourself a music geek, I implore you to check out Magnolia Thunderpussy, a balls-to-the-wall record store. So, even with it being Joel's birthday things did not get to the STP (Stones Touring Party) level of madness -- actually, not even the NKOTB level (what a bunch of wimps), but fun was had. Wake up, rinse and repeat! Things after this many days and miles are becoming almost second nature. Time to roll to Pittsburgh.

Now after all these days, I would love to give ya’ll the real poop on what happens in the van, but I think the word "boring" suffices. So we end up in Pittsburgh after a fine ride through the mountains; we find the venue the famous Arsenal Lanes (a bowling alley); and then more of the same: hurry up and wait. Jon and I found a fantastic art store with great homemade cards, handmade t-shirts, handmade pins made right in-house, all kinds of ephemera. So Jon and I get to talking to the owners and ask about some good places to eat and whatnot. I must say they were a wonderful road map to Pittsburgh. So me in my wisdom ask "So, where do we play at the lanes?" "LANE 13?!" (like I knew) was the answer... so what could I say other than "thanks" and off to the bar we went. Good meal with Jon, Barry and Noel. Soon to be showtime. There is nothing more surreal than to play a set while some one tries to break that split they are looking at... enough said. We all got to meet some more Marino family members, and kicked the Murphy guy in the jimmy. We got PAID 60 bucks. On to Philly, kids!

Philadelphia! Cheese steaks, soul music, Gamble and Huff, Freedom (thanks Elton), broken bells, liberty city. So after killing a few hours on the road post-gig, and a good night's sleep, we head off to The City of Brotherly Love. We find the club which is called The Raven Lounge, nice place, two floors, really cool owners. But what's this? We head upstairs to find the stage to be the size of a really small cat walk tilted sideways and the cherry on top of this I Scream Soda is right there in the middle... wait for it. A stripper pole? I have seen some strange things in my years but this has to be my favorite. A stripper pole? We gather the troops, have a quick brainstorming session, and decide to do a semi-acoustic set (time for Hanna to earn her keep). So Adam and I play thru our amps, Barry went for the Stray Cats set up (snare drum and one cymbal), Jon went with one keyboard and a stand sitting in front of the stage on the floor and Noel used trusty Hannah.

I have to say it was one of my favorite gigs of the tour. It was great to hear the songs stripped down (no pun intended), we ran through the set we'd be playing the next night at CMJ, and it felt really good. Smiles all around at the end of the set. Had a chance to hang with Adam's folks and their friends. It was now time to find some food/drink and get ready to go take NY by storm. I can’t let Philly go with out geeking on the music side of things that came from this fantastic city. As I mentioned above the word “Soul” is synonymous with this city. I mentioned Gamble and Huff, the architects of the Philly soul sound. Also, let's not forget one of my favorites from this wonderful city, The Nazz, Todd Rundgren's '60s psych/garage band. Not to mention one of Barry's favorites, the mighty Hall and Oates.

New York, New York, big city of dreams. Tonight's the night, in the words of Neil Young. So here we are, day 16 of the tour. The CMJ music marathon is one of the best music industry events in the US next to SXSW, it is only 7 years older that its southern cousin (it was started in 1980). We are all pumped for the Big Picture Media showcase we're playing at Sullivan Hall. But first things first: we have six very hungry men here, so some form of sustenance is on the menu. We head over to the Red Lion Pub and within minutes the owner has us in stitches, what a fantastic pub. I counted at least four different Stones pictures around the bar as well as Zeppelin, U2, Beatles and many more. After tucking into a great plate of fish and chips, with plenty of HP sauce and malt vinegar, we all decide to split up and just wander for a few hours before load-in. Noel and I end up walking down to Arlene's Grocery (once upon a time it was a bodega) to check out the Ryan’s Smashing Life showcase. We bump into Ryan almost immediately, got a chance to meet his bud Adam from Counting Crows (nice fella) and watched a fantastic set from Charleston, South Carolina's Slow Runner. These guys were amazing! Pure pop heaven. The band was spot-on musically, and the singer/piano/casio player had such a crystal voice, I walked away from their set with the biggest smile on my face. Back to the club for load-in. After a bunch of interviews/back-slapping/ glad-handing it was time for some rock. I would love to go into detail about every one of the five bands we played with but that would be a full-on article by itself (check out my Facebook blog for the full report). Let's just say you need to Google these bands: Grygiel, Mercies, Destry, States and Lily And The Parlour Tricks. We played a pretty smoking 25-minute set with a great version of "The Glow." Now the real fun: get in a car with Joel, his missus and Jon and drive five hours back to Boston! There's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home. Arrive back at my apartment in Somerville at about 5 in the morning. Sleep!

A full day of rest. No van, no Shoney's breakfast, no Love's truck stops, no feeling like you are traveling in a spacecraft, no smelly feet, no wondering where my winter hat went (find that in the spring), just quiet. I meet the band at Precinct for the Clicky Clicky and Ash Gray Proclamation homecoming show with Chandeliers, Soccer Mom and Cooling Towers. This was a brilliant show, we were on fire (17 days on the road helps), packed club, so many friendly faces. We knew had the crowd with us, so we started with "Sitting On A Slow Clock," lead them in gently... then BAM! "Cameraphone" into "Clouds," "Arkansas," "Thorns," "Memos," "Things Fall Down," "For What It's Worth" and "The Glow."

A few things before I put this to bed. I and the rest of the band would like to thank all the great folks we met on this tour, to all the people that came out on this last night, Jay and Bryan for putting together this bill. Also the one takeaway -- for me at least -- is this: even with some of the set-backs on this tour, the one thing we as a band did was play our asses off every night no matter what. We worked has a team always, a bunch of pirates one and all... Classy pirates, that is! It was a blast and I can not wait to get back out there once again and bring our music to a new batch of humans. Thank you, Jay, for allowing us to ramble on your site for the past few weeks. Cheers! -- Patrick MacDonald

The Hush Now: Internerds | Facebook | Soundcloud | YouTube

Memos Tour
10.06 -- Rochester, NY -- The Bug Jar
10.07 -- Cleveland, OH -- Roc Bar
10.08 -- Chicago, IL -- Miskas
10.09 -- Minneapolis, MN -- Acadia Café
10.10 -- Northfield, MN -- The Contented Cow
10.11 -- Milwaukee, WI -- Frank's Powerplant
10.12 -- Indianapolis, IN -- Melody Inn
10.13 -- Knoxville, TN -- Preservation Pub
10.14 -- Asheville, NC -- Fred's Speakeasy CANCELLED
10.16 -- Greenville, NC -- Tipsy Teapot
10.16 -- Nashville, TN -- The Muse
10.17 -- Lexington, KY -- Cosmic Charlie's
10.18 -- Columbus, OH -- Skully's
10.19 -- Pittsburgh, PA -- Arsenal Lanes
10.20 -- Philadelphia, PA -- The Raven Lounge
10.21 -- New York, NY -- Sullivan Hall
10.22 -- Somerville, MA -- Precinct

October 23, 2011

IT'S DARK NOW, AND I'M DRIVING: An Oral History of Haywood's Heartbreaking We Are Amateurs, You And I On The Occasion Of Its 10th Anniversary

Haywood -- We Are Amateurs, You And I

The tale of Haywood's sparkling and formerly final release We Are Amateurs, You And I -- which was issued 10 years ago today, a milestone somewhat overshadowed by some bullshit doo-dad called an "iPod" -- is so enmeshed with the Brooklyn-via-Philly quartet's demise it is hard to pull the two apart. The elements of the story, of course, are not unique (hope, anger, loss, a white knight in tight trousers, resolve, redemption, an A-Team montage where the "plan comes together"), but they don't occur in an order that accommodates a traditional story arc, as you will see. But against numerous if not all Collinsian odds, We Are Amateurs, You And I was issued by Self Starter Foundation Oct. 23, 2001. This piece marks the tin anniversary of that release, and pays homage to Haywood, not the first but perhaps the last great '90s American indie rock band.

