Thursday, August 28, 2008

For Your Listening Pleasure: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, 11.12.07, Washington, DC

(Photo via Sony)

I am a "born again" Springsteen fan. Sure, I dug "The River" back in the day (as much as a 10 year old can I suppose), and "Born in the USA" of course...everyone got BITUSA and liked Springsteen when it came out. At one point, so many people owned BITUSA and liked Springsteen, it was almost like the record had arrived in everyone’s mail like those “Try AOL!” discs along with a “You will like Bruce Springsteen” brainwashing mantra attached. His killer marathon live shows became things of legend to the general populace when they could get tickets, and filled arenas to their rafters. By then I was 14 and my parents had no interest in squiring me 4 hours to the Syracuse Carrier Dome even if we could get tickets, which wasn’t likely.

And then, like those songs that get played on every radio station so much that they start to populate your nightmares, you get to a point where you cannot hear those songs without having a seizure. When BITUSA hit that threshold, I didn’t listen to Springsteen for a very long time (not being a fan of seizures, of course).

Fast forward to December 1995. I was having zero luck finding that perfect Christmas present for a man I’d been dating most of that year, who happened to be a big Bruce fan since the "Darkness on the Edge of Town" record. Completely by chance, I read that Bruce was adding one show to his Beacon Theater run in NYC for the Ghost of Tom Joad tour. Completely by luck, as this was prior to the wide-reach of the Internet and to get tickets for shows you had to redial a phone till your fingertips were numb, I scored us a pair to this show.

The Beacon Theater isn’t enormous and our balcony seats were two rows from the back of the joint, the seats in the center of the aisle; decent but not great. This really drunk girl next to me kept screaming "ROSALITAAAA" like every 5 minutes. I hadn’t listened to a note of the Tom Joad record. "Jesus, the things one does for love," I thought, and tried to quell the urge to slap that drunk girl off the balcony's edge.

Springsteen came out, gave his spiel about everyone needing to be quiet and whatnot, and began to play. I was digging it ok, (I always liked "Nebraska" and much like that, the "Ghost of Tom Joad" record was just Springsteen and an acoustic), and then he did the third song, one called "Straight Time." As he played, I noticed how taut his arms were, and how they matched his voice. This wasn’t a man just going through the motions, this was a man living this song about struggling on the road of right and wrong, this was a man completely engulfed and surrendering to the music coming out of him. There was nothing half-assed being put out here, this was 110%. That’s when I realized I was on the edge of my seat, covered in goosebumps, completely engulfed and unknowingly surrendering to the music coming out of him as well. That happened to me only one other time, when I stumbled across a college radio station left of the dial and had the epiphany that there was more out there than classic rock and Top 40, making me the music snob I am today. I was witnessing for the first time someone who felt that passion for music and wanted the audience to feel that too.

I left that show a fan again.

Since then I’ve seen Springsteen and the E Street Band a bunch of times. E Street shows are decidedly more upbeat than that solo show, where for a majority of the show, asses are always out of seats dancing. But that passion I felt the first time still radiates from the stage. It’s an unabashed and unbridled joy of truly loving what you’re doing, and you can’t help but smile at that because it shines so bright

The show below is from last November's show here in Washington, DC in support of Springsteen's latest release, Magic. The individual tracks are a couple of my favorites from that night.

Download: Springsteen and the E Street Band, Washington, DC,11.12.07
-Promise Land (live).mp3
-Devil's Arcade (live).mp3
-Reason to Believe (live).mp3
-Girls in Their Summer Clothes (live).mp3
-Full Show Zipped.zip

Friday, August 22, 2008

Three Podcasts For Your Listening Pleasure: Airborne Toxic Event, Morning Benders, and Radars to the Sky

Sorry for the radio silence this week kids. I’ve been in the midst of editing a group of interviews that were supposed to go live this week until the subjects suddenly decided they wanted to be part of the editing process days in the 11th hour...grrr

So to make up for it, I’m sending you over to Web in Front for three really great show podcasts. They were each recorded 8-7-08 at the El Ray in Los Angeles.

I’ve only listened to The Airborne Toxic Event's set of the three thus far but you can totally hear what everyone who saw the show said about both Airborne's set and the entire night, this it was amped and incredible and something special. Those return readers of Between Love and Like know that we are big supporters of Airborne from way back, and have long raved about the power and intensity of their live show. This show at the El Ray is a prime example of what we've been yammering on about all this time. Plus, you get to hear the lovely addition of the Calder Quartet on the Airborne fan-favorites "Sometime Around Midnight" and "Innocence," the latter containing the only-played-at-LA-shows (it seems) intro piece called "Heaven."

The Morning Benders sound is an upbeat trio of Brit pop (tell me if lead singer Chris Chu doesn’t make you think of VGPS-era Ray Davies) and Beach Boys-California sunshine, with a dash of Elliot Smith. Their new record, Talking Through Tin Cans is great, as is their recent record of covers, The Bedroom Covers. (Looking forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks at the Monolith Festival boys!)

Then there’s Radars to the Sky. Everyone reading should absolutely download their podcast twice and give a copy to a friend, then immediately go get their latest EP, "Big Bang," that’s how great they are. Out of the Silver Lake area of LA like Airborne, Radars to the Sky’s music has this lofty, lovely front paired with a great rock back, and I’m keeping fingers and toes crossed that Radars and baby Spitzer show up at SXSW 2009. If all is right in the world, these guys should be the next big thing out of Silver Lake.

What an incredible lineup right?? All three podcasts can be snagged here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Hold Steady and Drive-By Truckers Touring Together This Fall

I know, right, you're like, "What the...?" But 'tis true, 'tis true, see the dates listed below. These should be some very energetic shows for sure.

Drive-By Truckers and The Hold Steady have teamed up to bring you the Rock and Roll Means Well Tour this Fall! Catch the double-rock show in cities across the country.

Tickets go on sale Tuesday, August 19th, 2008 at 10AM ET.

