Half Moon Run: 5 Albums That Shaped Us

This article was first published on November 11, 2015

Montreal-based quartet Half Moon Run just returned with their sophomore album Sun Leads Me On, a lush and dynamic effort eschewing alt-folk melancholia while remaining guided by beauty. The album was written mostly between their hometown and a surfing sojourn to California, and recorded at the idyllic Bathhouse Studios in Ontario with acclaimed British producer Jim Abbiss (Arctic Monkeys, Adele).

Half Moon Run surely have found a balance between powerful heartland rock, majestic chamber pop and art rock complexity, crafting a musical space somewhere around My Morning Jacket and Coldplay, as The Guardian once stated. Hard to pigeonhole, but easy to like, Half Moon Run manages to be both immediately appealing and remarkably intriguing at the same time. This is 5 albums that “changed their lives”:

Chosen by Dylan Phillips (vocals, drums, keyboard)
Patrick Watson – Love Songs for Robots (Secret City, 2015)


Patrick Watson (and his band) have been a big influence on us. We toured with them in Europe / USA / Canada and became good friends in Montreal. Their originality and musicality, on the record and live, leave us jaw-dropped. Love Songs for Robots is the record I currently spin most frequently at home.

Chosen by Devon Portielje (vocals, guitar, percussion)
Stars of the Lid: And their refinement of the decline (kranky, 2007)


This is an amazing ambient album with mastery of arrangements and tones. I use it in a functional way as a sleeping aid and to de-stress. I would listen to this record when I was living in difficult circumstances, and it reframed my experience, softening the edges as if it were in a film. Even after many listens, I still discover new elements regularly.

Chosen by Isaac Symonds (vocals, percussions, mandolin, keyboard, guitar)
Burial: Untrue (Hyperdub, 2007)


This album has been a huge influence on all of us. I particularly love the lo-fi, saturated drum tones, with the undeniable beats. The mood of this album is dark and groovy. It was my soundtrack for biking home each night from our rehearsal space in Montreal while writing Sun Leads Me On. Untrue has a permanent spot on my playlist.

Chosen by Conner Molander (vocals, guitar, keyboard)
Van Morrison: Astral Weeks (Warner, 1968)


There’s something magical about this album… it sounds very spontaneous, as though it flowed straight out of an ancient Celtic spirit. The lyrics are mystical yet lucid, and Van Morrison’s vocals are wonderfully soulful. It drifts on and on like a dream, and I love it more with every listen.

Chosen by Conner Molander (vocals, guitar, keyboard)
Bob Dylan: Bringing It All Back Home (Columbia, 1965)


The first side is good, but the second side is some of the most powerful songwriting that I’ve ever heard. Resonant, timeless, prophetic…just listen to the sorrowful longing in his voice in “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. In my opinion, this is Bob Dylan at the peak of his powers.

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

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.

* * *

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

Tift Merritt: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

Tift Merritt is a critically acclaimed, Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter from North Carolina, out now with  Stitch of the World, but another wonderful addition to an already impressive catalog.

Though often designated by others as a folk & Americana artist and commonly compared to Joni Mitchell and Emmylou Harris (quite often both in the same sentence), Merritt’s whole career has been marked by an eclectic approach to all kinds of music.

She started out in the local North Carolina alt-country scene, gradually winning the attention of fans and musicians alike alongside fellow Carolina native Ryan Adams. Adams would ultimately connect Merritt with his manager and help secure her first deal with Lost Highway. Ever since her 2002 debut, Bramble Rose, Merritt has challenged herself artistically, actively pursuing new directions and working with loads of different folks while maintaining her ridiculously high quality throughout.

For Stitch of the World, her second release on Yep Roc, Merritt  looked inwards, calling upon her personal recollections from the time between 2012’s Traveling Alone and now. In doing so, Merritt created a record that marks both a musical and thematic departure from her previous work.

Since releasing Traveling Alone, Merritt had been on the road for two years, recorded and toured with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein and joined Andrew Bird’s band. In her own words: “Suddenly, I was turning 40, getting divorced, and scared out of my mind. So I decided to take a year off the road to see what would happen to me if I just stopped touring… On a friend’s ranch in Marfa, Texas, in the middle of the high plains without a car headlight in sight, I did just that, and when I did, I started to do what I always do: the humble work of marking life by writing.”

And wrote she did: ‘What made my time off special was that I had a regular writing routine. I was private. I followed my heart and my craft. The story of being a writer is the story of being devoted over a long time.’

Come fall of 2016, Merritt found herself expecting a child with her boyfriend, recording with Hiss Golden Messenger and partnering up with Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam for the new album following the pair’s chance airport encounter.

