Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lower Dens/Horse Lords Split 7"

Honstly, I feel Famous Class' "LAMC" series of split singles is one of the most ingenious things going on right now in music. A brand new track by an established artist, backed by a new track from a band handpicked by the A-side artist. It's simple, and probably has been done before, but I doubt the results have been this consecutively excellent. For instance, they're latest 7", a split between Lower Dens and newcomers Horse Lords. Lower Dens' contribution "Non Grata" is a pulsing, quivering track; its eerie, coldwave synths coursing like a dark heartbeat through the song while before the guitars and drum machine kick in to expand on the electronic krautrock sound the band mastered on Nootropics. It's a forbidding and haunting track that pulls one in within the first few notes. Horse Lords' song "Bending to the Lash" sounds like the noisy, fraternal twin to "Non Grata". It uses almost all the same instrumentation (bubbling synth lines, mechanical drums, pulsing bass) to create something entirely different, much more polyrhythmic and thus evoking something that feels like a decaying future. But both tracks work together (unintentionally yet perfectly) because of the restraint at their core. Both bands and their respective songs embellish something robotic, intentional or not, and that similar mindset is what allows this split to work so well.


Lower Dens' Website
Horse Lords' Tumblr
Buy the Lower Dens/Horse Lords split 7" here, from Famous Class Records

Heaven's Gate-Drone

Heaven's Gate's debut High Riser EP was one of my favorite releases from last year. It was seven compact songs that twisted & melded shoegaze and indie-rock into a knotty and powerful opening statement for a band, so well pulled off that it landed on my top singles of last year. And so, with the announcement that Heaven's Gate will be releasing their debut album Transmuting, I am not the least bit surprised that the first single off it, "Drone", is excellent. It's an even more concentrated dose of what was on High Riser; guitars that sound like Sonic Youth trying to play shoegaze riffs, thick & steady bass lines, and drums that strike just the right balance between tribal and smashing. Frontwoman Jess Paps' vocals, a harsh, growling, low-pitch diamond in the swirling rough behind it, that are the only thing that keep "Drone" steady, while at the same time coating the song in another layer of intensity. Any of the momentarily brighter pop sheen that was on their EP has been shed, the band diving head first into the vortex of damaged distortion they are creating. "Drone" is a darker, amplified version of Heaven's Gate, a skin that suits the band even better than their original.


Heaven's Gate's Facebook
Pre-order Transmuting here, from Inflated Records

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Teen Mom-Kitchen

Last time Teen Mom were heard from it was when they released their Mean Tom EP, a release that showed how the band could jump from breezy Real Estate jangle pop to '80s-esque noise pop without losing a beat. Teen Mom were versatile, never letting styles or genre get in the way of how they crafted their own guitar pop and whatever form it took. Teen Mom's newest song, "Kitchen", might be the purest representation. The song clocks in at six and half minutes, nearly twice as long as any of their other songs. In that time, Teen Mom constantly shift their sound, from the shoegaze tinged reverb pop that forms the first half of the song, to the Radio Dept. outro the song ends of almost dancy rhythm section and same shimmering guitars. What's most impressive is the way they get from point A to point B in "Kitchen" is completely natural, a effortless glide along guitar pop heaven, filled with beautiful, shining guitars and airy vocals Teen Mom have so kindly provided.


Teen Mom's Website

Monday, July 29, 2013

Born Gold-Hunger

There are artists who try to change their sound with every album, then there are artist who actual manage to accomplish this, fitting whatever direction they've gone in as an actual extension of their music and sound. Born Gold is one of those artists. At this point it shouldn't be so startling when Born Gold sound changes so radically with a new album announcement, but even with that foresight and the news of I Am an Exit, it took me more than a few listens to truly process "Hunger". The song is strangely more straightforward than anything Born Gold has done before. It is built around very little arrangement: some very dry, thumping beats, chiming synths, and Cecil Frena's vocals, which are now pitched down to their normal (or at least a lower) octave. And yet, this wouldn't be a Born Gold song if there wasn't something askew contained within the core. Everything within "Hunger" just feels ever so off-kilter; as much as it wants to be a modern pop song, it has an uncanny valley quality to it that is inescapable. This is completely emphasized by the song's video, an amalgamation of '90s VHS throwback, art student film project, and absurdest horror melding together into a demented form of self-referencing camp. Yet Frena is not doing anything insincere, and instead of trying to avoid this, Born Gold channels it, making the asymmetrical beats, almost morbid lyrics, and twisted visual component in "Hunger" feel as honest as possible.


