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TAS In-Studio

Baptist Generals: FUV Live

Formed in the late '90s, Baptist Generals made a name for themselves as a band that mixed well with both folk and indie rocks fans. Their sound has been compared to musicians like Roky Erickson, Will Oldham and even Howlin' Wolf.

It's been a while since we've heard from this Denton, Texas band. Their last record, No Silver/No Gold, was released ten years ago. Making a return after that long hiatus, the Baptist Generals have released a new album, Jackleg Devotional to the Heart. The band's Chris Flemmons is also in the midst of planning a "Living Room Tour" of houses and lofts during September and October of this year. Tickets for the shows go on sale on August 21.

Watch Baptist Generals live in Studio A for FUV Live, below, and listen back to their session in the FUV archives now.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJHJbj8PIw4]

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxT9XFimlBc]

Yo La Tengo: TAS In Session

Yo La Tengo's thoughtful legacy of longevity, quality and innovation is an enviable one. Few bands have managed to span thirty years so effortlessly and with such a consistently strong discography. The trio's 13th release, Fade, came out earlier this year and it's one of Yo La Tengo's best, a succinct collection of ten songs, shifting slyly from bold grooves to more brooding ambles.

The band — married couple Ira Kaplan and Georgie Hubley and compadre James McNew — has been touring all year and last month they supported Belle and Sebastian at Celebrate Brooklyn! in Prospect Park. The indefatigable friends play Los Angeles' FYF Festival the weekend of August 24 and Ithaca, NY on September 13. A European and UK tour follows later this fall.

Listen to a session with Yo La Tengo on FUV Live tonight, August 13, at 9 p.m. ET on 90.7FM (archived too) or via TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, August 16, at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online.

UPDATE: Listen to Yo La Tengo streaming now in the TAS archives.

Alisa Ali: Now, I’ve seen your “Ohm” video and there is a ridiculously complicated math equation of “What is Yo La Tengo.” Can you guys talk about equation?

Ira Kaplan: Well, it was put together by an old friend of ours, Donick Carey, who used to work for “The Simpsons.” He’s had an illustrious career in television and worked for David Letterman and he’s on “Parks and Recreation” now. We’d talked about doing something together for a long time and we finally did. But that was mostly his concept. We threw in some touchstones we were hoping he’d work into the equation.

Alisa: Like what?

Ira: I think it’s almost obvious which ones came from us so I won’t spoil it. But if it’s the square root sign, that’s all him. If it’s obscure bands from the great D.C. area, that’s us!

Alisa: What I was perplexed and fascinated by was that specific equation because there’s Nancy Sinatra going into the White Stripes going into Sister Nancy … did you guys come up with the list of all of those bands?

Ira: No, mostly that was Donick. We tweaked it a couple of times. There was a lot of proofreading, including Matador staff members. This totally took me by surprise, but the Rod Stewart hit record which is known to me as, “Do You Think I’m Sexy” is actually correctly “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.” So that was one of the last things gotten right. We didn’t want the student to erroneously get an “A.”

James McNew: That’s right. The spelling of Pharoahe Monch was also elusive.

[video:http://youtu.be/lqWoewKcM7s]

Alisa: [You've played a] very different version of “Ohm” than what’s on the album, but I’ve seen you play a few times and I think it was at a Town Hall show where you played that song twice. Is that something you’ve been doing?

Georgia Hubley: Yes, on that tour and a few tours, we’ve played two sets. One set kind of quiet and stripped down and we played a lot of the songs on the album that are quieter. And then we do a second set where we’re full on rock. It seemed a nice way to open the show and have that song come back. Play it in two different forms.

Alisa: I also heard that you’re going to be releasing a vinyl series that will include different versions of that song? And a shower curtain?

Ira: I have to say, that aspect of the news is new to us. I’ve heard that too. We had a lot to do with the packaging but [the shower curtain] was someone else’s brainwave. But even the live version that more closely resembles the studio version has gotten pretty far from that version. We’ve never been particularly shy about changing songs or playing them live and we don’t care about being true to the way it sounds on the record. So there’s going to be three 12-inch records, one with the studio version, one with a live, rock version and one with the live, quieter version. And then there’s a song that didn’t make it to the record that we recorded with our friends from Chicago, Doug McCombs and Rick Rizzo from Eleventh Dream Day. Doug is also in Tortoise with John McEntire and all three of the are on this thing called “Oriole." We have three radically different remixes of that song which will be the B-Side of each 12-inch. And a shower curtain.

Alisa: Is there a particular song that you’ve done that you feel changed most radically from inception?

Ira: Most of them?

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbrEtl-rRKg]

Alisa: That song, “The Point of It,” is so beautiful. Ira and Georgia, you’ve been married for a long time. Do you think your fans want to read into the lyrics of your songs? Or do you keep them vague so people aren’t delving into [your] private life?

Ira: I don’t think that’s an either/or. I hope if they were more specific, like “I called up James and we talked about SCTV for a while,” then there wouldn’t be anything to look into. I like the idea and it’s flattering if people are thinking about the words and wondering what they mean, wondering how they fit into their own life. I think that’s great if that happens.

Alisa: When you’re writing, is it an ongoing processs? Or do you set aside time?

Ira: The latter. I’d say all of us are reluctant lyricists, always. I don’t like this, but I accept that it’s true. We record the record mostly before the lyrics are written and then at the last possible second, either when the recording gets shut down or we start singing, lyrics start appearing. This record was no different. Its seems like it’s inevitable. I’d personally love to be somebody who walked around with a notebook and came with ideas for songs.

Georgia: I know personally that the music part and the melody part is something that comes really naturally. The words are just a little harder. But what are you gonna do? Ira: Ultimately the lyrics were written very quickly. Finally, we just looked at the calendar and knew they had to be written. They came quickly, but when we’re writing songs, we leap into the creation of everything but the lyrics.

