Recent Posts in interviews
November 13, 2015
"I view anger not as an outrageously violent act but actually as a tool of discovery."
At nearly 60, John Lydon a.k.a. Johnny Rotten is no less acerbic than he was as the 21-year-old from North London shout-singing his caustic anti-sermons as the vocalist for the Sex Pistols. While the well-known shit slinging unofficial sociological commentator is likely and thankfully never going away, the 40 years since the mythical debut that helped set ablaze an already sparked punk movement have, as age and experience hopefully do, given Lydon a certain kind of smartass positivity. Though not given to glitter bombs and kitten handouts just yet, Lydon is unabashedly more adept to appreciation as opposed to the abject nihilism with which he's often associated.
In the same year that saw the dissolution of the Pistols, Lydon's next project Public Image Ltd (PiL) would become for fourteen years the epicenter of his creative focus. After a ten-year hiatus, 2012 saw the reunion of PiL, and with it an immediate renewal in spirit for Lydon, who'd dedicated the time in-between to a brief Pistols reunion as well as his own solo release and, perhaps most notably, his own TV show which subsequently led to the very celebrity status that he'd always and vocally so despised. That said, Lydon was and is no stranger to the dark humor and cruel irony inextricably linked to fame, so it seemed completely natural in our recent conversation to hear him laugh just as much at himself as he did the ridiculousness of the world around him.
Public Image Ltd released their 10th studio album 'WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW...' in September and are now on tour. Tickets for the 11/16 NYC show at Playstation Theater are still available. One day later, PiL will appear on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. All dates are listed under the interview that starts here...
BV: You've got the new PiL record, you're constantly touring, you've had your TV career. What keeps you going?
John Lydon: Well, I do this because I love it. It's the only thing that I've ever found in my life that I'm actually any good at and that's writing songs and performing them. I never ever wanna abuse that gift, and touring the way we do in the smaller size venues which we prefer is so infinitely preferable to getting caught up in that horrible circus of rock stardom that I've so bitterly despised all my life. Whatever my skills in my life that I've learned from birth onwards, it all seems to be molded towards this. Nature has co-opted me into this role.
BV: That's easier said than done, though, which seems to be the name of the game now. Just be really good at rhetoric.
John Lydon: [Laughs.] I'm only as good as my word, and as far as I'm aware, my word is very good indeed.
November 12, 2015
"We had a bit of a sense of direction as far as where wanted it to head but no hard and fast rules." - Brent Knopf on EL VY's debut "Return to the Moon"
photo of Brent Knopf & Matt Berninger by Deirdre O'Callaghan
Both well known for their respective other projects, The National and Menomena, Matt Berninger and Brent Knopf seemed to be deliberately reserved about their collaborative project EL VY, and its debut release, Return to the Moon, at the end of last month. Largely absent of the distinctive characteristics that both musicians have established to much critical acclaim and success, Return to the Moon is a sort of happy accident, a collaboration in spite of itself and what would understandably be assumed as the antithetical creative approach of both musicians. Considering that fact, it's not surprising that Return to the Moon still manages to evoke the tendencies of Knopf and Berninger while at the same time embracing a sort of mirrored image of what both might otherwise be given to in their other creative endeavors.
There's still the same baritone croon familiar to those fans of The National, and Knopf's innate sense of atmospheric balance in sound and scope is equally as present. With EL VY, the immediate contrast is that while still familiar in the context of its creators, the storyline is less an aesthetic of melodrama and lush musical arrangements and more an inside joke, albeit one just as seriously constructed, that both musicians allow the listener to be in on. It's a subject I brought up in my recent conversation with both Berninger and Knopf as well as the creative contrasts, if any, they observed in bringing the music together for EL VY.
EL VY are on tour and will be playing two sold-out shows this weekend at the Bowery Ballroom this Friday, November 13, followed by Saturday's performance at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.
BV: This is kind of a departure for both of you, considering what Menomena and The National sound like, but there are those underlying idiosyncrasies where it still functions on a sort of darkly humorous level. Is that something you felt while making the record or something you were aiming for?
