Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bonus Q&A with Paper Tongues

Here is more from my interview with Paper Tongues drummer Jordan Hardee...

Which tour has been your favorite so far this year?

We did a radio promo tour where a few of us went around the country for three weeks. Did a lot of acoustic performances and had a lot of face time with pop stations. It was definitely a lot of hard work and time consuming. But I think it was successful and really paid off. A lot of [radio DJs/programmers] said it was the best acoustic performance they’d ever seen. That was the general consensus.

I caught the band play back in July at the Glass House in Pomona. How was that tour?

We really connected well with Neon Trees and Civil Twilight. They’re actually some of our close friends now. That was a great triple headlining tour - just a great experience. We all grew from that experience.

You also played Bonnaroo earlier this year.

That was probably one of the coolest things we did. We didn’t get a huge stage, but during the set, tons of people walked by. It was a cool setup because we were right in the middle of Bonnaroo. So everybody who was walking by, we were playing right for them out of a tent. By the end of the set, there were hundreds of people. I think it was really great exposure. And it was cool just to play a huge festival. It was one of our first big festivals, so it was a lot of fun.

Do you find the band’s sound translates well outdoors?

I do. I actually think that it goes over better when we play in bigger places. Our sound is very much for the masses. It’s a big, broad sound. We have anthemic choruses. 

Aswan is a real dynamic frontman. Are you ever surprised at what he does on stage?

A lot of us have known and played with Aswan for awhile. So we know where he’s going to go. We haven’t been caught off guard too much. He’s definitely a great frontman and knows how to lead the crowd. We just follow him. Whatever he wants to do, we’re ready to go.

Are you guys glad to see more radio stations playing your music now?

We’re just building. It’s stepping stones. Any help we can get. We’re in the beginning process…Switching to pop [from alternative] radio is a whole new thing. We’re just hanging on and seeing where this thing goes.

When the album came out last spring, did you go to a retail store and buy your own CD?

I did. I was waiting for that. It was our first album. We were all stoked about seeing it in the stores. We went to Best Buy and got copies. It was cool.

You’re credited with co-writing music for three of the tracks. “What If” is one that you kick started, right?

It was. One day, me and Aswan were at the house hanging out. I said, ‘what do you think about this bass line?’ It just came on the spot. We didn’t have to think too much about it. The vibe was just there. The rest was history. I had a little idea for the melody and he started writing the lyrics. Now it has huge potential and it’s exciting.

You play several instruments?

Yeah – keys, bass, guitar, drums. Just something I picked up when I was little. I wanted to be well rounded and started practicing a lot of different stuff. In different bands [before Paper Tongues], I would play guitar, bass or drums. It helps out.

Who were some of your early influences? I read you were a Dave Matthews Band fan at age six.

I used to love them – had all their live DVDs and CDs. Studied that stuff, musicianship-wise. Huge classic rock fan – Tom Petty, Allman Brothers. I love The Roots, Fugees. All over the place. Indie rock. Before Paper Tongues, I was singer/bass player in a dance/rock band like Franz Ferdinand/Interpol.

How was the experience doing the video for “Ride to California,” directed by Wayne Isham, who helmed all the memorable Bon Jovi and Def Leppard clips back in the ‘80s?

That was incredible. It was our first video. We were all buzzing about it, just stoked to even have a video. Then seeing all the crazy light rigs. They had trailers for us all and crazy food. It was a really fun experience. Just to have someone on that level take an interest to us on our first video, was really encouraging. It was just a blessing.

You and Joey are the only ones actually from Charlotte. What was the music scene like there when you started the band in ’07?

It was local, between friends and growing. We’d all help each other out, play gigs together and it was a fun communal thing. There are college towns and big bands would come through there. It’s definitely growing and getting bigger.

Are you guys ever amazed at some of the lyrics Aswan comes up with?

He generally writes fairly quickly and we’re like, ‘how does he come up with this kind of stuff?’ A lot of it is trying to be well-rounded in the sense that we want a lot of people to hear the music and feel like they can connect to it. A lot of those intentions are in the back of his mind as he’s writing. He wants everybody to feel special. A lot of the songs correspond to that.   

Paper Tongues interview

A version of my Paper Tongues interview originally appeared in the North County Times and can be viewed here:

The band opens for K’Naan on Sunday at the Belly Up in Solana Beach and Tuesday at House of Blues in Anaheim, Calif. Photo courtesy of A&M/Octone Records.

To get ahead in the music business, some risk-taking is necessary. It also helps if your band has a brazen front man.

Aswan North was in Hollywood to meet a potential producer for Paper Tongues. One day, the singer spotted Randy Jackson at a trendy hotel restaurant and seized the opportunity. He interrupted the “American Idol” judge’s dinner, wrote down the group’s MySpace page info on a napkin and assured Jackson would be impressed. Hours later, North received a call and Jackson eventually became the group’s manager.   

“We thought Aswan was a little crazy at first, but it definitely paid off. We wouldn’t be in the same boat without Randy right now,” said drummer Jordan Hardee, from a tour stop in Washington, D.C.

