Not since I heard Bloomington, Indiana’s now defunct 16-piece funk outfit Flattus have I heard anything as immediately infectious as Doctorfunk, a band as comfortable dabbling in off-kilter covers as they are breaking fresh ground. I submit for your approval this funkadelic bad-assed restructuring of AC/DC’s “Back In Black,” which is as fitting a summer jam as I’ve heard in years. The jazzy funk backdrop gives the song a fresh new groove, but the vocals stick close enough to the original that this serves as a fitting homage to one of rock’s greatest tracks. For more, check out Second Opinion, the band’s exceptional sophomore album, produced by Jeff Tamalier, who formerly produced or played guitar for Tower of Power, the Strokeland Superband, Cold Blood and others over the years. And follow them on Facebook, you’ll want to definitely keep these guys on your radar screen!
Forgive me for being a bit behind the curve here, but Matthew Good’s sixth solo album Arrows of Desire is good enough to be well worth the wait. Out since late September, the album follows his staggeringly good Lights of Endangered Species, bringing a serious dose of invigorating rock music to an audience starved for music of this caliber. From the opening one-two-three gut-punches of “Arrows of Desire“, “Via Dolorosa” and “Had It Coming”, this album announces itself as exactly what fans of Good have come to expect: introspective lyrics coupled with raw passionate rock arrangements which showcase Good’s always-stellar vocals.
The hooks are visceral, hitting from an emotional core no one else among his peers could mine on such a regular basis with this level of consistency. The way he stagger-holds each syllable on “Via Dolorosa” before letting loose with a guttural wail on the chorus: “Wait til I get my head on … wait til I get my head on straight!” That’s what brings us back for more, no matter how long we in the States might have to wait to ever catch him in a live setting. The raw fury comes through on the album, something ever more rare in this day of over-polished radio fodder. Check out Arrows of Desire immediately and remind yourself why rock music, in the right hands, will always be relevant.
“Sometimes all you need is just a taste,” or so the chorus of “Switchblade” tells you as the brilliant single pinwheels its way through the confines of your skull. Holy White Hounds owes a great deal to the Black Keys, but their sound has a pop-fueled energy that band often lacks, fueled by the high-end production values of Brandon Darner (Imagine Dragons, Envy Corps) who helmed the band’s latest EP. There’s a real sense of “I don’t give a fuck” fun behind this one, as the video will attest on a single viewing. You’ll be singing along with this one all day while hitting repeat and trying to find out anything and everything about this enigmatic trio. With any luck Holy White Hounds will be the big rock story of 2014, as Iowa needs some serious rocking and this song seriously deserves wider appeal.
This week on the “Hear! Hear!” and Now Podcast, I got the opportunity to sit and chat with Ward Hayden, lead singer for Boston’s Girls Guns and Glory. The band has spent the better part of the last decade building a name as one of America’s best undiscovered alternative country bands. For their fifth studio album, aptly titled Good Luck, the band chose to focus on promoting their more rock-oriented elements, including rockabilly and some dare I say Springsteenian touches on the album’s centerpiece, “Centralia.”
Veteran producer Eric Ambel, who produced Steve Earle and the Bottle Rockets in the past, took the helm on this release. He brings his deft touch to the rockier elements, making this the strongest Girls Guns and Glory effort yet. If you haven’t bought it yet, why not now? Ward’s interview touches on the finer details of the album, including stories behind songs like “Centralia” and “Rockin’ Chair Money” which give you a deeper look at the band’s sound and goals. You’ll also hear his favorite tracks off the album.
Enjoy, and remember to learn more about the band by visiting www.girlsgunsandglory.com.
For those among us who appreciate the incendiary goodness of an electric guitar soloist fully unleashed, what Eddie Brnabic does with his album Subtle Realms is positively buzzworthy, particularly on “Transcendental Wine,” an intense throwdown which illustrates his ability to trip with ease between full-throttle rock and raw oozing funk. This is instrumental music built custom for the headphone treatment, and it’s worth every effort to listen to while avoiding all other distractions. Keep an ear toward this kid — you’ll hear much more from him when this album takes off. You can stream the entire album via his Bandcamp page.
Delta Rae returns with a new single, “Run,” off the band’s latest EP Chasing Twisters, and we’re here to preview the song which is this week’s iTunes “Free Song of the Week” feature. In addition, we’ll introduce you to Midnite on Pearl Beach, a Chicago band blending elements of psychedelic, folk, rock and blues to create a sound you’ll have to soak in to believe. We feature a clip of single “One Foot Left,” in addition to the entirety of album track “Modern Gods,” off their upcoming album Lamplighter — get it on January 14th!
