MUSICAL EDUCATION with THE INTELLIGENCE

The Intelligence is reeling from their new release, Males, out now on In The Red. Throughout the past month they have been traveling to all corners of the US to educate the public on their cerebral brand of punk rock. Don’t let semi-juvenile song titles such as “Bong Life, “Tuned to Puke”, “Sailor Itch” or “Mom Or A Parking Lot” fool you on The Intelligence’s savvy to impress a more adult crowd. If you are smart you will buy this record.

The album opens up with a few seconds of the unmistakable bubble of America’s favorite gateway drug – but don’t expect a psychedelic whirlwind or sleepy shoegaze to enhance the experience. In contrast, The Intelligence is driving and angular quartet fueled by wiry guitars and a propelling rhythm section topped off with incredibly catchy vocal melodies sung with conviction by Lars Finberg. The album is a fun listen, and their live show is sure to inspire some weird bodily contortions.

The Intelligence plays Sunday, Nov 14 at East End!!!

Overcasters Bring Stormy Sounds for Stormy Hearts


In this tech-savvy music age, it is refreshing to see a band make a conscious effort to revive the power of the guitar. Denver-based band, Overcasters, resurrect an army of guitars to the stage, layering them in a torrent of sonic mayhem. Their debut, The Whole Sea Is Raging, is composed of moody power rock songs which sort of sounds like the vicious churn of an untamed ocean of sound. The album was recorded back in May by Los Angeles producer Rick Parker, and is about to release on October 22nd – just in time for Halloween! In fact, Overcasters is a little spooky and fall is a perfect time of year to rock out to their dreary, hard-hitting sound. Their music is like rain shimmering on a hard, black pavement lit up by a street light in the dead of night – where something ominous could occur at any moment. The Whole Sea Is Raging hazily recalls the layered psychedelic guitar anthems of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Kurt Ottaway’s forceful baritone is drenched in darkness with a hint of Nick Cave influence. Erin Tidwell’s tom heavy drum syncopation keeps the band grounded with the help of bassist, Sam Doom, while Ottaway and John Nichols play out a sinister drone on their screaming guitars. Overall, Overcasters are probably best enjoyed in stormy weather, or to console a stormy heart. This fall they will be taking their sound to the stage across the stage in support of the new record. Check out their dates here

Social Studies… Smarter Than Your Average Pop Band

San Fransisco based prog-pop band, Social Studies, really make you think about what it means to write a pop song. The band seems to openly reject the standard song structure, and instead melds together what sounds like random pieces of a puzzle, coming together to form a beautiful scenic image of a mountain… or something equally as massive in scale. While they may put themselves out there as being overly complex, Social Studies is simply a pop band that puts a little intelligence into their work. Unlike some bands who try to set themselves apart from ho-hum “pop music”, attempting to mask their mediocrity with the “prog” label, Social Studies is a relatively easy listen without an ounce of pretense. Once put together, the final product is something beautiful and majestic, just like the mountain in the puzzle…or whatever

After years of performing around the country, Social Studies has released their long-awaited debut, Wind Up Wooden Heart, on SF-based label, Antenna Farm Records. Within their adventurous styling, you will find many hummable melodies, immaculate vocal harmonies, lush keyboards, crispy guitars and drums that boast both orchestral and dance worthy beats. The band’s press material relates them to Deerhoof – a comparison I find sort of out-of-bounds. Social Studies is far more collected and listenable to their avant-guarde counterparts, though I can see it as a useful analogy when trying to push their commitment to multi-tasking through the songwriting process. A more appropriate correlation would relate singer, Natalia Rogovin, to Katie Eastburn, formerly of Young People, as both women share a powerful range of melodious theatrics, and the band to 90′s rock act, Helium, for their epic compositions that touch indie rock with seasoned orchestration and tact.

Wind Up Wooden Heart is lush, expertly executed and can be enjoyed in a cerebral context, though folks with short attention spans may find it equally satisfying. Each part of Social Studies’ elaborate structure is full of delicious, bite sized sing-a-longs bursting with catchy flavors. Though, I must admit, at first I was a tad frustrated with the album’s multi-sectional themes when I attempted to return to the songs that stuck out most, most of which had become a blur of catchy hooks. It was a musical scavenger hunt at best. Yet, it only made me want to listen to the album as a whole, again and again to recover my favorite parts.

The mood of Wind Up Wooden Heart fluctuates just as much as the compositions themselves. “We Choose Our Own Adventures” is rooted in power pop, serving as an anthem for the under appreciated service workers. Meanwhile, “Drag A Rake” takes a minor note, contemplating death, with staccato violin licks for emphasis, while maintaining a brooding confidence. The soaring guitar licks of “Trapdoor Spider” subtly recall OK Computer era Radiohead without all of the defeated attitude. In fact, one of the band’s strongest elements is the vocal range of Rogovin, who belts out well controlled melodies with force, ease and a touch of sweetness. One of the most powerful songs on the record is the guy/girl duet, “The Good Book”, one of the bands simpler tunes staging a sonic nostalgia touches on Weezer and a sweet 50′s feel. Lyrically, the guy/girl vocals topple over each other detailing the pitfalls of a breakup. Emotionally, it is one of the more touching psuedo-romantic tunes I have heard since Scout Niblett’s collaboration with Will Oldham.

Overall, Wind Up Wooden Heart is a brilliant debut. It is a distinct effort from a band who has already begun to mature and find their own voice. It can be enjoyed by both music nerds and those who have a soft spot for addictive pop songs. I am excited to see where the band takes their sound next. Social Studies is embarking on a national tour, headed for the coveted CMJ festival in NYC. Check out their tour dates to see when they will be coming to a town near you!

