Intervju med Midnight Choir, 1998
Beat Happening, Black Flag, Black Sabbath, Cheap Trick, Dead Moon, Flipper, Hüsker Dü, Iggy & The Stooges, killdozer, Kiss, Kurt Cobain, Melvins, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Nirvana, Pixies, sex pistols, Young Marble Giants
Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain was 27 years old when he ended his life in his Seattle home on April 5, 1994 – leaving this earth perhaps the most iconic cultural figure of his time. As Cobain biographer Charles R. Cross emphasized, ‘He isn’t the last star in rock ’n’ roll, but he is the last true Rock Star that we’ve had to date who earned Icon status. He existed in a period that is now lost to history, when a rock artist could be played on all formats of radio, when rock was the dominant musical form.’
The tragic story of Nirvana’s rise and fall, and grunge’s parallel emergence from underground cult to worldwide phenomenon, have been duly told and retold over the years. This article instead looks closely at the musical building blocks that set the foundation for Nirvana, illuminated by 15 selected albums, in an attempt to grasp the essence of their subsequent sound – and thus get a little closer to explaining their unlikely success.
As Cobain himself said, ‘I think we sound like The Knack and the Bay City Rollers being molested by Black Flag and Black Sabbath.’ An assessment not without accuracy or charm.
Nirvana leaned against the obvious persuasions of hardcore and hard rock, but this was interspersed with a broad and more commercially friendly side that appealed far beyond the inner clique. Sub Pop’s Jonathan Poneman put it this way, ‘Part of what was so captivating about Nirvana’s music was not so much its stunning originality, but its remarkable fusion of so many different strands of influence.’
Kurt Cobain was very open to the music he liked and took inspiration from, and shared passing lists of Nirvana’s favorite bands, albums, and songs. Such was the case in this famous paper in which Kurt scribbled down Nirvana’s Top 50 favorite albums – a list that has led many fans to increase the volume of the album collection.
These were not necessarily Cobain’s favorites, but rather 15 bands and albums that are co-responsible for laying the musical groundwork for Nirvana – and by extension, for the development of the alternative rock into the ’90s.
* * *
Black Sabbath (1970)
Black Sabbath were the foundation for what would become heavy metal, and, naturally enough, their debut album is one of rock’s dark mastodons. The rainy intro opens the gates to a post-industrial wasteland in 1970 Birmingham, with a resonance that carried itself to the ears of a couple of boy ears on the west coast 10-15 years later.
Black Sabbath‘s leaden sound spawned many bastard children over the years, not least of which includes Nirvana’s debut album. Bleach plods though the same muddy tracks – which would help define grunge in the late 1980s.
Iggy & The Stooges:
Raw Power (1973)
Iggy Pop was one of Cobain’s role models, with similarities in both music and attitude. Iggy was a demon on the stage, writhing on the floor, rolling around in broken glass; he was as an out of control force of ‘raw power’, destructive drug use and uncontainable energy. Cobain absorbed this persona into Nirvana, not least in their early gigs where anarchy and chaos were prevailing forces. Musically, of course, proto-punk machinery from Detroit also had an obvious effect on Nirvana. The Stooges – and Raw Power especially – are punk rock required reading.
There’s an obvious superficial distance between the cynical, flannel-clad Seattle rockers’, and pyrotechnically-aided arena rock of four men dressed like superheroes. Yet Kiss was an integral part of growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, and they offered a sense of escapism to the misfit youth of the time. Like it or not, Nirvana has roots elementary school scribbles of Starchild. They recorded a cover of ”Do You Love Me” off of Destroyer, which also includes “Detroit Rock City” – later paraphrased as “Sub Pop Rock City” by Soundgarden. And as fate would have it, on a December’s day in 2013, Kiss and Nirvana were both inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols (1977)
With their first and only album, Sex Pistols sent shock waves into the establishment, catapulting punk into a mass movement that shaped culture and opened up opportunities for a new generation of artists in its wake – a similar effect to what Nirvana would repeat 15 years later. Could it be a coincidence that Nevermind and Never Mind the Bollocks… made their greatest mark not by shaping musical trends but in shaking the music industry and the cultural establishment? Both mark the boiling over point of an underground phenomenon – the beginning of a new era where the boundaries between alternative and mainstream became more porous. A game-changing work of its time and a killer plate of punk rock to boot.
Cheap Trick (1977)
‘I’ll be the first to admit that we’re the ’90s version of Cheap Trick or the Knack’ stated Kurt Cobain in his liner notes for the compilation album Incesticide. Cheap Trick had a penchant for British pop invasion (think The Kinks) which they used as the foundation for their fusion of power pop and hard rock, with a dash of punk. Their eponymous debut is chopped a bit rougher than their later more radio friendly sound. If you’re wondering whether Cobain was referencing the same Knack that produced the one hit wonder, “My Sharona”, you’d be right. In the Cobain biography Heavier Than Heaven Kurt meets up with a friend in 1988: ‘There’s this great record that I’ve discovered that you HAVE to hear. Kurt pulled out Get the Knack. Romero thought Kurt was being sarcastic, and inquired, ‘Are you serious?’ ‘You’ve got to listen to this – it’s an awesome pop album,’ was Kurt’s deadpan reply.’
Neil Young & Crazy Horse:
Rust Never Sleeps (1979)
‘It’s better to burn out than fade away.’ The stanza, taken from Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)”, is the penultimate line of Kurt Cobain’s suicide not. Young would dedicate the entirety of his 1994 album Sleeps With Angels to Cobain. Like Iggy Pop, Young had been trying to contact Cobain shortly before he died. In Young’s autobiography, he writes: “I, coincidentally, had been trying two reach him through our offices to tell him That I thought he was great and he should do exactly what he thought he should do and fuck everybody else…” Neil Young was early to popularize the flannel shirt as the preferred rock uniform. The echo of his thundering guitar rang deep into the forests the northwest, earning him the title, ‘Grandfather Of Grunge.’
