Bill Frisell on playing with Paul Motian: the rest of the interview

Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell

Earlier this year, I interviewed jazz guitar legend Bill Frisell about a memorial concert he was curating in memorial of his longtime friend and collaborator Paul Motian. That concert has long since come and gone, but I’m not sure I ever shared the full transcript of the interview with you. At the time, I remember, I just wanted to play the recording of our conversation for everyone I knew, simply because it was so surreal. The man has been in business for a long time. The stories he can–and does–tell are remarkable. He’s played an integral role in the last 30 years of jazz. There’s no downplaying his experiences or their importance in the oral history of an American art form. And as I sat in my car, engine off, tape running, fingers freezing, praying my notoriously spotty cell phone reception wouldn’t suddenly drop the most interesting phone call of my life, I had to constantly remind myself that this was for real.

Of course, it wasn’t practical at the time, to give you all the full interview. But I think the things he says, especially about his introduction to jazz and that very first session with Paul Motian are just too important to keep to myself. But now, with the news that Bill will bring his Big Sur Quintet to the Wexner Center in Columbus this December, I think this is a good time to bring you the rest of my interview with Bill Frisell.

From an interview conducted in March 2013.

TIH: Yeah. I mean, I read in one interview you gave a few years ago, you described getting that call to play with Paul as being sort of a BAM moment for you…

BF: Oh yeah. It was really huge and not for anything…it wasn’t about…at the beginning, we didn’t even have any gigs, really. It wasn’t about making any money or anything like that, but it was this opportunity for me to really be myself in the music. He was calling me to be—it wasn’t like just another guitar player he was looking for, it was more like a personality I guess he was looking for. And I felt like doing his music, I was able to find my own music somehow.

TIH: What were those first sessions like for you?

BF: Well, the very first time I went to play with him was in 1981, like January of 1981, and you know, I’d never met him, but the phone rang and it was him and I couldn’t believe it. (laughing) And he said “Hi. This is Paul Motian. Do you want to come over to my house…or, my apartment…and play?” And I was like, “What?!” I could not believe it. So, I go over there and it’s me and Paul and Marc Johnson was there who I’d never met either at that point. And Marc was the last bass player to play with Bill Evans—you know Paul’s history with Bill Evans—and I came in there and they were talking about…Bill had just passed away recently, so they were talking about that. So I was just feeling like, what am I doing here, this electric guitar player, you know? They were trying to figure out what tune to play. And they said, well, let’s play ‘My Man’s Gone Now’, which is this George Gershwin tune that I really associated with Bill Evans.

TIH: Yeah…

BF: It was another one of these kind of heavy moments when I found myself drawn into this sort of unreal, dreamlike..you know, playing that tune with those guys. And playing electric guitar? How am I fitting in with this, you know? I don’t know. He thought it was ok, I guess. We kept on playing and he kept calling me back and I’d go over there every week or every few days even. And sometimes different people, first with Marc Johnson, and then Joe came over and eventually led to what was—the first gig we did was a quartet. It wasn’t until about nine months later that we did our first gig. And a little while after that a European tour and that’s when we recorded. That was the first time I recorded with Paul, as a quintet.

Much more can be found here.

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A Tribute to Paul Motian with Bill Frisell

Paul Motian
Paul Motian

March 25th will mark what would have been the 82nd birthday of legendary jazz drummer and composer Paul Motian. The same weekend, on the 22nd, a tribute concert curated by longtime collaborators and members of the Paul Motian Trio—Bill Frisell and Joe Lovano—and featuring more than 20 artists who worked with Paul over the years, will take place at the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre at Symphony Space in New York. I caught up with Frisell last week to chat briefly about his years playing with Paul and the experience of curating a tribute to a jazz icon. Some excerpts from the interview are included below.

There is, I think, a heightened self-awareness that is integral to jazz. Its future is almost dependent on familiarity and continual interaction with its past—legends, techniques, and sacred texts passed down from one generation to another in the grooves of dusty old records, over whiskey in smokey clubs, on a shared piano bench in downtown apartments. The same stories told night after night, but never the same way twice—it’s that sense of here and now and never again that is, arguably, the lifeblood of the great American art form.

Paul Motian was already an influential figure in the world of jazz by the time of his first meeting with the young Bill Frisell in January of 1981. As one third of the classic Bill Evans trio and after more than a dozen albums with Keith Jarrett, Motian’s influence on contemporary drumming was already undeniable. Still early on in his career, I ask him what those early sessions were like. It’s a meeting Frisell still recalls with fondness and even a touch of disbelief:

Bill Frisell
Bill Frisell

“Well, the very first time I went to play with him was in 1981…and you know, I’d never met him….So, I go over there and it’s me and Paul and Marc Johnson was there…(Marc was the last bass player to play with Bill Evans)…[and] Bill had just passed away recently, so they were talking about that….And they said, well, let’s play ‘My Man’s Gone Now’, which is this George Gershwin tune that I really associated with Bill Evans.”

“It was another one of these kind of heavy moments…playing that tune with those guys. And playing electric guitar? How am I fitting in with this, you know?…He thought it was ok, I guess. We kept on playing and he kept calling me back and I’d go over there every week or every few days even.”

From those early sessions, with the addition of saxman Joe Lovano, emerged the Paul Motian Trio who would spend more than a quarter century pushing the limits of the jazz trio and, true to form, of time itself as Motian turned his attention to his own compositions. Even as each pursued their own projects, playing with other bands and each new generation, the Trio continued to perform together, including annual residencies at the Village Vanguard, for the better part of three decades, more often than not with little to no rehearsal.