Born Gold's Website
Pre-order soon here, I Am an Exit here, from Chill Mega Chill Records

Friday, July 26, 2013

Album Review: Weekend-Jinx

I’m listening to Weekend’s debut album Sports right now. I had to grab my copy because as ashamed as I am to admit it, it has been a while since I listened to it and couldn’t properly recall most of the songs (except for “Coma Summer”, which will become an indie noise rock staple in five years, mark my words). While it was spinning, I am clearly reminded of what was buried in the back of my mind; namely how much Weekend used noise to shape their sound. Throughout Sports, there is this static (both literal and figurative) layer of noise over the songs, used to bring emotional weight and intensity, raising and falling accordingly. I think that was so captivating about Sports when it first came out; it had been a long time since a band had been able to really be so unique with embedding noise into their music.

I bring all this up because after three years between albums (and one EP to help with the transition), it’s sort of unbelievable how much Weekend have scraped that noise aspect from their sound on Jinx. Not entirely, but enough that it really can’t be a defining factor for the band anymore. More so though, is what that removal has revealed underneath. Under those layers of fuzz were/are some absolutely astonishing gothic post-punk songs. And just like how Weekend was creative when they were utilizing noise, so too are they creative with their new sound.

I mean the opening should be the biggest tip off. The drone that breaks the silence as opener “Mirror” starts, the panned bursts of static, the steady thump of the drum all make it seem as if it’s going to another explosive opener like “Coma Summer” did. Instead an almost jangle guitar line cuts through, and Weekend keep pulling back throughout the song. It’s instantly clear Weekend are trying to evoke something much more now; a deeper sense of the emotions and pathos that were secretly always at the core of Weekend’s songs. Just listen to the chorus, nothing but the repetition of “I feel sick in my heart” over and over again. If the melancholy couldn’t be detected through the music, they sure as hell can be felt in Shaun Durkan’s lyrics. However, “Mirror” is just the intro to the actual rest of Jinx, a testament to Weekend continuing to push at how their band should sound. The glorious “July”, so warm in its guitar wash it feels like Ride if Robert Smith had secretly joined the band. Then contrast that to the next song “Oubliette” which has a much more post-punk snarl to it, almost feeling like a lost song by their friends and former peers Wax Idols, before the chorus comes in with its lovely solo call-and-response echo to it. What might be the best track on the album, “It’s Alright”, perfectly melds this industrial, almost drum machine stomp to a blur of My Bloody Valentine guitars that’s just three and half minutes of hazy guitar rock heaven.

Then all of that is contrasted by the atmospheric songs that the band included that not only serve as a counterbalance, but also help enhance the entire mood and core of the album. Album centerpiece “Sirens” is a blur of warped vocal effects that creates a fog that forces the song’s components to slowly rise out of the muck. It builds more and more, than just as quickly fades out again, and while it seemingly passes by in the blink of an eye, its presence is a giant puncture of attention, as the song sits heavy and informs the rest of the album. “Rosaries” follows a similar path, the band concentrating on the song’s cold, atmospheric core to channel something truly haunting, and equally devastating considering how few lyrics are used. It’s all buried underneath the haze of the song, but instead of hiding anything, it amplifies the emotions you know are buried underneath.

Jinx ends with “Just Drive”, the closest they get back to their old sound, a six minute sprawl (at least here) that jumps between post-punk bursts and noisy goth rock, with the band practically fighting to pick which style to channel. And along those minutes, almost every aspect of Jinx is in some way put into display, the way Weekend have evolved pushed into one song. And it’s completely memorizing, just like the rest of Jinx. What Weekend have managed to do here is what every band wants to do with their second album; step out of the shadows of their previous sound (as great as it was), and create something even better. Jinx defies most set in stone genre tags; a synthesis of goth, indie rock, post-punk, noise rock. Jinx is dark, noisy, turbulent, saddening, and utterly, utterly excellent.


Weekend's Website
Buy Jinx here, from Slumberland Records

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Cloud-Mother Sea

Deciding to name your band Cloud is more risky than it seems. You are setting yourself to either evoke something wonderfully serine, or people using your name as the focal point if your music happens to be generic. Thankfully, Cloud sidestep all that, at least on their first single "Mother Sea". More than sidestep though because "Mother Sea" is a wonderful thing; a pure, effortless pop song, something that doesn't come around often and something I can't always appreciate. But here it is and it's golden. The honest-to-goodness piano (not synth) that the song is built around gives the song some summer-esque, '60s brightness, wonderfully contrasted by the wounded, nasal, and hyper-emotive vocals. The song builds just ever so, reaching a climax your not expecting when the line "I think I'm ready to love myself" gets tossed almost painfully and the song dissolves into a lovely looping instrumental, with different piano lines falling on top of each other. "Mother Sea" is nothing like any aspect of modern indie music, but maybe that's why it's so lovely in the first place.


Cloud's Facebook
Pre-order Comfort Songs (and hear more songs) here, from Audio Anti-Hero

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Single Review: Julia Brown-"Library b/w I wanna be a witch"

Julia Brown emerged earlier this year, out of the ashes of soon to be legendary Teen Suicide, to release one of the best debut releases of the year, the simple but heartfelt demo to be close to you. It was eight tracks of pure and lovely lo-fi indie-pop, the type of release that is so effortless one could not possibly believe that it was crafted by a band that had just formed. But it was, and if that tape didn't somehow convince people that Julia Brown were rising indie-pop stars, their debut single might be the thing that cements it.