AGENT RIBBONS: CHATEAU CRONE

Since 2006, Agent Ribbons has been trekking throughout America’s pinpoints and Europe with a sound channeling the romance of past eras through a modern montage, uniquely their own. On October 12th, their sophomore full length, Chateau Crone will be released by Bay area label, Antenna Farm Records and later on vinyl via the band’s Spanish record label, Acuarela Discos. As a long time fan of Agent Ribbons I was ecstatic to receive an advance press copy for review. Since July, the record has been on heavy rotation and quickly became one of my favorite albums of the year – if not all time!

Returning Agent Ribbons fans will immediately notice the lush, crisp and clean production traits of Chateau Crone, a step up from the stark minimalism of their debut, Upon Time Travel And Romance. The polished sound can also be attributed to Agent Ribbon’s growing talent in arrangement, as the record marks a variety of exciting layers and explores a myriad of genres. From the jangly lifestyle of gypsies to rustic barrooms and misfortunes of love gone astray, Chateau Crone is elegantly tied together with the band’s astounding compositions completed with a keen sense of melody and musical innovation.

In a past interview, Natalie Ribbons stated that while she would have enjoyed flashing back to influential pockets of time such as the Victorian era or the innovative artistic revolutions of the 70′s, she wouldn’t trade the opportunity to create music in any other time than the one she is thriving in right now. Music is her time machine to the past, offering possibilities and access to different stylistic traditions to mold together in a postmodern world.  Such a craft of sonic collage making has been her lifestyle for the past half decade; a talent she has continued to develop sans stagnation and taken to the road time and time again. Unlike Lauren, who has played in other bands prior to Agent Ribbons, the band is Natalie’s debut into the indie music world. However, she  masks her musical debutante status seamlessly with a powerful confidence exuded through highly emotive vocal tremors and frisky guitar playing.

Agent Ribbons live the vagabond lifestyle. They are in it for keeps and most of the time call the open road their home, touring for many months out of the year, rain, sleet or shine. Most recently, they have returned to their new homestead of Austin, TX after a month long national tour with Girl In A Coma. The future was looking bright with stellar audience responses and even a cordial visit to the NYC offices of their dream magazine, Bust, to shoot photographs for a future article. However, the tides quickly turned when violinist, Naomi, unexpectedly left the tour to attend to personal matters. With only a matter of weeks until the official release of Chateau Crone, her departure has left the rest of the band scrambling to find a replacement for their upcoming European tour. Although, despite the chaos and drama, Agent Ribbons has a knack for keeping their chins up and pressing forward. As the famous saying goes, “The show must go on”, and if all else fails, they will continue on as a duo, restoring the powerful original dynamic which had won the hearts of their fans since the beginning.

 

photo by Ryan Mihalyi

 

Just like the bearded lady or death defying antics of acrobats, who wowed and awed audiences in traveling shows, the material on Chateau Crone is a show stopper. The album showcases a new-found maturity since Upon Time Travel and Romance, with skilled musicianship and songwriting technique, all whilst maintaining a simplistic charm. Opening track, “I’m Alright” is an anthem of independence and new beginning, starting off with a pouncing surf guitar leading into a catchy refrain demanding nothing but your love and admiration. It is a powerful opener, full of life and possibility.

However, the highs quickly dim to a brooding low, with the gloomy “Grey Gardens”. The haunting song begins with a dissonant minor arpeggio before transforming into an airy waltz laden with emotion and somber strings. It’s eerie 60′s folk quality sounds like Simon and Garfunkel tangled in a rosemary bush outside of the famous Grey Gardens estate itself. In fact, the subject matter is based on Natalie Ribbons’ heavy infatuation with the 70′s documentary which details the demise of Edie Beale. Unlike Natalie, who has relentlessly pursued her creative endeavors, Beale had isolated herself from accomplishing her dreams. She became a recluse and prisoner to her mother’s demanding needs, ultimately, holding herself captive in an overgrown and decrepit mansion amid the surroundings of the wealthy Hamptons neighborhood. Still, the singer has a borderline obsession with the Beale story and has even taken to dressing like the infamous Little Edie, wearing cheap knee highs and adorning a collection of head scarves. Just like the story it follows, the song is beautiful in its disgrace and features lovely harmonies between Natalie and Lauren Ribbons, waltzing over each other throughout its softly glowing chorus.

Since their formation, Agent Ribbons has developed a skill in composing captivating arrangements while remaining faithful to the simplicity that has won over their fans. Part of this is made possible by the now former Ribbon, Naomi Cherie. While her time in the band was limited, the classically trained violinist added an orchestral quality, elevating the album’s overall complexity whilst pulling the heart strings of the listener. Such an example is found on the warm string montage halfway through “Born To Sing Sad Songs” and her gypsy fiddle parts sirening off throughout “I’ll Let You Be My Baby”.

Speaking of which, “I’ll Let You Be My Baby” has become one of my favorites off of the album. Stomping in right after the spacious and surrealist vamp of “Dada Girlfriend”, the song revives the band’s danceable and tongue in cheek hotness. Agent Ribbons has always placed an emphasis on the dramatic presentation of their songs and “I’ll Let You Be My Baby” seems like it could stand as a provoking scene in a cabaret or the relic of the long lost vaudeville era. Musically, it is a sexy Eastern European folk song that may as well been written in the smoke filled brothels of old time Paris, in a haze of baroque chanting and the foot stomping percussive whirl of bottle tapping into drunken melodrama.

