Go See It: Tune-Yards – June 4 – The Irenic

Added late to the concert calendar, the intriguing and body shaking Tune-Yards are stopping by The Irenic this Wednesday (June 4). Their new album Nikki Nack, as well as all their albums, are Monofesto suggestions, but we highly recommend checking them out live to understand the unique groove they have going. The Tune-Yards is the creation of the fantastically often face painted and colorfully adorned Merril Garbus. Percussive based, she loops, adding her calls and shouts on top of a ukulele with the help of the only other permanent member of the band, Nick Brenner, on electric bass.  The touring act has grown more elaborate and has added more members and elements.

We’ve been wanting to do something on this group for a while, and now that they are going to be in San Diego, the best way to introduce yourself to this group is to experience it live. We also want to give a solid shout to the Irenic, which is a converted church on Polk Ave in North Park.  They have been booking great shows and provide an atmosphere welcomed by both the bands and audience.

The show could sell out soon, so jump on it if you want to make your Wednesday night a great deal funkier.  If you can’t make it, well, dive into the Tune-Yards recordings and catch them next time. They should be making waves for years to come.

LOST AND FOUND: Hetch Hetchy’s Glen Worple

Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 1.43.10 AM

I would say Hetch Hetchy’s Glen Worple is one of the best albums floating lost out amongst the digital ocean, but, sadly, can you consider something lost if it was never found? I am continually perplexed by the limited reach and lifespan of this fantastic album, and knowing this album exists with such little fanfare always makes me wonder what other great works lie undiscovered out there.

I was given this album by Hetch Hetchy band member Michael Poulton back in 2010 and was very excited for him and for what was surely to be a breakout creation for one of my good friends and a respected young artist. On a trip out to the Bay Area earlier that year, I was able to spend a day with him in his run down practice space out on the industrial outskirts of Oakland. He had connected with some like-minded musicians, Peter Schulte and Max Segnitz, and they were deep in the throws of the album, so I expected something quality was going to come of the effort. What Michael sent me, I must admit, set me back. This was a powerful album, an album that I secretly wished I had been a part of making.

Then nothing.

I welcome some insight from the band, but it appeared that the band members went separate ways very soon after the album was finished. Besides a few partial, acoustic live appearances, the album was never performed live and eventually that was the end of the public push for Glen Worple. From the scattered pieces of Hetch Hetchy left online, it looks like Schulte moved on to Seattle and continued to arrange songs as Hetch Hetchy for a bit, but that is the end of the road.

I think the album would have taken on new dimensions live, predating similar emotive swellings from acts like The Antler’s Hospice. However, what we are left with is this isolated artifact. There is no doubt that Glen Worple plays more intensely past midnight, one of those works that needs the frame of night and silence to reach in its hooks.  “A Ghostly Green Light” is a stand out track, but even that track would be lacking without what comes before and after. Glen Worple is an ambient trip best joined from beginning to end.

Give it a try below. It is too late to put any wind behind the sails of Hetch Hetchy, but not to help this worthy piece of soul-wrenching music find its due appreciation.

 

Interview: Atom Willard (Against Me! Angels and Airwaves, RFTC)

Atom WillardBeing immersed in the early 1990s San Diego music scene was a really inspiring experience. There was so much camaraderie, friendship and respect between so many of the bands. One thing that was a necessity for a band was finding the ever-elusive affordable practice space. At one point a cluster of dilapidated office spaces became available for rehearsal use.  It was underneath the Psychic Palm Reader building near Old Town San Diego. It was easily seen from the 5 freeway.  I still think back fondly about that stinky rat hole every time I drive by.

Word got out among the group of musicians and eventually the rooms filled up and were architecturally adjusted to accommodate the volume of the music and the security required to keep the random tweaker out. Some people shoe horned themselves into small spaces in the building and were living there, destitute and on all sorts of drugs.  You’d need to negotiate your way in and out in order to not let people see what equipment was in your room. We would string barbed wire all throughout the rafters to keep people from climbing through the ceiling to break in to steal gear. The music equipment was still regularly ripped off by the small but vigilant tweaker army. All this being said, the place was cheap and had 24 hour access. But that’s not what made this place great, it was the mind boggling number of great bands that existed at one time in the space. Drive Like Jehu, Three Mile Pilot, Fishwife, Creedle, Rocket from the Crypt and many others. It was here that I first met Atom Willard.

RFTC old school

RFTC Circa 1991- Photo: Mark Waters

Atom was the fresh-faced 17 year-old who had just joined Rocket from the Crypt. They were starting to gain a large following in San Diego and had outgrown the “party band” mold they had initial been born into. They had only released their debut Paint as a Fragrance at this time and were writing the material for all their 7-inches and the classic Circa Now! album. It was an exciting time to be able to hang out and watch rehearsals and have a beer after practice. Atom had serious skills and was bringing a new level of professionalism to the band, even at his young age.

Fast forward through years of international touring and a heap of amazing recordings, eventually Atom left RFTC for the big city. Upon arriving in LA, Atom worked as a session musician and as drum tech for Weezer. It took a little while but eventually he found a string of successful drumming jobs and has stayed more than busy ever since, both recording and touring non-stop internationally. I decided to grill him a little for the scoop.