The 7" opens with a rerecording of "Library", possibly the catchiest song on their demo. While the rerecording does strip away some of the intimacy that was contained within the original version, the track is bolstered by the new rocking quality; every instrumental coming in clearly and deliberately as the song builds and builds to its stunning, ramshackle center before tipping off as it ends. Whatever form it takes, "Library" will always be a stunning piece of indie-pop: the way the violin makes everything swell, how the bass bounces off everything in the song, and how it ends perfectly with the female vocals as the coda. B-side "I wanna be a Witch" is a lot clearer representation of the hi-fi sound here. The acoustic guitar snaps, the violin has a mournful quality to it, and the song itself feels more subdued than anything they've done before; fitting for a song built around longing for someone that isn't there. The last track "The way you want" is a pure acoustic track, nothing more then quick plucking and interlocked boy/girl vocals, sounding as it was recorded in the dead of night while no one was looking. It's almost haunting, and almost take away from the indie-pop feel of the 7" if not for its brief length, which instead lets it feel like just the right ending to this quick little disk.

This 7" is almost radically different from Julia Brown's demo. A shift to higher fidelity shouldn't change a band's sound, but here, the lovingly falling apart qualities of the band's songs have been a much more personal, constructed, and ever so more melancholy approach to their indie-pop. Which is completely fine; Julia Brown more than demonstrate here how they are able to embrace a new song properly, still crafting songs as sweet and enduring as their older ones.


Julia Brown's Facebook
Buy the "Library b/w I wanna be a witch" 7" here, from Birdtapes

Monday, July 22, 2013


OK, yes, Yuck did lose their frontman to the allure of a solo career, so there is a sense that naming your first song since then "Rebirth" might be a little on the nose. That is until you actually listen to "Rebirth" and instantly realize how much the band has changed. Yuck have not shed their unabashed love of '90s indie in any way, but here they have shifted it considerably. "Rebirth" is undoubtedly pure shoegaze; gorgeously dreamy guitar floods the entire track, enhanced by the track's lingering synth lines and Max Bloom's more mellow vocals, instead of former frontman Daniel Blumberg's more wiry pitch. The track succeeds in part thanks to the production, which has this magical way of making everything practically bleed with one another so "Rebirth" this glowing quality to it that is utterly heavenly. I was prepared to be greatly disappointed by whatever Yuck produced after losing Blumberg, but it seems they've managed to easily turn that into a positive; at the very least, their new shoegaze heavy sound is gorgeous, and the type of thing that will float through your brain for days on end.


Yuck's Website

Friday, July 19, 2013

Single Review: Destruction Unit-Two Strong Hits

I have seen Destruction Unit three times within the last year, twice during Chaos in Tejas alone. Every time I saw them it was one of the best and craziest shows I had ever seen, the five band members going channeling dark, twisted, and unbelievably noisy music out of their instruments, all to soundtrack the madness they crafted on stage. However, it was always a wonder if they would be able to present any of that energy and sprawl in a record form, if it would even be possible. And while those were my thoughts going into their brand new single, after listening to the songs on Two Strong Hits, I can only laugh now at how idiotic that notion was.

“Sonic Pearl” is so many things at once it’s hard not believe that the track wasn’t created by ten different songs by the band accidently melting on top of each other to into one molten puddle. Manic post-punk energy somehow crafted from art-damaged psychedelic guitars that unwind and sprawl through the song like tentacles, crawling into every cravas of the song. Ryan Rousseau’s vocals come in at the most subdued I’ve ever heard them, nervous yet almost cooing and melodic as a contrast to the increasing whirlwind of noise behind him. That is before it all becomes too much and the song just collapses into an even more off-kilter mode, Rousseau’s vocals, now tinted by madness to better reflect the shift in tone, at the center. Yet it needs to be noted that, despite how absolutely chaotic “Sonic Pearl” it also happens to be one of the most memorizing songs I’ve heard this year. Buried beneath all the chaos, the songs some unbelievably, if obtuse, hooks embedded in it, the glue that not only keeps “Sonic Pearl” together (if you could say that), but makes it so great.

B-side “Nightfall” is more in tradition with the Destruction Unit I’ve experienced live, the dark, tension building beast that protrudes an inescapable evil sense through the song. The tracks sinister opening guitars squeaks and thunderous drumming give way quickly the tracks real sound, a vortex of warped guitars fuzz collapsing on top of itself, Rousseau’s vocals now containing a sort of demented clarity to them as the track spirals further and further down. The lo-fi, or at least muffled production on the track helps to separate it from “Sonic Pearl” so that is has its own personal sense of darkness. The two are dark though, damaged things spawned from damaged minds channeling something not right through a marriage of psych and noise, with punk energy as their fuel. And you know what, it makes for one of the best singles I’ve heard all year.