Paper Tongues’ impressive self-titled debut was released last spring on A&M/Octone Records and opened atop Billboard’s Heatseekers developing artists chart. The first two singles (“Trinity,” “Ride to California”) went top 30 at modern rock radio.

So far, the septet has shared concert stages with Switchfoot, Muse, Jet and Neon Trees. The current tour opening for Somali-Canadian rapper K’Naan has been a totally different experience.

“This is our first time in a hip-hop scenario,” Hardee said. “K’Naan fans have been enjoying it and really seem to love the material. We have a lot of hip hop influences, so his crowd really takes to it well. It’s definitely a perfect fit.”

The energizing “Paper Tongues” album is a musical melting pot, where the band steers into hard-hitting alternative, dance rock and hip-hop directions with equal intensity. Hardee said it was initially a struggle to make those elements coalesce in the studio.

“There are seven different people [in the group]. We all have different personalities and influences - classic rock, hip hop, jazz, classical. Getting all that together was hard at times. But when we started recording “Trinity,” it was the first time magic hit. All our influences shuffled into one sound.”

Paper Tongues formed three years ago in North Carolina. The members took part in Improv Music Experience, a weekly event where local musicians would set up at a downtown intersection and play to benefit the homeless.

“It was a Saturday night deal,” Hardee recalled. “Nothing was pre-rehearsed. It was a free-for-all, just going out there and having fun for the music’s sake.”

On the album’s frenetic “Ride to California,” North recounts how the band headed out West and attempted to get signed.

“We were all in Charlotte trying to raise money and had no hopes of a record deal or anything there. We just had a passion and belief for this music and tried to do whatever it took to get it to the people. A lot of [fans] wanted to contribute to our California trip. We went out there and things quickly started unfolding. The momentum started.”

During the uplifting, frenzied rocker “For the People,” North is defiant (“I won’t let you push me back away”), yet also reassuring (“don’t lose heart ‘cause things get better”) as  Hardee provides a clanking beat. The tune’s “together as one” attitude stems from a common music reference point: Bob Marley & the Wailers.

“They sang about what they believed in. That’s the kind of thing we took from them and like to do as well.”

Hardee, who is also proficient in various instruments, co-wrote the music for three tracks on the album, particularly the moody mid-tempo “What If” – a showcase for North’s soaring voice. Elsewhere, “Soul” contains a group chant about touching people’s spirits and “Rich and Poor” finds North urging a roll call of cities to “say a prayer.”  <<<

Although Jackson has pull on “Idol,” Hardee doesn’t think Paper Tongues is ready to perform on the popular TV show yet.

“We want to do it more ‘grass roots’ style and not use Randy for that. Success overnight would be a little cheap in the grand scheme of things…we want to do it on our own and build that way.”

What is it really like being one of Jackson’s top “dawgs”?

“Since he has been around the block in the industry wearing different hats over the years, it’s phenomenal to have someone with all his connections and wit about music” behind you. “He’s a great friend and like an uncle to us now.”

Bonus Q&A with Recoil

Here are more excerpts from my phone interview with Recoil’s Alan Wilder from his home in England...

Did constant fan requests for you to take Recoil on the road factor into your decision to finally do so?

Not particularly. I’ve always had a good relationship with fans. I’ve kept live communication going. When you’re in a position like Recoil, you kind of have to use those outlets; the social media stuff side of things: Facebook and MySpace as it was and more recently, Twitter. If you don’t cultivate that, then it’s very difficult to find a good outlet, because radio is very difficult. I’ve always tried to involve the fans. There’s a lot of talented people out there online just waiting to help, really. I guess from that point of view, I’m bowing to the [fans], but it’s not really that. It’s just my own decision that it felt like a good time to do it.

How much work went into planning, pre-production and programming for this tour? I talked to Vince Clarke several years ago and he used to spend six months or so prepping for an Erasure tour. When did you actually start getting ready?

I started in January. Then we did the first shows in March. So it didn’t actually take too long. Again, the beauty of modern technology helps in many ways. I had four different filmmakers working on this film. We all had a central server where we could upload the work, myself included, with the music. Without modern technology, email and fast uploading and downloading, there’s no way we could have done it in that sort of time frame. It would have been a much longer period of course. So it came together quite quickly and in the meantime, while they were making films, I was with Paul Kendall in the studio putting together all the music. A lot of it is regurgitated from existing remixes and new mixes. Then sort of put together in a completely different way. So it’s quite a fun project.

Is the music featured in the shows only taken from ‘Selected’?

No, there’s other stuff in there. There’s little bits of Depeche Mode I throw in every now and again, just as a kind of nod. I don’t like to give too much of that away because it’s a nice surprise to the fans. Of course a lot of my audience are Depeche Mode fans as well. It goes with my history. I throw a bit of that in to keep them happy. Also, there’s other bits of music that aren’t on that album - that’s true. It’s just a whole different mixture of bits and it almost runs as a continuous piece. It constantly changes and you never quite know what’s coming next.

Are you playing mostly general admission venues so fans can dance around to the music?