Rock and Roll Means Well Tour Fall 2008

Thu Oct 30 Louisville KY COYOTE'S @ CITY BLOCK (HS Closes)
Fri Oct 31 Nashville TN RYMAN AUDITORIUM (DBT Closes)
Sat Nov 01 Atlanta GA TABERNACLE (DBT Closes)
Sun Nov 02 Tallahassee FL THE MOON @ FSU (HS Closes)
Mon Nov 03 Raleigh NC LINCOLN THEATRE (DBT Closes)
Wed Nov 05 State College PA THE STATE THEATRE (HS Closes)
Thu Nov 06 New York, NY TERMINAL 5 (Closer TBA)
Fri Nov 07 New York, NY TERMINAL 5 (Closer TBA)
Sat Nov 08 Philadelphia, PA ELECTRIC FACTORY (DBT Closes)
Sun Nov 09 Boston MA ORPHEUM THEATRE (HS Closes)
Tue Nov 11 Toronto ONT PHOENIX THEATRE (DBT Closes)
Wed Nov 12 Pittsburgh PA CARNEGIE MUSIC HALL (HS Closes)
Thu Nov 13 Bloomington IN BLUEBIRD (DBT Closes)
Fri Nov 14 Chicago IL RIVIERA (HS Closes)
Sat Nov 15 Minneapolis MN FIRST AVENUE MAINROOM (DBT Closes)
Sun Nov 16 Minneapolis MN FIRST AVENUE MAINROOM (HS Closes)
Wed Nov 19 Boise ID THE BIG EASY (DBT Closes)
Thu Nov 20 Seattle WA THE SHOWBOX (HS Closes)
Fri Nov 21 Seattle WA THE SHOWBOX (DBT Closes)
Sat Nov 22 Portland OR CRYSTAL BALLROOM (HS Closes)
Sun Nov 23 San Francisco CA THE FILLMORE (DBT Closes)
Mon Nov 24 San Francisco CA THE FILLMORE (HS Closes)
Tue Nov 25 Los Angeles CA THE WILTERN (DBT Closes)

(Thanks Mayer)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Sound and Vision: My Interview with Matt Dublin of The Red Romance

Out of NYC, The Red Romance's (TRRs) music is audio crack. It's so damn catchy you'll find yourself listening to their tracks on constant repeat (I'm addicted to "Just One Kiss" and "Feeling Inside" currently myself). TRR is Smiths or OMD-synth spiked perfectly into the big sound of Motown. They've got a backbeat so infectious your body will start dancing before it registers with your brain, a lead singer whose baritone voice is both choirboy clear and make-you-weak-in-the-knees sexy, and lyrics of pure power pop. You know that feeling you get when that hot person you've been flirting with from afar starts crossing the room to talk to you, that dizzying duo of romantic excitement and carnal magnetism? Put to music, that's the sound of TRR.

I first discovered TRR last January when I was setting up my SXSW schedule which required combing through over 1,000 band mp3 submissions. Some acts were penciled in on the possibility of potential, but TRR's slot was entered in permanent magic marker the minute I heard the hooky and sharp pop orgasm that was TRR's submission, "Don't Cry." Live, as I stated in my SXSW review, they didn't disappoint:

...full of poppy beauty. I thought Death Cab-cum-New Order perhaps). The playing was tight, you could tell they’d put the time in at practice. Great fashion style. And if you like The Office, Dwight Shrute’s twin plays some mean drums.


Matt Dublin, TRR's lead singer/songwriter/rhythm guitarist, was kind enough to spend some time talking with Between Love and Like via phone awhile back about how TRR came to fruition, his take on songwriting and the music business, and the road to becoming a musician.

BL&L: So how about we start with an overview of the band's members, names, where they come from originally, what they play...I've seen different things online but I kind of wanted to have something sort of cohesive.

MD: Okay, well there's Darren Beckett who's the drummer, who's originally from Belfast, Ireland. We had known each other years ago, just from playing around New York City. About four, five years ago, he called me up, and said, “Hey, I'm in this band, we're looking for a bass player,” and that band was Ambulance LTD. So I went and played with those guys, and they asked me to come on board. Shortly thereafter, we went to England to record a full length record for TVT Records. We managed to wrap up a full length record and what ensued was two years of incessant touring, all over the United States and Europe.

BL&L: I thought I read that you attended NYU from 2000 to 2005, and Ambulance was 2000; how did that work?

MD: Yeah, Ambulance was playing around in New York City for about a year before I was asked to join. Also, because I wasn't a fool, I continued to stay in school during the course of my membership in the critically lauded Ambulance LTD (laughs), so I did not see fit to drop out. I actually got my honors degree in literature. And I got some award for my thesis on Samuel Beckett while I was in the middle of Arizona, in a van. My professor called me up and said I'd won this award, for my paper – and I'd already been in the band for about two and a half years or something.

BL&L: I read something like Ambulance met in Spanish Harlem, but I also saw that you had...

MD: That's bullshit, that's something somebody made up (laughs). Darren and Marcus [Congleton] and the other guys who were in Ambulance hadn't done a record, they only had a couple songs, but they had sort of wrangled like a demo deal with TVT. Then it was like, ok, now we've got to get like a real band together. So when Daren called me, I said, well, I'm at school right now, but I'll come by and play…and it just kind of took off. It was cool at first, it was really exciting. But I mean we just toured and toured and toured after that record was made, it was just relentless. We were in a van or a Winnebago for just about two years, it just was non-stop. I mean, that's kind of how the Pixies fell apart, isn't it?

BL&L: I’d read some big shenanigans with Ambulance LTD though, something about a Ford Econoline van and tinted glass and piling women in the back at South by Southwest 2005? (laughs)

MD: I don't know anything about that (both laugh).

BL&L: Yeah, yeah, I think the line went, "Man," he said as he was slumped back in the cab, stealing a glance at his watch before shutting his eyes," it's way past bedtime," to which I replied silently to myself, "I bet the Ambulance guys are heading to bed now too, hah...they'll learn."