“I never knew what was gonna happen. I think that’s what kept it going for so long. Every time we played, it felt like it was new. So there was sort of like this double thing: the comfort of being with these guys that you knew so well, but then Paul, he just never stood still…Every note he played was searching for something just beyond the horizon,” Bill recalls of their performances. “[It was] always just right on the edge of not knowing whether we were going to make it or not. But I think…if we had just gone through the same thing every time we played, it would never have lasted that long.”

Their annual runs at the Vanguard continued until Paul’s death in November of 2011.

“When he first passed away,…I was kind of lost as far as able to play the music. It was just like this giant chasm—this empty hole as far as thinking about how am I ever going to be able to play this music again….[A] couple of months after he passed away, there was a little gathering at the Village Vanguard….[That] was the first time…Joe and I played just duo. We played his tunes there and it was just such a relief in a way…It really felt like Paul was there with us. It was almost like he was handing it over, saying it was OK to just go on and play the music. It felt so good, like the music was still alive and soon after that, I started playing it with some of my bands.”

And now, as we approach what would have been Paul’s 82nd birthday, the handover continues. In the end, Paul’s tunes, too, will enter the canon, to be passed to the next generation along with those of Monk and Evans and all the great legends of whose works he once sang from behind the drums.

Going apeshit over Brahms and Sufjan: an interview with Nadia Sirota

yMusic at Ecstatic Music Fetival (photo by David Andrako)

I know you’re all probably tired of hearing me go on and on about how much I love yMusic and how, every time I see them, it’s pretty much the greatest thing ever. Unfortunately for those who feel that way, I saw yMusic again last week at the Ecstatic Music Festival. And, once again, it was pretty effing awesome. So, while I take my travel day to think up some new metaphors to describe how much I love yMusic, you can read this interview I did with violist Nadia Sirota for an article that appeared in the Risk and Consequence zine in October of 2011 (it’s on page 30).

It’s a pretty decent interview by my standards. We discuss yMusic’s new album Beautiful Mechanical, as well as their work on My Brightest Diamond’s All Things Will Unwind and the myriad other artists they collaborate with, and how dumb it is when people make declarations like “classical music is dead”. Anyway, here it is: [Read: Beautiful Mechanical: an interview with Nadia Sirota of yMusic]

Interview with Sarah Kirkland Snider transcript

Some of you may remember that interview I did with Sarah Kirkland Snider on Twitter several months ago when Penelope first came out. I made it into a video, which I’m sure you’ve seen floating around, but I’ve had some requests recently for written transcript. Well, I managed to steal a few minutes while I was in Minneapolis for String Theory last week, so here’s that transcript y’all asked for. You can, of course, skip straight to the video at the bottom if you like.

In an earlier version of this post, I had written that Penelope would be performed at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. That performance has since been canceled. Sorry about that. The Southern is in the midst of some serious financial difficulties. Please consider a donation. Also, some of the information in this interview is now obsolete. For instance, you can no longer stream the first track from Penelope on NPR. However, you can stream the whole thing on Bandcamp and on the New Amsterdam website.

[begin interview]

The Indie Handbook: We’re going on 6:00, so I suppose it’s time to get this interview going, if you’re ready and assuming your battery holds out.

Sarah Kirkland Snider: Ready. Battery juicing.

TIH: Brilliant. I’ll be listening to Penelope as we do this, just for continuity’s sake. So, people can stream this now on NPR.

SKS: Yes, well, they can stream the first track.

TIH: Well, that’s a start at least. The official release date is a few weeks away.

SKS: Right. October 26.

TIH: Let’s go back to the beginning. How did Penelope get started? It wasn’t always a standalone song cycle, as I recall.

SKS: Right. It started as a musical theater piece with playwright Ellen McLaughlin. Then I reconceived it as a song cycle for Shara.

TIH: Yeah. She’s the one who first told me about it last June or so. How did she come to be involved?

SKS: I couldn’t imagine anyone singing it but her. So I got my people to call her people and she very awesomely said yes.

TIH: She certainly sounded enthusiastic when she mentioned it in our interview. But how do you go about composing for someone like Shara Worden? She has such a unique instrument—such a wide range of colors.

SKS: Exactly. It was thrilling knowing I could do so many things and she would know exactly what to do with them.

TIH: Well, I think that’s exactly what you’ve done here—not so much that you’ve touched on a varying number of musical styles, but images. I fell like it’s a very visual piece of music—almost tactile, even. A sort of multi-sensory experience. I really hope that was intentional and that I’m not just crazy.

SKS: That’s a great compliment to me. I definitely think in terms of mood, image, feeling—never style.

TIH: I’m thinking of tracks like ‘Circe and the Hanged Man’, for instance, and that sort of laid back groove it has through the first half. I am particularly fond of the way you’ve set the word ‘luxuriating’. It’s like it takes on a whole new dimension.

SKS: Cool. I think Shara deserves a lot of credit for that. She has such amazing timing and innuendo—very sensual singing.

TIH: She certainly does. So, obviously there is a story element here. Did you give any consideration to the Odyssey itself when writing music for a story that parallels it so closely?

SKS: I did, absolutely, though Ellen’s story loomed perhaps a bit larger. Her inventive and idiosyncratic takes on the Odyssey characters really inspired me. They were so specific and complex and relatable.

