Return of the Griveous Angels: Sid Griffin on The Long Ryders

Alt-country progenitors and Paisley pioneers the Long Ryders recently dropped their first new album in 33 years, Psychedelic Country Soul. It’s a triumphant return to form and their finest effort to date.

The Long Ryders (formed in 1981 in Los Angeles) are often cited as the missing link between Gram Parsons and punk rock. They were closely connected with the ’80s Paisley Underground scene (the Bangles, the Dream Syndicate, the Rain Parade), and widely considered as one of the forerunners of the alt-country genre. With their full-length albums Native Sons (1984), State of Our Union (1985) and Two Fisted Tales (1987), the Ryders became critical darlings with a dedicated following — especially in Europe. The band decided to call it quits just as U2 asked them to open for them on the U.S. wing of their Joshua Tree tour. But now, more than 30 years later, The Long Ryders are finally back.

I spoke with frontman Sid Griffin about the album they always wanted to make, recording in Dr. Dre’s studio and the Paisley Underground scene. Plus, he graciously shares the story of the fabulous the Long Ryders — album by album.


How did you approach the songwriting and the recording process this time around?

Due to the Internet, we were able to demo all our song ideas and send them to each other. This proved crucial, as no one in the Long Ryders lives anywhere near another Long Ryder. Greg lives in Los Angeles, Tom lives east of Chicago, Stephen lives in Virginia on the East Coast and I live in Europe. So the Internet allowed us to learn the songs we decided to record long before we saw each other face to face.

We met in L.A. and had two days of rehearsals. Producer Ed Stasium wanted three rehearsals, but there simply was not time. In fact, Larry Chatman promised us seven free days in Dr. Dre’s studio and on the Wednesday I knew we were not going to finish in time, so I went to Larry’s office behind the band’s back and begged for an eighth free day. Which Larry graciously gave us.

The Long Ryders recorded as live as possible with everyone looking at everyone else in the big room at Dr. Dre’s studio. The Foo Fighters had been in there a few weeks earlier due to a malfunction at the studio at Dave Grohl’s house. It is a great sounding room and Dre’s engineer, Lola, was a big help, too.

There were some percussion overdubs at Ed’s home studio near San Diego by Greg Sowders, and Stephen overdubbed some keyboards in Virginia, but that was it. Ed mixed it at his home studio and BANG! The Long Ryders were back in the game.

Did you feel any kind of pressure making a comeback album like that?

No. Why would we feel pressure? I told the guys before we started recording, ‘If this album sucks, we do not put it out… simple as that.’  And the guys agreed with me. We also figured if we only cut half a good album we would put out an EP and if we only cut two or three good songs we would put out an Internet single or a Record Store Day single on vinyl and that would be that. So by knowing we were not going to release lousy or even mediocre product, we left with no real pressure on us at all.

You’ve said that this is the album ‘you’ve always wanted to make.’ What were you looking for in the first place?

The Long Ryders wanted Psychedelic Country Soul to reflect who we were, who we are now and how we got there. Hence Stephen McCarthy coming up with such a marvelously appropriate album title. What you read on the outside of the package is what you get inside the package with our music, dig?

And somehow this new album represents us, top to bottom, more accurately than any of our previous albums. One might think Native Sons is the definitive Long Ryders album, but this one is. It’s got it all: rough and ready rockers, two bittersweet ballads, some crazy, totally out-there psychedelia, country riffs, bluesy riffs, heartfelt vocals. It even has my dear friend Kerenza Peacock from the Coal Porters on violin sweetly sawing away and our old gal pals Debbi and Vicki Peterson from the Bangles adding the most ice-cool harmonies this side of the Beach Boys.

What more could a Long Ryder want?

Except being just a bit older and wiser, what has changed the most being in the music industry today?

The Long Ryders have seen the music industry change a great deal. We have noticed the consumer always, always, always goes for the ease of musical delivery and not the best sound quality. So Neil Young’s Pono and also WAV files are not that big a deal to the majority of listeners.

And while vinyl is on the rise, it and CDs or indeed any hard copy format will never again see the huge sales of the past. Not when a consumer can tap a few buttons and hear the music in seconds. Therefore most people have long dismissed going to a store to buy physical product, and that is a shame as record shops were such temples of community and bohemianism and fun.

A number of bands from the 1980s L.A. scene, also known as the Paisley Underground scene, have recently reunited and released new material. How did you relate to the term Paisley Underground back in the days?

Michael Quercio [of the Three O’Clock] coined the phrase ‘Paisley Underground’ in an interview with The L.A. Weekly back in the day, no one in the press thought of it. The real Paisley Underground is and always was the Salvation Army who became the Three O’Clock and of course the Rain Parade, the Bangles and the Dream Syndicate. No one else. You will note these are the exact four bands who are included on the recent Yep Roc album of Paisley Underground bands doing other Paisley Underground bands’ material.

Then the Long Ryders and Green on Red were included, which was nice. After all, we were all friends, we all knew each other, we all attended the other band’s gigs, and played music that was at least vaguely related to the other acts’ music. As time went on, True West, way up in Davis, California, were added to the Paisley Underground and Naked Prey out in Arizona were added to the Paisley Underground and then half of the 1960s-oriented guitar bands in southern California were Paisley Underground bands! It was really out of hand.

The camaraderie of the original four P.U. bands was diluted and then diluted further. Bands were called members of the Paisley Underground and none of us in L.A. knew who on earth they were.

So, originally, it was just the four bands I mentioned above and no one else. And yes, it was a real, organic thing and not some baloney created by the media. To this day, to this second, I am fond of all the bands above, very happy to be friends with them, and very aware how lucky I was to not merely be in a popular band but part of a popular, groundbreaking scene. One almost, I say almost, as influential as Memphis in 1954, Liverpool in 1963 or New York City in 1977. It was a wonderful time.

The Long Ryders - Press Photo 2016-2-kopi

How would you describe the 2019 live version of the Long Ryders?

Technically, we are better than ever. I am as serious as a heart attack here when I say this. Stephen McCarthy on guitar is a genius player. I was there when Chris Hillman told Stephen he was the only guitarist he ever heard who played Clarence White’s riffs correctly! Tom Stevens is a brilliant bass player, the best bass player of my age group, the equal of Mike Mills. Greg Sowders on drums and me on whatever are audibly better players today than we were then.

Our playing and singing is better than ever, as is our songwriting, and you hear evidence of this on the new album, Psychedelic Country Soul. The Long Ryders remind me of a prizefighter making a very successful comeback. Oh, sure, the youthful dash and verve are long gone, true, but the technical know-how and cunning thinking that experience has blessed us with are present in great abundance.

I feel like we are only getting started!

And on that promising note, we will let Mr. Griffin guide you through their marvelous recording history, album by album.

(PVC 1983)

This five-song EP came out in late 1983 and brought the Long Ryders immediate notice. Its success at college radio made us a band to watch and one that was considered influential right from the start.

The stark front cover caused heads to turn at The Gavin Report and Billboard, as the Long Ryders looked so unlike the synth-pop acts of the era. And our music was updated 1960s guitar rock & roll, with ‘roll’ as important as ‘rock,’ all due to the sweet production of Brian Wilson’s 1970s engineer Earle Mankey.

The pounding title track, the psychedelically mesmerizing melody of ‘And She Rides,’ and the Lovin’ Spoonful styled whimsy of ‘Born to Believe in You’ set out the parameters for the Long Ryders straight away. Yet it was Stephen McCarthy’s ‘You Don’t Know What’s Right, You Don’t Know What’s Wrong’ that became a signature song and a signpost pointing to Americana and alt-country, two phrases that did not exist in 1983 and that were not yet a musical genre on radio or in print.

Native Sons
(Frontier 1984)

In summer 1984, Los Angeles hosted the Olympics. The public was warned frequently about traffic gridlock. The Long Ryders found out A&M Studios was available at a rock-bottom rate, as there was concern no act would want to record during the tourist invasion of the summer Olympics.

Choosing the legendary Henry Lewy as producer (Joni Mitchell, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen), we moved into A&M Studios before Herb Alpert had time to deposit our check and started work. Psychedelia was toned down save the atmospheric ‘Close to the Light’ and country, bluegrass and Sun Records rock & roll was emphasized. ‘I Had a Dream’ made a great, great single in Europe and Elvis Costello signed us to his Demon label in London.