If you like what you hear on this edition of The “Hear! Hear!” and Now Podcast, you have several options: subscribe by following this blog on WordPress, or follow our Feedburner feed. We’ve been approved for iTunes as well, and should be listed in the store under Podcasts shortly.
Blindly soldiering on, Josh Krajcik produces a solid post X-Factor album with Blindly, Lonely, Lovely
He finished second in a reality show, but let’s face the facts: Josh Krajcik has talent which didn’t need a Simon Cowell-led talent show to showcase it. So it doesn’t come as a surprise to hear Blindly, Lonely, Lovely showcasing his blues-tinged growl over larger-than-life arrangements which accentuate his ability to merge blues, rock and pop, all within a slick package.
“Back Where We Belong” brings “big” to the forefront, with its massive arrangement of piano, thundering drums and Krajcik’s lung-deflating vocals, and at times the song itself becomes overwhelmed by that top-heavy heft. Sometimes less is more, which “Nothing” illustrates as the album’s opener. That’s the song which needs to be spread around the internet as the reason this guy needs to be heard. That or the southern-blues keeper “The Remedy,” which could have fitted itself nicely into any Ray Lamontagne album yet released, or at the least as a John Mayer Continuum b-side. Steep yourself in those vocals at the chorus, along with that rising tide of horns, and try not to get swept up in the mood.
This isn’t an album he’ll be able to build a whole career on, but clearly reality success didn’t spoil him — he’s used the time in the Fox spotlight to build an audience and then released an album perfectly in line with what those fans wanted to hear, free from obsessive studio interference. With album tracks like “Don’t Make Me Hopeful” and the album-closing stunner “Let Me Hold You” anchoring this mix, there’s plenty to hope for in this songwriter’s future. If you weren’t already sucked in by the solid craft illuminated by his first two independent albums (try “Atavistic” on for size if you don’t believe me), I can’t think of a better mainstream introduction to his sound than what Blindly, Lonely, Lovely delivers.
The 188.8.131.52’s subvert pop, punk, surf and rockabilly expectations with Bomb The Twist, the best EP of 2012 you didn’t hear
Play this EP straight through and you’ll feel like you’ve just taken a time-warp back into the classic era of pop singles. “Three Coolchicks” may be the best mock-Beatles track I’ve heard to really hit on the sound the band made famous, while distilling how that sound must have sounded to these three Japanese women coming up in the era of Quentin Tarantino “aural re-evaluation.”
Yoshiko “Ronnie” Fujiyama, Sachiko Fujii and Akiko Omo formed the 184.108.40.206’s in Tokyo back in 1992, achieving a modicum of underground fame when they briefly appeared in Kill Bill Volume 1 performing “Woo Hoo” by the Rock-A-Teens, but their music has yet to catch fire. That boggles my mind in this era of retro-pop nostalgia — the EP’s title track sounds like a long-lost Bill Haley smash as though filtered through the Ramones with a touch of surf-rock Beach Party mix thrown in for good measure. This is the essence of “fun” and “rock” distilled into 18 minutes of furiously twisted pop. Like Tarantino the music ably steals from an era long past, but the key is that filter which is applied liberally to the music to make it distinctly theirs. That alone makes this worth a listen. I dare you not to start singing along with “Dream Boy” as though it truly was the logical follow-up to the Chordettes or Leslie Gore.
Welcome to “No Tyme For Nowhere,” a column wherein DJ Frank Cardoza, of Olympia, Wash.’s KAOS 89.3, will introduce us to his world of music, featuring bands the rest of us may not otherwise ever be exposed to. This week he features Olympia-based hip-hop acts Afrok & the Movement and AKA & the Heart Hurt Goods.
As I travel through life, there has always been a soundtrack in my head. Songs that fit the road and the cities I visited and created an aural atmosphere for trips. Through punk rock, dirty garage rock and hyper-kinetic ska, I continued to devour music. Foreign balladeers and flirty U.K. chanteuse always tearing a piece of my ear away, with trip hop slow motion and languages that I would never speak but could still feel the emotional bleeding from the melodies. I love music with a passion that has never flickered.
I never had enough skill to stay in groups, I was the bass player who could keep a beat but wasn’t going to be able to hit the strings like Claypool or Jamerson. Yet I always could pick out a great song and frequently was among those people who loved introducing music to others via mix CDs (or for you older people, the ever meaningful mix-tape.) Always wondering where in the musical landscape I could fit in. One day it hit me that I had all the qualities of a great radio DJ. Yes the format is probably ten years past it’s prime as a outlet but in the area I resided in, there was a very well known community radio station that went by the iconic call sign KAOS.
