Call for Book Reviewers and Bloggers

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, Jan 26, 2010
What's a red frog doing in Martha Davis's basement? Waiting for his record debut, naturally. On the eve of releasing her children's album, concurrent with launching a T-shirt line, recording a jazz record, producing a podcast, and digging through the vaults of the Motels, Martha Davis is primed for the year of the Metal Tiger.

Martha Davis does Julia Child? Well, why not? Such whimsy is central to Red Frog Presents 16 Songs for Parents and Children, the latest solo project by Martha Davis. With a cast of original characters that include Phineus T. Rabbit, Professor Owl, and Francis Bacon, the founder of the Motels reveals yet another facet of her wide-ranging artistry.


Red Frog is one of about half a dozen projects Davis has either coming to fruition or far along in the incubation process. The inspiration for a children’s album arrived 12 years ago, when Davis noticed that Barney the Purple Dinosaur and his ilk dominated the music her grandchildren listened to. “It was just horrifying,” she exclaims, “especially because when I was a kid, my first favorite album was Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. I remember seeing Fantasia when I was little, so I know that kids love beautiful, imaginative stuff. The storybooks that I had didn’t pull any punches. People died. They didn’t try to make everything safe and pretty and stupid for kids.”


Not that Red Frog isn’t a fun, zany album. Those who only know the sultry side of Martha Davis should be prepared to hear her embody all the different characters on the album, if not provide the narration for the stories. “I was a kid of the Warner Brothers cartoons,” she explains. “I grew up with that stuff. I have a crazy imagination, so it seems to make sense. As dark and brooding as some of my songs are, I’m pretty much a goof ball!”


That imagination didn’t wander too far to find the the project’s lead “actor”, Red Frog, who has the closing number on the album. An actual red frog visited Davis in her basement and has taken up residence there between her gym and rehearsal space. “I just let him wander around. I put a bowl of water down there for him and he just kicks it down there. One day, he’ll be sitting on an amplifier, the next day he’s in the gym. He’ll be the thread between the projects. He’s our mascot.”


He also made the album cover. Both Davis and artist Alicia Justice had exactly the same idea of how to render Red Frog in the album’s artwork: sporting a crown. “Now, I just have to fashion a little crown for red frog downstairs and figure out how to strap it on him,” Davis says, only half-kidding.


The scene on the album cover depicts an old-fashioned tableaux of a mother, father, and their children sitting in their living room listening to the radio with Red Frog, who rests atop a plush green pillow. Alicia Justice brought Davis’s original sketch to life with stunning detail and colors. “Freakin’ amazing,” Davis says about Justice and her artwork. “All she does is create. There are just piles of creation wherever she goes. Sometimes it will be jewelry, sometimes it will be hats, sometimes it will be these beautiful illustrations. She does these amazing, tiny little matchbook storybooks. She’s wonderful. We’re going to try to make her a big star.”


Song titles like “Arangatango” indicate both the album’s sense of play and the variety of musical styles Davis draws upon for each song. She explores everything from baroque to jazz, yet anyone who has an old Motels album will remember that amidst the new wave, Davis always incorporated other musical ingredients. When Davis went solo in the mid-‘80s, “I basically gave my muse permission to just do whatever they wanted to do,” she explains.


At the moment, her muse is working overtime. Red Frog invigorated the already-prolific Davis to the point where she penned up to ten songs a day. Once the kids album is released at the end of January, Davis will begin work on her jazz album. “I have all these songs that have been sitting there forever that happened to me. They just come and visit and it’s like, ‘You sound like an old jazz standard.’ I’m going to put them all together. Hopefully, I’ll have (former Motels keyboardist and sax player) Marty Jourard come down, and we’ll just try to knock it out. I want it sparse and simple”.


According to this year’s Chinese New Year, which arrives on Valentine’s Day, 2010 is the Year of the Metal Tiger, and Martha Davis is primed to sound a mighty roar. Between all her projects, which include a cinematic version of the album inspired by her mother’s suicide (Beautiful Life), a possible new Motels album, an active Facebook page, and a T-shirt line that recasts everyone’s favorite F-bomb (“Ka-Fuck”), Martha Davis took some time to visit with PopMatters for another installment of 20 questions.


1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
There’s a great book called Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee that made me bawl my brains out. It’s disturbing as hell, but you just got to read it. I can’t even describe it.


2. The fictional character most like you?
It’s a cross between the Mad Hatter and Auntie Mame, I think.


3. The greatest album ever?
Can I do categories? I listen to a ton of classical music and I really love classical music. One of my favorite albums ever is Outside (1995) by David Bowie. I totally got lost in that album. It’s actually a collaboration between him and Brian Eno. We love when those two get together! It’s about art crime. It’s a concept album. It’s set in the future. It’s crazy. It was when he was into that kind of Jungle-y stuff. It grabbed me. I did not stop playing it for four months straight. I couldn’t tell you a lyric in it. I’m just not a lyric person, believe it or not, though I love writing them. I’m very much more about music. Then, “Daphnis and Chloé” by Ravel. That piece of music has this choral section in it that is so beautiful, but there’s so much music that I love. 