Atom WillardMF: Over the years you have played in a bunch of different bands, such as Rocket from the Crypt, Angels and Airwaves, The Offspring, Danko Jones, Social Distortion and currently Against Me! Since often you are coming into a pre-existing musical situation, what sort of challenges do you have when trying to learn the material and prepare for the first show with these bands? Is it usually the same preparation procedure?

AW: I guess the biggest challenge is figuring out how a band is currently playing their songs, as opposed to what’s on the original recordings… Songs inevitably evolve over time in the live setting and some bands have gotten to a  totally different version by the time I meet up with them. The way I get prepared to play with a band is pretty standard no matter who it is or what the gig is for, recording or live.

MF: Does your equipment change between when you are touring versus recording in the studio?

AW: Not really… I mean I have the drums that I like to record with, and those don’t really leave town… I keep them at home! But the configuration is pretty much alway the same.

DRUM! Mag Interview - photo: Robert Downs

DRUM! Mag Interview – photo: Robert Downs

MF: What pieces are your secret weapons for recording? Are they old classics or new stuff that just works for you?

AW: You know it’s mostly newer stuff that just sounds incredibly good.. although I do have this older Acrolite snare that I can’t believe sounds the way it does.. so full and great crack, this little 5″ x 14″ with 8 lugs. It’s crazy!

MF: Who were some of your favorite bands when growing up? How did that mold you into the musician you eventually became?

AW: Well there were different eras, you know? like what was my fav when I was 10 changed a lot to when I was 14 and then again when I was 17… so from Rush and Iron Maiden as a little kid, to Black Flag and Minor Threat, and on to Fugazi and Weezer. Every one of those bands/drummers is with me every time I play the drums.

MF: Since Weezer was an influence, that must have been bizarre working with them. How did that come about to connect with them?

special goodness

Pat and Atom – Special Goodness

AW: Pat and I got to know each other first through cars. He had this great Chevelle and I had my truck and we would see each other at this practice spot in LA. Eventually I started playing in his side band called “The Special Goodness” and it went from there.

MF: You are widely known as the guy who destroys his drums. Has this type of hard-hitting playing intentionally been a path for you as a niche? Are there times that you wish you could lay back and play quieter? The toll on you physically must be rough at times.

AW: Yeah I hit kinda hard.. it just happened really out of necessity from not being able to hear myself in small practice rooms.  It’s how I play, and I love to play.. so i don’t know… I guess I hadn’t really thought about how I was playing differently… Thanks Chris!

Atom Willard Social DistortionMF: When you left San Diego and your position in Rocket from the Crypt after so many years, that must have been a really big decision, a seriously life altering moment. It seems like the music business opportunities must be more abundant in LA.  Would your recommend to younger players to make the move to a bigger city or stay try and make things work at home? Any advice?

AW: If you can make your band in your town work on any level I would.. I had a unique situation being so close by in san diego and having a girl friend in LA didn’t hurt. I was able to meet people and develop some great relationships when I was still in RFTC and then had stuff to do immediately after leaving. To move to LA cold without knowing anyone seems like it would be really tough. I wouldn’t want to do that at all! But if you can get your band out on tour and get out of your city you will do alright.

MF: Are there misconceptions about your day to day life in a high profile band?

AW: Mostly that it’s just nonstop parties and constant good times.. Which isn’t truly that far off… but it’s also a lot of work. People don’t think about the reality of being away from home so much, and what it means to travel constantly. it can be pretty tiring. All that said though I am so lucky to be able to do this and wouldn’t trade it for anything!

MF: With so much travel, time off must be a luxury. What kind of things do you do outside of music?

against-me-band-photo

Against Me! band photo

AW: Mostly its motorcycle stuff… either going to the track or just going on rides with my wife.. I love fixing shit, building stuff in the shop..

MF: Touring and recording for so many years is a rare opportunity. What sort of sacrifices have you and to make in order to follow your calling as a musician?

AW: Well I don’t really think of them as sacrifices… I guess they’re just the choices we make right? Like my wife and I don’t have any kids, but we never wanted any.  And I don’t have a close knit group of friends at home, but I never really did so it’s not something I miss. I have had to sacrifice monotony and repetition in my day to day life… So I guess there’s that.. HA!

MF: Thanks Atom!

Against Me! Website:  www.AgainstMe.net
Atom Willard’s Twitter: @atomwillard

 

Interview: Michael Rosas of Smile

SMILE at the TroubadorI remember hearing about this new local band in the early 90s called Smile. Turns out they weren’t from San Diego but rather a little over an hour north of us in Costa Mesa. Geographically there is a huge gap between Orange County/LA and San Diego due Camp Pendleton’s vast marine base along the coastline. In general this dividing line really keeps San Diego isolated from the cities to the north and vice versa. Smile trekked down to play the Casbah so many times that they were often mistaken for a “local band”. Good news for us, as we got to see them play again and again.

