Skip to main content

TAS Features

Times New Viking And Ólöf Arnalds Celebrate Christmas in Columbus ... and Iceland

As we gather more Yuletide and year-end impressions from bands here and abroad, drummer and vocalist Adam Elliot of Ohio's Times New Viking and up-and-coming Icelandic chanteuse Ólöf Arnalds share thoughts on cold weather, Wooden Shjips and ancient Icelandic carols.

Adam Elliott of Times New Viking

Times New Viking hail from Columbus, Ohio where winters can be snowy and bleak, leaving the trio plenty of time to write music. The band released their punchy, gritty and effusively catchy fourth album Born Again Revisited back in September and in wry move, even stepped in for friends and frequent tourmates Yo La Tengo for that band's "Nothing To Hide" video. The two bands will be road tripping together again beginning January 22 in Pontiac, Michigan, which isn't the balmiest of winter tour destinations.

How are you plan on spending this Christmas? Do you, Jared Phillips and Beth Murphy exchange gifts?

We stay inside and text now. Ohio is too cold and dreary for too much cheer. We give the gift of privacy to each other every year.

Any Christmas carol that Times New Viking would ever consider covering?

We are not allowed by contract to make a Christmas song; that is why we wrote a song for MLK Day.

What were some records or concerts that really stood out for you this year?

Eat Skull, Wooden Shjips, Group Doueh, Ax Men reissues, etc. Touring Europe blew me away and has corrupted any other thoughts on this.

What do you think were the most outstanding albums of the last decade?

Not Radiohead, I know that much. The availiabilty of reissues/lost catalog via the internet and illegal downloading has changed everything. So the most influential record in 2009 could have been from 1967.

If you could have one wish that could come true for Times New Viking in 2010, what would it be?

Radio accessibility!

*************

Ólöf Arnalds

Ólöf Arnalds has been a longtime presence on the Icelandic music scene, but she first garnered New York attention when she opened for Björk and Dirty Projectors last summer at a Housing Works benefit and also for Björk and Sigur Rös at a free outdoor Nattura concert in Laugadalur, Reykjavik in June. On January 12 the classically-trained Arnalds, who is also a touring member of the quirky pop band Múm, will finally release her American debut Við Og Við on One Little Indian.

The album, a wraith-like tapestry of acoustic, folk-flushed tracks like the ethereally pretty "Klara," is already old in Arnalds eyes; she just finished her second album Ókídókí. That record, produced by Sigur Rós' Kjartan Sveinsson at that band's studio, will be out this spring and sung in both English and Icelandic.

How do you usually spend your Christmas holiday?

I usually attend a Christmas concert with the choir that my mother sings in. Listening to a good choir singing a cappella really gives me a sense of Christmas spirit.

Favorite Christmas carol?

I like it when people write new Christmas songs, but if asked about an old standard I like "Hátíð fer að höndum ein," an ancient Icelandic folk Christmas song. It was the title song of a record that came out with an Icelandic folk trio called Þrjú á palli in 1971, with new arrangements to old folk Icelandic rhymes. You can hear the song on YouTube here.

Albums or concerts that made you happy in 2009?

I like Hjaltalín´s new record, Terminal. A memorable concert this summer was a living room concert I saw with another young Icelandic band called Retro Stefson.

Oddest Christmas gift you ever received?

I once got a Föðurland (Icelandic word "Fatherland" for male long underwear). It is up for interpretation if it's is bad or meaningful to a lady like myself.

Good holiday advice you'd like to pass on to cope during these stressful days?

In regards to Christmas I would say the best advice I've gotten is to try to do something new every year during the holiday season and to avoid clinging too tightly to traditions.

Looking back over the decade, what albums do you think will endure?

All music interests me in some way and as a creative artist I find it hard to take the role of choosing between my contemporaries.

If you could have one wish that could come true for 2010, what would it be?

In Iceland it is considered bad luck to tell others your wishes, then they won´t come true...so I can't afford to jinx it!

Fanfarlo's Amos Memon on Father Christmas And Other Festive Thoughts

As The Alternate Side counts down the days to Christmas, we continue on our tireless (overly earnest) quest of asking (nudging) some of our favorite bands for their Yuletide and year-end impressions (and drunken reveries). Next up is Amos Memon, drummer and vocalist for London's orchestral popsters Fanfarlo, who muses upon Father Christmas, Deerhunter's Bradford Cox and dreams of America.

Fanfarlo, who released their debut album Reservoir this year, have gotten into the holiday spirit on their own website with a pretty nifty advent calendar. As you click on each day, counting down to Christmas, little gifts of screensavers, free tickets, live performances, poems and more are revealed, including the impromptu, back-of-the-van seasonal tune in the video below.

Amos, how do you enjoy spending the holidays?

Usually I try and catch up with my sisters, cook, gossip and hang out watching films together. It's not a festive meet-up, but I am aware that there's a plastic toy Father Christmas that makes an annual appearance in the house. Where it goes after Christmas, I do not know, but it comes back every year without fail.

What were some records or concerts in 2009 that you especially liked?