Brent Knopf: Berninger is a master at lyrics that are simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking and just completely dead serious but also nonsensical. [Laughs.] I think that's how life is, so finding a way to blend those things together always feels more real to me.
Matt Berninger: I think that all my writing in terms of lyrics, I kind of do that even with The National. Meaning that, melodrama is something I love. An exaggeration or absurd, fantastical metaphors for real small issues are what I do in The National, too, so I think that's a little bit of my safety armor for me to actually be able to talk about real things. I kind of do an exaggerated melodramatic version of the real situations, so it isn't that different with EL VY. I think even with The National I'm a funny writer. I write about serious stuff, but I try to do it in a funny way, sometimes? I don't know. [Laughs.] People never think of me as being a light person, and I wouldn't describe myself as that, but maybe this record feels lighter or feels funnier because the backdrop of a lot of the writing has a different personality. I was only writing lyrics for this while listening to music, and that's how I always do it. Brent was opening all these windows, and I was just sort of jumping out of them and kind of following him. So yeah, I wasn't trying to make a record that was making some sort of statement about music or anything like that, but I was definitely writing about myself in a kind of absurd way. "I'm the Man to Be" is a self-portrait, but it's turned up to eleven. [Laughs.]
November 11, 2015
When tasked to define the central characteristic of alternative comedy at the moment, the obvious answer seems to be its playfulness. Whereas the genre's earlier incarnations saw a decidedly dark streak of humor (The Maria Bamford Show jumps to mind), these new comedians take far more pleasure in exploring the lines between character and comedian, performer and audience, and most of all, "high brow" and "low brow." Take, for example, Joe Rumrill and Tynan Delong's "official improv troupe of MTV Spring Break" - although they're ironically commenting on bro culture, it somehow seems just as much a reflection on the comedians themselves.
But then again, it's nearly impossible to define the current alternative stand up community in one word. Joe Pera's characters teeter on the brink of quiet insanity, while Mara Wilson's one-woman-show "What Are You Afraid Of?" is almost therapeutic in its frankness about anxiety, irrational fears, and laughing at ourselves. Mary Houlihan, the venerable renaissance woman of Brooklyn, employs her visual arts background in her comedy, hosting her puppet, animation, and human being variety show Cartoon Monsoon at Brooklyn's newest alternative venue, The Annoyance Theatre (be sure to catch the last show November 21).
If you're looking for a crash course in New York's booming alternative comedy underground, though, there may be no better place to start than Jo Firestone's titular alternative comedy experience, the Firestone Festival, that combines these forces into one mega-alternative-comedy-festival happening Saturday, November 14 at Hand & Detail in Williamsburg (which was home to that Car Wash show during CMJ). No relation to the other comedy fest happening at the same time in NYC (of which she is also a part), the Firestone Festival goes from noon - 10 PM. More details below and tickets for Firestone Festival are on sale now.
Firestone is arguably the greatest success story to come out of this burgeoning alternative scene. She has her own radio show on WFMU, hosts multiple highly popular variety shows, and has opened for Arcade Fire's Will Butler (and will again). Just as The State expanded the realm of what comedy could be in the 1990s, Jo Firestone has consistently pushed the boundaries, with unequivocal success, of what it means to be a "comedian." She has somehow managed to turn "game show" into a sketch comedy format - anyone can participate, anyone can be the star of the show. Her efforts have not only lead to personal successes, but in their wake have left the New York comedy scene more diverse, more inclusive, and more optimistic than ever before. So it's no surprise she is the master of ceremonies for her titular alternative comedy festival, which includes stand up, live sketch, and storytelling, along with art displays and exactly one comedic dance troupe.
I spoke with Jo via email about the Firestone Festival and what to expect...
BV: How did you come up with the idea for the festival?
Jo Firestone: I've put on a lot of shows around New York for the past five years or so, and I've always wanted to do a day-long program. This festival is a combination of comedy shows I really like and performers I really like and seeing what can happen when they're all put together in one day!
