Sunday, 24 July 2011

Music Or Die: Weezer - Pinkerton

It took me a while to give Weezer a proper chance. Initially introduced to them at a very young age, I remember the Happy Days infused music video to ‘Buddy Holly’ being one of the weird extras on Windows ’95 CD-ROM (alongside a rather primitive 3D hovercraft game, but that’s neither here nor there). Not disliking the song ‘Buddy Holly’, I was at an age where I rarely actively sought out music and instead was just content to listen to whatever my parents played in the car (specifically I remember the numerous car journeys with my mum to pick up my dad from work being soundtracked by her Led Zeppelin cassettes – clearly something that planted a bit of a seed in my mind for later tastes).

I didn’t think about Weezer for years until a friend of mine started to really get in to them when we were around 16. Of course, at 16 I was absolutely insufferable when it came to music. Surrounding myself with a caustic mix of Metallica, Megadeth and assorted, over the top European metal bands, I was determined to close myself off to anything without ridiculous guitar solos and violent riffs, often espousing metal as a superior form of music and audaciously damning everything else. Suffice to say, I was a bit of a tool and discarded Weezer as a prime example of boring “emo” rubbish. Clearly, that was my loss.

I eventually got over my “more metal than thou” phase, stopped wearing black constantly and decided to open my mind a little bit. At 19, before embarking on a rather disastrous holiday with a dear group of friends, one of them loaded up my iPod with some songs they felt they would need over our week trip. Amongst the hilariously inappropriate mix of NoFX, Pig Destroyer and Loudon Wainwright III was a rather large selection of Weezer tracks. Understandably, it teemed with the more popular tracks like ‘Island In The Sun’ and ‘We Are All On Drugs’, but it was the material off the first album that really drew me in – ‘Buddy Holly’ was weirdly nostalgic and ‘Say It Ain’t So’ absolutely floored me. Shortly after the holiday, when I began university, one of the first things I did with my student loan was pick up Weezer’s debut, the colloquially titled Blue Album. My financial irresponsibility aside, it was a great decision as I played that album to death.

For some reason, it wasn’t until nearly a year later that I decided to get the next Weezer album, the rather shoved-under-the-rug Pinkerton. As soon as that raw, searing synth buzz started ‘Tired of Sex’, I was engrossed. In comparison to The Blue Album, the songs were notably simpler instrumentally, with the arpeggios of tracks like ‘Surf Wax America’ eschewed for even more thundering power chords. Everything on Pinkerton was so much more visceral, to the point and hard hitting than its predecessor. When Rivers Cuomo belts out that broken, adolescent yell on ‘No Other One’ or the aforementioned ‘Tired of Sex’, it still sends a little shiver down my spine.

Culled from the remnants of a curiously titled concept album, Songs from the Black Hole, Pinkerton developed in to an autobiographical and disarmingly honest account of a frustrated, slightly nerdy young man thrust in to a lifestyle he only dreamt about – and, unsurprisingly, it’s more complicated than he could ever have imagined. Songwriter and Weezer main-man Rivers Cuomo once said about Pinkerton that it was equivalent to “getting really drunk at a party and spilling your guts in front of everyone”* - it feels cathartic at the time, but you’re embarrassed by your own toss-pottery the next day. Of course, he’s right. There is something almost cringe-inducing about the lyrical content of Pinkerton; take the lonely desperation of ‘Across the Sea’ (an infectious semi-ballad that sees Rivers opine his lust for a Japanese fan who is, shockingly, across the sea from him whilst he sits alone, feeling sorry for himself), the bouncy self-defeat of ‘Why Bother?’ (here our protagonist points out the worthlessness in romantic pursuit as it will inevitably end in tears, so he “might as well keep wackin’”) or even the puppy-dog-crush romanticism of ‘El Scorcho’. Honestly, I can see why, when Weezer came back with their Green Album years after Pinkerton failed to make much of an impact, Cuomo was reluctant to play any of the songs off their sophomore effort – I can only imagine it would be like reliving a bad memory. But, as someone who has been in that drunken guts-spilling situation a couple more times than I care to remember, hearing the same irrational, self-pitying sentiments expressed so straight-forwardly and elegantly on Pinkerton reminded me that everyone is prone to those low points. They’re stupid thoughts, but they will occasionally find you. Rarely will you express them, of course, as they’re embryonically lacking a mental application of a wider context and your own common sense. So, it’s a particularly ballsy move to commit them to record without either sugar-coating them with rationality or embellishing them with melodrama, just to take the bitingly pathetic edge off.

Of course, it wasn’t just the lyrics that made Pinkerton work so well. Indeed, similar bitterness was present on much of the band’s previous album – ‘Say It Ain’t So’, ‘The World Has Turned And Left Me Here’ and ‘In The Garage’ all seem to be the laments of a rock loving nerd. Rather, Pinkerton excels at communicating its embarrassing but painfully human messages through the mere tone and production of the album. Nothing on Pinkerton sounds polished. The bass bumps and thuds in a nonchalant manner, the guitars are distorted with razor-like fuzz and are often accompanied by keys that squeal like a drill, the drums simply accentuate the cacophony and the high-pitched backing vocals often seem slightly out of place. Whilst the songs have clearly been meticulously written, their actual recording doesn’t sound as laboured and perfected as everything the band did before and after. It’s a wonder that any of it works, but it culminates in a surprisingly explosive and coherent platter of pop-rock. It is as if the music itself personifies the lyrical themes of the album, both serving as the primal and evocative emotional spurts of a man at the very end of his tether.