Alisa: How would you describe each other’s writing style?

Georgia: I don’t know if I could. James: I’ve never had to before.

Ira: We make up songs as a group. We’ll make up songs, record them, make a record and then go on tour for a long time. And then it gets to a point where we need new songs and we all know it. We start getting together and making up music, kind of with no direction. That’s a really fun time. It’s also kind of a strange time but it’s also really exciting. I would be on my way to practice and be like, “Wow! Today we could make something up that I’ll be playing for the rest of my life! I can’t wait!” I really like that. I always loved that. It feels very natural and exciting to make up music out of nowhere, between the three of us.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jdDd4P-OG8]

The Polyphonic Spree: TAS In Session

Not many groups claim nearly two dozen active members — all ambling onstage in flowing white robes —  or cite David Bowie as an early champion, but The Polyphonic Spree is no ordinary band.

Tapped to do a wide range of gigs over its 13-year history, from the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Concert to 2007's Lollapalooza to a spot on Showtime's "The United States of Tara," the quirky Texan collective has forged its own unique niche of trippy, motivational, mod chamber pop. 

Following a seven-year hiatus and a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to record a new album, The Polyphonic Spree is back with that crowd-sourced release, called Yes It's True, out this week on Good Records. They will livestream their London show from the Village Underground on August 6 at 9:30 p.m. BST (4:30 p.m. EDT), celebrating the record's release, and then make a beeline back to North America this month for a West Coast tour.

Resplendent in bold paisley tunics and alabaster lace frocks, The Polyphonic Spree recently paid an inspiring visit to WFUV and The Alternate Side. Below, watch videos of The Polyphonic Spree taking over Studio A and read highlights of Alisa Ali's conversation with founder and Tripping Daisy alumnus Tim DeLaughter.

Later this week, listen to the entire session on 90.7 WFUV on Tuesday, August 6, at 9 p.m. EDT, streaming here, or via TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, August 9, at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online.

UPDATE: Listen to the Polyphonic Spree now in the FUV archives.

Alisa Ali: Generally, The Polyphonic Spree is anything from 13 to 25 [people]?

Tim DeLaughter: I’d say about 18 to 23.

Alisa: That sounds about how old you need to be to get into a Polyphonic Spree show.

Tim: We do all ages!

Alisa: But obviously, The Polyphonic Spree is your brainchild. Did it just start with you and [your wife] Julie [Doyle]?

Tim: I’d done Tripping Daisy for quite some time and I’d always thought of doing something like this, even back in that band. But I thought it would be something I’d try later on. Some unforeseen circumstances happened and Tripping Daisy was no more. I took a little break from music and decided to go for this. It was an experiment. I had no idea that it was going to be a band, like it is now, 13 years later.

Alisa: I read in your bio that one of the seeds was planted when you were a child and you had an affinity for singing into the fan.

Tim: I did! I still do it to this day. The way my voice sounded, and resonated, in the fan. I like the way my voice would glide. That’s the number one reason why I started to use effects on my vocals back in the day. I’d double and triple track. It got to the point when I thought, what would it sound like if I had ten people singing as one instead of me and a fan, me and effects, me and myself? It all started from the fan.

Alisa: You must have always known you wanted to live the life of a musician.

Tim: I’ve always done it since I was a kid. When I was in elementary school I remember my music teacher walked into class one day and she had coal black hair, tight bun, horn-rimmed glasses and a suit. She was very stern. Red lipstick, pinched face, not a fun lady at all. But she takes this album and she props it up on the bulletin board and says, “We’re just going to listen to this record today.” She puts it on and it was Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the Trilogy album. We heard the whole record and I’d never heard music like that before and I was in the third grade.

That day, I told my friend, “Let’s start a band.” I didn’t have any drums so I went to the nearest ice cream place — a Baskin Robbins — and got some ice cream buckets and bolted them together, made my drums. My friend’s dad had a Les Paul. We went to his house, wrote a song and then came back to school and played it for the class. The way the class reacted to it … I was like, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” So I’ve been doing it ever since.

[video:http://youtu.be/I_4bUZtVpcA]

Alisa: Did you title the album, Yes, It’s True, just to make interviews easier?

Tim: I don’t know. My wife [Julie] came up with that and it became a recurring theme of things that were going on with us at the time. It just seemed like the right thing to do. We were using it as a term and we just started throwing it around.

Alisa: The song “You Don’t Know Me” is very positive, but it also addresses some skepticism that your band has faced since its inception.

Tim: Yes, we have. It was troublesome from the very beginning. We were having a difficult time just getting places to place since the band was so large and people couldn’t get their head round it. Club promoters thought it would be a nightmare having [that] many people. It was tough. The irony is that the band actually broke outside the States, in the UK and Europe, compliments of David Bowie. He’s the one who brought us out. He saw what that potential was and he believed in it. He brought us over and the rest is history.

Alisa: So any person you talk to about the band has a whole slew of questions about the logistics of managing this band. Does that get frustrating that you have to address this constantly?

Tim: No, I’d want them to know what a gift it is for us to be even performing. It is a gift. We are like five bands in one band and when people come to the show they need to feel the gravity of that. It takes a lot of compromising and a lot of money for us to orchestrate this band. To be able to navigate is 24/7. It’s the only thing that’s been on my mind and my wife’s mind for the past 13 years. We put everything into this band. The people who are playing wth us … we have two people for a 20-piece band because we’re all our own crew. We can’t really afford to have a light person. I’m running lights onstage myself. We run our own merch. We do what we have to do. It’s a lot of money to work the band.

Alisa: This record, Yes, It’s True, was crowd funded through Kickstarter. You did a little video explaining how all of this works. There were bullet points on what you needed the money for and how you would use it. It was comprehensive — there’s even a special tour bus to accommodate that many people.