MD: Oh, that was Matt from the French Kicks, right? Yeah, that prick, what a fuckin' traitor (laughs). Nah, I love Matt, he designed some of TRR tshirts, he did a great job. Yeah, I think those guys had already lived the life for quite a few years before we hit the scene (laughs). They were kind of like our older brothers at first. Ambulance would open up for French Kicks, and we kind of looked up to them as these older dudes that had been bushwhacking in indie rock for quite a while. So yeah, good guys.

It was kind of funny. Darren and I joke about it now, but it was almost like the band was My Bloody Valentine, but the rhythm section was from Van Halen or something. I think the frustrations and things that were being let out, they were being let out in a very non-shoe gazer like way. We were a couple of salty flishes on the road because we were just unhappy for many reasons. We had toured with a number of really good bands, and were always in the position of opening up for these bands. Ambulance was kind of the band that would give a commercial act its indie cred, so they would always have a band like us opening up to you know, sort of make it seem hip or whatever. We were this kind of critics' darling kind of band that couldn't sell any fucking records at all, so that was part of the frustration. And there were a lot of reasons for that, a lot of them were internal, had to do with the band, and the other half of it was the songs. TVT played a great part in limiting the success of Ambulance I think.

BL&L: What do you mean by the songs?

MD: It was the kind of music that just didn't lend itself to where Darren and I wanted to be. We wanted to make, I guess you'd say, indie pop music or pop music, and Ambulance was a little more, I guess, high brow. We were kind of tired of watching all these bands like The Killers and the Kaiser Chiefs, all these bands that we'd sort of become friends with, doing what we wanted to do, doing what they believed in. And this is not to take away from Ambulance or from Marcus at all, I think it was just a personal thing with me and Darren, we just were very unhappy with what was going on.

I'd had like a huge sort of catalogue of tunes that I had written in these two years while on tour with Ambulance, and there was really no place to put them. So Darren and I had just started playing together and recording songs, and TRR came out of that. And, as often happens with bands that are in Ambulance's position both in terms of people being burnt out and also the crap from the record company, things just kind of like petered to a halt. It wasn't any big blow out, we all just kind of stopped talking to each other. Ultimately, we [he and Darren Beckett] were like, man, this is not what we should be doing. We wanted to see it through for a while, but that's why we started TRR, to start this new vision.

TRR is about two years old. We had been sending demos to our friends in The Killers, Ronnie Benoche and Brendan Flowers. They had been supporters for a long time, so we had been sending them these kind of crappy demos that we had been doing just at friends' studios. I think it was around the fall of 2006; they called us up and asked us to go on tour and open up for them. Then we recorded a five song EP, and literally, a couple of weeks before that five song EP was going to come out in March 2007, they called us up again and said that they were doing an arena tour, promoting Sam's Town. So we went out and got to do real big venues, like, hockey arenas, stadiums and stuff.

BL&L: Yeah, I saw you guys had done Madison Square Garden; sort of a big deal as you were unsigned….

MD: Yeah, and also a hell of a sign of the times, isn't it? The fact that an unsigned band would be playing MSG, it's kind of unusual, but we can thank Al Gore's internet for that, right? (laughs)

BL&L: Exactly. Okay, so obviously you're Matthew Dublin, and where are you from?

MD: I'm from New York City. I played bass in Ambulance. In TRR, I play guitar, and sing lead. Adam Chilinski plays bass and is from Maine. Wes Carnes, is on keyboards, and he joined us about six or seven months ago.

BL&L: And Darren's from Belfast, that's interesting – how did he end up in New York?

MD: He's one of the finest drummers in New York City. He came here because there was nothing going on in Ireland when he was about 19 or 20, just to continue studying music, and took off like wild fire here as a jazz drummer. I mean he was very, very sought after, and worked with a lot of jazz musicians early on...then saw the light and came over to rock and roll shortly after (laughs).

BL&L: Did you come from a musical family? : How did you get into playing guitar or singing?

MD: I just started playing music when I was about 10 or 12, and was encouraged to do so by music teachers in school, and by band teachers. And that was kind of what you did as a kid, I had friends that played guitar as well, and you got together and try to learn favorite songs. When I was young, I was into heavy metal and things like that... Then you get a little older and listen to college radio stations and want to play like the Smiths and stuff. But I'd always just really connected with music and had friends that played. So, you kind of start out wanting to ape or play the kind of music that you really like, that stuff that you look up to, the records you buy. That's how it all started I guess.

BL&L: I've always been interested in what makes someone go from a listener or appreciator of music, to someone who needs to make music. I mean, there are lots of people who just go along and play guitar, just doing it on the side, and never really think, “Yeah, I'm going to be in a band.” So I'm kind of wondering how and when the change took place for you.

MD: I guess there are some people that are just really captured by music. It's only a matter of time until they get an instrument in their hands and then it's sort of, the jig is up-that's kind of just what happened with me. I think before you start playing music, you're obviously already someone who's pre-disposed to listening to it in a very intense way. I don't know how else to describe it other than being captured by music in the sense that you really have no choice, you have to play because there are sounds in your head all the time.

And yeah, there's probably a certain amount of wanting to be really successful like the people you maybe idolize. But if you're a relatively bright kid, or whatever, you're kind of looking around at “what am I going to do with my life.” And you're like, hey, fuck it, let me try to do this, this is music, this is really the only thing I want to do. When all is said and done, I think that's just kind of how it was for me, so I got serious about it. I got scholarships to go to school because I played classical music as well.

BL&L: Really?

MD: Yeah, so I mean it wasn't just like, yeah, let me get out of high school and fuck off. I went to the New England Conservatory of Music, played upright bass, I played cello, I played in the orchestra when I was a teenager and stuff. I went to the Manhattan School of Music for a year. I also played jazz as well. I went through different phases of different kinds of music. But I definitely wanted to be a musician and figure out a way to make a living playing music. That was always foremost in my mind.

BL&L: You said that there was the music in your house when you were younger that kind of influenced you – what sort of music was that?

MD: 70's music, some 60's records, a lot of folk stuff, singer-songwriter kind of stuff...both my parents were into The Doobie Brothers, The Eagles, Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mack, Jim Crochie, James Taylor, Seals and Croft, Carly Simon...
Carole King, that was the big one. Then also, because they were like high fallotin' baby boomers, there was always a lot of classical music as well (laughs).

