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Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Grooms Go From Pavement To Peter Gabriel On ‘Prom’

The Brooklyn-based trio Grooms debuted in 2010 with the album Rejoicer, prompting members of the press to haul out wheelbarrows full of references to ‘90s alt rock, with Pavement and Sonic Youth taking up the most room in the cart. Bandleader Travis Johnson admits that those comparisons were not completely without merit, but his band has moved into other realms with the follow-up, Prom. “On this album we definitely moved away from some of the more classic ‘80s and ‘90s American indie-rock influences we’ve used before,” he explains, “We weren’t really thinking of those bands at all when we were making this record… They were probably fairly accurate [as comparisons] before, but they seem less accurate to me now.”

Where Rejoicer bore a relatively straightforward production style that put the focus squarely on Johnson’s off-kilter guitar arithmetic, Prom is a shadowy record that plays a constant game of sonic hide-and-seek, offering flashes of rich textures that retreat evanescently before you can sink your teeth into them; it boasts a more 3-D approach to the recording process, turning the sounds emitted by Johnson, Emily Ambruso and Jim Sykes into a ghost army of funhouse-mirror reflections, teeming with complex textures and caroming constantly from bristling discord to fragile beauty and back again. So what was in Johnson’s Soundcloud during the making of Prom? “For this record we were listening more to things like Broadcast or Tortoise or Peter Gabriel or something,” he says. The post-rock references ring true, and what’s more, there’s a quality to the album that recalls the try-anything aesthetic of other, nearly forgotten ’90s acts of that ilk, like Long Fin Killie and Moonshake.

But there’s one influence that has left a deeper mark on Johnson’s songs than any band could, and that’s his ongoing struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Johnson has let it be known that much of his music is colored by his experiences with OCD, but going public with that kind of personal information wasn’t a snap decision for him. “I actually did have hesitations about it,” he says, “not because I care about people knowing things like that about me, but because I hate when people exploit things like that. I think I was actually talking to my mom, who also has OCD, and she was just talking about how it’s not exploitative to talk about where the songs are coming from, which is largely through this really thick lens of OCD.”

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Metal Monday: Septicflesh Q&A

How many Greek metal bands can you name? Chances are this number won’t be very high if you’re not from a place near or in Greece. Now, how many bands that recorded a metal album with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra can you name? Chances are this number is also pretty low. Well, Septicflesh works as an answer to both of these questions. They released a pretty fantastic album earlier this year titled The Great Mass, a follow-up to 2009′s masterful Communion (which was also recorded with the Prague Philharmonic). Fresh off their second release with Season of Mist and currently touring with Obscura, Devin Townsend and Children of Bodom, guitarist Sotiris Vayenas took some time to answer some questions for us about the band’s recent happenings.

OS: Describe the process of recording with the Prague Philharmonic for The Great Mass (much like you did with Communion).

SV: Chris Antoniou was once again responsible for the creation of the classical arrangements of the songs and also the main supervisor of the specific recordings which took place in Prague. This time, Chris supervised the whole recording process from Greece utilizing the great potential of the Internet. As you can imagine there was a lot of hard work and planning for everything to work out as we demanded, especially considering the fact that The Great Mass has the most elaborate symphonic parts that we ever recorded. Chris started working with the symphonic parts at a very early stage of the [creative] process. So we had a lot of time to experiment and at the same time to try to achieve the proper balance with the heavy parts.

OS: Did the writing of the symphonic elements change after Communion when you had the experience of recording with a full choir and orchestra?

SV: With Communion we gained a lot of experience considering the combination of the brutal with the symphonic elements. So now we felt more confident to attempt a bolder experimentation towards the specific musical direction. In The Great Mass, we had a lot more instruments in our disposal and, in other words, a wider range of sound fields to experiment with. Chris had the chance to try a lot of different techniques that are used in modern classical compositions and even in film scores, and that is why the new album has an almost cinematic feeling to it.

OS: It would appear that you guys haven’t created an official music video to any of Septicflesh’s music since 1998–would you ever consider it again? Why or why not?

SV: Indeed, although our music is perfect for visualization we have not a lot of visual material to present to our fans. So we are thinking it is about time to shoot a videoclip for one of the songs of the new album. But we won’t rush things, as we want to create something special, dark and artistic. We will think about it later this year, after the first wave of touring in USA and Europe is completed.

OS: What sorts of composers or orchestral works provided influence for the scored parts of the album?

SV: Igor Stravinsky, Wojciech Kilar, Danny Elfman, Clint Mansell, Howard Shore are some from composers that we admire a lot.

OS: What do you think of the performance Dimmu Borgir did with a full orchestra live? Would you ever consider doing an event like that?

SV: It was really cool for Dimmu Borgir to bring the orchestra to the stage and perform their songs in full detail. It is something that we are also intending of doing, although we are not so rich to attempt it in such a large scale. At the time being, we are considering our options and we are in touch with some classical musicians. I hope that everything will turn out well and that we will manage to organize such a tricky special event for The Great Mass.

OS: So, tell us about some of the lyrical themes from The Great Mass, and what inspired you to write them.