Tim: Yes, there’s two in the country and that’s the only one we’ve ever used. It can sleep 27 people. It’s the largest sleeper bus that it is. In the UK they don’t have a bus that large so we have to rent two buses which is doubling the cost every time. It’s a lot of work and planning. You think about a four or five piece band and you’re thinking about everyone’s schedule. Well, you do that with 20 people and them trying to make it work because it might not be their only gig and it’s hard to commit … well, it’s always worth it. And the people in the band feel the same way or we wouldn’t be able to continue to do this.

[video:http://youtu.be/etWOalYA7qw]

Alisa: I imagine that a sense of enthusiasm surrounds [The Polyphonic Spree]. Your music has such a joyful, positive outlook.

Tim: I think [the people] has a lot to do with what it takes for us to be able to do this. The songs really come to life when you have this collective around you. They’re all sharing the same energy and you’re feeding off of each other. It’s pretty amazing to have that many people onstage musically, to exchange that energy. When you bring in the crowd … I implore them to join in and be a part of the band that night. The room just raises for that evening. It’s pretty cool.

Alisa: You’re the main songwriter and do the arrangements as well. Solitary? You and Julie?

Tim: I write the songs on my own. They’re just stripped-down versions, nothing special. They’re done on piano or acoustic guitar. Julie’s right there with me the whole time as a soundboard. When I bring it into the band … the only prerequisite [for people in this band] is that they’re able to improvise on their instrument. I wasn’t going to be writing out charts; I didn’t go to school for music. The thing I knew that I could do was if I found people who can improvise, I could sing parts, they could play it, and we could get in there and write our parts together. Then we go in and record and it just comes to life.

Alisa: Do you sing the cello part?

Tim: It may be something like that, but a lot of times they come up with their own parts that work really well. But if I have something in my mind, I’ll sing it to them and they’ll play it. Especially in the studio; that’s when it really happens. You have to make a lot of calls right then and maybe there’s not much time to do pre-production. A lot of it is really on the fly, but in order to expedite it quickly, I’ll sing it.

Alisa: Do you enjoy the recording process? Or do you have anxiety about it because there are so many moving parts?

Tim: I have some of my best time and some of my worst times in the studio. I get really wound up and overwhelmed sometimes. It’s so weird [because] you have this idea of the sound and this thing that you want to come across on a record.

When you’re put in there on the spot, it’s time for it to happen and you’re doing these little steps along the way, it’s not fulfilling where you want it to be. So you’re constantly trying to get there and it’s not ever quite getting there. When it is, it actually is. But in my brain, it’s not. So I’m constantly working myself up and they’re always trying to talk me out of a tree. I’ve ended up on the floor many times, curled up in the corner, in the bathroom (laughs). There’s been some crazy stories. But Julie’s really good about keeping me grounded and keeping it all together. The people I’ve been working with for years understand that about me, so they know how to deal with it.

Alisa: It must be really great to have it done now and know you can just play these songs.

Tim: Yeah, it’s awesome. Especially with this record. This was such a huge surprise. We took the record and we gave it to Tim Palmer, who is a mixer. I’d never really given [an album] to a mixer — we’re usually hands on with it all the way through. When he came back with some of these songs, I was like, “Oh my gosh!” It was way more than I could have ever expected.

This record is really special. I love a lot of elements about it. It keeps on giving.

[video:http://youtu.be/hSC9fpO7FHs]

Smith Westerns: TAS In Session

Earlier this summer, Smith Westerns arrived at WFUV and The Alternate Side prepared to play an acoustic session of songs from Soft Will, an unplugged gesture that mirrored the subtle sonic adjustments that the rakish Chicago rockers have made since their 2009 debut.

Not that the band's latest release, Soft Will, doesn't reverberate with a certain punkish bravado, but there's a grander maturity to Smith Westerns' taut songcraft these days. Smith Westerns — vocalist/guitarist Cullen Omori, bassist Cameron Omori, lead guitarist Max Kakacek and drummer Julien Ehrlich (who sat out  of the FUV/TAS session) — are touring North America now and land at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Wednesday, July 24.

Watch videos of Smith Westerns in performance at FUV, below, and listen to the session on FUV Live on Tuesday, July 23, at 9 p.m. ET (also streaming) or onTAS on 91.5 WNYE on Friday, July 26, at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online. Read highlights of Cullen, Cameron and Max's chat with The Alternate Side's Alisa Ali:

Alisa: You don’t usually do acoustic sets, so did you have to work this out a bit? Or do you wing it?

Cullen Omori: No, no, we spent time working on it. It’s different because you don’t have drums. The strum becomes more percussive. It’s something that we’ve never done; from the beginning, we’ve always played loud and electric. It’s something that appealed to us, so scaling it down is new and kind of challenging. It’s a good thing to do.

[video:http://youtu.be/ZDGCGYXrToc]

Alisa: I saw the video for “Varsity,” a very sweet, young love kind of video. Were you in that video?

Cullen: No!

Cameron Omori: None of us were.

Alisa: Cullen, you kind of look like the guy in the video a little bit.

Cullen: Because we have long hair? No, no, it’s actually a friend of ours. He did it with his girlfriend. We needed to do the video kind of quickly and I had an old friend from Chicago, Alan, and it worked out really great. I like it. I thought it was a good video.

Alisa: A lot of the songs on this record have a light, summery feel-good vibe to them. But the lyrics are more reflective and not so happy-go-lucky. I feel that the studio mix is so that the vocals are not as upfront; I feel that the guitars are much louder than the vocals.

Cullen: When we were in the studio, compared to all other albums, for us the vocals are up fairly loud. I think, of course, we like to have the guitar and other instruments be voices as well. But for us, we did a good job putting it up in the mix.

Max Kakacek: We definitely went into the studio deciding to put the vocals up and I think since all of us heard the song so many times, we all knew the lyrics, so it might have gotten lost in the music, but for us, we feel confident that the vocals are this loud.