Recorded in just four days at Ocean Way in California, the terrific Stitch of the World was produced by Beam and Tifts band, a band that also includes Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello), Jay Bellerose (Sara Watkins, Punch Brothers), Jennifer Condos (Over the Rhine) and Eric Heywood (Pretenders, Son Volt).

As an artist who has most certainly put out her fair share of classic albums already, we invited Tift Merritt to present 5 albums that changed her life. She graciously returned with some interesting picks in addition to some lovely prose to match.

 *   *   *

George Harrison: All Things Must Pass

I listened to this record so much in the early days of our band, on tour. The playing, the chords, the music are so creative, so beautiful. The lyrics are poems. I love that George was not the main writer for the Beatles, but had all of this elegance in the wings. Such a beautiful way to talk about an ending. What I take most is his spiritual hunger, that music and sound can be how one searches for meaning, for peace, for depth.

 

Emmylou Harris: Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town

I learned every song on this album. “Two More Bottles of Wine” and “One Paper Kid” were both in my earliest gig setlists when I was 19 or so.  I remember searching for a female role model in music — When I found this record, everything started to make sense.  Emmylou, Carole King, Kitty Wells — those were the women I wanted to be like and looked up to.

 

Delaney & Bonnie: Home 

This record really influenced my writing after Bramble Rose. I love the loose, earthy feels. The players are mostly Stax house band, Steve Cropper! This record is teaming with good feel.

 

Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde 

My dad gave me this record and it was in the cassette deck of my car turning over and over and over for a couple years straight. The power of the words as a driving force in a song really unlocked my mind about what kind of worlds could be made.

 

Joni Mitchell: Ladies of the Canyon

Talk about someone who is one of a kind.  Her tone, her point of view, the worlds she makes, her raw power.  Joni is inspiration on so many levels as a female, an artist, an individual. Her music really does sound like a painter made it. The chords are colorful and dissident and evocative in completely creative ways. This was a soundtrack to my a certain period in my life, but anytime I put it on even now it envelopes me.

Originally published on read.tidal, January 2017
Bjørn Hammershaug

People in the Sun: 1960-tallet – 100 Favorittlåter

60-tallet var et tiår med enorme omveltninger, sosialt, kulturelt og musikalsk. Denne lista gjenspeiler noe av dette, dog med hovedvekt på siste halvdel av tiåret. Aldri har vel popmusikken sett så gjennomgripende endringer som i de turbulente årene fra 1966 og i noen år framover, der nye studiomuligheter, psykedelisk dop og politiske spenninger ble gjenspeilet i musikk som ikke bare utfordret eksisterende rammer, men sprengte nye grenser med drønn som fremdeles vibrerer fram til vår tid.

Dette er mine favorittlåter fra tiåret, begrenset ned til én låt pr. artist. Bare The Beatles alene kunne jo lett fylt opp en slik Topp 100-liste. De aller fleste tilhører den angloamerikanske tradisjonen, men her både norsk jazz, sør-amerikansk tropicalia, tysk kraut og etiopiske grooves blant opplagte valg som The Velvet Underground, Neil Young og The Byrds. De kommer høyt opp på en liste som toppes av britisk høststemning på sitt aller fineste.

nick_drake_1200

Nick Drake: River Man (1969)
The Beatles: Something (1969)
Nina Simone: Sinnerman (1965)
Neil Young: Down By the River (1969)
Velvet Underground: Sister Ray (1967)
Mulatu Astatke: Yekermo Yew (1969)
Dr. John: I Walk on Guilded Splinters (1968)
John Coltrane : Mr. P.C. (1963)
Fairport Convention: Autopsy (1969)
Captain Beefheart: Electricity (1967)

roy_orbison_1200

Roy Orbison: In Dreams (1963)
Frank Zappa: Willie the Pimp (1969)
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Walk on the Water (1968)
Grant Green: Idle Moments (1963)
The 13th Floor Elevators: Reveberation (1966)
The Byrds: Goin’ Back (1967)
Roberta Flack: The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (1969)
Isaac Hayes: Walk on By (1969)
Ennio Morricone: Il Buono, Il Cattivo, Il Brutto (1966)
Pink Floyd: Set the Controls For the Heart of the Sun (1968)

flying_burrito_1200

Can: Father Cannot Yell (1969)
Bob Dylan: Masters of War (1963)
Miles Davis: Shhh/Peaceful (1969)
The Flying Burrito Brothers: Hot Burrito #1 (1969)
The First Edition: Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In) (1968)
Buffalo Springfield: Broken Arrow (1967)
Johnny Cash: Folsom Prison Blues (1968)
MC5: Kick Out the Jams (1969)
Son House: John the Revelator (1965)
Tony Joe White: Don’t Steal My Love (1968)

