interview: ben hackett of new madrid

cory branan @ cat's cradle backroom

I interviewed Ben Hackett of Athens, GA, mood-rockers New Madrid back in March at Kings. New Madrid plays Local 506 tonight with locals the Affectionates. Doors 8pm, show 9pm, tix day of $9.

BNKO: Start with who you are, and what you play.

Ben Hackett: I play bass and sing backup vocals.

BNKO: Tell me a little about the band. This is your second record, right?

BH: Right. Graham and I grew up together, he’s the guitar player with the ‘fro — he and I went to high school with Phil, we all played music in high school. Not together. I went to Nashville for college, met Alex, the drummer, we started playing in a band. Phil went down to UGa and kept playing music. Phil and Graham got together one summer and Graham called me, you’ve got to come play with us, this is sweet. Then I called Alex. We all played together, and the next time we got together, we recorded an EP. We were like, we gotta record something and play shows.

We were all — Phil was living Athens, Graham was living in Chattanooga, and Alex and I were living in Athens for a good year and a half of the band’s beginning.

BNKO: Are you all in the same place now?

BH: Now we all live in Athens … we actually all live in the same house, now. In this barn.

BNKO: If you all live together, what’s the worst habit of anybody, that you’ll go on record with? Who doesn’t do the dishes?

BH: That’s so hard. How am I supposed to answer that?

BNKO: Who leaves their socks in the living?

BH: Everybody. Like, everybody.

BNKO: Do you do a lot of — some of the stuff at the back end of [Sunswimmmer] is so big. Epic.

BH: Expansive.

BNKO: Does that come from living together and just putting it together on the fly?

BH: Yeah, pretty much. We live out about a mile past the Loop, which is the highway that surrounds Athens. We’re pretty close to downtown, but it’s far enough out that we’ve never gotten a noise complaint, we play until like 6 in the morning and it doesn’t matter. So we’ll go to shows, and if the stuff’s all set up, it’s like, let’s just play. We’re all jacked up on seeing music, let’s just do it. And so we wrote this new record, the first time we were able to write like that. Because the first record we were all living in different spots, so we would get together for a weekend and play a show, and then practice, and write and record demos all at the same time, and then go back to our houses and our schools and whatever.

But now that we all live together, we just sort of — jam whenever we want.

BNKO: You can hear it in the sound of the record. For as short as it is, it’s a really big record. In Athens — do you guys play with people? Give me two or three bands out of Georgia that I should be paying attention to right now, besides you guys.

BH: We just played with this band in Atlanta called Twin Studies, that totally blew my mind. They were awesome. They were great. This band, Co Co Ri Co, share members with Reptar and Giant Giants and Wild Night — all those dudes play in a lot of bands and they’re all awesome. Awesome dudes in awesome bands.

BNKO: David Barbe produced this record. How was it to work with him?

BH: It was really, really cool. We did Yard Boat with him, too. We worked pretty closely with David and the relationship started there with some good luck on our part. He was looking for a band to record because he teaches the music business class — he’s head of the music business program at UGa — and it used to be a certificate program, and now it’s a full fledged major degree. He was looking for a band to record before we did Yard Boat, before we all lived together, so you submit a demo and the class votes on who they want to record. We got lucky and got voted on to do it. It was in the middle of the week so Alex and I had to drive down and miss school and Phil was like, Dudes, it’s totally going to be worth it. I swear, it’s going to be awesome. This guy is really, really cool.

So we went down and he was into it and we were into it, and we started talking about how we were going to record, and where we were going to do it. It just worked out to where we could record with him — we had some free time, and he had some free time. Yard Boat was really great but we did it really fast, like three days.

BNKO: Three days. No shit.

BH: Well, the instruments were three days. Phil lived there, so he could go in whenever there was some free time and do vocals here and there, and we came down for a couple of weekends and mixed it with David, too. This time, we had just signed with Normaltown before we went in, and had been talking to them for a while about that. Because we were doing it with a label, we had enough time that we were in the studio for a lot longer, three weeks or something, we could really finish writing the album in the studio. We went in with way more songs than actually ended up on it. David helped us sort of create a more streamlined vision for the album.

BNKO: It feels like one piece. Even though you have some longer songs in the beginning, and those two really punchy ones right in the middle, and then the big soundscape of the last two tracks. It all definitely really fits together, and I was impressed by that. I am notably a vocal anti-proponent of all songs over four minutes, so for me to be like — really vocal about loving these twelve minute tracks at the end of a record, that’s a really big deal for me as a music fan.

