Thursday, March 26, 2009
London, England's GRAFFITI ISLAND are project comprised of only a minimal rhythm section and dead pan vocals. The dry vocal delivery gets compared to BEAT HAPPENING but what makes it more engaging and unique is the general spookiness you wouldn't find in Olympia, WA. The results are stark sounding, detached, lo-fi and possessed garage. I don't want to play up the macabre element too much and have you expect something that's depressing and miserable. It's important to remember it's also got clever phrasing and you can tap your toe to it. Currently they've only released one now sold-out 3-way split cassette w. Male Bonding and Pens. But they have pre-orders up for a 7 inch on House Anxiety records and also a 4 way split 7 inch with Male Bonding, Old Blood and Rapid Youth. They are following these two releases up soon after with another 4 way split 7inch w. Pens, Dum Dum Girls and Crocodiles. I spoke with bass player Conan Roberts briefly by email this week and here are the results:
It seems like you're doing a lot of 3 and 4 way splits, why is that? Economics? Togetherness?
I stumbled upon a whole bunch of blank cassettes for free so it seemed like a good idea to do a split release with our friends bands Male Bonding and Pens. I love the whole split thing, especially when it spans countries and continents, it really creates a fun unifying feel between bands and scenes i think. The US has always had a great history of underground music, England not so much so, so its awesome that labels and bands in the US are now connecting with bands here and giving them some much needed exposure overseas.
What is happening in London right now with regards to new music from the underground?
I've only lived in London for 4 years and its only been the past 12 months maybe that I have seen anything remotely interesting happening with underground music. There were a couple of great bands here and there but never enough bands or interest to really make fun things happen like great shows or cool labels.
I feel like London still heavily looks to and relys on whats going on in the US to determine whats happening here. Especially with underground stuff. A venue will be sold out if someone like Wavves or Vivian Girls come over but when London bands play who in my opinion are equally on a par with those bands its half full. Its a shame, people don't seem to want to get behind and support homegrown bands. I think its a lot harder for English bands to get the exposure in this scene.
But not wanting to be totally down on stuff, there are some amazing new bands in London now who are trying to change this, Pens, Male Bonding, Hype Williams, Thee Pharohs are all amazing bands doing really exciting stuff now.
Does Graffiti Island actively tour?
We're currently trying to organize a US tour with pens so fingers crossed that will be sometime round August.
How do you think a single unified new world government with one currency/flag/agenda could be marketed effectively and accepted with open arms?
I think a lot of people believe that we are already ruled by one new world government, the United Nations. I'm reading a book right now called 'behold a pale horse' which deals with all this stuff. Its really hard to form a definitive judgement on this stuff i think as theres constantly new info to read and digest and my opinion seems to fluctuate with each new piece of info.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Six Finger Satellite is a band from Providence, RI that was signed to Sub Pop Records in the year 1990. Such an amazing collection of music followed and unfortunately I do not have the time to go through it in its entirety here. If you have not heard of this music you really need to get over to your favorite site and download it immediately (or fuck it, be brave and go to a record store). Highlights of their career for me have to be the 1993 release of The Pigeon is the Most Popular Bird, a double album that changed music forever. Also noteworthy is the 1998 album Law of Ruins which is a comprehensive mix of sadistic guitar work, evil keyboard, massive drumming and tasteful musicianship. Influential and extreme, Six Finger Satellite carved their own path taking many in the music world by surprise. Every release has been a well anticipated and delivered contribution, music that is very thought out and created with passion. With a past that contained drug addiction, death, insanity and other forms of rough living, Six Finger Satellite worked through it and continue to make music that is light years ahead of most that is going on in the year 2009.
The following is an interview I did with singer J. Ryan last week.
1. Six Finger Satellite has my deepest respect as a band and there is so much history I'd love to discuss but for this I'd like to focus on your latest releases. Can you tell me a little bit about Half Control, when was that music written, recorded and are you currently playing that material live?