4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
You have to understand that when I think of Star Trek, I think of James T. Kirk. Just about nothing is better than James T. Kirk. Then again, the first time I went to the Chinese Theater the first day that silly Star Wars opened and that giant ship took off overhead, that was like, “Oh my fucking god!” They’re kind of apples and oranges, in a weird way. I think I would probably say old Star Trek, because I think it’d just be funnier. I remember something about Tribbles.


5. Your ideal brain food?
Observation. Whether it’s people or overhearing a conversation, observing things immediately transforms into creativity, so I consider it brain food. 


6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
I’m going to be 59 on the 19th of this month (January). That’s a pretty good accomplishment! That, and my two children and my grandkids. It’s all an accomplishment. It’s called life.


7. You want to be remembered for…?
Inspiring, in whatever form that comes. Anybody can pretty much do anything if they put their brain to it, because Lord knows, it’s pretty miraculous that I’m here doing what I’m doing. People can come up and tell you they love your song, but there are times when people have come up and said, “I had leukemia. The only way I got through it was listening to you.” That’s what I think of as inspiration.


8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Well, I’d have to say my mother. She absolutely put me on the path to this place where I am by, strangely enough, committing suicide. I know that doesn’t make any sense. When she did, she left her diary about her life. She wanted to be an artist and never did it. It came back to bite her, the fact that she stowed her dreams away to be the good wife. That’s what they did in those days. When she gave me the book, it was just basically her saying, “You can and should and must do this, or else you could end up like me.” It’s a strange, dark sort of inspiration, but it’s absolutely true. I was really thinking about doing music and I had two children. My dad was like, “You have to go back to school.” Then my mom dies, and I read her diary, and I’m like, “No! I have to do music.”


It’s a tough way to get inspiration, but she left behind this amazing gift. Don’t give up your dream. Just don’t. You have to try. I sat my kids down and said, “Well, rather than resent you later on, I’m going to do this thing.” It took eight years. For a while I played some of the songs from Beautiful Life (the album inspired by her mother’s death) in the set, but I was just like, “No, this is not how this music needs to be done,” because it is a linear piece that goes from start to finish, so I want to try and take it out and actually do a very stark but, hopefully, very beautiful stage presentation of it.


9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
Igor Stravinsky, “The Rite of Spring”.


10. Your hidden talents…?
Upholstery, plumbing. I used to work on cars. I love refurbishing old furniture and I love gardening. I love just about anything you throw in front of me and I’ll try and do it. I really get excited about just about everything, except maybe right-wing politics.


11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
Get a good lawyer and hold onto your publishing.


12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
My guitar. When my dad worked at a place called Stiles Hall at UC Berkley. It was kind of like the university Y.M.C.A. There was this little guitar in the basement. He was worried that it was going to get damaged, mildewed, down in the basement, so he brought it home. That’s the guitar I’ve had since I was eight years old, and that’s the guitar that brought me “Only the Lonely” and a million other songs and kept me safe and sane during my childhood. It’s a beautiful guitar. It’s over 100 years old. I borrowed it and never took it back.


There’s an even better story that goes along with it, aside from just borrowing the guitar. The first three chords were taught to me by a young student who was on scholarship at UC Berkley from Watts. He was going to the law school there. My dad would hire him to come babysit us so he could have some extra money. He played guitar, so he taught me my first three guitar chords. That gentleman’s name is the Honorable Felton Henderson.  His first job when he graduated from college was to go work for Bobby Kennedy. He was the first African American to represent the government in the Civil Rights Movement, and now is a Superior Court Judge in California, the Ninth District. He was the one that raised all hell when they tried to repeal Affirmative Action. He was the one that went to the mat trying to stop that. Right now he’s battling the Prison Guard’s Union. I’m like, “Felton, be careful!”


The history of that guitar and me and everything that it’s brought me is amazing.


13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
I’m not even that brand-y. I am an anti-fashion plate (laughs). I shop at the cheapest stores and enjoy a bargain more than anybody’s business. They’re trying to get me to be a fashionable person…and I’m capitulating. I’m a big thrift store person. You know what I really hate? I hate doing anything anybody else is doing! I’m most comfortable in some off-brand, jean-like thing, and some layered T-shirt assemblage.


14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
There’d be musicians like David Bowie and Radiohead. David Lynch might stop by. Of course Gus Van Sant and Howard Bloom. Have you heard of Howard Bloom? Must read book: The Lucifer Principle. I would have my friends there, Alicia and Jacob and Gaye Ann. I’ve just collected wonderful, brilliant people… and usually a little bit insane! Who else? That’s one of those doors that if you open it… we’d have to get a Ritz annex.