Smile’s first album was a noisy and heavy grunge feast. The band was tight and they played skillfully and with boundless energy. Seeing them play was mind-blowing, partly due to the slight demeanor of singer/guitarist Michael Rosas. They all were really young but had the musicianship from clearing both talent and hundreds of hours in the practice room.  After a stint on Atlantic Records they started making a name outside of Southern California. Then they recorded their masterpiece: Girl Crushes Boy. Using producer Mark Trombino (Drive Like Jehu, Jimmy Eat World, Blink 182) they recorded an amazing collection of creative and well-written songs.  The band’s material had really developed and they were playing better than ever. It was a little more 60’s garage influenced, using campy keyboard sounds and clever lyrics. scott Reeder’s drums continued to pound out a free-wheeling style a la Keith Moon / John Bonham. There was a clever sense of humor coupled with powerful, creative bombastic songwriting. Then nothing happened.  And then they kept touring and working and… nothing happened.  I’m not sure why that is. So Smile remained mostly unknown yet they had put out an amazing sophomore album. Eventually some members changed and the band broke up. Michael formed the great band Satisfaction and Scott found success playing with stoner rockers Fu Manchu. I had the pleasure to catch them recently on a reunion performance and it was great to hear these songs again. The reason for wiring about Smile is simply, they are great and maybe you missed them when you had the chance. If you haven’t heard Smile, check them out.

I felt it would be good to get the band’s perspective so I contacted Mr. Michael Rosas and caught up with him a bit.

………

maracasMF: I was curious about the amount that Smile played down in San Diego.  I can think back to so many shows at the Casbah in the 90s. I think some people didn’t even know that you weren’t a “local” band. Since you guys were located in Costa Mesa, was there something about San Diego that drew you more than driving the same distance up to LA? It seems like LA would have had more opportunities to play and promote the band.

MR: When Smile started, we were based out of the Tustin/Orange area in Orange County and we were doing a residency at the Doll Hut in Anaheim. From our perspective, there wasn’t a lot happening in Los Angeles. Orange County and San Diego seemed to have exciting indie music scenes at the time and we were hoping to get plugged into that. We became acquainted with Chris Fahey who was putting on most of the cool indie rock shows in Orange County. He was bringing all of the great San Diego bands to a Costa Mesa venue called Our House and he introduced us to fluf, Uncle Joe’s Big Ol Driver, Heavy Vegetable, etc. O from fluf was a huge supporter of Smile, early on. We had just released our first 7” and O took it to Headhunter Records and basically told them to sign us for an album deal and they did. From there, it was just natural that we would play San Diego often since our label was based there and most of the bands we were friends with were there. We were very well received by the San Diego music scene so we focused a lot of attention on playing there. San Diego seemed to have the best indie music scene anywhere at that time and Tim Mays was kind enough to book us at the Casbah regularly.

MF: Were you all friends growing up or did you find each other through the music scene in your area?

MR: Aaron Sonnenberg and I met in high school. We played in a hardcore band called Headfirst for a few years and became great friends. He was the only bass player that I really knew and it was natural that I’d want to play with him when it was time to start a new band after high school. Our musical interests were totally aligned at that time. Smile started with Headfirst drummer Kevin Murphy who was also playing guitar with Farside and 411. Shortly after Kevin moved on, Aaron and I met Scott Reeder by placing a ‘Drummer Wanted” ad in the Recycler. I wish I had a copy of that ad.

grizzledMF: Although I really loved the debut LP Maquee, Girl Crushes Boy is my favorite. The song writing seemed to develop far beyond the first record. There were more complexities and the songs had a wider variety though out the album.  Was there something that inspired the shift in the band’s sound?

MR: The songs and sound of Maquee came together very quickly without a whole lot of thought. Our individual influences were very different but we connected with a basic formula – we wanted to rock hard and weird like the Melvins, have cool songs with as much personality as a band like Descendents and we hoped to have the depth and prowess of classic bands like Pink Floyd.

We wrote, rehearsed and played shows like crazy. When it was time to make an album, we just picked the best material we had at the time. That was Maquee. The next wave of music that led to Girl Crushes Boy came from a much broader set of influences and experiences. We had been on a few national tours by then, been exposed to all sorts of great artists that we admired, and were probably a little eager to leave Maquee in the dust and prove to ourselves that we could do more. Between Maquee and Girl Crushes Boy, my songwriting had evolved quite a bit. I was writing less and less to riffs and more to melodies and chord progressions. I’m not sure what the other guys were thinking at that time but I know that I was really trying to push the band into a more progressive, indie, pop direction. I was listening to a lot of Sebadoh, PJ Harvey, Sonic Youth, Nirvana “In Utero”, Unwound as well as a lot of 60s British and French pop music. On Maquee, I was trying to sing like John Reis and Kurt Cobain. For Girl Crushes Boy, it was Lou Barlow and Brian Wilson. I’ll add that Aaron became a big fan of Ween during the Girl Crushes Boy era. Scott has always been a huge Depeche Mode and U2 fan and his drumming was always heavily influenced by Alex Van Halen and John Bonham.

Songs like “Too Many Reasons” and “You Cast a Crazy Spell on Me” were heavily influenced by early B-52s, The Sonics and current garage bands like Thee Headcoats and The Mummies. The sound of songs like “Peach and Brown” and “Sputnik” were a result of loving San Diego bands like Heavy Vegetable and Drive Like Jehu – “Sputnik” was my attempt at writing a Heavy Vegetable song. Same with the second half of “The Scientologist’s Love Affair”. Our EP called Masterlocks was a collection of outtakes from the Girl Crushes Boy sessions… those songs are very un-Maquee like. We were just running with whatever good ideas we had and we weren’t curating the sound to fit into a particular style.

gcb2MF: When listening to Maquee there are some serious blistering guitar licks happening. Did you grow up learning tons of guitar technique? In lessons perhaps?