Yeah. It’s good that the venues are open. Actually the one in San Diego is quite unusual because that’s normally a jazz venue. They’re having to move the seats out of the way and we’re doing a particularly late show that night after another evening’s performance has already been and gone. Then they’re going to clear all the chairs out and turn the volume up and change it around slightly. It looks like a great venue.

When you toured Europe over the spring – in between delays due to the Icelandic volcano eruption - did those shows meet your expectations?

Yes they did. I’m really lucky that I’ve got good loyal followers. I think it’s not surprising that where I do best is also the areas where Depeche Mode did best. There is a direct correlation. Eastern Europe – Depeche Mode has a reputation there for being one of the first Western groups to really do well in places like Russia, Romania, Poland and all these countries. In the ‘80s in particular, when it was very difficult, no one went to tour there. We actually made an effort to go to many of those places. I think the fans really appreciated that. The legacy of that continues now. I’m actually reaping the benefits of that now when I go and visit those countries. People remember and we have a reputation that precedes us. I’d say the Eastern European gigs have been the best ones in Europe although all of them have been good. Germany’s always a strong market.

I saw on one of your website's tour blog video updates where you said on one of the European dates, there were some ‘Spinal Tap’-type moments.

There’s plenty of those. You now, the days of 14 huge articulated trucks and massive productions [from the DM days] have changed a bit for me. These days, we run things on a pretty tight ship. We have a very small touring party. We take all our equipment on the plane with us. We don’t have a huge amount anyway – we’re using laptops and synthesizers. It’s not a major production that we take with us, it’s all hired locally. We ask the local promoter to come up with a projection screen and we hope that when we get there, it’s to the specifications we’ve asked for. But it isn’t always. When we got to a couple places in Russia for example, it was comical. You have to be a bit philosophical, I suppose. We do everything in our power to advance the shows properly so these mistakes don’t happen, but of course they do.

The US shows are Wilder’s first live appearances in SoCal since DM’s ‘Devotional’ tour in the ‘90s. Recoil played in New York City and Austin earlier this year.

Those were ‘testing the waters’ kinds of shows. Then we decided we should come back and do a full scale tour, which is quite difficult to set up these days. We found it harder to set up than in Europe for a number of reasons – procuring visas and the logistics of getting around the States. It’s quite tough out there at the moment getting promoters to commit to shows. People don’t seem to be coming out to shows as readily as they used to in America.

Have you had to tweak the presentation as you’ve proceeded along on tour?

Yeah. I’m certainly changing a little bit for the North and South American tour now. We’ve outdated some of the films, really by way of variation, rather than correct much. There are a few little moments where I thought, ‘we can tighten that bit up and take this bit out and put a bit more there.’ It’s changed a little bit. It’s not radically different, just a little bit updated.

You had special guests at certain European dates. Anything like that planned for America?

A few things. I’m definitely trying. The thing with Recoil is [the guests] live all around the world. What I do occasionally is if I happen to be touring where they live, I can rope one of them in. I’ve got Joe Richardson turning up in Dallas. He’s from Austin, so he only has a three-hour drive. Nicole Blackman lives in New York, so she can join in there. Douglas McCarthy from Nitzer Ebb might turn up and do a couple shows. It just doesn’t make any logistical sense to take all the singers on the road for all the dates. It wouldn’t work out financially. Apart from the Recoil guests, what I’m trying to do is work on having other acts play in each venue and make each one unique. We’re throwing after show parties wherever we can. Having lots of support acts and different interesting people join the evening so every show is slightly different.

Turning to the ‘Selected’ collection, how did you decide which songs to include? Did you have a certain criteria?

Normally, when there’s some kind of collection being put together, there are stipulations. You’ve got to include this or that. As it goes, Recoil’s never had any major hit records, so there weren’t really any of those worries…I thought, ‘ah, it could actually sound better than your average ‘Best Of’ album. This could make sense as a record in itself if I put it together carefully.’

I noticed there’s nothing from ‘Hydrology 1+2.’

It’s not that I don’t like them particularly, as I say, if you go for an overall cohesion, then I couldn’t really fit those things in.

On the remix disc, you have others doing a few. Did you seek people out?

Mostly I seek people out or people have offered stuff. Again, it’s a little bit shoestring.

For the remix of “Strange Hours ’10,” you worked with an actual band, the Black Ships, featuring two ex-members of The Verve. How did that come about?

That’s interesting. My friend Davide Rossi is a string player/violinist and he played on The Verve album. He also plays with Goldfrapp and others. He was the catalyst for all that and introduced me to the other guys – Nick McCabe, who I’ve always liked as a guitarist – and told me they [and a couple other guys] are the Black Ships. They’re trying to finish their first album right now. I said, ‘look, would you mind just playing on this?’

With the wonders of the internet, they sent me the files…I don’t need to necessarily be in the room with the musicians these days. I can just get them to do stuff and then sort it out later.

You’ve worked with Paul Kendall for 10 years now. What keeps your musical partnership fresh?