BH: That’s the whole second side of the album.

BNKO: You can hear the flip in it. Even listening digitally, you can hear the flip in it, and that’s impressive. Can you tell me something about the album that people buying it might not know but should know?

BH: It’s really — just from the name alone, it’s a pretty watery wet kind of record, and I think part of what influenced that is that — we recorded it in July, and it was the wettest July I’ve ever experienced. And it rained more when we were in the studio, in those three weeks, than it had the whole previous year. The first night we were in the studio, Graham was talking about how it was flooding in Chattanooga, because it had been raining for a couple of days.

BNKO: It’s in a dip, right? Kind of in a valley?

BH: Yeah, surrounded by mountains. He was saying, it’s flooding in Chattanooga right now, we were all like sitting on couches in the lounge area, and David’s sitting across from me, and he goes, yeah, it’s flooding under your feet, too. And we look down, and there’s water coming out from under the couch. We had to get shopvacs and brooms and all that, the Drive-By Truckers’ rehearsal space is next door, and we had to go over there and borrow a shopvac to get all the water out so it wouldn’t reach the control room.

BNKO: If you had a time machine, and you could go back in time and see one show — it can also be a band on a particular tour, or an artist in a particular era — what would you go see?

BH: After my experience with this, David played in Sugar. And he toured with Sonic Youth before, and I love Sonic Youth, and it would be so awesome to see Sugar and Sonic Youth play together in, like, Japan or something. That would be so cool.

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brothers in arms: sammy & tyler duis (MELODIME)

brothers in arms: sammy & tyler duis of MELODIME

I recorded today’s two interviews with 75% of Northern Virginia rockers MELODIME back in March, at the Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain, NC; one with brothers Sammy and Tyler Duis as part of my Brothers In Arms series, below, and solo interview with lead singer Brad Rhodes about their latest record. Read ’em both.

BNKO: Give me a rundown on the family composition. Is it just the two of you?

Tyler Duis: We have an older sister, and an older brother, and then Sam, and then me.

BNKO: So you’re the baby.

TD: Yep.

BNKO: Did you all play music when you were kids? Is your family musical?

Sammy Duis: Some of them claim to be … but not too much. Our older brother is a great classical guitarist.

BNKO: Wow, is that what he does for a living, too?

SD: No, he got a scholarship to do it in college, but he had to kind of move away from it.

brothers in arms: sammy & tyler duis of MELODIME

BNKO: Brad told me … I was asking him about the charity stuff that you are doing with this record, and he told me that it was your family; there was a story with your family that inspired you guys. Tell me a little about that.

SD: It was our great-grandfather — he was one of five brothers, and their parents had come over from Ireland and were pretty poor. I think they first came to Virginia and then moved out to the Midwest. But it started with, they didn’t really play music until they had an anonymous donation. Somebody dropped off five instruments for the five boys on their front porch and each of the boys chose one and started playing. They got pretty good, good enough to start playing around town and make a little bit more money for the family.

BNKO: Do you know what instruments they all played?

SD: I don’t know what all of them played, but I know our great-grandfather played the fiddle. So our aunt still has the fiddle, which we’d like to get ahold of at some point.

BNKO: I can imagine. That’s a great story. You’ve been playing together, MELODIME, for eight years. Have you ever had separate bands?

SD: We randomly play with different people … we all play in churches and stuff, so on Sundays we’re all in different churches playing with different people. But we’ve never pursued anything.

BNKO: No high school bands?

TD: This is the high school band.

brothers in arms: sammy & tyler duis of MELODIME

BNKO: What do your parents think about it?

TD: They’re actually pretty supportive, more than you’d imagine. Our dad probably just likes the music in general, but I think he’s just all for it. And now that we didn’t go to college, he’s like, you better do this. You better stick to it now.

BNKO: Do you think — would you ever consider not playing together? You’re a rhythm section together. Do you have a better connection on stage, because you’re siblings?

TD: It’s just easy to know what we’re thinking. Because before MELODIME we played in church probably for five years before that. We know each other’s styles pretty well.

BNKO: You guys sounded great in there [soundcheck]. When it comes to band stuff, do you side with each other? Do you fight with each other? Do you get tired of being in the van together?

TD: When we’re back home, we hardly ever see each other, so that helps.