Cameron: Plus when people come to the shows and see us live, they can pick out the lyrics they couldn’t understand on the record.

Alisa: What about the reflective, lamentative mood of the vocals versus the bouncy feel of the music?

Cullen: The lyrics are more reflective, the songs are different from the records we’ve done in the past, all in the love song medium. For us, the way we make music, I don’t think of it as a sunny thing. Most of the time we write the music is in wintertime or I’m in my room, not outside. It’s one of those interesting things when you put records out and they’re called sunshine-y. But we write in the basement.

Max: It smells like mold.

Cullen: We piece together the songs in our apartment or bedroom. I guess, as far as the lyrics becoming more reflective, we had done two records and I felt that lyrically, it was getting more confident. [I became] more confident to talk about things, so I imagine why it’s why I moved things in that direction.

Alisa: Has writing become easier for you?

Cullen: No … I think it has always stayed the same. As I write or as all of us write, you get better at playing your instrument or you have a better idea of what you want to do. As you get better, the vision gets bigger and bigger so you want to be able to create what you see. It never gets really easier, but your vision expands to what you want to do. It’s still a grind.

Traditional guitar music always had, for me, if not the most thoughtful lyrics, but iconic ones. Even when we were doing the first and second record, and there were very traditional love songs, I still spend time making them. Well, the first record not so much; I was like, let’s write it down and do it, but that was the first record and we never thought anyone was going to hear it. But for Dye It Blonde, I wanted to write more in the love song medium, and for Soft Will —  after seeing the support for Dye It Blonde — it definitely gives you confidence as a musician and songwriter to do your own thing.

Alisa: Things really took off for you pretty quickly after [Smith Westerns] formed.

Cameron: That record came out three years after we’d formed. We’d been touring on it. There was no overnight success.

Cullen: There’s a difference between being blogged about or online as opposed to who comes to shows and how much you can tour. On the first record, with the debut, it took us three years [to make it] and we did it while we were all going to college. We wrote that album and it came out when we were 18 or 19. We were in our first year of college. It got picked up and people were talking about it, but it was never one of those things where we could go to any city and play a show. We weren’t getting recognized or anything. A couple of music people knew us. Dye It Blonde was really the first time where we could headline a tour and play for people. Because we had done tours where we headlined, before Dye It Blonde, and we’d play the same rooms to 20 people. The next time around there would be 300.

Alisa: You had said in 2011 that one of your big goals was to sell out Chicago’s Metro and you did that. What is your big goal now?

Cullen: When I said that, I thought it would be nice. We’ve always done it step by step. The reason we talked about selling out the Metro was because we’d played Schubas [Tavern] and sold it out. We played Empty Bottle and a couple of months later, Lincoln Hall. So we’ve always taken it on a step by step basis. If we’d formed in 2009 and said, “Let’s sell out the Metro or Webster Hall,” I don’t think it would have worked. For us, it’s always been about putting out a record, go on tour and see how people react. There’s never been that thing where we want to make a huge jump. If anything, we want to maintain where we are.

Cameron: There’s no months and months of strategy or planning behind it. It’s organic. It seems to work better. If we were to sit down and be like, “Where do we want to be," I feel like we wouldn’t be able to reach that goal if we set it.

Alisa: You have a great rapport, you’re brothers, Cullen and Cameron, and you all have been friends for so long. Initially, it was Max and Cullen and then you came in , Cameron. At that time, all three of you were taking turns?

Cameron: No, I was in the band originally!

Alisa: All three of you formed the band?

Cameron: In high school. I lived with Cullen! We did it together.

Max: Originally Cullen was drumming and we had no singer and then Cullen started to sing. To record, Cullen and I switched off on drums. But we never played live with Cullen or me on drums.

Alisa: Initially you didn’t know who the singer would be? How did it become you, Cullen?

Cullen: I guess I was the person who said, “I’ll do it.” When we first started playing, it was very much a punk thing. I was all about doing it, playing shows. As I kept doing it, I got better. I was never a singer, I never sang up to that point. I started singing when I was 16 with this band, so that was 2006. Never sang with a choir. Up to that point, the kids who sang, I thought, were the kids who wanted attention. That wasn’t me. Still isn’t me.

Alisa: So you didn’t feel apprehensive?

Cullen: It was totally a punk show. It was playing as loud as we can. When we were in high school, we wouldn’t go to high school parties; we’d go to post-college or college drop-out, pizza-and-beer record duded who’d get hammered and let us play for them. Then we’d grab the beer, listen to a lot of the records, and that influenced us a ton.

Alisa: What kind of records influenced you on Soft Will? You have an instrumental track on this record that I feel is very Pink Floyd.

Max: That was a fun thing that I wanted [to do], building instruments on instruments. An exercise in playing on this idea of making something epic, but tongue-in-cheek funny too. It’s silly that it’s on there, but fun too.

Alisa: I think it’s a lovely, orchestrated piece, actually! I don’t get the humor!

Max: It’s over the top in a certain way.

[video:http://youtu.be/dW2giXx9u-U]

Alisa: For this record, you worked with [Grizzly Bear and Yeah Yeah Yeahs producer]  Chris Coady — did you communicate with him in a different way?

Cullen: We really like working with Chris. We’d consider him a good friend. But we don’t go to the studio with a ton of songs, but with all the songs we want on the record. We also go having recorded almost the entire album in the basement where we practice. We show Chris the songs and we talk about what would be cool, what songs we can recreate and make better. That’s how we work.

Cameron: Chris is also really open to suggestions. It’s not a thing where you say you want to do something and he says, “No.” Before we go in, most of the songs are pretty much fleshed out with everything that we want in the song and then, with Chris, we figure [it out].

Alisa: So when you have the songs fully-fleshed out, were there any that were vastly different?