TIH: I really do love Ellen’s text. I think it highlights elements of the Odyssey that are not necessarily readily apparent, elevating it from a simple hero story to something far more human, not to mention giving Penelope some long-overdue recognition.

SKS: Why, yes. Absolutely.

TIH: Let’s talk about style for a bit. Most of our readers are already familiar with My Brightest Diamond and this is similar, in a way, particularly in the sense that it straddles the border between pop and classical. There’s a lot of talk about “alt-classical” and pop vs. classical these days. What do you think of that whole issue?

SKS: Oh boy! The $1 million question. I think it’s awesome that so many people are bringing their influences together in organic and convincing ways. We often say at New Amsterdam that every person is their own genre: Dreamland. I think the important thing is just to strive for an honest and successful musical statement and not worry about style. I’m conscious of it—obsessively so—but more as an after-the-fact reflection on whatever idea I just had. The main thing is to let those ideas happen.

TIH: I think that ideal shows in the number of great releases New Amsterdam has put out this year. So, you’ve had time to reflect. What influences do you see in Penelope?

SKS: Oh, to give away my sources! Kidding. [There are] so many. I think the biggest here were Shara, David Lang, St. Vincent, Arvo Pärt, Bartók, Neutral Milk Hotel, Chopin, Wilco, Schubert, Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, Debussy—I could go on and on, actually.

TIH: A great list. I could have sworn I heard some Phillip Glass in there as well.

SKS: Of course! Philip Glass is so deep in my DNA that I forget about him. For me, he was one of the first living composers who seemed to offer something relatable and relevant to my life experience.

TIH: It’s Satyagraha that I feel I hear specifically, especially in “The Lotus Eaters” for instance. Though that could just be because that’s the bit of Glass that’s so deeply embedded itself in my subconscious.

SKS: Interesting. Egad! I actually don’t know that piece, but I do think of some of the emotional terrain in Glass generally as influential for me. But so often, what underlies an influence it’s an ineffable emotional quality rather than a specific technique or gesture.

TIH: Did you have a specific, overarching structure in mind for the song cycle as a whole?

SKS: Yes, the song cycle follows the narrative of the play, though I added a new song to serve as the kind of emotional and narrative apotheosis of the story (“Baby Teeth”). In the play, the apotheosis is arrived at via spoken text.

TIH: That’s interesting, because it really does feel like the whole set kind of hangs on that song and the idea of being known.

SKS: I am impressed by your close listen. That’s what I was going for. And yes, being known—such a complicated concept here, because there is the sense that he wants to know himself and others again but he cannot get past his “guilt” and his deeds—the things he is known for by God.

TIH: I feel like the narrative itself reflects, in a sense, that philosophy you mentioned before, the very idea of probing the past and the psyche to find that sort of ineffable self that exists buried underneath all the extraneous psychological noise.

SKS: Do you mean compositional philosophy? Interesting. Yes, I think a parallel exists. It’s definitely about letting go of self-judgments and extraneous noise and trying to find something hidden below the surface.

TIH: That’s essentially what I’m getting at. Maybe not that it was a conscious decision, but that it’s a sort of natural parallel.

SKS: Absolutely. I imagine Odysseus’ task was a bit more anguish than mine, though it doesn’t always feel that way.

TIH: At this point, I’d love to explore the finer Existentialist points of this in light of The Sickness Unto Death, but I’ll spare you and let you go. It’s been such a pleasure talking with you. Congratulations on such a great piece. The album is just beautiful and I think people will love it. I wish you further success with New Amsterdam, as well. You’ve put out so much great music this year, and I think I speak for many others when I say you should release Penelope on vinyl.

SKS: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure talking with you, too. That really means a lot. NewAm is such a labor of love. And I love the vinyl suggestion. We are thinking about it. By the way, The Sickness Unto Death was my favorite book all through college. Anytime you want to plumb its depths over Twitter, I’m you man.

TIH: That’s brilliant! The next time we do one of these, we’ll make it Kierkegaard-centric. Cheers!

A new single from Dimbleby & Capper – ‘Let You Go’ – and a bit of an old interview

I’ve just been in Toronto for Canadian Music Week (more on that in the coming days), but The Indie Handbook passed a handful of anniversaries whilst I was away. The most timely of those being the anniversary of my first Dimbleby & Capper show. Now, I’m sure most people don’t mark the anniversaries of even the most memorable gigs they’ve attended, but I don’t have a whole lot to look forward to in my life and besides, there’s more to it than that. A few weeks ago, I sent a writer out to her first ever D&C show (the review will be available soon enough). Then, and this really is the most pressing issue, there is the matter of ‘Let You Go’, the new single being released next Monday on TAPE Records. I’ve been in love with ‘Let You Go’—as well as the B-side ‘Raise It Right’—since I first heard the rough cuts back in November.

At this point, it would be a waste of time for me to tell you how much I love Dimbleby & Capper or how confident I am that Laura Bettinson and her ‘Boy Band’ will be carving out a permanent niche for themselves over the next 18 months or so. But if you’re new to this D&C business, you can go back and read those interviews we ran last year and these other posts. But what the rest of you may not know, there’s still a good bit of that interview from one year ago that I never published. What better way to celebrate our anniversary than to let you read it, eh?

 

The Indie Handbook: You’ve been getting a lot of support from the BBC, haven’t you?

Dimbleby & Capper: Yeah, Huw Stephens, really, which has been fab, but—have you heard ‘Beautiful But Boring’?

TIH: Yeah, I have.