HALF CONTROL songs were written and recorded in 2000-01. It was an odd time as I recall. Babies and break ups, blunders and baubles, etc. I feel the band had really hit a stride with Law Of Ruins and although that record has it issues, the sense of moving into a new song writing dynamic excited me. Unfortunately, the semantic autonomists arrived and things changed. I recall a conversation at the Parlour where Sub Pop had called and critiqued Law Of Ruins by saying that the bass was invisible and the vocals were under mixed and our illustrious guitarist at the time replying 'what do they want us to do? SELL OUT!" I was of the mindset that if you had a band for 10 years then balanced mixes were a sign of confidence. I was always the last to find out. Alas. Back to HALF CONTROL- Rick [Pelletier] had been playing with LANDED and the idea of working with Joel and Shawn [Joel Kyack and Dr. Shawn Greenlee] fell easily into place. We practiced quite a bit and wrote these tight, compact rockers. We recorded it ourselves on our 8-track, played a handful of shows around that time and then kind of slid into the ooze - movings out of state, family responsibilities, other musical endeavors and place holders etc. Rick and I attempted home mixing the songs many times over the next few years and finally got it right when we hooked up with Machines With Magnets [recording studio in Pawtucket, Rhode Island] to do a proper job. Load Records agreed to distribute and it will finally hit the ether this spring after being released as a downloadable gadget in Nov 08. We are playing a few songs from that record live and will eventually play most of them. 6FS is always moving forward baby!
2. How about the new stuff that is up on Myspace. It seems like a real new direction, what has changed in the band to produce this stuff?
The new stuff is a different line-up than Half Control. Rick plays guitar, Dan St. Jacques plays bass and Brian Dufresne is on drums. Originally this material was written with Jon Loper on skins in the tool shack at Rick's mansion in Tiverton, RI. I live in not RI, so I flew back many times over the year 2007 and we played - the guys jammed a lot and when I showed up we arranged and solidified the songs. Most of them on the new record were literally played once in the shack and then brought to the studio. I think the difference or direction is really based on the band members now - there are distinct personal styles at work and when combined -voila! - new magic. It is refreshing to know that there is no musical "agenda" going on either. We play things we like and make them our sound. There was a time when 6FS took ideas and turned them into rock songs - even the most retarded sounds and riffs could be cool but the band fell into a bit of style exercising at times in the late 90's - we're back to a free and easy approach to our excessively evil ways.
3. Do you feel like the music you make follows a certain tradition?
If bass, drums, guitar, throat is a tradition then yes.
4. What are you listening to lately?
MP3 player on shuffle - King Tubby, Mojave 3, Laughing Hyenas, MIA, Serge G., Galaxie 500, Minutemen, Everly Brothers, Der Plan, Kyuss, Dub Syndicate, Mission of Burma and Leonard Cohen all showed up today while driving to work.
5. What is the deal with record labels? I mean, Six Finger Satellite was signed to Sub Pop records, released five full length albums and one EP, now they have you as a "not active" band on their roster, but they still update their website on what your current shows are... weird. Any comment on that?
No comment I can think of. They recently declined to work with us on our new release. Probably for the best. Another day with the same problems. Sub Pop is into the retro 60's style vibe - popular independent music is mining the 60's subgenres for ideas and looks - mountain man folk yodels, boy girl sensitive soft rock, long hair jammers etc. If we worked with Sub Pop again the same issues from the prior experience would surface - we don't fit the style and they wouldn't know what to do with us. Give the label credit for staying relevant and with it I suppose. There are still 6FS fans there in the ranks. I think they're still sore we didn't play their anniversary shindig.
6. What advice would you give bands who want to work with a label in the year 2009? What does it take? Touring? A "fan base"? How did it happen for you guys?
I am not an advice giver these days. I have been away from the games. I'll gladly accept advice but I'm not in the giving spirit. I do believe however that it takes what it has always taken - strong songs, recorded well and playing convincingly live.
