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Pop-Ed: Austin TX Calling, Warped Tour ESPN Main Event, Montrose

I can already smell the delicious BBQ, taste the ice cold Lone Star, feel the hot Texas sun and hear the sound of a thousand bands—it’s SXSW time, friends. If you’re planning on being there, please join us at The Parish (214 E. 6th St in Austin) between 11am-3pm on March 16th, as we film the big finale of The OurStage Panel, featuring live performances by the four finalists and special guests Blondfire. It’s an official SXSW party, so you can get in with a badge, but the best thing to do is RSVP to our Facebook invite.

And if you’re going to be hanging for the whole festival, we’ve complied a nice little guide to the OurStage artists you should check out. Listen to all fifteen here.

Meanwhile, catch up on the first three episodes of The OurStage Panel, where the competition has been reeeeaaaallly tight with some awesome music.

Oh, breaking news: some swank competitions coming up. We’ve got a chance for solo hip-hop and R&B artists to perform a song in front of a huge crowd at ONE FEST in Miami. Get started here. And, get this—we are giving twenty-two artists the chance to perform at the one and only Vans Warped Tour this summer. And one artist will play ALL twenty-two dates, traveling from city to city in style, via the OurStage tour bus. Damn. You can enter your song as of noon on March 6th.

And remember when you were sitting there, minding your own business, watching the NCAA basketball games on ESPN and you heard a bunch of OurStage artists? I do. Yes, I remember it like it was two weeks ago. Well, get ready for the Main Event. Literally, ESPN’s Main Event, where OurStage artists will be selected to go head-to-head on the Main Event Facebook page for a chance at some valuable exposure on ESPN’s boxing broadcasts. Launching March 15th.

Finally, we here at OurStage would like to say farewell to Ronnie Montrose, guitar monster, who played one Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey and was the force behind Montrose, featuring a young and not-yet-totally-awful Sammy Hagar:

Hope to see you in Texas, freakazoids!

-Scott

Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Bob Seger’s Still Making Night Moves

The Bob Seger catalog is the rock & roll equivalent of your skeletal system—you probably take it for granted to the point that you seldom think about it, but where would you be without it? In a crumpled, crippled heap on the floor, that’s where. Seger’s influence is so deeply embedded in American music that even some of his musical offspring might not realize it, as they’re inspired by artists who were in turn inspired by Seger himself, making for a kind of musical trickle-down theory. For instance, at least twenty-five percent of the current crop of male country artists owe their CMA awards to Seger’s “heartland rock” sound, even though they probably came of age soaking it up second-hand via John Mellencamp, et al.

Most people’s knowledge of Seger’s work extends about as far back as his 1976 breakthrough album, Night Moves, but the Detroit demon had already cut eight other albums before that, recording his first single while still in his teens back in 1961 and releasing his first record under his own name in ’68. He was turning out tough-minded, roots-rocking odes to the proles when Bruce Springsteen was still playing psychedelic guitar hero in Steel Mill, so even when most of the world came to know Seger for the first time some thirty-five years ago, he was already a well-traveled road dog. But after half a century in the business of rocking, sixty-six-year-old Seger seems to have no intention of settling into retirement.

Continue reading ‘Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Bob Seger’s Still Making Night Moves’

Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Thomas Dolby Dreams Of A Floating City

Even if you have only a passing knowledge of ‘80s new wave, it’s likely that Thomas Dolby has a place in your heart for lending some class—not to mention the occasional touch of funk—to the burgeoning synth-pop movement with such hits as “Hyperactive,” “Europa and the Pirate Twins,” and of course, the ultimate ode to love in a lab coat, “She Blinded Me With Science.” But if your knowledge of Dolby’s career drops off after the ‘80s, it’s not because you’re uninformed. In fact, Dolby spent much of the ‘90s and ‘00s outside of the music biz, pursuing other electronic interests that we’ll get to presently. But now, he’s set to release his first album of new material, and we talked with him about that record, A Map of the Floating City, as well as his early output, and got the straight story on Dolby’s “missing years” too.

Back in the ‘70s, the electro-pop pioneer was actually a teenage prog fan, worshipping at the altar of arty epics and tricky time signatures. “I think many punks were teenage prog rockers,” says Dolby. “I still remember the outrage that prog rockers felt when punk first came on the scene. When I was fifteen I was into Genesis and Yes and Little Feat and Steely Dan. [Pogues frontman] Shane McGowan, who I was at school with, came in one day and said ‘Well, I think The Beatles and the Stones is all shit,’ and I remember my sense of outrage. I said, ‘Well, Shane, what should we be listening to?’ And he said ‘Johnny Thunders, MC5, Iggy Pop.’ And we’d never heard of any of these people. Of course within a few months we’d all spiked our hair and torn our trousers, and were all down at the 100 club listening to Siouxsie & The Banshees or The Clash.”

