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TAS Interview: Isobel Campbell

In August, Scottish chanteuse and cellist Isobel Campbell released her third collaborative album, Hawk, with gruff, saturnine cohort Mark Lanegan, ex of Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age. Campbell and Lanegan's  unique sunshine-and-storms vocal match garnered the unlikely duo a Mercury Prize nomination for their 2006 album Ballad of the Broken Seas which they followed with 2008's Sunday at Devil Dirt. 

For this most recent release, Campbell, a founding member of Belle and Sebastian who left the band in 2002, not only wrote all of the songs for Hawk (save two Townes Van Zandt covers) and produced it. In addition to Lanegan, she also recruited additional guests Willy Mason, who joined her on two tracks, and former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha.

Campbell and Lanegan launch their first-ever North American tour tonight, October 13, in Cambridge, Massachusetts and they arrive in New York this weekend, playing shows at Bowery Ballroom on October 16 and Music Hall of Williamsburg on October 17. The effusive, quick-to-laugh and charming Campbell chatted with The Alternate Side on the phone from Los Angeles on Monday about her work with Lanegan, a future project with Victoria Williams and the sweet reunion she had last week with her former bandmates, Belle and Sebastian.

TAS: Is it true that you’re moving to Los Angeles?

Isobel Campbell: I think I’ve just moved! It’s been in the cards for a long time. I’ve spent most of the past two years in the U.S. And I was never wanting to go home [to Glasgow] whenever I supposed to go home, so I was telling myself something. I’ve got an address now [in LA] which is really funny. I don’t have a Social Security number but I have a bank account with nothing in it! (laughs) You know, you get old and everything and I’m like, “yeah, I’ve been to a bar for the first time, a club for the first time, I’m an old lady now and nothing will ever be new.” Then, all of a sudden, I’m in a different culture, getting a bank account, signing a cell phone contract, not just a pay-as-you-go phone. Now I’ve got an actual two-year contract! (laughs).

TAS: Congratulations! Apparently, much of your new album Hawk was conceived here in the States. You were escaping an emotionally trying time and went off to live in the Arizona desert.

Isobel: Yeah, i just ran away. It was deepest, darkest winter in Glasgow and I thought, well, this is getting ... dark. So I went to Tuscon, Arizona - I have friends there. I went for two weeks and I ended up staying most of the year. I kept changing my plane ticket, I just liked it so much. TAS: So a lot of the songs for Hawk tumbled out of that time? Isobel: They did. It was rough. The first couple of weeks I was there I was strugging a lot. Sometimes in life, the right thing finds us and I think it was one of those times. I’m good friends with [Giant Sand’s] Howe Gelb and I was embraced by the little community of musicians there. Howe  has lived there for years and years. I got really friendly with his assistant and she kind of mothered me through a hard time.

TAS: You were going through a bad breakup?

Isobel: I was! And I wasn’t myself and she kind of took me into her family. She has three amazing kids and she just really lifted me up. So it came at the right time (laughs).

TAS: So of all the albums you’ve done, from The Gentle Waves to your solo work to other albums with Mark Lanegan, was this the most difficult album for you to write?

Isobel: Not too much. I got friends with Celia and ended up house-sitting for her brother-in-law and it was a bachelor pad so it was very functional. I had a guitar, [another guy’s] cello and it flowed, actually. I think it was very natural. I wasn’t even thinking, “I’m writing a record,” it was just something to do to take my mind off things.


TAS: Listening to this album, it seemed as if it might have been a relief to give such emotionally raw songs like “You Won’t Let Me Down Again” to Mark, to let him lead vocally while you sat back vocally a bit.

Isobel: As long as he feels like he can sing one of my songs, I know that he takes on a role. Sometimes it is, in a way, it’s nice for me. Also because I’m producing too and it’s nice to stay in the background. I think because I come from a band history as well, sometimes it seems right. Sometimes not. Sometimes I want to sing more. But he sings something and then it turns into something else almost.

TAS: He makes it more about fighting back; it's not just about heartbreak.

Isobel: It’s feisty, it’s gutsy. It’s good to fight back instead of rolling over!

TAS: What is it about your voice that’s you feel is your strength and Mark’s voice that makes you happy?

Isobel: If I’m doing good with my voice, I think there’s a lot of feeling in it. It can be very expressive, whispery, kind of haunting. If I’m singing high, there’s a purity which I really like. My voice is very atmospheric, I think. But with Mark, he’s just a natural. Just amazing. He doesn’t have to try to hard; he just opens his mouth and out it comes. I love sitting next to him when we’re singing, even in radio sessions. He loves singing; I can tell. Even on the tour bus a few weeks ago after the last show, he was singing “The Tennessee Waltz” into my iPhone. It was really funny. We were recording it. He’s a bit of a crooner. I like it.

TAS: Your songs give him the chance to explore textures in his voice that he doesn’t often have the chance to do.

Isobel: Yeah! With Mark, recently he’s been touring with a solo show, just him and a guitar player, and we’ve been doing press in London so I went to the show. But his voice is so fat and so thick. It’s great on the rock stuff, like Queens of the Stone Age, it can take a lot of stuff going on, but I love his voice stripped back. That was always, from the get-go, one of my favorite things about his voice.

TAS: Going way, way back, what was the song - or experience - that first triggered that interest in working with Mark? Or motivated you to want to work with him?

Isobel: Well, I had a half-written song that my friend Eugene [Kelly] from The Vaselines, who’d been singing with me sometimes, was laughing about while we were in the studio. It either went too high, and he sounded like a girl, or it was too low and he sounded crazy. So my boyfriend at the time, Jonathan, said, “oh, you should ask Mark Lanegan to sing a song with you.” And I said, “who’s that?” Jonathan had been a big Screaming Trees fan. I said, “Okay, let me hear this Mark Lanegan.” So he played me something from Scraps at Midnight. Usually Jonathan and I had very different tastes in music. Not that I don’t like Queen or Frank Sinatra, but all Jonathan would listen to was Frank Sinatra (laughs) and he kind of turned his nose up if I played Astrid Gilberto or bossa nova or Vashti Bunyan. He was very narrow-minded (laughs). But, after he played Mark, I thought well, there may be something in this. I wrote to Mark not really expecting to hear anything back but a few weeks later my manager at the time said, “oh, Mark Lanegan wants to call you.” Mark called and he’d completed the half-written song, he’d written the lyrics, and he sang it down the telephone. I was hooked on him. He was fun and a real character, singing down the telephone. It was like an 80s movie! “La Bamba!” (laughs).

TAS: This is the first real tour that you and Mark have ever been able to do, isn’t it?

Isobel: I know! It’s been a comedy of errors and sometimes not very funny.

TAS: Eugene toured with you at one point.

Isobel: Yeah, and I love him. But it was Mark on my record. I love Eugene, but I was racking up all of this tour support on my label at the time but it wasn’t my vision! It was very unsatisfying to me and seemed to me, pointless. If I make a record with someone, it should be like the record.


TAS: How has it been so far? What have you discovered about the two of you working on stage together?

Isobel: I don’t know about discovered, but things have been confirmed to me. I love singing with Mark. That we kind of back each other up. He’s a man of few words and I can get a little giggly at times, so we’re a really odd couple. But we have fun and I really love singing with him. I feel quite protective of him at times and always feel very proud of him when he’s singing. Like “The Circus Is Leaving Town";  I’m playing cello on that song and sitting back and thinking, “wow, he’s really bringing my song to life. This is amazing.”

TAS: You’ll have the chance to tour together more, perhaps, now that you’re a Los Angeleno.

Isobel: I never thought it would be LA, I have to say. I thought it would be Arizona. I’m much more a sleepy person! But it’s a start. I’m probably the least LA person ever.

TAS: You can always drive out to Joshua Tree.

Isobel: My very good friend, Victoria Williams, lives out there and I’ve been working on her record. That’s another reason for it to be L.A. because I thought Victoria and I could really get into her record. Although she’s not in a hurry to finish it (laughs). It’s her solo album and I’m producing it. Every time I’m in Joshua Tree with her, I never want to leave. We have a nice time.

TAS: So you’re going to work with her on the album when you finish this tour?

Isobel: I kind of owe it to her, to do it next. Her songs are so good. I’ve got more of my own songs that I’d like to write, but I’d like to get her record in the bag.

TAS: For your next project, are you looking to doing a solo project or another collaboration? Because you also worked with Willy Mason on Hawk as well. Is your ear always now attuned to another voice?

Isobel: Sometimes. I think I’ll write the songs and see what they’re telling me. I’ve definitely written something more for Willy. Also, we’re touring with Harper Simon in November and I love his record. I love his voice and I’d like to try singing with him too. There’s a lot of different things I’d like to do. I think because I’m from a band background, I do really enjoy collaborating.

TAS: You and Mark will be doing All Tomorrow’s Parties in December [in Minehead, UK] and your former band, Belle and Sebastian. are curating it. Will this be the first time that you’ll actually be on the same stage with them since you left in 2002?

Isobel: I don’t know if I’ll be on the same stage with them, but they played in L.A. last week and I went to their show and caught up with them afterwards. It was really quite touching. It was nice to see them all and I felt really proud of them. I don’t know if we’ll be doing things together, but we’ll definitely be hanging out. It made me really happy. There’s a lot of water under the bridge, but it felt like a really good thing.

TAS: This seems to be a time of a lot of new beginnings for you.

Isobel: I think so. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel (laughs).


TAS: Why did you choose to cover two Townes Van Zandt songs on Hawk? Was he someone you were listening to obsessively while wandering the desert?