SV: Esotericism is always one of my favorite sources of our inspiration. The Great Mass is actually a kind of a Black Mass composed from ten psalms, which praises the rebellious spirit. Each psalm deals with a specific theme. Some topics discussed are amnesia, dreams as a uniting bridge between the living and the undead, the importance of forging an iron will and choosing everlasting goals, the duality of beast and man, the secret behind the Pythagorean star of the elements, etc. Something that connects the various themes is the use of religious symbolism in an unsettling, deconstructive way. Also I attempted a word-play throughout the album, with the different meanings that can be attributed to the word “mass”…

OS: If someone were to approach you and ask you to do the score/soundtrack to a film, much like Daft Punk did for TRON: Legacy or Trent Reznor did for The Social Network, would you consider it (why or why not)? What sort of films would you want to score, and which would you not want to score?

SV: It would be great to get involved in film scoring. Our music could fit to science fiction, horror, psychological thrillers, even to epic stuff. Of course it would be out of context to be involved to a romantic movie or a comedy.

The last two Septicflesh albums are absolute must-haves for any metalhead’s collection, especially if they like symphonic or death metal—Septicflesh can’t really be beat in those departments. Skeptical? Check out the teaser trailer for The Great Mass below. If you’re already hip to these guys, props to you as you’ve clearly got great taste in metal. If you’re looking to spend some of your hard-earned cash on some Septicflesh music or gear, look no farther than the Season of Mist official e-shop.

Arrested Development: How Artists Are Affected By Jail Time

There isn’t anything particularly surprising about a musician being arrested on drug charges—after all, artists raging from Willie Nelson to Sly Stone have seen the inside of a courtroom in 2011 following drug-related incidents. What is surprising is the arrest of Coheed and Cambria’s bassist Michael Todd, who held up an Attelboro, Mass. pharmacy last week and walked away with six bottles of Oxycodone.

Here’s the bad news: serving a prison sentence can sometimes effectively end your career. Just take a look at Mystikal. In 2003 the New Orleans-based rapper was at the peak of his career—Tarantula had been nominated for a best rap album GRAMMY, and he appeared on hits like Ludacris‘ “Move Bitch” and Lil John and the East Side Boyz‘s “I Don’t Give a Fuck.” But that same year he was also indicted on charges of sexual battery and extortion, and sentenced to six years in prison. He was released in January 2010, but no one seems too keen to feature him now.

Luckily for Todd, it isn’t always as bad as all that. After all, aren’t these kinds of antics par for the course for rock stars? Jim Morrison’s legendary status was solidified by separate arrests for attempting to incite a riot (1962) and indecent exposure (1969). And Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ careers certainly didn’t suffer following their 1972 arrests for assault and obstruction of justice. (Of course, those charges were later dropped.) More recently, Lil Wayne served an eight-month prison sentence after being convicted of a gun charge that, if anything, only served to increase his popularity. He stayed in touch with fans through the Web site Weezy Thanx You, and the hashtag #FreeWeezy was a constant reminder on Twitter of his plight. The rapper even phoned in his verse on Drake‘s “Light Up” from prison.

Of course, Todd probably won’t be able to submit his bass parts via prison telephone, so what does all of this mean for him and the rest of Coheed? It’s hard to say, but with two previous convictions for drug possession and operating under the influence he’s been in similar situations before. And while Todd’s future may be uncertain, collectively Coheed and Cambria should be just fine. Wes Styles will be taking over bass duties for the remainder of the group’s tour, and this won’t be the first time they’ve played without Todd—he left in 2006 to complete rehab for a heroin addiction. Coheed explained the situation with a statement on their Web site: “We are surprised, to say the least, and will address the situation with Michael after the tour. For now, we just want to have a great time out here and finish with some killer shows.”

Get Lyrical: It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye

You know what they say: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Wait, hold on, that’s not the old adage we were thinking of. What we meant to say was: “All good things must come to an end.” And unfortunately, it’s as true of weekly blog features as it is of depressing Nelly Furtado songs and Brett Favre’s football career (probably). That’s right folks—this is the last week your computer screen will be graced with the fine stylings of Get Lyrical. We’ve had some laughs, we’ve shed some tears, we’ve dispelled some myths and we’ve celebrated some pretty obscure holidays, but before we go our separate ways you should check out these OurStage artists and their musings on goodbyes. There’s no denying that parting is such sweet sorrow, but hopefully these tracks will help ease the suffering.

Stockholm – “Goodbye Tomorrow”

Stockholm frontman Chris Arter says that the group’s song “Goodbye Tomorrow” was inspired by the conflicts in Iraq and Sudan. “It was basically created with the message that if we just simply slaughter each other, turn our backs on our neighbors and friends or those less fortunate than us, that we essentially are saying goodbye to anything we could ever be, other than killers.” But while “Goodbye Tomorrow” references these conflicts, Arter is careful to point out that it isn’t an anti-war or anti-US song. Instead, the track is aimed at all those who commit violent acts “simply because they think they live in a part of the world that no one pays any attention to.”