So I ventured down and joined as a volunteer, took the DJ training course and was certified to be a on-air DJ on February 8th, 2012. I spent the first few months subbing on shows and holding down the Monday slot on the KAOS Block Party. All the while I was putting together the plans for my own radio show, No Tyme For Nowhere. A show that would encompass all the music that I’ve heard and felt throughout my 36 years and the newer music I’m still discovering. I finally found the perfect slot on May 26th, midnight, and ending when the time felt right. I’d had the idea of starting each show with a song from The Clash, a couple picks from the vinyl library in the KAOS studio and a 4 song set at the end I dubbed “The Last Call Set.”
As months passed, I came to love the process of putting together a set list that would be encompass new music, but would also keep some of the older music that may have never had much play into the ears of my late night listeners. With a chaotic playlist, I especially keyed in on some fantastic local hip-hop that is very prevalent in the Olympia area, a much maligned genre of music that in Olympia takes a lot of different forms.
Two of the unique groups that cover not only Hip-Hop but R & B, rock, funk and in some instances a vocal type of jazz.
Afrok & The Movement “Doin’ My Thang” Live at the Olympia Ballroom for Hip Hop 4 The Homeless
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AKA & The Heart Hurt Goods “Falling off the End Of The Middle” Live at the Eastside Club
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Just an introduction to the madness and the beginning of this madcap journey. Until next time I shall leave you with the immortal words of Joe Strummer “If I had five million pounds I’d start a radio station because something needs to be done. It would be nice to turn on the radio and hear something that didn’t make you feel like smashing up the kitchen and strangling the cat.”
Trust me, music fans, it pays major dividends to have friends stationed around the world. A former college roommate sent me a link to Korean rock band Eastern Sidekick’s (이스턴 사이드킥) music on Facebook, with the following quick message:
You’re always on the lookout for music people haven’t heard. Saw these guys in a poorly attended Hongdae dive bar and was pretty blown away.
A little digging led to this exceptional clip for “Flight for Rainbow” (무지개를 위한 싸움) which immediately blew me away with its ear-catching riffs and a vocalist with the kind of voice which blends memories of all manner of 90s alternative classics into a pop-worthy track which far more deserves the viral treatment than anything Psy has produced. Forget K-Pop … these Koreans flat-out rock! Like a crazy cross between the rocking attack of early Foo Fighters coupled with what the Verve Pipe’s vocalist would have sounded like had he not been a total tool, this is a band seriously worthy of repetitive listening.
For further enjoyment, I recommend “The Exciting Song” (흥겨운 노래) which showcases how they must have sounded in that Hongdae dive bar. Instead I’m in Indiana wishing I’d been a fly on that wall!
Outasight doubles down on the high energy of Fun’s “We Are Young” via his latest single “I’ll Drink To That,” an ode to clearing one’s head in the city that never sleeps. “Times are hard so let’s drink to what we’ve got,” he sings on the instantly joinable chorus, more than earning the praise he’s already received for Nights Like These since its release November 27. The Yonkers native has more than a single hit up his sleeve, however, blending rap, pop and rock on “Tonight’s The Night” as well, an equally ear-bending twist of pop refreshment which already has achieved platinum status. For a casual pop listen with enough emphasis on solid hooks to keep you grooving through the entire listen, it’s worth considering Outasight as we head toward the new year.
I love Hero Jr guitarist Ken Rose ‘s explanation of what his band’s song “Ann Boleyn” really means. When you get down to it, he says: “When the going gets rough, don’t lose your head.” These Indianapolis alt-rock darlings, having received accolades from the Indy Star and Nuvo Weekly, are now ready and willing now to take on the rest of the country. And the music they bring on Backup Plan is more than worth some serious exploration.
Remember when rock and roll seemed to have it all? The band strives to bring together passion, power and chemistry to craft “timeless songs people can relate to.” Lead singer Evan Haughey is gifted with magnificent pipes, his vocals soaring over a guitar-heavy alternative groove which reminds instantly of a cross between nineties-era Tonic and pretty much anything by the Black Crowes or Cracker. Check out “Ann Boleyn” below — if you like it, download it, it’s free and legal! And if you happen to be in the Midwest, check the band out at one of these dates. I hear they bring the roof down every time.
