nyctaper Interviews

Deakin: The NYCTaper Interview by Jarrod Dicker

September 12, 2010
By


[photo courtesy of Shockmountain]

Tomorrow night Deakin (Josh Dibb) will perform his first solo show in NYC. The show takes place at Glasslands, where he supports Prince Rama at their CD release show. NYCTaper will be there to capture audio of this performance.

Since he took a leave from performing live with Animal Collective, Deakin has kept busy. In the interview below, Josh discusses his current solo career and looks forward. We’re very happy to welcome back Jarrod Dicker to NYCTaper for this excellent interview.

Deakin Interview:

JD: The September 13th show at Glassland’s kicks off your forthcoming tour with Prince Rama. What fueled the decision to begin the tour in New York?

Deakin: Well, I usually prefer to hit New York towards the end of the tour. This tour came about because I wasn’t already on tour and I don’t have a record of my own to tour right now. I figured it would be cool to go out and tour with somebody else for the time being. I asked them to do it and we began to throw around a bunch of ideas. Their record is set to release on the 14th, so they already prepared to do an album release show at Glasslands. The show is very much theirs; they started planning that before we even agreed to tour together.

JD: How about the routing of the rest of the tour; did you have any say choosing locations and venues?

Deakin: Yes but originally we wanted to do a southern tour. We used the booking agent from Animal Collective and we talked about ways we could possibly re-route it to the south. But personally, I don’t want to be touring for more than three weeks. This is the longest tour I’ve ever done by myself so I don’t want to go into the territory where I’d be doing a five week US tour. So the routing we ended up doing works out the best and we’re happy with it. Its also the places where Prince Rama has to be because they’re going to keep going after I stop.

JD: How did your relationship with Prince Rama materialize?

Deakin: I’d been spending a lot of time with Prince Rama ever since Animal Collective helped record their album back in April. We all became pretty good friends and doing a tour with them seemed to be the obvious choice since they’re touring on that record. I felt it would be good promotion for them. As I said, I don’t have the advantage of promoting my own record right now and since they do, we can both essentially help each other out.

JD: You’ve performed in the New York area many times over the years. What, if any, expectations do you have from the Brooklyn crowd this Monday at Glasslands?

Deacon: Actually not much in particular. New York tends to be a slightly more intense place to play than most other places. I don’t know if its because I’ve spent so many years living there or if its other elements of New York that make it like that. I don’t really have any specific expectations. I feel like New York generally ends up being a little bit more energized and people who want to know what’s going on will form an opinion of it quickly. New York is always a place where people’s opinions get in the middle of their listening experience. I guess that sounds like the way it should be but its definitely more intense in New York. Another difference is that a lot of my friends who haven’t seen me play yet will be there. On a personal level I hope they like it [laughs].

JD: 2010 has been a year where you focused more on yourself and your solo work. You’ve played selected shows since January here and there but they have often been spread out and spontaneous. How do you look at this year, personally, and what to you want to get out of it?

Deakin: I’m very conservative about the dates I pick for a large part because I don’t have a record to tour around yet. Even with my background–which I feel does help out a lot in terms of people knowing or caring that I’m playing a show–not having a record sort of makes it difficult. So I’m just waiting for an album to happen. The songs I’m working on in my mind are taking their time working themselves out. Its helpful for me to push myself out there and play live shows because it motivates me. It helps me in trying to take things to the next level. I think this year has been about that for me. This year has been about me doing things that I’ve been pretty shy doing in the past. Its a matter of taking opportunities as they come.

JD: How have fans been reacting to your solo material?

Deakin: You know I’m not exactly sure. Its definitely a mixed reaction. I have people come up after shows that seem really psyched but I’ve also made the mistake going on message boards now and again and reading fan reactions there. Some of them are good but a lot of them are nasty. I know better than to look there. I find when people take the time to write things on the internet, often times they want to say something gnarly. I just think Animal Collective have gotten so much attention these past few years. People that have come to know about us have really trying opinions of us; they’re either really excited about it or really hateful towards it. So I feel there’s a lot of that energy when I play shows, both the obscene excitement and desire to criticize. Its sometimes a little hard to want to engage yourself in that. But I often find there’s a middle ground. I just try to ignore it for right now because I don’t think it helps me when trying to accomplish what I set out to do. Its just what it is.

JD: Your role as a solo artist is very different from your role in Animal Collective. Is it difficult to jump back and forth between projects? Is it a complicated transitional process?

Deakin: They’re many things that make both pretty different. I’m responsible for a lot more when I do my solo work. When the four of us–or three of us, whatever it ends up being at the time– are working together we all have a big hand in what all the songs come out to be. In general Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) and/or Dave Portner (Avey Tare) are the primary song shapers or melody makers for AnCo. Everybody really has their separate role. I don’t consider myself a drummer or maker of rhythms where as Noah is really great at it. But I don’t have Noah with me now [laughs], so I’m trying to take on everything in a sense. I am used to having those guys around so its definitely a different role. I feel like there’s a certain level of ease and fun that can be removed when you don’t have the comfort of playing with the other guys. If we’re on stage and all four of us are going at it, there’s a lot of energy going back and forth between us. You hope that the other guys are getting inspired by that and you feed off what the other guys are doing. When its me by myself and I feel like I’m lagging, I need to sort of push myself and its a stranger feeling than when I’m playing live with the dudes.

JD: What inspirations guider your musical process as of late? Is it different than say the creative energy you harbored a few years ago?

Deakin: I think its really similar in a lot of ways. They’re a lot of benchmarks sonically, for me that remain the same. I guess for me, the level that has become new again is the songwriting element and what that really means. I wrote a lot in high school and would work to complete songs. And when we started doing AnCo stuff I let a lot of that go.

JD: In terms of traditionally writing songs?

Deakin: In terms that I started to create more of my music through jamming. I create from a place of jamming. That’s really important to me whether its a matter of picking samples to loop or just finding a sound on my guitar that I’m psyched on. I’ll start to mess around with it and melodies usually come out of that. I have to spend a lot of time just going over and over and over playing on the same idea. Its out of that where I’ve been able to understand how I preconceive things in my head and figure out how to realize them.

JD: Do you follow that same philosophy lyrically?

Deakin: When I play live, for the most part, I make up the lyrics as I go [laughs]. Initially that came from the first couple shows I played. I hadn’t quite figured out exactly what I wanted to do yet and I did envision that I would get to a place where it would become real clear. All in all, its scary as hell, but I’m kind of open to it in a way. When it works it works really well but when it doesn’t it becomes really frightening, especially when you’re playing live in front of a lot of people. Personally I get more out of it when I let whatever seems appropriate at the time come out. Its been really helpful for me in terms of writing and figuring out what I want songs to be about; what emotions or energy I want to come out through them.

JD: As you stated before, you would like to create a solo album eventually once all the mechanics work themselves out. Would you ever take some of this material to the boys of Animal Collective and possibly use it on an AnCo album?