Destruction Unit's Site
Buy the Two Strong Hits 7" here, from Suicide Squeeze Records

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Broken Social Scene aren't coming back anytime soon, no matter what glimmers of hope the one-off reunions and TV appearances may offer. Thankfully though, those, like me, aching for more of their movie ending pop can take comfort in the likes of ARMS' newest single "Comfort" during the in between. "Comfort" is a wonderfully speedy, summery pop song, always waiting to add a new hook, burst of guitar, bout of energy to itself in order to keep itself together. The shift the songs goes through from the earnestness of the versus to the rolling burst of subdued anguish that is the chorus is absolutely wondrous, managing to cram 50 different hooks into a 30 second period. All this is carried over to the songs outro, a minute long jaunt of almost post-punk energy, or more accurately as close as sprawling indie-pop can get to post-punk. "Comfort" is an ever constant song, always putting in something new sound wise it is a tiny miracle the track doesn't trip over itself. Instead, it just keeps unfolding and unfolding, revealing a new direction or hook that is catchier than the one before it.


ARMS' Website
Pre-order EP2 here, from Paper Garden Records

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Honeyslide-Deep Architecture

Honeyslide's demo from last year was one of the best pieces of shoegaze and noise rock I had heard in ages, five track of gooey, blistering guitar rock that buzzed in my ears in the best way possible. And now the band have returned with their first proper release, a lovely 10" EP. While one side has a rerecording of the demo's excellent "Drippin'", the flip-side has something maybe even better, the brand new song "Deep Architecture". As much as I loved the noise and lo-fi sound on their demo, it's sort of incredible what the added production has done for the band. Gone is the Dinosaur Jr. like indie-sludge that coated their songs; instead with "Deep Architecture" the band doubles their usual tempo, letting the song have this lovely jaunt to it has it buzzes along, the vocals coming in almost crystal clear as they overlap with one another while the guitar both fuzzes and bends like a violin like My Bloody Valentine did on "I Only Said". It's one of the loveliest shoegaze songs I have heard in a long time, and cement further how great of a band Honeyslide really are.


Honeyslide's Tumblr
Buy the "Drippin'/Deep Architecture" 10" here, from Critical Heights

Friday, July 12, 2013

EP Review: Whirr-Around

Let’s cut to the chase; Whirr are trying to make a radically different statement with the release of Around. Why else would they go and open the EP with the likes of “Drain”, their longest song to date? I think the trick to it is that it doesn't seem like Whirr are doing something at first, opening the song with the same type of quiet, ringing chords that opened their magnificent Pipe Dreams. However, the song shifts quick, into an eight minute sprawl of consistently cascading guitar riffs with the same three lines repeated again and again. “Drain” almost comes close to being sludgy, (especially once it hits its apex and the lyric “Drain me” is practically droned out) if the post-rock tint of hope didn't linger in the song’s background.

The song is a stage setter for the rest of Around to be sure though. “Swoon” gives way from its booming opening to a noisy calm of night time shoegaze riffs and atmospheric fuzz in the back. Steadily, the track rises, and before long the track is booming again, gliding on the soaring, flat out heavenly vocals of Kristina Esfandiari, which maybe the corner stone of this EP, consistent and even more prominent then they were on their debut. In fact, nearly everything on Around rings out cleaner as the ever present fuzz of the previous releases is nearly discarded here Meaning the shoegaze heavy warmth of Pipe Dreams isn’t here, but it allows them to go into the darker direction they want to here. All the songs feel heavy, not only sonically but emotionally, the screeching ups and quiet downs now present in the songs just add to this feel. Lyrically as well, as buried as they may seem for a band like Whirr. They are filled with a sense of disconnect to everyone else and the world at large. “Keep” is an embodiment of this; roller coaster bursts of shoegaze to puncture indie rock fall downs, all while soundtracking the EP’s most isolated lyrics. The only track that is different is the title track, the EP's only earnest call for company, and appropriately it is sonically different from the rest of the EP too, built around little more than clean guitar strumming and Esfandiari's vocals. It’s as close as Around gets to quiet, but at the same time gorgeous and lovely as well.

Around is a massive step for Whirr; slowed down tempos, shifts in dynamics, and more purely darker tones to their songs. More so, it appears that they are actively trying to step out of the pure shoegaze mold, trying to find something else. It’s hard to say what they will reach from just the four songs here, but Around is still an absolutely gorgeous coalition of noise and post-rock, another wonderful release from one of the best shoegaze bands making music now.


