Iron & Wine finally get interesting on Kiss Each Other Clean

Iron & Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean

Iron & Wine have always been something of a lost cause.  They’ve constantly been just on the cusp of greatness, with some truly beautiful songs, but over full albums they usually fall flat.  Iron & Wine is actually one man by the name of Samuel Beam.  On past albums, this has been rather obvious; the sound of the band has been one of sparse folk music, with lovely plucked guitars and Beam’s voice singing softly to the listener in a restrained whisper.  Iron & Wine’s sound was expanded somewhat with their last release way back in 2007 called Shepard’s Dog, which saw Beam experiment with extended instrumentation and thus containing much greater musical variety.  Four years later, Iron & Wine is back with Kiss Each Other Clean, and a massive growth spurt for the heavily-bearded singer-songwriter.

Kiss Each Other Clean eschews the mostly-solo subdued folk prettiness that Beam specializes in for a collaborative band-based approach that keeps the album fresh throughout.  Iron & Wine’s weakest aspect has always been Beam’s repetitiveness; past albums have been great for a song or two, but quickly grow monotonous, making them tough to sit through to their conclusion.  Not so on this album; here, every song is rife with Beach Boys-esque back-up vocals, layered percussion, dirty saxophones, and even a few synths here and there.  Even Beam’s typically relaxed vocal style has changed; he keeps his voice well above his soft whisper for much of the album.  It’s a real show of maturity and confidence on his part.

The only real problem with Kiss Each Other Clean is that it sometimes sounds like a mish-mash of Beam’s influences.  “Big Burned Hand” sounds like it was pulled directly from Supertramp’s catalogue, “Rabbit Will Run” has a distinctly Peter Gabriel influenced dark pop feel, and the whole album in general feels like it was largely culled from 60s and 70s pop-rock.  But at the end of the day, it works.  The unique instrumentation and bigger sound are merely bells and whistles around Beam’s strong songwriting style.  These tunes are still easily identifiable as his own – he’s just expanded into a bigger playing field, and Beam is all the better for it.  He even puts together a nice little mini-epic in the 7-minute “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me”.

Overall, I can see how this album could be a little bit controversial for Iron & Wine fans, as it’s a far cry from the gentle guitar strumming of old.  But for those of us who have never been able to sit through an Iron & Wine album, and wished that Beam would finally live up to his full potential, Kiss Each Other Clean is the moment where everything changes.  It’s fun, varied, and interesting, and it’s easily Sam beam’s best album yet.  Here’s hoping he only gets better from here.

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interviews

A few words with Ed Norwick, GM of Scores Gentlemen’s Club

Last weekend, I had the chance to speak with Ed Norwick, general manager of the legendary Scores gentlemen’s club (‘strip’ is a dirty word, as Mr. Norwick quickly pointed out to me), based in New York City. What follows is easily the most unique and interesting interview I’ve done in my (so far) short stint as a journalist. Enjoy!

MVRemix: What’s the history of Scores? Why do we care about it?

Ed Norwick: [deep laughter] Are you a man, Daniel?

MVRemix: Indeed I am.

Ed Norwick: Okay, then you have to care about Scores. Scores is the top of the mountain in terms of gentleman’s clubs in this country. Most gentleman’s clubs – and this is not a criticism, it’s just the reality – are still caught in the 70s and 80s. They don’t realize that men are different; sophisticated men are different, and men in general are different. They’re much more style-conscious, so from a decor standpoint, Scores is different. From a logistical standpoint: the layout of the club, the ceiling height, the acoustics. For a gentleman’s club it’s extremely intimate, but also extremely dynamic, just in design. We have the hottest girls from all over the country in the club; we have Robert’s Restaurant, which is comparable or better than any restaurant in New York. There must be over 15,000 restaurants in Manhattan – Robert’s is comparable or better than any of them. We only have the best alcohol products available: Belvedere, Absolut, Grey Goose vodkas, Johnny Walker Blacks scotch. When you put all of that together; the best steak in New York with a gorgeous woman dancing topless for you, drinking the best alcohol you can get, watching your favourite team on a plasma screen TV. This is the ultimate man-cave, kid.

MVRemix: I take it business has been good recently then?

Ed Norwick: Business is always good.

MVRemix: I hear there was a bit of turbulence a couple years ago when they switched ownership?

Ed Norwick: Well, here’s what happened. Scores has a great name – from marketing, from publicity, from people who supported the club. They fell on some hard times; bad for them but really good for us. We came in and took over the company. We bought the corporate identity, bought the name, took the building on 28th street – there’s only one Scores in New York, on 28th, between 10th and 11th avenue – and in May it will be the two-year anniversary of the resurrected Scores.

MVRemix: Scores has been a bit of an institution since the 90s; have you found it difficult to stay relevant at all?

Ed Norwick: The intriguing part is, you have to be like a shark. A shark either swims or dies. As we were talking about before, most clubs tend not to be relevant. They tend to be caught up with – and I never use this term but I’m gonna use it now in quotation marks – the term “back in the day”. And that doesn’t mean you forget history; men in general, we’re genetically inferior. We’re really all 13 or 14 boys at heart. We walk around and giggle when we see boobies! You don’t forget that; the smartest of us realize it and do everything to overcome it, but even we fall into that trap now and again. It’s not hard to stay relevant as long as you realize that you learn from history, but everything starts now. Everything is now, and you can modify it continuously to stay with today’s tastes and changes. Now is very different from the 90s, which was very different from the 70s, which was very different from the 50s.