My favorite concert of 2009 was John Maus at The Rest Is Noise in London. It was a joyous occasion. He's a modern day poet, and emotionally croons or belts out his lyrics over his vintage keyboard riffs. Just imagine a hundred people singing: "That's it, I've had enough/It's time to get a job/I need money for bills and stuff/It's time to get a job In exchange for money/You will trade your very soul."

I'm also grateful to Bradford Cox for uploading so many musical treats to the Deerhunter blog. Worthy mention to Ilyas Ahmed's Goner album.

What is the most meaningful holiday gift you've ever received?

A few years ago, I received a postcard from a friend I hadn't seen for ages saying, "Hi!" It came out of the blue and meant a lot. Perfect timing.

What's the best lesson you learned from the last ten years? And what's the best advice you can offer anyone for the decade ahead?

What is this? Therapy? Best lessons/advice: Stay in school. There's plenty of time for everything. Keep doing what you're doing. Trust no one. If that works, say, "so far so good."

If you could have one wish that could come true for 2010, what would it be?

Well, the band hatched a plan to spend some downtime in the USA for half a year, purely to get inspired and start work on a second album. If that happened, that'd be sweet. Failing that, just to be kept busy would be enough. As if we aren't busy enough already?

La Roux's Elly Jackson On Joni Mitchell, Misogyny And Being 'Bulletproof'

La Roux, the retro-loving, but forward-looking duo of singer Elly Jackson and producer Ben Langmaid, released one of 2009's strongest debuts, snagging them a Mercury Prize nomination and early attention as one of the BBC's top Sound of 2009 picks.

Bolstered by feverish, darkly gleeful and immediately unforgettable singles like "Bulletproof", "Quicksand" and "In For The Kill", La Roux's self-titled album vaulted to Number 2 on the UK charts over the summer and also spawned a collection of Crayola-colored, 80s-reverent videos, casting Jackson as a fashionably androgynous goddess with a defiant, love-ravaged scowl.

La Roux mutates into a slightly different outfit whilst on the road; Langmaid prefers the anonymity of the studio and touring musicians like keyboardist Michael Norris and ex-I Was A Cub Scout drummer William Bowerman accompany Jackson for gigs, including this year's All Points West, Glastonbury and Lollapalooza festivals. La Roux has announced dates for their world Gold Tour in 2010 and the North American leg will kick off in Chicago on February 1, 2010, landing at New York's Webster Hall on February 11.

The Alternate Side caught up with the candid Jackson, whose fearless opinions, gravity-defying quiff of chestnut hair and youthful recalcitrance have thrust her into a maelstrom of often unwanted media attention in the UK, garnering as much attention as the 21-year-old singer's airy, urgent vocals and romantically frustrated lyrics. She told us about band's plans for a sophomore album, her views on the marketing of mainstream music, and the travails she faced this year as La Roux bounded up the British charts:

TAS: As a child what was your first memory of how a particular song or album affected you emotionally? Is there a song you might have latched onto in a deeply personal way that first inspired you to write?

‘Right Down the Line’ by Gerry Raffery is a really important song for me. We had it on cassette and my mum used to play it when we were driving round in her little [Citroën] 2CV. I remember feeling emotionally attached to that song the first time I heard it and it still affects me in the same way. It can make me cry in a second if I let it. My mum was also really into Joni Mitchell and Carole King so I was exposed to folk songwriting from early on. Joni is a natural poet and has been a strong influence on my songwriting.

TAS: As you look back on the last decade, what music do you think will stand the test of time and resonate for future generations?

This year I’ve been really impressed by the albums from White Lies and Fever Ray. I’m really looking forward to what they do next.

TAS: "Bulletproof" has become an anthem of 2009 - are you bulletproof yourself or have the slings and arrows of the media (or the music industry) affected you at all, given La Roux's rapid ascent? Do you wish you were tougher - or do you feel that you're the strongest you've ever been?

I had to learn a lot this year. Most artists have time as an unknown on the gig circuit and the chance to build up a fanbase before a label even takes any interest in them. We didn’t have that, it was just straight in to massive media scrutiny before we’d even played live. I love performing live but it wasn’t why I went in to the music industry. I just wanted to make music, so I didn’t feel all that comfortable on stage at the beginning of the year and journalists were writing about me seeming nervous and our set being unpolished – it was our first ever gig for god’s sake what do you expect? I also learnt the hard way that EVERYTHING you say in an interview will be twisted, taken out of context, and spat back out to make you sound like a massive bitch. I don’t smile a lot in photos and I am outspoken. I’m only saying what most people think, but people aren’t used to honesty, I think. I got bullied at school, which forced me to toughen up and now I’m having to learn what it feels like to be bullied on the internet and the press. You absolutely have to ignore it, basically, or you’ll go mad. If you ignore it then you can be bulletproof.

TAS: You've been outspoken about how American mainstream "ideal" has led to some mighty boring pop music, especially in terms of how women are promoted or developed as artists. What's the biggest problem with mainstream pop these days?

I just think there’s been too much of the same thing for far too long. The R&B market is flooded. The music industry has not kept pace with current trends, particularly online, and is suffering financially as a result. So no one wants to take a risk and labels just end up signing copycat acts because they know it will make money. Using the same songwriters, producers and choreographers has made the mainstream generic and therefore dull. The industry still retains a misogynist outlook and this means that young girls hoping to be singers or dancers know that they are only in with a chance if they look a certain way. At a certain point the decision to wear very little and get your boobs done becomes perceived as normal and the people doing it are people that kids look up to. It’s dangerous and the music industry has a lot to answer for. Sex sells, fine, it's a fact of life, but it can be done in an interesting way and is doesn't need to aimed at 10 year olds.