BNKO: You are the third set of siblings to tell me that! When you’re not on tour, you hardly see each other. Do you live in the same area? Northern Virginia, right?

TD: Leesburg, Ashburn area.

SD: I think it’s somewhat an advantage to be in a band together because we kind of know each other’s boundaries, and we know that when we’re at home, we want space, and when we’re on the road — we usually room together if we have hotels, too, just because we know what buttons not to push, so it’s almost easier than someone you didn’t grow up with, and share a room with growing up.

brothers in arms: sammy & tyler duis of MELODIME

BNKO: In terms of button pushing — what’s the other person’s worst habit?

TD: Mine is probably grinding my teeth, and his is probably snoring.

BNKO: Not related to your family, or your being brothers, but — if you had a time machine, and could back in time and see one show … what would it be?

SD: I definitely want to see Zeppelin all together.

TD: That was my thought.

SD: And the Beatles all together.

TD: Those were my two.

brothers in arms: sammy & tyler duis of MELODIME

BNKO: I’ve never had anybody tell me Zeppelin before! That’s who Brad said, too. I went to one punk festival and everyone told me the Clash. I always finish with this question, though — who’s your mom love best?

SD: Not me. Our sister.

interview: brad rhodes of MELODIME

portraits: brad rhodes of MELODIME

I recorded today’s two interviews with 75% of Northern Virginia rockers MELODIME back in March, at the Pisgah Brewing Company in Black Mountain, NC; one with brothers Sammy and Tyler Duis as part of my Brothers In Arms series, and solo interview with lead singer Brad Rhodes below about their latest record. Read ’em both.

BNKO: Is this thing on … this thing is on. Excellent.

Brad Rhodes: Sweet.

BNKO: Okay! Tell me a little about the new record.

BR: Well, the new record came out October 15, so it’s been a few months since we released it. First we recorded it in Atlanta, Georgia, with this producer [Rick Biazzo], he’s done Needtobreathe, Shinedown, Charlie Mars — a lot of records that we like, which is kind of why we sought him out. And it’s — we’re proud of it. It’s kind of more a rock feel, a straight up rock feel, we kind of did away with more of the mandolins and banjos that we had, just for this particular record, because I think the songs needed that to happen. But yeah, it’s called Where The Sinners and Saints Collide, and that’s all I can think about it.

BNKO: You’re doing something with the proceeds from it …

BR: Yes!

BNKO: Tell me about that.

BR: We started a charity called Now I Play Along Too, and 100% profits from that album go into the charity, which in turn puts instruments and music education into the hands of underprivileged kids. We’ve just kind of gotten that off the ground, and we have a lot of things in the works, where we have a lot of opportunities — whether it’s one offs, or in June we’re going  to Haiti to an orphanage, the Source of Light orphanage, and delivering quite a few instruments to that orphanage, and sticking around teaching lessons and stuff.

BNKO: So it’s not just — y’all are from Virginia, right?

BR: Northern Virginia, yeah.

BNKO: So it’s not just local, you’re not confining it to local schools. You’re looking more international.

BR: We’re not looking past the local needs, we still want to have a part in those in the greater DC area, but we want to go international as well. Kind of wherever there’s opportunities.

BNKO: What prompted it?

BR: Well, there’s a story — we decided a while back that we wanted to do something different with the album, something more charitable, different than what other bands have done, and then after we had that idea, we heard this story about and Sam and Tyg [Sammy and Tyler Duis], our piano player and drummer’s great grandfather. He grew up in a very poor family and he had four brothers and one day somebody dropped off all these instruments on their front porch, anonymously, and they each chose one and learned how to play it and became the town musicians and were able to support their family through that. So the story goes that’s sort of how music was passed down in their family, and we wanted to continue that story, I guess.

BNKO: What’s your musical background? How long have you been writing songs, how long have you been playing together?

BR: I’ve been writing probably since I was — I don’t know, 9 years old, terrible songs, and I’ll be 26 here in a couple of weeks. So I was writing a lot before I met Sam and Tyg, but we met fairly young, we were seniors in high school, and we’re coming on eight years now, as a band.

BNKO: That’s some time. Did any of you go music school or the college right, or did you just go out on the road after you graduated?

BR: We just added our new guitar player, John, in September, and he went to music school. As for the rest of us, Tyg and I spent one semester in college, that was right after the band started, and we decided to come home and take a go at this over school, which we think was the right decision, but we’re still … we’re still kicking it as hard as we can.