Deakin: I can see it going both ways. I definitely intend on doing a solo record but I definitely would be psyched to take some of the stuff I’ve been working on to the dudes as well. I think I started off this year with really clear expectations on how it would play itself out and I found that I have to give in a little more when working solo. When I’m working for other people its easier because I’m given a deadline and a clear purpose. While I’ve been exploring this process of doing it by myself I realized its a lot harder to say I’m going to spend a month recording a record. To me its just an open process. I absolutely want to make a record but I just don’t know when. The improvisational thing is that I have songs but its very loose structures. There’s this sort of a looseness built into it. Parts can change how they cut in and lyrically as well. There’s a lot of space for melodies to change.

JD: Anything else fans should be looking forward from the AnCo or Deakin camp?

Deakin: We’ve always been doing home recordings but this year it suddenly became a little bit more intense. I helped engineer Prince Rama’s record and then I did Dave’s record that’s coming out in October. That t was a big project and based on a couple things we have done at his house, we’re psyched about where we are. And Noah just asked Dave and I to mix his record when that’s finished so I’m really looking forward to that.

JD: Seems like you have a lot on your plate.

Deakin: I mean there’s also a lot of other stuff that I’m looking forward to at this point in addition to music. I want to get more involved with sustainable building and plant medicine. I’m seeing how I’ll be able to do all these different things. I’m super inspired to do it and want to find a way to feed my need and apply myself in other parts of the world. I’ve been doing carpentry and building on and off the entire time I’ve been working with AnCo. I’m starting to feel I really need both energies to be firmly rooted in my life. I’m hoping next year could be a lot about that. We’ve been talking about future AnCo stuff as well. Were not entirely sure when it will be exactly, but its something we’re all starting to feel and look forward to.

J. Tillman: The Interview by Jarrod Dicker

December 11, 2009
By


[photo courtesy of David Wells]

Shortly after J. Tillman performed at Bell House in Brooklyn, a concert recorded by nyctaper, the writer Jarrod Dicker interviewed Josh for the site. This is the third installment of Jarrod’s interview series for NYCTaper.

Josh Tillman doesn’t really listen to that much music. His creative influences span beyond any restrictive constraints within a specific artistic genre and thus produce a product dissimilar to a lot of the music throughout the scene today. However, for someone who doesn’t listen to music, he sure as hell produces a lot of it.

Year in the Kingdom released on September 22nd and marks the seventh studio album written by Tillman since 2005. Not only that, this is his second album released this year following the January release of Vacilando Territory Blues. J Tillman is a music making factory and has no intentions of slowing down anytime soon. “I’m already writing another album,” he explains to me. “I’ve been working on a lot of songs for that.”

So what else is there to know about the mysterious Fleet Fox? Jarrod Dicker spoke to J about the fan reception of the new album, the recent tour and the philosophies and motives that propel the man behind the beard to continue to create beautiful music.

Meet J Tillman

Jarrod Dicker: Hey Josh, Jarrod Dicker here.

Josh Tillman: How’s it going man?

JD: Good Good

JT: Nice

JD: I’m just going to get right into it if you’re cool with that.

JT: Cool

JD: How has the audience reception been so far on tour performing the songs from Year in the Kingdom?

JT: Sometimes it goes over really well and sometimes there’s a bit of confusion. I think, with a good show, there’s usually a potent combination of the two. The live arrangements are so drastically different at times than the album versions aesthetically. But when it works it works really really well. I’ve been overall pleased with it.

JD: Where did the inspiration draw from to immediately create another record after the release of Vacilando Territory Blues in January?

JT: I think it’s just in line with the writing cycle that I’ve been doing. I’ve kind of been putting out albums at that pace for a few years now. Really for me, it just feels like a natural pace or cycle. It didn’t really feel like a novelty. It was really the pace that I’ve kept. I think it’s really as simple as it’s what I love to do. It’s not like I tour and do promotional stuff at a volume that prevents me from recording as often as I’d like. It’s not like I’m going to make an album and then go on tour for a year and a half straight or anything. I didn’t even tour behind the last record.

JD: I’ve noticed and read that your voice sounds different on this record than the previous six. Was this due to a different recording style or is it meant to translate a different feeling/tone unlike your prior releases?

JT: My voice has changed. I’m a pretty slow learn. We definitely used a different production style on this record as far as close mic’ing everything and going for more pure tones. That was something that was an interesting prospect to me. Just the process of learning what you can and can’t do with your voice and trying different deliveries. I never really knew how to sing properly and you get a sense of that on my first few records. But yea, it’s a work in progress.

JD: Cool… on this album you play most of the instruments on the tracks. What is your live performance set up like? Do you include many band members? And do you also lug around the many instruments used on the album like the Hammered Dulcimer, Banjo, Recorder, etc?

JT: No, we kind of transposed all of those things. We do have a bunch a symbols, a gong and other stuff. But for the most part I really just kind of transposed all the arrangements into the parameters and the instruments that my friends play. I’ve never really been too interested in recreating an album exactly as it is into the live setting. I like the freedom of being able to just use the live show as an opportunity to more so deconstruct what’s going on in the album than to recreate it, you know?

JD: Definitely and that seems to make for a more exciting and innovative feel in the live setting. And now since you’ve participated in both solo work and a group (Fleet Foxes), do you favor leaning in one direction over another?

JT: They both serve very different purposes. My role is so drastically different in each one that they aren’t even comparable in my mind. I couldn’t really say. I enjoy doing both for very different reasons.

JD: What mindset do you have when you enter the studio? It seems that your albums are very artistic and visual, taking on more than just a familiar melodic structure.

JT: Yea. You can’t really do anything creative without a source of inspiration. Do you mean…

JD: I’ll rephrase. For this specific record and set of songs are they just a group of songs you assembled together or were they meant for the album because they all share an common theme?

JT: Right…Right…Yes the songs all sprang out in one kind of condensed period of time. It wasn’t like I just had a bunch of songs lying around. I think the songs serve; well to me the album is a very singular thing. The songs really only exist in concert with each other. I think the songs are representative of something other than just myself and the fact that I write songs. I don’t think that was the reason they came into existence.

JD: And now I think your brother’s band is backing you on this tour. Do you enjoy collaborating with your brother Zach and how did this particular touring marriage materialize?

JT: We’ve toured together in Europe a few times now and there’s really just nobody else I’d rather do it with. I had to call his manager and get clearance from his booking agent and our promotional firms thought that it would be a good cross synergy situation to have us opening for each other. And just to get cross marketing going on and cross branding for both of our brands. [laughs] Nah I’m just kidding…

JD: Damn I was just thinking, “What the fuck these guys are brothers?”

JT: Yea it was just like the most natural thing in the world, a very natural situation and organic scenario.

JD: You made an album, Long May You Run and I know that the Fleet Foxes have played with Neil Young. On top of that, many reviewers compare your sound to that of the Laurel Canyon 60s crowd. What does Neil mean to you and is he your BIGGEST inspiration musically?

