Monday, November 5, 2007
The first time I saw the Black Lips was at the Bowery Ballroom on March 26 where they opened for the Ponys. I didn’t get around to hearing Let it Bloom until December of the past year and although I enjoyed it, for some reason it did not stick with me until I saw the Black Lips live. As I look back on past posts over the course of the year, I’ve come to realize this is a trend for me. Naturally, my first impression of these Atlanta natives was that they literally crawled out from some backwater swamp, found instruments lying on the side of the road and began to tinker with them. Considering that their wild stage antics ranged from vomiting, bleeding, kissing each other, voluntary nudity and fireworks being lit off as well as stories coming from their soon to be legendary performance in Tijuana, it is understandable how I would come to that conclusion. That was the legend I created for myself and it made the performance all the more enjoyable. Not to say that I wanted to reduce these guys to the role of court jester disposable for my personal enjoyment. They are too good of songwriters and performers for that to be the case and their recent performance at the Silent Barn on July 20th and Sirenfest at Coney Island on July 21st were proof of that.
I caught up first with Ian of the Black Lips after the show and then managed to scrounge up the remaining three after Ian left to chase a ladyfriend. The Lips talked openly about their dirty stage antics, drug habits, musical influences, and whether they will be playing as long as the New York Dolls have.
Black Lips Interview Part I: Ian St. Pe
Culture Vulture: How’d you feel about the crowd tonight?
Ian St. Pe: I thought the crowd was amazing. What I really loved about it was the intimacy of how short the stage was and the interaction between the band and the crowd and what the crowd goes back to the band. Cause the problem with a lot of venues, not even a lot of venues, not that we are that big or anything, but we are playing stages that suck the life out of music. It’s not about just the music it’s about the interaction between the band and the crowd. When you have a high ass stage it doesn’t matter how good the crowd is or how good the band is. There’s no connection. There can’t be. With a crowd like tonight, with a stage like tonight, and with a band like tonight, it was all one. So, yeah, tonight was amazing man.
CV: Yeah I prefer smaller venues exactly for that reason. Is that a common sight at your shows?
Ian: Not to be boastful…but yeah.
CV: I thought so.
Ian: (laughing) Yeah. I love what I do.
CV: What’s the difference between “flower-punk,” as you guys have coined it, and “regular” punk? Why are you guys flower punk?
Ian: What I would think the difference between the two is that we are to punk to be hippie, but man, we’re too hippie to be punk.
CV: Why is that?
Ian: Because we love people. We hug. We kiss. We like drugs. We’re not so pissed off at the world. Everyone has been dealt a losing hand. That’s just life. You have to take that losing hand and turn it into something. And you can either be just pissed off, and I think that’s regular punk. Or, just deal with it and have a good fucking time. And that’s what we do. We fucking hate everything. But at the same time we love everything. So we’re too wimpy to be punk but too punk to be wimpy.
CV: You hate society. You love people.
Ian: Yeah, there we are. That’s good.
CV: What are you listening to right now?
Ian: At the very moment I’m listening to Porter Wagoner’s Rubber Room. He’s actually opening up for the White Stripes on Tuesday. I’m tempted to go. But, I listen to a lot of country and a lot of blues. I mean…you always hear that’s the root of rock and roll. I don’t care if it is. I think it is. And because I think it is, that’s what I listen to.
CV: I noticed that you guys were a little more country tonight. Are you going in that direction for the new album?
Ian: Ah, I don’t think that the new album necessarily is more country, but, it’s something that we love and I definitely think you’ll see more of it in our future. On our new record we actually went out to the sticks of Georgia and we found this old country bar room and we became friends with this country band called the Joe Tucker Band and we befriended the pedal steel player. He actually plays on our new album. Just one song. It’s called “How Do You a Child That Someone Has Died?” We played it tonight but on the record it’s more country with a pedal steel. So, yeah country is definitely something we will always do or get more into. When people say, “what kind of music are you into?” I say I’m into good music. Of course, that’s for the interpreter to decipher but I’m into good music and yes, country is one of those things so yeah we will play country in our future.
CV: How do you feel about the New York scene as compared the Atlanta scene? Especially with bands like Deerhunter and tonight, the Coathangers…
Ian: (enthusiastic) Yeah, yeah…
CV: Fellow Atlantians, “Hot”lantians if you will. What are your feelings on the scene and why is different than New York?
Ian: Are you asking me “why do I think Atlanta is a new hotbed for creativity?”