Cullen: For this record, no. Everything became more clear. The one song we wrote in the studio was “Varsity.” It was brought in as a demo and we worked it all out, as a band, in the studio. Looking back, when you listen to the demo, [the songs on Soft Will] are just clearer. You’re in a studio with a lot more equipment that’s more expensive than the equipment we have in the basement!

MS MR: TAS In Session

Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow are the NYC duo known as MS MR. They recently released their full length debut, Secondhand Rapture, and stopped by The Alternate Side and FUV's Studio A to play some of their new songs and chat with Alisa Ali about their music making process.

MS MR are touring the UK and Germany this week, but they'll return to New York for a hometown show at Webster Hall on September 24.

Watch MS MR live in performance, below, listen to the session in the FUV archives or on TAS on 91.5 FUV this Friday, July 19, at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online.

[video:http://youtu.be/gqxCXwzRQ1M]

[video:http://youtu.be/1f0RyJeTeRY]

Junip: TAS In Session

Although Junip, the Sweden-based trio of José González, Tobias Winterkorn and Elias Araya, got slightly sidelined a decade ago as González' solo career took off, the band has more than made up for the delay.

Junip's second, self-titled album continues from where 2010's Fields left off, mixing a maze of bold, sharply melodic layers with a melancholy drift. The trio — which expands to a sextet on the road — is doing the UK/EU festival circuit in an undemanding way this summer, with one upcoming date this month at Suffolk's Latitude Festival, but more shows in August. They'll return to the States in October for the Austin City Limits festival.

Watch Junip in session with FUV and TAS below and listen to González and Winterkorn in conversation with Russ Borris on FUV Live tonight, July 8, at 9 p.m. ET (also streaming) and on TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, July 12, at 11 a.m. ET, also available online.

Junip is available now on Mute (US) and City Slang (EU).

UPDATE: Listen to the Junip interview now in the FUV archives.

[video:http://youtu.be/k7D-xzVcI3s]

Russ Borris: I liked that you played “Walking Lightly” because, to me, [there's] a running theme [of] “don’t really really stress about stuff.” Is that an intentional vibe?

José GonzálezYes, I think for that song. We have that way of living life. It’s nice to convey that in music. Some of those songs are dark and things won’t get better. “Beginnings” is one of those songs.

Russ: A little soul searching when you write these songs?

José: Yes, definitely. Or sometimes pretending. I’m not always soul searching.

Russ: Pretending.

José: Exactly (laughs).

Russ: Do the words come first or the music?

Tobias Winterkorn: We always start with music, just jamming and trying to find a certan vibe or tunes. Then we record it.

José: Very last minute I start doing vocal melodies and write the words.

Russ: It’s also very atmospheric. The songs have a lot of life in them and breathe. How does that work in the studio? Do they change as you go? When you play them out live?

Tobias: Both, I guess. “Walking Lightly,” for example. It started out as a jam for five or six minutes and then it turned out completely different than I thought it was going to be.

José: It used to be just two chords going back and forth. I think we were yawning while playing. But then we figured out the chord changes and that really opened up the song.

Tobias: Then we could stop adding stuff to it.

José: More and more and more chord changes.

Tobias: Basically when we’re producing we’re three [people] and on tour we’re six people. It’s the type of song where you can add stuff while touring.

Russ: When you’re in the studio, then you go on the road, you realize, “We need more guys!”

Tobias: We thought about that when we were writing. But we don’t think about it and [thought] we’d solve that later!

José: We started calling people. Different drummers, for example. It’s not easy to rehearse, money-wise, being from LA, UK, Sweden.

Russ: People [scattered] all over.

Tobias: Norway too.

Russ: The production on the record is really very warm and there’s a calmness to it. I like that it matches the vibe of the songs.

José: I guess soundwise we like distortion and edge, but we like to listen to stuff at loud volume without hurting our ears. So when we record, our co-producer Don Alsterberg likes to put it through tape which usually takes out some of the high frequencies. [They] can be hurtful when you listen loudly. So that gives [the music] this soft blanket feeling.

Russ: If we trace back the beginnings of the band in the mid-2000s when you put out your first EP, did you think you’d be able to get to a full record? Was there hope you’d record more?

José: Yes, we’d talk about it once in a while. Sometimes it felt very real ... and sometimes it felt like words that we’d say when we were drunk. But when we actually got together and did the first album, we were sort of surprised. We actually made an album! It was sort of similar with the second one, but a bit more determined and things ran a bit more smoothly.

Tobias: Actually, when we wrote Fields we decided [to do it]. José: I decided not to go on any more tours. I wouldn’t do any more solo stuff until we had our album. Russ: How does that work with the solo stuff when you’re writing songs? [Your] thing versus a Junip idea?

José: It’s usually not a problem because we always start from scratch with Junip. Whenever I’m writing words or trying to come up with melodies, I’m doing that with demos. So I start of choose beforehand [if] I’m going to work on a solo song or a Junip song. I very seldom have a riff or lyric that I need to choose; there’s always a melody in mind.

[video:http://youtu.be/x-GmTy6pWXc]

Russ: “All Is Said and Done” has a great build to it. It’s not a tense thing — it’s pulled back a little.

Tobias: It’s trying to hold back when you don’t want to do it … but have to in a way.

Russ: What’s next for you guys? Are you thinking ahead already?

Tobias: We’re going to concentrate on [this album]. We’re going to summer festivals, another European tour and then back here. I think José has a solo project in his back pocket that he wants to work on.

José: Yes, gathering ideas for my solo album, working on music for a film, continuing to play music and touring!

Russ: “Line of Fire” has a cinematic feel to it. José, has working in film been an aspiration?

José: Not directly, but the funny thing about that song is that we thought [that song] would fit perfectly as the end titles for a movie. I picture myself working with film music later in my life. I still find it more fun to try to write songs and if they get used in film, great. But not necessarily work with film.