JT: Yea I think as far as a musical influence for sure. A lot of my influences exist outside the realm of music. I don’t really listen to THAT much music. I have a few things that I like and Neil Young is one of them. But even with him it’s more of a philosophical influence. Just the way he conducts himself and his creative integrity; the narrative art that exists in his albums. All of those facts have been a big influence on me. Certain things like putting out two albums in one year, etc, that idea of, “Well if that’s what you feel like doing, do it.” There’s so much bullshit that you can allow to be a factor in your decision making process and the way that he has never let that contaminate what he does artistically has always been a big influence on me.

JD: Your music, to me, brings a sort of minstrel 1700s quality to it that I find incredibly unique. Where does the inspiration come from to incorporate harmonies and strings to your music?

JT: I’m not sure if I view it in that way. There’s an influence in all modern music within the 12th century troubadours when people started writing ballads about earthly love and unrequited love; using music as a way of expressing romantic feeling. That’s kind of a pretty vital mean in the development of modern music. But I don’t feel any kinship musically to 17th and 18th century times. Definitely some of the schools of thought from the 17th and 18th century are an influence on me, like Decartes but not musically.

JD: You grew up in a religious household that, I’m sure, barred particular music from entering the housing gates. How were you able to access the music that led you to want to lead a life as a musician?

JT: Hmmm…When you’re a kid you listen to music in such a different way. I don’t know if it’s all that important; what you’re listening to as a kid. It’s all kind of the same. Granted there’s some stuff I DID NOT like as a kid but I fell in love with music nonetheless. When you’re a kid it doesn’t matter how cool or artistically viable the music that you’re listening to is. You either fall in love with music or you don’t. Some people grow up around cool music and much can be made of that if you want it to. But I know for myself, I came into the music that I listen to now in my adult life like anybody else does, regardless of what you grow up around. I mean there’s not really much of interest there that I can speak to. I fell in love with music that probably wasn’t that cool or great to me as a child.

JD: What should we expect from J. Tillman going into the New Year?

JT: I’m going to make another album. I’ve been writing a lot for that, kind of more of the same. Slogging it out and shoveling dirt.

JD: Best of luck with that. Thanks so much for your time Josh.

JT: No problem

JD: Adios

JT: Thanks for your time man

The Bony King of Nowhere: US Debut and NYCTaper Interview

October 21, 2009
By


[photo by Dries Segers]

This week Belgian nu-folk sensation The Bony King of Nowhere made his United States debut.

The Bony King of Nowhere will appear twice more in the US:
Oct 25 2009 10:00 Arlene’s Grocery NYC
Nov 2 2009 7:00 The Living Room NYC

In his second interview for nyctaper.com, the writer Jarrod Dicker spoke with the artist.

The Bony King from Belgium
Bram Vanparys — The Bony King Of Nowhere

Bram is 22. Bram is Belgian. Bram is The Bony King of Nowhere, and yet, his name will be embryonic anywhere and everywhere in the music race within impending months heading into the New Year. Mr. Bram Vanparys is an emerging nu-folk composer who, earlier this year, released the debut album Alas My Love under Helicopter Records in Belgium. As he explains it, his music is honest (unique) and proffers something different, infusing his inimitable voice with harmonious/melodic backing guitars, vocals, resonance and percussion. His lyrics are customarily dramatic and his intention is to convey his sound across borders for all to favor and adore. Jarrod Dicker sat down with Bram to discuss his debut album, his first time in New York City, his obsession with the 1960′s and what we should expect from the Bony King of Nowhere in the future.

JD: Hey Bram, how are you enjoying your first trip to New York City?

BV: Well, it’s really nice over here. Its my first time I’ve ever been to the states, so it’s a really nice experience. I love it over here.

JD: As you stated, this is your North American debut tour. You recently played at Rockwood Music Hall on October 12th and soon after Crash Mansion on the 15th. How does this experience differ from playing venues overseas, specifically at home in Belgium?

BV: To me the biggest difference is the way clubs are. In Belgium the clubs are really accessible. In New York it’s harder for a band to schedule shows and to make money with their performance. In Belgium, when you play in a cafe around the corner, you can easily earn 100 Euros. In America it seems to be more difficult to make money with your music. So you almost have to invest money because you have to pay for taxis and for instrument expenses. I just think it’s harder in New York for a musician to survive and play shows, however I like this atmosphere. I like the way that you have to fight to get into the clubs. I really like it.

JD: And how would you describe the NYC crowd’s acceptance of your music?

BV: Acceptance is a bit hard. The first show at Rockwood was pretty early, it was around 6pm. So there were few people about at that time. Its also difficult because I do my own booking and I don’t really know how to promote for the shows. For me this is also a learning process [laughs]. To book a tour in New York is certainly a learning process. Crash Mansion was a totally different club from the Rockwood… it was more of a hard rock theme club. I don’t think it was a good idea for me to play there. I just booked it and didn’t really know what kind of club it was. I felt that the more clubs I could play the better. Maybe I should have skipped it because it was more of a fancy/hard rock venue. The band playing before us was doing covers of TOOL and stuff.

JD: Oh so when you say “hard rock” you mean that the music was hard and extremely heavy as well, correct?

BV: Yes it was pretty heavy. The public was also a bit strange, all these 30 year old men in suits and ties. It seems they just got out of work and were drinking beers with their mates. I don’t think it was “our” crowd, the crowd we’re used to.

JD: The Bony King of Nowhere is unique due to your specific and distinctive voice. Were you a classically trained vocalist or did you find your niche through random acts and exploration?

BV: I’ve been playing music now for almost 5 years and in the beginning I was just singing songs from the Radiohead catalog; not on the guitar, I just sang along with the CD [laughs]. That’s how I discovered that I really loved to sing. I also learned a lot from the way Thom Yorke sings and the way Bonnie Prince Billy sings. So that’s how I discovered my voice in a way. I didn’t really discover it; it was there anyway so…I guess I got lucky [chuckles].

JD: Your songs are very melodic in their backing vocals, guitar sound layers and percussion. This is similar to that of Queen, the Beach Boys in that you incorporate these melodic strategies to build harmonies and other musical tactics. Who specifically influenced your desire to integrate melodies & harmonies within your music?

BV: I think it’s mostly influenced from different kind of groups like, of course, Radiohead but also the guys that make music for films and who made soundtracks back in the 50s for western movies. I really enjoy that kind of music as well. Also stuff like Neil Young, Bob Dylan and the Beatles. It’s mostly 60′s stuff; I don’t really love the music right now. I am inspired by the 60′s musicians like modern groups Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear are.

JD: Your lyrics are exceptionally dramatic. Where does the content for your lyrics derive from? Is it personal or is it more a brew up of words?