BNKO: How much time do you spend on the road every year?

BR: Now? Oh, man, lots. Here in the new future it’s picking up even more, but, I don’t know, I’d say we play 150 shows a year right now? But that’s probably going to be picking up. So that’s quite a bit.

BNKO: Did you get any — did your parents hand you down the music? Do you come from a musical family, too?

BR: Somewhat. My mom plays piano, and we all grew up in church, which is how we were all introduced to music, so we — I sang in choirs, I played in church bands from when I was 13, 14 years old, and I think that kind of shows, genre-wise, even if what we do isn’t Christian music … it has those undertones in it. It shows that we grew up in the worship background.

BNKO: I wouldn’t have noticed it if you hadn’t told me, but I can see it now that you’ve told me. What were some of the records from your parents’ collection that were really influential when you were a kid?

BR: I think … pretty much, every Led Zeppelin record. That’s what my dad was obsessed with, and made us be obsessed with as well. Pretty much every Elton John, every Billy Joel record — that was more of my mom’s taste, which I think has definitely influenced us. And I think that’s still what I listen to, that kind of stuff, so they did well with raising us with good classic vinyl around.

BNKO: If you had a time machine, and you could use it to go back and see any one show — either one you went to, you want to relive, one you missed, one you weren’t born for — what would it be?

BR: Oh my gosh, that is a great question.

BNKO: It’s my favorite interview question.

BR: Probably … damn. I’m trying to think of, like — I don’t want to be broad, and say, like, any of these shows. I want to say a single show. I’m thinking of personal shows, too, that went terribly, that I’d want to redo, but I don’t think I’d want to do that. I think those happen and they build character. I would love to see Led Zeppelin. I have the live DVD, the Song Remains The Same DVD, and I would love to see any show on that tour, I think. I’ve already seen a lot of shit on that tour just through the DVD, so I’d probably like to see a different one, but those shows look phenomenal.

BNKO: That’s a good one. Nobody’s ever told me Zeppelin before. I’ve gotten all kinds of answers.

BR: What are the best ones that you’ve gotten?

BNKO: Somebody told me — I can’t remember his name now, and I can’t remember his band, I’m so embarrassed, I feel bad because — the best answer I’ve ever gotten, I ran around a local punk festival, asking anybody who would stand still what their answer was, and somebody told me they wanted to go to the release show for Rush’s 2112.

BR: That’s a good answer. That’d probably be Tyg’s answer, too.

BNKO: I’ll ask, though I usually close my siblings interviews by asking who Mom loves best.

BR: I could probably give you that answer.

brothers in arms: erin and willie breeding (the breedings)

brothers in arms: erin & willie breeding

W: But what if I lose my inspiration because I don’t see the lights?
A: I don’t know what to do then. I’ll give you an inspirational quote.

(This interview was taped last August, which makes me both a bad music writer and a bad friend for taking so long to transcribe it. But it’s a fantastic 1500 words, and I hope you’ll take the time to read the whole thing — as part of my Brothers In Arms series, Erin and Willie Breeding talk growing up, Snoop Dogg, who the boss is, and how they recorded last year’s gorgeous Fayette.)

A: I would like to know about your family. Is it just the two of you? What was your family like growing up? Give me a little bit of background.

Willie Breeding: It is just the two of us. Erin came along first and then they decided that if you fail first, try again, and then they succeeded.

Erin Breeding: You’re going to get a lot of eye rolls in this interview. So, yeah, I’m five years older, and for five years it was just me and my parents –

W: Was it blissful?

E: – and I spent a lot of time hanging out with my dad in his venue. He had a venue. He was a performer. So I used to perform with him when I was very little and he used to let me run around stage and stuff, and then five years later we had Willie, as a family, and that didn’t change anything.

A: It was a joint venture?

W: Yeah.

brothers in arms: erin & willie breeding

E: Yeah. I was part of it ‘cause I was five! It was a – they made it a big deal. I helped prepare your room, and I made a Welcome To This World Willie sign, which is really sweet.

W: You should still be doing all these things.

E: So our dad’s musical, our mom’s not, at all. Like – doesn’t even sing in a car. And it is just the two of us.

A: What is your first memory of playing together?