Isobel: It was really weird. My [former] bass player, Dave McGowan who is out with Teenage Fanclub now, had put all of Townes’ songs into my iTunes. I couldn’t really get into them. But in 2009 in Tuscon, gazing at the sky, something clicked and I fell in love with his songs. I don’t know. It was the right time. He’s an amazing songwriter. It’s sort of technically wrong [to put two Van Zandt songs on the album], but I felt so strongly about it. I so strongly identified with “No Place To Fall” and “Snake Song.” It’s not normal to do that, but it seemed right. So I felt, “Oh, why not?”

TAS: Since you enjoy writing songs for other people, is there someone you wish could sing one of your songs who hasn’t? And if so, what song would you give them?

Isobel: Oooh, there’s a million people. So many. (she ponders at length). I’m a big Dolly Parton fan, but she doesn’t need any songs. She does cover records though ....

TAS: So what would you give Dolly Parton?

Isobel: Oh, I don’t know. A hug? (laughs). She seems as if she’d be quite comforting!

Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan's North American Tour:
October 13 - Cambridge, MA, The Middle East
October 14 - Philadelphia, PA. Johnny Brenda’s
October 15 - Washington, DC, Rock N’ Roll Hotel
October 16 - New York, NY, Bowery Ballroom
October 17 - Brooklyn, NY, Music Hall of Williamsburg
October 19 - Montreal, QC, Cabaret
October 20 - Toronto, ON, Lee’s Palace
October 21 - Columbus, OH, Wexner Center
October 22 - Chicago, IL, Lincoln Hall
October 23 - Minneapolis, MN, Cedar Cultural Center
October 26 - Seattle, WA, Neumos
October 27 - Portland, OR, Doug Fir
October 28 - San Francisco, CA, Great American Music Hall
October 29 - Los Angeles, CA, El Rey







TAS Interview: Dave Sitek of Maximum Balloon

Dave Sitek, guitarist for TV on the Radio and producer for not only that band, but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars, Scarlett Johansson and many more, recently released his self-titled solo debut under the buoyant moniker Maximum Balloon.

However, "solo" might not quite be the correct word for Sitek's sun-splashed parade of luminous (and sometimes sexy) dance and funk confections. The project's impressive collection of guest vocalists bounces from David Byrne to Karen O to TVOTR's Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone. Local New York favorites like Holly Miranda, Aku of Dragons of Zynth and Theophilus London also appear. Not only did Sitek manage to recruit a charismatic lineup, but every song represents the rich expanse of Sitek's production palette.

The Alternate Side caught up with Sitek via email from Los Angeles and learned more about his Maximum Balloon alter-ego and why a real tour is so sadly improbable:

TAS: You have such wide-ranging diversity in your selection of collaborators, everyone from Holly Miranda to Theophilus London to Karen O. And mostly, aside from Little Dragon I think, very New York in vibe. Does it feel like a New York album to you?

Dave Sitek: I haven't listened to the album in New York yet, but when I do, hopefully it will sync up!

TAS: What made you match particular songs with a particular artist?

Dave: I let each artist pick the song.

TAS: How is this a real jumping off point, for you personally, when compared to the work you've done with TV On The Radio? I read that you used scores of synthesizers, true?

Dave: I would say it is necessarily a huge leap from TVOTR, more like a huge leap from warehouse-with-no-windows to non-stop-sun-exposure-canyon living ... and yes, I have a synth problem.


TAS: You still chose to take a back seat vocally on this record, aside from backing work. Do you prefer not singing?

Dave: I do enjoy singing quite a bit, though I don't feel like I need my raspy meanderings to be sandwiched between the best voices I know ... I am content singing "MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW MEOW " in this context.

TAS: The song "Communion," with Karen O is a surprising detour for both of you - very sultry, very atmospheric. How did you both work on that track? Did you present her with the song?

Dave: I have always had a soft spot for Karen's "gentle" voice since we did the vocal tracks for "Maps." We were having dinner and I was playing her some music I'd been working on and true to her intuition, she sang the exact right thing the exact right way. I turned on a mic and thanked my lucky stars. 

TAS:  "Apartment Wrestling" featuring David Byrne is a huge highlight for me on the album. You must have been so happy to work with him - how did you approach him?  I suspect he's been an influence ....

Dave: He is theeeee influence! We have a mutual friend who played him the track ... to my surprise he was into it. Then he "threw down." Amazing, that guy. 

TAS:  You're very much a producer in demand - how long was the gestation period for the record? 

Dave: I worked on and off for 8 months, between my other projects. 

TAS: There are so many glorious nods to different styles and moods galloping through the record - what dance music do you love? What other DJs or producers influence or intrigue you?

Dave: I was hoping to catch up with our collective universal taste in music.  The "shuffle" function on an iPod has opened me up when I was trying to be closed. There are so many different influences, it's hard to say any particular ones.  Everything from Altered Images to Massive Attack to Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam.   

TAS: You DJ a lot - what are some perfect segues that come to mind? The segue you've done in a club that you've thought was totally bad ass? Or, well, just simply bad, if you want to admit to it.

Dave: I love bad! Probably the most "bananas" was Radiohead's "National Anthem" to "Sweet Emotion" from Aerosmith.  


TAS: There seems to be a motif of "The Red Balloon" to your image of late. In the spirit of that beautiful French film, has there been a red balloon following you down the streets of Brooklyn lately?

Dave: I haven't been in Brooklyn for two years (I live in L.A.), but somewhere in Brooklyn, a balloon grows. 

TAS: You brought in both your TVOTR compadres Kyp and Tunde to contribute to this album. Although you guys are on hiatus as a band, what is it about the chemistry that you all have together that inspires you? Did you share early demos of the album with them?

Dave: We are truly great friends and our common bond is comedy, but we do agree on quite a bit of music as well. We are very honest ... and nobody said "this sucks!" So I am taking them at their word.  

TAS: While you are doing DJ gigs, you're not going to do a real Maximum Balloon tour.  Is there a reason why?

Dave: It would be wildly expensive to tour with all the singers and I can't imagine what the rider would look like.  

TAS: You used to sing in a barbershop quartet. If you were forced to sing something a cappella, right this very minute, what song would you sing and why?  

Dave: I don't really remember the barbershop arrangements, but if I were forced to sing a cappella right now, it would probably be something ridiculous ...  like "911 Is a Joke."  

TAS: Aside from your own album, what releases in 2010 - albums or singles - have made you happiest?

Dave: I will let you know in December, though I listen to Pink Noise all the time.






TAS Interview: Laurie Anderson

Genre-defying musician and theatrical innovator Laurie Anderson has been one of New York's most influential artists, experimental or otherwise, for four decades. Her boundary-blurring career has gently zigzagged from a left-field radio hit ("O Superman") to monumental stage shows (Home of the Brave) to recent improvisational collaborations with husband Lou Reed and free jazz master John Zorn.

Over the summer, Anderson released Homeland on Nonesuch Records, her first studio album since 2001's Life On A String. The collection of songs, which she's performed on tour for several years, were co-produced by Reed who prodded an overwhelmed Anderson, facing thousands of sound files, to finally finish the project. The record's thoughtful range of guest artists includes friends Antony Hegarty, who delicately accompanies Anderson's wizened, low-pitched alter ego on "Another Day in America," and Four Tet, aka Kieran Hebden, who adds a propulsive dance thrum to the cutting declarations of "Only An Expert."

Last February Anderson debuted her latest performance piece, Delusion, a commission for the 2010 Vancouver Cultural Olympiad. The dreamy, astute, deeply personal multimedia monologue, laced with improvised music and striking video imagery, has since played London's Barbican Centre and Berkeley's Cal Performances. It is currently in the midst of its New York premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, now through this Sunday, October 3. Later in the month, Anderson will tour with Delusion to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Barbara and even Troy, New York where she first developed the play at EMPAC.

This past Sunday, Anderson spoke to The Alternate Side on the phone as she traveled to Brooklyn for her matinee. Bad cell phone reception and a couple of dropped calls sparked conversational tangents, punctuated by Anderson's mellifluous laugh, that touched on technology, capitalism, the idle life, dead donkeys and her ailing, but feisty rat terrier Lolabelle who really does play the piano.

(photo courtesy of Lou Reed)

TAS: What has your experience of finally performing Delusion in New York been like over the last couple of weeks?

Laurie Anderson: Well, it’s been intense for me. I guess because I get a lot of feedback from my friends and it’s an intense show. So they’re like, “Whoa, I brought my friend and I had to talk to her three hours after the show last night.” Everyone sees a different show. But for me, the material is kind of intense. I can either pretend that it’s someone else saying it, and just do it, or I can get into it and realize that it’s a real story. It takes a lot of energy. A lot more than I thought. When you’re on tour you’re preoccupied by the place a little bit, a new place every night or two. This way, it’s twelve shows in the same place, in your home town.

TAS: And when you’re traveling there’s a shift in perspective too.

Laurie: Absolutely. But I like it. It’s also a chance to really play the music. The two people I’m playing with [violist Eyvind Kang and Colin Stetson on horns] every night is really different because it’s largely improvised. [Eyvind and Colin] are really game to do stuff that’s different all of the time. Which I love because I would just die of boredom if it were just the same music day after day.


TAS: Speaking of improvisation, you’ve been working a lot of with John Zorn and Lou [Reed]. The three of you played the Montreal Jazz Festival not long ago which turned into a rather emotional and strange event.

Laurie: I love Montreal. The thing about jazz festivals for me is, well, I don’t fit in very well. I remember the very first one I was in, during the 70s, in Berlin. I was playing this song, kind of the way I do now, and I heard this voice in the audience go (deepening voice), “Play jazz!” And I though, “Oh my god, he’s right.” I’m at a jazz festival and I don’t know any jazz. I don’t know the first thing about jazz. I kind of froze, though I finished the song. I realized it’s a pretty loose definition of jazz when I’m in a festival like that. It’s okay. I don’t fit into rock festivals or opera festivals either.

