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Wednesday, Jun 2, 2010
When not making amps explode with their dynamic, powerful instrumental rock numbers, the members of New Zealand's Kerretta debate the greatest album of all time in the middle of Kansas while inventing the greatest character George Lucas never made ...

Kerretta are an unusual band, to say the least.


At first glance this pair trio of normal-looking New Zealanders may not seem very threatening, but put ‘em behind a very simple drum-bass-guitar combo, and suddenly the band is unleashing instrumental rock epics not too far removed from the likes of ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead or Pelican.  Yet, like those bands, Kerretta never really rock out just for the sake of making eardrums explode.  Instead, the three-piece spend much of their time fretting over dynamics, build, structure, and texture.  In another world, “Dinshah” (from their remarkably strong new album Vilayer) would be the kind of dark mood piece that Chino Moreno would love to howl over, but the group’s strict no-vocal policy instead leaves the emotional interpretation up entirely to the listener—a tough move to make commercially, but something that makes much more sense when Kerretta’s unabashed love of a good hook comes sneaking through each and every one of Vilayer‘s songs.


Touring the album like mad while still riding off of an incredible post-SXSW high, the trio debated and argued wildly about the answers to PopMatters’ famed 20 Questions series, but ultimately revealed to us which Gregory David Roberts book made them cry, why booze is the cause and solution to everyone’s problems, and the incredible Star Wars character George Lucas never got around to creating ...


+++

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?


Shantaram. Its about a criminal leaving his past life behind and starting a new life in the slums of India.  Why does it made me cry?  The book is so heavy. I’ve been lugging it around on every trip I’ve been on for the last year. I’m sure I’ve pinched a nerve in my neck due to the extra weight in my backpack. I’m still only a quarter of the way though ...
 
2. The fictional character most like you?


That’s easy: I’m a 50/50 blend of Chewbacca and Han Solo really. I could have saved George Lucas money and played both parts. We also have a Sithlord/Moth Tarkin on drums and Ewok/Obi Wan on guitars.
 
3. The greatest album, ever?


Shit, I’m doing this interview in the van crossing the plains of Kansas and that question has just started a mass band debate ... hey, at least we are still talking!


So ... for me it would be Faith No More’s Angel Dust. Dave (our guitarist) says Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and ol’ drummerboy says Jesus Lizard’s Liar The musical taste of Kerretta’s members are a mixed bag perhaps—that’s probably how we come up with such a tasty musical stew!
 
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?


Refer to Question #2. Still that first last Star Trek movie wasn’t too bad ...
 
5. Your ideal brain food?


Been inspired by people and ideas that are innovative, not chasing the tails of others which I think unfortunately happens a lot in music ...
 
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?


...


7. You want to be remembered for . .?


Hopefully for being nice people ... and making spontaneous ideas turn into reality: that’s a great attribute to this band. Someone will say “Let’s do this!” and we will instantly try to make it happen. I guess that’s why we have done so much in the three years of our existence ... avoid procrastination!
 
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?


Again, those who innovate.  There’s so much paint-by-numbers stuff out there ... it’s always the bands that start new musical movements that we have the most respect for and history normally dictates that those who do start musical chapters are often still there well after the rest have faded out ...
 
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?


A Hanbacca Star Wars action figure!
 
10. Your hidden talents . . .?


Twisting interviews around to become imaginary Star Wars trivia.
 
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?


Take what you do seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously!  Such good advice ... Fender should have it engraved on every guitar they make.
 
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?


Right now I would say it would have to be my drum kit: I’ve just started playing drums this year. I’m sure this will improve my bass playing further.  But really it’s pure musical delight.  Probably the most enjoyable musical revelation since picking up my first bass all those years ago ...
 
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?


Whatever is clean. And black.
 
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?


George Lucas ... I could pitch him the idea of me playing  Hanbacca!  I bet he’s gonna try to redo Star Wars again before he dies, right?
 
15. TI’me travel: where, when and why?


There’s no point at all: live for the day.
 
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?


The answer to everyone’s problems is at the bottom of a bottle ... or perhaps the start of them. Depends.
 
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?


Easy: good friends ...
 
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?


Maybe not right now as we travel though more desert, but being on tour is the greatest way to travel and meet exciting new friends which is exactly what we have been doing.
 
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?


Better you than me.
 
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?


Our new record. Really looking forward to it. It’s already taking on a life of its own, I’m sure it will end up very different from Vilayer. That’s just how is with this band ...


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Friday, May 28, 2010
It’s not surprising that Joy Division’s cigarette-smoking crowd of followers in their dark, heavy overcoats would in a few short years become the first wave of gothic rock fans.

