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


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


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:

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.


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

Freshly Pressed: New Bums – Voices in a Rented Room


Voices in a Rented Room – Drag City – February 18th, 2014

New Bums first full-length album, Voices in A Rented Room, is a slow pan through a gloomy neighborhood in any town America, taking snapshots of life both gritty and beautiful at the same time. The double barrel acoustic offering from Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) and Donovan Quinn (Skygreen Leopards) cuts right to the darkest corners but shoots occasional rays of light to illuminate the slim paths to salvation for the indulgent sinners, the unapologetic rock and rollers.

The strumming guitar is the backbone of each track, moving the steady train through each vignette. Yet  the scenes build, adding textured details with pleasing fills (guitar, harmonica, cello, harmonium) enjoyed as individual snowflakes floating to the front of a blanketing storm. The mood is familiar, the images are unique, and the result is effective.

The tone and artistic attempt of the album appears to be successfully crafted and consequently clearly received. As I do with all new music to be reviewed, I made sure not to read anything about the album or the New Bums before listening and penning down my reaction to the music. Interestingly, my initial guttural reception was directly in line with other reviews and especially close to their own write up. Their media one sheet perhaps encapsulates the vision of the album best, a fun and recommended read that hits on the feel of the album more precisely than any review.

The music is humble accompaniment for the visual anecdotes that focus on the moments where the wind is taken out of your sails and you find yourself set down for brief repose. The album serves as exactly that, a brief repose.  It works equally well in the background for a solitary afternoon at home or a car ride through the city, yet I imagine the New Bums live performance instills a healthy desire to share a few drinks and unveil a few snippets from your own haunting corners.

Most of the songs feature characters with one foot out of this world already. This can be a satisfying perspective – looking in from outside being better than being lost within. A great album for finding a song each time you pass through it, or even a lyric that will stick out and stick with you, the collaboration between Chasny and Quinn is seamless and keeps the music shifting just enough to create tension and surprise around each bend.

The album leaves you wanting more, which inspires worthwhile searches into their past projects (see links above). It also leaves you wondering what comes next after the bottom is reached and the clouds clear. We look forward to seeing what the future holds for these New Bums.

Official Video

Live in a Broken Down House

Transfer’s Jason Cardenas Spills the Beans

Transfer_joshua_treeA few years ago I was watching my friend’s band play a local music showcase deal at the House of Blues in downtown San Diego. The last band on the bill was Transfer.  I’d never heard of them but decided to watch a song before I headed off for the long drive home.  I ended up watching the whole set and was instantly a fan.  I’ve seen them play often over the years and it’s always a fun time. Hypnotic and heavy at times but their music also has a very earthy quality to it.

In the band’s early days Matt and Jason resided in Chico, CA and played under a different name. During the early 90’s Mother Hips ruled the Chico music scene and it’s hard to not hear some of their song craft and style influence in what eventually became Transfer.  There’s a heavy dose of 70’s rock, country and soul with great songwriting and sweet harmonies. Along with Matt’s strong singing, the contrast of Matt and Jason’s guitars for me really distinguishes the band’s sound from what so many others are doing.  There’s a darkness and eerie quality the really appeals to my musical sensibilities. Now that they’ve played for a number of years in San Diego and gone through various lineup changes, Transfer has established themselves as one of San Diego’s local music heavyweights. As any band draws their sound and inspiration from something they grew up with, Transfer is now helping to shape the sound of San Diego’s  musical landscape.

Transfer had a very busy couple years with extensive international touring and also recording their fabulous new album Shadow Aspect (a beautifully packaged vinyl pre-release available now). With the official release just around the corner, I tracked down Jason Cardenas and asked him to spill the beans.

milan_BRMC_tourMF: Having the chance to play big shows internationally as an opener, did you approach the show differently since you were likely playing for people that were unfamiliar with your music?

JC: Absolutely.  For example, on the last Black Rebel tour, it was a perfect situation for us to try out some of the newer tracks that would later be on the record. It’s actually a great litmus test for us to gauge where we’re at as a band, playing in front of a completely foreign audience who is taking in your music for the very first time.  It was just a bitch having to put up the chicken wire in front of the stage every night!

MF: Your guitar sound is so cavernous at times.  What is your current set up? Is there a specific inspiration for your sound or have there been any favorite albums that caused you to go this direction?

JC: I think I’ve always been way more into the sounds I can create, rather than the notes. I realized at a young age I would never be Yngwie Malmsteen or Eddie Van Halen, so instead I decided to be Nigel Tufnel…with more pedals.  Most of my pedals are cheap and old, mainly because I’m broke and hate change!  The go-to pedals in most of our music is the old Boss DD5 delay and the Holy Grail reverb, both pedals I’ve had for over a decade.  I’ve always been a big fan of dark and somewhat unsettling ambient noise underneath straightforward music, sort of like the sound of impending doom creeping into a pop song. Wilco does this very well.

card_matt_abbey_roadMF: Can you talk about a favorite tour highlight from the recent past?

