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TAS Features

Bonnaroo 2011 Blog: Matthew and the Atlas

Anglo-American folk-rockers Matthew and the Atlas have been touring with Mumford & Sons this spring and the quintet, who've been tagged with frequent comparisons to Bon Iver, made their first appearance at the Bonnaroo Festival on Saturday night at the On Tap Lounge.

In addition to a few more Mumford & Sons shows this week and a gig co-headlining with The Head and The Heart at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival on June 17, Matthew and the Atlas have lined up two New York performances at Mercury Lounge on June 22 and Brooklyn's The Rock Shop on June 24. A slew of UK and European festival dates follow, including the Lamer Tree Festival and Green Man Festival.

Bobbing between scrappy ballads and foot-stomping dust-ups, the band is comprised of singer and guitarist Matt Hergarty, vocalist/pianist Lindsay West, Dave Millar on accordion, drummer Thomas Field and banjo player Harrison Cargill. They have just two EPs under their belt thus far, but both releases, including the new Kingdom of Your Own, are on Communion Records, run by Mumford & Sons' Ben Lovett (and also home to the terrific Michael Kiwanuka and Treetop Flyers). You can get a free download of the Matthew and the Atlas track "Deadwood" which is unreleased, but makes frequent appearances in the band's sets by signing on to their mailing list.

We thought that the Matthew and the Atlas were having a pretty remarkable June, between the Mumford & Sons tour and their Bonnaroo debut, and we asked Lindsay West if she'd document the band's Manchester, Tennessee adventures:

 

After an early start and a long drive, we arrived at the festival on golf buggies, so hot the leather seat singed me so I had to jump up and sit down again more carefully. The dust from the dried out earth drifted across the fields and into hair, eyes and mouths, and long-timers wore scarves and masks to guard against it.

We had a few hours of interviews lined up, which meant we wouldn’t have too much time to enjoy the music that was going on around us-but there were some bands we really wanted to catch. In between interviews, we slipped out into the crowd to hear a few songs from Alison Krauss, whose soft bluegrass fiddle riffs and melodies were perfect for the warmth and light that flooded the fields.

After we’d finished our run of interviews, we spent some time soaking up the sweet shade of some leafy trees near by. Then we hopped on the golf buggies again, this time to record a live session with some people from a Nashville radio station, who wanted us to play within sight of the main stage. This was a bit difficult, as there was a really loud hip-hop act playing, but we did our best and I think they got some good footage.

When we got back, we still had a couple of hours before our set, so our tour manager, Zac, got us to the side of the stage to see some of the Black Keys show. It was awesome: the guitar and drums thundered out into the crowd, who stretched right out into the distance and were going crazy for the rockin duo. We had to tear ourselves away to get to our own stage; otherwise I would have happily stayed there all night.

At 10:40pm, it was time for us to play some music. Right before we went on stage, I got to catch a glimpse of one of my heroes, Neil Young, playing with Buffalo Springfield, on the main stage behind us. As we played some of our quieter songs, we could hear the unbridled guitar solos of Young and Stills, and it was difficult not to nod along to “Rockin' in the Free World”. The crowd stayed with us through our set, though, despite the background noise, and we really enjoyed the experience.

- Lindsay West
Matthew and the Atlas


 

Matthew and the Atlas US Tour Dates:

June 12 Fox Theater, Atlanta GA*
June 14 Harrah’s Council Bluffs Council Bluffs, IA*
June 15-16 Fillmore Auditorium Denver, CO* 
June 17 Palm Theater Telluride, CO
June 22 Mercury Lounge New York, NY
June 23 World Café Live Philadelphia, PA
June 24 The Rock Shop Brooklyn, NY
June 25 Great Scott Allston, MA

(* remaining dates with Mumford & Sons)

TAS Interview: Danger Mouse And Daniele Luppi

Producer and composer Danger Mouse and his frequent collaborator, Italian composer Daniele Luppi, embarked on a remarkable five-year journey to record a dream project called Rome, an album that reflects their deep admiration for the classic scores of '60s and '70s Italian cinema, like the dark splendor of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western oeuvres

Grammy winner Danger Mouse's mighty résumé includes work with Broken Bells, Gorillaz, Gnarls Barkley and Sparklehorse (Dark Night of the Soul) and a recent stint with U2.  Luppi, who has contributed string arrangements and more for many of Danger Mouse's projects, has done his own extensive film (Under The Tuscan Sun), television ("Sex and The City") and solo work. During brief lulls in their demanding schedules, the Los Angeles-based pair would head to Italy to record, recruiting many of the original musicians who played on Morricone's scores for films like Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars or The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.They drove across Italy to borrow vintage instruments and even utilized Forum Studios in Rome, where Morricone and so many other acclaimed film composers worked. After much consideration about which singers might fit the moody, atmospheric songs they were writing, the duo reached out to Jack White, who composed his own lyrics, and Norah Jones.

Danger Mouse (who prefers his moniker to his given name, Brian Burton) and Luppi released their deeply personal album, Rome, this spring. The Alternate Side caught up with the two friends earlier this month at a midtown studio to discuss the evolution of Rome, the wooing of White and Jones and a possible tourYou can also catch the full interview on Words and Music in Studio A tomorrow, May 26, at 9 p.m. on TAS' sister station, 90.7 WFUV. For a taste of Rome, you can listen to the album stream on YouTube and also check out the interactive Google Chrome film, "3 Dreams of Black," undertaken by director and Rome collaborator Chris Milk:

Kara Manning: Would you define Rome as an homage or an interpolation of the great music of many of the great composers of the Italian spaghetti westerns, like Ennio Morricone. A tribute? An homage?

Danger Mouse: Well, it’s not quite that. Daniele and I both have that as a very big inspiration to our music. I started out wanting to make film soundtracks because of hearing music like this and I think Daniele was the same way, but when we went to make this album it wasn’t about a tribute or an homage or anything like that; we wanted to make a more modern, current album that had this as a really great backdrop to it. That would be different because I hadn’t heard anyone do that before and so that element of it would be almost the scenery or the location if it was a film or something like that. It wasn’t so much about that. We knew we wanted to make songs that were modern songs with modern singers, but this would be a big part of it. So obviously, we’re not saying that we weren’t influenced by [Morricone] or anything like that, but it would be wrong to think that this was us trying to replicate it. It was that at all. I love the Beatles and Kraftwerk, they’re in a lot of music I do and you can hear it, but it’s not homage records to either one of them when those records get done that way. This one is obviously a lot more similar since we used a lot of the same players and sounds, but that was necessary to get this very unique sounding albums.

Kara: How did you reach out to these musicians? Many of them are in their 70s and 80s now and are legendary, like Alessandro Alessandroni. Daniele, had you known them for your previous album An Italian Story?

Daniele: I met a few of them for An Italian Story, but expanded the network, so to speak, for Rome. Rome had to be much more epic, more dramatic, darker, had definitely different things in it from An Italian Story. I was also a different writer so maybe some of the players definitely are the same guys, but what we wanted was to reach out to very particular sounds like the one of the Cantori Moderni di Alessandro Alessandroni It was really fundamental to us to recreate that and it was a fun experience. Once you connect with one of these players and get the trust of one of them, they’re happy to introduce you to the others players and friends. They’ve been working together for the last 50 years.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHDrWfndze0]

Kara: Rome was literally not build in a day, it took you five years to do this. There was a somewhat comedic road trip to gather the vintage instruments. Were you driving around the Tuscan countryside looking for a celeste? When did you decide to do this epic project together?

Daniele: We wanted to do an epic-sounding record, but I don’t think we were really signing up for a epic search.

Kara: You didn’t expect the five years ….

Daniele: No! It wasn’t as if we had particular fun or joy doing that. It just happened to be that it was hard to find that kind of vintage instrument. In Rome there’s no such shop that does that so we had to do it through personal connections instead. It was more tricky than the players, actually. The players were kind of easy to embark on this project. The instruments were not so easy?

Kara: Weren’t you going about with bottles of wine, handing them out in exchange for borrowing instruments?

Danger Mouse: Well, the thing is, you can’t rent those things and if try to pay them, they’ll get insulted. So Daniele knows more of the tradition on these kind of things and it wasn’t payment, but a thank you. When we got off the plane and were ready to start doing this, I didn’t know that’s what we were going to have to do. I just felt like, I guess we’re going to the studio tomorrow, let’s see what happens. And then Daniele explained that we needed to make more calls, get more instruments. I was like, “Well, let’s just rent them, we’ve got a little bit of a budget.” This was five years ago and it didn’t matter, that wasn’t the point. You couldn’t do that. There was no rental shop.

So it took a little while. But the thing that took the longest amount of time, going back year after year. We put a lot into it, but a lot of these soundtracks in the past - when they had everything there - they could have knocked the whole thing out in a couple of days. This took years because it wasn’t that kind of record. That’s not what we were trying to do. It had to develop in the way it did. We didn’t know what singers we’d use. I certainly didn’t know anyone at the time, in 2005 or 2006, who could jump right in and do this. And the songs weren’t yet, the lyrics weren’t written. But you had to start somewhere; if you keep saying we’ll wait for the right time or we’re good enough, it will take forever.

Kara: You’ve worked together before; Daniele you’ve done string arrangements for Danger Mouse’s projects like Broken Bells, Gnarls Barkley and Dark Night of the Soul. You share this love of Morricone, Piero Umiliani and Bruno Nicolai, but when did you think that this would be a fantastic thing to embark on?

Danger Mouse: It was early on. I’d been working on Gnarls Barkley before The Grey Album even, with Cee-Lo, so we had music already together and when The Grey Album happened, then it was going to be able to see the light of day. That’s when I met Daniele. I hadn’t started on Gorillaz yet or anything. When we started to meet up and trade old soundtracks and films, it wasn’t very business-like. And once Daniele started with Gnarls, to help with the arrangements and instruments and things like that, it really took it somewhere else. I’d had this idea myself about a certain kind of album I would have loved to have made. I started out the same way as Daniele, making soundtrack-type music. I was doing it in my dorm-room before I got into anything that was hip-hop or DJ based, but that’s how I really started. This kind of music. Really dramatic, drawn-out instrumental music. I was drawn to the darker side of things and it’s always been there. With Daniele, I finally was seeing someone who really related to that too and I could learn something in that particular way; not someone I could make pop hits with or do different kinds of records with. There was a specific thing that I thought would be amazing to do with Daniele, musically, with this album.

Kara: It seems such a very personal adventure for the two of you too. You paid for this out of pocket, took the time you needed to take. You were seeking the right vocalists who would understand the mood you were driving for as well.