That’s a good question [laughs]. I guess after 10 years, if they haven’t got on your nerves, then you must be quite good friends, I suppose. We have a good friendship is the first thing. He offers things in the studio that I can’t really do and visa versa. We don’t come from very different musical angles. It’s useful to have someone to bounce off [ideas] like that. I tend to be a control freak and want to take charge of everything myself. I do also need other people. It’s great to have someone who attacks things from such a different point of view. We just work together well. He just seems to gel. He actually lives here. I’ve got this place down in Sussex. I had a spare space and he was stuck for somewhere to live so he’s been living here for the past three years. I see a bit too much of him really.

Back in the early days of Recoil, you were one of the first musicians to use sampling. What initially drew you to that?

I think just the advent of the technology itself drew me to it. The emulator was probably the first sampler I used. Pretty much the first sampler that existed, I think. Actually, the precursor to sampling was the mellotron. Basically, when you pressed the key on the mellotron, it would actually trigger the playing of a tape in a loop, which is effectively what sampling is – sampling does it digitally and this used to do it on analog tape. But the effect is exactly the same. You’d press a key on a keyboard, it would send a piece of tape playing and actually play a real sound back at you at that particular pitch, like a violin or something. That’s what the mellotron was and it’s a very distinctive sound. People remember it from The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever” and all that. That was the precursor. Then this digital version came along, the emulator. To me, it was like a magic box where you were only limited by your imagination of sound. You’re not restricted to something that has to be synthesized. You could actually use the real sound itself. This is just a revelation. I’ve been enthralled by it ever since I’d say. As I say, you’re only limited by what you can think about doing.

In the past, with Recoil, you have said it was a reaction to the commercial pop nature of Depeche Mode. Did you intend it to be more underground and out of the spotlight?

Yes and no. I want people to know about the project and want it to do well. It’s not deliberately underground as it were…I’m not anti-pop music. I like pop music and occasionally Recoil will, more by accident than by design, be relatively commercial. Other times, it will go much more avant garde. It’s all by accident, really. Nothing is designed that way.

When you first left DM, did you feel like a weight had been lifted – that you could finally do what you wanted without restrictions?

I guess so. I could kind of do it within the group as well. I had the side project going anyway. There would be time restrictions. There were many reasons why I decided to leave that group.

While watching some of the DM documentaries included with the amazing catalog reissues a few years ago, I’d often see you in the footage sitting right next to the producers in the studio. Did that serve as a learning experience for you that later helped with Recoil?

Definitely. I’ve learned a lot over the years from working with different people – from the likes of Daniel Miller in the early days to Gareth Jones and Flood. We did some really good work on ‘Violator’ and ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’ where both albums were co-produced with Flood. I think it was the most inventive time for Depeche Mode, from my point of view. For myself, I’ve kind of been carrying on those ideas ever since. I’m always willing to learn from people, definitely.

The music of Recoil has a cinematic quality. Have you ever been approached to do a movie score and would that interest you?

You would think I would, but I haven’t had any real serious offers. I have done small things and the music has been placed in films or on TV. I’ve never really been commissioned to write a full scale score. It is something I’d be interested to do, yeah. It’s quite clear my music would suit that sort of thing.

What is your take on the state of electronic music today?

I wouldn’t say it’s either vibrant or stagnant. I’d say there’s always good music within any genre if you look closely. And there’s a lot of not so good music. That scenario hasn’t really changed over the years. There’s always good music around. It’s finding it, having the time or desire to find it. Outlets for good music are not always easy. There’s a lot of struggling people out there who have talent and don’t get heard. There must be good music out there. I don’t say I’m on the cutting edge though of knowing what’s really trendy these days. It’s just finding the time to explore and find new things is not easy sometimes.

Back in February, you guested with Depeche Mode on “Somebody” for a London charity benefit. What was that experience like?

It was good night, yeah…the performance itself was fun. Got a lovely reaction from the audience, who were very surprised. It was quite a big secret. Not many people knew about it.

In SoCal, Depeche Mode is so big here that you probably have more of a built in fan base than elsewhere in America.

We’ve been lucky. The [Recoil] shows are going really well from all the reports I hear. Tickets are selling really well. They should all be pretty much sold out in California. I’m very excited to be coming.

Do you have a lot of fond memories of SoCal from back in the day, when DM played the Rose Bowl, the Tower Records signing frenzy and everything?

Absolutely, yeah. Those were some of the highlights of the whole Depeche Mode career - the Rose Bowl event. We used to regularly play in Orange County in Irvine and the Forum in LA. We did lots of shows in California and they were always great crowds.

Which DM albums still stand the test of time for you?

‘Violator’ is classic in its own way, even though it’s a little more rigid and dated sounding, I suppose. I preferred ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion.’

What are your plans for Recoil in 2011?
Now that I’ve committed to doing shows this year, of course all the agents are going, ‘come back, we’ve got festivals next year. You’ve laid the groundwork, now do some more.’ That wasn’t really my idea. The [original] idea was do a lot this year and go and something different next year…[he might take part in two special Mute Records nights at the London Roundhouse in May featuring acts from the roster]. You could see some interesting collaborations at that. My plan is generally to do some more recording and see where it goes.    