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10/25: The Hideaway Saloon (Louisville KY) – w/ The Delta Routine
10/26: Hamilton St. Pub (Saginaw MI)
11/02: Fearless Radio Unplugged Studio Session (Chicago IL)
11/02: The Bird’s Nest (Chicago IL) – w/ The Delta Routine, The Hawkeyes, Glendenning
11/03: Radio Radio (Indianapolis IN) – w/ The Delta Routine, The Hawkeyes*
11/04: Scarlet & Grey (Columbus OH) – w/ The Delta Routine
11/05: World Café Live (Philadelphia PA) – w/ The Delta Routine, The Hawkeyes
11/06: HeadHouse Restaurant (Philadelphia PA) – w/ The Delta Routine, Boy Wonder
11/08: Fontana’s (New York NY) – w/ The Delta Routine
11/09: The Monkey Wrench (Louisville KY) – w/ The Delta Routine
11/10: Lemmons (St. Louis MO) – w/ The Delta Routine
11/11: High Noon Saloon (Madison WI) – w/ The Lucas Cates Band
11/16: Czar’s 505 (St. Joseph MI) – w/ The Delta Spirit
11/29: Old Haunts (Akron OH) – w/ The Hawkeyes
11/30: Legendary Hobbs (Philadelphia PA) – w/ The Hawkeyes, Late Ancients
12/01: The Place (Indianapolis, IN) – w/ The Hawkeyes12/07: The Crack Fox (St. Louis MO) – w/ The Lions of Gatwood
12/15: Rock House (Indianapolis, IN) – w/ Phoenix on the Fault Line, Veseria, Bullet Called Life
01/05: Uncle Slayton’s (Lousiville, KY) – w/ Po’ Brothers
* Backup Plan CD release show
Another Louisville band front and center for you today: Wax Fang puts serious flesh into the game with their latest single “Mirror Mirror,” which will sink in deep and demand to be spread like the aural virus it is. The instant we hear singer-guitarist Scott Carney’s first haunting vocals, the trap is set. There’s no release but to play more, devouring the rest of what Mirror Mirror EP has to offer (out October 30 via Karate Body Records).
Once the percussive guitars slam into play ninety seconds into the song, there’s a gleeful sense of dark tent revivalism at play — Carney lures us under the guise of some deeply twisted ritual to wield a poisonous snake or two in the name of alternative salvation. It works, the melody digging its way in, insisting there’s no escape. All’s fair in the search for amazing new music. Skip the genre comparisons and simply check out the video below. And if you’re going to be near Louisville on the 17th of November, you’d be insane to miss the band’s homecoming at Headliners Music Hall with Old Baby and Anwar Sadat — only $10, with tickets still available!
I was his life
I was his reason for breathing
I watched him cry
Begging and pleading while I was leaving
I looked into his eyes
And I realized
I killed a man today
Took his life away
I killed a man today and it kills me
Declare your independence from weak-assed rock crap this July 4th with a listen or ten to Fools For Rowan. “I Killed A Man Today” is the perfect rock single, a thundering introduction to their EP Who Killed Amanda Day, out today on ITunes. It’s a gut-punch blend of Paramore and Lady Antebellum, with enough of the band’s Nashville roots shining through even though this is nothing close to country. The video’s a bit overwrought — they put the lyrics into an overly literal situation where the subject of the breakup actually dies in a car accident shortly thereafter. But the lyric itself still holds its raw furious punch when listened to separately, an example of how some decisions in life simply leave no one unscathed. This is rock worthy of massive radio play, and if the band can build on the Kickstarter success they’ve already achieved, they’re going to be one to watch, even if it’s just for those powerhouse pipes Erin Mullins shows off so casually.
Lay down, heaven can wait
You think you’re right, I think you can change
Draw some blood … I’m not going hungry tonight
Won’t it be fun to howl in the night?
Kyle Nicolaides is my new favorite guitar-rock mind-bender! The 21-year-old’s been channeling the hell out of his Led Zeppelin-era idols, but what really stands out about his band Beware of Darkness’s latest, “Howl” (off the EP of the same name which officially drops today) is just how much they’re able to modernize about these riffs which have been around for decades; it’s a twisting forward-marching maelstrom which does more to refute the “rock is dead” mantra than any other album this far into 2012.
If you’re lucky enough to be in LA tonight, get on this: The band’s playing a secret showcase at 8 p.m. at the Viper Room, in advance of their upcoming performance at the Sunset Sessions radio convention this weekend in Palm Springs (get your tickets!). Even if you can’t, trust me — this is a band you’ll want to catch live when you get even the slightest opportunity. There’s a raw energy here you simply cannot capture on a mere YouTube clip or mp3 bastardization … though at least it’s a start!