Whirr’s Facebook
Buy Around here, from Graveface Records

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ellery James Roberts-Kerou's Lament

WU LYF were a very special band. Appearing out of seemingly nowhere back in 2011, they crafted truly wonderful, anthemic music; huge, sweeping, and bombastic, made more powerful by their imagery and videos steeped in childhood like escapism and violent protest. Then there was the almost complete inability to properly decipher what frontman Ellery James Roberts was singing, which the band turned into a positive by allowing the listener to impose their own meaning onto the songs. In practically everyone else's hand's, this would be a forumla for cliché in its purest form, but with WU LYF it was almost magical.

Needless to say, I was partially heartbroken when the rumors of WU LYF breaking up started to swirl. A final song and Youtube message confirmed it, and it seemed the glory would fade. But now, just as suddenly as last time, Ellery James Roberts has appeared and released a new song. And I want to make this as clear as possible; "Kerou's Lament" is ABSOLUTELY FUCKING INCREDIBLE. From the moment the twinkling synths start of the track, you know it's going to build to something utterly grand. Roberts is still channeling the same passion and abstract calls to action that were heard on "Dirt" and "Heavy Pop", maybe more so from the self-immolation preparation that flickers on the song's video. The howls of "To powers of old/To powers to be/You fucked up this world/But you won't fuck with me" that echo out to close out the song, building and building on top of each other so the couplet takes on even more power then the words already have. "Kerou's Lament" is just magnificent, grand and haunting in a way few bands are these days, or want to be. It is fantastic.


Ellery James Roberts' Tumblr

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Stargazer Lilies-We Are the Dreamers

I caught The Stargazer Lilies earlier this year at SXSW and they completely blew me away live (and practically blew out me ear drums), play a set of gradual, beauty tinged, utterly blistering shoegaze that was absolutely consuming of the space they were in like any good shoegaze band should be. I think that's why it was so shocking to hear The Stargazer Lilies in their proper, record form. "We Are the Dreamers", taken from their upcoming album of the same name, shows that in reality the band lies much closer to dream-pop, albeit a twisted take of the genre, built around needle like buzzes of encroaching guitar fuzz and steadily pounding drums. Even Kim Field's vocals, while lovely, have a ghostly quality to them, feeling hollow and breathy, must like all the instrumentation of the track, which has a floating quality to it as if the increasing tension and noise of the song will cause itself to break apart and float away. Even when the molasses coated, roaring guitars kick in, it just adds to the beauty of the track rather than overpowering anything and grounding something unnecessarily. The Startgazer Lilies have made an absloutly lovely piece of dream-pop here, creative and removed from the usual standards of the genre so that it stands strong in its dark essence, as weightless as it can be.   


The Stargazer Lilies' Website
Pre-order We Are the Dreamers here, from Graveface Records

Monday, July 8, 2013


There is something deeply ironic about having a song where the chorus is the repeated chanting of "destruction", and deciding to call the song "Meditations". However, Holograms aren't approaching their new song with even the slightest sense of humor (if they had any to begin with). Instead "Meditations" is possibly the closest Holograms have come to pure, unfiltered punk rage; the song is a dark reflection on the past and present, the horrors man has created and currently lives in. The nicer production adds to the amplification of the song's slightly sinister mood, something Holograms has always used very effectively to enhance their songs. The increased jaggedness of the guitars and reduction of the synths (at least here) to an excellently used atmospheric flourish allows the song's intensity to be channeled consistently and without a flicker of falter. "Meditation" is as brutal as Holograms can be, inflicting anger over lack of control while backing that intensity with pin-size precision with their music, a blast of ragged but never sloppy post-punk perfection.


Holograms' Website
Pre-order Forever here, from Captured Tracks

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Album Review: The Mantles-Long Enough to Leave

Christ, why does it take me so long to get into great bands? The Mantles are an absolutely wonderful pop band out of San Francisco band who have been churning out singles, EPs, and albums steadily for the past three years of pure, pristine jangle-pop. Wonderful jangle-pop that I purposely ignored for reason that I can’t possibly fathom right now as I sit here listening to Long Enough to Leave.

What’s nice is the small shifts in sound The Mantles make within their songs to keep them consistently interesting. This is displayed from the beginning with “Marbled Birds”. It opens with a simple, twangy guitar line, interweaved with a steady tambourine beat, the just as bright bass line, and another guitar melody. The song stays steady, incurring an almost beach like feel, especially when the background “ahhs” come in during the verses. Then the song picks up, the guitar ringing a little louder, the vocals a bit more impassioned before ending on this lovely, chiming outro from the way the guitars play off each other. Being part of the San Francisco scene to a degree seems to have helped shaped their sound so it doesn’t follow the same linear path that a good majority of jangle pop albums work along. Drawing from the fractured garage-pop of peer White Fence and from shambolic pop work of the early English DIY scene, there is a scruffy undercoating that lies at the heart of many of the songs on Long Enough to Leave. It might not seem like much on the surface, but for an album so firmly rooted in a specific sound (wilting guitar encased within a Velvet Underground obsession and simplicity), it’s these small shifts that elevate the pop records to greatness.

