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TAS Features

Breaking Bands: Which New Faces Will Cause A Commotion In 2011?

As we boot 2010 out the door and get ready to begin not only a brand new year, but a freshly minted decade, what up-and-coming bands and artists will make their mark on 2011? The Alternate Side staff gazed into the future and picked the musicians who we thought (well, hoped) might make an impact in the next twelve months and beyond; our many choices range from Denver's husband-and-wife duo of Tennis to the brash British pop of The Vaccines to Long Island's ever-cool quintet, Twin Sister.

Russ Borris, TAS on-air host and TAS/WFUV assistant music director (last year's prediction was Cloud Control):

Earlier in 2010, the band released their debut EP Sun Bronzed Greek Gods, filled with catchy songs and a bit of an MGMT-vibe. They won a lot of new fans with their energetic, polished live show and I expect to hear much more from them in the coming year.

From Denver, husband-and-wife Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore will release their debut full length, Cape Dory, in January. Judging from their EP it should be fuzzy and fun. They already have my vote for album cover of the year for 2011, making Cape Dory a sort of tribute to an old Lisa Hartman album. So awful and yet, so good.

Wise Blood
Chris Laufman from Pittsburgh is Wise Blood. He makes music in a similar way to Girl Talk, by layering clips and pieces under and over each other to create something new. At the same time, he sounds nothing like what Girl Talk does. His voice adds a different dimension to his music. Very interested in his next EP (and debut for Dovecote Records) due early in 2011.


Alisa Ali, TAS on-air host (last year's predictions were Broken Bells, Two Door Cinema Club and Jónsi):

This duo out of Toronto creates the perfect combination of dancehall and indie. How can that not be great? They released an EP a couple of months ago called Broughtupsy and it's awesome. You've probably heard us playing the song "Stumble" on TAS already. I'm really looking forward to a full length album from these guys.

Sherlock’s Daughter
A band with great vocal harmonies, unique instrumentation - I’ve seen them use sandpaper for percussion - and amazing beats. They sometimes have a bit of a shoegazey sound, but you’d never know it from their dynamic live performances. Sherlock’s Daughter have recently re-located from Australia to the States and they are apparently living in New York now. Hopefully I’ll be seeing them around, although they'll be off gallivanting with The Antlers on tour in Australia this February. No word yet on the exact date of the release of their full length debut, but it will definately be coming in 2011.

Lauren Dillard and Lauren Flax are a Brooklyn based duo who recently released a single called, “Days” with Romy Madley Croft of the xx that I have played about a thousand times in a row and I’m still not sick of it. They’ll be releasing a full length this year which I cannot wait to get my hands on.


Rita Houston, WFUV/TAS music director:

Katie Costello
Quirky, artistic, driven talent who will make some noise next year.

Very excited to see if this husband and wife duo have the staying power I bet they do.

Jessica Lea Mayfield
Eager to hear her Nonesuch Records debut coming next year.


Kara Manning, TAS web editor and on-air interviewer (last year's predictions were The Joy Formidable, Delphic and The Drums):

Twin Sister
"All Around and Away We Go," a single pulled from this Long Island band's sultry 2010 EP Color Your Life, is four-and-a-half minutes of mirror ball spun perfection; an incandescent pop cousin to Andrea True Connection's "More, More, More," propelled by Twin Sister vocalist Andrea Estella's breathy, come-hither croon. The quintet is recording their debut album this winter.

Hannah Peel
The UK and Ireland has a surfeit of young, innovative singer-songwriters shifting the soundscape of contemporary folk rock, like Laura Marling, The Leisure Society,  Lisa Hannigan and Villagers' Conor O'Byrne. Add to that constantly expanding roster the Anglo-Irish multi-instrumentalist Hannah Peel, who has toured with The Unthanks, David Ford and Tunng.  Peel releases her delicately painted debut Broken Wave, produced by Tunng's Mike Lindsay, on January 31 on Static Caravan. Aside from her own songs, like the quirky, murderous deer lament (really)  "The Almond Tree," Peel also does a sublime and tender cover of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love."

The Chapman Family 
My highlight of SXSW 2010 was catching this wryly theatrical, incendiary rock quartet from Stockton-on-Tees rip through a brutal, astonishing set that concluded with charismatic frontman Kingsley Chapman lassoing the mic cord around his neck before feyly crumpling onstage in a nattily-dressed, rock 'n' roll heap. Fantastic. The Chapman Family have only released a handful of singles over the last couple of years; new songs "All Fall," released in October, and the upcoming "Anxiety" (out February 28) are taken from their debut album which is due in the early part of 2011 on PIAS Recordings. 

Let's Buy Happiness
Virtually The Chapman Family's neighbors from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Let's Buy Happiness' supple, dreamy pop, guided by the silky, sweet vocals of Sarah Hall, catapults you back to the sentimental days of The Sundays or Cocteau Twins. The quintet released the No Hot Ashes EP last year, featuring the ever-so-pretty "Works Better On Paper," and a gorgeous new single, "Six Wolves," this past November.

Yes, their name is pretty bad; you can already imagine music critics, who've yet to hear the quintet, sharpening their switchblades when Yuck drop their self-titled debut album on Fat Possum on February 15. Problem is that the London-based group (with a New Jersey drummer) are terrific, harboring in their hearts a love for crafty, effervescent indie pop bolstered by driving downpours of dense guitar (band members Max Bloom and Danny Blumberg used to be in the sadly defunct Cajun Dance Party) and they've appropriately supported Teenage Fanclub. Yuck will be touring most of the winter; you can catch them at New York's Mercury Lounge on January 25.


Eric Holland, TAS on-air host

The Vaccines
London power-pop quartet led by Justin Young, a former flat-mate of Marcus Mumford. If they can make an album (it'll be on Columbia) as good as their first singles, it'll kill.

The Rassle
Another quartet that could be genrefied as power-pop, this unsigned NYC outfit is made up of former members of The Virgins and The Young Lords.

Hanni el Khatib
Tough, dangerous one man garage band from L.A. whose debut 7'' on Stones Throw records demands attention.


Joe Grimaldi, TAS video supervisor

Car on the Moon
Car On The Moon expanded in 2010 from a duo to a quartet, filling out their uniquely American rhythm and folk sound. They plan to release their self-titled debut album, formed around a lullaby and a back-beat, on Extropian Records in early 2011. Keep an eye out for them in intimate venues around Brooklyn and NYC, as well as up and down the east coast this spring.

I Love Monsters
If you watched any TV in 2010 you've probably already heard I Love Monsters. Their music was featured on The History Channel, BRAVO, HBO, and in a national advertising campaign, and their blend of pop, rock and dance will continue to be a fixture on the small screen in 2011. Monsters are set to continue their plan of churning out and giving away catchy singles (instead of selling cumbersome LPs), producing music videos and playing tight, sweaty shows after the New Year.


TAS Favorite Albums And Singles Of 2010

Along with mistletoe, mulled wine and overused credit cards, one of the more dependable signs of December is the inevitable discourse on the best albums and singles of the year. The Alternate Side staff has compiled a list of favorites and earworms of 2010, our own personal soundtrack guiding us through the past twelve months.

Russ Borris (Assistant Music Director and Host of The Alternate Side on FUV):

Albums (alphabetical):
Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
The band creates a record that appeals to anyone who's ever been a teenager.
Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty
While the world waits for a new OutKast album, we have this great solo effort.
The Black Keys, Brothers
Another ridiculously good record from two guys who do more on one album than most bands do in a career.
The Gaslight Anthem, American Slang
Great songs, start to finish. It's GOOD Jersey rock!
LCD Soundsystem, This is Happening
LCD Soundsystem is a party. James Murphy is the host. We all want to go.
Lissie, Catching a Tiger
A really impressive debut. Great voice that can seemingly cover any style and any ground.
Janelle Monáe, The ArchAndroid
A hugely ambitious record of futuristic soul. This album is big - really big - on every level.
The National, High Violet
Understated is the new awesome. It's what they do.
Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
I know, everybody hates Kanye. The thing is, everybody also loves Kanye. He has made a record that is too much of everything, yet it works.
Yeasayer, Odd Blood 
A record that stuck with me the whole year filled with keyboards, layered vocals and catchy fun.