TAS: But you really wouldn’t want to fit into a niche or genre?

Laurie: No, that’s never been my goal! I want to try to make music that I find really beautiful and interesting. For me, it’s not weird at all. So when people say [my music] is so odd and weird, I don’t know, it doesn’t seem like that.


TAS: Does Delusion touch on the dream state as it affects your waking life? The marriage of the two?

Laurie: That’s true, but I think you could probably say that about 90 percent of the works of art ever made, [finding] another way to see the world and often that’s has to do with the way you string together things in your dreams. But this is the first time I’ve really made it the subject of a couple of sections or really said that this was a dream. Mostly when people tell you their dreams it’s kind of awful. They go, “Well, my father was walking down the road, no, wait, no, no. It was my uncle who was, no wait.” And you’re like, “Please, don’t tell me your dream.” Because it’s a personal movie. You know the references and sometimes people will tell you their dream like it’s a movie, but it’s really not. It may be only to you.

TAS: Do you dream vividly often?

Laurie: I do.

TAS: Do you tend to sit up at night and scribble down what you’ve dreamed?

(At this point there is an awkward, extended silence that TAS realizes, after twenty seconds, is a lost call, not a particularly pensive moment on Anderson's part. After two minutes, we reconnect).

Laurie: I was rattling on to dead air! Our phone service in New York City is insane. Why can’t we have good phones? Good connections?

TAS: Do you have an iPhone?

Laurie: I do.

TAS: That’s the problem. AT&T.

Laurie: That’s very true. But I think with technology doesn’t make stuff that much better. I was just reading this great book called How To Be Idle. It’s all these tips about how to get out of your work ethic thing. All these things about how work is good has seeped into our consciousness and people have forgotten how to have a good time. Except the exhausting good time that people force themselves to have over the weekends. But to really go, “I think I’ll take a three hour lunch and then I think I won’t go back to work this afternoon.” People go, “Oh! You can’t do that!”

TAS: Are you good about giving yourself time off?

Laurie: I’m getting better. Well, my whole life is time off. I try to do what I feel like doing. Like today I was just making some paintings. I don’t know why and they’re really awful. But I felt like making some paintings! So it’s kind of ridiculous. I often need to do things in which I don’t really care what people think about them. I just like doing them. But going back to AT&T, technology and all of that, Americans work an average of nine hours a day which is an hour longer than twenty years ago. It’s not making things easier, all of this stuff. It’s turned into this sort of work mania. Even places that have the veneer of “hanging out,” like Starbucks. It has overstuffed furniture, it’s a little dark, there’s cake and coffee. But you’re still at work the entire time. You’re never not at work. I’m really making a big effort to try to figure out how to escape from that and build something else in my life that isn’t along that sort of career path. That’s also, a little, what Delusion is like. It starts that way. This image of going from project to project, this carrot and donkey thing, and this story of how one day my donkey died. I don’t care about what reward you think I’m going to get; I’m just not going to do this anymore.


TAS: In terms of Delusion being a series of stories and the art of storytelling, since we now seem limited to 140 characters to often communicate with one another, is that something that we’re in danger of losing as a culture?

Laurie: I think you can tell a great story in 140 characters, but some things take more. Some take less. It’s always possible to get around the technology. It’s easy to blame it for the shortcomings of everything else. In the way that, like, the Spanish Inquisition blamed books or something. It’s not the fault of books and pencils. They’re just things. It’s not the fault of our computers that we don’t have friendships anymore. It’s our fault (laughs). You can get up and leave. No one has forcibly tied you down. It’s just that the whole thing is about getting stuff done and doing it fast, as if that’s a great thing. In fact, that’s what employers would like you to do. And then you realize that you’ve even turned yourself into your employer. I see a lot of artists doing that too. It’s almost as if they had a real job. They turn their work into an office. It’s wild.

TAS: And that drive also becomes about success. What is success and how do we judge what constitutes “success.”

Laurie: That’s the way that most things are judged in our country. There are very few artists who go, “Oh, success is when I make a painting that only I like.” You’re like, “Really?” The general thing is [that success is] when your painting has been sold at Christie’s for 7 million dollars. I’m not trying to say that’s not kind of a cool thing, but it does limit people in terms of what they can do if your life is seen like that, with a dollar sign hanging over your head.


TAS: You touch on some of this on your new album Homeland which shares two songs with Delusion. What is the bridge between the two?

Laurie: It’s so hard to sum up, but [Delusion] is a story about love really and how you can delude yourself and how you can engineer it so that it looks like that but it really isn’t. It’s a story about families, parents and dogs. There’s a lot of stuff in there. A lot of nouns. It’s also kind of sad, I have to say in certain parts.

TAS: Your mother passed away last year ....

Laurie: Actually two years ago.

TAS: So at the time this commission for Delusion happened, you were still dealing with that surreal time of her passing?

Laurie: Yes, in the middle of that, yeah. It ended up in [Delusion]. I had no intention of doing that. When the first version of it was done in Vancouver in February, people would ask what it was about and I’d never even mention her when, in fact, she’s really key to the whole thing. Kind of strange. I had a hard time with that.

As for Homeland, I was mixing it as I was writing Delusion. And Delusion was originally a series of two person plays. When I was working on it at EMPAC in Troy, they had a lot of projectors and I thought I’d try something. It turned into a three dimensional movie and then I said, “Let’s put the stories back in.” And then music. It’s a funny hybrid.


TAS: I vividly remember attending one of your shows at Town Hall, supporting your 2001 album Life On A String, not long after 9/11 and what a comfort that concert was during a terrible time. There was a long span between that album and Homeland and I wondered if you needed the time to make sense of that event, the eight years of the Bush administration and all that followed.

Laurie: I’m not sure it was so much that or the things that developed from it, because [September 11] could have gone so many different ways. It went in a way that I still feel is really unfortunate. We had this opportunity to really open out and have a different attitude towards violence and instead there was a lot of revenge. And that didn’t come from New York. If you remember, people here were like, "Wow, that was so bad. That should never happen to anybody." We had to wait for George Bush to come tromping in with his boots and hat saying (with Texas twang), “We’ve gotta get those guys!” People here did not feel that. When you live in a place, you always wonder if something bad happened here, would anyone help me? In New York we had the chance to see what that was like. People did help one another. People ran into burning buildings. We have a chilly reputation and it wasn’t like that. It was this incredible, tender moment and everyone was so vulnerable. We then turned that into war. Watching that happen was pretty heartbreaking. We turned that into revenge and suspicion. Now all of that is a reaction to people being blown up, you have to have some kind of reaction to that. That was not okay. But what we did with it, making our own country into a place that would torture people ... that truly shocked me. The Nazis tortured people. We didn’t torture people. But now we torture people. We invade. One of the things I tried to do originally with Delusion was make two characters react to a situation in totally different ways. Each very true, vivid and totally the opposite of one another. So many things in culture have to resolve themselves. But you know from your own life that it’s a lot more complicated. It’s not that simple.

TAS: You’re going to be touring with Delusion this fall, going to the West Coast and Europe. Have you noticed a difference in the way the piece is received in the States as opposed to Europe? Or were the differences more noticeable when you brought Homeland on the road?

Laurie: It was more about Homeland. We don’t deserve our reputation in Europe. It’s one thing to be self-critical, and it’s another to hear yourself describe as a barbarian. And you’re like “You don’t know us! C’mon!” It’s easy to make those pronouncements, but why don’t you come [to the States] and see what it’s like? It reminds me of the Seventies. I was in Holland and listening to these people talk about how racist Americans were and how we didn’t understand multiple cultures. Which is fine when it comes from people who are blond and blue-eyed and they look exactly like their neighbors. When Amsterdam, London and Frankfurt began to get more multi-cultural,as we are, and people like the Maluccans who are people from the Dutch colonies, came to Amsterdam and they were black and different, suddenly the Dutch got an idea of what it’s like to live with all sorts of people. That’s what America is like. For all its flaws, it’s been amazing. Look around at what we’ve done in terms of race. It’s not perfect, but we’ve had a lot of black governors. We have a black president. We’ve accomplished a huge amount and it’s something to be more proud about then when we were technological leaders in the 90s.


TAS: Two years down the line of the Obama presidency, though, do you feel that there might be an even more insidious [kind of racism] taking hold here?

Laurie: One of the most interesting books I’ve read lately is something [on reality and capitalism].  It’s easier for people to imagine the end of the world then it is for them to imagine the end of capitalism. What’s driving stuff here? It’s not ideas of freedom and equality. It’s money and fame. It’s no secret, it is what it is. What concerns me is that it’s exhausting people. They just don’t have any time to do anything else except play that game. It’s not fun and it’s not relaxing and it’s no way to live. I’m trying to get myself as far away from that idea as possible. That’s why the first image of Delusion - a donkey dying - is my mantra at the moment.

TAS: One last question. How is Lolabelle doing?

Laurie: She’s doing great! She just finished her Christmas record! It’s four and a half minutes long and there are a lot of samples in it.

TAS: That is Lolabelle barking on "Bodies in Motion" on Homeland, yes?

Laurie: That’s Lolabelle playing the piano! It is! There’s a poet, I can’t remember his name, but he had a really old dog and he said that his dog taught him how to grow old. That’s what is going on with Lollabelle. She’s not a frisky puppy anymore, but she’s a really good old dog. It’s great to see how she’s dealing with things, like “Well, I can’t see anymore, I think I’ll play some piano.” It’s great. It’s very inspiring to take care of an old dog who isn’t feeling very well because dogs want to live. They have a big drive. You talk to some old people and they’re like, “I’ve had it, I’m depressed, shoot me now.” Dogs don’t do that. They go for it. That’s an inspiration.


