Lettuce: It’s What’s Good for You

LettuceI’ve been digging the new Lettuce album Crush. The history of the band begins in 1992 as some kids first met on their arrival to Berklee College of Music in Boston.  With like minded interests, such as Herbie Hancock, Tower of Power and Earth Wind and Fire, they started brewing up their own potions in that vein.  As each of the members finished their studies at Berklee they, as so many other graduates do, headed to the big city to make a name for themselves. Working as sidemen in New York City for some of the biggest names in hip hop, funk, and pop music, the continued to nurture and develop Lettuce’s sound.  The latest offering, Crush, is a blend of the gritty old school production with a modern twist.  The influences are there certainly, but the band has put their own stamp on it. Although I personally am not an avid funk listener, I can’t seem to turn this record off. Listen at your own risk.

Chicago’s Phantom Works Defies the Sophomore Jinx

Phantom Works: Stunrise I became aware of Chicago’s Phantom Works a couple years ago and ended up going on tour with them up the West Coast. Super great people and a great band. A lot of fun to travel with, and that’s saying a lot when you cram two bands in a single van together for 15 days. Even staying tight with the best of friends can be challenged under those circumstances. The timing of this tour coincided with the release of their first full-length, self-titled LP, which followed a couple 7-inch single releases.

Originally Phantom Works began as a trio of two guitars and drums (Kris Poulin and Matt Seifert sharing guitar and vocal duties with Jim Duffy on drums), very recently adding bass (Reg Shrader) to the mix on their latest release “Stunrise”. The sound is very reminiscent of the heroes of Chicago, namely Shellac, Jesus Lizard and Tar. Super aggressive guitars and pounding, roomy drums. Each instrument demands and earns its sonic space. Even though the first LP is strong as hell, I have to say I absolutely love the new LP “Stunrise”. Follow ups can always be tricky and these fellows nailed it. The addition of bass was a good move too. A full sound got even thicker. One notable aesthetic choice is the minimal use of cymbals. I had thought long and hard on this topic being a drummer and an engineer myself. I broached this topic with the band…

MF: You mentioned that your songs intentionally lack many cymbals. Can you discuss the impetus for this?

Kris: The original rule – more of a guideline – was that Jim should “almost never” hit the cymbals and, when he did (such as on “This Sleazebag Rant”), it was to be for ridiculous effect. On the newer songs, we’ve lightened up on that regulation, but it still stands as a general rule. The impetus for this is rooted in our original plan for the band to include a more powerful, rolling approach to the drums, å la The Monks.

Reg: Cymbals eat guitars. Guitars must be free to roam.

Phantom Works: Band PhotoMF: Does this come in part from your role as a recording engineer?

Kris: I’m sure that was part of the thought process, but I don’t think it was a reason why we chose that route, more that my experience recording bands told me that this approach would work for us. Until recently, we had no bass player, which opened up all that low frequency range, where the bass and low end of guitars would have been, to be filled by massive drums and bigger guitars. In general, we love a natural & roomy drum sound, and that sound can get eaten alive when a drummer is bashing away on cymbals. In short, more power on all fronts.

MF: Since you’ve relocated to San Diego, how has the process of writing played out with Matt and Jim still residing in Chicago?

Kris: Matt & I come up with stuff at our respective homes, sharing these demos via a cloud-based DAW called Ohm. I write a part in my garage in San Diego, record it in Ohm, and it shows up in Matt’s session file in Chicago. We keep building & arranging demos in that program until we all get together in the same room and work it out further in person.

Reg: Means that crushing new ideas has to take place in the limited times when we’re all in the same room. Being in the same room w/amps & drums on is still the best way to get the thing to come to life.

Matt: We’ve had to come up with some creative solutions to songwriting, and fortunately there are some cool tools out there now like Ohm that can make things a lot easier. Of course, when you live in Chicago, winter writing trips to San Diego are great excuse to get out of the cold.

MF: Phantom Works feels very “Chicago” to me. Can you discuss some things that make up an identifiable Chicago-esque sound?

Reg: A willingness to play around w/songwriting & forms w/out getting too precious. Robust respect for volume. Big drums.