JC: My favorite tour highlight is always Shaun playing boggle on a pillow in his lap…for hours. Or watching him eat a whole pan of cornbread before a long drive in the van. Actually, both a tour and a professional highlight for me would be being accused of stealing by Sir Paul McCartney at Abbey Road Studios in London. We were there recording a live performance for the show Live From Abbey Road, which in itself was completely mind-blowing. I remember walking around the studio beforehand thinking, “Man, it would be cool if George Martin popped in. Ringo, even!”  – never thinking there would be a chance in hell Paul would stop by.  So after the performance filming, they had us seated under this huge flood light for the interview portion of the show.  Sir Paul pops his head in and says, “Look at this dubious lineup!”  Of course we’re completely shitting ourselves; I think Matt saluted him for some goddamn reason!  He introduces himself, shakes our hands and says, “Quite a suspicious looking bunch under this interrogation light…. especially this one!”  and points at me, to which Andy quickly responds, “Well…he IS mexican.”  What a tit.  Meanwhile, while everyone has a good laugh at my expense, in my backpack next to me is a butt-load of stolen coffee mugs and granola bars from our green room. All over your face, Paul!

andy_ridleyMF: There have been a few lineup changes since the beginning. Seems like as the success of the band grew you had the opportunity to get some of the top players in town.  With Andy on drums this time around I was really surprised how restrained his playing was. Obviously he has serious chops so it was great to hear the songs played with such taste. What sort of differences are there playing with the current line up for you?

JC: Tasteful restraint is Andy’s nickname.  I think what makes Andy such a phenomenal drummer – and musician in general – is his ability to see the big picture and always serve the song perfectly. He’s also a very emotional player, which made for some very powerful and intense moments in the studio.  After every take, we’d check to see if Andy was happy with the drums, and sure enough – he’d be weeping like a wee babe. Bawling, sometimes.  Such an emotional player.  I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little draining from time to time.

Also, anyone who knows Andy Ridley realizes this is complete bullshit.  In all seriousness, the guy is an amazing fucking player and a solid human being to boot… we’re pretty lucky he puts up with our slop in this band!

rec_assault_and_battery_studio_londonMF: Was there a preconceived goal when recording “Shadow Aspect”?  For example, did you set out for something specifically from the beginning or did the album evolve during the recording process?

JC: I don’t think there was necessarily a preconceived goal, but we were very aware that this would be an important album for us.  It was a long process – writing and recording when we could find time between touring and whatnot – so we decided that rushing anything would completely defeat the purpose of this record.  Since our writing style tends to lean towards “paralysis by analysis”, we thought it was important to have some of the songs develop in the studio.  Songs like “Pace of Youth” and “So Long Old Song” were bare-bones ideas that really took shape in the studio, and I think there’s a very unique, creative sound to those songs that reflects that.  Others were songs that we had been playing for years, but just needed to have the right sound coaxed out of them…or rewrite, in some cases!  A true labor of love at times, but we couldn’t be happier with the results

rec_mario_big_fish_studiosMF: I know that Shaun Cornell is bringing a lot to the table with his abilities on bass/keys/guitars/vocals as well as his recording engineering skills.  I was surprised to see that he didn’t record the new album. How was it working with Mike Butler and Mario Quintero? Were their approaches very different from one another?

JC: Shaun is extremely gifted in the engineering/producing arena, and has done some amazing work for the band and within the band in the past.  I think Future Selves is a giant testament to that.  It was definitely a deliberate move for us to work with different engineers/producers for this album, which was a decision that in no way reflects upon Shaun’s prowess in the studio.  It was more a decision necessary to keep our sanity!  We all felt the need to bring in an outside ear and perspective to help keep the recording process flowing.  Again, the paralysis by analysis comes into play – it’s hard enough for us to come to a consensus just writing a setlist, let alone finishing an album!

Working with Mike Butler at Lost Ark was an amazing experience; he’s a very gifted musician with a great ear for songwriting.  Even though it was the first time recording with Mike, we really felt that he understood the music and what we were trying to achieve.  A lot of the more experimental tracks were recorded there… and I mean “experimental” in a very literal sense!  Mike was going by Home Depot on the way to the studio to pick up vacuum hoses, various trashcan lids, surgical tubing, etc., to create these elaborate “mouse trap” recording contraptions.  Mike definitely has a touch of mad scientist in his approach, which I admire!

matt_salutes_paulMario, on the other hand, is someone we’ve known since nearly the beginning of the band. We rehearsed and recorded at Black Box Studios back in the day, so he’s someone who has seen the band change and evolve over the years.  Mario was actually on the road with us during the Black Rebel tour, so he became very familiar with the new material and pretty much knew what we were looking for on the new album.  Mario is always great to work with – very intuitive, he understands what each song needs and exactly how to push the band into getting the right result.  Working with him at Big Fish Studios came at a very necessary time for us, as we were trying to finalize the last batch of songs that just weren’t quite there yet.  His expertise and understanding was, without question, a vital part of completing this record.

MF: One of the things I’m really interested in is the sacrifice of doing a band.  It seems like you have been going non stop and the tours Transfer has been doing are amazing. Like the tours with the Killers, BRMC, as well as the Abbey Road sessions.  While all of this is going on you have to balance family and home life and making a living etc.  What sort of challenges have you faced while enjoying your success?