TAS: You return to the States this February - do you plan on working in any new material? Have you and Ben retreated to the studio at all to write new songs?

Hopefully Ben will be with us in February - he might join us in Australia in March too and we can work on some stuff then. We’re going to the South of France in January too. Our manager has a house there that he has very kindly lent us for a few weeks so we can just be on our own and start working on new tracks. We already have an idea of how it’s going to sound. I’m really excited.

TAS: When you're both writing, what is the catalyst that makes a song breathe for you? Is it in the lyrics? The melody? What you can do vocally with it?

Ben and I work so well together in the studio - we know each other backwards - and the entire album was a labour of love for both of us. He has a fantastic ear and knows exactly what melody’s going to work. The lyrics are largely about my experiences, but Ben will help me word something that I’m having trouble expressing and vice versa. He gets a vocal performance out of me that no one else could.

The evolution of this album was very emotional for you. Your lyrics are based in agonizing heartbreak. Do you see your sophomore album as being more positive ... or do you feel most creative when shattered?

It is unquestionably easier to write when you’re depressed! Everything is so raw. I’m actually really happy now and hopefully that will come across in the next album.

Benjamin Gibbard and Jay Farrar Say 'Hey' To Jack Kerouac

Death Cab For Cutie's Benjamin Gibbard and Son Volt's Jay Farrar seem opposites in many ways; Gibbard is effusive and chatty while Farrar is a man of few words, laconic and dry. But both men have forged a deep friendship thanks to their mutual admiration of the storied, yet self-destructive Beat Generation novelist Jack Kerouac who wrote one of the most influential books in American literarture, On The Road.

When Farrar began a journey of writing songs based on Kerouac's 1962 novel Big Sur, a companion piece to the documentary "One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur," Gibbard ended up joining him on the venture. They recorded the songs back in 2007, and this past fall, the duo finally released One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Music From Kerouac's Big Sur in tandem with the film's release. A brief tour followed last month and during their downtime in New York, both Farrar and Gibbard stopped by WFUV/The Alternate Side's Studio A to record an interview and live performance with our own Alisa Ali.

Sharp-eyed Death Cab For Cutie fans might recognize "Bixby Canyon Bridge" - the lead track from 2008's Narrow Stairs - as Gibbard's ode to the novelist and acknowledgment of the personal struggles that Kerouac, who died in 1969, encountered while writing Big Sur. The song was actually penned while Gibbard lived in the same Bixby Canyon cabin that Kerouac had used, a borrowed abode once owned by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti (another Gibbard favorite).

Kerouac's literary and personal mystique, both beguiling and cautionary, and the template of On The Road has long been a guide to the restless, hedonistic spirit of many musicians and artists. As Alisa discovered, that is especially true of Farrar and Gibbard:

Alisa Ali: How did this project come about?

Jay: I was approached by Jim Sampas to contribute some songs, working with lyrics and ideas and lines from the text of the novel Big Sur and Ben, a little later on, got asked as well.

AA: Ben, you got asked to the prom as well?

Ben: I was asked to the prom and I think a lot of other people were asked to the prom too, to dance with Jay. But I think I was the first one to show up. I was asked to contribute vocals to what was originally only going to be one or two songs maybe and the record, I don't even think it was being referred to as a record at that point, at least not to me. Jay sent me all the demos that he'd written around the prose of Big Sur and kind of talked about which songs may be appropriate. I went down to San Francisco and recorded a couple of them. We stayed in touch and became buddies. Eventually, the idea was that we'd just do the record together.

AA: You guys had never even met before that, had you?

Jay: No, we met the night before we went in to record. So it was a process of getting to know each other while we were working through the recording.

Ben: But it wasn't just recording, they were also filming for the documentary too. So we can look back on it now and laugh, but it was kind of an awkward situation to have. You know, a room like [Studio A], but people with cameras and a control room full of people/

Jay: At times a tragic comedy.

Ben: Right and not knowing Jay I wasn't sure this was all kind of kosher with him so I was kind of like, 'yeah, I'm just gonna roll with this. We'll talk afterwards and see how to proceed.'

AA: That seems like a daunting task, to come up with the music for such a revered work. Did you guys feel intimidated at all by this project?

Jay: When I was first approached, I was initially reluctant just based on the fact that Kerouac is kind of synonymous with jazz and I have no background in jazz. I can barely play it. But based on my familiarity with Kerouac's work and the fact that I really respect his methods and his message, I immersed myself in the book and came up with more songs than I planned on coming up with.

AA: What was your plan of attack?

Jay - I started out with the poem at the end of the novel, it's called ['Sea: Sounds of the Pacific Ocean at Big Sur']. It's lyrical in a sense and it's also sort of scatological. I made it through the poem, came up with several 'Sea'-based songs and then eventually got into the text of the novel itself and came up with more theme-based songs at that point, like 'California Zephyr' and 'Big Sur.'