Kris: With all the great and varied bands from Chicago, it’s clear there’s not a singular Chicago sound, but I know what you’re getting at and Reg pretty much covered that. I would add that what we’re talking about here is a certain abrasiveness and heaviness without being metal.

Matt: There is just something deeply appealing about jangly, reverb-less guitars and lots of harmonics.

MF: Some of the new album was recorded at Electrical. What is that place like to record in? It seems like a mythical place, although I know you’ve recorded there a good deal of times.

Kris: It’s definitely up there in my favorite few studios I’ve ever been in. It really has more than anyone would need to make a great recording, from a wide variety of rooms that all sound great in different ways to hundreds of great mics and loads of other top gear to get the sounds to tape. And everything works – always. The staff is totally on top of all things related to running a studio, too. I’ve never had a question go unanswered correctly and quickly. I don’t really drink coffee, but I’ve heard that the particular type of “fluffy coffee” that all Electrical Audio interns are trained to make is amazing. From the reviews, that alone might be reason enough to book time at Electrical.

Matt: Recording at Electrical is absolutely one of the finest privileges I’ve gotten to experience. It is mythical, with the hand-made adobe brick walls, beyond excellent equipment, and a really wonderful staff.

MF: Are there plans to tour with Phantom Works at all in the coming year?

Kris: Maybe. We hope so. Is there a petition to add more hours to the day or more days to a year? I’ll sign it.

Matt: A full on tour might be difficult, but we are working on some shows both on the west coast and in the midwest.

MF: You’ve pressed these great, beautiful vinyl LPs. Do you think that vinyl will always be around? It seems like CDs are perhaps not really desirable for people these days. Any thoughts on that?

Reg: I think there’s a core of people that will always want the vinyl object, whether big or small. Sound issues aside, CDs all seem kind of the same when you jam the artwork into a little plastic box. Vinyl seems more intrinsically individual, somehow. You can’t wrap your hands around an MP3.

Matt: Records have such a physicality, it’s hard to imagine them disappearing completely

MF: To wrap up, here’s one last question. I know you are very sensitive to MP3 encoding. Does it surprise you that youngsters seem to not mind horrible quality audio / delivery systems?

Kris: It doesn’t surprise me that people prefer the most convenient and, often, cost-free method of getting something. Also, it really seems like the vast majority of people just don’t hear the difference between a lossy, compressed MP3 and a CD. Or maybe the difference in sound quality doesn’t justify the cost to these people.

MF: Thanks for the scoop!

Here are some places one can track down the various physical and digital releases from Phantom Works…
Both 7-inches and the new record are available here, as is first LP digitally:
https://phantomworks.bandcamp.com

First LP vinyl here:
http://www.sickroomrecords.com/shop/srr065

Live EP (digital only) here:
http://www.powerrecordings.com/id44.html

Collaborative EP with Cool Devices (digital only) here:
http://rockproper.com/sum6/fit-in-the-shanks.html

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/Phantom-Works-252418686852/?ref=hl

Hailu Mergia and The Walias Band- Tche Belew

I love, love, love, love this song. When you hear it, you will too.
Ethiopian Jazz and Funk from the 1970s, this being from 1977, is some serious gold. Very difficult to track down in the vinyl bins but due to a recent resurgence in popularity more reissues are becoming available. The album Tche Belew also features the great Mulatu Astatke on vibraphone. There are some definite strings to the JBs and other American soul and funk but through the melodic minor lens of African bizzaro rawness. Enjoy!

Oldie but a Goodie: Santana Debut Shredfest

Legend has it that when the members of the completely unknown band Santana arrived at Woodstock in 1969, they were told that they would be playing later in the day. Shortly after dropping acid the members were then given the grave update. They would actually be playing much sooner than previously being notified. As it turns out they hit the stage high on LSD to an audience of 400,000. That seems like a recipe for disaster, yet they burned brightly. Despite seeming a tad phased, the members of Santana rose to the occasion and delivered a seriously burning performance.