Leeds-based rockers Frenetics revive the classic muscular rhythms and ear-catching melodies of 70s era garage punk. In turn they’re dragging their influences, everyone from Television to Iggy Pop, kicking and screaming into the modern rock world. “Ella” is a single which sticks to the inner reaches of the skull upon even a cursory listen, and though there’s nothing particularly forward-reaching about the single, the band clearly romanticizes those figures of the British music scene who played a huge role in developing punk music in the first place. So bringing some attention back to the sounds of a genre’s birth seems appropriate if they’re soon to be taking the lead in pushing said music into the future.
The band’s EP Broken Hands will be released on June 11th, and it further showcases their musical direction. “Satellites” is a tight production which owes more to bands like the Hives in the way they craft the ear-catching hook at the chorus. “See You On The Other Side” features blistering guitars and a wall of thundering percussion to back up the immediately singable title line. But it’s the unforgettable “Swing Kids” which will draw you in for good — given the chance to slow things down and illuminate the depth of their musical chops, it’s hard not to think of bands like Oasis, who were as capable of looking to the past for inspiration as they were at pushing modern alternatives to fans ready and willing to rock. This is definitely a band you’ll want to keep on your radar.
Everywhere I steady myself
I feel it burn me
It might burn you
It might make you feel
But being burned isn’t the only thing worth living for
I can always count on AbsolutePunk bands to bring the heat with their singles when they come my way, and Brooklyn’s own Sun + Flesh’s “Purge” is no different. This song is sonically as incendiary as the lyrics themselves, with Christoph Manuel leading the band in a frenetic, hook-filled search for mainstream success. The droning backing vocals hearken back to early Nirvana (“burning bright and take it slow” echoing the “all in all is all we are” mantra of “All Apologies”) but the brunt of the track is a sonic hybrid of modern rock and punk influences which manages to sound entirely original.
Their upcoming self-titled EP features “Purge” alongside four equally single-worthy tracks. “Breathe” features a more bone-crunching series of guitar riffs, along with screaming which echoes back to bands like Thrice, while “Open Flame” features fuzzed-out vocals and haunting guitar echoes to create a perfect into to another ear-bending rock hook. It all leads up to the magnificently addictive thunder of “Shades of Grey,” which breaks out the screams to all their full-throated effect. With mixing by Josh Wilbur (Lamb of God, Black Tide) and the deft production touches of Melissa Cross and Manuel himself, the EP is as expert a debut as you could expect from a rock outfit hitting the scene fully formed, ready to light the scene afire.
Meat Loaf – “Hell in a Handbasket” (2012, Sony Legacy)
Meat Loaf has always had a mixed-bag track record when it comes to his studio albums. Without Jim Steinman to contribute anything to his latest album, due out in March, the result is less than mixed; these songs, weighed down by Meat’s advancing age and decreasing ability to push himself to the vocal limit these over-the-top songs demand, sink rapidly under the pressure. There’s little about Hell in a Handbasket which merits more than a qualified “meh.”
The highlight, “All of Me,” is the album’s opening salvo, and it features an aging musician trying to relive his glory years with lyrics of young love and broken hearts: “This is my anger, this is my shame,” he sings. “These are my insecurities which I can’t explain.” Unfortunately the album showcases his insecurities in all their glory, as he refuses to choose songs which his voice can handle, and he’s living in the past, unwilling to admit he’s simply unable to do bombastic much justice.But the song itself is at least catchy — the remainder of the album plummets in quality from there. “The Giving Tree” is just plain lame from every angle, as Meat carries on a conversation with money, attempting to rationalizing “selling this old soul for whatever you can get,” giving “one pound of gold for ten pounds of flesh.”
A cover of Tom Cochrane’s “Mad Mad World” brings in Chuck D to try and liven things up, and his rap (given the parenthetical “Good God Is A Woman And She Don’t Like Ugly”) does just that, adding some juice to the proceedings. But the guest spot simply shows how vastly Meat’s been overshadowed, and that makes the rest of the album pale in comparison. “Live or Die” brings some serious guitar crunch, but the songs builds up to a lame chorus: “there’s only two choices in life: live or die.” We’ve already heard the “get busy living or get busy dying” trope ten thousand times in rock. There’s nothing about this which demands listeners to put down their money in support of new material which pales in comparison with the work he’s done before. At least his getting back with Patti Russo on an oddly hip-hop infused version of “California Dreaming” makes up for a portion of the disappointment built up by listening to this album’s slow steady letdown. This is the music he could be making as he rides into the sunset of old age, putting his twist on music he can vocally handle. Unfortunately what works on that song tends to point out more openly how much he’s overreached on the rest of the album.