BL&L: Ok, let's see… so, say that someone had heard Ambulance LTD, and then said, “Oh, but what's this TRR band that has ex-members of Ambulance,” how would you explain the difference?

MD: I'd say....to put it succinctly (laughs)...Ambulance, I guess is more textural, it's more about guitar stuff, it's a lot more into My Bloody Valentine/kind of Pixies side. The lyrics, they can be snarky and they're clever, and there's a lot of irony going on. I'm just really thinking about the first two records that we did.

TRR, there's a little more humor, a little more earnest emotion going on, more danceable stuff. We sort of shoot more for hooks...you could say like maybe we're a little more common denominator than Ambulance. We're trying to embrace as many people as possible, not so much about executing a really specific, kind of clever vision. We really love Motown, we really love 1960's girl groups, we love those song structures, we love real sentiments in music. We want to make stuff that all kinds of different people can understand, and we want to make people dance. I also think the difference is in the live performance and that was also part of what Darren and I wanted to do differently. We want to kick ass as a live band, we really want to engage the audience. Obviously, I'm going to be touting my own band here, that's the reason I founded it (laughs), but there's differences.

BL&L: Yeah, I could see that. I really hadn't heard Ambulance much, so I did some poking around so I could understand the difference [between the two bands]. Via Hype Machine I found a cover of "Fearless" [by Pink Floyd] done by Ambulance LTD. Now, I'm not big on Pink Floyd at all – I had an older brother who used to play Dark Side of the Moon on endless, endless repeats, so it's one of those things where I just couldn't stand listening to it anymore.

MD: Yeah, is he okay now, or...? (both laugh)

BL&L:(laughs) You know, he is what he is I guess. We're from the Albany area, so up there, you know, it's all classic rock…

MD: Oh, hell yeah (both laugh).

BL&L: But "Fearless" was one song that I always really thought was kind of catchy. Then I listened to some other [Ambulance] stuff, and I wrote down how I saw the differences. Basically, Ambulance sounded a little bit more ethereal, and lighter, and The Beatles, and I heard Velvet Underground and such, whereas TRR, the first time I heard you guys, I thought Paul Weller and the Style Council.

MD: Huh, ok.

BL&L: And I've read that you guys liked Simple Minds and that sound from Molly Ringwald/John Hughes movies from the 80's and such.

MD: I think somebody wrote that, but yeah...I mean, Tears for Fears was kind of a reference for one kind of song on that five song EP. But I definitely think ethereal, that's a good way to describe Ambulance.

BL&L: Do you feel that being in a band with some popularity before helped you know things to avoid or do differently in this band?

MD: Well, I don't think the popularity had anything to do with it, because Ambulance was pretty underground for the most part, but yeah, because of the experience of being in the band, we definitely learned a lot about what not to do. Ultimately, we're learning so much more in TRR because we are our own record company, we're our own manager, we're our own, you know, everything. We’ve had to take on many hats. Being in a band a couple years ago before the shit really hit the fan in the music industry, being in a band that was actually on a label that had all these people working for you, like a manager and a business manager, that was a very different experience. You were sort of just ushered to and fro to shows, and it's your job to do press and do shows, but you're not really privy to all the background work. But TRR, we do tour managing, our own merch, stuff like advancing shows, dealing with like the teamsters and MSG, arguing with the guy in the basement about how much we get for the shirts and stuff...that's all stuff we're doing in TRR, which is a lot more edifying I think, at the end of the day.

BL&L: Do you guys feel like you want to move toward where that's not the case, or...

MD: Well I think for now it just doesn't really matter, it's not something that is a priority. If and when the right manager situation approaches, then we'll do that; we certainly didn't set out to be “do-it-yourself” all the time, it's just kind of the way things happened. We have people that help us, a booking agent, a lawyer, so we have all those people who sort of build the team, but we're still definitely without a manager which is not, you know, the worst thing. I think there are a lot of unconventional things that we do, but that's because things are just so very different now in 2008. There are no rules about how you go and establish a foot-hold in this industry and sort of build out. All the ways that you would try to break a band a couple years ago is not what you do now; it's like all bets are off really. So yeah, we're just kind of like looking for the best model that is going to enable us to try to build this into a long lasting thing, one where we can go out and tour and put our records out.

We have been putting out our own records and licensing our own music, and that's been a viable stream of income. We've been basically functioning as our own record company and our own publishing house for that matter...that's just kind of the nature of the beast at this point in time.

BL&L: Especially after dealing with TVT, I'm sure that you guys have an initiative to pick that which is right versus that which is first in terms of labels. Some people would jump at the chance just to get with anybody, just to get their music out there, but...it seems like you guys and others have really sought to kind of wait and choose that which is right.

MD: Well, I think part of the reason for that is that at the end of the day, there is no magic carpet ride anymore for a band (laughs). Four to five years ago, the concept of getting signed was kind of a win-win situation for a band. You got a lot of money, you got to have a big push...a lot of my friends have had record deals, and maybe they're not famous, but they got to keep their couple hundred thousand dollar advance, keep their gear...so it had its perks, regardless of the impact made ultimately.

But now, record labels aren’t doing anybody any favors, so it's kind of a moot point. It's almost like, why don't you go get a record deal with a gas station? In this day and age, it almost means the same, which is almost nothing. A record deal right now, there's like 40 million different models of how record labels are still going to try to make money. So given that's the case, we're getting to do licensing deals where we're making twice as much money as we normally would than if we were signed, because if we were signed, the record label would own 50 % of our publishing because they would own our master recording rights. So whenever we got a sync deal, they'd take half of the money right down the middle.

The whole game is changing. We've been approached by a lot of labels, but it's sort of like, at the end of the day, we're looking for like a model that's actually going to work. We've been doing this shit for a while, so we're kind of more about making records that are going to be really good, and really represent what TRR is about. And yeah, we want to make a living licensing, we want to make a living touring, but as for selling records, that concept is just sort of – it doesn't mean much right now. And it probably won't ever again. So I think labels have really fallen into the background for us. We're more interested in can we get our song in this commercial so we can make some dough and record more songs or something, you know what I mean? That's kind of the long and short of it (laughs).

