• Grand Duchy: Love, marriage and music making

    20. Apr. 2012, 16:21

    Interview by April Robinson

    Originally published April 13, 2012 on

    Discovering the person you want to spend the rest of your life with is pretty monumental. Having the chutzpah to procreate and raise other little people together is arguably bigger than that. So what do two people do for an encore after love, marriage and the pitter-patter of little feet are squared away? They start a band, of course.

    The two colorful personalities that are Frank Black (a.k.a Charles Thompson) and Violet Clark appear to share the best of all worlds. After closing the books on their respective unlucky-in-love stories, they decided to tie the knot, make some babies and then finally marry their musical prowess by forming Grand Duchy. Closer perhaps to the Pixies than their sleek sound today, the couple’s 2009 debut, Petits Fours, was lauded by some and panned by others; inevitably drawing its fair share of comparisons to Charles’ previous works. A few years later – on April 10, 2012 to be exact – Violet and Charles brought their sophomore release into the world, naming it (in part to the critical melee spawned by the first?), Let the People Speak.

    When I placed my call to Violet to discuss their newest creative offspring, I had every intention of discussing the songs – but rock fans, beware: boys, babies, parenting and destiny also worked their way into the conversation. At the end of our 40-minute chat, feeling slightly silly for perhaps sharing too much and giggling too often with someone I’d kill to be best friends with, Violet coolly (and grandly) assured me with this: ‘Girls can get ta talkin’.’

    How did the two of you meet? Were you in music at the time?
    I was but that’s not how we met. He used to come through Eugene, Oregon around the same time every year – where I was studying for my Masters Degree on Art History, noodling with music and raising two kids – with The Catholics. Having already lived through the whole Pixies era and seeing them live, I kept current with The Catholics and my Mom was a big fan, too. During a heady time in my life where my relationship was falling apart and things just didn’t seem to be moving like I wanted them to, I reluctantly went with my Mom to this particular show. It was near her birthday and she’d bought tickets, and I met her at the venue. We stood very close to the stage and I don’t know if I just had on the right outfit and was looking a little extra cute – or maybe because I didn’t really want to be there I was giving off some sort of desirable vibe – but Charles noticed me early on in the show.

    Ohhh, I see…
    Yeah. His relationship was also falling apart and so for the first time he was allowing his eyes to wander and it was all very new and scary and weird for him. Somehow we ended up running into each other in the parking lot and he chatted me up and found out my name and looked me up on the internet afterward. The rest, as they say, is history.

    Wow! Well, I have to confess to you, Charles sort of factors into how my boyfriend and I got together.
    Oh, really? How?

    Well, we’d been co-workers at a record label then reconnected almost 10 years later. We discovered we’d both recently ended long-term relationships and when he came to visit me for the first time, we were both kind of nervous. I had just moved and when I told him to go ahead and choose some music to play I apologized because I only had a handful of discs unpacked. He immediately spotted my Pixies box set and was like, ‘I can’t believe you have this – Pixies are my favorite band of all time!’ and we proceeding to discuss Pixies. It was an instant, bonding moment that broke the ice quite nicely.
    No way! (laughs) That’s great.

    And in honor of that night and our shared love of the band, one of the first trips we took together was to New York to see them play their Doolittle reunion tour.
    Oh, so this is pretty recent! Wow, I love it.

    So I have to ask, as a woman married to a ‘famous rock star,’ is your credibility as a musician placed under threat at all? Does it ever feel frustrating or unfair to have him be the focus all the time?
    No; not at all. We’re a young band in the early stages of our career and if he’s made the focus then I think that’s as it should be. It just makes me hungrier because I’m pretty competitive to begin with. It makes me want to work really hard and stick my neck out as much as I can because I don’t want to come off as a Yoko, you know? I mean, yes, maybe I do have to prove my artistic integrity but I find it stimulating and fun and it’s never a bummer to me.

    Did either of you have reservations or have to talk the other into it?
    To be honest, it was really very natural and organic. I’d already had a history of making music prior to meeting Charles and when he left L.A. and moved to Eugene to be with me, he lost a lot of his musical resources and had to find new ones. One of the new resources he called upon was me – as a bass player and as a back-up singer. When it became apparent to him that he could throw me into the mix of any kind of crazy, last-minute situation and I could stay afloat, I think he was delighted because, you know, who woulda thunk?

    What was it you worked on with him?
    An EP called Seven Fingers. There’s only guitar, bass on drums on it – so him, me and a drummer – and went I went into the studio to lay down my tracks, I only had to hear things once before I could do it. It ended up being one of the most special things he’s ever done – and I feel like my bass work was very inspired. It was just clear that we had the capacity to be spontaneous and creative under pressure.

    How great to only have to look as far as each other.
    Yeah! As parents with a growing family, we knew that we could get our rocks off, so to speak, with very little prep and in very little time, by working together. It was such a relief to realize that we could give that to each other and to ourselves.

    I read a quote by Charles where he said about you: ‘She digs the 80’s; I spent the latter part of the 80’s trying to destroy the 80’s.’
    (frustrated sigh) You know, I wish he’d never said that. That’s the worst thing he could have ever said…

    He makes it sound like you both have very different tastes in music.
    But we don’t though! We both totally geek out over much of the same music, and maybe the only place where we part ways is at…like, Depeche Mode.

    So what are the distinctive marks that you each make on Grand Duchy then?
    I come primarily from a synthetic background. I’ve always made music on synthesizers, keyboards and bass. He’s obviously coming from a rock ‘n’ roll background that’s more organic – a Folk and Blues or American tradition – but he has an historic appreciation of all kinds of music including that with synthesizers: Brian Eno, Bowie, Talking Heads, Roxy Music, The Cure – there are synthesizers running through all of that. I don’t think he’d really ever thought that out until maybe the first Frank Black record; synthesizers are all over that and they sound so great. I guess what’s the most obvious distinction between us is that we have completely different voices.

    And is that difference in delivery indicative of your personalities?
    Oh, no…I yell way more than him around the house. Actually, on this new record, he doesn’t scream at all. Whatever loudness there is, it’s coming from me. I don’t know…People, myself included, want to label stuff so badly and they want to pin it down neatly so they can figure it all out, but this is very loose and that’s why it’s so fun to work with him. He’s flexible and not hung up.

    And is he just as flexible at home?
    He is.

    Which makes you the hard-ass of the household, right? (laughs)
    I am so the hard-ass!(laughs)

    Well, you’re a Mom so you’re probably always in the ‘taking care of business’ mode.
    Yeah, or maybe it’s just the blind leading the blind…The buck does stops with me in the household though, and it stops with me in the studio, too. Charles just isn’t as detail-oriented and I worry about that because it’s our names on this thing. I think it was more relaxing for him to just allow me to worry about the details so that he could simply contribute and let it go. We didn’t have that system in place on the last record and although I find it really charming and rustic, it wasn’t ultimately up to my standards. Finally with this one, he relinquished control to me I could implement some quality control. I’m very happy with the results.

    It sounds like a testament to your husband-wife relationship because from a fan’s perspective, Charles doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’s willing to relinquish control.
    No, he’s not, but I don’t think he’s ever been involved with anyone who is a natural born leader in the same way that he is. He’s only worked with people who were happy to have a leader and be part of a team. I’m an only child if you throw psychology at it. I’m a leader that respects details and is aware that we don’t have a million dollars to throw a juggernaut of production people and resources at this. It comes down to us to decide how we want this to sound before releasing it into the world.