Even after trading his bellbottoms for leather pants, though, Dolby still gravitated naturally towards the brainier end of the British new wave, idolizing XTC to an obsessive degree. “I used to follow them around in the early punk days,” he admits. “XTC came along and they had the energy of punk, but they had a musical intelligence to go along with it, so obviously that was a revelation to me. I knew their songs inside out, and I remember being in front of the stage, in front of Barry Andrews, their keyboard player, hoping that he would get hit by a tram or something, and they’d have to go ‘Is there anyone in the house that knows our keyboard parts?’ and I could leap up on stage.”

Before that opportunity arose, though, Dolby began making his own way in the music world, working with other artists at first, from Bruce Wooley & The Camera Club to Lene Lovich. He released his first single in 1981, and his 1982 debut album, The Golden Age of Wireless, made him a success straight out of the gate. The sophistication of Dolby’s songwriting put him at the forefront of artists working with the new musical toolkit the ‘80s brought along, and even today he’s often associated exclusively with an era when he recalls providing an alternative to “a lot of hair bands and a lot of AOR,” noting “The irony of it is that if you listen to my first album…a lot of the songs are a three-piece band with additional keyboards. I was a big fan of early Talking Heads, and a couple of songs have that kind of vibe to them.”

Nevertheless, he still embraces his early recordings. “I do feel very strongly connected to them. There’s very little that I would choose to redo or delete. I guess, like anyone else in the ‘80s, I fell prey to some trends and sounds of the moment. Some were of my own making, some were just the flavor du jour, but overall I think my early stuff still stands up fairly well because of the substance behind the songwriting. There are some artists that transcend the era that they’re from; I think of anyone from Steely Dan to Kraftwerk to Van Morrison or Joni Mitchell, all of whom have influenced me very strongly. You wouldn’t catch any of them going out on a ‘70s revival tour…the contribution they made spanned a wider spectrum than that.”

However, Dolby found himself sufficiently dissatisfied with the music industry in the ‘90s to pursue a different course. “I thought, ‘I’ll take a little sabbatical and go to Silicon Valley and explore my interest in technology,’” he recalls. Eventually, he started his own company and created a revolutionary ringtone technology that made a huge splash in the cell phone world, and he created soundtrack music for video games. Dolby found himself a success once more, but in an entirely new context. He could never resist the pull of songwriting for long, though, and the seeds of his upcoming album, A Map Of The Floating City, began to bear fruit. “I had some songs that I’d been unable to escape from,” he remembers. “I needed to get those done, and once I started, I wrote brand new songs.” Much of the recording process took place in Dolby’s home studio, built inside a lifeboat from the 1930s, which he says “looks out over the North Sea and is powered by the wind and the sun.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the songs he recorded in this idyllic setting turned out to be much more acoustic-oriented and balladic than the tunes Dolby is most famous for. “The songs from the new album are very organic,” he agrees, adding, “I’m very influenced by my environment.” The inclusion of Dire Straits axeman Mark Knopfler on the track “17 Hills” helps lend a rootsy touch as well. “I just felt that his style would be a very good complement for the song,” explains Dolby. “He’s a student of American roots music…I love his lyrical guitar style.”

So, with all this earthiness going on, does Dolby still have a soft spot in his heart for the technology of old? “Quite frankly,” he confesses, “a $1.99 iPhone app with a picture of a Mellotron, that sounds pretty close to the real thing, is to me a huge improvement on something that goes out of tune and takes three guys to carry it. But I know purists would probably be outraged to hear me say that.” Nevertheless, he can envision a future where even today’s cutting-edge digital gear is fetishized as vintage equipment. “I think fetishism for the past will always exist,” he speculates, “but maybe the future will be [about] jacking into the matrix and imagining ourselves in front of our 64k Mac, playing with those old tools. Things go full circle, so it’s hard to know where we’ll end up.”

 

Industrial Revolution: Warner Brat’ya

Warner Music Group was sold to Russian-American billionaire Len Blavatnik earlier this month for some bootleg Beatles tapes and black-market blue jeans. But seriously, it went for $3.3 BILLION.