“Cult” is a very appropriate word to use when describing the level of popularity Joy Division has attained. The group has never sold gangbusters, but it has tended to attract a very devout sort of following. Whether the subject is the clutch of serious-faced young fans in the late ‘70s often referred to as the Cult with No Name, or Johnny-come-latelys entranced by the myth of singer Ian Curtis’ tortured life and death, there’s always been something faintly religious about Joy Division’s appeal. Surely if one were to pick up one of the group’s record sleeves, the immaculate Peter Saville design would have them thinking they were picking up a holy document.


Of course, the music is the main draw. Even before Curtis committed suicide in May 1980, Joy Division was earning a place amongst the post-punk movement’s top-tier with its work. Yet Curtis’ sudden death wasn’t the total career killer one would expect. Simon Reynolds, author of Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 tells me that circa the band’s 1979 full-length debut Unknown Pleasures “they were like contenders, ones to watch, and then with Closer (under a year later) they were the Band—or at least right up there with PiL. They were well on their way towards that status before Curtis’s death but that really pushed them over the edge into premier league.”  It’s fair to say this dramatic rise in stock was aided by Joy Division exploiting an opening left by then-leading post-punk innovators Public Image Ltd. As Reynolds notes, “In ‘79 PiL were definitely the leading post-punk band, and then threw it away by doing nothing in 1980.” Reynolds cites the airplay the 1979 single “Transmission” enjoyed on radio shows by John Peel and other like-minded British DJs, yet adds “but also Unknown Pleasures must have just sold steadily and gone through word of mouth. You started to get people talking about the Cult with No Name, their overcoat clad fans, as a type.”


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Thursday, May 27, 2010
30db v. 20Q. The winner? Why you, the reader (of course)! With his new exciting collaboration with Umphrey McGee's Brendan Bayliss, Yonder Mountain String Band's Jeff Austin reveals to PopMatters the name he's given his mandolin, a love for all things Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and why he's a self-described "orchid freak" ...

Supergroups are a rare thing—and jam band supergroups are even more elusive.


To a degree, it’s easy to see why: with frequent accusations of being far too indulgent at times, the idea of having multiple improv-based jam guitarists get together just to “see what happens” may not sit well with even the most hardcore of Bonnaroo devotees.


Yet 30db is no ordinary supergroup.  Composed as a partnership between Yonder Mountain String Band’s Jeff Austin and Umphrey McGee’s own Brendan Bayliss (along with some help from North Mississippi All-Stars’ Cody Dickinson), 30db is a remarkably cohesive, laid-back affair, with acoustic guitars dominating the proceedings.  Although tracks like the beautifully meandering “Instrumental in D” wouldn’t sound too out of place in either Austin’s or Bayliss’ discography, it never feels like the partners are resting on their laurels or pushing themselves to extreme ends: they’re creating music out of genuine collaboration, and the breezy vibe of One Man Band—30db’s debut album—has a welcome charisma all its own.


Jeff Austin took time out of his busy schedule to answer PopMatters’ famed 20 Questions about himself and his project, expressing a strong love for all things Aqua Teen Hunger Force, tells us of his song-writing mandolin, and why he’s a self-described “orchid freak” ...


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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Similar to how Barry Lenser set out to profile every song by the Beatles in a series of Sound Affects posts last year, I’ve decided to do the same for the solo work of Paul McCartney. In this installment, we take a look at “The Lovely Linda” the first track off McCartney’s first solo album, McCartney.


Though McCartney was a No.1 hit album that went double platinum in the US, it is still mostly remembered for the controversy behind it. Released the same month as Let It Be, it spelled the end of the Beatles. To this day, certain fans blame McCartney for the group’s break-up, and comments by his former bandmates about the quality of his early solo work didn’t help matters much.


However, “The Lovely Linda” fits in with the album’s overall low-key, do-it-yourself approach. Recorded as a way to quickly test out his new Studer 4-track tape recorder that he had installed in his home, it is arguably McCartney’s first ever solo recording. I say “recording” because I’m not really sure if it can be considered as an entire song or not. It’s only 43 seconds long and is comprised of 30 words, if you count the la’s. In fact, McCartney himself once referred to it as “a trailer to the full song which will be recorded in the future”. However, Webster’s dictionary defines a song as either a “short poem set to music” or “the act or practice of singing”. Whether it is or isn’t really a whole song doesn’t really matter, though, because it is so pleasant and has a certain charm to it. You can’t help but be touched by the story behind its meaning. Like much of the album that it appears on, it is a delightful ode to Linda McCartney, Paul’s wife and future Wings bandmate. As a matter of fact, it has been said that you can hear her footsteps walking through the room in the background.


