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Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: CANADIAN GUITAR SUMMIT (RIK EMMET, ALEX LIFESON, LIONA BOYD, ED BICKERT)-“Beyond Borders” (Guitar Player Magazine, July 1987).

I was not familiar with this recording and just happened upon it this weekend while looking up Rik Emmet.  So it turns out that back in 1987, around the time of the release of the final Triumph album with Rik Emmet, Rik had created this instrumental composition.  It features four superb Canadian guitarists.  I didn’t know Liona Boyd (classical) or Ed Bickert (jazz), but if course I know Rik and Alex.

Evidently Rik wanted to do something which fused genres together (Rik plays all manner of guitar quite successfully).

Fusing different musical forms is hardly new in the guitar world: The marriage between jazz and rock has survived nearly two decades, while jazz and classical get together fairly often. Of course, the more styles you try to blend, the less probable success becomes and the greater the risk of producing something whose sum is smaller than each individual element.

Rik Emmett, leader of the rock power trio Triumph and the author of Guitar Player’s Back To Basics column, was fully aware of the artistic hazards involved when he proposed a Sound page recording to Editor Tom Wheeler in late 1986 that would fuse rock, jazz, and classical. While such a project promised to be the most complex one of its nature since the Sound page’s debut in the Oct. ’84 issue, after hearing Emmett’s concept and who he had in mind to fill out his guitar quartet-Alex Lifeson, Liona Boyd, and Ed Bickert-the go-ahead was given.

The resulting composition-Emmett’s masterful “Beyond Borders” -succeeds in melding its various elements on a number of levels. Although brilliant playing abounds, the piece is more than a vehicle for virtuosic displays as it integrates various styles and weaves in and out of different moods, textures, tones, rhythms, key centers, and time changes. The players receive ample solo space; however, the emphasis clearly is on interaction-a surprising outcome, considering the ever-present temptation to fall back on excessive blowing (Emmett discusses “Beyond Borders” on page 80; the Sound page and musical excerpts are on page 82).

It’s a really lovely piece with each musician playing to his or her strength but also doing some unexpected things.  I feel like Alex has the most fun with th epiece as he seems to create a lot more textural stuff that actual solo material.

This recording is available on line in many places, but I chose this one because the sound quality is quite good.

During this lengthy piece in Guitar Player, there’s an interview with all four guitarists as well as some background information about the piece itself.

There’s also this explanation from Rik about who plays what, so you can follow along:

“Beyond Borders” is basically 120 bars long, and it begins with an adagio section with a tempo of 72 beats per minute. I do the lead guitar off of the top, and Alex plays the atmospheric stuff in the background, which includes low weird things and floating sound effects. Ed comes in with a little melody that lasts from bar 4 into measure 5, and then Liona’s little melody enters at bar 6. The lead that comes in at measure 8 is Alex. In measure 15 Liona plays a little classical lick that Richard Fortin wrote. At bar 17 I play a long feedback melody that continues to measure 26.

Liona begins her classical tremolo solo at measure 22; in the background you’ll notice the feedback guitar part. Liona’s and Ed’s parts cross at bar 28, as Ed takes over with a rubato chord-melody solo. At measure 33 he kicks into an allegro tempo of 140 beats per minute. That’s where I back him up with a simulated bass guitar part that I play on my Yamaha arch-top. For the warm bass sound I rolled the treble back and played with the fleshy part of my thumb. Ed does a cadenza at measure 64, and Alex plays an atmospheric technique where he holds a chord and brushes the strings quickly with the fleshy pads of his right-hand fingers; Lenny Breau was the first person I saw use that.

Bar 65 has an adagio tempo of 70 beats per minute. I play the lead guitar, and Alex adds the arpeggiated electric guitar part behind it. That continues to bar 76, where Liona plays her Lenny Breau octave harmonic lick. That’s also where I begin using the Coral Electric Sitar, with echo repeats on it. Bar 77 is semi-country acoustic fingerpicking with an andante tempo of 90 beats per minute. I play the acoustic steel-string, and Liona plays nylon-string in unison, all the way to bar 102; sometimes I break into harmony, but it’s a unison part essentially. During that same section I also play the Dobro part and all of the electric fills that have a Pat Metheny-esque sound. Alex did the violin sounding swells in the background with a volume pedal.

