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Exclusive Q and A: Sarah Lee Guthrie Talks Woody, Rock and the Guthrie Family Legacy

OurStage Exclusive InterviewsTalking to Sarah Lee Guthrie, daughter of Arlo and granddaughter of Woody, you’d never know she is folk music royalty. Even though her relatives have created some of the most enduring songs in the American music catalog—everything from “This Land is Your Land” (written by Woody in 1940) to “Alice’s Restaurant” (released by Arlo in 1967)—Guthrie seems perfectly comfortable embracing her own rock style of music while honoring her folk legacy.

Although Guthrie and her musical partner and husband, Johnny Irion, are in the midst of creating their next album, the two have halted work to join Arlo and the rest of the Guthrie family on the “Guthrie Family Reunion” tour that will wind its way to a dozen venues and music festivals. To honor what would have been Woody Guthrie’s 100th birthday on July 14, the family will perform sets that include Woody’s songs, Arlo’s songs, and new material written by the Guthrie family. Sarah Lee and Johnny will sing their original songs as well as “Airliner” by Wilco, whose members Jeff Tweedy and Pat Sansone are producing the duo’s latest album due in 2013.

Sarah Lee Guthrie took some time out to talk about her family, her music and why she thinks her 9-year old daughter Olivia Nora Irion—known to the family as ONI—may well contribute to the family’s music catalog.

OS: Your own personal music—which you make with Johnny—is more rock than folk. Yet you also embrace your folk heritage. How do you balance the two formats?

SLG: It just comes naturally, really. Johnny and I love all kinds of music and we always put them all into the show. Johnny loves to rock but we also love to tip our hat to history. That is so important. But really, we just love experimenting and finding new voices. That is what [our career together] has uncovered. We really have a good time doing that and can’t wait to create more. It is very exciting for us.

OS: A lot of second- or third-generation artists talk a lot about the fans that come to their shows. Some find it frustrating that the fans are there more to embrace the past than to listen to the newer music. You’ve never really voiced displeasure about any of that.

SLG: I have to say that for the most part, actually the whole part, the fan interactions I’ve had have been very positive. They always talk about how much Woody’s music meant to them growing up and how much Arlo’s songs have changed their lives. There are moments where it worries me and I wonder what they expect of me. But they’ve been very positive and very gracious. It’s really been a great thing to have fans embrace the legacy.

Continue reading ‘Exclusive Q and A: Sarah Lee Guthrie Talks Woody, Rock and the Guthrie Family Legacy’

Sound And Vision: How Mainstream And Cutting-Edge Learned To Co-Exist In Pop Harmony

A few weeks ago, Melbourne hosted the TV WEEK Logie Awards, which is like Australia’s Emmys, only with more reality TV, more cooking shows and music. Katy Perry and Maroon 5 represented American pop, and then there was rising UK star Jessie J, representing… well, I’m still not 100 percent sure. As she stalked the stage, decked out in glam-Goth basic black, performing her No. 1 UK hit “Price Tag,” my friend peeled his eyes away from the television, turned to me and announced, “Her look is cool and alternative, but her music is so lame and poppy. They don’t match at all!”

It’s a discordancy that’s starting to take over. Pop and rock and hip hop used to hang out on different sides of the playground, barely acknowledging each other, with the rare, revolutionary exception (think Run-D.M.C.‘s 1985 smash cover of Aerosmith‘s “Walk this Way,” featuring the vintage rock band on vocals and in the song’s video). If your music was too mainstream, strictly middle-of-the-road (a condition that afflicted neither Run-D.M.C.’s nor Aerosmith’s tunes at the time, which perhaps is why the hit sounded so effortless), there was no changing lanes. You could dress as wild as ’80s fashion would let you, but you would always be a pop star. Chart-toppers had little chance of drumming up street cred or working with artists whose tunes dangled from the cutting edge. Why do you think Duran Duran, one of the most influential bands of the Reagan era, still hasn’t been nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and is only now, more than two decades past its prime, publicly earning the respect of well-respected men like David Lynch, who directed the band’s recent American Express online concert?

Suddenly its cool to be alternative and pop. We’ve got Katy Perry mingling with Snoop Dogg and Kanye West on record and with bad-boy British comic Russell Brand in holy matrimony, and Ke$ha singing some of the poppiest songs on the charts and casting James van der Beek, one of Hollywood’s most white-bread actors, in her video but tarting it up just enough to come across as one of the coolest girls in school. (Ever the trendsetter, in the ’80s, Madonna had the good sense to tousle her image by marrying bad boy Sean Penn.) Meanwhile, Rihanna—a pop princess if ever there was one—holds court with Eminem and sings about how she’s “Hard” (as Young Jeezy raps in her defense).

Lady Gaga dresses like a freak and breaks every sartorial rule while singing what is basically the rave music of every ’90s teenage dream. Her former video costar Beyoncé alternates between straight-up pop (“Halo,” “Sweet Dreams”) and darker hip hop (“Diva” and current single “Run the World [Girls]“), while A Rocket to the Moon and Wilco singer Jeff Tweedy are among those who have covered “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” Try This (her 2003 flop that, in my opinion, is her best album) aside, Pink‘s ultra-commercial music has never mirrored her rock-chick attitude. Even Coldplay, one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, second perhaps only to U2, collaborated with, of all people, Kylie Minogue on the 2008 World AID’s Day charity single “Lhuna.”