Stockholm makes a powerful case for peace with the song’s bleak imagery. “Let’s get to know the eyes of a terrified girl/Let’s get to know the price of a terrified world/Let’s get to know the hand that draws lines in the sand/Man away from man, terror to the land.” But despite featuring ideas that are occasionally discouraging, like being “swallowed by the sea,” Arter’s lyrics also display some cautious optimism. “I wanted to balance a sense of despair with a reminder that while we are capable of such destruction, we are capable of immense good, and that our ‘tomorrow’ isn’t gone quite yet,” he says.

Arter also has some interesting thoughts on what it is that makes songs about goodbyes so common. “Though our song isn’t really saying goodbye to a person, or a love, but rather to ourselves and our potential, the finality of the word goodbye holds a lot of power,” he says. “Goodbye has a sometimes heartbreaking connotation of forever, making it an irresistible part of life to write about, because everyone has either heard ‘Goodbye,’ or said it.”

Maren Morris – “Goodbye”

Maren Morris wrote the lyrics to “Goodbye” when she was sixteen, after a close friend was cheated on by her slightly older boyfriend. “She was definitely in a delicate condition and I sympathized with her a great deal,” Morris says. “The song lyrics came to me very organically.” While “Goodbye” has its roots in a sad story, it isn’t all bad because the track’s protagonist is staying song. “You can’t hurt me,” Morris sings, adding that not a single tear has been shed “’cause I’m better than that.” It all leads up to the last line of the song’s anthemic chorus: “Don’t try to get to me, ’cause I’ve already said goodbye.

Morris’s intended for her lyrics to keep her friend from getting lost in her grief, and help her maintain a positive outlook on a not-so-positive situation. “I wanted to present this song to my friend to empower her, not keep her feeling broken about the situation,” she says. And since goodbyes are such a common theme in songwriting, that theme of empowerment is how Morris sets her song apart. “I suppose what’s different about my interpretation of that experience is that it ends on a positive note rather than wallowing about it.”

There you have it, OurStagers, the end of Get Lyrical. Now take a page out of Morris’ book and don’t dwell on the loss—get back out there and enjoy all the fantastic lyricism available to you on OurStage!

Riffs, Rants & Rumours: How 2011 Is Shaping Up So Far

Okay, so early July may not mark the precise midpoint of the year, but it’s pretty damn close, and when you factor in for time lost lolling about in summer-vacation mode on and around Independence Day weekend, hell, it’s practically still June. In other words, it’s as good a time as any for a mid-year assessment of the aural delights that 2011 has offered us up to now. By the time the rest of the year has come and gone, and a final accounting is demanded in order to determine which releases truly reigned supreme, many of these worthy offerings will be tragically sacrificed on the bloody altar of elimination’s process. Hopefully, though, a few as-yet-unexpected items will also swoop in from out of nowhere, knocking our socks off, and ascending to their own undeniable place in the 2011 pantheon of monumental musical statements. For now, here’s a quick rundown of some of the desperately needed reasons to be cheerful that presented themselves over the last six or seven months.

NEW FACES

Neville Skelly – Poet and the Dreamer

British baritone Skelly was previously a swing-style crooner, but he has completely reinvented himself here with help from his cousins in The Coral, who play, produce and co-write what might have amounted to a secret Coral album with a different singer if not for Neville’s commanding presence and way with covers of everyone from Dion to Jackson C. Frank.

Amor de Dias – Street of the Love of Days

The lead singers for The Clientele and Pipas put their heads together and came up with a dreamy, breezy sound that mixes the former’s hazy psych-pop tendencies with the latter’s Astrud Gilberto-fronting-Velocity Girl feel.

Foxtails Brigade – The Bread and the Bait

Chamber-folk with poppy trappings—or is it vice-versa—that’s bound to live or die by Laura Weinbach’s quirky, artful songwriting. It lives, and then some.

Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place

“Hey, you got your ambient soundscapes in my ethereal, post-Cocteau Twins song stylings!”

About Group – Start and Complete

Don’t even try telling us you expected a summit meeting between members of Hot Chip, This Heat and Springheel Jack to sound like a lost Robert Wyatt album.

SECOND TIME AROUND

Battles – Gloss Drop

Post-rock for a new generation, doing just fine after the departure of mainman Tyondai Braxton, thank you very much.

Tune-Yards – WHOKILL

If you haven’t already found plenty of plaudits floating around for this one, you’ve probably got a spotty Internet connection or something. Believe the hype.

Burlap to Cashmere – Burlap to Cashmere

Over a decade ago, these guys were Christian folk-rockers with a torrid touch of Gypsy Kings. Things happened. Now they’re back as shockingly subtle purveyors of Paul Simon-esque tunes with a spectral sheen.

White Fence – Is Growing Faith

This is probably what the ‘60s would sound like inside Syd Barrett’s head if he were still alive today.

OLD GUARD

Gregg Allman – Low Country Blues

Who expected to end up loving a Gregg Allman album of blues covers in 2011? Hands? Anyone? Bueller?

Shriekback – Life In The Loading Bay

All right, so technically this is a 2010 release, but come on—it came out at the ass-end of the year, on December 14—what possible chance did it have of getting the fair shake it deserved? It never even got a US release. Nevertheless, these reconstituted ‘80s new wavers have matured remarkably well, and we’re counting this as one of 2011’s most addictive items.