D&C: Well, that was a track that was literally a demo, and I hooked up with this producer Liam Howe—he’s doing all the über-pop stuff at the moment, Marina and the Diamonds—well, we hooked up a year or maybe two years ago and did that demo in, like, three days then suddenly (and that’s the beautiful thing about the internet, but also kind of irritating is that you lose control of stuff really quickly), but basically another blogger texted him and said you should play this and Huw Stephens checked it out. And then he played. And he played it every week, for the whole summer, every show, which is awesome, but also it wasn’t really ready for that. It was just a demo and I hadn’t quite—I was straight out of uni and we went straight on to do the Great Escape, we did Glastonbury, we did Latitude, we did a Maida Vale session, and I went over to L.A. on another project I’m doing and it was too much. I can’t imagine what it’s like when you get to the Ellie Gouldings where it just kind of runs, but even on that little level where you get played every week on a little specialist show and people are listening—and I needed a bit more time to figure it out, because I was just messing around with producers and suddenly realised that I can produce my own stuff—and I would prefer to.

That’s what I’m doing now. And I think some of the ‘Beautiful But Boring’ lovers have since gone Yeah, you’re alright…but then, alongside that, we’ve got a lot more people who are really into it. And there’s a few more things in the pipeline….I mean, I’m not really interested in the massive record label. Essentially, there will be a record at some point, but I have no doubt that it will be recorded before there is a record deal.

TIH: Until then, I suppose it’s just a matter of playing out and writing more and just generally soldiering on. What’s the best gig you’ve ever played?

D&C: The best gig we’ve played was probably Latitude. If you’ve got mates who are around you—like in London I’ll have a load of good mates—yeah, it’s fun, but it’s not really a challenge, but at Latitude, no one was there that we knew. And we were just quite lucky that it rained just as we went on stage, which meant that everybody—everybody—that was standing on the grass just poured in and stayed there for the whole set and they really enjoyed it. And we got so many new fans, just from that little 20-minute set there and people were really really digging it and that was the most satisfaction I’ve gotten out of a gig, because, like I said, you know there is no one there that you know, but you can tell that the energy is really good and that was really fun. And Glastonbury was fun, but not quite on the same level. It was a bit more…I guess there was a bit more pressure, which sometimes can ruin things. If everyone goes in thinking This is going to be amazing—you just don’t need that, really. You’re just going to play what you normally do.

TIH: Would you rather people came with no expectations—that you be something of an accidental discovery?

D&C: Well, I think that’s when people like it more, almost. I mean, it’s slow. The progress is slow, but every gig, we do seem to come away with people who are absolutely hooked and then others who just think it’s alright. But it’s cool. Like you say, there seem to be a lot of people who come and they’re really grabbed by it and some people who really get—well, there’s not a lot to get, really, it’s just a little fun—I think some people think we’re taking ourselves a little bit too seriously, but I really don’t mean to come across that way [laughs]. We’re just having a laugh. Some people really get it, and others—we’ll work on them.

TIH: Exactly. Just give it some time. What about these other side projects?

D&C: Well, the main one—it’s not really in any state of coming out or being released yet—but I’m doing a project with Nigel Godrich and a couple of guys from America (you know, the guy that does all the Radiohead stuff). So I’m doing a project with him that’s really exciting, really cool music. I really dig it, but we haven’t got—I mean, there are a few tracks there, but again, you don’t have the time to put in and finish anything, so there are about ten half-baked tracks there, some that are more like three-quarters-baked and others are only just started. It’ll probably come out when I’m about 25 at this rate. I’m hoping, and he’s telling me, that it will come out before I’m 23 and that’s next year.

TIH: How did that get worked out?

D&C: That came about because Nigel came to one of my solo gigs—which is weird—ages ago, at The Queen’s Head, in Angel. They were looking for a singer, basically, because they’ve got all these beats (they’re amazing musicians), these wicked soundscapes and they’re looking for someone to write over the top of them and that’s kind of what I do, you know. I start with a beat or a loop in general and then I write a song over top of that and add everything afterward. And we saw the method in that and thought we’d give it a go and it’s working out for the moment. So, we’ll see. And I spent a little time in L.A. with him in April last year, which was fun—a complete eye-opener—and then come crashing back down to Deptford in southeast London and the realisation that, ok, this is my life.

TIH: They are somewhat different places.

D&C: Yeah, but I love that. It’s this weird thing that one minute you can be the toast of the party…and then the next I’m back working my minimum wage job. The weirdest thing and quite funny, when I left L.A. in April, I landed back in London at Heathrow and my manager immediately called me up saying ‘How was it? Was it great?’ and I just thought 20 minutes before I left to get on the plane, I was in Beck’s swimming pool with his kids [laughs] and now I’m getting back on the Tube to come home. What is that about?

TIH: No doubt working with someone like Nigel Godrich is bound to be an amazing learning experience, but what about your other influences? I know it sounds like a loaded question—like I want you to pigeonhole yourself—but obviously you don’t exist in a musical vacuum.

D&C: I think, as a kid—well, as a teenager, anyway—I listened to a lot more Smashing Pumpkins (I was a bit of a grunger), and the Crocketts and Placebo and all those kinds of bands. I listened to a lot of Ani DiFranco, actually. I just listen to a massive range and I was—and still am, really—into all the Motown and soul stuff in a big way, which I think you can kind of hear in some of the harmonies that I put together. You get that a lot, they can be quite retro sometimes coupled with that kind of industrial crunch beat stuff makes for a kind of interesting combo. So, I listened to a lot of that, then I came across this band—I think they’re from New York originally, L.A. now—called White and the Writing, I think they might have actually split up, but I listened to them and I thought this is awesome. It’s kind of lo-fi but there’s really something in it, this melody—if you’ve got a good melody, you can put it over anything, really and it makes it stick. I’m a big fan of melody. And so now, I guess I listen to—I don’t know. You always find yourself, when you take your music more seriously that you don’t listen to that much stuff.