How on earth could a record company be valued so highly in this tenuous market, you ask? Warner is, of course, a long-running and highly respected major label (all things being relative). But even that prestige is not enough to explain such a high premium. Indeed, the failing business of selling records is the reason a company like Warner was up for sale in the first place. Still, there are other aspects of Warner that make it so desirable an asset.

Firstly, Warner Music has a highly lucrative publishing arm, Warner/Chappell, with a catalog boasting an incredible array of works by legendary figures from the Gershwins to Van Morrison to Michael Jackson and Madonna. It remains to be seen whether Warner/Chappell is assessed higher as an asset or a commodity to be auctioned off. There is no doubt that these catalogs will continue to steadily generate revenue for the foreseeable future, with little need for business maintenance or risk-taking.

Secondly, Warner (specifically former owner and still CEO Edgar Bronfman, Jr.) and its new owner, Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries, have already been talking loudly about their awareness that the record industry has changed, and that they must change with it. Though Bronfman is said to have acted conservatively in relation to expansion into digital media, recent rhetoric indicates that a shift in direction, perhaps as radical as abandoning physical music formats, could be imminent.

Thirdly, Warner Music is the perfect vehicle for future ventures and acquisitions. Even prior to this sale, it had been speculated that the next item on the auction block would be the troubled, but almost equally respected EMI, which itself has a rich history and valuable publishing catalog, but is in receivership to CitiBank. For anyone looking to become a power player in the music industry, Warner and EMI could be the ultimate one-two punch.

Which brings us to a very likely and familiar fourth reason, which should be considered in combination with any/all of the above, for Warner’s price tag: vanity. Blavatnik made his fortune in oil. The Bronfman family made theirs in whisky (Seagram’s). There is almost certainly a love of the game involved for men like these, and a prime directive to continue making money, but it’s difficult to discount the notion that they were both drawn into the music business for the glamour and the high profile. Blavatnik has previously displayed a similar penchant in ventures into film distribution and fashion. Warner Music, and a potential EMI merger, could turn him from a super-rich but generally unknown businessman into the most powerful man in the music business. Also, still super, super-rich.

 

Also, wine coolers.

Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Burlap To Cashmere Bounces Back

It’s not insignificant that Burlap to Cashmere’s second album is self-titled. It’s usually a band’s debut album that bears this distinction, but in many ways, this seems like the maiden voyage of a new band. For one thing, thirteen years separate this release from Burlap to Cashmere’s debut album, Anybody Out There, and while three key members—singer/songwriter Steven Delopoulos, guitarist John Philippidis and drummer Theodore Pagano—are back on board, it’s still a new lineup, employing its own singular sonic methods.

Delopoulos started the band in the mid ‘90s as a school project for his theater program at New York City’s Marymount College, with his cousin Philippidis. By the time they graduated to the New York club scene they were a full-fledged band, eventually incorporating five other players, including Pagano. On their 1998 A&M debut, Burlap to Cashmere blended acoustic-oriented folk-rock, international influences and lyrics that endeared them to the Christian rock community, ultimately earning a Dove Award (the CCM world’s GRAMMY equivalent). According to Delopolous, though, his influences were strictly secular, centered on “folk music from Woody Guthrie all the way to Ani DiFranco.” Explaining BTC’s mix of singer/songwriter sounds and intense Mediterranean rhythms, he recalls, “My cousin Johnny and I come from a Greek household. That’s all we were taught to listen to, those rhythms were all we knew…once I heard American folk-pop music, like Paul Simon, Cat Stevens, for example, I unconsciously felt free to explore.”

But even though Burlap to Cashmere worked up a mighty head of steam in their initial incarnation, a combination of factors Delopolous describes as “fatigue and youth” brought an end to the band. Delopolous released a solo album, Philippidis played with a number of other artists and BTC receded into the drifts of history.

Cut to the present day —a reconstituted Burlap to Cashmere hunkers down to craft a batch of new tracks with hotshot producer Mitchell Froom (Elvis Costello, Suzanne Vega, Los Lobos) for Sony subsidiary Jive Records, scaling down their size, their sound, and the spiritual fervor of their lyrics. “Everything is different now,” reckons Delopoulos. “Then we were a seven-piece band, now we are a five-piece. It was a circus back then, but a good one. We were like kids playing fast and loud. Hyper, emotional…just pure, fantastic chaos. Now we are less, and the music is softer.” On the lack of a specific agenda in his songwriting, Delopoulos says, “Growing up listening to Dylan, Van Morrison, Cat Stevens…I never got the feeling that they were trying to change anyone. I feel the same way…I believe Oscar Wilde said, ‘All art is quite useless.’ That said, true spirituality has nothing to do with guitars and lyrics, true art is a personal transcendence.”