The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

After all the literary inventions and Jethro Tull riffs were exhausted, who guessed that all they ever wanted was to be R.E.M.?

SONGSMITHS

Paul Simon – So Beautiful Or So What

The man who penned the line “How terribly strange to be 70” over four decades ago achieves septuagenarian status this year, and only a fool would count him out of the game now.

Richard X. Heyman – Tiers & Other Stories

He’s been kicking around as a power-pop hero for a good long while, but he not only shows his ambitions here by tackling a double-length batch of epic orchestral-pop ballads, he justifies them, with a touch of something like genius flickering in between the lines.

Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter – Marble Son

Ever wondered what Marianne Faithfull might sound like backed by Jerry Garcia? Neither did we, but this dusty desert rock rings some sweetly psychedelic chimes nonetheless.

Ward White – Done With The Talking Cure

When Elvis Costello was still an enfant terrible, he brazenly declared that guilt and revenge were his main motivations. Ward White doesn’t need to broadcast such inspirations, they’re right there in songs whose expert craft stands up alongside El’s, delivered in a voice EC could only ever dream about.

Tim Robinson – Helena’s Radio

John Prine. Greg Brown. Joe Henry. If these names mean nothing to you, go out and educate yourself immediately. Then come back and we’ll talk. If they get your ears all atremble, however, you’ll make a natural convert to the cult of this powerfully poetic Empire State balladeer.

THE POP LIFE

Peter Bjorn and John – Gimme Some

Armed with more hooks than a Peter Pan convention, these guys set for themselves the impossible task of finding a new way to make guitar, bass, and drums percolate in an alt-pop context. Whether or not they literally succeed, the results sure do resonate.

The Crookes – Chasing After Ghosts

These young Brits will either send your mind spinning back to the UK guitar-pop glory days of The Housemartins, Mighty Lemondrops, Bluebells, et al, or get you started on an urgent exploratory mission through the archives of the aforementioned acts.

Buddy Love – Buddy Love

They were short-lived new wave-era power-poppers, but now they’re reunited elder statesmen of the pure, powerful pop hook, strikingly unaffected by the ravages of time and armed with songs to die—or kill—for, like the alarmingly infectious single “Crying Time.”

FROM THE VAULTS

The Beau Brummels – Bradley’s Barn

This deluxe reissue of the 1968 cult classic not only revisits an underappreciated piece of early country-rock history, it adds an overwhelming array of tantalizing bonus material, and arrives in a handsomely illustrated and annotated hardcover book that makes the whole package an objet d’art on its own terms.

Neil Young/The International Harvesters – A Treasure

These 1985 live cuts might find Neil burning down the bunkhouse with the hotshot band he assembled for his contemporaneous country album, Old Ways, but it visits only two songs from that record, along with a bunch of unrecorded gems and a killer reinterpretation of Young’s Buffalo Springfield classic, “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong.”

The Hollies – The Clarke, Hicks & Nash Years

They may not have the same iconic place in history as The Beatles or The Kinks but they boasted harmonies on a par with the former and songcraft that stood up easily alongside the latter. This box boasts every track from their most fertile period—not a bad deal.

Q&A With Less Than Jake

It’s summertime, and that means swimming pools, popsicles—and if you’re anything like us—some uptempo ska-punk joyously exploding from your speakers. And what better group to satisfy those sunny cravings than with sounds from Gainsville legends Less Than Jake? With a brand new EP and a slew of dates on Warped Tour 2011, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to groove to the five-piece’s horn-infused punk this summer. We sat down with Less Than Jake drummer Vinnie Fiorello to talk about the new EP, the good old days and what it’s like to return to Warped year after year.

OS: You guys just surprised everyone by releasing Greetings From… on Monday. Why release a surprise EP instead of doing a lot of promotion?

VF: Well, here’s the thing: are we really living in a world that needs advance promotion when you’re talking about music? I think that’s left to pop stars who want to be actors or actors who want to be pop stars. With Less Than Jake, we don’t have the budget allotted to us that, let’s say, is from a major label where you can do some long term promotion and sort of build it up. I think that the model that we have right now… Less Than Jake has its own brand, we’ve been around for twenty years. So doing something unannounced allows that immediacy of hearing about it and spreading the word from fan to fan to fan. That works where we’re at currently. There’s so much white noise and competition—there’s 150 channels on TV, there’s infinite possibilities on the Internet, there’s your cell phone, there’s everything down the line—so I think that… to cut through the static, a long lead-up for our band is just not possible. Doing it the way that we’re doing it, we’ll probably continue doing it because we’re only a few days in and it feels right. I’ll go back and say to be able to cut through the static, you either have to have a lot of money or you have to have an initial sort of lightning bolt. We went with the lightning bolt.

OS: And you wrote, recorded and are distributing Greetings From… all on your own, correct?