November 4, 2015
by Andrew Sacher
Frodus, the now-defunct post-hardcore band of vocalist/guitarist Shelby Cinca, drummer Jason Hamacher and a rotating lineup of bassists, got back together in 2009 -- the same year they reissued 1998's hate-letter to corporate America, Conglomerate International -- for some shows including NYC's Death by Audio and they followed that with a 7" of new music a year later. They say they're done playing live (though more new music isn't out of the question), but they're now set to reissue Conglomerate International's followup, And We Washed Our Weapons in the Sea, on November 23 via Lovitt Records.
Weapons was their fifth and final album, and though it was set to be released in 1999 on MIA Records, that label went under and the band broke up before it could come out. Eventually Fueled By Ramen put it out in 2001, and despite Frodus no longer existing as a band, the album had a lasting impact that helped inspire the 2000s wave of post-hardcore that was just starting to near the mainstream at the time. Thrice covered one of its songs, "The Earth Isn't Humming," on their 2008 album, The Alchemy Index Vols. III & IV.
The record stuck to the boundary-pushing elements they had been injecting into hardcore since day one -- shifting time signatures, unpredictable switches from sung to shouted vocals and quiet-loud dynamics -- but it was also the clearest sounding thing they'd done, and some of their best work. Maybe actually their best. "[Even if we stayed together] I'm not really sure we could have made a better record," Nate told us. It's great to finally have re-pressed, after basically getting lost for good when Fueled By Ramen sold it along with much of their back catalog to a holding company, and the reissue comes with bonus features too. It includes original lyric sheets, journal entries, never seen before tour photographs, and a 7" of demos, including one of "There Will Be No More Scum," which premieres in this post.
I talked to Shelby and Weapons-era bassist Nate Burke over email to discuss the reissue, Fueled By Ramen, post-hardcore's mainstream period, Death by Audio, Refused (who initially broke up while on tour with Frodus), and more:
BV: So it's not a 10th or 15th anniversary of 'And We Washed Our Weapons in the Sea' or anything like that. What made you choose to reissue that album and why now?
Shelby Cinca: We've actually been talking about it for a few years but it kept on getting delayed for one reason or another. Then finally Lovitt Records was ready and I had the time to work on the layout and dig deep into the archives for liner-note photos.
A neat fact is during that deep archive dive, I found in my copy of the LP, a letter bassist Nathan Burke wrote post-breakup that he gave me in 2001. Attached to the letter originally was a cassette of a Frodus cover he did before he joined the band which I also rediscovered. All this ended up as the bonus 7" which really gives candid insight of thoughts around the band during this time as we were actually playing together in various incarnations and were attempting to maybe start things up again in 2000-2001 but it just didn't work out.
interview continues, with the album & demo stream, below...
October 30, 2015
Carrie Brownstein's creative versatility might otherwise be astonishing were it not for the fact that the actor, musician, and writer, is grounded to a familiar commonality in which her fans continue to find comfort and even catharsis. From Portlandia to Sleater-Kinney and everything in between, the trajectory of Brownstein's creative mind remains a vulnerable place of self-awareness and a rare kind of honesty concerning her perspective of her own celebrity. That characteristic is especially present in her newly released memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. A humbling, bare, hilarious, and altogether moving recounting of her life and the challenges both past and present she faces, the book is simply yet another perspective on Brownstein's powerful simplicity and candor.
Season 6 of Portlandia is due in 2016 (with Danzig) and Sleater-Kinney will be going on another tour this year, five December NYC shows included. Currently touring for her memoir, Brownstein just made two NYC appearances this week -- the Barnes & Noble in Union Square on Wednesday (10/28) with Gaby Hoffman and Saint Vitus on Tuesday (10/27) with Questlove. Guests on other upcoming dates include Amy Poehler, Dave Eggers, Jessica Hopper and more.
I recently caught up with Carrie and discussed the tour, the challenges of writing her memoir, and why music remains a sacred space for her:
BV: You've got a number of interesting and influential guests that you're collaborating with on your book tour. Was that something you wanted to do from the outset once you'd finished Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl?