If you know me, you know I love the music of Haywood with just about every fiber of my being (indeed, to such an extent we are uncharacteristically drafting this piece in the first person). Some 15 years before I became hopelessly fixated on the mighty Johnny Foreigner (not to mention all the other acts over the years), I was (and continue to be) embarrassingly fanatical about this band from my hometown. Fronter, guitarist and primary songwriter Ted Pauly was raised in a house blocks from my own, and seeing a proto-version of Haywood performing covers of Lemonheads, Camper Van Beethoven and Psychedelic Furs songs at a house show in late '90 or early '91 sold me completely on the configuration of alternately wry and down-in-the-mouth Mr. Pauly up front and truly gifted drummer and raconteur Rob Viola in the back (at the time of this particular show, I think bassist Jeff Paretchan had already gone off to college, and Haywood lead guitarist Ariel Serbin's future role was still being played by dear friend and veteran drinking buddy Luke Abruzzo).

"Rob, Ted, Ariel and I had played together in high school in [the band] Garden Party," Paretchan recounts. "Haywood started in the summer of 1992. I had finished my sophomore year [of college] and everyone else their freshman year. As I recall it was Rob and I who 'founded' Haywood during a conversation driving around the back streets of Radnor in Rob's blue Subaru station wagon. That summer we recorded four songs at American University with Rob Christiansen of Eggs. The sessions were a marathon 24 hours to record and mix. Two of the songs "Nerf Dreams" and "Trash Park" would appear on our first 7" and then later on [the full-length] Model For A Monument."

Trying to hit fast-forward from that humble, suburban beginning to the end of the band is difficult, because it's hard to determine when Haywood ends and the rest of our lives begin. Did Haywood stop sighing with the turn-of-the-century departure -- for personal reasons -- of Mr. Serbin? Did the quartet's heart stop beating when Pauly declined a long-hoped-for record-and-tour-support deal? Or when Mssrs. Viola and Paretchan quit the band in the wake of Pauly's decision? Did Haywood go the way of the Dodo when it played its final show in December 2000 at Brownie's in Manhattan? Or did Haywood give up the ghost only after the surprise self-release of its second post-humous set, 2006's As Long As There Is Track, I Will Not Go Back? Is Haywood undead? Actually dead?

We're fairly confident the answer to that last question is yes. But Amateurs for five years had the patina of finality in the minds of fans and band members alike, who assumed Haywood's 2001 break-up signaled the end of the band for good. The record was released by Chris Newmyer's delightful Self Starter Foundation label. That Amateurs garnered critical acclaim from chief Mountain Goat and music journalist John Darnielle [link] and even Pitchfork [link] was exciting to long-time fans, but probably a bit sad and frustrating for Haywood. That's because, although from the outside the band appeared to be just at the cusp, or, as Darnielle put it here, "like a magnolia just about to bloom," in fact the band had agreed to call it quits well before the album was even recorded. When the break-up was finally made public, it seemed like a capitulation to the powerfully poignant sense of loss and resignation that drove Haywood's best songs.

"We did keep [the break-up] a bit of a secret," at least from folks who had no need to know, confesses Mr. Newmyer, who we caught by phone in between his scheduled stints managing the current Ra Ra Riot tour. Newmyer is quick to point out that the hush wasn't from any inflated sense of importance of the news, but rather because the band wanted, if possible, to keep album reviews focused on the music.

"It's an excellent work of catchy indie-pop, reminiscent of Built to Spill, with a profoundly personal and sentimental side," observed Pitchfork's Brad Haywood. Really, that was his name.

"What terrible timing," summed up critic Eric Herboth in his review of the record for Lost At Sea.

Over the course of its career, Haywood found incredibly stirring ways to synthesize the desperate power of Midwestern, second-wave emo and the grace of the most genteel indie pop. But as Pitchfork's scribe astutely recognized, Haywood's greatest strength was not necessarily in writing and performing the songs, but in conveying the emotions driving them. I've listened to the song "Plow" from Amateurs about 400 times in the last two years; I still find the lyric "I was hoping I'd catch you out of luck" devastating. Pauly's voice breaking at the end of the line "your words get caught in your throat" from his ode to Viola "Tough Hero" on paper seems calculated, but the recording is terrifically affecting. The tragic finality of "Paper Shirt," the album's denouement, is like a sublime slap across the face. And "Come On Tell The Truth," we could go on and on about how it almost hurts to hear it. The record's not all sad stuff, though: album openers "The Last Days of Baronov" and "Button Up, Buttercup" both soar with exuberance, and "Don't Go Breaking (My Heart)" earns the band all of the Superchunk comparisons. All of We Are Amateurs, You And I is embedded at the foot of this piece; you can stream or download all of the tracks.

When I saw the 10th anniversary of the release approaching, I got in touch with Pauly, Viola, Paretchan, late-period lead guitarist Danny Barria (formerly of Philadelphia's Clock Strikes 13, now of deservedly hyped The Big Sleep, which is about to release its long-awaited sophomore set Nature Experiments on French Kiss Jan. 31), producer Adam "Red" Lasus and Newmyer to see if anyone was willing to talk about the record. Happily, everyone was eager to take some time to think about how the record was made and what it meant in the scheme of Haywood things.

"The record holds up to any indie rock coming out now and is more fully realized than a lot of current indie action," says Mr. Lasus, who -- in addition to recording much of the Haywood catalogue -- also recorded classic indie rock albums including the self-titled Clap Your Hands Say Yeah record, Versus' peerless The Stars Are Insane, Helium's The Dirt Of Luck and Lilys' towering A Brief History Of Amazing Letdowns. "In many ways [Amateurs] was the last real indie rock record I made."

Newmyer is similarly effusive. "I got to put out a bunch of good records, but to this day the second Haywood record [released on Self Starter Foundation] is not only one of my favorite Self Starter records, but one of my own favorite records."

Had the band committed to significant touring to support Amateurs, the recording sessions would have been paid for and the album released by a label, although somewhat comically the band members aren't quite certain which one; it may have been Southern Records. Instead, faced with the departure of founding lead guitarist Serbin and dogged by concerns about the practicality of pursuing the rock and roll dream, Haywood disbanded.

"I think it was somewhere around December of 1999 that we had played a couple of shows in New Jersey with Ariel," Paretchan says, "after which he decided to quit the band. Rob, Ted and I met at [the restaurant] Veselka to talk about the deal we were being offered. I don't remember which label [it was], but I thought it was someone other than Southern. It was a cold rainy night -- maybe in February of 2000? Ted expressed a lot of hesitation."

"I remember [Ariel's departure] making me even less hopeful for the future," Pauly concurs.

"I do remember that Ariel quitting the band was a big issue," Paretchan agrees. "We had the offer of money for recording and tour support, but we would have to do real touring. Ted wanted to do other things -- settle down, [and] focus on his work."