MVRemix: You mentioned you’ve got some good marketing; who are some of the people —

Ed Norwick: Well it wasn’t that; we were talking about how Scores had developed a name as the “mecca of”. We have a wonderful marketing team, everything here is extremely professional. I do interviews with many of the major publications and major radio stations. We do promotions, all kinds of things. In terms of celebrities talking, we try to be very discreet – that’s also up with the times. Name-dropping is not something that we do. I don’t think it benefits a club to do that – we want people to feel really really comfortable here. It’s got to be an oasis, a home away from home, so we tend not to namedrop. But in less than two years, we’ve resurrected the brand. I’m very proud of what we’ve done. And we’re just scratching the surface; we’re just getting started.

MVRemix: With all this talk about change, what does your clientele look like these days?

Ed Norwick: It’s an amalgam. In terms of demographics, that really doesn’t change. We are a very upscale gentlemen’s club. It’s not an inexpensive place to entertain. That doesn’t mean we’re prohibitive or exclusive – we’re very non-exclusionary, that’s important. You have to be at least 21 to get in the club, of course; the entertainers have to be a minimum age of 21 to work in the club. The demographic really goes from mid-to-late 20s to 60s. Income-wise, it’s the difference between driving a Yugo and a Bentley – they’ll both take you, if you’re lucky, to the same place, but it’s a lot more fun driving the Bentley. We’re the Bentley.

MVRemix: Do you see a lot of females in the club?

Ed Norwick: It’s a trend. We’ve made it into a very gender-friendly facility, because women have also become more sophisticated. We get couples and single women. We do a lot of bachelorette parties, we do striptease classes for groups of girls. We do it on Mondays and Fridays; they get to go into one of our private rooms with one of the entertainers, and learn how to dance provocatively for their significant others, which is really kind of cool. They giggle, they laugh, they have a great time! I mean, this is how you stay ahead. At one time in this industry, women couldn’t even get into clubs, but at one time women couldn’t vote; doesn’t mean it was right, and you modify it based on sociological changes.

MVRemix: I want to talk about you a little bit; how did you get into the business?

Ed Norwick: I sort of flowed into it. I’d been in the hospitality industry at a lot of different levels. I knew some people in the business and I just gravitated to it! It sounded kind of fun, it sounded like a challenge, it sounded like something new; it turned out to be that there isn’t a man in this country who doesn’t want my job. So I don’t think I’ve made a mistake! There are times in life when you try to figure out how this happened, and look for one specific occurrence and you can’t find it. So I think it was just God pointing me in the right direction.

MVRemix: What’s a typical day like for you?

Ed Norwick: [deep laughter] I’m already at the club. I left the club – god, it was about twenty to 5 in the morning, and I got to the club today at a quarter to 3. So I got home at about 5 o’clock, had a quick bite to eat, was on the phones dealing with a few things. I got to sleep at about 8, got up at 10:30, made a pot of coffee and….dealt with things! I came in because I knew I had to talk to you, and I had a few things to go over. The interesting part is, everybody thinks the job is only when the club is open; during the week it’s open from 5 to 4 in the morning. Well, it’s not! You have to love what you do – in anything in life you have to really be passionate about and love what you do, but in this business you really have to do it, because I work when everybody works and I work when everybody’s off. But it’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s intriguing; you get to be a bit of a psychiatrist, you get to be a businessman, you get to use your education, you get to be a father and a husband and all the other wacky things, tied into one thing. I’ll give you a weird analogy: my Blackberry had crashed – they do that every now and then – about a year ago. I went into a place to get a new Blackberry, and they gave me a new one, it wasn’t a problem. And the woman behind the counter asked if she could download my contacts; I said “cool, get it done” because like all of us I’m lost without my Blackberry. She started to download it and she looked at me and said “Mr. Norwick, you have 1800 named contacts on your Blackberry!” It’s weird; you get jaded after a while, you don’t even think about it. And my response was “of course I do!” I thought about it and to me it’s normal day-to-day existence, but these are people I talk to on a regular basis. My customers aren’t really my customers; they become your friends. These are people you interact with on a very, very regular basis, and it’s people from all over the country and all over the world. Even on that level, it’s really fun because it’s people in all segments of society; from the music business, from theater, acting, from business and law. Every aspect of society becomes your friend on a very high level, which is cool. Demographically, I have really close friends who are in their 20s and really good friends who are in their 70s. A lot more of them are in their 20s and 30s – and trust me I’m not in my 20s or 30s! When you sit down and think about it, it really is cool – I’m lucky.

MVRemix: So you go in everyday? Hands-on about it?

Ed Norwick: My partner and I are very hands-on about it. I try to take some time off – everybody should during the week – but you still have your Blackberry with you, you’re always accessible. The only time I don’t answer my phone – which, when you think about it, is a very sad commentary on my life – is when I’m on my Harley, because I tried it once and it blew out of my hand. So the only time I don’t answer the phone is when I’m on the motorcycle. You do this because you love it; you do this because you find it necessary, and my partner and I are very hands on.

MVRemix: Do you have a family?

Ed Norwick: I’m divorced; I have a 22-year old daughter who graduated from college this past May.

MVRemix: Gotcha. When did you tell your daughter that you ran a gentlemen’s club?