Whilst the songs present are effectively catchy pop anthems, the menacing sonics and bleak lyrics prevent the album from becoming as arguably twee as later efforts like The Green Album. Although post-Pinkerton Weezer still has much to offer, no other album quite touches on the exceptionally human and organic material of Pinkerton. Few albums seem as emotionally genuine as Pinkerton and that’s where the appeal lies. In those unfortunate instances where you’re racked with either abject dejection or self-indulgent self-loathing, nothing else quite hits the spot musically. Weezer get you. Or, at least they used to get you when they wrote Pinkerton.

*According to Wikipedia, this quote is from John D. Luerssen's Rivers' Edge: The Weezer Story, p348. Allegedly.

Music Or Die: An Introduction

Never let it be said that music isn't emotive. There are just those songs and albums that you either so strongly associate with a memory or are so affecting of their own merit that you can't help but be moved by them when you hear them. I think it would be safe to say that one of the greatest powers of music is to communicate something beyond the restrictions of words and verbal language.
With that in mind, I thought it might be an interesting exercise to examine some of my best loved music and attempt to articulate why it means so much to me. I'm not going to lie, much of this idea has been copped from reading Nick Hornby's rather fantastic 31 Songs and, whilst I'm approaching this slightly differently to him, I do love the rather personal insight this kind of analysis of music can give a reader. I have a sneaking suspicion that anything I write of this nature might just translate in to a gushing and lengthy journal of some sort, which is not entirely the intention, but maybe that will just give a further explanation of how I approach music. Or maybe it will be a boring read, only time will tell!
These posts will be nonsensically labelled 'Music Or Die' after this absolutely ridiculous, adolescent screech of a track off one of Andrew W.K.'s early EPs.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

For All We Know - For All We Know

(Written for Powerplay Magazine) For All We Know is the solo project of Within Temptation guitarist Ruud Jolie, proving a rather different beast to the symphonic metal outfit. The album is a marvellously executed endeavour of atmospheric and emotive art rock, with slices of metal and piano augmentation providing it a solid backbone. Jolie’s writing exhibits a fantastic grasp of melody, displayed early on by the melding of quiet brooding and hooky chorus sensibilities on 'Busy Being Somebody Else'. A defining moment is the album’s shortest cut, 'Keep Breathing' – a wonderfully simple and stripped down number that sees several guest singers (most notably, Sharon den Adel) sing in round canon, followed by a brief injection of liveliness which dissipates before it can spoil the song’s elegance.

Despite its merits, For All We Know isn’t perfect. For instance, the failed Jeff Buckley attempt, 'I Lost Myself Today', comes off more whiney than affecting. Still, the album redeems itself thanks to Ruud and his ensemble knocking out stellar performances on each track. Of significant note are the vocals of Wudstik, whose clean croon is imbued with an enthrallingly bitter tonality and carries many of the songs through the addictive vocal melodies. Honestly, if you’re a fan of atmospheric rock / metal in any capacity, For All You Know is a mature and erudite album that demands your attention.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Devin Townsend Project - Islington Academy - 26/3/2011

From the moment Devin’s perennial mascot, the coffee-obsessed alien Ziltoid, introduced the show by dancing to the Vengaboys, it was clear that this was going to be a rather lively evening. As Ziltoid’s nonsensical stand-up routine came to an end, the first notes of ‘Addicted’ echoed through the venue and the show was off to a proper start. It was immediately notable that the sound was a little quieter than usual for the Islington Academy, but this was hardly a bad thing as the intricate layers of the music came through just that bit more clearly as a result.

Whilst heavily reliant on the Addicted and Ziltoid the Omniscient albums, the set list saw a large portion of Devin’s solo material duly represented. ‘Kingdom’ from Physicist saw a stellar vocal performance from Devin, whereas the fantastic combination of the slow-grooved and ethereal ‘Earth Day’ and the bouncy ‘Bad Devil’ saw the crowd pulsate with excitement. However, it was a shame not to see a single track from Synchestra rear its head. Still, this was forgivable considering the magnitude of enjoyment provided by lengthier tracks such as the raucously over-the-top 'By Your Command'.

As one would expect with any concert involving Devin Townsend, the wealth of music was punctuated with bizarre but hilarious stage banter, not in the least during ‘Life’. Starting the song with a contagious chant of “Balls! Balls! Balls!”, it was only a few minutes before Dev proclaimed the guitar solo to be the worst he has ever written, accompanying its playing with disgusted expressions at every note. Whilst perhaps a bit peculiar, Townsend has an infectious charisma that saw the crowd utterly enamoured with him throughout the gig – whether it was the silly facial expressions, the uplifting comments occasionally peppering the songs or just the sheer musical ability displayed, the man remained a charmer throughout. The rest of the band were no slouches either, but were happier to hang back slightly during the proceedings. Of particular note was the drum-work of Ryan Van Poederooyen (or, as later introduced, “Ryan Van Poo”), whose rhythm section provided the dense backbone needed for this kind of music.