Young Marble Giants:
Colossal Youth (1980)
Minimalist and magical: Young Marble Giants’ first album from 1980 is a something of a forgotten masterpiece, and it has its natural place here as a representative of the British post-punk that Cobain felt most at home in. Far from the angry, snot-nosed punk image his stage persona let on, Cobain shared much of their introversion, as well as their self-destructiveness. Together with their Scottish counterparts, The Vaselines, these Welsh were among Cobain’s most relatable artists. In an interview with MTV Brazil in 1993 Kurt Cobain underlines that he was ‘heavily influenced by them’ – less in sound than in terms of ‘their emotions, the feeling, the sincerity and their fantastic songwriting.’
Album – Generic Flipper (1982)
Kurt Cobain could make a band cool by simply muttering their name in passing – as he did The Vaselines – or by sporting a concert T-shirt in public – as he did with his well-worn Flipper shirt. And glory to him for that – if there’s a band that deserves to be lifted out of obscurity, it’s Flipper. The San Francisco band’s epic debut from 1982 check’s every box in the rock handbook: rule breaking, destructive, infantile and reckless. Flipper slowly cranked their songs through a meat grinder, without fully knowing what would come out the other side. En route, they stumbled upon such punk anthems as “Sex Bomb” while blazing a magnificent trail to madness.
My War (1984)
As pioneers of American underground rock into the ’80s, and originators of the California hardcore sound, Black Flag is obvious primary school curriculum for Nirvana. On their later album, My War, the band took punk into a slower, heavier and more militant territory. This had a clear effect on bands like Melvins and Nirvana. Black Flag frontman Greg Ginn started the SST label in 1978, which went on to become one of the most important publishers of the ’80s – and a role model for Sub Pop’s rise some years later.
New Day Rising (1985)
New Day Rising marks an important transition for the power trio of Hüsker Dü. Without losing their frenetic power and strength, here they write pop-flavored melodies that shine through the layers of treble fuzz, albeit not overpoweringly. With a little more polishing, New Day Rising could have been the Nevermind of the ’80s. As Krist Novoselic admitted, ‘Nirvana’s blend of pop, punk and metal was nothing new, Hüsker Dü did it before us.’ From the same circuit and time period, it is also worthy to mention the parallel developments by The Replacements, Butthole Surfers, and Meat Puppets – all of whom were significant fertilizers for the ripening of Nirvana.
Sub Pop rapidly grew into a multinational brand in the ’90s, but they initially came from a proud tradition of strong underground labels from the heyday of SST, Touch & Go – and K Records in nearby Olympia, Washington. K was formed in 1982 by Calvin Johnson, the frontman of Beat Happening. Lo-fi aesthetics dominated the label’s releases, casually produced by friends and acquaintances in the region, which helped chart course for the “alternative revolution” and the rise of indie rock as a mainstream phenomenon. Musically, there is a certain distance between the compact guitar rock of Nirvana and the more quirky indie pop of Beat Happenings, but the relationship can be illustrated by this quote from the band: ‘We are Beat Happening, and we do not do Nirvana covers. They do Beat Happening covers, so let’s get that straight.’
Twelve Point Buck (1989)
Madison, Wisconsin band Killdozer ruled the 1980s underground, along with acts like Butthole Surfers, Laughing Hyenas, and Scratch Acid (pre-Jesus Lizard). Their slow, sludgy punk-on-downers sound distinguished them as early predecessors to grunge, especially for the periphery scene outside of Seattle. The band became known for its original and unexpected cover songs – such as a throaty rendition Don McLean’s “American Pie” – a talent Cobain and Co. also became known for after the live recording, MTV Unplugged in New York. They worked repeatedly with technician Butch Vig in Madison’s Smart Studios. As a result of hearing Killdozer’s 1989 LP Twelve Point Buck, Nirvana hired Vig to work on In Utero. After Cobain’s death, Killdozer also record 1995’s God Hears Pleas of the Innocent with Steve Albini.
In The Graveyard (1988)
Barbarous garage rock has a long history in the Pacific Northwest, with bands such as The Kingsmen (“Louie Louie”) and The Sonics as key originators. Portland-band Dead Moon push forward this rich legacy and remind us that neither Nirvana, nor grunge as a whole, appeared from nowhere. Unlike Nirvana and the landslide that followed in their wake, the Dead Moon remained in the garage while the other left the scene in limousines. And there they still had it pretty good until dissolving in 2006.
Surfer Rosa (1988)
Telling the story behind “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Kurt Cobain confessed, ‘I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying two rip off the Pixies.’ And indeed, Nevermind shares countless similarities with Pixies, in song structure and, notably, in the powerful soft-loud dynamics that Nirvana would further perfect. Sound engineer and producer Steve Albini was commissioned to produce In Utero as a result of his signature work on Surfer Rosa.
Seattle rock’s anomalous emergence came out nowhere, and in a matter of years the city’s musical profile transitioned from a loser-like sense of coolness to streamlined factory for mass culture. But one band never changed. Melvins were heavier, stickier and gloomier than all the others – and they were among Cobain’s biggest musical influences, especially noticeable on Bleach. Melvins would later serve as role models for an even heavier, slower and more somber drone rock formulated by bands like Earth and Sunn O))). Melvins have definitely left a heavy imprint in the rock history books, and their first two albums are authentic sludge rock at its best.
Originally published on read.tidal.com October 12, 2014.
If music were like baseball, Steve Wynn is easily batting .500.
That is to say that, over his career, the modern rock legend has a longer and stronger track record than most of his peers.
In the early 1980s Wynn rose to prominence as the lead singer and primary songwriter of seminal Los Angeles band The Dream Syndicate. Founded partly on Velvet Underground’s improvisational soundscapes, Television’s loud guitar dominance and the jingle-jangle of The Byrds, the Dream Syndicate are rightfully considered among the most notable bands of the so-called Paisley Underground scene, which also included The Bangles, The Rain Parade and others. Along with R.E.M, they are also one of the most important bands in the development and popularization of college rock.
With a constantly revolving line up, labels and experimenting in sound, The Dream Syndicate released a steady row of albums in the course of the ’80s. Their classic debut, The Days of Wine & Roses (1982), stands among the finest albums of the decade, while the blistering live album, Live At Raji’s (1989), captures their ferocious on-stage energy. The latter also turned out to be their swan song (though they reunited in 2012, with the possibility of new material on the way), paving the way for even more successful bands like Nirvana and Pixies without cashing in on the indie/guitar resurrection in the 1990s.