BV: Yes mostly I just brew up words. Some songs are personal of course. I don’t always have a story to tell, sometimes words just come and afterwards I make a meaning out of them. My song, Maria is about a man who’s dying and he addresses Maria, or Mary the holy virgin, that he really likes the way he lays there in his bed dying and being very ill. It’s just a song about…Well, I think you must feel very happy when you’re very ill laying there in a bed and you know you can rest at peace and not worry. I wanted to describe it in a song. The strange thing about it is I wrote this song about 3 years ago, and I recently bought an old guitar from a man and asked him why he was selling the instrument? He said that he was a guitarist and wanted to get rid of all his guitars because he was dying. He was very ill and only given a few months left to live. So the song Maria, for the album, I recorded with that guitar. To me it was really bizarre because I wrote that song so long ago and now it’s connected with this old man. The new songs I’m writing are more personal. A lot more personal. The lyrics are a lot more important than the first album. I’ve been listening to a lot of Bob Dylan. I think his is the best stuff ever made so far. He made me learn that lyrics are just as important as the music itself. The way you sing it is also very, very important as well.

JD: How has the feedback been from your premier album Alas My Love in Belgium, Europe and North America (if it could yet be measured)?

BV: In my own country it’s doing well. They play it very frequently on the radio and I’m surprised about that. To be honest, I don’t really care if people like it in my country because its such a small country. In the states, I don’t know because the record hasn’t been released here as of yet, so I don’t know what people think of it. I do know that some songs on the record were added to the soundtrack of a new American movie called, “Boy Meets Girl” but it’s not released yet. It’s still being worked on. A Canadian man also used a song in one of his dance performances. It might work pretty well in the states I think, I’d love it to of course. I’m looking for a North American release right now so we’ll see about that.

JD: The album Alas my love was released on the label Helicopter Records. Do you enjoy being on a record label as opposed to doing it on your own, and also, have they been beneficial in the distribution of your album?

BV: It’s a very small record company. It’s only for Belgians but it does make things easier of course because you don’t have to distribute the music yourself. I love being a part of them.

JD: Jon Kelly, the infamous producer of Paul McCartney and Kate Bush, expressed much interest in mixing your debut album. Have you developed a relationship with him and how does it feel to be recognized by such a musical titan?

BV: It was a great honor just knowing his history and who he has worked with. It was a really big honor. But it’s pretty difficult to build up a relationship with a British guy [laughs] because they’re kind of reserved. It was really nice to work with him however. Everything he did was right. He really felt the same way about the music and the record as I did. It was a pretty amazing experience to work with such a man.

JD: When I listen to your music I hear a lot of connection to Sunny Afternoon and other Ray and Dave Davies material. Did they influence your direction for this record?

BV: No. I know them, of course, but I am not influenced by them because I don’t own any of their records. I should check them out definitely! I only know a few songs of theirs so…

JD: How has American music influenced you personally and that of Bony King of Nowhere as well?

BV: To be honest, I think American music is almost the only music I listen to except for a few British artists like the Beatles and stuff like that. I’m just not really interested in the music from my own country. I don’t know why that is. There is no such music in my country like Dylan and Neil Young. I can name 20, 30, 40 bands that I would never see in Belgium, so I don’t know how that comes to be. It seems that in Belgium, nobody is interested in Dylan, but I don’t know why that is [continuous laughter].

JD: Is the title of your group taken directly from Radiohead’s alternate title to their song There There?

BV: Yes that’s right.

JD: So would you say that Radiohead’s strong influence is responsible for bringing us the product of The Bony King of Nowhere?

BV: I have to be honest they’re really a big influence on me, but not really that big anymore because, as I said, I’m listening to a lot of 60s stuff right now. I think that the first record, like a lot of people said, sounded a lot like Radiohead and you can hear the influence real clearly. It is true that they influenced me a lot, but the second record will be more “honest” music I think. For the second record I am just going to record maybe a few takes, not like 20 takes for one song like Radiohead [chuckles]. I’m going to do it pretty fast — I’ll call it “honest.” Just one take and cut it. That’s another thing I admire about Dylan.

JD: What’s your initiative on changing modern music?

BV: I don’t really plan to change it because I don’t know if it needs to be changed. I think the music on the radio has always been what it was for almost 50-60 years now. I don’t know why I would change it. I think its wrong to have the intention to change something, I just think you have to do your stuff and see what happens. If people like it, that’s fine, and if people don’t like it, that’s fine too [laughs].

JD: When should we expect your second record? What else should we expect from the Bony King of Nowhere in the near future?

BV: I want to be the first Belgium artist to play a song on the David Letterman show. In Belgium, there is such a different climate in the music scene, and everybody seems to make rock music and stuff like that. I just don’t really like it. So I’m going to do something different from all the other bands. That’s what I really want to do. Just make my songs….and we’ll see what happens. Expect the new album in a bit!

JD: Well thanks a lot for your time Bram. I’m looking forward to seeing you at Arlene’s Grocery on the 25th hopefully. I know NYCTaper will be there.

BV: Thank you so much Jarrod. Its my pleasure.

Interview with Darby Cicci of The Antlers

October 12, 2009
By


[Darby behind the keys and effect at Maxwell's]

Several months ago I was speaking to all of The Antlers before a gig at Mercury Lounge, and the subject of their many recent interviews came up. I joked that Peter Silberman was taking all the attention of the interviews, and that the other members should get a chance. The natural inclination of any interviewer seeking to learn and report about The Antlers would be focus on the lead guitar/singer/writer of the band, but the two other members are equally compelling figures in their own right. If Peter is the brains of the band, then Michael Lerner provides the backbone with his powerful drum work, and Darby Cicci is the heart with his emotive keyboard work and atmospheric and multiple effects.

The writer Jarrod Dicker spoke with Darby this week in what we hope will be a continuing series of interviews to be posted at NYCTaper.

I Am Darby

The Antlers are a breath of fresh air in a modern melodic atmosphere that’s polluted and sultry with fog of banality. Their sound is soothing and transcends lyrical and musical splendor, amplifying the listener’s sentiments from their inner core like a magnetic force of happiness, sorrow, elation and tranquility. Jarrod Dicker spoke with band member Darby Cicci on the re-release of Hospice, working with a record label, the upcoming international tour and more.

JD: The album Hospice was initially self-released and recently re-released under the label Frenchkiss on August 18th. Has there been a noticeable change since signing with the label?

DC: Yes its one of the best things we’ve ever done I think. Frenchkiss has been absolutely amazing. What we initially were hoping to do was just have it distributed by releasing it ourselves, but then Frenchkiss jumped on board. They were the ones that said its not too late to actually release it properly and put a press campaign behind it. They really do a ton of leg work to get it heard by a lot of people that wouldn’t necessarily have ever even heard of the record or have it in their hands. Its been great. They work incredibly hard getting us set up and distributing it internationally; helping us find publicists and book shows. They really do everything.

JD: Do you enjoy being under a label now as opposed to previously being in your own? I’ve spoken with a horde of musicians and most prefer to try and do it grass roots in some regard. Its usually because they are dissatisfied knowing that their work will be owned by someone other than themselves.