7. What goes into the lyrical content of Six Finger Satellite music? I hear a lot of characters Laughing Larry and now we are introduced to this Willy P. person. Is the inspiration from the music or more of putting some literature to the songs that are already established? You have some background in the field of writing correct?
Wilson P. The anti hero. The aging wizard. The yard worker. I don't consciously create characters in the songs. I always kind of marveled at singers who could do that and not make it sound forced. Dead Joe [Birthday Party song] for example.
8. Are there any established bands that are currently performing that you guys would like to play with?
Not sure about this one. So many are not good live. Not sure if you have to be these days. All the bands that I would consider are back doing the "best of" shows - reunions etc. Not sure if they are good anymore either. From the nyucks and fun side though it would be a blast.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
This upcoming show I'm playing in LA became one such subject, in a private setting amongst friends so I don't need to name names (unless this person wants to reveal herself) or even characterize it specifically in those terms. If you can guess, it revolves around the "boy" in the "cott."
My friend decided semi-privately to no longer attend shows that consisted of all-male performers. It is well within her right to do so and I can understand her personal reasons for doing so, though I find it somewhat arbitrary in that one lady or one trans in the mix makes it "okay". But it's her rule, she gets to enforce it how she sees fit, gotta respect that. The only reason I felt somewhat shitty about it was that I did not organize this show, and I do notice when there is a gender imbalance on the stage when I'm playing and when I'm an audience member. For other reasons, I thought that this bill had been put together with people I all like and respect that seem to fit together, almost too well actually. If anyone is the odd duck out on this line up, it's my band, but aside from that, the private discussions that occurred out of this announcement fell victim to several tropes that I need to take in another direction since I'd like that discussion to remain somewhat private.
I am guessing if you read this blog you might take a negative view of anything perceived as "politically correct". I am on message boards where I considered bringing this subject up, but feel like any attempt to bring up gender, racial, or class issues is viewed as Polyanna-ish, which perhaps it is. This also seems to be the tack that Z Gun takes in the newest issue, which has a section reevaluating the canonical output of Riot Grrl bands by Ryan Wells. He makes the distinction early on to set aside the kneejerk male record geek reaction to the politics and focus solely on the music. He does a good job of describing and guiding through an admittedly broad field that covers Skinned Teen and Huggy Bear, but it seems like the context and varying political bents of these bands are pretty intrinsic to their presentation. I'm not beefing at all with Z Gun or Wells, but maybe the implied kneejerkiness of their audience, the idea that liking Riot Grrl bands requires a caveat or apologist stance.
At the same time, there is an accepted or excepted tolerance in Z Gun world for what is termed "Crimson Wave". The ur-document of this, and a fairly new one at that, might be the Die Stasi XXperiments LP. It's a really good comp actually, but I thought it was interesting to see how it could be the antidote to the all-dude noise jam that, in my boycotting friend's view, was an echo of the decline of hardcore in the '80s.
I have had other discussions with friends regarding kids we know in the whatever-you're-gonna-call-it circa now weird music scene, under 21, born around the inception of Riot Grrl, who do not understand how the music they like evolved or reacted to the overt political messages. What I'm NOT suggesting is that the XXperiments bands force some kind of feminist agenda onto their sonic templates, or that Z Gun have a wymyn's music column. Expecting that someone figuring their shit out when they are 18 is going to hold up artistically 15-20 years later is a tall order, which is what happens if you listen to Tattle Tale or Bratmobile in 2009 (it's also the case listening to most male punk bands fer crissake- yup, you hate your parents and just wanna skateboard). However, it's better than NO discussion, or at the risk of sounding like a Fogey, pretending we live in a post-gender America even as we are supposed to be in post-racial America - one post at a time, right?
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Awesome drawing I did of Sightings.
Sightings are in my opinion , the most exciting thing going in music today.
Their music is often called difficult , and I suppose it could be , if it weren't so fuckin' groovy. Sightings take ugly , austere and often alienating sounds and distill them into something beautiful , sexy and almost soothing. It's like alchemy , with every essential element being in perfect balance.