We were becoming an American answer to Rockpile, and soon Native Sons was the #4 album on the College Radio/Indie charts. Back then, this meant radio airplay, record sales and positive reviews in every newspaper in the country.

State of Our Union
(Island 1985)

Our March/April 1985 tour of Europe saw us greeted like Caesars returning to Rome after foreign conquest. We holed up in London’s Columbia Hotel as label after label visited us, each anxious to sign us and put us at the top of the charts. We went with Island Records’ London office as the great Nick Stewart, the man who signed U2, had the best rap.

We recorded in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, with Will Birch at the controls and Neill King engineering, both experienced music industry veterans. A cook was on hand to feed us our culinary requests and a large keg of beer was placed at our disposal. The recording went well, but mixing proved a chore with the first mix having hit technical difficulties. The album was remixed at R.G. Jones in south London by Neill King, Will Birch and I, the band having flown home as scheduled. Yet from this worrisome hassle emerged ‘Looking for Lewis and Clark,’ our pulsating signature song.

Two Fisted Tales
(Island 1987)

Back to A&M Studios in Hollywood, which was Charlie Chaplin’s old studio in the 1930s. Our producer was Ed Stasium (the Ramones, the Smithereens, Jeff Healey Band) and he crafted a radio-friendly record that did not sacrifice our Americana/alt-country principles one iota. Ed drilled us and rehearsed us like the U.S. Marine Corps, even down to deciding kick drum patterns. It was terribly exciting. I thought we were going to be the next R.E.M. by Christmas.

We were now with Island Records USA and those Noo Yawkers were thrilled when they heard what we had cut. NRBQ’s ‘I Want You Bad’ was the lead-off single with ‘Gunslinger Man’ a powerful follow-up release. Two Fisted Tales contains more Long Ryders songs that were covered by other acts than any other record we made. We were indie rock stars and Hollywood heroes in our L.A. neighborhoods. Life was sweet.

Psychedelic Country Soul
(Cherry Red 2019)

After thirty-three and 1/3 years (!) the Long Ryders returned with a brand new studio album, an album most fans are calling our very best one. On our last tour in 1987, we befriended Larry Chatman, a dear pal, and Larry never forgot it. Flash forward 30 years and Larry is now Dr. Dre’s main man. Larry offers us a week’s free studio time at Dre’s in L.A. as repayment for our helping him 30 years earlier. We immediately accept this extraordinarily kind offer.

Exchanging demos via the Internet, we decide which songs to record. Ed Stasium is back in the producer’s chair and the sound, the feel, the vibe of the record is largely down to him. We worked 16-hour days and accepted no visitors to the studio. It was time to live up to whatever legend had grown up around us in three decades, the Founding Fathers Of Alt-Country and so forth.

Vicki and Debbi Peterson from the Bangles sang on several songs. My dear friend Kerenza Peacock played violin like the world class virtuoso she is indeed. Featuring our best songs, each specifically written for this project, everyone brought their ‘A’ game. Psychedelic Country Soul is our best written album, our best sung album, our most thought-out album, and I think our best sounding album in pure sonic terms. It hit #1 in the UK’s Official Alt-Country/Americana chart shortly after its release.

I am very proud of it and very proud of the guys in this band.


How Did They Find Themselves Here? The Dream Syndicate: Album by Album

In the late 1970s Los Angeles was a key hub for punk rock and hardcore music, spawning crucial bands like Black Flag, Germs and Circle Jerks. At the turn of the decade, just as that boom started to fade, a new generation rolled into town keeping the untamed punk spirit alive while reverberating echoes of the pre-punk era.

Eighties Los Angeles became a hotbed for pioneering alternative rock acts, leaning equally towards country and folk, in the form of cowpunk, and psychedelia, manifesting a scene known as the Paisley Underground. Man, it must have been a thrilling place! Standout bands like The Gun Club, X, Green On Red, The Rain Parade, The Long Ryders and True West are just some of the acts that planted cactus roots in the land of palms. But none were more thrilling or vital than The Dream Syndicate.

Even though they belonged to the same scene as the ones mentioned above, The Dream Syndicate didn’t sound like anyone else at the time. Originally based around Steve Wynn (guitar, vocals), Karl Precoda (guitar) Kendra Smith (bass) and Dennis Duck (drums), Syndicate was all about loud guitars and a boundless approach, creating a musical habitat equally leaning on the harrowing echoes of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, the intricate guitar work of Television, the drone soundscapes of The Velvet Underground and the improvisational elements of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler.

The band cemented their legacy early on the seminal 1982 debut, The Days of Wine and Roses, a hands-down masterpiece that exhibits everything they were capable of. Although loud, psychedelic guitar rock was not the hippest of sounds in the ’80s, but it resonated surprisingly well for a subculture that later became known as college rock, which The Dream Syndicate pioneered along with the likes of their close friends in R.E.M, Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr.

In 1983 The Dream Syndicate secured an opening slot for U2 on their U.S. tour, and the newfound national spotlight landed them a contract with A&M Records. Along with the record deal came a budget that allowed them to hire Sandy Pearlman (Blue Oyster Cult, The Clash) as producer, resulting in their much more expansive sophomore album, The Medicine Show (1984).

Being dropped from the majors due to disappointing album sales, on top of internal struggles and various line-up changes didn’t prevent two more albums to follow. After a temporary retirement, which allowed Steve Wynn and compadre Dan Stuart of Green On Red to join forces as the drunken barroom outfit Danny & Dusty, Syndicate returned with newfound energy on 1986′s Out of The Grey. Following yet another pause, they crafted the dark and dense album, Ghost Stories, produced by Elliot Mazer of Neil Young fame.

In just six years time, The Dream Syndicate had forged a unique and distinctive four-album catalog that earns them a place among the seminal guitar bands of the 1980s. They capped off the decade with Live at Raji’s, an ecstatic live album that fully captured their energetic shows, without any technical bonds and a statement most bands can dream of.

As the ’80s turned to the ’90s, the Dream Syndicate was put to rest. Steve Wynn continued on as the far most profiled artist, under his own name and in bands like Gutterball and The Baseball Project, while other members drifted in different directions. Their music maintained a strong cult following no one really expected their return.

Then, in 2012, The Dream Syndicate miraculously reunited for a Spanish music festival. Made up of Wynn, Mark Walton (bass), Dennis Duck on drums and newcomer Jason Victor on guitar, the magic was still there. The band has since played over 50 shows and toured throughout the U.S. and Europe.

In 2016 they headed into the studio to begin work on their first album in 29 years. Released on September 8 by Anti- Records, How Did I Find Myself Here? is a triumphant return for a band that never lost its spark.

We invited Steve Wynn for a look in the back mirror and guide us through their catalog while we anticipate their new album.

* * *

The Dream Syndicate: Album by Album
By Steve Wynn

The Days of Wine and Roses
(Ruby, 1982)

Where it all began – to be specific, during three consecutive midnight to 8 a.m. sessions at Quad Tech Studios in East Hollywood in September of 1982.

We tracked all of the songs on the first night. And I sang them and did a few guitar bits and pieces the second night. We mixed the whole thing on the third and we all went to our day jobs in between.

I worked as a clerk at Rhino Records so it’s not like it was the most demanding job in the world. But I do remember going in and opening the store after we finished with a cassette of the mixes in my hand.

I played it to an empty store and knew that we had done something special, that we had made an album that lived up to our loftiest ambitions and intentions

Medicine Show
(A&M, 1984)

The first record took three days. This one took five months, working almost every day during those five months, usually about 12 hours a day.

On the same 8 songs. Yes, it’s almost impossible to believe.

Chock it up to the times, the ’80s became the Era of The Producer, a time when newfound technology and those at the helm felt that they were there for much more than the mere task of capturing art.

Chock it up to the actual producer we had chosen, Sandy Pearlman (Blue Oyster Cult, The Clash), who I later found out was notorious for going way over a deadline and most certainly over budget.

Chock it up to our ambition to make something deeper, bigger and most intense than our first.

Whatever, they were very different records but they fit together in my mind and this one is quite often my favorite. It creates its own world and I really feel like there’s no other record quite like it. Oh, and some of my favorite songs that I’ve ever written.