DC: Well ultimately yes, a lot of bands don’t want to be on a label. I was probably in that category before we signed to Frenchkiss. We all definitely had a lot of fears thinking that signing to a label is huge in giving over a lot of control and decision making. I think people were worried that they’re going to be a lot of negative things going along with signing to a label. But Frenchkiss proved me wrong in that respect. They’ve been opened minded to everything we’ve done. They really let us do as much as we want. Its not like you’re signing to a label and they do things for you. Its really kind of the opposite. They let us do as much as we want and it’s only when we need help when they’ll step in and give us direction. Hopefully it never gets to the point of needing the contracts and signing the contracts. Frenchkiss are employed with musicians. So they know what it’s like to tour and they do everything from an artists point of view. So there is no worry there. They’re not going to steer us in the wrong direction. They’re not going to exploit us or put our songs on diaper commercials [laughs]. They run everything by us. We never feel like we’re left out of the loop or the decision making process. Its kind of a dream come true. Its all the positive things without any negatives being on a label like Frenchkiss. I imagine a major label would be a little more complicated situation with employees turning over every nine months or so but ours is really just dealing with a small group of people with an open flow of communication.

JD: You recently played at Maxwell’s in Hoboken and soon you begin a tour of the nation. Do you prefer playing close to home (Brooklyn) and where specifically away from the New York area do you fancy to play most?

DC: I definitely love playing in New York. We had a whole lot of great shows here and its nice to come home and sleep in your own bed at night. We’ve had some great shows around the country and the world. We have a great fan base in Toronto and Chicago to name a few. We went to England for a week and had a few great shows in London so I’m really excited to go back there. Some really cool festivals as well. We played Monolith this year and a few little cool festivals in the Midwest. Its sort of a growing number of places as these tours continue. It feels like a lot of homes away from home. I also can’t wait to go back to LA and San Francisco.

JD: The international tour kicks off November 16th. Are you eager to convey the sounds of Hospice abroad?

DC: I’m eager to see how it translates [laughs]. I think UK is no real worry. I’m interested to see how it translates in non-English speaking countries. Especially with an album that’s so centric on lyrical content and story content. I’m interested to see how it translates in Spain, France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands… I think its going to be great. We’re just really excited to go to these places. I’ve never been to a lot of these countries, so its good to just go.

JD: How did you specifically fall into the Antlers?

DC: That’s probably a good way to put it, I kind of FELL INTO the group actually [chuckle]. I don’t know its weird. I knew Justin Stivers who played bass in the band a while ago and drums on a record I was working on. I was playing solo around town. Justin invited me to see a band he was joining. I went and it was Peter Silberman doing an acoustic set at Piano’s upstairs. I really liked it and Justin started playing bass for him. I went and saw a couple of the shows and I thought something was lacking. So I spoke to Peter and suggested a trumpet would be a good idea. He was into the idea of trumpet and bowed banjo. And it was really when a keyboard player at the time left that I got involved. Just about a year ago is when Justin left and started playing on his own. Peter was rehearsing a lot and getting ready for a tour and that’s when things really started to gel. We rehearsed a lot and kind of felt like we finally found our own sort of interesting sound as a band. Things started to make sense and pick up after that.

JD: You play an array of instruments for the band. What inspired you to play the trumpet, keyboard, bowed banjo and do you prefer one over the other?

DC: I play a lot of instruments so for me its more about playing what fits in and what’s necessary sound wise. I love playing the trumpet and bowed banjo. We had a bass player at the time so it made a little more sense to play these special instruments. Once Justin left and we didn’t have a bass player anymore it was more about finding something that made sense for me to play. Peter’s guitar works really sort of ambient and sort of atmospheric combined with Michael’s drumming so bass guitar started to make sense. So I started to do bass, synthesizer, bass synthesizer, keyboard styles and things like that. Lot’s of pedals and things, its more of a big sound generator at this point its not really an instrument [laughs].

JD: Where did the name The Antlers develop from? Was that a process you were involved in or did Peter have it before you became part of the group?

DC: Peter had it before. The way I understand it is that when you’re doing solo stuff its really hard for anyone to separate you from your music project. So you end up going up to people saying “Hey I’m Darby Cicci from the band Darby Cicci.” Peter started to, well he just picked a name and he started getting more responses to emails when after he changed it to The Antlers. He told me that it was from The Microphones song, “Antlers” but now he’s not sure it might have been from some girlfriend or something. It’s kind of hazy. At this point its just sort of a name. I wouldn’t say it doesn’t have any meaning but…

JD: Its definitely good to have one of those old school band names. Some of these groups now have a name that’s seven words long like “Going to the Grocery Store for Eggs,” or something absurd like that…I don’t get it.

DC: Picking a band name is one of the hardest things for anybody to ever do. Its really impossible. There are so many that are already taken in some variation of some band or have some native connotation with some band. Or it can’t be something you are going to get sick of. Like a lot of bands have really in the moment names that are hard to spell or remember. I don’t know how I would feel about something hard to spell or hard to pronounce [laughs] for a period of time. Its good to have one that you can say and that’s easy to spell [laughs].

JD: What should we expect from The Antlers in the near and far future? Is there a follow up album, more tours?

DC: A new album is going to take a little while because we’ve been touring. Its going to end up that we’ve been on the road nine months out of the year which is crazy. We’re definitely touring a lot through about mid-December. But then we’ll probably start to record and work on a record properly. We have some remixes that we’re finishing up now and will be done soon. Then a lot more touring. We don’t really know, we want to try and spend the winter a little bit sitting inside making music and seeing what happens. It could be a whole new record, it could be an EP, some remixes we don’t even know ourselves. But there will be something.

JD: Thanks man, sounds good, I truly appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. Keep making music and good luck overseas.

DC: Thank you Jarrod.

Spanish Prisoners Release New EP + NYCTaper Interview

April 14, 2009
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Spanish Prisoners are set to release their first new music since 2007′s Songs To Forget, an album that came out of nowhere to garner significant critical praise and which earned Spanish Prisoners gigs opening for the likes of John Vanderslice and Daniel Johnston. This month, the new EP Los Angeles Guitar Dream will drop, and Spanish Prisoners will perform their EP release show at Crash Mansion on April 25.

After the success of Songs to Forget, the Fall of 2008 saw several personnel changes in the band. When Leo Maymind returned to writing and recording, the three-song EP that resulted was a pronounced creative leap for the band. While Songs was a lyrically rich pop side of anti-folk, Los Angeles Guitar Dream contains songs of a dreamy textured guitar-oriented rock. We spoke to Leo regarding some of the changes in the band and the sound.

NYCTaper: Hi Leo, I’ve listened to the new EP a few times through already, and there seems to be a real departure from the Songs to Forget. Almost as if you took the last Spanish Prisoners album title literally and drew a line in the sand. Can you walk us through the evolution of the band over the last two years?

Leo Maymind: It certainly is true that this EP is a departure from the previous record. When I listen back to “Songs to Forget” there are things I still really enjoy and things I don’t see doing ever again. I think I’ve also really evolved as a musician and home recording engineer. The band has gone through several different lineup changes since I moved to Brooklyn and that record came out, but none of the people that went in and out of the band actually recorded with me or really made an indelible mark on the “sound” of Spanish Prisoners. I was sort of having a hard time finding people that I felt compatible with, but the current lineup of the band (myself, Amberly Hungerford, Tim McCoy, and Turner Stough) feels like what I was searching for and I’m really excited for us all to work more on writing and recording as a group, which we’ve already been doing a little of.