Where measure 101 crosses over to 102, I did a little lap steel thing with a volume pedal and echo that goes up from a fifth to an octave; it’s kind of a Steve Howe cop. Measure 102 is the beginning of the end. Liona plays the little classical part, and then I break into the harmonies above it. During this section I did all of the wire choirs, which are triads with some of the voices doubled, and I also played the 6/ 8 melody lead guitar fills on the tag right near the end.

It’s really great.

[READ: June 4, 2019] “Javi”

This was a wonderful, slowly evolving story that was one thing on the surface, but had so much more roiling underneath.

As it opens, Javier has knocked on the house of a “lady” in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico.  The person who answers the door doesn’t like that word and to Javi’s mind he’s not sure if the person is even a woman.  He clarifies that he’s looking for the painter.  She concedes that she is the only painter in the area.  He says that his moms heard she needed help.  She asks how old he is.  He replies “I’m four– I’m sixteen.”  The painter says she is 82, how can a young boy help her?  He lists the various things he can do for her–cook, clean, drive etc.  She is concerned that people are talking about her but he assures her it was for his benefit, not hers.

He explains that he walked the twenty miles from Pueblo.  If she’s impressed by this it’s hard to tell.  She is rather inscrutable.  She is supposed to go to an old age home, but if Javi can help her, she can delay that for a year or so.

There’s plenty of wonderful details that unfold slowly, because that is how she is: ‘watching her work is calming, hypnotic.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KASVOT VÄXT-“Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” (1981/2018).

Back in 1994, Phish started covering a classic album for its Halloween costume. In 2015 they covered the Disney album: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House, which pretty much meant all bets were off.  So in 2018, they decided to cover an obscure Scandinavian prog rock band called Kasvot Växt and their sole album, í rokk.  This proved to be a big joke–they were a nonexistent band.  They had so much fun creating this band, that they even enlisted others to expand the joke.  This included impressively thorough reviews from WFMU and from AllMusic.

The joke is even in the name: when translated together Kasvot Växt and í rokk means “Faceplant into rock.”.

Here’s some more details they came up with:

The Scandinavian prog rock band purportedly consists of Jules Haugen of Norway, Cleif Jårvinen of Finland, and Horst and Georg Guomundurson of Iceland.  The album’s label, Elektrisk Tung, supposedly went out of business shortly after the LP’s release and little information about the record appears on the internet. Bassist Mike Gordon made a tape copy of í rokk in the mid-’80s and Phish would play it “over and over in the tour van in the early ’90s.” In the Playbill, guitarist Trey Anastasio insisted, “Every time the Halloween discussion comes up, we talk about Kasvot Växt. We honestly were worried we wouldn’t have the chops to pull it off or do justice to the sound, but when it came down to it, we just couldn’t resist any longer.”

The decision to go with an obscure album few have heard or even heard of appealed to the members of Phish. “We’ve paid tribute to so many legendary bands over the years, it felt right this time to do something that’s iconic to us but that most people won’t have heard of,” Gordon said as per the Phishbill. “And with these translations we’re really performing songs that have never been sung in English before.” Keyboardist Page McConnell added, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing. If those guys ever hear we did this I hope they’re excited because we absolutely intend it as a loving tribute.” As for what Phish fans can expect? “A weird, funky Norweigan dance album! Get out there and put your down on it!” exclaimed drummer Jon Fishman.

While the listings for the 10 tracks on the original í rokk were in a Scandinavian language, the titles appear in English in the Playbill. Phish called upon a Nordic linguist to translate the lyrics to English for tonight’s performance.

These songs do not really sound like a Norwegian prog rock band.  They do sound an awful lot like Phish (although with a more synthy vibe overall. The band has this part of their live show streaming on Spotify under the Kasvot Växt name.  And I’m ending the year by talking about each song.

This is probably the most memorable of all of the songs on the disc.  The keyboards are funky, the bass is funky and the wa- wah is funky.  The verse is a nice, slow slinky build up to the big chorus which is dumb and easy to remember, and–more to the point–really fun to sing along (hi-ho-hi-ho-hi-ho).

The post chorus of “This is what space smells like (you will always remember where you were)” is more or less screamed and makes it pretty unforgettable.  What does S.A.N.T.O.S. stand for?