Ed Norwick: My daughter has known all along what I do. There’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of; we’ve talked about it and the question, like anything else, is: how would I feel if she wanted to come into the business? And my response was, done in the right way and for the right reasons that would be fine with me. I asked her if she would want to, and she said that no, she’d wants to own the place; it’s always better to be the owner! That was when she was about 14 years old. She’s over 21 now, she’s back in New York – she went to school in Miami – working and living in Manhattan, and she comes in with her friends, so there’s no surprise. It’s cool to be the cool dad! I’m the guy who has this business, I’m the guy with the contacts for night clubs, celebrities, whatever. So to her friends, I’m the cool dad that rides the Harley. She’s never had a real problem with it at all. The context is that it’s a gentlemen’s club – when the average person thinks about gentlemen’s clubs, and they think about the “S word” [‘strip’], they think about the silliness that they see on TV. The ridiculous stuff that they see on Springer or the clubs from The Sopranos, and that’s not the gig.

MVRemix: What’s the etiquette like at Scores, between the dancers and the customers? Is it different than anywhere else in New York?

Ed Norwick: Part of is that at it’s core, it’s like what I said before about the Yugo and the Bentley – you open the door, you start the ignition and you drive. So at it’s core the etiquette is the same. But because of what we have available, the opportunities are different; the feel is different. Here, there’s nobody pushing anybody to do something. My clients don’t feel like somebody’s got their hands in their pockets: I’ve got guys who come in, have a drink, watch a ball game and go home; I have guys who come in and go to the other extreme; and I have people in between. There’s never any pressure to go in one direction or the other. At the core, you really try to develop something that is a gentlemen’s club, where people feel comfortable. In terms of the entertainers – a dance is a dance. It’s one song, and depending on what city and state you’re in, the etiquette changes in terms of what kind of contact, what kind of interaction. That varies from state to state; being in the state of New York, we’re very conscious of following what they dictate the etiquette is in terms of contact, which is very minimal. When we hire girls, a good portion of it, because we’re in the entertainment business, is about the facade. You want 10s and 12s – it sounds kind of shallow to categorize, but that’s my business – but you also want girls who can talk to people, who are up to date. Think about it – no matter how successful you are in your daily life, you have problems with your clients or customers at work and at home you’re dealing with the everyday problems and situations of life. And it’s nice to be able to come in and have a bright, beautiful woman laugh at your jokes, listen to you, and converse with you, without pressure. I mean, that’s the ultimate fantasy – hot girls thinking you’re intelligent, thinking you’re clever, thinking you earn. You’re not saying “did we make the mortgage payment this month?” or “We gotta pay for braces” or “the next shipment didn’t go out” – whatever it is. It’s a place where you can feel comfortable, safe and secure, and then go home and relax.

MVRemix: Do you think Scores is a dying breed of gentlemen’s club, or do you think we’re going to see a re-emergence of what you guys are doing?

Ed Norwick: I can’t speak for anybody else. There are some wonderful clubs all over the country and I’m not trying to take away from anybody else. We have Scores in Chicago, Baltimore, New Orleans and Tampa, and we’re looking to open more Scores throughout the country. Just relating to us, there’s a continuation of the Scores mentality. We’re always looking for clubs across the country and we will be expanding. We have licensees that meet a certain criteria. We’re also looking to open more “company stores”. So just for us, there will be a resurgence.

MVRemix: You’ve already gone into it a little bit, but is there anything else you’re going to be doing in the future that you want to tell us about?

Ed Norwick: Again, we’re looking to open more clubs. We have a media company that’s looking into some reality TV shows; some other media situations, more website stuff and internet stuff that we’ll be coming out with. The market is wide open to expand the brand. The name is a phenomenal name, and we’re looking to optimize it. So there will be things on television relatively soon – we have a media company that’s working on that in terms of television, in terms of radio, the internet. From a lot of different vantage points, we’re looking to expand the branch.

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reviews

TV on the Radio’s Nine Types of Light album review

I always get nervous when one of my favourite bands releases a new album.  A bad release can retroactively ruin my perception of the band overall, and in this day and age, when it takes at least two years on average for an artist to release new material, there are few greater disappointments than a less-than-stellar album after years of hype – especially an album as strong as TV on the Radio’s last album, Dear Science. Its combination of musical styles, ranging from rock to hip-hop to R&B, mixed into a cohesive, emotional tour-de-force that was easily one of the best albums of the last decade, and cemented their status as one of today’s most interesting bands.

Which brings us to their newly released fourth album Nine Types of Light.  Does it live up to the lofty expectations of Dear Science?  Quite frankly, no.  But it’s still a very enjoyable album, and after a year-long hiatus, it’s really just nice to have the band back in action.

Nine Types of Light is easily the most subdued of the band’s releases; opener “Second Song” sets the tone perfectly, as most of the songs have the same danceable mid-tempo R&B feel throughout.  This leads to the album becoming a bit predictable – something that TV on the Radio have never really been before.  The lyrical content has been simplified as well; while past albums have contained a heaping dose of social and political critique mixed with earnest love songs, Nine Types of Light has a much more intense focus on the latter.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the lyrics are just as deftly-written as they’ve always been, but it is a pretty distinct change.

Luckily, the songwriting here is just as strong as it’s always been.  This is an extremely melodic album, with songs that will get into your head instantly, threatening never to come out.  Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone still have a fantastic point/counterpoint vocal dynamic, and where the band have often sounded restless, this album is perfectly happy to just sit down, relax, and let its smooth sounds wash over you.  Texturally, it’s without rival.  Most importantly, while it lacks a bit of the band’s past energy, everything still sounds like TV on the Radio, an aspect that is unequivocally its greatest strength.  In fact, that’s what makes this band so important; in a time when so many bands are caught in identity crises, it’s reassuring to see a group of musicians that can manage to sound like themselves even when they’re ripping off other bands wholesale (“Caffeinated Consciousness” sounds shockingly like The Pixies’ “U-Mass”).   At the end of the day, Nine Types of Light could end up being a weak point in the band’s career, but for now, it’s another strong addition to their catalogue.  They may only show us one type of light, but at least it’s a damn good one.  Welcome back, boys.