"Somehow I felt like it was time for me to do grown-up things, whatever I thought those were at the time," recalls Pauly. "My rationalization was that I thought even Superchunk must've been having a hard time making a living, in Chapel Hill, where the cost of living was probably silly cheap, right? Of course I never called them, so how could I have known? I didn't know Superchunk."

"Yes, we broke up in Veselka," Viola agrees, "...great borscht."

"Rob and I were pretty surprised/disappointed, angry," Paretchan continues. "We had been playing together for a long time and finally were getting a good break after lots of work, and Ted wasn't interested. Rob and I went across the street after we finished at Veselka to some dive bar, ordered some drinks and basically decided to quit Haywood and start another band."

But then something very interesting happened: after being unwilling or unable to accept the record deal, the remaining members of Haywood decided to make a new record anyway. And, ironically, the guys attribute the quality of the performances and recording sessions at least in part to the fact that there was nothing on the line.

"We decided to record album anyway because we all loved the music," according to Viola. "I remember feeling that we could do whatever we wanted when we made this album. The band was a bust and we had nothing to prove."

"There was a total sense of freedom," Paretchan emphasizes. "Nothing to prove, and we could really do whatever we liked, without having to think about what people would think."

The mix of emotions regarding the band's break-up colored the recording sessions, Paretchan suggests. "There may have been some 'anger' about the ending of the band that translated into the rock numbers 'Baronov,' 'Buttercup,' 'Moscow,' [and] 'Don't Go.'"

Of course, at the moment, Haywood had no lead guitarist. This hurdle was soon overcome, however. Mr. Barria -- like the members of Haywood -- had migrated to New York from Philadelphia with hopes of a career in music taking off. He had crossed paths with the Haywood guys while everyone still resided in the City of Brotherly Love, and that early connection proved crucial.

"[W]e found Danny, who tamed his huge guitar enough to sit in the mix, and wrote his own parts for [the songs]," Pauly remembers. "He was a goddamn gift and is largely responsible for the existence of the record and any optimistic notes on [Amateurs]."

"My Haywood memories are always going to start from the fan perspective, because I loved them," says Barria. "Still have my Great Cats Give Chase tape [an early self-release. -- Ed.] somewhere. I saw them [play] at Upstairs At Nick's in '97 (may have been a show with Zumpano), and my very first impression of them, before they'd even played, wasn't a good one. They all wore suits that night (which I subsequently learned isn't really the Haywood way) and seemed a little nerdy to me. I saw Rob making out with a girl and I remember saying to myself 'Alright, Romeo, take it easy.' Anyway, I was [too] quick to judge because once they started playing I also said to myself, "these are really good songs, and dude is an amazing drummer.' I got the Great Cats tape that night, and that was that, hooked."

"I know Ted and I had a bit of an email correspondence going on," Barria continues, "and I remember exactly where I was sitting, sometime around February of '00, when he sent me a message asking if I knew any guitarists because they had just lost theirs. I jumped on it because starting/joining a band was the only reason I'd moved to New York. The deal was that Ariel had just quit but they had written an album's worth of material and they wanted to play some shows and record before calling it a day. Ted was planning to get married and Rob and Jeff were going to continue playing, but [the demise of Haywood] was definitely a done deal going into it, that they'd decided not to continue after the next record. That was kind of sad and weird, but I was just really happy to be playing their songs with them."

"Danny was very important in the different sound of this record," Paretchan offers. "Big hooky guitar parts. [At a] critical moment, when we lost one of our founding members, Danny really stepped in and made a big difference. Ariel and Danny are different types of players. At the time I think that Haywood needed a confidence boost -- and Danny's playing gave it to us. I didn't really realize how great it was to have Danny around until we finished the mixes and I thought 'Wow, this record sounds huge!'"

Barria found his entrée into the band to be a little disconcerting. "I remember taking my Gibson 335 and my Peavey Bandit 65 and my pedals on the subway from the East Village to Rob's (and Ariel's?) place on Grand and Marcy. I had no idea where I was going, and it sucked carrying all that, and I got there and they had a fucking Peavey Bandit 65 in the basement. And then after being nervous about trying out, Ted mentioned he didn't really like my Gibson."

"I remember Ted suggesting Danny to step in as lead guitar for a few remaining shows and to record Amateurs," says Paretchan. "The first practice was at Rob's place in Brooklyn. Danny came in with the Peavey Bandit, a black strat copy and some sort of rackmount echo/delay thingy. My first impression was 'Whoa what is up with all this space guitar stuff?'"

"Anyway," Barria goes on, "my first show with them was at the Continental and I fucked up the first note of the first song I played with them. We played more shows throughout the year and went on a little tour, too, I think Wesleyan and two other spots. My favorite moment was breaking down in Herkimer, NY, on the way to a show in Buffalo and Rob somehow lining up a white limousine to take us the rest of the way."

Haywood then turned its attention to recording its swan song. After a disappointing recording session with Kramer in New York in 1994, Haywood placed a lot of importance on working with a producer it trusted; Lasus had helmed early recordings as well as the sessions for Haywood's brilliant second full-length, 1999's Men Called Him Mister, and choosing him again to record Amateurs was a slam-dunk decision.

"We recorded for the first time with Adam [in 1993]," Paretchan recalls. "We did five songs together [which ended up circulating on a tape fans called Red's House Sessions and included an alternate take of "Nothing Happens" with Barnabys' Joey Sweeney doing backing vocals; the music was eventually compiled onto Model For A Monument]. So the connection with Adam goes back a long time before we ever did Amateurs."

"We had a super comfortable and fun studio dynamic [recording the record]," adds Lasus. "The ideas and concepts were falling into place without really having to talk about them. The sounds were big, but not too big, and the songs were really all brought to their peak."

"Red was a huge part of this album," Paretchan states, "and so was recording at Fireproof [then in Brooklyn, now based in Los Angeles -- Ed.]. Working with Red was so easy, he always understood what we were looking for, we were familiar with the space and the equipment. I remember recording to tape and all of us at the board for mixing which was a big part of the fun."

"There were two nerve-wracking moments for me," Barria remembers, "when the parts I'd come up with didn't work for whatever reason (we hadn't played some of the songs live a lot, think I was just working off of demos on those, might be wrong about that), the intro on 'Tough Hero' and the mid-section on 'Paper Shirt,'and I had to rethink and come up with something else on the spot, which is weird to think about when I hear the songs now, they just seem like the songs they've always been, kind of assured, which I think is more of a testament to how good [Haywood's] songwriting had gotten than anything else."

"Incidentally," Pauly says, "all the songs [for Amateurs] were all written in the Ariel-era, 'Paper Shirt' being the last, written in the last, waning daylight of the last days of Ariel."

"My favorite part of the whole recording, though, was the very last bit of tracking, the end of 'Paper Shirt,'" Barria recalls. "Rob kept telling me to lay down some kind of 'sweet lead' or whatever, and it just wasn't happening, we tried for a while. So Ted said 'Well, let me try,' he sat down with the guitar, and it was the perfect moment, for the song and just as a recording experience, as a witness. It was one take, and it was perfect, it's what's on the album. And it seemed really appropriate that the last guitar part on the last song was recorded by Ted, and the last bit of the song as it winds down is just the four of us keeping it quiet."

"I had forgotten about Ted's solo at the end, but Danny totally has it right." Paretchan agrees. "That's exactly what happened."