The show eventually began to wind down with the soothingly mellow, if slightly dirge-like, ‘Deep Peace’, leaving the crowd gently swaying in time with the song. Before finishing for the night, the Project invited fifteen fans on stage for closer ‘Bend It Like Bender’ which saw the rather fantastic set brought to a suitably energetic end.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

A Chat With Duff McKagan

On 1/3/2011, I got the chance to interview the one and only Duff McKagan for Powerplay Magazine, as he was in London following the Birmingham Guitar Show. As it's for the mag, the bulk of the interview can't be reproduced here so you should definitely pick up the next issue and give it a read. Here are a few little snippets that I couldn't fit in the proper article though. They're a bit weird out of context, so consider this a rather incoherent taster for the real piece.

On the feature film accompanying the new Loaded album, The Taking...
"We're not actually done [filming] it. We're probably about 70% done with all the filming. It's been filmed in Seattle so far, so we're gonna film some more in LA. We still have to figure out why we're all in LA in the same day... or maybe we'll disguise that it's LA. Thing is, we film for three days and then we don't film for two weeks, which gives Jamie [Chamberlain, film director] a chance to edit. It's not a high-falutin' movie but the stuff he's edited is just fucking amazing. Really, it's just another 'why not?'"

On "joining" Jane's Addiction last year...
"I was not in Jane's Addiction, just to clarify. I went in to help. Eric Avery had left and Perry [Farrell, singer] approached me about writing a new record - they're really a bass driven band. And I was like 'Oh, cool! I'm honoured.' The band started basically the same month as Guns did and I've known them since them - good guys. We were first in Perry's garage and that was great, but as soon as we went to a rehearsal place, the rumour got out that I had actually joined the band. It was a rumour gone amok. I played a couple of gigs with them, but those gigs were already booked, you know?"

On guesting on the most recent Manic Street Preacher's album, Postcards From A Young Man...
"Somehow, I was in London again and the band knew I was there. It was the Mojo awards I believe, and they had won an award and asked if I would present it them. Mojo said, 'The Manics requested you,' and I was like, 'Really? Fuck!' So I went and presented it. They're really sweet, good guys and I'm a fan of the band. Then Loaded were playing Hammersmith here and I called James and said, 'Hey, are you in town? Would you come and play 'It's So Easy' with us?' and he brought his tech, his amp - the whole deal! We thought he'd just come and play Squiers' [Loaded guitarist] amp, but it was really sweet of him. He really went all out with that fuckin' sound. And then to return the favour, he asked if I'd play on that song ['A Billion Balconies Facing The Sun'] and they just sent the file over to LA. I asked, 'What do you want me to do to this song?' and they just said, 'Just do the thing you do'. So, that was it. I sent the file back to them and it came out on the record.

On moving from Seattle's punk rock scene to California...
"[The scene] was great. Small, but mighty. However, the heroine infested Seattle I saw was laying waste to all of my friends and band-mates. I was 19 and it was time to go. I made that spur of the moment decision - 'Go now, or you may never go.'"

On the definition of 'ton'...
"We got back home and demoed all the songs we had... I don't know how many songs we had, we had a ton. 'Ton' is not a technical term. Maybe I should make it a technical term. It's like 18 and a half. The half is where the arrangement wasn't quite done. So from now on, 'a ton' is that."

The real meat of the interview is of course in the next issue of Powerplay, which should be out at the end of this month. Give it a read. Go on.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Chris Singleton & The Distractions - Lady Gasoline

Perhaps the first thing that becomes abundantly clear when listening to Lady Gasoline is Irish-born Chris Singleton’s penchant for writing catchy melodies. The album primarily consists of eclectic power-pop, with influences fleeting between genres as diverse as classic rock and roll and 1980s new wave (sometimes in the same song, as with the title track), mixing the styles effortlessly without ever sounding out of place. Chris’ slightly nasally voice has a warming smoothness that softly carries the vocal lines and ensures that their melodies remain the album’s primary hook. That’s not to say the music is un-engaging, because it certainly isn’t. ‘Lose It’ is supplemented by brilliant Cake-esque guitar lines and enigmatic percussion, whereas the impeccable bass intro of ‘Bad Ambitions’ moves from the spotlight to allow for a horn-led mix of light Hammonds and flickering funk guitar.

However, it is the utterly contagious lyrical melodies that keep the listener entranced. Cuts like ‘Sold The World’ consist of those charming vocal patterns that are scarcely found outside of George Harrison penned Beatles tracks and ‘Moma Miss Americana’ boasts Dylan-styled intonations.

At the crux of it, Lady Gasoline is an erudite composition of uplifting pop rock that knows not only how to be hugely catchy, but also how to keep the music involving. By throwing in some meticulously crafted pop-rock numbers oozing with emotion, Singleton and his Distractions are on to a clear winner.

You can stream a good portion of Lady Gasoline at Chris' site.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

An Interview With Devin Townsend

(Here's an interview I did on the 19th February for Pi Magazine. It ended up being a bit lengthy to say the least [I think I might have overstepped my interview time slot, let's hope I didn't inconvenience anyone as a result!] so I thought I'd post the full transcript here as what goes to Pi will probably be a bit smaller. Be warned, it's pretty long.)

"Let’s just talk shit for half an hour, that's probably the best way to do this."

In the world of modern rock and metal, Devin Townsend needs little introduction. Starting his career as the vocalist for Steve Vai's Sex & Religion album and being a key part of the subsequently short-lived band, it didn't take long for Townsend to strike out on his own and establish a name for himself. Perhaps known best for his extreme metal outfit Strapping Young Lad, Devin has also had a prolific solo career that has seen him visit hard rock, acoustica, metal, prog, ambient, electronica and many things in-between. In 2007, Townsend disbanded Strapping Young Lad, the band that had probably brought him most of his fame and notoriety, and The Devin Townsend Band, the then-current incarnation of his lesser known "solo" career, taking an indefinite hiatus from the music industry altogether.

