Interview: Grace Potter – The Anti-Diva

“Yeah totally, I’m like the anti-feminist, you know what I mean?” she laughs. “I think the reason they were interested in us was because they had this anti-diva caricature of who I was. They didn’t know I had changed my fashion sense quite a bit in the past few years, so they were looking at the old pictures in the plaid and the boots and kind of wanted that, which is funny, because I haven’t worn that clothing for years, as I’ve slowly been getting more comfortable in my own skin and loving the front-woman role, and even enjoying fashion. All of the sudden, I showed up in this beaded dress and they were kind of shocked. They were expecting the little hippie from Vermont, which I still am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love to wear a little spangled mini-dress. It was definitely a funny proclamation of the fact that people change and grow up. The word diva still doesn’t fit my character at all, but in that moment, I owned it, and I really enjoyed the role I got to play.”

The Origins of the Flying V

It’s not every guitar player who strolls into the music store and picks up a Gibson Flying V guitar. From the sheer look of the instrument to a famous pedigree that includes Jimi Hendrix, Billy Gibbons and Albert King, the Flying V is an intimidating instrument. It takes chutzpah to play it and even more to own it.

Having quickly become one of the newest faces to become identifiable with the ferocious axe, Grace Potter still remembers the very first time she picked up the iconic guitar.

“I remember the feeling of holding it the first time,” Grace recalls. “We were in Mike’s Music in Cincinnati and I thought, ‘this thing is just too ridiculous for words.’ I didn’t want to try it, but Matt our drummer handed it to me and was like, ‘just give it a whirl.’ I’m telling you, there’s something about the feeling of the action or the way the Flying V feels in my hands, the weight distribution and everything is just perfect for my body. I put it in Open E tuning – being a little Jimmy Page wannabe – and just played it and played it, and I didn’t want to put it down.”

Despite falling in love with the guitar on that first occasion, Grace and the band had to head to a gig opening up for Derek Trucks, so she left it behind on that day. But clearly her bandmates saw something about the way she coveted it, because a few months later, they gave her a big surprise.

“I had to leave it behind and I was so bummed,” she remembers. “Then, a couple of months later it was my birthday, and Matt and the band pooled their money together and gave it to me. I freaked out!”

Cooking with Cabot

Take note, corporations: There’s no better sponsorship than helping out your local bands with tour support. The good folks at Cabot Cheese have been backing Grace Potter and the Nocturnals for years, and the support has really made a difference in their ascent to prominence. Not only does the band get an endless supply of Cabot’s delicious cheddar on the road, but without them, they might not haven been able to tour so exhaustively.

“Cabot has been our greatest friend and companion on the road for the past two years and they continue to support us,” Grace gushes. “If they hadn’t sponsored us for this latest tour, I don’t think we’d be able to be in a bus. Every time we head out on the road, it’s all about number crunching. Even though there are 11 of us and it’s a big crew and production, that doesn’t necessarily mean we can afford a bus. Cabot definitely made that possible for us. We are so lucky to have such a great partner. It’s fun to have food and rock n’ roll right next to each other. And who doesn’t like Cabot Cheddar?”

Often, fans assume that once their favorite bands reach a certain size whereby they are traveling by bus and playing decent-sized rooms, that it’s automatically profit time, but it’s not nearly so cut and dry. In speaking with Grace, it’s clear that the tours are still run on a pretty tight budget and that she spends a lot of time making sure the finances are in check.

“I see bands on tour, and they are out there with the two buses and a tractor trailer, and I don’t know how they do it,” she ponders. “Obviously, they sell more tickets than us, but it surprises me, because I know the expenses and I get like fever nightmares about maxing out the budget and coming back from a 48-date tour without any money left in the bank. I guess that’s a risk people take.”

Strip Clubs, Baby!

Even though she’s clearly the face of the band, Grace Potter makes a concerted effort to maintain a collaborative spirit and camaraderie amongst the band members. While she does most of the press and publicity work, they all play major roles in both the music and personality of the collective. And, they definitely know how to have a good time together on the road. Asked what kind of trouble they get up to on tour, Grace replied without flinching, “Strip clubs, baby!”

“No, we love going out and enjoying the town. Usually, when we come into a city, I like to just get out and walk. It doesn’t matter how far we are from civilization, it’s great to just explore. My favorite thing to do in the summertime is to drag everybody out to the farmer’s market, get some good local produce, and come back to the bus and cook for everybody. That’s more rewarding and cheaper than going out and spending money every night. Plus, that saves us money that we can spend at the strip clubs!” she laughs.

Harnessing the Sexuality

“The whole sort of transformation was triggered by the fact that I’m a 26 year-old woman and when Cat joined the band, I realized that we’ve got some serious sexual power,” Grace explains. “If you hang out with us backstage, we’re all like the flirtiest, most sexually evolved creatures, and yet on-stage for some reason, we were hiding it. So, I just decided when Benny and Cat joined that it was time for a complete overhaul, and to be more unabashed about our sexuality.”

As expected, shopping has become a bigger part of the equation as Grace picks out all of her own outfits for the shows. “For me, it’s a really exciting exploration, going to the stores and finally being able to buy the dresses that I’ve always wanted, and to actually wear them and own them; do the rock star thing right and not hide it behind this veneer of being wholesome and being from Vermont, because honestly, there’s nothing wholesome about me.”

Her favorite haunts for picking up show dresses include BCBG Max Azria and a London-based company called All Saints. Interestingly, a store by the name of Haut Hippie, which sells to large department stores like Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom’s, also recently contacted the band to let them know that a portion of their clothing line was inspired by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals music.

Not a Female Bass Player, A Bass Player

When The Nocturnals put the word out that they were looking for a new bass player back in 2009, the band did not make a point of hiring a female bass player. They simply aimed to get the best bassist they could whose personality fit the group. In the end, the very first person to call, Catherine Popper, got the job.

“Cat’s dynamic and what she brings is something I love to talk about, but at the same time, it’s something not to be misunderstood,” Grace elucidates. “I did not want a female bass player. It was not, ’oh, let’s get another chick in the band.’ She is not a female bass player. She is a bass player! I really loved what she did with Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, so I was excited that we were even on her radar. And then to meet her and realize that she was exactly like me, kind of this naughty crap-mouth girl that has all these exciting quirks about her personality. It felt like a really easy fit.”

Balls to the Wall

So what’s in store for 2011 after such a groundbreaking year in 2010? More of the same: touring like banshees, gearing up for festival season, writing new material and eventually heading back to the studio.

“In the summer, our tour will hopefully take us through all the different cities that we didn’t have a chance to touch on this tour,” Grace highlights. “We’ll probably wind up in the studio at some point doing a little Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed action. And, I’m really devoted to sharing more music with fans, especially live music. So, that’s something we’re just starting to get a grip on. I really just excited for summer to come.”

As Grace puts it, “It’s gonna be balls to the wall.”

Interview: Marc Brownstein on the Road to Camp Bisco

By Ryan Dembinsky (Ryan Demler)

Catching up with Marc Brownstein as he juggled a busy schedule of five flights in the span of three days, it’s clear that the lack of tDB shows this year has the band more excited to play than ever. The break has been tough on fans, but the upside of the hiatus is that the band has a sense of freedom in having the entire catalog fresh. There’s no worrying about the rotation or what’s been played lately: it’s a clean slate. And in Bisco fashion, instead of playing in the practice room, why not just go out and play shows?

As Marc put it, “Practice is great, but you play at a different level of intensity at a show. No matter how hard you try to play at a practice, you can’t replicate what happens when the adrenaline starts pumping at a show. You just can’t. Your fingers get ripped to pieces at the show, not at practice. No matter how hard you pluck, you don’t rip your fingers at practice. It’s weird. You get on that show and play for three or three and a half hours and it’s just a different kind of intensity. So, we thought, we’re heading into our biggest shows of the year; it’d be nice to have a couple shows under our belt you know?”

Hidden Track: So, before we get into the more topical stuff, I wanted to take a step back and ask you about back when you were first learning music and playing bass. What kind of music you were listening to and maybe even seeing live that led you to improvisation?

Marc Brownstein: I started with music when I was seven, right about when John Lennon died. That was a BIG catalyst for me when he died. It was like, what is going on in the streets of New York? What is causing all of this hysteria and mayhem? So, I started getting into the Beatles really heavily. Then, by the time I get into six or seventh grade and met my first band, I played piano and played through that whole catalog of Beatles songs and started getting into more psychedelic music like the Doors and the Who and super classic rock, Pink Floyd.

My first band was a Doors cover band. We were like Depeche Mode meets the Doors. It was three keyboard players and a drummer [laughs], but we played only Doors songs. I played all the basslines and so what happened was about halfway through that year, even though the Doors didn’t really have a bass player, the idea was maybe I should just go to bass and play the lines on bass. So, that’s actually how I got into bass, by getting split onto the basslines of the Doors music. Since none of us could really play perfectly two-handed, so we split up all the parts on the keyboards. One guy would play the guitar lines on the keyboard, one guy would play the right hand on the keyboard, and I played the bass parts on the keyboard.

And then I discovered the Grateful Dead from there. That’s how I got into improv, and of course then I discovered Phish and that’s when I decided I was sure I wanted to do this for a living. Then I discovered electronic music, which is when the Disco Biscuits started to have some relevance was when we were able to take it all the way up to where we wanted to go and then go past that to the new level.

Now, the new band has stripped out the improv – not all of it, but a lot of it – and is concentrating just on the electronic side. So, it’s almost a full evolution from the beginning, which is the Beatles to the present.

HT: I also wanted to ask you again on the more historic stuff, as part of the older generation of fans who got into it more at the beginning around ‘98 or ‘99, I was curious how that period of when things started getting big pretty fast compares to now in terms of your excitement for it and being wide-eyed musicians?