When you check out bands these days, especially at mammoth festivals, there is so rarely an opportunity to see someone at the edge of their abilities. Pushing the limits seems like a calculated risk that few venture to take in our time. Just like the banks that are “Too Big to Fail”, the festival fodder of modern times seem to mail it in. Sadly, the crowds have grown accustomed to sequenced backing tracks and a semi-performed set that accompanies a fashion show. I’m not into it.

I’m not a massive Santana fan by any stretch, but when rummaging through my vinyl I was blown away how raw and ripping the debut Santana album is. Michael Shrieve the 19 year-old drummer is particularly fantastic. A great drummer and 2 other latin percussionists is a fine, fine combination. The whole band is great on this slab. Here’s one of my favorite cuts from this awesome debut, recorded quickly and shortly after their Woodstock performance.

Mudhoney @ the Casbah, San Diego- 10/24/2015

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Photo: Jenny Morgan

             Nine albums and almost thirty years of touring and recording haven’t slowed Sub Pop veterans Mudhoney down one bit. With the energy of a band half their age, Mudhoney took the Casbah stage on October 24th playing such hits as “Suck You Dry,” “I Like It Small,” and “This Gift” right off the bat, immediately working the audience into a mosh-pit-forming frenzy.

              In front of a sold out crowd, the band expertly demonstrated their signature style of melodic punk rock with songs spanning their entire catalogue from “Superfuzz Bigmuff” to 2013’s “Vanishing Point.” Despite being old hands on the rock circuit, it was good to see that Mudhoney hasn’t outgrown some of their more juvenile lyrical content and antics with their spry sense of humor and youthful energy.

                 Mudhoney’s sound hasn’t changed in the least over the years either. Steve Turner still delivers the same dirty, fuzz-saturated guitar tones the band is famous for, while Mark Arm’s unmistakable voice has not altered since the band was at their peak in the 90’s. Original drummer Dan Peters is always fun to watch in his natural state with his laid back attitude and a proficiency that has inherently progressed since the start of the band.

                 Despite having been overshadowed by some other more successful Seattle bands throughout their long career, Mudhoney is nevertheless the undisputed godfather of grunge and they still defend their title with an unmatched momentum to this day.                                                 mudhoneycasbah-2015-3mudhoneycasbah-2015-5

Photos: Jenny Morgan

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Go See It: Mudhoney @ The Casbah, Fri. Oct. 24th

mudhoneyThe year was 1998. The place Tempe, AZ. Mobilized by my older brother’s new drivers license, he and I set out one summer night to find what we were hoping was going to  change our lives. We were in search of a show. Our first “real” show. We wanted a show that was going to do some damage, deafen our ears, rough us up a bit. A bit unstuck in time, we had just ecstatically been awakened by the discovery of grunge about 8 years too late to be cool. But we didn’t care, loved every morsel we could unearth in a pre-internet world, and for us, we were living in Seattle 1988. What we found on that summer night was Mudhoney.

I am forever grateful for Mudhoney and that night in 1998. Mark Arm and the boys, the original line-up, ripped apart that venue so hard that it launched this kid not only into his first mosh pit but launched me full force into feeling music all the way to the bone. That night made me feel that I now belonged to something special, to a scene, a movement, a swell.

The wave that Mudhoney generated almost 30 years ago has ceased to crash, only continuing to crest year after impossible year. They have proven themselves transcendent of any fad, scene or sound. The scene they are part of is truly passionate live music.

With over 65 shows under their belt in 2015 already, night after night they continue to provide an experience of being a part of their music. Their music seems to mean more to them when they are sharing it.

Go be a part of history and more importantly get lost in time and break down the barriers of any current expectations of your current life. GO SEE MUDHONEY. 