Is it the band's greatest album? Sure, what the hell. There are various arguments against the primacy of Haywood's other releases, anyway, although they are fine releases all. The band's full-length debut, Model For A Monument, was actually a comp of a bunch of early material that some fans had had for months if not years. Men Called Him Mister, released in 1999, was the last record to include the founding quartet and it was released once the band had immigrated from Philly to Brooklyn. But while the record is amazing on a lot of levels, it could have been a bit more succinct; a couple songs could have been relegated to b-sides, and the criminally omitted "Empty Car" and "Alpenland" should have been included, in my opinion. Haywood's doubly post-humous surprise 2006 collection As Long As There Is Track, I Will Not Go Back is blindingly brilliant and shockingly ignored, but as it was a studio project only and came so long after the band's original dissolution, it doesn't feel like a perfect fit for top dog status, either.

The rhythm section, anyway, certainly believes Amateurs captures the band at its peak.

"This LP captures the band at the heights of [its] tightness and instrumental powers," Viola agrees. "One could argue that Men Called Him Mister had better hooks [and] writing, but the the playing on Amateurs is confident and massive."

"I agree that Amateurs is more confident and epic," add Paretchan. "Although Amateurs couldn't have happened without Men Called Him Mister, which was where we cut our teeth on various production techniques and sounds which would later show up on Amateurs. We were already familiar with Adam's guitars, amps, pedals, etc. and how Adam worked. This all helped on Amateurs."

"All the Haywood sessions were super important to me," says Lasus, "but this one was one of those 'Wow, this is a great album from top to bottom.'"

"The recording of this record is very much tied for me to the final NYC show at Brownies," Paretchan says. "Both were bittersweet -- pinnacles of recording or live performance, and both signified the end of the band in very real ways. I know that the day after the final NYC show at Brownies, I woke up and listened to Born To Run start to finish sitting in my room. I found out later that Rob had done exactly the same thing."

Viola sums up my feelings, exactly, every time we put on one of Haywood's records: "Fuck, man, I miss this band!"

"We had no idea at the time that we would later record As Long as There is Track... so it was a sad time," Paretchan remembers. "Especially given the strength of the album and the response in the press. There was a sense that we had really hit our stride and were about to get somewhere after so many years of effort. Dashed hopes... Even to this day, nothing has ever been as much fun as writing songs, playing shows and recording with Haywood, because it was always about a group of friends making music that they liked together. Even though Rob and I were pretty pissed about having to bail on the record label offer -- we just couldn't help ourselves from wanting to record those songs. Which is probably why we joined up together to work on As Long As There Is Track, even though we had no future as a band anymore. Just can't resist those songs!"


Pauly: "This song is about my brother and my grandfather's dead Saint Bernard."

Pauly: "I felt like there was a lot of sad, impressionistic emo coming out, and I just wanted everyone to look on the bright side."

Pauly: "I wrote a sad, impressionistic emo song about the lack of stars with all the damn city light pollution. This was a slow dance about my then-future wife. I tried to play it at Rob and Emily's wedding years later, but I always struggled through the solo beginning with the full band; why should it be any different on my own." Paretchan: "Danny and I played the a "four hand" organ part on 'Six Stars' together on a Hammond C-3 in the studio. The falseto vocals... were a tip of the hat to Ariel's vocals on 'Keystone Rag' from Men Called Him Mister."

Pauly: "This song viscerally recalls the feel of an early-'90s night at Fergie's Pub [in Philly] with Rob. Drinking with Rob in Philly in the '90s remains unrivalled for overall end-of-night satisfaction. I also remember that the flangey guitar sound on this one made me feel, every time we played this live, like I was playing "Just the Way You Are" by Billy Joel.

Pauly: "This was about my friend Brian [McGrath], who was in Wendyfix, and then co-wrote a song on our second record ("Little Black Dress Club") and then went to Maine and then played in Mantissa and then once we walked around Ground Zero and then he disappeared." Paretchan: "Keyboard parts were usually something we saved for the studio, as we could never do them live. This meant that most of the parts got written/worked out in the studio. I think Rob played the keyboard flute sound on 'Plow' -- this was also our first tune to use drum machine, no? Using a Roland MC 303. And I played the keyboards on the bridge. I remember playing the keyboard part on 'Plow' while Rob was turning the dials on the Korg Toneworks delay pedal."

Pauly: "I have never been to Moscow. I think this one was tangentially about breaking up with someone. I liked to steal '80s lyrics for my songs. Here, Aretha Franklin's "Freeway Of Love," except we get off it in a pink hatchback with no one driving. Somehow I thought that was a metaphor for my love life at one time."

Pauly: "I think-- think-- this one had been kicking around for a long time. I feel like I remember playing this fairly early, at a show with Pee Shy? and The Joey Sweeney at Under Acme." Paretchan: "the lyrics 'I wanna be just like my dad / and marry the first real thing I ever had / Everyones busy slipping it into conversation / and I'm patient / but not that patient' always struck me as a painfully personal and honest lyrics. I played the Roland MC303 through a MicroSynth pedal that Rob was messing around with to get the sound -- this part was written in the studio, and really filled in a lot of what I thought was missing with my bass part on this song."

Pauly: "I just hoped to get a little of the shine from Elton John and Kiki Dee on this one. This felt like our most Rainer Maria song. It was up at the top of my range and felt my most emotive, and I loved to play it and it was also, (duh) about breaking up, very clearly about my college girlfriend. It also features our dubbiest bridge." Paretchan: "Recording 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart' was challenging; it was hard to capture the energy and volume of the live performance in the studio."

Pauly: "I think Ariel gave me paper pajamas from a trip somewhere, or maybe just to Pearl River. This was about being 90 and deciding to go outside for the first time in a long time, and deciding to dress up in my finest paper shirt, which of course would be a bad idea in the rain." Paretchan: "'Paper Shirt' was an after-thought in a way. One of the reasons I think the record sounds better than Men Called Him Mister was simply that we had fewer songs to record. If I'm not mistaken, one of the other issues the band was facing was not only having to decline the offer for recording and tour support - but also that Ted seemed to be having writers block and we weren't able to put together any more songs. 'Paper Shirt' got on because we needed an album's worth of material. I recall doubts about the strength of the tune. Somehow it is a nice post script to the album in the way that it gently disappears at the end."
Haywood - We Are Amateurs, You And I. (2001 album release) by statikluft

October 22, 2011

Rock Over Boston: The Low Anthem | Somerville Theatre | 10.20.2011

[The Low Anthem at (and across from) the Somerville Theatre, Somerville, MA 10/20/2011. Photos by Michael Piantigini.] 

I've gone on and on and on about the conjuring powers of The Low Anthem so, yeah, I probably don't need belabor the point. So, quickly: this was a rambling and rough-around-the-edges (in a good way) night where the Rhode Islanders closed out their tour spending a full two hours playing clutches of tracks from their three albums in roughly chronological order. They called for an "open stage," insisting that any musician who wanted could join in at any time. The only takers were someone who joined them on singing saw, and, later, a man who materialized out of nowhere with a trombone. These seemed disappointing, so the set closer had the band calling for any musicians in the house to come on stage and play something.  This led to a lot of people mostly just hanging out, but it was a blast anyway.