TIH: I hear that from a lot of musicians, actually, people who won’t listen to anything while in the process of writing or recording. I think, in listening to your music, I can hear a lot of diverse influences—not in the sense that it sounds like one thing in particular, but that it sounds like everything and nothing.

D&C: It’s like you put everything in a blender on a quite chunky kind of setting.

TIH: As if you’ve processed your entire listening background and poured it all into one place.

D&C: I think you’re bang on it, there. Yeah, because a lot of it is nursery rhyme-ish as well, some of the melodies are. I’ve got this one song, it’s called “Want This”. It’s almost afro—it’s got a lot of this African kind of feel to it, but also nursery rhyme-ish melody and, like I was saying, soul-like harmonies and this disgusting beat and it’s kind of—I don’t know. You get into your own bubble kind of, until you realise that it’s just me. I guess it will be interesting to see what other people think of it.

 

So, there you have it. Dimbleby & Capper—the whole D&C brand, for that matter—has come a long way in the last year. And now the rest of the digital world is falling in love with D&C like so many of us always knew they would. The added dimension of Tá Na Deptford to the D&C live experience is proving to be a fruitful and thought-provoking conceptual partnership. As far as traditional media is concerned, D&C is receiving some well-deserved attention from the NME these days, including the online premier of the new video for ‘Let You Go’ earlier this week.Things can really only get better from here. For my money, all the impending immense success couldn’t be more well-earned. And I’m thrilled to have been an insignificant witness to it all.

You can buy ‘Let You Go’ b/w ‘Raise It Right’ starting Monday, 21 March. You can watch the video and download these remixes now.

Interview: Kites

I admit it. We’ve been relying rather heavily on the Swedes around here lately (but can you blame me?). But, in the name of global citizenship, we’re expanding ever-so-slightly southwest to bring you Kites—proof positive once again that the 80s are alive and well in London (even if the majority of the decade’s greatest proponents—myself included—have little to no memory of the original incarnation).

If you follow The Indie Handbook on Tumblr, you’ve already had a very brief introduction to the band and the handful of tracks they’ve posted on SoundCloud. I’ve been streaming their tracks with increasing frequency over the last fortnight. So why don’t you go ahead and check out a few for yourself as you peruse this interview and we get to know the band a little bit better and maybe dispel some myths along the way. (I have to say, I am a huge fan of Taio’s desert island list. Chet Baker is an inspired choice.)

The band have also recorded a brief session for the online arm of i-D Magazine (a personal favourite of mine). I’ll link to that here as soon as it goes up.

Kites are: Matthew Phillips (Vocals, Guitar), Taio Renee-Lawson (Guitar, Bass), Richard Baldwin (Electronics) and Jack Newton (Percussion)

How did the band get started?

Taio – A series of unlikely meetings and conversations. It all seemed to fit into place like a puzzle.

Matthew – There has been a myth circulating that we met on the towering escalator at Angel Tube station in London. You know, the one where you feel like you are plunging into the bowels of hell. We admit partial responsibility for propagating this fallacy. If the truth be told, Kites began as an idea; an idea based loosely and perhaps a little pretentiously, on creative simplicity. I suppose everyone in Kites brings a different flavor to the make-up of the band. We’re also very lucky that we all get on famously.

What do people say your music sounds like?

Richard – It appears that many people lean toward comparisons with New Order and the like. Although flattering, I’m a big fan of New Order, I think that’s quite a lazy pairing.

Matthew – Yes, we do garner many comparisons with Depeche Mode and New Order. There have even been comparisons drawn with The Killers and The Maccabees but this probably has more to do with our aesthetic, rather than our sound. Artists who claim that their sound is entirely unique are pathological liars. I never get offended by comparisons – it is a very natural thing for people to do and helps outsiders to gain a rudimentary, albeit imperfect, insight into our music.

Taio – The press do make comparisons to New Order and Talking Heads. It is a total honor that people relate us to those brilliant bands. It goes with out saying that we have been influenced by them, but also by a wider range of artists and genres. I think we can stand alone from those comparisons and be judged on our own merits.

What do you think it sounds like?

Matthew – I would like to think it sounded like a mirror screaming back at its onlooker with compassion and, very occasionally, with mockery.

Richard – Personally I don’t think we sound like any single artist in particular, as each of us bring distinctly different influences to the table and that is reflected in the music. However, I recently read someone referring to our latesttrack “The Disappearance of Becky Sharp” as sounding like a “melancholy Erasure”. I was most amused by that. Vince Clarke is a genius.

How did the band’s sound develop?

Taio – I think our sound is still evolving and maturing. We know what we are about, and what music we want to make, but I think we are changing day to day, and so the music evolves as we do.

Richard – On our earlier tracks one might notice that the music sounds quite DIY, which indeed for the most part, it is, we have produced almost all our tracks in my home studio, but over the last year we’ve really learned and honed our sound. Don’t get me wrong, there is always room for improvement, but I think our learning curve is audible in the words, the music and the live performance. It’s great fun developing as a group.

Matthew – Every song that we work on together feels like a constant evolution in our sound. We have become more dexterous and versatile, and our repertoire has become more dynamic. I am already very excited about our future recordings. It has been a heady journey!