Travis Barker Makes it Difficult to Give the Drummer Some

Travis Barker Give The Drummer Some

The best thing that can be said about blink-182 drummer Travis Barker’s first solo album, Give the Drummer Some, is that it at least has a purpose.  Too often, solo projects by members of popular bands come off as watered-down versions of the group they originated from – a problem that has plagued +44 as well as Angels and Airwaves, off-shoots of blink-182.  Luckily, Barker’s debut avoids this by being in a completely different style than we’re used to – it’s a hip-hop album, complete with guest stars on every track.  It has more in common with the remixes of mainstream hip-hop songs that he’s been doing over the past few years.  It’s an interesting direction for him to take, and one that works a lot better stylistically than yet another round of pop-punk power chords.  One gets the idea that Barker is doing exactly what he wants to do, and that’s always a great thing to hear.

Unfortunately, while its intentions are good, the album itself leaves much to be desired.  The production is really strong, if a bit lacking in personality; Barker’s beats would fit right in with any number of mainstream rappers, and his drums, which form the backbone of the songs without being overbearing, are up to his usual high standards.  The best songs on here are the ones that play to their guest’s strengths – “Let’s Go”, a rabble-rousing party anthem featuring both Busta Rhymes and Lil’ Jon, is just as hilarious as you would think, and closer “The Beat Goes On”, featuring all of Cypress Hill, ends the album on an energetic note.

But most of the songs themselves are weak; the rhymes are disappointing, and the album seems needlessly aggressive.  There are a lot of good guest stars on here that run the gamut from well-known MCs (Snoop Dogg, Raekwon, Kid Cudi, and many others) to guitar players (Tom Morello, Slash).  However, even the best guest stars feel like their talents are wasted – there’s not an interesting or clever verse on the entire album, and while it’s only about 45 minutes long it feels way longer; after just the second song, I already felt exhausted.  Mostly, the album is inoffensive but boring; though if you get the Deluxe Version of it, with four extra tracks, you’ll hear a collaboration with Corey Taylor of Slipknot, which completely destroys the flow of the album with some of the most by-the-numbers metal I’ve ever heard.  It’s a really bad song.

Overall, Give the Drummer Some is a bit of a disappointment.  The production stands with the best mainstream hip-hop today, and the drumming is tight, but it squanders the talents of its many guest stars and apart from the big names attached to it, has few unique qualities to set it apart from other projects in the same ilk. While it’s always fun to see a musician go all-out with their own musical vision, the songwriting is woefully inconsistent, leading to an album that is tough to recommend to all but the most devoted Travis Barker fans.

Categories
reviews

Chronicles of a Budding Rock Star

Hello, dear readers!  My name is Daniel Korn; you probably don’t really know who I am, but trust me, you will one day.  You may have noticed a few of my articles popping up on the site over the past few months, but I’m not just a loudmouth critic; I’m a loudmouth musician too!  I’ve played drums for around 10 years, and I also play guitar, bass and piano extremely poorly.  If everything pans out, within the next five years I’ll be a super-famous combination of Chuck Klosterman and Keith Moon, and then MVRemix will make a ton of money by being the first publication to feature the writings of the youngest person to have 18 triple-platinum selling albums and three Pulitzer Prizes.  Ha ha ha.

Anyways, I played a show on Friday, and in a shameless bit of self-promotion, I’ve been asked to write a diary review of sorts about how the night went.  The band I’m in is called New Stems.  I always feel like an asshole when I describe how we sound because it usually comes out as a string of tangentially related adjectives, so I’ll just say that we’re a noisy 4-piece rock band and if you want to hear us, you can check us out at here and here.  We’re made up of me on drums, Jordan Nusbaum on rhythm guitar and vocals, Tal Davidson on lead guitar, and Ben Wood on bass.  Most of us, other than Ben, live in Thornhill, a suburb just north of Toronto, and we’re all doing our undergrads right now.  We’ve reached a good point in our playing; we’ve gotten pretty tight, and we have enough originals that we can’t play all of them in a single set.  We’re going to be recording an album this summer.  A couple weeks ago we discovered that we’d obtained our first fan that wasn’t already a friend of ours; it was a monumental moment for everyone involved.

Over the past few months we’ve been gigging quite a lot, minus a month or two where we all had too much schoolwork to practice.  The show on Friday was put on by a promotion company called Jamtastic (more info here) which is run by two friends of ours, Daniel Mager and Ben Wood.  They’ve been building up a bit of steam around downtown Toronto these days and we’ve been on their “roster” basically since they started up, which means we do a fair amount of shows with them.  The gigs we get with them are typically at a place called The Tiger Bar, which is actually the basement of another, nicer bar called Crown and Tiger at Bathurst and College.  It’s a small, cold, dingy little basement, with sickly green walls, dim lighting, and dirty chairs.  The “stage” is probably about a foot higher than the regular floor. PA speakers are set down on wobbly tables for support.  The drum set always needs to be pushed into the corner, lest it takes up a full half of the stage itself.  It’s the kind of place that seems really full when you have something like 25 people in it.  In short, it’s the kind of place that can only be affectionately called a Shithole, but we’ve grown somewhat attached to it; it’s OUR Shithole.