Danger Mouse: Yeah, but we were also looking for someone who would be able to help us take this outside of just a couple of guys who really love this music and are willing to put a bunch of time, money and effort into it. That’s all well and fine, but we needed people who had something special about them who could take this beyond that. Because then that’s hard; that’s a lot more difficult for us to make music we love, that we think is good and pat each other on the back. We can do that, not saying that easy, but that wasn’t the challenge either. Flying to Rome constantly, coming up with the money, trying to write new parts for it and keeping up with the whole thing … but how does this connect? How is this something that’s unique so if you don’t know this music and you hear a song, will you want to know about it? That’s where Jack and Norah come into that equation. I can’t get on the mic and do that. Daniele can’t do that - no offense, man - but I don’t think you can do this.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PXpFFljioc]

Kara: Jack White was the first person you were interested in, correct?

Danger Mouse: Of course, like everything with this project, it took forever. The first time I played him the music I never thought, “I’ll get Jack White” because I didn’t think that his voice and what I knew of his music was something that would compliment this music. We took a while and took another trip over to Rome and did the choir stuff, once we [had that I thought] that maybe it shouldn’t be someone who compliments the music. Maybe it should be someone who stands out on it and the music would be strong enough to hold the weight of someone doing something different. Jack definitely knows music and knows his stuff; he’s not going to come sing something over this music that ignores what’s there.

Kara: It seemed to challenge him as well. He accesses things that he’s not accessed in other vocal performances.

Danger Mouse: He’s never written this way. I was really excited. Daniele called me and said, “I heard [this song] on the radio and this guy could be really good.” It was The White Stripes. And I’m like, “Yeah, actually I have. I’ve been emailing Jack!” Daniele must have thought I was really connected after he’d just mentioned the guy on the radio. I was celebrating when Jack said, yes, he’d give it a shot. I thought, “Yeah, cause you’re going to nail it.” But then it took a while. He even said he wasn’t sure he could do it because he’d never done it this way before. He’s always written all of his stuff from the beginning. He’d never taken music that someone else had done and written on top of it before. That’s the way I work all of the time, but he’d never done that. So I started to think, “Oh no. Maybe this isn’t going to work.” He sent the first few demos to us and they were odd. They really were. There was some great melodic stuff on it, but it was definitely different. But there was something about it and this is what it needed, something really different to make it a modern, unique thing. Once he actually cut the final vocal for it, it was different from what we’d originally gotten. (laughs). I think he sent us something on a dictaphone with the music playing in the background and him just singing.

Kara: Very raw.

Danger Mouse: Yeah, he just wanted to get the idea across more like, I don’t know if this is working, maybe it is, maybe it’s not kind of thing. I’ll have to ask Jack if that was what he was thinking. We didn’t know and we knew how much time he’d spent on this. He knew that this was a big thing for us so he wanted to get it right too. It was. Once he cut the final vocals, it was amazing and something very different. You would have never put these pieces together, but it worked somehow.

Kara: Once you had Jack’s vocals set, then it became an easier process to reach out to Norah Jones as the female counterpart?

Danger Mouse: While Jack was writing his parts, once I knew what songs he was writing, that tipped it off. We’d given him the whole album and I’d had some vocal ideas for the songs myself, but I didn’t want to limit him at all and give him every chance we could to find some songs with inspiration. After he [chose] the three songs, then I went on and followed through with some of the other ones I had ideas for vocally. I started writing, but then I thought I shouldn’t finish them until I see what he does, just for lyrical content. Sure enough, when he was finished, it was right up the same alley I was going down. I was writing from a female point of view and he was writing from a male thing and there’s a melancholy nature to the whole album. There’s a love story, a pained darkness to the whole thing. You’re not going to write a song about balloons on this album. Once he was finished, I could finish up mine, so that’s when it was a little more clear what kind of vocalist would work. Norah was brought up. We’d talked about her before and Jack was instrumental on that too; he really wanted Norah as well. I didn’t let Jack hear the bad scratch vocals that I had for the songs, but I let Daniele hear them and he could see it.

Daniele: I loved them!

Danger Mouse: It gave me some confidence. I didn’t play those [scratch vocals] for her but I did play her the music. I didn’t play her what the part would be until she got [to the studio]. I didn’t want to scare her off. So I [played her] some of the music, what Jack did, here’s the songs I’m thinking about. Just before she was going in to sing, that’s when I dropped it on her. And it turned out really good. Once she started to sing the first lines of the first song, which was “Season’s Trees,” it was instant. It was like, “Whoa, this works. This whole project for the last four years is going to work.”

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0I0PiWiDqQ]

Kara: Ennio Morricone is still alive. Daniele, did either you or Danger Mouse consider reaching out to him or discussing this project? Do you know if he’s heard it at all?

Daniele: Well, I think he’s very busy still. What I know about him, I don’t think he’s interested in listening to other people’s work.

Danger Mouse: No (laughs).

Daniele: Unless you’re Bach! He’s into serious music as in concert music.

Danger Mouse: If you read any interviews of his out there you’d understand why we’re being aloof about it. It’s probably not something he’d tear the package open on to pop it in and listen. It’s much more about him if you read his interviews.

Kara: There was a Quietus one in which he was quite nice and open-hearted.

Danger Mouse: Oh, I’m not saying he’s not nice!

Kara: He just won’t open your record.

Danger Mouse: I don’t think he’s be that interested, that’s all. But I don’t know the guy. That’s the thing.

Kara: Have you and Daniele talked about your next project together? And isn’t there a guy named Chris Milk following you around doing a documentary?

Danger Mouse: No, not a documentary. He’s doing the visual elements to the album that have yet to come out. There’s a visual element to the album that’s still a mystery right now but it won’t be shortly.

Kara: Is it akin to what PJ Harvey did with Let England Shake?

Danger Mouse: No, not that. It’s definitely going to be very unique. It’s a very visual album and Chris is an amazing director. He’s going to be interpreting a lot of things going on with the music. It will be an unique experience on the visual side of things.

Kara: Have you been asked to do a soundtrack or score together by anyone yet?

Daniele: Not yet.

Danger Mouse: Not yet as a team, but I don’t think people are going to wait five years to get a soundtrack from us, but who knows.

Daniele: A very patient director.

Kara: Danger Mouse, where do you keep your Grammy [for Producer of the Year] in your house?

Danger Mouse: I don’t keep those kind of things. I send them to my parents. I think they enjoy that kind of stuff and sure, why wouldn’t they? I’m not into awards stuff because you can lose, and I’m not into that. I try not to pay too much attention. You end up losing more than winning stuff like that.

Kara: Are you going to try to tour this album on the road?

Daniele: We’re talking about it.

Danger Mouse: That’s a whole other thing, but everybody wants to do it and it’s definitely something we’d like to see happen. It wouldn’t be immediate, but we’re going to see what we can do.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQIOxYfL_tU]

Kara: I'm especially fond of the song "Roman Blue" from the album. How did you envision that?

Danger Mouse: That’s one where Daniele did the chord structure of the song and I lived with it, fell in love with it and came up with the top line melody for it. It could have gone twenty different ways. It could have had a singer, all of these different things, and we found a way to put all of these melodies together as one thing, for one song. But that could have been four songs I think. There were so many things in there. But that genuinely was one where I heard something of Daniele’s and was really inspired by it. That’s a good [example] of what the two of us did together.

 

TAS Interview: PJ Harvey

It would be erroneous to call PJ Harvey's brilliant new album, Let England Shake, a mere collection of anti-war, protest songs. Undoubtedly one of the best albums of Polly Harvey's 20-year career, Let England Shake is more a clear-eyed, poetic impression of war, national bellicosity and its aftermath. Every track provokes a strong emotional response, like gazing upon Picasso's Guernica, without hammering home an overt political message.

During her recent tour of the States, which included an acclaimed set at the Coachella Festival and two sold-out shows at Terminal 5, Harvey and bandmates John Parish, Mick Harvey and Jean-Marc Butty interpreted new songs, like "The Last Living Rose" and "Bitter Branches," with a wise and wistful air while infusing older material, like "C'mon Billy" and "The Devil," with a dash of defiance and wile.

Harvey embarks on a European tour on May 25 in Lisbon, with appearances at Barcelona's fast-approaching Primavera Sound Festival (May 28), Roskilde, the Werchter Festival, Electric Picnic, Bestival and many more festivals planned this summer.

Harvey's songs are quietly powerful and enigmatic, as is Harvey herself, and she recently chatted with The Alternate Side, in a cinder-blocked green room in the basement of Terminal 5, about her tireless research on battle-weary soldiers and civilians, the evolution of this album and her affection for the autoharp:

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8urGMpYqX2c&feature=relmfu]

Kara Manning: We were just talking about the conflict photographer Tim Hetherington who was killed in Libya [on April 20]. He was someone that you were actually corresponding with around the time of the release of “Restrepo.”

Polly Jean Harvey: Yes, I’d read about this film, “Restrepo,” and it sounded so interesting. I went to see it and was also given, for my birthday, the book that accompanied the film with all of the photographs that went with that film. After seeing it, I wanted to send both Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington an album because I was moved by their work. So I did and we had a correspondence. I didn’t meet him, but he had sent back a note and I’d invited him to the shows as well and he said that he couldn’t come, he was working, but said thanks. So I was really shocked to hear the news. Very sad.

Kara: After your last album, you wanted to take the time to figure out what you wanted to do next. The ideas behind this new album had been simmering for a while. Was there a particular catalyst, a poem read or a person who you met, that gave you the impetus to say, yes, now is the time to work on the poetry that you'd wanted to write?

Polly: I do remember a time, actually. I’ve always been very politically interested from a very young age and I hadn’t felt that was something I could begin to bring into my songwriting because I hadn’t felt I’d reached the stage, that I had the skill with language enough, yet, to do that. I think you have to be very careful getting the balance right if you’re going to talk about grand themes like war, death and nationhood. You need to use the right language or don’t do it at all. I hadn’t reached the point as a writer where I felt confident enough to do that or do it well until the last couple of years. I think just being a bit older and having some more experience of writing [helped]. Writing is something that I practice at every day to get better at and I thought that maybe I could try to do this now, coupled with realizing how passionately moved I am when I see any footage to do with contemporary warfare and how it affects me so much. I wondered if it was now the time I could put words around that and later, put music with that. Is there a way I can somehow put song to this feelings?

Kara: It was interesting to read that you were debating what was a poem, what a short story, what is a song. Did you read some of the great war poets like Siegfried Sassoon or, say, Harold Pinter’s Nobel prize speech? There’s also Jez Butterworth’s play, Jerusalem, which also touches on similar ideas of England as the pastoral home ... and also the brutality in Britain's history.