E: My first memory was when we were in the living room, and my dad and I were playing a Shania Twain song, that we used to sing all the time, he and I used to sing all the time, and all of a sudden there was a really lovely harmony coming out of Willie’s mouth. And I was like, “WHAT?”

W: Was I playing?

E: No, you were just singing! And for me, it was the first time I realized that Willie knew how to sing harmony. Had been paying any attention to the Shania Twain I’d been playing in the house all the time. So I guess that’s my first memory of us singing together.

brothers in arms: erin & willie breeding

W: Erin raised me on Shania Twain and Snoop Dogg.

A: That’s a pretty good combination.

E: Right?

A: My next question was going to be what did your dad play, what were your influences – but if Erin was in charge, I like that answer.

W: My dad was a professional musician, so he played music four or five nights a week for a living for 10, 15 years, by the time we came along, he was probably a little tired of music, so he didn’t actually play a lot of music around the house. Except to teach us lessons – he played me John Prine, like, you need to know this. And he played me Peter Paul & Mary and all that kind of stuff for me to be educated, I think. Did he do that for you?

E: I got a lot of Peter Paul & Mary, but the stories he tells, I guess I was the boss in that situation, too. Like, I brought things to him – Juice Newton, and Billy Joel, and Bette Midler, and he didn’t have a lot of say in it, but he could shape the direction it went in later. Like, “Oh, you like this? You should know about this.”

A: Do you ever play with your dad now?

W: Yeah, like holidays and stuff when we’re home.

E: The Breeding side of the family does a Christmas – it’s almost a Partridge Family situation. We’re supposed to learn three new songs every Christmas and bring them to our aunt’s.

W: Just them though, not me.

A: Does everyone have, like, a song that’s theirs?

W: Dad’s wife kind of does.

E: Kind of. If you came over to our house and sat down with our family and said, “I want everyone to sing a song they’re known for in this family,” I think we could pull that off pretty easily. So kind of.

A: Did you play together in high school, in college? How did you come back together?

W: I had two solo albums, and Erin sang all the harmony on both those albums. And then there was a review that said the backup singer was out-singing the lead singer, because she’s a better singer than me, which I always knew, but then we kind of thought to go into the studio and see what happened if she sang some of the songs.

A: Was Laughing At Luck your first record together?

W: Yeah.

A: Well, it was a damn good first try. I love that record.

E: Thanks!

A: And I love this one. (To Willie) Like you said in your note to me, it feels really different – it feels like it’s coming from a whole lot of places. Is there – is there growing up influence in what is on Fayette?

W: I don’t know how much of that has to do with stuff growing up. I’ve always liked to make records pretty fast. I’d know what I was doing and know what I wanted, and Laughing At Luck, that was a three year process. We were just in the studio all the time, and it was really this guy we were working with, the producer, it’s very much his way of working. Which is fun, it just gets kind of crazy after a couple of months, and it keeps extending.

E: I think when we went in to make Laughing At Luck, we thought it was going to sound like Fayette does. But with those songs.

W: And actually, a lot of the songs on Fayette were written to be our first album. And when we started Laughing At Luck, and the producer started having all the more ideas and Erin started yelling, I wrote a couple of songs – he was like, Erin’s got to have a belting song, and I was like, uhhhhhhhhh. Okay. So I would kind of write for that sort of sound. With Fayette, we just really had three and a half days in the studio. I don’t know that I really wrote any songs specifically for it, but the Clays Ferry Bridge song, the number one song, that kind of motivated us to say, it’s time to make an album.

For instance, song four – I think there’s three songs on Fayette that were recorded for Laughing At Luck, and then re-recorded quickly.

brothers in arms: erin & willie breeding

A: You said Erin started yelling, but who’s the boss in the band? Is it evenly divided?

W: I think it’s whoever has the flame for the particular idea that’s being discussed or worked on at the time.

E: As the songwriter, I think that Willie – I think that he gets to be the boss, and should be, in a lot of situations. There’s a lot of times where he already has an idea that we’re working with, or just as the bandleader when we have a full band. So I might have an opinion, or input, but –

W: I don’t really hear them.

A: So you’re younger, but you’re bossy.

W: I feel like it’s pretty even.

E: I think that then there are other things that happen that I might care about that he doesn’t care about.

W: But we also let producers do their jobs. We leave space for that. We don’t work with somebody unless we’re willing to let them lead. But on Fayette, the three of us really produced it.