Out of the Grey
(Big Time, 1986)

The band broke up in December. Karl and I weren’t talking. It had stopped being fun. And the newfound excesses – of chemicals, alcohol, experience, ego, fame – didn’t work in our favor.

So, that was it.

At least that was it until Mark and Dennis and I realized that we liked playing together and we invited Paul B. Cutler (45 Grave and, the producer of our first EP) to join us.

It worked. It was a blast. It was fun.

And the giddiness of everything being fun again comes through on this record, the title track being the taste of rising up, phoenix-like, from the ashes.

It’s upbeat, breezy, things not normally associated with our band.

Ghost Stories
(Enigma, 1988)

By this time Mark and Paul and Dennis and I had spent a lot of time on the road, and you can hear it on this record. I think that in some ways we put it all together on this one.

It’s dark, it’s noisy, it’s bratty but it’s also quite self-assured and not undone by production – neither too little nor too much.

It’s just us.

Credit must be given to producer Elliot Mazer (responsible for Neil Young’s Harvest, for one) who went for a live immediacy and transparent, rocking sound. It doesn’t sound dated. It sounds like us and, although we didn’t know it at the time, it was a good way to go out.

Oh, and much of it features Chris Cacavas, who had become a fifth member and still is to this day.

Live At Raji’s
(Enigma, 1989)

Paul’s guitar was stolen and we were all broke and most definitely uninsured. So we played a gig at our favorite local Hollywood hangout, Raji’s, to make enough to buy him a new one. And what the hell, we thought, let’s record it as well.

Elliot was around and had the idea to record the show direct to DAT (remember DAT, kids?). He was upstairs with his gear and recorder while we rocked out in the basement.

Man, we were ON that night – no jitters or worries about being recorded. We let it all fly. You hear this record and you hear what we did night after night on stages around the world.

When the show was done, so was the record. Performed and recorded and fully mixed all at the same time.

Some people say it’s our best record. Who am I to argue?

How Did I Find Myself Here
(Anti-, 2017)

A 29-year gap between our fourth and fifth albums. Who does that? Has there ever been a longer gap between albums in a band’s history. I don’t know. But this feels both like a continuation of our saga and something altogether brand new.

We neither wanted to ignore our past nor slavishly reproduce it.

And then we went into the studio and didn’t think about any of that. We just played.

Five days of playing in Richmond, Virginia at Montrose Studios, aided and abetted by our new guitarist Jason Victor (who had played in my solo band, the Miracle 3, since 2001). We knew from the start that it was going well and we just kept going and followed the music where it wanted to take us.

It took us someplace very special.

And that’s how we found ourselves here.

See you on the road.

– Steve Wynn, September 2017

Bjørn Hammershaug

Soundrack to Our Lives: Kacy & Clayton

The Siren’s Song is the freshly released, Jeff Tweedy-produced fourth album from Saskatchewan folk duo of cousins Kacy Anderson & Clayton Linthicum.

Following their highly acclaimed 2016 New West debut Strange Country, Kacy & Clayton tap even deeper into the bottomless well of folk and country influences from North America and the British Isles. While carefully reaping centuries of rural traditions, the duo blossoms into something modern and timeless built on equal parts intricate guitars and angelic vocal harmonies.

The Washington Post just named The Siren’s Song the front-runner as the year’s best album in the Canadian-British-Americana country-folk category, and we highly encourage you to give it a listen.


Congratulations on your new album! How would you best describe it?

Thank you! This is the first record of material we’ve made that can be performed at rodeo dances if need be.

How do you view The Siren’s Song compared to your debut album, Strange Country?

On our first three albums, we wanted to take these regional folk traditions — Anglo-American balladry, Piedmont blues, sea shanties, Cajun music, etc. — and write music that could be mistaken for traditional songs.

With The Siren’s Song, we attempted to make an album that synthesized the influences of our previous records with the production and writing style found on country records circa 1965 and the groove of South Western garage rock groups like the Sir Douglas Quintet and the Bobby Fuller Four.

How has the response been so far?

So far, so good! It’s been getting quite a lot of public radio and media attention here in Canada. My dad recently recited an entire song from the album to a group of his friends, so I consider that a success.

How did you celebrate the album release?

With a big bag of Miss Vicki’s kettle chips and a pint of cider.

Awesome! What is your next move going forward?

We’ve got tour dates planned for most of the fall that will take us through parts of Canada and the US, and also plan to tour the UK and Europe in the new year.

Soundtrack to My Life: Kacy & Clayton

Clayton’s Picks

Favorite song to listen to in the car?
“Poor Moon”: Canned Heat

The galloping high-hat and pulsating guitar vibrato on “Poor Moon” really propels my Honda CR-V and me down the road.

A song you like to sing in the shower?
“Bright Phoebus”: Mike and Lal Waterson

Here’s to Domino Records for reissuing this 45-year-old masterpiece and here’s to the Watersons and the community that surrounded them and played on this record.

A song that always brings a tear to your eye?
“Silver Coin”: Bridget St. John

Bridget St. John’s version was my introduction to this song, written by Terry Hiscock(Hunter Muskett). The chord progression and Gordon Huntley’s steel guitar part cause me to feel a pile of feelings.

Best new song you recently discovered?
“Night Wander”: Steve Gunn

When we finished making our new album in Chicago this past January, we had plans to go see Steve Gunn at Thalia Hall. Unfortunately, the spring rolls we ordered at a Vietnamese restaurant took much too long to prepare and we missed the show. Not to be denied, our drummer Mike Silverman and I watched a bunch of his KEXP sessions in our rental apartment, which is how I discovered this song.

Best song you’ve ever experienced live?
“Autumn Leaves”: Bob Dylan

When I saw Bob in Edmonton, Alberta in July, he ended the show with this song. He played a bunch of the standards he’s recorded on the past few albums that night but this was the most striking. The bowed bass and steel guitar and vocal performances were out of this world.

A song you wish you’d written?
“The Homecoming”: Tom T. Hall

This song perfectly communicates such a complete scene and conversation between a son who has lost contact with his rural roots, and his aging father on the farm.

Best song for going out on the town?
“Roll ‘Em Pete”: Pete Johnson

Big Joe Turner sings this jump blues with Pete Johnson on piano. I first found out about this record when I heard Bob Dylan borrowed from it’s intro for his song, “Summer Days” (from Love & Theft).

A song that inspired you?
“Refractions”: Bobbie Gentry

Bobbie Gentry’s records are among the most interesting and least categorizable of ’60s pop music. This song comes right out of the middle of a 5-song suite that makes up the B-side of her Delta Sweete LP. The range in melody and depth of this arrangement inspire me every time I hear it.

Best song to listen to while on tour?
“Give Me Forty Acres”: The Willis Brothers

Saskatoon legend Shakey Wilson turned me on to this truck driving anthem and it often plays in my mind while trying to navigate and park a pickup/U-haul trailer in the cities of America.

Kacy’s Picks

Favorite song that you’ve written or performed on?
“Honk If You Like Herefords”: Wolf Willow

This is one of the greatest agricultural songs ever written according to me. It was a privilege to sing this Etienne Soulodre song with these Saskatchewan sweethearts.

Best song to listen to while on tour?
“Wishing All These Things Were New”: Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard always has the best song to listen to at any point in time.

A song that represents your childhood?
“Tall Tall Trees”: Roger Miller

One thing kids and dads can bond on is Roger Miller. This was a favourite track to listen to in my dad’s truck.

Best song for when you’re head over heels in love?
“Do You Wanna Dance”: Ramones

I think that this is a universal hit for universal lovers to dance to.

Best song for a broken heart?
“My Town”: Kate & Anna McGarrigle

The best melody to sing while crying.

The song you’ve probably heard more times than any other.
“Fishin’ In The Dark”: The Nitty Gritty Band

I have been to many rural dances and listened to a lot of local country radio since 1997.

Bjørn Hammershaug

Lizz Wright: Grace against fear and division

Lauded North Carolina-based singer-songwriter Lizz Wright is about to release her new, highly anticipated album GRACE, a deeply rooted, spiritual collection of songs that reveal her close connection to her Southern heritage and candid commentary on the region’s current political and social upheaval.