    Anyone who puts a record out, which is a deeply personal and exposing thing, has to have a fair amount of confidence and a tough skin to deal with the judgments that come after. Do you feel because you’re a husband and wife releasing this record that you might also be putting your personal relationship out there for potential judgment?
    No. It’s really about the band; it doesn’t have anything to do with the marriage or the children. I mean, you know what? I just turned 39; I’m going to be 40 next February, so I have to do this. My biological musical clock is ticking. I don’t have a choice. People reactions to it are so low on my list of priorities. I just don’t care. It’s time to work.

    And is he just as flexible at home?
    He is.

    Which makes you the hard-ass of the household, right? (laughs)
    I am so the hard-ass!(laughs)

    Well, you’re a Mom so you’re probably always in the ‘taking care of business’ mode.
    Yeah, or maybe it’s just the blind leading the blind…The buck does stops with me in the household though, and it stops with me in the studio, too. Charles just isn’t as detail-oriented and I worry about that because it’s our names on this thing. I think it was more relaxing for him to just allow me to worry about the details so that he could simply contribute and let it go. We didn’t have that system in place on the last record and although I find it really charming and rustic, it wasn’t ultimately up to my standards. Finally with this one, he relinquished control to me I could implement some quality control. I’m very happy with the results.

    It sounds like a testament to your husband-wife relationship because from a fan’s perspective, Charles doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who’s willing to relinquish control.
    No, he’s not, but I don’t think he’s ever been involved with anyone who is a natural born leader in the same way that he is. He’s only worked with people who were happy to have a leader and be part of a team. I’m an only child if you throw psychology at it. I’m a leader that respects details and is aware that we don’t have a million dollars to throw a juggernaut of production people and resources at this. It comes down to us to decide how we want this to sound before releasing it into the world.

    Anyone who puts a record out, which is a deeply personal and exposing thing, has to have a fair amount of confidence and a tough skin to deal with the judgments that come after. Do you feel because you’re a husband and wife releasing this record that you might also be putting your personal relationship out there for potential judgment?
    No. It’s really about the band; it doesn’t have anything to do with the marriage or the children. I mean, you know what? I just turned 39; I’m going to be 40 next February, so I have to do this. My biological musical clock is ticking. I don’t have a choice. People reactions to it are so low on my list of priorities. I just don’t care. It’s time to work.

    I went on maternity leave at 39 after having my daughter and thought, ‘Okay, now’s the time to dive into this music writing thing.’ I’ve written for many of my day jobs, I’ve been involved with music in some shape or form for pretty much my entire adult life, and it just felt like a now or never thing to start doing these interviews and to go on record as a music writer. Also, I think I wanted my daughter to know that it’s important to make time for doing the things you love whether you get paid for them or not.
    I think offering that template of being passionate and having a good time and not simply clocking in and clocking out – and not just as a Mom to her daughter but as a parent to a child – is so important and so special. So many people are unhappy and hate their jobs and hate their life and the only thing they look forward to is getting wasted on a Friday night. What kind of message is that sending to your kids? I think it’s great that you did that. They have to know that there is something to look forward to.

    Do your kids have opinions about what Mommy and Daddy do for a living?
    They generally think it’s pretty great. My eldest two knew that I was making music and they remember me meeting Charles. They remember the ‘before’ times and the transition to having this ‘famous’ stepfather who essentially became their dad for all intents and purposes, so they have a little more room to compare and contrast what life was like before and now what it’s like after. They get an extra kick out of it because they woke up one day and their dad was the lead singer of Pixies (laughs)!

    That’s got to be a trip to try and wrap your head that.
    I think they’re really happy about it. They get to absorb some of that grooviness and they absorb hope; the world seems suddenly more interesting and so much more full of options than it did before. I think they feel like they can do whatever they want and be creative and potentially have their dreams work out for them. The little ones just know things to be ‘how it is.’ Daddy and Mommy sing songs. They have their favorite Grand Duchy songs; their daddy plays the guitar for them while they’re in the bathtub…

    Awww, nice…
    It’s funny; our son Jack is suddenly aware of Michael Jackson and so already knowing that Mommy and Daddy perform and have made videos together and stuff, he’s like, “Well, that’s really great, but have you ever thought about being as famous as Michael Jackson? I am thinking about that and I am working on my moves…” (laughs)

    Can I assume that music plays a big role in your day to day in the house?
    Yeah, it does. Not to the extent that we have bongos and African gourds and stuff hanging everywhere – we don’t do drum circles or anything like that – but at night we turn the lights out and the kids are in bed and we recite the lyrics of songs as poetry from our iTunes…50’s stuff and Springsteen and all kinds of different genres. Now we’re reading Michael Jackson’s songs.

    That’s great; I might have to steal that!
    It is great. We also have a jukebox and we constantly rotate 45s from the 40’s and 50’s. They’re even conversant on the finer points of Jazz because we talk about this sort of thing all the time.

    Well, I love the lyrics as poetry idea. Once ours is a little older, we’d like to play a different song every night at bedtime and then talk about it with her. Her dad plays guitar for her almost every night and she’s already trying to strum it, too.
    The appreciation piece is so key.

    I think so. I think that whether she learns to play anything or not, I would love for her to have as many good memories associated to music as I do.
    Have you ever met somebody who was like, ‘I don’t really listen to music…’?

    Yes! ‘I don’t really have a favorite band; I just like whatever they play on the radio.’ I don’t know how people can be so complacent when it comes to music.
    Maybe an appreciation for it is just wired into your brain or it’s not. I don’t want to criticize, but it must have to do with the brain.

    So are your kids showing musical inclinations at this point? Have they begun picking up instruments?
    Yeah; Charles and I are both self-taught so it’s hard for us to wrap our minds around lessons, but I think at some point, we’ll consider that. Lucy, our five year old, she seems like she could do the weekly lesson thing with daily practice and be okay with it. She naturally makes such beautiful sounds – ever since she was one year old – on a piano. There is never anything ugly that comes out of what she does, so she might be the one to do well with lessons. The other kids mainly want to dance or sing and perform.

    Do you think one of them will follow in your footsteps?
    Someone’s bound too, yeah. Our oldest, Julian, is a fabulous dancer but I don’t think its his future to just go around break dancing. He’s a big computer guy. The others are just so into performing so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they got into acting or something…

    Final question, do you feel like Grand Duchy is what you were meant to be doing all this time or are you still on the road to ‘self-discovery’, so to speak?
    Do you want the dorky, cheesy answer?

    Well, I want whatever answer is the truthful one.
    The dorky, honest answer is yes. I’ve woken up to myself with this band. I’ve caught up to my future destiny and it’s happening now…and I’m so happy about it.