Steve Wynn has remained perpetually productive ever since.
After the demise of The Dream Syndicate, he immediately launched a solo career under his own name, as well as being involved in a series of different projects: Danny & Dusty (with Dan Stuart of Green On Red), Gutterball (with compadres from House of Freaks and The Silos), his own combo The Miracle 3, and the recent supergroup The Baseball Project (which includes his wife and half of R.E.M.).
No matter the musical constellation, Steve Wynn has always kept his signature in tact. Never compromising on strong, intelligent songwriting packed with funny wordplay and gritty storytelling, and of course excellent guitar playing and transcendent melodies. This pivotal artist has turned into one of the most reliable names of the last 35 years, always willing to reinvent himself in search of new sonic territory.
I sat down with the ever so friendly Steve Wynn for a deep-digging round of offbeat and revealing questions.
* * *
Describe your perfect day.
If I write a new song it’s a great day. When I’m creative and producing things, I’m at my happiest. That’s joy to me. Also, walking five miles every day, preferably in a city I’ve never been before. And those two things go together. Walking and writing for me has always been a good combination. So if I’m in a strange city, walking a lot, thinking about an idea for a song, and eating a good meal… It doesn’t get better than that.
Growing up, what made you want to become a musician?
I was born in 1960, so I grew up through Beatlemania, AM radio, garage rock, protest music, acid rock and great things like that. It was just in the air, and I was thrilled by music from a young age.
I wrote my first song and played in my first band when I was 9. That’s all I wanted to do. I had an older sister who was just old enough for my mother to trust me to go out with her, but young enough to be into cool music. She could drive, she had her own house, and she took me to lots of great concerts. The first show I ever saw was Delaney & Bonnie when I was 9, who I still like a lot. I was a music junkie from the age I was 6, so when my sister said we’re going to see Delaney & Bonnie I said, “Oh great, I hope Eric Clapton is playing.” I knew what was going on. She took me to see Alice Cooper, The Who, Roxy Music… all these great bands.
I’m very glad I was 17 years old in 1977. To be old enough to leave home, driving a car, enjoying my freedom while punk rock was happening… That was the perfect blend, and it blew my mind. The most romantic period of all time for me was buying singles by the Clash, the Buzzcocks, Elvis Costello and stuff like that. I think that influenced me more than anything.
What’s the most unlikely album that has inspired your own music?
It’s probably not a surprise to those who know my music and my history, but a lot of jazz records. Out there albums like Albert Ayler’s later stuff, Ascension by John Coltrane, Dancing in Your Head by Ornette Coleman… These were all records I loved, and who taught me of improvisation. In the years before The Days of Wine & Roses, I’d practice my guitar not to The Yardbirds or “Stairway to Heaven,” but to free jazz. It made sense to me, to learn how to jam and improvise. So I would sit down with these freaky half-hour long jazz pieces and go at it.
There’s a fire in your house! What three things do you rescue?
Besides my wife? [laughs] That should be obvious. Let’s see… my 1960 Princeton reverb amplifier, which is the best amp in the universe and which I use every time I make a record. Made the same year as myself, and sounds like all the albums I love. Then there’s my paisley Telecaster, which I just got. It’s my favorite thing right now. This is just music stuff, but I have to add Bob Dylan’s really great bootleg, Ten of Swords, which you can’t find anywhere these days and is a collection of his early demos and recordings. I carried it around forever. Yeah, I go for those three things, after the wife.
If you could pick a fight with anyone – who would it be and why?
I’ve got a few problems with Dick Cheney. [laughs] I think he and George W. Bush had quite a bit to do with screwing up the U.S. and the world in general, for reasons driven by money and corruption. If not punch him in the face, I’d at least like to ask a few questions. I can do more damage with my words than my fist.
I’m a political junkie and have always been a newspaper fanatic. First thing on my radar used to be a copy of the International Herald Tribune [now The International New York Times]. When I came to new cities, the first thing I tried to find was the train station and buy a paper, cause I had to have the news. And that was a way for me to discover a new city. Now you don’t need that, it’s all there. Just like music: The biggest thing about touring was to choose which 20 cassettes to last me for the next 6-10 weeks. I would agonize on my record collection whether to bring Marquee Moon or Adventure. Now I’ve got the entire record collection in my pocket.
What’s the worst or best advice you ever received?
Whatever it was I didn’t listen to it. I don’t take advice very well. [pauses] Someone once said to me, “Be careful and be aware of things that are done in your name, because you will bare responsible for it.” I think that’s true. Sometimes, when you’re a musician, you think somebody else will take care of things, but at the end of the day it’ll come down to you. The things you put out there, you live with. That’s why I think I take such good care of the records I make, the shows I play and the way I treat people.
A role model has always been Bruce Springsteen, who I think is a pretty righteous dude in his approach to live music. Seeing him play in 1977 for the first time was another big life changer, because I saw how much passion he put into his show, treating it like it was the last time. Some will see you that night, some may never see you again, may never have seen you before, and that show may be the most important in that person’s life. You should treat every night and everything you do like it may be the only time you do it. Because for some it will be.
What’s your favorite sport, and why?
You didn’t have to ask that. [laughs] It’s baseball, of course. I’ve always been a big baseball fan. One thing we found from the Baseball Project is that a lot of musicians love baseball. It makes sense, because baseball is much like the music we make. It’s cerebral, it’s mental, and you drift away in your own imagination. There’s no clock in baseball. There’s a clock in football, both European and American, there’s a clock in basketball and hockey. Baseball is open, limitless, infinite, anything can happen. You’re living in the moment, but you’re also living throughout history. Everyone who loves the game can recite numbers and facts from the last 150 years. Which is what we do in the Baseball Project.
Strangely enough I have three favorite teams, and they all have to do with where I’m from and where I live: I love the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and New York Mets. But these days, since I live in Queens, I’ve started to like the Mets a little bit more. Now I can just walk to a Mets game.
A funny thing, my old friend Josh Kantor is the organist in The Baseball Project, and also the organist for Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. It’s the greatest job, and he’s a really cool music fanatic. Typically in the past the organist would play old-fashioned songs or big hits, but he plays The Dream Syndicate, R.E.M and other really obscure indie bands to 50,000 people every weekend.
