INTERVIEW/EP REVIEW: The Adventures Of The Silver Spaceman


The thought of an adventuring spaceman evokes images of daring travels and wild adventures. But in Zach Ellis’s world, the distance of space is an opportunity for some serious reflection. You can see the whole world from space, and at the moment, the world doesn’t look that great. That gives an ominous tone to The Adventures Of The Silver Spaceman‘s latest release, Electric Earth. It opens with the title track, a song that quickly gains momentum with rapid-fire lyrics and snaking guitar lines that feel as though they’re pulling you down a dark, twisting hallway. Well- placed dissonance creates a visceral sense of unease. But, the dark vibes are balanced out with gentler moments like “Expulsion,” a soaring, hopeful track with brimming space and self-awareness. We spoke to Zach about the recording process, how Electric Earth was inspired by the current times and, of course, space.

AUDIOFEMME: I really love the production on this EP, especially when it comes to the vocals. Can you give us some insights into the recording process?

ZACH: Thanks so much! The recording process on this record was by far the simplest we’ve ever done. You can partially thank Amy Schumer for that. We booked an all day session at Studio G in Greenpoint with my engineer Andy Swerdlow, but the session got turned into a half day because apparently, she needed to do a last minute voice over session for her show. So we ended up cranking out the whole EP in the latter half of the day thinking maybe we’d book another half day to finish, but we ended up not needing it. It took about 6 hours. We did it live. It’s really the antithesis of my earlier work… I used to record everything myself and add layer upon layer and get super anal about editing to sound just right. This record is super raw.

I did a few vocal passes into a U47 with a little slap echo in the monitor and that was pretty much it. It was so awesome recording into that mic. Andy, our engineer, says it’s the best mic in the world.

Andrew Bailey, who plays in DIIV, was with us during the session and I asked him if he’d want to add to the madness at the end of “Breath of Fire” and he was super into it. He’s since joined the band.

I sense a dystopian vibe to the whole EP, but particularly the first song, “Electric Earth.” Can you tell me the message behind the song, and what inspired the lyrics?

So glad you’re paying attention. Yes, Electric Earth is kind of my personal mantra for navigating a dystopian world. Things are so crazy right now. We’ve literally got villains in towers with henchmen. Money is controlling everything and in the hands of complete sociopaths who are deciding what we eat and how we interact with each other. It’s hard to navigate and real easy to lose touch entirely.  It’s so easy to live in a bubble where the climate is controlled by corporate media and lose touch with the reality of what we as humans are meant to be experiencing. But, eventually, the bubble is going to pop. The music is about staying in touch with what’s important and real through it all… physically, emotionally and mentally remaining sharp and connected to mother nature. 

Your release show was also a benefit for Standing Rock. Do you have any thoughts about the situation over there?

So many thoughts and feelings. This nation has been so unkind to its indigenous peoples. And after sweeping them under the rug by pushing them to the far corners of the United States, we now want to destroy the little bit of land we left them by installing a pipeline to transport a completely unsustainable energy source from one place to another? For what? So the filthy rich oil barrens can die alone in their mansions leaving their children a big house in a broken world. We need to learn from indigenous people now more than ever. We need to live in harmony with each other and with the land. I want to do what I can through music. 

Your bio states that you’ve been compared to “Steve Malkmus and the Jicks, Nick Cave, and a millennial Neil Young.” Do these artists reflect your musical influences? 

Steve Malkmus and the Jicks/Pavement are actually a relatively new trip for me, which a lot of people find hard to believe. Nick Cave as well. He scares me; I love it. Neil Young is a huge, huge influence. I learned a lot about how to use my voice through his songs and in my opinion he’s one of the most prolific, badass artists alive. As far as other influences, Fugazi sets me free [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][and] Gang of Four, Television, Explosions in the Sky,  Nina Simone, Pink Floyd, Springsteen, Tom Waits, Antony and the Johnsons and Joanna Newsom. 

I tend to listen to mostly friends music. They’re the real influence. Sir Kn8, Hila the Killa, Lost Boy, Sam Yield, Yairms, Pecas, Parnhash and Coe, Nic Lawless. There’s so many incredible artists just out there relentlessly making quality stuff outside of the mainstream. Listen to these artists!

If you could go to space, would you do it? Which planet would you choose?

Of course! Me and my dear friend Sir Kn8 are already planning a kickstarter campaign to record a record out there. Neptune would be cool because it isn’t made mostly out of ice!

Electric Earth was released on 12/2. Check out the EP below![/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

TRACK REVIEW: Kikagaku Moyo “Kogarashi”

Kikaguru Moyo

Japanese ensemble Kikagaku Moyo have released a new single “Kogarashi” leading up up to their record House In The Tall Grass.