The result is ten tracks of restless, effortless, and sublime guitar-pop. “Raspberry Thighs” could easily be a secret Real Estate song that the band passed along to The Mantles to record. “Bad Design” bridges the gap between Eddy Current Suppression Ring and Boomgates in its fuzzy three minutes. The title track shows how skilled the band is at making melody, building half the song around just some off-kilter guitar playing. Painting Long Enough to Leave as a sunshine record, though, would be a mistake; the album title itself being the band’s little tip off. There are slightly darker edges lurking within the album, from the skewed pop of “Hello” to the cynical sage wisdom of “Don’t Cross Town” (which has this absolutely wonderful two second build-up pop to deliver its chorus). Once the Television Personalities-esque “More Than I Pay” (right down to the influx of the vocals to make them sound more English) comes in, the intended scope of Long Enough to Leave becomes clear. The band is coating the melancholy that lies at the core of all their songs in a thick shell of never ending guitar hooks and earworm melodies. And it all works because the album is a lovely collection of sublime, if brief jangle-pop excellence.


The Mantles' Tumblr
Buy Long Enough to Leave here, from Slumberland Records

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Become What You Are: An Interview with Merchandise

The members of Merchandise could care less about image. That came out deeply during the interview, but it became sort of obvious after just a few seconds of chatting with them. Despite making gorgeously romantic and gothic indie-rock, everyone in the band had a deep sense of humor and were more concerned with being able to make music than anything else. We talked about that at length, as well as the nature of press, how the DIY scene has devolved into posturing more than music, and what it’s like being part of the bigger indie world by following Sonic Youth’s example.

The Creative Intersection: You recently added a drummer, after using a drum machine for a while, and I just saw you play with a saxophonist (merch guy Chris Horn). Has this changed the dynamics of how the band plays, and how you make music now?

Carson Cox: We don’t know yet. (Band laughs) We’ve done it for about two weeks. And yeah, but everyday changes the dynamic of making music. It kind of has nothing to do with adding another instrument, is like how you feel when you wake up.

TCI: Merchandise, with this, has sort of cohesied into a proper band to a certain degree. Is that at all strange for you? When you started the project, it was just supposed to be a one off cassette like you once said.

Dave Vassalotti: We actually started as real band like five years ago. I used to play drums and he (Cox) did guitar, and Pat played bass. So it’s kind of has come full circle from what it originally was, but it’s gone through a couple detours.

TCI: You (Cox) make solo music under Blonde God, and you (Vassalotti) have released solo music under () and you just released your cassette on Night People too. And when you started Merchandise, you were also in Neon Blud as well, they conceited at the same time. How do you when you want to make music that will be through Merchandise, and when it will be channeled through other bands?

CC: I don’t know. Everything gets demoed. And when I demo it one of the muses will speak, and when the muse speaks that’s where it goes. There’s a different muse for Merchandise, there’s a different muse for Blonde God, there’s a different muse for Neon Blud, there’s a different muse for all the videos and all the video work that we do. They all work in a different way and they’re all their own fucking…temptress and goddess.

TCI: Do you feel the same way?

DV: Yeah, I think so. Usually things kind of just work themselves out; each project that we do has its own director I guess, and that makes it easier to focus certain things towards one project or another project. Usually it just depends on where the momentum is at any given time. Like right now everything’s pretty much going to Merchandise because we’re so busy with it and it has taken over our lives. It’s very awesome.

TCI: You mention your music videos. You’ve released a lot of them…

CC: Yeah, almost twenty!

TCI: Yeah. What inspired you to do that because a band in your position usually doesn’t create music videos…

CC: Is there another way to do it?

TCI: Well, sort of. I mean, bands do it to coincide with the press, but that doesn’t seem like your reason for doing it.

CC: Well…press is funny because it’s kind of self-inflated and it’s not real in a way. So when you’re making something, in my opinion, you make it to make it, you make it to make the object. So the reason we made the videos is because we desired the object to exist. And to me it really doesn’t have anything to do with the promotion; it has to do with the fun of creating something or making something. It’s really a simple thing; we really just like to make videos. We like to have total control, we like to everything ourselves.

TCI: Do you come from a video background? What inspired you to pick up the camera?

CC: I don’t know man. We basically used cellphone video quality for a long time, and we just started toying around with better technology. And it’s exciting because the new stuff is richer I would say. But…it doesn’t really have anything to do with having a background…I didn’t have a background in music when I picked up a guitar. I mean everything I do I didn’t really have a background in. My grandfather gave me piano lessons when I was seven or something, but I wouldn’t say I have a background in music. I just wanted to do it.

TCI: You have a background in singing though.

CC: I do. But that’s just because of how my family was. But saying you have a background in it is kind of funny because my mother was not a professional singer. She sang in the choir in church, but that doesn’t make her a professional. And she didn’t have a background in that either, she just knew a bunch of songs from watching movies growing up.