Fans of Meat Loaf will assuredly dig through the mess which is Hell in a Handbasket and find their handfuls of good things to say about what is assuredly a disappointing effort. There’s nothing here to win him new fans, and those of us who have stuck around are more likely to come out of this with a new-found determination to stick with the stellar back catalog rather than remind ourselves every few years how average his music has become.
DOWNLOAD (MP3): Tribes – “We Were Children”
This one reminds me of that Pixies song that plays at the end of Fight Club … one of those memorable hooks you’ll want to hear as many times as you can to let it sink all the way in. The band, based in Camden, England, is an “it’s about time” return to straight-up rock & roll melodic guitar riffs, anthemic tunes, and they’re doing it all themselves, working these songs from the ground up and earning the acclaim. Inspired by Pavement, Nirvana, the Libertines — any of those 90s-era rockers who dared to twist conventions while crafting songs which have stood strong through two decades — Tribes are going to hit you hard and fast, and they’ll hope you’ll agree their music has the potential to stick around as well. Their EP We Were Children came out on Universal Republic in late November, and they’ll be dropping a full-length at some point in 2012, so there’s still plenty of time to check them out and become a convert to the sound. Once you do you won’t want to stop listening — take it from an addict with no particular need for recovery.
Year of the Album — #008
Hey Rosetta! – “Seeds” (2011, Sonic Records)
Similar Albums: Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs” (2010, Merge Records)
Sufjan Stevens – “Illinois” (2005, Asthmatic Kitty)
Coldplay – “Viva La Vida” (2008, Capitol)
In St. John’s, Newfoundland, the typical garage rock four-piece sound has been burned to the ground and resurrected as Hey Rosetta, a band unafraid to experiment with the additions of symphonic elements to their music while avoiding the usual trappings of pretension such experimentation frequently entails.
With their third album, Seeds – due out on Sonic Records on February 15th in North America – the band tightens its sound, creating one of the most invigorating rock listens so far in 2011.
Read the rest of the review on Yahoo’s Contributor Network!
Reckless Kelly formed more than a decade ago in Bend, Oregon, and since 1997 the band has been rocking Austin, Texas with its blend of country and rock. Led by brothers Willy and Cody Braun, the band has crafted five albums of original songs, two solid live albums, and, in 2010, a studio album paying tribute to their musical hero, relatively unknown Idaho-based country songwriter Pinto Bennett.
They’ve been around the block more than a few times, and they’ve proved consistently that well-written songs coupled with addictive, melodic alternative-country instrumentation and incessant touring is what really builds a band’s reputation. They’ve got big names on their side, from Joe Ely (who joined in on the Pinto Bennett tribute, Somewhere In Time), and they’ll spend most of the month of November touring with Robert Earl Keen and the Randy Rogers Band.
I spoke with lead singer Willy Braun as the band prepared for their October 7th show at Baton Rouge’s Varsity Theater, and he had a lot to say about the trials of songwriting and the ongoing struggle to keep the band’s music, above all, original.
It’s a battle they seem to be winning.
Can you give us some insight into your songwriting process? What makes a song successful in your mind?
I still haven’t written any hits, so I may be the wrong guy to ask. But I just like to write songs that have something to say, while being a little less predictable than the normal tune, I guess. I try to write things that are a little less common, to think outside the box. It gets harder every year coming up with new ideas and different approaches, but I want to write something you don’t hear all the time.
What would you say is your role as a songwriter?
I think it’s all about getting the song written in as few words as possible. You’re telling a story and you have to figure out what to say, and I like to get it done with a couple verses and a chorus and get out of there … but sometimes it takes longer. Just trying to get the most out of a tune, I think, is the tough part of the job description. A lot of times you’ll have a great idea but you’ll end up with a mediocre song, but then sometimes you start with a mediocre idea and end up with a great song. It all depends on how much work you put into it, and the shape that a song takes. It’s strange, because you never know … I’ve worked on songs for years I thought were pretty awesome, and when I finally finish them up they’re just okay. Or they’re terrible. I think just getting the most out of the tune is probably the biggest challenge.
Do you feel working from the fringes of both the country and the rock world makes your music, in the end, better for the trouble?
It’s a lot easier on us, because we don’t have to pander to any one format or the other. Not having a lot of success on radio makes it easier too, because nobody’s expecting us to come out with another hit. They’re more likely to expect us to push the envelope and keep things a little more outside the box, so that makes it easier on us to be able to do what we want to do.
You didn’t write any of the songs on Somewhere In Time, but you did stamp Reckless Kelly all over the arrangements. Was it difficult to rearrange these songs you knew so well and make them accessible to your fans?