Yet the joy and carefree nature is about to cease when a time clock is struck and wound back to the darker corners of Agent Ribbon’s material in the album’s centerpiece, “Wallpaper of Skin”. The dramatic yet driven song is one of the band’s most original compositions on the record. Amid the rocking chaos, drummer Lauren Ribbons keeps the beat while adding a soft harmony for Natalie’s freight train vocals to fall back on. Naomi shines just as bright with heavily accented swipes of her violin throughout the epic piece.

The momentum is kept up with “Your Hands, My Hands”, a jagged punk addition to Chateau Crone and the band’s entry fee into the feminist manifesto, blatantly glorifying the formerly taboo subject of female masturbation. Other standouts include “Oh La La” which begins with a retro feel caused by the vintage effect on Natalie Ribbon’s voice, recalling singers from the 40′s, as she croons about romance torn miles apart. The chorus seems to come out of nowhere and can be slightly shocking upon first listen. On it, the band takes a pinch of doo-wop into its sonic repertoire, nostalgic of the call and response backing vocals during the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale”. The album takes a breather with “Rubiks Cube”, a thoughtful ballad contemplating the emotional complexities using the popular colored square as a metaphor; like broken love it is impossible to reassemble.

It’s no surprise that the band’s infamous “Wood, Lead, Rubber” slinks in to conclude the album. The track sneaks in with Lauren Hess’ innovative clicking on the rims of her drum as Natalie Ribbons hollers out her lyrics with her signature direct sassy attitude. During the past few years, Agent Ribbons has made it a habit to close their fiery set with this propulsive tune complete with dramatic choreographed guitar rock outs. Naomi Cherie’s maniacal violin parts flair up the instrumental breakdowns throughout the song, competing with a ghastly theremin, while Lauren Hess keeps the chaos grounded with the steady beats on her toms.

Chateau Crone is a grand addition to anyone’s record collection and is sure to continue to propel Agent Ribbons into the consciousness of many. There is an unspoken pressure for bands to exceed their successes with each new release. Luckily, these ladies don’t seem to be suffering from such a dilemma and are ballsy enough to take large leaps into a pond full of lily pads, each representing a different sub-genre to hop onto and embellish without fear nor boundary. With Chateau Crone, Agent Ribbons diverse songwriting and delivery signals a band whose talent will continue to grow and expand into the future.

CORIN TUCKER – 1000 Years…

 Five years after Sleater Kinney’s final opus, The Woods, propelled them into the indie mainstream, founding front woman, Corin Tucker is stepping back into the spotlight with her stellar debut, 1000 Years.

The years have rolled by since Sleater Kinney declared indefinite hiatus, stagnating Tucker’s singing career, shifting her focus towards raising children. Yet, a solo effort seemed inevitable, and also a bit inconceivable, as the singer’s banshee shrills were barely contained when supported by the power of the Sleater Kinney collective.

However, Tucker brings a surprisingly subdued vocal presence to 1000 Years which has aged like a fine Oregon pinot. Furthermore, her songwriting is stronger than ever and finally seems to have complete control over her vocal siren sounding off with improved range and delivery.

During the initial press push, Tucker attempted to satisfy people’s inquiry and expectation relating her work to Sinead O’Connor’s The Lion And The Cobra – a reference that is blatantly spot-on during the first ping of reverberated percussion of “Half A World Away” when compared to O’Connor’s “I Want Your Hands On Me”.

Die hard Sleater Kinney fans will find nostalgia in the record’s first single, “Doubt”, which is a sexed up, garage-rockin’ anthem featuring Tucker’s signature upper-range wail. Conversely, Sleater Kinney fanatics may initially scoff at calmer acoustic numbers, “Dragon” and “It’s Always Summer”, reducing them to watered down folk, but upon second listen Tucker’s improved technique arranging a miniature orchestra shines through.

All references aside (she also cites The Raincoats as a major influence which explains some of the subtle off kilter weirdness throughout the album), Tucker and maintains a solid amount of originality and innovation. Sara Lund of Unwound and Seth Lorinczi of the Golden Bears are the back bone of the band, adding orchestral drum beats and a variety of extra instrumentation, icing on the cake. “Pulling Pieces” begins as a ballad before it morphs into one of the most epic jams the album has to offer. Meanwhile, “Handed Love” has a cool jazz feel meshed with the best of late 90′s alternative pop. It’s catchy sing-a-long chorus is perfect for blasting it through the window as you drive through a city of roses.

The album finds a home at Kill Rock Stars – whom helped nurture Sleater Kinney’s career before they were snatched up by Sub Pop – and is an excellent addition to the noteworthy label’s catalog.

It will be a long time before Corin Tucker isn’t referred to as “the girl from Sleater Kinney”. Still, 1,000 Years is an astounding first step in establishing a new identity aside from the profound legacy she has already nurtured.

Corin Tucker and her band will be going on tour to support the record out October 5th on Kill Rock Stars.

MFNW Adventure Part One

A Christmas miracle happened in September. Scenerio: I am working my day job when a bunch of non regulars stroll in looking hip in search of their next meal. As a certain gentleman waits for his order to finish up I make small talk and ask if anything fun is going on during the day. “Not really – just driving to Seattle,” the guy says. He looked liked he could have been in a band so I asked if he performed in Portland the night before. He answered “yes”, in fact, his band had played MFNW the previous night and now was headed north on tour. I said I was planning on catching a couple of MFNW shows but I didn’t have a wristband. Then the kind gentleman lifted his wrist up to his mouth and tore off a white plastic band with his teeth and handed it to me. It was his MFNW wristband that he didn’t need anymore. I thanked him and asked what his band was. He replied, “Cold Cave”, took his lunch and was off on his journey on the open road towards Seattle. On my lunch break, I looked up Cold Cave and found that they were actually pretty good. The nice guy who gave me access to one of the most hyped Portland festivals of the year will always been remembered in my music loving heart for his generosity.