Well, most of the time Tom Marshall writes the songs with Trey, but according to a Live for Live Music report:

Trey and Tom have been best friends and songwriting partners since elementary school, but Tom explains that he had absolutely nothing to do with Phish’s mastermind curveball they threw for Halloween, and remained in the dark, just as Phish’s entire fanbase did. Trey remains extremely tight-lipped following Phish’s debatably greatest prank ever, but according to Tom Marshall, the one thing Trey divulged is what the acronym S.A.N.T.O.S. stands for. Whether we believe it or not, Trey evidently told Tom that S.A.N.T.O.S., from Phish’s new tune “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.”, stands for “Subterranean. Arctic. Neuro. Technology. Orientation. Station.”

Whatever it stands for, it’s great.

[READ: December 7, 2018] “I Flirted with the Women”

This is an excerpt from a book whose subtitle is A Life and Work in Conversation with the Life and Work of Etheridge Knight.  I don’t know what that means and that makes this excerpt which is largely about Mary Karr even more puzzling.  (After re-reading I see now that it is Hayes interviewing Mary Karr about Etheridge.)

It begins with someone saying

One day Mary Karr sort of appeared along my path like a brush fire.  She’s incendiary, combustible, she’s a walking flame.  She’ll light up the whole house or she’ll burn that motherfucker down.  Recently when I told her I described her that way to people, she paused and said, “I don’t know if that’s a compliment or a complaint.”  I meant it the way she heard it.

I myself only really know about Mary Karr because of her association with David Foster Wallace.  I don’t think I’ve ever read her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SAUTI SOL-“Love or Leave” (Field Recordings, May 30, 2012).

Here is another Field Recording [A Morning Walk With Sauti Sol] filmed at SXSW.  But this one is on a bridge. The four members of Sauti Sol are up at dawn (one even sings “good morning.”  As a guy runs past them, they realize “We didn’t have our morning job, today” so two of them run around the other two, to much laughter.

Their happy mood is clearly reflected in their wonderfully colorful jackets (and amazing harmonies.

“Love or Leave” is terrific, with a great riff.   There’s only the one acoustic guitar and their voices fill in everything else.

I don’t know anything about Sauti Sol.  So the blurb says:

In spite of the early hour and chilly air, Sauti Sol arrived at the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge in Austin, Texas, in good spirits — not to mention colorful jackets that provided a welcome contrast to the cloudy sky. There, the Afro-fusion quartet from Nairobi greeted the morning birds and joggers with a version of its recent single, “Love or Leave.” The song amply demonstrates the group’s signature acoustic sound, which is anchored by the guitar of Polycarp Otieno and vocal harmonies of Bien-Aime Baraza, Willis Chimano and Delvin Mudigi.

There’s some pop elements including a kind of choreographed dance but the way the minor key hits in the chorus is outstanding.

It’s great that bands from Nairobi come to SXSW, and it’s even cooler that we get to hear them.

[READ: January 31, 2018] “On Not Growing Up”

I don’t really understand what this is supposed to be.  It is listed as fiction according to Harper’s.  It is written as an interview but neither party is introduced.

The first question is “How long have you been a child?”   The answer is “seventy-one years.”

The second question puzzles me even more and I think I’m thrown off from there.  “Who did you work with?”

Meyerowits for the first phase: colic, teething, walking, talking. He taught me how to produce false prodigy markers and developmental reversals, to test the power in the room without speaking.  I was encouraged to look beyond the tantrum and drastic mood migrations that depended on the environment, and if you know my work you have an idea what resulted. The rest is a hodgepodge

The interviewee says that the term adult is problematic.  It’s too easy to say that his childwork is directly divisive to Matures. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, ON (December 11 1996).

This is the final show on Rheostatics Live in which the band is opening for The Tragically Hip.

For this show, the intro music is also from The Wizard of Oz, but this time it’s Judy singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  It’s just one verse before fading out and then guitars fading in for Martin to play “A Mid Winter Night’s Dream.”

Turns out that this setlist is similar to the one from Buffalo with a lot of new songs.  Although there are a few older/more popular songs in places.

The new songs include “Fat” which sounds great of course.  I gather they are maybe sharing a microphone because at the end Dave says “See you in the next song, Martin.”  “Okay, Dave.”  This leads into a perfect version of “All the Same Eyes.”