Up against a hard curfew (after which the band would be financially penalized for extending the show), but not ready to quit, lead singer Ben Knox Miller reconvened on the plaza across from the Somerville Theatre, eventually joined by the rest of the band and opener Joe Pug and some of their other guest musicians and played another 40 minutes or so of standards and sing-alongs. It was one of those rare, magic moments. (Though sort of lost on some passers-by: when the band were swapping instruments at one point, the college-agers near me where giggling about how it "so Arcade Fire of them," their friend correcting, "no, how Phish of them.")

Their website was hinting recently at the band making some changes, but I'm not worried - the Low Anthem is clearly full of wonderful surprises.

-Michael Piantigini

The Low Anthem: Intertubes | MySpace | Twitter

October 21, 2011

Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything Boston Listening Party Tomorrow Night, Now With Clicky Clicky-Exclusive Schwag!

Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything album listening party, Somerville, MA, at Precinct
We wanted to emphasize the early portion of tomorrow night's excellent program at Precinct Bar in Somerville, MA, which is, of course, the listening party for the forthcoming, triumphant third full-length from Birmingham, England-based indie titans Johnny Foreigner. We've been dubbing this a North American-exclusive, because we are certain that is true. But it may also be true that tomorrow night's listening party is the WORLD PREMIERE OF THE RECORD. We're not 100% certain that's true, but we're certainly treating the event -- which is the first hour of an evening that will also see live sets from a number of Boston's brightest indie rock acts -- as if it is. And so we were super excited to receive a surprise package in the mail this afternoon from none other than Alcopop! Records, the Oxford, England-based label that will officially release Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything in the UK Nov. 7. The photo above displays the contents of the package; if your eyes are failing you, what you are looking at is a Clicky Clicky-exclusive, three-song, Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything album sampler in a numbered edition of 40 pieces. We'll be giving these discs away to fans tomorrow night, so get to Precinct in Somerville, Mass., by 8:20PM sharp to hear the record and get your copy. After we've played the record, stick around for what we predict will be incendiary sets of rock and roll music from The Hush Now, Soccer Mom, Chandeliers and Cooling Towers. Get pumped! Get into it! Facebook Event page right here. Haven't order Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything yet? Pre-order it from the 'Pop store here!

October 19, 2011

The Hush Now with Soccer Mom, Chandeliers, Cooling Towers, Johnny Foreigner Listening Party | Precinct | 22 Oct.

The Hush Now tour homecoming show, presented by Clicky Clicky and Ash Gray Proclamation
Feel the hype cycle! We are proud to present along with our friends at The Ash Gray Proclamation Saturday night's The Hush Now tour homecoming show at Precinct Bar in Somerville, Mass. We hand-picked the majority of the bill ourselves and think that the line-up is not only the very best, but also the Clicky Clicky-est bill we could have mustered. Check out the Facebook Event page right here. The night is centered around the final show of local guitar pop heroes The Hush Now's current tour supporting its superlative third long-player Memos [review here]. The bill also includes the crushing, visceral majesty of Boston noise rockers Soccer Mom, long a favorite of the blog fresh off the release of their spectacular 10" EP You Are Not Going To Heaven, as well as rising rockers Chandeliers. And, as a very, very special treat, we've arranged with Oxford, England-based Alcopop! Records to bring you the North American -- if not world -- premiere listening party for Johnny Foreigner's epic third LP Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything. Cooling Towers are a late addition to the bill and will also perform.

Doors for the event open at 8PM, and the listening party begins promptly at 8:20PM sharp. Punters that enter the club before 9PM will receive a complementary The Hush Now-branded shot glass. We can personally attest to The Hush Now-branded shot glass' powers of conveying small amounts of liquor between a bottle and a mouth [Note: bottle and mouth not included -- Ed.]. The full slate looks like this:

8:00 Doors
8:20 North American premiere of Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything
9:30 Chandeliers
10:30 The Hush Now
11:30 Soccer Mom
12:30 Cooling Towers

With the pending arrival of Clicky Clicky Baby No. 2, we're viewing this event as kind of a finale for our year, and we'd be pleased as punch if you came out and said hello and soaked up the sounds of all five bands along with me, Clicky Clicky Rock, Bryan Proclamation and stalwart Clicky Clicky supporter and podcaster extraordinaire The KoomDogg. It's going to be a big night, so let us know you're coming out. Now how about some songs?

Arkansas by thehushnow

Unwanted Sounds by SOCCER MOM

Chandeliers - Let's Do Brunch by Chandeliers

(don't) show us your fangs by johnny foreigner

COOLING TOWERS - "Song For Apple Martin (Live on WMFO)" by CommodoreVic

October 17, 2011

The Road To Somerville: The Hush Now Memos Tour Diary Dispatch 5 (Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Knoxville, Asheville, Greenville, Nashville)

The Hush Now in front of the self-styled largest adult store, in Nashville, TN
[In this episode of The Hush Now's Memos Tour Diary, fronter Noel Kelly offers his account through gritted teeth of a tour going haywire, with levels of strife that recall Sex Pistols' doomed January 1978 tour of the United States -- well, without the drugs, violence and John Lydon quitting at the end to form PiL. THN has been taking what has become the very long way around, touring a large swath of the U.S. en route to a hotly anticipated homecoming show Saturday at Precinct in Somerville, Mass. Oct. 22 with Soccer Mom and Chandeliers. We reviewed The Hush Now's new record Memos right here. -- Ed.]

After a great day in Northfield, MN, we made the six-hour hump to Milwaukee for a show at Frank's Powerplant. The venue itself was pretty cool. The bartender, originally from south London, poured a stiff drink and provided a certain respite as a couple of jackasses cut their acoustic chops on Duncan Sheik covers open-mic-style, while their girlfriends fawned over the self-indulgences and saccharine sentiments of their "rock star" boyfriends. At one point, one of the gentleman refused to pass his Ibanez acoustic to the other gent and proclaimed, "you have to hear this song," and then proceeded to stumble into "Shimmer" by Fuel. He was wrong. No one needed to hear that. Ahhhh, what to say... Shameel, Shamozzle.

Salvation was only a few hours away as we pulled into Indianapolis to play the historic Melody Inn the next day. I absolutely love the Melody Inn. I remember playing there with Cerulean about 8 years back. It's a place with a long and rich history; from what I understand, a place where Wes Montgomery himself cut his chops back in the day. This is a musician's bar run by owners who not only care about music, but also care about the musicians who play their club. We stopped in early to find one of owners, Rob, was behind the bar scrambling to replace yet another local headliner that had just canceled that day. Kudos to our valiant booking agent for a real bang-up job. It's been one thing after another after another on this tour and "frustration" doesn't begin to capture the feelings of the six guys slogging it out on the road -- another story perhaps for another day, though. We set our minds and hearts on getting some Cajun food down on College Avenue before unloading and preparing for our set.

We shared the bill that night with a terrific act from Asheville, NC, The Stereofidelics, comprised of Melissa, a drummer who also played violin like Itzhak Perlman, and Chris, a guitar virtuoso who played and sang lead, and played bass with his feet. They put on an incredible show and were, honestly, humbling in their approach, proficiency, talent and stage presence. They traveled lightly in a van with two new boxer puppies. If you have a chance to see the Stereofidelics, don't hesitate. Thank you to Rob and staff for making the best of the cancellation: we owe you and the Melody Inn one, and hope to see you in the future.