In the new track, the band takes a more idyllic approach in production without straying far from their psychotropic sound.  Swirling harmonies soften up the disciplined rhythm.   “Kogarashi” showcases the band’s ability to blend the natural wo rld with celestial, surreal elements to make for an outcome that is spectral and eerie, yet stays true to their self-described “feeling good music.”

On the song’s inception, vocalist Tomo Katsurada says, “It was a nice warm day in the Autumn to get stoned and pass out in the park.  I remember I was surrounded by the multi-coloured dead leaves and felt warm when I woke up.  But all of the sudden, Kogarashi (the Autumn wind) blew all of the leaves away.  It was a beautiful and psychedelic Autumn moment.”

House In The Tall Grass will be released on May 13 under Tokyo-based record label Guruguru Brain, and the band will be touring the UK later in May.

Listen to “Kogarashi” below!


weyes blood

Twice a month, AudioFemme profiles artists both emerging and established, who, in this industry, must rebel against misogynist cultural mores. Through their music  they express the attendant hurdles and adversities (vis-a-vis the entertainment industry and beyond) propagated by those mores. For our sixth installment, Amber Robbin profiles Weyes Blood, a one-woman psych folk powerhouse that challenges notions of waif-like femininity with hauntingly dynamic vocals, darkly emotional lyrics, and unexpectedly melodic sound effects.

Artist Profile: Weyes Blood

Weyes Blood is the otherworldly musical persona of folk-suffused, musique concrète-inspired artist Natalie Mering. Based in New York City with prior roots in Philly and Baltimore, Mering has previously collaborated with experimentally driven acts such as Ariel Pink and Jackie-O Motherfucker. Her second full release, The Innocents,  came out on Mexican Summer October 21st, following The Outside Room, her 2011 album on Not Not Fun which was recorded, mixed, and produced by Mering herself.

Music is in Mering’s wise blood (which, by the way, is the play on words intended by the literary-inspired pseudonym, “Weyes Blood”). Her father was a rocker in 1970s LA turned Christian parish leader, yet Mering has cultivated an aesthetic undeniably her own. Her mellifluous vocal sound is pure and ancient, driving forth compositions that are rich with artfully-chosen sound effects she seamlessly strews over traditional instrumentation. The result ranges from whimsical to profoundly heart-wrenching, with darkly psychedelic passages and hopeful glimmers of choral brilliance throughout. From the warped piano arpeggios of “Some Winters” to the acoustic simplicity of “Bad Magic,” Mering’s bereft, hovering bay unhinges the listener’s soul and carries it between intimately familiar portraits of a past life, conjuring memories that still breathe with tangible emotion.

The album is, indeed, an imprint of the past for the deep-timbred songstress. The Innocents chronicles the lost, wandering soul of an early twenties Mering and captures the distress and abandon felt by many in that age of angst and aching. Although written in the thick of her experience, Mering’s work echoes with the mature understanding of an old soul painfully aware in the midst of its own torment. She ponders her loss in “Some Winters,” the second single off the album, and faces what’s left in the aftermath of a jilted love affair…

You won’t hold me in your arms anymore

We paid our price

Lead from the soul

I’m already gone

The house of stone we built has turned into sand

and you know I’d still hold your hand

A hope I can’t conceal

A memory how we used to feel

A potential third single, “Bad Magic,” was recorded in Mering’s apartment. One of the most beloved and bare tracks, the ballad unfolds as if Mering is slowly, solemnly rallying herself yet again to face the day, despite her enduring anguish. Harboring a bursting chest and eyes forever wetted, she pushes on, for she knows instinctively that there is nowhere to go but forward. The minor melody tugs and lilts from verse to chorus without pause, like the perpetual pep talk of her heart that refuses to come up for air. It is her salvation, this inner monologue…

Make the best of death

and love what’s left

You’re not just a time bomb

Just cause you went off don’t mean you’re scattered everywhere

It’s still there

in the palms of your hand

Just give it one more chance

Don’t wait to understand

Just find a new way

Every melody is “a new way” to move forward, each chunk of poetry a new pearl to bolster her resilience. Every track of The Innocents introduces yet another approach to coping with life as we know it, cracking open our chests for the sake of remembering how we ourselves coped in the face of those most formative, and innocent, years.

Femme Unfiltered: On Natalie Mering

When I was a Broadway hopeful going to musical theatre/circus school, it became abundantly clear to me that only a few select roles were available to women. Just as in most artistic industries (see also “the world”), the options were: virgin or whore. Ok, there might have been slightly more variation, but seriously…ingénue = virgin, sassy sidekick = whore. (If you were lucky enough to have the breadth, you could also play women over 40 – the hag.) However, there was one other, lesser known category which I incessantly fit into – the dead girl. The dead girl was sometimes a ghost, sometimes an angelic symbol of love, innocence, or some other idyllic value. More a spin-off on the standard virgin with a dash of saucy see-through-ness, she served all celestial purposes of the play. She was imposing, she had sway, but she was meant to be known of, more so than seen or heard.