santana_1200

Townes Van Zandt: Tecumseh Valley (1969)
Santana: Soul Sacrifice (1969)
Jan Johansson: Visa Från Utanmyra (1964)
The Band: The Weight (1968)
Skeeter Davis : The End of the World (1963)
Elvis Presley: Suspicious Minds (1969)
Jimi Hendrix: All Along the Watchtower (1968)
Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood: Some Velvet Morning (1967)
James Carr: The Dark End of the Street (1967)
Love: This House Is Not a Motel (1967)

otis_redding

Sam Cooke: A Change Is Gonna Come (1964)
Simon & Garfunkel: The Sounds of Silence (1964)
Otis Redding: I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (1965)
Leonard Cohen: Suzanne (1968)
Booker T. & Thee M.G’s: Green Onions (1962)
Caetano Veloso: Tropcália (1967)
Dionne Warwick: Walk On By (1964)
The Rolling Stones: Sympathy For the Devil (1968)
James Brown: Think (Live, 1962) (1963)
The Ronettes: Be My Baby (1969)

os_mutantes

Testa-maryam Kidane: Heywete (196?)
The Mamas & the Papas: Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming to the Canyon) (1967)
Donovan: Hurdy Gurdy Man (1968)
Sun Ra and His Myth-Science Arkestra: Angels and Demons at Play (1967)
Os Mutantes: A Minha Menina (1968)
Jefferson Airplane: Comin’ Back to Me 1967
Van Morrison: The Way Young Lovers Do (1968)
The Sonics: Strychnine (1965)
Buffy Sainte-Marie: God Is Alive Magic Is Afoot (1969)
Julie Driscoll & Brian Auger: Indian Rope Man (1969)

monks_1200

Laura Nyro: New York Tendaberry (1969)
Bobby Fuller Four: I Fought the Law (1966)
The Monks: Black Monk Time (1966)
The Kinks: Waterloo Sunset (1967)
Arlo Guthrie: Coming Into Los Angeles (1969)
Bobby Vinton: Blue Velvet (1963)
The Kinks: Waterloo Sunset (1967)
The Electric Prunes: I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night) (1966)
Glen Campbell: By the Time I Get to Phoenix (1967)
Pete Drake: Forever (1964)

Print

Terje Rypdal: Dead Man’s Tale (1968)
The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band: Shifting Sands (1967)
Wendy & Bonnie: Let Yourself Go Another Time (1969)
John Fahey: Wine & Roses (1965)
Martha & the Vandellas: Heat Wave (1963)
Yusef Lateef: Juba Juba (1968)
Led Zeppelin: Dazed & Confused (1969)
Erik Andersen Quartet: Cordon Bleu (1969)
The Shangri-Las: Out in the Streets (1965)
The Seeds: Pushin’ Too Hard (1965)

silver_apples

Karin Krog: Mr. Joy (1968)
Henry Flynt & The Insurrections: Uncle Sam Do (1966)
The Supremes: Baby Love (1964)
Sandy Bull: Carmina Burana Fantasy (1963)
Oliver Nelson: Stolen Moments (1961)
Desmond Dekker & The Aces: Israelites (1968)
Count Five: Psychotic Reaction (1965)
The Zombies: Time of the Season (1968)
Blue Cheer: Parchment Farm (1968)
Silver Apples: Oscillations (1968)

joe_meek

Frank Sinatra: It Was a Very Good Year (1965)
The Crystals: Then He Kissed Me (1963)
Terry Callier: Golden Apples of the Sun (1968)
Muddy Waters: I’ve Got My Mojo Working (Live, Newport) (1960)
Blood, Sweat & Tears: I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know (1968)
The Stooges: 1969 (1969)
John Jacob Niles: Hangman (1961)
Joe Meek: I Hear A New World (1960)
Scott Walker: Winter Night (1969)
The Doors: The End (1967)

Bjørn Hammershaug

Vashti Bunyan: Way to Skye

vashti_bunyan_1200

Just another diamond day
Just a blade of grass
Just another bale of hay
And the horses pass.
– Vashti Bunyan

You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you.
You have to go to them sometimes.
– Winnie The Pooh

***

The story of Vashti Bunyan is an unusual one.

She entered swinging London as a young, blue-eyed singer-songwriter in the late ’60s, briefly glimpsing into a world of stardom, until she went out on the road for a couple of years in search for paradise – and released one sole album that existed totally off the radar for 30 odd years.