Back in the van after the show, we high-tailed toward Knoxville for gig at the Preservation Pub. Good pizza, not one of our better shows. But we learn our lessons, pack the van and start towards Asheville. We arrive early in the day and take care of some sundries, check into a hotel, and then head over to the One-Stop for pickled carrots and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. Then we head to the "other" side of town to Mike’s Side Pocket for our show. Seeing as there was no PA to be found, the stage -- if you could call a four foot by four foot square podium a stage -- was occupied by some locals watching NASCAR who didn’t look all too happy they might have to vacate, there were no supporting acts on the bill, considering that the manager didn't know there was even a show of any kind and the clientele didn't seem all to eager to have their evening interrupted by our style of music, which was completely understandable, we once again thanked our booking agent (best money we never should have spent) and agreed to a PBR on the house before heading back to the hotel to catch up on some rest.

Only six hours to Greenville, NC, to the Tipsy Teapot where, once again, the headlining act canceled and we had an opportunity to play to an empty room with some more bands pilfered from a Craigslist advert for the other supporting acts, one of which included two nice-enough fellas with guitars turned up to 11 hammering through their first metal show ever. I'm starting to find it interesting at this point that not one band we've played with on this tour (if they did actually show) has brought one person out to the show. Hmmmm... interesting indeed. I hope a trend is becoming evident.

We set our sights on CMJ and played our hearts out regardless. We packed up the van and Pat made a Homeric effort, driving through the night on a 12-hour slog passing back through Asheville (would’ve been nice to play Asheville -- oh wait, we were supposed to play Asheville) to Nashville to share a bill on the outskirts of town, behind what was advertised as "The World's Largest Adult Store" with yet another high school band (screamo/hardcore) chaperoned and playing their first show. Another Craigslist gem. We played another slamming set and then headed into town to historic Roberts on Broadway to see what may have been some of the best live country music I've ever seen. Until last night, I thought I knew how to play my telecaster. I was wrong. Well, it gives me something to strive for. I can't remember the name of the band, but they'll be locked in my brain until the day I die.

Tomorrow is Lexington at Cosmic Charlies. A great venue from what I hear, but we definitely have our fingers crossed to see who we'll be playing with this time around. I keep saying, "Well, there's no point in getting mad, it can't get any worse." I was asked to stop saying that last night by the band, because every time I say it, well, you get the idea... fingers crossed and here we go. And we really can’t wait to get back to Boston to play the Clicky Clicky and Ash Gray Proclamation show on the 22nd at Precinct. That and CMJ are the only things keeping the spirits of the band afloat at this point. We're getting scary good on this tour, regardless the setbacks. We will not be deterred. -- Noel Kelly

The Hush Now: Internerds | Facebook | Soundcloud | YouTube

Memos Tour
10.06 -- Rochester, NY -- The Bug Jar
10.07 -- Cleveland, OH -- Roc Bar
10.08 -- Chicago, IL -- Miskas
10.09 -- Minneapolis, MN -- Acadia Café
10.10 -- Northfield, MN -- The Contented Cow
10.11 -- Milwaukee, WI -- Frank's Powerplant
10.12 -- Indianapolis, IN -- Melody Inn
10.13 -- Knoxville, TN -- Preservation Pub
10.14 -- Asheville, NC -- Fred's Speakeasy CANCELLED
10.16 -- Greenville, NC -- Tipsy Teapot
10.16 -- Nashville, TN -- The Muse
10.17 -- Lexington, KY -- Cosmic Charlies
10.18 -- Columbus, OH -- Skully's
10.19 -- Pittsburgh, PA -- Arsenal Lanes
10.20 -- Philadelphia, PA -- The Fire
10.21 -- New York, NY -- Sullivan Hall
10.22 -- Somerville, MA -- Precinct

October 16, 2011


Johnny Foreigner vs. A Unified Theory Of Everything
On Nov. 7 Birmingham, England-based indie rock luminaries Johnny Foreigner release their third and finest full-length, the titanic quasi-concept album Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything. As fronter Alexei Berrow told Stereoboard here last month, the hotly anticipated record -- which sold out of deluxe pre-orders in fewer than 12 hours -- is less autobiographical than the prior two, and concerns itself with "the alternate universe theory; for every decision you make, there exists a world where you made the opposite. There's also internal monologue in the merits of experiencing stuff versus capturing it for posterity. There's some meta-fiction. The overall story is the world's only happy shipwreck, where, instead of drowning, everyone gains the power of flight."

Perhaps it was Mr. Berrow partially freeing his songs from the confines of real experience, perhaps it was that the band contrived the entire album from start to finish on its own terms and timetables, but no matter the reason, Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything is an immaculate, career-defining effort. The band circled the wagons and recorded the 17-song magnum opus ("a musical catastrophe in three parts") over the course of five months with longtime friend and collaborator Dom James in bedrooms and a warehouse space and James' studio. In our interview below with all three members of Johnny Foreigner, Berrow plainly states that the album is a put-up-or-shut-up proposition, with the future of the band potentially on the line. We've been wanting to interview the three ever since we initiated our microscopic coverage of their exploits nearly five years ago, and Berrow, drummer Junior Elvis Washington Laidley and bassist Kelly Southern were gracious with their time and did not disappoint. Our full review of the record is forthcoming, but for now enjoy the trio's remarks below. Pre-order Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything from Alcopop! Records right here. A North American exclusive album listening party will occur at Precinct in Somerville, Mass. this coming Saturday, Oct. 22, at 8:30PM sharp; details here.

Clicky Clicky: Interesting that some of the music released ahead of the album wasn't promoted as being part of a record. Was there a conscious decision made to not say something like, "'What Drummers Get' taken from the band's forthcoming record Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything," in promoting Certain Songs Are Cursed, for example? Did you just not know what was going to make the final cut?
Alexei Berrow: A bit of both. Jack's plan was a frisbee lead-off single that'd run with the UK/Europe tour in spring. We thought of it in terms of an album taster, like, whatever two songs we had finished first. When we decided to re-record "Vs. You," it made sense to use the first version [for the EP]. "Certain Songs," the song, happened super-fast, like, I wrote it one night and the next day Dom forgot a flux capacitor and left me in the studio for an hour while he went back to fetch it. By which time we'd realised that "frisbee-ep" sounded better than "frisbingle" [hmmm... maybe not? -- Ed.]. We were prepared to leave them all off the album, which is, like, a weird stupid fantasy I have where we promote an album with completely stand-alone singles like in the '70s. And then Dom re-mixed "What Drummers Get" so it sounded more like the record songs, and everyone else was like, gwaaaaaaaaaan. Also, as much as I ever talk about lyrical specifics, that [song] and "With Who, Who And What I've Got" are kind of about the same situation, which, if this record was a comic book, would be the opening scene. So it kinda felt right.

Junior Elvis Washington Laidley: I was actually torn on leaving "What Drummers Get" off the album and putting "Hand..." on instead. [Our manager] Gareth shot us straight down on that one, though, think it's his favorite song since "Jump" by Van Halen [Bahahahahahahah! -- Ed.]. The final cut did seem to take a while to decide, after first listens our label, manager and press all had different favorites and still do, I think. Good sign.