AA: Jay, you're a big fan of Jack Kerouac. Ben, I'm assuming you are as well?

Ben - Yeah, I came across Kerouac at a pivotal age, I was 18 or 19 years old. On The Road was the first book I read. It just spoke to me and resonated with me and I think certainly set the stage for me to become a touring musician. I read that book and I knew how I wanted to live my life. But I think that as you kind of read through the Kerouac catalog, I think Big Surcertainly jumps out as a very confessional work. I'd like to think of it as a cautionary tale, of one potential outcome is of living your life this particular way - if you don't have some sort perspective of what you're doing, where your life is heading.

AA - Have you guys have some situations in which you've come close to some Big Sur encounters?

Ben: I've been to Big Sur!

Jay: Yeah, every musicians has those moments, probably, somewhere along the way but Ben has actually been to the cabin.

AA: Right, I heard you went to that same cabin when you were working [on the last Death Cab For Cutie] album.

Ben: Through this documentary, part of my demand, I guess, was that I really wanted to see this cabin. I had this vision in my mind of what it looked like for so long that I really wanted to see it and be in that physical space. When we went down to see the cabin [for] the first time and taking it all in, Jim Sampas, the producer of the film, mentioned that he [knew the people who owned the place and said] 'so if you want to rent it, I can just make a call for you.' So I was like, 'yeah, I'd love to' and I ended up spending a couple of weeks there. It is a very dark place in the sense that it's in a canyon and you don't see the sun until early afternoon ... there's not a lot of daylight there and I can understand when Jack went there, it was difficult for him in his state.

AA: How was it different from what you pictured in your mind?

Ben: It was a lot nicer than I thought it would be. The original cabin that Lawrence Ferlinghetti owned, he now owns another cabin which is far more rustic than the original one, in the same relative area. But it was maybe a 12' by 12' square and the people over the years had built it into a proper vacation home so [while] there wasn't internet, there were all the other amenities that a regular house would have. So it wasn't as rustic anymore as it once was.

AA: Did you get any inspiration to write any songs there?

Ben: Yeah, I worked on a bunch of stuff and a wrote some songs for the record and rewrote a lot of stuff. It's a very reflective place to be when you're on virtually the end of the earth, on the West Coast, looking out on the Pacific Oceans with no where else to go. It's the final frontier. So yeah, I got a lot of good work done there.

AA: Jay, had you read Big Sur before you started this project?

Jay: I did read it before I started the project and when I was a teenager I read On The Road when I was 14 or 15. Similar to the impact it had on Ben, it had a similar impact on me, giving you a template for your life. I think the fact I came across Big Sur later on - similar to the age that Kerouac was at when he was going through the experiences and writing about it - probably made the book resonate in a way that was more profound.

AA - Both of you must have reread the book when you were writing the music for this.

Ben: Jay wrote all the songs to the record, minus one, so I'm sure his copy of [Big Sur] is a lot more underlined and highlighted and dog-eared than mine because I didn't take anything from the book like Jay did.

Jay: I think true to the spirit of Kerouac, I actually put all my notes in a notebook. I didn't really mess with the book itself and of course I lost the notebook somewhere.

AA - You made notes about what [in the book] spoke to you?

Jay: Yes, the process was pretty much like that. I'd just pick a theme, like 'California Zephyr,' and build the rest of the song around it. Other times it was much more non-linear, stream-of-consciousness style, something I've always identified with, probably being influenced by Kerouac.

AA: Are there passages, lines or themes that jump out at you as a whole?

Jay: Overall, Jack, he's the guy who gave voice and meaning to the whole wanderlust that exists in all of us. The concept of going out and experiencing life. You find yourself on the road, the most intensified form of life experience.

AA: So you found yourself then?

Jay: I did.

AA: You guys were both in the film?

Ben: I talked and Jay played. It's a really good documentary. It's kind of a chapter of the Kerouac story that not a lot of people know about. On The Road was the first [book] I read so that becomes your favorite, but once you get past the first impression, I think that Big Sur is, in fact, my favorite book of his. So to hear so many people, luminaries like Tom Waits, Patti Smith and Lawrence Ferlinghetti talk about this book ... it's an honor to be included in that group of people. Lawrence Ferlinghetti is one of my all time favorites and I've yet to meet him ... Maybe someday hopefully.

AA: What would you ask Jack Kerouac if you had the chance to meet him?

Ben: I don't think it would be necessary to ask him any questions. I feel like he would just start talking and I would just listen. So I don't think I would have a specific question for him. Because if there's anything we know about Jack is that he was a very good talker and I think great writers tend to be good talkers.

Jay: He was also a good football player.

Ben: He was a scholarship football player, wasn't he?

Jay: Yeah, Columbia [University].

Ben: He played fantasy baseball as well ... so I'd probably just want to sit around with him and talk baseball and see where that went!

Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar have also announced more dates this January:

01-23 Portland, OR - Wonder Ballroom

01-24 Seattle, WA - The Showbox

01-27 Austin, TX - Antone's

01-29 Ann Arbor, MI - Hill Auditorium

01-30 Milwaukee, WI - Turner Hall

01-31 Minneapolis, MN - Varsity Theater

 

 

One eskimO's Kristian Leontiou On Holiday Albums and Manga Snoopy

London's whimsical pop band One eskimO will be playing an exclusive WFUV show tonight, November 24 at 8PM EST, from New York's City Winery. You can hear the concert broadcast live on 90.7 WFUV and WFUV.org. We caught up with One eskimO's singer and songwriter Kristian Leontiou via email as the band crisscrossed the country on tour, and learned a bit more about the distinctive animation that accompanies the band's debut, his Manga Snoopy vision and why you won't hear Leontiou warbling polka Christmas tunes like Bob Dylan.

WFUV/TAS: Given One eskimO's expressive foray into animation - as a child, what literature or picture books or films, animated or otherwise, made the deepest impression on you?

Kristian: I think one of the first animations I saw that really stuck with me was a Japanese Manga movie called 'Akira.' I think the animation was made around the time I was born, I loved the odd characters, the weird story lines, and the almost comic style over dramatic gore... plus I just loved the style of animation.

WFUV/TAS: You worked with the team behind the Gorillaz' animation - how did you hook up with them?

K: I started out working on character designs whilst working on the sound - sketches of things that felt worked well with the music. Whilst finishing up the album with the idea of an animation, along with some characters being developed, I met up with a friend of mine called Nathan Erasmus [of Gravy Media]. Together we managed to pull a few animators to independently work on our first animation for a song called 'Hometime.' Along with a couple of the animators calling themselves Smuggling Peanuts, we managed - after 7 months of 26 frames a second animating - to finish hometime. In 2008 we won the British Animation Award.

WFUV/TAS: What was the give and take in the process of the characters' creation?

K: I really wanted the animation to have a Snoopy-meets-Manga feel to it but with a slight blanket of effects that mirrors our sound of the album. We then started working with Passion Pictures - the team of animators behind [Damon Albarn's band] Gorillaz mid-2008.

WFUV/TAS: Do you draw and paint yourself?

K: I've always loved drawing - probably my favorite subject at school - but I'm no artist.

WFUV/TAS: Do you feel that One eskimO's destiny is with more 'graphic albums' in which the visual is an equal partner with the music? Any fear that the fascination with the visual aspect of the band could override the impact of what you do musically?

K: I wouldn't say the animation is an equal partner in the album, although it is a big part. We all come from making music; the lyrics, sound, musicality of the album was the first and main thing we were working on. The animation was because I felt we had worked so hard to create a filmic and magical sounding album, that I wanted to create a visual side that made sense to the music. Its been great fun working on the animation and I think I would definitely try to work on another visual album again.

WFUV/TAS: We're fast approaching the season where your Snowman character would feel most at home. Has One eskimO ever contemplated doing a holiday album?

K: I wouldn't do a holiday album - I don't think I can write songs to such a brief. For me, every song you're writing is dictated by the mood you're in, and I don't always feel in the holiday mood.

WFUV/TAS: One eskimO is on the brink of wrapping up a tour of the States; how does your enjoyment of performing live with this band differ from the days when you were a solo artist?

K: Being in a band is a totally different experience from being a solo artist. Its the first time in my life I've really felt that my decisions don't just affect me anymore. I think there's just different sort of pressures, but it now feels more like I'm part of something, rather than as a solo artist really does feel solo. I would definitely say its more fun as a band. It's also nicer working together on the music. We all have a great understanding of each other on stage and working on new material.

WFUV/TAS: Are you writing on the road and working new material into your set? Are there plans for a sophomore album ahead in 2010?

K: It would be nice to get some new songs and animations done for 2010 - I feel we're making a good start but for now it's really just trying to find the time.

Florence Welch On Being A "Secret Goth," The Little Mermaid, and Hangover Inspirations

Florence Welch, the quirky, garrulous redhead better known as Florence and The Machine, is constantly amused by her own awkwardness. She relishes her malapropisms during interviews - during her visit with Rita Houston at WFUV a few weeks ago, a slip of "freak off" when she meant to say "freak out" led to ten minutes of snorts and giggles. And Welch freely, almost generously, offers embarrassing details of her life to any prying journalist who asks, nattering away about her mother's romance with the next door neighbor or her own drunken mishaps.

Back in March 2008 when the comely Londoner played BBC 6Music's SXSW showcase, opening for MGMT and Wild Light at an Austin Tex-Mex eatery, Welch nonchalantly upstaged both bands not only with her bold, explosive voice, but her guileless, Mad Hatter-meets-Tinkerbell persona. Barefoot and dressed in a flapper-like white frock, she cheerfully jumped mid-set into the restaurant's ornamental pool and, still dripping wet, clambered back onstage to finish her show, not minding the labyrinth of electrical wires coiled threateningly at her feet.

But Florence Welch is also one of the most thrilling, fiercely individual singers to come tumbling out of the UK in the Noughties, standing out in the crowd of other gifted young Brits, like Elly Jackson of La Roux, Adele, Lily Allen, Laura Marling, Natasha Kahn of Bat for Lashes, Speech Debelle, the xx's Romy Madley Croft and more. Early murmurs about the boundless talent of the 23-year old Welch has built over the last two years into a deafening roar.

