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This Moment in Black History, Archive Review!

21 Feb
Mango's, Houston, by David Ensminger

Mango’s, Houston, by David Ensminger

This Moment in Black History/It Takes a Nation of Assholes to Hold Us Back: Cold Sweat Records, 2o06

With a sound that plunges into the depths of the Circus Lupus/Monorchid/Skull Kontrol depths — the succulent squalor squalls, puncturing pandemonium, and terrible territory of Chris Thompson (AKA Mr. Sound Clash, lymph node terrorist, aggressive Dada shouter) — this Cleveland band unleashes sonic whorls that also bridge back to the bastardized keyboard punk of Murder City Devils (like on “Code Unknown”!) and the trashcan punk era of the restive Pagans, mainly due to their sheer tenacity and relentlessness. This means that although the whole music trajectory is not wholly inviolate or inchoate, their music sounds veteran and vitriolic.

They offer no speed bumps or safety harnesses, no long list of pretensions and posing, no catalog of ready steady go pop staggering, just sheer gumption and gut-wrestling, epitomized by their graphic appropriation of the Germs “GI” album, whose basic program of teenage animalism and meltdown maelstrom is the gold standard for this f*cked-up fare.  They also unleash a kind of pun-minded militancy in the intro sound-bite spliced track that reminds me of the heyday of Public Enemy (no doubt, since the album title is “It Takes A Nation Of Assholes [rather than “Millions”] to Hold us Back”) as well as post-Revolution Summer Washington D.C. hardcore (think Scream and Beefeater), all heightened by the band’s fluid and ductile musical miscegenation and cultural hybridity.

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Helen Money of Verbow Interview!

5 Jun

Helen+Money+CD+Release+Show+AoH20091130posterThe Price of Perfection: An interview with Helen Money of Verbow!

In a time when Polly Panic and Rasputina are also offering up cello-based concept rock of sorts, why do you think that making an instrumental record will carve out a different experience for listeners? Do you think of it as essentially a kind of pop experience, distilled, in which  the lyrics, or a kind of lyricism, are sublimated or understood within the music itself?

As to your first question, I guess I made an instrumental cello record  cause that’s what I play, and that’s how I express myself.  Up to this point, I haven’t been thinking about creating an experience for a particular audience when I write.  I definitely have music that I like and that speaks to me, and I’m sure that’s the language I use.  I’m mostly thinking about what I want to express, hoping I can share it and that it translates.

Last night I played a show with a couple metal bands, and it was the best experience I’ve had yet playing live as a solo artist.  I wasn’t sure they would like what I did at all, but they did – they really got it. The whole experience was so unpretentious and real; it felt like they gave me the freedom to just do my thing.  But if I had set out to write something with them in mind, I don’t know if it would have been the same.

Neil Young’s “Birds,” a song about broken lovers from After the Gold Rush, was an interesting choice. What led to this? 

I’m a big Neil Young fan, and that song in particular really captures a feeling for me.   I wanted to see if I could translate it to my cello.  It was a challenge for myself.  But mainly, I think, when I wrote that version there were a lot of changes going on in my life — my band Verbow had ended, my cello had been smashed to pieces during a short plane trip, a major relationship was coming to an end — so I really identified with that song.  I always think of the lyrics when I play it.

From what I understand, the studio experience was essentially audio-verite, meaning the engineer attempted to catch a live sound, and also the feeling of the room itself, I suppose not unlike records from three decades ago. Is it important that the record not sound too processed or overly doctored? 

Yes.  Actually, the first time I set out to record it with Dave we did it the way I was used to when Verbow would record, over-dubbing stuff, etc.  But it became clear pretty quickly that we were losing the feel.

So he approached me later and said, “Do you still want to record an album?  I think we should just do it as live as possible.”  He had been reading a book about recording in the sixties, where these bands would go in and make a record in three days, like Creem.  So, that’s pretty much what we did. I really like the sound of a recording that has some life to it – like those old classical recordings where you really hear the personality of the player – mistakes and all.

To read the rest of the interview, visit Left of the Dial here.