    Grand Duchy’s Let The People Speak is available now via Sonic Unyon. Preview the album by streaming it in its entirety here:

    Grand Duchy
    Let the People Speak
  • James: Still in it for the madness

    9. Apr. 2012, 20:41

    Interview by April Robinson; originally published April 6, 2012 on Talk Rock To Me:

    40-somethings everywhere hold British band James close to their hearts, having joyfully (and often drunkenly) sang along to their anthemic classics, Come Home, Sit Down, Born of Frustration, Laid, Say Something and She’s a Star during the 80s and 90s. Formed by Mancunian friends Jim Glennie (bass), Paul Gilbertson (guitar), Tim Booth (vocals), and Gavan Whelan (drums) – and first signed by Tony Wilson of Factory Records – James cycled through their fair share of labels and line-ups, but produced a commendable number of bestselling albums all the while, including five gold and two silver LP’s worldwide. After bitterly splitting in 2001, then wholeheartedly rejoining in 2006, James proved to everyone including themselves that they were nothing if not passionate about their craft.

    From his London hotel just days before embarking on a North American tour, Jim Glennie admits that while James has matured considerably over their 30-year career, they’re just as excited by the madness as ever.

    Starting at the beginning, can you tell me what it was you envisioned or hoped for when you first formed James all those years ago?
    Oh, I don’t know…there was no big master plan; we just got very, very excited by creating music and then terrified by going out and playing for people in a venue (laughs). We were somehow attracted to that weird, mad fear that we felt every time we went on stage to play concerts for people. I don’t know quite how good we were at that stage to be honest, but we were addicted to it and it was a buzz that I’d never imagined. I just couldn’t leave it behind.

    Does it feel the same even now?
    It does, even to this day (laughs). I just genuinely cannot believe we’re still here. Every time we go to sit together in a room to write songs – because that’s the way we’ve always done it – part of me wonders, ‘Will there be a song waiting there for us?’ We improvise when we write; there’s no preparation and there’s no sitting down and working things out on a piano – it’s just what appears in the room. I’ve always been amazed at how that happens and I’m equally amazed when it happens again. It feels quite…fragile, I suppose. Even though we’ve been doing it for 30 years (laughs) it feels like it could just be taken away just like that.

    When you go back and read the bio of James, all the major milestones are well documented and it all seems very much like an cohesive, uphill climb – but did it feel that way to you while you were actually experiencing it or did it feel mad and frantic always?
    Oh, it was mad and frantic and all over the place with lots of ups and downs. We’ve had some real disasters (laughs). There were lots of personal crashes and collisions: close friends leaving the band, Tim and me falling out for years which was just disastrous and awful… Those are the big things that can throw you off. It’s been a roller coaster that has always been headed in one direction but with a lot of sharp descents on both a business and personal level. So, you’re right – it does all look like everything panned out quite nicely and as it should have, but in the midst of it, it felt terribly chaotic and uncertain.

    Certainly the big James anthem here in Canada was Laid. Even now, it’s a ‘retro’ staple and it brings back so many great memories… What is it about Laid – and any other James hit for that matter – that resonates so strongly with people?
    I really, really don’t know…I mean Laid is just a throwaway little pop song; it’s not very long, there’s not a great deal to it. The version that’s on the record we actually recorded as a demo in a little studio, and when we tried to re-record it with Brian Eno, nothing captured that original magic of the demo. It’s really, really scrappy and the timing’s all over the place and it’s sloppy, but there’s a lovely, scruffy lilt to it that kind of fits with the record. I really don’t know why it’s had the impact that it’s had and continues to have on people. I think some of the big James tunes are very uplifting and very celebratory and there’s a communal quality that makes them work very well live. We always try to keep our crowds on their toes and give them something they’re not going to expect, but we also always want to make people feel positive and to go away happy and smiling. I suppose Laid fits very well into that category, doesn’t it? (laughs)

    Were there any James songs or even entire albums that you just loved and were so proud of but that ultimately fizzled?
    Ummm…Wow. We absolutely adore every album that we put out. Each one is very precious and it’s almost like sending your kids off to school on that scary day when they’re thrust out into the big wide world and you wait to see what happens. I think just like those parents, it would be difficult to judge individual success or rejection. We try not to view it too clinically. They are what they are and they do what they do. Sure, we’ve done some silly things that I never thought I would end up doing and some may have missed the mark slightly but we’ve been amazingly lucky and successful. I would be the most ungrateful person in the world if I thought, ‘Now why didn’t more people go out and buy that record?’ Each new record is released into a different landscape because the industry shifts all the time..but it’s exciting; I can deal with that.

    Around 2001, everything went quiet on the James front and behind the scenes we learned that there was friction and unhappiness. What motivates you after several years apart to try to work things out?
    The mad thing was, when we split, I started working with Larry Gott who was one of the early members of James and left shortly after Laid I think. We both lived in Manchester at the time and we started writing lots of songs and working with different musicians, and all of it (laughs) just sounded like James (laughs). We both separately came to the conclusion that Tim should be in on it. We asked Tim and at first he said, very nicely, ‘No, no, I can’t do that. I just had a kid and I just moved house,’ and so on, so we thought, ‘Okay, cool; let’s just leave it.’ About a year later, we decided to ring him up again and this time he was like, ‘Yes, yes, that sounds fine; I’d love to.’ We weren’t quite expecting it, but it was wonderful. He came to Manchester and we had a rehearsal room booked for three days that we locked ourselves into and it was just great. Musically, it was a dawdle and wasn’t at all difficult. It was very, very easy.

    So it was never the music that was the problem between you, it was the relationships.
    Yes, that’s right – and maybe that’s because we do very little talking when we get together to make music; we just get in a room and play (laughs) and our egos get left behind to a certain degree. Really, we’ve changed a lot as people and we’ve put all that silly nonsense that was getting in the way of us appreciating what we’d had behind us. I can’t believe we got so childish and petty and pathetic there for a while…I really can’t. We get on very differently now; the atmosphere is less destructive, less rock ‘n’ roll and more grown up.

    You re-announced yourselves with Hey Ma in 2008. Did you feel like you had something to prove?
    I think we did, yes. I’m not quite sure anymore what it was or to who, but I do know that we certainly wanted whatever we did to live up to the legacy of James. The idea of getting together again only to bang through our ‘best of’ seemed quite depressing. We wanted to write new material and it was selfish in that way. There was no grand plan other than that – and you can’t really bother with wondering what people will think anyway. They’ll think whatever the hell they want to and there’s nothing to be done about that.

    It’s obvious writing comes easily to you. You got over that initial hump with Hey Ma and then you went and followed it up shortly thereafter with a double album.
    Yeah (laughs). We write so many songs and because we cover such a broad spectrum of sounds – from laid back, to uplifting, to abrasive, to acoustic – we almost cover too many bases and then there are songs that get left behind because they don’t fit with the overall sound of a record. It’s wasteful and a real shame, I think. So, with The Morning After the Night Before, we decided that instead of trying to make them all fit together somehow, to put them onto two very separate-sounding records with two very different characters. It was fun and we enjoyed that.

    Will your forthcoming The Gathering Sounds box be a channel for some of that music that was left behind?
    Oh yeah, there’s loads of stuff on there that wasn’t ever released that goes back thousands of years…Early demos from like, 1982 and maybe even earlier. I was plowing through boxes and boxes of old cassettes from the 80s that I was just scared to death to play again lest I wipe the final bit of oxide off the tapes (laughs). When I was sending them off to the guy at Universal, I said, ‘When you play this, master it, because you may not get to play it again.’ It was really exciting and I was really hit by the fragility of it and how easy it is for things to get lost and disappear.