BL&L: I've read a few things about the name of the band, and research showed me that there's a book of fairy tales.

MD: Yeah, I found that out after, by a Scottish poet I think. Also there's a series of Western films from the 30's.

BL&L: You are the main song writer of the band. Can you talk to me about your writing past? When you were a kid, did you write a lot?

MD: I guess I've always just written songs. I remember writing a song about working on a ship when I was like 10 years old, and I recorded it for my parents on a tape recorder. When I was 13-14 years old, I'd get together with my friend and we'd try to play stuff like the Smiths or whatever. I started writing prose stuff when I was in grammar school, and short stories. I was always terrible at math, but in honors English. I have a huge affinity for lyricists, like Rodgers and Hart, songwriting teams like Carole King and Jerry Coffin, and then Morrissey and Marr….I've only ever been interested in a handful. And I like classic libretto stuff, like show tunes and Tin Pan Alley, and even all the Brill Building shit.

But if I'm going to care about lyrics, the main thing is it kind of has to be funny to me. It's got to be like, pithy stuff, lyrics that really try to say something and have a narrative quality. I think that's...that's what I've always wanted to try to do with lyrics, is just write something that actually tells kind of a story, comes from a perspective that is easily relatable.

BL&L: So would you say that writing is something that always came rather easily to you?

MD: Oh hell no, it's a torturous process. You've got to trust yourself that what you're doing is good and sometimes that's hard, sometimes you get lost in the sauce when you're writing. It can be incredibly difficult to just let something be what it is. There's a lot invested in writing something and putting something out there, so you have to wrestle sometimes, you know?

BL&L: Talk to me about muse and inspiration. First of all, where do you kind of find your inspiration or does it just show up, and when you're stuck creatively is there anything you do to kind of kick your mind into gear?

Sometimes you just have to plow through; you just have to sit there and try to just work it out. Most of the time, I think it's just about taking advantage of a feeling when you get it, an idea when you have it in the moment, and really being able to stop and pursue it. I think Neil Young basically has this thing where no matter where he is or what he's doing, and he's got an idea for a song, he'll just stop and work on it, even if he's in line at the airport or whatever. I think you do have to revere the muse, and the muse is nothing more than just, you know, neurons banging around in your brain. I mean it's all the stuff you've collected in your experiences, and things you've heard and maybe not even really thought about, but just things you absorb.

As for where those ideas come from, most often you just get lucky; you're sort of given a melody, you're given a feeling, and you go and execute it. Sometimes I'll bring in stuff to the band and other times we'll just be playing together and, and things will just come out of the ether. And that's part of that cool mystery, that if you can get tapped into it, and every once in a while the Universe will hand you something really good. And you can set out to rip stuff off, and you can set out to conceptualize something, and say, “Ok, I'm going to do this kind of song.” But ultimately, the core of even those projects that are kind of pursued, maybe a little more purposefully like “this is going to be a vision,” is it has to have something real behind it, you can't bullshit your way around that--you have to try to be saying something authentic. Every time you get up and sing a song, you might not be in that "place" and you might not mean it, but you've got to be saying something real. That's why people still listen to The Smiths, that's why The Smiths songs are still so good, because Morrissey was saying really funny shit, and it was really just true. You could say what you want about it, but you know, whether it was self-involved, narcissistic, kind of depressing, whatever, ultimately, it was kind of true and oftentimes very funny. That's the same way I feel about Lou Reed. Lou Reed will sometimes, in a deadpan way, be overly simplistic. But then he'll throw you some line that's just incredibly insightful and really funny, and devastatingly true-- that's what's so good about Lou Reed, you know? Jarvis Cocker carried on that tradition, of course.

We've put out basically three EP's in the life of the band, one early four-song demo that we sold on the first Killers tour, and then we put out the five song EP that's kind of the really slick kind of EP that we did for the Killers arena tour in 2007. We're working on our first full length record now. And for a full length, it's like you want to have a concept-- it's sort of like a little collection of moments and you want to make sure that there's some congruity there. And that's when you think about concepts, like I want to make this kind of record, this is what I want to say – what do I want to say?

BL&L: You want to make your own In the Wee Small Hours by Frank Sinatra? (laughs)

MD: Yeah, I guess, or just whatever it is. You want to make something that's a cohesive statement. So a little more thought has to go into how you're going to execute your songs. You're not just going to throw anything on the album; it has to be a cohesive statement, so that's when it's not just about waiting around for the muse. You do have to think about this shit, you know? I mean, a lot of records were made very intentionally so I don't want to confuse the record making process with getting hit with a great melody or hook idea at 3 in the morning and you've got to go write it, which is kind of what writing is about. But on top of that, you kind of have to manage that process, and do it constructively, moving all the stuff toward some kind of piece or goal, if you're trying to put out a record as a band, you know?

BL&L: And that touches on something. A lot of your lyrics seem to be about, well, romance, and the aspects of two people involved. Do you pull a lot of the lyrics from real life experience, or is it more like, “If I was in this position, this is what it would be like?” You talk about a central concept and all these songs that deal with this, but say at the endpoint, there's a gap….So then do you sit down and sort of mine things from your own experience, or is it a combination of both? Does that make any sense? (laughs)

MD: Yeah. I mean, not all my songs are intentionally written as love songs. They may have those elements, but I think if you're writing pop songs, you're writing about the human condition, you're not writing about… politics. There are very few really cool pop songs that are reaching toward something else other than human interaction, human experience, love...I think Elvis Costello broke it down once and said there's essentially four or five things you can say in a song, and it's all about love. And it's either like, "I'm leaving you," "You're leaving me," "Let's stay together," "Let's get together"...I mean, essentially all roads lead back to human connection. I don't want to say esoteric shit to people; I don't want to write for five people, I don't want to be a difficult band. I want to say things that are universal. And you couch them in the voice of the moment, you couch them in a way that's maybe specific to your personal experience. And oftentimes, yeah, a lot of the narratives in the songs are sort of the in's and out's of human relationships, romantic relationships. But it's about experience and feelings. I thought a lot about what it was to be a teenager, to be young, and a lot of the feelings that you feel, and what a momentous part of your life that is....It's almost like DH Lawrence or something. I mean, even Morrissey was like this too, the things that you keep drawing upon are the moments in your life when you maybe were most alive, so those are important, you know? I think the stuff we're doing now is a little darker (laughs). I mean, I wrote a song for an Ambulance record called “Arbuckle's Swan Song” that was about Fatty Arbuckle.