Martin says “We are the Rheostatics.”  Dave says “We are the Rheostatics, not to be confused with The Howell Brothers (?).  They couldn’t make it but we got their jackets.  It’s nice of you to come out early.  We’re playing selections from our new record. Get it before it’s reduced to clear.”  (You can hear someone laugh on tape).

This is a segue into the single “Bad Time to Be Poor.”  It’s followed by another Tim song, “Claire” with the acoustic guitar opening in place.  There’s another lengthy guitar solo, although it’s not quiet as exciting as some of the other ones.  But Martin was saving up for a spirited version of “California Dreamline.”

They end their set with a rough rocking “Feed Yourself.”  During the spoken part, they slow things down to just a bass and washes of guitar.  It’s a pretty intense ending and a good preparation for The Tragically Hip.

[READ: June 25, 2017] The Story of Canada in 150 Objects

In celebration of Canada’s 150th year, Canadian Geographic and The Walrus created this special issue–a fun way to describe many elements of Canadian culture through “objects.”

The objects are grouped in vague categories.  Some have just a few words written about them while others get a few pages.  Some are humorous, some are more serious.  Most are happy or amusing, some not so much.  And all of it together paints a diverse and complex portrait of the country–as well as teaching this person from South of the border a number of things I did not know.

It’s with comic pride and humility that the first object is politeness (which is not an object at all, of course).  The amusing thing about this article about “politeness” is that while the author of it is very pleased to be so polite, he also can’t wait for his fellow Canucks to forget to be polite so he can rub it in with a extra smarmy “You’re Welcome.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SAN FERMIN-Tiny Desk Concert #315 (October 28, 2013).

When I first heard San Fermin I was immediately grabbed by the female lead voice (the song was “Sonsick”).  It was so powerful and gripping. I didn’t realize then that the female leads were the lead singers of Lucius (who I also didn’t know at the time).  San Fermin is the creation of Ellis Ludwig-Leone.

Since then I have enjoyed other songs by them as well, although I find that the songs sung by Allen Tate to be somewhat less exciting to me– I feel like his voice could one day hit me as amazing but it’s almost a little to understated for me.  And yet musically I love the orchestration and chamber poppiness.  As Bob writes:

San Fermin’s music bursts with ambition, talent and extreme joy. Its self-titled debut is charged with great storytelling and amazing vocals by both Allen Tate and Lucius singers Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe. Then there are the arrangements: little gems that turn these songs into cinematic vignettes using trumpet, sax, keyboard, violin, guitar and drums.

San Fermin is the musical vision of Ellis Ludwig-Leone, who wrote these songs with Tate’s dark, rich voice in mind. Here at the Tiny Desk, Rae Cassidy makes the album’s female vocal parts her own.

So it’s interesting that the songs were meant for Tate.  I want just some more oomph from him.  especially here in this set.  And that’s because Rae Cassidy absolutely rules this set.

“Oh Darling” begins with a gentle piano and Cassidy’s pretty, delicate voice.  After a verse from her, Tate’s voice comes in and it’s almost comically low and formal (and actually perhaps a bit too quiet).  But when they all come in and sing it is just beautiful–the women in particular.

For “Sonsick” Cassidy sings lead with just drums.  As the song builds there’s a great chorus where the backing vocals (including Tate) sing in falsetto.  This version is quite stripped down compared to the recorded version and it really allows Cassidy’s voice to shine.  When she hits those incredibly high notes with such power, it gives me chills.

In the final song, “Renaissance!” Tate sings lead over a slow piano and violin.  The women sing backing vocals.  I like the way that the song builds in intensity with more instruments, but his voice is a little too flat for me–although he does kick in extra at the end.

There’s a really stunning version of the first two songs with the band singing live in a street and cafe and France.

Incidentally, Cassidy has since left the band and gone solo, and I wish her much success.

[READ: December 28, 2016] Humans of New York Stories

Sarah got me this book for Christmas.  I knew of Humans of New York, of course, but I wasn’t a follower of it.  So while I knew of it I didn’t really know that much about it.

There’s a brief introduction to this book (which is his second HONY book) in which he explains that HONY grew from five years of experimenting.  It evolved from a photography blog to a storytelling blog.  His original inspiration was to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers.  But then he decided to start including quotes from some of them.