    So tell me about this tour you’re about to embark on in a few days. How did you choose what you’ll perform from your vast catalog of material?
    (laughs) We’re not even sure yet what we’ll be playing. We’ve got a very, very long list of songs we’re all supposed to have learned prior to leaving for the tour – how that’s going to turn out remains to be seen (laughs). At the end of last year we toured with an orchestra and a choir and that brought lots of new songs into the live set we’d either not played for a long time or had never played live…Maybe some of those songs will be songs that we’ll play, we’ll have to see.

    Do you stick to your set list or do you switch it up from night to night?
    We often argue and debate about what to include or not and we switch up the set list a lot. We just like to play what we like to play and we keep try to keep it interesting for ourselves.

    This interview gave me a great excuse to go back and listen to your records, some of which I hadn’t heard in a long, long time. I was quite struck by 1998’s Destiny Calling given the context of where you guys are now in your careers. In the lyrics, you say, ‘Don’t believe the adverts / Don’t believe the experts / Everyone will sell our souls.’ Was James’ identity under threat at any point?
    No. The bulk of our career has been with a major record label so with a band like ours there’s always going to be points where there’s trouble. I’m amazed that we had such a long and prosperous relationship with Universal and Mercury Records because we demand things our way and always have done. We’ve had our fights but they’ve always known what they had on their hands with James; that was made very clear from the beginning. We decide who we’ll work with, whether it’s press or radio or whatever. It’s always our decision.

    Having said all that, what significance then does the line, ‘Get a little wiser / Get a little humble / Now we know that we don’t know’ have now?
    We didn’t always have a grasp on exactly the best way things should go, but we wanted all our decisions to be ours so that any mistakes would be ours, too. It’s three steps forward and two steps back with this band. Our manager and our record company will pull their hair out because we make calamitous decisions quite often…but at least it’s our way of doing it.

    And are you in fact waiting for fans to tell you when its over?

    (laughs) You said you were selfish, so does that mean you’ll go ahead and crank out one or two more even after the fans have suggested it’s all said and done?
    Oh God, I hope and I pray that we have the wisdom to realize when it’s not there anymore. It feels like it won’t always be there…It feels like one day we’ll get in a room together as we do and we’ll be like, ‘This is rubbish!’ But for now, every time we get together to jam and to see if something’s there, it’s there.

    James commences a North American tour this Sunday in Vancouver, British Columbia and will wrap up in Mexico City on April 26. A limited edition box set entitled The Gathering Sound (containing 11 studio albums, rarities and more) will be available July 16.

    Apr 07 – Vancouver, BC (Commodore Ballroom) +
    Apr 08 – Seattle, WA (Neumos) +
    Apr 09 – Portland, OR (Roseland Theatre) +
    Apr 11 – San Francisco, CA (The Independent) +
    Apr 13 – Indio, CA (Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival)
    Apr 15 – Las Vegas, NV (Hard Rock Café On The Strip) +
    Apr 16 – Tempe, AZ (The Marquee) +
    Apr 18 – Tucson, AZ (Rialto Theatre) +
    Apr 19 – San Diego, CA (The House Of Blues) +
    Apr 20 – Indio, CA (Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival)
    Apr 25 – Monterrey, Mexico (Details TBA)
    Apr 26 – Mexico City, Mexico (Details TBA)

    + Special Guest ELIZAVETA

    James Laid
  • Porcelain Raft: Floating on the here and now

    11. Feb. 2012, 1:20

    A musical adventurer with past stints playing indie rock in London, gypsy klezmer music with the traveling Berlin Youth Circus and piano in off-Broadway productions, Italian-born New Yorker, Mauro Remiddi, has decided there’s nothing quite as meaningful as effectively capturing the present. His latest musical endeavor – and first as Porcelain Raft – is called Strange Weekend, and it’s surely the most compelling collection of billowing, synth-filled dream-pop ever recorded within the confines of a small, Brooklyn basement. Between tour dates in Europe, Remiddi reflects on the creation of his Porcelain Raft debut, his explorations of musical context, and on his strangest (read: best-ever) weekend spent hunkered down against a hurricane.

    Where did the name Porcelain Raft come from?
    I just put the two words together and it felt right straight away. It feels like a name that won't allow cynical people to like it. They’ll see the raft made of porcelain sink in the water. People that use their imagination however, will question themselves: 'If it's not floating on water, what’s it floating on?'

    Your musical experience is so diverse, how do you begin to whittle down your influences and extract Porcelain Raft?
    I think influences are always unconscious and you never really know where an idea has its root, really. That's the beauty of it: you make music and then it tells you what has remained inside you after all this time.

    Where were you at in your life when you wrote Strange Weekend - and did it shape the sound and feel of the record?
    I had just moved to Brooklyn deciding that it was my new home. I met the most important woman of my life –Grace – and we were preparing to be married right after the album was recorded. It was a new place and a new chapter of my life with so much going on, but I didn't really forge or shape the sound. It’s the way it came about and I let it be without touching it too much.

    Is it meant to tell a story of any kind?
    It’s a snapshot of me at that moment when I wrote it. It doesn't talk about my life as a whole or anything life changing. All the thoughts I had that 'weekend,' and all the feelings that passed through me are all recorded in the album. Sometimes they were silly, light thoughts and sometimes they went way back to the past.

    Atmospheric, dreamy and wistful are all words that come to mind listening to your songs – particularly tracks like Drifting In and Out, Shapeless & Gone, Put Me To Sleep and The End of Silence. What kind of headspace do you need to be in to conceive of pieces like these?
    I'm interested in that moment in the morning when you open your eyes but you’re still half asleep. For a fraction of a second you maybe don't remember where you are, or you look at your hands and don't recognize them as your own...

    So what is your writing process like?
    I tend to write and record at the same time; I improvise the lyrics and randomly say things that might start a song. I edit a lot - it's so much fun for me – and so I feel more like a Director and that the themes and parts of the songs are like actors…I like to move them around to see if the scene works better.

    I read something about your penchant for white space…Tell me about that.
    To me, sounds are like the lighting of a movie, and that's where the idea of white space comes about. If you put any given object into a completely white room, that object is stripped of its context and its relation with the world. It’s interesting to put musical material which isn't new or groundbreaking – something that everybody recognizes – into ‘a white room.’ Suddenly even the most common drum machine, rock and roll beats sound alien.

    The last two tracks on the album – Picture and The Way – are much more straightforward in their structure, and your lyrics are significantly more intelligible. Is there a reason why they’re different?
    The order of the songs on the album respect the way I composed and recorded them. Those two last songs were actually the last two I recorded. I was tired, and I didn't really spend time in finding anything more than what I had in front of me. That's why they sound more straightforward. I put them on the album because they feel very natural to me. Like when you talk to a friend, for example; in the first moments both of you are totally into whatever you’re discussing but slowly the focus of the conversation goes somewhere else until you eventually say, ‘Bye see you later; it was great to see you.'

    Are your songs quite different beasts when performed live?
    Some songs have a completely different approach. Now I have a drummer with me on stage and we’re having so much fun reinventing some of them. They were composed and recorded purposefully very quickly so as to not let the dust settle on them – like a snapshot of a work in progress. Now they seem to grow in the live setting, and I see them taking shapes I’d never imagined.