BL&L: Yeah, I was going to ask about that, that's the first thing that came to mind, I was like, “A song about Fatty Arbuckle? What?” (laughs)

MD: Yeah, and that was a real concept tune that had nothing to do with getting hit over the head with any kind of vision or feeling. At the end of the day, there may be like real feelings of emotion in that song, but ultimately it's kind of just a funny song, talking about a rather dark subject but that also has a truth. It is a song about self-destruction and whatever, that I think is universal as well. Let's face it, if you're writing pop songs, there's not an incredibly large amount of things that are worth saying in a song. I think if I want to hear about politics, if I want to hear about stuff that is really crucial to life or the community at large, or your nation or whatever it is, I'm not really sure that songs are really the best place for that stuff. That's not really what music is about.

Music sort of touches a different part of people, and I think music, because it's fundamentally a social activity, has to hit upon emotions that bring us together, that are more about the visceral, more about the common connections we all have, about touching upon experiences everybody can relate to. Millions of people flock around a specific song, written by some dude or some girl who wrote lyrics in 20 minutes, but something in it just touched them. You go to any rock concert and you see people who are truly like enthralled with the music--there's something that's very not intellectual about that. So yeah, I guess it's like, “a lot of your songs are about love,” well what the hell else is there to really talk about? (laughs)

BL&L: So, given that, I guess the bigger question is, are you a believer in true love or do you think it's something that's nice in theory?

MD: Oh yeah I definitely believe in true love.

BL&L: That's good to hear, because oftentimes you hear pop singers and they're just kind of like, "Yeah, you know… I know what it's like, been there, done that."

MD: No, no, I believe in my product (both laugh)

BL&L: Writing is a process. As a writer myself, I know I seem to be more productive in certain surroundings with certain music and such, can you speak to the specifics of yours?

MD: You mean the environment in which I work? You know what, often times, the best place to work on a song is at a sound check, that's often where I find the best moments. I don't know why that is. We have our grungy rehearsal room in mid-town Manhattan and I write in my apartment or whatever...wherever you could get it done. Living in New York is hectic and stuff, you kind of just have to make it work as it were.

BL&L: Who do you like for writers? Has there been any writer whose books you collect or always pick up when they put one out?

MD: There's a really good short story guy called Tom Jones, sort of a fun name. But he wrote this book called the Pugilist at Rest, and that's really cool. I really like Fitzgerald. He can be redundant, but I've always gotten a kick out of Bukowski, I think some of his books are really funny. Philip Roth I really like, he's sort of been a constant.

[Matt had to head out shortly so from here on, we went to more rapid fire questions.]

BL&L: What about like in terms of music, has there been anybody that you've consistently followed over the years, or anybody that you really like as of late?

MD: I tend to like musicians’ work from certain periods because I do find that nobody can be really good forever. But one guy I've like been keeping track of for a long time and definitely still check out his new stuff would be Scott Walker. And Brian Eno as well. I think for people who have been doing this stuff for a long time, I think they still make pretty interesting records. Morrissey still cranks out a good song or two.

BL&L: Now, I read that you're a big jazz fan; or rather the phrase was "a recovering jazz addict." Do you have three favorite jazz records, and why?

MD: (laughs) Well, definitely Love Supreme by John Coltrane...I really like Bitches' Brew, Miles Davis. And...that's a tough one...any Horace Silver record.

BL&L: Interesting. Now, five songs you wish you wrote, and why.

MD: "Spanish Lace" by Gene McDaniels- it's just an incredible melody. "There is a Light that Never Goes Out" by Morrissey and Marr. Again, amazing melody, great fucking lyrics, amazing lyrics, just to be able to capture that kind of teenage sentiment so astutely, it's a really devastating song. Let's see.... "Sound and Vision" by David Bowie. It's just really cool the way in general that Bowie would kind of utilize early rock and roll stuff and flip it around the way that he did. "Good Feeling," by the Violet Femmes, another, just brutally honest, simple song, that's just amazing. How many is that? Four?

BL&L: Yes.

MD: "Duchess." Scott Walker recorded it and it's a beautiful song.....just great lyrics, really funny lyrics, great imagery.

BL&L: What is it about Tears for Fears and the whole 80's sound that you like so much?

MD: I don't know, I think that kind of got put on us. There's definitely like a little bit of that, like we were trying to just do some big pop stuff, and I think we were listening to Tears for Fears at the time....And not to give the usual pat-like musician answer, we honestly weren't trying to [mimic] 80's pop.

BL&L: It was more Blue-Eyed Soul?

MD: Well I think the album ended up being mixed made it have that quality. But we weren't trying to ape that style – we wanted to have that bigness, we wanted to have that, when you put the CD and you heard the song in the radio, it really would jump out at you and have a lot of energy. We were a little more into the keyboards than we are now, and that probably contributed to some of that.

BL&L: Have you had previous training as a singer? You said you had done cello and all that, but you never really mentioned singing. And I mean you have a pretty strong voice…

MD: Oh, thank you. I don't know, I just let it rip, you know? (laughs)

BL&L: I always find that interesting. I can sing relatively well, I can carry a tune, but I sure as hell know that if I was to try to sing and have it recorded and stuff, my voice would probably crack and mess up. Graham Parsons is a perfect example-he has songs where you hear his voice just like, give out because it's not a very strong voice. But you are able to hold notes and work your voice, so there's strength somewhere. Did you just practice a lot?