Polly: Yes, all of the above that you cited. Harold Pinter’s work, particularly his essays and his poetry, I looked at a lot because I think he’s someone who gets that balance right, that I was talking about. Likewise Jez Butterworth who is a wonderful English playwright and I saw Jerusalem at the Royal Court. I did a lot of research, I read a lot of history books, but mostly I was looking for the eyewitness accounts, the man on the ground. What did they have to say, the people who were there? Any of these contemporary war situations, whether civilian or soldier on either side - that’s what I was interested in. The people who are being affected. Not so much the political speak at the top of the food chain, but the people who are affected by it on the ground. What did they see? What did they hear? What did it feel like?

Kara: Did you talk to any soldiers or make the effort to correspond with anyone? Did you emotionally put yourself on the frontlines by touching base with these people?

Polly: I tried to get as much first-hand information as I could, both through soldiers and people who worked out there. I know of a wonderful photographer, Seamus Murphy, who is working with me on this record. He spent his whole life in war zones, documenting that on film, so he was a wonderful person to speak to as well. Other than that, I was watching anything I could see where people were describing things, what it was like.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-piHXFcd8E&feature=relmfu]

Kara: In your family, was there anyone who had gone to war? Everyone of a certain age in the UK remembers World War II, which was a far different experience in Britain as compared to the States. Is that something that you also mined, talking to family members?

Polly: Yes, in the past members of my family on both my mother’s and father’s side have fought in the war, in the first and second World Wars. Unfortunately, they’re dead and I wasn’t able to speak to them, but that was in our family history too.

Kara: April 25 marked an anniversary of the beginning of the Gallipoli campaign [in World War I] in 1915 from which you drew at least three of the songs on the album. What was it about that particular campaign, that terrible misjudgement and catastrophe of a military maneuver, that became a focal point for you on this record?

Polly: Like you said, it was so badly managed and resulted in such catastrophic loss of life. I was overwhelmed reading about it. Astounded. At the same time, the language that was used to describe these battles - and I was reading a lot of first-hand accounts again - when these men were still alive. There’d been many interviews with people who had fought there, that’s what I was reading. It just struck a chord with me and I realized, through all of my research for this record, that the language that the people actively involved in the situation used doesn’t change, no matter if it’s 100 years ago, 200 years ago, 3000 years ago. You go back and look at some of the ancient writings that exist throughout the world about wars and it’s the same; the human beings’ articulation of events is the same. That really fascinated me.

Kara: In the song “On Battleship Hill” there a beautiful refrain about the smell of thyme in the air, over this Gallipoli peninsula where many thousands of soldiers died. Did you actually go to Turkey to that site?

Polly: I didn’t. It’s something I still want to do. But I drew a lot from other writings about that place and from reading history books. Even tourist guide books. I could get quite a good picture of it, look at pictures and feel what it was like.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rryc8Kjzx6M]

Kara: You recently played Coachella - which I stayed up very late to watch on the webstream - and thing that intrigued me was the voice that you needed to find to narrate the testimonial on this record because it is about war. To do so with a dire tone of voice would remove people from what you wanted to do. Can you explain what you chose? It’s a voice of great wonder, but not a child’s voice.

Polly: After I’d finished writing the words I realized that anything I now added to them had to not be adding any more weight. The words had a lot of heaviness and weight to them and I needed to lift them up and transport them off the page into the ear in as smooth a way as I could. I began singing the words before I touched an instrument. I’d sing them and I knew I needed the voice to be an unbiased narrator, purely delivering the story as anyone would read a story, but try to read it with no particular inflection. In the way that a foreign correspondent would try and bring back a story in an unbiased fashion. That’s the way that this voice needed to be and I had to experiment for a long time. To have sung the words in a heavy or too-impassioned voice would have immediately tipped the songs into the wrong area; they might have ended up sounding too dogmatic or telling people how to think or feel and I didn’t want to do that.

Kara: Was there any song that might have been more difficult than the others to find how you wanted to enter into it?

Polly: I think the very first song that I approached with music, the first lyric, was “Let England Shake” and I can remember looking for days to try to find the voice with which to sing it and I could not find it. I got to the point where I thought that I might have to ask someone else to sing this record for me; I’d just write it and I’d get another singer in. Just by not giving up and experimenting, I finally found it. As soon as I found the voice I knew, that’s it. That’s the voice this record needs.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2Qlb0qFLFE]

Kara: Is it fair to say the Let England Shake is a beautiful, but brutal album?

Polly: Yes, it is brutal. It uses very brutal language, but I think if you’re an artist who is interested in talking about the world we live in today, then that’s the language you have to use because it’s a brutal world.

Kara: What was it about the autoharp that became the instrument of choice for this record?

Polly: It was an instrument I began to play around the time of White Chalk and when that record came out I was just playing solo shows on my own and I was trying to make a solo set as interesting as possible. So I’d move around on a lot of different instruments - piano, guitar, autoharp, keyboards, drums - singing all the time. This time, I was playing “Grow Grow Grow” and “Down By The Water” on the autoharp and I just really enjoyed playing the instrument and knew that, whatever came next, I’d like to experiment on that a bit more. It just lent itself very well because, as I was saying earlier about not wanting to weight the words down with heavy music or heavy singing, it’s a beautiful, light, melodic instrument. It just sings and harmonics sing off it. It’s full of melody. It’s like a whole orchestra, just at your fingertips. A huge breadth of sound, but very delicate. Very beautiful.

Kara: You also created an interesting persona for your stage performances. It seems as if you assume a character with every album that feels right onstage. For this, your hair is wreathed in feathers and you wear a white, flowing gown. There’s a benevolence to you, an aspect of being a "mother earth" figure for this run of shows. Do you create specific characters?

Polly: I’ve always been very interested in the visual aspect of what I do. I’m a visual artist myself and always have been so it’s very natural for me to be very concerned with presentation, whether it’s artwork or onstage. The way the stage is designed for this show is what I felt was right for the songs. It’s always my starting point and the way that myself and the band look is based upon what I felt was right for the music. I never feel that I have to adopt a character. It’s more the way I choose to present the music and that’s always based on what is right for the song. Going back to what we were talking about, finding a voice for the record, again I think the way I present myself onstage and position myself is again tied int with being the ambivalent narrator. That’s the way I chose to put forward the visuals for this record.

Kara: I was intrigued to read that you’d originally considered Berlin to be the place that you wanted to record the album. Was that tied in at all with World War I or was that a coincidence, to consider Germany as a place to begin? And you ended up in Dorset, correct?

Polly: Yes, it wasn’t particularly tied in with the history of Berlin, to want to make this record there. It was more that I find that city very stimulating and intriguing and when you are in an act of creation, it’s good to feel excited by the environment you’re in. As it turned out, I couldn’t find a recording space that felt right and when I returned to England, purely coincidentally, a man who runs the local church center now, approached me and said if I wanted to record there I’d be very welcome. That’s how it happened.

Kara: You were in the studio with John Parish, who you’ve worked with so many years, Mick Harvey and Jean-Marc Butty and producer Flood. When you all found yourself converged in the studio, what was most important for you as a group to do in bringing these songs to life?

Polly: I knew I wanted it to have a very energetic, uplifting, communal feel so we set about recording everything live. We set up our stations where we were going to be. Everyone could interchange whatever instrument they wanted so there was a keyboard station, a drum station, guitars. It happened very quickly. We wouldn’t play any song more than two or three times. The boys in the band, I’d given them demos so they knew roughly how the song went. The demos were as far as I’d got with the songs which would be the main chords, the melodies, the vocals and the harmonies, but there were no drum patterns, no bass patterns. So we’d just run with it and see where it would take us. There was an excitement about that; we were all very inspired because it was exciting and new. We didn’t know what each other was going to do. A wonderful feeling of creativity permeated the whole session.

Kara: Given even the darkness of what you were singing about, there’s great joy and hope in this record. A fascinating juxtaposition.

Polly: I knew that I wanted to bring in beauty, hope and love and I think all of these aspects are there as well, particularly through the music. But a lot of these songs are songs for many people to sing and I looked right back through the whole tradition of how music began, as storytelling really, and as songs in the fields. Folk music was to strengthen and unify people, whether it was through an uprising and rebellion or whether is was through hard work, bringing in crops. But it was to strengthen each other and that’s still what music is about today.

Kara: There’s a great deal of reggae and dub that sifts into some of these songs, like “Written On The Forehead.” Given Thatcher England and there were many musicians, like Gang of Four and The Clash, outspoken about politics, who delved into reggae and dub. Was there a specific reason why you were drawn to Niney The Observer’s track “Blood and Fire” which you sampled?

Polly: The lyrics were written over a period of a couple of years; I hesitate to say lyrics because they all started out as short pieces of prose or poems, really. Not song lyrics. A lot of the words that I wrote didn’t make it onto this record, but will remain as prose. Whilst I was working on these words, very often there would be a piece of music that I would be listening to that would have more resonance with me for some reason and I wasn’t sure why. Sometimes a line would seem to be on a loop in my head, as with Niney The Observer’s “Blood and Fire.” I was writing the words that went to “Written On The Forehead” around that and I could just feel it. I could feel how it could marry very well with this writing that I was doing at the time. That’s the way it happened with all of the other pieces of music that I used on the album as well.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saksKorZEoc]

Kara: Was there anything you discarded or left off the album?

Polly: I did originally use a sample from The Four Lads’ “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” but that’s the only one that I did take off in the end because it was holding the song back too much. But you can hear the ghost of it in there [on “Let England Shake”], through the way that we’re playing.

Kara: Didn’t you play that in front of [former Prime Minister] Gordon Brown on a chat show in the UK?

Polly: Yes, I was on “The Andrew Marr Show” which is one of the best political, Sunday morning programs in England and I happened to be invited on that show at the same time that Gordon Brown was on there. It was the week before the election so it was his last week [in office]. So yes, I performed “Let England Shake.”

Kara: Did he say anything to you?

Polly: He didn’t no (laughs).

Kara: Raised eyebrow, anything?

Polly: No! I couldn’t spot anything, really (laughs).

Kara: You’ve also been doing illustrations for Francis Ford Coppola’s magazine, Zoetrope, that accompany the songs. Are you going to be doing anything with those illustrations?

Polly: Yes, I paint and draw all the time and I plan, within the next few years, to start putting out regularly small collections of my paintings, poetry and writing. Pieces that never become songs but are my extraneous work outside of my main work which is songwriting.

Kara: I’ve read that your parents have an extraordinary record collection. What songs are you listening to right now? What’s on your iPod?

Polly: Neil Young.

Kara: Why Neil Young?