What’s a place you’ve never been that you want to go?
So many. Next year I’d like to go to South America. I think Bogotá is on top of my list right now. I want to go everywhere. It’s the greatest thing, finding a new city. My favorite place right now is Mexico City, with its great bookstores, cafés, restaurants – and rock fans. There’s a huge scene down there.
Can you name a book that you wish everyone one would read?
I could name a lot of them… I’m a big fan of a book by John Updike called Rabbit, Run, actually there’s a series of books about this character called Rabbit. It tells the story of 20th century America better than any history book. It explains a lot about America and why it’s the way it is and what happened in the second part of the 20th century. I recommended that one, and any of the books with Rabbit in the title by John Updike.
Criticize your own music from the perspective of someone who hates it.
Too much damn guitar!
What’s your greatest fear?
Probably being deaf. I wouldn’t like that. I love music too much.
Are there any particular of your own albums you hold especially dear?
I’d have to say Here Come the Miracles, I really like that for many reasons. I think it’s my best record; and I’m really satisfied with what I did on that one. It also came at a time in my life where I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I thought, I’m 40, I might be done or I might be out of ideas, or I might have nothing left to say. It came at the right time, where it showed me where I should go, and also that I could keep doing it. It revived everything, from the creative side to the career side. It was also the easiest record to make. There were no obstacles, no confusion, and everything was just obvious. Now that doesn’t happen every day. [laughs]
The world is ending tomorrow. What do you do before it’s all over?
Enjoying some time with my wife. That’d be Linda [Pitmon] by the way, my bandmate in The Baseball Project. When we met, we had both been touring a lot, so we knew all about that lifestyle. I toured with this other musician for several years, and once he and I were together in Rome. It was such a beautiful night, we had had a great dinner and stood on a square under the full moon. He laid his arm around me and said, “Steve, I love you man, but I’d much rather be here with my wife.” And I totally understood him. The thing about musicians is that we travel the world having all these great experiences, and then we go home to our wives or friends and try to explain what it was like. It’s nice to be in a band with my wife. We can share all those great memories together.
Originally published September 17, 2005 on read.tidal.com
Verden er full av kåringer over tidenes beste livealbum, som stort sett sirkulerer rundt en pool mer eller mindre faste gjengangere. Det er åpenbart at utgivelser som Live at Leeds og Birdland, Allman Brothers på Fillmore, Deep Purple i Japan og Johnny Cash i diverse fengsler er tidløs dokumentasjon av artister i sin prime og foreviget i sitt rette element. Men skreller man bort disse ikoniske platene, så dukker det opp en ny bunke liveplater som sjelden får sin rettmessige hyllest. Dette utvalget plater som er live & forgotten er plukket fra egen hylle, og består av mer eller mindre oversette liveskiver fra 80-tallet og fram til i dag. Hør på disse også, og kom deg ut på en trang klubbkonsert etterpå. Hvem vet, kanskje kveldens svette ekstase blir morgendagens plateklassiker.
Butthole Surfers: Live PCCPEP
(Alternative Tentacles, 1984)
Ingen band var vel stort fetere på 80-tallet enn notoriske Butthole Surfers. De brøt med det etablerte hardcore-dogmet som rådet i tiden, og fulgte heller opp en stolt tradisjon av Texas-loonies som 13th Floor Elevators og The Legendary Stardust Cowboy. Med sin syrebefengte og tøylesløse miks av aparte punk, skrudd psykedelia, smakløs humor og abstrakte støyeksperimenter skaffet de seg raskt et navn i undergrunnen, et alternativt alternativ, drevet fram av radikal framferd og trippy turneer. EP’en Butthole Surfers (aka A Brown Reason to Live) fra 1983 står igjen som en av det tiårets mest bisarre og uforglemmelige debuter. Den ble i hovedsak revitalisert året etter, da de fulgte opp med Live PCCPEP unnfanget live hjemme i San Antonio, og stort sett bestående av låter fra debuten.
På dette tidspunktet hadde surferne etablert sin klassiske besetning; Gibby Haynes, Paul Leary, King Coffey og Teresa Nevrosa, og lagt grunnlaget for en karriere som skulle føre dem fra pionerstatus til etablerte MTV-favoritter et snaut tiår senere. Men det er deres første plater som er best, med Locust Abortion Technician (1987) og Hairway to Steven (1988) som ubestridte høydepunkter. I bandets første fase ga de fullstendig blanke og overkjørte alt av etablerte regler. Det er godt stykke mellom en alternativ radiohit som ”Pepper” og ”The Shah Sleeps In Lee Harvey’s Grave”.
Tidlig på 80-tallet lot bandet galskapen flyte tilsynelatende uanstrengt som en integrert del av musikken. Det betyr ikke nødvendigvis at sluttresultatet blir spesielt holdbart, snarere er dette en dokumentasjon av den alternative rockens spede fase, ubesudlet av noe annet enn ungdommelig faenskap, billig rus og motstand mot alt som smaker konformitet. En klassiker altså. ”There’s a time to live and a time to die, I smoke Elvis Presley’s toenails when I want to get high.” Sånn er livet.
The Dream Syndicate: Live at Raji’s
Live at Raji’s er en liveplate som vitner om formatets fulle potensiale. The Dream Syndicate hadde på denne tiden, i 1989, alle studioalbumene (fram til nå, nytt album ventes i 2016/2017) bak seg, samtidig som de var helt på høyden som band. Deres studioproduksjon var preget av eminente låter, men også av tidvis varierende studioproduksjon. Monumentale The Medicine Show (1984) fikk en grandios, men noe blodfattig innpakning av Sandy Pearlman og undervurderte Out of the Grey (1986) skjemmes av et slappere lydbilde enn det som tross alt bodde i bandet. Til tross for dette står deres samlede innspillinger igjen som merkesteiner innen den gitarbaserte 80-tallsrocken. De skilte lag på topp, og satte punktum i et regn av gitargnister og feedbackorgier.