VF: Yes, it’s the first thing we’ve done that that’s basically band-written, band-recorded, band-marketed, band-distributed. And it’s going well. Without getting too lofty on it and making it a music industry interview rather than a Less Than Jake interview, here’s the thing: You have a certain amount of the pie, right? And ten years ago, the revenue of that pie for a musician was three-quarters record sales. And that shrinks, and you have to find ways to fill that gap as that revenue shrinks out. So people replace it with extra touring, you know? But there’s only so many days of the year where you can do that, so many people that will come see you, so many hours that those people will spend. So when you starting talking about, “Okay, we need to fill this void in revenue,” and you start working it out that way, you realize that currently if you’re signed to a major label it’s a 360 deal where they own 1/3 of your song, 1/3 of your touring revenue, 1/3 of merchandise sales. So you start figuring it out like that, and I think doing it how we’re doing it extends the revenue flow into our band. We may sell less records, but we’re making much more money than we would if we sold ten times the amount of records on a major label because we’re not profit sharing with anyone.

OS: So you can enjoy that freedom now of not owing anyone and being able to record and distribute on your own terms. But last time we spoke, you said the most creative freedom you ever had was when you were just starting out. If you could choose between the two would you go back to the days when there were no expectations or preconceived notions of what your music should be, but you maybe had a little less freedom in other aspects?

VF: I’m going to have to say yes. And I’ll tell you why, because I like the days when we could do whatever we wanted and we didn’t have a twenty-year track record. When we did, let’s say, the Grease soundtrack or we did something else that was fun, Slayer covers, no one was judging it. To give you a familiar sort of scenario… we did TV/EP last year, where we covered TV theme songs from the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, 2000s. And the reviews of that EP… it was eleven minutes of fun. It was meant to be fun. It was meant to be a stopping point between writing new material. And people took it and reviewed it as such that it was this release, and they sort of dragged the fun out of it…if we were a band of two years, the review of TV/EP would have been decidedly different. So I think that doing a TV covers CD when you’ve been a band for twenty years, people are judging it as this decisive career move and all this shit. It’s not! It’s just fucking fun, and that’s what it’s supposed to be. People trip out and get sort of wound up in the details and facts and history when they should just let it be what it is. Not everything is supposed to be a social statement, not everything is supposed to be exclamation marks. Sometimes, there’s a fucking comma in there, and that’s okay.

OS: Right. And sometimes you just want to put your own spin on the Animaniacs theme song.

VF: Exactly! But it goes beyond that. Lately music is so dour. It’s such a downer. I understand why dubstep and that sort of modern DJ-based music is much more popular than its counterparts in live rock and roll. Because people are showing up to go have fun, you know? I would defy anyone to get together thirteen mid-sized rock bands and have 10,000 people show up and lose their fucking mind. But that happens on a weekend basis across the United States when it comes to DJs and live DJ gigs. People are showing up to dance and have fun. I think the state of rock and roll over the last decade or maybe more, it’s dour. It’s a downer. It’s taking itself way too seriously, and I think it has to have a turnaround or live music is just sort of going to go the way of the buffalo.

OS: Well the good news is, bands like Less Than Jake and ska/punk bands in general are certainly keeping the fun in the live show.

VF: Yeah no, the style of music that we play is definitely indicative of fun and it’s based on a live show being fun and being… not very mellow. That’s who our bands are. But I think we can only be a life-preserver in that way for so long before people start not coming out to go see live shows. [Laughs] But let’s move on on that one.

OS: [Laughs] Now that we’re sufficiently bummed out. Well on a less depressing note, Anthology was also released earlier this week–you’re not worried about overwhelming fans with releases or one taking attention away from the other?

VF: No, because with Anthology it’s directly for the fans, directly for the longtime fan. It’s eight hours worth of music, it’s four DVDs, it’s awesome. And the price is right, it’s $15.00 direct from the band, $15.00 from Amazon, Interpunk.com, things like that. It’s for the longtime fan who wants to see six records played in their entirety. And beyond that, I don’t think it’s that overwhelming. I think with the EP, it was sort of designed for shock and awe, and with the DVD it was meant to be more of an organized release than what the EP was.

OS: Hitting them on both fronts.

VF: You have to. Once you have people paying attention to you, you sometimes have to kind of jump into the fray a little bit more and throw a few tricks out while they’re looking at you.

OS: That’s something that’s notable about Less Than Jake in general–you all seem like pretty savvy businessmen in terms of getting fans to buy your records and keeping fans interested in your merch. Were you clever about it from the beginning, or did you get better at it through trial and error?

VF: I think that it’s something that we’ve been good at all along. We’re on our 287th release, between vinyl records and things like that. But we always designed it where we were adding some extra touches like doing a 7”. There was a little bit where we were concentrating on touring more than doing releases, and we’re sort of reversing that—we’re touring less but we’re going to release more music.

OS: And speaking of tours, you guys are gearing up for Warped—is that strange for you now, since with the exception of bands like Big D, you guys have been playing together for a lot longer than most of the other bands on the tour?

VF: It kind of is, you know? It’s a loaded question, and I’ll tell you why. We were a young band once, and I understand it. You’re trying to go for the brass ring, everything’s fresh, everything’s new, and I’m cool with that. I’m cool with bands who get overexcited about being on Warped Tour and maybe let the excesses and the fact that they’re on a big summer tour get the best of them. I’m okay with that, and I don’t feel weird about that. But at the same time, I think that how Warped Tour is designed—Warped Tour is designed for popular music. A lot of people sort of give it a bad rap of, “Oh, it’s changed.” Well, Warped Tour hasn’t changed, the skeleton is the same. It’s always about popular music, and what’s popular now is Christian metal and sort of poppy screamo. And that’s what most of the tour is on. So when I’m sitting around, are there a lot of bands that I’m going to enjoy listening to? Not particularly, you know? And that’s not being an old fuck about it. I can appreciate them as musicians, I can appreciate them for their show and for their drive, but there’s not a lot out here for me to go like, “Oh, yeah, you heard that one song? Oh, I love that one song. Or that one record.” It’s not that tour anymore.

