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Monday, Apr 14, 2008
by Robin Cook

Kaki King’s SXSW showcase introduced audiences to her shimmering guitar work and self-effacing stage presence. Despite the “Queen of the Acoustic Guitar” moniker, King can move between acoustic and electric guitar effortlessly. Her most recent album, Dreaming of Revenge was just released.—Robin Cook



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Monday, Apr 14, 2008

The St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival, a not-quite-boutique event that now traipses through four cities around Australia, has been buoyed in recent years by increased press attention and a more laid-back, welcoming attitude than some of the country’s larger, summer festivals. It is generally more civilized, and boasts the kinds of smaller indie bands that appeal to a slightly older crowd. Mimicking the urban setting of the original Melbourne location, the setup of the festival is a series of narrow stages placed around one slightly larger Park Stage. None of it is large by any means: maybe that’s why there was a half-hour line to get to the underground stage for the more popular acts. As the sparse late morning crowd began to multiply on Sunday—manifesting itself in longer bathroom lines—the prospect of seeing Feist, Broken Social Scene, and Stars attested to the growth of the festival. Still, it wasn’t too difficult to find decent vantage points for most of the bands, and acts national and international proved their mettle.
—Dan Raper


The Basics

The Basics


The Basics
Playing the 11:30am spot is not easy for any band. This exuberant Melbourne-based guitar-guitar-drums trio has been around for a long time, but has only recently been exposed to a wider audience thanks to one of its members, Wally de Backer, hitting it big with his solo act, Gotye. (In a nice bit of bookending, Gotye actually closed out the festival this year.) But the Basics themselves were a perfect start to the day. “Rattle My Chain”, one of the group’s singles, was tight and polished—a slice of enjoyable, easygoing ska-tinged rock. A song about swimming lessons, it sounded like a more relaxed Holy Ghost. We’re lucky that de Backer, who plays drums, has been so stringent on insisting the group plays on all his bills—even if there weren’t as many people there as they deserved.


The Basics

Ghostwood


Ghostwood
Signed to the hip Modular Records, Ghostwood’s muscular, effects-laden rock degenerated into abrasive waves of dissonance in the live setting. The group had a disinterested-rock-star thing going on, which didn’t work so well in an early slot at a mainly indie-oriented festival. But hey, they’re young, and you get the feeling that the group, as it matures, will find its own inner star and stop imitating others. Ghostwood’s songs were proggy and repetitive and frequently sidestepped the huge chorus; they would have been more effective with a mix that emphasized vocals over the sludgy low-end of the guitars.


Devastations

Devastations



Devastations


Devastations’ latest album Yes U should win the group some new fans with its sophisticated, dark-romantic ballads. Given their oeuvre, it should have been difficult for the band to shine in the mid-afternoon sun. But these three Aussies unleashed a storm of fuzzy chaos that dissolved in a pinch into disco-infused gothic grooves. Gyrating throughout, bass-playing singer Conrad Standish exuded sexuality. “This is a medium-sized-festival song,” Standish said, introducing “Mistakes” as the band grew tighter and more on point. Live, the songs had a floating atonality where vocal and guitar lines seemed to exist in alternate spaces until—bang—everything locked into place. “The Pest”, their new album’s centerpiece, was such a song. “Rosa”, which closed the set, built gloriously from a Nick Cave-styled ballad to a full freak-out: the first real rock group of the day.


Manchester Orchestra
This fairly new Atlanta-based band has built some buzz on the back of the 2007 re-release of their 2006 debut I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child. Their recordings hold a few charms, adding organ to an otherwise straightforward alternative rock sound. Somehow I had gotten the impression that they were somewhat Arcade Fire-esque with orchestral arrangements. It turns out the live show was just as unsurprising as the recording. At least frontman Andy Hull radiated goodwill, and the band was tight. The group put its all into its short, punchy songs—which suited the flitting festivalgoers’ attention span, I suppose. When they slowed things down, however, they struggled to hold the crowd’s attention. It was as the group was playing a slower song that I turned around to see a guy wearing exactly the same sunglasses as me (they’d been my grandfather’s, and retro, so I was surprised). But he was also wearing a rug on his shoulders, and my friend said, “Never trust a man wearing a rug.” I then decided to re-think those sunglasses. Did I mention that Manchester Orchestra struggled to hold the crowd’s attention in that slow song? It’s unfortunate, because in snatches, I got the feeling that it could have been a compelling one.


The Panics

The Panics


The Panics
Winners of last year’s J Award for best Australian album, the Panics are often referred to as the nicest guys in the Aussie music industry. Trouble is, sometimes the group seems to ride the wave of pleasant, atmospheric pop without the backbone of melody that could make one of their songs season-defining.