Fresh off of a 2009 Mercury Prize nomination for her critically lauded debut Lungs, which came out earlier this year, Welch not only sold out gigs in Europe and the UK, touring with fellow buzz band the xx, but she also created a small stampede at New York's Bowery Ballroom; not an easy task for an artist who kookily defies any niche assigned to her. Although compared to Kate Bush, Björk, Kate Nash or even Stevie Nicks, Welch seems attached to no past muse in particular, despite her engaging eccentricities, love of curious fashion (curtains, ponchos and Captain America costumes figure into it), and thundering vocals. Rather, she sticks her fingers in assorted pots of sonic color, from early, hyper-theatrical Peter Gabriel or David Bowie to the glittering divas of 70s soul, like Cheryl Lynn, Chaka Kahn or Candi Staton, the latter who Welch covers via Staton and The Source's "You Got The Love" (retitled "You've Got the Love" on Lungs). Friends like the equally brilliant and bonkers Lightspeed Champion, aka Dev Hynes, have also been a steady - or slightly unsteady - influence.

On the heels of Florence and The Machine's triumph at Bowery last month, Welch sat down with Houston for a session in Studio A where she and bandmate Bobby Ackyroyd played acoustic versions of "Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)," "Kiss With A Fist," "Cosmic Heart" and "You've Got The Love" and talked about Lungs, her obsession with Ariel from "The Little Mermaid," hangover inspirations, and the fetching lime green catsuit she inherited from Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT:

Rita Houston: You seem to really enjoy the live performance element. Is that the good part, when you get on stage?

Florence Welch: I've got such an idea of what the sounds should be, that I'm kind of such a perfectionist that I find it quite tough to listen to the album sometimes. You know, 'well if I'd gotten those choral vocals up a bit louder!' But when i perform it live it feels like I'm perfecting it every time. I can keep chopping and changing things and the album is constantly being readdressed. When I finally do get to bring the choir and strings section along on tour with me then I'll be like, well, 'now it sounds like how i wanted it to sound!'

R: The record is a really beautiful combination of your powerful voice, cool lyrics and crazy drums. Have you always been a fan of good rhythm tracks?

F: The first instrument I played in the band was drums. I used to sing and drum. Me and Bobby [Ackroyd] used to go out and I'd sit behind the kit and he'd play the guitar but there was a rumor that I couldn't sing and play in time (laughs) I don't know who came up with that one, that we should get a drummer. It was the enthusiasm that counted. I think with me the drums were always really important. When I first demoed, I didn't even have a kit so all the sounds - a lot of those sounds on 'Dog Days Are Over' - the drums were me banging my hands against the wall, or pens or all kinds of stuff. No actual drums. Well there was one drum that we stole from someone else's studio.

R: Tell us about the lyrics. Your love of language is quite clear. No tossed-away choruses. Where did you first get the love of language, words and writing?

Flo: I'm quite sort of analytical, I'm quite picky about what I'm saying and the words I'm using and the phrasing and I probably think about it far too much which is why it takes me ages to write songs ... It would probably be easier if I wrote the first thing that came to my head. But I get 'hot phrases' that come round in my head again and again that I'll build into songs.

R: So they live in your head for a while before they come out on paper?

Flo: I guess. I've got a notebook and I doodle stuff down, but a lot of it happens in studio like suddenly. Most of the songs, like 'Cosmic Love,' have not been written down at all, anywhere. It's just on record because it came in a sudden burst of hangover inspiration.

R: Many people don't find inspiration in hangovers! They stay in bed under their covers.

Flo: It's weird if you do try to get out of the bed. What was I saying yesterday? You're not thinking literally, you're thinking laterally. I don't even know if that makes sense. But it's like you're in a different frame of mind. If you can be bothered, sometimes, inspiration can come from a very strange place.

R: Your voice, when you were three years old running around the house and singing, did you always know that this big voice lived within?

F: Yeah, it was annoying for my family. I kind of always enjoyed it. I have a lot of strange childhood memories of singing in my bedroom or always singing in stairwells. Stairwells have really good acoustics. Running around school singing. My entire life has just been a chorus of 'shut up!' My family ... I was just so annoying. They weren't into it at all.

R: So you had to rebel against that? Or rise above it.

F: Yeah, well, now they're all, 'now you get paid to do it, but you don't have to do it in the house. We're not paying you' (laughs).

R: Do you remember the first songs you heard or the first ones you'd run around and sing?

F: Probably musicals. I really loved musicals. And Disney films. I just remember thinking, I could be Ariel [from The Little Mermaid]. You know when she does (Welch warbles, mermaid-like) and I just remember being in the bath with a red flannel on my head (laughs). Now I have red hair so it's nice ... One of my earliest music memories is hearing 'Would I Lie to You' by the Eurythmics on the car radio and being really young and just thinking, 'this is the best song I've ever heard.' I still think it's one of the best songs I've ever heard ... Annie Lennox is an amazing singer. She's got an amazing kind of soul voice. I like how she uses her voice as an instrument. She's not afraid to go all over the place.

R: Where were you when you wrote 'Kiss With A Fist?'