Antoine Dodson & The Gregory Brothers, "Bed Intruder Song"
Cee-Lo Green, "F*&k You"
Gil Scott-Heron, "Me and the Devil"
Kanye West, "Runaway"
Yeasayer, "O.N.E."


Alisa Ali (The Alternate Side Host, Producer & On-Air Interviewer for WFUV):

Albums (This may change. But here it is for now): The National, High Violet
The Black Keys, Brothers
Phantogram, Eyelid Movies
Shout Out Louds, Work
Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse, Dark Night Of The Soul
Broken Bells, Broken Bells
The Morning Benders, Big Echo
Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record
Holly Miranda, The Magician's Private Library
Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz
Sharon Van Etten, Epic
Local Natives, Gorilla Manor
School of Seven Bells, Disconnect from Desire


Rita Houston (Music Director/WFUV The Whole Wide World Host):

Favorite Albums:
Ray Lamontagne, God Willin' and the Creek Don't Rise (especially on vinyl)
Throw a Ray party - invite your friends over and listen to this album. It's that good. The double gatefold vinyl plays like a lost classic from the mid 1970's.
David Byrne/Fatboy Slim, Here Lies Love
A bold, ambitious, collaborative work that is so smart, so cool and so disco.
Maximum Balloon, Maximum Balloon
Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio makes good use of his phonebook, assembling an all-star lineup of singers for a dance-based studio spree.
The National, High Violet
I was obsessed with this album all year. I know all the words. All. The lyrics and Matt's phrasing just blow my mind.
Nellie McKay, Home Sweet Mobile Home Nellie takes a huge step forward and proves that her chops and instincts are spot on.
Massive Attack, Heliogoland (especially on vinyl)
This was also one of my favorite shows of the year. Great special guests and real vibe album. The vinyl has a totally different mix and sounds great. Raul Malo, Sinners and Saints
This one got a lot of play at our house this year.
Citizen Cope, The Rainwater LP
Cope delivers another album of simple yet deep songs that linger with you.
Junip, Fields
Jose Gonzalez and his longtime Swedish friends finally release an album from their 10-year-old band. Jose's signature nylon-string guitar is still at the center, but you'll hear a lot of subtle global influences and a new sense of improvisation.
Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
A great album and one of the best shows of the year, at MSG.

What else? James Maddock, One Eskimo, Florence and The Machine, and Mumford and Sons (interestingly all British) remained favorites this year, even though I heard them first in 2009. I also loved: Field Music, Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows, Jonsi, Corinne Bailey Rae, Gaslight Anthem, The Books, Black Dub, Four Tet, Jónsi, and Best Coast.

Favorite songs:
Secret Sisters, "Big River" (7 inch vinyl)
Elvis Costello, "You Hung the Moon"
Robert Plant, "Silver Rider"
Keane, "Stop For A Minute"
Chilly Gonzalez, "Never Stop"
Paul Weller, "No Tears to Cry"


Kara Manning (Web Editor for The Alternate Side, On-Air Interviewer for WFUV/The Alternate Side):

Here's an unwieldy list of what came most rapidly to mind. Since Arcade Fire's The Suburbs and Beach House's Teen Dream will appear on every 2010 list (and rightfully so), I've bypassed them in favor of other records that might be overlooked. in no particular order:

Albums (yes, there are more than ten, but that's the way it goes):
Field Music, Measure
The Divine Comedy, Bang Goes The Knighthood
Foals, Total Life Forever
Gorillaz, Plastic Beach
Underworld, Barking
Corinne Bailey Rae, The Sea
Delphic, Acolyte
Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, Hawk
Wild Nothing, Gemini
Massive Attack, Heligoland
School of Seven Bells, Disconnect From Desire
Allo Darlin', Allo Darlin'
Villagers, Becoming A Jackal
Hey Marseilles, To Travels & Trunks

Twin Sister, "All Around And Away We Go"
Jez Kerr, "Play Sumthing Fast"
Avi Buffalo, "What's In It For?"
The Radio Dept, "Heaven's On Fire"
Underworld, "Scribble"
School of Seven Bells, "I L U"
Jesca Hoop with Guy Garvey, "Murder of Birds"
Autolux, "Highchair"
Four Tet, "She Likes To Fight"
Tracey Thorn, "Oh The Divorces"
Tame Impala, "Solitude is Bliss"
Codeine Velvet Club, "Reste Avec Moi"
Chew Lips, "Slick"
John Legend and The Roots, "Wake Up Everybody"
Tunng, "Hustle"
Laura Marling, "Rambling Man"
Sleigh Bells, "Ring Ring"
Charlotte Gainsbourg, "Trick Pony"
Jónsi, "Go Do"
Janelle Monae w/Big Boi , "Tightrope"
Crystal Castles with Robert Smith, "Not In Love"
Goldheart Assembly, "King of Rome"
Gold Panda, "Snow and Taxis"


Eric Holland (Host, WFUV, FUV Music and The Alternate Side):

Spoon, Transference
Corinne Bailey Rae, The Sea
Grinderman, Grinderman 2
Black Keys, Brothers
Erykah Badu, New Amerika 2 - Return of the Ankh
Broken Bells, Broken Bells
Dead Weather, Sea of Cowards
Citizen Cope, The Rainwater LP
The Hold Steady, Heaven is Whenever
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, I Learned the Hard Way





TAS Interview: The Walkmen's Walter Martin On Homecoming 2010

The Walkmen return to New York for their homecoming 2010 gig this Thursday, December 2 at Terminal 5 with Brooklyn's School of Seven Bells and Denver's Tennis. The Alternate Side caught up with bassist Walter Martin over email to hear all about their gig in Lisbon playing tracks from their new album Lisbon and what rock legend they wouldn't mind finding wrapped up - well, roped up - under the Christmas tree this year.

TAS: The lineup of The Walkmen, School of Seven Bells and Tennis at Terminal 5 on 12/2 is a brilliant bill. How did it come about and what do you enjoy most about big, homecoming NYC (or Philly) gigs?

Walter Martin: Playing hometown shows is great. All of our friends come and get completely drunk and tell us like, "You shouldn't play this song, you should totally play that song, this one sucks, don't wear that shirt, your hair looks stupid, etc." I think they fear witnessing us making fools of ourselves and they take the opportunity to micromanage.

TAS: Have you been working some very new songs or interesting covers into your sets at all? Or working in any of the songs that were written for Lisbon, but didn't make the album? If so, what are they?

Walter: We play "Orange Sunday," which didn't make the record but we love it. No covers recently. We wanted to cover something from the new Deerhunter record but we haven't nailed one down yet.

TAS: The Walkmen have been wending their way through Europe - including a gig in Lisbon, Portugal on November 15. What did you enjoy about returning there, with a fully realized album that was inspired by the city?   

Walter: The Lisbon show was probably the coolest show in recent memory. It sounds stupid but it was sort of a "love fest" as they call it. We played in this huge, beautiful old place called the Coliseu Lisboa. The crowd was very mature: very quiet in the quiet songs and up and dancing in the loud ones. It could not have been better.


TAS: Whenever you've toured songs off a new album for a greater expanse of time, they develop deeper layers and new dimensions in a live setting. What songs off of Lisbon have especially taken on a new life on tour and why?

Walter: "Woe is Me" has gotten a little more surf-rock and aggressive i'd say. And "Juveniles" is more dynamic and the end is really grand and more celebratory now. "Angela" is more aggressive and faster than the record. It loud as hell when we play so songs tend to grow more explosive live.

TAS: You've talked about the influence of Elvis Presley and the Sun Records sound on this new album; what have been the new music obsessions of late? Any tour bus playlists or albums or iPod earworms that seem to be tagging along after the band over the last year?

Walter: We all listen to Thee Oh Sees, the fantastic San Francisco band. We go between their records "Help," "Sucks Blood," "Cool Death of the Island Raiders," "Hounds of Foggy Notion," "Warm Slime," "Masters Bedroom" .... Each one is awesome and different. They are endlessly entertaining and we fantasize about sounding as kick-ass as they do.

TAS: Every album is a bit like a child for a band. How did the writing, recording and release of Lisbon - and even your work with new co-producer John Congleton - affect the evolution of The Walkmen? What do you know about yourselves as a band now that you perhaps didn't comprehend a year or two ago?

Walter: For this record we decided to take a tip from the Sun Records Elvis stuff which has very sparse instrumentation and relies entirely on the quality of the song and the performance. In the past we've relied on effects more and reverb and overdubs but with this record we wanted to only use songs that could stand on their own with just their bare bones.