Interview with Recoil (and ex-Depeche Mode) mastermind Alan Wilder

A version of my Recoil interview originally appeared in the North County Times and can be viewed at the link below: Photo courtesy of Mute Records. 

Upcoming concerts include Friday at the El Rey Theatre in LA, Saturday at Anthology in San Diego and Sunday at the Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana. For more info, go to

Technological advances have multiple benefits. One became the catalyst for Recoil’s long-awaited transition from studio to concert entity.

The electronic music project had never presented in a live context because sonic architect Alan Wilder always felt it needed to be accompanied by films.

“Up until recently, that would’ve been too expensive. [Everything] has changed these days with cheap editing software and high quality small cameras,” said the former Depeche Mode member, during a recent phone interview at home in England.

Then there was the matter of Recoil’s various singers, spread out across the world. “The music is put together in such an unusual way, I couldn’t imagine a band playing it.” 

Last week, Recoil launched its inaugural American tour, which heads to San Diego on Saturday - Wilder’s first area appearance since November 1993 with Depeche Mode.

“I want to stress that it’s not a live band. There’s not a bunch of musicians and vocalists coming along. What we do is an audio/visual presentation designed to work in the live arena. We obviously do some live performance on top of what’s prepared, but it’s very much a visual feast,” Wilder explained.

“It almost runs as a continuous piece and constantly changes. You never quite know what’s coming next. The idea is to get people moving. It’s quite lively in that respect. The music is stripped back and pumps quite hard. We want it to be loud and work on that level.”

Over the course of five Recoil albums since 1988, Wilder has worked with a diverse crop of vocalists: Nitzer Ebbs Douglas McCarthy, Diamanda Galas, Toni Halliday of Curve, spoken word artist/novelist Maggie Estep, Delta blues guitarist Joe Richardson and Moby, among them. All but the latter are represented on “Selected,” a new career retrospective assembled by Wilder and musical partner/Mute Records engineer Paul Kendall.

When Mute wanted to bring people up to speed and said Wilder could put anything on it, he found the process was like having “an open book…I really just applied simple logic and took important tracks I knew had to be there.

“It was like a sports team: you get the key players and build the rest around that. My main criteria was it should work as a whole listen. The really old stuff didn’t sit right, so most material is from the last three recordings.”

From Galas’ odd intonations set to a jazzy dance groove (“Strange Hours”) and McCarthy’s fierce vocals on a propulsive Sensational Alex Harvey Band cover (“Faith Healer”) to ethereal (“Allelujah”), gospel (“Red River Cargo”), luxurious trip-hop (“Drifting”) and harrowing tunes that would fit on an old David Lynch movie soundtrack, “Selected” is a solid primer for the uninitiated. The deluxe version features remixes.

“I’m not really in a position to farm out music to expensive remixers, so I choose people I think are enthusiastic and keen and have something a bit unusual to offer. Or we do them ourselves…it’s a mish mash of different people and mixes over the years.”

Wilder utilized the talents of The Black Ships, a new band containing two ex-members of The Verve and violinist Davide Rossi (Goldfrapp, Coldplay, Royksopp) on the eerie “Strange Hours ’10” remix.

He sent them “a very basic version of that song and said, ‘play along; give me anything.’ I didn’t even go in the room with them. They sent it to me…then I deciphered the best bits and put it together. That’s actually how I work a lot, which I really enjoy.”

Classically trained, Wilder joined Depeche Mode in 1982 following Vince Clarke’s departure. The keyboardist was integral to the creative process, playing assorted instruments, writing a few songs on “Construction Time Again” and “Some Great Reward” and later pushing the band into more experimental directions.

Wilder left the global music phenomenon in 1995 to devote more time to Recoil and start a family with his new wife. “Being in a group didn’t suit me anymore. I’d grown out of it. The idea of a democratic vote for every musical idea didn’t sit too well with me.”

Frequently dark and uncommercial, Recoil was the polar opposite to Depeche Mode. Wilder didn’t necessarily seek refuge from the spotlight, but admitted “I’m not into compromising what I do to cater to a particular market. I’m lucky enough to survive comfortably off what I do now and…I enjoy having the freedom of an open ended project that can go in any direction.”

Back in February, Wilder briefly reunited with Depeche Mode onstage for the first time in 15 years at a London charity performance. He played piano on “Somebody.”

“It was out of the blue. They only asked me a couple weeks before that. I don’t think Depeche Mode had ever been involved in any charity event, so it was quite unusual they were doing that in the first place. I thought, ‘that sounds like a great idea. [The Teenage Cancer Trust] is a good cause and a great chance to catch up. That’s exactly what it was.”

Wilder discovered a few things while watching Depeche Mode’s set as an outsider. 

“It was the first time ever and a real eye-opener, because you have a different perspective from the audience than you do from the stage. I had mixed feelings; some parts were better than others. There were certainly moments where I suddenly saw what the appeal was. I understood why this particular group manages to come across in a live setting. I realized Dave is very good at controlling the audience and having them in the grasp of his hand. It’s something I hadn’t quite understood until that moment.”