Vintage Interview with Deke Dickerson!

26 Aug

Deke Dickerson at Rudyards in Houston, TX

Previously unpublished.

Interview with David Ensminger, early 2000s,  photos by David Ensminger

You’ve said that the first two shows you saw were Willie Dixon and Bill Monroe, but do the impressions of those show stay with you?

Yeah, totally. The thing is that I think I essentially play rockabilly, but as a whole I don’t listen to that much rockabilly.  I listen to a lot of country, old r&b, jazz, blues and stuff like that. Sorta just like the old guys in the 1950s did, who weren’t really listening to rockabilly when they were making rockabilly. There were a lot of deeper influences. I’m really happy in that regard…That I was at where I was at during that time and could see guys like Bill Monroe and Willie Dixon.

In Missouri?

In Columbia, Missouri. There was great club that’s still there called the Blue Note, but it was at a smaller location then, and they used to get all the acts that would come through St. Louis and Kansas City. I mean, I saw everybody.

Do you feel that the Midwest had an entirely different vibe than the coasts or the South, so when you to California you knew you came from a very different place?

 Oh totally. I’ll just skip to one sort of specific thing about it. I agree with you that’s it’s a different frame of mind. In California, there was this thing with bands where one minute they’d be in the garage, the next minute they’re picked up by major labels and have videos and big promotion, then the next thing you know the band would just like quit. But where I come from in Missouri, no one gets record deals, nobody even gets paid shit for their music. To me, the idea of playing in a band and getting paid for it was an amazing idea. When I moved out to California, there were people who were essentially getting handed gold bricks on a plate, and then they’d complain about it.

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Planes Mistaken for Stars: Stripping the Gloss Away with Gared, lead singer/guitarist

7 Jun

Originally published in Left of the Dial, text by David Ensminger, photos by Brandon Hale

Gared, you mention that the bands you feel close to are bands that understand both humanity and humility. Could you please explain that a bit?

Wow, good question, I like the ones that make me think! While I can’t really put my finger on what the contributing factors are exactly (which is another conversation in itself), I will say that it has become painfully obvious that rather than it just being the mainstream trying to co-opt and commodify the “underground,” the “underground” is now trying to commodify itself. In doing so, a large section of “our people” have begun to flawlessly emulate the sleazier practices of the big boys… This, in turn, has caused a domino effect, which is hammering down on even the purest of hearts: the lines have blurred beyond comprehension, there are too many cooks in the kitchen, art has been turned into competition. It’s very rare that it pays to work hard and/or be challenging; “WE” have become what “WE” hate. The underground has been farming over-ground to find a way to perfectly blend the BACKSTREET BOYS with BAD RELIGION, and guess what? It worked.

For instance, do Cursive fall under that humanity, or Hot Water, and what bands wouldn’t?

Maybe I’m just getting older and bitter, but I really find comfort in bands like CURSIVE, who are challenging on a certain level. You can sing along, but once you understand the words you are singing, it’s too late to turn back. I find HWM comforting by sheer fact that they have existed for as long as they have without wavering ideals or compromise. It is obvious that both bands know what they believe in and they keep the sonic fight blazing. Of course, being able to call these people friends gives me a bias, but I was a fan before I met either band, and needless to say I became a bigger one after we broke bread! Is there a sort of fascist musical sensibility at play, even just in the form of star power and media manipulation, that makes you consciously react by reaffirming a more humanistic impulse? If I haven’t fully confused you yet, let me add this: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH SUCCESS. All of us are fully aware of the brass ring, and any of us would be lying to say we didn’t want our grubby little hands all over it. The gray area lies in how you go about getting it. Keep your ethics and ego in check, and remember after all you are just a monkey with a guitar! These “style-before-substance, attitude-above-artistry” types deserve to drown under the weight of their gold. Remember that music has a higher calling than the used bins and Soundscan. IT IS A DOCUMENT! It is sharing, it is teaching, it is about letting each other know we are not alone, it is spirituality without confines, it is your story, it is our story. TELL IT TRUE!

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