Polly: I don’t know. Throughout my life, and I’m sure other people are the same, periods of your life where you need one artist more than anything else. Right now I only listen to Neil Young.

Kara: We always do a guest DJ pick - is there any Neil Young track you’d like to hear right now?

Polly: Oh God, I’ve got it playing in my head (she hums it). Is it “Sugar Mountain?” Yes, that’s the one! It’s in my head right now.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsACIBI5NPk]

 

TAS Interview: Anna Calvi

The decidedly dramatic Anna Calvi launches her long-overdue North American tour later this month, arriving at New York's Bowery Ballroom on May 25. Back in March, Calvi was forced to cancel her New York debut and a string of UK dates after injuring her arm and hand.

The British chanteuse's bluesy, near-operatic vocals, bruising guitar and lusty flair for flamenco has made her a fast-rising star in the UK, with a flurry of comparisons (too easy and likely unfair) to PJ Harvey; coincidentally, Harvey's longtime drummer, Rob Ellis, produced Calvi's self-titled debut, out now on Domino Records.

The Alternate Side caught up with the intriguing Calvi via email earlier this week and asked her about her inspirations, her unique vision and her very impressive advocate, Brian Eno:

TAS: You're unafraid to be emotional, bold and extremely theatrical on your debut album and in your live shows. Has theatre been one of your many influences?

Anna Calvi: Theatre hasn’t been a major influence. Expressing myself through music is such a natural thing for me to do, so it enables me to get in touch with a very strong and fearless part of my personality. I don’t feel I become a different person on stage, it is in fact quite the contrary; I feel my at my most honest when I am performing music.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMtz1d0ruAk]

TAS: You exude great confidence and artistic grace (and nerve) on stage - was that natural for you?  
Anna:
My confidence has naturally grown as my ability as a musician has grown, over many years of playing music. My speaking voice is very different from my singing voice!

TAS: The recording of this album was extremely emotional - you worked with producer Rob Ellis - what was most difficult about the three year stretch of its evolution? What did you learn about the process ... and yourself as a songwriter and/or vocalist? Most memorable day in the studio?

Anna: It took about yeo years to write and record the album. I love being in the studio, because it allows you to be very imaginative. It was hard sometimes because I’m a perfectionist. I had many memorable days in the studio. Recording “Morning Light” was a great experience - we tracked it completely live, which was a lot of fun.

TAS: There's something so bold and cinematic about the sweep of songs like "Desire" or "Love Won't Be Leaving."  

Anna: I see music very visually. I really want to take the listener into another world for the space of a song. It is important that the music tells the story of the song as much as the lyrics do. I get inspired by beautifully shot films. This is why I’m such a fan of Wong Kar Wai.

TAS: Brian Eno has championed you. Has he given you any advice?

Anna: I’m very happy when I hear that someone is a fan of what I do. Obviously getting support from Brian Eno is a very big deal for me, as he is such an amazing artist. Brian hasn’t given me advice as such, but he has given me a wealth of encouragement which I really treasure.

[video:[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgeaXLcXVAc]]

TAS: Are you cautious of the excitement over your debut album, especially given your upcoming tour of the States where you're not as well known yet? 

Anna: I don’t feel cautious. Not everyone will like what I do, but that’s fine. Music is subjective. 

TAS: You follow in a long line of ferocious, emotive singers, like Edith Piaf,  Beth Gibbons, Polly Harvey and Nick Cave. Is there a particular album or singer who inspired a seismic shift in how you listened to music?

Anna: Maria Callas has had a huge affect on me, as a singer. I love how committed she is to every single note she sings. There is so much passion in her voice. When I first heard her sing Verdi’s Otello it really changed how I approached singing. I realized what it meant to really engage emotionally as a singer.

TAS: Who are some of your great violin and guitar influences? As an instrumentalist, when did you begin exploring become a vocalist?

Anna: My favorite guitarists are Hendrix and Django Reinhardt. I used to really enjoy listening to the violinist Stéphane Grappelli when I was younger. I started singing about 5 years ago. I always wanted to sing but I didn’t feel I had the right personality for it, as I’m quite shy. I decided to get over my fear, and practiced for hours and hours every day, listening to singers I loved like Nina Simone and Edith Piaf, until finally I found my voice.

TAS: You have a passion for flamenco. What it is about the style that suits you?

Anna: The passion, drama and romance of flamenco music is expressed so perfectly in the outfits flamenco dancers wear. I find this very inspiring. I dress as a male flamenco dancer when I perform.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lo267BTLnZk]

TAS: "Blackout" feels very different from the bulk of the album - it almost swings to a straight pop track (as produced by Phil Spector). What was the evolution of that song?

Anna: I just wanted to tell the story of the song through the music. I see the song as a film, where every overdub the listener hears is giving clues to what is happening in the story.

TAS: What would a perfect day be like for you? Where would you go, how would you begin the day ... and what would you do till night?

Anna: I would hang out with some friends, play some music, maybe see a film.

TAS: As far as your album, what song do you feel currently mirrors who you are - or hope to be - in an intriguing way as an artist and why?

Anna: I don’t like to pick out one particular song from the album, because I don’t want to influence the listener’s interpretation of my music. The whole album is an expression of who I am as an artist.

Anna Calvi's North American Tour

5/23 Philadelphia, PA Johnny Brenda’s
5/25 New York, NY Bowery Ballroom
5/27 Toronto, ON El Mocambo
5/28 Chicago, IL Schuba’s Tavern
5/29 Minneapolis, MN Triple Rock Social Club
6/1 Seattle, WA The Crocodile
6/2 Vancouver, BC Biltmore Cabaret
6/5 San Francisco, CA Café Du Nord
6/7 Los Angeles, CA Troubadour

 

 

TAS Interview: Elbow

There's no shortage of good bands playing Coachella this weekend, but one of the best - and a quintet on the brink of a long-overdue Stateside breakthrough - is Manchester's emotionally eloquent rockers, Elbow. Their fifth album, build a rocket boys!, is easily one of the most exhilarating, strongest releases of this still-young year, harboring songs like the tender meditation "Lippy Kids" and the big-hearted anthem "Open Arms."

Elbow plays Coachella's Mojave Stage tonight, April 16, at 7 p.m. PDT and you can follow the band's West Coat progress via chatty tweets from members keyboardist/producer Craig Potter, bassist Pete Turner, drummer Richard Jupp and the man with the extraordinary voice, frontman and lyricist Guy Garvey (guitarist Mark Potter seems to be Twitter evasive). The band has lined up a rigorous tour of European and UK festival stops this spring and summer, including Glastonbury, Rock Werchter, Reading and Leeds, although a North American tour might take shape by late summer.

The band has faced its share of challenges, bouncing to several record labels while steadfastly surviving as a hard-working, critically-acclaimed band, never really aspiring to the bold, mainstream success of contemporaries like Coldplay, who they eventually toured with in 2009, or Radiohead, one of their great influences. The Manchester lads seemed content to pursue their own quiet, artful trajectory. However, their fortunes shifted dramatically when Elbow, surprising themselves most of all, won the prestigious 2008 Mercury Music Prize for their fourth album, The Seldom Seen Kid. That album, dedicated to their late friend, musician Brian Glancy, won them a staggering array of new opportunities and high-profile recognition, including a Brit Award, the Ivor Novello Award and a stirring 2009 concert of their work at the Manchester International Festival with the Hallé Orchestra and Youth Choir, the latter which appears on build a rocket boys!

Earlier this week The Alternate Side caught up with Guy and Pete at an East Village hotel, on their way to Los Angeles, to not only talk about the new album, but the profound brotherhood that has bound these five friends for over twenty years:

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pYjCYNh-Kw]

TAS: When you were recording your last album, The Seldom Seen Kid, it was an unpredictable time. It was hard to get that album recorded and, as a band, you were going through a bit of a crisis. But it turned in such a positive way ….

Guy Garvey: In a way that life never does. Really quite poetic. Like a “Rocky” movie or something. It was against all of the odds, it really felt like that.

Pete Turner: We’ve been lucky. We’ve been through all these record labels and things, but we’ve not been unlucky. Even before Kid went off, we were a band making a living for ten years. It’s not a tragic story. A lot of bands that I know have not had the luck that we’ve had. We got away with a lot and a lot of good things have happened.

TAS: Guy, there was this moment, when the band was announced as the winner of the 2008 Mercury Prize, that you literally sat and held your head in your hands for a good, long period. Do you have any recollection of what you thought in that moment?

Guy: Well, my first thought, if I’m completely honest, is, “Oh God, I’ve got to make a speech.” That’s why I had my head in my hands. I’d been drinking as well! The big coup for us, on a day like the Mercurys, we’d learned long ago that you deal with what is actually going to happen, so we didn’t plan to win. Quite the opposite. We had an opportunity to play a song from the album on the program and they wanted the hit, they wanted “One Day Like This.” And we were absolutely insistent that we play “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver.” We even went as far as saying, “Or we don’t play at all.” We were so happy that we made that decision because in a room like that, in front of your peers, your heroes like Radiohead and Robert Plant,  to play an album track that’s quite an epic number and really requires all of the band to put their heart and soul into it. As much as I love “One Day Like This,” it’s a simple, positive song and we really wanted the epic one there.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_5aypcf_Yw]

TAS: And “Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver” is so resonant to what the band has experienced.

Guy: Sure, it’s to have to do with ambition. And ambition sometimes leaves you lonely. It’s about the sacrifices of success. So yeah, we were really happy that we got to play and that we were in that room and played that song. We were proud of ourselves. As a band, we were like, “That’s the right decision.” We were patting each other on the back. I didn’t expect for a second that we’d win. It was perfect. I got to draw the nation’s attention to our friend Bryan Glancy, who had died, which was another wonderful thing. I think I said, “This song is dedicated to Brian Glancy who was one of the greatest men who ever lived.” His mother, Mandy, got the award, so she’s the only Jewish grandmother in the world to have the Mercury trophy.

TAS: So as we slip to Elbow’s new album, build a rocket boys!,  following the success of your fourth album, the band met up on the Isle of Mull to discuss what your next move might be. Was it an active discussion?

Guy: Sure. Just to make sure we were on the same page. We really didn’t have to ask each other, but just to double check, because the band has families and the families are the priority so it would be completely understandable if one of them said, “You know what guys? I want to move to America.” Or, “It’s the end of the run for me, so let’s make a lot of money.” I could understand if the boys did that and it would crucitify me, it would be a really hard decision to make, but they’re my brothers first and I would do whatever was best for their families. So I would make a huge, deliberately commercial record with no twist, if that’s what they wanted. But nobody wanted that. There’s a couple of singles on there. There’s one very deliberate one.