Low: WFUV Live Session

Over the long and leisurely July 4th holiday week, The Alternate Side will highlight some of our favorite FUV Live sessions from the first half of 2013, beginning with Low. 

This year, Low celebrates 20 years together as a band, and they recently released a tenth full-length album, The Invisible Way. Produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, it's a beautiful pairing of thoughtfully-introspective lyrics and sparse musical arrangements. The veteran indie rock trio performed a few of the new songs, like the haunting "Plastic Cup," in Studio A back in March.

Listen to the Alisa Ali's conversation with Low here in the FUV archives and below, watch videos below of Low in performance.

Low kicks off a summer tour on July 18 in Indianapolis and play Chicago's Pitchfork Music Fest on July 20. The Invisible Way is out now on Sub Pop.

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Still Corners: TAS In Session

As adrift in moody atmosphere as a Jane Campion film, Still Corners' second album, Strange Pleasures, takes a nocturnal journey through London, reflecting the romantic evolution of a relationship.

The Anglo-American duo of Greg Hughes and Tessa Murray just wrapped a tour with Chvrches, appearing in New York last week for three gigs, including their own headlining slot at Mercury Lounge. A handful of UK and European festivals are set for later this summer.

Before their show at Music Hall of Williamsburg last Tuesday, Still Corners made a side trip to The Alternate Side to play a set of songs from their haunting new record, out now on Sub Pop. Watch videos of Still Corners' performance and read highlights of their conversation below.

Listen to the entire session this Friday, June 28, on TAS on 91.5 WNYE at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online.

UPDATE: Listen to Still Corners' session in the FUV/TAS archives now.

Kara Manning: You’re described as a London duo, but in truth, you’re an Anglo-American duo because, Greg, you are from Austin, Texas.

Greg Hughes: Yes, that’s right. I went over [to London] about a girl. It didn’t work out but I stayed.

Kara: I interviewed Exitmusic last year and they met in an amazing way on a train, going through Canada. Then I heard your story and thought that it almost trumps Exitmusic’s story. It also involves trains.

Greg: A lot of people actually don’t believe us. But if you live in London, it wouldn’t be that surprising because trains get missed and go different places quite often. I was at London Bridge ….

Tessa Murray: You weren’t at London Bridge! He was trying to get to London Bridge.

Greg: Yes! I was trying to get to London Bridge from Charing Cross. The train said it was going to London Bridge, but it didn’t. It went out to this place that I’d never heard of before called Kidbrooke. It was actually a dark, foggy night. I got off of the train and there was this other person on the platform. I guess [Tessa] came up to me because I looked confused.

Tessa: He looked a bit annoyed. I was a bit annoyed. The train was definitely signposted to London Bridge and it was twenty minutes before the next train. I just said, “Did you get on the wrong train too?”

Greg: i was surprised because people in London don’t speak to each other.

Tessa: But I’m quite friendly.

Greg: We’re all too busy being miserable. But we got to chatting and that’s when Tessa said, “I’m missing choir.” And I was looking for a singer for my project Still Corners. So we shared the train back, talked about music and film ….

Tessa: And you had five books in your bag which you showed me.

Greg: So Tessa came down and we started working on music. It grew from there, a really great fit. Actually, [Tessa], you told me recently about the bench ….

Tessa: I was going to sit down on a bench to pass the time, but it was wet. So that’s part of the reason I spoke to him.

Greg: So the project hinged on a wet bench. Very weird to think about.

Kara: Your most recent record is Strange Pleasures which is the followup to [your debut] Creatures of the Hour. You were snagged by Sub Pop before your debut was released, but it was based on the double-A single you’d released, right?

Greg: Yes, it was the “Don’t Fall in Love/Wish” combo that we put out on The Great Pop Supplement in London. Shortly thereafter we did a video for “Wish,” the B-side, and that’s when we started getting some momentum. I think we noticed that Sub Pop bought the song ….

Tessa: On Bandcamp. We got an email saying that they’d spend £4 on the two songs which is twice what you’re meant to pay.

Greg: They doubled down. But we didn’t really think about it and then a day later we got an email and [reps from Sub Pop] flew over, and they saw us play. We were talking to other labels, but [Sub Pop] were really cool. It seemed like a great fit.

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Greg: I think I turned an adjective into a verb on “Beginning to Blue.” It’s just about when you’re in a relationship and it’s starting to stall and you get that icky feeling ... it’s beginning to blue.

Kara: The album leads off with “The Trip.” I immediately thought of the Steve Coogan film, but I know that’s not what it’s from! But cinema plays a huge role in what you do. Do you find artistic inpsiration in film?

Greg: The whole film angle, when you watch a certain movie, like a David Lynch film, part of the film is the atmosphere that it provides and for Still Corners, atmosphere almost defines us as a band. Maybe it’s not something you’d bang on — you wouldn’t just throw on “Silence of the Lambs” — you have to be in the right mood. And we’re kind of a moody band.

Tessa: I think with the film, the influences, is us as sponges. Particularly with Greg, in watching loads of different films and soaking in those different atmospheres. When the songs are written, they probably project some of those things that we’ve seen over the years. More like a sponge, you squeeze it out, and that becomes a song. The dregs of the water in a little puddle!

Greg: Yeah, it’s essentially about the vibe and the atmosphere and we try to bottle that up into the music.

Kara: Greg, you do most of the songwriting, but do you find that the more [you work with Tessa], the more that might expand as you look to the third album?

Greg: Absolutely. It already has on the second album. Tessa and I have this sympatico and she’s almost able to read my mind. It was much more collaborative this time, so I think for the third record, we’ll be going more towards that. It’s fun, exciting an it definitely yields new, interesting directions. I think the first record was a darker record.

Kara: It was more about internal heartbreak too. This record seems to be about what you’re on now, a journey. It happens at night, there’s a nocturnal vibe to the record. Have you been working on songs for the third record?