So I left my workday feeling pretty dang good about my networking – or superior customer service skills – which landed me a MFNW wristband. After all, I was planning on dropping some dough to see Man Man anyways so it was quite an unexpected endowment. However, there is no such thing as a free lunch. I could have expected to pay some sort of price for my good luck – attending the concert alone. It’s cool though. I am a free-spirited, independent woman and sometimes I enjoy my alone time. Such a thing wasn’t obtained without a bit of chaos. The venue began to fill up with more and more people shuffling through.

Let's Wrestle

One thing about going to a show alone is that you can really enjoy the music and not feel pressure to socialize. I was happy to discover two awesome opening bands. Let’s Wrestle played energetic punk rock that reminded me a little bit of a simplified version of the Pixies. After they finished a rollicking set, a handful of very young looking guys began to set up. Their instrument selection was quite impressive: your standard drum, bass, guitar with synthesizers, large bongos, trumpets, etc. Such cargo took forever to set up but the wait was worth it. Once these guys pounced into their tunes the crowd started to jive and dance. The sound was a mixture of disjointed rhythms, cool sailing synths with boy harmonies floating up into the atmosphere recalling Grizzly Bear. Needless to say, I was quite impressed by their musicianship and ability to sway the crowd away from impatience.

As I waited for the main attraction, getting pummeled by teenagers and drunks, I was confused why I was at Hawthorne Theater in the first place. Why would Man Man’s booking agency allow them to play such a “meh” club? Months ago, when I had heard about their destination, I had asked myself, “why, why, why?!” Not only is the venue not big enough for a band of Man Man’s caliber, the sound is incredibly mediocre and seems to attract a breed of douche bags. I admit to referencing Man Man’s sound to Tom Waits – a lazy journalistic move, I know now – and found it incredibly obvious when the sound people played tunes from Wait’s greatest hits while the sweltering crowd became anxious… After awhile, they became hostile, pushing people forward into a locked sea of bruised hips and unwanted body contact. Yet, what can you expect? It is a music festival, right? You should be expecting to feel, smell and experience every sense associated with your neighbors (Though, a double fist of beer and shot of whiskey sure does help). After enduring a young couple practically getting it on in front of me (good thing they were at least mediocre in looks) and standing through the championed opening bands, Man Man was being summoned by their rabid fans, chanting, hollering, stomping and demanding the presence of their modern rock gods.

Man Man

Finally, the band appears and dives into some of their wild gypsy-jazz infested tunes. Immediately, towards the stage, people began to crowd surf and mosh – a celebrated tribal rock dance that seemed pretty outdated since Man Man is far from any sort of nineties revival band. Had to ditch the heart of the storm before I got shit kicked in the face by the boots of the flailing. I took a detour into the 21+ range of the event. Man Man was throwing themselves into “Top Drawer” one of my favorites and I couldn’t help but shake a little as I waited in line for a beer to cool off. After I had taken a few swigs, found a new spot and had a little bit more room, it was time for some dancing! Once you reach a certain level you don’t care so much what others think of you. Dance away. That is what is beautiful about being young and uninhibited. Sadly, I was probably one of the youngest – or having the most fun – grooving alone in the stand-still 21+ backdrop. It was time to move forward into the eye of the storm.

I began to make my way back toward the stage. Man Man was getting hot. At this point, I could have said my biggest life regret was wearing a hoodie and a jacket to this show. I tucked my layers under the merch booth just as sequins were starting to be unveiled onstage. A fake mustachioed women was beginning to gain popularity as she christened other members of the audience with white tribal paint – a look Man Man has popularized for their onstage battles of sonic sound. Beads of sweat began to appear on the backs of women and the air was humid as a hot Subway in New York during summer. Man Man’s jerky tunes purged on, causing a minimal amount of people to lose their shit to their own interpretative dance calling – it was hard to move but I did it anyway, letting myself go in a sea of strangers. Women’s makeup was running off in the heat, their feathers limp and tribal war paint leaking down their face. Still, they were pretty underneath, exuding an in the moment mental state. The trend with the male audience members was taking their shirt off. Not too surprising for Man Man’s demographic of male fans.  Hot frenzy was quickly turning into a hot mess. Man Man’s music was especially sexy, probably fueling the rage of pheromones oozing from person to person in the audience. The sound was primitive, carnal and cut to the root of the human soul; infused with gypsy jazz, blatant Tom Waits rip offs and a janky Eastern European feel meshed with modern-day cool.

After the show I realized I had sweated out the equivalent to a session at the gym. In order to cool off I biked home without my jacket on and tried to cool down with a bowl of ice cream drenched in a delicious organic chocolate stout. I’m sure Man Man would be proud.

Jared Mees and his Tender Loving Empire

While the music industry is hanging on by a thread, Jared Mees is hiding inside his Tender Loving Empire. The Portland-based label is beginning to take foothold in the cache of Pacific Northwest indie labels and has been growing since 2005.

After escaping the soul-sucking entertainment industry of Los Angeles, Mees and his wife, Brianne, started the music and art collective in Portland, OR. Their mission was to release music in a community oriented fashion – a grassroots microcosm with the power to make an impact within a macro consumer culture.

The harsh reality of the music industry’s downfall is grim. Gone are the days where bands could migrate to cultural hotspots and get signed by the indie majors. Cool hunters are out of a job. The corporate rule over music is suffocating and mainstream radio isn’t broadcasting any music with old fashioned heart and soul. Digital downloading culture has put a new challenge on music capitalism and has thrown old business models into a sonic McCarthyism with a mission to punish the pirates. Futhermore, everyone seems to be in a band and have the means to put their music on the internet independently; inevitably oversaturating the market’s ebb and flow. In fact, the overwhelming presence of music online makes it difficult for taste makers and fans alike to quality control the market.