Med Steve Wynn som naturlig midtpunkt ble The Dream Syndicate raskt båssatt som en del av Los Angeles’ blomstrende, men kortlevde Paisley Underground-scene, sammen med blant andre The Bangles og The Rain Parade, altså band som mikset 60-tallsrock med psykedelia, og de regnes sammen med f.eks R.E.M helt fortjent som et av foregangsbandene innen framveksten av alternativ amerikansk rock.
Men drømmesyndikatet hadde også en mer ekspresjonistisk side, og det var nettopp i skjæringspunktet mellom radiorock og frijazz de skapte magiske øyeblikk, som i særlig grad kom fram på scenen. På Live at Raji’s byr de rundhåndet fra hele sin karriere, men tyngdepunktene ligger i de lange, malende låtene, som ”John Coltrane Stereo Blues” og ”The Days of Wine and Roses”, slik de aller best utbroderte disse fra scenen som et slags amalgam av Television, Velvet Underground, The Cars og John Coltrane, der impresjonistiske, frijazza gitareksesser smelter sammen med lyden av en AM-radio fra et åpent biltak en glovarm sommerkveld.
Cosmic Psychos: Slave to the Crave
Cosmic Psychos er en breial trio fra Australia, bestående av røslige, øldrikkende blokes med karslig humor og et relativt primitivt syn på det å lage rock, hvis slik den ble formulert av The Stooges og Ramones er det. Et sted mellom disse klassiske grunnpilarene fant Cosmic Psychos sin nisje, og mellom bondegården og puben laget de også en av de mest ubehøvlede, råeste – og beste – liveplatene gjennom tidene.
Deres tidligste skiver; den selvtitulerte debuten fra 1987 og Go The Hack (1989) inneholder noen av de mest minnerike ølskummende anthems i pubrockens historie. Cosmic Psychos forsøkte aldri å være mer enn harry og macho powerrock med infantil humor, tre grep og et lydnivå som blåste ut de siste restene av vett i skolten. Det låt fett i studio, men det var på en svett, trang klubb foran et tørst publikum de virkelig kom til sin rett. Deres beste øyeblikk fanges dermed på livealbumet Slave to the Crave fra 1990 – tatt opp på hjemmebane på the Palace i Melbourne.
Innledet på brei australsk med ’We’re the Cosmic Psychos, and we’re three male models’ harver de gjennom 14 låter i et sett som aldri hviler, der ”Pub” og ”Can’t Come In” fremdeles duger som vorspiel når som helst, mens monstrøse ”Quarter To Three” er et godt eksempel på deres knallharde motorikk og ukontrollerte gitartripper. Så tidløst som bare rock’n’roll kan være. This is blokes you can trust, mate.
Dead Moon: Live Evil
(Music Maniac, 1991)
Dette er et livemusikk i sin aller pureste form, fra et band som dyrket det autentiske og upolerte i hele sin framferd. Oregon-trioen Dead Moon spilte kupunka garasjerock i klassisk nordvestlig tradisjon som strekker seg fra The Kingsmen og The Sonics til The Wipers og Mudhoney, og de fravek aldri sine musikalsk estetiske prinsipper. I løpet av sine snaue 20-årige eksistens siden oppstarten i 1987 etterlatte de seg en omfattende katalog, der denne liveskiva står igjen som en glimrende dokumentasjon av deres tidlige fase. Her tar vi del i det varme samspillet mellom mann og kone Fred og Toddy Cole, og deres trofaste trommis Andrew Cole som gikk bort i mars 2016, bare 54 år gammel.
Dead Moon vekslet alltid mellom det ekstatiske og det sårbare, eksemplifisert i en sjelden ute versjon av ”Can’t Help Falling in Love” etterfulgt av klassiske ”54/40 or Fight”. Spørsmål de to i mellom som ”Are you still in tune?” blir alltid møtt med et likegyldig skuldertrekk, før de harver løs igjen. Like surt og deilig som alltid.
Dead Moon var et band plent umulig å mislike.
Nomeansno: Live + Cuddly
Nomeansno hadde noen av sine beste album bak seg da dette doble livealbumet så dagens lys i 1991, i ikke minst klassikeren Wrong som kom et par år i forveien. Opptakene fra Vera og Effenaar i Nederland fanger Vancouver-trioen, anført av allerede da det godt voksne brødreparet Mr. Wright, i sedvanlig spillemessig godlune og proppfulle av energi.
Nomeansno var aldri enkle å presses inn noen som helst bås, der de brakte impulser fra jazz, progrock og funk inn i en elastisk, hyperaktiv og anarkistisk punk-variant. Med sin voldsomme rytmiske motorikk og et frenetisk samspill i det dynamiske trioformatet var de i hvert fall alt annet enn kjedelige. Musikalsk var Nomeansno en viktig innflytelse for både math-rock og post-hardcore som kom senere, det er vanskelig å tenke seg band som eksempelvis Shellac og Fugazi uten Nomeansno, og som band var de herlig udefinerbare og ganske så unike.
Thin White Rope: The One That Got Away
Hedersbandet Thin White Rope har høstet ufortjent lite heder og ære etter endt karriere, og det på en katalog som er kjemisk renset for svakheter. Fra en litt nølende debutplate, leverte de en kjede av klassiske gitarrock-album utover på 80-tallet, der Moonhead (1987) og …in the Spanish Cave (1988) står igjen som påler. Anført av Guy Kysers autoritære, stoiske røst omgitt av kvernende gitarsaging, skapte Thin White Rope et sound beslektet til både Velvet Underground, Neil Young & Crazy Horse og Television, for kompakte til å være jangle, mørkere enn gjengs collegerock og for sære til å egentlig å tilhøre noen bestemt bølge falt Thin White Rope mellom de fleste stoler – bortsett fra den som er merket kvalitet. Et blikk på deres covervalg sier noe om spennvidden, og inkluderer Can, Dylan, Lee Hazlewood og Hawkwind. Det er vel egentlig selve destillatet de brygget sin egen musikk på.
Deres svanesang – om det er egentlig er et passende begrep på dette mørke monsteret av en liveplate – heter The One That Got Away og utvalget fungerer ikke bare som en tour de force over noen av deres beste låter, den fanger også bandets upolerte, massive lydvegg som de gjerne skrudde ned i studio.