If Wilder had to choose which Depeche Mode album still stands the test of time, he’d opt for his final effort with the group, “Songs of Faith and Devotion.”

“It was more fluid sounding and complex” than [quadruple platinum predecessor] “Violator.” I didn’t enjoy making [‘Devotion’] too much, but there was a certain difficult chemistry, which actually helped. Isn’t that a rock ‘n’ roll cliché? Through that adversity, we actually got good results.

“We went to Madrid, hired a house and lived together - a terrible mistake. In 10 weeks, we got three songs recorded (“In Your Room,” “Walking in My Shoes,” “I Feel You”) and those were probably the three strongest Depeche Mode have ever done!”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ed Harcourt at House of Blues Anaheim

I caught Ed Harcourt open for James at House of Blues Anaheim on Oct. 12. Here's a quick rundown...

Harcourt has been putting out acclaimed chamber pop albums for nearly a decade. The Brit’s latest, “Lustre,” is easily his best since 2001’s Mercury Music Prize-nominated “Here Be Monsters.” Backed by a bassist and drummer in Anaheim, Harcourt went on early at the Mouse House (I enjoy the rare occasions when you don’t have to wait an eternity for a show to start there).

His 45-minute, 10-song set kicked off with the lovely “Lustre,” the first of six selections from that album (see my review on this blog). Despite admitting to self-described end-of-tour fatigue (“we’re a bit bedraggled”), Harcourt’s initially ragged vocals only took a few songs to open up. It helped that he utilized various effects with three microphones at the keyboards.

Standouts included “Church of No Religion,” with Harcourt on acoustic guitar and a luxurious flow. The discordant piano of “God Protect Your Soul” was definitely haunting, while “Heart of a Wolf” had a Dresden Dolls feel plus an ending electric guitar freakout by Harcourt. Then the alluring “Until Tomorrow Then” found the singer utilizing a bullet mike to get up close and personal with the crowd and do some high fives. Some truly heartfelt vocals on "Fears of a Father" capped things off. Definitely worth seeing as a headliner. Hope Harcourt returns to the States in the near future.

Lustre/Church of No Religion/God Protect Your Soul/Haywired/Heart of a Wolf/(unknown)/Shadowboxing/Do As I Say, Not As I Do/Until Tomorrow Then/Fears of a Father

Q&A with Hoodoo Gurus

Here is more from my interview with Dave Faulkner of Hoodoo Gurus, who was quite a hoot to chat with last month.The new album, pictured above, is available now.

The last time I caught the band live was in 2007 when you played the House of Blues in Anaheim.
That was fun - the Disneyland days. That was a great gig.

Was that U.S. tour a memorable one? Before that, you hadn’t played here in ages.
It was. We didn’t tour on our last album before we broke up. That was 'Blue Cave' in 1996. So it would have been 1994 the last time. Obviously [the 2007 tour] was like...dipping a toe in the water. We’re not expecting people to be conscious of us in the States. We haven’t had the same sort of mainstream career that we’ve had in Australia. We’ve always been sort of a cult band there. That tends to narrow over the years as people cease to hear about you. 

On your short tour of America in October, the band is doing small clubs. Do you prefer that intimate vibe where the crowd is right in your face?
It’s hard to know. It really depends on how well we play. The venues don’t daunt us one way or another...Last night was interesting. We were in a very small club in Montpelier, France. They have a law about volume in France; there’s a db limit. Our amplifiers certainly can be turned down, but our drummer is not very easily turned down! He just really smashes the drums. That little space was tricky to perform to what we thought we could do to make it a balanced sound without obviously breaking the law [laughs]. We managed to get away with it apparently. There was regular sound out the front. It was a very small little club, but was quite crazy. 

How have fans been responding to the new material from 'Purity of Essence'?
Fantastic. Besides the fact that it’s sold really well in Australia and charted – all those things you hope to do, but don’t expect them after all these years. It’s also the material. Even before the release of the album, we were playing a couple of the songs in concert and immediately they were just going over really well. There’s something about the energy of this material. I don’t just mean high energy. There’s some kind of spirit there that people really connect with. It just seemed to fit naturally into our repertoire. They weren’t flat spots in the show, which often new material can be. We’re doing quite a few. We don’t make it like the new album and cursory lip service to the past. We obviously acknowledge the fact there’s a whole lot of other stuff people are very fond of that’s part of what we represent. We do put a healthy little slab in there. So far, so good.

How did you end up connecting with producer Charles Fisher again?
It’s not hard. He’s done two albums that we’ve really enjoyed working with him on. 'Mars Needs Guitars' is the one most people would remember him for. 'Blue Cave' is the album that we did with Charles later on that we all really love. He’s a very good friend, besides someone that we respect and admire. The thing with Charles that is his great gift, besides all his musical ones, is the psychology of how he works with people...He has a great bedside manner.