TCI: And she taught them to you?

CC: Yeah. I would say every family is like that. I would say everyone in the band has a different...what songs did your parents sing growing up Elsnor? Do you remember?

Elsner Nino: Like a lot of Spanish ballads. A lot of romantic music. That’s what my mother sang to me. Not to me directly, but…

CC: Yeah, in a way even if it’s not traditional music, when it’s song it becomes traditional. “Erving Berlin” isn’t really traditional music, but Cole Porter, that was traditional in my family. It was something that we just knew.

TCI: You process it in some way.

CC: I mean, you don’t have a choice really. So if you want to make something honestly, you don’t really have a choice in the matter. You just have to do it.

TCI: In the past few months, you’ve gotten more “mainstream” indie attention then you have ever in the time you’ve been in bands…

CC: And we’re not even paying for it either

TCI: You got a PR person.

Patrick Brady: He’s our buddy though. He’s one of our best friends.

TCI: Oh, that explains a lot.

PB: He works us for free because he’s passionate about the music we make.

CC: (Laughing) People have a misconception we’ve hired out this team or something when in reality …

PB: It’s people that we’ve met over the years doing everything else we’re doing.

CC: People that have come from a similar background that have come to just like “I feel like we can help you”. And they do.

PB: Because they want to.

CC: But that is not…that is very rare in the music industry. The only reason I feel they are doing it is because there’s been enough people who believe in the fucking hilarious experiment we’ve been doing for like years now. (Laughing) A good hint for a lot of bands is if you want to get press, if you just make up a fake email account and say “I’m Frank Grimes at Grimmy Press and I manage the Cheesewheelies and also the Crankles. We were hoping they could get into your magazine”. And if you make it look inflated enough you can really do whatever you want. You’d be surprised how far it will go because the problem right now is the music industry is kind of grabing for anything they can get. It really doesn’t have anything to do with how good bands are, it just has to do with…

TCI: If they can get the right PR people.

CC: Yeah. It’s not even the right PR people; you can fake the right PR person. You can pretend. I wouldn’t say every year is like that, but I would say for the next two years bands can have a free-for-all and you can totally just pretend to be somebody else. Pretend to be a manager. I know a lot of friends who did that. I think it’s good because a lot of people won’t even listen to you unless you have a manager or whatever. But I don’t know, that doesn’t really matter. Again, you can fake everything; t has nothing to do with what’s real and what’s not. You can even play bad shows, it doesn’t really matter. It just has to have the appearance of something that’s together, but it doesn’t really have to be together.

TCI: Yeah I was wondering your feelings on being part of this now because for the longest time you sort of kept [mainstream indie] at arm’s length to certain degree. So what’s it like being accepted by it to a certain degree?

CC: A big reason was so that we could tour the world and go to other countries. We have a lot of supporters in South American and Western Europe and Eastern Europe. Asia. We have people who buy records in Australia. And a big way to get to them was to do press, so that was sort of the biggest reason why we started to accept that. We had people asking us to do stuff for a long time; we just kind of ignored it because we really didn’t feel like it was important. It seemed more important to make records. I still stand by that decision. I still think that making good records is more important than press or anything else really. You can kind of ignore everybody, and so long as the record is good it doesn’t really matter. At some point it will catch on; they just have to resonate. They have to be what you want to do.

TCI: Right because you made stuff with Cult Ritual for a long time and that was in its own world, but it popular really quickly.

DV: It still is popular. I would say at every show there’s always someone who’s asking…I mean you knew the bands.

TCI: Yeah, I was a big Neon Blud fan, that’s how I got into you guys.

DV: Yeah, I would say all the projects are connected; they still are. Merchandise and Cult Ritual played shows together all the time.

PB: Yeah we played show together…it must have been 2007, 2008. We did a tour together, a really brief Southern tour together. But when we played Tampa, we would always play with Cult Ritual.

TCI: You’ve also talked about falling out of the DIY scene you were a part of, and people getting upset about how you’ve grown sort of and people paying more attention to you…

CC: And it’s not just that, it’s also the fucking egos that are growing in DIY music. (Chuckling) Honestly, I feel it’s kind of more humble in indie music then it is in DIY in a lot of ways.

TCI: Well what’s the difference between the two because a lot of people would conflate both the words?

CC: They definitely don’t. DIY is just…there’s a good chance if you go to a DIY show, it’s not a bar. Basically DIY for us was everything stripped down except for music. The only thing at the shows was music, and it had nothing to do with the sort of circus that goes around with shows and obviously there wouldn’t be sponsors. They probably didn’t sell booze. If they did it was homebrewed. Or they sold hash or drugs and didn’t sell anything else. I played shows where everyone was sober and nobody sold drugs. You weren’t even allowed to take drugs. I played shows where you weren’t even allowed to drink milk or eat pizza because there’s animal products in the food you are eating. The spectrums was huge, and DIY stood for “Do It Yourself”, but it has kind of transcended into do it without everything else. Because you can book a show at a bar, but that’s not really a DIY show.