E: There’s a lot of honesty in the studio, no matter who’s in charge, so to speak. I think everybody still gets the opportunity to give their opinion, and to say – I think we weigh it out. Somehow you just know what opinions you listen to, and you change things for.

brothers in arms: erin & willie breeding

A: I think that’s a really good way to put it. Okay, this is the question I always wrap up with: who does your Mom love best?

E: It sounds like such a bullshit answer, but we’re both really close with her for totally different reasons. She and I have a lot of things in common that make us very good friends, but at the same time, I know when Willie’s there and I’m not, you guys just sit and chat in the kitchen just like she and I do.

W: She’s really fucking funny. Like, amazingly funny. And sneaky funny. I think it takes a long time knowing her to realize how funny she is.

A: I think your parents influenced you pretty well.

W: Our parents are hilarious. For instance, my dad likes to fuck with people for no reason – one of my favorite stories about my dad is when we were little, and we were at the Cracker Barrel, this waitress comes over and he’s like, hi, how are you, and she’s like, oh, I’m exhausted, the cows got out last night, I was up at sunlight chasing the cows around. And dad’s like, oh, man, you don’t do the technique? And she’s like, what’s the technique? And he’s like, well, if you have cows that are kind of wanting to run around like that, you have to back their asses together and tie their tails together. You do that, right? He’s joking, but with a completely straight face. And the lady’s like, I’m gonna have to tell my husband about that, because I don’t think he knows about that.

And he used to tell Mom – Mom thought for 20 years that cows were like hippos, and if you took a little boat out in the pond, there were cows submerged in the murky deeps.

A: That sounds like a great place to grow up. It sounds like the sense of humor in “Tennessee”.

E: It’s definitely one of our favorite places, hanging out with our parents, which is totally uncool, except if you knew our parents, you’d think it was totally rockin’.

W: They’re also divorced, and it’s awesome how it worked out – they’re close, and we get to hang out individually with them and it’s a totally different party.

E: Except when we hang out as a foursome, and that’s fine too. Everything’s good.

interview: drew beskin of the district attorneys & party dolls

the district attorneys @ local 506

Drew Beskin, who fronts Athens/ATL bands the District Attorneys and Party Dolls, was kind enough to answer a few questions for me in the wake of the release of Party Dolls’ debut LP, Love Wars Baby. I’ll have a review up later this afternoon, but for now, enjoy Drew’s thoughtful responses to my dumb questions.

Love Wars Baby has a real range of sounds on it — a few real rockers, and some, like “Vampire”, that are a lot more understated. Is there a theme to the album that you feel pulls the varying sounds together? 

Lyrically, all the songs on the album are tied together. The album is about heartbreak and all of the fun repercussions that come with that. These songs were written on either acoustic guitar or piano and as they were brought to the band the tempos and sounds kind of shaped organically and I am not usually one to get in the way of what feels natural as you go through that process when putting together a record.
 
Related: how do you differentiate the songs that you write for the DAs, versus the songs that ended up on this album? Are there specific qualities or subjects that set them apart?
 
Almost all of these songs were written in a one month time frame. These songs could have very easily been saved and brought to The DAs but I was in a different state of mind and wanted to do something completely new for these songs. I think the time when these songs were written and how soon I wanted to get in the studio were the ultimate factors in deciding that this should be a separate project.
 
What’s the most important songwriting lesson you’ve ever learned?
 
I used to be afraid to write about what I know or things I have gone through. I always figured if I wrote something and it was too obvious that it would come out cheesy. This record was about being very honest and I definitely stepped outside my own comfort zone lyrically. I have learned to trust my instincts more and if I want to be more black and white about my lyrics, I am allowed to do that.
 
“Vampire” is a real off-kilter love song. What are some of your favorite other not-quite-straightforward love songs?
 
I have always loved “Just Like Honey” by The Jesus and Mary Chain because it feels like a love song but I could be very mistaken. Also any love song Tom Waits has written.
 
Is there anything about Love Wars Baby that we might not know, but should know when we’re listening?
 
These songs are all very much related to each other and most of them were written one after the other in the order they appear on the record. Also, Frank Keith IV (DAs, Tedo Stone, Ruby the Rabbitfoot bassist) played, engineered and produced the whole record!
 
What are your three biggest vices? Three biggest indulgences? Are indulgences always vices?
 
My indulgences are food, television and sleeping. Everyone is different but for me, indulgences are vices because I usually take them too far to a point where they become dangerous.
 