TAS: “Neat Little Rows?”

Guy: Yeah, and “Open Arms” as well. Which although unusual, is still very commercial. (laughs) My girlfriend reminded me, I was sat at the foot of my bed one day and she came in and I had the dictophone in my hand, I was in my shorts, I’d just woken up and I was saying, “Write a song to replace ‘My Way.’ I f**king hate ‘My Way’ and I f**king hate Sinatra.” And she said, “Which is song is that?” And it was “Open Arms.”

You see, “My Way” gets played at the end of every wedding I’ve ever been to and the whole tone and message of the song is so selfish and arrogant. He’s basically saying, “F**k all you.” It’s so counter-positive even though it gets played at the end of every wedding. So I was like, what’s the sentiment? And I ended up writing about a homecoming in St. Bernadette's Social Centre in Whitefield which is where all my crew get christened and married. It worked, that idea.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7vYha-56c0]

TAS: It will be really exciting to hear that song done in a huge festival setting, like Coachella this weekend, where everyone knows the words as well. You've already experienced that a bit in arenas in the UK this spring?

Guy: The album’s not been out that long, it’s out [in the States this week] and it’s only been out a few weeks back home, so more and more people per show knew that song. But even those who didn’t know it, by the end, they had their arms in the air. So it does work as feeling of [communal] events, which was the whole point of it.

TAS: So does “Dear Friends” for that matter.

Guy: We haven’t played that one live yet. We didn’t want to overwhelm everyone with the new material. A lot of people on the arena tour are coming to see us for the first time on the back of The Seldom Seen Kid. So it’s as important that we play a lot of things off there. So maybe seven of the eleven songs are in the live set.

TAS: Pete, what do you think it is about the group that has enabled you to remain together for twenty years?

Pete: We’re just really good mates. We find each other really funny. It got to me, and I wouldn’t want to name names, but I’m going to! (laughs). When I first heard Is This It, The Strokes’ album, and I saw them and I was like, "Wicked, this is cool as f**k." But it’s really sad when you hear that they don’t really get on anymore and they’re writing albums under pressure.

I’m so happy that we’re friends. I don’t even question it; the band is there and it’s part of my life, like your family are. You don’t choose them, it’s just there and that’s what it is with all of us. It’s sad when this great, wicked gang, like The Stone Roses, fall apart. I know [Elbow] better than I know my family. I can’t question it to much, it’s there in my life.

TAS: You've grown to a sort of "manhood" with this album, but thematically, it looks back to boyhood and youth. The ache of growing up. When you were mulling over the record in Mull, what was important to maintain?

Pete: It wasn’t about making an effort to do anything, really. We all were absolutely on the same page and the album felt inevitable, obvious, that we were in it for the long haul. We couldn’t have gone anywhere else, it was the only place we could have gone, this album. Very straighforward, very easy, we didn’t want to cash in on it all. It was kind of aimed, I think, people who bought Asleep in the Back. All the new people who came along, it’s like: “This is what we do.”

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ca5SDlcBKSc&feature=related]

TAS: Guy, “Jesus is a Rochdale Girl” was the catalyst of this album.  Did you write that on your own, in Mull, or with the entire band?

Guy: We were in Mull and I had most of the lyrics to “Jesus is a Rochdale Girl.” Bizarrely, actually, the title, that line, was the only one that wasn’t written at that point. It was a very easy bit of poetry to write because it was fragmented images from a very specific time in my youth. I say youth, I was probably 22, and it was an important time for me because it was when I realized that I wanted to concentrate on writing. Previously, I’d been in the band for four or five years at this point and it was about showing off, having fun with my friends. But then I realized that I had something valuable here. If I really worked at the words, then we could strike different chords in people than just making them dance, which is what we’d been aiming at previously.

For the first time, sitting and working at a desk became a matter of pride and I started feeling responsibility to my work. Mainly because I saw the effort that the boys were beginning to put in to their writing and they charged me with the lyric writing. It was ultimately so satisfying but the responsibility is to do their music justice. That’s the first thing. And they’re fierce editors. That’s when it began, in this house. I had a real bad foot odor problem, I was extremely malnourished, there was no heating in the house, black mold all over the kitchen, and I was snappy. I was angry, but beginning to come out of that angry phase of youth. And this angel fell in love with me. I couldn’t believe it. One of the most beautiful women I’d ever seen. She used to drive over from her father’s restaurant and bring me food and she’d bring me comfort and she’d listen to my records and she’d asked me why I liked the records and I got to talk about music. Her favorite thing was to listen to me talk about music. And I guess that coincided with me losing my faith as well.

TAS: Were you raised a Catholic?

Guy: Yes, my mum is, what you call, a charismatic Christian. There was no brimstone; my mum still lives her life in a very Christian way. She’s a big positive right in my life as well, but at that time in my life we weren’t friends. She threw me out when I was 17 for getting thrown out of college for the third time. I was getting thrown out because I was getting stoned and playing songs with Mark Potter in the common room rather attending my lectures! (laughs)

TAS: They really are your brothers. It’s quite amazing to know a group of guys that long.

Guy: Twenty years, yeah.

TAS: The lovely woman for whom “Jesus was a Rochdale Girl” was written, you’re still friendly with her?

Guy: Yes, I danced at her wedding, she lives in Spain with her husband and she just had a son; I’ve not met him yet. She phoned me about three or four weeks ago to tell me how touched she was by the song and that she remembered every minute of it. She’s lovely.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcQCPTWTEds]

TAS: Guy, you recently moved back to Prestwich, around the area you grew up, in Manchester. Since the city of your childhood is at the heart of the album, did the songs come swiftly once you had that focus?

Guy: On Mull, “Jesus Was a Rochdale Girl” was underway, the lads were writing this music downstairs, which was so minimal, so sparse, so positive. Had something to do with the kick drum and the bass working closely together, reminded me of a heartbeat, and the urgency to Mark’s guitar on “Jesus” reminded me of repressed excitement. Controlling excitement. Which is how I felt at the time of those lyrics; every day was exciting. I didn’t any money, but I had no way of expectation either. It was so easy to put the two together and I realized - I’ve been trying to coin a phrase, but I don’t have the wording quite right: "A good song doesn’t run singing." I’m trying to get it right, I’ve not quite got there! The fact that I could very simply say the lyrics.

The way Craig played the electric piano is just so creative. There’s no effects there; the staggered effect is just so beautiful. That reminded me of excitement just gushing over the sides, the way that works. He doesn’t resolve that riff until the very end of the song and I love that. That whole thing came together so beautifully and stayed exactly as it was, aside from the other line that I added.

I’d actually gotten into four or five pages into the first journal for this album and it says in big letters, “Go back!” And it was because I knew I’d be sat here, talking to a journalist and they’d be saying, “Life’s pretty good. What have you got to complain about? All these miserable songs.” You get that trite sort of thing. A good album needs to leave you somewhere that it didn’t find you and that means that there has to be a journey, there has to be light and shade and a balance of feelings.

The one thing all the band agreed on where songs were concerned that we like offering comfort with music. I realized that I had all this drama in my past and not only did I have it, I had it pretty well notated. So I started writing down different periods of my life and I have to say, I’ve always measured time in who my girlfriend was because I look back at it and it has the name of a different person for that four-year period or that six-year period. I just thought, go back. Write about the past. Nobody wants to hear about my new shoes or the house that I just bought or how happy and balanced my life is at the moment.

TAS: Women have shaped you profoundly as a songwriter, it seems.

Guy: Yes, well, it’s something that boys don’t usually admit to, is it? I remember a great article in the Guardian about hip-hop guys and their mothers. It was a brilliant article and it quotes the most heinous, sexist lyrics and then there’s a picture of [the rapper] with his mother, talking about him. Somebody that I used to go out with, she knew a writer, Luke Bainbridge, who did an article about me, and she said that I’d always “hero-worshipped” women. And I couldn’t put it better, if I’m honest. I’ve got five older sisters who are all huge characters. My mum is one of four girls and I’ve always had girl “friends.”

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yt80e5q3Hs&feature=fvst]

TAS: There’s a real emotional quality to the entire album and I’m curious about how much Craig Potter worked with all of you to guide you and capture that?

Guy: Craig had a really clear idea of what he wanted to produce and how he wanted to produce us. We’ve always shied away from digital effects and he decided not to use them at all. I think we ended up using them on “Dear Friends,” just for the pay-off, but in some ways we always felt that song was leading to the next record, somehow. It’s good that the soundscape changes right at the end of the record like that.

All of the echo, all the reverb is all natural, it’s all in the room where we recorded it. Craig is amazingly patient, a real stickler for perfection and what he’s learnt this record is not to let that into his production. Not to let that perfectionism over-polish the songs. The Seldom Seen Kid was this huge, ornate, bit of engineering almost; it is a really complex record that runs around thematically. We wanted build a rocket boys! to feel more like a full diary, sketchbook or photo album, a bit bashed at the edges. For that reason he used a lot more original performances.

“The Night Will Always Win,” for instance, is the first time we played it and the first vocal take. We sort of wanted to exercise the fact that we could do that. The other governing aspect of Craig’s personality is that he’s got an incredibly strong moral compass and a real sense of decency which means he’s often let down by people since they don’t have his standards, generally. What it also means, and the way I think it filters into his production ethics and writing, is that he won’t do anything less than his absolute best for the listener. I think he was concerned, in producing The Seldom Seen Kid, that he didn’t do as much piano work as he would have liked; his style of playing didn’t move on any. There was a conscious effort for him, this time, to be sat at the keyboard, the piano keyboard as often as he was sat at the computer keyboard. I think he shone every time he touched his instruments, honestly; he just astonishes me.

Also, what’s happened more recently, is Mark [Potter]'s playing, in preparing for live [shows]. He’s always been great, but his playing recently is just amazing me. He’s throwing in extra stuff so fluently live that the next album is almost certainly going to be a guitar-heavy record. That’s the main reason we’re still together after twenty years is that they keep astonishing and surprising me. When I think I know how they play, they’ll pull something out of f**king nowhere.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7vJSB8uZFM&feature=related]

TAS: Pete, does Guy usually wander around with ideas and fragments and then the narrative takes hold?

Pete: Bits and pieces. Guy’s in a difficult situation. The guys just write the music together but then Guy has to come up with the words on top of that. The thing that makes us special, a different band from other bands, are the lyrics. The lyrics are fifty percent of what make us the band that we are. It’s so important. You can have a band that’s musically fantastic, but if the lyrics are, “Baby, baby,” it’s just bollocks.

TAS: You've never seemed to be a band that was seeking out BBC Radio 1 play and The Brits, preferring to focus on the craftsmanship of the music you were making.