It was intriguing to me, therefore, when I came upon Weyes Blood and its continuously-dubbed “ethereal” front woman Natalie Mering. Mering demands to be seen and heard, and is by no means a waif beyond her waif-like appearance. Her instrument is deep and resounding, and her otherworldly musical concoctions are far too all-encompassing to garner any sort of comparison to a gaseous existence.

It hit me that Mering’s persona challenges all familiar notions of what it means to be “ethereal,” for her art is feminine, celestial, and powerful, all at the same time. Mering spoke in our interview of how all humans have an animal side, so I began to wonder if, perhaps, we all had a self-reflective, otherworldly side to us as well – one that normally lies undetected by our fumbling, animal radar. Mering extracts this element of our being and magnifies it, keeping intact all of the inherent characteristics of a flesh and blood human being: the strength, the raw emotion, the jagged edges. She uses her spiritual presence to embody the essence of her suffering, her perseverance, her enlightenment, every discovery along her epic journey, forging an otherworldly image in solidarity with the human experience. She demonstrates just how ethereal we all are when consumed by our emotions, and especially when we manage to beat the odds and, miraculously, transcend hardship.

INTERVIEW 10/17/14

I had the chance to chat with Natalie Mering aka Weyes Blood. Here is what she had to say.

AF: So Ms. Mering, how did you come to create the very specific sound of Weyes Blood? And how has your past work with Jackie-O Motherfucker and Ariel Pink informed your style?

Mering: Well, I was already making more improvisatory music when I met Jackie-O Motherfucker, and they’re more improvisatory. I don’t know how much they influenced my sound. I feel like Ariel inspired me to be more personal about my songwriting and write more from a conversational perspective. But mostly my sound is cultivated through my love of sound effects and early music, which is old church music, and trying to combine something super futuristic and also ancient.  

AF: What about a musician’s personality, both as an artist and a person, makes them better suited to solo work? Why are you a solo artist?

Mering: I think it was because I couldn’t find anybody who had the same standards as I did to be in a band with. In high school and college, I always wanted to make music, but it was the ultimate, most important thing to me, and it was kind of impossible to meet anybody like that.

AF: In terms of work ethic?

Mering: Yeah, in terms of work ethic. In terms of wanting to pursue it as their career. In terms of where I was coming from artistically. It just wasn’t in the cards for me, so I just played solo.

AF: How do you feel about the word “ethereal”? Does it describe you, or just you in relation to your art?

Mering: Probably just my music. I think ethereal is a fantasy element. That, as human beings, we have ethereal elements – all of us. But we’re pretty much animals, so ethereal is kind of the escape word that we wish we could transcend to. I take it as a compliment.

AF: How did you get into music? Especially, what’s your vocal training background?

Mering: My whole family are musicians, but I was in choirs a lot in middle school and high school.

AF: Where do you get your song ideas?

Mering: Just life experiences and how insane life is.

AF: How does the creative process usually begin for you?

Mering: It’s either music or lyrics, and it’s usually kind of like a lightning flash, but it’s also very half-baked. I get little imprints of songs and melodies, and then I flesh them out by playing them over and over again. And listening. Really listening is a huge part of it. I think I have really good ears.

AF: When and how do you decide upon the unconventional sound effects you use on each track?

Mering: I guess in any atonal sound there’s usually a melody, even though it is atonal, that will kind of sync up and match with the melody of the song. So, it’s almost like pairing…it’s kind of like a wine pairing. (Laughs.) Like some things go better with other things. It’s not all totally random. And once again, listening is the biggest thing. Listening to its relationship to the song and deciding if it adds to the song and brings it more life, or if it’s distracting to the song and takes away from it. Because with sound effects it’s pretty black and white.

AF: Do you find that you face discrimination and adversity within the music industry as a female?

Mering: Yeah.

AF: Do you consider yourself a feminist? What is your definition of feminism?

Mering: I am a feminist. The definition of feminist is to want equal opportunities and rights for women, paying women the same amount, etc. etc. But really what happens in music, is music is really just a big cult of the personality anyway. So, like a male personality is usually more appealing to everybody on a marketing level or an excitement/popularity level. I feel like women have to get in there and make incredible music to get the same amount of attention while a man could make music that’s more based on having a crazy personality, being a kooky guy, and everybody loves it. I think that that is what attracts a lot of people.

I don’t know, it’s also more difficult for men because it’s a little easier to be more singular as a female. So I wouldn’t say it’s totally this terrible thing being a woman in music. It can work to your benefit also. I just find that in terms of the people that I have worked with, it’s easier to get pigeon-holed as “mellow chick music” even though I think I can bring a lot of intensity and excitement. I think that’s happening less and less as more women are doing solo music than ever before, but some people just hear a female voice and that’s the first thing they think.

AF: What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your work?

Mering: Probably hearing something in my head and then trying to make it a reality, in real life, only to find that it always comes a little short of the fantasy.

