Friday at Johnny Brendas is a great show of local talent. National Eye, a band that is made up of members of The Capitol Years, Windsor for the Derby, and Like Movning Insects, is hard to confine to one musical category. Drawing comparisons to Leonard Cohen and Pink Floyd, The Flaming Lips and Grizzly Bear, their songs run the spectrum from psychedlic cacophony to melodic pop. And on the way soon is their third album, The Farthest Shore.
Joining them are Scranton's The Sw!ms. I've seen these guys before. They are 60's pop incarnate, with a little edge. They have fun onstage and it permeates the crowd. The lead singer is an exact double of Jonah Hill, you know, Seth from Superbad, with the white boy fro and everything. A fun set to be sure.
Opening up the show is Brooklyn singer-songwrite Pepi Ginsberg, with her own brand of ultra catchy folk-pop.
After years of teasing, DC's These United States are finally releasing their debut album. A Picture of the Three of Us at the Gate to the Garden of Eden (try saying that really fast) will be released on March 4 and they will be supporting it with ridiculous amounts of touring. The first batch of dates will be announced soon. In the meantime, we have the first official mp3, "First Sight." Let us know what you think.
Wow, I don't know what to say about the quality of this week's list of music. I would say it's amazing, but I don't think that encapsulates the staggering amount of great music ready to travel to your ears. I think you will just have to listen to it to try and understand how good this batch really is.
I don't have a pick for this week, I have five. Luckily they are all different types of music, so I don't feel bad about not being picky enough. First we have our favorite Afro-pop group, Vampire Weekend. I'm sure many of you have heard at least half the album already and the rest of the album is just as good and really compliments itself from beginning to end. The next two releases are local area bands The Shackeltons and Jukebox the Ghost. Joe posted an interview with the Shackeltons and the album lives up to everything said about it there. Jukebox has never failed to disappoint and with this release, we finally have an epic full length to listen to over and over again. We also have an interview with them for you to check out.
The final two picks should be better known bands to everyone. Up first, The Helio Sequence have released their forth studio album and get better and better with every release. The eloquence and beauty of this release surpasses any of their others. The band stretches their collective creative talents to produce something everyone will find immensely pleasing to the ears.
Finally, we have a new disc from The Mars Volta. Classified as progressive rock, psychedelic rock and experimental rock by many, I would like to add "tastefully loud" and pure rock pleasure. This album is not for anyone who cannot stand noise coming at them in the form of 5 to 9 musical instruments all at the same. However, for those of you who can muster the eardrum exploding (in my opinion, it has to be higher than regular volume to get the full effect) music infusion, you are getting a real treat. The band was recently in Baltimore and should be back in the area later in the year.
Other Notable Releases: In addition to those five, there are several other releases worth mentioning this week. These picks include the excellent new disc from DC's own, Thao and The Get Down Stay Down.
Last fall, I had the pleasure to meet The Shackeltons from Chambersburg, PA. They were some of the most sincere people that I have ever met in this business and their live show was so mind blowing, that I named them best live act of the year. Their self-titled debut drops on Loveless Records on Tuesday. They will be supporting it with some regional touring, including a stop at DC's The Red and The Black tonight. If you get the chance to check them out, I highly recommend doing it.
In anticipation of the release and touring, I sat down with guitarist Dan Schuchman. Our interview is below, followed by a live video (just watch it and tell me that you aren't intrigued), an mp3 and their regional dates.
IA: You are named after Sir Earnest Shackleton, the Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer. Where did that come from?
Before we were The Shackeltons, we were a different band really... different sound, different name. Our sound started changing and we thought that we should just change the name. None of us really liked the old name anyway. Mark read a book about Sir Ernest Shackleton and how his ship became stuck in the ice, how they had to row 800 miles in the Arctic winter and hike over mountains to get back to civilization. Surprisingly, all of the men made it. Even though they didn't successful explore the Arctic, all of the men made it back alive. It was an uplifting story to the people in their time and we wanted to do that, but with our music. We want to do something uplifting and give people something to believe in.