Bunyan didn’t know anything about the growing cult around her music until she googled herself one day in the early 2000s, inspiring her to step back into to the spotlight with another set of gorgeous songs in 2005. Now, almost ten years later, she is back with her third album in 35 years. It is as if times stands still around Vashti Bunyan and her tender, graceful music.

I talked with this unique artist about her unique career, walking with her from the early days all the way until today and her new album.

Beginnings
– My father was a great lover of recorded classical music, which was always playing in our home, says Vashti when being asked about her family background.

– I was the youngest of three – and was referred to as ‘the arty one‘ – because unlike my sister I did badly at school, drew and painted a lot and sang to myself each night before sleeping. My older brother especially was very supportive of my wanting to write songs and sing – and he recorded my songs himself in the mid-sixties. He thought no one else could ever capture my sound the way he could.

freewheelin_bob_dylanBunyan, born in 1945, grew up in London, and studying at Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford where she eventually got kicked out for failing to attend classes, having been ‘wasting’ her time writing songs and playing the guitar. In the summer of ’63, 18 years old Vashti visited her sister in New York, where she discovered the sheer brilliance of Bob Dylan and his then brand new Freewheelin’ album. In it she found a sound that would change her life forever:

– Having had a somewhat sheltered post-war upbringing but knowing that there was a whole world out there that I ached to find out about – the songs on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan opened my eyes to a world so different to mine, one that I wanted to be part of and understand. It sowed the seeds for my romantic notion of becoming a wandering musician.

Bunyan returned to London, determined to become a pop singer. Andrew Loog Oldham, manager for the Rolling Stones, took notice of her and handed her the Jagger/Richards-penned song “Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind.” The release went unnoticed by the larger public, and Bunyan herself returned to her original, quieter ideals of making music. She did a couple more recordings, but gradually lost her dream of becoming a pop star, pursuing divergent path instead – this time by horse and buggy.

– It didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to – I didn’t succeed in bringing quiet acoustic songs into the mainstream. When I met art student Robert Lewis, our likeminded thoughts and dreams led to a plan to escape the city and head for what we hoped would be a more meaningful life. We intended to make our actual days the picture, the painting, the song, says Vashti on what would become an almost two year long journey across Britain, on their way to Skye.

donovan_mellowIn Search of Eden
Around that time Donovan, wealthy from the success of his hit songs like “Sunshine Superman” and “Catch The Wind,” had bought three remote Scottish islands in the Inner Hebrides, near the Isle of Skye, in order to build up an artistic commune. The couple finally reached their destination, only to find that Donovan had lone ago fled his visionary project.

– I learned more on that journey than I could have any other way. I refer to it every day even now in my thinking – in some way or other. The differences in people and the humanity we found as well as the hostility we realized that traveling people experience. Also the fact that we were able to live on so little – and that we came to recognize our responsibility for other creatures. So much so that they became just as important to us as our human companions.

The late 1960s was a period when many artists fled the cities, returning ‘back to nature’ in search of of inner peace and the discovery of a more truthful life. The concept of a more pure, down-to-earth music form went hand-in-hand with this idealism.

– Looking back I can only speak for myself as I was not involved with any other musicians at the time. For me the promise of remote places that had been abandoned and were waiting to be lived in by anyone willing to go without electricity or mains water – that was the appeal. Having not been able to make a living from music my only other choice seemed to be a ‘day-job’ – but I was too restless for that. And so perhaps living in places that others undervalued became a movement of its own – for artists especially.

Do you feel now, or did you feel then, that something has been lost in the interplay between modern life and something basic in us as humans?

– No I don’t feel it has been lost. It has been added to by other layers of possibilities and exchange of ideas and information. We are still human and still have the same choices between greed and generosity.

In his book Electric Eden, author Rob Young writes of Bunyan’s music “reveals many of the contradictory impulses that shape the British artistic imagination: craving the freedom and peace of a countryside that is already shaped and manicured.”

How do you see yourself and your music fit into such a description?

– On that journey I learned the realities of the ‘country living’ that I – as an urban child – had so romanticised. I came to understand that the little sheepies were going to be slaughtered, that the low moaning of the cows at night was because their calves had been taken from them, that the fields were being poisoned and that the fish were dying. I still wrote songs as if this were not happening – in order to comfort myself more than anything. The shepherd and shepherdess in “Rose Hip November” were more a picture from an old blue-and-white china plate than from real people.

The folk scene in those transitional days were torn between a new, progressive direction and a more traditional, purist form. Did you associate with either of those mentalities in those days, or were you more of an outsider?

– I was never a part of the folk scene and so now when I am referred to as a folksinger I bristle and complain bitterly ’till everyone around me sighs and looks at the ceiling.