Golden Void – Berkana – Psych That Continues to Cry Out to the Heavens

BerkanacoverPsychedelic is  meant to get you lost, but the best of the genre bring you back again.  Golden Void continues to carry on this tradition.The San Francisco psych rockers’s second release on Thrill Jockey, Berkana, is another offering of wisdom backed by an unbridled intensity and limitless quest for connection. There is a fresh balance to the music being created by this group of experienced musicians, who have spent the past decades learning music together as kids, blazing individual paths, and now wonderfully joining paths along the way. The quartet, Isaiah Mitchell (Earthless) on guitar and vocals, Camilla Saufley-Mitchell (Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound) on keyboards and vocals, Aaron Morgan on bass and Justin Pinkerton on drums, have shifted gears just a bit from their freshman release, Golden Void, but the melodies continue to melt into riffed out guitar/vocal duets, both screaming out ecstatically in climactic peaks. With the help of Tim Green (The Fucking Champs), Berkana is also full of patient valleys that give repose before the inevitable mighty ascent to the summit and beyond.

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Fans of Earthless (which includes Monofesto) will be happy to find a heady heaping of Mitchell’s poetic guitar serenades. Equally cathartic and energizing, the concise album hits quickly and efficiently and even in its freedom and exploration, Berkana is tightly packaged. The opening tracks are youthful and rollicking, but the seasoned truth of the talent behind Golden Void comes out more in the ecstatic jams “I’ve Been Down” and “The Beacon”.  The album capper “Storm and Feather” is a great way to end a trip, the perfect amount of resolution and inspiration for what’s next.

What we hope is next for Golden Void is more live performances. With US dates planned, hopefully the rest of the country will be able to experience this California nugget.  They have not disappointed in their initial outings, and we know the music will continue to evolve each time out, as it has inevitably done throughout the careers of its members.

Don’t Miss:  This week in LA on 9/24 at All Star Lanes and San Diego on 9/26 at The Tower Bar. 

Low Does Not Disappoint with ‘Ones and Sixes’

LOW Band Photo

LOW

Today, September 11 marks the official release of Low’s new album ‘Ones and Sixes’. All the things you should expect are in there: the perfectly matched vocal harmonies of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker; the spacious arrangements and patient tempos; the simple beauty of a song’s presentation, without cluttering with extraneous musical ideas. Overall, the production has a slightly more shaped feeling than the previous album, ‘The Invisible Way’, which has a very natural un-effected sound to it. With ‘Ones and Sixes’ I’m reminded ever-so-slightly of some English 4AD stuff. The song ordering is interesting on ‘Ones and Sixes’ as well.  Rather than starting off with a strong, catchy song, the opener ‘Gentle’ is an atmospheric, electronic offering. After a couple songs the material seems to get stronger and stronger.  The next thing you know, it’s been on repeat and I’ve enjoyed it for consecutive listens. Low’s music needs time to steep. If you jump in for a quick listen, you’ll end up with a weak brew.  Let it simmer, sit and soak in.  That’s when things get good.

 

Melvins and Big Business @ the Casbah, San Diego – 8/27/2015

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Photos: Jenny Morgan

When the Melvins and Big Business perform together it’s not just a show but an uncompromising experience. After an explosive performance by Big Business alone, the two bands come together as one like some sort of mighty morphing power group to cause some detrimental damage to the eardrums.

One might be skeptical of two drum sets fitting on the Casbah stage since it cannot be considered one of the biggest stages in the world, let alone big enough for a band with two drum sets. Big Business took the stage as a two-piece having plenty of room to maneuver, but it became a little cramped when Dale Crover and Buzz Osborne joined them. King Buzzo was pitted in the far left corner of the stage in his cult robe covered with eye balls and his aluminum guitar mirroring the excited expression of the audience.

The minimal room on the stage didn’t seem to inhibit anyone of the members of the “Big Melvins” to do their thing however, especially not Buzz who still found the room to bob his massive grey fro around as he rocked out to some of his classics. The two drummers, Dale Crover and Coady Willis kept the beat together immaculately as splinters from their drumsticks rained over the crowd like when Shamu splashes everyone in the front rows at Sea World. Jared Warren for his part kept the rhythm going heavily with his distorted bass, even taking over some lead vocals with his Buzz-complimenting voice.

The Melvins tend to collaborate with many bands but Big Business is one of the rare few that are able to literally become one with the group as well as play the role of opening act that properly readies the audience for the inexorable entity that is the Melvins.