    The video for Unless You Speak From Your Heart is compelling in its simplicity and its lightheartedness. As Director, what were you imparting about yourself and/or the song?
    The idea is rooted in what I saying before about the white room: I just wanted to put myself and my alter ego in a white room and improvise something; I wanted to be joyful with not much planned - just like the song. I composed and recorded it in a day, while a bit tipsy.

    So tell me, what’s the strangest weekend you’ve ever had?
    There’s so many! The one I loved the most was the hurricane Irene weekend. Everyone in New York was waiting for the Armageddon. The supermarket was full of people buying water; shops were closing up display windows with wooden panels...It was just like a movie. Grace and I were at home with wine and a record player. It was the best two days I’ve had in a long time.

    Porcelain Raft is on tour now in Europe with M83. The album can be streamed in full below.

    02/16 - London, UK @ Shepherds Bush Empire
    02/23 Copenhagen, DK @ Vega
    02/24 Oslo, NO @ Rockefeller
    02/25 Stockholm, SE @ Berns
    02/27 Helsinki, FI @ Tavastia
    02/29 Malmo, SE @ KB
    03/5 Munich, DE @ Hansa
    03/6 Milan, IT @ Magazini Generali
    03/9 Barcelona, SP @ Bikini
    03/10 Madrid, SP @ Shoko
    03/11 Porto, PT @ Hard Club
    03/12 Lisbon, PT @ Lux

    *Originally published on
  • Hospitality: Happily at home

    3. Feb. 2012, 20:04

    Brooklyn’s Hospitality is an intelligent, immediately likable indie-pop outfit whose brand new, eponymous LP – released this week – is pricking up ears and making listeners feel fine. Fronted by Amber Papini (vocals, guitar, piano) and backed by Nathan Michel (drums) and Brian Betancourt (bass, vocals), the trio has breathed new life into works from a few years back and assembled them into a re-energized collection that both The New Yorker and deemed among their most anticipated for 2012. From her sister’s home in Connecticut amid the sweet din of nephews playing nearby, Amber shares what it was like finding her best voice, details of their recent, celebrity-studded video shoot, and how now, with their debut finally released on Merge Records, Hospitality are feeling completely at home.

    Where does a name like Hospitality come from?
    We mulled over a few different names – I think we were called Trumpet for a week – but Hospitality just stuck. I liked how it looked, you know? It has lots of letters, it ends in a ‘y,’ and it’s also not a typical rock and roll band name. It actually sounds quite…anti-rock and roll.

    What struck me about this record was that there’s such clarity and immediacy to your vocals; you’re not hiding behind anything. Can I take this to mean you’re a very confident singer?
    I don’t know…I think I’ve grown into being more confident with Hospitality. Some people are very loud and proud when they sing, but I’m not. It took me awhile to find my voice. When I was a teenager I used to write songs and I loved to sing but I was shy and I had to find my own style. I’ve always enjoyed proud singers with attitude: I love how Mick Jagger sings and I love how the guy from The Fall sings – he has this particular style that is so great.

    Has singing got easier for you over time?
    I think I’ve evolved from our first recording. I was allowed to be quiet before because we were using acoustic instruments so I didn’t need to be forceful. When we moved from acoustic to electric, I learned how to sing louder – and I actually think I over sang for a bit there. I had to learn how to balance my vocals and know when to be forceful and when to hold back. Circumstances like playing in loud clubs make you louder and force you into being more confident.

    How does this new record translate live?
    We recorded it live in a room over four days essentially, and so live, things don’t change too much. There are some horns and synthesizers on the record that we’ve adapted to guitar. Nathan – who played drums on the record – plays our second guitar live and fills out the harmonies and melodies.

    How much of the material on this record was re-recorded from older versions?
    Well, we did an EP in 2008 that we considered it a sort of demo in our early configuration of acoustic guitars and an improper drum set. There were six songs on that EP and we felt like five of those needed to be revisited and done in a way that would show how we’ve evolved from then to now: more electric and more confident. We got a professional studio and got a professional engineer and mixer…and we just felt like, why not, you know?

    I noticed that ‘I’ shows up in your songs quite a bit – is your writing often personal or do you create personas?
    I am interested in the ‘I’, I guess – and I love personal stories – but the songs aren’t strictly personal. I’m inspired by everyday things that I notice and things that I feel but I like to stretch the truth and bend the narrative into something not expressly autobiographical. I think that’s okay to do and I’m comfortable doing that.

    So tell me: who is this Betty Wang?
    When I first moved to New York I had massive credit card debt and student loans, so I worked at a bank on Wall Street as an administrative assistant. Betty was a manager I worked with and she was a good friend to me. I was writing songs at night when I’d go home and Betty Wang just sort of became a muse. There are lots of songs with women’s names in them that I’ve enjoyed and I thought her name was really pretty. The song is generally about the feeling of being an outsider and I think it was really more about me and how I felt in that very male-dominated, corporate world.

    Do you feel at home now in your world with Hospitality?
    For sure; I feel great. I feel like finally we’re getting the support I always wanted us to have: a great record label helping to push our record and a booking agent to get us shows. It all feels very…welcoming.

    The Friends Of Friends video is so entertaining; I was giddy to see one of my favorite TV characters – Maeby Funke – in there.
    (laughs) It is a great video but we can’t take any credit for it really. Scott Jacobson (former Daily Show writer) wrote and directed it and got the actors (Alia Shawkat of Arrested Development and Gabe Delahaye, stand-up comic and Videogum editor) and it was really his creation. But we love his work and totally trusted him and we just wanted him to do what he does. We were totally surprised and pleased to have celebrities appear in it.

    I think it’ll make people smile, considering every person on the planet can relate to being forcefully cheered up during a breakup.
    (Laughs) Yeah, I think the narrative he wrote goes really well with the song and compliments it so well.

    Being your first video, did it feel completely surreal and unnerving to be in front of a camera?
    (laughs) Yes! I mean, we did it in our apartment and these actors were coming over and we were kind of…star struck. We’re all pretty shy and not what you would call big ‘performers.’ Scott wanted something…lively…that I guess we weren’t really giving him because he had to give us whiskey to loosen us up.

    Outside of tour dates coming up, what else is on the agenda for 2012?
    Well we’re going to see how this record does and tour as much as possible, and I think that will dictate whether we head into the studio again sooner rather than later. We’re playing it by ear right now.

    And are the creative juices already flowing?
    For sure. Now that I know more about how the studio process goes I’d like to do more preparation the next time and not restrict the songs to a live, electric quartet. I’d like to give us more freedom with arrangement, you know? You can conceive the songs anyway you want in a studio and so I’d like to go in with more acoustic songs and exploit the power of that a little more.

    Hospitality celebrates their debut tonight in Brooklyn with a record release show at the Glasslands Gallery and will tour North America throughout February and March with Archers of Loaf and Tennis. For a complete list of dates visit their MySpace profile, or follow the band on Twitter and Facebook.

    Original post on
  • Tokyo Police Club: The little indie band that could

    6. Apr. 2011, 20:11

    Interview by April Robinson

    April 1, 2011

    (bum) - From the unassuming small town of Newmarket, Ontario, Tokyo Police Club is a band fated for big things. From their 16-minute debut EP, A Lesson in Crime (2006) to their recent 2011 Juno nomination for alternative album of the year, members Dave Monks (vocals, bass), Greg Alsop (drums), Graham Wright (keyboards) and Josh Hook (guitar), have steadily gained momentum in their unwavering climb to all-out rock ‘n’ roll success. Drummer Greg Alsop reflects on an action-packed 2010 and how Tokyo Police Club has changed for the better by freeing themselves from a predefined style.