Nevertheless, the band members are consummate professionals, and their set on the Park Stage bobbed along from hit to hit (albeit slightly hampered by a mix buried in too much bass, not enough vocals). The Panics have moved on from the country guitar-tinged older material, which had a certain charm, to more mainstream song structures that still rely on that breezy guitar sound you hear so often from West Australian indie pop acts. The group’s newer material is almost apologetically easy-going, but it has become quite popular. “Don’t Fight It” is now ubiquitous, and its horn loop is instantly recognizable. They could be the next Powderfinger.


Okkervil River
Probably the best band all day, Okkervil River was incredibly tight, jetting through tried and tested songs with enough feeling that the crowd was blown away. Although I only caught half the set, the band upped the tempo on familiar songs from The Stage Names, which suited the festival setting. “Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe” was rousing, while “For Real” and “Plus Ones” were absolute highlights. Ending with the older track “Westfall”, Will Sheff and company worked themselves up into an awesome, Pixies-inspired fury.


Stars

Stars


Stars
If the vibe of the Reiby Place Stage was generally upbeat rock, the Park Stage continued its unhurried good-time feeling with Stars. The first of the one-two-three Canadian collective lineup (Stars, Broken Social Scene, and Feist), Stars were both powerful and smolderingly beautiful. Frontman Torquil Campbell was full of unbridled energy, pumping up the crowd with a heartfelt delivery that more than made up for his imperfect voice. In contrast, frontwoman Amy Millan was surprisingly fragile, her voice reticently floating over the layers of synths. Of course, “Ageless Beauty” was beautiful, but the highlight of the set was “Take Me to the Riot”, its oddly combative lyrics subsumed by the full band’s surging wall of sound.


Dan Deacon
I have been aching to see Baltimore electro wizard Dan Deacon play since reports first surfaced of his sweaty, inclusive, and ecstatic live performances. Having seen him with my own eyes, I can definitively say that everything I’ve read is true. He babbled about Ethan Hawke and Gattaca, got us to sing to a couple of onlookers in the window of a nearby Japanese restaurant, and made us dance through an arch of people. One guy even crowdsurfed for what must have been five minutes straight. It’s a wonder I’m able to remember any of this, as I was too busy dancing to take notes.


Bridezilla

Bridezilla


Bridezilla
Throughout the festival itself and in the days leading up to it, the anticipation for this super-young Aussie group was palpable. Bridezilla is a quintet of high schoolers (the drummer is the only guy) with a reputation for being genuinely cooler than you. And in their vintage (and I mean Jane Austen vintage) dresses, the group certainly projects cool. The guitar-guitar-saxophone-violin-drums setup is certainly more ambitious than most high school bands, and the layered, unconventional songs are also quite sophisticated.  The star of the group is Daisy Tulley, the violinist, whose blank porcelain doll visage belies a dervish of virtuosity. She’s as likely to perform around the corner, with her back to the audience, or off in her own world, but it’s completely compelling.


Feist
There’s no way you were going to get a good spot to see Feist. I caught a glimpse of her only once or twice, but that was enough. The Canadian singer-songwriter was as charming singing her own confluent pop as jamming on her guitar with Broken Social Scene, and even the young, macho Aussie guys were bouncing and singing along to “1, 2, 3, 4”. A continuing problem on the Park Stage meant that, from my position towards the back of the crowd at least, the sound was a bit muddy—nobody seemed to mind, though. Apart from the obvious hits, it was “Sea Lion Woman”, performed with a crowd of Canadian friends, that stood out most. The bouncing reinterpretation of Nina Simone’s classic built up to a hectic climax of reckless goodwill.


Gotye
The festival closed with a difficult choice—Gotye or the Presets. Though the sound of the Presets’ growling electro and the crazed chant of the crowd during “All My People” were tempting, I wasn’t sorry that I chose to end the festival watching the same musician I’d seen almost twelve hours earlier. Wally de Backer—who also plays drums in the Basics—always puts on a good show. Combining synchronized lights with videos run off his MacBook Pro, he jumped between a number of drum sets and keyboards, even a piano. Following the crowded love-in of Feist’s set with essentially a one-man show was a difficult task, and I occasionally felt like I was watching Gotye karaoke, since the electronic portions of the songs were all pre-programmed. (The musician has toured with a full band in the past, which I think would have greatly added to this show.) Nevertheless, de Backer’s good-natured approach and impeccable voice—I thought he might have been lip synching, he was so in tune—made it impossible to grumble. The graceful re-workings of familiar songs from 2006’s Like Drawing Blood provided a loungey, relaxing end to the evening. “Thanks for Your Time”, with its accompanying video, was funny and compelling, and “Heart’s a Mess” reminded us again why this guy’s such a hot prospect.