Kelly Southern: I think I might have been the only one concerned that we'd be criticised for putting songs on the album that had already been released. One [song] I think might have been passable but two... I was kind of with Jun on wanting "The Hand That Slaps You Back" on the album, as well as another that didn't make the final cut. Originally, I thought if we were going to make an album that was 18 songs long, they should be all new songs. Don't get me wrong, I'm so glad "Drummers" and "JF Vs. You" made it on there, because now I know they fit in perfectly with the other songs. I don't think you should take other people's opinions into account when making these kinds of decisions. As cheesy and cliched as it sounds, you have to make the album you want to make, because at the end of the day, you're never going to please everyone all the time. Oh God, that answer was really cheesy and pretentious, urgh. Sorry.
CC: The new album's title itself is interesting. Maybe we're setting up a false dichotomy, but for a band who named its record Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything, the music still retains the optimism of your past releases (well, except where certain affairs of the heart are concerned). It really hits home on the astonishingly wonderful "Alternate Timelines Piling Up" in the lyric "Those nights you say you want your old life back? Let's go get it." If Johnny Foreigner were not optimistic at all, what would the music sound like? Ministry?
AB: Ha. Thas' a really hard question to answer. Cos the optimism, I think, is a big part of who we are as people. I guess, you have to be, to put so much stock into a collection of sounds. I think if we weren't optimistic, we'd just sound like a crap spineless version of us. Even the saddest of our songs still (to me, at least) provide a little warmth. I've never listened to Ministry, rectifying now... [link]. Ahahahahahahahahahahahahaaa no.

JEWL: I think the music would sound like self indulgent white noise :o) or dubstep.

KS: I'd say a mix of our 'fake release' album and this (complete with subtitles. I'd like to think we'd retain our sense of humour, if not our optimism).
CC: I had to laugh at your question to Facebook fans over the summer about how long of an album was too long, considering the record was already rumored to be titled Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything. Seems like if you are going to have "everything" in the record title, you should really hit fans with both barrels, yeh?
AB: Yeh, totally. I think that argument stems from quantity vs. quality. And its been a compromise for both previous records, but we (and Dom) decided at the start of this to give ourselves as much time as we needed. It got to the point about a month in and we were still feeding Dom new demos and he was like, fuck it, lets make a double album. It's split into three parts cos we like to be overdramatic and grandiose, and I guess that makes it easier for people to take it in, but yeh, to answer your question, this was always going to be a sprawling huge record.

KS: We did have the big debate about whether we were taking the piss by releasing such a long album (it was supposed to be even longer!). But I know damn well had we cut it down to 12 or whatever songs to keep within the realms of an 'acceptable' release length, then it would have been the wrong decision. I think separating it into 3 parts will help people digest it a little better. To be honest, long or short, we're utterly happy with this album, I'm sure other people will dig it too! (Y'see that, that's optimism. Going back to the previous point, you can't be in a band without it).
CC: Ballads are certainly nothing new for the band, as we know well since one of my all-time favorite songs is "All Mosely Gardens." Each of the Best Before releases included one. But in the last eighteen months or so -- since around the time of the death of Mark Linkous when you released the "The Most Beautiful Widow In Town" download -- you've really been working up a lot of quieter, more subdued material. Is that just because of the places and situations in which you find yourself writing and rehearsing? Did any of the recent, more slow-core numbers start their lives as uptempo guitar pop?
AB: To an extent we're always influenced by the environment; loud fast times = loud fast songs, etc. Also, the happier my personal life, the sadder the songs. No fucking idea. Also, practically speaking, it's way easier to make a song that doesn't require mic-ing up a drum kit or sorting thru distortion sounds. Jun bought this tiny 8-track from Japan, it has these awesome mics built in, and we ended up like, making them in bedrooms when we had time to kill. I'd say the 8-track takes 70% of the blame. And, nah, I think the tempo of it when it appears in my head is the tempo it should stay. And sometimes we naturally speed up or slow a little, but never drastically enough to change the original tone

JEWL: The little 8-track changed my thinking on the ease of bedroom music, I had visions of people literally staring at .wavs and bars and listening to the same loop for hours, I would have rather played in the studio for hours on end, but whilst touring Ireland a while back, I got all tripped out and just literally played around with it, it ended up being the b side ("For The Chains"). That started off way faster then naturally slowed down when I heard Alexei's vocals on it. "(Don't) Show Us Your Fangs" was a similar story, but that started off way slower. Fruity Loops [the software -- Ed.] is the blame for me, now I can literally sit and stare for hours and try and create something usable, something I've had a few years off from since the "Sword Buried" age lol.

KS: Digressing slightly here, but I'm so in love with the idea of doing different versions of songs. I always felt "A King's Heath Story" would be a great fast-pop song. "Sofacore" works well slowed down; "Eyes Wide..." sounds great played as a punk song. To be honest, we needed more ballads for acoustic sessions as we could only play "Sofacore" and "Salt, Peppa...!" It's funny -- we have a plethora of slow songs now but what do we do for acoustic sessions? "Amy-freaking-Winehands." That's how we roll.
CC: You've always had a pronounced sentimentality -- or, in the parlance of our day, "emo"-ness -- in your songs. Do you ever get the urge to write without that sort of attachment, and turn out something like Franz Ferdinand's emotionally detached dance-floor stompers? Are you able to turn off that part of your brain when you guys are writing? Is the sentimentality mostly an Alexei contribution, or do Junior and Kelly get similarly invested in their writing?
AB: It's me wot does most of the initial writing. And, no, I dont want to analyse it less it drives me mad or I lose it, but the emo urge, whatever that gene is, is like the spark at the start of my mental songwriting process, as opposed to something I inject later on. I'm sure I could mechanically go thru and clean up the words and the URGHMYHEARTISBUSTED sequences, but it'd be a horrible technical exercise, even if I did believe it'd lead to better things for the band.

JEWL: I can't write lyrics at all, I've never tried but I'm sure it would be mega cheese with words about hills and shit. I dunno how Lex does it, to be honest, he turns producer with stuff, like "Supermorning," for example, I was stuck for months with this distorted piano repetition, wasn't going anywhere with it, but [add] a few words and it's a song.

KS: Yeah, lyrics have never been my strong point. I used to keep poetry books when I was younger, but it was mostly just pretentious nonsense. One thing I can't stand are generic lyrics with no depth or substance. Lyrical laziness. I need imagery, a story or that sentimentality. I love clever lines that stand out on their own. That is something Lex is great at.
CC: We think an obvious question from interviewers on this album cycle is "how important is Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything?" In case you haven't thought about it yet, your answer should be "well, [interviewer name, make sure you look into the camera after you say her/his name], it's everything." But we think a more probing question about the record is "why is Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything important at this stage of the band's career and given the current state of the (lack of a corporate) music industry?"
AB: I think if we release this record and it does nothing for us, then it proves we're not a good enough band. It's one of the scariest thoughts in my head, but I'm so happy with it. It's not like when people say, 'O I wouldn't change a thing,' I mean, that's true, but this is exactly what I think we should sound like, it's what we sound like in my head. It's us without any adults at the helm and no involvement from the corporate world we so vocally shun. And we try and work outside it as much as possible, but simply put, we can't afford it yet. We're still a few grand in the red, and if this record bombs, then it'll likely take us with it. BUT THAT WON'T HAPPEN COS ITS GREAT. It feels like there are a lot of people waiting to be like 'O Johnny Foreigner fucked up, inevitable, how predictable.' Vs. Everything is us making these possibly imaginary folks eat their stupid words.