OS: Then what is it about the tour that brought you back this year?

VF: I think it’s a good way to play in front of people who have heard our band but maybe not necessarily ever came to see our band play.

OS: So if the Christian metal isn’t doing it for you, what are you listening to these days?

VF: A lot a reggae, to be honest with you. Sizzla, which is great, and then a lot of old reggae as well. Punk rock— I think that there’s a really good, fresh generation of punk rock out there. Red City Radio, the Menzingers, bands like Make Do and Mend which are great friends but also did a great record. I think that you have a new group of bands that are coming out—like Tigers Jaw is a great band, you have Dear Landlord—there’s a massive and healthy crop of catchy punk rock, and I pay most of my attention to that. And a lot of reggae as well, just to kind of balance things out. It can’t always be fast and rough punk rock, the converse side for me is slow and mellow reggae.

Check out Less Than Jake at their Warped date nearest you, and grab a free download of their latest single “Goodbye Mr. Personality” here!

Metal Monday: VOLA

Typically most of the Metal Monday content—whether it’s interviews, reviews, playlists, etc.—is primarily focused on the most metal of bands. Sometimes, however, a band comes along that’s so good it almost doesn’t matter just how “metal” they. Danish band VOLA falls right in line with this thought. They’ve got a few heavy jams, some not-so-heavy jams and all sorts of stuff in between. Having multiple Top 10 finishes in both metal and hard rock, as well as making it into the Best Of Top 20 for rock, it’s safe to say that VOLA know how to play hard.

It’s really difficult to find an accurate box to place VOLA into, even ones as broad as “rock” and “metal” because they don’t ever seem content to stick with one style. Take “Glasswork” for example: The first portion of the song is an ambient rock piece, and then about halfway through you can feel the heavy surging until you get some hard riffage for a couple of minutes as the song fades back to ambient rock. Their song “Golden Lighthouse Failure” is almost the exact opposite, starting off with a gnarly opening riff and moving through all sorts of different styles of rock and metal.

Even though their songs feature a wide array of styles and switches between said styles, they manage to avoid a disjunct sound and feel, even when the contrast between styles is stark and fast. It’s truly remarkable how well their transitions work, and lend themselves to lengthy songs—nearly all of the songs they’ve uploaded to OurStage are over five minutes, and a couple even reach the six minute mark.

VOLA recently added a new drummer to the band and are working on a new EP that will be recorded this summer, perhaps released this summer as well (though the update the band posted to YouTube didn’t really specify that). If you’re a fan of rock, metal, progressive and/or awesome, VOLA is a band you should definitely be aware of. Check out some of their fantastic tunes below:

The Beat Generation: Why Aren’t You Listening To These Remixers RIGHT NOW!?

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I mean, have you ever seen a really reverential cover band performing live, everything note perfect and in the right place. They’re serious about it, man—and if you don’t believe me check out this piece by author Chuck Klosterman on Paradise City, a Guns N’ Roses cover band out of Cincinnati, Ohio. They mean business.

But back to the topic at hand. If imitation is flattery, what does that make reinvention? Well, in the hands of the amateur it can be derivative, a blasphemous affront to the source material. But, with a skilled auteur at the helm, a remix can be an improvement, a singular reinterpretation which breathes new life into the work it is now a part of. They’re inherently reflexive, adding to and immediately becoming part of the experience of both songs. As long as it’s good, of course. That’s why we wanted to show a little love to some of the best remixers in the game right now.

Netsky

The young Belgian signed to Hospital Records has had a lot of success in his young career (having earned the award for “Best Newcomer Producer” at the 2010 Drum & Bass Arena Awards and recently breaking onto the Hype that Sound’s Top 100 Social DJs list) and it looks like 2011 is going to be another banner year for the Drum & Bass DJ. Having already ripped up Swedish House Mafia‘s “One” and Plan B‘s “The Recluse”, Netsky (aka Boris Daenen) may have had his biggest coup recently with his work on fellow mega producer Rusko‘s track “Everyday”. While the original track is about as dirrrrrrty and great as anything we’ve come to expect Rusko to put out, Netsky’s remake is a whole ‘nother animal. An absolutely massive and arguably better track, his remix has a very special distinction. Rusko eventually produced an official video for “Everyday” and in honor of Netsky’s mix, a remix of the official video done by director Rollz Royce was set to Netsky’s track. The result? Psychedelic, hypnotic awesomeness.