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Thursday, Apr 10, 2008
by Roman Kuebler
Photo: Meg Sheff-Atteberry

Photo: Meg Sheff-Atteberry


Under Mics with the Oranges Band


PopMatters has had plenty of nice things to say about Baltimore’s The Oranges Band (specifically here and here. When the band announced that they were headed into the studio to begin work on their new record, having soldiered through personnel changes and struggles at their label, Lookout Records, it seemed like an excellent time to catch up and to allow them to speak for themselves by cataloging the happenings. Over the next several weeks, Oranges Band frontman Roman Kuebler will write in with updates from the sessions for the band’s third full-length. Here’s part three…
Jon Langmead


 

On Overdubs


I feel like when we play live or rehearse, the songs we are playing are always subject to the performance and the instruments and the room and the energy. That is, clearly, what makes a live performance unique. It is also sometimes why the song itself must take a back seat to that energy and performance. Over the years, we’ve all heard about those incredible live bands that can’t seem to translate their talents into a recording, right? I always heard that about the Poster Children… maybe Jesus Lizard, too. I never much agreed with it because I was a huge fan of both band’s records and maybe, because I came across the albums before I saw them live, I had an appreciation for both the recorded and live dynamic. Their records are so great.


Anyways, this is just to say that in conceiving this album we approached the tracking as a live band in order to get a, sort of, natural feel. But the idea was never to make a “live” album because we still want to be able to highlight the songs so the next step was to begin the overdubbing process. It’s, ideally, a best-of-both-worlds scenario that will hopefully allow the songs to develop and focus outside of the mayhem of the practice room… but not too much. Get it?


Roman and Adam setting up for the overdub.

Roman and Adam setting up for the overdub.


Dave, the Oranges Band’s all-time drummer, has both the easiest and the hardest job in the band. He has to put up with me in the practice room trying to describe how I think a song should feel in this sort of broken drummer language that consists of me trying to mimic bass and snare drums with my mouth and by beating on my chest and stuff. We should get Doug E. Fresh to be a translator. The other part of his job that is really difficult is tracking. Drums, in my opinion, can not really be overdubbed… not without sounding like it at least.


So in going for the live takes, Dave pretty much had to nail each one. Not easy. Guitars and basses, even when meant to be live can be “fixed” without too much evidence but the drums have got to be there. BUT… once Dave gets through the songs, his work is mostly done, that’s the easy part. He gets to soak in a job well done while we try so earnestly not to ruin his hard work. And there has been more than one occasion when we’ve had some really awesome basic tracks that didn’t make it through the rest of the process. I guess that’s a lame part of his job, too.


Doug lighting it up, pt. 1.

Doug lighting it up, pt. 1.


OK, so Dave is done and Pat, the youthful bass player of the group, comes in to “dial in” his parts. There are a lot of recording terms for the process that describe fixing up the things you screwed up while tracking like “dial in” and “tweak” and “tighten up” and maybe, more so in Pat’s case, “caress”. Anyways, it was funny because we made a big production of getting Pat into the studio at a certain time that worked for everyone involved and having the equipment available only to realize that his parts were all tight as is. The stuff we thought needed the fixes were other people’s mistakes… mostly mine, of course. Well, we had fun listening to the tracks at least!


This is an interesting stage in the recording because you pretty much have your basics covered. Bass and drums are good to go. The guitars are present and accounted for, at least in their “live” state. So now you have to determine what to add to make the song better. Problem is, the world is available to you at this stage but, as is the real challenge of making an album, you must restrict yourself in some way. Luckily for us, we have budget restrictions and really no access to an orchestra so the process, at least, begins to come into focus. Rule #1-There will be NO orchestra on this record. Rule #2- This will not be “Chinese Democracy II”.


Doug lighting it up, pt 2.

Doug lighting it up, pt 2.


OK, so without an orchestra, or a string section, or a grand (or even baby grand or even upright) piano we begin the overdubs with what else… MORE GUITARS! My personal approach to overdubbing guitars has always been a bit of a shotgun styled attack. Plug the guitar in, turn the tape on start playing and see what sticks. In some cases this has yielded some pretty cool lead lines. They have been sort of one note melody lines that just kind of boost up the chord structure… at least that is how I think of them. The approach to my guitar overdubs on this album, though, is rather different. I have to say that while overdubbing lead guitars is fun and I think I have had reasonable success, I am NO lead guitar player. See when our previous lead guitar player left the group, he did so… mysteriously. I mean, it wasn’t clear that it was happening and we had shows scheduled. Now I am too proud and altogether too stubborn to cancel shows so the show goes on, right?