EN: DIY: Don’t Include Yogurt!

TCI: You talked about how these limitations have bothered you to a certain extent, that there was an ego to limiting to what people could do or what was allowed. You compared it to high school…

PB: It’s posturing. DIY has become such a posturing (gestures to Cox), like you said, circus. There’s been such a disconnect from actually appreciating music and it’s more about being seen at a show, fucking…and the people who put on the show, more often than not, are more concerned about being the guy who put on the show then making the show enjoyable for everyone there and everyone who’s playing it. Which is what it’s all about.

CC: It’s being perceived as something that’s really elite, and because of that the music industry has caught on pretty hard, and so now people are totally self-aware of it, as oppose to when we were young, there was absolutely nothing like that, it had nothing to do with that. It was also easier to do for people your age…I mean I’m not much older, I’m turning 27 in June, but it’s something that is much more kids that are young. That being said I know people who are in their 40s in New York and LA that are involved in the DIY music scene. It’s just perceived as being posh, and because of that it has become really different; it’s become strange. That’s where the egos have fucking developed, and it’s actually much easier to be a part of the indie rock world and play within it. People actually have to work harder in this then they have to do in DIY. But again there is a disparity between big cities and small cities because if you’re doing DIY music in a small city I would say it’s more or less the same, but I know in our scene back home there’s a DIY venue I’ve never played and it sprouted up after stopped playing…

TCI: Shows there.

CC: Yeah, pretty much. It’s not that we really play corporate places or bars in Tampa, we just don’t play. We go on tour, and when we go home we’re just chilling out, getting stoned, doing nothing.

EN: Not having a job.

CC: Not having a job. And we’re just trying to enjoy ourselves in Tampa with our families and friends, and…yeah, we’re not involved in any indie rock world in Tampa. It’s something we participate, outside of our city because we’re away from that. But I would say again, the whole infrastructure between the small cities and the big cities are totally different. I would say that every corporation that is trying to market to kids has picked up on all that has changed and all that is happening. For instance, Sonic Youth. They were on Geffen Records for a long time, and we just played with Thurston Moore’s new band Chelsea Light Moving, and they’re incredible. They’re incredible musicians, super interesting, well thought out, totally new concept for Thurston Moore, and all the people in the band. I would say they did a pretty good job at never really compromising their actual music, or the idea of it, or even the image of it. Even then, when that shit is hyper-marketed, Sonic Youth didn’t really change. People kind of moved to it, and said “we respect what you do”. I would say they are a really good example of doing it, not even in the indie world, but in the corporate world. But at the same time they were on SST, hyper-fucking influential at a time when it was very good for them to be. The thing that they did back then become more beneficial with age. When people look back, it’s like “you’re so far removed from 1981”.

TCI: People did complain when Dirty came out.

CC: It’s true but…

PB: People complained about Dirty?!

CC: (To Brady) Yeah people talk shit. Yeah, people talk shit, people don’t give a fuck about your band, they’re really just jealous, and they want attention for whatever they do. I’m going hate a minute.

TCI: Sure, no problem.

CC: And it doesn’t matter. I mean, I’ve had punk bands that were too punk for the punk scene, and now this band is not punk enough for the punk scene…

TCI: How were you too punk for the punk scene?

CC: I’m not going to go into it. I’m talking about previous bands, old things that we did that weren’t accepted by the punk community because they were too experimental. OK, well then I’m going to completely fucking divorce myself from you because in reality we never really had anything in common. I would say the only thing I have in common with the punk scene was the people I had through it, but it has nothing to do with this invisible scene, it has nothing to do with that. And music scenes are bullshit anyways.

TCI: You think so.

Everyone: Yeah.

EN: I know for a fact that music scenes are bullshit.

TCI: Why would you say that? Because that’s how music is defined sort of these days…

EN: No, I wouldn’t say that. The scene encapsulates all the other bullshit that goes along with it. That means ridiculous trends. Having to wear an outfit. Having to adhere to specific codes. So like you’re into metal, but you don’t have long hair, you’re not wearing so tapestry, you’re not metal. And that’s bullshit. And that applies to hip-hop. That applies to…chillwave. It applies to all that different stuff.

TCI: It doesn’t add up to anything.

CC: No man. It’s more important to do your own thing. Like, there’s plenty of examples of people that were born before rock’n’roll. There was so much time before 1950. What did those rocknrollers do? They didn’t play rock’n’roll, but I’m sure there was pissed off, subversive people.

TCI: I think it was called jazz.

CC: (Chuckles) Maybe. It’s pretty far from rock’n’roll.

TCI: I think it’s about the attitude, or your approach to it.

CC: (Smiles) Well then, you answer your own question.