GRACE is an affectionate refusal of fear and division,” Wright says. “A testament of belonging and trust.”

Lizz Wright has distilled Southern music traditions throughout her career, integrating jazz, gospel, R&B and blues into her musical expression. Still, GRACE reflects some sort of a homecoming for her, as she traces the landscapes from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the lands of her folks in Georgia. Together with photographer Jesse Kitt, she even went on a road trip to reconnect with family, friends and strangers to seek the true voice of the South at the moment.

From a body of about 70 cover songs, 10 various works were selected for these recordings, including wonderful translations of music by Ray Charles, Allen Toussaint, Nina Simone, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and others. “I wanted to respond with rooted affection to the forged tide of divisiveness and distrust that was being relentlessly projected across the media in the wake of the 2016 elections,” Wright tells us.

The album came to fruition with the assistance of an excellent cast of musicians, including pianist and choir director Kenny Banks Sr., guitarists Marc Ribot, Chris Bruce and Marvin Sewell, bassist David Piltch, drummer Jay Bellerose and keyboardist Patrick Warren, while Joe Henry tied it all together as album producer.

Henry and Wright go way back. ”It was and remains an honor to have been Lizz’s scout along the journey of GRACE,” Wright says in a statement. “And in such dark times, we are all as musicians called to answer brutality with wild and inclusive beauty. When Lizz now sings, I am allowed to feel by extension that I am doing something of my part. What a gift that has been to me. What a gift she offers all.”

So true. In this interview, the singer-songwriter elaborated on her forthcoming LP and the story behind it.


Congratulations on your new album. What do we get and what’s it about?

Thanks! GRACE is a documented conversation between two writers and longtime friends: a producer of (mostly) Americana and folk music and a gospel-jazz singer. We are both children of the South — Joe from North Carolina and me from Georgia — with roots in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

This project reflects the unhurried and open spirit of our dialogue and makes of it a space that others can move through. The experience of sharing this environment is the message itself.

What was your initial idea for this album when you started to choose material for it?

I’d been holding the working title of GRACE for over a year before actually starting the project. The executive producer, Joe McEwen, gave me a birthday card a couple of years ago with GRACE on the front, and I guess it got inscribed in my brain. Figured I’d be writing a title track, but Rose Cousins had already heard the call and her song is absolutely perfect. I dropped my gaze and cried when I first heard it.

Great writing can spark an overwhelming sense of relief.

How did you make these songs into your own?

The message and energy that I wanted to share were most important to me. Then Joe and I went looking for material, existing or to be crafted that could bring the message to life. I wanted to respond with rooted affection to the forged tide of divisiveness and distrust that was being relentlessly projected across the media in the wake of the 2016 elections. “A soft answer turns away wrath.”

Can you please shed some light on how you select which songs made the cut on the final album?

Joe Henry is a real wordsmith and historian. We were always working with a mound of strong ideas and stories in the material we considered. I love making records because I think the process makes me a better writer.

We designed a soft outline for the kind of landscape we wanted in sentiment and sonic texture. From there the process was like building a boat in the garage. It was all about clarity and discovery, how the pieces fit the vessel.

What can you tell about the recording process and working with this material in the studio?

This record offered me the easiest and fastest process I’ve had thus far. Much to Henry’s credit, of course. I am also grateful to be approaching 20 years in the music business. I feel more trust for the process and the people involved, so we cover more terrain. We get to new ideas faster.

The sessions were fun and deeply comforting. I’d sing for hours and go to my beachfront rental each night feeling like I had just gotten up from a long night of sleep.

You go way back with Joe Henry. How will you describe working with him for this project, and how did he guide you in the process?

Preproduction sessions happened in Pasadena. He’d greet me at the door looking like old money and walk me to his coffee machine and ask me in an original set of words each day how I was doing and what was on my mind. A few times I realized that just the way he dealt with me made me want to compose something on the spot. Maybe all good friends make us feel this way. I dunno.

We had a great conversation about the Dylan tune. I felt challenged by some of the lines and the fact that there were so many words. Also, Bob is no stranger to misery because he has no fear describing it. What Joe helped me realize without judgement is how genius it is to be able to address sadness and open it to find other things like mercy.

Looking back at your debut full length in hindsight, what are you most happy about and could it have been better?

I am most happy that I’m finally letting myself make one record at a time. I only wish I could have started it with the understanding that a project isn’t a resume for all that I know and can sing. It’s a captured moment that’s open for extended exploration, like a photograph, sculpture or painting. I got there after awhile, but from now on that wisdom is the starting point.

What in your opinion is the ultimate southern album?

Whoa!! How could I choose when I find sweet, iconic pieces scattered across so many projects and artists, classic and contemporary? Is there really one Southern record that every Southerner refers to as the one that sounds like home? I’d love to ask Joe this question. I don’t know how to hang my hat on one place.

And finally, please describe the ideal setting to ultimately enjoy GRACE.

A lot of this material was explored in front of fireplaces, my wood burning stove in Black Mtn and a cracking fireplace in Pasadena. I also heard the creek and cicadas in the background while I checked the rough mixes.

My favorite place to listen to music is speeding along switchbacks, sweeping through farmland and overgrown meadows.

Lizz Wright: GRACE
Concord Records
Release Date: September 15, 2017

Full track listing:

1) Barley – Birds of Chicago
2) Seems I’m Never Tired Lovin’ You – Carolyn Franklin
3) Singing In My Soul – Sister Rosetta Tharpe
4) “Southern Nights” – Allen Toussaint
5) “What Would I Do” – Ray Charles
6) “Grace” – Rose Cousins
7) “Stars Fell on Alabama” – Frank Perkins and Mitchell Parish
8) “Every Grain of Sand” – Bob Dylan
9) “Wash Me Clean” – k.d. lang
10) “All the Way Here” – Lizz Wright & Maia Sharp

Lizz Wright and her band will tour in autumn of 2017, presenting a full multimedia production of photographs captured by Jesse Kitt as a backdrop to the live performance of GRACE.

Sep 15 Highline Ballroom – New York, NY
Sep 16 Ridgefield Playhouse – Ridgefield, CT
Sep 17 Shalin Liu Perf. Center – Rockport, MA
Sep 20 Howard Theatre – Washington, DC
Sep 22 Variety Playhouse – Atlanta, GA
Sep 23 Live at the Ludlow – Cincinnati, OH
Sep 24 City Winery – Nashville, TN
Nov 01 City Winery – Chicago, IL
Nov 02 City Winery – Chicago, IL
Nov 03 Lawrence University – Appleton, WI
Nov 10 Exit Zero Festival – Cape May, NJ
Nov 12 Prudential Hall in MJPAC -Newark, NJ

Bjørn Hammershaug

Lenore.: Pacific Northwestern witch-folk

Folk-pop outfit Lenore. is the story of two trained singer-songwriters about to withdraw from the music scene: Rebecca Marie Miller following her time as harmony vocalist in The Mynabirds and Joy Pearson burning out after a recent divorce.

But the two stumbled into each other at a show (a Pokey LaFarge gig) and hit off immediately, bonding over music, cigarettes and late night cocktails. Just a couple days later, Lenore. was born under the cheekily term ‘witch folk’. Things started to roll, and they’ve already started to stir some buzz in the Northwestern indie hub of Portland, described by both as a wonderful and supportive musical community.

The two soon assigned classical guitarist Edward Cameron and cellist Jessie Dettwiler as permanent band members and started recruiting other good folks for the recording, including guitarist Paul Rigby, drummer Dan Hunt (Neko Case) and bassist Dave Depper of Death Cab for Cutie. To tie it all together, they enlisted renowned producer John Askew (Alela Diane, Sera Cahoone, Laura Gibson).

So far, only two singles have been launched from their forthcoming full length debut (slated for a September 15 release), Sharp Spine, a gorgeous collaboration with Eric Bachman from Archers of Loaf and “Ether’s Arms”.

A sneak listen to their forthcoming album reveals a band deeply committed to strong and timeless songwriting, calling upon the husky vibes of Fleetwood Mac, the intimate wonders of Simon & Garfunkel or the ethereal bliss of Enya, all wrapped around the majestic scenery of the Pacific Northwest.