In the quest for that transcendence, the smaller, softer Burlap to Cashmere has created an album full of subtle, harmonically sophisticated songs that mostly bear a contemplative, low-key feel, reminiscent of Paul Simon’s pre-global period. “I just get turned off when noise overrules content,” comments Delopoulos. Nevertheless, the guys still know how to pull a churning, infectious rocker out of their collective back pocket when they want to. Just try getting the insistent “Build a Wall” out of your head after even a single hearing.

There are number of factors that brought about this unexpected second wind for the band. The most dramatic was a horrible 2005 incident where Philippides was almost killed in a road-rage conflict. “That brought us closer together as family,” says Delopoulos. “Another [factor] is, plain and simple, we are not good at having other trades for an income. We’re just not good at anything else. Another big factor was our drummer, Theodore Pagano reentering the picture.” Delopoulos also gives a lot of credit for helping to keep the band’s flame burning to the band’s manager, Tom Lewis. “Without him, I’m not really sure what would become of us,” he remarks.

But don’t let the more pragmatic side of Delopoulos’s reasons for the reunion fool you. After all, there are temp services and convenience-store counters from San Diego to Staten Island staffed by musicians with no other skills. Burlap to Cashmere aren’t merely a bunch of careerists desperate to milk their cash cow anew (Anybody Out There did, after all, sell nearly half a million copies). They’re plainly driven by deeper motivations, and their work is powered by a combination of passion and craft that can’t be simulated or manufactured. In other words, they’re the real thing.

Discourse & Dischord

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The Good

Van Morrison adds another to his brood (not a brown-eyed girl)

It’s true —Van Morrison is still alive and actually quite virile. This week the reclusive, 64-year-old singer became a father for the fourth time when his manager/partner Gigi Lee gave birth to a son, who the couple named George Ivan Morrison III.

New Missy Elliot Track leaked

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Missy Elliott

Speaking of reclusive, Missy Elliott has been keeping a low-profile of late, finishing up work on her long-anticipated album, Block Party. The hip-hoptrix joined forced with Lil Wayne on the track “All 4 U,” which leaked unfinished onto the interwebs this week.  Check out the rough mix here.

The Bad

Vic Chesnutt dies on Christmas Day

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Vic Chesnutt

Athens, Georgia singer-songwriter Vic Chestnutt died on December 25th following an apparent overdose of prescription muscle relaxers. Confined to a wheelchair since his teens, Chestnutt struggled with depression for much of his life, but remained a prolific musician. In 2009 he released two albums, At The Cut and Skitter On Take Off and collaborated with several artists, from Widespread Panic to Sparklehorse.

Avenged Sevenfold drummer dies

Rev

The Rev

Not to crush your spirits even further, but the music world suffered another loss on Monday when Avenged Sevenfold drummer James Owen Sullivan, a.k.a. “The Rev,” passed away in his home in Southern California. Local authorities say Sullivan appears to have died of natural causes, but his death is still under investigation.

The Ugly

Lil Wayne heads to the clink with a bang

Lil Wayne (born Dwayne Carter) will likely be spending a year behind bars for his conviction on a weapons possession charge in October. But, he’s not going softly into that good night. This Monday the rapper performed in his hometown of New Orleans to a crowd of thousands as part of his self-described farewell tour. Lil Wayne’s next album, Rebirth, is due for release Feb. 1. After New Orleans, he is scheduled to perform in Lafayette, Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi before being sentenced in February. We bet “a milli” they won’t let him bring his auto-tuner to prison.

Miscellany

Joyful Noises

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Which one's the squirrel?

There is quirky, and then there is You Say France & I Whistle, a band from Stockholm who play toys as instruments, sing inexhaustibly of cats and consult an imaginary squirrel band member.

Though there may not necessarily be method to the group’s madness, there’s definitely melody. In fact, You Say France & I Whistle may have produced some of the finest indie pop since MGMT’s “Oracular Spectacular.” No joke.

The band’s manic melody “When Lovers Die” is dance-party ready with bubbly keys, jangling guitars and uber-sweet boy/girl harmonies cranking up the serotonin level like Arcade Fire on ecstasy. But it’s “Take My Shoes” that provides the biggest emotional bang. At first singer Patrik Marcus’ narrative sounds like the mutterings of a madman set against a chorus of xylophones, washboards and pots and pans. But as the melody builds, so does clarity: “Everyone’s barking when we could be howling like wolves.” By the time You Say France reaches this explosive, transcendent climax, you’ll be howling alongside them.


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