MR: I took guitar lessons as a kid but it was only to learn the basics. I got my start in bands by playing heavy metal guitar style which has a heavy focus on technique. By the time I was playing with Smile and working on Maquee, I was less into the metal style and more focused on songwriting and singing. Licks and solos weren’t my thing then but I still wanted to make the guitar interesting. I put a good amount of effort into building a really blistering, fuzzed out guitar sound so that even the simplest playing sounded interesting. For Maquee, I wanted my guitar to sound like the amp was on fire and about to explode. I think it does sound like that.

I don’t think that having a solid foundation in technique is essential in making great music but it can definitely make it easier to realize whatever musical you have going on in your head – getting to the end result might take less time or be less frustrating. Great musical ideas are often a complete accident or happen as a result of complete musical naiveté. Having some amount of formal musical training or technique can make it so that you don’t always have to rely on those happy accidents, I guess. For some artists, technique can just get in the way of good art. Most of my favorite artists seem to strike good balance between both approaches. I can tell that they have a certain amount of musical prowess but, as a listener, I am not directly confronted by it. It’s transparent.

MF: Choosing Mark Trombino to produce your music was another link to the San Diego music scene. How did you know about him and what made you seek him out to work on your record?

MR: Mark was the drummer in one of our favorite bands, Drive Like Jehu, and he had produced great sounding records for Heavy Vegetable and Jehu. Scott loved the drum sounds that Mark was getting out of that room at Big Fish in San Diego and we liked his overall approach – a very real and dynamic sound. We were originally scheduled to record Girl Crushes Boy with Steve Albini in Chicago but we had to cancel shortly before starting the album when Scott broke is foot on a snowboarding trip. Steve wasn’t going to be available again for a while so we had to make other plans. It’s not that Mark was our “second choice” – we hadn’t even considered the possibility of working with him until we were looking for a new producer/engineer. After chatting with him and talking it over as a band, we realized that he was the perfect fit. I always wanted to work with Steve but I am really glad things worked out the way they did. Mark Trombino was a huge part of why that album is what it is. I think it was meant to be.

4picsMF: After Scott Reeder left the band you guys continued on with a replacement. Can you describe that period and how it led to Satisfaction.

MR: By the time Scott left the band, Aaron had already left and was replaced by Bob Thomson who played in Big Drill Car. Matt Fletcher had also joined the band on keys to cover the organ and synth parts from Girl Crushes Boy. Scott left Smile on good terms and he suggested that we ask Matt’s brother, James Fletcher, to step in. James was a natural choice since we were already good friends and he was the best drummer around town. He had a completely different style of drumming compared to Scott but he was a perfect fit for the direction that Smile was headed and his joining the band opened the door to tons of new musical possibilities. Supporting Girl Crushes Boy with the new line up, we started to build a lot of momentum and a bigger fan base than we ever had in the past. However, after a while, our musical direction started to evolve so much that it started to feel like a completely different band. It all seemed natural at the time but, looking back, I realize how different we were compared to what Aaron, Scott and I had started and I think we probably should have started a new band when the lineup changed. I was so attached to Smile’s songs, though, that I didn’t want to let it go. After a few years of playing shows and writing new material with that line up, it was obvious that It was time to leave the Smile material behind and give this new sound an identity of its own. We started Satisfaction about a year after Smile played our last show.

MF: I was reading that you produced the Satisfaction records. Is that correct? They sound amazing!

MR: Thanks man. I was making a living as a producer/engineer then so it seemed natural to take on the recording duties for Satisfaction. Plus, I was able to get us into studios on the cheap. It kept costs down.

MF: What led you to recording? Was it out of necessity or purely interest?

MR: Recording was my second passion next to being a songwriting musician. I’ve always been one of those musicians who is also drawn to the technical aspects of recording. My dad bought me a Fostex 4-track recorder when they came out and I was always making little songs on that thing as a kid. Later, I was the guy in the band with the 4-track who could record little demos to see what we sounded like. At some point, I ditched the 4-track for a cassette 8-track. The first Smile 7” was recorded on that. Then, I got a reel-to-reel 8 track and a mixer. At some point, I decided to stop buying my own recording gear and, instead, start working in real studios. I didn’t do that many projects before eventually hanging it up but in a few years I recorded tons of demos for bands and records for Fu Manchu, Sherwood, We Shot The Moon and mixed a David Cross album for Sub Pop.

MF: It seemed that your performances in San Diego are few and far between these days, although the recent Smile reunions were a blast! Do you tour at all currently?

MR: Satisfaction quietly called it quits a while back after a few years and Matt, James and I took some time off to figure out what we wanted to do. We started a new band called Flying Sparks which was sort of a continuation of Satisfaction. We did that for about a year until I decided to just be Michael Rosas. That’s where I am now. It’s a very recent thing. I am just releasing my first EP and working on my plan for playing live and touring in the coming year. I am really excited about it because I have a shit ton of songs in my backlog that I am excited to get out there.

MF: How has your your focus changed over the years regarding performing and putting out music?

MR: It hasn’t changed much at all, really. If anything, I am much more confident as a performer and musician now. Other than that, I’m still just a huge music nerd who aspires to be like the artists that inspire me. I still get as excited and giddy over a cool new song idea as I did when Smile was hashing out our first set of songs. If anything, I am just more focused on getting more music finished and released on a regular basis.

smaile-smallclubMF: I know, for me personally, dealing with grown-up life stuff poses some incredible hurdles in finding time to make music. Have you encountered situations where you have to sacrifice in order to continue making music?