Ian: Well one reason I think is that people are in search for something when they come to New York. They are trying to make that deal. They are trying to make that connection. In Atlanta, we’re just living. We’re living cheap. We’re living large. It’s Hotlanta. It’s cool you know? Sure, there’s aspirations out of the ass, but there’s no preconceived notions. You know? We’re in the Southern town living our Southern laid back ways. Doing our thing. I think that shows. It happened in rap and now it’s happening in rock right now. I think it’s creeping up because people are trying so hard elsewhere but we’re just laid back down in the South. And it’s just happening and people are like “oh shit!” and it’s fresh because we’re just doing it and not trying.
CV: So, the South shall rise again?
Ian: I would say so. I would like to say so.
CV: You guys are known for your stage antics. What are the dirtiest things you’ve guys done on stage? I’m thinking of the Tijuana show that got out of hand.
Ian: To say what the dirtiest thing we has done I can’t say. On any given night, I’m fair game. I’m fair game for anything.
CV: How do you feel about Sirenfest tomorrow?
Ian: You know, I don’t know to much about it and it seems to be an important thing to happen in New York and I only say that because that is what people have told me but I only say that because that is what people have told me. I really have no idea. It’s at Coney Island and more importantly I heard Coney Island is shutting down. So, I’m very excited that we get to play the last Sirenfest as Coney Island. I’m going to ride the Cyclone. So yeah, I’m excited. And I’m excited to see M.I.A. and you know, the New York Dolls. I love them. There are only two original members left but god damn man, if I was last original band of some band, yeah man, I would do it too. So good for them.
CV: Do you think the Black Lips will end up thirty years from now still playing?
Ian: Uh, not to sound clichéd, but, if we can keep it together…I mean, I’m sure we’ll go through our breakups and problems but as long as we don’t die I guess we will be there in thirty years. But I mean, then again the New York Dolls. If one of us is still alive we’ll keep it going.
CV: My final question, when’s the new album coming out?
Ian: I’m glad you asked me that. The new album is dropping September 11. It’s called Good Bad Not Evil on Vice Records.
CV: Ian, thank you very much.
Ian: Thank you.
Part II: Cole Alexander, Jared Swilley and Joe Bradley
CV: Good show tonight guys. What did you think about the crowd tonight?
Jared: Uh they were awesome. I mean it was difficult to play but they were in stellar form.
CV: I noticed the guy jumping on your back tonight. That’s a common occurrence I take?
Joe: Was that OJ?
Cole: It’s OJ.
Jared: (laughing) Yeah he did that like a year ago. It’s like “damn it man, you already done this shit!”
Joe: Yeah, he likes it.
Jared: But, yeah he played in the first band [Golden Triangle] tonight and I thought they were really good. We’ve known them for a while.
[Drug dealer comes up to the band]
Joe: We trying to get that dime?
Cole: Yeah man, some good shit. We’re trying to get sold some drugs during the interview.
CV: (laughter) Oh, alright don’t mind me.
Cole: We’re straight though.
Drug dealer: From Bushwick son. Fuckin’ hood.
Cole: You want to give a shout out? You know what, let him give a shout out.
Drug dealer: I give a shout out man to all my people from Brooklyn. We in Bushwick right now. Shit goes down man. We shoot at the cops over here. You already know.
Cole: See, we play where all the motherfuckers shoot at the cops and shit.
Drug dealer: We got that bud. That purple haze.
Black Lips: (break into laughter)
CV: Ok, you guys are self-proclaimed flower punk. I asked Ian this already. What’s the difference between flower punk as opposed to regular punk?
Jared: Well we love punk rock but we also love like pop, flowers, rainbows and ice cream. You know, wimpy stuff.
Joe: And mares.
Jared: So it’s like a melding between tough guy shit, which we don’t really like all too much but we kinda do and like wimpy, sappy shit, which we also don’t really like too much but kinda do so we form a middle ground. You know, it’s like when the Germs covered “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies. Something like that.
CV: From what I gathered from Ian, you guys hate society but you sure love people.
Jared: Yeah that actually sums it up. We love people. We hate the shit that goes on.
Joe: (skeptical) I mean, I dunno. It goes both ways. There are good parts to society.
Jared: Yeah, of course. One thing we learned about traveling across the world is that everyone is the same and that everyone can get along.
CV: Tonight I noticed you guys were heading towards more of a country sound. Is that on the new album?
Jared: Some of that yeah. We’ve always played country, you know, we’re from Georgia and New Orleans respectively, so yeah it’s always been a core influence.
Joe: We like to keep it versatile as well.
CV: One song I particular like from you guys on the last album [Let it Bloom] is “Empassant” because it reminds me of the Southern Gothic. I’m sure you’re familiar with that term.
Jared: Yeah I am.