15. Time travel: where, when and why?
That’s an interesting question. A lot of possibilities. My first inclination, strangely enough, would be to go back in time, about 300 years ago. I am totally enamored of Aboriginal people and their grace and beauty and the living with nature the way one should. I think I would go back to a time where there wasn’t all this hubbub. I think that would be really interesting. Of course, I might be dropped in the middle of some war between two tribes, but I’m thinking something more peaceful, by the banks of the river.


16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
I don’t think I’d do any of the above. I’d go sit in the yard, probably, or clean the house. I believe in productive stress reduction. If you’re angry or uptight and you start doing something positive, you work through your anger or stress and by the time you’re done, you’ve got a clean house.


17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
Not coffee, not vodka. Cigarettes are fun, but I don’t think they’re a necessity of life. Chocolate’s not a necessity of life, so it must be in the “other” category. If we’re talking just escape mechanisms, probably wine. I have gone many, many years without it, but in terms of an escape, that’s my favorite. Nice red wine.


18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
It’s definitely not the city. I think it’s right where I’m sitting—in the beautiful, drizzly, foggy Northwest.


19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
“I love you, President Dreamboat!” I’m so sorry that he has to put up with so much crap right now. I think he is a very bright, very caring man. I know a lot of progressives are really pissed off right now, but you know what? The man is doing everything he can under the circumstances. I also think he’s really smart and sometimes think he has tricks up his sleeve that we haven’t seen yet. I adore him. “Hang in there.” What a pile of shit he got handed to him.


20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on now?
Aside from being done with the kids’ album and getting that out and the jazz album, I’ve got some shows I’m doing. I’ve got a show coming up on 29 January at Dante’s in Portland, Oregon. I have several other projects. The (Motels) record This came out in 2008, but then we decided there was actually This, That, and The Other. I always overwrite for albums, so a lot of the outtakes are going to be compiled and put together. That is going to be the outtakes of This. The Other is a conglomeration of cool stuff that has been left behind. Hopefully, if all goes well, maybe a new Motels album. I was just down playing gigs with my boys, and we would love to do another, similar to This. They came up to my big old house. I have a studio and everybody stays here. It’s very large, with many bedrooms. Roll out of bed in the morning in your pajamas and start recording. It’s a great way to get away from everything and just concentrate on recording, so hopefully we can do that. It’s usually done in the winter months, when the gigging slows down and the elk herd is here and the snow is on the ground.


There’s a podcast thing that Gaye Ann and I are going to start doing, which is a spin off of a radio show we did together. There’s Ka-Fuck Inc., our new company that’s going to turn into a T-shirt line.


I have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of songs, not all of which are wonderful songs, but some are great ones. In my new set, I have four songs that were written years ago that just never saw the light of day. I’m dusting them off and putting them back. We’re just going to start releasing them one song at a time. I’m trying to get stuff in movies. There’s interest in doing Beautiful Life as a cinematic piece. People are nosing around that project, which is awesome. Then Gaye Ann has this wonderful idea to do this cover album of cool, ‘60s-esque songs.


Then I’m going to try and get my vegetable garden to actually work! Every time I get one in, I go out on tour and I come back and all the lettuce has gone to seed.



Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Jan 25, 2010
Bay Area folk-rockers the Dry Spells talk with PopMatters about side projects, Fleetwood Mac and how they managed to be influenced by both Laurel Canyon and traditional Arabic music.

California and folk music don’t seem like they should go together but, for decades now, they have. With this year’s Too Soon for Flowers, Bay Area group the Dry Spells continue on in that left coast tradition. Initially formed in 2002 in New York, the quartet’s debut is a promising mix of traditional, almost Medieval folk music with modern rock energy. The band’s April Hayley, Tahlia Harbour, Adria Otte and Diego Gonzalez recently got together as a group to answer some of our questions.


How do you think Too Soon for Flowers would be different if you all hadn’t been playing more abstract, less conventionally song-based music in your side project, Citay?
All music influences other music, so being involved with Citay has almost certainly had an affect on us as musicians. The founding members of the Dry Spells met Diego and Warren through playing with Citay. Citay has had little structural influence on the Dry Spells’ music because Citay is one songwriter’s vision while the Dry Spells songwriting approach is a truly collaborative process.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Jan 25, 2010
Artist/producer PC Muñoz mines for gems and grills the greats

An earlier edit of this V-C-V first appeared on pcmunoz.com on December 20, 2005


“Say Goodbye” - Howard Hewett
Written by Monty Seward
From It’s Time, Eagle Records reissue, 2004
Originally released in 1994


First, a little background: I’m a complete Solar Records freak. Solar was a Southern California R&B/disco label, active mostly in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, that released consistently tasty dance music featuring killer bass lines, undeniable hooks, and shiny production, often provided by the super-talented Leon Sylvers III. Some of Solar’s best releases came out during the early ‘80s, which is my favorite era of modern R&B because of its adventurous mix of funk, synth-pop, new wave, and disco.