A lot of the time, the pre-show can be pretty stressful; soundchecks, getting there late, having to unload our gear, setting up our equipment, etc.  But last night’s show was put on by a new promoter with Jamtastic, a fellow drummer and good friend of ours named Jamie Rosenberg, and it wasn’t starting until 9:30, so we had lots of time and everything was pretty chilled out.  Daniel Mager kicked off the show at 9:30.  He played alone with just an electric guitar, playing songs from his old and current bands, as well as a few covers.  It was a fun set, even though the only people who were watching him were the other bands of the night.

At 10, it was our turn to go on-stage, and we were really, for all intents and purposes, the opening band.  This is a problem; no matter how late the opening band starts, it seems that no one wants to come see them.  Our audience was exactly the same as Mager’s, with the addition of maybe two more people.  Huzzah!

I was a little bit worried at the time; minus the lack of attendance, the show was going rather smoothly, which would have made for a pretty dull piece of writing.  Luckily, ten minutes into the show, disaster struck.  For the past few weeks, we’ve been working on segueing our songs into each other so that we don’t upset the flow of music as much with stage noodling and embarrassing chatter.  Well, this didn’t work out, because halfway through our second song, the vocals and bass completely cut out.  The problem was further compounded because Ben, our bass player, was also the sound guy for the show, and there was no one manning the soundboard.  As they say, the show must go on, so Jordan, Tal and I continued to play the song as Ben jumped off stage, searching for the problem.  We got through the song and stalled as he tried to discover the problem, fumbling through some The Band tunes that we hadn’t played in a while, but smiling all the way through.  We’re good like that.  Eventually, the culprit was found – a power bar had come unplugged, possibly by my own doing as it was right near my hi-hat foot.  Whoopsie.

After this happened, we played through our set with no problems really.  In fact, we played really well; we were tight, the segues were working out smoothly, and our Flaming Lips cover was nice and raucous as it should have been (“Kim’s Watermelon Gun”, off of Clouds Taste Metallic, if anyone’s wondering).  Unfortunately, we didn’t get a recording of the set because someone forgot to press the record button before we started playing.  So it goes.

Next up was a cover band from Hamilton called Get Up and the Giddy Ups.  These guys were a typical Hot Shit band; two good-looking brothers on guitar and vocals, two slightly less overtly dreamy but still attractive brothers on bass and drums.  Apparently, the guys’ other (presumably more “real”) band is sponsored by Yamaha, which explains why the guitarists’ hugely imposing stack of amps, and the drummer brought his own, considerably larger, beautifully-finished kit.  Most of their cover picks were solid; well-known songs, but nothing particularly overplayed or by-the-numbers, aside from the obligatory Say It Ain’t So cover.  I find it odd that no one seems to cover any of Weezer’s other hits; I’ve heard at least 5 bands play Say It Ain’t So over just the past few months, but I’ve never seen so much as a single cover of Buddy Holly.  Five bucks to the first band I see that plays Surf Wax America; it’s not even obscure!  But I digress; the band was really talented, very energetic, and played a ripping cover of Back in the USSR, which makes them alright in my books.  Even if their spiffy equipment was simply too damn loud for the tiny venue.

Finally, the headliners, After Funk, went on.  This is the promoter, Jamie’s band, originating in London, Ontario.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay for most of the set, but we saw the first two songs they played and it was absolutely killer.  Really professional sound, well-written tunes, incredibly skilled musicians, fun to dance to, and most importantly, fun to listen to.  I honestly can’t comment too much on them, because we had to leave early, but I implore you to check them out, which you can do here.

And that’s the night!  I hope you enjoyed my rambling, and if you’re so inclined, you can check out my band at www.myspace.com/stemsnoseeds and www.facebook.com/newstems; we’re really good, I swear!  Also, you can catch us this Monday, April 4th, at Lola’s in Kensington Market!

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interviews reviews tour dates

Love Inks Interview – A Little Time With Sherry LaBlanc

An interview with Love Inks’ Sherry LaBlanc

Love Inks have been making waves over the past few weeks with their fresh, infectious pop-rock sound. I recently had the pleasure of  chatting with vocalist Sherry LaBlanc – who was extremely pleasant and noticeably excited about their upcoming debut full-length – about the band’s formation, their newly-released single “Blackeye”, and their plans for the future.

MVRemix: To start, how about you give us a little introduction to who you are?

Sherry LaBlanc: Sure!  I’m Sherry and I’m part of a band called Love Inks.  We’re a three-piece minimalist pop band from Austin, Texas.  The three of us are best friends; we started playing music together about a year and a half ago, but we’ve all known each other since we were teenagers or early college and have played music in different bands together in that time.

MVRemix: So you’ve been in other bands with them before?

Sherry LaBlanc: Yeah!  Adam and Kevin are the other two guys in the band.  Kevin is the primary songwriter and bassist, and Adam is the guitarist.  The two of them have never played in a band without the other one.  They’ve been in a bunch of bands and I’ve been in and out of a few bands with them before.

MVRemix: Do you just sing in the band or do you play an instrument too?

Sherry LaBlanc: I play a little bit of synthesizer with the band, but I’m CAPABLE of playing guitar, bass, synth….Anything!  But for some reason I’m just dabbling a bit on the synthesizer.

MVRemix: You guys don’t have an album out yet right?

Sherry LaBlanc: Right, it comes out on May 10th!