    2010 was a big year for you. What were your favorite moments?
    Releasing Champ was a huge accomplishment. We worked on that for months on end, so to finally get it out and have people enjoy it was humungous for us. And being able to tour off that record for 6 to 8 months straight makes us really happy, too. Playing Coachella obviously was amazing and, uh - it sounds like a cliché - but everything else seems like a blur (laughs).

    What are the little day-to-day things that tell you the band is making an impact?
    Mostly, it’s the interaction with our fans. Playing every night and having people pack a venue and sing along makes us feel like we have some really dedicated fans that are into our entire body of work rather than just a couple singles. It’s so rewarding.

    You’ve toured with esteemed bands like Weezer and Flaming Lips. Are you often fans of the bands you play with?
    I don’t think we’ve ever opened for a band we weren’t already huge fans of. Those dates in 2008 with Weezer were just mind-blowing. That’s a band I’d been listening to since I was 10 years old, so be able to meet them, share a stage with them and learn from them was definitely formative for us as a band.

    Do your fans’ favorite songs align with the band’s favorites?
    Every so often we get a request for a song that we’ve stopped playing because we no longer feel the same connection towards it - but we have a set list of about 14 to 18 songs that we can play without any of them being a drag for us – even after having played them for almost five years now.

    With your blog, vlogs, Twitter account, etc., you seem to maintain a lot of ongoing communication with your fans.
    It’s necessary. You fade out of people’s consciousness so quickly with all the new music coming out. You need to remind people: “Hey, we’re here and we’re coming to your town and don’t forget about us.” Also, we love meeting the people who listen to our music and talking with them after shows. Being online means you can maintain a relationship with them even if you can’t get to their town to play.

    How did you come to work with Rob Schnapf on your latest LP, Champ?
    We’ve been huge fans of pretty much every record that he’d done: early Foo Fighters, Beck, Elliot Smith, and out of all the producers we talked to, he had the clearest idea of what we wanted to do. But it’s not like you plug into the Rob Schnapf machine and all of a sudden you have a hit album. He’s adaptive to your style.

    Your bio states that with Champ, you “challenged and redefined” your songwriting. How so?
    We moved beyond what we had originally set as our band’s M.O. - to write fast, angular, two-minute pop-punk songs. This time, we got more comfortable playing around with different genres and allowing ourselves to move beyond how we had defined ourselves as a band and as musicians and as songwriters.

    So you’ve grown?
    Definitely. We’re more capable with our instruments now. You can only write the same song so many times before you get bored, so you need to deviate and try whatever comes to mind. You change with the times, too… you’re influenced by what you’re listening to and what others listen to. You always want to sound modern and on the forefront of what’s getting people excited.

    You must be pleased to have been nominated for alternative album of the year at this year’s Junos.
    [We were] up against some pretty hefty competition…but even just being considered and being included with other such great artists is an amazing honor.

    For Tokyo Police Club’s spring tour dates with Dinosaur Bones, Hollerado, and Said The Whale, visit the band’s official website.

    source: /
  • Michou celebrates love and a new decade of possibilities

    28. Mär. 2011, 18:06

    Interview by April Robinson (BUM Interactif/BE Interactive)

    (bum) - Windsor quartet Michou has much to celebrate says vocalist Mike Hargreaves: a brand new EP, Celebrate Love, a cross-Canada tour set to commence in May, and their recent appointment as artist of the year at Toronto’s 2011 Verge Music Awards, winning over Stars, Arcade Fire, Zeus, and Tegan and Sara. Alongside Hargreaves, Michou’s members – Sasha Appler (keyboards, trumpet), Ryan Frith (bass), and Stefan Cvetkovic (drums) –have played an astonishing 300+ live shows in just two years. With this hearty work ethic underlying their infectious, lighthearted pop, they’ll almost certainly find themselves celebrating further accolades in 2011 and beyond.

    Congratulations on your Verge Music award for artist of the year.
    Thanks so much! It feels pretty amazing. It’s been an interesting couple of weeks… We’ve noticed some new activity online and of course, sharing it with our family and friends and everything. Just talking about it has been really fun.

    Another musician told me that awards validate his success to family and friends. Would you say this is true?
    Absolutely true. You can be supported by your family but they’re not always able to keep in touch with what you’re doing. Bringing home an award is important – not only because you want to share it with them – but because it reinforces the good vibes and supportive feelings.

    You were up against some heavy hitters, including Arcade Fire. What made you come out on top?
    Our fans and the fact that they voted so many times to allow us to win. Arcade Fire didn’t really fit here because they’re beyond the verge. They started 2010 that way, but by the end of 2010 they were in a very different place. Gathering votes perhaps didn’t mean as much for them because they’re off doing bigger things, so it gave us an opportunity to sneak in and promote ourselves online and get our fans involved. They really came through for us.

    I just saw one of your videos, Growing Younger . It’s so basic yet quite fun to watch…
    I love that video… the way the sky was and the way that we were feeling in contrast to it… it communicated a subtle message of us being excited to forge forward down the road and weather the storm and to stick it out through any gloom.

    Any wipeouts that day?
    So many! We did, like, 50 takes of that video. Cars would come down the road or we’d fall over. I think our bass player even got his scarf caught in the tire at one point.

    Tell me about your new EP, Celebrate Love .
    There are four tracks, and we worked on them for six months. They’re really fun and I’m proud of them. They’re a bit more upbeat and pop/rock than our previous sound. It was kind of an accident on my part too. I ordered an electric guitar amp instead of an acoustic amp, and when it came in we were like, ‘Uh, well, let’s see how the songs sound using this.’ We fell in love with the sound. So there was sort of an accidental progression.

    You’ve played 300+ live shows. How has the live experience shaped your sound?
    We started in small cafés and as we built awareness of what we were doing, the demand came for amplifiers and having our sound grow to match the venue we were in. Our songs still come from our lives and our personal experiences – they’re just flushed out differently thanks to that live atmosphere.

    Do people become fans once they’ve seen you live?
    People get a better understanding of us when we play. A recording, a photo or a video can sometimes make it difficult to see how we fit together as a musical act, but when we’re able to express ourselves live, they get the message.

    You’ll be playing Montreal on the 31st. Have you played here before?
    A few times. Last time we played at Club Soda and it was the best show on that tour in our minds. The crowd was fantastic! We’re hoping some of those same people come out again because we had a blast.

    You were quoted as saying, “2011 is going to be a very important year for us as musicians.” Can you elaborate?
    There’s something about the start of a decade. If you look back through history, you see that whatever happens in it is usually defined within the first couple of years. We saw it in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s… so we feel like what we do now is going to be of the utmost importance.