AF: What’s the most rewarding aspect?

Mering: Getting to connect with people and make people feel that living is worthwhile via creation and art. I think that’s a very elating experience.

AF: In multiple interviews, you talk about The Innocents being about disillusionment and innocence ending in a person’s early 20s, and how once this album was recorded, you realized you’d already grown past that theme. What themes are you exploring now?

Mering: I don’t know, probably ones that are just more existential. Things beside heartbreak.

AF: What’s beyond heartbreak?

Mering: I don’t know. Like not having a heart anymore and trying to figure that out. (Laughs.)

AF: That’s dark! Alright!

Mering: I mean, it’s existential, it’s dark, but there’s also a lot of lightness – I’ve been writing some happy songs too.

AF: So what’s next for Natalie Mering and Weyes Blood?

Mering: The album comes out next week and then I’m gonna do some heavy touring. I put together a backup band, so still kind of solo, but also with a full band. I’m gonna record my next album next year and just get cookin’ because time is flying and things are changing, and the new set of songs that I wrote are already getting old. Which is one problem with the music world. Creativity kind of comes so fast and albums are these laborious, long events. I look forward to recording the next album. That’s what’s next for me.


ALBUM REVIEW: Kevin Morby “Still Life”


Kevin Morby is nothing if not prolific. He left Woods indefinitely last year — with whom he released a new album every year until his departure — and put The Babies (his band with Cassie Ramone) on hold. Now. he’s focusing on his solo work, and his sophomore record, Still Life, is perhaps one of his most contemplative pieces.

Released October 14th on Woodsist, Still Life opens with the track “The Jester, The Tramp, & The Acrobat.” It is a reeling, Lou-Reed-meets-Leonard-Cohen story, using broad strokes to provide just enough color to each character, but never a direct plot line. It’s an approach continued throughout Still Life, which provides listeners with feelings and reactions – not stories.

This might perhaps be the reason this LP is so thoughtful. The album is named after an art piece by Maynard Monrow entitled “Still Life with the Rejects from the Land of Misfit Toys,” but even truncated as it is, the title is apt: Still Life is low key, low-energy, and highly meditative. Still Life does not dwell, but it lives in a land of misfit toys which leaves a little room for playfulness.

Even with a healthy dose of the stillness – considering and reflecting on hard subjects – there’s still lots of movement; Morby shifts gears before songs feel too stagnant. That’s reflective, in many ways, of his move from New York City to Los Angeles last year. Throughout the album, he moves through themes of finding peace, death, and parades. When Morby handles the subject of death, he is never heavy-handed – instead, he is hopeful, considerate, but realistic. “I’m not dead, but I’m dying,” he says in “Amen,” the 7-minute track that has multiple movements that bleed into each other. “So slow, so slow,” he qualifies.

He sings in the haunting “Bloodsucker,” “I am trying to make peace with who I am,” and he hasn’t completely abandoned his former bands’ aesthetics. While Woods defines itself as a psych-folk band, Morby’s solo work focuses more on the folk aspect of that equation. In this way, Morby’s own influences come to full light: his love of Bob Dylan’s songwriting emerges in the fast paced “Ballad of Arlo Jones” which channels Dylan during his major move to electric in the 60s. “Motors Runnin” is a kindred spirit to The Babies; Cassie Ramone’s repeated lines in “Run Me Over” almost feels echoed in Morby’s track. In spite of the different influences and camaraderie, the tracks all feel right together. Still Life is carefully constructed, and sonically simple, but has just enough complexity in its riffs and hooks to keep the songs in your head after a few listens.

This much is clear: Morby has grown tremendously over the years as a musician and songwriter, and he shows no sign of stopping.

Still Life is out now on Woodsist. He’ll play some shows for CMJ; check out dates and watch his video for “All of My Life” below:

10/24 – Brooklyn, NY – Rough Trade (Aquarium Drunkard CMJ Showcase)
10/25 – Brooklyn, NY – Academy Records *Free*
12/01 – San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall w/ Angel Olsen
12/04 – Los Angeles, CA – El Rey Theatre w/ Angel Olsen

TRACK REVIEW: Amen Dunes “I Can’t Dig It”

The two tracks off Amen Dunes‘ forthcoming album Love that have surfaced  (“Lilac in Hand” and “Lonely Richard”) are both on the murky side of things, but neither can touch the newest single, “I Can’t Dig It” for sheer liberated noise. Lo-fi and howly, the track is an ingloriously atonal celebration of being no good in all the right ways. Rough rhythms and war-cry vocals abound.

As always, the music is the product of Damon McMahon and friends, but Love is probably the first Amen Dunes recording that can’t be considered a solo album. Not only do we see McMahon’s longtime collaborators Parker Kindred (drums) and Jordi Wheeler (piano, guitar) join him for the length of the album, but several of the tracks feature input from other friends and neighbors. In fact, “I Can’t Dig It” gets its guitar and sax lines, respectively, from Efrim Manuck, of Godspeed! You Black Emperor, and Colin Stetson, of too many projects to list here.

