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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.


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Thursday, Dec 3, 2009
After a short chat with Feelies co-chairman Glenn Mercer, co-leader of The Feelies, writer Kieran Curran started thinking about the seminal rock band's place in our modern times...

The Feelies are a band which seem to defy classification even today. Through not being part of any “scene” as such, they followed their own idiosyncratic muses, incorporating influences both typical for alternative bands of their time (Velvet Underground, The Modern Lovers) and atypical (classical minimalism, incorporating found object sounds in their records). Coming out of the suburban village of Haledon, New Jersey in the late 1970s, the band were ensconced with their record collections and jamming with friends in garages, punctuated by occasional trips to the big city to see bands. Without the strictures of a set scene or predefined sound, however, they were able to dip into New York without ever being immersed in it, free to do what they liked, unencumbered by generic expectations or localized trends.


Almost 30 years after their first record (the seminal Crazy Rhythms) was released, the Feelies are, like so many bands of the post-punk era, on the reunion circuit, backed by the reissuing of their first two albums. The crowds they play to are aware of their music through the diversions of the rock canon, through downloading and a general tendency towards retrospection amongst modern music listeners. With the plethora of music easily accessible online, fans are more and more aware of the interrelatedness of music, and the reference points that bands make. If you’re doing it, chances are someone in the past has done it already, whether you know it or not (and the knowingness is quite likely). A current band that makes explicit its debt to its influences from the indie rock canon, Times New Viking, namechecks members of its favorite groups (the Clean, the Fall, Pavement) on its MySpace, as well as referencing Yo La Tengo in a song which sounds very like Yo La Tengo.


Tagged as: the feelies
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Tuesday, Dec 1, 2009
Swedish singer-songwriter Anna Ternheim takes a moment to chat with PopMatters.com about her musical output and the current Swedish music scene.

Sweden’s darling Anna Ternheim has been creating music since 2004 and has released four studio albums filled with songs that seem deeply personal and walk the line between folk and pop music.  She possesses an adeptness for song compositions that don’t leave the listener wanting for even a moment.  Though she chooses to back them up with the guitar rather than the piano, her lyrics sometimes recall the soft femininity of fellow Swede Frida Hyvönen.


It seemed effortless to have a conversation with Ternheim about everything from the music community right now in Sweden, to the sensational vampiric novel and film Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In).  As one might expect, she comes off both as a strong and intelligent woman.  She ran into a bit of trouble on the way to our interview and her October 10th show at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago, as the van she was sharing with Emil Svanängen of Loney Dear broke down, forcing her to take a special flight just to make the event. But she made it clear she wasn’t going to let the stress get to her or effect her live performance. What follows is a condensed version of our chat about her music, her live shows, and life as a Swedish musician.


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Thursday, Nov 12, 2009
After getting tackled by biker chicks and shying away from the "emo-pop" label, Owl City mastermind Adam Young is still adjusting to his newfound fame, but is taking it all in with a level-head and even more ideas for future nighttime synth-pop creations ...

All these years later, Adam Young still can’t sleep—and that just might be a good thing.


When the then-20-year-old Adam Young suffered from intense insomnia while living in his parents basement, he used his non-sleeping hours to carefully construct his own brand of Postal Service-indebted synth-pop, eventually self-releasing two albums under his Owl City moniker (2007’s Of June EP and 2008’s Maybe I’m Dreaming) to decent acclaim but somewhat marginal sales. When he put his music on MySpace, however, a following gradually began to grow around Young’s abstract, optimistic tales of love, his whimsical song “Hello Seattle” gaining particular notoriety. It wasn’t long before he got signed to Universal Republic, began collaborating with Relient K vocalist Theissen, and began forming an near endless litany of side-projects (with animal-friendly names like Swimming With Dolphins and Insect Airport).


Yet a funny thing happened following the release of Ocean Eyes, Young’s major-label debut. The quirky single “Fireflies” began picking up steam, first via MySpace, and then through the video outlets like MTV and VH1. Next thing you know, the 23-year-old Young has a chart-topping hit on his hands, is touring the nation with a full band, and is still selling hundreds of thousands of downloads every week, making him one of the brightest pop stars to emerge out of 2009. In short, these past few months have been a bit of a whirlwind for the dark-haired pop maestro, but—as is revealed in this short yet illuminating interview via e-mail—Young hasn’t let success go to his head at all. Being tackled by biker chicks, discovering Taco Bell, and still (still!) suffering from bouts of insomnia—these are just some of the moments that have colored Adam Young’s life this year. If his success is any indication so far, Owl City’s ride is just beginning ...


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Wednesday, Nov 4, 2009

In 1989, I was lucky enough to discover Soundgarden two years before the grunge revolution. I read a rave about Louder Than Love in what was at that time my musical bible: Circus magazine. After a steady stream of Anthrax, Metallica, and Megadeth, I was floored at how heavy a band could be by playing so slow.


Two years later, I was somewhat disappointed by Badmotorfinger, partly because the sound wasn’t as raw as Louder Than Love, and partly because a lot of the kids at my high school were discovering a secret that I was in on two years before. By 1994, I was so steeped in playing “spot the sellout” that I couldn’t listen to their blockbuster Superunknown due to the incessant rotation of “Black Hole Sun”.


Years pass. People mature. And occasionally, you find yourself ready to pop in a CD that you may not have given much of a chance when it first came out. Sure, “Spoonman” still justifies the skip, but what floored me was the quality of the “deep tracks”, specifically the seven-minute closer “Like Suicide”.


If any song in Soundgarden’s arsenal showed how indispensible each member was, it was on this slow-burner of a closer. In the span of seven minutes, bassist Ben Sheppard starts the song with a bubbling bass line, leading into Kim Thayil’s warning siren-like guitar riff. Thayil and Sheppard keep the tension building while Chris Cornell goes from gentle croon, to rawk wail, to unleashed scream. Finally, as the entire thing explodes, drummer Matt Cameron closes the song with such ferocity, you’re half expecting to hear his snare crack. The entire effect is the musical equivalent of a dormant volcano slowly building before its Mt. St. Helens-like eruption.


On Superunkown, Soundgarden proudly wore their Led Zeppelin influence, and “Like Suicide” was the band’s “In My Time of Dying”. Comparing love to suicide is hardly original, and a year later Billy Corgan shouted Cornell’s lament almost verbatim on “Bodies”. But Cornell’s sentiments on “Like Suicide” were more sinister and thus more believable. When Cornell yells “I feel for you”, you’re not sure if that’s actually a good thing.


The lyrics also contained its share of cryptic foreshadowing. The most obvious one being the death of Kurt Cobain, who expressed his love of Louder Than Love in interviews. However, there are other most subtle instances. Nearly a half-decade before school shootings overtook the media spotlight, Cornell’s pained delivery of a line like “with an ounce of pain, I wield a ton of rage” can put a chill down a listener’s spine. And all this from a song that Cornell apparently wrote about a bird that fatally flew into a window in his house.


“Like Suicide” would have been a great capper for Soundgarden: It combined the pure aggressiveness of their earlier work with the refined skill the band demonstrated in the more Beatlesque songs on Superunknown. The song could also be on the shortlist for best song the band ever recorded. But the band opted for one more album, 1996’s Down the Upside, with mixed results. Still, many circles regard Superunkown as grunge’s last masterpiece. And like most masterpieces, the closing track pretty much determines whether it’s fit for that distinction or just merely a “great album”. Judged on “Like Suicide”, it was easy to figure out what category Superunknown would fall.


Tagged as: soundgarden
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