Carrie Brownstein: Yeah. I had interviewed both Lena Dunham and Kim Gordon on their respective book tours, and I really liked the conversations I had with both authors. I felt like what I wanted was to bring together a group of people that would each have a different perspective or take on the book, so that each night I was essentially having a different kind of conversation, so that I would never sort of be on message. I'm not somebody that feels I'm on message or on point very much in terms like a politician. [Laughs.] But at the same time I thought, well, this will at least highlight different elements of the book, or potentially veer of into a tangent that might be interesting or exciting every night.
October 29, 2015
by Tatiana Tenreyro
photo by Jessica Flynn
This has been a big year for Modern Baseball . They just surprised-released a new EP, MOBO Presents: The Perfect Cast featuring Modern Baseball via Lame-O Records, they're working on their new album Holy Ghosts, and touring and playing some of their largest venues yet--including NYC's Webster Hall in December. It hasn't all been easy on them though. Co-frontman Brendan Lukens recently cancelled their UK tour -- which has now been rescheduled -- due to his struggles with depression and anxiety. MoBo fans responded with the utmost support and shared their own struggles. Whether the band intended it or not, they're offering a voice to the younger generation that MoBo songs resonate with.
I caught their tour kickoff show at Baltimore's Ottobar on Tuesday (10/27), and it's no surprise that the place was packed. This show was special, considering Maryland is frontmen Jake Ewald and Brendan Lukens' home state. Their parents were in attendance, proudly sporting Modern Baseball shirts. With the place full of fans who passionately sang along to their songs old and new, it's evident that these guys have a strong, loyal fan base that just keeps growing.
Before the show, I had the opportunity to chat with Brendan Lukens and bassist Ian Farmer about their new album, their evolving maturity, and the impact of their fan following:
BV: As a band you've always had this really youthful energy, but with the new EP and what you've said in other recent interviews it seems like you're maturing. When did this start?
Ian: We've definitely grown up. I mean, we're not. It's kind of weird because we're still in school but at the same time we're only in school half the year now. So just being out on our own, we just kind of like had to grow up because that's, you know... I don't know, it just happens.
Brendan: It's natural, actually. It's cool.
October 26, 2015
"Now's the time, kids! Go for it!" - Shirley Manson
Garbage @ The Space at Westbury 10/23/2015
In the two decades since their eponymous debut, Garbage have had no qualms with remaining one of the post-grunge era's most anomalous bands. Industrial, techno, electronica, trip hop, grunge - the descriptors for Garbage make for a long list that has and continues to challenge and enamor audiences to a degree that few bands from that same era have managed to maintain. The band's tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of Garbage just swung through NYC, hitting The Space at Westbury on Friday (10/23) and Brooklyn's Kings Theatre on Saturday (10/24). Photos from The Space show are in this post along with an interview with the band's vocalist, Shirley Manson.
Shirley views their successes with equal parts pride and careful scrutiny. For the Scottish singer, actor, and producer, context is as crucial to understanding as accolades, perhaps even more so as retrospect allows for a clearer view of experience. It's a point Manson was eager to discuss during our recent conversation over the phone, and one in which she unsurprisingly approached with disarming self-awareness and laughter.
BV: It's been twenty years since Garbage released its self-titled debut. There's a lot that's happened in the meantime, of course, both professionally and personally for you. Looking back to who you were in that context, do you see the album and the music under a different light now?
Shirley: Absolutely. I think I view the music differently now than I did back then. When we first released this record I had no objectivity at all. It was something that we had just finished making, and I had very little self-esteem at the time, but since then my relationship to music has changed, my view of it has changed with the course of time and the luxury of being able to look back and appreciate the music on its own terms without my coloration that it suffered under in 1995. [Laughs.]
more interview and photos below...