MD: I think just from the years of being a musician, I had a basic understanding of the mechanics of singing, but I'm certainly not a trained singer by any stretch of the imagination. I wish I was, I'd like to definitely learn how to better take care of my voice which I think is a real trick. Ultimately, I'm not trying to be known as a tremendous vocalist, I'm just trying to put across emotion in a way that's pleasant to listen to and have some energy behind it.

I have to be convincing. If people are paying money to come see you play, you have to sing well, you have to give somebody something, and if you're not singing with some beautifully trained voice, you at least have to be giving them some energy, personality, and be conveying what you're trying to talk about. Certainly no one is going to say that Lou Reed is some tremendously trained vocalist, but he's one of the most interesting singers to listen to. I'd rather listen to him sing over three hundred trained vocalists that I can think of who may put records out because he's actually telling you something.

BL&L: How was Europe, and why did you guys decide to go now?

MD: It just had been something we had been working on for quite a while. We had been invited over there in the fall, and had a lot of industry interest and people who wanted to bring us over there to play, so we just finally put it together. And it went well, there's definitely something building for us over there. It's just tough, in terms of being able to afford to go over there.

BL&L: Lastly, what's the best and the worst part about being a songwriter?

MD: Oh man...(both laugh). I think, I honestly...I don't really have a choice in the matter, it's sort of like you're selected to go to the moon by your communist government, it's not really a choice (both laugh). I have to write tunes, neurologically there's something wrong with me where I have to write music. In all seriousness, it's really satisfying. I mean it's really cool to...you're just a fan of music, and you're putting together something that, you think you or your friends would dig, since they like the same stuff. When you write a song, when you really flesh it out, you're trying to kind of celebrate what it is that you like about music, or maybe the specific influences that you might be drawing upon for that song, you're trying to celebrate what's great about music that came before what you're doing, and then also, saying something that's cool, that people are going to enjoy…and it's incredibly challenging. But if you can do it right, it's really great. It's nice to have people respond to your stuff, and that, often, can be what keeps you going. But yeah, the part I find very challenging is to write good pop songs. I think sometimes people could think, "Oh it's a pop song, there's no depth to it, how hard could it be?" But it's actually very elusive, there's a lot to trying to do pop music well. It's not easy by any stretch, at least not for me.

Download: Just One Kiss-The Red Romance.mp3

(The Red Romance full-length record is expected in late September/early October 2008. Pick up the 3-song promo EP here or their original 5-song EP here. You can also find them on Itunes.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tour NYC with The Kooks

You a fan of The Kooks? Like NYC? Care to see NYC rock music landmarks WITH The Kooks? And you're not scared of Matt Pinfield? (He sure scares me (shudder).) Then read on...

During their last US tour, Los Angeles residents were able to catch the Kooks busking in the streets for Sidewalk Sets. Now, New York fans will have the opportunity to win a seat on a very special rock and roll tour of New York, and be witness to some outdoor performances of their own. One day ahead of the band’s Central Park Summerstage show on September 10th, the Kooks are treating a handful of lucky contest winners to a guided tour of the city’s most famous (or infamous) rock and roll sights, and will be taking their guitars along for the ride. It could possibly be the first acoustic show on the top of a double-decker bus New York City has ever seen. The tour will finish up at the Apple Store in Soho, where the band will be playing a free in-store show.

Courtesy of Astralwerks, 101.9 WRXP, VisitBritain, and Time Out New York, the grand prize winner will scoop two round trip flights to NYC, hotel accommodation for three nights, two seats on the double-decker tour bus with tour guide Matt Pinfield (101.9 WRXP morning show DJ), two spots at the in-store performance at the Apple Store in Soho, and two tickets to see The Kooks live at Central Park Summerstage on September 10th. To enter, head here and for contest rules and regulations go here.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Open Annex in NYC

Sweet, maybe now I'll actually get to visit the thing (sorry Cleveland-ers). And maybe the estate of CBGS's owner Hilly Kristal will be enticed to open something in this Annex and stay true to the NYC-location instead of some Hard Rock Cafe version in Las Vegas.

Best reason I heard recently about why one shouldn't attend the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: "The fucking Dave Clark Five are in there. That's like inducting Candlebox."

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is coming to New York. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to announce Wednesday that the Cleveland-based museum and hall of fame is opening an annex in downtown Manhattan.

Billy Joel and Clive Davis are going to join the mayor at the location in the SoHo neighborhood. It will be the first time the hall of fame has expanded outside Cleveland.

The 25,000-square-foot annex will house Bruce Springsteen's 1957 Chevy and will feature a number of different exhibits, including one featuring New York City-based sites that have musical significance. (NY Post)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Show Review: The Airborne Toxic Event@ DC9 (7-29-08)

After The Airborne Toxic Event took the stage at DC9 here in Washington, DC recently, we were supposed to sit down and follow up on our long interview from a few months back. But with their driving to Boston the next day (a hellaciously long trip), very Pemberton-weary faces all 'round, and the knowledge that we were seeing each other again twice in next two months anyway, I suggested we reschedule. (Lead singer/songwriter/rhythm guitarist Mikel Jollet, back fresh from a long jog down to the Capitol and back, and I did squeeze in a few minutes about Airborne's acoustic video series and the general state of Airborne these days which you can watch here.)

Not planning to interview the band AND review the show, I left the notebook at home. But I did bring a camera, thinking some snaps might pair nicely with the interview....

(click on any photo to enlarge)

...as well as a friend who'd never seen or heard Airborne before, who was going merely on my mentions of how energetic Airborne is live. He has a predilection for old-school hard NY/Boston punk, and while Airborne is punkish in Daren Taylor's strong backbeat and Steven Chen's piercing guitar chords, theirs is a punk more like The Smiths than punk like Minor Threat. I wasn't sure he'd like it at all.

Guess what? Airborne's live show struck again. He loved it. And I loved his comments on it so I included them below:

The music rocked my socks off. I really dug a lot of the songs. Another thing I noticed is that when I catch a show by a band I don't know is that I will often like them better after a couple of hearings; its like my brain has to hear a song a couple of times before it clicks. The Airborne setlist, on the other hand, grabbed me immediately. Not sure what the reason for the difference is.