Giant Sand: Backyard BBQ Broadcast
Gjennom hele sin karriere har Howe Gelb og hans musikalske livsprosjekt Giant Sand vært et utløp for noe dypt menneskelig og organisk. Giant Sand har aldri dyrket det perfeksjonerte, de har aldri vært statiske kopister av eget materiale, og aldri vært i nærheten av å gå i opptråkkede spor. Giant Sand har liksom alltid levd sitt eget liv, slik alles liv er en evig runddans mellom opp- og nedturer. Studioplatene deres er alle utelukkende tilfredsstillende, hvis man aksepterer dette som premiss: Det er ikke noe i livet som perfekt, og det er det som gjør det så rikt.
Med sitt kjære Tucson, Arizona som bakteppe har Howe Gelb blitt selve personifiseringen av sørvestens grensemusikk, ikke bare mellom USA og Mexico, men også mellom rock, jazz, country og whatever. Gelb kan gjerne plasseres et sted langs aksen Dylan og Young, men også mellom Thelonious Monk og Tom Waits.
I 1995 var Giant Sand midt inne i sin periode med det som i ettertid nok vil anses som deres klassiske besetning: Med Joey Burns og John Convertino (før de henga seg fullt til Calexico) og steelgitarist Bill Elm og Mike Semple (før de ble Friends of Dean Martinez).
Backyard BBQ Broadcast er ikke en ordinært liveskive fra én bestemt scene, men ulike opptak fra diverse lokasjoner, i hovedsak tilknyttet radiostasjonen WMFU i New Jersey. Halvparten av låtene her er tatt opp ’behind WFMU’s big old house’, og som tittelen indikerer er dette en plate som tar oss med ut av klubbens fire vegger, til åpen himmel og sene kvelder rundt leirbålet.
Magnolia Electric Co: Trials & Errors
(Secretly Canadian, 2005)
Da Jason Molina byttet artistnavn fra Songs: Ohia til Magnolia Electric Co. i 2003 var det mer enn bare en kosmetisk navnendring. Med sitt nye kompani bygde Molina opp et skikkelig band et godt stykke unna den lo-fi stilen han representerte tidligere i karrieren. Trials & Errors er en liveplate som dokumenterer Magnolia i en tidlig fase, og den står som en ren hyllest til rockens hardt arbeidende kultur. Dette ble noe av det råeste Jason Molina festet til tape, men med den såre følsomheten som alltid lå i både melodi, vokal og tekster bevares det intime uttrykket som alltid har vært hans kjennemerke.
Konserten er tatt opp i sin helhet i Brüssel i 2003. I tillegg til Molina spiller folk med erfaring fra blant annet John Wilkes Booze, The Impossible Shapes og Okkervil River. De danner en tett enhet som virker langt mer samspilte enn de i realiteten var. Gamle Ohia-fans vil nikke gjenkjennende til det upolerte soundet som først ble utforsket på Didn’t It Rain (2002) og ikke minst Magnolia Electric Co. (2003). Jason Molina utviklet en mer raspete sangstil, mens det duellerende gitarspillet mellom ham og Jason Groth veksler mellom lange flytende soloer og buldrende kraft. Hele kvartetten oser av svette, spilleglede og framdrift som gir ny kraft i Molinas beske poesi.
Det er lett å nevne Neil Young i samme åndedrag som Magnolia, men her legger de selv opp til det. To ganger i løpet av konserten trer Young fram fra skyggen. Først på ”Almost Was Good Enough”, der ”Out On The Weekend” inkorporeres i selve låten. Young kommer igjen helt på slutten, i massive ”The Big Beast”, der Molina drar strofer fra ”Tonight’s The Night” som en rungende avrunding. Rust never sleeps.
Cover foto: Butthole Surfers (Edward Colver)
Aki Kaurismäki, David Lynch, Ettore Scola, Hal Hartley, Harmony Korine, Jim Jarmusch, Joachim Trier, Joel & Ethan Cohen, John Hughes, John Waters, Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Altman, Terrence Malick, Todd Solondz, Werner Herzog, Woody Allen
Dette er den ganske så subjektive og forsøksvis 100% ærlige listen over mine 100 favorittfilmer gjennom tidene, der personlige parametere lett går foran etablerte klassikere. Dette er først og fremst filmer som har gjort et uutslettelig inntrykk et eller annet sted langs livsveien, filmer som med glede kan ses igjen – og i mange tilfeller filmer som helt sikkert har tapt seg en del siden den gang. Som med de fleste andre inntrykk og utrykk er de vi eksponeres for i den mest sårbare alderen, et eller annet sted i årene mellom 15 og 25, også de som sitter sterkest igjen.
Denne lista er ikke uventet spekket med favoritter som Lynch, Cohen, Jarmusch og Tarantino, men for å unngå en orgie av de samme navnene har jeg satt en restriksjon på maks tre filmer pr. regissør. Aller øverst, en film som fanger hele essensen av filmkunst: Det å entre en mørk sal og gå inn i en annen verden, et sted der alt kan skje, der i lys av Hollywoods falmende neonfasader, the dream place, avdekkes skygger av magi. Hvilket annet sted kan man ønske å tilbringe tre timer enn langs Mulholland Drive med David Lynch i førersetet.