Greg: No, actually. We totally revamped the live set and we brought on board Jack [Gooderham] who is our new drummer and he’s amazing. We’ve been working on blowing that up as big as possible.

Kara: I was intrigued that your song “All I Know” was a song that spun out of the aftermath of the [2011] London riots. What was it about that time that was a paradigm shift for you living in London, especially as an American?

Greg: The riots were a very strange time. If you’re in London, it’s never empty, but during those few days the streets were absolutely empty and all the shops were boarded up.

Tessa: Well, the streets were empty apart from where they were rioting.

Greg: Yes, well, all the surrounding area was empty. It created this very odd atmosphere. With the song, I tried to reflect that. When you turned on the the television there were fires everywhere. Businesses were on fire. Cars. So the first line is, “Summer was like a fire.” It took off from that. The chorus echoes the inability to comprehend what’s going on. It’s difficult to put into words, what’s happening, when everything around you is going crazy.

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Kara: Lyrically are you as moved by literature?

Greg: Yeah, we read a lot of poetry. Keats, Yeats and Blake. Robert Frost.

Kara: What other songwriters?

Greg: Leonard Cohen. He’s amazing. That’s writing on another level though. We try to go deep, but maybe we’ll go deeper next time.

Kara: You speak a lot of influences — like Broadcast or Yo La Tengo — but what is it about Still Corners that really defines you?

Greg: Tessa’s voice which is very unique and intimate. It has a real soul to it, but it’s almost like a choir. That, as well as the atmosphere that we’re trying to provide through the songwriting. I think that’s what defines our sound.

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Kara: I have to ask you about the title of the song, “Going Back To Strange.”

Greg: Well, if you’ve ever left a place or moved away from home, when you leave ….

Tessa: … You’re still connected.

Greg: You don’t know what you give up. So the things that annoyed you draw you closer to it. So you eventually go back to the strange part of that.

Kara: Because you’re such connoisseurs of great music, if you were to demand that people have three essential albums in their record collections, what three would you choose?

Greg: The first album that comes to mind is Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. But as pertaining to us, Yo La Tengo’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One and Cocteau Twins’ Four-Calendar Café.

Tessa: I’ve got one, but it goes against the grain maybe. The one that immediately sprung to mind, but probably because I really love it, is Lou Reed’s Transformer. He’s not entirely happy.

John Grant: TAS In Session

John Grant's personal struggles have fueled, not foiled, his artistic output. A recovering drug addict and alcoholic who, newly sober, then faced an HIV-positive diagnosis, Grant discovered that honesty about those predicaments freed him creatively.

For his powerful second solo album, Pale Green Ghosts, Grant relocated to Iceland, delving into the electronic music that defined his adolescence. He's bringing his love of lush synths and ornery moods on the road, touring North America this month and coming to New York's Mercury Lounge on July 1 (go here to win tickets from The Alternate Side).

Listen to a compelling TAS session with John Grant on TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, June 21, at 11 a.m. ET, also streaming online.

UPDATE: Listen to the John Grant session now in the FUV/TAS archives.

Watch videos of Grant's performance in Studio A below (backed by his Icelandic bandmates) and read highlights of his candid conversation with The Alternate Side's Russ Borris:

Russ Borris: I absolutely love this record. It’s a tremendous piece of work and clearly a very personal record. One thing that stands out to me, the synths on this album, is that they have a way of being both cool and dance-y but invoking dramatic feelings too. A balance and not something you necessarily always get. What drew you to that sound?

John Grant: This album is sort of rooted in my adolescence which took place during the 80s so the music I loved the most during that time was all the synth stuff. The New Romantic stuff, the New Wave stuff and all of the industrial stuff. It started out with maybe the first couple of Eurythmics albums, back in the beginning of the ‘80s, and the first couple of Devo albums. Missing Persons’ [debut] Spring Session M, stuff like that.

Russ: Missing Persons gets lost in that mix.

John: You know, they had one of the greatest drummers ever [Terry Bozzio] in that band. The stuff that they do on that album is, to this day, is amazing. There’s some really crazy cool time signatures, sounds and performances on that record. It continues to be one of my favorites throughout the years. The more of the New Wave-y stuff, like Fad Gadget, Cabaret Voltaire, Visage, Pet Shop Boys — this is the stuff I was listening to constantly. All this electro and dance stuff. Then I got into Ministry, Skinny Puppy and Front Line Assembly. At the same time I was still taking my classical piano lessons so I’ve always had a strange mixture. I grew up with two older brothers who were listening to Nazareth, Molly Hatchet, Kiss, Van Halen and Aerosmith and there was a lot of that ‘70s AOR rock in there: Bread and Supertramp. My parents were listening to Olivia Newton-John, John Denver, Roger Miller and Loretta Lynn. So I have a wide range of things to choose from.

When it came to doing this album, I always wanted to bring the synth stuff into it and also diistill all of these things I love into one whole, hopefully. I think it’s an ongoing process for me. I wouldn’t say that I’ve achieved that perfectly on this album, but I think that I’m on the road to getting my sound right — or getting the sound that I want — and bringing all of these elements together.

You mentioned the cinematic qualities of the sound mixed with the synths, and it’s not an easy thing to do. I make a lot of mistakes. But I chose to work with Biggi Veira from the band GusGus on this album because I knew that he’d be able to help me find the sounds that I wanted to find. He’s also a master at creating suspense and tension which is so important with electronic music. It keeps it from being cold, which is something that people say is their problem with electronic music. I think you can also use things in a very classical and cinematic way to create dramatic and warm atmosphere as well.

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Russ: You fronted a band called The Czars for while. I feel like now, you have your voice in a different way on this record. How long did it take you to get to that place?