Unlimited artistic freedom or global superstardom?

Richard – I don’t think anyone would claim that what we are doing is so avant-garde that it can’t be genuinely popular. As for ‘global superstardom’ I am not sure that’s entirely up to us.

Matthew – It is my considered belief that a songwriter should, under no circumstances, compromise their artistic freedom. However, I don’t subscribe to the view that artistic freedom and success are necessarily mutually exclusive. As for ‘superstardom’, I am not sure if we are of the right oeuvre.

Taio – I think that the former can sometimes cause the latter.

What can we expect from a typical Kites gig?

Matthew – Unabashed passion and energy. We haven’t yet had the inclination to pick up ukuleles and, in that sense, the sound is very electronic and imposing. We try to actively engage our audiences in our aural ceremonies.

Taio – I do enjoy the live shows and performing. After all the nerves fade, I do enjoy it.

Your dream gig?

Taio – A Kites set on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury or Coachella main stage.

Jack – A Kites show also, but perhaps at Madison Square Gardens in New York.

Matthew – I know I might sound like a broken record when I mention this, as I do so frequently in interviews, but I would give my left nostril to see the Stop Making Sense tour.

You can only listen to one band/artist for a year. Who is it?

Matthew – Patrick Wolf

Taio – I would have to find a way for there to be more than one. Kate Bush springs to mind and Chet Baker does too… as does Joni Mitchell… and Björk. As you can see that’s an impossible question to answer.

Jack – I would go for The National.

Richard – From my own record collection it would have to be Norwegian Ambient Electronica from Biosphere, on account of him having enough material that I could listen to a couple of albums a month without repeating.

Welcome to the world of Dimbleby & Capper

Some people think this job is easy. It’s true that there are those entries that seem to write themselves and those writers who are perfectly content to bang out a post (read: cut and paste the press release) in 15 minutes. But I’ve never been one to do things the efficient way (in high school English, I was reading Fear and Trembling while my classmates read Ender’s Game). Likewise, I am always drawn to those artists who make my job more difficult—and I’ve been at a loss for words to describe Dimbleby & Capper for six months.

Trouble is, Dimbleby & Capper is a paradox. Never mind the fact that Dimbleby & Capper is actually one person (Laura Bettinson) or that she received heavy airplay from the likes of Huw Stephens very early on. What secured my devotion within the first 12 seconds of “Slick Maturity” was the seemingly perpetual quality of the music. It’s a sound so fresh and original, that it’s easy to assume that it’s just like something else. And with the recent explosion in popularity of female artists from Florence + the Machine to Marina and the Diamonds, it is inevitable that an act like D&C will be compared the same.

While it is true that Laura has worked with Marina and the Diamonds producer Liam Howe on one early track (“Beautiful but Boring”), it’s the self-produced lo-fi looped and layered tracks that make D&C so captivating. And while she and Florence Welch both rely heavily on pounding rhythms, Laura has deconstructed the jungle rhythms that struck fear into the heart of David Noebel to something far more dangerous than the quivering hips of Elvis Presley: an idea.

Of course, an artist who can, in the span of four songs, construct a sonic paradigm that sounds at once like everything and nothing you’ve ever heard (as is the case with the debut D&C EP, Slick Maturity) is bound to arouse high expectations in even the most cynical of critics. What I didn’t expect was the lasting effect a woman clad in fur and gaffer tape would have on the way I think about music (and a lot of other things).

If you aren’t already familiar with Laura and her music, now is the time to change that. Good thing we did that massive interview a while back. I’ll be posting excerpts over the next couple of days, but to get you started, you can download an mp3 of the non-EP single “Want This” (in exchange for an email address) and watch the official video below. It’ll give you a better idea just what we’re dealing with here.

It’s time you met Dimbleby & Capper. You never know, she could change your life.

Every ashcloud has a silver lining, just ask Bitter Ruin

Photo by Joe Shepherd

That ashcloud over Iceland has been wreaking havoc on a lot of people’s lives lately–and a lot of bands’ tour plans. However, some bands, like Bitter Ruin, have actually managed to benefit from it. They’ve managed to land support slots in the first few shows of Amanda Palmer’s current tour–all thanks to Twitter.  I thought it only fitting, then, to catch up with them and conduct my first ever all-Twitter interview–a Twinterview (ok, so we’re still working on the name). Also, they’re in the UK right now, set to open for Amanda again in London on Thursday night–Twitter is cheaper and easier than long-distance phone calls.

The nice thing about Twitter is that people can follow the interview as it happens. Also, the transcription process is way easier. Let me know what you think of this format. I may do this again. Enjoy.

*Note: AFP = “Amanda Fucking Palmer

TheIndieHandbk: Sorry about the late hour. How are you guys tonight?

BitterRuin: We’re good, busy, tired, but still buzzing from the gigs

TheIndieHandbk: I should say so. You’ve had something of an exciting last few days. How has the @amandapalmer tour experience been?

BitterRuin: Incredible, we still can’t believe it happened

TheIndieHandbk: I believe that. How exactly *did* it happen, anyway?

BitterRuin: Well, we’ve contacted Amanda in several ways before, but we have the ashcloud to thank, she needed support and we tweeted

TheIndieHandbk: Every ashcloud has a silver lining, I suppose. So have you convinced AFP to keep you on tour beyond tomorrow night yet?