Bunyan smiles, and continues,

– Before I left London with a horse, a dog and a boyfriend I had been recording with Andrew Loog Oldham and making my songs into what I’d hoped would enter the pop charts of the day. It didn’t happen and I left in a sulk – and vowed never to set foot in a recording studio again. Joe Boyd changed all that.

Diamond Days
She encountered Joe Boyd through a friend while on the road.

vashti_diamond_dayBoyd was a keystone figure in British music at the time, especially in the bourgeoning folk scene. He worked with Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, The Incredible String Band and countless others, including the debut album of Vashti Bunyan, a collection of her traveling songs, released as Just Another Diamond Day in 1970.

– Joe was unusual as a producer in that he really cared about the musicians he worked with. Coming from the States I think he had quite a rosy view of traditional British folk music, but recognized that there were young people making more of it than had been made before – unique musicians like Fairport Convention, and The Incredible String Band. That was difficult for me as it wasn’t really what I was up to – I was not traditional in any way.

Have you talked to Boyd about this later?

– Yes, when I saw Joe recently he said he understood now that he had been wrong to bring in folk musicians for Just Another Diamond Day and that it is his fault that I am still referred to as a folk singer. But in his defense, he said, he did visit me when I was living a life that was more ‘folky’ than any folk singer he knew, in that I was living in a field with a horse and a dog. And a boyfriend.

And through Joe Boyd, you also met Nick Drake?

– That’s true. Joe wanted me to meet up with Nick Drake at his house and try to write something together. I’d had a baby by then who cried every time I picked up my guitar. Nick’s shoulders went higher and higher as he sat at an old upright piano – and we exchanged not a word. I had not heard Nick’s songs at that time – I had no record-player – and I am sure he hadn’t heard mine – and we were both too shy and individual to be able to work together. I have never been able to work well with others on writing ever since.

Just Another Diamond Day received good reviews, but went largely unnoticed to the public. And Vashti Bunyan went away, again. This time for good, spending the next decades peacefully and privately, raising her children and living a quiet life.

Rebirth
30 years down the road she suddenly discovered that her album had turned into a cult item among connoisseurs and collectors, and her style being cherished among a new generation of artists.

Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom and other praised Just Another Diamond Day as a forgotten masterpiece. Once again she came back from the shadows, now heralded as a consequential figure from the ’60s.

What was it like to learn your music was so vital in inspiring a new generation of artists?

– Unreal and strange after so many years in a musical wilderness of my own choosing. My overwhelming thought was ‘if only they had been around back then’.. they would have understood what I was trying to do.

You’ve been called the ‘Godmother of Freak Folk’ for your influence. How do you feel about this title?

– Oh dear. A fairy dress and wings – I think not! And I don’t think I was such an influence – I think those young musicians made a place for me – for which I adore them.

vashti_lookafteringOut of that revival, you returned to the music world to release a new record, Lookaftering, with some help from the musicians you inspired, such as Banhart and Newsom.

What was that experience like?

– As if in a dream – mostly going over my head. I had written the songs, made the demos and had arranged a lot of the instrumentation – but Max Richter who produced the album knew what to do where I really did not. However he taught me as we went along, included me in decision making every step of the way and I am forever grateful to him, for Lookaftering could not have been made without him. Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom, Adem, Adam Pierce and Robert Kirby all contributed so good-heartedly and looked after me so well.

Your music has been covered by many artists – Devendra, Fever Ray, Feist and Ben Gibbard, to name a few. Do you have any favourite reinterpretation of your songs?

– I love Fever Ray’s version of “Here Before.” It made me fall off my chair when I first heard it. In a quite different way I also like Norwegian singer Moddi’s version of “Train Song,” and Beautify Junkyards’ “Rose Hip November.”

vashti_heartleapHeartleap
Heartleap is your third album, and your first in nine years. What can you tell us about the album and the process that went into making it?

– Where I had been so sheltered by all the people who helped me make Lookaftering – this time I wanted to take what I had learned and try to understand the process for myself. I had always been fascinated by recorded music but not until I got my hands on music software in 2000 did I get the chance to get the music in my head out into the real world. I don’t read or write music and so it has been a great gift.

You’ve said this is your last album?

– I just feel that it is unlikely that I will make another collection of songs in album form – partly because I am so slow – but also because I am not sure there will be such a format as ‘album’ in however long it would take me to come up with ten more songs. That does not mean I would turn my back on music again – I find the whole process of recording too fascinating now.

– I will, I’m sure, keep making music. No more turning backs.

vashti_bunyan_2

Bjørn Hammershaug
Opprinnelig publisert på read.tidal.com 5/11 2014.