You’ve got this new record, but I bet you’re still writing songs, either for Party Dolls or the DAs — what’s inspiring you lately — books, music, film? Any and all.
 
I am always writing. I have what I think will be the next DAs record written, I also have an albums worth of material for a film that a friend of mine wrote. There is a pop project that I have in the works as well as my first solo album that I am eager to start. I am a film buff as well as a music, television and pop culture junkie. I love True Detective and still can’t get past the fact that Breaking Bad is over. I try to see and hear everything and they are always big influences on my writing.
 
And to sum up: if you had a time machine, and you could use it to see one show (or tour, or band at a particular time), what would you go see?

I would love to go see Prince and the Revolution with Morris Day and the Time on the Purple Rain tour. I saw them perform for the anniversary show but I would have loved to see them when those albums came out and they were fresh. I also wish I could have seen Big Star and The Smiths.

ep review / interview: animal parts – six arms to hold you

speakers in code garden party: animal parts

Toronto musician Joshua Cockerill — who performs solo and with a band as Animal Parts — came onto my radar about this time last year, when he played a couple of North Carolina shows with Scots Admiral Fallow and recently-visited Erin Rae and John Isaac Davey; he writes deeply intense and personal songs, often just accompanied by an acoustic guitar, and has in 2013 released two EPs: earlier this year,Other Rooms, and today the follow-up, Six Arms To Hold You. Six Arms To Hold You is a shimmering and electric ode to loneliness; opening track “Where The Heart Is” begins with the lyrics i made a home for myself in you / a cozy cave i like to go / midnight shelter when things weren’t my way / the more i see out there the less i say / home is where the heart is.  “Are You Man?” questions, plaintively, over a guitar melody that sounds like Gram Parsons and an echoing whistling accompaniment, whether the singer, or someone else, is enough for a woman. There’s an air of open desperation in the record, of promises made and promises broken — “Austin Pop Song” says i would buckle down, i would buckle down for you / if it’s not enough, i would go broke for you — and like Other Rooms, it’s incredibly intimate songwriting.The empty spaces, like the stripped down vocals + drums at the end of “the Grey Owl Call”, are as impressive as the full spaces. In six songs, Animal Parts takes apart your ideas of love, family, home, and puts them back together, and Six Arms To Hold You is one of the best EPs of this year.

You can stream the EP at animalparts.bandcamp.com.

Below, Joshua answers some questions about the EP and its genesis, touring the States, and a time machine show he’d like to see.

How are Other Rooms and Six Arms To Hold You related? How do they differ? Did you record both EPs at the same time, and if so, what made you decide to release the songs in two parts, instead of as a longer LP?

Both EPs were written at the same time, in a period of ten days, and I set out from the start to create two contrasting albums. The difference is in the performance. Other Rooms is quiet and naked while Six Arms is loud in comparison. Both deal with the same subject matter, separated at birth. Other Rooms was recorded first, in one day, and Six Arms took three days, but was recorded the same week.

You spent a lot of last year riding a bus around the US with your guitar. What lessons did you learn from that (both good and bad)?

my body has limits and is exceeded by my will to play music

What’s the most important songwriting lesson you’ve ever learned?

It may be specific to me, but I write best if I do it in concentrated pieces of time. I’ve spent a long time thinking about process, and I work best if I do it eight hours a day, every day. It’s like getting on a nice long bike trip, but when I stop, I might as well have punctured my tires. It’s important to me to make decisions in the moment, not leaving anything to be decided later, and songs are completed relatively quickly. 
 
Tell us one thing about this EP that we should definitely know when listening.

I was a man in motion. I had more questions than I did answers.

What inspires you to write and compose? Are there any other pieces of media — audio, visual, literary — that influenced this EP and Other Rooms?
 
They could be called “Animal Parts does America” part one and part two. The country was heavy on me at that time, and the friends I made have an undeniable handprint on the music.
I write because it’s a document of my motion. Not a map from point A to point B. Rather a log of my survival. 
 
When are you coming back to the NC? :))

It can’t come soon enough! I’m looking to tour in early spring of 2014 and North Carolina is right at the top of my list of priorities.

If you had a time machine, and could use it to go back in time and see one show you missed (something before you were born, a show you simply missed, a show you’d like to relive), what show would it be? (Or a band on a particular tour, etc.)
 