Truth be told, there might be too many people on this track. Stacked as high as a too-tall deli sandwich, “I Can’t Dig It” has too many instrumental lines, rhythms, and sections to keep track of, let alone rock out to. Which is a shame, because the high-flying vocals and fast-paced, moshable rhythms would make for fantastically distorted and dirty party music if the song’s structure were a little bit simpler.

Amen Dunes newest album Love, including “I Can’t Dig It,” will be out May 13th on Sacred Bones. Can you dig it? Yeah, I thought I was gonna get through the whole review without making that joke, too. Give the track a listen below via Soundcloud:


Although Ben Chasny and Donovan Quinn’s initial dislike for each other when they met, a few years ago, was personal–not musical–it’s tempting to talk about, because their work together now is so dependent on their bond. They always liked each other’s music (Quinn released albums with Skygreen Leopards, Chasny with Six Organs of Admittance, Rangda, and Comets on fire, to name a few). When the pair formed New Bums, they entered into a collaboration that uniquely fused each member’s skill set into a partnership that couldn’t be broken in half. On their debut album together, Voices in a Rented Room, the group wears its intent on its sleeve: Quinn’s trademark folky lyric imagery seems to be emitting simultaneously and from the same point of origin as Chasny’s delicate instrumental ramblings.

The low-lit, husky vocals of the first song on Voices, “Black Bough,” immediately conjures a backdrop of moodiness and melancholy, and that aura stays strong throughout the album’s twelve tracks. Acoustic guitar-based melodies, bearing tight-knit likenesses to their lyrical counterparts, emerge over this backdrop, waxing and waning as the songs wear on. It’s dark, sparsely-laid stuff, with lots of chilly backup oohs and ahhs, that also brings some catchy phrasings–like the ones on “The Killers and Me”–that have kind of an old-time cowpoke feel. “The longest train I ever saw..” one line begins on “Town on the Water,” in un-showy evocation of the traditional–and great–“In The Pines.” In other spots, too, New Bums tip a quiet salute to Old, Weird America with ragged vocals and guitars that trill like mandolins. The band side-steps a direct descendant-ness from American folk, though, with switched-up rhythmic weight and a modern approach to lyrical metaphor. Though the music emerges from a couple different songwriting traditions, New Bums’ tracks are too interior, and too personally crafted, to really resemble anything but themselves. The influences are visible, but none will smack you over the head.

Separately, Chasny and Quinn have been associated with the new folk and acoustic-leaning psychedelic schools of music-making. This project’s most apparent deviation from their other lives as musicians is how dialed down the impulse to push into new, extreme turf feels on Voices. The music demands attention the way a whisper makes you quiet down to hear it. “I don’t know if anyone will notice it or care about it, but I like it because it’s sweet,” Quinn told AudioFemme last week, explaining “Town on the Water” is one of his favorite tracks off the new album. A lot of the songs on Voices, sweet or not, are like that, quiet enough to slip by unnoticed. Whether sighing like a woodsier, and slightly less devastated, Elliott Smith on “Mother’s Favorite Hated Son” or tracing the feathery, high-register melodies of “Black Bough,” Quinn and Chasny’s vocals yield more the more–and the closer–you listen to them. If you like your folk low and slow, your guitars sweet and your lyrics bleak, try Voices in a Rented Room on for size. The album’s out February 18th on Drag City. Check out the music video for “The Killers and Me” below:

Last week, I called up New Bums to talk about the recording of Voices and get some insight into their collaboration process. Turns out, there’s a mystery man named Willem Jones behind the duo, and he started it all–even directing the video you see above. The story of their initial dislike for each other became even funnier when, since the two band members were in different parts of California and I kept losing one or the other’s line when I tried to put them on conference call, they started ragging on each other like Jewish mothers. “I don’t think he has service,” Quinn said first. “Let me give you another number. Once Chasny was on the phone, Quinn dropped out. “He has a land line,” Chasny insisted. “Ask him why he isn’t using his landline.” The pair had clearly overcome their differences, and then some. Read on to discover how New Bums write their songs, where they got their name, and which of them is secretly a malevolent space alien just biding his time before pursuing world domination.


AF: We’ve heard your band is a “grudging match-up.” How did you guys meet?

Donovan Quinn: We had a mutual friend named Willem Jones and he brought us together. At first we didn’t get along for various reasons, but over time we started talking about music and different writers and found that we had a lot in common, but there are also a lot of differences to our approach. I’ve always been a fan of Ben’s music. I just jumped at the opportunity to work with him.

Ben Chasny: We had crossed paths at festivals before we started hanging out with Willem, and I think [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][Quinn] had a dislike for me from then. Apparently we had already met once, and then I ran into him while I was at Amoeba Records shopping, and he tells me that he came up to me and I didn’t recognize him. So he got offended and wrote me off forever.