JC: We’re very fortunate to have such supportive wives and families who are willing and able to handle things at home for us while we’re away.  For us, touring is truly like the old Army slogan: the toughest job you’ll ever love.  We’ve tour managed ourselves on the last few tours overseas, so that entails A LOT of planning and budgeting, not to mention being completely self-sufficient once we’re over there (UK and EU). Since we foot the bill ourselves, let’s just say we’ve done our fair share of travelling in less-than-dependable vans, with many over-night drives and “urban camping” situations.  Luckily, we have a guy like Andy in the band, who has excellent business sense and refuses to let anyone else drive.  This makes it easy for dipshits like Matt and myself to sit in the back of the van and get day-drunk.


William Onyeabor – The Mystery Is In The Music

The fascinating story of the music and the man ultimately hits a dead end at every turn. Now, however, the story of the mystery and the search for answers is gaining ground by the day. After decades of resting quietly in a marginalized corner amongst Nigeria’s 70’s Afro-Beat scene, William Onyeabor is emerging as a light years ahead of his time synth and funk pioneer. Thanks to the tireless efforts over the past four years of  Yale Evelev and Eric Welles Nyström  at the world music label Luaka Bop, we can see that Onyeabor’s music deserves a category completely its own. The heavily layered, pulsating epic productions of soul, funk, and electro fusion  are once again accessible through a beautifully arranged and packaged reissue collection. Just as enjoyable and infectious as the music has been the unraveling of the rare and limited bits of information about Onyeabor (time in Russia, starting his own film company, somehow building a pricey and remarkably advanced studio in the middle of a tiny rural piece of war decimated Nigeria, becoming the High Priest of Enugu) and his absolute refusal to talk about his music or past.

Here is a man and a story that is currently in no need of extra hype, yet this post is worthwhile just to give further credence to a movement whose merit is evidenced by the years of dedication to get this music out. The Luaka Bop crew and others who have sought to unearth Onyeabor over the years have been determined to spread the Onyeabor word and have done a fine job doing so. For the best telling of this unique story, a wonderful short-documentary collaboration has just been released, Fantastic Man (embeded below as well).  Also, a recent feature article on David Byrne’s new website from Eric Welles Nyström adds a few pieces to the puzzle.

The genesis for Monofesto is even wrapped up in the Onyeabor story. In a summer BBQ conversation with my co-founder, Mr. Prescott, a rolling stream-of-consciousness purge of recently discovered music, he mentioned something about an “Atomic Bomb”. Weeks later, after a few more of these conversations, we started talking about reviving our own past music blogging desires with the purest intentions of sharing music that was so good it needed to be passed along. While kicking around the idea of starting the site, I started looking for artists who were sharing music they loved in the most direct and pretense-less way. Coincidently, it was on my birthday that I came across David Byrne’s radio playlist archives and found a posting on Africa Pop that featured Onyeabor and led off with none other than “Atomic Bomb”.  I hadn’t thought about “Atomic Bomb” since the BBQ, but seeing it here triggered the recommendation. A quick YouTube search yielded a poor vinyl re-recording, but I could tell I had been led to something great and knew then that there was still room in the blogosphere to set off more bombs of interest in quality art and music. Monofesto was born a few days later with a commitment to simply sharing music we love regardless of genre, time, personality, or buzz.

There is no doubt that Luaka Bop’s Who is William Onyeabor? is building quite a buzz, but the story of tracking down Onyeabor that is so surely captivating followers derived from seeking permission to share the music with the world once again. This dedication to sharing something so genuinely, passionately, and enthusiastically inspires equal effort. 

Even after each hunt for Onyeabor returns mostly fruitless, we are still left with the music, and the music is as fun as it is intriguing. Working my way through the vinyl edition of the collection, it was when the needle dropped on “When the Going Gets Smooth and Good” that I experienced the magnetism of what Onyeabor created in those isolated studio days in Enugu. The track had all the members of my family bobbing and flailing (as my kids are still young enough to pass off  bobbing and flailing as dancing, yet I don’t have the same luxury) joyfully in the living room on a Sunday afternoon.

By leaving it all in the music, this is the vacuum that allows for the music alone to tell the story. How easily the man has detached himself from his creation also speaks to how the creation can be isolated from the creator. It is a moment in time and space captured through a vessel, the artist. Onyeabor’s music seems conscious of its role as a gift of the moment, full of offerings of proverbial wisdom and celebratory hooks. Whether he lived the values instilled in the music is unknown, but Onyeabor’s detachment from the creations actually increases the effect.

In a world where all is seemingly discoverable and deconstruct-able with only a few mouse clicks, the lack of information behind this shockingly good music has sent the music community into a mini tail-spin. Attaching a personality or figure to our music is a highly valued part of the appreciation process, so now we are forced out of our comfort zones to undergo the act of unraveling the mystery from within the music alone. In this case, a truly enjoyable task.

Get yourself and your friends and family smiling and dancing (or bobbing and flailing) as well.