October 22, 2015
by Andrew Sacher
photo: Beach Slang at BV-RBSS at Baby's All Right in January (more by Ryan Muir)
In certain punk and indie rock circles, Beach Slang were without competition the most exciting new band of 2014. The members were already mainstays in the Pennsylvania punk scene, having done time in Weston, Ex Friends, NONA and other bands, and they came together to create music that felt instantly familiar yet fresh at the same time. They gave us two killer EPs and a year and a half of life-affirming live shows, and now they're finally about to release their debut full length, The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us, on their new label home Polyvinyl.
It's their first release with live guitarist Ruben Gallego contributing to songwriting and recording, and they make a few subtle progressions from the EPs. It's still rooted in the Paul Westerberg school of song craft, but singer James Alex would be quick to point out its shoegaze and Britpop influences too, which you can hear in the ringing lead guitars, the harmonies, and the falsetto "oohs" and "ahhs." Those are influences they just paid tribute to on a new mixtape for Cassette Store Day that has them covering Ride, Dramarama, Senseless Things, The Plimsouls and Best Kissers In The World (streaming below). James brings the romance and the charming pop of those bands to The Things We Do, but the monstrous rhythm section of Ed McNulty and JP Flexner keep things hitting hard. It's a contrast not unlike the time a certain band made The Vaselines sound like this.
You can pick out which bands they sound similar to all day if you wanted to, and Beach Slang probably wouldn't mind if you did -- that mixtape aside, they seem to cover every comparison they get. But as their fellow Westerberg disciples and new Polyvinyl labelmates Japandroids reminded us on 2012's Celebration Rock, with enough spirit, sincerity and cathartic release you can make a rock record for the ages. And Beach Slang have an overload of those things.
photo: Beach Slang at BV-CMJ 2014 at Baby's All Right (more by Mimi Hong)
"I try a lot to write. I try to use my brain. But every time I try, my heart gets in the way," James roars on early standout "Ride The Wild Haze." And that's just about the most honest look into his songwriting that you could ask for. So much of this record is finding ways to say this is the thing we're doing right now exactly as they're doing it. Later in that same song, James decides, "Let's make the loudest sounds until we feel something," which is exactly what everyone on and off stage is doing at a Beach Slang show. When the kids sing that back to him (and they will), they're gonna feel it in that moment as wholeheartedly as he does. Later, on "I Break Guitars" he'll ask, "If rock and roll is dangerous, how come I feel so safe in it?" And for 30 sweaty minutes, Beach Slang crowds will feel that too. To revisit that Japandroids comparison, Beach Slang could've accurately called this record Celebration Rock too. It celebrates all the things we love about rock and roll and all the ways it brings us together, while also being those things. But they called it The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us, which might actually be the most accurate title it could have.
It's not just a record about feeling alive (a word that appears in seven of the ten songs), it's also about overcoming a sadness to experience that euphoria. It's why Beach Slang write these songs, and let's face it, it's why we listen to them. "I've always felt stuck, alone or ashamed," he admits on "Bad Art + Weirdo Ideas." "I feel most alive when I'm listening to every record that hits harder than the pain," he tells us on "Haze." And on "Hard Luck Kid" he shrugs, "Almost everything is a waste of time." If you connect to punk rock, you've probably felt these things too. You were a misfit kid, an outsider. You were awkward and weird. Someone or something hurt you, and you needed to be saved in some way. James takes the thing that hurt him, and as he tells us repeatedly with the last line on the record, "I blur all this hurt into sound." Maybe his sound can help you too. Maybe connecting to this record and to the other people who connect to it is the thing you'll do to find people who feel like you.
The album is officially out on 10/30 but you can stream it in full below (via NPR). (Update: Bandcamp stream now below too.) And if you pre-order it, you get a download of the full album immediately. I also caught up with Beach Slang when they played Riot Fest Denver in late August, and that interview is below too.