They are the only band I've ever where multiple couples in the crowd were making out against the stage (What was up with that anyway? Too much fucking PDA Montreal , too much PDA.) It was kinda fuckin' gross.
I headbanged so hard at one of their shows that I cut my forehead on the monitor , but who fucking cares? Sightings are worth some bloodshed and memory loss.
I emailed back and forth with their guitarist/vocalist Mark Morgan and this is the result.
Chloe : I read in an early interview that on hearing Sightings your mom said “It was more musical than I imagined.”
Were her expectations based on previous projects you had or on something else?
Mark Morgan: I think it was based on the fact that my practice space (i.e bedroom) was directly above the kitchen when I was in high school so when mom was making dinner, she'd often be subjected to my haphazard guitar playing. Or she would be subjected to me yelling, "GODDAMNIT, I FUCKING HATE THIS THING!" Sometimes I'd be playing rather loud and I would occasionally hear, "MAAAAAAAARRRRRRRK, TURN THAT DOWN! YOU'RE KILLING ME!"
So, her early exposure to Sightings probably sounded more musical to her than my bedroom guitar journeys because I managed to bullshit my way into being in a band with two other people who have a bit more skill than myself. May I point out that since the interview you quoted took place, I recently cued up our "Electrician" cover for mom thinking that maybe this would be something she'd sort of "get." It takes awhile for the guitar to come in and when it did (mind you, it's not a particularly abrasive tone), she asked, "that's you, right? why do you do that?"
C: So , why DO you do that?
MM: It's in the DNA. I just feel compelled.
C: How haphazard would you say your playing is nowadays compared to then?
MM: Definitely less haphazard. It'd be quite an achievement to not improve in some manner after 18 years of playing.
C: Speaking of chance , how much of your sound is born of the equipment you use? Did you have a sound in mind , and build your arsenal accordingly or was it a more organic thing where you used the gear that was readily available and crafted the sound from what you had on hand?
MM: The idea of chance in regards to a finished tune is going to vary from song to song. Most stuff is set in stone with all the turns and stops-or lack of them-and others not so much. One or two of us might always be improvising at certain moments within a certain song but someone else will have a locked in part to give the song some sense of having an anchor. And even within that element of improvisation, I generally feel there's always a certain sense of, ya know, "this is a song." Take "This Most Real of Hells" for example as it's one of the more random sounding recorded tunes in the last few years. There's no way that song will ever be played the same way twice but it's always kind of...the same. This is a result of the fact that Jon's drum part does not change and Richard and I are still always playing the same type of patterns. Where the breaks appear is going to vary but I'm assuming anyone with a familiarity with that song would know what it was on any given night we play it.
In regards to my sound, I guess I had some general sense of wanting a tone that was exciting to me. I don't think I ever acquired a pedal with the mission of "I need that early 80's compressor sound" or "I need something that will allow me to effortlessly sound like Jimmy Page." All the effects acquisitions are just randomly finding stuff through friends or stores or whatever. When I first started I had a pretty standard fuzz, one delay and a wah wah. I got bored after awhile and started finding other pedals that I could use in conjunction with what I already had and it built from there into pedal chain eternity. I sometimes feel like a goof for having 8 or 9 pedals and then I'll occasionally see some dude who looks like he jacked a Guitar Center. At that point, my excesses don't seem that excessive.
C: I see you many of those guitar center jackers , and I always wonder how they remember all their settings for each song.
it’s like abstract math.
You know , when I watch you play I can not understand AT ALL what you are doing . In fact , and please don’t be offended by this , the first time I saw sightings I almost seemed as if you were touring your guitar , rather than playing it. Yet the sounds were consistent with the album.
I think it was one of the more mysterious things I’d ever seen in a live music context
Care to share the how and why of your playing style?