IA: Why the misspelling?
A small mistake was made on Mark's part. He got the domain name registered and realized later that it was misspelled. The joke is that The Beatles spelled their name wrong, so we don’t feel so bad. It’s now our own name. The Shackeltons from Chambersburg who honor Sir Shackleton from Ireland.
IA: Your debut on Loveless Records comes out on Tuesday. How did that partnership come about?
A few years ago, Mark was enjoying listening to Ambulance LTD at our local coffee shop and he decided to give their management a call. He never thought they would call back. Surprisingly enough, they called back and said they thought what they were hearing was "brilliance". They then asked for us to send our music to their NYC office and helped us get noticed in New York a bit and they get our foot in the door at KEXP, America's finest indie radio station. KEXP loved us so much, that they had us perform live on air during CMJ06. They loved our performance and someone from Loveless saw us. It's funny because there was a band on Domino Records that performed after us. Mark was talking to their label rep and said "If you sign us, we'll make you rich." Someone from Loveless heard this and ran to Mark saying that they wanted to meet with the band immediately.
IA: Where was the CD recorded and who produced it?
We recorded at Beer Wine Fish in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles. Sam Jones produced it, while Tom Biller co-produced and engineered it. Sam Jones is a great photographer and he directed I'm Trying To Break Your Heart, the big Wilco documentary. Tom has worked with Jon Brion on many lovely movie soundtracks, Punch Drunk Love, I Heart Huckabees, Eternal Sunshine, Magnolia... and he's worked with artists such as Sean Lennon, Silversun Pickups, and Karen O
IA: One of the first things that you said to me when we met last summer was "see us live first and then I'll give you a CD." It's obvious that you pride yourselves on your live show. How much of a challenge was it to translate that raw energy to a studio recording?
Not so difficult really, Sam and Tom really knew how to get great moments out of us.
IA: In this era of over produced bands that are surrounded with an almost circus like atmosphere, you are a bit of a throwback. You are a loud and powerful band, yet you seem to have a simple, clean and minimalist approach to recording. What made you decide to do that?
Tom really had some great insight. He thought this should be a classic sounding album...a live feel almost. Sam just wanted raw, intense realism. I think a lot of bands today hide behind their effects, their Macs, their big amps, their cool boots, and their tight jeans.
IA: How does your writing process go? Is a song built around a lyrical idea or are the lyrics added after the fact?
Lyrics are added afterwards. Mostly a song will start with a melodic idea, a piece of something and we build on that. Everyone writes their own parts, someone might say try this or what if you do that, but ultimately every band member writes his part. Mark usually has a sack of lyrics that he just pulls stuff out of. Other times he'll just speak freely, saying, singing whatever comes to mind... and he'll remember what lines stick. Our writing process is an achievement within itself, I think. Most bands would kill to write like we write.
IA: Mark's lyrics are very open to interpretation. However, there is definitely an underlying theme of finding hope and beauty through all of heartache and pain. That theme also seems to define the band. How did that come about?
It's again with the story of Shackleton: hope through the heartache and pain.
IA: When you play a show, you don army jackets, cover the stage in flowers and drape the amps in Christmas lights. It really adds to the overall package and creates an atmosphere that exists before you ever play a note. How did that start?
Flowers started with our first show. We donned army jackets and put flowers on the stage to give us a distinct aesthetic. The feeling of war, love, funerals, first kisses. The lights, we used those because every place we played around Chambersburg would have bright florescent lights that had no mood and created nothing special. We wanted to give people something different.
IA: You are a very professional, very business-minded band, which is pretty rare these days. Do you feel that coming from the hard working, little town of Chambersburg, PA helped instill those instincts into you?
No, it's just that we see other bands' pretentiousness in selling merch, cds. We're poor, we have no money and no daddy's credit card. We want to eat. Someone better be buying a CD or t-shirt, so we can get a damn sandwich. We are concerned about our and other's futures, so we have to be concerned about the business. We don't have a fall back plan. This band is it.