In anticipation of the new album, we hooked up with Rebecca and Joy to talk about their album, their favorite duo of all time and how their music is most comparable to a tree.

* * *

Who is Lenore.?

Lenore. is the musical baby of singers and songwriters Rebecca Marie Miller and Joy Pearson. Our other full time members are Edward “Shredward” Cameron on the classical guitar and Jessie Dettwiler on cello.

What can you share about what your brand new single, “Ether’s Arms” and your forthcoming album?

Our newest single, “Ether’s Arms,” is a great representation of our darker, moodier, and more emotional work. It’s the perfect juxtaposition to our first single, “Sharp Spine”, a.k.a. ‘the feel good song of the summer,’ according to our Moms. The album explores that relationship between the light and the dark, with particular emphasis on the cyclical journey through both spaces.

“Sharp Spine” is a duet with Eric Bachman from Archers of Loaf. How did that collaborations came about?

Eric had been begging us for years to sing on one of our songs; it was exhausting… Kidding! We were fortunate enough to do some shows with Eric in 2016. Friendships were forged, and he happens to be a songwriting hero of ours. It was slightly terrifying to ask him to do Sharp Spine, but so dreamy to have him say yes.

What was your initial idea for the album, and what inspired you the most while writing songs for it?

The theme of the album is certainly centered around that relationship between light and dark and the traverse through those spaces that we all experience. When approaching how we wanted to record, we knew that we wanted to capture our live sound, but we also wanted to grow into a brand new sonic space that only experimenting in a recording studio affords.

How was the recording process? You worked with John Askew. How did his production duties help shape the album?

We were so fortunate to work with John, as well as stellar players Dave Depper, Dan Hunt, and Paul Rigby. Everyone came to the table with great ideas and open hearts and minds. Several of the songs on the album had never been performed live. They were completely shaped in the studio. John worked tirelessly never taking breaks, and his instinct for vibe is entirely spot on.

You’ve been described as witch-folk. What, if any, does such a term mean to you?

Witch-folk is a term we came up with in the very beginning of Lenore. that started off as mostly tongue in cheek, but hey, if the shoe fits! To us, it means folk music that has a dark edge and often leans into nature for inspiration and imagery. The effect of our singing voices combined has always felt a bit like alchemy; it’s felt like magic since the very beginning. #witchfolk

What would be your preferred setting to ultimately enjoy the LP?

Rivendell, upon returning from the fiery depths of Mount Doom after successfully destroying the one ring. Or, just in pajamas at home. Or on an approximately 40 minute road trip. All great options.

How would you pair the Lenore. LP with a meal or beverage?

Beverage over meal every time. Every. Time. So, varying incarnations of whiskey.

What’s your favorite duo of all time?

Definitely Obama/Biden. They are so missed.

Favorite debut album of all times and why?

Rebecca is still floored by Jeff Buckley’s Grace and Joy endured the rigors of puberty while listening to Fiona Apple’s Tidal. Jessie and Edward aren’t here to comment at this time, but we’re pretty sure that the Lenore. LP is their favorite debut album of all time. Right, guys?

If your music was a physical object, what would it be?

We’re a tree for sure: deep roots, wide branches, home to many, good for climbing, suitable for snoozing atop fallen pine needles, tire swing optional.

Bjørn Hammershaug

Suzanne Santo: Turn Up the Love Jams

Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Suzanne Santo, better known as one half of Americana duo HONEYHONEY, released her solo debut, the Butch Walker-produced Ruby Red on August 11th.

Santo and Walker, the latter of whom has worked with the likes of P!nk, Carly Rae Jepsen, Keith Urban, Frank Turner and more, first worked together on Walker’s 2016 album Stay Gold, around the time when Suzanne Santo started to explore her own identity, ignore genre boundaries and defy expectations. “He facilitates a great time and an artistic environment that orbits solely around what’s best for the song, which is so rare in a business full of egos,” Santo says of Walker. “Butch and this environment liberated and enabled me to work in a way that I never knew I was capable of.”

On her own, she delved into a new type of songwriting inspired by, amongst others, Erykah Badu, Alabama Shakes and David Bowie – one that Walker is most fond of. “This record is so fucking sexy, I can’t deal,” Walker says of Ruby Red. “Put it on and turn out the lights.”

Ruby Red deals with love, life and lust in the modern world, unveiling an eclectic fashion ranging from Southern gothic to slow-burning soul and pop noir. Make sure to give this wonderful album some spins, and also check out her killer playlist made exclusively for TIDAL, including comments on each track.

Emily King: “Distance”

When I first heard this song, I felt like crying and dancing, and I did just that.

Jake Bugg: “Simple As This”

About five years ago, my band HONEYHONEY opened for Jake for about three months. I watched his set almost every night and never got sick of it. This song is one of my favorites.

The Be Good Tanyas: “Out of the Wilderness”

I love this band so much. I saw them play at the El Rey Theater in LA over 10 years ago and stood in the crowd loving them so much and wanting so badly to be on that stage one day. I couldn’t help but felt their presence when HONEYHONEY had our record release for our 3rd album at the El Rey.

Margaret Glaspy: “You And I”

It is very difficult to pick just one song off Maragret’s last record as they’re all SO DAMN GOOD. This song especially, is the titties.

Beck: “Guess I’m Doin Fine”

Had to throw this heartbreaker in there… Oh life!

Alabama Shakes: “Dunes”

The first time I heard this song I listened to it like 8 times in a row. I think this record is one in a million. I listen to this as much as I listen to Ziggy Stardust.

Erykah Badu: “Kiss Me On My Neck”

I love how fucking brave Erykah Badu is. She inspires me so much.

Cary Ann Hearst: “Hell’s Bells”

By far, one of my favorite voices out there. When coming up with my idea board for my new record produced by Butch Walker, I referenced this song for inspiration and he said “Ummm, I produced that record.” I’ll call that a win right there.

Led Zeppelin: “In My Time of Dying”

What is there to say other than this is all you need for optimum rocking capacity.

White Stripes: “Icky Thump”

Straight rock.

Band of Skulls: “Light Of The Morning”

Straight rock again….

Blitzen Trapper: “Black River Killer”

An old boyfriend turned me on to this band. The relationship didn’t last, but the rock lives on.

Old Crow Medicine Show: “Don’t Ride That Horse”

I love this band and used to work at a BBQ restaurant in LA and listen to this record on repeat. Coincidentally I’m touring with Willie Watson from Old Crow this fall and am STOKED about it.

Bjørn Hammershaug

Dan Wilson: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

Dan Wilson is a gray eminence looming in the shadows of the glamorous world of pop music. His career spans back to the late 1980s and leads up to critically-acclaimed and commercially successful songwriter and production credits for artists like Adele, Dixie Chicks, Chris Stapleton, John Legend, Dierks Bentley, P!nk, Taylor Swift and many others. He’s received a couple of Grammys on his way, but even though he’s highly cherished, he’s still an unknown name to broader audiences.

Wilson started out as a member of the alternative Minneapolis outfit Trip Shakespeare, led by his brother Matt, who released a number of great (and sadly overlooked) albums in the late 1980s and early 1990s (including gems like 1988’s Are You Shakespearienced? and 1990’s Across the Universe). While Trip Shakespeare was a pioneer band in the alternative ‘90s boom, his next band, Semisonic, turned out as a more commercially appealing act of its decade. The band is still mostly known for their major breakthrough single “Closing Time” from their charting 1998 album, Feeling Strangely Fine.

Semisonic demised in the early 2000s, but Dan Wilson has continued to craft great tunes both as a solo artist and working with others. He has become a highly sought-after songwriting collaborator. Mainly known for Grammy award winning “Not Ready to Make Nice” (co-written with Dixie Chicks) and “Someone Like You” (co-written with Adele), he also co-wrote nine songs on Phantogram’s album, Three.

Dan Wilson has also released a couple of wonderful solo albums. Love Without Fear (2014) is a particularly lovely and eclectic collection of songs, backed by folks like Blake Mills, Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins and Dixie Chick Natalie Maines. His upcoming solo album, Re-Covered, is a collection of his reinterpretations of songs he wrote for and with other artists and will be released on August 4, 2017.

We invited Dan Wilson to share his list of 5 Albums That Changed His Life.