NYCT: One of the more interesting elements of Spanish Prisoners for me has always been that authentic vulnerability of your vocals — which seemed to accurately capture the raw truths in the lyrics. On this EP you seem to have purposefully added quite a bit of effects and layers to the vocals. Can you explain the stylistic decision to change the vocal sound?

LM: I’ve always liked a layered, effected vocal sound! I think on the first record I was more interested in making sure everyone understood the lyrics, but this time I wanted the vocals to just be a part of the overall picture and not the main focus, even though I think the lyrics are intelligible if you try to understand them.

NYCT: Another surprising aspect of this EP for me is the guitar playing. Previously, you had not really brought your instrumental abilities to the forefront, but the new material has some really outstanding guitar work. Why were you hiding this from us?!

LM: I guess I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the guitar and I usually sought to replace it with other textures (strings, synths, banjo, etc). Recently I re-evaluated my playing and gave it much more thought than I did in the past. I used to just consider myself a songwriter who played the guitar as a tool, but I’m changing the way I think about the instrument. My favorite guitar players (Isaac Brock, Dean Wareham, Johnny Marr, Daniel Rossen) all do things outside of the normal realm of guitar playing and that was something I tried to emulate more on this EP.

NYCTaper was there to record the Songs to Forget CD Release show in 2008.

NYCTaper Interview: Jason Loewenstein + Circle of Buzzards Preview

February 23, 2009
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[photo from jakerock]

We have seen Jason Loewenstein and Bob D’Amico perform together many times in the last several years. As the tremendous driving and aggressive rhythm section behind the live Fiery Furnaces, Jason and Bob created the foundation for some of the best live music ever featured on this site. It was then with great delight that we saw the two had formed a new band Circle of Buzzards in the temporary lull in the Furnaces schedule.

Circle of Buzzards will perform for only the fourth time in their brief existence on Thursday February 26 at Glasslands. Sample recordings are available on Jason’s site and on their MySpace page.

We spoke via email with Jason about Circle of Buzzards, the Glasslands gig, and also received some Sebadoh news.

NYCTaper: Hi Jason, thanks for agreeing to speak to nyctaper.
We are pretty stoked about Circle Of Buzzards, having seen you and Bob play together a bunch of times. Is this a project that you two have been discussing for a while, or did it just grow out of the down time in the Fiery Furnaces schedule?

Jason Loewenstein: Circle of Buzzards was born because The Empire State Troopers asked us to go out on the road with them. I wanted to go out on the road with them, but I needed a band and some songs. So I made them up and we loaded up the van.

NYCT: Do you envision this as a long-term project?

JL: I hope so, I think this is a really good band.

NYCT: Do you expect that it will remain a bass/drums duo?

JL: Yes. The elements of rhythm, melody and amplitude are fully represented thru the wanton precision of a highly developed physical representation of our mental state(s) and their connection to the present moment awareness of our 6 senses and the physical aggregates of our audience. We are of and in the present moment and seek to bring all others there with us since they are already there.

NYCT: So what can we expect at the Glasslands gig. I see that there are four songs on your page, are there other Buzzards songs, or might we hear some At Sixes And Sevens material or some covers?

JL: We have a bunch of songs. None of which will come from my solo record. We will probably play for about a 1/2 hour… There will likely be one cover song, but I dont think that anyone will know it. I will probably just pretend that its our song / not mention it.

NYCT: As nyctaper, I find it really refreshing that you have such an open policy towards tapers, as have all your bands. Can you talk a little about your open approach to tapers and the reasons why?

JL: Nothing good can come being a shit-hoarder. Musicians are lucky that anyone would give a shit to make tapes of them!

NYCT: Finally, I guess any Sebadoh fan would find me remiss if I didn’t ask about the current state of that band. Is there anything in the works, recording, tours, etc?

JL: I will be playing with Lou later this year to support a solo record that he just finished…Sebadoh is still very much alive… Just busy with other things at the moment… Lou is gonna tour with Dinosaur, I will be playing with Circle of Buzzards and Fiery Furnaces in addition to making recordings for other bands… When the pace lets up a bit, we can be Sebadoh again!

Naked Hearts: EP Release Show / NYCTaper Interview / East Coast Tour

January 6, 2009
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Naked Hearts quickly became one of our favorite new bands in NYC in the Fall of 2008. After we booked them blind for the NYCTaper CMJ show, we captured them live at Mercury Lounge in early October. That set was so impressive so that any trepidation about their CMJ appearance evaporated. A couple of weeks later, Naked Hearts absolutely energized the upstairs room at Cake Shop that CMJ day, to the point where they received a “can’t miss” profile at Deli Magazine. Again in November, they killed at Union Hall, and created much anticipation for the January release of their debut EP.

Well, January is upon us and the new Naked Hearts EP These Knees will be released on the 20th. In celebration, Amy and Noah will throw a CD release party at Cake Shop on January 22, and have invited along another nyctaper fave The Antlers.

These Knees is now available for Pre-Order at InSound [here].

______________

In December, we interviewed Amy Cooper of Naked Hearts about the new EP, the return to duo status as a band, and her recording experience.

NYCTaper: Please tell us about the new EP, due for release on January 20, 2009 — which songs are on it and who produced it?

Naked Hearts (Amy): THESE KNEES was recorded/mixed in ten days at Headgear Studios in Brooklyn in JULY 2008. We recorded all the songs onto 2″ tape and mixed directly to 1/2″. Luckily, we were working with Dan Long, engineer and co-owner of the studio, who is great with working with tape and super fun to work with in general.
We recorded six of our newest songs:
CALL ME
CAT & MOUSE
NO ONE NOTHING
ONE FALSE MOVE
CRASHING HORSES
ONLY FOR YOU

NYCT: You are back to being a two-piece, which is how Naked Hearts started out. The most obvious difference is that Noah is now the drummer live instead of out front on the bass. Is this how you imagine Naked Hearts will remain in the future?

NH: Yes. We always had the vision of the band being the two of us and are happy and relieved we figured out a way to make it work.

NYCT: I see you are going on an East Coast tour to support “These Knees” and there are two dates with the Antlers. I know that two of them were in the audience at your CMJ set at Cake Shop, is that where the two bands met?

NH: Actually, I believe we met at a Sharon van Etten show; which actually ties into the NYCTaper showcase. Sharon had mentioned the Antlers to me a few times, saying we would be great together. So I checked them out for the first time earlier that CMJ week and thought they were great, so I asked them to play a few shows with us!

NYCT: The CD release show is on for January 22 at Cake Shop, anything special planned for that night?

NH: Yeah, we’re going to make it super fun party! Some of our favorite bands are playing Air Waves, MKNG Friends, & The Antlers. It is at our favorite venue, Cake Shop. We’ll have our vinyl for sale, and fun t-shirt giveaways throughout the night. There will be DJ sets and hopefully people will be down for some dirty dancing!