However, Jared Mees and the rest of his home-grown empire were focused on doing things differently. New business models would have to be explored if there was any hope for living the rock n roll dream. The idea was to diversify within the economic crisis and entrust the success of the label with a network of talented musicians, crafters and the support from an army of friends. Next was to give their new baby a home. Instead of setting up a virtual reality homepage online, the crew had an idea of mass proportions – start your own real life store. In hindsight, this seems like an incredibly risky feat for a new label to overcome in the middle of a recession but with a little hope and the helping hands of a community of believers, Tender Loving Empire was born. 

Today, the Tender Loving Empire storefront borders the Portland Streetcar’s tracks in the middle of the city’s bustling tourist zone. In a city where nearly everyone is a transplant or a dreamer passing through, the store’s mission seems to transform from being a kamikaze dive into debt and more like a genius showcase to export the creative mecca Portland has built its’ reputation around.

Since the beginning, Tender Loving Empire had been dedicated to peddling tangible goods besides solely focusing on music. Initially releasing a collection of comic books, they have now have moved on to their own screen printing services, consigning designer t-shirts by local artists and a showcasing tons of cutesy Northwest themed crafts.

However, they are still known for their impeccable roster of local musicians and have released albums by top notch Portland acts including Typhoon, Boy Eats Drum Machine and Hosannas. Their love for music – and the people who make it – shows. Inside the store a wall is decorated with framed photos of each of band like a family tree. Still, they hope to be as inclusive as possible. Inside the store next to their selection of in-house releases, there is a large rack of local music to thumb through. Mees believes that if someone has the guts to take their music out of the house it should have a place. Thus the store lays out a welcome mat for local musicians and will take any band’s submission to properly represent the diversity within the Portland music scene.

The future is bright for Tender Loving Empire’s upcoming catalog including Y La Bamba’s debut full length, Lupon. The label has garnered a bit of press and recognition over the years both locally and internationally thus it is no surprise Mees is getting inquiry from the public on how to join the empire. While there is a ton of great music out there, Tender Loving Empire seems to have a brand of it’s own. Though the bands are diverse in genre there is a certain sort of sediment behind each one that is universal. Each one has something special to offer, a secret to share, whose art is personal and intimate.

Yes, it is true that the music industry isn’t what it used to be but there is still room to live the dream. Jared Mees offers some healthy advice for bands who are looking to get signed: start your own label. After all, Tender Loving Empire was the vehicle Mees originally launched to release his own material as Jared Mees and the Grown Children and all it takes is a little faith, street smarts and a lot of hard work.

Come out to the Tender Loving Empire showcase September 10th at Someday Lounge to catch performances by Typhoon, Y La Bamba, Finn Riggins, Boy Eats Drum Machine and Jared Mees & The Grown Children.

Spread the love: Footage from Tender Loving Empire’s Birthday Party

SONIC YOUTH: Corporate Ghost

The past couple of weeks I have secluded myself into my multimedia dungeon to meditate on Sonic Youth’s music video collection, Corporate Ghost. Besides being illustrious noise makers, Sonic Youth have far exceeded their tenure in the underground art world with a career dedicated to providing visuals to accompany their shifting sound. The collection spotlights material that was created between 1992 and 2002, a decade whose music culture still celebrated the music video and MTV.

Both the band and the director share their commentary on the making of the videos which occasionally dispels the mystery of the artisan purveyor’s concept and technique. Other times, it sounds like the band is rambling on about inside jokes and their awkward experiences being the stars of the video.

Corporate Ghost displays the juxtaposition between Sonic Youth’s sincere punk rock ethos and their presence as mainstream label street slickers. At times, their work is DIY in nature, low-budget using hand held cameras or a boom box to supply a crinkled backdrop for lip-synching. For other videos, the quick flashes of high-definition, big money and top of the line camera work is utilized.

I was quite impressed to find that every song from Goo had a music video. Many during this era were intensely lo-fi; homemade on scratchy super 8 video cameras. One of my favorites is “Tunic (Song for Karen)”. The song is centered around Karen Carpenter, who passed away in 1983 due to her battle with anorexia – and sort of serves as a farewell note from Karen herself. It’s primitive neon marshmallow set reminds me of the intro to an early Nickelodeon kids show, Clarissa Explains It All, that is, if Clarissa was having a really terrible acid trip. I guess during its the video was pretty high-tech for director Tony Oursler to use a green screen and project images onto the faces of rather frightening stuffed animals. In fact, many of the videos found on Corporate Ghost should be viewed as artistic portals shared between each director and Sonic Youth.

I also enjoyed “Mote”, for filming a static television set, fast-moving images and the songs with a rare vocal performance by guitarist, Lee Renaldo. The frequency and shifty camera movement may hurt the eyes after a while but the chaos also details the emotional capacity of the song. Towards the end, Sonic Youth sprawl into one of their noise-fucked jams, a stoic landscape of feedback accompanied by blurred images of the bombing of Hiroshima and distorting the image of the band to look like Lego man tyrants, swinging their guitars against layered images of a man who is either drifting into the outer reigns of consciousness or sexual transcendence dissected by aliens. It is seriously one of the best low-budget music videos ever made.

“My Friend Goo” is way more light-hearted in it’s primitive creativity. The band basically films Kim Gordon singing over the track being played on a record player with a hilarious guy who looked like he could have walked off of the Singles set, flailing in the background. The video was clearly videotaped in a fun environment and Kim Gordon’s fantastic pink one piece jumpsuit is a reason to watch the video in itself.