Laurie Anderson's Delusion continues at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's 2010 Next Wave Festival now through Sunday, October 3 at BAM's Harvey Theater at 651 Fulton Street. Tickets begin at $20 and can be purchased here.


TAS Interview: Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy

It's been 21 years since Northern Irish singer and songwriter Neil Hannon founded The Divine Comedy, a band which, over the years, has slowly shed members, becoming Hannon's solo project. It's an evolution that doesn't surprise Hannon and, given his busy jumble of recording sessions and tours over the last few years, works to his advantage. It might even better serve his lushly crafted songs, which teeter mischievously and mournfully between piquant humor, heartbreak and unabashed romanticism.

As The Divine Comedy, Hannon released his tenth album, Bang Goes The Knighthood, in late May on his own label, Divine Comedy Records.  In 2009 with friend Thomas Walsh of Pugwash, the duo unleashed their cricket-centric collection The Duckworth Lewis Method which garnered them a prestigious Ivor Novello Award nomination for best album.

In addition, the National Theatre commissioned Hannon to write his first musical, an adaptation of the Arthur Ransome story Swallows and Amazons, a collaboration with playwright Helen Edmundson (Coram Boy) and director Tom Morris (Jerry Springer: The Opera). The musical will premiere this December at the Bristol Old Vic in England.

Although Hannon has had chart hits, especially during the champagne supernova years of Britpop when the tongue-in-cheek single "National Express" became a radio hit in the UK, The Divine Comedy has always had the aura of a cult pop band, not necessarily what Hannon had in mind, admitting, "I often wanted to write hit singles whether people wanted me to or not."

A week before he embarked on a lengthy tour of Europe and the UK - and on the evening the Mercury Prize awards were handed out in the UK - Hannon spoke to The Alternate Side on the phone from Dublin about his latest album Bang Goes The Knighthood, his nerves over the fast-approaching debut of his musical, and why he's extremely happy these days ... even though he wasn't nominated for the Mercury Prize (and he was rooting for Villagers):

TAS: It was sad that you weren’t nominated for a Mercury Prize this year for Bang Goes The Knighthood.

Neil Hannon: That’s very kind of you. I could do lots of platitudes about how awards don’t matter to me (lauddghs). But funny enough, I thought I had a reasonably good chance this year as well. You know, every album I put out, I wonder whether this might be the one that the Mercurys decide on.

TAS: You were nominated for the Ivor Novello for The Duckworth Lewis Method so that must have been satisfying?

Neil: Oh, but it was. I was also immensely happy for my partner, Thomas Walsh [of Pugwash], on that score. He’s a great writer and deserving of the nomination and it was my first Ivor nomination as well. All these things do come eventually if you keep plugging away long and hard enough. Awards and award nominations are definitely secondary; you have to keep this in perspective. To have a job at all this far into things is quite a bonus (laughs).


TAS: You’re more than twenty years into career, something a lot of artists can’t claim. There must be a satisfaction or strangeness that The Divine Comedy has evolved into a solo project. Did you foresee that shift, back in 1989, that one day, eventually, this would be all yours?

Neil: Ehm ... yes (laughs). To be honest, in many ways it always has just been me and and that is not, in any way, to denigrate the input of my various other bands that have come and gone. At the end of the day, it’s always been my songs and the way I want to record them. Basically on this record it was just a matter of not using as many musicians as before. And even less so when I’m playing live, which is just me.

TAS: You’re touring solo. How has that shifted your perspective on performance and yourself, as a frontman being the only man?

Neil: I knew I’d like it because I’m a natural born show-off and I also I do tend to waffle on a bit live. It actually suits me down to the ground being in complete control of what happens next and being able to judge the mood from moment to moment. I always fancied doing it. A lot of my musical heroes have been that kind of artist. I shall rattle off some names: Randy Newman, Ben Folds, Noël Coward, Tom Lehrer. All of that sort of one-man-and-a-piano kind of vibe. So I thought, yeah, I can do that. So when it came to this record, because of not having a record company, it was also a very good time economically to do so (laughs). It does cut down costs wonderfully.

TAS: You were writing the songs for Bang Goes The Knighthood while working on The Duckworth Lewis Method and writing a musical. So you managed to juggle all three at once?

Neil: It was a very creative period for me, a couple of years previous to this one. I think it was because I settled on doing everything by myself and also having a few things lined up to do, like the musical. The people from the National Theatre in London had been at me to try to do one for a few years so I was like, right, I’m going to sit down and do this. Because of that work ethic you need to sit down every day and work out another bit of the story. It just got the juices flowing, really, and I didn’t know I was writing the next album at the time, but you never really do. You’re just doing odds and sods and suddenly it’s an album.


TAS: Do you alight upon a character or theme and that chatters in your head? I’m thinking of songs like “The Complete Banker,” which came out of a very visceral place and idea of who that character might be.

Neil: I have a notebook and it generally seems to be that I write down a title or an idea in just a few words. I think I was listening to the radio, to some idiot banker trying to make excuses for why the bank I was banking with at the time was going down the tubes. I’m pretty sure I went, “The complete banker. That’s quite good. I’ll write it down.” After that, I’m usually messing about and I get a tune together and I have a flick through my notebook and more often than not a particular idea or lyric just attaches itself naturally to that tune. And I work from there.

TAS: This album feels very personal as well. So many songwriters do so well writing from a place of romantic disappointment or despair. But it seems that you’re elevated by the opposite. This album feels so warm and loving. You sound utterly in love.

Neil: (laughs) Well, it’s odd the way things work. The love songs were largely written before [I met] the person I ended up singing them about. Oddly. But I’ve always been interested in writing the perfect love song or such-and-such genre song. You can get a lot out of taking a theme and just working it. Everyone has the capacity to be angry or in love or like a drink (laughs). So even if you’re not feeling that way at a time, you can certainly write about it with sort of a remote sense of imagination (laughs).

TAS: “Have You Ever Been In Love” - had I not known it was you - I would have thought was a Brill Building or Hal David/Burt Bacharach song. But it’s a Neil Hannon song ... with your distinct imprint.

Neil: I’m not trying to recapture that era or anything, [but] why were those songs so captivating? I’m trying to answer that question by writing one myself. The fact that when I sang it I was completely feeling every word of it, helped a great deal, I think. People do tell me that the album sounds vastly more positive (laughs). More optimistic, maybe, than the previous albums.


TAS: Perhaps as you approach 40, you’re more assured of who you are and don’t have to prove anything anymoe?

Neil: When I’m talking to more lightweight media outlets, shall we say, I do make the flippant joke that I was always old, and my body is catching up with my soul. I think my sort of songs benefit from wisdom, years and experience. A lot of it is to do with observation and life. The more you see of life, the more it helps the songwriting. It’s not the kind that revolves around youthful bravado. I think that gives me the capacity to grow in years, rather than wane.

TAS: Is there a freedom, having your own label, in not chasing after a hit single or answering to label executives?

Neil: The irony is that I often wanted to write hit singles whether people wanted me to or not! I grew up on pure, classic, British pop of the ‘78-’83 variety. I think that’s ingrained in me and I’d find it really difficult to write a really out-there, arty thing. I just like catchy tunes (laughs).

TAS: “At The Indie Disco” is a bit like that.

Neil: There was no indie discos where I grew up, in the sticks. Often the best things are written about how you imagine other people live. Jealousy! I dunno. Obviously I went to discos, but they were rubbish and didn’t play any music I wanted to hear. I still tried to dance with girls and failed. It’s all in there, really. I enjoyed silly lines, like, “staring at each others’ feet,” because it’s sort of romantic and silly and the same time. Very resonant to me of the shoe-gazing era.


TAS: Your foray into musicals with Swallows and Amazons at the Bristol Old Vic seems so natural.

Neil: I think I have the potential of being good at it, but I have an awful lot to learn. When I came to try to adapt this [Arthur Ransome] story, Swallows and Amazons, into songs, it was a good deal harder than I imagined. I didn’t write the dialogue - I’m not crazy - but I did want to write the songs, music and lyrics. The problem is when you’re songwriting, straightforward, you can tell the story and it’s all, "She did this and he did that." That’s not how it operates in theatre at all. It’s quite hard to know what people are saying, what they’re allowed to be singing. I think it’s five years since I said yes to the National. I’m terrified. I don’t know how able you are, if the first one goes down the tubes, to write another one. So I hope the first one will be critically well-received.

TAS: What sort of musicals have you admired?

Neil: Well, not many. That’s why I’m doing it because I think I can equal or beat most of the people who are writing them at the moment. I swing from strange humility to absolutely ego-centric madness. Ones I like best are most of the [Stephen] Sondheim [musicals] like Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park with George is fantastic. Going back a bit, I’m a massive fan of Cole Porter’s musicals and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, though that's more an operaI like a lot of Rodgers and Hammerstein and things like My Fair Lady. It’s around the late 60s where it all started to go wrong. I absolutely hate Andrew Lloyd Webber. But each to his own.

TAS: And now you’re about to embark on a massive tour of Europe and the UK.

Neil: What was I thinking? I feel absolutely exhausted just looking at the schedule. I’ve been doing odds and sods since May, every weekend, so I’m totally not going at this dry. But I need to learn a few more songs. Problem is that I’ve got an awful lot of them and it’s hard to remember them all. But it doesn’t seem to matter when I forget lyrics.

TAS: Do you make up new ones?

Neil: No, I’m quite keen on keeping the old ones (laughs). The audience never seems to mind when greatly when I go dry on stage. We all have a laugh. But I feel slightly mortified. It’s going to happen every gig, and not to care.