MR: Not really. When Smile was signed to Atlantic Records, we were on salary with ourselves as full time musicians so we were able to treat our musical career as a day job. We went into the rehearsal studio 4-5 days a week to write and practice. That kind of situation is rare for most musicians, I think. Since then, it’s been easy to work music into the rest of my life. Music, for me, isn’t a choice. I have to do it. I can’t stop. I have no idea what life would be like without it. I suppose it’s possible that I have made big sacrifices in life for music that I am unaware of. I don’t dwell on that possibility though.

MF: What things are you up to now? and are you planning on doing more shows with Smile?

MR: As of this year, I am working on music as Michael Rosas. I’ve been playing a lot of shows in the OC and LA area and I just released an EP. Right now, I’m getting a band together for live shows and touring and I’m very excited about it. As far as Smile goes, Aaron and I have been meeting regularly to get things organized and to figure out the best ways to make sure that all things Smile are out there and available to anyone who is interested. We’ve chatted about more shows but we don’t have any definite plans right now.

…………..

Check out Mike’s latest music here: www.michaelrosas.com

Wonderfully Warped View Through Rose Windows

Rose WindowsI have been really enjoying listening to a new pagan-esque band out of Seattle: Rose Windows. After hearing about their upcoming show here in San Diego’s Soda Bar on May 11th, I put their disk on heavy rotation. Rose Windows are a fairly large band with 2 guitars, bass, drums, organ, flute and a female lead vocalist. There are some nice additions to the albums with pedal steel, strings, extra vocals and more. The studio wizardry was handled by Randall Dunn [Sunn O))), Boris, Earth] at the fantastic sounding Avast! Studio. It’s a great production that captures the RoseWindows album artpsychedelic ancient past with a clear and powerful hi-fidelity. The varied palate keeps your interest for the album’s duration. Some points of reference for the music are Black Sabbath (Planet Caravan in particular), old Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Goat, mixed with what I’d imagine you’d hear in a small European village in 1657. Some of the melodies are drawn apparently from what one would describe as a far-Eastern influence filtered and mutated through the lens of modern western rock music. The heavy, trance inducing pagan ceremony sounds like a good time indeed. Invitation accepted.

Rose Windows are just getting started. This is a very strong debut and being able to see them in a small crowd is a superb opportunity. Catch them this week at the Soda Bar on May 11th with Wild Wild Wets and Jeffertiti’s Nile. Both the openers are stellar so get there early. See you there!

Mogwai @ The Belly Up, Solana Beach – 4/15/14

Mogwai-header

We at Monofesto have all had the new Mogwai album, Rave Tapes, on heavy rotation for months now, so when the Glaswegian post rockers chose to spend a Tuesday night between their twin Coachella appearances here in Solana Beach, it was clearly an opportunity not to be missed. The album, like their almost 20 year career, has attracted attention from a distinctly wide spectrum of musicians, critics and fans. Each seems to take away something uniquely their own from Mogwai, and this was true for all those who walked away mesmerized by the performance at The Belly Up.

Opener Majeure’s space floatations already had the near capacity crowd adrift by the time we entered, as the masses seemed patiently abuzz but subdued waiting for Mogwai’s first epic notes. The show started early for the audiophiles, as those around me in the balcony drooled and awed over the live rig assembled by the notoriously meticulous members to create the beautifully controlled yet epically loud wall of noise we all Mogwai band photoanticipated. The stage was crammed with rows of amps (some positioned precariously in different directions), carts of vintage guitars (including a metal monster of a bass, which we identified as a Travis Bean original), and pedal board arrangements equipped to launch the space shuttle.

The band promptly took the stage with less than two words and a bottle of what appeared to be their own rumored line of Scotch in tow and launched into Rave Tapes opener Heard About You Last Night. Even within this atmospheric wandering of a track, the level was clearly set to stun. Indeed, perhaps most initially stunning was the delicate strokes and stylings accompanying this deafening movement of sound. Devoid of a vocal track, everything was seemingly allowed to approach maximum levels, freeing the band to play quietly yet monstrously loud. This was evidenced by the juxtaposed light brush touches of Martin Bulloch’s drumming.  The next song, Friend of the Night off 2006’s Mr. Beast, began the common ride of keys or synth infused trance unfolding abruptly into guitars that threatened to rip the building in half and yet somehow coalesced everything together to comfortingly cradle the audience within the infrastructure threatening vibrations. With three more songs from Rave Tapes (Master Card, Deesh, and Remurdered) and sprinkled selections from the past catalog, the first act crescendoed with the 17 minute Mogwai Fear Satan from the band’s earliest days. The encore didn’t fail to incrementally intensify the evening with an efficient battering consisting of Rave Tape closer The Lord Is Out of Control, followed by Auto Rock and Batcat.