Well, it wasn’t really that hard for us because we’d been listening to those songs for so long, and we’d been talking about doing something like this for a long time. So we had a lot of ideas that we’d been working on or just thinking about, and we had Pinto come in while we were recording. So he and a couple of the guys from his band were there working on it with us. We kept them there to make sure they’d tell us if we got too far out of line. I think that might have helped.
Steve Earle honored Townes Van Zandt a decade after his death with Townes. Did you feel it was important to honor Pinto Bennett while he was still around to appreciate it?
Yeah, that was something we’d talked about a little bit. He’s getting up there a bit in age, and we definitely wanted to do it while he was around. I think it was cool for him to be able to check that out and experience it.
Is there a lot of other Idaho-based country music you think people should be hearing but they’re not?
Well, there’s a pretty good music scene up there, and there’s a couple good writers and singers working in the area, but Pinto, he’s the one who we’ve always really looked up to, so that’ll probably be the last one [we make a tribute for.]
You got to work with Joe Ely on this record. Are there any other artists you’d really enjoy the chance to work with?
I still want to do a duet with Emmylou Harris.
Is there a new album of Reckless Kelly originals in the works?
Yeah, I’m actually writing right now and we’re hopefully going to be getting into the studio sometime next year. We’re not sure exactly when, but we like to record in the winter or the spring, and try to get the record out by summer. You can have the record ready in time for summer touring, and that’s always a good thing to have. So that’s the loose plan as it stands right now.
You guys have said you came to Austin expecting to stay a couple years and you’ve yet to leave. Is Austin a more nurturing place for songwriters than the insular world of Nashville?
It’s true that Austin and Nashville are totally separate. Nashville’s more of the industry-driven town, and there are a lot of talented songwriters and musicians working out there. But I feel Austin’s more geared toward live music. People down in Austin seem to be playing the music they’re interested in; not just playing the music they think will make them a bunch of money. There’s nothing wrong with playing songs that make money, but that’s the big thing that sets Austin apart, there’s not so much “industry” here. It’s more about the music.
That hasn’t started changing with the growth of the South by Southwest festival?
Well, they come in for the parties and then leave in the end. They don’t get any business done in Austin; they’re too busy drinking margaritas.
When Sugar Hill put out their “Best of the Sugar Hills Years” collection, your album and James McMurtry’s stuck out as the most sonically adventurous. Yet both of you are now on new labels. Have you been able to better push the sonic envelope now that you’re on Yep Roc?
We have a little more control with Yep Roc, but Sugar Hill was pretty great – we got to make the records we wanted to with them, though we did have an A&R guy when we were with Sugar Hill. So we had to jump through a few more hoops, push a little harder to do the stuff we wanted.
Was this the same A&R guy you sang about on “Break My Heart Tonight”?
Yeah, that’s him. But ultimately we ended up making the records we wanted to with Sugar Hill, but we may have had to fight a little harder. When we went into Yep Roc we were aware of that, and we made it clear up front that we wanted to make our records, we didn’t want to have to send in the songs for approval. If anything, we wanted to deliver a record to them, and since we talked that way going in, they seemed fine with it. So that’s been cool, we’ve been able to produce our own records, and they’ve gone to the trouble of helping deliver a good product.
They didn’t think you were crazy to bring a Pinto Bennett album to them after starting to crack the charts with Bulletproof?
They thought we were crazy for a little while, but once we played them the tunes – we sent them a little “best of” thing to get them hooked on the Pinto stuff – and once they heard the songs they were totally on board.
The Dixie Chicks almost ruined their careers when they spoke out against Bush in Texas. But your song “American Blood” seems to have found a way to reach listeners without offending them, even though the message within is just as scathing. How important was it for you to get that message out to your listeners?
Well, I wrote that song while we were working on the Bulletproof album, and when I wrote that tune and played it for the guys, we knew this was going to turn some heads. People were going to be talking about it. We just wanted to put it on the album because it was such a strong song, and we all had pretty strong opinions about the war at that point – and we still do. We definitely thought about it, and we knew what we were getting into, but I think the difference between us and the Dixie Chicks is that they had this enormous national and worldwide following. So we didn’t have as much to risk as they did.
But I think it’s all about how you handle questions about it and the way you deal with negative feedback. We had a little bit of negative feedback on the tune from people who didn’t quite understand it, or who outright didn’t agree with it, and that’s fine. But we take those individual situations and try to explain to those who disagree that we’re not trying to slap anybody in the face here. It’s worth it, because most people who heard it came back and said they really liked it. In fact, several soldiers who have been over there, or who still are over there, tell us they really think it’s great that we’re saying what we did. That means a lot, and at the end of the day most of the people who heard it understood where we were coming from.