TAS: The holidays are right around the corner; aside from peace on earth, what would each of The Walkmen like to find gift-wrapped under the proverbial tree?

Walter: I'd like to see Lou Reed dressed in a Santa suit, hog-tied and gagged under my tree this year.

TAS: If you could ask anyone to cover a Walkmen song, who would it be and what would you ask them to cover?

Walter: I'd like the Velvet Underground to cover our song "Lisbon" - we were trying to copy their mellow vibe anyway.

Tickets are still available to see The Walkmen at Terminal 5 and if you've never caught the guys live, you're missing an outstanding show.



TAS Interview: Spencer Stephenson of Botany

Texas electronic artist Spencer Stephenson has drummed for experimental rockers Sleep Whale, performed alone as Abacus and now works solo under the moniker Botany, dipping gently into the chillwave movement, but giving it his own sample-heavy spin. Earlier this month Stephenson released his debut EP, Feeling Today, on Western Vinyl. But as he told The Alternate Side's Alisa Ali, the five-track sampler is just a taste of what Stephenson has planned for his first Botany album:

Alisa Ali: You’ve got a new EP out right now and you've played CMJ too.

Spencer Stephenson: [It was] my first time in New York. I flew up here for CMJ and played a couple of shows there. My schedule was fairly relaxed. One day, two shows, same building. But I’ve been the SXSW thing before with another band and it can be a little intense.

Alisa: That other band would be Sleep Whale? What happened to them?

Spencer: It’s not really my position to say. All the guys are really good friends and we keep the project loose. Members come and go as they want to and contribute ideas when they feel it’s appropriate. My two friends, Joel [North] and Bruce [Blay], are the guys who are in charge of that band. I was just exclusively their live drummer for about a year and however long they needed me. And if they need me in the future. [Recently] I played a show in Dallas under the Sleep Whale name and it was a mashup of completely non-Sleep Whale ideas and songs performed under the Sleep Whale name. That’s how we keep it; it can be anything.

Alisa: Are you doing any drumming for Botany?

Spencer: In the studio, of course. I do record some of the drum parts live, but the plan is to eventually format the live show so that I can incorporate a drummer or possibly play drums myself at certain points in the set. The first part of the set is this DJ mashup of a bunch of little ideas that were intended to demo the full-length album as well as the EP. But I trail off at the end into completed, fully formed songs and I think the first song I play in the set, the first complete song, was called “The Grains” which is a really slow, sedated, bassy track that I’m really proud of; it’s going on the full-length in the spring.

Alisa: You used to go by the name Abacas. Are you very into art and science?

Spencer: I guess so. It’s kind of studious music, I guess.

Alisa: Why did you change your name?

Spencer: Well, Abacus is a 70s prog band, I think it’s a hair metal band from the 80s and it’s also a band, I think, that played with Pink Floyd. My information is completely vague here. I know that there are enough Abaci for me to want to change my name before releasing anything.

Alisa: So there’s a lot of found sounds in your music. What are some of them?

Spencer: I sample a lot of Eastern-based psychedlic music from the 1960s. There’s a lot of times where I sample library or stock music. In the 70s or 80s if someone needed a jingle for a commercial, they’d go to a library record and it’s this free reign stuff that anyone can use.

Alisa: You’ve probably be collecting sounds for a while.

Spencer: I’ve been doing a good job of it since I was sixteen or so. You can also collect them in your noggin.

Alisa: You keep that information in your head?

Spencer: I don’t always have a turntable and sampler around when I hear a piece of a record that I want to use. Or I can hear a piece of a song that I’m listening to on headphones on a bus. It seems like I hear the sound initially, maybe a couple of months before I actually sample it, I remember the spot in the song or the phrase and I let those ideas build and do that with more songs, memorize more spots in other songs. I end up doing my sampling at the end of a two month period.

It’s a really inspiring process. You get a stack of records together and just go to town, and start taking these sounds off that you’ve had in mind for a while. It’s extremely inspiring because you’re building your instrument collection, but it’s different from the conventional bass, guitars and drums. I’ll probably never really stop making music that way to some extent because a lot of times that’s the most inspiring part of making it for me.

Alisa: Were you going to a bunch of record stores?

Spencer: Yeah, I’ve got a local record store in Fort Worth.

Alisa: You’re lucky. There’s so few left in New York.

Spencer: It sucks, but if nobody else is buying records, that means I’ll have more stuff!

Alisa: Are you going to release your album out on vinyl?

Spencer: Yes, the EP will eventually; the full-length album will be pressed on vinyl immediately upon its release date. We’re postponing the pressing of the EP on vinyl because we had to get something out there to let people know existed before I put out a full-length record.

Alisa: So the songs on the EP will also be included on the full-length?

Spencer: Maybe one or two but a lot of the ideas on the EP are maybe based on old ideas I’ve had for a long time. Track three in particular, “Waterparker,” was made for the EP but a couple of others were tracks that I probably would have shelved otherwise. They weren’t exactly what I wanted to do. It’s not that I hated them, but it’s not saying exactly what I want to say; it doesn’t really meet that vision as appropriately as it could.

Alisa: Do you have a total vision for the full-length?

Spencer: When I try to speak of it, it’s a little cloudy. I got it in my head.

Alisa: We’ll be dissecting your brain shortly. You have Ashley Rathburn on vocals on the EP. Will she be on the full-length too?

Spencer: More than likely. She’s on more than one track on the EP. I’m going to be featuring [Fleet Foxes'] J. Tillman on the full-length, tentatively due out in the spring, contributing vocals and percussion. His bandmate in Fleet Foxes, Casey Wescott, does a little piano on the same song. It was really awesome to see more songwriter-based artists go to town with a track like mine. It was something that I made a couple of days before and gave to them and they turned around a really complete, almost perfect pop song with full vocals and harmonies. It was crazy how fast they did it.

Alisa: Inspiring?

Spencer: When you make most of your music on your own it’s nice to have someone come in and tell you that an idea that you think sucks is worthy to be a song on the album.




TAS Interview: Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom

Along with Pavement and Dinosaur Jr., Buffalo Tom were among the bands that defined one of the most significant, non-grunge, American alternative sounds of the Nineties, crafting a raucous thrash with wiry tenderness. 

The Boston-based trio of singer/guitarist Bill Janovitz, bassist Chris Colbourn and drummer Tom Maginnis took a nine-year hiatus at the end of that decade, pursuing their own projects and solo albums. Happily, and somewhat unexpectedly, Buffalo Tom reformed in 2007 and released a comeback album, Three Easy Pieces, and returned to touring.

Their next album, Skins, drops on February 15 on their own label, Scrawny Records. On the heels of the band's Mercury Lounge gig in New York last week, The Alternate Side had a chance to catch up with frontman Bill Janovitz over email to talk about this invigorating new chapter in the band's long life:

TAS: It's always intriguing when a band decides to break a long, perhaps permanent, hiatus and come back to the fray, like Pulp, Blur and Buffalo Tom. Did you, as a trio, sit down and really weigh the pros and cons of recording again in 2007?

Bill Janovitz:   It has been a while. I am not sure I recall the details, but, yes, we sat down to discuss getting it all rolling again. Much of it regarded communication styles and how to approach the working relationship again, as well as musical/artistic goals, and plans for supporting the record or whatever came of it. We really took it in baby steps, without committing much beyond small goals. We wrote, rehearsed, and recorded in bite-sized chunks.

TAS: Since the pros won and you're releasing Skins in February, what have you all learned that you love about being a part of Buffalo Tom? What were things you wanted to avoid in this new chapter in the band's life? And what have you all learned as friends and bandmates?

Bill: None of us are very good/flashy -- technically speaking -- musicians individually. All the stuff we do separately has a lot of positives and merit, including learning what else happens in music and combos/bands outside of the world of BT. But there is nothing like a band brought together in the first place by the very chemistry that keeps it going in subsequent years. In other words, through all those years of recording hiatus, we still played live from time to time. And there was something undeniable about the sound that the three of us achieve together.