Lost in my own reveries throughout the majority of the evening, what most struck me as I looked out over the audience (besides the fact that single lady music afficiandos should be aware that instrumental post rock attracts a nearly 95% male audience in San Diego) was that most faces reflected the same blissfully lost gaze. At times it felt strange to find myself closely packed next to hundreds of others listening to, what is for me, deeply personal music. This is perhaps another magical byproduct of the removal of lyrics from heavy music, to allow hundreds of people to simultaneously share uniquely individual experiences. Having spent so many hours with this album in my studio apartment, shared only with the highly trusted Lemon and Chewbacca, it was now comforting to let myself have this experience among others, making Mogwai an appreciated remedy for an emerging agoraphobic.

It should also be mentioned that the sound was handled wonderfully by the guys working the board for both the band and for The Belly Up. Another deserved mention goes out to Luke Sutherland, who has almost anonymously joined the live Mogwai act. His infectious energy and multi-faceted musical contributions were crucial for the success of the show, which inspired a little internet sleuthing and turned up the interesting bio of a progressive novelist and musician.

Taking your Mogwai experience out of your head and into a shared engagement is a highly recommended activity. Don’t miss an opportunity to be leveled by a band that curates sound with the utmost of art and appreciation.

Check out the fabulous concert documentary from a few years back and also some of the new album below. The set list for the evening is also available at setlistfm.

Freshly Pressed: Rebecca Jade and the Cold Fact

I’d been hearing in the wind about a new ripping band called Rebecca Jade and the Cold Fact.  With new bands popping up daily I have to admit I didn’t run out and track down an ear-full. And, in general I’m not a super big fan of new bands playing in old styles. But… I found out that a couple great players that I respect were in the band (the mighty Jake Najor and skillful Tim Felton) and I quickly investigated. Turns out the local San Diego CityBeat gave them a great write up that same day I was getting the scoop from Jake. The band is making a name quickly and I figured I’d throw in my two cents.

The primary structure of the songs seem centered around the retro-styled keys. Having two keyboard players seemed like an interesting angle right off the bat. Josh Rice and Tim Felton work a cool polyrhythmic texture of stabbing electric piano lines. Some songs feature super-tight horn section work that serves as a nice addition in its variety. Everything is recorded really well and they captured the right aesthetic for the 70’s soul grooves they are chasing. I especially like the way they captured the electric piano and sax sounds. Really nice!

It would have been easy to fill up the canvas with the access to all the players in their community but thankfully there is restraint, keeping a little breathing room at all time. The guest appearances help to vary the sound of the album from track to track and maintain a good interest throughout. Rebecca Jade’s vocals are solid and not over done. I am not usually a huge fan of this type of modern take on 70’s music, but after hearing this I’m looking forward to hearing more from the band and catching them live. Cold fact: they are a solid and promising addition to the San Diego live music scene.

Tracing the Record: Slint’s Spiderland

6a00e54eeeec0788340134896b037f970c

With tomorrow’s release of Slint’s Spiderland remastered edition and box set by Touch and Go Records, we thought we would experiment with a new Monofesto feature: Tracing the Record. The Prezi 3D presentation below was created by Monofesto to provide a chronological story and musical sampler of the path to Spiderland.  This seminal album continues to find relevance in today’s landscape and seems a fitting first attempt (as we can continue to add elements to the Prezi) at tracing some of the roots of this influential album.  Along with our Monofesto look at David Grubb’s recent work, the amazing Louisville 1985-95 scene has been on our minds and we hope to use Prezi for more features ahead to connect some of the pieces that helped shape this and other incredible moments in music space and time.

Prezi hints: You can pause the background music in the bottom left corner if you choose to explore the other music links within the presentation. You can also take each step with the arrows or zoom and click your own way around the presentation. 

The box set also contains a documentary by Lance Bangs that sets out to unravel the mystique behind the album. Check out the trailer below. It will make you want to see it ASAP:

You can also preview the remastered edition, which contains unreleased outtakes, at NPR: First Listen.

Belfi / Grubbs / Pilia – Dust and Mirrors

BGP-by-Rocco-MarchiThis transcontinental collaboration was born a few years back with their 2010 debut, Onrushing Cloud. The trio consists of Italians Andrea Belfi (drums), Stefano Pilia (Guitar) and American guitarist/singer David Grubbs. Their sophomore effort on Drag City is a strong follow up. I hadn’t heard of the band until recently and it caught my eye due to the participation of David Grubbs. Being a long-time fan of his other bands: Bastro, Squirrel Bait and Gastr del Sol, I was certain I’d be in for something interesting.

Belfi / Grubbs / PiliaThe group consists primarily of 2 guitars and drums, peppered with various electronics. The tones of the guitars are mostly clean and wiry with a bell-like, chiming quality at times. After being lulled by beautiful, spacious organization the music crescendos into an overdriven fury. The songs are mostly instrumental and use phased repetition to a hypnotic effect. At one moment you are being lulled into a calm sonic environment and without total awareness you are submerged in an improvised wall of freak out guitars. It happens gradually and it catches you off guard when the realization of how intense the sound has become arrives. The recording of the album is very nicely done. It’s basically straightforward, with clear natural sounds, great guitar tones and a definite feeling of space. The sparse instrumentation allows for each sound to exist within a full spectrum of sound rather than fighting for a spot in a dense mix. This allows for the details and nuance in each sound to take on significant character.

It’s a strange clash of intricate repeating figures that are overtly simple in their arrangement. The hypnotic quality harkens minimalist composers like Steve Reich and then suddenly breaks out of the pattern back into more of a familiar song form. The drums play furious sixteenth note textural patterns rather than typical “rock beats”. This approach lends to feeling that you are listening to composition that lies in the “new music” world and less in the indie rock world. It’s basically thoughtful and challenging music made by some very intelligent dudes.