Pete: In France, we’ve never taken off the way we have in other places. And I was thinking, we don’t want to conquer the world. We don’t want to be the biggest band in the world. We want to play gigs for people who are into our music. We’re fans of music. I’m the biggest fan, at the moment, of Beach House or Radiohead. But we’re not out to be the biggest band. We’re out to make albums that will outlive us and be cool pieces of art. A body of work. That’s the thing.

TAS Interview: Noah and the Whale

The trajectory of Noah and the Whale's career has been carefully crafted over three albums, from the deceptively sunny insouciance of their 2008 debut, Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down, to the personal heartbreak (and rebound) of 2009's The First Days of Spring, to the brighter, more observant spirit of their new album, Last Night On Earth.

Noah and the Whale kick off their European tour tomorrow, April 6, in Utrecht, Netherlands. They'll wend their way back to the States this May, playing New York's Irving Plaza on June 18 before returning to the UK to play a series of festivals, including T in the Park, Reading and Leeds. Their full tour schedule is here.

Noah and the Whale have visited The Alternate Side for a past session (another is upcoming this spring), but TAS briefly caught up with singer and songwriter Charlie Fink and violinist Tom Hobden over email last week to chat about the band's subtle and smart new album, the eclectic influences that guided them and what SXSW really means to young bands:

TAS: The chaos of SXSW seems to be the antithesis of what Noah and the Whale might enjoy. How do all of you survive the crowds, queues, crazy schedules and BBQ? What other bands did you see down there and who made a real impression on you?

Tom Hobden: How did we survive? Locking ourselves away in our hotel rooms I guess. Only kidding.....partly. A constant flow of suntan lotion, pulled pork and H20 helped get us by in the somewhat stagnant carpools of downtown Austin.

We managed to see our friends King Charles and The Vaccines play and I managed to check out a couple of new bands, including Young Buffalo, which was great. It must be said though that Charlie did actually spend most of his time in his room but he had to edit the video for our next single (much to his relief I'm sure)

TAS: Charlie, The First Days of Spring was such a deeply personal and reflective album; there seems a real change of mood directing Last Night On Earth - deliberate? You're rather intimately wrestled with the state of the heart in your lyrics, but here, you've written in the third person which is a big change - why that decision?

Charlie Fink: Primarily it was about testing myself and trying to add another dimension to my songwriting. Like Tom Waits says, when you write songs in character you try not to eclipse yourself and on the contrary, you find a whole family living inside you.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbGUEelmzxo]

TAS: Given the shift to more narrative songs on this album - not to mention a new lineup - what was the collaborative energy between all of you during the gestation and recording of this album?  

Tom: We hired a huge converted synagogue in Bethnal Green. We have a thing about beginning working on albums on 2nd January and it was no different this time around. Charlie had penned a few tunes and we all chipped in our ideas from the off. Those initial demos had a real Springsteen feel to them and subsequently morphed quite some way before we were done with them. This was the first record that our guitarist and keyboard player Fred [Abbott] had contributed to. His addition aside, we approached the writing in a very similar way to previous albums: Charlie would come in with a new idea and some rough lyrics and we would all help flesh out that skeleton. We officially started recording Last Night On Earth in Santa Monica, LA that August. Now, apart from the obvious sun, sea, general good times and a change from the surroundings in which we had made music before, recording in LA grants you access to a wealth of brilliant musicians who are literally one call away.

TAS: How in the world did you connect with The Waters Sisters?

Tom: Jason Lader, who co-produced the record, had previously worked with Jenny Lewis and had managed to procure the likes of the legendary Waters Sisters, whose accolades include backing vocals on tracks such as Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Starting Something," for her album. Big league stuff. We were tackling the last track on Last Night On Earth, called "Old Joy," and wanted some angelic, pure, but powerful harmonies to complete it. He told us that The Waters were nothing but the best! So we made that call, and we got them! Once Maxine W. had taken a sip of her signature coffee, fortified with no fewer than six brown sugars, we gathered around the piano and it all came together within minutes.

TAS: Given the third person narratives in this album, what might have influenced you via either film, literature or art, that you know impacted you as you wrote and recorded this album? 

Charlie: Lyrically the biggest influences were Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Charles Bukowski and Frank O'Hara. Sonically the biggest influences were Brian Eno, Arthur Russell and Prince. I also wanted to capture the mood of some Hopper paintings, 'Just Me Before We Met' was in a small way inspired by Morning Sun. Also the film "Breaking Away" helped inform "Give It All Back" and David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" was an inspiration for the characters in "Wild Thing."

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojdkFN2-GmQ]

TAS: What excites you most about others' discovery of Last Night On Earth, now that it's out? What song particularly makes you happy or proud and what are you most looking forward to playing live? Was there a track that was a particular challenge to nail down in the studio?

Tom: I am excited about peoples' reactions to the record not only because it is another progression in the music we make but also because of the overriding theme of hope and excitement which we'd like people to draw upon, the limitless possibility of the nighttime and the romance which that evokes. It's hard to single out a favourite song. I guess I'm most proud of the diversity of the record; the bombast of the opener "Life is Life" yet the awkward, almost voyeuristic intimacy of "The Line." The challenge, and I think ultimately the record's success, is in making that transition a coherent one.

Charlie always writes exactly the right amount of songs for an album, never more, never less, and this "tailor-made" approach helps remind people of the strength of albums. Now that doesn't necessarily mean that we didn't have to wrestle some tracks into shape! "Give It All Back" certainly took some elbow grease. It wasn't until we had the breakthrough of trying the main hook on marimba that we maneouvered it into submission. After all that it's probably one of my favourites to play live too!

TAS: Wandering around Austin last month, what was the overwhelming impression that you've had of SXSW? Do you think there's too much pressure on young bands to break "big" quickly rather than hone their craft and find their voice? 

Tom: I guess my initial reaction to strolling the streets of Austin during SXSW was how much the festival had grown since we were there four or so years ago. Although it was really very recently ago, I remembered my impressions of the city back then with a great degree of nostalgia; I was only 18, it was our first time playing in America and it was a dream just playing at that festival, let alone being fortunate enough to get signed while there. And that I guess is the sharp reminder that struck me as I wandered about this time around.

Back then, I hadn't had the TIME to do anything else at SXSW than rush around like a headless chicken, being whisked frantically from one venue to the next. SXSW can become nothing less than a rat-race for those first-time bands. For those few days Austin teems with music industry guys and it would be foolish to ignore the fact that a primary function that the festival serves is to allow those young bands to find that break.

Nevertheless, I think it's a shame that you can forget all about the Austin crowds themselves, a melee of Americans who have heard your demos or whatever on the internet and in many cases have travelled hours and hours just to catch you up on stage for that instant, however fleeting it may be. I think it is hard for new bands because such significance has been placed by the music-buying public on that very first album. It seems crazy to me. As with any form of art, it takes time, nurture and a degree of maturity to begin to understand your craft. Greats such as Bruce Springsteen took time to cut their teeth. It's interesting to wonder how they might have fared if they were starting off in today's climate. What's more, once you've been able to make a credible first record, the challenge of making a second is where it gets really tough. So many pitfalls!

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCI2ay0IHsA&feature=fvwrel]

TAS: Do you feel that Noah and the Whale has very much found its voice on this third album?

Tom: For us, It was far harder to engage people in an emotionally-challenging album, The First Days of Spring than it had been for Peaceful, the World Lays me Down. Pursuing that point further I've always thought it something of an irony that similar themes and moods had often been overlooked on Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down. We were confident in the music we were making on First Days and it was key for us and our musical development to have explored those avenues and made, in my opinion, some of our most beautiful music. We are very instinctive in Noah and the Whale and like to follow our gut.

After a year of touring First Days and the subsequent transfer of Charlie's brother and our drummer, Doug, to the medical profession we felt like moving on to different pastures. We'd collectively been listening to a lot of stuff: Lou Reed's Berlin, Bruce Springsteen's Darkness on The Edge of Town, Tom Petty, Brian Eno, Arthur Russell (a particular favourite of mine) and many more. With hindsight, the absence of Doug meant that it was as much through necessity as anything else that we started experimenting with drum machines. We were looking for a new energy and I'd say that's what we will always be striving for. We've got to be making music that we believe in and our proud of at that moment for it to translate on record. Instincts are everything!

TAS: Charlie, When you look back at the young guy who first wrote and recorded Peaceful, the World Lays Me Down, what do you wish you knew then that you know now? And what would you tell your younger self?

Charlie: Non, je ne regrette rien.

TAS Interview: Erland & the Carnival

The far-ranging, catholic tastes of Erland & the Carnival were evident on their self-titled debut, which galloped from near-madrigals to mind-bending psychedelic rockers. On their second album, Nightingale, which was released physically this week via Yep Roc and Full Time Hobby, the British band has managed to push the envelope even further.

The "supergroup" quintet of Erland Cooper, Simon Tong (The Verve, Blur, Gorillaz, The Good, The Bad & The Queen), David Nock (The Orb, The Cult, Paul McCartney), Andrew Bruce and Danny Wheeler delve ambitiously into the historic span of European music on Nightingale. Threads of pagan compositions, 60s rock, Britpop and even French chansons converge in tracks like "Map of an Englishman," "The Dream of the Rood" and "Emmeline."

Erland & the Carnival are in the midst of their UK and play Birmingham tonight, March 31, and they have lined up a European tour this April, along with a festivals this summer.  They hope to return Stateside later this year.

The Alternate Side caught up with Erland & the Carnival's David Nock and Simon Tong over email shortly after SXSW and chatted about the new record which Tong cheekily describes as  "a married couple going to marriage guidance, swearing and throwing saucepans at each other:"

TAS: How did you survive SXSW's no-sleep, too many gigs, excessive burritos and drunken-crowds-on-6th-Street grind? What were a couple of your more memorable experiences or gigs?

David Nock: We had a little pool at our motel on I45 which fared us very well in escaping the throngs of people and finding a moment to decompress. I quite enjoyed the family of drunk raccoons that were trapezeing above our heads at the Red Eye Fly gig.

Simon Tong: 6th street was a little too busy for a boy from the sparsely populated Orkney Islands, but we really enjoyed the more out-of-the-way shows. We played a few chilled out BBQs in people's backyards and the French Legation was wonderful oasis of calm in the surrounding madness.

TAS: What other bands or artists did you catch at SXSW that really impressed you - for better or worse?

David: We had very little time with our schedule to really get stuck into watching other bands but we were wandering around South Congress Street, picking through some unbelievable thrift stores. After having a bite to eat at the mezmerisingly wonderful South Congress Cafe, all our ears perked up and we found ourselves transfixed by The Black Angels' amazing, psychedelic show. After hearing a lot of fairly mediocre, similar sounding bands as you float round SXSW, these guys were offering something quite different and wonderful.