F: I think I was watching another band perform. I was quite young, about 17. And there was some underground cavern in Greenwich that I was in and I was watching another band play. I think I was monkeying around with a friend and he was strumming some kind of countryish rhythm. It was kind of swimming around in my head. But I remember the first time I sung it was when I got onstage at open mike after a Jamie T gig in London ages ago. And I got on stage and I was kind of used to improvising and that's the sort of thing that came into my head. I was kind of making it up as I went along, clapping and stamping my feet and it was actually two years later before I got anything together musically. I spent a lot of time working in a bar and then going to art college. But that song was always kicking around.

R: So you went to art school? Painting?

F: Well, I got into illustration but I used to make a lot of installations. I actually wanted to do a degree in illustration ... I feel as if the band is some kind of ongoing art project. I'll go back to college and just hand them the album and be like, 'I have been here and doing work, look, this is it.'

R: Can I have my degree please?

F: Well they want me to go back and [do a show] as a former pupil but I was hardly there when I was there and I took a year out and never came back. But can you give me an honorary degree for opening the show? I'll only do it if they gave me a degree.

R: You're from London - what's the live music scene in London? Is it cool? Happening? Varied?

F: Yeah, there is. Everyone wears a lot of black. All the bands in London, everyone seems to be wearing black (laughs).

R: You're so colorful!

F: I wear a lot of black. Secret goth. But there's a really exciting scene with bands like the xx, The Big Pink and people like La Roux.

R: Were you playing a lot around London?

F: Yeah, that's how it got started. I had no idea how the album was going to sound but I was playing an awful lot of live gigs, just me and Bobby. We played [acoustically] for months and then we got Chris [Lloyd Hayden] in to play drums when they decided I couldn't be the drummer. Still bitter about that. They gave me one drum on stage to placate me. And then after I went away to record the album, the sound of it was so big, [the band] had to become a six piece. If I wanted it the way I wanted it, it would be like 25, including choir and strings and two drummers. Makes things more complicated.

R: What are some generally impressions of traveling around the States? The difference between the UK radio scene and the American radio scene as you seen it so far?

F: London and Paris are both beautiful, but New York has a special sort of quality, I think. It's a sort of gutter beauty that I find very visually arresting. I'm quite greedy visually so I've seen a lot, but New York, I've got family here so it's been nice. I've got a sort of locality. I think in America the radio - because America is such a big country - it's really an important part of getting your music out there. In England, we're about the size of Texas, so we only have one radio station (laughs). UK FM. The whole of England (laughs). But we've had a lot of support, especially from the BBC and Radio 1. They've been amazing. And I don't know if my songs are not kind of typical, radio friendly hits so I get freaked off - that's a word? (laughs). I get really freaked out when my songs come on the radio, I have to turn it off.

R: Do you remember the first time you heard your song on the radio?

F: Yeah, it was ["Dog Days Are Over"] and I thought it sounded terrible. I turned it off. I thought, this is rubbish.

R: What's your strangest or favorite article of clothing to wear onstage?

F: I've had some really weird outfits. There was a lime green, slashed to the navel, catsuit that Andrew of MGMT gave me because someone gave it to him and I wore that with a curtain that I brought from home and that was pretty weird.

R: What's your favorite Beatles song?

F: I like 'Oh, Darling,' I think that's one of my favorites. It's such a soul song. The performance is amazing. Apparently, Paul McCartney sat on the wall outside Abbey Road [Studios] and screamed for ages so his voice would sound cracked and broken before he sung it.

R: If you had to choose another career, what would it be?

F: Fighter pilot! Zoologist. Magician's assistant. No, I wouldn't like that, it would be too scary. Maybe a fighter pilot-zoologist-magician, combine all three!

R: What's the best piece of advice you ever received?

F: Probably to drink tea if you have a hangover, not coffee. You think coffee is going to wake you up and keep you sharp, but it's just going to make you really jittery, so drink tea. And also, make sure all of your mistakes are your own mistakes, don't let other people make mistakes on your behalf, in your name.

 

TAS Exclusive Podcast: Alisa Ali Chats With Monsters of Folk's Jim James and M. Ward

 

Monsters of Folk - My Morning Jacket's Jim James, M. Ward and Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst and Mike Mogis - recently wrapped their first North American tour. The Alternate Side's own Alisa Ali had a chance to catch up with James and Ward during their recent stop in New York and discussed the bandmates' deep affection for one another, the mysteries of Conor Oberst's basement and the unique camaraderie (fueled by sparkling water) which shaped their debut album. Plus, a very special acoustic performance of three songs: MOF's "Temazcal" and "Good Way" and My Morning Jacket's "Golden."

You can listen to Alisa's exclusive interview here:

Alisa Ali with Jim James and M.Ward of Monsters of Folk

In addition, the band is asking fans for their creative input with a "make our video" contest for "Dear God." Sponsored by Apple/Quicktime and Death + Taxes Magazine, the winner of the contest will be winnowed down from a shortlist of finalists. Aside from having the winning video on the Monsters of Folk and Apple/Quicktime homepages, the lucky filmmaker will also take home $5K, a Gibson guitar signed by the band, and a copy of the new Final Cut Studio software. Five finalists will receive a signed vinyl album. For more details, visit here.

Monsters of Folk premiered their new video for "Say Please" on IFC on Tuesday night. The video, which finds the band leaving a World War I-era trench and performing at an ice-skating rink, is below.

Monsters of Folk wrap up their European tour on November 22 in Antwerp.