In doing a little digging, I read up on the origin of the band. Turns out David Grubbs is a professor of music in New York as well as holding several degrees, including a Ph.D. in English. Impressive indeed, especially when you consider his musical output. He must be a busy guy. Apart from the few snippets I could find online, there wasn’t much information on this interesting group. Thanks to the age of information that we live in, I simply contacted David Grubbs and asked him a few questions about “Dust and Mirrors” and their collaboration in general.

David Grubbs Interview…

MF: I was curious about the transcontinental collaboration. Since Andrea and Stefano are primarily based out of Italy, how were you able to put the project together? Were the songs composed by one of you and then fleshed out in the studio or was there a good deal of rehearsal involved.

DG: This is the second record that we’ve made (the first, “Onrushing Cloud,” will be reissued on Blue Chopsticks in May — it has been out of print for a couple of years), and in both cases we found the time to all be in the same place to work.  The first one was made when Andrea and Stefano were in New York for a month, and this one was made when I went to Bologna.  In both cases the writing and rehearsal process were pretty much one and the same, but most everything was finished — or mapped out — before going into the studio.  One thing I like about both of the records is that the material is very new, very fresh, and the performances seem full of decisions made on the fly.

MF: The music sounds very precise but also loose and improvised at times.  How much is really improvised (if at all) and does that play an important factor in your current work?

DG: For the three of us, improvisation is primarily a means of generating or re-generating more written, more decided-upon pieces.  That said, two of the tracks on the album are straight let-it-roll group improvisations.

MF: I was reading that you are teaching and have done extensive schooling in past years. Did you find it difficult to juggle making art/music and completing your degrees and working or does it lend itself to each task as they are related?

Records Ruin cover imageDG: I’m incredibly fortunate in that what I teach (experimental music and sound art, pop music and technology, poetry, and interdisciplinary performance — these are in three different programs, all at Brooklyn College) is intimately meshed with the music that I make.  They definitely feed into one another.  The only problem is finding the hours in the day to do everything that I want to do.

I should go ahead and say that my first book, “Records Ruin the Landscape: John Cage, the Sixties, and Sound Recording,” which again interweaves the work that I do as a musician and as an, ahem, scholar, comes out at the end of this month on Duke University Press.  Here’s a link to their page: http://www.dukeupress.edu/Records-Ruin-the-Landscape

MF: From the early days of Squirrel Bait then on to Basto and Gastr del Sol, each project seemed like it departed further from the rock world and more into avant garde / new music. Was there a moment that the light bulb went on and you changed directions? Seems like the sophistication of the music is geared towards an adult’s mind, versus the angst-ridden teen mind. What caught your interest in this musical exploration?

DG: I’ve always moved from the known to its opposite, I think!  It has to do, I’m certain, with following my own curiosity, following my brain and fingers who knows where, and having a fluid sense of whom I am as a musician — an orientation towards the ongoing.

large_BelfiGrubbsPilia

Interview: Preston Parsons of Vessel Drums

Preston Parsons of Vessel DrumsIt’s a treat when you meet others living in your neighborhood with similar interests. I can’t always identify with the culture around me and enjoy meeting those bucking the norm a little. One day I discovered that my neighbor was a drum builder named Preston Parsons. I tracked him down and we’ve since become good friends. His quality drums are built under the name Vessel Drum Company.

One of my most prized possessions is a drum set I had custom built for me in 1994 by local drum guru Paul Bleifuss. Paul was a legendary builder among his community, but due to the limited output possible by something made completely by hand, he worked widely under the radar of the typical music mega-store-type clientele. His drums are works of art. Unfortunately, Paul developed cancer and passed away much too early. Some speculate that it was elements of his craft that may have led to his illness with daily exposure to sanding dust and wood stains. Parts of the process can take a toll after years of work.

The first thing that struck my when visiting Preston’s shop was the building equipment with Paul Bleifuss’s logo. Coincidentally, Preston had apprenticed under Paul and ended up with all of his custom building equipment. Not many people know about Paul’s drums, so to end up living a few blocks from his apprentice was very surprising. Preston brings his skill and unique personal aesthetic to his drums. In some ways, Vessel Drums is a continuation of Paul’s legacy but in other ways it’s Preston’s unique approach. We can’t make music without the tools of the trade. Drum builder Preston Parsons brings the goods.

MF: At what point did you decide to dedicate yourself to building drums?

PP: The exact point at which I decided to become a drum builder is foggy. I started playing drums at age 4, not counting the pots and pans or the beating I gave my Mom in the womb. I played in bands all throughout my junior high and high school years while working for my Dad’s plumbing company in Ruidoso, NM. I would dream up ways to build drums out of pipe, but never did because the heads didn’t fit the pipe sizes. I decided to get married and go to South Plains College for Percussive arts and Sound Technology in the summer of 99. I think it was at SPC that I decided I would like to start digging into drum building. I had my days filled with listening to and making music for the first time in my life. It was at this point I felt like I could make my contribution to music and not just daydream about it.

vessel shadowMF: What brought you to San Diego and how did you find out about Paul Bleifuss?