I’d go see Magnolia Electric Co play at the Local 506 in 2009. It would help untangle me.

interview: brian roberts of ha ha tonka

ha ha tonka @ local 506

Tomorrow Ha Ha Tonka drops Lessons, their spectacular 4th LP follow-up to three previous spectacular LPs (there’ll be a review tomorrow morning!), and I’ve got some answers from Brian Roberts, guitarist and lead singer, on a variety of subjects — Maurice Sendak, making art, Brett’s mandolin, and the Pirates’ resurgence. Read more below, and thanks to Brian for answering and Damien from Girlie Action for setting this up.

There was a distinct line between Novel Sounds and Death of a Decade, a kind of sense that the latter grew organically out of the former, as you guys toured and aged and changed outlooks. How does Lessons grow from Decade? How is it different? Were there changes in your process of writing and recording?

Hopefully it sounds like we’re improving.  It’s always been a goal of ours, to continually make our next album better than the last.  With ‘Lessons,’ we really wanted to create our biggest sounding effort to date.  In the past, we’d been hesitant of doing things in the studio that we might not be able to recreate in a live setting.  This time around, we said to hell with it, and just did whatever sounded right for the song at the time.  Plus, we had some very talented people helping out.  Both of the producers for this album, Dan Molad & The Ryantist, are insanely gifted and ambitious sonic adventurers.  They really pushed us to reach beyond ourselves.

I am really sad about the lack of an alliterative title. That’s just a statement, but I thought you should know.

Yeah, we hated to break the streak.  We just felt that the title ‘Lessons’ encompassed the material on the album better than the other title we were considering–which, for the record, was alliterative.  It’s actually one of the song titles…hint – it’s not Pied Pipers.

You’ve said that this record is influenced by the work of Maurice Sendak. Can you elaborate? Is his work something that’s meaningful to you in a long term way?

Yes!  The genesis for this album actually stems from an NPR Fresh Air interview I listened to last year with Terry Gross & Maurice Sendak.  Here’s a link.

If you haven’t listened to this interview, I couldn’t recommend anything more.

After hearing it, I became terribly inspired.  Sendak’s thoughts on the creative process and being an artist really resonated with me.  I found his brutal honesty to be enviable.  The things he discusses throughout the interview are hard truths uttered in the softest of ways.  The “fragility, irrationality…the comedy of life….when it’s gone, it’s gone forever”….we wanted to try and capture those messages with these songs.  The phrase “live your life” could be considered cliche, but it seems so authentic when Sendak says it.  It’s the truth….the hard, soft truth. His ability to find the true beauty in life while facing both death and loss is endlessly inspiring.  It’s so evident that he loved life and truly grasped it’s immediacy.

One of the stand-out musical pieces of Ha Ha Tonka is the way that you’ve always used Brett’s mandolin both melodically and percussively, sometimes in the same song. It’s certainly present vibrantly on “Colorful Kids”. How central to your composition and orchestration is that sound? Is it something that you pursue consciously, or just something that happens because of the writing process?

Brett is one of those rare individuals that can pick up any instrument and play it.  Plus, he also happens to be a walking melody…they just flow out of him constantly and it’s almost always something cool and inspiring.  He’s the most gifted melodist I’ve ever been around and we’re lucky to have him on our side.

Tell me one thing about the new album that resonates for you; something we should know when we’re listening to it.

It’s the most personal record we’ve ever made.

What are you the most excited about regarding being on the road for most of the fall? What’s the worst part of a long tour?

Playing all the new songs live!  It’s always exhilarating to see how different songs resonant with different audiences for the first time.  The worst part about being on a long tour is that it, of course, means being away from loved ones back home, which is always difficult.

The Pirates may beat out your Cardinals to win the NL Central, and have secured their first winning season in nearly two decades. What’s up with that?

Well, you might want to check the standings because the Cards are still a game up in the Central and I’ve got a good feeling that we’ll close out both the Pirates and Reds to clinch the division.  With that being said, it’s good to see the Bucs being competitive again!

[Ed. note: when I sent Brian these questions, the Pirates were still tied for first. Timing and September losses are everything, says the Orioles fan who fell asleep in the 13th on Friday night during the Tampa game.]

You have a time machine and can use it to go back and see one show — one you missed (you weren’t alive, you just didn’t), one you want to relive. What show is it? 

I would like to go back and experience Lisztomania firsthand.

Thanks for your time!