Well, we did go on as a three-piece for a little while. And then as a three piece with an occasional fourth guitar and backing vocalist and then kind of back to the three piece. We struggled with line-up fluctuations for most of the year last year. We were trying to figure out how to present ourselves live while we were putting together our next group of songs and figuring out how they would be recorded. It was a pain the ass and I learned a very important lesson… that I am NO lead guitar player and that I needed help!


Doug checking the goods, pt. 1

Doug checking the goods, pt. 1


The other thing that I was reasonably sure of, in the context of the recording, was that I was really looking for another player who could influence how these songs sounded and affect their outcome as recorded pieces. So, what does this have to do with my guitar overdubs? It means that I didn’t really want to do any… or very little at least. I wanted to crank out my rhythm guitars, add to them in the context of the rhythm only and let Doug open up on the leads and second guitar. So my guitar overdubs took about a day, I think, and consisted of me just peppering in a little rhythmic addition here or there, an acoustic guitar that mimics my electric and oh yeah, the “guitar takeover”.


Wha? Listen, I will let you in on a secret technique that I have devised called the “guitar takeover”. I am perfecting the style and approach but, what you need to know is that while the band is playing a microphone marches across the room focusing on a guitar and as it gets closer to the speaker, that particular guitar engulfs the entire song like an avalanche. That’s all I can say for now… be prepared.


Doug checking the goods, pt. 2

Doug checking the goods, pt. 2


When Doug Gillard came down from New York to join us for our first practice back in January, we had a show scheduled for the next night. It was cutting it a bit close but I certainly wasn’t worried about it not working out. See, we had traded some tapes and I got a sense of what kind of ideas he had and also, he and I had practiced in New York the week before. There I got a sense, not that he was completely ready and decided about what he wanted to do, but that could learn the songs without problem and that he definitely had ideas and could execute them. You know, I’d also seen him play with Guided By Voices on no less than 30 occasions and in those 30 shows I must have seen him play 100 different GBV songs.


As far as job interviews go, those shows were pretty convincing. So we are gathering to practice and the other guys in the band must have been a little apprehensive… I mean to play a show with someone they’d practiced with one time? It’s a little nerve racking. Well, about one minute into our first song at practice, everyone is all smiles and it’s pretty much like, “Yes, I am the genius that I suspected I might be!” A very smart person will come up with a way to do something themselves, but a genius will be smart enough to get someone who is better at it to do it for them.


Guitar Takeover.


This is all to say that in doing guitar overdubs, Doug was the man and had everything in place. I will admit to you that I actually slept through at least some of his takes. It was so awesome because I think I was working hard at my day job at the time and would be tired when we were in the studio… so I’d kind of doze off and when I woke up there would be this great guitar part that wasn’t there before. Pennies from Heaven! This is why I can only claim CO-producer credit on this album… it’s because I slept through part of the recording. This is also why I don’t have a lot of details about his overdubbing. I was sleeping or getting coffee or something while Adam (engineer) and Doug turned it out. Two days later and Doug had polished off all nine songs.


Now with pretty much all the instruments in place, I really have to concentrate on writing a few lyrics and we’ll start tracking vocals… next episode.


Roman Kuebler


Doug working out the parts for “When Your Mask Is Your Revealing Feature”



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Wednesday, Apr 9, 2008
by Robin Cook

Judging from the self-deprecating humor in Bobby Bare, Jr.‘s songs, you’d never guess he was a Grammy nominee at age five. Country fans may remember “Daddy What If”, his 1971 duet with dad, Bobby Bare, Sr. Bobby Jr., meanwhile, has settled in at Bloodshot Records, playing with a regular cast of musicians dubbed the Young Criminal’s Starvation League. Check out his Web site for a list of upcoming projects, including a Shel Silverstein tribute album with his dad. (Silverstein penned “Daddy What If”. Talk about coming full circle.)—Robin Cook



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Tuesday, Apr 8, 2008
by Robin Cook

Former Small Faces keyboardist and Rolling Stones sideman Ian McLagan has called Austin home since the 1990s. And, as he says, it’s a welcome change from the weather back in England. Today, McLagan leads the Bump Band, who backed Bonnie Raitt on her 1982 album Green Light, and you can count on them to appear at SXSW each year.  His newest album, Never Say Never, is out now, and includes songs dedicated to his wife Kim, who died in 2006. Following the Bump Band’s set at Antone’s, McLagan was in high spirits as he talked about his amazingly diverse career.—Robin Cook



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