AF: So you just got off on the wrong foot? Your differences were always personal, not musical?

DQ: Yeah, I think Ben is easily one of the best guitar players in the world. He’s a shredder. But he’s also a great songwriter, and songwriting has always been my main interest. We tried to make that the focal point of the group—as opposed to the other projects we’ve each been a part of—so we always try to start a song by having the lyrics and melody together, and then work from that.

AF: You guys are both veterans, you’ve each been involved in a bunch of different collaborations.

DQ: Yeah, we’re old. We’ve both been around for a long time and have done a lot of music. When we got together and decided we wanted to start New Bums, we really wanted to come up with an idea and an aesthetic that we hadn’t done before, that would be its own thing. We do benefit from having done different albums, been involved with different bands, but it was important to make sure we were doing something new with this project.

BC: An interesting thing I’ve noticed throughout the years, is when two people get together to collaborate, they kind of always want to do what the other person is doing. So if you have some guy—not me, but if I take this out of my perspective—who was doing a lot of heavy metal, and he got together with someone who was doing dance music, the heavy metal guy would start wanting to do dance music and the dance guy would be like, ‘Oh, no, I want to do what you’re doing!’ That’s what always happens to me when I collaborate. With Donovan, it was apparent pretty immediately that there was a certain middle ground we were going for. I mean, what we do separately isn’t so different in the first place.


AF: Where does the name New Bums come from?

DQ: I don’t know if Ben will remember this differently, but that’s another Willem Jones thing. We would get together at his parties, and we were the only people there under sixty years old, and we were called the new bums. It just stuck. I really like the name. I don’t know if it’s the best name, but for better or worse, we just became the New Bums.

BC: It came to the point where we’d try to come up with other names. When we tried to do that, nothing else made sense, because that’s what those guys were calling us. We don’t see each other that way, but we thought it was funny.

DQ: It’s really a partnership. We wanted to have a band where, with anything we put out, we couldn’t do it without the other person. Especially because now, if you meet a band, every single person in the band has their own thing, too. They’ll play drums, or whatever, but also have their own project. We wanted to try to get away from that auteur thing and have it really be truly collaborative.

AF: Do you write songs totally collaboratively?

DQ: Usually, one of us will have an idea, and then try not to develop it too much, so that the other person can have some input. It might just be a chord change or a couple of lines, a lyric idea, and then the other person will just jump on. An example would be “Your Girlfriend Might Be A Cop,” I started with the idea of hanging out with a new friend and getting the crazy paranoid idea that this new friend of yours actually might be a cop who’s gonna turn you in. Ben saw that in a notebook of mine and came up with a melody around it. He came up with this idea of the unreliable narrator, and it being somebody’s girlfriend. That’d be an example of how we would work—somebody comes up with an idea, the other one rearranges it, and it goes back and forth.

BC: Donovan’s really lyric-oriented, and I’m more driven by chords and music. He doesn’t work on chords as much, and I definitely don’t work on words as much. But it’s funny, on the record, the songs came in every different way. Some songs he wrote all the lyrics, some songs I wrote all the lyrics, on some songs the verses are half mine and half his. The music is written mostly by one person, though. Every song seems like it was created in a different way. Which is pretty exciting. We don’t have a template.

AF: Is that an example of what you were talking about before, about picking up on what the other person in your group is doing and wanting to get into that?

BC: Yeah. That’s the reason why I’m in this band. I’m in a bunch of bands, doing different things, but the reason why I’m in this band is because of the word stuff. This is my band to work on lyrics. Also, to have a good time.

AF: Even if you did get off to a bad start, you seem to have gotten very close. Is the music you’ve made a byproduct of your friendship?

BC: Yeah, I moved away from San Francisco for a while, and we would use the band as an excuse to get together. He’d say, ‘I’ll fly up to Seattle,’ where I was living at the time, ‘We’ll finish this record!’ And he’d come up and we wouldn’t even work on it, we’d just hang out. In that way, the band was more of a vehicle for friendship, but now we’re doing it more seriously.

DQ: Like I said, I was a fan of Ben’s. I think he has a great aesthetic and a great mind for music. We’d go to the bar and talk about Townes Van Zandt for hours. I just get excited about working with someone I can see eye to eye with, and who also has ideas I never would have. Even if there was no record, or shows, we would still have become New Bums and it would have been a secret band for our own enjoyment.

AF: It sounds like a really fun and easy experience for you, making music right now.

DQ: Our idea of fun may be different than some peoples’. Both me and Ben—we aren’t known for, uh, a relaxed demeanor when it comes to music. We’re both liable to have a total meltdown during any given moment at a show, but it does help to have somebody with you who you can kind of rely upon. It is really fun. Ben says that it’s kind of like a buddy film. We try not to be ever at all lazy with the music—have space and all that, yes, but we also take a lot of time to make sure that we can listen back to a song a thousand times and there’s not something in there that we think is shitty.