    Hear Michou play live March 30 at eBar in Guelph; March 31 at CFC in Montreal; and April 1 at Isabella’s Chocolate Café in Oshawa. More Canadian dates will be announced at:
  • Dinosaur Bones launch debut album

    12. Mär. 2011, 19:39

    Interview by April Robinson (BUM Interactif/BE Interactive)
    March 11, 2011

    (bum) - Toronto band Dinosaur Bones, comprised of members Ben Fox (vocals, guitar), Branko Scekic (bass), Dave Wickland (keyboard), Lucas Fredette (drums) and Josh Byrne (guitar), has been steadily unearthing a healthy legion of followers over the last couple of years with countless gigs and loads of perseverance. Thrilled and admittedly relieved to have released their debut full-length album, My Divider, this week, singer Ben Fox touches on honesty in music, playing live, and the fun that comes with a day spent outdoors in the sunshine.

    How did Dinosaur Bones come together?
    I’m from Toronto, but I was going to school in Montreal. I was writing songs but didn’t really have the guys around me for the project. I knew a bunch of guys from high school and we played music together before, so in my second year, I decided to pack it in and move back home.

    The band’s name, the music and even your artwork convey an air of ‘old souls.’ Where does it come from?
    I don’t know… I think it comes from the quest to make music that has a lasting quality to it. That’s pretty important to us. Disposability is not something we’re interested in - at all. We want to try to make something that will have legs enough to stick around and be interesting for some time.

    My Divider is your first LP. How does it feel to have it released?
    It’s a relief, really. We recorded the album some time ago now, so feels good to have it finally exist and have people hear it. And it’ll be great for people coming out to see our band to have a full length to take home with them.

    From the album’s first track, Making Light, your lyrics suggest that this is a deeply personal album.
    Absolutely. I can’t detach myself too much, so it’s kind of inevitable that real life slips in there. I’m pretty comfortable with writing what I know - and I think you can feel honesty in music. To me, that’s more important than trying to create some fictitious representation of who I am.

    I found videos online for Sharks in the Sand and Making Light shot at the CN Tower. Tell me about them.
    It’s a series called Southern Souls, which is shot by a guy called Mitch Fillion. He finds cool places for bands to play and puts them in interesting scenarios to see what happens. It was really fun. We were playing a show that night just across from the CN Tower so we figured it’d be cool to do something there. And they look awesome!

    Billboard magazine said: “In less than two years, Dinosaur Bones has been creating significant buzz out of the Toronto music scene, without releasing a proper full-length.”
    What do you attribute this ‘buzz’ to?Things like getting the demo recorded quickly, knowing to be social and to get out there and tour to get the project off the ground… Our goal from early on was to have people at our shows and to be playing as much as possible. We’ve definitely been conscious about the decisions we’ve made but at the same time, ‘buzz’ can feel really arbitrary sometimes.

    You’ve recently played the U.S. and you’ll be playing Canada over the next couple of months. Are you enjoying it?
    It’s great. We’ve really been pushing to play in new cities and in new markets and making a point to return to places where we’ve had really good shows. We’ve got a team that’s steadily growing and that makes it easier to tour more. And that’s the whole reason why we’re doing this: to play live.

    Playing live allows you to sell yourself in a different way than your recordings?
    Yeah, you know, from a band’s perspective, the live show is the band. The record means a lot for us, but isn’t as much ‘us’ as a live show is…though it may not seem that way to the listener.

    And you’ll be on the main stage at Edgefest this summer?
    We played Edgefest the year before last on the side stage. It’s exhilarating to play for an audience of that size. It’s not something that happens all the time and it’s not always the people that would ordinarily come out to see our shows, so it’s a great opportunity. Plus it’s one of the most fun things in the world to do: walk around the festival, take in the music and spend the day in the sunshine.

    Dinosaur Bones will play SXSW in Austin, Texas, March 15. For Canadian dates with Tokyo Police Club and Said The Whale, and to view their videos, visit MySpace. Their brand new My Divider album is available now at
  • The Disciplines: Ken Stringfellow and crew no virgins to musical success

    25. Feb. 2011, 16:17

    Interview by April Robinson (BUM Interactif/BE Interactive)

    February 18, 2011

    (bum) - Ken Stringfellow (Big Star, The Posies, R.E.M.) is one of those rare, consummate, multifaceted musicians who lives and breathes his craft. Among his multitude of ongoing projects is The Disciplines: a band formed in Norway that is notably louder, rockier and more raucous than any of Stringfellow’s bands before - yet still, as he attests - is “pure and elegant.” En route from Amsterdam, Ken takes time out to discuss The Disciplines new sophomore release, Virgins of Menace.

    How did you originally hook up with bandmates Bjorn Bergene, Bård Helgeland and Ralla?
    Bjorn, Bård and our first drummer Claus, all came from a band called Briskeby, who were really popular in Norway. Their singer, Lise, approached me years ago about doing something together, which we did: a duet on Briskeby's final album. It was apparent that Lise was going to move on and the others were looking to stay in music. Claus retired eventually, but after we toured with Animal Alpha, featuring Ralla, that band split up and we took Ralla in. Basically, I'm a carrion bird.

    You’re active with several bands. Does The Disciplines satisfy something the others don’t?
    The Disciplines is simplicity at its most deceptive. There's precise engineering and MIT-level calculating going on here, but the result is something pure and elegant. It’s just so easy, so efficient… it doesn't need much to make it rev. It's really liberating. Most bands I'm in are brainy, and it shows. Here it's built into the curves, not the filigree.

    How does Virgins of Menace differ from your debut, Smoking Kills?
    Maybe it doesn't...why mess with perfection? We recorded it in a proper studio, as opposed to our rehearsal place. You'd like us to say we've grown as songwriters. I'd like to say we haven't. I'd like to say we've been true to what's great and unique about us.

    Some tracks are quite melodic, while others, not so much. How do you arrive at such different sounds?
    It just comes up. The Disciplines are a band that has the closest [thing] to a formula of any band I've had, but the nice thing about discovering your formula is you can mess with it here and there...therein lies the fun.

    Fate’s A Strong Bitch features punk legend Lydia Lunch. What was that experience like?
    I've known Lydia for years...the 'experience' was simply chatting as we do, about wanting to work together. I was in a snowbound studio in the Arctic, and she was in Barcelona, decidedly not freezing her ass off. She sent me a file. She's a love…one of the great ones.

    You seem to travel constantly…so where is home?
    I’ve lived in Paris since 2003. I have a few other homes tucked away. My time there can be brief or lengthy depending on where the work is. I will say, in Europe, I am central to the places where I have the most fans and friends…

    It’s been said that you writhe, squirm and pretzel-bend “to a degree that would make Iggy Pop fold his cards.” What are your thoughts on showmanship?
    I like sincerity and what I can do with my voice and my body. As we humans move deeper into fusion with technology, I love that my own body is a special effect. No electricity necessary except the synaptic. But before you say I'm 'acting', let me say that great performance in music is based upon bringing up something true from yourself and using your experience to connect you to others. No one is a natural leader but you can be a good communicator. If you are genuine, people will follow you to - and over - the edge. I've never needed to fake it. I love what I do, I love to communicate, and I'm always inspired. So far, so good.

    Tell me about the projects you’re currently involved with.
    I work in studio with many different bands. I am just now coming back from a few days in Amsterdam with a great band called, Avant La Lettre. I mix, play, engineer, arrange and produce. I play solo shows, have The Disciplines, The Posies, and a new project called, Landing Strip Choir. I played with the late Alex Chilton for almost 20 years in a revitalized Big Star. I played with R.E.M. for ten years. And, hopefully, there’s more to come…

    You also blog quite a bit. Is writing yet another passion?
    Seems to be. I'm not rewarded more than my own satisfaction for the blog. It's exercises in memory that will lead, someday, to a book, I'm certain.