Adventure Club Dubstep

This dubstep (duh) production duo hails from the capital city of the Great White North, Montreal. This might be speculation, but one has to wonder if their city of residence has any effect on their favored production style and musical choices. The group is certainly unique in their choice of material; a combination of populist pop songs with large crossover dance appeal mixed with mixes of tastemaker alternative and punk rock tracks. So in one breath they’ll inhale with a treatment of Mike Posner‘s “Please Don’t Go” and they’ll exhale with a re-work of Temper Trap‘s “Love Lost”. While the indie and alt rock songs might not seem like the most obvious material to work with, their tracks are linked by a singular dirtiness and grandiosity across all genres. Check out their take on Brand New‘s “Daisy” below and get goosebumps.

Brand New – Daisy (Adventure Club Dubstep Remix) by Adventure Club Dubstep

RAC

RAC (aka the Remix Artist Collective) is just that—a group of five talented minds that add up to a remixing sum greater than the contributing parts. According to their Web site, in addition to the DJ, media production and record production the group does, the RAC provides “re-interpretations/remixes of individual songs,” which “strive for excellence and good taste regardless of genre… that strays from the ‘club mix’ archetype”. The group has certainly found a receptive audience in the online blogger set, with hit mixes for indie heavyweights like Phoenix, Two Door Cinema Club and Anoraak among others (nearly all of them free for download of the group’s home page). You can check out their mix for Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zero‘s “Home” below.

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Home (RAC Mix) by RAC

Boys Noize

The German producer Boys Noize cut his teeth releasing his own singles from 2004 till the present day, and really came into his own on 2007′s Oi Oi Oi. However, it’s important to note that Alexander Ridha has also made a name for himself as a remixer of note. His remix discography might not be as deep as some of the other people we’ve mentioned here, but he’s got a number of real winners in the work he’s done so far. His remix of Feist‘s “My Moon My Man”, which was feature on both his full length debut and the deluxe edition of Feist’s hit The Reminder—is a stone cold classic. In addition to that, he’s also done great work on tracks from Late of the Pier, Snoop Dogg, Cut Copy and director David Lynch (!). Check out one of Ridha’s best remixes from last summer (or of all time, for that matter), his take on The Chemical Brother‘s “Swoon” below.

Get Lyrical: Alkaline Trio Rework Favorites On “Damnesia”

When we spoke with Airborne Toxic Event guitarist Steven Chen a few weeks ago, he remarked that “a good song is a good song in any genre,” and that a truly great song should sound great no matter which style it’s played in—be it punk, folk or country. Alkaline Trio must subscribe to the same school of thought, because the group is re-imagining old favorites on their upcoming release Damnesia. (Apparently Good Mourning and From Here to Infirmary weren’t the only dark puns the Illinois natives had up their sleeves.) But puns aside, hearing the excellent lyrics of classics like “Mercy Me” and “Calling All Skeletons” in a semi-unplugged state is a great reminder of why this band ruled so hard in the first place.

The first single from Damnesia is “Clavicle”—one of the most joyous songs about unrequited love that we’ve ever heard. Originally found on Alkaline Trio’s 1998 debut Goddamnit, “Clavicle” is probably the closest the three have ever come to writing a love song. And even though their subject matter generally leans towards the macabre, they do a damn good job with sappier fare as well. The song is infused with cheer from the unbridled joy of its opening line, “Been on top of the world since about six months ago/Marking the first time I laid eyes on you.” And it’s totally endearing how unabashedly straightforward frontman Matt Skiba is when he relays his desires in the song’s chorus: “I want to wake up naked next to you/kissing the curve of your clavicle.” Alas,  “I’ve called you twice /It’s been a hellish fight/To not think about you all the time/Sitting around waiting for your call.” Girl must be blind, deaf or just heartless…why else wouldn’t she call him back? Our heart goes out you to, Matt Skiba. Still, isn’t it nice to hear Alkaline Trio singing about feelings instead of cannibalism?

You can give the revamped version of “Clavicle” a listen below to hear for yourself how well it translates from riotous, uptempo punk jam to melodic, acoustic love song. (Don’t worry, it hasn’t been slowed down that much.) And if the stripped down versions of the Alkaline Trio you’ve grown to love aren’t enough to convince you to pick up Damnesia, keep in mind that there are two new tracks on the album—“Olde English 800” and “I Remember A Rooftop”—as well a cover of “I Held Her In My Arms” by eighties indie rock trio Violent Femmes. See? There’s something here for everyone.

Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Take A Trip With Jesse Sykes, White Hills And Wooden Shjips

If you think modern-day psychedelic rock is all about paisley-bedecked revivalists stomping on fuzzboxes with their carefully maintained Beatle boots, forging facsimiles of every riff contained on the Nuggets box—not that there’s anything wrong with that—you’ve got a pleasant surprise in store. Not only is there a current crop of bands bringing a psychedelic spirit to the forefront while firing up a sound that eschews hidebound hippie fetishism, a bunch of them also happen to have ear-catching new albums on offer. Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter’s Marble Son has been out in Europe for a few months, but will be unveiled on American shores on August 2. The White Hills album H-p1 was just released on June 21 and Wooden Shjips will be unleashing West in September. For all you intrepid psychedelic explorers, we got the inside info on each of these aural excursions, straight from the source(s).