IA: Your sound is very diverse, yet totally refreshing. You can hear influences ranging from Radiohead to Rage Against the Machine to Fugazi to Joy Division. There is even an element of soul singers like Otis Redding and Al Green sprinkled in. Who really influenced you?
All of those bands. We love music, all music. I should say we love all music that has been created by real musicians, real people struggling, real people dreaming. We'll listen to Captain Beefheart, Buzzcocks, Busta Rhymes, Can, Magma, Yes, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Johnny Cash, Otis Redding, Four Tops, The Clash, Ramones, Oxes, Arab on Radar, Talking Heads, Pixies, and so much more. Every note they play inspires us. We never hold one band above another or strive to sound like one band. If we feel like a song does, we scrap it and move on.
IA: Did you intend to mesh all of those sounds into something new or did it just happen that way?
It just happens when you have 5 guys who listen to so many different styles of music.
IA: There is a sense of urgency about you. You make it obvious that you know what you want to do and then you execute it with precision. You lay it all on the line and leave everything on stage. That must be exhausting. What do you do to get ready for a show and recover from it that allows you to continue doing that night after night?
Mark sleeps a lot. He's definitely the one that displays the most energy and gets the most bumps and bruises. Mark is actually quite concerned to how he will keep the intensity. He pretty much gives everything he's got each show.
IA: Mark is all over the place on stage. He marches around, dances, jumps, falls backward, slides around on his back… I know that he must get his fair share of cuts and bruises. What are some of the most painful memories?
The most painful is when he chopped most of his head/hair off with a ceiling fan, while jumping around at a show. There was definitely blood.
IA: Now that the CD is finally releasing, what are your touring plans?
Tour smart. Go everywhere and anywhere we can, as much as we can with what little money we have. We have about enough to pay for our gas.
IA: Is a follow up CD a topic of discussion amongst the band or is that quite a way off?
We need to give this CD as much attention as possible right now, but we have so much material that we could write one new album and an EP today, if we wanted to.
IA: Thanks for taking the time to do this. Congratulations on the CD and best of luck with this week's shows. I'll hopefully see you next weekend.
Thanks Joe, we really appreciate it. Thanks for believing in us.
I am back from a weekend in the District, seeing the sights, going to museums, and attending one of the best CD release parties ever. Up on the mainstage Saturday night at the Black Cat was Pash, Bellman Barker, and the guys who party this was, Jukebox the Ghost. The energy from the minute I walked in was electric. You could just tell something big was happening.
Pash started out the night with a solid set. Not very familiar with most of their work, I will have to listen a little more closely now.
Up next is one of our friends and favorite bands, Bellman Barker. They played a great set and the crowd ate them up. If you weren't sure who the headliner was, you may have guessed these guys. The crowd just kept growing through the night, and by the middle of their set, the announcement was made. Sell Out! Closing out, they threw in some new songs for good measure. Expect more good things from these guys. And for those who have only heard, the 'stache is sweet!
Finally, the main attraction hit the stage. Jukebox the Ghost was having a party and everyone was invited, and everyone came. Introducing their full-length CD, Let Live & Let Ghosts, Ben, Tommy, and Jesse wasted no time in entertaining the throngs of rabid Jukebox fans. This place was insane. Trying to get pictures, I was relegated to a corner near the speakers, as the crowd was so packed near the stage. They were definitely having fun, talking to the crowd, thanking us at every opportunity. One of the highlights was the three-parter "Fire in the Sky"/"Where Are All The Scientists Now?"/"A Matter of Time. This trilogy of songs tells a great story and is so much fun to watch live. The usual ending of "Hold It In" and "Good Day" was interrupted by a Beatles cover, the epic from Abbey Road, "Golden Slumbers", "Carry That Weight", and "The End". Joining them on vocals and guitar were a couple of members from Exit Clov. All I can say is, good lord, that was f'in amazing! They finished off with the usual ending, "Good Day" with everyone in the crowd singing along.
What an amazing show! Even though the year is still early, this may be back on the best of 2008 list. Congrats to Jukebox on the new disc, and we hope to see you, Bellman, and Pash real soon.