“I came of age musically in the ’70s, a great time for albums,” Wilson tells us. “Recording artists aspired to make great LPs, and listeners devoted the time to get immersed in them. Unlike now, at that time, it was commonly agreed that albums were among the highest forms of popular art — movies, paintings, albums. Singles were cool, but the real question was, ‘Can they make the great long playing record?’”

“So as a music lover and aspiring musician, I grew up dreaming of making albums as great as the ones that moved me and transported me to new places,” Wilson continues. “As Stevie Wonder said, ‘To the vision in my mind.’ I could probably make a ’Five Albums That Changed My Life’ list for every decade since 1970; there have been so many. But this list concentrates on early days and albums that set me on my path as a songwriter.”

Bob Dylan: The Times They Are A-Changin’
When I was in junior high school, I lived in a western suburb of Minneapolis called St. Louis Park. The route of the number 17 bus ran past both my high school and my house on its way uptown and then to downtown Minneapolis. It was about 25 minutes from my house to the Walker Library uptown. Walker Library had a collection of popular LPs, which you could listen to there or borrow. I was mostly interested in their Bob Dylan section. They had The Times They Are A-Changing, Bringing it All Back Home, John Wesley Harding and a bunch of other Dylan albums, and I listened to them all. But the one I kept going back to was The Times They Are A-Changing.

[The album] was so apocalyptic and prophetic. Dylan’s voice was resonant but calm, and he still managed to sound like a lone voice of rage on a mountaintop, heralding the doom of mankind. He made all the other singers seem soft and syrupy. The album had my favorite two sides of Bob Dylan, the romantic croon and the howl of outrage, but it leaned heavy on the latter: “Hollis Brown,” about a poor farmer murdering his starving family, “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “Only a Pawn in their Game” and the title song, one of my favorite songs ever. And on the crooner side, there was “Boots of Spanish Leather,” which still slays me.

Joni Mitchell: Hejira
I had heard a few of Joni Mitchell’s folk hits — “Both Sides Now” and “The Circle Game,” among others — when this album hit me like the number 17 bus. It wasn’t a folk album. Not even close. If anything, it was a rock album hybridized with jazz. I was already getting into jazz through Weather Report. That band’s bassist, Jaco Pastorius, affected me in the way I imagine Jimi Hendrix might have affected young musicians ten years earlier. And Jaco played on several of Hejira’s songs. His electric bass a liquid and bittersweet countermelodic voice to Joni’s wry and pitiless revelations. As she laid bare her own hypocrisies and fears, his bass flew up above her voice and cast a golden glow of hope on the songs. And she gave that bass all the room in the world. It was the best of jazz and pop in one record and I’ve never quite shaken the spell.

Stevie Wonder: Fulfillingness’ First Finale
I could do a “Five Albums that Changed My Life” with all Stevie albums. This album was the biggest revelation of them all. I first heard Fulfillingness’ First Finale in the basement of a friend. He played me the song “Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away,” and it blew my mind. A pop song about God, religion, mankind’s fate, hope. It was almost too huge for me to take in and so very beautiful. This album also had fiery political protest: “You Haven’t Done Nothin’;” sexy love: “Creepin’;” breaking up: “It Ain’t No Use;” and the darkness of “They Won’t Go When I Go.” It had everything, a whole world in ten songs.

Liz Phair: Exile in Guyville
In 1991, I was trying to figure out how to write songs about my own life, my circle of friends, my small adventures and large-scale dreams in Minneapolis. My friends and rivals in the band scene seemed like enough of a cast of characters for a song, but I wasn’t sure how to write it. So when Exile in Guyville came along, it was doubly funny and joyful for me. First, even though she was writing about the scene in Chicago, it might as well have been my friends she was skewering for their contradictions and covertly retro values. I recognized those people and laughed along with Phair’s ultra-frank narrator. And second, she was showing me, through the example of this album, how one’s own circle of friends and lovers could be more than enough to populate a lifetime’s worth of songs.

Oasis: (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
“Live Forever,” from Oasis’ first album Definitely Maybe, was already enough to put that band’s songwriter Noel Gallagher into my personal pantheon of rock. But Morning Glory took it to the next level. “Some Might Say,” “Champagne Supernova,” “Wonderwall,” and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” were all first-listen classics to my ears, and they’re still shockingly fresh and alive. How much nonsense can you pack into a song and still have it make perfect sense? How little heavy metal can you include in a song and still have it rock? How much hopeful uplift can shine around the snarl of dimed Marshall stacks? When that album came out, I felt a rush of permission. You could make great rock records without being able to sing like Chris Cornell or Layne Staley. What a relief! Not that I sounded much like Liam Gallagher either when I sang, but on a good day, I could keep pace with his brother, Noel.

Bjørn Hammershaug

Jane Weaver: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

When BBC Radio 6, the British channel for cutting edge music, recently celebrated the best music of 2017 so far by showcasing 20 essential albums, it was no surprise to see Jane Weaver’s Modern Kosmology prominently placed on the list. Described as an album that “masterfully darts from avant-pop to euphoric kraut via what can be best described as psychy party music,” the listing is just another addition to what has become one of this year’s universally critically lauded albums, and will more than likely appear on numerous year-end lists in six months’ time.

Modern Kosmology is Jane Weaver’s eight full-length as a solo artist, but despite her voluminous creative output and strong critical standing, she’s still considered mostly as an unknown star outside of a circle of devoted music lovers. Weaver’s career is actually traceable back to the early 1990s to indie/folktronica bands Kill Laura and Misty Dixon. When the former demised towards the end of the decade, Weaver began working under her own name, quickly establishing her identity and unique voice (as heard when Coldplay sampled her on their “Another’s Arms” for Ghost Stories), but she never kept in one particular direction. Rather, she’s always been eager to experiment with new sounds, including psychedelic folk, synth-pop, library music, experimental avant-garde and beyond, finding a near perfect balance between pastoral bliss and retro-futuristic electronica on more recent albums like The Silver Globe (2014) and this year’s Modern Kosmology.

Modern Kosmology is a mesmerizing listening experience. Rarely can an album capture such a musical breadth and emotional depth. Mojo magazine compared her kraut-ish repetition, analogue synths and beguiling vocal melodies to Hawkwind, Sandy Denny, Neu! and Velvet Underground, but added that “in lesser hands, such building-blocks might suggest hipster tedium of the kind that now clogs up so many record racks. Weaver is light years beyond that, using motorik rhythms and ancient technology to create music that brims with urgency, and originality.”

We asked Jane Weaver to write about five albums that touched her life and music. It’s wonderful read that helps fills the puzzle that is the musical enigma of Jane Weaver.

* * *

Kate Bush: The Kick Inside
I was 5 or 6 when I first saw Kate Bush on TV. I’d never been so captivated by a singer before; her originality struck me like a bolt of lightning and it was at this precise moment I said to myself, “This is what I want to do! I want to be her!” I spent a lot of time dancing around the living room with Kate Bush on TV, and my parents bought me The Kick Inside for Christmas on tape. It’s such a strange record: mystical, mature and musically expansive in sound. I would listen to pop music primarily, and disco (around that time I was also in love with the Bee Gees), but this was different, more other worldly; a mixture of fairy tale and melody. I love the whole story of the record, it’s such a joy to me that David Gilmour from Pink Floyd was instrumental in her success and gave her a chance, and that serendipity played a part in her music being heard, because he was on downtime between albums and tours, which led to her being signed by EMI. The string arrangements and production is pretty sublime, the words are evocative and sensual, although I didn’t obviously understand what she was alluding to at the time. I can barely believe she was so young.

Hawkwind: Church of Hawkwind
I grew up in a small industrial town between Liverpool and Manchester. As a teenager my friends and I started hanging around with bikers and hippies, anyone who looked a bit different and was into music and counterculture. This record for me represents this time… me as a 17-year-old hanging around in someones flat, having fun, spending time listening to lots of rock albums and psychedelic stuff I’d never heard of, like Gong and The Pink Fairies. There was also the [Windsor] Free Festival scene, which Hawkwind were pioneers of. I knew Hawkwind’s more popular stuff, but this record represents a musical awakening, not only because of some of the expansive sound, production-wise – its the perfect three-way marriage of rock, krautrock and electronic – but there’s also TV commentary of the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald – so it’s a rich soup!