CV: Well, it’s a dark song and the references ranging from Tammy Faye, abortion, Iraq…etc have this sinister feel. Care to elaborate?
Jared: Actually, Tammy Faye is a good friend of my family. I knew her when I was a kid and when her husband went to jail her son had to move in with my family. The whole Southern heritage thing definitely runs deep with us. That comes out a lot. A lot of our songs are a little morose but we try to do them in a positive way. We like happy sad stuff. We like mixing extremes.
Joe and Cole: (in agreement) Yeah.
CV: What do you think the difference is between the New York scene and the Atlanta scene?
Cole: Well the New York scene is a lot bigger. The Atlanta scene is more small and closed. And like, it’s a lot more integrated in Atlanta because so it’s so little and people have to integrate just to make one cohesive show. So, yeah it’s just a lot smaller really.
Jared: People in New York dress up a lot more (laughing.) It’s fun though.
CV: Oh yeah? Well, it’s hotter down south.
Black Lips: (in agreement) Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
CV: How are you guys feeling about Sirenfest tomorrow?
Jared: I’m excited. We’ve played very few of those big outdoor festivals so this is like our third or something.
Joe: Yeah I’ll probably get to go to Coney Island before they rip it down.
Cole: Yeah, me too.
CV: Are you going to ride the Cyclone?
Jared: We have an unlimited pass ride so I think I will ride it about 42 times. It’ll be cool to see New York Dolls too. And, I want to see M.I.A.
CV: Speaking of, New York Dolls are still around. Will the Black Lips be around thirty years from now?
Joe: Uhh, I dunno (laughing looking at Jared and Cole)
Jared: (laughing) Possibly. It depends on the money situation.
Joe: Yeah. We’ll see about that cash.
Here we have a clip of "Katrina" live at Silent Barn
And here we have them playing the same song on Conan
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I was just saying the other day how uninterested I am in albums these days. The album to me is a relic of the big 70s rock era. "Oh, you have to appreciate this song within the context of the album." Yeah, I guess. If a band can produce 3-5 good songs every few years, and I mean 3-5 really really good songs and amass a collection of them, I am way more satisfied with that prospect than buying or downloading a collection or 12 tracks. And let's not forget the bonus tracks that are anything but. This is why I am so excited about Black Kids. Their 4 track EP, The Wizzah of Ahhhs is sufficient for me. They wear their influences well ranging from Motown to My Bloody Valentine which is most apparent on a phenomenal track like "Hit the Heartbrakes." Please check them out.
To my fans out there, all three of you, fear not. Culture Vulture is back! After 3 months of delay, personal issues, soul searching, and mainly, sheer laziness, I have emerged from my self imposed exile because I miss being loud and opinionated about pop music. Don't worry, I've had my pulse on what's been buzzing on the scene lately. We got some interviews from Black Lips and Le Rug, the new Springsteen and Radiohead, and a look at the Ian Curtis biopic Control to name a few things. Expect the updates soon.
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Ah, the power of advertising. A new show on AMC called Mad Men examines the cunning nature of the ad man during the Eisenhower/Kennedy years. If you are like me, you have been oddly attracted to that M & M commercial where all the M & M's are "rebelling" and finding their true selves. For instance, one M & M gets a mohawk. This is all set, mind you, to a damn catchy song. Recently, I discovered the title of the song, "This is the Day" by English post-punk band The The off their 1983 album, Soul Mining. As the main chorus hits and attracts, the tagline of the commercial is "what M & M are you?" Suddenly, it's clear. These are not M & M's with arms and legs. These were once people transformed into giant M & M's. "That is the day, their life surely changed" as found in the lyrics (slightly altered) of The The's candy floss pop song. Marx warned us about this. The term is reification where objects are transformed into subjects and subjects transformed into objects. Marx would say, these M & M's are not rebelling. They are victims of their hyper-capitalist appetite. It's commodity fetishism at its worst. Product and consumer fused together. What was that Karl? Sorry, wasn't listening. Too caught up in this delightful tune. I can't say I want M & M's right now, but I did end up downloading the song. You win Mars Incorporated. Enjoy.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Look at them! They formed a band. And, a damn good one. I didn't really get Art Brut the first time I heard them. It began to come together at last year's Sirenfest where they were for me the highlight. Last week, I became a full believer. Bang Bang Rock and Roll has become one of my favorite albums of the decade. The Brut's tactics are deceptively simple serving as both a deconstruction of rock and roll clichés and unabashed celebration of them.