AF: How did that come through on your new album, Voices From A Rented Room? What were your goals for the record?

DQ: Every step of the way, the way we came up with the songs was a product of all these ideas and dreams we had and that we had talked about for years. We tried to get the feeling of the two of us in a room playing the song together, very loose and late-night feeling. I feel that a lot of new music is really built up. Whether it’s pop, or heavy music, or whatever, it’s really pushed up to ten—armored, in a way. I think that’s because it’s hard to get attention in the music world, because there’s so much music, and so many ways to hear it, that people really want to immediately make a big impression. We kind of want the opposite of that. We want to come across naturally, the way we would if you were in the room listening to us come up with the songs and jam.

BC: I was just happy to have songs with more of a narrative—an apparent narrative—as opposed to the kind of material I usually work with, which has more of a hidden narrative and fewer words. I think if New Bums has any philosophy, it’s just…um, to record songs ourselves and not spend a lot of money. True to our name. We tried not to be very extravagant, and at the same time, we wanted to take a lot of care and pay a lot of attention. I don’t know that we have a philosophy beyond that. If we do, it’s still in the works.

AF: The first track “Black Bough,” which you’ve released already, feels very pared down and sparse.

DQ: That was the first song that we wrote for the project. After we came up with “Black Bough,” it gave us a lot of confidence to go forward with the band. That song, maybe more than any other on the album, has all the ideas that we wanted to get across with the band. It’s sparse, and has a lot of space, which we always enjoy. It’s got the kind of space you hear in seventies outlaw country music, and early hip hop, too, where the beats are really spacious.

AF: What was the process of recording that song like?

BC: We were just trying to figure each other out, at that time. We lived really close to each other, and he would come over late at night. He had that song, and I remember just playing it my garage, because I was lucky enough to have a garage in San Francisco at that time. I remember drinking a lot, and not remembering how to play the song. It was a pretty fun song.

AF: It’s funny you should say that, because the song—and the whole album—also seems very melancholy. Do you both prefer darker stuff?

DQ: Yeah, me and Ben have that in common. We tend to do dark music. Different people have different things that make them want to write, and usually I write when I’m looking back on something. I write a lot of songs about relationships—romantic, family, friendships—but the point of view I find it easiest to write from is when it’s over, and you’re looking back on it, which is inherently sad. So that leads me into darker territory more often than not.

AF: What’s your favorite song on the album?

DQ: I have a couple. I really love “Your Girlfriend Might Be A Cop” and “Black Bough.” “Town on the Water” is kind of a band favorite. It’s one of those songs where I don’t know if anyone will notice it or care about it, but I like it because it’s sweet. It’s a kind-hearted song, which is hard for our band to write. We’re better at the dour, shattered songs. “Town on the Water” is about combing your hair to go out on a date, dancing in the hallway and stuff. I was really excited to have a song like that, that I thought my mom would like. In fact, Chasny gave his father the album and he said that was his favorite song. We were pretty excited about that.


AF: Earlier, Donovan, you mentioned that Ben kind of thinks of your band as a buddy film. If we were watching “New Bums” The Movie, how would that buddy film end?

BC: Well, I would hope it would be a sci-fi buddy film. Donovan would definitely end up being an alien. Or one of us would, at least—much to the surprise of the other one. Not a nice alien. A real mean alien. But an alien that wouldn’t harm the other band member. It would be like—oh wow, here is this creature that’s usually really mean, but it’s been nice to me this whole time.

AF: So Donovan the Alien would wreak havoc on the world, and then spare you?

BC: Maaaaybe. It would be a big question mark. Just like The Thing, at the end. Would I actually be spared, or not? In fact I think there’s a good chance that that’s actually how the band is gonna end. Maybe without the alien part.

AF: Well, that leaves room for a sequel.

BC: Precisely. A big question mark.

Many thanks to Ben Chasny and Donovan Quinn for entertaining our questions! Once again, Voices in a Rented Room is out 2/18/14 via Drag City; you can pick up your copy and learn more about the Bums hereListen to “Black Bough,” the first track off the album, via SoundCloud:


Mt Warning

“How would a song sound from a man sinking into the ocean?”

This is the question that prompted MT WARNING’s Mikey Bee and Taylor Steele to write the story of life, from beginning to end, into all of their music. They put particular care and thought into making songs emotive – relaying the sweetness of youth and the disillusions of growing old – and engaging – through intimate moments Mikey shares with his audience.