Jukebox The Ghost is releasing Let Live and Let Ghosts tomorrow night at Black Cat. Yesterday, we caught up with Ben and Tommy and talked about the album, their touring and their infamous fansite.
IA: 2007 was a crazy year for you. You released your debut EP, graduated college and spent the majority of the fall on the road. Recently, you've had a little time off from the road. How has that been?
TOMMY: Still quite crazy, actually. Work, scattered shows, and family visits ended up taking most of the time...But we're psyched for a few more weeks off coming up to do some more writing, we have a pretty big backlog of unfinished songs right now.
IA: What side jobs do you partake in for extra cash?
TOMMY: Well, I work at a furniture store, Jesse works at a pizza place, and Ben gives piano lessons. We're also all bounty hunters on the side.
IA: So, you drop the full length this weekend. Tell us a little but about it.
TOMMY: I'm really excited for people to hear the full album ---- The EP was really meant as a teaser. The last five songs on the full-length are what I'm most excited about. "My Heart's the Same"/"Lighting Myself on Fire" were written by Ben and really show off his classical influences, it's an epic two-song sequence about love and lighting himself on fire in downtown D.C. The three tracks after that are part of the 'End of the World' sequence, a series of songs I wrote inspired by the Book of Revelations. It's a three-song narrative about the apocalypse, ending with "A Matter of Time", which was on the EP, but is a lot better in context.
IA: You have actually had the album recorded for some time now. Have you been working on new material or have you just spent the time getting ready for the release?
BEN: Always working on new material - - and in truth, most of our time has been spent travelling, working and writing songs away from the band - - which is what we usually do before a huge band-centered creative outburst (due early 2008).
IA: How does the songwriting process go down? Since both Tommy and Ben sing lead, is there a way you present songs to each other or is it more of an organic jam type thing where songs and lyrics just flow during sessions?
TOMMY: Both Ben and I write songs independently of the band, and bring them to the table only when we're completely done, or totally stuck in a dead end. The arrangement process is very democratic though --- We always make sure to leave some textures up in the air to play with when we write together.
IA: Do either of you ever write songs with the other one in mind?
BEN: Are you asking if we write songs for each other, in order to express our deep undying love for one another? If so, then yes. But if you mean do we write songs specifically for the other to sing - - no, I don't believe so. But I do think that one writes songs with a purpose... and I think we both write songs with the overall sound and style of Jukebox The Ghost in mind.
IA: How do you incorporate Jesse into the process?
TOMMY: Jesse is the 'producer' of the band, in my opinion...He has a great ear for arrangement. I would say that he ties our songs together in a way that makes them Jukebox the Ghost songs, rather than independently-written songs. BEN: Which one is Jesse?
IA: You have some interesting lyrics. What do you draw from when you come up with them?
BEN: Most of my lyrics are written improvisationally while I write a song and then edited to be more lyrical or coherent. Therefore, most of my lyrics come from words I use in every day speech. That said, I try to incorporate into both my lyrics and speech, new phrases, words and idea's that I get from music or literature or life in general. TOMMY: Mad libs.
IA: You guys have been touring incessantly. Describe the typical day on the road. Has it ever reached the point you wanted to throw the others out onto the highway from the moving vehicle?
BEN: Only a few times have we come to blows, but Jesse likes road-head.
IA: We remember that little scrape that you had before The Khyber show last fall. Are there any more battle scars on your vehicle?
TOMMY: Oh God, don't remind me... nothing since then. Nice of you to call it 'little'.
IA: What are your favorite places (cities, venues, etc.) to play?
BEN: DC, definitely --- And #1 would go to the Black Cat. We also loved the Mercury Lounge in NYC, when we were there in December.
IA: You have been compared to bands like Queen, Ben Folds Five and They Might Be Giants. Did any of those bands actually influence you?