When did recording actually commence?
The whole thing took a year, going from our first demos to the rehearsals to the release. That was around February and March [2009]. Then we started rehearsing. The actual recording started in April or May [of last year]. There were some tricky bits. Always the mix is that one thing you agonize over. We actually had one false start with that. We were in a studio where we couldn’t a handle on the acoustics of this room. It baffled us really. Anything we did in there, it sounded completely different and wrong. So we just had to give up on that. We ended up going back with Ed Stasium, another old friend. So it was Charles’ third album with us and also Ed’s third album with us. So we reunited a lot of our ‘A’ team. [laughs]

Q: On the song “1968,” which guitarist Brad Shepherd wrote, you sing “listen for the sounds that resonate.” Who were some acts from the period that inspired you?
That line is actually a creepy reference to the Manson family. Before they set off on their killing spree, that is what they said: [mimics:] ‘listen for the sounds.’ Which is kind of horrible. When I wrote the [rest of the] lyrics, I didn’t realize that’s what it was meant to be about, so I just wrote it about 1968 generally. Obviously it was a year of great change - not only musically but politically - and there was a lot of stuff going on. To be honest, I think it could have been written about 2009. Every year is one of great change and drama.

[1968] had a sort of resonance. Brad, if you want to [press] him, one of his favorite groups of all time is the MC5. They were pretty active around then. That’s why they get a name check in the song. That’s certainly a group I would pick out from that era that’s fabulous. Of course the Stooges were just getting going, they hadn’t recorded yet. That song probably has more of Stooges sound. 

For me, if push comes to shove, for my favorite era of rock, I would go with 1958-1962. I love the innocent pure exuberance of that era. And stuff before and after. I love all Elvis and going back even further, swing stuff. For me, the great sound of rock ‘n’ roll came to its peak around 1963 [laughs] as far as acoustics. Obviously there were lots of adventurous musical changes and things happened even to the present day. The part I’m most dazzled by is that era.

What was the inspiration behind “Only in America”?
I’ve spent a lot of time in America. A couple years back, I was talking to some friends who are musicians about the whole 'red state vs. blue state' thing. They said something quite funny to me, which was ‘the result of the Civil War was wrong. We should have let them split off.’ [laughs] ‘So we don’t have to put up with all that tension of people trying to force their way upon the other side of politics. They could have their way and we could have ours.’ The song’s not written about that in particular. The lyric is actually a bit dark, talking about problems and stresses that are in America. And also many others places around the world, those same stresses. I just use America [as an example]. But the chorus is so celebratory in the way it sounds that you think it’s actually an anthem for America. Even though the lyrics are kind of questioning how settled everything is...From an outsider point of view, I like the fact that the song embraces both the insecure and the defiant. [laughs] 

On “What’s in it For Me,” were you paying homage to the Stones?
Musically, yeah. Also, we’ve had a lot of punk energy in the past, but we’ve never had it like that. That was really something we were proud of. Lyrically, it can be taken tongue and cheek. I am not the world’s most miserable skinflint that I would begrudge paying some charity money.

“Crackin’ Up” actually came to you in a dream. Can you tell me about its genesis?
That is true, yes. It was a weird one, you know. I just woke up and it was like I was listening to a radio station, except I was slightly coming around and realized I’m dreaming. I figured out there wasn’t anything really playing and it was in my head. Then the fact it was a new song and a pretty damn good one. I had to quickly gather my thoughts and find a little recorder and sing all the melodies in there. Even the chorus words were there. All I did was write the words for the verses and it was done. That has been the standout hit on Australian radio.

What is the story behind the amazing cover art collage?
It’s a long association with these surfer artists we know that started designing leisure wear, surfer clothes, and hip gear. They came to us many years ago wanting us to wear their clothes. In fact they named their label after a line in “Leilani,” our first single, and called it “Ngawa.” They spelled it wrong and so did we [laughs]. I’ve learned from riding the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland it is that way. They spelled it Umgawa. 

Jumping forward,  they weren’t the best business people and didn’t really succeed. They were talented graphic artists as well. They went into fine art and are still good friends. They have a tandem art personnel they call Doug Bartlett…I really loved their clothing and hadn’t thought about them for a long time and wondered if they were still making clothes. I’ve still got clothes of theirs that I wear. I Googled them and found out they’re real artists and saw their work and liked it. I ended up buying a painting of theirs.

When it came time to do the album, I thought they were ideal. I knew they liked our music and talked to them about it. They were excited to do it. As you can see from the cover art, they’ve kind of referenced some Gurus iconography in there with the dinosaur and the greyhound. Playing around with the notion of Hoodoo Gurus as well as classic American icons. That’s why we put Paul Hogan on the cover as well. He gave us his permission. We didn’t do like the Stones did with ‘Some Girls.’

Did you enjoy doing the tongue-in-cheek webisodes on the Gurus' web site?
It’s a bit silly and we’re not going to challenge anyone for acting stakes. We just liked the idea of putting this silly fake rockumentary together and having a laugh at our own expense, really. Making ourselves look idiotic as usual. It was just the development of the idea of doing a bunch of clips for YouTube so we could have a bunch of songs and an online presence. Rather than putting all your money into one of two videos which get shown twice on network TV and never shown again. We thought, ‘let’s get more bang for our buck’ and the idea expanded to ‘let’s make a plausible plotline as well.’