On paper, in theory, none of this should sound or feel as good as it does. But there was something right about the feeling the very first time we jammed in 1986, and the musical chemistry only got better. The whole is truly larger than the sum of the parts. So, the musical side was never much of a question. But being in any kind of partnership or collaboration takes a great deal of effort. There came a time when we needed to devote such energies towards other things in our lives, mainly forming solid family bonds. We had learned a lot about how we related to each other, for everyone relates to various people in different ways. I am who I am with Chris and that is different than who I am with Tom, and the two of them together different than how I relate to my wife and kids, and so on. So, while it is one of the things we are most proud of, keeping it together with the same three guys, it needed to have a little break there to be put on the back burner. We were a little soured on touring and recording in relentless cycles, as well as the dissolving major-label model. That model had served to promote us during the mid-1990s but had run out its usefulness.

When we got back together, we were wiser about big and small things and what is important in life. We try not to take each other for granted, but mistakes still happen. Tweaks still need to be made, and so on. While it is a well-oiled machine musically, it is a battered but beloved old van personally, and that requires a lot more pit stops to re-oil.


TAS:  The first song from the record, "Arise Watch" has that perfect Buffalo Tom mix of ferocious snarl and eloquent sadness. Can you talk a bit about the songs you've pulled together for this new record? What might please longtime fans and intrigue new ones? What tracks are you especially excited about? And who produced the record?

Bill: I think "Arise, Watch" is a great example of a song that sounds different for Buff Tom, but it still is Buff Tom. What I think has resonated with people who have heard this record is our wizened perspective about relationships: families, bands, couples, etc. There is birth, death, and the present in all of these songs, sometimes all in one, as in, "Here I Come." The lyrics are deeper than ever, I think. But the music is highly rewarding, it seems.

It has that classic mid-career-BT feel, like an updated Let Me Come Over, Big Red Letter Day, or Sleepy Eyed. We produced it ourselves, but had Paul Kolderie, an old friend and producer of Let Me Come Over, work with us on recording and mixing a handful. He works with a young guy named Adam Taylor, who is also a great asset. Tom Polce also mixed the rest. He did the last CD as well. Q Division studios up here have some great young engineers that we work with and take their opinions into account.

TAS: Is it a bit scary releasing an album on your own label? How does the new architecture of labels and digital promotion altered the way you think of of getting your music out to not only your fans, but new listeners as well?

Bill: No, not scary. There is more control. We are excited by the energy and enthusiasm of the team we have assembled, primarily at the Orchard, who feel like a label without actually being the label. In fact, it feels invigorating to finally be shedding a bit of the old model and embracing some new ideas/models. I personally dig the direct-to-fan idea. We have always been pretty grass roots. I am not sure what any labels can offer us this time around, at this level. There are some I like a lot that seem to do a great job - Anti, Merge, Matador - but they are just great teams of people and now you can assemble similar teams yourself.

TAS: You just played Mercury Lounge again last week; you did a summertime stand there as well. What is it about playing a small, intimate venue, especially in New York, that invigorates you as a band?

Bill: The directness and immediacy of the audience being right there, of course. But my perfect venue is something like the Bowery Ballroom, when filled. An old theater with great sound, sightlines, and a soulful vibe.

TAS:  The three of you have been together for so long? What are the quirks, missteps and beautiful characteristics of the three of you that makes your alchemy so right? How have you changed over the years?

Bill: Yes and no; we have all learned a lot about ourselves and each other. Trying to keep these wiser perspectives is easier when you have all this other stuff in life. In one's forties, your in the middle; you can identify with your kids, you remember some of what they are going through pretty acutely. But you can also be very good friends with people in their 60s. I had dinner with a friend who is in her 70s. She came to me via a painful episode. But I had fascinating and stimulating conversations with her that I did not want to end. You start to realize, as friends actually pass away, that we have so little time here that it really is important to try to not stress about small bubbles of froth.


TAS:  Boston has become such an invigorating hub for a new generation of bands like Passion Pit. What Boston area bands would you like to ballyhoo and champion?

Bill: We love the band, Mean Creek. I saw a great young band the other night called You Can Be a Wesley. Don't get out as much, but I have three brothers also in the Boston music scene and two in bands that are nominated for Boston Music Awards this year -- The Russians (Scott) and Sodafrog (Tom). Tommy is 16 years younger than me, the oldest brother.

TAS: If you could choose anyone to cover a Buffalo Tom song, who would it be and what song would you give them?

Bill: Tom Waits. My fave. I would love to hear him sing "Paper Knife" off this record. Would love to hear the 1972-era Stones do "Velvet Roof" or "Out of the Dark." Would also love to hear Van the Man [Morrison] cover "Larry." All of those are specific influences I hear in those songs. In fact, I started it spontaneously one performance, but can't stop singing "Into the Mystic" over the end of "Larry." Elvis Costello doing "Guilty Girls."

TAS: Buffalo Tom is a band that so defined the 90s for many people, alongside Nirvana or Pavement or Radiohead. Since you're now looking forward to the future of the band, beyond the naughts, what are your hopes for Buffalo Tom? What would you like the band's longtime legacy to be?

Bill: I would love nothing more than to be continued to be mentioned alongside such great acts and to be considered as a great band in the tradition of all such influences as those mentioned above. We know we will never be as important as Dylan or The Clash, but why not aspire to it? Also, I would like to buck the trend of the music industry and sell a million downloads in the first week, like Taylor Swift. Daddy needs a new car.




TAS Interview: Allo Darlin'

One of the standouts of last month's CMJ Music Marathon was the UK's Allo Darlin', a crafty group of indie popsters who have released one of the best debut albums of the year. Their self-titled opus, out now on Fortuna POP!, features the ukulele talents and sweet crooning of Aussie-bred songwriter Elizabeth Morris who artfully manages to pen sweet, smart and heartbreaking songs about Woody Allen, Henry Rollins and Polaroid photographs. Comparisons to Belle and Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch and Camera Obscura's Traceyanne Campbell abound, but Morris and her bandmates manage to strike their own path, soldering their whimsy with a darker edge.

They've recently released a new single from the record, "My Heart Is A Drummer," which you can download here, free with your email address

The Alternate Side caught up with Elizabeth and her bandmates Mikey Collins, Paul Rains and Bill Bottling over email to learn more about one of London's most promising young bands. If you happen to be in England this month, they play Shoreditch's Cargo on November 17.


TAS:  CMJ was a very different animal than SXSW, which you played earlier this year. How did your New York experience turn out?

Mikey Collins: It was fantastic to be back in New York and we were really excited to be playing CMJ. It does feel different from SXSW because it's spread out over the whole city, and obviously New York is very different from Austin. We've really enjoyed the different types of venues, particularly the Brooklyn Vegan party at a cool loft space in Brooklyn.

Elizabeth Morris: We saw our friends Shrag at the Cake Shop, who were awesome, as were our label mates The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart who we saw at the Music Hall of Williamsburg

TAS: You all come from very different band experiences - ranging from The Darlings to Tender Trap to Hefner. Why did things really begin to coalesce as Allo Darlin' around that Christmas of 2008 when you formed?

Elizabeth: The first thing the band did together was a cover of the Springsteen song "Atlantic City."  Off the back of that we recorded "Henry Rollins Don't Dance" and thought it sounded pretty good!

Mikey: The band came together quite quickly, but we were just having fun hanging out together and making songs. Sean [of Fortuna POP!] asked Elizabeth to make a record as soon as possible, so we started work in Soup Studios. It's certainly not easy fitting in all the other bands, but we still get to do bits and bobs here and there.

TAS: There seems to be a potent Glasgow scene for the kind of literate, sweet-but-sharp music you make; you've certainly gotten your share of Camera Obscura and Belle and Sebastian comparisons. But what is that scene like in London, aside from bands like Noah and the Whale and Let's Buy Happiness? When did Allo Darlin's sound really become defined for you?

Bill Botting: Our scene is different from the Noah and the Whale thing. We hang out in the indiepop crew, I guess. The bands we play with and love are ones like Standard Fare, The School, Darren Hayman, Wave Pictures, etc.


TAS: Elizabeth, what was it about the ukulele, which is so effective on tracks like "Heartbeat Chilli," that first appealed to you? How versatile is the instrument for what you do?

Elizabeth: I walked past the Duke Of Uke shop on Hanbury Street in London and saw a uke in the window with two love hearts on either side of the sound hole. It looked interesting, so I bought it and started playing. It's a really charming instrument and I find it insipiring to write on.