After a two year break, Townsend came back under the Devin Townsend Project moniker with the intention to release four stylistically distinct albums. In 2009, DTP released Ki and Addicted before scheduling tours to support them. As it stands, the next two in the series, Deconstruction and Ghost are slated for a simultaneous summer release.


Right now, you’re nearing the end of your four album Devin Townsend Project. Am I right in thinking that you’ve just finished recording Deconstruction [Deconstruction is set to be album number three in the project, but the last to be recorded.]?

Yeah, the final uploads are happening right now. I’m just getting all my extra beeps and boops in and sending it off to the mixing engineer, then I head to Sweden on Monday. The engineer is sending me mixes and it sounds good but I’m like, “Dude, you gotta just crank up all the chaos!” and he says, “But it’s just gonna get messy…”. That’s how I roll, brother!

So is ‘chaos’ the ethos of the album?

Organised chaos. There’s chaos or just things exploding with no relevance to anything else but then there’s the type of chaos where’s there’s eighteen odd melodies happening at the same time and I like that. Well, in its place. I have to admit, I listen to Deconstruction from beginning to end and dude, I’m white knuckle by the end of it – it’s fucking intense. However, when it’s over, I don’t want to listen to it again, haha. It’s so much work just to wrap your head around all these elements. That’s why Ghost exists in my mind, because as soon as Deconstruction’s over I’m like, “Ahhh, that’s better”!

People a few years younger than me will probably be fine to listen to Deconstruction on repeat but for me… dude, I’m heading towards 40 and I’ve only got a certain amount of energy for that ‘type’ of sound. But I guess what I was trying to do with that four record thing is say, “Well look, I only have a certain amount of energy – but I do have that energy”. So the reason I’m releasing Deconstruction and Ghost at the same time is because one doesn’t exist without the other – there’s no preference. On some level, Deconstruction is an absolute mind-fuck because it’s such intense music and there’s so many guests and orchestras and choirs and it sounds really good and it’s emotionally really overwhelming and all that shit. In its place, that’s great and I think for that that compartment, Deconstruction is ideal. But that’s only an element of it and I wanted to take that element to the extreme, I wanted it to be ‘right’. But at the same time, that exists for only a part of my day. The reason I’m releasing these two together is to be able to make the statement “that unto itself is incomplete”.

Would you say there’s a bit of a yin & yang mentality behind them, then?

Well, yeah. Everything I’ve always done has had that yin & yang thing and the reason I’ve always been so interested in that is… well, it’s a fundamental in life. I think that when I was younger, I was hung up on the fact it was some kind of ideology - the yin and the yang is a hidden spiritual equation – but now I’m like fuck, man! Without positive, negative doesn’t exist – there you go! There’s no drama to it. Really, in order to make something as extreme as Ghost, I had to make something extreme as Deconstruction to balance it out, not in any metaphoric way. There would just be moments when I was working on Ghost and I was just so fucking bored of it - there’d be people on emails, money problems, kids doing cartwheels down the hallway and I’m stressed, right? So, I’d have to at that point just write something for Deconstruction just to get rid of that aggression. At the same time, I’d be working on Deconstruction sometimes and I’d be like, “You know what? It’s a beautiful day, I feel good, I feel very fortunate, I just want to go to the beach,” and all I’m doing is listening to this incredibly pounding, oppressive music and I’m thinking… “Well, this isn’t a great soundtrack for the day”! So I’d work on something for Ghost and be like, “Ahh, that’s better”.

Speaking of Deconstruction and its intricate melodies, how was working with the Prague Symphony Orchestra?

I was very fortunate to work with a good friend of mine named Florian, and basically I wrote all the music and sent him my demos on Protools and midi files. Then he took those midis and translated them into Finale and he changed the parts he would be more aware of – say, flutes can’t play that note but an oboe can or whatever. So he was able to translate the music into a way that the orchestra would be able to understand and I think in that lies one of my favourite parts of this experience. In any walk of life, as soon as you do something that impedes on anybody else’s territory, you’re always going to get somebody’s shit in a knot. You do something with an orchestra and all of a sudden, you’ve got a bunch of people who are composers who are saying, “Well, you don’t know what you’re doing!” and I say, “You’re right! But I did it!” [laughs]. It takes too much energy to lie about that really. I write it, I think complicated music in my head and it works, but in terms of the people who are like the Zappa fans and the Stravinsky fans who give you that, “Who do you think you are?” trip, I say “Well, I’m not them!” There’s never any desire or need to compete with that because I just really love writing what I write. For me, the symphony element is like a real version of my symphonic orchestra plug-in [laughs].

There are few rumours floating about regarding special guests on the album, can you tell us a bit about that?