    Virgins of Menace is available in stores and online now. For a preview, see the album’s trailer here. Learn more about The Disciplines by visiting their Facebook page or visit Ken Stringfellow’s blog at
  • Darker Circles forge brighter future for The Sadies

    15. Feb. 2011, 15:24

    Interview by April Robinson (BE Interactive/BUM Interactif)

    February 11, 2011

    (bum) - With more than 10 years of songwriting and performing under their belts, Toronto band, The Sadies, have been steadily accumulating both momentum and critical acclaim with their latest offering, Darker Circles. Following up 2009’s New Seasons, this haunting and pensive album brings musicians Dallas and Travis Good, Mike Belitsky and Sean Dean together with sought-after Jayhawks' producer, Gary Louris, to create a distinctive blend of country, psychedelic, rock and surf. Taking a break from their current tour, drummer Mike Belitsky, speaks on the band’s history, their shared aspirations and what’s planned for the future.

    How did you come to be a part of The Sadies?
    I joined The Sadies in 1998 after their second drummer left the band before a tour. I wasn’t living in Toronto at the time so we existed as a band for five years without all of us being in the same city. Strangely enough, when I did move to Toronto, Travis moved away…I guess we weren’t meant to all live in the same city at the same time!

    Does each record get you closer to the best music you’ve made together?
    Yes…I think we’ve been working to make each one of our releases more accomplished than the last. We’re always trying to think of ways to improve ourselves both on album and on stage. As far as specifics, it’s hard to say. We just keep trying to grow as musicians, writers and performers.

    How do your songs typically take shape?
    We have no set formula. Sometimes [our songs] come out of intense collaborations and other times they arrive more fully realized by an individual. However, once each of us puts our stamp on a song - it inevitably becomes its own entity. [The guys] surprise me…positively.

    Why such wistful undertones on Darker Circles?
    I suppose as [we] get more comfortable in the studio, there is a tendency to be able to express deeper and darker emotions… without being self-conscious.

    You’re currently touring to support the album. How’s it going?
    I enjoy being able to perform on a consistent basis, and I like the routine of knowing where I have to be each day and what I have to do. I also like the feeling of being a ‘part of the whole,’ if you will. Being on tour and recording are two of the biggest ways I feel I am part of something bigger than myself.

    Do your performances differ greatly from your recorded music?
    Live shows have a tendency to evolve and adapt on a nightly basis. Recording is finite. Once you record, mix and produce it, it will forever be heard as that. Live shows have that ‘intangible’ element of being a different venue and a different audience night to night.

    You recently covered This Wheel’s On Fire with Neil Young…
    Yes! We were asked by Garth Hudson, who was curator of [A Canadian Celebration of the Band], if we would want to be Neil Young’s band for the recording. Of course we said yes - and the experience was one of the high points of my life.

    Have you developed many meaningful relationships within the music community?
    Definitely, I have. When we first started touring we relied on other musicians for their support - and often their couches and floors. The relationships and bonds we formed then are everlasting and will transcend any successes or hardship.

    What aspirations do The Sadies share for the future?
    I think we aspire to always challenge ourselves to make the best music, both live and recorded, that we can. There’s always room to improve as individual musicians and as a band.

    And what projects are you looking forward to?
    We’ve been working with Gord [Downey] from The Tragically Hip on a recording project. I’m really stoked with what we’ve come up with so far and am looking forward to completing that recording, and then starting to think about a new Sadies recording. As of today I have no exact timeline for these… only the future!

    See The Sadies live on tour – visit to find a concert date near you.
  • Young Galaxy alter course with Shapeshifting

    15. Feb. 2011, 15:20

    Interview by April Robinson (BE Interactive/BUM Interactif)

    February 4, 2011

    (bum) - Montreal-based band, Young Galaxy, has set out to take listeners on a whole new aural journey with their upcoming third release, Shapeshifting. Shipped off to Sweden and sonically repackaged by Dan Lissvik of Swedish electronica band, Studio, guitars and drums have been replaced with keyboards and reverb so that their once signature, artful rock sound has become sleek, spacious and decidedly lithe. Catherine McCandless (vocals/keyboards) talks about the band’s ongoing reinvention and their recent, bold shift toward a new sound.

    How did you choose Dan Lissvik to produce Shapeshifting?
    It came out of being huge fans of his band, Studio, originally. Earlier, we’d sent him Invisible Republic to see if he could do some remixing, and loved what he did…but it wasn’t the right feel for that record. Actually, it wasn’t that it wasn’t right… we loved what he did so much we thought we’d rather have him produce for us. Later, when we started writing tracks for Shapeshifting, we knew we wanted them to be more organic and re-thought a little and knew he’d be perfect for that. He was totally into it, so we were happy. It was mutually enticing.

    Is it true that you sent your music off to Dan and he simply returned a finished version nine months later?
    It wasn’t entirely ‘no strings’ where we sent it off and abandoned it. We’d have conversations via Skype and discuss the shape the songs were taking. He’d play us samples and sounds, but it definitely wasn’t the typical recording or production scenario where you’re sitting in the studio together saying. “more of this” and “less of that.” We knew we loved his music with Studio and the remixes he’d already given us, but we didn’t know what our music would inspire in him. It was a very… calculated risk.

    You’ve been compared to Spiritualized, Slowdive and Galaxie 500 in the past, but this record is different. Have new comparisons begun?
    To be honest, I don’t read our press, so I don’t know what people are saying about this one. Steve [Ramsay] was totally willing to make our sound change and make that move away from the guitars all the time. He’s the composer of our music, really. And he was very ready with Shapeshifting to get more into atmosphere and different sounds.

    So would you say this is a reinvention of Young Galaxy?
    I feel like we’re in a constant state of reinvention - and that’s more of a natural state. We’re writing what we know and what we know is change. Half of it is who we’re inspired by, but the other half is where we are personally and what’s going on in our lives. We never know what our writing process will reveal but we’re always shooting for the right energy and for the melody to be right. We definitely nailed a lot of bittersweet melodies for this album.

    You sing more on Shapeshifting than you have in the past. What’s the reason?
    Again, Steve was ready to focus more on atmosphere and keyboard sounds and to give up certain things - like singing. I’m not trained and I don’t practice very much (laughs) but I love to sing. I feel tapped into something very…elemental. I was contributing melody and lyrics and I just felt like, “Okay, I want to contribute my voice.” So basically, the songs I wrote I was singing, or Steve would write something and hear my voice on it.

    Besides your upcoming tour, what else is planned for 2011?
    It’s going to be a productive year. We’re writing some material for [Swedish artist] Hanna and we’re talking about soundtracking a friend’s film. We’re really interested in working from home in the spring because I’m pregnant right now… so we’re doing the tour for a month and a half. The baby is due in May and we want to have time at home to keep writing material and not feel like we’re losing the plot. Hopefully in the fall we’ll start touring again – maybe Europe; we’ll see – but it’s all going to be really interesting…a really good year.

    Shapeshifting will be launched February 8 on Paper Bag Records. For a complete list of the band’s North American tour dates with label mates, Winter Gloves, visit