TAS: When you listen to your debut album, what makes you happiest about what you accomplished? What do you wish you could perhaps change?

Mikey: The record was made really quickly, so some songs were written in the studio and arranged and recorded in a day. As a result there are lots of imperfections (musically) on the record, but because of that we think it also has a real energy!

TAS: You're already working on songs for your second album. Where do you think you might drift sound-wise?  

Paul Rains: Well, the next record isn't going to be an electro one! I think it should have loads more guitars! We're not really sure what the record is going to sound like. Obviously, we'd like it to be better than the last one, and we're keen to work with our producer from the first record, Simon Trought, again. We'll be heading to the studio in the spring or summer of 2011.

TAS: Elizabeth, your lyrics are detailed and richly personal, reflecting your life as a sun-splashed Australian transplanted to cloudier London. When you write, what's your process? When does the entire band step in?

Elizabeth: I write the chords, melody and lyrics of the songs. We craft the songs as a band, though, and everyone has input in the arranging.

TAS: What other songwriters - or vocalists - do you admire?  

Elizabeth: The Go Betweens (Robert Forster), Joni Mitchell, Jens Lekman and Darren Hayman.

TAS: You said in an interview that you disliked fame, but given how the British music press works, how do you embrace the "buzz" you're experiencing?  

Mikey: We're told there is a buzz and we're obviously really excited about that, but the truth is that we are focused on playing great shows and making our next record!


TAS: The band's name is so very East London. It reminds me of walking through the Petticoat Lane market, listening to the hawkers. Why did you settle on that?

Mikey: The name came from a phrase that Elizabeth heard London market traders say every morning when she was on her way to work. She liked it and used it for the band name!

TAS: If you could ask anyone to cover an Allo Darlin' song, who would it be and what song would you give them?

Elizabeth: We'd like Bruce Springsteen to return the favor and cover one of our songs!

TAS: You've toured the US this fall  - is it really impossible to find a decent cup of tea in the States?

Elizabeth: Yes, you can find a decent cup of tea, though you sometimes get weird looks when you ask for milk.


TAS Interview: Radiohead's Phil Selway

Radiohead drummer Phil Selway might have spent part of the year recording an eighth album with his bandmates, but in August he also released his dreamy, contemplative solo debut, Familial, on Nonesuch Records in the States and Bella Union in the UK.

The Alternate Side's Alisa Ali caught up with Selway on the phone not long ago and discovered that even a member of one of the most influential rock bands of all time can't tear his kids away from "The X Factor."

While Selway had an intriguing answer regarding his tour dates next year (could they be with and without Radiohead?), if you're lucky enough to be in London on December 16, you can catch Selway's Bella Union Christmas Show at Union Chapel with Peter Broderick (occasional Efterklang member), Alessi's Ark and Lanterns on the Lake. Mince pies are promised:

Alisa: I understand that the groundwork for your solo album came from Neil Finn’s Seven Worlds Collide project where you did some drumming, guitarwork and lead vocals and you even penned two of the songs for the album.

Phil Selway: That’s right. That really set me on my way, doing that. It also introduced me to the musicians playing on the record, like Lisa Germano and Sebastian Steinberg and Glenn Kotche and Pat Sansone. from Wilco. But I think what I came away with, having been in Seven Worlds Collide, was confidence. A belief I’d actually be able to make a record.


Alisa: The two songs you penned for that record made it onto your solo record, right?

Phil: That’s right. A song called “The Ties That Bind Us” which is actually the version that I recorded in New Zealand. The final song on Familial is called “The Witching Hour” and I recorded a different version for Seven Worlds Collide. This version is actually my original demo which I came back to.

Alisa: How is the other one different?

Phil: It has other musicians on there. Lisa Germano and Jeff Tweedy are playing on it. And KT Tunstall and Bic Runga do the backing vocals on the Seven Worlds version so it’s essentially the same song but it’s interesting when you play with different musicians how they can take the song off in a different direction.

Alisa: I imagine that you’ve encountered many talented musicians, but what is it about these group of people that appealed to you?

Phil: They’ve all got very distinct musical voices in their own right and a lot of experience as well. It all fell in quite naturally over the song “The Ties That Bind Us.” These musicians gravitated towards that and without actually going through lots of different options, there is something that happened very easily there. There’s seems to have been a natural rapport and it was a good, appropriate blend for the kind of music I was writing.


Alisa: You named the album Familial so there’s a family theme here. In “Ties” there’s a line where you say that you say, “I want to shield you from my mistakes.” Is that for your child?

Phil: Yes. That line is, actually (laughs). It’s the sense that every family has its quirks which gets passed on through the generations. That line is pretty self-explanatory: “I want to shield you from my mistakes.” It’s that sense that you have as a parent that you see certain aspects of your own personality, the capacity for that, in your children. And you want to steer them in a different way.

Alisa: There’s a funny New Yorker cartoon of a child going off to college and saying to his parents, “Don’t worry. I promise to only make mistakes you’ve never made.”

Phil: Oh, I’m sure.

Alisa: As a touring musician, I’m sure there are difficulties balancing your career with your family. How do you deal with that? Do you take your family on the road?

Phil: Yes, actually. The last big chunk of Radiohead touring, my family did come out with me for the whole of the U.S. tour. It was fantastic. Great for me. We had our own bus (laughs). I had the experience of coming off stage when we’d done a show and suddenly I’d be home in about five minutes of leaving the stage! (laughs). It was great. Lovely, really.


Alisa: What do your kids think of your music. Are they big Radiohead fans? Do they realize that a lot of the songs on Familial are aimed at them?

Phil: Well, I actually wouldn’t say that a lot of the songs are aimed at them. They’ve got some awareness of Radiohead and my own stuff, but their music tastes take them other places which I think is quite right. Your dad’s music is your dad’s music! You want to find your own identity.

Alisa: So you don’t try to introduce them to music that you feel is more substantial?

Phil: Well, there’s always music being played around the house. Hopefully that’s kind of seeping into them. But it’s such a personal thing, music. And hopefully when you’re a kid or teenager, that’s really where you start to get a sense of your own personality. It’s a very important area of where you start to establish your own independence. I’d like to leave them to that one.

Alisa: What have they been listening to?

Phil: Has JLS made it over to the States? (laughs).

Alisa: No.

Phil: They came from one of these reality show, “The X Factor” sort of things. Who else do they like? Blur, Black-Eyed Peas, that kind of thing. Left to their own devices, they’ll come up with something good.

Alisa: So they don’t try to rebel against Dad’s music? How old are they? Could they get into something like Kid A?

Phil: Maybe eventually. They’re still only 11, 9 and 7. A little young. But there’s plenty of time.

Alisa: Are you doing any tours in the US?

Phil: There’s nothing concrete yet. Just talking about the possibility of dates. So hopefully I’ll be in the States, in one guise or another, next year.




Frightened Rabbit's Scott Hutchison Talks To TAS And Duets With Craig Finn

Frightened Rabbit will release a limited 500-edition box set in November that will not only include all four singles from their latest album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, on 7-inch vinyl, but will also feature frontman Scott Hutchison's duet with The Hold Steady's Craig Finn on the Elton John and Kiki Dee pop classic "Don't Go Breaking My Heart." Very bro-mantic.

In fact, thanks to Brooklyn Vegan, there's even a video of Hutchison and Finn giving it their all on Saturday night:


Scott caught up with The Alternate Side over email a couple of weeks ago and clued us in on what he might be wearing for the Halloween Eve show and why Craig is the perfect Kiki Dee.

TAS: You're returning to NYC with Plants and Animals on Halloween Eve - what does is mean to be back in New York and what does the city mean to you and the band? What are your favorite NYC spots?

Scott Hutchison: We love New York for so many reasons. It was the first city we ever played in the states, so to think back upon basements and empty rooms past is quite satisfying. We have good friends in the city, which is really important. The food is second to none: Corner Bistro, Veselka, myriad pizza slice joints, 2nd Avenue Deli... all incredible.

TAS: Halloween was never a big holiday in the UK until recently, but do you recall any childhood Halloween memories? Particularly inventive costumes? And might you and your bandmates have any plans for Flaming Lips-style costume choices for the Terminal 5 show?

Scott: I once dressed up as Peter Criss from Kiss. Throughout the night, I was lighting my chest hair and calling it "pyrotechnics." We also had large erect penises spray painted onto our leather trousers. Seemed pretty hilarious at the time. For the T5 show, we plan to dress as "The Five Ages of Elton John."