BitterRuin: We’ll deffo be making an appearance, but she does have another act lined up too, so we’ll be cut short 😦

TheIndieHandbk: Well, for the record, @amandapalmer, I think you should take @bitterruin with you everywhere, and bring them back to the States with you.

BitterRuin: OH GOD, we do too, we just wanna stay on tour now! But, she has plans and I think we’ve gone as far as we can go 😦

TheIndieHandbk: Maybe for this slice of serendipity, but judging by the activity on your Facebook page, I’d say you have a ways to go yet.

BitterRuin: We’d love to tour immediately, but getting the money/transport/venues and the number of fans will be hard

TheIndieHandbk: So do you have any future tours in the works? I thought I heard rumblings about one earlier today.

BitterRuin: Yes, well, we’ll be gong back to dublin for sure – we’re always in London and Brighton, and Bristol’s not far

TheIndieHandbk: You’ve got a new EP due out next month, don’t you? That should help generate some interest, especially after this week.

BitterRuin: It’s actually our first full length album, recorded in the states with one of AFP’s producers…out 26.05.10

TheIndieHandbk: I didn’t realise it was a full LP. That’s brilliant! How do you think it compares to your other releases?

BitterRuin: Well, it’s been called ‘darker’…It’s so much more dramatic and actually less polished, you know, adds character

TheIndieHandbk: I was going to say. I’ve been reading through the lyric book I bought from you, and they are almost brutal.

BitterRuin: ha ha, the books or the lyrics?

TheIndieHandbk: The lyrics. Though I should add, the books are beautiful. I bought the We’re Not Dancing book as well.

TheIndieHandbk: So, let’s talk about the making of the record. You kept a video diary during the writing process, didn’t you?

BitterRuin: Yes, we tried to, but next time we need someone else to film and edit as we haven’t had enough time to finish them

TheIndieHandbk: I was rather impressed that you even attempted that, actually. What is your songwriting process like?

BitterRuin: Well, we both write seperately and then put the songs through the Bitter Ruin blender, they pop out the other side and TA DA

TheIndieHandbk: Well that Bitter Ruin blender works well. Your songs all have a certain identifiable quality and a definite theatrical streak.

TheIndieHandbk: I suppose that bit of dark cabaret is why you pair so well with AFP. But is that theatrical element intentional?

BitterRuin: It just seems natural for the music. I think our songs would look/sound stupid if we didn’t pull out the theatrics on stage

TheIndieHandbk: Well, your onstage chemistry is brilliant, and it fits the sound perfectly. But how would *you* describe the Bitter Ruin sound?

BitterRuin: Noir beauty! 🙂

TheIndieHandbk: Oh, that’s good. I’ve been thinking “gothic flamenco-soul” all day, but I think the noir reference is essential.

TheIndieHandbk: It certainly captures the look and the photography, which is just intoxicating, by the way.

BitterRuin: Joe Shepherd does all of our shoots. They’re always in bizarre places, latest one, a mental hospital!

BitterRuin: I think gothic tends to put people off, and soul would attract the wrong audience…it’s hard to get it right, suggestions?

TheIndieHandbk: I know, gothic is tough, but it’s gothic in the sense of Lemony Snicket or Northanger Abbey. You know, gothic, but in a fun way.

BitterRuin: Yeah, we mean *actual* gothic not high school gothic

TheIndieHandbk: I’ll let you know if I come up with anything. How does your music compare to the rest of the “Brighton scene” if there is one?

BitterRuin: mmm, brighton is tough, there’s a big music school here, and not much talent in it…ssshh, I’d recommend @birdeatsbaby

TheIndieHandbk: You know, you’re not the first to recommend @birdeatsbaby to me. I suppose I have no choice but to check them out now.

TheIndieHandbk: And, I have to say, I absolutely *love* the mental hospital photo shoot idea. I think it fits your sound perfectly, no offense…

BitterRuin: hahaha, no, it’s ok, we know we’re insane, the madness is what drives the music…it’s the voices, they write all the songs

TheIndieHandbk: Well, I know it’s getting late for you two and you’ve got a show tomorrow, so I’ll let you go in a moment. Where’s the next gig?

BitterRuin: Next gig with Amanda is tomorrow at Koko, we’ll be busking before the show, after that it’s Brighton 26th May/London 22nd May Album Launch

TheIndieHandbk: Well, thanks for chatting. It’s been great fun. I’m looking forward to hearing the new album and seeing you here in the States.

TheIndieHandbk: Though, I have been known to travel a long way for a gig (just ask @theschoolband), so you never know.

BitterRuin: Thanks for having us, see you soon. Night night!

TheIndieHandbk: It’s my pleasure. I’ll get a transcript up tonight for those who missed the live version. Cheers, guys! Good night.

An interview with The School

There is nothing “normal” about Edinburgh. I passed two hours reading epitaphs in an overcrowded, haunted kirkyard before following adverts scrawled in chalk on the walls of medieval buildings to the Wee Red Bar (which I never would have found had it not been for a handful of strategically placed wall scribblings, because Edinburgh is a city that never fails to confuse the hell out of me—and I love it for that reason) where The School would be playing later that night. So, when the eight of us—87.5 % of the band and me (violinst Steph was not present)–piled into the van that would tow them about the country on tour, I had no idea what to expect.

By the time we’d finished, Liz (lead vocals, keyboards), Ryan (bass), Rich (drums), Fran (trumpet, backing vocals), Kay (violin, backing vocals), Harri (guitar, glockenspiel, backing vocals), Ivan (guitar), and I had covered everything from the new album and the Cardiff music scene to chat up lines and 6 Music. And what I found amongst more than half an hour of clever, insightful answers to questions I didn’t even know I wanted to ask were seven people with real interests, opinions, and the sort of multifaceted personalities you’re not allowed to express in the grown up “real world”—the sort of people I miss having around.