MVRemix: I’m a little bit curious actually, because you guys have seen some pretty decent fame over the past little bit!  You’ve released two singles now, “Blackeye” and “Skeleton Key”.

Sherry LaBlanc: Yeah, “Skeleton Key”, oddly enough, was only posted on Stereogum.  We just put that one right up on Stereogum, they offered it as a download.  “Blackeye” is our official single.  That was just released on Monday on 7”.  It’s this really beautiful, white vinyl, 7” single.

MVRemix: Is there any new material on that?  A b-side or anything?

Sherry LaBlanc: Yeah, the B-side is a song called…I think it’s “Don’t Go” [laughs].  I actually have to grab the 7” to see which one we put on, I’m gonna go look at it [laughs].  But yeah, the 7” is so freaking gorgeous!  It was put out by a label called Hell Yes! who are in Venice, and they just do the most beautiful work.  They hand screen-print all their covers and it’s always on coloured vinyl…just really good stuff.

MVRemix: That’s awesome!  Coloured vinyl is amazing.

Sherry LaBlanc: Our actual album is going to be on hot pink vinyl!  I’m really stoked about that.  I can’t find my 7”!  But I think the B-side is “Don’t Go”.  That makes me sound like such a flake [laughs].

MVRemix: So clearly, you’ve got a bunch of songs in the bank, right?

Sherry LaBlanc: Yeah!  Our album is gonna have 10 songs on it, but we already have a library of music we’ve been working on.  That’s what we do every day: write music and try to filter it down to the best songs.  We have a ton of stuff and we’re really excited to get these 10 songs out.

MVRemix: You guys just got back from South by Southwest right?

Sherry LaBlanc: We got to play three shows at SXSW, and we got to into the actual festival.  It was funny because the festival shows are usually the least-attended ones, so we had two non-festival shows that were really well attended and really fun.  But it was cool to be in the festival either way!

MVRemix: You’ve been getting a bit of steam, fame-wise; you’ve been making the rounds on blogs over the past few months, playing this big festival, and such.  How have you guys had so much fame before you even put an album out?

Sherry LaBlanc: [laughs]  I think (not to sound too much like a snob) that the album’s just really good!  It’s a really good record!  I hope that’s why at least.

MVRemix: Oh, so the record’s done already?

Sherry LaBlanc: Yeah, the record’s done.  Here’s how everything sort of fell together: it was about a year ago that we finished recording the album, and we started sending a few songs out to a few labels that we really loved.  Hell Yes! got back to us right away and said they’d like to put out a 7” for us, which is really all we were looking for.  But they’re just really incredible people.  Marco Rapisarda, who owns the label, decided he wanted to put out a full-length and…that’s it [laughs]!  We’ve been sending our stuff out to blogs and from there other blogs have picked it up.  I’m not really sure how it all happened, but it’s really exciting!  I think it all started with getting Hell Yes! interested in us though.

MVRemix: Did you record the album yourselves?  Did you have a producer or was it just you three?

Sherry LaBlanc: It was just us three.  I guess if anything, Kevin was the “producer” on the album.  We live in this really old house that was built in 1917 and it has great acoustics.  We have an old analog reel-to-reel tape machine and we just recorded it ourselves!  It was mixed my Marco in Italy.  We had done the mix ourselves, but once he picked us up he wanted to remix the album.

MVRemix: You said you get together to write music every day; so is the band a full-time thing now or are you still slaving away with day jobs?

Sherry LaBlanc: We have day jobs.  Adam works at a local grocery store called Fresh Plus, he’s a cashier there, and both Kevin and I work for Kevin’s family.  Before working for them I was the director of a non-profit organization here in town called the Capital Area Food Bank, and I did that for years and years.  Then his family said that I could go work for them to give us more freedom to focus on the band.

MVRemix: Obviously you guys are really tight with each other.

Yeah, definitely.  We’re a trio of best friends, which is really cool!  It’s the best way to be in a band.

MVRemix: Have you been touring heavily these days?

Sherry LaBlanc: No, but we’re leaving for tour on May 17th, and that’s when it all really starts.  We’re doing a big West Coast Tour that’ll last for about three weeks, and then we’re heading over to New York and playing a bunch of shows there.  Then from there we’re heading over to Europe.

MVRemix: Have you all been to Europe before or is it your first time?

Sherry LaBlanc: We all went as teenagers, but this will be our first time as adults.  We’re really excited.  And it seems like there’s more interest over there, especially in France and the UK, than there currently is in the US.  Hopefully we’ll generate some interest with the tour.

MVRemix: Considering you seem to do everything yourselves, is there ever any desire for an outside opinion or influence?

Sherry LaBlanc: We never thought about going to an outside person, but I think the three of us are open to anything.  Generally we like to do everything with our friends; all of our album art was shot by friends.  So if we had a friend who was like “man, I really want to record you”, I could see us going there, but otherwise, we have the equipment at home and we can just be chill and record on our own time.  We haven’t thought about it, but I think we’d be open to anything.

MVRemix: So the album’s going to be 10 tracks; do you have a lot of other material written besides those tracks?

Sherry LaBlanc: Yeah, we have a lot of material backed up.  It’s usually Kevin who writes every day; he stays up until the wee hours of the morning geeking out on his synthesizer.  Then he’ll bring the stuff to Adam and I and we’ll pare it down from there.  Adam’s writes a lot on his own as well, but Kevin’s got a huge back catalogue of songs for us to work on and hopefully start forming the next album.  It was such a long process from recording this album to getting it out; I never would have imagined! We want to get started on the next one as soon as possible.