He started interviewing people and found their stories became the real heart of the blog.  Of course, he thanks the community of readers and participants, because without them, he has nothing.

The rest of the book–425 pages–collects the photos and the stories. (more…)

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sweater SOUNDTRACK: ÁSGEIR-Tiny Desk Concert #397 (October 18, 2014).

asgeirÁsgeir Trausti Einarsson is an Icelandic singer songwriter.  He has a beautiful soft soaring voice.  He released his debut album Dýrð í dauðaþögn in Icelandic (it became the biggest-selling debit in Icelandic music history).  A year later he reissued it in English (with translation help from John Grant who was living in Iceland) as In the Silence and finally (the version I have, as a 3 disc set with the Icelandic and English discs as well as a selection of bonus songs.

“On That Day” is a pretty, guitar based song (Ásgeir plays the main melody line and has guitar accompaniment (and backing vocals) from his childhood friend Julius Róbertsson.

For the final two songs, Ásgeir switches to piano.  “Torrent” has gorgeous vocal harmonies. It’s interesting how much more deliberate this song feels–not quite staccato, but the piano chords don’t really ring out, letting each note stand on its own.

For this Tiny Desk, he stripped down the songs, getting to their core.  They’re not flashy, they’re just lovely.

The final song he plays, “Higher” is the first song on the record (interestingly “On that Day” is the final song on the record).  It has a very slow, delicate piano melody and is also soothing and beautiful.

And in a cool synchronicity at the end of the show Bob tells Ásgeir  that he’s playing at the same piano that John Grant played on a few months earlier.

[READ: July 2, 2016] Sweaterweather

Back in 2003, Sara Varon published her first book called Sweaterweather.  This collection includes all of the original 8 stories as well as a few more.  Each story gets a brief introduction from Varon which makes me like her even more (she’s quite funny).

Most of the stories are short(2-3 p[ages) and most don’t seem to have a title.  The contents page is actually thumbnails from each story.

When I first saw Varon’s style, I wasn’t sure what to make of it.  It is so innocent and childlike.  And I have really grown to love it–especially when these sweet animals characters (they’re pretty much all animals) tackle some intense feelings. (more…)

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boilenSOUNDTRACK: ANGEL OLSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #333 (January 27, 2014).

angelBob Boilen has liked Angel Olsen for some time, so when she did her Tiny Desk and most of us had never heard of her, he was already a fan.

Olsen plays a long set but with four songs.

She sits very still, strumming with her thumb and singing kind of low–not unlike Sharon van Etten.  The first song, “Unfucktheworld” is only two ans a half minutes.  The second song, “Iota,” is a little longer.  She sings in an affected almost falsetto style, although the guitar remains very spare.

Between these songs, she is coy about the title of the new record although she is quick to say the first word of the title “burn.”  Later she admits that the final song contains the title of the album, if we wanted to spend time figuring it out.

I marvelled at how high the chords were that she played on “Enemy,”  She seems to eschew any bass for this song.  This one is five and a half minutes long and is just as slow as the others.

Before the final song they talk about whether this is the most awkward show she has done.  She says everyone is very alert–and indeed you can hear utter silence between songs.  But then they talk about the storm outside (and potential tornado) and how this show may never air if the storm is really bad.

“White Fire” is an 8 minute story song.  She does use the whole guitar for this one, which has many many verses.   Since I don’t really know Olsen’s stuff that well, I don’t know if this was a good example of her show or a fun treat to hear her in such an intimate way.

[READ: May 10, 2016] Your Song Changed My Life

This site is all about music and books, but you may be surprised to know that I don’t really like books about music all that much.  I have read a number of them—biographies, autobiography or whatever, and I don’t love them wholesale. Some are fine, but in general musicians aren’t really as interesting as they may seem.

What I do like however, is hearing a decent interview with musicians to find out some details about them–something that will flesh out my interest in them or perhaps make me interested in someone I previously wasn’t.  Not a whole book, maybe just an article, I guess.

I also really like Bob Boilen. I think he’s a great advocate of music and new bands.  I have been listening to his shows on NPR for years and obvious I have been talking about hundreds of the Tiny Desk Concerts that he originated.  I also really like his taste in music.  So I was pretty psyched when Sarah got me this book for my birthday.

I read it really quickly–just devoured the whole thing.  And it was really enjoyable. (more…)

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