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Photos: Jenny Morgan

Interview: Danny Grody of The Drift

The-Drift-liveI have a strange and powerful connection to The Drift. The aforementioned is a fantastic San Francisco-based group who excels at a special brand of hypnotic, modal, jazz-inspired improvised music. My introduction to their strange brew happened around 10 years ago.  My band at the time, The Jade Shader, was playing with local San Diego heroes Sleeping People. First on the bill was The Drift. We showed up early to load in and set up on the side of the stage. Within minutes we’d met the friendly boys of the drift and it turns out I knew their drummer from years back in his time with the amazing Jargon from Santa Barbara, but that’s another story…

trr86-233x233-noumenaTheir set was confusing and mind-blowing.  It was challenging and was like taking a bath in the warmest water you ever felt. Throughout the evening the crowd grew larger and larger in anticipation for the evening’s closer Sleeping People.  I ran into a friend, whom I’d played with in a jazz band, he was raving about how great that first band was. Even though my band had also played, I had to admit… their band kicked everyone’s ass that night.  It was a very welcomed ass-whooping.  In short order I began moving in their direction with my own music. To this day, I site The Drift as a main influence and inspiration for my band Montalban Quintet.

The dark brooding delivery was interlaced with joy and beauty.  Loose forms were lain out as a vehicle for improvisation and hypnotic repetition of each member’s contribution.  The instrumentation was acoustic upright bass, electric guitar, drums and trumpet armed with an arsenal of effect pedals mounted on an ironing board.  It worked on so many levels.  Simple yet sophisticated.  The Drift is a reminder that groove is not reserved for hokey jam bands, there was an art and soulfulness in the music’s delivery that had a widely broad appeal.

jeff jacobsAs time went on, The Drift put out a few more albums and then went sadly quiet.  Tragically, a main reason for this was that their innovative trumpeter Jeff Jacobs had passed away from a battle with cancer. The Drift put out a final album after Jeff’s passing called the Blue Hour on Temporary Residence, which is another fantastic offering, although notably different from their quartet recordings with Jeff.

I contacted the versitile Danny Grody, guitar player from The Drift, for a bit of a lowdown on the Drift and his compadres’ current project.

MF: Hi Danny! Could you describe a few influences on The Drift’s sound? I’m sort of catching the late 60’s Miles Davis era (i.e.. In a Silent Way / Bitches Brew) but obviously there are more rock textures happening.

DG: Our sound is definitely an amalgam of many intersecting influences as well as the evolving line-up of members who helped shape the music over time. Initially, we were a three-piece consisting of drums (Rich Douthit), electric bass (Trevor Montgomery), and guitar (myself). We knew from the get-go that we wanted to make instrumental music with particular emphasis on long-form compositions that were hypnotic and very rhythmic. In the early stages I was completely obsessed with Afro Beat and Dub music, so I was personally interested in drawing on those influences. We all really dug bands like CAN and The Necks… anything that had a strong rhythmic center with abstract leanings that wasn’t afraid to blur the lines was super exciting to us. We’d play for hours and hours on end, letting our instincts lead the way. It was a great beginning…

MF: The Trumpet on your earlier records really gives the sound a jazz reference but without it there’s still a core ambient, hypnotic feeling. Was there an initial goal or concept in the band’s sound or did it evolve from friends getting together in a practice space?

dpgDG: Our early beginnings definitely helped pave our sound, but it was really helped along by the addition of a fourth member. Not too long after forming, we decided we’d like to expand the line-up and include a horn player of some kind. We placed an ad on Craigslist and in a pure stroke of luck got a response from Jeff Jacobs, who became an integral member in the band for many years to come. Jeff was first and foremost an incredible trumpet player. He was also a total explorer and loved to tinker with other instruments and sound-makers. He loved adding delay and reverb to his horn, giving it this otherworldly dimension we all loved so much. I’ll never forget the first practice we had with him. It was like a feeling of pure deja vu in that it felt like he’d been there all along. Everything just flowed so naturally. It was uncanny. He brought a lyrical beauty to the music that really deepened the music. Before he joined, our sound was quite stark so it was a welcomed shift to have his voice in the mix. Jeff was, like all of us, a huge fan of Miles Davis – particularly his electric period, so it was inevitable that the Davis comparisons would come. It was flattering to elicit that response from listeners because we were all such huge fans! Ultimately though, the goal was not so much about who we adored but about exploration and really being as creatively open as possible in the writing process. Influences would subconsciously show up for sure, but so did many unexpected surprises that we could never have anticipated. I think that is really the beauty of collaboration because you get all these perspectives coming together overlapping and (hopefully) creating something new.