There’s a ton of guests on it. The parts aren’t huge, a chorus here, a verse there. I definitely don’t want to make that a selling point out of respect of the guys who have done it. A lot of the people who have been kind enough to participate have done so because we’ve been friends for a long time and I think it’ll be really gauche for me to slap it on the cover, y’know? “Mid-range selling artist includes tonnes of better selling artists on his disc, please buy!” More so than a business move… it’s taken me so long to get back in to heavy music because I really thought on some level I had a self-destructive tendency within my artistic mind that would always lead me to make poor decisions thematically when it came to writing heavy music because writing heavy music inspires certain emotions. In the past, that’s led me to writing records like Alien… I’m very proud of that record, but it’s very hard for me to wrap my head around because there’s just so much paranoia in the lyrics… there’s so much fear. It was a cool effect, but shit, dude. Having to go out and play that stuff every night sucked, to be honest. So now, I really have to say if you’re going to do heavy music, make sure you got a clear head so you can back what you’re saying. If you have to tour for several years on this record, then it means when you’re out there, every word you say can be explained. Not “Oh, well I was stoned” or “It just came out of me”. Honestly, I realised – having a kid, life in general as you get older – you’re fucking accountable for everything, y’know? And so to not clarify that shit in the past or to not be completely in control of your artistic visions at this stage in the game makes your life difficult. So with guests coming on here, I basically wanted to say – look, I want to make this statement again, after years of being afraid of it and I’m going to cannonball. I’m not going to dip my big toe in to it and say that I did it, I’m going to do it. So let’s get everybody who’s cool that we know to back it, and then let’s put an orchestra on it and let’s put a choir on it and let’s make the point by the end of Deconstruction completely clear. When it’s out, people will know who’s on it and I’ve mentioned it here and there on forums but, out of respect for the people who are involved with it, I really don’t want to make it “Buy Devin’s new record because, even though we know you don’t like Devin, you like this guy!” [laughter]

Devin Townsend Project: Live

Devin Townsend Project live at Bloodstock 2010. I never said I was a great photographer.

Speaking of other DTP releases, you’ve just put out a free live EP from the band’s first tour. How did that come about?

Dude, I’ve got so much stuff on my hard-drive that I just want people to hear. Every time I say to the label let’s put this out, they say nononono. And, to their credit, it takes money to produce it and the ads and all that shit and I’m thinking, “Well why can’t I just give it away for free?” My motivation for being a musician... Dude, I would love to have a million dollars, honestly. To not think about money every minute, every day would be awesome. For any of us, of course! But if those were my reasons for being a musician? Dude, I’d be playing… I don’t know.. pop-rock or something.

Stuff like Nickelback?

Yeah, totally. I didn’t want to say it, but exactly. It’s just not my trip. Even if I wanted to, I just wouldn’t be good at it. So basically, my whole thing now… what I do is pretty specific and what I’m trying to say is a real work in progress, it’s all hypothesis. I’m just trying to get through life and figure out each step of the game as I go and making records is a way of me explaining that to myself and in this kind of musical atmosphere, I like bouncing it off other people! I don’t have an active social life, I like the people who listen to my records not being condescended to by being called ‘fans’. Dude, they’re people. And the people who are listening to it, I just want them to get the same thing out of it that I do. Every now and then you’ll get some kind of schizophrenic response where someone will say, “We’re the same” and I’m like, “Dude, we’re all the same! There’s like twelve human emotions!” We’re simple organisms, man and the things I’m writing about are one of those twelve things, haha. I’m either mad or I’m horny or I’m happy or I’m in love. For me, the way to connect and to get a gauge if whatever it is I am doing is not so far up its own ass that it’s unreachable is by talking to people about it. The internet, Twitter… all that shit. I like it, it’s cool. And because the industry is in a state now where everybody can download what they want – shit dude, I could point you to all my records on Mediafire. So if the incentive to purchase your record is based solely on whether or not you want the artist to keep doing his shit, then I think the artist has a responsibility to say, “Well, here! I know you can get it for free, my bottom line is I want you to hear it. So go for it! But I’ve gotta pay my rent, and if I can’t pay my rent through music, I’m gonna have to get a job and if you like the music enough, I’d really rather not. So, how can we work this out?” But the problem is, you go in to a record store and there’s one of my records for twenty bucks and it cost two bucks to make the goddamn thing. So, the incentive for somebody in these financial times to spend twenty bucks on something they can get for free strictly comes down to whether or not, in my opinion, they want the artist to keep doing it. So from my perspective, it’s “Here’s a bunch of shit for free” and my reasons for giving it for free are there’s an incentive to buy the record when it comes out, because I gotta keep doing this, haha.

Speaking of touring, you’re about to embark on a European one this Spring. After your hiatus, are you back in to the swing of touring?

Oh yeah. Yeah. Drink a lot of tea and make sure my voice isn’t completely hamburgered and try and find a place on the bus to jack off where you’re not gonna get busted by your buddies, you know?

Sounds awkward!

It could be, man! [laughs] But you know, I’m a cheeseball dude. I’m a total ham, right? Being on stage, I totally enjoy it. And I can only hope by being me being a bigger nerd than other people in the audience, it’ll allow them to say, “Oh okay, I can back that!” [Laughter]

What kind of material can we expect on this tour, then?

No Strapping, obviously. But dude, Ocean Machine, Inifinity, Ziltoid, Terria, Accelerated Evolution, Synchestra, Addicted, Ki, Deconstruction, Ghost… the list goes on and on. But specifically in the past – well, I like to say in the past, but I just did a 17 minute long song on fucking Deconstruction – I had this tendency to write these stupidly long songs so a live show a lot of the time would be, “Oh great, five songs and it’s two hours long!” There’s enough material to make a lot of cool shows and a lot of different sets.