TAS: Have you been working new songs into the sets? If so, which ones?

Scott: We haven't been working in any unheard material, but have learned how to play more of the new record, so songs like 'Things' and 'Not Miserable' get an outing on this tour.

TAS: How did that cover of "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" with Craig Finn come about for the upcoming box set of singles? Were you Kiki or Elton?

Scott: As for the cover, I've been thinking about doing an all-male version of that song for some time. Craig was always top of my list, and I really couldn't believe he said yes to it. I wanted it to sound like a couple of guys having a drunken 'bro down' at the end of a night. Craig did a great job.




TAS Interview: Karl Hyde of Underworld

Ambitious dance and electronica innovators Underworld kicked off their far-too-brief North American tour last night in Washington D.C., supporting their new, collaboration-driven album Barking which dropped in September on Om Records in the States (and Cooking Vinyl in the UK).

The record, a sunny, shimmering followup to 2007's  darker-hued Oblivion with Bells, marks the first time the Essex-based duo of composer/producer Rick Smith and vocalist/lyricist/guitarist Karl Hyde has actively recruited outside producers (and friends) like High Contrast, Dubfire and Paul van Dyck, to illuminate their sound.

The experience offered the pair fresh perspectives on their own music and 30-year partnership. Underworld's music over the years has spanned the aching, propulsive expanse of "Dirty Epic," from 1994's dubnobasswithmyheadman, to the aggressive bite of "Peggy Sussed," from the 2005 digital release Lovely Broken Things, to a little hit song from 1996's Trainspotting soundtrack.  Despite the wide range of production styles on Barking, from High Contrast's dub 'n' bass to Appleblim's Bristol-born dubstep, each track,  like the singles "Scribble," "Always Loved A Film" and "Bird 1,"  all still sound undeniably like Underworld.

Underworld will take over New York's Roseland Ballroom on October 27 (and if you've never seen them play live, you're missing out on one of the most invigorating, transformative live performances you'll ever see),  but first, they make their Stateside television debut on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" tonight, October 26.

The Alternate Side caught up with a slightly jet-lagged Hyde on the phone from Essex about a week ago and chatted about the fresh approach which sparked Barking, painting and his truly inimitable (and ever-expanding) record collection.


TAS: Are you still jet-lagged from your Japan tour? How were the shows over there?

Karl Hyde: I don’t know what I am! The shows were crazy, they were all sold out, we’ve got a number one album there. We had almost completely new audiences there of screaming girls and young guys - trendy-looking cool guys. It was really bizarre. Fantastic, but really strange. They hardly knew any of the old tunes. It was really strange (laughs). But it was kind of what we hoped.

TAS: Wasn’t part of the catalyst for recording Barking the need to rejuvenate your live shows?

Karl: It was. The live shows were suffering because with the previous album, [Oblivion With Bells], it had only really given us one tune that we added to the live set, so the set was sounding pretty old and that was an odd feeling for us, for a band that tries to keep moving forward and has always felt that we were moving forward. But it felt that we weren’t moving forward and it felt like other bands were moving past us. I didn’t like that feeling. Rick didn’t like that feeling. So we started to develop these shows on the road and based them on the responses from the crowd, like we’d done in the days when Rick would take a DAT tape or an acetate and [former Underworld member] Darren Emerson would play it in his set and Rick would check out the mix in the club and see how the audience reacted and change the mix a little bit, tweak it. And then, years later, writing “King of Snake” onstage in Dublin; there’s a tradition of that.

TAS: I vividly recall seeing “Scribble” - which began life as “You Do Scribble” - done a couple of years ago at a show at the Roundhouse in London.

Karl: It’s very different now, isn’t it?

TAS: Completely. I’m so struck by this album in how you really experience the evolution of your songs. Underworld, more than many other bands, really do write, reexamine, and explore new work constantly on stage. Which is a bit daring, dangerous and exhilarating?

Karl: Oh, I think not to do that is dangerous! To not do that for a group like us, certainly for Rick and me, would bring about boredom and stagnation. And a lot of it is down to Rick, bless him. He’s constantly finding ways of reinventing even the new tunes, finding stuff in the new music that isn’t on the album in the ways that we approach [the songs] and the arrangements on stage. Night after night, they’re changing. It’s an important part of what we do and it’s been in our blood for the last twenty years now.

TAS: You’re returning to New York after a couple of years; you played All Points West and Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield, but this is your first time at Roseland?

Karl:  It’s the first time we’ve ever played the venue. It’s an old ballroom yes?

TAS: A former dime-a-dance kind of place.

Karl: Really? I love discovering new venues in cities, particularly in cities we’ve always had a strong following in, like New York. A new venue, a new stage, a new opportunity to present the show in a different way. Reconfiguring the show for different space and improvising with what the audience comes up with too.

TAS: You’re also returning to Los Angeles on Halloween, just over a year after the HARD Festival gig you were to do was shut down due to overcrowding.

Karl: Yeah, that was a real shame, but we’re doing it with the same people. Really like their attitude and the way they do things. It reminds us of where we’ve come from in terms of dance music, of things happening by word of mouth, of a party being so good that friends tell friends and then the next time, the party’s bigger and it grows and evolves in a very natural way as opposed to a hyped way. We really like the way the HARD people work.


TAS: You and Rick usually work as a team, but you’ve collaborated in the past with Gabriel Yared [on the soundtrack for "Breaking and Entering"] and you’ve worked with Brian Eno on the Pure Scenius project. But is it true that the real spark for Barking, all of these collaborations on the album, came from “Downpipe,” a track you did wiith Mark E. Knight and Dean Ramirez?

Karl: That really nailed it. We’ve known Brian for a really long time. [The work with] Gabriel was collaborative, but it was a film project. But when Mark and Dean approached us, asking me to sing on “Downpipe” - and then Rick did some experiments with it as well - that was in our territory, that was on our turf, which was dance music. That had gone so well; they’d made life so easy for us and had been such positive people to work with, that it made it a no-brainer for us to open the doors to the possibility of collaboration. There was also the frustration of having our material remixed by aspiring artists, but not being able to get into the studio with them because it was a done deal and it was too late because the album was out and we were off on tour. This time, Rick was really adamant that we had to experience working with other people on these tunes just to find out what would happen. We’ve been a band together for 30 years and there’s a strong possibility of stagnation and becoming repetitive, using the same processes because we’re the same people. Miles Davis was a real inspiration in that, inasmuch as he was never afraid to bring in younger artists and learn from them and cross pollinate and exchange ideas. It goes back to Rick looking for 17-year old Darren Emerson. It’s the way we’ve always worked, just that we haven’t worked that way for a few albums and it was time to work that way again.

TAS: Did you match people with certain tracks or did you, say, give Appleblim the choice of what song he wanted to work on? Was there great specificity about what producer/artist would fit with which track?

Karl: Most of the people we knew. With [dub ‘n’ bass producer] High Contrast, it was kind of obvious which one we were going to ask him to do (“Scribble”). The fact that he chose “Moon in Water” was kind of fantastic. And Appleblim, again, “Hamburg Hotel” was a dubstep track which that Rick had done. “Bird 1” we had sent to Dubfire and then there was “Telematic,” which is [now] called “Grace.” (laughs). Titles! Again, that’s one he’d chosen as well in addition to the one we’d ask if he’d have a look at. With Paul van Dyck we’d asked him if he’d have a look at “Diamond Jigsaw.”

TAS: Wasn’t there originally some connection with Brian Eno on the last track “Louisiana” which you and Rick ended up doing on your own? That you offered it to him, but he turned it down since he felt the track was beautiful as you’d done it.

Karl: Really?

TAS: There’s a little note about it your box set!

Karl: I should read our own notes, shouldn’t I! Do I remember that? I remember Brian coming up to the studio when we had the roughs of most of the tracks and we played him stuff, and yeah, he did actually say to leave it alone. We didn’t (laughs). Rick and I carried on with that one. It’s funny because that’s the only track that carried on without an outside collaborator.


TAS: Did it surprise you that so many of the producers remained true to your sound? They wanted to make an Underworld track.