Seattle siren Sykes and her band have been around for nigh on a decade, and their 2007 album, the memorably titled Like, Love, Lust and the Open Halls of the Soul, was one of the finer releases of that year. Sykes sings in eerily ageless tones that could be triangulated somewhere between Marianne Faithfull, Nico and Karen Dalton, while Phil Wandscher’s guitar work evokes the expansive sounds that came coruscating out of the Bay Area from the axes of Jerry Garcia, John Cippolina and Jorma Kaukonen in psychedelia’s golden age, without seeming overtly imitative. The follow-up to their ‘07 outing adds an extra quotient of crunch on some tracks, and Sykes explains that the emotional and aural gravitas of Marble Son was hard-earned. “It took longer than usual to make,” she says, “but a lot was going on—Phil and I broke up after being a couple for ten years, and I needed some time to triage and convalesce a bit, then see if we could carry on together musically [They have]. Also in that window, babies were born, people died and I got engaged to my new love.”

The darker side of that period’s experiences comes out in the music, as Sykes explains, “‘Birds of Passerine’ was written for Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse. We toured with him in 2007, and his death affected me greatly.” She reveals that “Come To Mary” was “written for a friend that was suffering a terrible darkness and had gone into the woods up in Alaska, built a throne out of snow and drank himself to sleep. He was hoping to not wake up, but he did, thank God.” Sykes says the open, organic feel of Marble Son was very much intentional. “We knew we wanted to make a record that was mostly live and reflected the dire energy we seemed to be generating at the time,” she recalls, “so a good portion of these songs were recorded live in the studio.” And in an age of disposable songs that float aimlessly around a virtual universe, Sykes admits that she takes pride in Marble Son feeling “like an album.”  “It’s long and might require a certain commitment from the listener,” she muses, “and will probably appeal to people that are willing to be taken somewhere.”

New York City’s White Hills are no strangers to the darker side of psych either, as borne out by the bracing sounds of H-p1. Their music is more influenced by the surging, visceral drive of early-‘70s space rock a la Hawkwind, and the minimalist, motorik krautrock grooves of Neu!, but their blend of heavily processed guitars, swirling, burbling electronics and pummeling rhythms offers just as much incentive to take a heady trip to inner vistas as Sykes and company.

White Hills guitarist/frontman Dave W. tells us that one of the main inspirations for H-p1 was in fact the abstract expressionist art movement. “This movement was about raw and impulsive art,” he explains. “What mattered most was the act of painting itself. I applied this philosophy to the making of this album. The making of the music in its moment matters most. I wanted to create an album that evokes emotion and creates a story through sound rather than words, in the same way that an abstract painting does.”  While names from the beard-rock era justifiably abound in descriptions of White Hills (as above), the band’s ambitious axeman surprisingly informs us of a major post-punk inspiration. “Musically, the Virgin Prunes album Over The Rainbow was a huge influence,” he says. “This collection of rarities shows the often-brutal yet beautiful side of this underrated band. Their music is a mental workout. Similarly, H-p1 is a mental workout—sometimes ethereal, often intense. It’s not passive music. Communicating some kind of story with no words is difficult. You need to command the attention of the listener, draw them into the sound, so the music will stimulate their imagination.”

There’s a feeling of uneasiness running throughout H-p1, which Dave explains thusly, “This record has a concept or theme to it…a reaction to the greed that we are plagued with today…how the people in power see fit to tell lies in order to promote what they see as the greater good for us all. But is the end result really what is good or right for us all? Might it just be good for the rich to keep themselves wealthy?” With a zealous humanism that is itself more evocative of the Age of Aquarius than anything in the White Hills discography, he continues, “We are not in balance with the earth. No amount of money will save anyone when the earth is [un]inhabitable. All of the wars that are waged, religion, and political doctrines are meaningless in the end.” This ties in with the album’s inscrutable title as well, says Dave, “I wanted the title to sound clinical and somewhat sci-fi. In the same way that scientists name viruses, I see this greed as a virus that plagues our time. H-p1 is the name I have given to this disease of greed.”

Speaking of fuzz-baked guitars, pummeling grooves and a dark, somewhat sinister sound, Wooden Shjips‘ upcoming album, West, would make an excellent sonic segue from H-p1for your next stoner-rock soiree. The band hails from psychedelia’s spiritual home, where they cut their latest batch of mind-bending tracks. Keyboardist Nash Whalen says, “We recorded West at Lucky Cat Studios in San Francisco. The building, shaped like a wedge, fills in some space along the railroad tracks… space likely created at a time when the Southern Pacific railyards dominated the area. Now, across the tracks, framed by the freeway high overhead, are all these new buildings, cutting-edge biotech research facilities and fancy apartments. Transforming the landscape, migrating to the next big thing, trying to tap into the new gold rush… those progressions are always happening here in the West, and in part, our album explores that evolution and the desires driving it.”

With guitar riffs distorted to weapons-grade level, and Nash laying down a seemingly endlessly supply of hypnotic, snake-charmer organ riffs, the Shjips’ sound on West ultimately falls somewhere in the sweet, shaded spot between The Black Angels and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Nash reports that the recording sessions went by quickly and painlessly. “I think the vibe from feeling relaxed and comfortable comes through on the album,” he offers, adding in classic rock & roll fashion that “our biggest hassle was walking up the hill to get beer.”

 


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