MVRemix: Yeah, you said you recorded the album last year, so it’s been, what, longer than a year since you’ve had it done?

We started recording it last March during SXSW, so yeah, it’ll be over a year by the time it’s released.

MVRemix: That must make you pretty anxious!

Sherry LaBlanc: Yeah!  I just want to people to hear these songs so bad!  It’s worth the wait though; I just heard the full album, finished, mastered, and on vinyl last week.  Hell Yes! came in from Italy and brought us sneak preview copies and it sounds so good!  I’m so proud of it.  Definitely worth the wait.

MVRemix: With Kevin writing most of the songs, is there ever any hesitation when you add your parts to them?   What’s the writing dynamic like?

Sherry LaBlanc: Usually, either Kevin or Adam will bring in a guitar or synth part, and sometimes Kevin comes in with a melody already put to it; sometimes a melody and lyrics.  But I’d say about 50 percent of the time I put the melody and lyrics to the songs.  We all hammer it out together; it’s a really collaborative process.  It’s up to one of us to come up with the basic structure of the song, but from there it’s kind of a democracy of how the song plays out.  And Adam’s the drum machine master; he’s a badass on the drum machine!  So even if Kevin is writing the song, the beats have a lot of influence on how the song turns out.

MVRemix: What band have you had the most fun playing with over the past little bit?

Sherry LaBlanc: I don’t know who’ll know these people, but everyone should know them because they tour a lot and they’re really great.  The best show we’ve had so far is with Soft Healer; they’re another Austin band and they’re some of our best friends.  Like I said, it’s just always more fun when you do things with your friends!  We played a weekend show in town with them, a band called Silent Diane, and another band called Black Gum.  Us and those three other bands are really good friends, and we sold out the venue, which doesn’t happen a lot in Austin with local bands.  It was just really fun and it had a big family atmosphere.  In second place to Soft Healer, we just played with the Dum Dum Girls at SXSW; one of them is also a really close friend of mine, she was a bridesmaid at my wedding.  So finally getting to play with her was really fun too.  Also, they’re super-tight and professional; it was weird to see a band that had a sound guy go up and check everything, and do everything beforehand. He jumped in and helped us when we started playing, which was cool too.

MVRemix: Before we wrap this up, is there anything you want to get out there?

Sherry LaBlanc: I think I already got it out, but we’re going to be on tour starting in late May, and I hope people come see our shows!  The album’s going to come out and then we’re gonna hit the ground running, so it would be good to have people come out to our shows and see us.  We’re really stoked to travel around the US and meet people who dig our music!

MVRemix: Good luck with everything!  Come to Canada sometime!

Sherry LaBlanc: We will!  We’re going as far north as Portland, which isn’t anywhere close, but hopefully we’ll be in Canada soon!

Upcoming Tour Dates:

April 8, 2011: Dallas, Texas at Club Da Da with Real Estate
April 10, 2011: Austin, Texas at the Parish with Real Estate and Pure X
May 13, 2011: Austin, Texas – Record Release Party with Boyfriend (venue TBA)
April 15, 2011: Austin, Texas at Beerland with Soft Healer
May 19, 2011: San Diego, California at Tin Can Alehouse with Ale Mania
June 2, 2011: Brooklyn, New York at Glasslands Gallery

Categories
press releases

Courtney Love’s Twitter Troubles

For those who haven’t been keeping up with Courtney Love’s recent Twitter problems, here’s a short rundown.  In February 2009, Love met with fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir to discuss some new items for her clothing label Boudoir Queen.  About a month later, the designer started complaining that Love owed her money, somewhere in the range of a few thousand dollars.  Instead of paying back the cash, Love did what she does best – ranted about it on Twitter. 

She made claims that Simorangkir was a “drug-pushing prostitute”, as well as accusing her of losing custody of her child and having a history of assault.  She also posted on her MySpace and in the comments sections of online boutiques that sold the designer’s items.  In response to this, Simorangkir decided to sue the pants off of her for defamation and libel.  Earlier this month, the case was settled out of court, with Love owing the designer $430,000 plus interest.

So why is this a big deal?  Well, if it went to court, it would have been the first legal case to hold Twitter and other social media to the same libel standard as traditional news.  But what does this all mean, really?  Does it matter that much?  Are we on the cusp of an Orwellian forum, where anything we say or do we can be immediately sued for?  Are corporations and legal people going to start invading other Twitter accounts, trouncing our ability for free speech in cyberspace? In my opinion: not really, though it certainly shows that times are a-changin’.

Since it’s inception, Twitter has become a mouthpiece for celebrities and general media types.  Celebrities of all sorts can now talk with their fans, not just at special meet-and-greets and Q and As, but anytime, anywhere.  At the same time, a celebrity’s popularity now has an easily-definable ranking system – just check how many Twitter followers they have, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how popular a given person is (case in point – the most popular Twitter account right now is Lady Gaga’s, just edging out Justin Bieber, Brittany Spears and Barack Obama).

Obviously, knowing how volatile celebrities can be, especially ones who’s time in the spotlight have passed, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Courtney Love’s rambling Twitter presence has finally landed her in some real trouble.  It’s really not such a big deal. There’s no difference between Love making these statements in some sort of press release, using a publicist, and having the words coming out of her own mouth. 

All she’s doing is skipping the middle-man – one could make the argument that she wouldn’t be in this mess if someone had stopped her from saying these things publicly, but considering Love is more well-known these days for her shenanigans than for any of her artistic achievements, no one in any sort of media position would stop her from getting a little bit of press.