TAS: Are you coming to the States at all?

Neil: Unfortunately, not at present. Hopefully we can sort something out for next year. These are difficult times in the music industry and there’s not a lot of cash floating around. So it’s quite hard to make that investment. My records haven’t really sold in the States and I don’t mind. I don’t hold a grudge because some of my biggest fans are American. But it’s had to justify the outlay, especially if you’re not shifting any units. I have to talk like this now that I’m the boss of a record company (laughs).

TAS: You’ve worked with so many interesting people, like Thomas Walsh, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Carl Baråt  from The Libertines. What makes a collaborator interesting for you and who would you love to work with?

Neil: The people who I might say I’d like to work with are far too scary to every contemplate. Like Steve Reich. I’d love to hang out with Randy Newman, but I doubt that he needs me. I saw a great show of his in Vicar Street, Dublin. I’ve worked with so many people I’ve really admired. Michael Neiman and Ben Folds. I’m doing pretty well on that score and it does take a few months off my life every time I go into a room with someone who is well-known because I’m quite, not shy, but I tend to denigrate myself and my abilities when faced with people I admire. It’s hard work.

TAS: You enjoy it though?

Neil: Yes and no. I want to feel that I need to do it because it works creatively, but sometimes I’m on the way to the studio to work with Charlotte, the guys from Air and Nigel Godrich and I’m thinking, what the hell? This isn’t what a small chap from Northern Ireland was meant to be doing (laughs). I’m just a little provincial boy who wrote some funny songs. You start to doubt yourself, but I’d like to challenge that and push myself.


TAS: You grew up in Northern Ireland, your dad was a minister, and you came of age at a time that punk was at its zenith, seguing into New Wave. Did you listen to a lot? Were there a lot of older brothers and sisters listening to music?

Neil: Yeah, I put a lot of it down to the fact that I had two older brothers who were listening to a lot of music that would have scared me at the time. It was a very real emotion to me to be physically frightened of strange music that I hadn’t heard. I’m pretty sure New Order scared the pants off me when I first heard them. I didn’t understand, what is this music? He’s not singing in tune and its got no middle in it, no pretty chords like ELO (laughs). So it was a challenge to a listener and in the beginning I shied away from the less melodic stuff. But then came back to it with a passion later on. Although my music is largely quite melodically intricate and lots of harmony going on, I like to think that I come at it from an angle of the less comfortable music of the 80s. I think my indie ethic still holds. You’ve got to be sure of why you’re putting in a chord, not because it sounds nice (laughs).

TAS: Do you recall hearing an album that made you want to try harder as a musician? Something that gave you a different door into songwriting?

Neil: I started writing songs around ‘83 or ‘84 when I was about thirteen or fourteen and that was around the era of a lot of Sting, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, before I discovered alternative music. My first songs were very much about politics, being anti-war and stuff like that. A small teenage boy really doesn’t know about human relationships. It was REM, really, that convinced me that I could do it properly. I was a huge fan of theirs in the 80s. There’s no band that I admired more then and sort of less now. It’s bizarre (laughs). I don’t want to do them down as people - they’re great people - but I really wish that when Bill Berry left that they’d shut up shop and done something else. I think my favorite album is Green, actually, and that’s when it all started to tilt. It’s funny, the biggest must-do-better [album] was around ‘95 when I was recording Casanova, my third album, I heard Common Peopleby Pulp and I though, “aw, s**t.” (laughs). That kind of shook me up a little.

TAS: You named yourself after Dante’s The Divine Comedy and I wondered - what is your version of purgatory?

Neil: Purgatory for me would be an eternal afterlife!

TAS: If you could write your famous last words?

Neil: (laughs) That’s tempting fate to a degree! Make me another toasted peanut butter and Marmite sandwich. Because it will be the death of me!




Bumbershoot 2010 Blog: The Moondoggies

The summer festival season always ends on a breezy Pacific Northwest note with Seattle's long-running Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival over Labor Day weekend. The Alternate Side asked Seattle alt-country rockers (and MTV $5 Cover stars) The Moondoggies, who release their sophomore album Tidelands on October 12 on Sub Pop's Hardly Art imprint, if they'd blog about their rainy Bumbershoot adventures. Frontman Kevin Murphy kindly obliged:

We seem to have good/bad luck in our band.  While some bulls**t seems to always go wrong, it's always somewhat workable.

The morning The Moondoggies left for New York [for CMJ to play for a radio station] we got bad news: Bobby, our bass player, was in bad shape. As luck would have it, our friend Jesse - the ONLY person to ever fill in for Bob - just so happened to still be in New York for CMJ while the rest of his band, The Maldives, came back home to Seattle.

So this past Monday, when we played Bumbershoot,  Bobby was sick again and unable to make our early, live, on-air performance, déjà vu kicked in. Considering we had no idea until that morning that we'd be sans Bob, and that we'd never played some of the songs acoustic,  it was great, I started to actually enjoy the chaos. Sometimes it's the best way to do it. Later I met a member of Booker T.'s band and mentioned that we were essentially “practicing” live on the air. He said it's “all practice."

Later on a festival stage, after a very soggy Seattle performance which Bobby miraculously made (I don't how the crowd felt, but I heard some weird technicle issues during our set), we caught half of Jenny and Johnny’s set. But because of having to run around to get our gear into the van it was a little random. What I did see was great. For me and the rest of the guys, it was a once-in-a-lifetime moment to share a stage, in a sense, with the one and only Booker T., who came on after them. The person who had told me it was "all practice" was Jeremy Curtis, the badass bass player for Booker T.

When someone tells you that they play with Booker T. the first reaction is "NO S**T? Booker T.?" They blew my mind. Anybody who can intro a song with the line, "I first heard this song from my friend Bill Withers when he was working in an airplane hangar; he played this for me one day" and go straight into "Ain’t No Sunshine" has my attention. But you got me at Booker T. The guy is a legend and he still puts on a great show. And, yes, he played “Green Onions” and, yeah, he killed it.

Bumbershoot is a local institution and I came here in high school to catch all the bands that usually played the 21-and-up shows, so it feels right to finally have gotten the opportunity, rain or no rain.

-- Kevin Murphy, The Moondoggies

The Moondoggies will play New York's Mercury Lounge on October 27. You can download their single "It's A Shame, It's A Pity" from Tidelands here.


TAS Interview: Greg Edwards of Autolux

Fans of the taut, cerebral music of Los Angeles trio Autolux have reason to celebrate. The band, which released their debut, Future Perfect, way back in 2004, finally released their sophomore album, Transit Transit this summer on ATP Recordings and TBD (the Stateside home of Radiohead). Autolux are in the midst of a headlining tour which brings them to the New York area for three gigs this week.

As guitarist and vocalist Greg Edwards explained to The Alternate Side, the six-year gap between Future Perfect and their secon album wasn't quite a hiatus, but an indie label rebirth.

Autolux, the team of Edwards, lead vocalist and bassist Eugene Goreshter and drummer/vocalist Carla Azar, will be playing New York's Bowery Ballroom tonight, August 26, Brooklyn's Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday, August 28 and Maxwell's in Hoboken on August 29.

The Alternate Side: Obviously, the question you must be fielding the most - and we have to ask - is what took you so long to release the second album? A need to take your time creatively or non-music issues?

Greg Edwards: Yes, this is always the first question. It's gotten to the point where I find myself tuning out while my voice churns on in the backround. I've also begun to notice an inclination to make things up. So I will try to be as honest and present as possible. Basically the time span was bookended by label related issues. At the outset we realized we no longer had any sympathetic allies at Columbia/ Epic and it seemed pointless and very uninspiring to even try to make another record for them. So the first order of business was to get unentangled from Epic. Then at the end of the process, after the record was finished we spent a while looking for the right home. It would have been pointless to let someone with lukewarm enthusiasm release it after all this time. Luckily between TBD and ATP we found exactly what we were hoping for. In between the label related stuff was the actual creation of the record, and all I can say is that it takes as long as it takes and hopefully next time will be a lot quicker.

TAS: Looking back on Future Perfect, how do you feel that Transit Transit marks the changes you've undergone as a band? What comes to mind when you ponder what you're proudest of achieving on this album?

Greg: Future Perfect was more the result of the three of us playing together in a room, finding a song's foundation, then refining and evolving it through various stages of recording and playing live. Transit Transit used that kind of formula for a few of the songs, but there also are songs which started as pure sound experiments with no real ambition other than being unique and exciting to us. Then, through layering, rearranging, removing layers, etc., we would unfold the experiment out into a complete sonic narrative. Because these were basically built from the ground up in a studio environment, it has been a little more challenging to interpret them live. I think overall we are happiest with the way we were able to integrate a more diverse group of songs into an album that works as a whole and takes the Autolux Mood to the next level.


TAS: Despite its darker proclivities and melancholy air, is it fair to say that this is an intimate, even sexy, record? "Highchair" is an utterly sultry track.

Greg: Yes. I wish more people would pick up on that Autolux is all about sex.

TAS: What momentum, artistic or otherwise, drove you all through the making of Transit Transit? Were there any goals you set for yourself? How do you work in a room together? Argumentative, convivial, freeform jams or constructing a song piece by piece?

Greg: We really have an unspoken understanding of what we are trying to do. It's like we are building a mystery animal from the genetics up and we don't know how big it will be or what it will look like or if it will devour us. But from the start we know everything about its immune system. We know what makes it healthy and we know what will kill it. As long as we don't forget those things, we can be pretty free to experiment while we wait for the whole animal to materialize. When we are working together in room there are really only two moods: we are either completely blissed out at our own brilliance or we are at each other's throats,  about to quit.