MM: Probably the biggest influences on my playing style is sheer fucking laziness and to a slightly lesser degree, a certain level of retardation in grasping basic guitar technique. In the beginning, I took lessons for about nine months when I was in high school and I absolutely loathed the idea of having to practice for hours upon hours to become even moderately competent. Pathetic, right? Anyway, while attempting to learn whatever song I had to play for my teacher, I'd end up spending more time trying to make some horrifying sound come out of my tiny Hondo amp with no effects pedals. It wasn't necessarily that I had formulated some belief that noise was king but rather this just seemed the easiest route to auditory satisfaction.
C: Do you consider yourself a stubborn person then?
MM: For the most part I would say that I'm not stubborn. Generally pretty easy going. Or so I claim.
c: Well then I guess we can all be thankful for your teenaged walk on the the stubborn side.
Do you feel like the music you make follows a certain tradition?
MM: Yeah, definitely. Wait, do you want me to speak for my own stylings or the band in general?
C: Let’s hear about both , where do you place your playing and your band within musical tradition?
MM: I always hate trying to figure this shit out. It's not that I think we're unclassifiable but rather there's been so many things that have had an effect on me personally that it's hard for me to sift through my mental files. You tell me.
C: Well I hear echoes of Brainbombs and Royal Trux in your early stuff......
MM: I like Brainbombs and Royal Trux but I'm not sure if they ever had a serious influence on us collectively. A problem for me in sorting this out is that there are things that I'm into that may have influenced me but there is also music I love that I'm pretty sure has never filtered down to my playing because I'm either too incompetent to integrate that style or I just merely have no desire to do so. Making something sound like say, Throbbing Gristle, pretty easy. Making something sound like
George Jones, pretty impossible (for me) but would I want to anyway?
Two big things for me early on in the band were Fushitsusha and crappy punk rock of the Killed By Death variety. Keiji Haino's guitar sound and playing was crucial but I also had a desire for more traditional/forward motion. Also, the idea of garbage can production was a big thing. Take that Sick Things record for instance. If they went into some big studio and laid the tunes down, it would definitely not have had the same impact as the 4 track (or one track?) stuff they ended up doing. Of course, there's tons of other records/bands that have inspired me too but do we really need a list?
C: What about current music ? Do you feel Sightings are part of a movement or scene right now?
MM: As far as being a part of a scene or movement, god, I hope not. There's probably nothing worse in a rock interview than some yahoo talking about how his band dwells alone in their own little sonic temple but I'm going to have to be that very yahoo. Sure, there's current music I like and all but I genuinely feel that I haven't seen a band that's quite like us (may the reader decide if that's good or bad)and I'm just more into particular, individual groups that do whatever it is they gotta do and aren't completely beholden to a genre-OK, not always true but whatever. For instance, most noise bores the crap out of me but then when I see someone like Aaron Dilloway play, I'm truly inspired and moved because his music consistently delivers the frayed and tattered goods and there's always an amazing sense of dynamics. Yet, what I'm involved with and what he's doing are pretty different things.
In the end, I've never felt comfortable with gang/group mentalities even though I consider myself a fairly sociable guy. Maybe it's some only child shit on my part.
C: I’m not an only child but am loath to be part of any group or club myself. *shivers*
What current stuff are you listening too these days ?
MM: This isn't all hot off the presses (man, that's going to be a total old man saying in a few years) stuff but some fairly recent releases I've liked are the recent Animal Collective record, Nyogthaeblisz , Group Inerane , Group Doueh and random stuff on Raster Norton. The last No Neck show I was was pretty awesome.
C:“Hot off the presses”.... Do you have any concern that many kids *already* don’t know what that means today?
An article that CBC ran about a year ago said that 48% of teens in the US didn’t buy a single cd in 2007.
MM: Well, less merch sales for us. Doesn't help our tour finances.
C: Are Sightings planning on touring in 09?
MM: I'd like to go back to Europe in the fall. We shall see.
C: Lots of bands I know prefer touring Europe to North America , what’s your prefrance and why?
MM: Europe. Why? More money, more castles (I’ve never actually seen a castle in Europe but I like the possibility that we might actually drive by one), better food and hospitality, accents and learning how to say “thank you” in 15 languages.