You know how sometimes there are summer nights that feel different -- wide open, like something unusual and wonderful could happen? Kind of a sense of mystery and possibility in the air? The night of the show was the opposite of one of those nights, and you could feel it in the audience before Airborne took the stage. The whole atmosphere was leaden and exhausted (not that I was surprised, this is DC after all. DC is Hollywood for ugly people after all...). I thought that it was interesting that once they started playing, Airborne gradually pulled the audience out of its funk, until by the end of the show the crowd had real energy. Even another talented band might have succumbed to the initial lethargy of the crowd, but Airborne didn't seem fazed by it.

And I was surprised at how laid back and accessible the band members were before & after the show. A band with a nice start on a body of work like theirs could get very arrogant and full of themselves, but the members were all very cool.

Oh, I forgot, one other thing...did you ever watch Deadwood on HBO? There is a character named Seth Bullock played by Timothy Olyphant.

In the series Seth Bullock is the sheriff of the town, and not someone you want to mess with. He had a volcanic temperament and was lethal with a sidearm. So Daren the drummer has a similar facial hair thing going as the Seth Bullock character, which I noticed when I met him. Then later, after you got up to chat with Noah, Daren is walking by the bar, when this big doofy meathead looking guy inexplicably sticks his foot out behind him and Darren trips over it. There's no way meathead meant to do it I think -- he was looking the opposite way. Daren stumbles for a split second then catches himself, and looks up. And for a brief moment, Daren looks homicidal. I am really thinking he is about to break a chair over doofus' head, and Airborne is going to need another drummer tonight while Daren cools his heels in the pokey. Then he snaps out of it, takes a sip of beer, and heads off where he was going. Which was a relief, because its better to look like Seth Bullock than act like him -- too many corpses.

Like Keith Richards once said of Charlie Watts, "Never fuck with a drummer, man."

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Missing 5:05 to Westerberg's "49" Release Appears

So a few weeks back, Paul Westerberg released his first bit of music since roughly 2004, a 43:55 continuous stream of music clips, fade in/outs, and other assorted oddities entitled "49"(see our review here). Apparently, there was much discussion as to why the thing was titled "49" when there was only 43:55 minutes to it, and where was the remaining 5:05; me, I figured it was just Westerberg being Westerberg.

However, Heather over at I Am Fuel, You are Friends reports today that there really was a remaining 5:05 segment to "49" and it was released for purchase here on TuneCore for either $5.05 or $.99. The sound of "5:05" is reminiscent of Stereo/Mono tracks (Mono specifically) and as Heather states, includes Westerberg's curmudgeon self yelling expletives at the end. Once a punk, always a punk....

Heather also reports that the original download links that were everywhere like Itunes and here are no more. But if you happened to download "49," the photo below is the official back cover, which didn't get released in time for the launch of the download.

Bruce and the E Street Band to Play Super Bowl XLIII

(Photo via NJ Star-Ledger)

Page Six today reported that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will be the performers at the upcoming Super Bowl:

THE next Super Bowl is really going to rock. This year, Tom Petty rocked the halftime crowd at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. But Super Bowl XLIII on Feb. 1 in Tampa will feature Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, sources said. "He was just confirmed," a spy added. "Little Stevie (Van Zandt) has already rented out the Hard Rock Café for a party." A Boss rep didn't return calls or e-mails.

Let's all pray to the heavens above that Patti doesn't have any "wardrobe malfunctions." (heh)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tom Waits Live in Atlanta, GA

One of the best descriptions of Tom Waits I ever read was this from an article about the Atlanta '06 show:

Tom Waits looks like a scarecrow and sings like a monster. He growls and howls, he whispers, he wheezes like a muted trumpet.

Needless to say, his voice isn't for everyone. But its grainy texture and peculiar expressiveness, along with Waits' mysterious persona and noirish songwriting, have made this avant-garde crooner one of popular music's most adored cult figures.

Enough people know and care about Tom Waits that his tour-opening show Tuesday night at the Tabernacle sold out in less than half an hour. He has no new record to promote, which hardly mattered. Waits rarely tours — this was his first Atlanta performance in about 30 years — and you never know when the 56-year-old artist is going to hang up his performing career and devote his life to some marginal pursuit, like junk collecting or knife throwing.

I've been lucky, I've been able to see a lot of the artists whose work I revere, leaving only a handful I have not yet seen (and some of those are dead, like Joe Strummer with The Clash or Johnny Cash). Tom Waits definitely resides high on that list.

And it's not the same as being in the building and hearing Waits' razor-bladed crooning or those odd stories he tells, but NPR and All Songs Considered hooked up those who didn't get tickets, or in the case of the recent Tom Waits tour dates, those of us who didn't live anywhere near "PEHDTSCKJMBA" (the acronym for each of the tour's stops: Phoenix, El Paso, Houston, Dallas, Tulsa, St. Louis, Columbus, Knoxville, Jacksonville, Mobile, Birmingham and Atlanta), with a recording of the last date of the Glitter and Doom Tour in Atlanta (includes a set list). Want to download it and have it for your very own forever and always? Greg over at Captains Dead can provide that for you here for the next month.

Then head on over to Anti-Label Blog while you listen to either version. Tom Waits may inspire you, he may scare you, but the man will definitely entertain you regardless. Or make you scratch your head, cause the "best airport food" is in Tulsa, OK? For real?

Monday, August 4, 2008

Sound and Vision: Mini-Interview with Mikel Jollet of The Airborne Toxic Event

The Airborne Toxic Event and I had planned on an updated interview from this after their recent DC9 show here in Washington, DC, but scheduling and exhaustion on all parts caused problems, so we rescheduled. But lead singer/songwriter/rhythm guitarist Mikel Jollet and I had a quick mini-chat prior to the show, just in time for the formal release of Airborne's new record (that's tomorrow) and the last installment of their acoustic video series. Then there's Mikel singing Billy Idol....