NYCT: Amy and I have a common friend in John Vanderslice, who produced Amy’s solo album a few years ago. Is there anything that you learned at the Tiny Telephone studios that you put to use on this new EP?

NH: Well #1, when an option, I learned to record using tape, of any size. John and Scott Solter are masters of analog recording. They taught me the importance of performance and the sacredness of mistakes. They taught me that the quality of sound is the most important thing. I tried my best to uphold everything I learned from them on this EP.

__________

For those of you outside of the NYC area, Naked Hearts will embark on an East Coast tour after the EP release show. Here is the schedule:

Jan 23 2009 9:00PM THE FIRE Philadelphia, PA.
Jan 24 2009 9:00PM GARFIELD ARTWORKS Pittsburgh, PA.
Jan 25 2009 9:00PM TREEHOUSE Columbus, OH.
Jan 26 2009 9:00PM THE BLUE NILE Harrisonburg, VA.
Jan 27 2009 9:00PM NARA SUSHI Richmond, VA.
Jan 28 2009 8:00PM THE CAVE Chapel Hill, NC.
Jan 29 2009 9:00PM THE RED & THE BLACK Washington D.C.
Feb 06 2009 9:00PM Death by Audio Brooklyn, NY.

The Bloodsugars – NYCTaper Interview and CMJ Preview

October 22, 2008
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Paul Simon imparts wisdom to Jason from The Bloodsugars

“Pop Masterpiece” elicits forty-nine thousand hits in a google search. One of rock criticisms’ most tired, overused and cliched phrases can be the signifier of a complete lack of imagination in the writer’s method. Or, in the case of my attempt to define The Bloodsugars BQEP release, its just an instance where the phrase truly applies. Listen to “Purpose Was Again” streaming on either The Bloodsugars website or MySpace page, and hear for yourself.

The Bloodsugars will perform on the Downstairs stage of the NYCTaper CMJ Show at Cake Shop tomorrow afternoon at 5 p.m. We spoke to Jason via email earlier this week about their next release, influences and mortality.

NYCTaper:
One of the enjoyable things about listening to your music is hearing the influences in the songs. There are the obvious Beatles/Kinks/Who Brit Invasion overtones, but I also hear that early 80′s music — Squeeze, Joe Jackson, Nick Lowe, The Shoes, Fischer Z — the “skinny tie” power-pop. Can you talk about what music you grew up listening to, and your influences generally?

Jason Rabinowitz:
I’d say a large part of our influence is drawn from vintage ’80s synth-pop the band grew up on. Trying to put a new twist on stuff like Prince, Hall and Oates, Eurythmics, Cindy Lauper and sort of do our own thing with it. As for the skinny tie stuff, I went through a huge Elvis Costello phase, huge.. We have a LOT of influences though.. The Coasters are my favorite band of all time. They had it all.

NYCT:
You’ve been working on new songs, and in fact when we featured a recording of your performance from After the Jump Fest in June, the setlist was primarily new material. I understand there is a new album in the works — at what stage are you in the recording process?

JR:
There is a new album in the works. We are about to pick a producer.. We go on tour in Nov with The Lisps and when we come back we’ll be recording it.

NYCT:
I guess you must get tired of talking about this, but I’m going to approach it from a different direction — the band name and your medical condition. One might think that someone like yourself with a heightened awareness of mortality and the fragility of life might write more morose and fatalistic songs. And yet, the songs are for the most part upbeat with a positive perspective. Any thoughts on this?

JR:
We all walk around with the illusion of immortality. I think it’s hardwired into psyches to allow us to cope with the day to day. We don’t constantly realize we will all die someday. But to confront that fact even rarely is kind of a treat cause you can realize you’re not dead yet.. (I just saw Fight Club for the first time) (yeah I know.. where have I been!?!)

Sharon Van Etten – NYCTaper Interview and CMJ Preview

October 19, 2008
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Sharon van Etten / Secret Garden from hoovesontheturf on Vimeo.

We were first introduced to the music of Sharon Van Etten interestingly enough through an email from The Antlers that announced some recording details of their soon-to-be-released CD. Sharon provides vocals for a couple of tracks. While we had heard of her, we had not yet heard her sing and decided to do some research. A quick google search and a few minutes later we were watching astounded at the raw talent exhibited in an Arin Crumley video of Sharon Van Etten performing “Damn Right” at Galapagos.

I asked several people to watch the Galapagos video and tell me that I was not overreacting, and the verdict was unanimous — this was a uniquely talented woman with a gifted voice with subtle and poignant songwriting. I reached out to Sharon with a request to record one of her shows. We ended up capturing three of them, in June at Pianos and at Zebulon, and an amazing show in August at Cake Shop.

So when it came time to book the NYCTaper CMJ Showcase, Sharon Van Etten was an easy and obvious choice. On Thursday October 23 at Cake Shop, Sharon will perform upstairs at 5:30pm, essentially headlining the “acoustic” stage at the show.

In person, Sharon is quite friendly and unassuming. That personality comes through quite clearly in this interview, as she answers my wordy and obtuse questions with class and patience. Expect the same on stage on Thursday.

NYCTaper:
Please tell us about the new album. Is there a specific release date, will there be new songs on the album, and if you could describe the arrangements — is it Sharon-and-guitar or will we hear other instruments, bass, drums, strings?

Sharon Van Etten:
The album is set for release in April off of Language of Stone. The love child of Drag City. Run by Greg Weeks of Espers. He recorded and played on my record. There will be minimal accompaniment such as guitar, bass, percussion, and synthesizers (all played by Greg Weeks) and vocal, guitar and added harmonies by me.

NYCT:
There seems to have grown up this folk scene around the Zebulon regulars of which you are a core person. Can you talk about the venue, the other artists and the “scene” (if there is one!)?

SVE:
Zebulon is the most accepting, open venue in Williamsburg. They have a broad range of bands that play there. From Folk to Jazz to Indie to Funk to Experimental noise. You name it. I have played with Scary Mansion, Forest Fire, Ivana XL, Drew Victor, She Keeps Bees, Beastheart, Matt Bauer, Twi the Humble Feather, Meg Baird, Xylophone People, W-S Burn, The Shivers, — When I play they let me curate the whole night, so it usually revolves around folk, indie, country…. but every other night is different there. That’s why I love it. And I’ve never been disappointed. It couldn’t be run by more loving people. I always feel welcome, which is why I will always come back.

NYCT:
Frankly, the song “Consolation Prize” gives me chills every time I hear it. I think it sort of encapsulates the character of your music — poignancy and brutal honesty accompanied by a simple melody and ultimately presented in this sweet voice. This kind of juxtaposition of manner separates a basic singer-songwriter from an authentic folk singer. I know I’m over-analyzing,
but I guess the question is whether this is a natural approach or do you consciously approach songwriting with an idea of contrasting sweetness and bitterness?