John: It’s taken a long time. I guess it’s taken 15 years. It was a process of me getting out of my own way. When I started out, the coolest thing to my mind was Radiohead, so I thought that’s what I needed to be like. I had all these ideas of how I wanted to be perceived. It took me a long time — I keep using this word — to distill. To strip off all of the layers of my inner censors, my own filters, how I wanted to be perceived and to simpy realize that the best thing I could possiby do was be myself. That was more than enough for my music. I think that’s what you’re hearing on this record; I feel like I’m getting much closer to being able to just “be” as opposed to worrying about perceived in a specific way. It’s very important in the studio to completely ignore any voices that tell me that I need to worry about what other people are going to think about what I’m saying, the sounds we’re creating or the mixture of sounds we’re using. I do worry about it sometimes, but when I go into the studio, it’s really important to me to completely ignore that. I think I have done a good job of ignoring those voices and making sure that I’m doing what I want to do.

Russ: That can get exhausting, [taking into account] what the fans or critics are thinking.

John: You can’t. It leads nowhere and the bottom line is that there are going to be people who love your music and there will be people who are going to hate your music. There will people who will be like, “Meh, I don’t care.” That’s none of your business. You’re not doing the music to please people or worry about who is going to like it. You’ve got to make a record that you feel is what you meant to do, so when you go to bed at night, you say “I made the record that I wanted to make.” Maybe it’s not perfect or it didn’t achieve what I set out to do yet, but I’m on the road to doing that. I can sleep well knowing that I stayed true to my vision. There’s a lot of things on this record that I don’t necessarily want to say in public, but when it comes down to where I was when I was writing the song and what was going on with me, I felt that it was important to me — someone who is in recovery from addiction — I need to deal with the facts and the way things are. I spent a lot of my life trying to avoid facing myself, so it’s really important for me to be in the moment and look at things, even if they’re ugly and they don’t sound nice. That doesn’t matter. That’s the way it was at that moment, and it’s all right. It’s not like I’m alone in this.

Russ: Do you remember the lowest point when you were dealing with addiction?

John: I do. I remember a lot f low points. I remember going to the doctor — I was trying to get into the hospital to do an alcohol treatment program. One of the nurses that day talked to me about [if] I could give up drinking. It got to the point that I was beginning to fantasize about suicide a lot. I was thinking … I was starting to really think that was a good idea for me. That was the lowest point for me. When I really decided I needed to quit and I needed to get help … I think when you lose perspective to that extent and you think it’s a good idea for you, you really need to get some outside help. And I did. I think that’s one thing that’s good about me; I was never too ashamed to say that I needed help. So, here I am.

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Russ: There’s a rejuvenation you can hear in the music as well. One of the things that I think works so well is the humor that you’re able to interject in a song like “GMF.” Dark humor, but it works so well … and thanks for cleaning that up for the radio! Where does the dark humor come from with you?

John: I think it started with me with Woody Allen. I’ve always been a huge fan of his, especially the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s Woody Allen. It started there and continued in modern times with people like Todd Solondz [and his movies] “Welcome to the Dollhouse” and “Happiness.” It’s always been my defense mechanism in this world, humor. Especially dark humor. I wouldn’t want to be without it. I was a little afraid when I got sober … I thought that being a coke addict and being addicted to booze made me more interesting. I might have thought that because I was worried when I gave that all up, maybe I’d be too happy. I wouldn’t be able to write music or have my dark sense of humor anymore. Luckily, it hasn’t gone away and I still enjoy many of the things I always enjoyed. Bottom line was that it was always a defense mechanism but it’s also inextricable from my personality.

I struggled with being gay and coming out in my adolescence. That’s something that I express a lot on this album. I go into detail in this album about what it was like to get sober and to be infected by HIV after making all the effort to face myself, get sober and deciding that — and this is gonna sound corny — you’re going to show up for your own life. Take part in your life and realize that you’re someone who is deserving of love and able to give love, no more and no less than anyone else. That was a very difficult place for me to get to. I talk about these difficulties on the album and I think it’s very important to do that. I feel like it’s a universal thing. People don’t necessarily have my struggles. It’s not necessarily about sexuality with someone else, but people connect to the fact that you’re talking about real life. That resonates, even if they can’t identify with your specifics.

Russ: You talk about learning about your HIV … how did that throw you?

John: Well, it was a big smackdown. The difficult part of it was the psychological part and understanding what it meant. I was really angry with myself for allowing it to happen. I put myself in a situation where I didn’t have anyone else to blame but myself afterwards. After getting sober, deciding that I wanted to enjoy life and do as much as I could with my life, I realized that I was holding onto a lot of self-destructive behaviors in other areas, like sex. I had to admit to myself that I’d been using sex in a very similar way to the way I’d been using drugs and alcohol. I didn’t want to admit it and keep the sex for myself because I enjoy it and it’s a natural part of being a human. You can get away with that one a little more. Then I ended up getting HIV because I didn’t want to look at the self-destructive behaviors that I was still holding onto. It forced me to go to the next level. There are a lot of people who have been dealing with HIV for a long time. People who have been very, very responsible. Or a country like Africa where HIV is an epidemic and children are born with the disease. They didn’t have the opportunity to make the stupid choices that I made. So I had to think about those things.

I didn’t tell my family for a long time because I wanted to think about why I got there … and how I was going to continue on with that. I couldn’t ignore that. I still had a long way to go, as far as becoming a healthy … a healthy human. It was a really dark moment, but there are a lot of people who have gone through it and dealt with it. I had friends who were on their deathbed in the ‘80s and ‘90s when things weren’t so advanced, and you can live with it. It’s something that you can live a full life with. Now it’s not just about me anymore, it’s about making sure that I’m thinking about other people. I was so wrapped up in my own self-hatred and old patterns that I learned when I was growing up that I didn’t realize that the nasty thing that happens, all of these self-destructive things splash out into other people’s lives too. It gave me a lot to think about.

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