PP: I listened to college radio while I was living in the Lubbock, TX area to go to school. It seemed like all the music I liked had a heavy San Diego connection. My wife and I had visited SD on vacation and fell in love with this place. I had heard there was a great drum builder in San Diego too. So in January of 2004 as my wife and I had just finished up school, it seamed the clear choice to move to SD.

After asking around, no one seemed to know about the drum builder I’d heard of back in Texas. Finally after a long search, through some great drummers and friends, Craig Zarkos and Aaron Redfield, I found Paul Bleifuss. I’ll never forget the first time I drove from Escondido all the way down to El Cajon to meet Paul. Paul had his shop space in a building shared with a bunch of street sweeper repair shops. I thought to myself, why is this guy not on the coast? Paul should have had his own drum boutique. Paul and I hit it off, and the rest is history.

MF: Can you describe some philosophies behind your craft?

PP: My good friend Paul Bleifuss told me, so long as it’s round and square, we can fix the other stuff. Is that a philosophy? I feel like I put some of myself into every drum I build. If I don’t like the thing and wouldn’t want to play it myself or put my name on it, I don’t. I can honestly say I back every drum I ever built. That’s a good feeling.

Working on drums 1MF:  What makes Vessel Drums unique?

Me. There are a ton of drum companies out there right now; each one is unique because of its builder or builders. Most of us are working with the same shells and parts with the exception of only a fortunate few. The only thing that separates us is the understanding of our own process.

I have a commitment to quality that sometimes keeps me up at night. I like to do thing right so I can sleep at night. Like I said before, if I don’t like it I don’t build it.  I love it when a drummer brings a drum I made in for a tune up, the older the better, I feel like I have an attachment to all of the drums I have made over the years, and I like to see how they’re holding up.

MF: Is it important to study classic designs or are you more of a fan of forging into unknown territory?

PP: The classics are what got us here. I think you’re crazy if you don’t respect the people here before you and there contributions. I like to think of my drums as modern vintage. It’s drums not space travel. The most forward thinking thing I have done in drum building is sticking maple re-ring in an aluminum snare. Not sure if I’m the first or not; I had never seen it before. If that’s the unknown, I guess I’m forward thinking.

MF: How much of building is skill and how much is creative inspiration?

PP: Part smart, part art or passion, and part never growing up. 40/40/20

Working on drums 2MF: The “never growing up” part, is that the willingness to follow dreams? Can you elaborate?

PP: Yes, it’s defiantly the willingness to follow dreams. I think there is a balance to managing the responsibilities of life and not losing site of your individuality, creativity, and dreams. That part of you is uniquely you; it’s your inner creator. Honestly, as much as I consider myself a non-conformist, I think we all conform in some way or other, but I try not to throw in the towel. We all have the body of work done by the people before us to draw from, you can’t help but be influenced by the world we live in, but it’s that part that’s uniquely you that only you know when that part is being fed. I can’t lose sight of that part of me. If I lose that part, what’s the point?

I may need to adjust my percentages now and then to gain perspective; drum builder is not my identity. Faith, Family, Friends, Passion, Hope, it’s all in there. I am a lover of authenticity. Not sure if I cleared that up or if I made it a bigger ball of crazy then it was before. There is definitely an element of crazy I need to add into my equation.

Aqua kitMF: What sort of sacrifices have you had to make in order to follow your heart?

PP: Well, I think the biggest one is the fact that for me to be who I am, my wife has to work. Before we had Isla (my baby girl), this wasn’t a big deal, but now I feel like I kind of suck at juggling the rolls: husband, full-time-dad, audio engineer, drum builder. It gets tricky, and the money sucks, but if I was after money I could have stayed in plumbing. I knew what I was in for when I started chasing the music. I know I’m rambling here, so I guess I would say I feel like my family has taken the biggest hit. My hope is that the last 15 years of this chasing the music will pay off some how.

MF: Can you describe the process of learning from Paul? What made his designs so sought after?

PP: First of all Paul was a Friend, he took me in and I will forever be grateful. Most drum builders are very exclusive as to who they will let in their shop, much less teach their trade. Paul was not that way, as he was a friend to many. Every drummer in SD should have bought a kit from Paul. I don’t know anyone that has one of Paul’s kits that wants to get rid of it. Paul had a way of overdoing everything that made most builders a little crazy. If most builders sanded to 240, Paul sanded to 1200, no joke.

IMG_4017MF: How much have you followed his building philosophy and how much have you gone your own direction?

PP: Paul did things the craftsmen way, better than anyone else I have met, setting the bar extremely high. I like to think that I stay that path, and I do for the most part, but if I can save time and make something better, I do.

After Paul passed and I bought all his tools, I met Ted Williams. Ted has been there to help me out along the way and connect the dots that I didn’t have time to glean from Paul. Ted and Paul were good friends too. I have learned more from Ted  than I expected to in the beginning. I guess I ended up apprenticing under Ted too. I need to say as well, I would not be building drums today if Bill Sylvester, Craig Zarkos and Aaron Redfield had not paved the way for me.


**Author’s note: I have used Vessel Drums many times and they are truly exceptional. Some bands that have used Vessel drums include Greyboy Allstars, Pinback, Delta Spirit, Alan Parsons Project, Switchfoot, The Howls, Mattson2, Tribal Seeds, Trouble In The Wind, Goodnight Ravenswood, and the Silent Comedy