All that this means, really, is the same thing that is fairly obvious for any artist who’s in the public eye: when everyone’s listening, watch what you say.  It’s really not that hard to NOT get sued; don’t make your beefs public unless you’ve got a lawyer behind you, and certainly don’t air your grievances in several (presumably) drunken rants over a forum so public as Twitter.

As a post-script, it seems Courtney Love has returned to Twitter with a new username, using her first tweet to call comedian Chelsea Handler a “leathery idiot and rude.  And beyond stupid.”

Do these people never learn?

Elephant Six at Lee’s Palace

The Elephant Six Holiday Surprise show is certainly aptly named. Elephant Six was a record label collective beginning in the late 1980s between four high school friends swapping their musical ideas with each other; these ideas would form the basis of their most prominent bands: Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control and The Apples in Stereo. Eventually, as the bands gained more success and met more musicians, this spun out into two separate collectives, one based in Denver and the other in Athens. In 1999, the collective still remained active, but many of the bands were releasing records on other labels and some had simply ceased to exist. Thus, the record label itself was mostly dissolved, until recently where the logo has started popping up on a few releases.

The point of mentioning all of this background is so you can get an idea of exactly how much material this 11-person band has to cover, as well as how surprising it is that they can do this at all. Over 20 years of music and about 11 bands; it’s a long history of fuzzed-out, emotional, musically-adventurous power-pop. Luckily, the band pulled it off with style.

The show started off with the band in the crowd, doing a beautifully harmonized a capella piece. They moved to the stage to continue this, and what followed was two sets of fantastic pop music. The band swapped instruments almost every song, and went on and off-stage as appropriate. It was a really unique set, simply because the audience never knew what was coming next. This is the only show where a blisteringly fast, punk-y pop song can be followed up with a story of gypsy lore and a musical saw solo (which is a saw with the sharp parts removed, and played with a bow). Pretty unique stuff. These guys are really cool to see on-stage, because they’re obviously very good friends and there’s no “band leader” to speak of. It is a true collective.

The only bad part of the show was the audience, who were quite possibly the worst audience I’ve ever seen. Elephant Six songs are often somber and emotional, but also up-tempo and easy to dance to. Furthermore, these guys have been around for quite a while and Lee’s Palace was packed, so they must have some devoted fans. Unfortunately, one wouldn’t be able to tell, because the majority of the audience seemed perfectly content to just stand there with their arms crossed, staring at the band with nary a head bob to be found. As the set went on, things loosened up a bit, but it was rather disheartening to see a bunch of musicians who are so excited about their work be met with an overwhelmingly apathetic response. When did it become unfashionable to have fun at a show?

Of course, this isn’t in any way a slight against the band, who gave it their all and put forth a fantastic show. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of Elephant Six; I know Neutral Milk Hotel and Of Montreal (who are more of a “second tier” band anyways) quite well, but otherwise the rest of their stuff is a mystery to me. I think I knew one song throughout the whole three-hour set, and I had a great time.

If you have a chance to catch them at another stop on the tour – they’ll be in Buffalo tonight – I strongly urge you to do so. You’ll have a great time; and please, don’t be afraid to show it.

Matisyahu’s Live at Stubbs Vol. 2 is all shtick, no bite

Matisyahu – Live At Stubbs Vol. II

CD & DVD

The world’s premiere Hasidic-Jewish rapper, Matisyahu, returns with the aptly titled Live at Stubb’s Volume II, a sequel to his seminal 2005 album of the same name.

One thing must be said about Matisyahu – he’s certainly a talented musician.  Though his wordplay isn’t particularly clever and he often gets dangerously close to oft-alienating religious preaching, his flow as an MC is quite strong.  Less can be said about his singing, which is neither here-nor-there, but at least his rapping is skilled.  On top of this, he’s surrounded himself a very impressive three-piece band, who sound like they have at least two more members than they actually do.

It’s unfortunate, then, that Matisyahu’s music is rather bland, and brings up some fairly large cultural issues with it.  See, for those not in the know, Matisyahu is an Orthodox Jew who’s primary rhyming background consists of reggae beats, with some dub and rock thrown in for a good measure; this is not an issue in and of itself.  The problem is that Matisyahu’s own vocals typically take on a Jamaican accent and delivery, and maybe this is just me, but something about that just seems wrong.  Reggae is a very cultural genre; it comes out of years of social rebellion in Jamaica, and often references the Rastafarian religion. Certainly, reggae is hardly sacred anymore, but to put one’s own religious stance over a musical style that is semi-religious in its own right has some very odd connotations.  It’s not like Matisyahu needs to rhyme over Klezmer music, but it does seem a bit culturally insensitive.

The bigger problem, though, is that there isn’t much reason to pick Matisyahu over any other reggae/dub artist who’s genuinely authentic.  Sure, there are good moments on here – a well-placed, delay-soaked guitar strum, some heavy dub dance grooves, a fierce rhyme or two – but even the good moments are hardly unique.  Honestly, the only interesting part of Matisyahu is the fact that he’s an Orthodox Jew – his preaching of the Jewish religion, his usage of Hebrew, et cetera.  And you know what that makes him?  A gimmick.

Listen, this isn’t a bad album by any means.  There are some cool moments, the musicians are talented, and for all intents and purposes, it’s just fine.  But that’s all it is – fine.  And for an artist who’s so easily construed as a simple gimmick, it really needs to be more than that.