Karl: I think that’s testament to their talent and the command that they have over their production skills. These are really talented people who aren’t blasting away over the top of something. They’re helping us be us. That’s the great quality of a really good producer. He helps artists be themselves. It was interesting with some of these tracks we gave to other artists; they came back sounding more like Underworld than the tracks we’d originally sent them (laughs). “Diamond Jigsaw” was a real problem. It started off as Keith Richards-meets-NEU! I’d written this track and it sounded good and rough, but it didn’t sound like Underworld. We tried it [out] loads of times, I think on a U.S. tour, but it just didn’t sound like us. It was going down well, but it didn’t sound like us. We gave it to Paul van Dyck and he gave it back to us and in the first iteration, before Rick responded to him, it sounded more like us than our version.

TAS: Didn’t Rick also prod you lyrically to push the envelope a bit? How different was Barking for you both vocally and lyrically?

Karl: There was just a kind of lightness of concept off Rick, as there often is. He asked if it were at all possible, and it wasn’t a problem if it were impossible, could I build a couple of doors into my lyrics to let people in a little bit. He didn’t want me to change the way I wrote; he just wanted me to write them and put a couple of doors into them. And I thought, “well, that’s an interesting problem.” I’ll see if I can address it and we’ll see what happens! As you know, my discipline is to write every day and when it came to some of these tracks, not all of them since I think some of them like “Bird 1” are intact as they are and I didn’t want to change that. But others like “Always Loved A Film,” “Scribble” and “Diamond Jigsaw” I’d written the words and then I’d redraft them which was a new experience for me when I saw what would happen when I put in a couple of doors and let people in.

TAS: I imagine that also woke you as a writer too, finding back doors into your usual process.

Karl: It was being more rigorous than I usually am. I’m normally, “well, okay, that’s it, there you go” and Rick has to get rigorous and move things around after its been recorded. There was a lot of rerecording with this album. Although sometimes the original lyric, like for “Bird 1” or “Grace,” [is the] original recording, the very first take. In “Louisiana,” the first verse and the first chorus is the original take which were recorded several years before the second verse and the second chorus. With some of these Rick would say, “I really like it, I think that’s the take, now do it again. Do it again.” Even with “Grace” I did it again. And he’d say, “What would happen if you did it again?” (laughs). Sometimes the brief was not even to change anything, just to do it again. I found it fascinating. With “You Do Scribble,” we had a lyric, we had a vocal and it was working, and when High Contrast’s version came back to us, Rick said, “Try a completely different melody with completely different words and see what happens.” And I’m really glad he did.


TAS: So the beginning process of Barking was easily, given all of this work, a couple of years ago, correct?

Karl: God no, really several years ago, out on the road. “Louisiana” has been around for a long time. It was a very small drawing really, just a first verse and a chorus, that’s it. I’m dead pleased that it became a complete piece. It was beautiful as a short draft, but it was always one of those that begged to be taken on a journey and with that one, it was a really strange way of writing for us. We literally got together in the studio, Rick on piano, we had a drum machine and I had a microphone. We clocked on as singer-songwriters; it was a very strange and really lovely experience but we’ve never worked that way before. I don’t think we’d worked that way in 30 years. It was very different and weird and to most songwriters, that’s the way they work all of the time.

TAS: Do you think that now you’ve done that, you’ll do it again?

Karl: Yeah, why not? And for other people too! There’s the concept of writing tracks for other people. I think that’s definitely come out of this record that Rick and I have proved to ourselves. That’s something that we could not only do, but we’d actually like to do.


TAS: You had your very first solo exhibit in Japan not long ago, “What's Going on in Your Head When You're Dancing?"  What did you take away from that entire experience in the gallery, in terms of your artwork?

Karl: That I can’t turn back now. I’m dedicated to a career as a fine artist. That’s where I started in the 70s, I’m an art school graduate. That’s where I want to be. I love doing it. It’s in my blood. It always was as a little kid; that’s the place I went to escape. Now, it’s not a place of escape, but discovery. Also, the performed art, the performed pieces that I did out there: the painting on the shed is now on the roof of an architect’s building as an office, they’ve got it on loan and work in one of my artworks (laughs). It’s not only the making of paintings that get hung on walls, but the performing of artworks as a member of an ArtJam and as an individual artist is something I’m passionate about now.

TAS: Do you paint every day?

Karl: No, I don’t, but I make marks every day. We just moved out of our house to rebuild it so I had to move out of my studio into another temporary space, but I make marks every day. I’ve just done a painting for the cover of a magazine in Japan called Brain Magazine with quite a shockingly different color scheme. [Underworld and Tomato collaborator] John Warwicker proposed it and I thought I’d take it on a journey and I really dug what happened. It’s very vibrant colors and I’m going to pursue that for a while.

TAS: You always turn me on, via the Underworld site, to new music. What are five songs or albums that are running around your brain this week?

Karl: I dunno! I went to a record shop for the first time in ages today! Marty RobbinsGunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. Gang of Four, A Brief History of the Twentieth Century. Penguin Café Orchestra’s Preludes, Airs & Yodels. What else did I pick up? I bought some Japanese stuff and a couple things off iTunes. Jim Reeves' “He’ll Have to Go” and Frank Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year.” (laughs). I picked up this other album by a [Japanese]band called Mannequin and Guitar. Agraph and the album is called Equals. I got the Kano album; I enjoy that and there’s a track I really like called “Maad.” Those are some recent acquisitions.

TAS: How many CDs and vinyl albums do you own?

Karl: I did some calculating because I’ve moved it several times. There’s a lad who comes and moves it for me because he boxes it really well (laughs). In fact, I’m sat in my temporary studio right now and all of my CD shelves are empty because they’re all sat in boxes outside and it’s really disturbing because when people ask me questions, I can’t answer them. But thousands. Yeah, thousands.


Underworld North American Fall Tour

Oct 27 - Roseland Ballroom, New York, NY,  
Oct 29 - Cow Palace, San Francisco, CA
Oct 30 - 4th & B, San Diego, CA
Oct 31 - The Shrine Expo Hall, HARD Haunted Mansion, Los Angeles CA





TAS Tour Diary: Suckers

Brooklyn's own Suckers are usually CMJ Music Marathon stalwarts, but the band is missing the festivities this year; they're currently on tour with Yeasayer in the UK and Europe. Still, CMJ week feels slightly empty without the quartet's hometown presence so The Alternate Side asked drummer/keyboardist Brian "Nairb" Aiken if he wouldn't mind keeping a tour diary, with photos, at the tail end of the band's recent road trip with Menomena and Tu Fawning.

He did ... and frontman Quinn Walker even proposed to his girlfriend at their Webster Hall gig on October 1, which even surprised his bandmates.

Suckers, whose album Wild Smile was released in June, will be back in New York on December 4 to play Le Poisson Rouge. Thanks to Brian's detailed diary, we know a little more about him, Quinn and multi-instrumentalists Austin Fisher and Pan and why every band deserves warm pizza and venue-embossed cupcakes upon arrival at a club.

Day 1: Betrothal in NYC
After a one-month odyssey across the country, Suckers have returned to New York for a bizarrely memorable show at Webster Hall. The night hit full stride around 8:30 pm when Quinn [Walker] popped the question to his endlessly adored girlfriend of late: Amy Rose Spiegel; a proposition equally broadcast to a sea of baffled music lovers who stared on in mildly traumatic semi-silence. Breaking the suspense, Amy emerged out of the front rows with a beaming radiant stare, spurring whoops and howls from eager Suckers fans and drunken enthusiasts alike. While the audience was appeased, the situation for friends, relatives, and band mates still remains shrouded in mystery. One thing cannot be denied; we must come to love and accept the spontaneous ways of Quinn; it’s surprising nights like these that make being a Sucker extra special.

Following our show, we all headed to Arrow Bar for the after-party. Here, Quinn works part-time as a bartender. Most all members from Suckers, Menomena, and Tu Fawning came out for a night full of overcharged, Napoleon Dynamite-esque dance theatre. I was somewhere near the center of this movement and so were key members of Tu Fawning. The energetic throng was fueled on by a bottomless margarita mix and the DJ stylings of Brooke Baxter. It was good to be back with familiar friends after a month on the road.