TAS: The album really began for you in 2006, yes? You've been doing a lot of experimental work, gigs in art museums and outside collaborations, but when did the real songwriting process kick in?

Greg: Really the record took about two years to make, and that began in 2008 right around the time we released "Audience No.2." I guess it's kind of funny to release a single from your record just as you start working on it, but that's what we did. We felt that it was important to put something out there to maintain our own momentum as we finished the record, since it seemed like we had disappeared for so long.

TAS: You've gone through some record label travails, wandering in major label hell for a while. What fueled the choice to go with ATP?

Greg: Barry and Deborah at ATP have always been great supporters of us and good friends and true fans. It really was not a hard decision.

TAS: How do you decide which song is suited, vocally, to each of you? Is it a matter of whoever takes the lead on the songwriting?

Greg: It really is a matter of whos voice has the right texture, emotion, and rhythm and often times that ends up being the person who wrote the lyrics.


TAS: It always seems so peculiar to me that you're a band based in Los Angeles - you seem better suited to Berlin or Manchester. Were you heavily influenced by both Krautrock and Mancunian sounds?

Greg: Yes. Definitely Joy Division and Can.

TAS: What are you most looking forward to discovering about Transit Transit as you bring it on the road on tour and break it down? What do you enjoy about touring and what absolutely sucks?

Greg: I'm on the road right now, driving from Toronto to Montreal. We are about ten shows in and it's been great playing new songs with such different arrangements from anything we've done before. No matter how much you rehearse, you really don't know how a song will feel until you are up on stage in front of an audience. So far everything seems to be working pretty well.The actual shows are always the best part about touring. It's the one time you are forced into the moment. The rest of the time it's very easy to get numbed-out to the non-stop traveling, press, soundchecks and lack of sleep. There's really not a lot of time for fun. But the absolute worst part about being on tour for me is being away from my wife and two year old daughter.

TAS: What music are you all listening to - and any bands that you love that you wish had more

Greg: It's not new, but on this tour we've really been getting knocked out by Funcrusher Plus by Company Flow.

TAS: If you were to choose someone to cover an Autolux song, who would it be and which song would you choose?

Greg: Dylan, "Headless Sky" and Nina Simone, "The Bouncing Wall."

TAS: So, we're a bit nervous that we'll have to wait another six years until your third album. Do you hope to get back to work relatively quickly?

Greg: Yes. As soon as we are done with touring, probably early next year, we will start working on new material and probably release a song or two before the summer.

TAS: The music industry is completely different since the time you released your debut . What do you find most promising? Disconcerting?

Greg: I think it's amazing how easy it is to discover and become educated about music through the internet. The freedom of choice is inspiring and a little overwhelming when it's always a click away.  As long as the industry can maintain a structure where artists can make enough money to live and work, i'm not too worried. But I don't have any great predictions to share. One thing that does annoy me is the push for constant content all the time. I really don't think it's necessary for a band to have chronic presence online in order to stay relevant and connected with fans. Obviously you don't have to take it to the Autolux extreme, but I think it's good for bands to disappear and only work on music sometimes. The constant feedback loop with the internet definitely has modulated an artist's God-given right to be a hermit.


Autolux North American Tour Dates:

8/26/10 New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom *

8/27/10 Boston, MA @ The Middle East Downstairs *

8/28/10 Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg *

8/29/10 Hoboken, NJ @ Maxwell’s *

8/31/10 Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s *

9/1/10 Washington, DC @ Black Cat +

9/3/10 Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle +

9/4/10 Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade +

9/5/10 New Orleans, LA @ One Eyed Jacks

9/7/10 Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live +

9/9/10 Austin, TX @ Emo’s +

9/10/10 Dallas, TX @ The Loft +

9/11/10 Lawrence, KS @ The Bottleneck +

9/12/10 Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater +

9/13/10 Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge +

9/15/10 Tempe, AZ @ The Clubhouse +

9/16/10 Solana Beach, CA @ Belly Up Tavern +

9/17/10 Pomona, CA @ Glasshouse +

9/18/10 Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey Theatre +

* - with This Will Destroy You

+ - with Gold Panda


Siren Festival 2010: Cymbals Eat Guitars Blog About Their Dreamy, Sweaty, Diamond-Studded Saturday

The Alternate Side reached out to a few of our favorite local bands performing at last Saturday's Siren Festival, asking them to blog at will about their long day in Coney Island. Cymbals Eat Guitars, who hail from Staten Island, didn't have far to travel, but as bassist Matthew Whipple revealed, it was still a mystical, near-transcendent band experience, thanks in part to Dan Aykroyd's mysterious and readily-available beverage:

Let me tell you about Crystal Head vodka. Crystal Head vodka comes in a skull-shaped bottle. Not only is Crystal Head vodka quadruple-distilled; it is filtered through DIAMONDS. But not just any diamonds! Crystal Head vodka is filtered through Herkimer diamonds, from Herkimer, New York. Herkimer diamonds are said to have mystical properties. They are said to enhance not only the clarity and perceived reality of one's dreams, but also the retention of dreams in one's memory. If you sleep with a Herkimer diamond under your pillow, you will remember your dreams better. For some people it is too much, and can lead to a nightmarish crystalline madness in which their dreams and reality become indistinguishable. These people are advised to sleep with an additional diamond of some other variety under their pillow to mellow the effects of the Herkimer diamond. Basically, Crystal Head vodka is the most legally-psychedelic vodka ever created, and it was created by Dan Aykroyd. Dan Aykroyd's family has been in the liquor business for way longer than Dan Aykroyd has been in the comedy business, according to Kevin, the driver of Dan Aykroyd's personal RV, which is, as of late, travelling the country promoting Dan Aykroyd's Crystal Head vodka without Dan Aykroyd. One of the stops that Dan Aykroyd's mystical vodka RV made recently was at the Village Voice's tenth annual Siren Festival. This is a blog about that music festival.

July has been a non-touring month for our band, and so Siren was a local show for us. Several days prior to the festival, the four of us loaded whatever gear we would need to bring to the festival into our personal vehicles so that we could all drive ourselves to the festival. That is not very green, but there was no other option. We do not own a van. We got to the Stillwell stage at 10AM as instructed, which was super early, and by that time the heat was oppressive.

The backstage area was quite comfortable upon our arrival, with cabana-like dressing rooms for each artist. Joe, Matt, and Brian were excited to try to catch up with previous tour-mates the Pains of Being Pure At Heart, who were playing the main stage. I hadn't joined the band yet at the time of that tour, but the guys speak of the Pains fondly. We also had hopes of hanging with almost-friends-in-real-life Twitter-pals Surfer Blood, who we met for a jovial few minutes at SXSW, but to no avail. Someday. The heat was ON. We were zapped as soon as we settled in. It was 100 degrees in the shade for most of the day, and there was nothing to do but sweat and try to acclimate. We took out and re-strung our guitars so they could mellow in the heat as well. We were lead around to do a bunch of promo, but to be honest, it is kind of a haze, and we hadn't even dipped into the dream vodka. Sorry if we sweat on you.

That we didn't play until 6:30 was a blessing. The sun was going down and it had cooled off significantly. We had planned to test out a lot of new material in our set, and we felt much better doing so knowing that the crowd wouldn't be melting so badly. We debuted a brand new song called "Gary Condit" that will be on our next record and were quite pleased at the response. We're not really a "chill vibes" band, but I would go so far as to say that we enjoyed some during our set. That is, until a mosh pit broke out during "...And The Hazy Sea" the likes of which I haven't seen since the DJ dropped "Bulls On Parade" at my 6th grade dance. What fun! It was one of those "over in the blink of an eye" sets we wish we could re-live again and again.

In conclusion: vodka, diamonds, dreams, Dan Aykroyd, sweat, moshing.


Cymbals Eat Guitars Summer Tour Dates

Aug 5 - Schubas Tavern, Chicago

Aug 6-8 - Lollapalooza

Aug 12 - Haldern Pop Festival, Kleve, Denmark

Aug 13 - Out West Festival Gothenburg, Sweden

Aug 14- Oya Festival Oslo, Norway

Aug 21 - Pukkelpop, Kempische Steenweg, Hasselt, Belgium

Sep 10 - End Of The Road Festival, Dorset UK

Siren Festival 2010: Screaming Females Blog About Their Coney Island Adventure

The Alternate Side asked Screaming Females' intrepid drummer Jarrett Dougherty if he'd blog about the New Brunswick band's adventures at Saturday's Siren Festival on Coney Island. And yes, despite a few worries about their gig, which fell between Dom and Surfer Blood on the mainstage, Jarrett even made it onto The Cyclone rollercoaster.

The bluesy, sometimes brutal, fuzz punk-slashed trio - Jarrett, bassist "King" Mike Abbate and singer/guitarist Marissa Paternoster - will release their fourth album Castle Talk on September 14 on Don Giovanni Records and they'll be kicking off what promises to be a scorching US tour on August 13 at Maxwell's in Hoboken. More dates in the UK and Europe will follow this fall. Earlier this summer, the ferocious Pasternoster also released her debut solo album, Holy Hell, under the moniker of Noun.

As for Jarrett, we're happy he brought along sunscreen to Coney Island (his drumsticks didn't get sunburned at all):

So, Siren Fest. Growing up in New Jersey, as I did, Siren Fest was always this thing that I would hear about, think about attending, but never actually make it to. The summer sun and the hours of subway riding had always kept me away, even the one summer I lived in Brooklyn. Looking back it seems impossible that I managed to avoid it as long as I did. I guess destiny caught up with me this year as my band, Screaming Females, found our way onto the bill.