 

 

Califone's Tim Rutili On Superstitions, Filmmaking And Musicians With Dirty Hair

Though he's often asked about his former band Red Red Meat - especially given that band's occasional reunions - for the past dozen years Tim Rutili has fronted the far more experimental Califone. Earlier this month, the quartet released what might be its most accomplished and critically acclaimed album to date, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers on Dead Oceans.

Like the band's last album, 2006's Roots & Crowns, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers finds Rutili, Joe Adamik, Jim Becker and Ben Massarella adhering more to structured songcraft than the sonorous, cacophonous or more pastoral soundscapes that characterized early releases. From the tentatively upbeat, dirty strum of "Polish Girls," to the rough-hewn, hand-clapped jig of "Ape-Like," All My Friends of Funeral Singers unfolds like a series of knotty escapades. Songs restlessly pace ("Better Angels"), skitter noisily from Appalachian hillsides ("Salt") or take leisurely Sunday promenades ("Alice Marble Gray"), tugged along by the drift of Rutili's husky, thoughtful narrative.

Yet it's the feature film of the same title that partners All My Friends Are Funeral Singers' release that has been the greatest leap forward for the Chicago-based songwriter. It might be Califone's ninth album, but it's Rutili's directorial debut for a feature film. Driven by his fascination with superstitions and ghostly apparitions - not simply paranormal but psychological - Rutili began writing a script about a female psychic who lives alone in the woods and deals with some haunted events.

It's not the first time Rutili has transformed a thematic passion into an album; dreams drove 2004's Heron King Blues while the instrumental Deceleration series was meant to accompany silent movies. Rediscovering Genesis P-Orridge and Psychic TV's "The Orchids" inspired - or at least fueled - the writing of Roots and Crowns.

The film of All My Friends Are Funeral Singers stars Angela Bettis ("Girl, Interrupted," "Carrie") and the men of Califone (Rutili plays a "ghost musician") and was shot in an old, ramshackle house in Indiana last spring in a mere eleven days. Rutili recently had a New York premiere of an early cut of the film at 92Y in Tribeca during CMJ week and The Alternate Side also had a chance to catch up with him via email:

TAS: Given your fondness and fascination with superstitions - what are a few you have before going onstage or have observed other musicians practicing?

I always say a little prayer to myself before going onstage. Also, if soundcheck goes too well it's probably not going to be a great show. There have been exceptions to this. Sometimes I will play badly in soundcheck just to ensure the success of the show.

The one thing i've noticed in quite a few musicians is washing your hair before a show is bad luck. Maybe washing your hair anytime is bad luck.

TAS: why did you feel so strongly that All My Friends Are Funeral Singers was not only meant to be experienced musically, but needed to be a film?

The album and the film script came together at the same time and many of the themes and characters found their way into both the songs and the film. It felt right to do it this way. The film and album stand alone as separate pieces but they do compliment each other and each inspired and fed into the other. Also, I've been wanting to make a film and try working with something more narrative for a while now and this seemed like a great opportunity. The stars were aligned and things came together.

TAS: What is the status of the movie? I read you're going the festival circuit with it in 2010?

Right now the edit of the movie is designed for performances with the band playing the live soundtrack. This winter we'll be finishing the stand-alone version of the movie and submitting it to festivals. We've already had some festivals contact us about it. We're looking forward to playing it for people who don't necessarily know the band and will view it as a film.

TAS: Was it difficult to sit down and commit to writing a screenplay?

The main challenge of writing was just the fact that I have never really done it before. Whenever I finished a draft of the script, I showed it to friends who were writers and filmmakers and got a lot of help and direction. I tend to be a more abstract writer so this was a good experience and totally a new thing for me.

TAS: Any obstacles you encountered during the shoot?

There were so many people and we didn't have much time so we had to be organized and everyone had to be totally prepared to hammer through it. We were lucky in this too because we had a great and experienced crew.

When [Califone] make a record, we just camp out and throw ideas around and try to make ourselves laugh. We move slowly sometimes. We didn't have that luxury with the film shoot.

TAS: You seem to be refreshed artistically since leaving Red Red Meat. Do you think that the dissolution of that band, in the long run, enabled you to take chances you wouldn't normally take? What is it about Califone that invigorates you the most?

Yes, when we stopped Red Red Meat we were all pretty burned out on the format of working as a rock band. The freedom of approaching things without those guidelines brought some new life and tons of ideas into Califone.

I love working with Ben and Joe and Jim. I think that's my favorite thing about Califone now. Those guys can always surprise and shock me.

TAS: You've gotten some gorgeous reviews for the new album. When you step back and look at it objectively, what are you most proud of?

I think song for song this is our best record. I don't really have a favorite. I'm just glad people are enjoying it. Next record will probably be a lot more experimental. The last two records were more about balance. The next one will probably be more about pure demonic chaos.

TAS: Looking back over 2009, which albums or films made the most impact on you?

I worked like crazy on the film and album for most of 2009. I didn't really get into new music too much. Watched a lot of old movies and listened to old music like The Kinks and Rolling Stones quite a bit.

TAS: What are you most looking forward to in 2010?

I'm ready for just about anything. Got any suggestions?

 

Pages