JEWL: The most exciting and important thing for me about this album, is that we can do it again. This sounds cheesy, but with a warehouse space from guys we've rented from for years, an engineer/producer we've known for longer, and friends, etc., we've made an album that, in my head, is the best thing we've done and I'm sure when I receive my own copy it will be, personally, my proudest moment. The fact that in a week, we "technically" could start another record with little or no money, and the fact we're in a position where, hopefully, enough people will want it to make it worthwhile, that's the most important for me.

KS: Career-wise, we're not a hyped band with lots of money riding on us. We're just doing what we normally do and what we will do, even if no one really accepts this record. I mean, the first two records didn't sell heaps and yet look at us, here we are talking about our third. I'm not sure we have a career plan; we have our little circle of people that we're really fortunate enough to have believe in us and will buy our records. I don't think this album is an attempt for world domination or commercial or critical success -- at the end of the day, we're 110% happy with this record, and as long as the people that like our band do, too (and our label make enough money from it), that's the main thing. If critics -- be it magazines, fanzines, blogs -- come on board and like the album then ohmygod that's brilliant, but I guess it's always been our way to hope for the best but expect the worse. As Jun says, we can do it all again. And it's something we're proud of, no matter what.
CC: So Lex gave a very succinct summary of the themes of the album to Stereoboard last month that we don't need to re-hash. And I've had the good fortune to see a lof of the art that will be part of the packaging of the record. And in sum, it all makes me wonder whether the alternate timelines, the boats, all of that might have been at all inspired by the American television show LOST? Did any of you see the show? Because of the birth of my daughter I never actually saw the last half of the final season, so hopefully Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything doesn't provide any spoilers...
AB: Heh, I marathoned it last year, but I dont think anything consciously slipped through. I've always been obsessed with branch theory, and I've digested a whole bunch of Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison and Alex Garland. But no polar bears. And boats are just the most romantic way of travelling... For what its worth, I'm the only person I know who thinks the end of LOST is beautiful and perfect.
CC: The preparations for the album release seem burdensome, what with the proactive and concerted effort to outwit pirates on top of everything else you're doing. I saw your note to the Tumblr people, it was rather inspirational, like fans might actually be able to keep a proper leak in abeyance. Assuming a leak is successfully avoided or at least obviated by the current strategy, how does the band define success for the record? More touring opportunities? Bigger recording budget next time around?
AB: It's actually easier for us for once, cos there's no one in the chain screaming OGODWENEEDTHISNOW. The same as making the record; we don't have a competitive budget or industry presence, but cos we're taking so long, we do have the luxury of knowing that everything we do put out, songs, videos, art, whatever, is as good as we could make it. And the anti-piracy thing, which has worked like a charm, took a couple of joints and a half-an-hour clicking internets. Success = fixing Kelly's amp [still? -- Ed.] and being able to tour and not having any debtors to take whatever slim profit we make on it. Getting some tv syncs (if we had owned the rights to "Absolute Balance" like we own all our Alcopop stuff, we would be 100% financially sorted by now...), getting enough exposure that someone pays for us to come back to America, getting more festival offers. Surviving...

JEWL: Success = being comfortable, being able to pay for shirts upfront, being able to go back to part-time work because we the band get a lil' bit o' money lol. Mainly though, travel everywhere that wants us and keep going.

KS: I would say success for this record is the same as it was for the others -- to me success means being able to keep doing this. Simple as. Keep recording, keep releasing, keep touring. The gigs we do where the crowd make the show (Summersonic in Japan, the second show we did in Brooklyn last year, Off The Cuff in Birmingham, for instance), if we have moments like that every so often, that's enough for me to want to keep doing this. Knowing there are people out there ready to invest their time, money, energies in us (our label, manager, press ppl, agent, etc.), and there are people out there that come to our shows, wear our tees, beg us to visit their country... that is success. Especially when we get to visit said countries and play to said people. Smiley faces ahoy.
CC: North American fans, of course, are constantly begging for your presence on our continent, and the band's position (that it's got to be something the band can afford to do) is known well and has been stated repeatedly. So the only question left to ask is, has that bridge been gapped? Can you reveal whether a feasible plan is in the offing that will get you over here for this album cycle without any of you ending up in debtor's prison?
AB: No plans. Sadface. And [American has] tweaked the visa regulations to make it even more impenetrable. I guess, we've never really made more than a drunken late-night pass at any labels, and no one's really got the money or the inclination to risk bringing a band as small as ours over. It's something that bothers us shitloads tbh. We grew up choosing US bands over UK bands, and last year just reinforced our (fairly biased) opinion that there's a whole bunch of people over there who'd be into us if they heard us...

JEWL: I do think if we were debt-less, then we'd have more scope to use money to fund/help towards flights, accommodations to the promised land, etc. One big sync [that's, for those who don't follow the jargon, basically slang for the use of the band's music in exchange for a hopefully tidy fee -- Ed.] and everything could change in that department, were definitely going in the right direction at least, plus the album's awesome, so I see "Fringe" season 5 offering us $50K for 2 seconds of a song...

KS: Jun, big lolz. This album was actually made with syncs for "The O.C." in mind. Is "The O.C." still going? I want to come back so bad. Going through all the footage we took from the Los Camp [US] tour melts my heart. I'm not sure how we can make this happen. Maybe once we've paid our debts, we could move there for six months or something.
CC: Why won't Fat Possum sign you for North America? They've got Yuck and now Fanzine. Should I call them?
AB: I'm sorry, I think Yuck are the anti-us. Dull career musician pastiche that completely misses the spirit/point of all the awesome bands we both pillage from. We actually want to be on Merge so bad; there was a whole string of Superchunk coincidences on our last tour ("Amy Winehands" is mostly set in Chapel Hill) and when we got to chicago our friend Ryan gave me a signed copy of "Our Noise." And I started reading it in the waiting room at [RDU], and finished it as we landed in England. I wrote them a ridiculously (even by my standards) long letter and never sent it. I think, I want them to discover us for themselves, but if anyone feels like nudging the fates for us, please go ahead. ILU MAC + LAURA.

KS: Like what Lex said. We have a toy ghost I'm going to send to Merge the moment Lex gives up on fate and hands me his 'Dear Mac and Laura' love letter to post along with it.
CC: Johnny Foreigner has over the last few years been finding more and more ways to incorporate fans into its releases. There was the Every Cloakroom Ever EP with fan names on the sleeve; then fan photos on the sleeve of You Thought You Saw...; fans helping the band out with live performances (the horn section for the Grace DVD, Veeee playing bass in Paris); and now with fan audio contributions for Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything. I guess my question is is there anything left? Without a fan giving you a kidney or a gall bladder, I can't for the life of me think of a new and different way for you to have fan involvement in future releases. Is that something you sit around and think about?
AB: Every time we do something like these, we have a panic that we won't think of something new. And we always do. To us, it's always been fun but a totally natural process; its relatively rare we sit around brainstorming. To be super cynical, we've effected a sliding scale for our band where the more you're into us, the more you can be involved in us, and it's kind of a reaction against the pledgemusic culture; like, 'hey you like our band, gizza tenner and we'll stick yr name on a list in the cd sleeve.' Or 'give us £100 and we'll invite you round our house.' That shit's savvy and effective but totally soulless; what if you love the band but can only afford the record? why should that put you in a lesser position than someone who has more cash and is doing it for some sense of kudos? We try and be inclusive as possible whilst clinging onto enough financial sense to cling on. Klingon.

KS: It's cool, we'll get everyone to record the next album for us. That's a logical progression, right?