Many of the videos feature people who would continue to flourish within their career after being invited into the band’s orbit around the indie world (such as Kathleen Hanna, Sleater Kinney, Sofia Coppola, Chloë Sevigny and even Macaulay Culkin!). Some videos make some sort of sense with a loose narrative other times the images are as layered and abstract as the music itself. Tom Surgal directs “Disconnection Notice” off of Murray Street in a very post modern style. Instead of the music leading the narrative, the video is a one-act scene between fictional band members stuck in a van listening to the song while they dish out tour drama.

I highly recommend this collection for any Sonic Youth fan or those who are simply interested in exploring their work. I think their music is best enjoyed with the video art that goes hand in hand with it throughout Corporate Ghost

Jason Quigley: Captures The Muse

Here at Outsider Music Press we want to spotlight the music we love as well as the people working behind it. Today’s feature is about Jason Quigley who adores music and wishes to capture it photographically. Over the years, Quigley has taken tons of dynamic live shots of his favorite Portland based bands as well as conducted quirky promo shoots that have gone on the be published throughout the local press. Outsider Music Press was lucky enough to chat with him via e-mail about his work and well as feature a few of his favorite shots in his growing catalog.
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Hey Lover

When did you start doing photography? What initially drew you to the medium? Do you have formal training?

Right after college, about 8 years ago.  I’d been interested in photography for a long time, playing with my dad’s old Minolta when I was a kid, and just using crappy 35mm point and shoots to take pictures of friends.  I didn’t buy a “nice” camera until I got a job after school and had some money to spend.  I took a couple photography 101 classes at PCC and a few workshops at Newspace but the rest of my education has been trial-by-error and learning from other much better photographers.  Since I was a big music dork it was kind of inevitable I’d start taking a camera to shows. I decided that I wasn’t any good at playing music, so I’d become rich and famous by photographing other people doing it. I’m still working on the rich and famous part.


Do other music photographers inspire you? Who has been a source of inspiration?

Jim Marshall, Annie Leibovitz, and Bob Gruen are the obvious answers but Charles Peterson is probably the biggest reason I started shooting music.  In high school, after I had outgrown my Wilson Phillips and Shaquille O’Neal phase, I was totally into the whole Seattle “grunge” thing.  By the mid-90′s the big hype explosion had long since come and gone but I lived in Klamath Falls, Oregon before the internet and therefore didn’t know any better.  I loved me some Nirvana, Mudhoney, Soundgarden, the Fastbacks, Pearl Jam, etc etc.  Still do, but I’ve branched out a bit.  Anyway, Charles Peterson pretty much shot all those bands and he was the guy who took most of the photos in the Kurt Cobain biographies I voraciously read. His work is stunning and I wanted to emulate it when I started shooting bands. I really wanted to take the photos for album covers and get my name in the liner notes. I really admire a lot of other contemporary photographers who happen to photograph musicians. Autum de Wilde’s work with Elliott Smith (and every indie rock band you can think of) is breathtaking. Peter Ellenby single-handedly inspired me to buy a Holga. Pat Graham’s photos of Fugazi, Bikini Kill and Modest Mouse among others are amazing.  I also really like to follow the work of local photographers like Alicia Rose, Jeff Mawer, Inger Klekacz, Nathan Backous, and Liz Devine to name a few. There are almost as many photographers in Portland as bands…Almost.


What gets you “in the zone” while doing live photography?

It certainly helps if I like the music. If not, it’s hard to care much about what I’m shooting and if you don’t care about your subject it shows.


Menomena

How do you know when you get a good shot?

I often don’t know when I get a good shot.  Most of the time I think I know but when I look through everything later “the one” is crap and some other photo that I barely remember taking is awesome.


Do you prefer to shoot bands that are animated on stage – flailing around and rocking out – or do you find you can also take intimate portraits of more focused songwriters?

They both make for interesting subjects in their own way.  The flailing, rocking bands are obviously really fun because they fill the photos with energy but a closeup of a quiet songwriter can be pretty powerful if you capture the right expression. Trouble is [someone] sitting still and playing an acoustic guitar under constant lighting is way too easy and pretty soon all the shots start to blend together.

What sorts of themes interest you when doing promotional shots? Do you collaborate with the bands on ideas or do you come to the session with a plan?

Honestly I struggle a bit at coming up with creative “themes” for promotional portraits. I always write down a few ideas before meeting with a band, but we usually brainstorm and talk about other ideas they have, and they’re often more interesting.  I like simplicity and spontaneity so that usually means we meet at their house or a predetermined location and just walk around taking photos.  Sometimes I think I’d like to set up a fancy set with costumes and elaborate lighting and try and tell a story and all that but I rarely have any budget or resources to do such a thing. I really enjoy photographing bands in the studio or in their practice space, just working things out.  It’s exciting to be there and hear new songs take shape or watch as familiar ones get laid down on tape and visually document it all. I love seeing old photos of legendary bands in the studio, concentrating on a vocal track or arguing with the guitar player or whatever. They’re intimate – historical documents – and I’d like to think maybe someday a few of my photos will have that quality, if I get lucky.  Besides, if you only photograph a band playing on stage, 100 other photographers might have the exact same shots from some other venue in some other town so it’s really difficult to make your work stand out.

Do you edit your photography digitally?

If I’m shooting digitally, yes, but I try not to go overboard.  It’s real easy to get carried away when you have an expensive camera and Photoshop and try to “fix” the exposure, colors, composition…you have to stop and remind yourself that hey, great live music is often imperfect and chaotic, so the pictures should be too.

Music is a very fluid art form. How does music inspire still images? How do you feel your work portrays the music and the musicians themselves?