I think Dave Brock is an absolute legend. as a songwriter and producer. I think this record shows how good he is. It’s really experimental, but melodic too. I sampled “Star Cannibal” as the backing for “Electric Mountain” on my last album. I was able to forge a new pop melody on top of it; the music is such a great loop, I had to ring Dave and ask him for permission. He was cool about it, which I was glad about because it was important for me to have his blessing. I think most artists who have historical record deals and publishing are flexible about sampling, but the red tape involved can be ludicrous. Publishers are sometimes renowned for wanting to charge ridiculous “corporate” usage fees, even on an indie release, so it was a nerve wracking time. If I can share some of the joy that Church of Hawkwind gives me to other people then I’m happy.

The Electric Prunes: Release of an Oath
I didn’t really know much about this album, other than hearing “Holy Are You” as the lead track, and being a fan of David Axelrod. I love “Earth Rot” and the tape echo female vocal on the warnings, for instance. I love the sleeve and it’s been in the house for years.

This record gives me the shivers and makes my feel like crying (in a good way). It’s as if it’s so evocative it belongs to some higher astral plane. It’s connective and spiritual in equal measure; it’s almost not enough but when you hear some of the string arrangements it makes you want to burst. I have no idea about Axelrod’s spiritual beliefs but as a raised Catholic it has the powerful nostalgia and presence of choraled church vocals and brooding emotive passages like the crescendo of a hymn.

My string reference points are normally Axelrod and [French composer] Jean Claude Vannier; I think those are probably the best. Production-wise this has clarity, but also seems unstructured – for instance if you listen to the drums, they sound like the patterns change within the song like someone is still working it out – and yet it’s totally perfect. The fuzz guitar lines and bass sound; sonically there’s a definite link for me when it comes to Vannier and Axelrod. Maybe it’s because it’s got everything I love about the beginnings of symphonic rock, and I never tire of it.

Serge Gainsbourg: Histoire de Melody Nelson
It’s a record that everyone nods to as a masterpiece. When it was initially released it took a while to gain momentum, but it’s now regarded as a cult classic. Although the subject matter is provocative and uncomfortable (in the book Melody Nelson by Gainsbourg he is obsessed with an underage girl, played by his then-girlfriend Jane Birkin) music-wise it’s Jean Claude Vannier and Serge Gainsbourg at their best. Gainsbourg’s reputation outside of France was based on his pop hits, not much was known about his artistic genius as an innovative songwriter and lyricist. His delivery always so matter of fact… part narration, part melody.

The beauty of “Ah Melody” when it starts and then the groove of the bass and drums, and then later “En Melody” is so original, there’s almost too many good points. My only complaint is that, its all just not long enough. It’s like these amazing snippets of perfection that make you sad when they finish, but maybe that’s why its so good.

Some years ago now, I was lucky enough to see Jean Claude Vannier perform these songs with some of the original and associated library musicians at The Barbican in the UK and The Hollywood Bowl. It was an emotional experience, a testament to its genius.

Broadcast: Work and Non-work
Even though this is a compilation of early singles, it was the first Broadcast “album” I heard and loved. Its a mixture of melancholy and joy for me. When I first heard it I was going through a breakup and then realized that my newfound freedom was to be short-lived, as I fell for someone else. It’s funny, when you are emotionally charged, how you interpret lyrics, and I was lucky that [singer Trish Keenan’s] poetry found me.

Initially I didn’t realize it was a modern record because the instrumentation sounded to me like Silver Apples or 50 Foot Hose. The drum pattern rolls and electronics but vocal-wise always so melodic. Even when Trish is sounding sad it’s uplifting because she has the gift of drawing you into her voice and story.

I was pretty devastated when she passed away; such a tragedy. Broadcast’s music still gives me so much joy, and later albums prove the weight of their artistry and writing, how they were flourishing sonically and becoming more expansive, but this is the one that initially stopped me in my tracks.

Bjørn Hammershaug

Molly Burch: Hot Chocolate & Past Loves

Originally hailing from Los Angeles, California, Molly Burch is an undeniable talent on the rise. Following in the aesthetic footsteps of Dusty Springfield and Patsy Cline, the singer-songwriter relocated from L.A. to Asheville, NC, before settling in her current base of Austin.

You can hear each of those places in her wistful sound, which sports the sort of melancholic, down-and-out twang so often associated with the best of the old school country’s more emotionally affecting offerings. That much is perfectly manifested on the somber and smoky A/B singles “Downhearted” and “I Adore You,” her debut releases on the venerable indie label Captured Tracks.

* * *

Who is Molly Burch? Can you please introduce yourself?

I am a singer and songwriter living in Austin, TX, originally from Los Angeles. I’m 25 years old and a Scorpio.

Tell us a little about your recent single release. What do we get?

I was signed to Captured Tracks this year and in September they released my 7’’ record which featured two of my songs — both love songs. “Downhearted” is more upbeat and “I Adore You” is a slow ballad. You get 10 minutes of fun, romantic melancholy.

Who were your musical heroes growing up?

My main musical heroes were Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill and Billie Holiday.

When and how did you first get into music?

I always loved to sing but was very shy. I didn’t start writing music until college. The first times that I sang in front of others were semi-forced requests of Britney and Christina impersonations during lunch in middle school. I realized how much I liked performing, but it definitely took me a bit to gain confidence and find my own voice. I will still do Christina on request.

Name an album, artist or experience that changed your perspective on music?

First Take by Roberta Flack was one of the first albums I owned and I remember listening to “I Told Jesus” on repeat. It had a strong impact on my personal style and how I viewed vocalists and general musicality.

What’s the best new song you recently discovered?

“Read U Wrote U” by RuPaul featuring the Cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 2.

Can you share a fun fact about you or your music?

I was born on 10/23 at 10:23 a.m.! Is that fun?

What’s your favorite activity besides music?

Any activity that I can do at home in my nightgown is my favorite.

What’s coming next for you?

My debut full-length album will be released in early 2017 via Captured Tracks! I’m extremely excited and grateful to them.

Looking one year ahead, where would you like to see yourself?

I would love to be touring a lot.

And finally, if your music was a food what would it be? Please describe.

My music would be hot chocolate, because it’s comforting and dreamy but could also make you think of past loves.

Bjørn Hammershaug
(originally published on read.tidal, October 20, 2016)

Unsung Heroes: Buffalo Tom

Boston was a pivotal nerve center for Eastern seaboard punk and hardcore in the early 1980s. A tight-knit musical community of often politically charged bands on either side of hard drinking or straight edge, commonly bonded by intensity and violence, Boston hardcore breathed through the city’s various college radio stations, Newbury Comics and the whole fanzine culture.

The scene also enjoyed the luxury of dedicated local record labels, in particular Taang!, that paved way for the alternative music boom to come. The hardcore scene waned within a few years, but the cultural impact it made is far more everlasting, and Boston had by then established a well-oiled infrastructure for fostering underground music. Taang! also gradually evolved beyond its hardcore roots, releasing hometown alternative pioneers like The Lemonheads, Moving Targets and Swirlies.

Another crucial point of interest in the growth of New England’s alternative sound was Boston recording studio Fort Apache, which housed seminal bands like Pixies, Throwing Muses, Belly, Dinosaur Jr., Bullet LaVolta, Sebadoh, Blake Babies and literal thousands more over the years. This further fortified Boston as one of the major ports of emerging indie rock of the 1980s and 1990s, continuously being fed each year by new hordes of students and local kids, including Bill Janovitz.

In 1982, at the age of 16, Bill and his family relocated from Long Island to Massachusetts. The move brought the aspiring musician straight into a honey bucket of independent creativity and vibrant teen spirit. Janovitz soon discovered usual suspects like Black Flag and the Replacements, who roamed across America and played every town and every club at the time. Attending the post-punk breeding ground of UMass Amherst, he met up with soon to be bandmates Chris Colbourn (bass) and drummer Tom Maginnis, and also befriended J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., who later became an important patron of the band soon to be baptized Buffalo Tom.