Everyone we talked to seemed to have horror stories and expert advice on Village Voice’s free summer festival. I think sunburn/sunscreen was the one tossed around most. We were also repeatedly told that the sound on stage would be awful and we wouldn’t be able to use our own gear and that we wouldn’t get any kind of soundcheck. And that since we were playing at 2 in the afternoon that we might play to no one. Sounds great, right? So at 8:30 am on Saturday July 17 we loaded up a borrowed van (our last one recently kicked the bucket in New Mexico) and took off toward Coney Island with low expectations.

I’m pretty sure we were the first band there. But that’s the story with 95% of the shows we play. We rather get loaded in, set up, and hang around for a while. That way we are sure not to spend money trying to see the sights or something. We brought along a little entourage of people to help us through the day. A van full of New Brunswick, New Jersey punks and weirdos. Before we even got parked I was informed that I should load my drumset back into the van because there was a rented backline that I would need to use. We parked the van and left all the gear right where it was. I had a lovely talk with the stage manager and stage crew.

“Tell me exactly why you have to use your own drumkit.”

“Because if I don’t I’m going to play like s**t.”

We stared at each other for a while.

“Okay fine. But you better have that thing set up and on stage and ready to go.”

Ted Leo and his crew showed up not long after that. They made fun of us for starting in on the free beer at 10:45 am but they quickly followed suit. I made sure to drink a few more beers than I normally would and about 10 bottles of water right before we went on. The beer was to prepare for the bad sound, the lack of people, and all the other aspects I was assured were going to suck. The water was because it was 100 degrees outside.

We walked out on stage and there were a sea of people waiting. The Cyclone was roaring by every few minutes. I told the sound guy to turn my monitor off. Mike told him the same. Better to have no mix than a crazy one. I decided to bash on my drums for a while before the first song. Mike and Marissa did similar things to their guitars. Walking out in front of a bunch of people is strange. Add in a roller coaster, intense heat, midday sun, absolutely no warm up, and it gets really strange. The idea of politely saying hello and breaking into a song in that state is too much for me. Better to just make some random sounds and beat the s**t out of the drums for a second. Think about how it feels to move my body around like that. Consider the sounds I’m making and how they fit together, even if an outsider might just consider it nonsense. Begin to relearn how I can control these sounds and order them into music. After I do that for a few minutes I’m ready to play.

My eyes burn from sweat and sunscreen. I keep them sealed shut. I grab for a towel a few times to wipe it out of my eyes. This is the first time I’ve ever used a towel onstage.

Then the set is over. No major blunders. A few excellent impromptu interludes. A bit of mind meld improvisation. A couple tempos a little quicker than normal. I walk off feeling great. One of the best sets we’ve played in months. Now I have a full day to drink free beer, eat free food, do a couple of interviews, and shoot the s**t with my Jersey friends and Ted Leo and The Pharmacists. I even got to ride the Cyclone for free. All those horror stories seem to have been greatly overblown. It was a really fun day at the beach.

- Jarrett D

Screaming Females US Tour Dates

8/13 - Maxwell's - Hoboken, NJ

8/15 - Golden West Cafe - Baltimore, MD

8/16 - Gallery Five - Richmond, VA

8/17 - JJ's Bohemia - Chattanooga, TN

8/18 - Exit/ In - Nashville, TN

8/19 - The Bishop - Bloomington, IN

8/20 - F**king Awesome Fest (Magic Stick) - Detroit, MI

8/29 - Red Room - Boise, ID

9/2 - Rainshadow Space - Reno, NV

9/3 - Thee Parkside - San Francisco, CA

9/4 - FYF Fest 2010 - Los Angeles, CA

9/5 - Awesome Fest 4 - San Diego, CA

9/6 - Trunk Space - Phoenix, AZ

9/8 - Mohawk - Austin, TX

9/9 - Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Theater - New Orleans, LA

9/10 - The Farside - Tallahassee, FL

9/11 - The Atlantic - Gainesville, FL

9/12 - Secret Squirrel - Athens, GA

9/13 - Static Age Records - Asheville, NC

9/14 - Black Cat - Washington, DC

9/16 - The Ox - Philadelphia, PA

9/19 - Brew Not Bombs (Portage Theater) - Chicago, IL

TAS Interview: The Middle East

Instrumentally precocious, folk-kissed rock septet The Middle East made their much buzzed-about North American debut at SXSW back in March. They have since won acolytes and abundant critical praise following their powerful sets at Bonnaroo, Coachella and Sasquatch and opening for Laura Marling, Frightened Rabbit and Mumford & Sons.

The Aussie band, whose "abridged" EP The Recordings of the Middle East dropped Stateside in late fall 2009 after a full-length debut album dropped in Australia in 2008, will make their Glastonbury Festival debut this weekend. The Alternate Side connected with singer and guitarist Jordan Ireland via email from the UK and learned about the status of The Middle East's much-anticipated new album and why acoustic guitar might be "done" for the group ... for now:

TAS: You've got Glastonbury ahead this weekend. Any expectations of what that festival will be like? Have you packed your wellies?

Jordan Ireland: I haven't heard anything except that it's huge. Haven't packed any of the old wellingtons. Should I? I suppose i should.

TAS: You also played your first Bonnaroo Festival earlier this month. How did you survive the Tennessee heat? Catch other bands?

JordanWe survived by sweating ourselves to juice. We come from a hot and humid place, so it was kinda hellish and homely at the same time. A few of us had to fly to Europe the next day, and a couple of us had to drive to Dallas that night, so we didn't really get a chance to stick around. We could hear Weezer pretty damn good from where we were attempting to play our quiet songs and they sounded like they were strumming up a storm. i think Jay-Z could have been fun.

TAS: You've been touring quite a bit with UK artists, like Laura Marling and Mumford & Sons, who are part of alternative folk movement in the UK, as well as more alternative rock bands like Frightened Rabbit and Grizzly Bear. The Middle East defies easy classification which seems to be your point - the blurring of genres?

Jordan: I've never really thought of us as defying easy classification. I guess if we are, then maybe it's because we're just a bit confused musically. It's been great being on tour with all of those bands, seeing how other people approach live music. Laura and the Sons are the two bands we've spent the most time with and we really owe alot to them for letting us come along with them and being really supportive.

TAS: I've read that you're actually going more electric of late, especially with new songs you've been introducing Stateside?

Jordan: There's definately been a bit more of the old electric guitar in the mix lately. Acoustic music became a bit done for me and I just feel like strumming some big gritty chords on a 335 or something. It might just be a phase.

TASBack around the time of SXSW you were in the midst of recording a new album. How is that progressing? Any surprising directions you've taken?

Jordan: It's a tough one. We've taken alot of time on it and it hasn't really been coming together too good. It's experience all the same, I guess. There's a few different sounds on there.

TAS: Where are you recording it and when might it see the light of day?

Jordan: So far it's been recorded in Townsville, North Queensland, Denton, Texas, and Birmingham, Alabama. Not sure if all those will make the cut though. Looking like it'll be released in January or February next year. Not sure about a title as yet.

TAS: Many bands from New Zealand and Australia - Lawrence Arabia and The Temper Trap come to mind - find it difficult to base themselves from that area, so far away, and often end up in the States or the UK. Has The Middle East ever considered leaving Australia, or do you consider the music climate fertile for the band?

Jordan: It hasn't seemed to be a problem for us. I don't know why. We're way out on our own up there, where we are. I don't know if we'd fare too well being in the midst of a thriving scene, but maybe we would. There's just no telling.

TAS: Other Australian bands that you're quite keen on these days?

Jordan: There's too many good ones to name, so i'll just say Marf Loth.

TAS: The Middle East broke up for a time after the original release of The Recordings of The Middle East, correct? What led you to split up - briefly - and more importantly, what convinced you to resurrect the band and start anew? What is good advice you can offer for a young band trying to survive?

Jordan: The break was just about space, I think. A few of us felt like doing some other things. It definately made it more exciting when we returned. Oh advice... well, lets see.

I'd say follow your dreams ... and never give up. And ... can't forget to always believe in yourself. And I think that's it.

TAS: It's hard enough for a trio to tolerate traveling in a van together from gig to gig - how to seven people manage not to drive each other crazy?

Jordan: Three months of driving across the United States worked its madness into our souls. Especially because we were sharing on hotel room between seven [people], rotating who gets a bed every night. We've got a ten day break at the moment, before the start of playing the UK, and it is excellent.

TAS: Do you do any covers in your set? If you could choose anyone to cover one of The Middle East's songs, who would it be and what would you hope they'd cover?

Jordan: We don't do any covers. I wish we did, I guess we've just never taken the time to find the right one to play. To play one of our songs, I think I'd choose maybe David Byrne. Or our manager for the U.S., the one and only Rich Schaefer. Actually, just him.

TAS: I read that The Middle East band members were recently able to quit their day jobs to tour the States. Who had the worst day job and why?

Jordan: None of them were that bad. I guess Rohin had to make a 200 sandwiches a day. Maybe that the worst one.

TAS: You have such a busy few months ahead - and return home to play Splendor in the Grass on July 30. What are your plans for the balance of the summer and the fall?

Jordan: I'm not sure. I think we'll take it pretty easy when we can. We have alot of writing and practice to do. I'm going to go hiking when I can. Maybe I'll find gold and disappear.


TAS Interviews: Casiokids

Whimsical synth-pop funksters Casiokids might sing in Norwegian, but that doesn't prevent their groove-driven debut album, Topp stemning på lokal bar, out this week on Polyvinyl, from being one of the most uplifting records to drop this year. The Alternate Side caught up with Casiokids' singer Ketil Kinden Endresen via email and got the inside scoop on their choice to eschew English lyrics, the group's penchant for puppetry and pineapple shakers, plus what it's like to do a 12-date tour of kindergartens.