Day 2: Hung over in Rhode Island
I learn again and again the painful realities of over-indulgence on tour. In Minneapolis, in the middle of a 2-week run without a break, I made the mistake of smoking something and trying to fall asleep in a Days Inn. You take one hit and feel a complete departure from day to day perception. After your brain goes for a wild joy ride, you come back with a slightly affected mental state, woozy and disconnected from what you have just experienced. For me, lying awake in a dreamlike netherland, it felt like my mind had spawned some sort of organism, seemingly reptilian and cannibal, that continually raced and hallucinated into oblivion. It’s mental exhaustion like this that really wears me down on tour.

Yet, how could I refuse an honest fan’s earnest plea? He was simply repaying me psychedelically for Wild Smile. Arriving in Providence, I take my space from the rest and explore around the city. The town seems fully committed to night life: students playfully carouse, streets are closed off by police, and a long line of club-goers seem to cast a shadow over Jerky’s Pub/Restaurant with intimidating confrontational glances. The show was far more intimate than last evening’s, and as usual, when I begin playing drums, the aerobic element is such that my hangover naturally rids itself. We left after the show, heading to Connecticut for some rest and recovery.

Day 3: Family Time
After one month of Motel 6, Quality Inn, and Best Western, it’s nice to wake up in my own bed. Here in Wallingford, Connecticut, Scott (my younger brother, check out his band, Etta Place) and I both grew up in the same room and haven’t changed a thing since we were 8 years old. The wall is lined with miniature Looney Tunes figures, a giant outlay of the solar system, and one breathtaking shot of Kirby Puckett; a slightly overweight cleanup hitter for the Minnesota Twins in the early 90s.

I slept until 2 p.m. and awoke to a disheartening domestic disturbance: Winky, our family cat, has been missing for 5 days. He was last seen with a gouged neck and threatening scratches, it is believed that he had a showdown with a coyote. As I go for a morning jog, my mother tells me to keep an eye out for him. (Trying to keep the tour diary as harrowing and exciting as possible, but some days are just more glorious than others).  I try to run regularly on tour, but it usually amounts to no more than once a week. This is yet another technique to maintain balance and equilibrium given an often overly demanding schedule. Running on moist fall mornings through Connecticut back roads is a real treat, though the shock to my body is jarring. Until the show in Milford on Daniel Street, my mood is somewhat irksome and unsettled. We play to a modest crowd in Milford with most all of the Suckers parents in attendance. Heartwarming indeed....

Day 4: Redemption in Philadelphia
Today, we left for NYC and eventually Philadelphia at 9 in the morning. I picked up Pan at his house and as is usually the case when we’re alone, he slowly but surely starts to hit on me. It starts with casual Suckers talk: “Heey, did you hear about the upcoming show Ben wants to book in November?” or “Heeey, the label wants us to have the F-11 forms filled out by sound check, can you get those to me?” But eventually, as we’re caught in a deadlocked traffic jam and the afternoon sun requires that I peel off my handsome leather jacket, the conversation always comes round to, “It’s really sweet that you’re there for me when I have to lift up that big heavy bass amp, you’re so strong" or, “Hey Bri, you really are a testy little fireball on drums, when can we start lessons?” Nonchalantly pushing aside the gentle yet manly squeeze on my upper right leg, I reach for the radio tuner in a subtle effort to draw attention elsewhere.

In Philadelphia, I am surprised to learn that we are playing on the altar of a Unitarian church. Previously we had played in the basement of the church with Mates of State, but playing in the church itself, with drums infinitely resounding and a hushed silence in between songs was far more appealing than downstairs. Tu Fawning sounded amazing and their record release was today; I am happy for them and am sure good things await. Menomena as usual was powerful and engaging; their songs incessantly play in my head and continue to grow on me.

Day 5: The Royal Treatment in D.C.
Today we have played at the 9:30 Club, a venue that has supposedly held the title “Best Venue in America” for several years now. As we arrive, a team of earnest unloaders help to carry our equipment and we are pleasantly surprised to find 2 warmed pizzas waiting at the bar for us. The green rooms were far removed from the clamor of stage set up and detailed itineraries provided not only set times and sound check times but point people to contact should we need anything. On the whole, the staff seemed helpful, cordial and, unlike much of the venue personnel we encounter on the road, on the same team as the band.

To top it all off, four cupcakes with delightful Oreo cream filling were set out for us in our private rooms; they had "9:30" written in frosting. During our set, my bass pedal snapped and Quinn broke a string within the same 10-second interval. Of all the songs for my bass pedal to malfunction, “Black Sheep” is probably the worst. The song has a constant thumping pulse, in the same vein as house or trance music; without a bass pedal the song degenerated into a driving tom-tom bonanza, recalling “Enter Sandman” with no low end. Coupled with Quinn’s broken string, “Black Sheep” as experienced by D.C. was rather obscure, but the remarkable sound at 9:30 and the energy of the crowd made up for everything. A good night indeed.

Day 6: The Nairb Lair
The drive from D.C. to Chapel Hill wasn’t so bad, a mere 4 ½ hours. Typically, Austin takes the morning shift and I finish the job, but today I was exceptionally tired after having a late night with some D.C. friends.

Most of our drives on tour range from 6-8 hours, especially when we make it westward of St. Louis; these are beautiful drives with views of the Rockies, winding colored canyons, and golden rolling hills, but the distances are much greater, usually 7 or 8 hours. The van for me is a place of refuge; I find solitude in the deepest chamber of our Ford F350, far removed from the tumultuous dramas that occur in the front seats. This territory, which I consider a vast and enchanting expanse, is known by Suckers and me as the “Nairb Lair.” It is here, away from the incessant iPhone blips and Facebook tagging, that one can really get in touch with one’s inner voice.

In the Nairb Lair, one can find a perpetually restocked ten-pack of Capri Sun, alongside scores and scores of Nature Valley Bars and an ever-fresh loaf of bread (should the hankering for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich arise). The lair is also the only fully reclining sofa in the entire van, boasting an extra 2 ½ feet of legroom with full A/C access. What does Panland have to say to that? We arrive to Chapel Hill around 4 p.m. with plenty of time before the show. On this tour, sandwiched in between Menomena and Tu Fawning, we rarely, if ever, get time for a sound check. Suckers have grown accustomed to this and we know well how everything should sound in our monitors, the quick line check before we start usually suffices.

In the late afternoon, the band breaks off into different directions and I find myself at a coffee shop reading Anna Karenina; I really enjoy this novel and I find the half hour of quiet time with it every day is crucial for my peace of mind. Here at the coffee shop, I meet an amazing girl, her name is Olivia. As is usually the case on tour with meeting women, I employ a strict set of fame-buttressed strategies to ensure imminent success. With baristas, I start with passionately responding to sweets on the menu, this usually leads to hand-outs that provide restock for the Nairb lair. Next, I casually peak her interest to the possibility of an open slot on the guest list. BOOM! Power play. How can you say no? She sees the concert and has a great time. What happens next?? Oh my God, he has a drink ticket!? That’s right; this ticket gets you any drink you like for free….. “I’m in the band”. Before long, the girl awakens to find herself in a pleasantly peaceful and remote mental space; taking a deep breath, she recognizes her immediate surroundings as none other than the Nairb lair.

Day 7: Post Tourmatic Stress?
In a last minute effort to redeem myself after yesterday’s entry, I would like to say, “Olivia, if you’re out there, please don’t take this seriously!” Olivia is from Denmark and has offered to help me make some contacts in Copenhagen.

After we tour with Yeasayer in Europe for two weeks, we will finish off in Berlin. I plan to stay an extra 20 days overseas and travel around the continent. Denmark, thanks to Olivia, seems more and more like an exciting travel possibility. We have only two days of tour left and I am a bit sad it is concluding. I am beginning to feel a real camaraderie with the folks from Menomena and Tu Fawning and look forward to hearing their music each night. In all of the bands, every member is singing and playing multiple instruments; it is an educational experience for all of us. I may find it difficult to return to New York without hearing “The Strongest Man in the World” as the night’s closer or the ceremonial trumpet calls and tambourines from Tu Fawning as the night begins.

As is usually the case, I will return back home with a mild case of “Post-Tourmatic Stress Syndrome” (coined by Scott Aiken). Shocked into a lull, I will exist in a semi-conscious stupor for several days until I resume my old stationary rhythm. As it stands now, we have one more show in Nashville tomorrow, 6 days of rest, and then a flight to Dublin to kick off our European tour. What else could a wandering 26-year-old ask for?


 (photos courtesy of Suckers)