That’s hard to answer; I guess I’m coming more from a photojournalist angle than artistic.  Most of the bands I’ve photographed I’ve done so because I love their music and I want to freeze that particular performance or moment.  Music and photography have gone hand in hand for a long time…I think because of people like me who are music fans but it’s not enough to just listen and watch.  We want to feel more connected, like we’re a part of the “scene” for lack of a better word. I hope I portray the music and musicians positively and honestly.  I hope people like my work and want to have me around taking their photos.  Musicians, like most people, are uncomfortable having their picture taken and there is understandably a lot of mistrust of photographers – especially these days when every kid with a decent camera is a “photographer” and every picture they take ends up on the internet forever. I just want to be known as a good photographer who can be trusted to respect peoples’ image and art.


Point Juncture WA


Any particular bands you enjoy photographing? Live? Promotional? Why?

I like photographing my friends’ bands because we know each other. They’re comfortable with me hanging around with a camera and they trust me so it’s easier to capture them candidly.  A few of my favorite bands to shoot live have been Hey Lover, Big Black Cloud, the Snuggle Ups, 31Knots – to name a few; the kind of bands whose performance is barely controlled chaos are the most fun. Monotonix at MFNW 2008 was insane – that chaos wasn’t controlled at all.  I photographed the PDX Pop Now! festival fairly extensively for the first five years of its existence and loved it.  They book such a crazy variety of bands, so a metal band will follow hip hop which will follow folk or experimental, noise, etc.  So I saw so many great performances from artists I’d never heard and basically learned the art of concert photography in the process.  Also, Alan Singley, just because that guy is a performer and nobody has more fun playing a show than him. As for promotional portraits, I had a lot of fun with Menomena a few years ago.  We went to Malibu Speedway in Beaverton and just took pictures of them with go-karts.  They are really nice guys and seem willing to do pretty much anything for a silly portrait.  The Angry Orts are good subjects as well.  Mainly because James, the bass player, has no shame.

What sorts of publications have you been featured in? Album artwork? How did these opportunities arise?


Besides the local papers and magazines, not too many publications: Venus, Performer, DIVA.  A lot of my published credits have something to do with PDX Pop Now! for the yearly festival preview articles.  I’ve never got my shit together enough to hustle work from large national magazines and I don’t think SPIN or Rolling Stone are that interested in most of the bands I’ve photographed anyway. I’ve had photos used in several local bands’ album artwork – which I’m always thrilled about. My biggest job has been for Sony Music France in which I shot all the promotional materials and album photography for a French singer/songwriter called Tété, because he recorded it in Portland. That came about because he was friends with a Portland-via-Paris singer named Eric John Kaiser and I had done some work for his album. So it was just a case of one project leading to another and just falling into my lap.  My proudest accomplishment remains having a photo of Corin Tucker on the cover of Sleater-Kinney’s “Jumpers” single just because I love that band so much.  It was kind of a fluke – I sent it to Sub Pop for some kind of photo contest but never heard the results. Then later, out of the blue, they emailed me and offered a tiny sum of cash and some free records to use it.  I’d never had anything published at that point so I would have probably given it to them for free, which now, being older and wiser, I know is a really stupid thing to do.


The Angry Orts


How do you feel about people taking live photos on their cell phones and such?

I don’t mind it but I don’t get it either.  I mean, those photos look like shit, so what’s the point?  Maybe it’s a “prove you were there” kind of thing  but you can’t tell who the blurry mess on stage is so why bother?  If I’m taking photos at a show, it’s because I want to capture something that looks great, otherwise I’m just going to enjoy the music. This is the reason that I don’t understand the “no professional cameras” rule that so many bands and venues impose once they achieve a certain level of commercial success.  Everybody at the show has a cell phone or a little point-and-shoot, and many of them are going to take really terrible pictures and immediately upload them to flickr or facebook.  Why not let a few professionals in there to take good photos?  It makes no sense to me.  Of course, the quality of cell phone cameras is improving so fast this is going to be a moot point very soon.

Do you think the future of music photography is going to be able to compete with the up rise of access of video?

Still photography and video are two different things, and I think there will always be a place for both, but my concern is camera technology advancing so fast that anybody will be able to take usable photos with any camera so the term “music photographer” will become an anachronism. This is already starting to happen anyway, and it’s probably inevitable. It’s becoming rare to get any work that offers more than a photo credit in return. That’s why I never expect this to be a full time job, especially not with a family to take care of.

What are some of your techniques when shooting live music? Do you have any tips to obtain a perfect shot?

They always say you don’t have to have an expensive camera to take a good photograph but that doesn’t always apply in the case of live music photography.  If you’re going to shoot in a dark club or basement, using the ambient light, you have to drop a lot of money on a really good, fast lens, or it’s just not going to work.  Without getting too technical, at least one f/1.4 lens is essential.  If you can’t afford that, use a flash, but not an on-camera flash.  Get a cheap Vivitar or something with a hot-shoe cord and hold the flash off to one side or bounce it off the walls or ceiling.  And practice your shutter drag. Flat light coming straight from the on-camera flash never looks good. Finally, be nice and ask the band’s permission before you start popping flashes in their eyes while they’re trying to play. As far as composing the shot, watch the band’s expressions, posturing and how they interact with each other. Try to get some lights or another band member in the background and shoot when the singer’s face is not covered by a mic. If you know the band’s music well, anticipate the moment in a song when they start to really shred – if shredding is part of their repertoire.  Look for interaction with the crowd too.


The Thermals


On average, how many photos do you need to take in order to get “The One”.

That totally depends on the night.  Could be 5, 20, or 100.  That’s the nice thing about digital photography; I don’t have to spend the money processing 2 or 3 rolls of film only to find there’s nothing really worth keeping on there.