Their eponymous 1989 debut album, Buffalo Tom, recorded by Mascis at Fort Apache, introduced us to a band peppered with teen angst and a knack for loud, distorted walls of guitars that couldn’t quite hide an obvious flair for pop hooks underneath it all. Propelled by the lead single “Sunflower Suit,” a regular at MTV’s 120 Minutes back in the days, the debut established the band as immediate indie darlings.

But Buffalo Tom soon replaced the charming ramshackle noisefest in favor for a more coherent slacker sound on their 1990 sophomore effort, Birdbrain, gradually leading up to the power trio’s classic mid period, defined by the critically acclaimed albums Let Me Come Over (1992), Big Red Letter Day (1993) and Sleepy Eyed (1995).

The remarkably steady line-up has continued to release quality albums up to the present, albeit at a slower pace than the years of their youth. Without ever losing their initial spirit, later albums like Three Easy Pieces (2007) and Skins (2011) are characterized by as always-intelligent songwriting, thoughtful and mature without ever losing their biting edge. Buffalo Tom has always balanced on this thin line, between gorgeous melancholy, in-your-face quiet-loud dynamics, jangly post-punk and arena sized anthems.

Of all the albums in their consistently strong catalog, Let Me Come Over holds a special place amongst many of their fans. Celebrating the record’s 25th anniversary this year, it is a flawless tour de force of poignant songwriting, packed with hook-laden, angst-ridden anthems like “Taillights Fade,” “Velvet Roof,” “Porchlight” and “Mineral.” In a fair world, Let Me Come Over would have secured Buffalo Tom among the stars.

And of course, they lived through an exciting time of alternative American guitar rock, witnessing firsthand the insanity of the Nevermind-fueled craze of major label deals, radio airplay and TV-appearances. Buffalo Tom surely benefited from this boom, but they never received their deserved mainstream recognition.

In a recent interview with Stereogum, Bill Janovitz wisely reflects on their lack of commercial success: “I can give you theories why I think we weren’t bigger. I think our lyrics are opaque, but we’re not like Pavement with opaque music. A lot of our music was very emotional, but it wasn’t really direct songwriting. There really wasn’t a compelling frontman. It was faceless and nerdy, but not ‘nerdy cool,’ like Weezer. It was a bunch of things that were never quite right. I wish I could blame a press agent or a manager or a label. But I think we were given an ample shot.”

But time might still be on their side. While a huge lump of their peers has fallen back to obscurity, Buffalo Tom still shines as a beacon of guitar rock. Their timelessly crafted songs have never been in style – and they’ve never gone out of style. BBC praised its songs as “a deeper take on the usual indie fare – slightly more intense than your Lemonheads, not as drunk on soul as Afghan Whigs, but not quite the self-loathing of Nirvana,” while Magnet magazine defined it “by the contradictions between Buffalo Tom’s rock-star aspirations and its inability to stomach the posturing that comes along with it, choosing instead to lay waste to its imperfections with some of the most devastatingly beautiful guitar rock of the ’90s.”

As a songwriter that has influenced generations to come we talked to Bill Janovitz about 5 albums that changed his life, in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Let Me Come Over and their ongoing anniversary tour.

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Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited
The Rolling Stones: Out of Our Heads

I received these two LPs on the same day from the next-door neighbors of my grandparents when I was about 8 years old, in 1973-74. I had no older siblings, so the only records I had around the house were from my parents’ and they were not real rock and rollers or record buyers, so there was a scarce collection of Elvis Presley, the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, Bossa Nova stuff, etc. But I was obsessed with AM radio and carried around a yellow Panasonic transistor radio wherever I went. But mostly spent hours in my bedroom listening to it.

Receiving these two mono LPs as a hand-me-down, though, was a huge revelation. I knew almost nothing about Dylan and had only heard a relative few Stones songs by that point. These two albums, both released in 1965, were truly life changing. This is not an overstatement; they were so mysterious and dark, and made me want to know more about the artists, depicted so enigmatically lackadaisical or aloof on their respective covers. Both records are steeped in the blues and filled with arcane references. In Bob’s case, there is the surrealist symbolism and amphetamine-driven stream of consciousness, Biblical, Shakespearean, Americana, and other obscure allusions. With the Stones, they are variously lampooning an “Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man” or dropping London references, like “an heiress” who “owns a block in St. John’s Wood.” And the Stones had all these covers of classic soul and blues songs making up half the album. So I eventually went on to find the originals.

It took me years to figure out what the hell all of this was about. And in Dylan’s case, I am still not sure. But it was all driving, compelling, and sexy music and I became hooked to smart rock and roll from that point.

The Beatles: The Beatles (The White Album)

I had bought Sgt. Peppers when I was 12, though the first LP I recall buying was Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. Both were hugely important in my life, but as I picked up the guitar to learn at age 12, they were both distant from what I felt I could even possibly learn how to play. Meanwhile, the White Album was far more approachable, with the exception of some of the darker experimental corners. One of the first songs I learned how to play was “Rocky Raccoon.” It might still hold number one Beatles record in my heart.

Talking Heads: Remain in Light

My “cool uncle” from NYC bought me three records (I later discovered it was his younger and hipper boyfriend who picked them out) for my 14th birthday, clearly intended to open my mind, which was begging to be opened, having grown up in the decidedly more conservative suburb of Huntington, Long Island, where ’60s and ’70s mainstream rock was holding strong in 1980. They gave me a Nina Hagen EP, the first U2 record, Boy, and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. The Hagen record was a hoot and a mild shock. My buds and I knew about punk rock but I could not yet figure out that Nina was a poseur/train jumper. No one had heard of U2 yet, and that sounded so new and fresh, yet accessible. I am not sure if I knew they would become so huge so fast, but neither was I surprised when they did.

But it was Remain in Light that drew me in immediately and I keep listening to though all my years. The Eno-driven production; the loops; the Fela Kuti and African rhythms; the off-kilter paranoid and funny poetry of David Byrne’s lyrics; but most of all, the still-insane-sounding guitar work by Adrian Belew, who I think was the most innovative guitar player since Jimi Hendrix — all of it blew my mind and made me ambitious to be an artist, to make music that was new and at least attempted to be innovative. I had known the Heads for a few years, “Psycho Killer,” “Take Me to the River,” “Cities,” and “Life During Wartime,” were all getting lots of airplay in NY. But this record was revolutionary for me and I became a huge fan, going to see them in Providence on the tour that was filmed for the Jonathan Demme (RIP) movie, Stop Making Sense.

R.E.M.: Murmur

My trajectory of seeking out new music continued, and became especially easier when I turned 16 and my family relocated to the suburbs of Boston in 1982. College radio was and continues to be a strong presence around here. I finished my last two years of high school in a tiny conservative town, with a graduating class of 180 (compared to around 800 at my New York school). But lots of the kids in my class were into new wave, punk rock, etc. The Clash were huge and kids were buying the Violent Femmes first record, the Specials, Police, plus the more adventurous of us were going into Boston to Newbury Comics record store (there was only one at the time) and buying New Order, Mission of Burma, the dBs, Echo and the Bunnymen, and that sort of thing. It was just an exciting time. So much seemed to be changing rapidly from 1980 to 1984. One of the bands that everyone loved was the English Beat, who played the Walter Brown hockey arena at Boston University in the spring of 1983. A bunch of us loaded into a few cars and went to skank our skinny asses off.

But the opening band, R.E.M., stopped me in my tracks. No one had heard of them. Instead of the light and bright ska-pop of the Beat, R.E.M. was this murky, yes, jangly group that looked like artsy hippies in flannel shirts, long hair, white shirts with vests, Rickenbacker guitars, in blue lights and shadows. Occasional lyrics floated to the surface of this mysterious, dreamlike music. Just as with the Stones and Dylan records, they were the proverbial portals and I wanted to dive in and learn more, and just as with those artists, I became a lifelong fan of R.E.M. I felt like they were my discovery. It was not hand-me-down music. It was an unparalleled thrill when Buffalo Tom was invited to stay at Peter Buck’s house in Athens on one of our first tours. He was an exceedingly gracious host who kept us up until dawn playing records and talking about music.

If I were to go past five of these, I would add Let It Be by the Replacements and Zen Arcade by Hüsker Dü, both of which directly changed my pathway and helped lead Chris, Tom, and I into forming Buffalo Tom. But that’s for another day.

Bjørn Hammershaug