Mulholland Drive (US, 2001) David Lynch
The Big Lebowski (US, 1998) Joel & Ethan Cohen
Dead Man (US, 1995) Jim Jarmusch
Gummo (US, 1997) Harmony Korine
Fire Walk With Me (US, 1992) David Lynch
Donnie Darko (US, 2001) Richard Kelly
The Sweet Hereafter (CA, 1997) Atom Egoyan
The Wicker Man (UK, 1973) Robin Hardy
Withnail & I (UK, 1987) Bruce Robinson
River’s Edge (US, 1986) Tim Hunter
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (US, 1987) John Hughes
Inland Empire (US, 2006) David Lynch
Pulp Fiction (US, 1994) Quentin Tarantino
Fargo (US, 1996) Joel & Ethan Cohen
Back To The Future (US, 1985) Robert Zemeckis
Sånger från andra våningen (SV, 2000) Roy Andersson
Barton Fink (US, 1992) Joel & Ethan Cohen
Days of Heaven (US, 1979) Terrence Malick
Grizzly Man (US, 2005) Werner Herzog
Stranger Than Paradise (US, 1984) Jim Jarmusch
This is Spinal Tap (US, 1984) Rob Reiner
Taxi Driver (US, 1976) Martin Scorsese
Monty Python & the Holy Grail (UK, 1975) Gilliam & Jones
Poltergeist (US, 1982) Tobe Hopper
Ghost World (US, 2001) Terry Zwigoff
Boogie Nights (US, 1997) Paul Thomas Anderson
Simple Men (US, 1992) Hal Hartley
Boyhood (US, 2014) Richard Linklater
Magnolia (US, 1999) Paul Thomas Anderson
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (US, 1999) Jim Jarmusch
Funny Games (AU, 1997) Michael Haneke
Oslo 31. august (NO, 2011) Joachim Trier
Manhattan (US, 1979) Woody Allen
The Breakfast Club (US, 1985) John Hughes
Ghostbusters (US, 1984) Ivan Reitman
Into the Wild (US, 2007) Sean Penn
Pidä huivista kiinni, Tatjana (FI, 1994) Aki Kaurismäki
Gremlins (US, 1984) Joe Dante
Apocalypse Now (US, 1979) Francis Ford Coppola
On Any Sunday (US, 1971) Bruce Brown
Paris Texas (US, 1984) Wim Wenders
Festen (DK, 1998) Thomas Vinterberg
Two-Lane Blacktop (US, 1971) Monte Hellman
Evil Dead (US, 1981) Sam Raimi
Brutti, sporchi e cattivi (IT, 1976) Ettore Scola
Stand By Me (US, 1986) Rob Reiner
Halloween (US, 1983) John Carpenter
A Nightmare On Elm Street (US, 1984) Wes Craven
Animal House (US, 1978) John Landis
Kill Bill, Vol. I (US, 2003) Quentin Tarantino
E.T. (US, 1982) Steven Spielberg
The Good The Bad and the Ugly (IT, 1966) Sergie Leone
Solaris (RU, 1972) Andrei Tarkovsky
The Exorcist (US, 1973) William Friedkin
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (US, 1975) Milos Forman
Modern Times (US, 1936) Charlie Chaplin
Once Upon a Time in America (US, 1984) Sergio Leone
Short Cuts (US, 1993) Robert Altman
A Clockwork Orange (UK/US, 1971) Stanley Kubrick
Trust (US, 1990) Hal Hartley
Julien Donkey-Boy (US, 1999) Harmony Korine
American Splendor (US, 2003) Berman/Pulcini
Juno (US, 2007) Jason Reitman
Fyra nyanser av brunt (SV, 2004) Tomas Alfredsson
Goodfellas (US, 1990) Martin Scorsese
Annie Hall (US, 1977) Woody Allen
Hana-bi (JP, 1997) Takeshi Kitano
Sling Blade (US, 1996) Billy Bob Thornton
Reservoir Dogs (US, 1992) Quentin Tarantino
Happiness (US, 1998) Todd Solondz
Braindead (NZ, 1992) Peter Jackson
À bout de souffle (FR, 1960) Jean-Luc Godard
Nashville (US, 1975) Robert Altman
Woodstock (US, 1970) Michael Wadleigh
Easy Rider (US, 1969) Dennis Hopper
Quadrophenia (UK, 1979) Franc Roddam
Trainspotting (UK, 1996) Danny Boyle
Drugstore Cowboy (US, 1989) Gus Van Sant
The Shining (US, 1980) Stanley Kubrick
El Topo (MX, 1970) Alejandro Jodorowsky
Seven Samurai (JP, 1954) Akira Kurosawa
Trafic (FR, 1971) Jacques Tati
The Iron Giant (US, 1999) Brad Bird
Det sjunde inseglet (SV, 1957) Ingmar Bergman
Napoleon Dynamite (US, 2004) Jared Hess
Smoke (US, 1995) Wayne Wang
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (US, 1989) John Hughes
Highway 61 (US, 1991) Bruce McDonald
Vanishing Point (US, 1971) Richard C. Sarafian
The Killer (Die Xue Shuang Xiong) (HK, 1989) John Woo
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (US, 2004) Michel Gondry
Welcome to the Dollhouse (US, 1995) Todd Solondz
Pink Flamingoes (US, 1972) John Waters
The Amityville Horror (US, 1979) Stuart Rosenberg
Søsken på guds jord (NO, 1983) Fred Sassebo
Enter the Dragon (HK/US, 1973) Robert Clouse
Pan’s Labyrinth (SP/MX, 2006) Guillermo del Toro
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (US, 1974) Tobe Hopper
Adjø Solidaritet (NO, 1985) Wam & Vennerød
Turnaround (NO, 1987) Ola Solum
Scarface//Midnight Cowboy//Repo Man//Bullitt//Groundhog Day// Chungking Express//Requiem for a Dream//Deliverance//There Will Be Blood//Deer Hunter//American Grafitti//The Graduate//Metropolis//The Godfather II//Rosemary’s Baby//Once Upon a Time in the West//Fight Club//Blade Runner//Blues Brothers//A Nightmare Before Christmas
“Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear–the earth remains, slightly modified. The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break….I sometimes choose to think, no doubt perversely, that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and only rock is real. Rock and sun.”
* * *
Thus wrote Edward Abbey in his seminal book, Desert Solitaire, a testament to the profound wisdom that comes to a man who spends too much time in the arid American Southwest.
One might suppose Abbey would’ve had a lot to talk about with the mirage-like musical shaman known as Howe Gelb, who, along with his desert orchestra Giant Sand, has returned with yet another freewheeling blend of dusty Americana, sun-baked rock and jazzy piano lounge.
Thirty years since their debut, Heartbreak Pass is just another volume to the wonderful eclectic mix that has become Giant Sand’s trademark over the last three decades.
Gelb founded Giant Sand in the dry heat of Tucson, Arizona. Their album debut Valley of Rain fit well with other guitar-based bands of the time – R.E.M, The Dream Syndicate, Thin White Rope and Naked Prey – but the project soon evolved into something more than your typical rock group. Giant Sand became more like a gathering of family and friends, where everyone can participate for the cause of a greater good.