MB: It’s exactly the same [laughs]. We were just saying that all weekend. When we got onstage at Electric Forest this weekend and there was 15,000 people watching Conspirator , you know Conspirator was built from nothing a year ago. It was from scratch. We were playing after-show Disco Biscuits parties. It’s really hard to start from scratch with a new band and so, right now, this last couple of months we’re seeing some really solid growth. From last year’s festivals to this year’s festivals; you know last year there really weren’t many people watching us.

This year it’s ridiculous. That’s what touring really hard does. People start to know these guys are playing a lot, and people start saying, “Hey, these guys are good, I saw them here, it was good.” So, it gets to the point where everyone at the festival wants to check it out and that’s what happened. It happened at Electric Forest. It happened at Wanee. It happened at at Summer Camp. It’s fun, every time we get onstage at a festival this year, there’s been 10,000 to 15,000 people. Even in Buffalo last night, we were opening for moe. You know, opening bands usually don’t really draw as people aren’t really there to see them, that’s just the way it is, but it was packed when we played. This week has just been great. We’ve really just been taking it in. I was describe right now as exactly the same as what you described back then the first time around when it started to blow up.

HT: So, what led to the decision to add the Road to Camp Bisco shows?

MB: We haven’t played shows in a while and Aron and I aren’t playing that weekend, so we all got together and said, “Do you guys think we should play some extra shows since we’re barely playing?” Everyone was into it and Camp Bisco is selling really, really well. It should be sold out by the time the Road to Camp starts. For us, that was just a big a catalyst. The thing is blowing up, so let’s play some more shows. We’re close to home and it’ll be set up perfectly. Ultimately, we’ll get on stage at Camp Bisco with the fire of having played six full sets right before, rather than sitting just in the practice room.

HT: The Disco Biscuits have been pretty innovative in terms of letting fans help choose setlists and things like that. We were curious, if you’re looking through a thousand or however many submissions you might get, what kind of ideas stick out or what ultimately piques your interest and gets chosen?

MB: Some people don’t understand about tempos or keys, so the ones that ultimately get picked are from musicians. I feel like they have to be musicians or at least have a heightened sense of time and key. They have a really strong ear and can tell that this song would go really well into this that song. That’s the type of thing we’re looking for. You know, where the keys work, where the tempos build, and the creative usage of the catalog. If something pops out, we’ll definitely grab it and use it.

HT: Do you guys tend to play most of your songs in the same key. So, when you’re thinking about segues, do you have to change the key of the original song or do they tend to stay in the key they were written in?

MB: In the middle of a song, we might start modulating the parts to get to a new song. For instance, to get to G, we might modulate to C and then jump up to the five or something like that. So yeah, we often think about the keys and the tempos, but that said, we’re the Disco Biscuits, we can get from anywhere to anywhere [laughs]. We could probably get from any key and tempo to any other key and tempo. It just might take a couple steps, but we’ll get there.

HT: Obviously, without giving away any big surprises or anything, are there certain songs that are really clicking or things you’re especially excited about for Camp Bisco?

MB: Yeah, it’s like I said to my friend when we were on New Years Run or Mexico or whatever it was, and I said, “What should we play?” He said, “At this point, just play a Disco Biscuits song. Nobody cares, we just want you to play songs. Nobody cares; just play some shows.

So that’s what it’s like right now. I get to look at the catalog and be like, “Holy crap, we haven’t played any of these songs in six months or seven months.” Everything is game. Nothing is overplayed. That’s ultimately what you have to worry about is what have you been playing too much; what have people seen a lot of; what hasn’t been played? When you don’t play shows, you don’t have to worry about that. That whole thing is out the window. It doesn’t matter, Rainbow Song, Crickets, Basis, it doesn’t matter. We could play Basis or Crickets or we could not, it doesn’t matter. Everything we play is rare right now.

HT: I know a lot of people are kind of asking what the future hold for you guys right now; is this what we could expect to see from the Disco Biscuits, where you really focus on Conspirator and then get together with the Disco Biscuits for some big events and some shorter tours, or do even know at this point?

MB: No, honestly I really don’t know. I have no idea. I wish I could give you some more information on that, but I just don’t know. There is no way of knowing. That’s a question that could never be answered. Life changes so rapidly. You look at what happens with other bands. They have plans to be together and tour all the time, but then someone gets sick, or someone gets arrested, or someone becomes a heroin addict, or someone goes to jail, or somebody dies. No too be super dark, but that’s life. Sometimes it’s futile to put forth the five year plan. Things change so fast. If somebody gets pregnant, somebody gets married, somebody has twins… At the age we’re at, it’s really hard to know.

I can tell you that as far as Conspirator, we’re all on the same page. Everyone wants to tour. Everyone wants to play shows. When everybody is on the same page with the Biscuits, we’ll do that too. It’s bound to happen at some point. That’s why I don’t want to say, “Well, we’ll probably play ten shows a year and Conspirator will tour.” I don’t know [laughs].

I’m open to it all, you know? If the Biscuits are open to a 30 show tour, then let’s go do it. It’s not happening between now and New Years though. That I can tell you for sure.

HT: Just one last question, I know you have a plane to catch in a few minutes, but with respect to HeadCount, is there anything you want to say as the election season gears up.

MB: As part of HeadCount, this is what we made it for. The whole point of the thing is when you come around to four year election cycle. We want to get 100,000 voters registered this year. The funding is starting to come together. You get around those four year cycles and the the funders start to come out of the woodwork a little bit.

For me, what’s really existing is with the funding, you never know during ‘09, ‘10, ‘11, it gets scary with the voter registration groups when the funding comes once every for years. How do you keep it operating? Right now, we’re starting to see a lot of people coming out to support what we’re doing, and that’s really exciting as the co-founder and co-chair. It gives a bit of justification to all the hard work we’ve put into it. We’re everywhere now. Headcount was in Michigan, in Buffalo, everywhere I go, so it’s fantastic.

Interview: Fang Island – Major Keys, Major Leagues

By Ryan Dembinsky (Ryan Demler)

Occasionally, a band puts out a debut album with so much of themselves in it, that it seems impossible to to top, or even match, when the sophomore album rolls around. You see bands come up just short all the time. In their second acts, bands – especially bands with energetic uplifting music – have a tendency to spread their wings, show off their chops and serious up. It’s the dreaded, “We’re going in a different direction” move.

Think about MGMT, The Strokes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah or the Polyphonic Spree. Bands whose debuts moved people emotionally and got the endorphins flowing, but the follow-ups deviated and ultimately perhaps fell a bit short.

But for every band that does an about face and changes directions, there’s one that doesn’t. There’s one that brings what they do best to the next level. Think about bands like Passion Pit, LCD Soundsystem or even The National. These feel-good bands knocked it out of the park on their respective sophomore efforts and never looked back.

Fang Island falls in that latter camp. Their sophomore full-length, called Major, took what they did on the self-titled full-length debut and took it up a level. The band weaves tight progressive guitar melodies in “major” key frameworks (part of the reason they chose the title) to create highly addictive fanfare music. Fang Island is dude rock at its best. In the era where refined Americana and introspective indie music reign supreme, Fang Island brings the welcome return of music that actually kicks ass.

Fang Island’s and guitar player and co-lead songwriter Jason Bartell joined me for a chat about the new record. While you read along, give the new album a listen. I’m willing to bet you’ll be out of your seat by song three.

Hidden Track: To kick off, I’d love to get into a little bit about how you guys write your music. I always enjoy how you weave together a lot of guitar melodies, so I was curious how those pieces come together to form the whole. Do you guys usually jam and then pick and choose from the jams or it more composed?

Jason Bartell: It’s a bit of both actually, especially now. Around the time we did the last record up until now, Chris and I – who is the other main songwriter; we lived in different cities. Initially, when we started the band, we all lived in Providence and there was a lot more jamming and a lot less individual composing. When we moved to different cities, we had to change the dynamic a little bit, but we always try to keep an element of jamming, even if it’s not the full band.

At this point, Chris and I have been playing together for around seven years and both learned together – or at least learned the next stage of musicianship together – so we’ve been through a lot musically and have a really solid rapport. So, we try to jam and there’s always something that comes out of that, and it’s definitely the most fun and most intuitive way to come up with riffs or songs. So, it’s always a bit of both, but we try to keep jamming in there as much as we can.

HT: On that note, I was going to ask you this a little later, but you kind of alluded to it already about the full band. We noticed that it’s a three-piece now, what happened to the other two guys?

JB: At the time we were touring the self-titled record, the original bassist had moved to away to Texas with his future wife. So the record was in the bag and we had been signed, so he did a little bit of touring with us before the record came out, but right before it was released was when he moved away. So the guy that toured with us and who was in a lot of the photos, that was my friend Mike who was my roommate at the time.

He’s this natural, amazing musician and he started touring with us and we were thinking that he was a member and that we’d write the next record with him in mind, but he started a business when we had some down time. It’s really cool. It’s a food truck business. He’s a chef at heart as well as a musician. That’s one of his many passions. It was cool, it was good timing. We decided we’ll just keep it tight in terms of writing.

At that time, it was a four piece and the other guitarist just sort of quit when we were on tour, before we really went into the studio for real. Without getting into it too much, there’s a lot of contextual stuff that doesn’t necessarily translate if you don’t know all of us personally, but he had joined after Chris and I and the original guys started the band, so he was an additive element originally. This doesn’t really translate to an interview well, but he wasn’t really a chief songwriter. It was hard, but it kind of made it easier in a way. This is sort of what we’d been working toward for seven years is this, almost the purest form of what this band is. It’s really down to the crucial elements. We still want to have the five-piece live sound, and we’ll have some really good friends who are going to tour with us, so it’s looking good right now.

HT: It sounds like you guys have really made progress on the vocals. It that something you’ve been focusing on more?

JB: I think so. We’ve always sort of been moving that way. We had two EPs that we released that haven’t gotten as much attention, but they are like our roots kind of records. From the very beginning we were mostly instrumental except for this one song had a vocal part that was just “whoas” and “oohs.” We wrote it into a part of the song where we didn’t have any music, because we didn’t have any microphones, so it was the only way we could all hear it.

So, that was how it started and that quickly became the people who came to the shows’ favorite part of the set, and our favorite part of the set. It sort of became the part we were always waiting for, because this burst of interactivity between the audience and us would come out of nowhere and it seemed to really excite people. So, we’ve always been moving this way and each record has more and more vocals.

The more we toured, the more that feeling came out. Every time someone would sing along or know a lyric, it’s the most exciting part of any show. We’re trying to move toward that a little more and it’s always been the original intention.

HT: I really like the integration of the bluegrass sound on…

JB: Dooney Rock [laughs]? Yeah, I know exactly which one you’re talking about.

HT: Yes [laughs]! Have you been working with bluegrass and other types of music more?

JB: I wouldn’t say bluegrass so much. That was Chris’s song and I don’t think he really listens to bluegrass, but I think it’s inspired more by Irish stuff as well as country. He’s a big country fan. Well, I guess bluegrass and country are similar, I don’t know the exact distinctions. Anyway, he’s more of a twang player, so that was just a riff that he came up with. Just from the reaction that song has been getting, I’d like to explore that more. I think genre aside, that’s just one more sound to infuse into the oeuvre or whatever.

Fang Island – Dooney Rock

HT: It’s funny you say that about the reaction, because I just got the record like four days ago and I’ve listened to it about 40 times already. It’s awesome.

JB: [laughs] I think that song is the core of what we do with that bluegrassy, almost silly riff and then turning it into almost like a Ride the Lighting era Metallica song. It’s not something I think many people would think to do. If there is anything on the record that is uniquely us, it’s probably that song.

HT: That’s a good point you made in referencing Metallica that I wanted to ask about. I’ve definitely seen some comments on your references to your influences in other interviews and various places or via cover tunes you’ve done, but I was curious about what kind of more sophisticated, you know, crazy music, epic guitarists, stuff like thhat you grew up with?

JB: I would definitely say Metallica is probably my biggest personal influence. It’s between that and stuff like Smashing Pumpkins and Weezer, more ’90s music. I think when I first started writing, I was actively referencing Metallica over almost any other thing. All of us sort of share the same background and we all grew up around the same time.

So, there is a pretty diverse ’90s background and some weird things. The ’90s were when weird pop sort of had its day. There are similar backgrounds in the ’90s with a bit of a metal background, but also in that there is complete open mindedness towards some of the weird stuff.

I feel like we cover the Mariah Carey song, and this may be speaking for myself, but we’re genuinely inspired by that song just as we are by And Justice For All. [laughs] If you have an open mind, the world is kind of your oyster in terms of influences, especially nowadays.

HT: When you guys toured with Coheed & Cambria, how did you find their fan base took to you guys and vice versa?

JB: That was interesting time, because we segued from a Matt and Kim tour into a Coheed & Cambria tour. Musically, those are probably two of the more dissimilar bands. So, we were really curious. That was a real experiment for us. It’s hard opening for any band really, because there is always going to be a percentage of people who just out of the gate are not going to care what you’re doing. You could be U2 opening for Coheed & Cambria and some people would still be like, “When is Coheed coming on?”

So, there’s always that element, which can be exciting and fun too. Playing for new people is always fun. Chris and I definitely both went through a big Coheed & Cambria phase and there are definitely some similarities there.

I think the other thing about trying to draw from as many influences as we can is that hopefully we can keep being painted with the brush of “hard to label.” To me, the best possible genre to belong to is the “indefinable” genre [laughs]. I feel like we could open for a hip hop band and then Matt & Kim and then Coheed & Cambria. All of them have elements that make sense to us, whether its energy-wise or aesthetic-wise. It was fun though. We played some great shows on that run and they were all super nice. Same with Matt & Kim.

Fang Island – Always Be My Baby

HT: I just had one last question I wanted to ask, which is pretty general, but I’m sure you have had some good experiences with the reactions that fans give you guys. A lot of people talk about the happiness and the joy of the building anthem sound, and music lovers definitely get super pumped up. So, I was wondering if you have any cool stories of people telling you what your music means to them?

JB: Yeah, that’s one of the greatest things that has come out of being in this band. It’s something we all hoped for when we were starting. We would get those comments from our really close friends, but we had very close relationships with those people. That’s how we started – just playing for our friends, but there was a lot of love there [laughs].

But then branching out and being lucky enough to play for new people on tour and via the internet and being on a label like Sergeant House who promotes hands on growth and fan base and being about the fans and not the dollar sign, all that combined has been amazing because it promotes these encounters.

Every once and a while, even if it’s just a Facebook comment or an email, you’ll get one that says “I was going through a really hard time and your music really helped me out.” There’s nothing better than that. Even if one person ever said that remotely earnestly, then that’s our job as a band. That’s why music exists – regardless if it’s optimistic or aggressive – if someone can find something in it when they are going through a hard time, that’s exactly why music exists. Were very lucky to have that even be a possibility.

Interview: Youth Lagoon Gets Weird

By Ryan Dembinsky (Ryan Demler)

With a debut album entitled The Year of Hibernation and a follow-up entitled Wondrous Bughouse, a blind assumption regarding the artistic direction for Youth Lagoon’s Trevor Powers would probably be accurate. The title, Wondrous Bughouse, certainly suggests a sojourn to the fantastical and that’s very much what happens on the new record. Similarities exist between the two albums, but Wondrous Bughouse is more experimental, more psychedelic, more demanding, and generally weirder. If The Year of Hibernation was Pixar, Wondrous Bughouse is Tim Burton.

It’s always a question of which way musicians will lean after releasing a widely acclaimed album. The Year of Hibernation was easily palatable yet sophisticated enough to avoid being deemed catchy, but what comes next? Stick with the formula? Reverse course? Thankfully, Wondrous Bughouse pushes the envelope in all the right directions. It’s well-produced; the attention to detail allows the depth to reveal itself in layers and the overall level of accessibility is tastefully reduced. It’s a more mature project that disregards immediate gratification and asks more of its listeners.

Hidden Track: Relative to the Year of Hibernation, the new album has a more psychedelic feeling to it. Were there any clever aproaches that you took in the studio to get some of those more experimental ambient sounds?

Trevor Powers: I wanted the music on this record to reflect a feeling of uneasiness. Taking sounds that are foreign but then applying them in ways that still make a bit of sense. A lot of time writing was really spent on exploring the sonics behind everything. Sometimes making music almost feels like some sort of science experiment, only it’s hard to ever feel content with it. There always seems to be more ways to tap into a certain idea. I don’t like recording in traditional ways. I like doing things I’m not necessarily comfortable with because I feel like it bleeds out through the music. It’s strange to look back at a completed work of music because your memory always seems a bit fuzzy about it. Like you concentrate so hard while you are creating that after something is created, you don’t even really know yourself how exactly it was achieved.

HT: I read about some of the stuff you did on the last album like playing the vocals aloud in your friend’s garage and then re-recording them with the reverb of the room. Was there anything interesting like that this time around?

TP: Every process varies depending on what seems appropriate. What I mean is there may be a certain direction you want to take a song, but after a while it seems like it wants to take itself a completely different way.

And when it’s telling you that, you have to listen. On this record, there were even spots where I didn’t think I would have any lyrics, and then all of a sudden I felt like they had to be there. So I would go out behind the studio for 20 minutes and write, and then go up to the mic and just sing them. A lot is based around the subconscious.  We have these minds that get so carried away with whatever is in the forefront that we forget about everything buried deep within us. And so sometimes I have to approach it in that sort of way, and then just clean things up later. Many of the sounds were made by taking a classic instrument like a guitar or piano, and then running it through equipment to see what could be done with the sonics. Taking something familiar and making it sound completely foreign. And working with Ben Allen on this record made things that much more comfortable. He is such an easy personality to explore music with. It was a very healthy process.

HT: Would you say it was more fun going into the recording process this time around knowing that people were definitely going to hear this record as opposed to last time where you made the record not really knowing what might happen?

TP: It has definitely been more interesting knowing that from now on at least some people would hear what I’m working on. But when writing or recording, I can’t even think about other people listening to it because that never does any good. After the process for this record was finished, I was really just hoping people would spend time with the record. There is a lot to listen to. But I feel like the more people are exposed to it, the more it starts to make sense. It’s interesting the ways that people interpret it.

HT: I’ve read about some of the bands you tend to reference as influences, and it seems like you must be a pretty serious music fan. Have you always been keen on digging up lesser known music?

TP: Yeah, but what is interesting to me is that even though certain artists may not have a large following, the listeners they do have are often devoted for life. Some popular artists obviously have life-timers too and especially influence mainstream art and culture. But with many artists of today, it’s like would you rather have 50 million fans who will play your songs while they are drunk at a party and who enjoy it because “it has a good beat” or 1,000 fans who not only listen to your music but study it and get lost in it? The artists that have 1,000 fans like that often seem to carry more weight on a personal level.

HT: What lyrical material are you most proud of on this album?

TP: That’s hard to say. The lyrics on Daisyphobia, are few, but really close to my heart.

Interview: The Milk Carton Kids

By Ryan Dembinsky (Ryan Demler)

To start off the interview with Joey Ryan of the Milk Carton Kids, I did something that’s probably considered a bit of a no-no on a more traditional media outlet. I told him a personal story and said, “thanks,” because the Milk Carton Kids latest album The Ash & Clay has literally made my life easier. I kid you not, anytime I play the album, my toddler son drops his head on my shoulder and falls asleep. It’s usually within one song, but at the most three or four. It’s a total daily ritual, and it almost never fails.

That’s the vibe of the album; it’s totally relaxing. But that’s not to say it is a sleepy record. On the contrary, it’s a captivating record. That’s why it’s so relaxing – with the dueling vocals and acoustic guitars playing off each other in harmony.

The list of great complete albums that can serve as wind-down music is very short, and it’s especially rare to find a wind-down album that might actually have your favorite song on it. Cat Stevens and Nick Drake could do it without really trying. Roger Waters has done it. Carl Broemel just did it. Billy Breathes? Maybe a couple of Dylan albums? I’m sure there are more, but The Ash & Clay is right up there with the greats in this category.

Talking on the phone from “The shadiest Tennessee gas station ever, where a guy is ashing his cigarette on the ‘No Smoking’ sign’”, Joey Ryan checked in to discuss the quiet nature of the album, where they fit in amongst the folk/bluegrass revival, and a truly touching story of the anonymous fan who gave him his Gibson J-45.

HT: So, the mellowness of it all, is that by design or was it just the result of how you guys play together?

JR: I think it’s something that we’re drawn to and it’s also a by-product of just the instrumentation that we’ve chosen. It’s hard to do anything else I guess with just two guitars and two voices. But you know, we’re both drawn to music that is beautiful in some ways. The way that it comes out of us is like you said, mellow, but it’s not really something we’re striving for.

HT: Another thing I wanted to ask about is your bluegrass influences. I know everybody tends to file you guys in the folk camp, but it seems like you take a lot from bluegrass as well. Do you have any major influences or favorites in that world?

JR: My exposure to that world is only recent in the past few years, but we have and we do take from it. There’s an aesthetic about it that we are enamored with, and we allow it to creep into our writing and playing. For me, the thing that resonates the most is the duo record that Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice made. That one to me stretches the limits of what you can do as a duo with two instruments and two voices. That’s actually a strong musical touchstone for me personally.

We didn’t come up in that traditional bluegrass scene though. There’s a respect and a tradition, and we don’t have that history of upbringing. We’re fascinated with it, but in a sense we’d feel like outsiders there.

HT: In terms of the speed of the band’s growth, does this feel like the right natural progress for you guys. Obviously it’s exciting, but is it getting intimidating or anything at this point?

JR: I think it’s just right. We’re also wary of growth that comes too quickly or growth from a single source like a song on the radio, a song on a television show, or in a film. We’ve got friends who’ve experienced that and can fill up much bigger rooms than we can, but many times half of those people are there waiting for the one song they know from the television show or commercial. We’ve not had that, so it’s all just right. Even as the crowds grow, it seems like the audience is all there for the right reasons, or at least the reasons we would want them to be there for, which feels good.

HT: Is there a certain demographic that you’re seeing or is it a pretty broad mix?

JR: It’s incredibly broad. I would even imagine it could be kind of weird for the audience members. There was a girl who wrote to us about our show in Nashville that said by the time it started, nobody else could get in. She wrote to us, “While I was waiting in line, it looked like a bunch of old people who had heard us on NPR were coming in with tickets that bought way in advance after Prairie Home Companion.”

I think it’s probably kind of weird to show up as an 18 year old and see a bunch of people who look like they would be friends with your parents. It is pretty neat to get such a broad mix of people at our shows though.

HT: I wanted to ask you a bit about your guitar. I read a story that mentioned that a fan gave you the guitar you always play, so I was wondering if you would mind telling the rest of that story.

JR: Yeah, that was actually a really fascinating act of altruism. A lot of fans – and we appreciate this too – want to be involved in some way and feel a part of things, which is just great, but the woman who bought me this guitar, she would come to my shows, but never say ‘hi’. She would buy the albums, but instead of buying them at the shows, she would always buy them on the internet. So, she always kept her distance.

Then, one day she wrote and asked me what would be my dream guitar. I actually just thought she wanted to start some sort of a conversation, but I told that my dream guitar was the Gibson J-45. So she wrote back a couple days later with a link to an eBay auction, and said “Like this one?”

It was a beautiful guitar, so I said, “Yeah, just like that one.” But then I looked at the auction and I saw that her name was already listed as the winner of the auction. So I said, “Wow, you bought this? Congratulations, what a beautiful guitar. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!”

Then she writes back, “You’re going to have to send me your address, because I didn’t buy it for me. I bought it to send to you.”

And that was it. I still don’t really know what to make of it. I hope that she’s still out there following along, but we’ve still never met. And it’s still my only guitar.

HT: How did the Gus Van Zandt connection occur with you guys being included on the soundtrack for Promised Land?

JR: He saw us play. Anything good that has ever happened to us has been because somebody saw a show. This one included. We were opening for KD Lang and the tour went through Portland. So, he was at the show, because he’s friends with KD and we talked to him after the show for like an hour, but we talked about everything besides our music and his movies. It was really nice. It was a wonderful conversation.

At the end of it, he said I’m working on a film that I think you’d be perfect for. Would you mind if I called you in a few months? So, we said “Yeah! No! We don’t mind!”

So, a few months went by after we had forgotten about it and we never really heard anything, but then one day he calls Kenneth’s cell phone. We don’t even know how he got it, but he got it. He said, “We’ve tried everything from your first two albums, but nothing seems to work. Have you got anything that is unreleased?”

So we said, “Why don’t we do you one better? We’ll come into the studio, and we’ll bring everything we’ve got, but we can also take a crack at writing something for you?”

We went for three or four hours to the studio with him watching parts of the film and figuring out what is was he was after. The beautiful part of it was that his instinct was that our collective voice, and the sound that was just coming out naturally, was really what would work best for his film.

The assignment was just “Write whatever you want, and send it in”. That’s how those three songs ended up in the film. The one song we wrote that actually makes mention of the film title, the song called Promised Land – which is on our record – was the one he didn’t want. He thought it sounded like it was written for the film.

So, people always say, “What’s it like to write songs for a film?” And I have to answer, “I still don’t know.”

HT: Finally, I wanted to talk a bit about the song Heaven, which is one of my favorites on the new album. I wondered how that one came about and where you got the idea and so on.

JR: What is your impression of it? I’m curious to know before I delve into it.

HT: Hmmm, I don’t know. I haven’t gotten a chance to see you guys live yet, but it strikes me as the “shitkicker”, get the crowd riled up live tune. It comes near the end of the record after being at this relaxed level for quite a while, and then it kind of  kicks up a bit.

JR: Well, it definitely fills that role, but the “shitkickerness” is completely ironic in my opinion. The song is actually a slight against “shitkicking” kick drum stomping folk music. I like to envision to the crowd actually talking the instruction to clap their hands and stomp their feet, only to realize a few lines later that we are making fun of people who make music for that purpose.

I don’t want to say too much, but our thing is so deliberately quiet and insular that it makes us feel like the perennial underdogs in a lot of ways due to the current aesthetic currently being called – mistakenly in my opinion – folk music. So, that one is a bit of a commentary about the groupings that we find ourselves being put into by people who listen to or especially write about our music.

Interview: Jon Hopkins

By Ryan Dembinsky (Ryan Demler)

As a promising 16 year-old pianist attending music school on Saturdays at London’s Royal College of Music, Jon Hopkins made a decision that would ultimately change his life. He entered a concerto competition playing Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G with an orchestra. He loved the piece of music and he actually won the competition, so seemingly this would help propel his interests in classical piano. Instead, he found the experience horrifying and never played another completion.

Leading up to the performance, Hopkins explained, “I started thinking, ‘Do I really have to do this?’  It was a very large concert, so when it came to the actual day, the levels of nerves, I had just never experienced anything like it. It didn’t seem necessary to feel like that ever in your life. The performance went really well, but there was a point in it where I remember an incredibly fast section in the third movement. Mind you, at this point you don’t have music; you’ve learned it all weeks before. My fingers were so used to it playing it, but I remember just looking at them and thinking, ‘How are they doing that?’ The second you do that, they could stop at any second. I managed to stop thinking that just long enough to get through it.”

He continued, “Afterwards, I was just so spaced out. I thought, ‘That’s it; I don’t think I can do that again.’ I don’t think it’s healthy, and I also don’t think it’s natural. Classical music wasn’t written to be played in this austere environment. It was the popular music of its time. It was meant to be enjoyed. This rarefied elitist thing that it is now was never the intention. Also, I’d rather just play my own music rather than reinterpreting something that was written 100 years ago.”

The rest is history. Jon Hopkins has since moved on to focus entirely on electronic music. He’s collaborated with Brian Eno and Coldplay, scored multiple films and recorded a catalog of four LPs, four EPs and a long list of collaborative recordings. His latest album Immunity came out in March and represents his first true dance record. We caught up with Jon Hopkins for a chat over a drink in Williamsburg the day after his latest performance at Irving Plaza.

Hidden Track: I wanted to start off with a somewhat general question. I tend to think your music as somewhat minimal in a sense in that there is a sort of patience that you have in having one loop going and very gradually building with subtle changes. How did you gain the confidence to trust that would be entertaining enough?

Jon Hopkins: That’s a good question. Maybe it isn’t [the music], I don’t know [laughs]? There are a lot of albums that I love that have shown me that it’s possible. Firstly, I love the effect that has on the brain. I love the fact that brazenly repeating something for eight minutes, if it’s an interesting enough thing in the first place, is an amazing chance to let the brain get used to something and really live in it. Then when it changes, it can blow people’s minds – if you’re dancing especially. It can be an amazing experience. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. I’m not saying I necessarily do it, but that’s definitely the aim.

HT: Dancing is obviously a big part of it. It seems like you are pretty savvy with different time signatures and things. How do you think about that type of thing in a dance context?

JH: Yeah, I love all that stuff. I did the weird time signature thing more in the past, but his album is essentially all 4/4. What I tried to do with this record is keep the kick drums on the the fours mostly, and push and pull around that. So some of the tracks have got really big swings to them. You can get a real electronic vibe, but also with a human feel around that central pulse as the overall propulsion of the track but meanwhile always trying to keep that human element that makes it feel “unmachine-like” and less forced.

I try to make things addictive to listen to which goes back to your first question, you won’t want to stop listening to it. If you make a rhythm that’s addictive enough, it will carry you through a long track.

HT: It was cool what you did with the video how you kind of had the skateboarder do that same thing, which is just cruising along in really long shots in a parallel fashion to the music.

JH: What was cool about that is that it’s not a complex piece of music to listen to. It’s quite complex to make, but it’s really a simple thing to hear it.

So, I just couldn’t figure out what it should be. A lot of treatments came in, and I was into a lot of them, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it should be. Then at the last minute, this treatment came in and (filmmaker) Aoife McArdle said, “You should just cut together a montage of people skateboarding,” and it even includes Back to the Future which is at the end. The song is about motion, left to right motion, so those long tracking shots and the skies of LA sunshine really clicked immediately.

HT: Is it fair to say the new album is a move back to true dance music?

JH: It’s not exactly a move back, because I’ve actually never fully done it before, bit it’s inspired by playing live for Insides, the last album, when I realized that I wanted to really learn what makes music work in a live environment. It’s really about that rhythmic pulse. So, I wanted to explore that more on this album. Each album has to have some step forward of in another direction, and for this record it was time to explore that dance side.

HT: Does the audience react noticeably different?

JH: Yes! They are much more excited [laughs]. The live set is in the early stages, but it’s going to get a lot better. It’s working at the moment, but I need to work on it to really get the most out of those songs?

HT: How has your rig changed for the live setting?

JH: It hasn’t really changed other than the changes that are internal within the programs. I’m still using the same setup and the KAOSS pads, but the sounds are different. It will sound different. The main thing live is that you feel confident and you feel happy up there, because the second you have to start concentrating too much on the screen or you start over-thinking about the fact that a loop is going to run out in a minute or you might drop the ball in some other way, the audience knows. They don’t know that they know, but they know. They know that the performer isn’t relaxed and that something isn’t right. That’s why I prefer to keep things simple, so I can remain happy up there.

HT: I read in some other interviews that people often assume you are one of these people who is really into the latest technology, but you highlight that you really emphasize using what you know not what’s the latest and greatest new thing.

JH: Exactly, I still use programs from 1999 on my PC, which is now essentially the PC I have virtually inside my Mac. I just listen for what I like to hear and try to use what I know. I think technology is actually a distraction, especially if you’re always learning now things. The latest things I’ve bought have actually been secondhand things from the 70s and 80s.

HT: What is the old software that you still use on the PC?

JH: Sound Forge on PC, a really old Cubase VST version, and lots of really old plugins you can’t get anymore. I also still use a Korg Trinity that I got in 1998, which is great because I know how to make any sound I want on it. That’s the thing that’s been on all my records that people would recognize as my sound.

HT: I wanted to to ask you about the opening track on the new album, We Disappear. How did you get those sounds?

JH: That was the hardest track to finish. The first track on a record should be the hardest to finish or the freshest, newest track. The whole track to me is an intro to the album. It would never be a single or something like that. It’s just about excitement and anticipation for what is going to come next. It’s all about energy. I wanted to make it sound like it crackling with energy and forward motion. The beats are all made organically in that one. I don’t think there is anything electronic at all there.

It’s basically hitting a table with a stick and things like that. I remember the original rhythm, I recorded it on my phone by tapping a pen on a table and that Dictaphone recording is actually still in the track. The synth sounds were made by turning the resonance on a filter up and getting a sine wave type sound and bouncing it across the keyboard. The bass is analog synth and there’s a hell of a lot of fiddling around in the rest of it.

HT: In terms of your fanbase, do you find any consistent type of person? It seems like an interesting dynamic.

JH: I don’t even really think of myself as having a fanbase [laughs], but I guess there are a few people out there. I really don’t know. It seems to be half and half men and women, which is great. Certain types of electronic music tend to get a lot of ‘bros’ and I really don’t want that . That’s the last thing I’d want [laughs]. The fans tend to be very serious about it, which is great. They tend to be committed to coming to the shows, which is so great.

HT: Finally, I know touring is the big thing for now, but what do you have lined up for the future?

JH: I’ve done two film scores over the past year, and those will be coming out soon. What I really want to do is put everything else to one side, and really develop this album and create a big audio visual part. I want to push this album as far I can push it.

Rising from the ‘Bottomland’: An Interview with Lo Faber

By Ryan Dembinsky (Ryan Demler)

Lo Faber Press 3

Long before he cut his chops as a guitarist at the Manhattan School of Jazz or formed the seminal 1990s improvisational rock band God Street Wine, guitarist Lo Faber was a born and bred country and bluegrass music kid. In a nearly-hour-long chat discussing his solo album under the moniker Doctor LoBottomland, he explained:

“I grew up in Jersey and when I was a kid, it was still rural. Today, it’s all subdivisions, but back then it was all dairy farms. My mom played in a hippie bluegrass band called the Millstone Valley Boys. She played mandolin and I started on banjo at age 8 on an instrument that their bassist made for me. All I played was bluegrass stuff, gospel and folk music like Joan Baez, John Prine, Tom Paxton and early Dylan – not electric, just the folk stuff.”

Bottomland represents a sharp return to these folk roots with a striking set of highly personal Americana songs that conjure up virtually no God Street Wine comparisons. It’s a totally unexpected sound for anyone who knows Lo Faber solely from God Street Wine – and it’s something he expressed a sense of nervousness about with respect to how fans will receive the change, but that’s downright silly. Bottomland is a terrific album, adorned with all the trademark instrumental prowess, but it comes in a new format; played with different instruments; and complemented with dramatically improved singing.

“When I was teenager,” Lo continued, “I got my first electric guitar and started listening to The Beatles, Stones and the Dead. So, I got out of playing bluegrass at some point, but I always had it in me. I went to Manhattan School of Jazz, which was great for my learning and my chops, but I could never get the country out of my playing. You do these jury performances when you go to jazz school where you play in front of the faculty and it’s nerve-wracking and awkward and artificial. One of the comments from the jury was, ‘Faber has been unable to eliminate country from his guitar playing.’ And I felt so bad about that. I was thinking, ‘Shit, I really cannot get this country inflection out.’ Now that I’m 50-years-old, I’ve finally decided to just be OK with it and embrace the country.”

The thought of one of the forefathers of the 90s jam scene in this environment is reminiscent of Miles Teller’s character from the film Whiplash, but was Faber a star student? Did he feel the same kind of pressures portrayed in the movie?

“A lot of us who went to jazz school think that movie is kind of silly because they take it too far,” Lo said. “It isn’t that bloodthirsty. It can be a little bit like that, but that movie was totally over the top. It does have that aspect to it though: the athleticism and the competition. I met [GSW guitarist] Aaron [Maxwell] there though, and that completely changed my life. We were both just two out of about 20 guitar players, and they were all really good. It was intimidating. Aaron’s father was a jazz trumpet player, so he had more of a jazz background and probably felt more comfortable than I did.”

The point in Faber’s musical development when he started realizing maybe he was getting distinctly good at guitar came earlier.

“When I was 13 I started taking guitar lessons with this teacher and he had about 20 students who were also fellow students at my school,” Faber said. “I knew what they were working on and I knew what I was working on, so I knew that I advanced pretty far compared to them. I also realized that whenever my teacher needed to do a showcase or have a student perform, he always chose me. So, I thought, ‘Hey, I think I’ve found something I can do well,’ which is a great feeling as a kid. I loved baseball as a kid too, but I was too little and I wasn’t ever going to be good at it, so I stuck to playing music and listening to records.”

Bottomland & Jitters Of A New Sound

The material that comprises Bottomland came about as Lo was writing new material during the recording of last year’s God Street Wine record. He came up with what he felt were extremely strong new tunes, yet felt like the material was not in a style to which longtime GSW fans would necessarily relate. Frankly, he thought the GSW audience would find it potentially too weird and coming out of left field. It seems crazy to hear given the new material is practically universally likable, but some of this trepidation seems to date back to an experience the band encountered after the release of Red years ago.

“The audience that exists for God Street Wine today is an older audience,” Faber explained. “They want to hear God Street Wine play God Street Wine – music like what they are used to hearing. I don’t know for sure, but we had an experience in 1995 where we put out an album called Red, that was stylistically – for a lot of fans – so different that we ended up alienating a lot of them. The record before that is the album that all our fans love, $1.99 Romances, and we just wanted to try something different. We didn’t take into account people’s expectations enough. We assumed that they all love us, and they will all go along with whatever we do, but that turned out to be a conceited amateur band mistake.

“It’s not a mistake to be true to yourself musically. But if you’re lucky enough to have an audience, you have to figure out a way to meet them halfway. We weren’t even very diplomatic about it. So, I learned a lesson from that, which is that you can’t always just count on people for their unconditional support. They have a lot of other things vying for their attention. You need to find something new, but something that stays true to why they liked you in the first place.”

That experience seems to have consciously or subconsciously informed the desire to take this material under the new Doctor Lo moniker. He decided early on that it was going to be a solo album and that he would be working simultaneously on a God Street Wine project. For that reason, it took place slowly at first. During this time, he was still teaching full-time and working on the two recording projects parallel to one another. The God Street project eventually took priority because they had a batch of tour dates over the summer after releasing the GSW album This Fine Town in June. Meanwhile, Faber opted to take his time on Bottomland, figuring rightly that this was his first solo album in 16 years: what’s the rush if he takes a couple more months?

Discussing the origins of the material, Faber indicated Bottomland marked a bit of a shift toward more personal experiences.

“The material all comes from my adult years,” Lo said. “The oldest song is called “Perfect,” which was written in 2014 the day my son got kicked out of first grade, but most of it is more recent. Everything was recorded at my house, mostly in my bedroom. I recorded most of it in the early morning hours. I would drop my kids off by 8 a.m. and have to be at work by about 11 a.m. for teaching, so I would record every morning between about 8 and 10 in the morning.

“These songs are all very close to me. These are all very personal songs about my life, my family, my marriage, middle age and my relationships. That stuff is all part of the country genre as well. These are songs about real life and that is not an easy thing to do. You walk such a fine line with these kinds of songs. Some people might find it very corny, while some people might find them very touching. You get older and you live life and you start to want to write more about what you’ve learned about life and your experiences. When you’re 22 and you write a song, what the hell do you know about life? Nothing. The goofy songs I wrote with God Street early on were not about life. They were just about weird, goofy shit that was in my head back in those days.”

In terms of a favorite song on the record, Faber has a soft spot for “33.” It’s the one about Rolling Rock beer. There are a lot of people now who hate Rolling Rock and who don’t think it is a good beer, but back in the day in the 90s when GSW started playing clubs, they would always get a case of Rolling Rock backstage. It was just the band’s beer for some reason. They don’t even really remember why. On the back of the bottle, it says, “From the glass-lined tanks of Old Latrobe, we tender this premium beer for your enjoyment as a tribute to your good taste. It comes from the mountain springs to you ‘33’.”

“I would always look at that and say, ‘One day I’m going to write a song with these words as a chorus’,” Faber said. “I think of Rolling Rock as an old white man’s beer, so the song is about an old white man who is a history professor and what he learned as a history professor. It’s the day after a bunch of history professors went out after they finished grading all their history papers and got shitfaced at a bar on Rolling Rock. It’s about how I love these people who do a hard job and don’t get paid much for it. It’s about some of the experiences I had in seven years as a history professor. We even have a nice video that we shot for it with real history professors getting shitfaced [laughs].”

Past, Present & Future

When God Street Wine decided to hang it up in 1999 after achieving major-label success during a golden age of improvisational rock, it was a case of everybody just needing a break. They had run into some business setbacks in dealing with their record label and things like that really have a way of sucking the joy out of being in a band.

GSW was signed to Mercury and Mercury was part of Polygram. In 1998, Polygram became part of Universal and somewhere in that tangled web of corporatism about half of the acts on the label got cut – including God Street Wine. The band was dropped, but they had one more contractually obliged record on the deal and they needed the money for it. So, they had to fight the label with lawyers and the whole thing became a real drag. At that point, the band had been seeing each other constantly for about seven years straight. It was just time for a break. Everybody knew they wanted to do other things, and it turned out what they all really wanted to do was have families, because that’s what most of the band did immediately after splitting up.

“It was amicable as these things go,” Lo remembered. “We were probably sort of sick of each other at the time, but that’s different from having actual deep issues. In recent years, we have all been really friendly and it has been great getting back with those guys, both musically and as buddies. It’s an amazing thing to have a band, really. It’s like having another family.”

Fast forward to 2009 and out of nowhere, the internet started clamoring for a God Street Wine reunion. The Bring Back God Street Wine Facebook page started up in earnest and Hidden Track began posting God Street Wednesdays both as a regular reminder of the band’s storied history and a call to arms to get GSW back together. While the band collectively thought God Street Wine was just something they left behind in their youth, sure enough, before long they were playing at least a few shows every year and they even tested their touring legs this past summer – if not just a bit too much.

“It showed the stress of what happens we try to push it perhaps a little too far beyond just an occasional one-off thing,” Faber said. “We kind of put a little stress back on it. We had to replace Dan [Pifer] on part of the tour, so TP [Tom Pirozzi of Ominous Seapods] played bass. He was great, but it still wasn’t ideal to be missing a member on every show. There was some back and forth about when we should play and where we should go. I think the thing with GSW is that it must be a once-in-a-while special treat. Don’t get me wrong, we had a great summer of shows. The music was great and we had the best time, but I did come away with the feeling that if I want to get back to full-time music, it’s not going to be with GSW. Musically, it was happenin’ though.”

Faber will in-fact be pursuing full-time music yet again. Ever since May of last year, he is officially a full-time musician and he plans to eventually assemble a new band. Nothing is set in stone just yet, but he would like to find a group of people that can play this new material convincingly, but also play some of the God Street Wine material with a sound consistent with that material.

“I’m trying to cross my fingers that an old guy who is 50-years-old and has been out of music full-time for 15 years can somehow find an audience,” he laughed. “I’m starting to think about another record. I already formed a record label. I’m doing all the indie artist stuff, like social media and making my own merch – the whole D.I.Y. thing. It’s exciting, but it’s also kind of stressful too. It’s a new world out there, but it’s a good world in many ways.

“I’ve also been working hard on my voice for the last year or two. I always felt like my voice was a weak link in GSW, so I found a voice teacher that I started training hard with. It’s not just having my singing sound better, but it’s also having my voice be healthier so I can play more shows and rehearse. That used to be a big problem in God Street Wine. If we played four nights in a row, by that fourth night my voice would be shot and out of tune and scratchy sounding. Nowadays, when we get together, we have to do a lot of rehearsing since we don’t see each other that much. So, sometimes we’ll wind up doing 12-hour days of rehearsal and by the end of it, it puts a lot of strain on my voice. I’m trying to do it in a much healthier way from now on.”

The State of Music Today and “Jam Bands”

The term jam band isn’t one that Lo Faber or GSW feel a strong connection to, but he recognizes the importance of jamming in the band’s development and popularity.

“I really don’t know. We really resisted the whole idea of the jam bands as a genre. We always identified with just being a rock band. People would always say, well you guys jam, but I would say, ‘Have you ever seen a Led Zeppelin concert?’ [laughs] We probably should have embraced it though from a pure marketing perspective, because it turned out to be a good branding thing. It certainly was good for bands like Phish. For whatever reason, we were just contrarian to it and never wholeheartedly embraced that tag.”

Lo noted that he doesn’t get out enough to say what’s going on today to really say how the state of the scene he helped create looks today. If he does make it out nowadays, he is going to go see country music and Americana artists like Jason IsbellKacey MusgravesThe Avett Brothers and The Milk Carton Kids. Those are the bands he really loves right now. He also raves about Dead & Company and how they are bringing those old songs to life for a whole new generation. Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, on the other hand, is not his bag.

“I feel like the whole idea of jam bands was Dean Budnick’s invention,” Lo said. “I love Dean. He’s an old friend. He and I have the Ph.D. and history teacher common bond. Music is music though. I think most musicians feel this way. Everybody gets uncomfortable with the labels. Listen, I love hip hop. I love experimental classical music. I love The Allman Brothers.”

Looking back, Faber admitted he thinks that God Street Wine probably didn’t jam enough to reach their critical mass in terms of popularity.

“The true Phish fans – if they don’t hear real extended improvisations at least three or four times a night – they are not down with it. We didn’t do that. At a Phish show, I think 50% of the show is jamming or maybe even 60% or 70% on some nights. God Street Wine would be more like 25%. Even back in the day, if we had a setlist of 10 songs, we would have two songs on average that would have a jam. And even then, the jams were more like a bridge in the song. They weren’t all that freeform. We knew where it was going to be and how we were going to end it.

“We had plenty of songs on that setlist where we would just play the four-minute song. The first time I saw Phish, my favorite song was ‘Bouncing Around the Room,’ because it is one of their best songs as a lyric and melody. If I’m with a serious Phish heads, they are disappointed. There is no jam in it. That would be so shameful to admit that’s my favorite song, but I’m into songs. The jam band world is not about songs. I always felt some contention with it for that reason.

“Don’t get me wrong though. I’m so grateful for the audience that came out to see God Street Wine. When you listen to Willie Nelson or Hank Williams or Bob Dylan, it is about a song. That has always been my mindset. I like to jam, because jamming is fun. It’s great to do live and it gives every show a sense of adventure. That stuff is all great, but the song has to be the core.”

Interview: Mike Gordon’s Balancing Act

This archival interview marked the first time I ever got a chance to interview a member of Phish. I’ve since interviewed Mike Gordon a couple other times and it’s always a pleasure. You really don’t have to do much when it comes to interviewing Mike. He goes deep on anything and everything, so the trick isn’t as much about getting comfortable speaking with one another as much as it is trying to stay on track and hit the topics you want to discuss.

By Ryan Dembinsky (Ryan Demler)

When considering what the Mike Gordon Band sets out to be, it’s critical to note that this is not just Mike Gordon and a backing group of session musicians or hired guns. It’s meant to be a cohesive, equitable group – a proper band if you will. For somebody who has played in a band like Phish, where the collaboration makes the magic happen, you know there’s going to be an emphasis on the other musicians playing important roles, but it’s all about finding the balance between bandleader and collaborator, player versus coach.

“There are all kinds of balancing acts in being a bandleader,” Gordon articulates. “I definitely wanted a ‘real band’ sense, not just a bunch of sidemen. For me, it’s a deeper experience. Sometimes, I see some musician play with a bunch of backup people who aren’t supposed to express themselves, and I don’t like those concerts much. In my case, the question becomes, ‘How many songs should other people sing, or other people write besides me, or maybe we write together?’ There really are all these balancing acts, but I’m feeling really good about it. The biggest challenge for any bandleader is to bring out the talents of the people they are leading, and I think that’s definitely happening.

On Moss

Coming from a band that is not particularly well-known for its prolific studio output in Phish, Mike Gordon’s new album, Moss, truly succeeds as a standalone work, despite being tagged with the quasi-derogatory “side project” label.

The album brims with an aura of experimentation on tunes like Spiral and The Void, while capturing some of the most vibrant, danceable singles in material like Can’t Stand Still, Fire From a Stick and Idea. It’s easy to hear the flexing of creative muscles on this project, where old tidbits become songs; found instruments play as much a role as the traditional; and ultimately, the members do what Phish often struggles so mightily to do on their own albums, jam.

“If you surrender to the muse, then she will take over,” Mike quips. “I keep relearning that lesson over and over again. So, we tried to just let the album sort of become what it wanted and let it fall into place. It’s really rewarding to do that.”

Another notable element on Moss comes in the quality of Mike Gordon’s lead vocals. This should come as no surprise though, as Mike has been working hard with vocal coach Shyla Nelson, an opera singer and founder of the Good Earth Singers.

“I enjoy dabbling in different instruments and seeing what the potential is, and since the voice is the instrument that’s always there, whether you’re climbing a tree or driving down the road, why not work on that instrument? And Shyla is pretty cool, because she’s an opera singer, but she’s also very spiritual,” Mike remarks. “Actually, what she’s doing now is working with Pete Seeger and a couple other people in this group she calls the Good Earth Singers, and they are trying to get 15 million people to sing at the same time on that day the world is supposed to end. There’s a chant she’s working on with tons of choirs and choruses lined up all around the world.”

Continuing on the subject of vocal training, Mike explains how Shyla has helped him develop a more holistic approach to singing that follows a similar philosophy to Pilates.

“She is very into combining the human experience and different elements of it,” he says. “So, she’s metaphysical in mixing the body and spirit all through the human voice, which is pretty cool for me. It’s a very meditative and cathartic experience in the rolling hills of Vermont with the views of the lake. It’s centered on her philosophy of singing, which is all about core muscles. The idea is that the top part of your body relaxes, because the core is engaged with constantly renewed energy. In the experience of singing, the note actually resonates. In other words, it kind of vibrates on the top of your head and then resonates several feet away from you, so it’s this whole arc starting from your core and through your relaxed body, and through the forehead and beyond. Everyone has a different way of thinking about it. That’s just one way.”

Interestingly, Mike discussed how for a long time he focused his vocal training around two things: bluegrass harmonies and female vocals. When he moved to New York City several years back, he went through a big bluegrass phase and worked on “intense, high-pitched” harmonies. Then, during another more recent period, he focused his singing on female vocalists like Joni Mitchell and Maria Muldaur, but the game changed with the Little Feat album.

“After learning the Little Feat album, now I really want to explore my masculine side. I got to sing four of the Little Feat songs. So, you know, getting into the Lowell George vocals has been so great. I’ve always loved his singing. And now, I’ve been checking out people like J.J. Grey, who also have a more masculine approach. Maybe that’s why I’m sort of growing a beard, but not really,” he laughs.

On Choosing His Covers

If you’ve been following along with the Mike Gordon Band tour at all, you’ve surely noticed the diverse array of cover selections. The band has unleashed everything from Alanis Morissette, to Tower of Power, to C&C Music Factory, to the Lemonheads. Clearly, Mike is having fun with this band and they not afraid to take a lighthearted approach, poking a little fun at themselves along the way.

“It has to be something that at some point resonated with me,” Mike points out. “Sometimes, I’ve had a favorite song growing up, and I’ve never wanted to learn that song, because dissecting it and knowing all the parts and doing it over and over, would probably make it no longer a favorite song. There are very few songs I can listen to hundreds of times but still like: maybe Here Comes the Sun, but that’s about it.”

So how do these quirky choices make it from idea mode to the stage?

The Lemonheads – The Outdoor Type

“With the Lemonheads’ song, I was talking to somebody who was real outdoorsy, and I was thinking about how I’m not. I mean, I love going into the woods, and living near the woods, but in terms of mountain biking and the whole thing, it’s just not me. So, I was reminded of the song.”

“And then,” Mike explains in a state of surprise, “Somebody told me that Evan Dando had died! But, it was just a rumor. We all used to hang out with Evan Dando back in 1995, when we were recording in Woodstock. We would all hang out every night at 3 am when we were done recording and then go back in to the studio at 5 am and finish the night. So anyway, I Googled it and got thinking about it more.”

Alanis Morissette – One Hand in my Pocket

“With Alanis, I heard the song and I was thinking something about the groove and the sentiment. I like the song and something resonated, but I was also kind of making fun of it. I make fun of my own songs a lot too. Anyway, I mentioned it to Scott [Murawski] and he said, ‘Oh, I’ve covered that song before. Maybe we should do it sometime.’”

“With that one, we started doing our own thing with it immediately,” he continues. “It’s a very simple rhythm, so it’s a ‘more is less’ kind of song. A lot of our music is kind of funky and syncopated, so to play some songs that have straighter rhythms has been a real joy. That allows us to find ourselves in it more because it’s less prescribed.”

C&C Music Factory – Things that Make You Go Hmmm

“With C&C Music Factory, what resonated with that one was Phish was in Barcelona having lunch on the beach at a bar once when it came on the radio,” Mike remembers. “I was really digging the bass line, and then, when we played the song You Enjoy Myself in the funky part once it got to the guitar solo and the jam, I would always play that bass line from the song. Then I thought, ‘well, I’m never going to play anything like YEM with this band, but why not take the bass line and the original song?’”

Lynyrd Skynyrd – Swamp Music

“We’ve done this a few times where we’ll essentially just take something and use it. In Phish, when we were learning the song Possum, which is a Jeff Holdsworth song, we wanted to give it sort of a bluesy, peppy groove and we ended up basically copying the groove from Swamp Music by Lynyrd Skynyrd. So, I thought ‘I get to do Possum enough with Phish, but why not do the original Lynyrd Skynyrd song?’”

“In general, it’s almost post-modern in that I’m drawing on some inspirations, but it’s usually also just making fun of myself.”

On the Potential for Other Projects

Never one to stand still for long, you can generally assume something is brewing in that noggin of Mike’s. As a longtime fan of creative writing and of film-making, he touched on the possibility of projects coming down the pike outside of music.

“I do want to write a screenplay,” he explains. “My other films didn’t actually have one; so I would think having one would unleash my film-making in certain ways where I’d actually be freer by having one. I don’t want to make anymore documentary films, but I’d like to make a narrative film. I’ve sort of been waiting for the right time, because there’s certainly enough to do within music – having two bands – to keep me busy for the rest of my life, especially since my solo career and band are in its first stages. But, now that they are starting to grow roots, I’m starting to think about it a little bit. Not quite yet, but maybe soon.”

Interestingly, while on the topic, Mike cites Leo Kottke as an inspiration for maintaining focus and not getting too swept up in too many different directions.

“Some people seem to do a good job in dabbling in many things and some people excel by really sticking to one thing,” he adds. “Like Leo Kottke – who I just got to hang out with a lot in Minneapolis – I always admire him, because he really has two things: reading and playing guitar. With playing guitar, he does it hours and hours every day, which is why he’s the best acoustic guitar player there is because he’s done away with all the distractions. He could have had a book writing career or perhaps have worked on some other instruments like pedal steel, which he dabbled in, but he realized that those things would have been distractions from this one main thing. So for me, I’m trying to find the line to draw. To some extent, different creative pursuits inform each other, but you just have to figure out the balance.” He jokes, “even decorating your home can be a full-time job if you get caught up in it.”

On Finding this Balance

With such a demanding schedule, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and staying sane can prove no easy feat. It takes a conscious effort to stay rested, well-fed and generally happy. While on the road, Mike carves out time everyday to go running outdoors and let his mind clear. He maintains a vegetarian diet and tries to eat nutritious meals, mostly low-carb if possible, and he’s dabbled in meditation and the morning pages exercises from the book, The Artist’s Way.

“Having some downtime is really important. I guess my thing is really going to a café with my laptop. Scott Murawski or Julia from the Phish office will usually go with me. So that’s my thing: I go running; I try to sleep enough; eat light; sit in cafes; regroup.”

Mike also makes a point to soak up the culture of each city he visits for shows. It’s easy on the road to get that, “What town are we in today” feeling, but Mike generally tries to drop by local cafes with local artwork on the walls, and guide his runs through colorful parts of town to get a flavor for the community.

“I really just like checking out these American cities. I’d probably like doing more in Europe too if it wasn’t so expensive to go over there. So, hopefully, I’ll get to do that too, but really I just like going from one random American town to the next and soaking up the vibe. All that keeps me sane… I think.”

By keeping his days open, allowing himself to eat well and get exercise on the road, not stretching himself too thin between projects, and of course, making time for family; after almost 30 years playing live music, Mike Gordon has found his balance in perpetual motion. Hence, it’s a good thing he Can’t Stand Still.

Avett Brothers Perform Secret Show to Celebrate New Album

The Avett Brothers :: 09.29.09 :: Envoy Enterprises :: New York, NY

Words: Ryan Dembinsky (Ryan Demler)

An interesting phenomenon occurs when a band breaks through and outgrows its loyal fan base. The rare opportunity arises where they try their damndest to play an intimate show that mimics their early days, yet pre-show conversations tend towards a comparison of who caught the band at the smallest venue, which fans are there for the first time, and how much better it would be if the crowd was all true fans.

On Tuesday night, when The Avett Brothers performed a largely unknown New York City release party for their latest effort, I and Love and You (released September 29 on American Recordings – stream it here), to maybe 150-200 diehard fans and friends at the tiny basement bar called Envoy Enterprises, the evening predictably began like the above scenario. Yet oddly enough, once the music began peoples’ guards dropped. What previously felt like a crowded floor verging on a traffic jam opened up into a friendly chatterbox of new pals with a purpose, i.e. getting to know each other’s connections to the band, talking about what they wanted to hear and cheering like Premier League hooligans.

Praises for the new album were sung, yet not as boomingly as by the music press. While being hailed as a ‘Best of the Year’ candidate by the rags (not ridiculous by any stretch), many folks frankly seemed to say, “It’s pretty and all but I like it when they rock out.” Well, that was just before the show. As much as this sentiment rings true for some of the newer material in the album format – where no shortage of love themes and a smattering of piano-driven ballads take the place of raging banjo strums – even the heartfelt pieces emanate bursting energy in the live setting, particularly when Scott Avett gets behind the drums. Moreover, they did rock out, particularly on the harrowing imagery-laden rager “Slight Figure Of Speech,” hollering the line, “I cut my chest wide open.”

The locale should have come as no surprise to Avett fans as Scott showed his artwork at the bar back in 2008 – as was the case on this evening – in the upstairs floors of the space, which function as an art gallery, while the basement played host to the bar and stage where the Avetts performed. After the show, the band retreated upstairs to chat and sign posters.

A small show like this invites interplay with the crowd, and despite the obvious need by the band to play a hefty dose of new tunes from the new album – this being a release party and all – the crowd did not hesitate to request their favorite songs. The highlight of this interplay came after a “Chesterfield” shout out, which I believe is just a town and not an actual song. Confused, the Avetts took the banter in stride, commenting about the time they spent in Chesterfield recording A Carolina Jubilee, which led to the fan favorite “Pretty Girl from Annapolis,” which then segued into “Mary,” by the Avett’s old touring friend Langhorne Slim.

“Kick Drum Heart,” the standout catchy tune from the new album, came early in the set and earned a warm reception. This song sounds a lot like Matt Costa’s “Mr. Pitiful” and will indeed become a mass appeal staple, but may perhaps be less well received by longtime fans. Frankly, the Avetts possess heavy-duty followers, so this may become more a symbol of the major label changeover than a fan favorite. Nonetheless, the song sounds whimsical and uplifting.

Other standouts included the I and Love and You track “Ten Thousand Words,” which highlighted some honest to goodness guitar soloing and the newer-than-the-new-album tearjerker “Skin and Bones,” with gorgeous cello work by Joe Kwon and Scott Avett rocking on drums.

“I wanna fit into the perfect space; feel natural and safe in a volatile place.”

The Avett Brothers know how to work a crowd. After stomping through a smattering of old and new tunes and joking that they were excited to have finally played Madison Square Garden, the band silenced the crowd with a heartfelt “Perfect Space” that said everything about performing at an unquestionably populous yet not-quite-irritatingly small venue. The crowd packed the place. My neighbors and I joked about this being the first time New York City brought out all the tall people to a show. While most fans probably saw little more than the ornate neck of Bob Crawford‘s stand-up bass peaking out over the tops of heads, the room felt overwhelmingly cheerful.

Despite the New York locale, The Avett Brothers took a pass on the title track off the new record with its Brooklyn hearty nod, but performed a much longer, more passionate than expected, free private show. Guess the New York crew will have to wait until Terminal 5 on October 17 to hear “I and Love and You,” but The Avett Brothers proclaimed their love of the crowd and the crowd gave it back. With Rick Rubin‘s producing credit and an undeniably catchy overall feel, their major label debut will likely grow the Avetts out of their small town britches. However, with this intimate fan “thank you,” they proved that they could never grow out of their skin.

The Avett Brothers :: 09.29.09 :: Envoy Enterprises :: New York, NY
Laundry Room, January Wedding, Paranoia In Bb Major, Kick Drum Heart, And It Spread, Slight Figure Of Speech, Skin and Bone, Pretty Girl from Annapolis (with Mary), Ten Thousand Words, Perfect Space

Interview: Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison

By Ryan Dembinsky (Ryan Demler)

Back in October of 2008, huddled together closely in a cluttered green room upstairs at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg, the members of a band from Selkirk, Scotland called Frightened Rabbit – most of whom wielded Apple computers as they killed time before their set supporting Delaware’s Spinto Band – chatted amiably about their friendships with one another, the critical success of their latest album, The Midnight Organ Fight, and its acoustic offshoot Liver, Lung, FR, as well as their current U.S. tour.

What they didn’t know at the time was that they were actually responsible for my own personal Almost Famous moment so-to-speak. That was my first real backstage interview. Everybody always tells a newbie or an underdog to “act like you’ve been here before.” So, that’s what I did. Being a tad nervous, I polished off about eight beers beforehand at a bar across the street, only to find out Frightened Rabbit consists entirely of down-to-earth, thoughtful gents who are happy to share their insights on any number of subjects. What resulted were a lot of laughs and subsequently, one of the finest indie rock shows I’ve seen – and that’s not just because of all the beers.

Fast forward about 18 months and Frightened Rabbit no longer play the role of underdog either. On the contrary, having just released their third full-length album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks (released March 1 on Fat Cat Records), produced by indie wunderkind Peter Katis (The National, Swell Season), fans and critics alike have been teeming with anticipation for this release ever since The Midnight Organ Fight went on to populate so many 2008 “Best Of” lists and the band itself emerged as leaders of a burgeoning Glasgow music scene – one of the most compelling locales in music today.

On the day before the big release of The Winter of Mixed Drinks, JamBase caught up with the busy rockers to check in on all things Scottish, working with Peter Katis, and the unwritten rules of being a Frightened Rabbit.

JamBase: List 3-5 things that influenced this record, such as people, books, movies, other musicians, events in your life, or feelings at the time.

Scott Hutchison: Ted Hughes’ book Songs of the Crow was a massive influence lyrically. It’s an amazingly powerful set of poems, and there is a wonderful thread running through the series. It’s terrifying in places. The North Sea had a huge effect on the record. There are clear nautical references throughout, and they would not have been there were it not for my coastal location at the time of writing. Walking was a major factor in the way I finished the writing process. There is something about the rhythm of striding across the land that gets the mind ticking over. A brusque walk always sparks an idea for me.

JamBase: Could you give some background on your relationship with Peter Katis, both from a working and friendship perspective?

Scott Hutchison: We were incredibly lucky to work with Peter on The Midnight Organ Fight. He is an old friend of Adam Pierce’s [the head of Fat Cat, USA] and as such we probably got a good deal. At first, everyone was unsure about what we were trying to do; I think he wondered what the hell we were doing in his studio. But slowly we gained an understanding of each other and it started a great working relationship. I love what he does with records. His style is a little different from my own, perhaps he works a lot more subtly, but that is something that adds a great deal to the records. He creates space, whereas I have a tendency to fill it up with all sorts of shit.

Last time we spoke, we joked around about your childhood growing up with Grant [Hutchison, his sibling and FR’s drummer] and how when you first started playing music it wasn’t so cool to have your little brother in the band, but as you guys grew up you came to become close friends. How would you characterize your relationship these days?

It’s still a totally solid friendship. We have fairly distinct roles within the band, and we tend not to step on each other’s toes. Grant deals with much of the day-to-day running of the band, something I am fairly inept at. It’s great that he has a knack for organization, because it allows me to go forward with the creative side. We still argue, but it’s always constructive. And I am always right [laughs].

Along those same lines, how would you describe the camaraderie of the band?

The best way to sum things up is through the unwritten, and usually unspoken, rules within the band. You don’t finish Grant’s cider. You don’t fuck with Billy [Kennedy, bass] when he’s hungry. You let me sit in the front seat for most of the journey. If Andy [Monaghan, guitar] has gone missing, he will be “on a wander.” Don’t try to find him; he always comes back on time. Gordon [Skene, keyboards] doesn’t like shit food. If you suggest a Chinese buffet, he won’t be joining you.

Could you talk about some of the interesting elements from working in the studio that came across on the new album, such as cool overdubs, effects, interesting things you used for sound effects, etc.?

The most important item of equipment became the SP-404 sampler that I bought when I was writing the record. We just took some of the loops and sounds straight off there. They were pretty lo-fi, but I think it stopped the record from becoming too “over-produced,” although some may argue otherwise.

I gather in listening to the album that it’s meant to be emblematic of escaping one’s life or running away, so to speak, which seems somewhat consistent with Midnight Organ Fight. Could you give a little background on how you got to this concept?

Quite simply, I was alone for a certain amount of time, which gave me the space to assess what was and was not important in life. I’m not saying I’ve got it figured out, but the simplicity of things out in Crail [Scotland, where the bulk of the record was written] made everything seem so fucking easy. My brain just worked the way it ought to out there. The city can be stifling.

On the flip side, there’s some unbridled optimism toward the end of the record on “Living in Colour” and “Not Miserable.” Are you happy these days?

Yep! I was never terribly unhappy for long periods of time before, but I suppose listening to the last record you could be forgiven for thinking that I was permanently miserable. I’m pleased to say life is pretty good right now. Long may it continue!

So, you guys are getting closer to full-on fame nowadays. How do you feel about fame? Do you welcome it or is it a little scary to think about it?

I can’t say I’m aware of being on the brink of full-on fame. There are different levels I suppose. It’s nice when people come up to you in the supermarket to tell you that they like your music. I won’t ever get tired of that. When they start telling me I’m a dick and my music sucks, I will begin to worry.

How much influence did Peter Katis have on the sound and the material? Did he help write with you at all?

He didn’t have a role in the writing, but he has an absolutely magic touch on all of the records he works on. The albums quite simply would not sound as they do without Peter’s input. As I said before, he mixes very subtly, and especially in the new record, has helped to create some space in a rather busy, layered record.

With Midnight Organ Fight you spent about two weeks in the studio. How did the process this time around compare?

We had about twice as much time. On Organ Fight we essentially recreated the demos note-for-note in the studio. This time, we saved a lot of the arranging and creativity for the studio itself, so it was a lot more involved. Perhaps the luxury of time led to certain portions of the album getting a tad overblown, musically, but it’s something we were aware of, and it’s definitely the way I wanted this one to sound. It’s not something I wish to repeat next time.

There’s quite an indie music revolution occurring in Scotland these days, particularly on Fat Cat, with you guys, James Graham and We Were Promised Jetpacks. What would you say makes Glasgow and Scotland in general so special for music?

Scotland is an indoor nation. Making music, or any kind of art, is perfect for us. We are pale and pasty-faced, hate the sun and love a dark room. There’s a very specific dark and self-deprecating nature in lots of Scots that filters through to the creative output of the nation. Glasgow is the center for most of this activity. It’s a city built for the arts. There are so many spaces to play and work in. It just breeds good stuff.

What are your two favorite songs on the album, one from the perspective of the music and one from the perspective of the lyrics?

“Things” is the most succinct song I’ve ever written, lyrically speaking. There’s not much wasted language in there, which I like. I think parts of “Skip the Youth” are our most musically ambitious to date; I’m especially fond of the two minute intro. I’m aware that it could be incredibly annoying for some people, but that only makes me love it more.

Finally, when last time we spoke, you had some pretty funny comments about the Enemy [aka, NME]. It seems as though they have since taken quite a liking to Frightened Rabbit. Are you still skeptical about them? What are your feelings toward the music media in general these days?

I have no beef with anyone in the music media. I don’t expect to be universally loved. I don’t want to be. It’s healthy to read articles by people who clearly hate my band. The NME has been kind in recent months, which is great, though it’s not incredibly important to me. It’s best not to take any of that stuff too seriously. Reviews are relatively ephemeral in comparison to the actual content of the record.