I just think that… I never go to live shows and my reason for that is I just think number one, it always sounds like shit. And there are things out of the band’s control like the venue and the PA or whatever. But there’s also, a lot of times I get this sense that it’s a chore. The band’s on tour and the band feels they’re doing you a favour by touring. Things are rough in the world in general and when I go to a show, I wanna have a good night, a good time. I wanna come back thinking “It was heavy, it was awesome, I’m in a good mood – let’s go!” So with the live shows, I’m just trying to have a blast. Not in a delusional sense like “I’m happy when I’m not!” but it’s always like “Well, look. We’re going to go on stage, I’ve got some cool guitars and we’re gonna play some songs I like and everybody’s paid money to get here.” The band’s paid money to get here! The audience has paid to get here. So for us to not rock as much as we can doesn’t make a lot of sense, y’know?

Any chance of anything off your album as Punky Brüster, Cooked On Phonics?

Hahahaha. You know, it hasn’t come up yet.

It'd be great to hear 'Fake Punk' live!

Ha, I’ll see what I can do. I’ll talk to the band and see if they’re down with it, that could be cool actually! You’re in the UK, right? I’ll see what I can do. I don’t know if it’ll happen, I gotta finish this record but dude, it’s an easy song. I’ll see what I can do!

Ziltoid & Rock Band

Graphic for the Ziltoid Rock Band package by Rohan Voigt

Moving on from touring, you’ve just released stuff for Rock Band based on your album Ziltoid The Omniscient. Are there more plans for that?

Dude, I just can’t wait for them to get that fucking thing out on Rock Band. They released one song and they’re not releasing the rest of it and I spent a lot of time trying to get that thing together. Honestly, it kind of bums me out but we’ll see. So far my whole Rock Band excursion has been a little trying as I spent all that time trying to get that together and they’re like “Oh well, we can’t release it. There’s problems…” or whatever. We’ll see, I think eventually it’ll all come out. But really, I think it’s another example of the conservative nature of not just Rock Band, but the music industry in general tends to shoot itself in the foot a lot of the time. Like my whole thing with releasing that free EP was “Fuck it, man”. That whole dinosaur mentality of “Oh this isn’t going to work, this isn’t financially viable” definitely stunts the amount of things I want to do sometimes. But you never know man, that Ziltoid thing might get passed in a month or two and yeah, I’d love to do Addicted, I’d love to do Deconstruction, I’d love to do it all. It’s up to other people at this point.

What’s happening about the Ziltoid comic? Is that still in the works?

Yeah, we’re still working on it. I’ve got this guy, Rohan [Voigt], in Australia who’s been working on it. But again the Devin Townsend… Empire is usually a little scant in terms of funding. So trying to get people to do stuff for it is a little bit like, “When you’ve got time between taking care of your kids and working your 9 to 5 job, if you could do a huge project for me, that’d be awesome”. We’ll cut everybody in on the profits, but there’s not a lot of funding upfront so everything takes a long time.

Everything Else

On a different note and going back a bit, you recorded a few things with Jason Newsted of Metallica. As of yet, the Tree of the Sun recordings have yet to see the light of day. Any chance of that ever happening?

Haha, God I don’t even remember that recording. I remember a riff from the first song but… this is my problem with quote unquote super-groups, not that that was one, but in general. It’s like… to make a good record, I don’t care who you are, it takes a long time and a lot of passion and a lot of attention to detail, right? I get offered a lot of times – dude, in the last week I got two or three super-group offers – and I’m like “Okay, so what do we do?”, “We’ll get together for a week and we’ll write a record and we’ll record it…” and I’m like “Dude. The record is going to suck, man”. I don’t care who you are, the reason these bands are successful is because the record they made that people liked was slaved over for a long time. Whether or not the records came out really quick, there’s an element of inspiration or attention to detail that makes it. The audience isn’t stupid, you put on one a bad super-group record and they’ll be like, “Yeah, they slapped this together because they wanted to make a bunch of money based off the fact its Joe Bozo and Joe Knob-Gobbler in the same band together”. I honestly think that every time I get offered one of these gigs, I put so much time and energy in to making my music rock, to blow that away by making an average record with some dudes doesn’t make sense. And the Tree of the Sun thing, it was cool but it was never records. It was demos, people getting together and jamming. But there was so much attention paid to it because it was Jason, Scott [Reeder of Kyuss], Dale [Crover of The Melvins] and me. People had this sense that it was going to be a combination of all the best parts of all those bands in one place. Haha, it isn’t. It’s a bunch of people who don’t know each other getting in a room and trying to make it work and that’s what it sounds like a lot of the time.

Well, it wouldn’t be the first time you’ve released demos to your audience.

Yeah, it’s all Jason. That all Jason’s shit, nothing to do with me. He holds all those masters really. I honestly haven’t talked to Jason in like 12 years, so…

Going back a bit further, I have to ask – how did you end up in The Wildhearts?

The Wildhearts were opening up for Steve Vai when we were in Europe and me and Steve had this massive fight and I ended up destroying a bunch of shit back-stage – I was 19 – and all of a sudden, me and Ginger decided that we would get along [laughter]. And then, when he kicked CJ out of the Wildhearts, Ginger was like “Remember me? From when you were on tour and fucking freaking out? You wanna come to England?” and I was like, “Sure!” Y’know, what can I say about Ginger that hasn’t be said before? The guy’s a fucking genius, he’s written some of the most beautiful music of all time. I have nothing but immense love and respect for the guy. Should him and I be in a band together? Probably not, but it doesn’t change the fact I follow every step the guy makes because I’m so sick of being lied to by music – every time I hear music, you’re lying to me – that I’ve got to hold tight to the friends and artists in my life who don’t lie to me! And Ginger’s music is one of those to me and I love the Wildhearts and what he does. Love Ginger!