As with so many recent musical trends, the current shift toward the mainstream and the cutting edge making strange bedfellows began with hip hop. If a roguish rapper like Eminem could rhyme alongside pop singers (first Dido on “Stan,” then Elton John at the 2001 GRAMMYs, and most recently, Pink and Rihanna on Recovery), couldn’t all musicians, regardless of genre, get along? Sure they can, but the commercial results have been mixed. There’ve been huge hits—the Katy Perry singles “California Gurls” and “E.T.” returned her rapper costars, Snoop Dogg and Kanye West, respectively, to No. 1 for the first time in eons—but when Alicia Keys met Jack White for “Another Way to Die,” the theme for the last James Bond flick, 2008′s Quantum of Solace, it was a one-week wonder on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 81.

Perhaps Keys’ R&B and pop fans and White’s alternative ones didn’t know what to do with the meeting of their musical minds, which was nonethess one of the best singles of 2008. Of course, there are artists who resist, too. Remember when Ryan Adams used to go off on fans who requested Bryan Adams‘ “Summer of ’69″ because he was fed up with being compared to the ’80s and ’90s pop superstar with the almost-identical name? (He once had a fan tossed out of a Nashville concert for daring to do the unthinkable!)

Kanye West vs. Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards probably was as much about the cutting edge (hip hop) vs. the mainstream (country-pop) as it was about the visual supremacy of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” video. In February, I read a Billboard.com interview where empress of ’80s cool Chrissie Hynde talked about her upcoming Super Bowl weekend performance on CMT Crossroads with country diva Faith Hill, and she said she was unfamiliar with Hill’s music and admitted, “I don’t know much about country music, period.” Then there’s Kings of Leon, best known in the US for the Top 5 hit “Use Somebody”. Although the band would hardly be considered alternative in its recent hit-making incarnation, the guys  nonetheless refused to allow Glee to use “Somebody.” (I bet South Park or Dexter or Weeds would have gotten their blessing.)

But if Jay-Z can let the Glee kids turn “Empire State of Mind” into a show tune, if Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler can sit beside Jennifer Lopez at the American Idol judges table, if “F–k You” singer Cee Lo Green can go from collaborating with Danger Mouse (in Gnarls Barkley) to being one of Christina Aguilera‘s fellow judges on The Voice, then we might yet live to hear an Eminem track featuring Britney Spears.

 

Righteous Brother

Richard Parsons

Richard Parsons’ bio is short and sweet: Likes dry reds and Jack Daniels, sweet harmonies, righteous chords and vinyl. With these clues, you might be able to extrapolate an idea of what his music sounds like—a little rustic, a little brooding, a little vintage. The Decatur, Georgia-based singer-songwriter comes across like a mix of John Lennon, Jeff Tweedy and Chris Cornell. Listen to “You Curse” and you’ll get a whiff of the Beatles’ airborne choruses flanked by dusty acoustic guitars and tambourine shimmers. Parsons’ music ambles along at an unhurried pace, taking its time to unfold. “Fall Back” is darker and sleepier than “You Curse,” but just as mellifluous. But the singer-songwriter knows how to get his rocks off as well, particularly with the awesome, alt-country psychedelia of “Light A Fire.” Parson’s love of righteous chords is apparent. If you love ‘em too, you’ll dig this.

Discourse & Dischord

The Good

New Arcade Fire video brings it home … to your home

Remember when Arcade Fire came out with that incredible (and creepy) interactive video for “Neon Bible” and we all thought THERE’S NO WAY THEY CAN TOP THIS. Well, Montreal’s finest just topped that. Check out their interactive video for “We Used to Wait,” which uses Google Maps to incorporate your childhood home address into the footage. Customized nostalgia. There’s no way they can top that … right?

Kanye releases another track on his Web site

This one is called “Monster” and features an eclectic all-star lineup of Nicki Minaj, Justin Vernon from Bon Iver, Jay-Z and Rick Ross. What happens when indie-folk and hip hop collide? Find out here.

The Bad

John Lennon’s toilet sells for $15,000

That’s a lot of money for a porcelain throne, even if it once belonged to rock royalty. No butts about it.

The Ugly

Guns N’ Roses bomb at Leeds & Reading

Unless you’re easily shocked, the following will come as no surprise. Guns N’ Roses performance at England’s Leeds and Reading festivals left a lot to be desired. Like, for instance, punctuality. The band showed up an hour late to Reading and had to cut their performance short due to strict curfew laws. A few days later they repeated the tardiness at Leeds and were cut short again. Axl Rose took to Twitter to explain to fans, claiming there was “a deal in place” for the band to continue after curfew and “someone wasn’t informed, [someone] changed their mind … or [it] was a con.” By most reports, the performances were terrible, so thank goodness for cons and curfews.

Taylor Momsen is drinking the haterade

Taylor Momsen may have begun her career as the adorable Cindy Lou, but she’s become quite the Grinch in her off-camera life. Trying a little too hard to be tough and anti-establishment, the Pretty Reckless singer has spat the haterade out at Miley Cyrus, public toilets, Rihanna and her band name. We kind of hate that last one, too.

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