An excerpt from the interview is below, but I highly recommend you read the transcription in its entirety here.

The School Interview

TIH: How did this particular lineup end up together? [pause] Judging by your reaction, it’s probably fairly complicated.

Liz: It is pretty complicated. I started in 2007. I used to be in a band called The Loves, and we did some demos of songs that I was writing which were 60s influenced but more girl-group kind of things and then I recruited Ryan to play bass.

Harri: I saw an advert you put on the internet that said “anyone who can play anything, please sign up”, but I was too scared…

Liz: Yeah, we’ve had quite a few band members. They’ve come and gone because we have so many instruments. It’s just different people’s commitments and stuff, because there are so many different parts going on. In Cardiff, it’s quite a small music scene so musicians are kind of rare.

Fran: I was actually looking for some place to live, so I typed in “musicians in Cardiff” and came up with “wanted: female backing singer and trumpet player/musician” and I was like that’s me!

Kay: I found my advert on my own website, which was interesting. So I deleted it and took it.

Rich: I got in through the old guitarist. He recorded a demo of another band I’m in and they needed another drummer, so I joined that way.

Liz: Yeah. The rest were stolen from other bands. Ivan, I met at gig he was playing and I thought Ah, guitar…

[Read the whole interview]

With apologies to Eve

I interviewed Eve Searls about her debut album under the name Bird and Flower about a month ago. I had intended to publish the article before the release party later that week. Oops.

A cool, rainy July day: seated in my favorite coffee shop in the oldest part of Columbus, I can think of no better conditions than these under which to sit and talk music with a songwriter I respect. The day is shaping up nicely and things look promising (and I rarely feel this way). But, while the cappuccino at Cup O’ Joe in German Village is as good as any you will find in the city, the tables are also unsteady. One misjudged foot placement, and my lap is soaked through with coffee, the table draped with napkins to ward off future spills, and I am considerably less cool than I was ten minutes ago (ah, normalcy…). And yet, Eve Searls of Bird and Flower is still willing to meet with me. Wow.

But this should come as no surprise. Here We Cease Our Motion, Bird and Flower’s debut LP, is not about the manufactured image. It’s about normal things – things like “being dumped, trying to be more independent, and trying to be happy even when you’re feeling bleak and hopeless”. And the frankness of the record is even more poignant when you consider that Eve, who has been writing songs for ten years, has only recently found the confidence to play them in front of people.

“I got a guitar for Christmas when I was seventeen and I just started writing songs for myself. I couldn’t play them for anyone, not even my family. I was terrified of playing in front of anyone else. So I got a four track a year later and I started recording. Just basic folksy, singer-songwriter stuff,” she assures me, taking a sip of unsweetened iced tea.

So what happened? Among other things, Garage Band.

“[Garage Band] had samples on it. And that’s how I started writing dance songs. “That’s the Ticket” is the first song I did on Garage Band. And I just used three samples, a bird tweeting, a beat, and a banjo and the song just came from there.”

Which is not to say that her folksy side has been left in the past. Far from it: “I feel like I’ve split into two people where I really like fun dance music and I like sad, earth-shattering folk music”. And that swirling atmosphere is clear throughout the record, not only in the disparate styles represented, but even in the seemingly conflicting lyrical and musical sentiments depicted within the context of even a single song.

“Even the fun sounding songs are kind of dark and sad underneath. They’re about really simple things like rejection. Hot Boots has some abandonment issues. And I don’t know if people notice, and they don’t really have to. As long as it’s fun, that’s fine with me. But there really is some darkness in the lyrics that kind of underlines the fun sample stuff.” This is, by no means, unheard of. The Cardigans pulled it off brilliantly with “Lovefool”, which remains one of the greatest works of songwriting dexterity I have ever heard. Here We Cease Our Motion may not quite reach such epic status in my book yet, but Bird and Flower are off to a good start.

Among the highlights for me are, of course, “Hot Boots”, and lead track “Dark Thoughts” (“Take it from me, there’s a possibility / that those you love don’t give a shit about you”….Like she said, it’s a bit dark). Then there’s “Jump Out of the Way”, which some will recognize from Super Desserts’ Barefoot in the Disenchanted Forest, even though this version is something entirely new, insomuch as it is the oldest incarnation of the song. But “The Healing Service”, the closing track has been the standout for me from the moment I first heard it. Essentially entirely a cappella, it could very easily have been lifted from the O’ Brother soundtrack and is instantly intoxicating. As the voices fade into the sound of rolling thunder and eventually silence, the listener is left to contemplate the lyrics: “I started my own religion, didn’t need to get a degree. / I made up my own religion through pain and sympathy / It involves a group of people who never drift apart / and though the pain they feel is their own, they feel it through one heart.”

The album is out now, but only on vinyl and download. I, for one, would encourage you to buy a hard copy, and I think Eve would agree. ”

I get really excited about the product, the object itself as a craft object. So when I make my CDs I hand print the covers of the CD and I like for people, if they actually buy something from me, that it be like a cool thing they can have. And I feel it’s the same way with vinyl. It’s huge; the art is a lot easier to look at; it sounds really good…” However, if you’re the kind of person who actually likes to know what they are buying before paying for it, you can still stream the entire thing here.