You’re often touted as one of the most creative minds in modern rock and metal, but what musician would you give the creative mind accolade to?

Oh. God. I don’t really think of it like that. I definitely don’t. I don’t listen to rock and metal that much, in all honesty. When I’m not doing what I do, I listen to stuff like deadmau5. I love dance music and dub-step… that really heavy house stuff, I love it because it’s not what I do. I love quiet New-Agey and country music. But in terms of creative minds? Aw shit, man. I think any kid at my son’s preschool has a much more creative mind than any of us bananas who are doing this for a living!

Friday, 18 February 2011

The Complete Short Stories - Perfectly Still

(Written for Pi Magazine. Check out the site. Go on.)

In Perfectly Still, we are presented with an indie album conceived with more thought than is typically associated with the genre tag. Whilst the songs occasionally stray the border between genuinely endearing and a bit twee, the intricate vocal patterns and light instrumentation show a flair for immersive song-writing and help light up the relatively mellow but lively nature of the album. The Complete Short Stories are surprisingly diverse in their sound, at moments sounding like She & Him and at others, reminiscent of latter day Anathema. For instance, ‘Value The One You Love’ starts off a subdued number but is built up with meticulous musical texturing that sees surprisingly heavy, distorted strings juxtaposed against a harmonious piano, all accompanied by the perpetually serene vocals of Kerry Adamson. Indeed, Adamson’s voice is one of the biggest highlights of the album as she effortlessly floats above the backdrop of mild musical experimentation. Of course, as with most albums, there are a couple of dull moments – for instance, closer ‘Two Acrobats’ doesn’t quite connect – but this is made up for by tracks such as ‘Struggle On’, an initially restrained number that cautiously erupts a third in, and the memorable ‘Fish Food’ which brags a hugely infectious chorus.

Ultimately, The Complete Short Stories bring some welcome variety in to the world of indie, letting folk and even some prog influences subtly infiltrate the music, in the process creating an interesting dynamic of soundscapes. Whilst this won’t be for everyone, Perfectly Still is an engaging album and is great for an evening chill out.

Desert Storm - Forked Tongues

Forked Tongues is the debut album of groove-metallers Desert Storm… from Oxford. Don’t let their location fool you though, as this is a strongly executed platter of sludgy riffs, gravelled vocals and hooking rhythms. The album has its fair share of grinding moments (take for instance, the title track’s stomping mess of metal madness), but these are masterfully offset by more subdued numbers such as the almost Zeppelin-esque ‘Connected’. Similarly, the grit-shovellingly low vocals are often countered by a smooth, feminine voice throughout, with the resultant combination really illuminating segments of Forked Tongues. The material presented remains consistent, with ‘Ol’ Town’ boasting a flurry of winding riffs reminiscent of slightly more upbeat Sabbath numbers and the drawl of 'Smokes 'n' Liquor' has the smell of stale booze literally emanating from the track. Perhaps one of the album’s biggest highlights is ‘The Void’ – initially stating as a melancholic number with clean vocals, it erupts with shoveling riffs before ending on an almost ‘Planet Caravan’-esque vibe of mellowness. Likewise, the melodic vocals of ‘The Jackal’ will hook any listener in, providing the perfect break from the bulldozing guitars of the verse.

Forked Tongues isn’t the most original of offerings, but it does prove a well synthesised concoction of bluesy hard rock, groove and metal and has found a great balance between the aggressive and melodic. It’s a promising start for the band and is well worth checking out for anyone who wants something heavy but tuneful.

Listen and purchase here.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Murderdolls - Nowhere

(Originally written for Under City Lights / Rare FM)

When they first came around, the Murderdolls never grabbed me. Whilst the ‘horror punk’ thing was interesting, I could not get over the screech of Wednesday 13. However, key players, Wednesday and Slipknot’s Joey Jordison revived the band last year, releasing a long awaited (for some) second album and every time I hear a track off it, I’m utterly enamoured. I’m not sure what it is about latest single “Nowhere”, but somewhere between the soaring guitar leads, the sing-along chorus and Wednesday’s slightly more melodic vocals, I became hooked. “Nowhere” blends ‘80s style hair-metal with gothic sensibilities seemingly effortlessly, creating a fantastically catchy song in the process. Effectively, it’s an old school horror movie come to life, where the chilling and the campy are inextricably intertwined and it works rather well.

Slash - Beautiful Dangerous

(Originally written for Under City Lights / Rare FM)

When Slash announced that his first solo album proper was going to feature vocal performances from a wide array of musicians old and new, one singer I was exceptionally sceptical about was Fergie of The Black Eyed Peas. Single no. 3 from the top hatted guitarist however proves to be one of Fergie’s best performances. Her voice soars over Slash’s trademark riffing, proving both the perfect accompaniment to the heavy guitars and commanding an audience of its own. It’s surprising, but Fergie sounds completely in her element in a rock context as she bellows the infectious chorus and steal’s Slash’s limelight. Indeed, “Beautiful Dangerous” is amongst the strongest tracks from the album and it’s shocking that it has only just been released as a single due to the potential cross-over appeal. Still, this is rock and roll through and through and well worth a listen.