Thus the ‘band’ is has fluctuated between in more lineups than most with Gelb including his children and wives next to a huge cast of characters throughout the years. John Convertino and Joey Burns (later of Calexico fame), the late Rainer Ptacek, John Parish, Neko Case, PJ Harvey and M. Ward have all been part of this circuit.
Giant Sand have never been easy to categorize, a fool’s errand that gets harder every passing years, as Gelb & Co. have freely embraced new and disparate stylings into their seesawing sound. But whether it comes out as roots rock, gospel, jazz, punk, latin or lo-fi, it always comes out with the identifiable signature, with characteristic beatnik rhythms, shrewd lyrics and a warm, charismatic personality.
For Heartbreak Pass, Gelb has travelled halfway around the globe and back.
Gathering old and new friends, he invited Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), Grant Lee Phillips, Jason Lytle (Grandaddy), Dutch band The Common Linnets and Danish pedal steel guitarist Maggie Björklund to participate on the new album. The cast is so big this time around that they’re not Giant Sand, or even Giant Giant Sand, but what Gelb himself has called Giant Giant Giant Sand.
We talked to the incomparable Howe Gelb about the making of Heartbreak Pass and the history of Giant Sand, concluding in a poetic guide us through the album’s realization.
* * *
How would you describe this incarnation of Giant Sand?
Responsible for the task at hand. Able and willing. Strong and vigilant. A swarm of self editing indulgence. Natural.
You have said that Heartbreak Pass consists of three volumes representing two lives for 30 years. Can you elaborate on the structure of the album?
The advent of these volumes lies in their particular cluster. Volume 1 begins the album for the first four songs. A louder volume with intended abandon. A lesser than… A buoyancy… A happiness.
The next four songs represent the second volume at a steadier pace. Pressing forward. Quieter and more understated with hidden strengths. Pedal steel alerts the listener to what they now call ‘Americana’ as well as a directness in lyrics. A clarity.
The final seven tracks lie in volume 3. This is really how the album first started being recorded, songs within a whisper. The heart in turmoil between the worlds at hand. A hushed tone, a moan, dangerously close to a sophistication. A ponder, a prayer… something down there under the surface layer.
You couldn’t have laid out this framework in advance, could you?
An album grows out of itself, like a plant. It’s impossible to know how it will branch out once you’ve seeded it, but you must be confident it will bear fruit. You can trim it along the way if it sprawls, entice growth with the right soil and watering – when the right season comes to harvest you will then know well the bounty you’re taking to market. But not until then.
How would you describe the atmosphere of Heartbreak Pass?
Worthy of a breadth.
As a musician you have always been very progressive, never replicating yourself, and you have never struck me as nostalgic when it comes to your art. Thirty years down the road, do you ever look in the rearview mirror of your career?
I like the past just where it is. There’s just no future without it – and that’s my present for you.
A lot of Howe Gelb’s friends were involved in the making of this album, and it came to life in various countries and cities. I asked Gelb to piece together the puzzle of Heartbreak Pass:
First came an attempt in Spain of a new song (“House in Order”) with my friends, the gypsies of Cordoba. But the song hadn’t yet become what it wanted to be, so we ended up surprising ourselves with a one-take wonder live in Tucson with just the three of us: Gabriel Sullivan, Thøger Lund and myself.
…but not until we first toured one last time as Giant Giant Sand, which included all the Danish players – Peter Dombernowski, Anders Pedersen, Nikolaj Heyman, Asger Christensen, Dr. Iris Jakobsen and Maggie Björklund – along with all the Arizona players: Gabriel Sullivan, Brian Lopez, Jon Villa and transplant Thøger Lund.
There in Belgium JB Meijers of The Common Linnets lined up a studio for us, engineered by my friend ‘Hoss’ from Mexico. We managed to keep two new songs from that night (“Every Now and Then” & “Done”) which I would later add the gospel choir I once used for the ‘Sno Angel [Like You] album in Canada.
At that point the band doubled in size again to number 20 members; Giant Giant Giant Sand… or
After which the session in Tucson continued with just the three of us rendering some of the brooding piano pieces (“Pen to Paper” & “Gypsy Candle”). both of which Ionna Kelley would magnificently adorn from Phoenix, and an old nugget (“Man on a String”) that The Common Linnets help out on from the Netherlands.
When back in Europe, on tour in 2014, we spent the day off in Berlin at a studio, writing another new song there in the morning and tracking it that afternoon with our intended track (“Song So Wrong” & “Home Sweat Home”).
On summer holiday with the family in Portland, dad (me) spent some time hangin’ with Jason Lytle [Grandaddy] in his studio with a track he produced (“Transponder”)
…and also harvested an instrumental piano track from a live house gig there he recommended (“Bitter Suite”).
When back home for 5 minutes, a moment allowed me to scrawl out another new song in about 12 minutes and thusly recorded it there and then at Tucson’s own Wavelab studio (“Eye Opening”).
Then came a tour in the Balkans later that summer, along with Italy, that spawned another new song (“Hurtin’ Habit”) that featured Steve Shelley [Sonic Youth] on drums with backing band Sacri Cuori featuring guest vocalist Lovely Quincess from Croatia.
In September, during an invitation assisting Vinicio Capossela in Calitri, Italy, another new song was recorded having him wax poetically on (“Heaventually”) and which would be further guested by the harmonies and slide of Grant-Lee Phillips from Nashville.
Finally the last song added to the album’s collection would be done back in Tucson after a series of texts with old buddy Leslie Feist (“Texting Feist”) in the momentary studio of Tucson band Chicha Dust, including Brian Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan, along with Thøger Lund and myself, but most especially featuring original drummer Winston Watson from the very first Giant Sand album 30 years ago.
In between all of that, one day at home my 12-year-old daughter, Talula, came up with a song along with her daddy (me) that we immediately recorded on the iPhone (“Forever and Always”). But that’s just a family tradition.
Just before everything was collected up for mixing, the husband and wife team of Asger and Iris brilliantly recorded all the rest of their string parts on the isle of Crete.
These proceedings were then handed over to a one John Parish along with assistant Ali Chant who, besides throwing down the odd drum or two, mixed the entire batch there in Bristol, U.K.
Opprinnelig publisert på read.tidal.com 8.5.2015