"Art Brut are you ready?" asked frontman Eddie Argos. Actually, it was more like an order. There is no question that Argos is the ringleader of the circus that is Art Brut. Armed with British witticisms and boyish energy, Argos, along with the National's Matt Berniger, has restored the lost art of the frontman. But, without a solid band backing him, he would just be a clown. On record, the band is mid-tempo Britpop. Live, they are fast paced punk all the way recalling the campier moments of the Damned. You can thank the twin guitar work of Duran Duran hairstyled Ian Catskilkin (lead guitar) and the ascot wearing Jasper Future (rhythm guitar, backing vocals.) Although not quite the dualing guitar work of Television's Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, Catsklkin & Future have more in common with the the MC5's Wayne Kramer and Fred "Sonic" Smith. This is certainly the case live. Don't forget the rhythm section, the multi-colored Freddy Feedback (bass guitar) and Mikey Breyer (drums.) With Argos's one man standup routine, the dual guitar attack of Catskilkin and Future, Feedback as anchor and Breyer playing his drums like a dancing chimpanzee they are formidable. I mean that literally. During "St. Pauli," off the new album, Argos, spinning like a whirling Dervish bumrushed the crowd with the intention of keeping us on our toes. "Lousy defence (British spelling)" he quipped. After all, this is a band that believes in the power of rock and roll as much as they enjoy deconstructing its conventions and excess.
For Argos, some rock conventions are sacred. A recent trip to a supposedly small and independently owned record store in NYC annoyed Argos after seeing racks of DVD's and video games alongside albums. He expected that sort of thing at Virgin Megastore, but not the Village. "I don't want DVD's or video games sold in my record stores!" he bellowed to the sound of applause. If the vanishing record shop has alarmed the Brut, so have the complacent crowds at rock shows. There is room for the polite spectator just enjoying an evening at the opera. The crowd is a part of the whole experience. Perhaps not so much a religious experience, instead a musical circus. "Art Brut, Top of the Pops" the kids shouted after their first set. After fifteen minutes of foots pounding the Highline Ballroom's shiny new floor, chants, beer cans flying, the Brut came out. "Art Brut are you ready?" Argos again commanded. In this regard, the Brut are reactionaries longing for a day when rock stars did not have to take themselves so seriously and could be rich, famous and only that. Think A Hard Day's Night reved up at punk speed.
Past songs like "Bang Bang Rock and Roll" reduced rock to its primal origins eschewing pretension"I can't stand the sound of the Velvet Underground!" as sang in the title song or "We're going to write the song that makes Israel and Palestine get along" in "Formed a Band." Away with Lou Reed and Bono. Or so they say. Being deconstructionists, Art Brut never give us a straight answer. It's a Big Complicated is not just the title of their sophomore effort, it's the mantra. Songs like "Pump Up the Volume" and dance club ode "Direct Hit" further examine Argos's obsession with the purity of pop music. Being 27 years old, however, complicates his seemingly eternal adolescence as evident on tracks like "Nag Nag Nag Nag" and ("not a cover" Argos said to the audience) "I Will Survive." "Jealous Guy" (also not a cover) examines the fear of a declining male sex drive building on the impotence drama of "Rusted Guns of Milan" from their debut. The theme of this older and wiser Art Brut is that getting older is a bitch, but then again, it's a bit more complicated than that isn't it? Named after the term for "outsider art" of the insane as credited to art critic Roger Cardinal, Art Brut are indeed outsiders in the pop game. The genius of their art, however, is their focus on the comedy that is life. They are too lighthearted to take themselves seriously. And when they are serious, it's only for their genuine love of pop music. Sometimes, that is enough. Kind of think of it, maybe it's not so complicated after all.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
When asked whether the Verve would reunite anytime soon, Richard Ashcroft responded "you'll have an easier time getting all four Beatles back on stage." Yesterday it was announced the Verve would be reuniting with an album planned for the late summer and a tour beginning November. How do those words taste Ritchie? I'm not surprised. Ashcroft's solo career, while racking up some hit singles in the UK, has been second rate when compared to the Verve's body of work. And I could not be more happier. While everyone was listening to Third Eye Blind and Matchbox Twenty, I had Urban Hymns in my CD player. It was a long summer of '98. Everyone called them "one hit wonders." False. That is, only if you count what Billboard determines a "hit." Worse, they were thieves sampling the Rolling Stones song "The Last Time." Half true. The song's main hook did sample a Jagger/Richards original but not the original song, rather a symphonic version of the song off an obscure album of Rolling Stones covers as interpreted by an orchestra. "Bittersweet Symphony" deserves better recognition. So does the excellent album that produced it, Urban Hymns. More importantly, the Verve deserve better treatment. They were one of the more interesting acts of the whole 90s Britpop movement. If the new album bombs, I'll always have Urban Hymns.