Black Label Society - Overlord

(Originally written for Under City Lights / Rare FM)

Black Label Society’s latest track, “Overlord”, is primarily dragged on by a compellingly sludgy guitar riff until it reaches the three minute mark and all hell suddenly breaks loose. Manic riffs and violently shredded solos provide a brief but welcome break from the song’s main body before it returns to its initial crushing stomp. Whilst a song that’s basically written around one riff shouldn’t last six minutes, somehow Zakk Wylde and his cohort of menacingly hairy groove-metallers manage to get away with it. Whilst not the most original or inventive of tracks, “Overlord” certainly makes me want to drink beer and shout along to the chorus and, honestly, that’s all you want from a Black Label Society cut.

Rob Zombie - Mars Needs Women

(Originally written for Under City Lights / Rare FM)

Rob Zombie’s latest single does little to stray from the tried and tested Zombie formula – the guitars stomp, Rob barks and the lyrics confuse. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however. The sheer ridiculousness of the song proves highly contagious and, whilst I’m not entirely sure if Mars actually does need “angry red women”, I’m happy to take Rob’s word for it. There are a few splatterings of rather interesting, almost funk-based guitar lines from the ever-talented John 5 which, whilst mixed in with the standard Zombie affair of movie sound-bites and industrial tweaks, stop “Mars Needs Women” from becoming stale. At the crux of it, it’s a heavy and catchy track that does little to drag Rob Zombie out of his musical rut. A rehash of prior Zombie efforts perhaps, but an addictive one at least.

Looks That Aren't Standing The Test of Time

(In a bold change from the usual proceedings of reviews, here is an article I wrote for Pi Magazine's 'Style' issue that basically involved me being slightly mean about lots of fantastic musicians. This version is slightly longer than the one that got printed, so enjoy it in all its extended glory. Also, all images in this version are shamelessly stolen from Google Image Search. Sorry about that.)

Music is unquestionably intertwined with image and some of the best musicians out there have rocked rather striking aesthetics in their time. Whilst their classic albums and musical contributions will remain timeless*, their creators will not. Here are a few not-so-stylish stalwarts who have aged far from gracefully.

*Okay, the music of Dead or Alive and Poison has aged horribly, but I will never stop listening to Look What The Cat Dragged In.

Robert Smith
(The Cure)

Pioneering the classic goth look in the ‘80s, no one expects Robert Smith to look clean-cut and trendy. But then, equally, no one expects Robert to look like he was rejected for the title role in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘It’ – for those of you who don’t know ‘It’, what I’m getting at is Smith looks like an evil clown.

Pete Burns
(Dead Or Alive / ‘Celebrity Big Brother’)

Now, the last thing I wish to imply is that Pete Burns ever looked fashionable. The ‘You Spin Me Right Round’ video has him with teased, backcombed hair and an eye-patch, caught adrift in an ocean of ribbons and garishly coloured pop nonsense. But at least he looked vaguely human. Nowadays, his face has been stretched so much that he resembles a monster from Beetlejuice and his lips look like you could pop them just by looking at them too intensely.

Bret Michaels
(Poison / ‘Rock of Love’)

I’ve never seen anyone so insecure of their receding hairline that they have to wear a cowboy hat over a bandana. Take it off Bret, that weave is fooling nobody.

Axl Rose
(The Band Previously Known As Guns N’ Roses)

(2002, 2006, 2010)

I really thought it couldn’t get worse than the multi-coloured braids and hockey jerseys, but Axl Rose’s current look reeks of a middle aged man desperately trying to be “down with the kids”. You’re never going to be considered ‘relevant’ with a Fu Manchu, Axl.

Adam Ant
(Adam & The Technicolour Dreamcoat)

Marginally bizarre clothes aside, there is something moderately inhuman about Adam Ant nowadays. So much so that he looks like more like Kryten from Red Dwarf than Prince Charming.

Iggy Pop
(Iggy & The Stooges / Really annoying car insurance ads)

Please Iggy. Just put your shirt back on and we can pretend your leathery, drug-addled body never happened. Also, if there’s anyone I wouldn’t trust to sell me car insurance, it’s you and your creepy puppet clone.

Boy George
(Culture Club)

The New Romantic look was always a bit of an extreme one but in the last few years, ‘80s crooner Boy George can’t decide whether he wants to be an androgynous “Right Said” Fred Fairbrass or Phil Mitchell from Eastenders.

(The Madge Madgeson Experience)

I love Madonna’s music as much as any self-respecting man (i.e. with a crippling sense of guilt and irrevocable shame) but the woman has transformed beyond creepy. She’s a Frankenstein creation made from Iggy Pop’s arms, a partially melted wax-model head and a shop mannequin’s legs. Amidst all the horrifically revealing costumes and relentless gyrating, all that enters my mind is that Madonna’s a parent. A weird, freaky, 52 year old parent.

Survival Awards

Lemmy Kilmister

Considering he’s 437 years old, Lemmy actually looks remarkably young. Or at least he would, if it wasn’t for the face-altering boils by his beard. Still, Kilmister deserves only respect for being rock & roll incarnate and still dressing like he walked out of a heavy metal spaghetti-western.

Keith Richards
(The Rolling Stones)

For all intents and purposes, Keith should have died multiple times during the ‘70s. Fair play to the guy for having more lives than a cat, even if he does generally look like a maddened homeless man.