Simon: The Strokes were great as you would expect and Emmylou Harris' voice brought us practically to tears. Fellow countrymen Still Corners were wonderful too as were label mates White Denim.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnyWsJwc7xg]

TAS: Nightingale is out Stateside this week  - what songs are most exciting to play in front of a live crowd and why? Which tracks off the new album have grown most vividly since recording the album?

David: We started our first show [at SXSW] with "So Tired In The Morning" which is a fantastic way to shake off the traveling stiffs and plug straight into the mainframe! I think tracks are always being refeined and tinkered with and will continue to evolve over time with repeated playing. There are always bits to tinker with,  hone in and make better.

Simon: The opening track "So Tired In The Morning" is becoming a live favourite as is the title track "Nightingale." Also really enjoyed playing "Emmeline" as the intro - much like SXSW itself - has a Hitchcock connection!

TAS: As it's the band's sophomore album, have you begun to really understand your strengths? What do you think had been your weaknesses as a "younger" band and how did the recording of Nightingale helped you grow as musicians, collaborators and even friends? Did you feel more confident to take more risks?

David: I think the whole process has a lot to do with time frame. We recorded the first album in just a couple of weekends but we had much time on the production and development of tracks on Nightingale which allowed us to explore the deeper recesses and further flung corners of our collective brains.

Simon: One reviewer described our first album as sounding like a newly married couple enjoying their honeymoon with wild abandon. The second album is more like a married couple going to marriage guidance, swearing and throwing saucepans at each other.

TAS: There's a fierce reverence that you have for bands like the Byrds, Cream or even The Zombies and there's also a fascination with classic English (and world) poetry, literature, and even artists, like the somewhat controversial Grayson Perry. Do you all obsessively collect scraps and pieces of what you love and find ways of incorporating it into the songs?

David: We are all at it all of the time. The world is piled high with weird, unusual, fantastic, miscellaneous, reverential, underrated, never-before-heard-of sources of inspiration and we have a collective desire to unearth some hidden treasures and bring it back home to share with the rest of the band.

Simon: Everyone brings ideas to the table. We collect ideas from films, books, car boot sales (garage sales in US) and art. When we were recording the album in our boat studio on the river Thames we would visit the Tate Britain art gallery each morning for ideas. Artists like Mike Nelson, Susan Hiller and of course Grayson Perry were a great inspiration as well as the old masters!

TAS:  Why was "The Dream of The Rood" something you very much wanted to record?

David: I thought it was such an obscure, ancient source to reference that it would be wicked to see how it would sit in a modern context.

Simon: It's the one of the oldest poems written in English and bridges the gap between old English paganism and the introduction of Christianity. Great imagery and feels very comtemporary somehow even though its 1500 years old.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0t5ed2oqAsU]

TAS: You recorded the album on HMS President, an old WWII ship that's docked by Embankment on the Thames. How do you think that location shaped the mood of the album?

David: It was difficult not to be influenced by such an unusual environment. I think any space or location shapes your perception and buried deep in the hull of an early 20th century warship, in a small, dank, claustrophobic room below the waterline had profound effects on the record. Also the sense of tension release when you climb from beneath the waves to stand on the deck and realize you stood in the center of one of the most fantastic and buzzing cities on the planet and you can wander over to the Tate Modern or take a relaxing walk around tranquil gardens of Inner Temple.

TAS: You've got upcoming UK and European gigs coming up and you're touring with the wonderful Hannah Peel. What do you like about her music? You seem kindred spirits.

David: She has an absolutely beautiful voice which we all rather fell in love with when we did a Carnivalization (of version of a remix) of her track "Almond Tree." She also comes from Geoff Dolman's Static Caravan record label. He was one of the first to really understand our music and was instrumental in bringing about or first release and it felt right for us to get together for this tour.

Simon: Hannah is a wonderful artist and has an interesting vocal style as well as a diverse musicality. She uses ideas from books and old folk songs. She is also on the fant\astic.

TAS: Any plans on returning for a proper US tour? What are the festivals you're most looking forward to doing and why?

David: I think we'll try and return to the states this year but we have a fairly rigorous tour of the UK and Europe first off, straight after SXSW. We're looking forward to Hop Farm Festival this summer. It's going to be great fun to play on the same stage as Eagles, 10cc, Lou Reed, Morrissey, Iggy Pop and Patti Smith!

Simon: We are hoping to get back to the US in the summer sometime, either supporting or our own tour. Really looking forward to the Hop Farm Festival in the UK. Fabulous line up this year

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWMn2nzYrPc&feature=player_embedded]

TAS Interview: Holy Ghost!

James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem might be saying adieu this week with a series of sold-out shows at Terminal 5 and Madison Square Garden, but playing a handful of blocks away on April 1 and 2 is a fresh, DFA Records duo that Murphy has nurtured and mentored on tour, Holy Ghost!

The dynamic, electro-pop team of Nick Millhiser and Alex Frankel, who finally release their much-anticipated, euphoric debut album digitally on April 5 and physically on April 12, have kicked off a North American tour and not only play two sold-out Terminal 5 shows with Cut Copy on Friday and Saturday, but will be, rather poignantly, playing on the same night as LCD Soundsystem's final hurrah on April 2.

When Millhiser chatted with The Alternate Side over email, he admitted that the unfortunate conflict between Holy Ghost!'s gig and LCD Soundsytem's final show was an accident of miscommunication He's confident that their set will end early enough so that they can jump in a taxi, make it to Madison Square Garden and "cry" on the side of the stage with the DFA family.

Vocalist/keyboardist Frankel and drummer Millhiser's melodic, disco-affectionate dance tracks have been making waves in clubs for a while, thanks to singles like "Hold On,"  and deft remixes for Friendly Fires, MGMT, Phoenix and more. The long gestation of their self-titled album has served the duo well and Holy Ghost! is a powerhouse of crafty, 80s-splashed  singles, like the burbling sway of "Do It Again," the sleek "Wait and See" and the sweet groove of "Jamming For Jerry," an homage to their friend, the late drummer Jerry Fuchs of The Juan MacLean, Maserati and !!!.

Even better, download "Wait & See" here. 

TAS:  Is there a New York sound, especially for electronica/dance, that you find discernible in the same way that, say, the UK has a definable Bristol or Manchester sound?  How does Holy Ghost! fit into that equation and what NYC bands/artists excite you?

Nick Millhiser: I think it big part of what defines any current "New York Sound" is the fact that a lot of us - Holy Ghost!, James/LCD, Juan, Midnight Magic, Escort, etc - came to dance music from playing in bands. Obviously, we share a lot of the same reference points as artists from all over and our love of Chic or Bohannon hardly makes us unique. But for us and a lot of the bands I mentioned, the starting point of the project was a group of people sitting in a room together holding instruments as opposed to a single musician sitting in front of the computer.

I'm not knocking the latter method of making dance music as certainly MOST good modern dance music has been made that way, but if I had to find something we all have in common it would be that much of our music is a result of people playing things by hand, often together, which results in something a little rougher around the edges.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVyaQYxO-E4]

TAS: Your debut album captures all of the effusiveness and jubilance that fans have come to expect from your singles and remixes, but what was the main challenge in making a record that felt that it was a cohesive whole? Were there certain tracks, like "Say My Name" or "Static on the Wire" that felt like the heart of the album?

Nick: The biggest challenge was trying to make a larger body of work that felt both varied and, as you said, cohesive. We've spent so much of our time with our previous singles or remixes for other artists thinking about songs as standalone bodies of work but making the LP required a bit more thought. We couldnt just write 10 ten singles.

For example, as proud as I am of "I WIll Come Back" and think it's one of the strongest things we've ever done, having ten "I WIll Come Backs" would make for a pretty boring LP. For some songs we had to turn off the part of us that's always wondering, "Is this going to work on the dance floor?" and, in some cases, tried to write things that were decidedly not "dance" but at the same time still shared a common aesthetic with the things we'd done before. Finding that balance could be difficult, but "Say My Name" was definitely one of songs that felt like a strong middle ground where it wasn't a club song at all, but it still sounded like us.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBhvC79vFA8]

TAS:  "Wait & See" is such a perfect, effusive mix that acknowledges influences in a really refreshing way - there seems to be coy nods to Chaka Kahn and Rufus, maybe even Tears for Fears rippling just under the surface. But the track sounds purely contemporary and very Holy Ghost!.  How do you and Alex compartmentalize your influences so that you write with creative clarity?

Nick: Good ear! Rufus/Chaka Kahn and Tears For Fears are all names that come up regularly when we're working. Often when Alex and I are working we will start with a song we really like or an element of a song we really like and, just as an exercise, try and copy it. Inevitably we fail but in failing come up with something new. Sometimes that's just a good way to get the ball rolling.Perhaps that's the Holy Ghost! sound: trying to sound like our influences but failing miserably in a way that - hopefully - ends up sounding somewhat unique.

"Wait & See" was the last song we wrote for the record and it came together very quickly. I came up with the bubbly sequences and programmed the drums around an iPhone video I had of our late friend Jerry [Fuchs] playing the drums. The drums are just the audio straight out of an iPhone with a LinnDrum kick and snare added on top. The original idea I had was a more kind of meandering, chugging disco thing with really loopy live bass which I played for Alex and he really liked but couldn't think of any vocal ideas for. So we stripped it down to just the drums and the sequences and he came up with a new chord progression on a Juno and wrote around that.

That's a pretty common way songs come together: I'll come up with a basic idea that's maybe more in line with our remixes and then we'll strip them down to it basic, uh, groove (for lack of a word I don't hate) and Alex will come up with a chord progression which makes it easier for him to write to.

TAS:  During the making of this album, what were you both listening to? What figures more prominently - influences of the past or what's caught your fancy in the past month? 

Nick: Hmmm, I mean the record was made over such a long period of time that it would be a pretty tiring to list EVERYTHING we listened to throughout the course of making the record. In the past month I've been listening to a lot of 80s Fleetwood Mac like "Tango in the Night" and "Mirage."

TAS: If you could name your five essential Holy Ghost! albums, what would they be?

Nick: Overall, I would say 5 essential Holy Ghost! references/Influences would be: 1. Talking Heads: Remain In Light 2. Michael Jackson: Thriller 3: Various Artists: The DFA Remixes Volumes 1 & 2,  4: The Roots: Things Fall Apart 5: Gino Soccio: Outline

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfRHLUjkV18]

TAS: Thinking on the tumble of words in "Hold My Breath," one of my favorite tracks on the album, do you think that there's any difference in writing lyrics for a dance song as opposed to other genres?