The only advantages that I see in touring North America is that we get to use our own amps and we have more friends to catch up with.
C: Do you personally and/or does Sightings as a group have any specific tour rituals/routines?
MM: Shitloads of coffee (the best coffee shop I've ever been to on tour is Phil's in the Mission in SF. Unbelievably fucking mindblowing stuff; even cheap ass Richard was willing to pony up 4 bucks for one cup).
We used to go to Cracker Barrel a lot until we got vibed out of one in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
C: What happened ?
MM: I kind of have no idea. After 15 or 20 minutes of no water, no waitress and no "hello", we just said "fuck it" and left. Also, I vaguely remember a few fellow customers (although, could we have been considered customers when no transaction between us and Cracker Barrel Inc. took place?) kind of staring at and checking us out which is utterly confusing because we’re just three dumb ass white guys in t-shirts and jeans. It wasn’t as if the Why Be Normal Brigade sat down and started loudly discussing the pros and cons of daily self administered enemas.
C: You were mentioning a few weeks ago that you guys are recording in March— what are the release plans??
MM: Oneida's label Brah stepped up to the plate but I'm not sure what the release plans are. We'll record in a few weeks and after that, I'm staring into the void of "no clue". Fall release at the earliest.
C: Do you have any other musical plans/ projects on the horizon?
MM :I have this other band called Key To Shame which is me and my buddy Pat. We both play guitar and just make it up as we go along each time we play. We've been doing it since the summer and I think we've recently achieved some kind of musical cohesion. Probably will get out a record at some point.
C: How do you feel about the future?
MM:The future of the of the music I'm involved with? I can't predict, just hope it continues to feel rewarding
The future of the world? It's probably going to suck. Hopefully they can save some electricity for us.
C: what inspires you?
MM: Women, communication (or lack thereof), good music and my own private idiocy.
C: Are you satisfied?
MM: I just took this test and this is what came out:
"Thanks for taking our quiz.
Unhappy people often score in this range. A score in this range means that changes are needed. If conditions are improving and the person is starting to meet his or her goals, this level of dissatisfaction may not last long or may not be of concern. However, scores in this range that persist over time often point to substantial unhappiness."
I think I'm making the changes that are needed though.
Monday, March 2, 2009
Regardless, the debut album Chapter One is truly a voyage to the center of the limbic system. Songs on this release are amazing unintentional funk which more or less was a document of the feeling in many parts of Africa at the time – revolution, liberation and freedom. It captures the principles much like the part of Gillo Pontecorvo's movie (starring Marlon Brando) BURN! when the character Jose Delores looks Sir William Walker in the eye and proclaims “You may know how to sell sugar but WE are the ones who cut the cane!” and swooshes his machete towards the Englishman (insert machete sound here).
In comes the year 1975 and with it the BLO album Phase Two which is less psychedelic freak-funk than Chapter One but more in melodic-funk mode. The band added congas, organ and electric piano instrumentation which made it rawer music. This piece of musical history is worth checking out because it gets into a different state of mind, one that is trying but not trying, and one that grooves with utmost seriousness.
Native Doctor is a 7 minute (or so) song that revs up and down in tempo and it took my virginity to the concept of “poly rhythm” (which for a musical prostitute is a rarity). The parts overlap and segue in the most tasteful ways. BLO transcended the roots of Rock and Funk with this contribution.
Liner notes indicate that “Phase Two was recorded in 9 sessions of 12 hours each from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. It was so strenuous that on the 9th session Engineer Emma Akpabio decided to go on strike because of "too many worries by BLO" whose drive for perfection remain unmatched.” BLO did not want to suck apparently.
For noise-rock addicts these albums are the opening to new pathways, ones taken by the likes of Liquid Liquid, Arto Lindsay and others who branched into internationalism with their music taste. In my opinion, the water is from the same oasis and if you can find it the desert is a nice place to be.