TOMMY: Ben and I definitely listened to Ben Folds Five growing up, but he definitely doesn't have any influence on our songwriting. We've had Queen comparisons (usually on Ben's songs), but he doesn't really listen to Queen. Ben definitely has a similar kind of command over his voice, so I can totally understand where people see the parallel. As far as They Might Be Giants, we only started getting into them after people said we sounded like them. I'm a die-hard fan of theirs now....We saw them in Athens, GA in the fall and it was one of my favorite shows last year.
IA: Who are your favorite bands to play shows with?
TOMMY: Exit Clov, Le Loup, Travis Morrison, and the Winter Sounds all come to mind for me....Some of my favorite people in the planet are in those bands.
IA: You play quite a bit of covers, what are some of your favorites?
TOMMY: Ben picked out Danny Elfman's "What's This?" from the Nightmare Before Christmas, and that was a fun one to do, people really reacted to it in hilarious ways when we played it. We used to cover "Guerilla Radio" by Rage Against the Machine, which was fun while the gimmick lasted. We covered "Bohemian Rhapsody" in college a few times, and that's always fun even though it's hard as hell to play and sing (can't really replicate 8-part harmony with two singers....). "Birdhouse in Your Soul" by the aforementioned Giants was one of my favorite covers we've done too.
IA: Now that the new album is ready, what are your touring plans for 2008?
TOMMY: Tons and tons of shows courtesy of our enterprising manager Seth Kallen and South By Southwest! There's going to be some awesome DC-related cooperative shows going on relating to that, you should stay tuned.
IA: Finally, can any of you explain what the hell Pukebox the Joke is and will you divulge who writes that funny little corner of myspace?
BEN: We cannot explain who Pukebox The Joke is, and even if we did know who wrote and recorded it, I doubt we would be allowed to say. But I can say, with 100% certainty that it is not one of the members of the band -- contrary to the occasional public belief.
IA: Thanks for taking the time to do this, see you on Saturday.
On Saturday night, DC's The Roosevelt returns from a long hiatus to headline a show at Rock and Roll Hotel. Earlier this week, I caught up with bass player Scott Remley and he filled me in on their absence, their return and where they hope to be headed from here.
IA: Welcome back! You just had a long absence from the scene. What was the cause of that?
Scott: We had a weird one-two punch. First, Chris (our drummer) tore up his shoulder pretty bad while rock climbing late in 2006 and reinjured it this past spring. So he had to have rotator cuff surgery, and it basically knocked him out from June until the end of September. At which point, Jon somehow contracted mono and shut us down for the rest of 2007.
IA: During the down time, you started writing again. How has that been going and what changes are you noticing from your previous work?
Scott: Jon had a really great burst of new material a few months ago and we've been honing it all through the fall. It's been going very well and we've recorded about half of the album so far at Jon's house, which has been a really interesting and educational process for all of us. Plus, it has allowed us to play around with the arranging process: ripping material apart and reassembling it. The result is a sound that's darker and a little less traditional (especially on the keys and song structures) and that makes us pretty happy. We didn't abandon the character of EP and some of the alt-country sensibility, but we're becoming a little more minimalist and textured. It's more challenging, but the results are more rewarding too. Plus, I think more of our influences filter through – you can make those judgments for yourself.
IA: When can we expect the new release?
Scott: If we don't get it out sometime this year, we'll probably all cry a little. We've made good progress in the last six weeks and we can probably finish recording sometime this spring, we hope. As we get some demos together, you'll see them popping up on various DC music sites. Plus, we're posting some rough cuts on our website, myspace and facebook.
IA: Now that everyone is healthy and you are back to playing shows, what are your touring plans for this year?
Scott: We'll probably do a larger East Coast swing this summer – Boston, NYC, Philadelphia and Baltimore, and maybe something looking a little more south, too: Charlottesville, Richmond, Chapel Hill, possibly reaching as far south as Atlanta. The Midwest is also something that we're all drawn to: Minneapolis, Madison, Chicago, Cleveland. Right now, we don't have anything firm and a lot of it revolves around our decidedly non-rock star day jobs. That said, touring is not out of the question and it is something that we would like to do.
IA: You are headlining Rock and Roll Hotel on Saturday and it is your first show back. What can people expect?