SVE:
It’s not my initial intention. My songs come mostly from my journals, where I create a dialogue with a memory of mine and come to terms with my past through song. (sounds cliche, doesn’t it?) But I come across writings that were at one time bitter, and now that I am passed those times and want to sing about them, I am at peace with those times… so I guess that the sweetness comes from closure, and the bitterness is from truth – but I hope the outcome is bittersweet and human.

NYCT:
I’ve heard you say several times “I’m not a pro”, which I interpret to mean that you want to retain your authenticity. With the new album coming, a long tour under your belt, constant local gigging, and now a CMJ show, the shows are going to get more crowded and the venues bigger. Do you still believe that you can’t both be authentic and “big” at the same time?

SVE:
Ha. Funny… When I say “I’m not a pro… It’s because I’m always nervous. And I always mess up. And if there comes a time when my shows get crowded and the venues get bigger, I assure you that if anything, I will be more nervous, and more clumsy, and less pro than ever before.

NYCT:
What are you listening to these days, like in regular rotation in the I-pod, that kind of thing?

SVE:
Fleetwood Mac, Diane Cluck, Meg Baird, Festival, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Sandy Denny, Neil Young, Jana Hunter, Phosphorescent, Forest Fire

NYCT:
Last question, and this one is about “taping”. I appreciate you have permitted me to record several shows and present them “warts and all”. Interestingly, my first experience with your music was the excellent video made by Arin Crumley of one of your Galapagos shows. So I pretty much never would have heard your music if it wasn’t for “taping”. I know that Joly from punkcast has recorded you too. I guess I’ve sort of answered my own question, but can you describe your approach and your thinking behind permitting all these live recordings?

SVE:
Through all my home recordings and studio recordings, I always feel that a live show is best. Even with it’s flaws because you cannot replicate that. That is one moment. To be there, to see the expression on the artist’s face, the energy of the room that the artist feeds from, there is no better substitute than taping it. (other than being there, of course.) For people that haven’t seen me live, at least they can hear me live. Hopefully it creates more of a personal connection to the listener and maybe want to see me live one day.

nyctaper Interview: John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats

September 11, 2008
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[photo credit]

John Darnielle discusses the new Mountain Goats EP Satanic Messiah, live versus studio recordings, flac, DIY releases, and alternative forms of music distribution.

When nyctaper recorded the Mountain Goats in Brooklyn in May, it was a solo John Darnielle concert that featured a large assortment of older and rarer numbers, and one absolutely new debut performance. When a conscientious fan in the Mountain Goats forum suggested that John might not appreciate nyctaper circulating the new song “Wizard Buys a Hat”, John disagreed. In the nyctaper interview with John Darnielle posted in its entirety below, we now understand John’s position.

As the Mountain Goats prepare to offer Satanic Messiah, an EP to be released in a pay-as-you-please method through alternative distribution channels, John discusses the freedom to do “DIY” a release, along with the accompanying uncertainty.

nyctaper: I see that “Wizard Buys a Hat” is to be one of the songs on the new EP, is this the same arrangement as the version at Masonic Temple?

John Darnielle: No, not at all, the recorded version of “Wizard Buys A Hat” is actually very quiet – it kinda starts quiet and then gets super-quiet. It has a sort of Dario Argento build-up-scene feel. Guitar, vocals, a drum, some organ. To me it rules over the “I am nervous so I guess I’ll yell real loud version” but that’s just me. I go through a lot of internal drama about playing new songs live, because people like it when I stomp and yell, but I have no interest in making stomp and yell records, all those bands who try to sound like “yes we are in reckless abandon!” on their records sound silly to me. You know? Ben Harper when we were kids told me he thought a song should always be better live than on record, that live performance is about breaking the recording open, and while I’m not sure I agree 100% – I think I prefer recordings to live music – I do think that recorded music is a collaboration between the listener and the performer, and trying to treat it like it’s an attempt to recreate/emulate a live performance is a mistake. I think of recordings like little Easter-scene sugar eggs: look inside of them, squint, see all the little things hidden in there. A live show is more about everybody just gorging themselves on raw sugar. Both are nice, but they shouldn’t try to be like each other.

nyct: I think its great that you will be using new means of distribution of the EP (direct download, torrent, etc). Will the EP be offered in flac?

JD: Yeah I think so. The original idea was to offer MP3, AAC, AIFF & WAV. In any case, both major compressed formats and at least one big-size format. Still working that stuff out. It is exciting, putting this thing together, I have to say – getting all the stuff organized, thinking about how to do it, thinking about formats, arguing with people who don’t know how to use torrents about whether we oughta host the actual files instead of just seeding a torrent and pointing at it – when you really do absolutely everything yourself, which is what I’m doing with this record, you learn that a lot of the propaganda about being in control really is true. There’s beauty and power in making all your own decisions. At the same time, you know, writing checks to a lot of places and thinking “jeez I hope people actually pay for the songs or I’m gonna be eating ramen for a while,” that feels a little funny. Fingers crossed!

nyct: I’m not sure how one measures “success” on a project like this, but if all goes well, can we anticipate that this new method of EP distribution will be used again by tMG?

JD: I hate talking about money, though this is the second time in two paragraphs I’ve done so, but: the bottom line here is whether people who download the songs decide to pay for them. People talk about “exposure” as an intangible sort of reward, but exposure doesn’t count as payment as far as I’m concerned – most people with jobs will agree, if I tell you that I’m telling other people you’re awesome instead of paying you, you got a raw deal. So, this is an experiment – I already know how much I’d get paid if I did a regular pressing of the EP, I have a good sense of how many I’d sell and what the profit to me would be. I have to admit I’m a tiny bit skeptical about how it’ll go, though I’d love to be proven wrong – people always point to the big-marquee boys (Radiohead, NiN) as if small fish can hope to compare, but those are bands with massive fanbases built on the old model with lots of cash going into the process. If a tenth of the people who download In Rainbows pay, then Radiohead eats good for a year. Not so easy when your craft is tailored to a much smaller audience! If a tenth of the people who I expect will download this EP pay me, then I’ll lose a fair amount of money. So, who knows? Some days I think “hell yes, bold new world, looking forward to being able to release more music more often and put out all the EPs and weird projects I can think of, really be sharing all my ideas with everybody in nearly real-time, that’s gonna be rad.” And then other days I just wanna go back to making tapes. It’s not like I left my label or anything – I just wanted to see how something like this would work for me, and I did it with new studio recordings instead of half-assing it: went the full route from production through mastering and now I’m excited to see how things work out. And really, I’m happy no matter what happens, because think the EP’s good work from me – at the end of the day, all this stuff I’m talking about is just idle chatter: all that matters is the work, and that gives me satisfaction, and if people enjoy it, then that’s doubly satisfying. So, while this very long paragraph probably looks like I’m super-concerned with all this stuff, I’m not – it’s just, like, you asked, and as a working artist trying to make a living, this is the kinda stuff I think about a lot. You know?

The Mountain Goats perform twice in NYC in November as the final dates on a tour with Kaki King:
November 8 – Brooklyn, NY, Music Hall of Williamsburg
November 9 – New York, NY, Webster Hall

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