Next time, we’ll look at “That Would Be Something”, another song inspired by Linda.



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Tuesday, May 25, 2010
La Blogotheque use one take of the performance and present it as its played out, with a little bit of artistic editing included in the introductions of videos to introduce us to the subject matter, almost like a short documentary.

The first Blogotheque video I ever saw was of Beirut. Zach Condon, in his broken yet admirable French, joking on camera, trying to find a location for their shoot. “Un Concert a Emporter”, a take-away show, reveal the intertitles, before we get a cut back to Zach getting rejected to perform at a café, the rest of the band waiting listlessly along the city sidewalks. We hear the everyday chatter of Paris as another Woody Allen-like intertitle, black background with simple white text, introduces us to Beirut and The Penalty. Outside a bakery, Zach begins to strum his ukulele and sing, eventually making his way into a darkly-lit café from the warm outdoors, where the rest of Beirut awaits amongst the unsuspecting clientele and joins-in in an impulsive wave of musical delight.


I was immediately hooked on the concept of artistically recorded live performances. Each video is completely unique to the time and place it occurred. The next video I saw, and still distinctly remember repeating, was Grizzly Bear’s gloriously improvised a capella performance of “The Knife”. The quality of the video is at best described as amateurish, the performance riddled with laughter and uncertainty, yet the effect, once again, is completely endearing.


Arcade Fire cramped in an elevator by La Blogotheque

Arcade Fire cramped in an elevator
by La Blogotheque


What I found is that La Blogotheque brought elements of Cinéma-vérité to the established form of the music video, striving for a spontaneous and organic quality that’s sadly gone missing in music videos, as the form has degenerated over years of MTV’s formulaic artificiality and blatant product placement. Increasingly, music videos were recognized as the perfect way in which to tap into the holy grail of marketing that is the youth demographic. The medium quickly became exploited and, sadly, over-saturated with subversive advertising and cheap attention-grabbing gimmicks. It begs the question, in front of how many backdrops can the Backstreet Boys realistically sing and dance to? And just how many products can you cram into a Lady Gaga video before we get sick of the deception?


Perusing through the pages of their site, through the various international projects, and cacophony of bands, La Blogotheque has certainly made plenty of friends and admirers. Just get on Pitchfork these days, or any hip radio stations YouTube profile, and they have all created their own brand of live video recordings (albeit with much stronger production value). It has become an experimentation of the established medium of the music video, yet it somehow purifies the medium down to the most basic of characteristics: band, location, cameraman, sound recording, and “action”!


Christophe Abric, the founder of La Blogotheque seven years ago, launched the Take Away Shows with one of the collective’s many talented directors, Vincent Moon. They create a tender and melancholy effect by adding more warmth to the image, letting the bright yellows and the darkest shadows come to the fore while attempting unconventional extreme close-ups, rapid zooms, and canted camera angles. They have also brought with them certain ideals of Cinéma-vérité and the French New Wave in filming their subjects. With the aid of a small crew and a stylized filmmaking approach, they use one take of the performance and present it as its played out, with a little bit of artistic editing included in the introductions of videos to introduce us to the subject matter, almost like a short documentary. The effect is one of transparency and intimacy, expressed even more tellingly in the latest video of Plants & Animals, as we’re taken through their recording process in one long take around the rooms of a recording-studio house.


Department of Eagles by La Blogotheque

Department of Eagles by La Blogotheque


The sound in La Blogotheque may not always be the strongest but that’s one of the many charms. The honking of cars, the prattle of children and clinking of cutlery all add to the sweet ambiance of every video. It is the spontaneity of the surrounds that sometimes offer the most captivating (and hilarious) of moments, like in Bon Iver’s live performance of Skinny Love in a filled apartment, with a man in the background singing along frenziedly, as if in a trance.


La Blogotheque’s videos have been refreshing since its very inception and I look forward to every new episode. And unlike some of the videos I’ve grown up with on MTV, I can never tire of them and keep returning to them. Andrew Bird’s stroll through Montmartre, Sigur Ros’ rowsing performance of “Vid Spilum Endalaust” in a restaurant booth, and Yo La Tengo’s video of an awesome cover of The Trogg’s “With a Girl Like You”, are especially a favorite in my household.


I'm From Barcelona by La Blogotheque

I’m From Barcelona by La Blogotheque


After a childhood of enthusiasm for music videos and watching it deteriorate as all signs of creativity have evaporated, its good to see that, four years on, and with each new video, La Blogotheque continues to capture something new.


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