NIck: I'm not the lyricist in the band, so I can't really speak too specifically about the lyrics, but I think, generally in dance music lyrics are kind of an afterthought and with our record Alex put a lot of thought and care into them. My girlfriend has had the record for a while now and has been listening to it a lot and was just telling me how much she loved the lyrics which was really nice to hear.

I mean, again, I didn't write them but I think Alex's lyrics, or good lyrics in general, are what distinguish a good song from a dispensable novelty. Of course that's not to say there isn't a time and place for lyrics like, "Everybody dance! Doo doo doo doo, clap your hands! Clap your hands!" or "You should dancin'! Yeah!" I love those songs and obviously they've withstood the test of time in spite of being kind of silly. Sometimes dumb is best.

TAS: What do you think makes a great dance track? 

Nick: Oh man, so many things have to come together but I guess the key ingredients are tuff drums and strong production. I mean there's no universal specific thing I can think of but all truly great dance tracks old or new have really great drums and usually really interesting and adventurous production. Like I said, great lyrics aren't necessary but they can help.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pB30ZXGdenw&feature=related]

TAS: What track on the new album do you personally feel you both challenged yourself on ... and went to the next level?

Nick: The most challenging song on the record was probably "Jam For Jerry." The music came together first and musically it just felt really happy which made us feel a little uncomfortable. Weirdly, it wasn't until Alex started forming lyrics that it all started to feel right to me. We didn't set out to make it a song about Jerry at all. The instrumental was actually something we started with him in the studio. But we were kind of simultaneously struggling with this kind of weird, unfinished, out of place, upbeat pop song and how how to address Jerry on the record and combining the two kind of solved both problems.

I'm really happy that the song about Jerry is kind of the happiest feeling song on the record and that we weren't tempted to write something really precious, dark or melancholy. I also love that it's called "Jam For Jerry" which may be the dumbest song title ever.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhKxikJymzY]

TAS: A rather broad question, but how do you and Alex work together - an even-handed sharing of ideas? Do you each come up with bits and pieces and create an overall texture to the track? Sharing of lyrics?

Nick: I guess I kind of talked about this before but, yeah, it's a lot of back and forth. And I don't mean to imply that I ALWAYS start the songs. Sometimes Alex starts something and brings it to me and I strip it down and try and make it dumber. Sometimes we start stuff together. But, yeah, it's always a constant process of back and forth, building things up and breaking them down, recording tons and tons of stuff and then stripping it down to what we feel are the strongest elements. At some point the dust clears and there's a song. If we're both happy, it's done.

TAS: Your mentor, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, is saying farewell with a set of final shows in NYC - the very last one he plays one of the nights you're headlining Terminal 5. What does that decision mean to you and how were you both affected by it? 

Nick: Oh, it's bittersweet for sure. On the one hand I think it's tremendously admirable and even somewhat graceful to bow out like this. They're going out at the top of their game before it gets so big it feels weird and impersonal. For me, purely as fan, it would be strange if LCD was the kind of band that HAD to play venues like MSG when they toured. "The big tent" just isn't their medium I don't think. Likewise, as someone who likes neat packages, I think it's really cool that he's given fans a definitive beginning, middle and end to the band. There's something kind of elegant about it, like The Smiths catalog or something. But unlike The Smiths, he's actually letting fans be part of end and going out with a well planned, good spirited bang.

The only other artist that I can think of that's done anything like this is The Band with "The Last Waltz" which, you know, turned out pretty well. On the other hand, as a fan and friend, of course I will miss seeing them play. They are without a doubt one of my favorite bands ever and, as someone who's seen them play easily near 100 times, knowing that's over is sad. As a live band they are, for my money, the best who ever did it. If you never got to see Pat [Mahoney] play "Movement," James play the timbale solo on "Yeah," Nancy [Whang] rap on "Get Innocuous" or the whole gang lock up for the peaks and valleys of "All My Friends," you f**ked up. But James isn't going anywhere. He's got plenty of tricks up his sleeve and will, without a doubt, continue to record and release frustratingly great music. It won't be the same, but the dude doesn't really fail, does he? 

TAS: What's the best bit of advice Murphy ever passed on to you?

Nick: Best piece of advice? Um, "Hit harder" or, "Run it through a Space Echo."

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwnuRkZqApE]

Holy Ghost! Tour Dates  

03/28 – Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade*

03/29 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club*

03/30 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club*
03/31 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Trocadero* 

04/01 – New York, NY @ Terminal 5* 

04/02 – New York, NY @ Terminal 5*

04/04 – Boston, MA @ House of Blues*

04/05 – Montreal, QC @ Club Soda*

04/07 – Toronto, ON @ Sound Academy*
04/08 – Chicago, IL @ Riviera*
04/09 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue*

04/12 – Seattle, WA @ Showbox Sodo*

04/16 – San Francisco, CA @ The Grand Ballroom*
04/17 – San Francisco, CA @ The Grand Ballroom*
04/18 – Los Angeles, CA @ Echoplex

04/20 – Dallas, TX @ Granada Theater*
04/21 – Austin, TX @ Stubb’s*
04/22 – Austin, TX @ Stubb’s*

04/23 – New Orleans, LA @ Republic*

04/29 – Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg

*opening for Cut Copy

 

It's Spring ... And Tracey Thorn Answers The Alternate Side's Gardening Questions

Tracey Thorn released one of the most beautiful albums of 2010, the wistful and wry Love and Its Opposite, but when The Alternate Side had the chance several days ago to send her a handful of random questions, we decided, in honor of spring, to stray from music and query Tracey about one of her personal passions: gardening. Not only did Tracey give beginning gardeners a few handy tips and revealed her nightmarish blackfly issues with beans, but she generously threw in an excellent pasta recipe.

If you missed Tracey's third solo album (her second since the ongoing hiatus of Everything But The Girl), you can find it here or via Merge in the States. In honor of Record Store Day on April 16, Tracey and husband Ben Watt, who also runs the Buzzin' Fly and Strange Feeling labels, will be releasing the Clock Opera remix of her gorgeous cover of The Unbending Trees'  "You Are A Lover" in green (suitably, for her green thumb) vinyl. The track will be available for download on April 26 on Strange Feeling.  Listen via the Guardian.

TAS: Tracey, everyone usually asks you - for good reason - about your music, but since it's nearly spring and you're an avid gardener, what are you planning on planting this spring? Do you have seedlings started in your greenhouse and do you spend January perusing gardening catalogues and ordering heirloom tomato seeds?

Tracey Thorn: No, I am moving house right this minute, and I have to leave my greenhouse behind. I'm going to a smaller garden where I'll have to do lots of gardening in pots, and I'm already planning spots where I can fit a couple of cold frames etc. By mid-summer I'll have a little jungle of tomatoes, herbs and cucumbers out on the decking.

TAS:  Does lettuce raise a particular challenge? What other vegetable has driven you to cussing or flinging soil whilst muttering incoherently?

Tracey: Lettuce can be a real pain in the arse. Eaten by slugs if it's too wet, then bolts as soon as it gets too hot. I now favour cut-and-come-again types in windowboxes, kept up off the ground away from slugs, ripped out after a few pickings. Beans covered in blackfly have also driven me close to madness. I spent an afternoon picking beans and then carefully rinsing every single one ....

TAS: What vegetable or floral success has left you particularly smug and bragging to anyone who'll listen? What's the your key to good gardening?

Tracey: There was a year when my cucumbers were so successful I ended up giving them away in the street, literally. My mammoth basil is also very impressive, though it does smell slightly strange and aniseedy. There is no key to good gardening apart from spending time and paying attention.

TAS: What would be the best advice you could offer to someone who is gardening-challenged, could kill cactus, but who dreams, perhaps misguidedly, of growing corn or pumpkins or even a lone eggplant? What should they start with?

Tracey: It's difficult to give advice, I always recommend things I think are pretty easy - tomato plants for instance - only to find that people's basic lack of knowledge about plants and food and how they grow, is just ASTONISHING. Courgettes [zucchini] are easy, I think. And those little seed tapes you can buy, where you cut off a strip and bury it half an inch in the soil and water it, and then carrots and lettuce grow, I think they actually work very well.

TAS:  What is it about working with plants that makes you so happy? Is there a parallel for you between gardening and songwriting or is one an escape from the other?

Tracey: Gardening is a distraction really, I like the mental simplicity of it. There are rules to be obeyed, and if you do, things follow a sort of predictable pattern, and I think I find that comforting. Songwriting is all a bit hard to control, and it comes and goes, you can't rely on it. I like the reliability of gardening.

TAS: And finally, could you please give us one of your favorite springtime veggie recipes?

Tracey: Courgette [zucchini] pasta sauce. Good glug of olive oil in the pan, then add a couple of whole cloves of garlic and cook for a minute or two. Add sliced courgettes, and dried oregano, and fry them for a few minutes till then soften, and brown a little. Pour over some single cream [light cream] and take off the heat after a minute. Add plenty of black pepper, and parmesan, and stir into pasta.

[video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9h1ooI2iMg&feature=related]

Apex Manor's SXSW Blog

Apex Manor, founded by former Broken West frontman Ross Flournoy, survived SXSW this past week with dignity (sort of) intact and claiming a fresh batch of new fans, turned onto the band's slyly-named debut album, The Year of Magical Drinking, out now on Merge. The Alternate Side asked the guys if they'd keep a blog of their Austin triumphs and travails and keyboardist Adam Vine happily complied. Apex Manor play New York's Bowery Ballroom tonight, March 22, opening for Noah and the Whale, and Mercury Lounge on March 26.

Can't help but feel the festival is an instrument you have to learn how to play. A South Asian kinda thing with more strings than there are notes, but luckily every chord sounds all right.

But that could be the hangover talking. Or the queso. One moment you're on stage, covering Fleetwood Mac with a borrowed melodica in your hands, and the next you're in a private karaoke room, singing a different Fleetwood Mac song.

Next thing you know, you're riding shotgun in a limo with a driver named Cedric who wants you to play out in the Hill Country. The live oaks alone would be worth it, but you know it's never gonna happen.

Still you say maybe next year. And despite Cedric's best intentions to be there for you the next time you need a ride, you inevitably end up walking across the Congress Bridge, smelling the bats, and wondering if they're the ones who called in the noise complaints. They do have sensitive ears, you know.

But it's on to the after party, on to the secret show, on to the hotel, where all the brilliant snippets you've overheard will fade into your pillow. Where they will wait for you to return next year. Hopefully you remember which hotel you stayed at.

- Adam Vine
Apex Manor

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYpjS99OIcg]

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