MF: What’s it like recording at Tiny Telephone? Some of my favorite records seem to come out of there. What’s the typical recording process like for The Drift.

trr134-233x233-memorydrawingsDG: Tiny is a fantastic space to record! We’ve had the honor and pleasure of recording all our music there with engineer and buddy Jay Pelicci. Jay really understood our music and knew how to create the perfect setting to record. Generally, we came prepared with a body of work that was fairly well rehearsed because time was of the essence, but we always kept an element of improvisation in everything we did and made it a point to set aside a chunk of time to be totally spontaneous. Some of my favorite recordings were made this way actually. Tiny has a long history of great artists coming through and has been an enormously supportive resource for Bay Area music in general. Over the years the studio has expanded. There is now a “Studio A” and “Studio B”. The first of which is the original space with a big playing room, and the second newer option is an expansion into the adjacent building and offers a few smaller rooms that are offered at a discounted rate. Both sound great. Rumor has it they are working on an East Bay studio as well.

MF: I was so sad to hear about Jeff’s illness and eventual passing.  As you know I had gone through a similar situation with my musical comrade Terrin Durfey.  That must have been very difficult to continue as a trio after he passed away. What sort of things did you wrestle with when deciding to let the band evolve?

DG: Thank you. I appreciate your warm words. Jeff’s passing took an enormous emotional and psychic toll on us… something I’m sure you can relate to with Terrins’ passing. So sorry to hear about that. It really rocked our world to lose such a dear friend and creative companion. He had so much talent and departed far far too soon. We continued writing music with him as he battled through cancer. Eventually though, it became clear that he could not continue playing so we tried our best to build on the ideas we had started together. It was one of the most difficult things to do, but it felt like the right approach. It was about honoring Jeff really and we found it to be very cathartic to keep the train going as his condition worsened. It was kind of like group therapy when we got together and wrote. Eventually we went into the studio to record what was to become our last album “Blue Hour”. It was just a heavy time and I truly believe the music convey’s all those feeling of sadness, frustration, anger that washed over us.

MF: There hasn’t been much activity with the band it seems for a while.  Can you let us know about some of the new music that you are making?

trr203-233x233-bluehourDG: Jeff passed shortly after “Blue Hour” was recorded. Once the album was released we embarked on a tour in Europe in its support. After the tour we took some much-needed time off. We were all so exhausted and unsure of what the future held. It was a break that would ultimately last until now. Jeff’s passing took the wind out of our sails and I think we never fully recovered. Not having him around left us feeling listless. I’m very proud of the fact that we made “Blue Hour”. It felt like a vital and important thing for us to complete, but once we were on the other side of it we kind of hit our natural stopping point… at least for the time being. In the interim we have all kept fairly busy with other musical endeavors. Trevor, with his Young Moon project which is now a full band that I play guitar in. Its been super fun! Rich drummed with a band called Winfred E.I. for a few solid years, and I have been largely focused on making solo music under my own name with the occasional collaboration.

MF: As time goes on, how does making music fit in your life. Do you feel differently now about the sacrifices of a musician’s life than you did as a 20 year old?

DG: My relationship and practice with music has certainly changed over the years. As a twenty-something I had a lot more idealism around music and the idea of being in a band full-time. Thankfully, I acted on that dream and was able to have so many amazing opportunities and experiences as a result. But as time moves on those ideals evolve and take on new meanings. I may not be as eager nowadays to tour a bunch, but I am still just very much engaged in writing, being challenged creatively, and performing music… just on a more local level these days.  The main goal for me now is really to just enjoy playing as much as possible and continue to grow artistically. Got to water the plant!

MF: Drought be damned! Water it!