The Bergen-based band, which has toured with Hot Chip and labelmates of Montreal, originally released the songs on Topp stemning på lokal bar as double A-side singles on the Moshi Moshi label in the UK. All tracks have been re-mastered for the Polyvinyl release which also features a bonus disc of new material, remixes and covers. They're kindly offering a free download of the diskJokke remix of their song "Ev Vill Hest (A Wild Horse)" right here.

Casiokids - Endresen, guitarist Fredrik Øgreid Vogsborg, keyboardist Omar Johnsen and bassist Kjetil Aabø - will be traveling Norway, the UK and other European cities this summer, but they'll be back in the States this August:

TAS: We caught one of your fantastic performances at SXSW and we were fascinated by the prominent placement of the band's pineapple shaker. Are Casiokids fond of pineapples? Is there a pineapple backstory here that we're missing?

Ketil Kinden Endresen: On tour we steal a lot. Well, small, unimportant, cheap things. Still, it's stealing. On the other hand people steal from us, and whenever we have some exciting props on stage with us people just grab it. I remember once a guy at Audio in Brighton stole our backdrop whilst we were rigging down (!) and hit the road. I can't tell you how many pineapple shakers have been nicked from stage during wild shows over these last couple of years.

Jokke, our drummer, jumped out in the audience during our last song in Edinburgh last autumn to try and resteal/de-stealify as a girl had stolen all of our small plastic animals off stage telling us, "you're so rich anyway! You can just buy new plastic animals!" She got away with them as Jokke had to run back on stage again for the final chorus. By the way she could not be further from the truth. I've caught Omar munching on that pineapple shaker one early cold morning in a youth hostel in Belgium when all we had to eat for days was softly cooked left-over gaffa tape bits scraped off other bands' flight cases.

TAS: Your good friends, the band of Montreal, have been tremendously supportive of you. When did you meet each other? How have they buoyed your band?

Ketil: Whenever we meet of Montreal, it's like a family reunion. We love that happy troupe! We got to know them after supporting them during their European tour in January 2009. After that they put us in touch with what is now our US label, Polyvinyl.

TAS: You have a very charming new video for "Finn Bikkjen." Whose concept was the video (and who does your choreography?

Ketil: The video was done by the extremely talented English director Greg Taylor, and we were not involved directly in the making of it. The song is quite a hard one to translate because it has a childish and funny twist to itself which is hard to put right in English. Basically, the idea behind the song is a small boy losing track of his best friend, his dog, and then realizing, when he finds him again, how much he loves him.

TAS: Were you always attracted to electronic or synth music? What was the music (or radio) like in Norway when you were growing up? Early influences?

Ketil: My first Casio was a white and blue one I bought in Spain on holiday. I loved that Casio! My first instrument, and the love for it has ever since stuck with me ever since. I think that this meeting with the Casio had a very big impact on my taste for synth music. For me, the radio has never been particularly important for my music taste. When I was younger, I listened a lot to what my father and elder brother listened to. Also, I read a lot of music magazines, my favorites at the time being Q and Beat.

TAS: What is it about dance music that you feel is so invigorating and creative for you and the band?

Ketil: Fredrik and I used to play in a more post-rock kind of band. What we liked with Casiokids was that the effect the danceable music had on people was more direct.

TAS: Unlike many of your fellow Norwegian musicians, Casiokids doesn't bend to English lyrics. Was there any trepidation that by doing so you'd limit the band's scope? Or has it simply worked in your favor?

Ketil: In the beginning we actually decided not to sing, and only used human voices sampled from audio books and interviews we did ourselves. As we experimented more with vocal harmonies in the studio, we decided to follow the idea of making something as true to our everyday lives and personal experiences as possible; hence, using the Norwegian language. I truly believe one of our main goals as artists and musicians has been to create something unique and original. The Norwegian language was, for us, a natural part to achieve just that.

TAS: Your song "Fot I Hose" is a perfect dance track. What makes a perfect dance song for you?

Ketil: The perfect dance song is difficult to choose, but one of the songs I never get tired of is "Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order. One of my favorite songs of all time.

TAS: How do you write music together? Do you prefer playing live or are you all happier in a studio?

Ketil: When we work in the studio, Omar, Ketil, Kjetil and Fredrik are involved, bringing our very different tastes into the mix. Sometimes one of us does the whole song and sometimes we make it in the studio, together. When we have a good song ready I look forward to playing it live, and when I have a good idea I look forward to recording it, so that changes back and forth all the time. I'm the main lyricist. Check out for translations.

TAS: You're signed to the great UK label Moshi Moshi, an indie label that really understands how to break new artists like Kate Nash, Florence and the Machine, James Yuill, Slow Club and more. How did they find you?

Ketil: Stephen Bass heard us the first time at By:larm festival in Oslo Norway I think, and after that we've become a part of his very talented musical family. We've played with James Yuill and Slow Club in the US, Norway and UK and they're good friends of ours.

TAS: The title of your album, Topp stemning på lokal bar, loosely translates to "Great Vibe At A Local Bar." What is the genesis of that title?

Ketil: When France won against Portugal in the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup in soccer, my mom was in France in a bar that showed the game and sent me an SMS saying, "Topp stemning på lokal bar". Not that I, or my mother for that matter, are soccer fans in any way, but that sentence just stuck with me. It appealed to me so much that I knew I had to use it one day. When we had to name our album I thought that this sentence would finally come in handy as it kind of sums up some of our characteristics as a band and our music as such. If you ever visit Bergen, I would suggest you come visit us at our local bar Vamoose.

TAS: You're fans of all sorts of keyboards - are there any especially old or vintage instruments that you use?

Ketil: Well, its mostly Casios, but we have a very beautiful Korg as well.

TAS: If you could ask anyone to remix a Casiokids track, who would you ask? What song do you wish that Casiokids could officially remix?

Ketil: Oh, dream remixers would be Lindstrøm or Bjørn Torske I think. We only tend to remix songs we could somehow make into a Casiokids track, so then I would say Whigfield "Saturday night".

TAS: Bergen is a bit like the Brooklyn of Norway, given its rich expanse of musicians and bands. What are some bands you're especially fond of there?

Ketil: Bergen is small and the music scene is very inclusive and friendly. I very much like The New Wine and Velferd. Also I am a massive fan of Bjørn Torske.

TAS: Did you truly embark on a 12-date kindergarden tour? What in the world was that like? Did you love working with the kids?

Ketil: Yep, we've done hundreds of shows for kids, also in kindergartens, over the last five years. It's quite a different experience than playing for adults, but we respect the kids just as much as any other audience. Also, we've been involved in doing workshops for kids. In 2008, we did a workshop in the center of Bergen to celebrate the famous Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. We made music that played out through a large wall of grass. The installation/workshop was built in collaboration with Bergen Art Academy, and [it was] made as a homage to Grieg for being the world’s first “sampler” seeing as he incorporated musical references to Norwegian folk music and nature sounds in his works.

What we did was sample passersby and city sounds which we then played out through speakers in the grass wall to make it seem like the music came out of the grass itself. At the Sous La Plage Festival in Paris 2007 and at Festspillene 2009 in Bergen we set up a playground for kids and made music on a musical workstation with speakers put up inside the playground. Small microphones were attached to the different toys, and a trampoline became a bass drum, looping the sound of a jumping ball turned into a funny rhythm, rattling from a helter-skelter, and became a small melody. The idea was that the kids would fool around with the different toys for themselves later to realize that they’ve actually made music whilst playing in the playground. You’ll find a lot of amazing footage on this done by photographer Sandra Jecmenica at our myspace.

TAS: There is such a joyous vibe to your live shows. Ketil, what is your most memorable gig you've ever had and why?

Ketil: Playing in a hot air balloon during the Hove festival in Norway was legendary!

TAS: You're often fond of animal costumes and puppetry in your live shows and work with a group called Digitalteateret. why was it so important to add that theatrical element to what you do? Any notable wardrobe malfunctions you can recall? How would you like to expand your live gigs? Have you ever contemplated doing even more in theatre or dance?

Ketil: When we started the band in 2004 in Bergen I was really into the music that would be categorized as "electronic music", and during that period Fredrik Saroea (from Bergen band Datarock) amongst others were really good at booking those kinds of bands to Bergen music venues. I enjoyed the music very much, but the visual part could not have been duller. I mean, most of these electronic artists were quite simply sitting still behind their laptop during their live set.

When we got enough songs with Casiokids to play live I had some meetings with Aslak Helgesen (leader of Digitalteateret) and Petri Henriksson (our designer Blank Blank) to work out how to present our music in a more exciting way, still using the sounds that we've come to love from electronic musicians and with computers on stage. I remember the first concert we did we created a little jungle in the venue Landmark in Bergen, and Petri put together a video that we had made from loads of safari films from the library in Bergen. And every gig after would have a special theme, trying to engage audiences, and also to mix the electronic element with improvised live playing. Then when Aslak came up with the idea of doing a shadow puppet theatre, live on stage, we did that for a couple of years, then we did some shows with our friend Olli doing live data visuals on a screen.

During this time we developed as a band, and after a couple of years we started to do more visually stripped-down shows without all the heavy visual imagery in addition to instruments. Now in 2010, the two live settings are for us more separated. When we do visual projects, we work closely with our collaborators to make the package focus on the visual. When we do concerts as a band, we try to add just the right amount of visual imagery and give more of ourselves on stage (some say too much, hence Omar being compared to a gospel choir member).

TAS: Will you be returning to tour the States soon? What do you enjoy about visiting New York?

Ketil: Yes, we hope to be back there very soon. I love New York, and every time we're there I love it more and more. The best city in the world.