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Friday, Oct 14, 2011
The National are impressed they get more women in the audience than Radiohead does.

The three day long New Yorker Festival hosted conversations with some renowned authors (Malcolm Gladwell), seasoned politicians (Nancy Pelosi), esteemed actors (a reunion and big announcement from the cast of Arrested Development, comedians (Zach Galifiankis) and engaging musicians (Mavis Staples). The connections between the moderators and the panelists were frequently professional and collegial, but one event was arranged simply because the moderator was a fan.

Atul Gawande, a surgeon and writer for The New Yorker, earned enough clout to select whoever he wanted, so he picked the Brooklyn-based band The National to converse with. Apparently, their music plays in the background during his surgeries. “Psyched” and “giddy” to see the band, Gawande overlooked one small but important part of hosting an event: introducing the band members to the audience. Unfamiliar with each member, I wasted some time trying to figure out who was who. Other than lead singer Matt Beringer seated in the middle, the other four band members are two pairs of brothers - a fact that would have been worth sharing.

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Thursday, Oct 13, 2011

Arriving at the venue for The New Yorker Festival’s event with Owen Wilson and moderator Michael Specter, the first thing I noticed was the three chairs on stage, a signifier of a potential guest. My guess was either a Wilson brother or Wes Anderson, the director and co-writer with Wilson on some films including their first, Bottle Rocket, and their most recent, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. When Specter came out with both Wilson and Anderson in tow he joked he wasn’t even going to introduce the director but many in the audience played along. He later said Anderson was there to assist in the conversation with Wilson—which would have been great.

Specter acknowledged that he was not prepared for Anderson’s presence when he was finding clips of Wilson for viewing. Yet, Specter’s posture and questioning for the next hour distinctly leaned towards Anderson. The clips, some from Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited and Fox all included Wilson, but the attention was given to Anderson more. Did we really need to know that there are people on the internet who are recreating the “whack-bat” game?

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Wednesday, Jul 6, 2011
Baltimore's Future Islands are embarking on their third European tour. They sat down to talk with PopMatters before their show in Dresden, Germany.

July is a big month for the guys from Future Islands. They just finished a US tour, they released a single for their upcoming album, and they’re currently embarking on their third European tour. The band made a stop in Dresden Friday night. It was the band’s second time playing at Beatpol; their last show was this past fall.

Before a packed crowd and without an ounce of jetlag, Future Islands played a handful of new and old songs, including some unreleased material that will be on their next album due out this fall.

The young German pop band In Golden Tears opened the show. When I went backstage to catch up with Future Islands lead singer Samuel T. Herring, I saw him exchanging stories with the German band, their minds not yet tainted by the overwhelming industry. From watching Herring interact with the emerging band, I immediately noticed how much of a storyteller Herring is. The singer uses the same kind of enthusiasm and magnetic interest during his on-stage performances.

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Friday, May 6, 2011
Musical mates tour with new co-creations.

The next night after a gig in Boston – playing to a hometown crowd for friends in the city of their beginning – The Submarines took the time for a quick chat with PopMatters before their show at The Music Hall of Williamsburg. The married couple of John Dragonetti and Blake Hazard have just released Love Notes/Letter Bombs, a new collection of songs detailing their lives – past, present and future.

Dragonetti spoke wistfully as he reminisced about starting out on drums at age four; he had to leave behind a beloved kit when his family moved to Cairo and then Dubai.  He begged his parents to let him have another but it wasn’t until years later they did.  He discovered guitar in his teens and a simple four track recording system which started his interest in writing as well as production.  Hazard grew up in Vermont, a family household without television and a rule that piano was to be mastered first before any other instrument.  About the same age as Dragonetti’s first drumming experience, she was learning the keys before moving on to guitar.  By her teens she was writing songs to acoustic guitar. They met while playing in separate bands and Dragonetti ended up producing Hazard’s debut Little Airplane in 2002.  Now they’ve co-written and recorded three full-length albums: Declare a New State (2006), Honeysuckle Weeks (2008) and Love Notes/Letter Bombs.

Love Notes/Letter Bombs began as sketches of songs which Dragonetti took into the studio to work with Spoon’s drummer Jim Eno and producer John O’Mahony, who has worked with Coldplay and Metric.  Meanwhile, Hazard was in Paris for a month filling up notebooks with lyrics and ideas of her own.  They each hold a veto power in the band, so anything not fully endorsed by both is taken out of the mix.  The title comes from the track “Tiger”, and powerful imagery of conflict and convergence runs through the album. Lyrics such as “You know I’ve loved you from the start / but this house can’t make you stay” in “Tiger” and “Would you ever let me love you like I did before the fight” from “A Satellite, Stars and an Ocean” convey the idea.  Their song “Birds” was used recently in the fundraiser compilation Songs of Love for Japan, benefiting Shelterbox, which delivers emergency shelter and essentials to the area.  The Submarines were happy to help them out and have hopes they will travel to Japan some day.

* * *

This spring they are busy touring in support of their new release, playing all ages shows where they can so a younger demographic can discover their signature indie pop. The constant collaboration is a hard version of couple’s therapy to recommend; its always a challenge with the togetherness of working together and traveling on tour.  It all seems so effortless and Dragonetti was pleased to hear it described as such.  But, on stage later that night, the complex layers of arrangements showcased the talent of each band member, revealing their passion for making music as well as for each other. 

Just before the band was to go on stage, Hazard was buzzing about decorating the instruments with strings of tiny white lights while Dragonetti was intently tuning guitars.  He was wearing a dark dress shirt with black pants while she wore a vintage white dress with appliqued flowers. With a quick “good evening” greeting from Dragonetti, they began the set with their first hit, “Peace and Hate”, which incorporates electronic bleeps that sound somewhat like a submarine (and additional elements were triggered by Dragonetti using foot pedals and a laptop nearby).  New songs were presented with enthusiasm and older songs, such as “Brighter Discontent” and “Swimming Pool”, still sounded fresh.  During the encore, Dragonetti introduced band members J Stare on drums and bassist Scott Barber.  After “You, Me and the Bourgeoisie”, the swelling chorus of “Xavia” became a bold opportunity for a venue-filling, sing along with the audience.

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Friday, Mar 4, 2011
People should realize that nobody in the music business actually knows what they're doing. A conversation with Moby.
New Music Seminar, 16 February 2011, Los Angeles

Moby is the kind of artist whom, after hearing just one song, you remember from then on.  I heard “Go” back in the ‘90s when it became a club hit while riding in the back seat of a car heading out of New York City late at night.  Watching the lights of the skyline flash by perfectly matched the full throttle energy of the music and I became an instant fan.  After the horrors of 9/11 (which happens to also be the date of Moby’s birthday), I walked into the local record store called Johnny’s in Darien, Connecticut to purchase his CD, 18.  Moby used to work there, passing the time by drawing cartoon-like creations on shopping bags, and now this collection of music would help restore hope in the everyday.  He is a master of soaring melodies that pierce the heart and feed the soul.

During the New Music Seminar, Moby appeared on two panels after playing on stage at the opening night party.  He has recently relocated to the West Coast, so it was easy to drive his Prius from a new home in the Hollywood Hills to this even.  Using self-deprecating wit to get his viewpoint across, Moby clearly stated that success should only be a byproduct from the love of making music. He may say his “Little Idiot” alter-ego drawings are named because he is small and an idiot, but Moby serves as a thoughtful sage in the business. The day after releasing three new songs for free download on, he sat down with PopMatters to give an update.

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