Scott: From us, they can expect a lot of new material – stuff we've been working on and recording over the fall. One example is on our myspace page and it's called "No Name #3". It's a different sound for us... sort of. We're pretty excited about it.
IA: Thanks for taking the time to do this. Good luck on Saturday!
Since I am heading down to DC this weekend for the Jukebox the Ghost CD release show, I'll let you in on what is going on around the City of Brotherly Love.
Friday night, a huge local show is at Northstar featuring the not-so-psychedlic psychedelic rock of The Cobbs and one of my picks for the best of Philly 2007, Papertrigger. They are joined by Jotto and The Greyhounds. This is one of the best line-ups of local bands you will ever see. Go check this out!
We have finally reached the weeks of huge release lists. This week boasts some big names and plenty of new bands ready to place themselves among some of your favorites. This week has a few EPs and a lot of full lengths, pretty much everything you could want.
My pick for this week is MGMT's Oracular Spectacular. I know many people are looking forward to Cat Power's CD full of covers, but after spending a long time with the MGMT release, I have to say that it is fantastic. Not sticking to one genre, this album features synth-pop, funk, dance and even a little folk.
Some other releases I have spent some time with and can recommend are the self-titled album from The Whitsundays and Black Mountain's In The Future. Both of these albums feature great rock songs from some very talented artists.
A little over a week ago, I was getting ready to head back to school and I was looking for a show to see before I left. I was in luck, as there was a great local showcase at the Black Cat. As we have written about both Lejeune and The Vita Ruins before, I will not be doing a review. Instead, I will post some pictures of the bands and a video of "Rabid Men" by The Vita Ruins. Enjoy!
A bio typically is not the main reason that I check out one of the innumerable tracks that grace my inbox everyday. However, when I saw that Philadelphia-based Pattern Is Movement's two members, Andrew Thiboldeaux and Chris Ward, "met at the ages of 13 and 14 --- as part of a Christian hip hop group" and were "raised in strict Pentecostal households and schools (see Jesus Camp)", I definitely was intrigued. The band will be touring this summer (dates to follow) and if the single "Right Away" is any indication, these could be the cats to see during those sultry nights when you need to get your groove on. With a wall of sound created between Andrew's vocals and keys and Chris' drums, they're reminiscent of a much more contained Polyphonic Spree or Arcade Fire.
All Together, the band's latest album and first as a two-piece, will be released on Hometapes on April 1, 2008.
Austin's Ghostland Observatory is set to release their next album, Robotique Majestique, February 26th. Along with album comes a tour. So far, only a limited amount of shows are announced, but lucky for us in the IA area, D.C. happens to have a date. I highly recommend getting tickets early to this show and grabbing the new disc when it arrives.
I have seen these guys before, when they were a fill-in for a cancelled band at the ACL Fest. Never having heard them before, I had no idea what to expect. I was converted during the first song. Only a duo, these guys put on one hell of a show. Front-man guitarist Aaron Behrens prowls the stage with the presence not unlike Freddie Mercury, while producer-drummer Thomas Turner, usually decked out in a high collar cape, lays down sweet synth lines over wicked beats. Check out the new track from the upcoming album, and you will know what I am saying.
I am now officially back at VA Tech. As I sit here, I look out and see about 5 inches of fresh snow covering everything in sight. It feels good to be back. Here are some recent songs I have enjoyed listening to and I hope that you enjoy them too.
DC's Middle Distance Runner did a public service announcement for the Digital Freedom Campaign, which is an organization that is trying to protect your digital rights. Check out the video and visit their website for more information.
If you want something a little more local Friday night, check out one of Philly's best live acts, The Teeth, at Johnny Brendas. With them is Gildon Works, a little ambient shoe-gaze outfit claiming Philly home and indie-popsters Future Tips.
If you like a set of melodic and lyrically sharp compositions, come back to Johnny Brendas Saturday night and check out Philly songstress and Bar-None recording artist Birdie Busch. She is opening for another Philly songwriter, Ben Arnold, who reminds some as a bluesier Randy Newman.
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