In 2005, there was a Gurus tribute album “Stoneage Cameos” and you guys contributed in the guise of your alter ego group. What did you think of the other bands' results?
We loved it. Most tribute albums suck, I reckon. I’ve heard a lot of them with great artists and they just seem to lack something. Usually it’s the fact that the original is so much better than the tribute. And the tributes don’t add anything to it. These particular artists and the way it went together, they took such radical directions that it became its own thing. We were almost marginalized in a way from it because they had done such dramatic changes to our songs and personalized them. I was really happy to see that. The Living End did “Leilani” and brought more of the rockabilly aspect out of it. It’s really cool. Most other ones went so far out, you could almost not identify those songs on a couple occasions. A lot of the people involved were significant artists in Australia. It was a huge compliment to us that they’d lend their talents to our work.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Music news: Jack's Mannequin/Something Corporate

Here's some exciting news for Jack Mannequin fans and vinyl afficianados about one of my top 10 albums of 2005.  

Everything In Transit, the debut album from Jack’s Mannequin on Sire Records, will be re-issued for the first time since its Aug. 2005 release on vinyl with new artwork and sequencing. It will feature two new songs — an a cappella version of “Holiday” and “La La Lie (West Coast Winter version).” Those who pre-order will receive a copy signed by Jack’s Mannequin frontman Andrew McMahon. The pre-order has begun at online vinyl retailer, with albums arriving on the street date of Dec. 7.
Everything In Transit Vinyl Edition tracklisting:
Side A
1. Holiday From Real
2. The Mixed Tape
3. Bruised
4. I’m Ready
5. La La Lie
6. Dark Blue
7. Miss Delaney
Side B
8. Kill The Messenger
9. Rescued
10. MFEO
11. Into The Airwaves
12. La La Lie  (West Coast Winter version)
13: Holiday From Real (acapella)

As previously announced on, Andrew McMahon will perform a very special concert on Nov. 18 at LA's El Rey Theatre to benefit his Dear Jack Foundation. The evening will mark the first time McMahon will perform with both of his bands, Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate.
He will be joined onstage by special guests Marc Roberge from OAR and singer-songwriter Matt Nathanson. Proceeds will also benefit the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation and Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. This show is sold-out, but visit www.dearjackfoundation for information about how to donate.
Jack’s Mannequin are currently in the studio in Los Angeles and Joshua Tree, with producer Jim Scott (Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc), working on the follow-up to their 2008 album The Glass Passenger.
Check for news, information, tour dates, Andrew’s blog, merch, and much more.

Music news: Depeche Mode

I just received a press release on this new DVD. Photo courtesy of Press Here Publicity and Capitol/Virgin/Mute Records. 

On November 9, Depeche Mode will release Tour Of The Universe - Live In Barcelona (Capitol), a live DVD of two performances in Spain from their most recent world tour. The DVD package will feature 21 tracks recorded over two sold out nights at the Palau St Jordi in Barcelona, Spain on Nov. 20-21, 2009. In addition to the DVD package, the deluxe and blu-ray editions will be released the same day.

The DVD comes with exclusive content, including four bonus tracks recorded across the band’s two nights in Barcelona, a tour documentary, two live tracks filmed at tour rehearsals in New York, as well as Anton Corbijn's specially created 'screen films' for seven tracks plus further bonus montages created from the on-stage screens. The package also includes the four music videos released by the group off of their acclaimed Sounds Of The Universe album, including the GRAMMY nominated video “Wrong,” directed by Patrick Daughters. For a sneak peek of the DVD fans can log on to
Tour of the Universe – Live In Barcelona’ comes in three formats:

Super deluxe 4-disc version (2xDVD, 2xCD):
DVD1 (a 21 track live performance plus four bonus tracks)
DVD2 (extra bonus content including documentary and promo videos)
2 x CD (audio of the 21 tracks from DVD1)
Deluxe version (1 x DVD, 2 x CD):
Contains DVD1 and the two audio CDs
Blu-ray (2x Blu-ray discs)
1. In Chains
2. Wrong
3. Hole To Feed
4. Walking In My Shoes
5. It's No Good
6. A Question Of Time
7. Precious
8. Fly On The Windscreen
9. Jezebel
10. Home
11. Come Back
12. Policy Of Truth
13. In Your Room
14. I Feel You
15. Enjoy The Silence
16. Never Let Me Down Again
17. Dressed In Black
18. Stripped
19. Behind The Wheel
20. Personal Jesus
21. Waiting For The Night
Bonus tracks
World In My Eyes
Sister Of Night
Miles Away / The Truth Is
One Caress

Inside The Universe
Tour documentary

Tour Of The Universe / Screens
In Chains
Walking In My Shoes
Come Back
Policy Of Truth
Enjoy The Silence
Personal Jesus

Tour Of The Universe / Rehearsals
Walking In My Shoes
Bonus tracks
Hole To Feed
Behind The Wheel
Never Let Me Down Again
Sounds Of The Universe - Videos
Hole To Feed
Fragile Tension