Howard Hewett first became famous with Shalamar, one of Solar’s mainstay artists. Shalamar was at first glance a kind of prefab disco group; the two other members were future hitmaker-superstar Jody Watley and trendsetting dancer/choreographer Jefferey Daniel. Though all three members were talented and charismatic, I always found myself drawn to Hewett’s vocals. He is a masterful, nuance-filled singer, and his glittery high notes and vocal gymnastics turned ditties like “This is for the Lover in You” and “Sweeter As the Days Go By” into soul-stirring testimonies. After departing Shalamar in the mid-‘80s, Hewett embarked on a risk-taking solo career that has included unique, soul-injected versions of The Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why” and Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman”, proving he is bent on using his voice for interesting interpretive means.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Jan 22, 2010

One of my more idiosyncratic musical interests is exploring the countless faceless indie pop hordes that littered late ‘80s British alternative rock.  Largely forgotten except by specialist bloggers and people who dig into musty record stacks to pull out import singles that haven’t been played in 20 years (i.e. me), these sorts of mid- to lower-tier British alt-rock bands were quite common on the UK Indie Charts at the time, in addition to taking up residence in the late night environs of famed BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel’s underground-friendly program.  The average sound of these groups was jangly/distorted ‘60s-infused guitar pop, performed with a ramshackle amateurishness that betrayed their lack of technique.  To be blunt, there was no mistaking these guys and gals for ‘80s Brit alt-rock guitar icons Johnny Marr or John Squire, much less any more conventional axe heroes.  Sure, the majority of these bands weren’t even close to filling the paisley and anoraks of top-flight contemporaries like the Stone Roses and the Wedding Present, but for me, their charm comes from their simple, almost instinctive melodicism and song structures—simple pop hewn out of rough bits and unassuming bobs.  Oh, and I always get a kick out of their affinity for bowl-fringe haircuts and leather jackets.


So: the Popguns. Hailing from Brighton, England, the Popguns featured among its membership former Wedding Present drummer Shaun Carmen and jazzy-voiced singer Wendy Morgan.  From an instrumental standpoint, they weren’t terribly distinctive: ringing chords, guitar fuzz, and a rhythm section fond of throwing in numerous fills in order to liven up otherwise straightforward grooves.  Excuse me while I dig for this exact same thing in the Creation, 53 & 3rd, and Sarah Records back catalogues (hey, I like this sound, but it was certainly ubiquitous to the point of being cookie-cutter). 


What really makes the group special is Wendy Morgan’s keening voice, which infuses each track with a wistful sepia-toned longing that nevertheless sounds filled with hopeful possibilities.  Coupled with the music, you get a very plausible sonic template for American East Coast indie Anglophiles Velocity Girl.  Beginning with their 1988 debut single “Where Do You Go?”, the Popguns put out ten singles and four albums on a slew of indie labels, including Medium Cool, Midnight Music, and Third Stone, over the course of a decade.  They seem to have dropped off the face of the earth after the release of A Plus de Cent in 1996, which is a shame considering indie-inclined music critics have a soft spot these days for noise pop bands like Vivian Girls, whom I’m certain have been listening to the exact same British indie records I have been for the last few years.


How about a taste of the band’s output?  Here’s a video for the Popguns’ second single, “Landslide”:


Next up is what is possibly the band’s best song, “Waiting for the Winter”.  I first heard this on the Rough Trade Shops: Indiepop 1 compilation, and it kills me every time with its urgent hooks and energy.


And from the group’s second album Smog (1991), here’s the single “Still a World Away”:


 


Tagged as: the popguns
Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Jan 21, 2010
With their third album of eclectic cover songs out recently, Nouvelle Vague's mastermind Marc Collin talks to PopMatters about his love for David Lynch films, classic video games, and French post-punk bands that deserve a second chance.

Marc Collin has made a remarkable career out of covering other people’s songs, largely because few people can contort a tune’s subtext in the diabolical way that he can. 


Along with Olivier Libaux, Collin’s band Nouvelle Vague have achieved quite a bit of notoriety since their eponymous 2004 debut. By taking classic pop songs and redoing them in a unique bossa-nova style, Collin and his rotating cast of female vocalists were able to find surprising emotional underpinnings in tracks like the Dead Kennedy’s “Too Drunk to Fuck” and Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself”, leading all the way up to this year’s Nouvelle Vague 3, which serves as somewhat of a departure for the group.


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements
Win a 15-CD Pack of Brazilian Music CDs from Six Degrees Records! in PopMatters Contests on LockerDome

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.