October 20, 2015
Since 1993, Rhett Miller has stayed busy both as a solo artist and as the lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist for alt-country act Old 97's (who are on tour now, two shows at Brooklyn Bowl this week included). Though the Dallas, Texas-based band has never had a "hit" in the conventional sense of the term, their acclaim with critics and fans alike has been well earned and an inarguable counterpoint to the idea of what success in the music industry looks like. With last year's Most Messed Up, the group saw their highest charting record to date, a fact that Miller shrugged off when I mentioned it in our recent conversation. In contrast to the oftentimes-austere nature of his music, and especially that of his solo work, Miller's positivity and grateful perspective are born from a place of self-doubt and failure. As components of his music, those experiences bleed through not as cautionary tales but as the mirrored non-fiction of the musician's success not only as an artist but, as he candidly revealed, a human being as well.
BV: You've been creating music for over two decades now with your solo career and with the Old 97's. Obviously a lot's changed with the dynamic of how people access music and how a band's fanbase grows. What's that paradigm shift meant for you as an artist just in watching that transition over the last twenty years?
Rhett: It's so funny all the different ways the fanbase has changed over the years. When we started it was the advent of the personal computer age, and I remember we got a lot of help from those very early email lists. It kind of helped us a lot, which is funny now because it seems so antiquated, but at the time it was really cutting edge and some of our earliest hardcore fans were a part of that, and it really went a long way to building our early fanbase. Then you watch the way that the consumption of music has changed, and I think that has really helped us even though we've never had a hit. In the old days you'd have to have your record in people's houses for them to be able to find the music and go back, and now it's just in everyone's pocket. They can find any song I've ever written and any record we've ever made. In a way, the fact that these songs are decades old, it kind of doesn't even seem like that because they're on the list just like all the other songs that exist in the world, and people can just go find them. Add to that the fact that we've never had a hit, and it's kind of cool because people can go back and discover our entire catalogue, and in a way we're really not time-stamped. I had a lot of friends who had hits in the 90s, and now their band has to go play on one of those nostalgia tours. It's a thirty-minute slot, and they have to finish with the one to three radio songs they had twenty years ago, and we've never had that, and it's kind of cool. It would've been nice to make a ton of money at some point, but our whole idea was that we wanted to have a whole career at the expense of having hits. For better or worse, that's been the thing that works for us, and we get to go out now and still play pretty big shows in front of pretty big crowds. We put out new records, and they're taken pretty seriously. We're not just a band that's dependent on an album that came out two decades ago or more.
October 13, 2015
Nicole Yun photo by Thomas James Keywood
Eternal Summers released their fifth album, Gold & Stone, via Kanine Records, fittingly, this past summer. This is their first self-produced album and one of their best. Gold & Stone is a vibrant, dreamlike record, yet it doesn't shy away from also combining punk elements that the band has previously used in other albums. Eternal Summers also experienced another first by going on their first-ever Europe/UK tour. Despite being back home for only a week, they're going to CMJ, where they will play five shows.
I spoke with frontwoman Nicole Yun about their last LP, their European and UK tour, their stunning music videos, and CMJ.
BV: You recently came back from touring Europe and the UK, your first ever European tour. How does touring in Europe/UK differ from the US?
Nicole of Eternal Summers: Yeah, it's really interesting, going over there. I think the main thing that we noticed is that every country had a different vibe. People are really serious about concerts over there. Watching shows, I barely saw anyone with phones out ever, not even to text or take photos. People were there just to really pay attention to the music. Sometimes that was hard for us, depending on where we were. In England, we had to get used to the fact that people paid so much attention that they don't move, they just watch, but then afterwards people would be like, 'Hey. I really enjoyed that'. We noticed after three shows in England, that people are just not going to move as much, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's not a good show.
But then, we noticed in Paris and Germany, people did move around a lot, but they were just so there for the show and not distracted at all. It was just really interesting because in the US, I love that generally people know how to move their neck or head, like bob around a little bit. And they can be really small, but you can tell "Okay, they're having fun." But I think, just that respect level of "I'm not even going to bring my phone out at all" is just not an American thing. I don't know if it's a bad thing or a good thing, but it's just one of those first things that was really super obvious to us.
It sounds like a good thing.
I think it was, and I really feel like over there, they don't really take it for granted when people come from overseas to play shows. I think people are like "I'm here for a concert and these people came from overseas to play, it gets my undivided attention." I thought it was really, really cool.