Any advice for aspiring music photographers?

Do it for the money, and the drugs.  Just kidding, there is no money.  Still kidding!  Don’t do drugs. But seriously, photograph the bands you love, from the town you live in.  That way it’s more than just a collection of music photos, it’s documentation of a community at a certain point in time, and that’s far more interesting.  You will have invested more of yourself into your work because you know these people and you want them to do well and they want the same for you.  Just have fun with it.  It’s not going to be a career, unless your friends get famous and hire you as their full-time tour photographer which, let’s be honest, is probably not going to happen.  Also, don’t assume having a camera gives you the right to be an asshole.  Other (normal) people are at the show to enjoy the music and it’s not cool to shove up to the front and stick your camera up in the air without any respect for their right to do so.


See more of Jason Quigley’s work on his official website.

Guest Blogger Colleen covers Pickathon!!!

Outsider Music Press is proud to introduce our first guest blogger, Colleen Nielsen! She comes with us with a passionate recap about her experience at the 2010 Pickathon festival – a folk oriented festival held in the woods outside of Portland, OR. Be sure to check out other work by Colleen via I Fry Mine In Butter.

Dr. Dog; photo by Colleen

Pickathon 2010: Lots of love and a passionate rant by Colleen Nielsen

Just last week, the 12th annual Pickathon took place on the gorgeous Pendarvis Farm about 45 minutes outside of Portland in Happy Valley. I am not an early adopter of Pickathon but it was my 3rd year at the lovingly curated “Indie Roots Festival”; a broad enough theme to keep things fresh every year. The vibe is always mellow (and very family friendly), most fellow festival-goers are respectful and it’s not so big that you have to fight your way through a sea of drunks to get a glimpse of your favorite band. It’s like a big block party in the woods.

Past years at Pickathon, I have felt quite lucky to experience some amazing sets of music. My first year we wandered out to the stage in the woods and stumbled upon The Everybodyfields playing sweet, country-fied indie rock tunes to an audience of about 30 people sitting on hay bales. About two songs into their set, it started to rain and they had to shut off the PA. Instead of packing up, the band stepped down from the stage into the audience and continued their set as the rain came down. It was a wonderful, beautiful set and that was it: I was hooked on Pickathon. I also got to catch John Doe of X fronting the Sadies in a tiny barn downing Black Butte Porters in a single gulp and then ripping through some X nuggets and new rockabilly tinged numbers. Jolie Holland also performed a magical midnight set in the same barn.

This year’s Pickathon featured a pretty amazing line-up. A well balanced blend of some established bands (Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Heartless Bastards, The Punch Brothers), up-and-comers (These United States, Megafaun, Cotton Jones), and local heroes (Black Lillies, Typhoon, Michael Hurley, Weinland). Again, there were some truly fantastic performances. Richmond Fontaine did an amazing set with tunes about beautiful losers and down ‘n’ out sad folks finding their way home. The Fruit Bats tore through two rockin’ plugged in sets and notched up tempo that downplayed the heavy banjo presence on their records. The real break out for me was Maryland’s Cotton Jones. There is something about a band that can manage to create a thick atmosphere in the middle of the day on a large stage. It’s not easy to do but they pulled off their otherworldly twang with real grace.

Cave Singers, photo by Colleen

So all of this was wonderful and I don’t want to downplay what an utterly fantastic festival Pickathon is… but I have a gripe. I’m getting old, so please bear with me as I am about to rail against the younger whipper snappers around me. Here was an amazing, kick-ass festival that you were attending and how did you spend it? Glued to your G4 smart phone updating! It broke my heart to see so many people taking pictures with their cell-phones and then ignoring the band to talk about something they saw on the internet. Don’t worry, I’m fully aware of the irony of using the internet as my platform for bitching at people who are glued to the internet. But here’s the thing: I experienced that festival. I took the pictures I could when I could without getting in peoples way. I let myself enjoy the music (when people weren’t talking LOUDLY over the delicate songs of Michael Hurley for instance). And I’ve let myself have the last week to process the whole thing and not just vomit all over a few tweets and facebook updates.

Fruit Bats; photo by Colleen

I reached my tipping point when during a ethereal, elegant set in the woods from Bonnie “Prince” Billy, two young ‘uns behind me were loudly talking about this: “YOU SHOULD LOOK THEM UP ON GOOGLE, THEY DO REALLY INTERESTING THINGS. LOOK THEM UP ON GOOGLE.” Gah! How frustrating. There is a wonderful, special, interesting thing happening right now. You are here. You are having the chance to experience something tangible and real and you are shitting all over it! Listen, I get it. The internet is marvelous. It is a great tool for connecting. But how can you connect if all you do is go through the motions regurgitating someone else’s content? Shut it off for a hour or two. Take in some art. Read a book, a real one that you can hold in your hands. Make something. Anything! Not only is what you’re doing unsustainable, it’s rude. Be kind to your fellow concertgoers. Be aware of the people around you. You might make some new friends and connections! You might be surprised what happens when you become silent and observe.

Heartless Bastards; photo by Colleen

Now that that is off my chest, let me reiterate: Pickathon is awesome! It makes me proud that my adopted home has not only produced this festival but so many excellent bands. People come from all over the country to see this thing and I get to live right near it! Viva the non-corporate get-together. Now get the hell out there and create something. I’ll probably come see it!

You can gladly bitch at what I create with a handful of other grumpy curmudgeons over on pop-culture blog, I Fry Mine In Butter.

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Thank you Colleen for your coverage (and your blunt honesty). Do YOU have something to say? Photos or video to share? Be our next guest blogger. Pitch your story to outsidermusicpdx [@] yahoo.com

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