What impressed me about it was that I heard the song several times before it fully clicked, but it’s so rhetorically well constructed. You’ve got Johnny, the American soldier archetype, and then you’ve got George W. Bush, and you keep going back and forth between the two to see where both ended up after all that time. I don’t know a lot of songwriters who could get that across and still have the song sound catchy.
Yeah, it was a tough subject to tackle. Like you said, it’s sensitive and everybody’s got a different opinion on it. It took me quite a while to write that song, actually. I was writing it for several years and went through several different versions of it. And when I finally wrote the one that actually came out, it came together pretty quick. So I think I finally stumbled upon the formula I was looking for. I had to abandon all the other ideas I’d had for so long and just went with it.
Leave it to Lil Wayne to be uncomfortable sticking to Auto-Tuned rap tracks. He’s got to prove that rap-rock is still a viable option for the up-and-coming rap kingpins. Unfortunately for him, even Lil Wayne can’t breathe any real life into the dessicated corpse of the genre. With a few occasional exceptions, Rebirth is nothing more than an experiment which only rarely delivers anything close to the desired “rock” result. On the rest of the album the resulting mix is rap or rock in name only.
Wayne has become known as the king of missed street dates for good reason. Though he’s been among the most prolific rap collaborators in recent years, appearing on pretty much anyone’s track when the money’s right, he’s also a perfectionist and a self-promotor, which means he’s prone to talking up all the future projects he’d like to do while rarely managing to finish the ones he’s started.
Rebirth has been his pet project since Tha Carter III dropped in early ‘08, but at least half a dozen missed street dates and five singles later the album still isn’t “officially” out. Some of that falls on Wayne, who’s still reportedly tweaking the track-listing weeks before the supposed final official street date. The rest falls on his label, which panics every time Wayne’s voice ends up on a rival single, supposedly sapping energy from the one which they hope will promote Rebirth, turning it into the next million-a-week seller.
Unfortunately all those missed dates has raised the ante on the expectations laid on the back of Rebirth and it’s not up to the task. As a rap album this one’s merely average, unlikely to keep even his most ardent hardcore fans happy. As a rock album it’s an utter failure, with most of the “rock” relying on overly heavy drumming by the likes of Travis Barker, making the album sound like a Linkin Park castoff from 2003.
The singles, however, will still help sell the album despite its weaker moments. “Prom Queen” may already be played out, since it’s been in release since early last summer, but “Drop The World,” which features Eminem, is one of the album’s hottest moments. “I got ice in my veins, blood in my eyes, hate in my heart and love in my mind,” Wayne raps, before everything completely breaks down in his head. The song’s got an amazing chorus, is catchy as hell and ready for the bass to get cranked to 11 while driving with the windows down and your fist out the car window (and Eminem’s scaldingly hot third verse doesn’t hurt a bit).
Then there’s “Runnin,” which features Shanell, who on the chorus sounds like Kelly Clarkson, or at least like pre-”Roulette” Rihanna. This could be Lil Wayne’s crossover hope; it’s got his dark lyrics over a Linkin Park-esque bass-line and Travis Barker’s heavy drums, coupled with choruses led by top-40 ready female vocals the likes of which could turn this one into next summer’s big hit. The final result isn’t necessarily a great track; it borrows liberally from all the rap-rockers who’ve come before. But that’s what makes a universally popular crossover track these days. And Wayne’s rhyming’s at its zenith early in the song: “This is my testification/ I’m gonna Wayne on your hands like precipitation/ And in hell do you need justification/ For me it was just a vacation…” It doesn’t have to make sense any more than it does on “Drop The World” when he vows to hop in his spaceship and leave earth, motherfucker. It just has to rock, and in these few cases, Rebirth actually stands a chance at success.
That said, the rest of the album’s a mess. The tracklisting’s all over the place, and with Wayne’s frequent tinkering, there’s no way to know which listing will make the final cut. I hear there’s a twelve-track regular album in the works, with a 14-track Deluxe Edition, but here we have a 19-track edition which featured almost 90 minutes of schizophrenic overindulgence. In the case of Rebirth, and rap-rock in general, less is more, and for Lil Wayne, this could prove to be his biggest gamble yet. Odds are it’ll be a success in the short term, but the end result is a weak album from a guy who thinks everything he touches turns to multi-platinum.
If his rap fans don’t come along for the ride, there’s going to be a lot riding on his return to rap on Tha Carter IV, because even Lil Wayne’s not invincible.
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.