MT WARNING’s new track “Midnight Dawn” begins with a soft, potent twang out of an Old Western. When the guitar and drums kick in they pick the song up out of its ambience. But its the vocals that really transform it into a delicate, but relentless chant (even when Mikey is just “ooh”-ing). There’s some nature imagery that keeps the Old Western feeling fresh. “We don’t know where we’re goin’ / But we know where we’ll end up” is the line that’s repeated. This has the double effect of seeming positive (in that this journey “we” are on is difficult and confusing, but we have a place to be, which is comforting and satisfying), but also incredibly dark (well, we’re all going to end up dead, aren’t we?). At three and a half minutes in a female singer enters, crooning gently, only for the lead vocals to return fiercely with a strain, an overwhelming ache that provides it an emotional context that catches the listener off guard.  At four minutes and some seconds the vocals slowly trail off into echoes.

I’m not a big fan of anthems or epic songs (especially after F.U.N.’s boom), but, though this song is dynamic in a fairly obvious  way, there’s an emotional quality to its turns that is very endearing. There’s a delicateness, a rawness underlying everything that goes back to MT WARNING’s original idea of sinking into the ocean. With some knowledge of that in mind, this song is equal parts lovely and daunting.

Listen to “Midnight Dawn” off of MT WARNING’s debut album Midnight Set, to be released this March:



ALBUM REVIEW: Held In Splendor


“Everything will regenerate as love.” 

“Quilt” is an apt name for this Boston trio, who weave together assorted instruments, genres, and moods on their stirring sophomore album, Held in Splendor. The psych-folk band were already known for their layered vocal harmonies and vintage sound, displayed in full on their 2011 eponymous debut, but Held in Splendor sees the three experimenting with more dynamic arrangements and a pastiche of instruments not previously heard in Quilt’s signature sound. Perhaps it was the addition of drummer John Andrews, who joined founding members/college buds Anna Fox Rochinski and Shane Butler for the making of this album, or perhaps it was the long hours logged in a legit recording studio in Brooklyn, NY, or perhaps it was Woods member Jarvis Taveniere taking the role of producer— something surely gave the band way to blossom beyond its boundaries in these 13 tracks, due out 1/28 on Mexican Summer.

Don’t get me wrong—for those familiar with Quilt, Splendor loses none of the band’s retro sensibilities but it certainly expands on them. “Arctic Shark,” for example, works wonders as the album’s opener, inviting listeners to a warm and happy place with floating sitars and trance-like “Oooh”s layered atop Rochinski’s honeyed voice, singing “Everything will regenerate as love.” It plays like an HD version of one of their earlier songs, as does the later track “Mary Mountain,” recalling textbook psychedelic folk in keeping with The Mamas and the Papas. Songs like “The Eye of the Pearl” and “Talking Trains” brush away the lo-fi fuzz of their previous work so that the vocals are crystal clear, glistening atop a lush blend of piano, banjo, and electronic sound effects in the former and subdued guitar in the latter.

But the album’s stand-outs are the songs that evidence Quilt’s ability to mix things up. “Tie Up The Tides,” for example, is a pop gem at its core, immediately appealing and subtly addicting thanks to that prominent, catchy bass. “A Mirror” is a sprightly song with audible depth that evolves around its upbeat percussion, evoking ‘70s rock and roll with punchy electric guitar licks. And “Secondary Swan” shows off the band’s delicate lyrical prowess (and apparent love of alliteration), with a soft and orchestral, Andrew Bird-esque sound that hides an unexpected, raving rock-out midway through the song, bringing to mind the skittering energy of bands like the Talking Heads or The Feelies. The tracks careen through quite a few twists and turns but many of them bleed into one another, providing a sense of continuity.

With reference points that dot the decades, Held In Splendor is unfettered psychedelic rock, approaching the genre with a wholly contemporary frame of mind. This is what a sophomore album is meant to do: expand on an established sound and provide proof of a budding band’s staying power. And with this release, Quilt make it clear that they aren’t going anywhere.

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TRACK REVIEW: New Bums “Black Bough”

NewBums_byJasonQuever_04Longtime acoustic guitar mavens Ben Chasny and Donovan Quinn have joined forces as New Bums, complete with a full-length record, Voices In A Rented Room, in the works. Although apparently the pair didn’t like each other very much in the beginning, Chasny and Quinn have quickly solidified their twelve-strings-and-the-end-of-the-world style, as evidenced by this desolate, plodding single off Voices.

Gloriously morose and tempered with some sprinklings of upper-register piano key flourish, “Black Bough” moves steadily through its four and a half minutes. Equal weight is given to Elliott Smith-style, eerie vocals and the festering slow burn of the bluesy bass line. It’s not so much catchy as it is commanding—the kind of song that slows down the pace of your whole day—and a strange choice to open a debut album: New Bums don’t demonstrate any desire to make a big splashy entrance, choosing to dive right into the dark stuff instead. However, the very understatedness of the opening track stands out more than a showier—more expected—debut might. Personally, I can’t wait to find out what kind of album comes after “Black Boughs.” But wait I must, until the album drops on February 28, 2014. Until then, listen to “Black Boughs,” off Voices In A Rented Room, below via Soundcloud: