Music Feature: Jennifer Gentle (New York Press)

Making lemonade while biting the hand that feeds me.



Marco Fasolo of Jennifer Gentle attempts to explain himself

By Chris Ruen

If there’s a key to writing a 500-word music piece—such as the one you’re reading—it’s to keep one’s expectations measured. There’s no space for sprawling exposition, only the facts. Band Y is from Town X and their music sounds like what might happen if Band A and Band C had an emotionally abused child who was obsessed with Band Q. Band Y is on such-and-such record label, their new album has been received with Reaction Z, and now they’re playing a concert in New York. Then throw in a few quotes from the lead singer to keep things relatively interesting.

Given the above parameters, interviewing the musician—in more youthful days an exciting, ego-boosting, potentially revelatory opportunity to engage with an artist—becomes a surprisingly mundane task. Rather than discuss music in an open-ended fashion when the artist may actually say something interesting, you simply mine the subject for information relevant to the article’s seemingly impenetrable structure.

The aforementioned lesson having been learned—quite recently by myself—my lowered interview expectations were put into practice for the first time during my scheduled interview with Marco Fasolo, the sole artistic force behind Italian rock band Jennifer Gentle. There seemed to be plenty of interesting material to discuss. The enigmatic Fasolo was touring in support of Midnight Room, an album he wrote, performed and produced alone in a secluded house in Northern Italy (the previous owner of which had killed himself there with a rifle). Even so, I lobbied to hear his take via the cold, yet efficient medium of email. The chances of a more personal phone interview yielding better material were slim at best.

Seattle’s venerable Sub Pop, Jennifer Gentle’s record label, said no to my dreams of email, so I called Marco one Thursday afternoon, ready to type away at my computer as he spoke. He would answer my questions about the recording process of Midnight Room—a baroque, psychedelic, pop-infused, mysterious romp of an album.

But upon calling the musician, I learned still another lesson: Just because someone sings in English, doesn’t mean they know it particularly well.

Marco, a lifelong resident of Italy, had trouble both understanding questions and articulating answers: two rather crucial elements for an interview. Plus, he was talking to me from a tour van barreling down the highway. I could barely hear him.
I think I heard him say he likes playing New York because of the “great crowds,” and that it was “fabulous last time.” Also, he enjoyed making Midnight Room alone, because he liked having things “under control.” He has an easy time arranging songs. Lyrics are “the hardest thing” for him, and he regularly consults an English dictionary when writing. Singing in English rather than Italian, he said, “came naturally.”

Like Jennifer Gentle’s music, the interview was definitely weird, sometimes incomprehensible, but unique and unassailably amusing. This Wednesday at the Mercury Lounge, Marco and company bring their confounding mix of strange circus psychedelics to town. Be there, just don’t expect to understand much.

Journalism? : Starbucks In Greenpoint (New York Press)

Every Marx-addled writer's dream come true.



Starbucks lands in Greenpoint, loudly and without shame

By Chris Ruen

The area of Greenpoint, Brooklyn stretching west from McGuiness Boulevard to the banks of the East River is an ever-expanding haven for small cafes and coffee shops. There’s Ashbox, Champion, Greenpoint Coffee House, O Solé Mio, Cafécito, Brooklyn Label, Eat Records, Grumpy…and that’s just a casual listing. Ever since the Greenpoint/ Williamsburg waterfront rezoning of 2005, which looks to potentially add dozens of high-rise condominiums and 10,000 new residents to this remarkably quaint corner of Kings County, locals knew change was on its way. Recently, the proverbial cup of Folger’s was served pitch black to Greenpoint-at-large when “Starbucks Coffee” slipped its way into an old movie theater on the corner of Manhattan and Greenpoint avenues and saw fit to surround its iconic sans serif font on the marquee with a set of unthinkably bright light bulbs.

“It’s very obnoxious and in-your-face and tacky,” says Hernando Varela, part-owner of Cafécito, a French-Colombian cafe a few blocks north on Manhattan Avenue. “But hey, I understand they just want to make money and put the word out themselves.”

Not everyone, though, is quite as critical. “I laughed,” Karen Hayes says of the first time she saw the marquee. Hayes has lived in Greenpoint for three years and distrusts the gag reflex many seem to have when it comes to Grande Frappuccinos and green aprons. “I think sometimes people are just being haters. Sort of anti-everything.”
Hayes’ husband, Joe Keating, recently opened Jack O’Neal’s, a neighborhood pub on Franklin Avenue just one block west from the new Starbucks. In honor of Greenpoint’s pre-gentrification days, Joe and his business partner previously considered another name for their bar: Stray Dogs & Hookers.

“It seems to be a typical flagship of gentrification where people see it and think, ‘This means we’re at this advanced stage,’” Keating says of Starbucks. “Part of me had that ‘Oh god’ view when I first saw it. But part of me also thought, ‘Oh god, at least my investment in property in this neighborhood has passed a certain threshold.’ There’s a Jekyll & Hyde about this for me.”

“I’m afraid Greenpoint is going to end up being a bigger planning disaster than any other part of Brooklyn,” warns Robert Guskind Brooklyn editor of the real estate/development blog Curbed.com. “Within five years, quality of life is going to be affected on a fundamental level. The change is inevitable.”

If the new Starbucks indeed becomes the symbol for change in Greenpoint, then the multi-ethnic, artist-friendly “village” life it presently enjoys is very much at risk. In their stores, at their events and in the statement provided by Starbucks Regional Spokesperson, Hope Tannenbaum, Starbucks touts its efforts to build strong communities via the “Starbucks Experience.” Throughout this Experience (please note the capital “E”), “Customers come for coffee, stay for the inviting warmth and return for the very human connection.” But Starbucks must attempt to reconcile this laughably inflated sense of corporate self with the plain reality that fake community sounds nice, sells more coffee and allows their worldwide expansion rate of six stores per day. When a big retail corporation talks about building communities, they’re truly after something a bit less sunny—namely cultivating markets of loyal consumers. Any neighborhood invaded by Starbucks gradually morphs from a shared community of participatory individuals into a top-down Starbucks Community (let’s allow them the capital “C,” for fun) set up for that most cynical of American functions: to sell more, faster…and more! Creative potential is lost and corporate sameness is perpetuated.

People/consumers are left somewhere in the middle to grapple with what’s real—and what’s just another sales pitch.
When I visited Greenpoint’s friendliest new neighbor, I noticed a small dry-erase board with the words, “Today, your barista is… Sara.” Her smiling picture occupied the same space. Next to that it read, “Today, I Recommend… A Venti Orange and Crème Extra Whipped Crème and Orange Zest Frappucino.”

I looked over at Sara, who was not nearly so cheery in person as her picture led me to believe, and I suspected she neither enjoyed drinking nor serving 11-word long coffee drinks.

Minutes later: “I did not recommend that! Who wrote that?” Sara, now standing in front of the dry-erase board, was feverishly rubbing off the “recommendation” with her sleeve, until the “Today I Recommend…” board was totally blank.

“Today,” she said, satisfied with her erasing, “I recommend you go someplace else.”

Five minutes later Sara’s recommendation was rewritten, word-for-word, this time with a little added flair. A “very human connection” indeed.

Essay: Bushwick In Spirit (New York Press)

Now I do live in Bushwick. Not the one they were talking about.



Bushwick In Spirit

By Chris Ruen

In the fall of 2005, I moved to Brooklyn. After living in relative obscurity deep in Queens, I’d now be squarely within the notorious L Train corridor—along with other urban, artsy, college-educated white kids like myself. The first area this demographic (yes, those much-maligned “hipsters”) populated en masse was, of course, Williamsburg.

But I certainly didn’t move to Williamsburg. No, I became a resident of its neighbor to the southeast: Bushwick. At least this is what my new roommate Jane told me. She’d been living nearby in BedStuy for a few years, so I trusted her. We were within walking distance of Williamsburg’s bars, cafes and art spaces, but there was no way our dilapidated, minimally gentrified blocks could be put in the same social strata as trendy Williamsburg.

Simply happy to move monumentally closer to friends and the “action,” I wasn’t quite ready to carry the neurotic burden of living in Williamsburg. And I found satisfaction in telling friends and family I’d soon be moving to Bushwick. The name had an undeniable ring to it, and the air of freshness that accompanies any word, idea or neighborhood that hasn’t already been bludgeoned into banality by the flesh-eating NYC media. I felt entirely content with my new neighborhood; Bushwick would be home.

One day, I lingered in my new subway stop at Montrose Avenue. Trying to orient myself to the unfamiliar lands around me, I studied a close-up MTA neighborhood map on the wall. “You Are Here” highlighted my stop, but immediately to the left of this marker was a word I did not expect to see next to my home: Williamsburg.

Williamsburg? Is that where I’d moved? The map left little reason for doubt. The label of Bushwick appeared well east of my apartment’s location on the map. I seemed comfortably within the boundaries of the ‘Burg.

As my first Brooklyn weeks passed, and the question of where I lived came up in more and more conversations, the mere mention of the hazy line between Williamsburg and Bushwick elicited strains of anger and passion. The token exchange went something like this: “And I just recently moved to Brooklyn,” I’d say. “Oh really,” Young-Person-In-The-Know replied. “Where in Brooklyn?”

“I live right on the L, a few stops into Williamsburg.” At this point, character with cool pants becomes visibly curious and vaguely aggressive, presumably because “a few stops” sounds suspicious.

“Which stop is it?” she’d ask.

And I answered,“Montrose.”

“That’s Bushwick,” she’d resolutely state. “You live in Bushwick.” And while she began to snicker and laugh to herself about how silly it was of me to think I lived in Williamsburg, I would eventually interject, “Well, I thought I was moving to Bushwick, but the subway map at my station pretty clearly states it’s Williamsburg.”

“Was the map made by a real estate company?” the smirking, well-coiffed person in question continued. “That neighborhood definitely used to be called Bushwick. Or is it,” especially mocking here, “East Williamsburg?”

After enduring a handful of these exchanges, frustration took hold. Not being able to confidently state, or know, what neighborhood I lived in annoyed the hell out of me. Why did telling someone where I lived have to consistently spark a discussion in which the other person found it necessary to tell me where I “actually” lived? I resolved to figure this out.

At first, most evidence pointed toward my neighborhood being Williamsburg. For one, the subway map. Secondly, Williamsburg Houses public housing was only one block north of me. On the other hand, and repeatedly thrown in my face by the Bushwick camp, I lived just a half block west of an avenue named Bushwick. Not conclusive by any means, but it sounded damning.

The Not For Tourist (NFT) guide had its own section for East Williamsburg, which I lived soundly within. According to NFT, the boundary between East Williamsburg and Bushwick was Flushing Avenue, nine blocks south of me. Flushing appeared to form the southeast border of Williamsburg, with its northeast border being Queens.

I had two maps saying I lived in some form of Williamsburg, but I couldn’t help question NFT, if only because it’s a commercial publication, not an official one. Maybe the maps were outdated or plain wrong? Or maybe the creeping gentrification had led to the renaming and expanding of Williamsburg to where Bushwick had once stood proud?

I considered these questions on my walk home, walking south down Graham Avenue toward the supposed border of Flushing. And along Graham, well south of Grand Street, I passed a community center, the Williamsburg Community Center.

The final blow to my hopes of figuring out where I lived came from The New York Times in an article published about a music venue/art space called Asterix, which sits three blocks away from my home. In the article, the writer referred to Asterix’s location as “a neighborhood sometimes called East Williamsburg.”

Sometimes called? Even The New York Times was waffling on this. And if they couldn’t figure it out, or display any form of confidence on the matter, then what chance did I have? I’d been in my apartment for a full year and I still didn’t know where I lived. This worrying couldn’t go on forever. So, I gave up. In this same period I’d left my Manhattan literary agency job to work at a coffeehouse in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. As I was sucked further into the Brooklyn scene, I started hearing the name Bushwick bandied about more often than Williamsburg. All the underground parties and new art spaces seemed to be “in Bushwick” now. But when I asked where these parties actually took place, my friends or customers either had no idea, or they cited the artist lofts on McKibbin Street, which falls a couple blocks on the supposed Williamsburg side of Flushing. To those who have particular ideas of Bushwick, these lofts—along with the coffee shops, bars and thrift stores on the Morgan stop—constitute the heart of Bushwick. Or somebody’s Bushwick.

Alas, my second year in Brooklyn passed without any new neighborhood revelations. Nearly all the evidence pointed to me living in Williamsburg, while those I raised the subject with merely pointed. Soon enough, the question faded almost entirely from my mind.

Recently, on a day off from work, I strolled down Bushwick Avenue to the aforementioned McKibbin Street lofts and to Potion. I walked through the coffee shop’s glass entrance to find the walls covered in note cards. My eyes wandered to a table where a craft station was set up with a small stack of note cards with “Bushwick Is” typed on each one. The patrons were invited to write or draw anything they liked on the cards. The finished ones covered the walls with alternately sarcastic, sincere and obtuse expressions—all inflected with a deep sense of community and love for Bushwick. And if this hadn’t already aligned Potion with Bushwick, then the 7-foot-high banner hanging from the ceiling that read “Bushwick Open Studios” surely did.

I bought my coffee and sat down with my computer, but had a difficult time focusing. The neighborhood quandary had been shoved right back in my face by the most potent Bushwick believers I could ever hope to encounter. They seemed so sure of themselves. A friendly-looking man with a beard, who I assumed to be an owner or manager, and a young, female barista were speaking with a customer, so I waited for a pause in their conversation.

“Can I ask you guys a question?” I said to the three of them.

“Sure,” they replied.

“As far as you’re concerned, is this definitely Bushwick?”

“Yes!” the female employee shot back.

“Well,” the bearded one began, “Technically this is East Williamsburg.”

This silenced the employee, who walked away and said nothing more.

He continued, “Bushwick is across Flushing, actually. I can show you a map online if you want to see.”

I didn’t need to see. It was enough just to hear a dispassionate voice of reason. His standing as a McKibbin Street barista only solidified the validity of this second opinion. My mind was finally settled. I lived in East Williamsburg, or at the very least Eastern Williamsburg.

Still at the coffee shop, I asked this same bearded man behind the counter why all the Bushwick note cards and the giant banner if he knew full well we weren’t sitting in Bushwick?

“Well, we feel here that we’re more Bushwick in spirit,” he said with a smile.

While this statement initially seemed harmless, it also meant absolutely nothing. Worse than nothing, it’s a shallow, selfish myth. That the “spirit of Bushwick” has anything at all to do with a bunch of white art school grads is, beyond delusional, a little offensive.

But I suppose those so keen on calling East Williamsburg “Bushwick” can be forgiven. Through the years, millions have moved to this city tempting the possibility of making a new life for themselves, aided by the endlessly creative possibilities only New York City can offer. And this fresh group of young “immigrants” is only out for that, their own slice of the Big Apple. Even if the slice is pretty moldy and rotting from the inside out, that’s OK as long as they can believe it’s theirs. A bunch of kids got to claim Williamsburg years ago, but that’s old news now. Bushwick waits for the new ones, right there for the taking. Even if it doesn’t really exist.

Album Review: Deerhunter "Fluorescent Grey EP" (Tiny Mix Tapes)

Reviews for diversity.


Fluorescent Grey [EP]

[Kranky; 2007]

Styles: psychedelics man, repetition, pop, shoegaze, aural explosions, jams
Others: My Bloody Valentine, early New Order, Liars

On their critically acclaimed Cryptograms Atlanta’s Deerhunter used the long-playing format for all its possibilities. Ambling soundscapes drifted, then accelerated, into more conventionally structured tracks, which took their own sweet time to manifest the band’s dream-pop and crashing post-punk tendencies. The brilliant release improved with multiple listens and could only lead the careful listener to wonder, with all the band’s seeming ambivalence about the charms of melody vs. noise: In what direction could they be headed next?

On the Fluorescent Grey EP, recorded during the mixing of Cryptograms, there are few clues to be had. Reviewers who say otherwise are full of it. With four songs clocking in at around 16 minutes, any grand extrapolations would have to be based on over-enthusiasm rather than evidence. Only general impressions can be made of this release, notably that its creators are a rock band of higher than average creative energy, purpose, and talent. Especially talent.

The first track, “Fluorescent Grey,” is a slow burner in the vein of Cryptogram’s later tracks, with singer Bradford Cox repeating, “Patiently, patiently/ Patiently, patiently.” A little more than two minutes in, however, the song takes a quick right turn as a flood of distortion and reverb propel the song toward its subdued conclusion. So goes the rest of the EP.

Many of Cryptogram’s elements are here, but (surely due in part to time constraints) the musical transitions are quick and to the point, as opposed to the LP’s expansiveness. This detracts from one of Deerhunter’s particular strengths: constructing a dynamic, organic listening experience. Everything here is a bit rushed. It wouldn’t stand out so much if the material didn’t seem so ripe for experimentation. No song is more frustrating in this regard than “Like New,” practically begging to be turned into a six-minute-plus dreamed-out jam. Instead, the song is over and done at a mere 2:13.

With Fluorescent Grey Deerhunter display their dual mastery of reverb and loops, and their ability to rock out with the best of them. The jackhammer drums alone on closer “Wash Off” bring to light the real possibility that this band, if the stars align, might just blow everyone else out of the water someday... way out of the water. There are no shocking new directions here, but consider at least one appetite wetted.

Interview: Man Man (Tiny Mix Tapes)

The grand, nightmarish finale.


Man Man
Van Outside The Knitting Factory, NYC
[March 2006]

Philly rock-like outfit/collective/band Man Man came out with their second album, Six Demon Bag (Ace Fu), a couple months ago. I heard the album’s "Tunneling Through The Guy," a brooding, mostly instrumental mind-fuck of a song, in a record store and subsequently walked out the door with my own copy of the LP. The record held up to three or four days of constant listens. Catchy, soulful, challenging, beautiful, cacophonous, acerbic, exciting, and at times disorienting, I began wondering what this music would sound like live.

I saw they were playing a show at Knitting Factory in a few days. Gold. But I was broke – too broke to pay $10. So, I fell back on the ol’ interview-the-band/get-in-free routine and set it all up. It seemed to be working out just fine, until their PR contact abruptly stopped e-mailing me mid-week, stranding me without a confirmation or a guest list spot. The day of the show, a Friday, I assumed nothing was happening. That night I arrived home from work to find a voicemail from said PR contact, who I apparently had to meet at the venue in about 45 minutes. Obviously, I had little time to prepare any questions, and their first album hadn’t arrived from Ace Fu. Though I had very little to go on, on some level I was enjoying the haphazardness of it all.

I got into the venue just fine, but then the band couldn’t talk before their performance, and then an ominous feeling about the interview expanded within me as I watched the show, and then I had to wait for them to load their van (growing increasingly frustrated with each beer consumed), and then Ryan (the band’s lead singer, songwriter, keys player) suddenly wanted to do the interview in the noisy street while they were loading up their equipment. Finally, we ended up in the tour van itself. Me, Ryan, and fellow band member Cougar. "Chang" also made a brief appearance.

And between their exhaustion with having just played a show and then being obliged to talk to some guy who was visibly annoyed with them, no one especially wanted to be there. Still, I tried to make the best of the situation, sarcasm and all....

And what’s your name?

Cougar: Cougar.

Ryan: That’s Cougar.

And that’s legal, right?

R: He’s from the Poconos – anything’s legal there.

(acknowledging that we’re sitting in the van) This is, uh, this is interesting...

R: This is a RENTAL van.

It’s nice, though. It’s a nice van.

R: It’s a RENTAL van.

Right...so, can you talk a little bit about how your band got started? You know, the really boring, basic stuff...

R: Well, we’ve managed to simplify that question, as far as an answer. How this band got started: sperm meets egg, egg goes bad. So there you go, there’s your answer.

Well, who did you have the key conversation with, where –

C: God.

R: The devil.

Oh. That’s an okay answer. Great.

R: That was a terrible answer.

You should all know that I have the lowest expectations I’ve ever had for an interview.

R: Well, at least we’re on the same page. So, I can’t wait for you to ask me questions about Tom Waits.

Oh, the Tom Waits stuff’s coming up. I know there have been a lot of line-up changes, haven’t there? I really don’t know.

R: There’s been some shuffle.

Anything you attribute that to?

R: Well, you know, I’ve said it a million times, but there’s a huge draw to sleeping on floors and not making any money – that’s so appealing. Not being able to maintain any sort of relationships. Hitting rock bottom...all the time. Right Cougar? Cougar’s on board.

C: I love it.

R: He loves it!

What’s your real name again Cougar?

C: Uh, Russell.

Alright, I’m going to ask you a few questions about Philadelphia, as every music journalist is required to do. Are you guys excited, dismayed, etc. by Sylvester Stallone’s efforts to make another Rocky? Or do you not care at all?

R: Cougar’s actually an extra in it. He plays Burgess Meredith’s illegitimate son-

Named Cougar.

R: So Cougar’s actually 60 years old...I mean that’s his name and that’s what we call him (cougar).

I don’t have a problem with the name Cougar.

R: Just wanted to make sure.

I’m curious what both names are. Obviously there are two names.

R: He lives in the Poconos.


Alright, alright, alright, alright. I was going to ask you more about Philadelphia...

C: Rocky?

No, I’m not going to ask you more about Rocky.

R: Hey Chang! Chang! (calling outside the van) How do you feel about Rocky?

Chang: Uhhh, he’s a fuckin’ wimp.

I was going to do this free association thing, but...I don’t know if it’s going to work.

R: Why? We’re game.

Are you?

R: I think so.

We’re gonna do it with both of you guys.

R: We’ll take turns.

So, the game is this: I’ll say a word –

R: We know how it works.

You know how it works?...And then you guys will go back and forth. Okay, ready? CAPTAIN BEEFHEART.

C: ...Me? I don’t know!

You have to say the first thing that comes to your head.

R: Potatoes.

C: Meat-Meaty.

R: Potatoes.

C: Meaty.

R: Potatoes...Oh, oh, so it’s supposed to keep going?

Yeah. Otherwise there’s no point.

C: Mashed!

R: Captain Beefheart...I thought you were going to toss out words and we were going to respond.

No no, the whole point is that I’m NOT involved.

R: Why don’t you jump in?

Okay. We’ll do it for the next one. So, I’ll say the first word and then we’ll do this rotation (CR to Ryan to Cougar, etc.).

R: Round Robin style.

Yeah yeah. Alright: LEGOS.

R: (sigh)

First thing.

R: First thing?

We’re talking subconscious. First thing. First word.

R: First word?

First word, idea...

R: Ah man, I’m failing this one...

LEGOS! Legos!

R: Eggos.

C: Waffles.


R: Bacon.

C: Beefheart.


R: Potatoes.

C: Meaty.


R: Tom Waits.

C: Throaty.

R: Frank Zappa.


C: Moustache.

R: The Residents.


R: Barenaked Ladies.

Alright, this is going to be the last one. We’re going to go in THIS direction (CR-Cougar-Ryan) now. And let’s NOT break the fuckin’ order this time. Okay: SAND.

C: Castle.

R: Wolf Parade.


C: Uhhh, Waiters.

R: Wolf Eyes.


C: Uhhh...Wolf...Cawnal...

R: Is that a word??

I don’t think so. Can you spell that?

C: Aids Wolf.

R: Awww man.

I think we can end with "Aids Wolf." Who do you guys influence most?

R: Who do we influence most? Oh, holy shit. Is this still free association?

It can be whatever you want it to be.

C: Four to six-year-olds.

R: Four to sixty-year-olds?

C: Four to sixty-year-olds!

R: Moby.

We’re going to tie it all together here: If Captain Beefhheart, Frank Zappa, and...Tom Waits....

R: What about ’em?

If they all got together and listened to your album, and then recorded an EP together, what would the EP be called?

R: "We Dug Up Frank Zappa and Got Arrested"... "Unlikely," that’s what the EP would be called. "Never Happening."

I was going to ask about the first album versus this one.

R: I think this one fuckin’ houses the first record. I think it’s way better. The crew is just stronger. I like it more.

When would you say you came up with your voice, or figured it out. ’Cause obviously you didn’t start singing that way – throaty stuff.

R: I can’t really say – I think that’s what it was. I realized my limitations, or I couldn’t sing. So I just screamed. I’m really bellowing – I think that’s where it comes from. But I don’t know. I just like the idea of this music, and also dragging my voice through the dirt.

You know guys, I wish I was more prepared for this interview.

R: Yeah, what the hell? Did you get stoned and just make up these questions? Can we get some shout-outs?

The tape’s rolling.

R: Cougar you got any shout-outs?

C: Can we play the association game again?

R: I got a shout-out for Tong. Islands. I Death.

C: I See Demons.

How do you know Islands so well?

R: Nick’s just a solid guy, so...

...Cool. Hey, well, thanks for the – I don’t know, you know I COULD try to come up with more questions here...

R: You can just e-mail us some questions.

I’m not – I don’t do that.

R: You can call me if you want to.

No, I don’t do that either. Only in person. I only want the full awkward moment.

R: Yeah, it’s definitely kinda awkward. At least you’re sitting in a van with us.

I’m just glad we’re not out back.

R: Wh-what’s going on out back?

C: Noise


R: Oh, I thought you meant something shady was going on out back.

Ummm, there’s obviously a strong performance element to what you guys do – all wearing the white shirts, doing the facepaint and all that stuff...

R: Where are you going with this...?

...is that something you’re tied to or where did that come from? You just wanted that element or –

R: The facepaint thing we don’t do all the time.

I just mean in terms of production value. There are a lot of theatrics.

R: There is?

Tons. Totally, from my perspective. I don’t think it’s a BAD thing.

R: We’re just feeling it, man. The white outfits –

You all happened to be feeling white shirts on the same day?

R: Cougar has the answer for that one.

C: I do?

R: It’s ’cause we’ve surrendered. Uhh, the white outfits were just so you focus on the music we’re playing and not necessarily what we’re wearing. That was the INITIAL idea.

Do you feel like it’s turned into something else?

R: Eh.

Do you always wear white outfits?

R: Yeah.

Oh, okay. I didn’t know that.

R: And so do The Islands. That’s really our kinship.

C: That’s how we know them.

R: We were buying whites in the same store. And I found a shirt that Nick wanted, so...

Okay, I’m gonna fuckin’ end this thing, before it gets any worse.

R: Yeah, you need to get a gun and Ol’ Yeller style this thing.


Interview: The Sea And Cake (Tiny Mix Tapes)

Personal history, thankfully, overwhelms the concept of honest taste.


Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt (The Sea and Cake)
Of Themselves Plus The Sea And Cake
[March 2006]

We obsess over the freshly-named band from Oakland, with barely an EP to call their own, who have produced little yet overflow with promise. These bands allow us to love them not for what they are, but for what they may become. But perhaps more notable is the band or artist who never achieved grand success, is far too old and established for hype, yet consistently leaves room for the fan to imagine what might come next. Proven shape-changers. Although Chicago’s pop-soul-electro-rock-lounge-dance-jazz-sonic-renaissance-men The Sea And Cake will never get adoration similar to what Radiohead, Wilco, and The Flaming Lips receive for their commitment to evolution – a close investigation of their formidable catalogue reveals they just may deserve it. In our self-congratulatory, diverse culture of isolated homogeneity, praised be the artist happy to change, experiment, shift their style or their sound.

I sat down with The Sea And Cake’s singer-guitarist Sam Prekop and lead guitarist Archer Prewitt for a chat before the pair performed a solo gig supporting Sam’s latest release, Who’s Your New Professor (Thrill Jockey). The night before, they’d opened for Stereolab in Manhattan’s posh Town Hall.

How was the Stereolab Show? Was Town Hall a nice place to play?

Sam Prekop: Yeah. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Of course, I’d heard of the place. I didn’t realize it was going to be a seated theatre kind of thing. Before we got there I just assumed it was going to be a bunch of people milling around, talking – NOT listening to what we were doing. Then we got up there and it was like, dead silence and total focus on every little maneuver.

And every little mistake.

S: Exactly. Magnified.

I wanted to interview you both so I could primarily talk about The Sea And Cake.

S: I like them.

Archer Prewitt: They’re an okay band.

Is there anything you guys would like to say about –

A: We still exist.

No, about your solo careers.

S: No.

A: I just started work on a new one.

When’s that coming out?

A: I don’t know. We just did some touring on the west coast. Solidified some new songs that we’re going to demo.

S: You’re going to do that? Demo?

A: Well, just at Mark’s. We’ll live with it. It’ll be a first.

S: That’s a good idea.

A: Create music, live with it for a little while. And either keep it as is or re-record it with a different take. So that’s fun to think about.

What kinds of differences are there between when you’re working on your solo material versus writing music with The Sea And Cake?

S: For me, when I start, there’s no difference. I mean, the songs will develop and take a different direction just because I know who’s going to play on it. Usually I’m not thinking that far ahead, but when the band comes together – of course they’re totally different bands. The big difference is, the solo band... they’re not around that much to work on the record with. It’s like a week. This last one, I had a bunch of tunes, we put some stuff together in a week and recorded it in a week. And then, they all left. I never saw Archer again. (laughs) I call them up to tour. So then, that’s a big difference. Like, I’m left with –


S: - just a mess. Like, "Did I even ask for this? I don’t know." Whereas with The Sea And Cake everyone has to stay there for a while and singing and shit, it’s just a fuckin’ nightmare.

A: You do a lot of singing at home, though.

S: Yeah but, you know...

A: In the end, we all hunker down on The Sea And Cake projects.

"’We’re doomed.’ He says that a lot when we’re making a record. ’We’re doomed.’" - Archer Prewitt

When The Sea And Cake got started, did you have any inclination you’d be getting ready to record your 7th album someday. Any idea this would last?

A: I did.

S: Not during the first record, probably. Well, mainly Eric (Claridge) and I had gotten this money from Rough Trade. We were in this band Shrimp Boat that broke up, and they were like, "we’ll give you this money to do something else." And I had no idea if I could pull it off. I had no experience of trying to come up with stuff on my own. I think it was like two weeks before we were scheduled to record when I called Archer.

How did you know each other?

S: Well, we went to art school together. But we never really knew each other that well. And Archer’s band (The Coctails) ended up moving to Chicago, were fans of Shrimp Boat and we ended up playing shows together. So it was through that. I think it was some song, what was the sort of jazzier record?

A: Long Sound.

S: Yeah, Long Sound. It was some song on there that I heard. Some guitar thing that I heard. I was like, "Oh yeah, that Prewitt guy. He would be alright." So then it was just Eric, Archer and I playing around with stuff. And we were booked in this studio. And Brad Wood, who was in Shrimp Boat also, played on some of the songs on the first record.

A: Drums.

Did he produce the first record?

S: Yeah. I mean, he recorded it. But his attitude was totally unsatisfactory after a certain point. And John (McEntire) was interning at the studio or something. And we were like, "Hey, okay man we’re fed up with this Brad Wood dude. You want to play some drums?" And at that point he was maybe like 15 or something, really fuckin’ young.

A: 12.

He was nine-years-old.

S: And he started playing with us and he was incredible technically, amongst everything else. And it definitely clicked as soon as he started playing. So, soon after we recorded that first record, we knew this was turning into something. It wasn’t until Nassau that we were a defined band.

It’s interesting that you came out with those first four records so fast. So, what was the vibe of that time? And is there any difference you can perceive between that and the last two albums when you’ve taken more time between getting together to record as a band?

S: Yeah, for those years we acted like a normal, regular band. We played all the time. I’m not sure when the shift happened. I guess it would have been after The Fawn (1997). I’m not sure exactly what changed. I guess probably Tortoise got more popular. John was less available. And that was the first time there was this period where it was clear there was no time for The Sea And Cake to put out a record.

All of the guys in the band make music, but also have some sort of visual art going on as well. When you were young, did you guys decide at any point you wanted to be artists or live this kind of life, go into music? It just seems that all of your lives are full with creating art, be it music or visual.

A: I mean, I always would draw. I never decided to become a musician per se. I messed around with drums. But, I made a decision to go to art school rather than a liberal arts college. I thought, while I do love English and reading and other things, it seems like that’s what I should really do – is make art. Then along the way I was learning drums and messing around, playing in bands. That was just this peripheral thing that slowly presented itself to be something that I felt I got better and better at. I was like, "Wow," I can’t believe this once mysterious realm of my life that I was obsessed with – listening to records - became something I was really involved in and productive in.

S: Um, the music for me was never part of my plans. Kind of a fluke. I grew up thinking I was going to become an artist. My family is very art oriented - teachers and stuff. All these artists around. So that was just part of my make-up. And the music just kind of happened... kind of late.

A: Yeah, I started guitar at 21. In a strange way we both did that.

"At some point I figured out that you have to pay attention carefully, almost slyly, to all the stuff that you don’t realize is happening. You hope you’re listening at the right point to capitalize on the better shit."
- Sam Prekop


A: Yeah I found out later, you started at 21? That’s when I started. And interestingly enough we ended up with similar made up kind of chords that were pleasant to our ears. So when we first got together to jam, I was kind of like, "I don’t know. You probably want someone who can play leads and real proficient guitar." Because the guitarist, Ian Schneller from Shrimp Boat, was a great guitarist. So I was thinking, well, why am I coming to do that with you cause I don’t do that kind of thing. But we started, Eric, Sam and I, locked in to this ensemble kind of thing that we all thought, well this sounds good. It became more of a fabric rather than someone sitting on top. So that was kind of exciting because we all came at it from sort of a self-taught way. But we were very invested in music making - maybe more so at the time.

S: Yeah after art school I stopped making art.

You stopped.

S: Yeah. That was somewhat disconcerting. Started playing ROCK all the time. (laughs) What went wrong here?

But don’t all students go to art school to join bands?

A: No! What happened was I went to art school and just started talking with people who had similar musical interests, then you find yourself in a band.

I feel like you’re musical brothers or something. You both started with separate bands, then The Sea And Cake happened, that became a main focus, you’re doing the solo stuff too, visual art, you (to Archer) played on Sam’s solo record, you tour together. Obviously you get along. You must know each other rather well. Maybe not best friends, but...

A: Yeah, we get along real well –

That’s not my question, but you can talk if you want.

S: Let him finish!

This is all a lead in. This is the snappy segment of the interview. We’re going to play a little game here.

A: Uh-oh.

It’s called, "What’s he like?"

A: Oh no!

S: Damn...

I know, it’s an internet review and you probably didn’t think this shit was coming at you, but I’m always looking to spoil the interview... somehow.

A: (exaggerating his southern drawl) "Wuts ’ee laike?"

Here’s how it’s going to work. I’ll ask one of you guys a question about the other person, and you guys can feel free to refute what the other person says, if you want to.

A: I need another beer.

So Archer, what’s Sam’s most oft-used phrase?

A: (thinking) Oft-used phrase... Well he has a lot of them really.

S: I can’t even think of one.


S: I’m trying to help you out.

A: Umm, can we come back to that one? Oft-used phrase... Yeah I draw blanks on these kinds of things.

Oh man...

A: You’re in a world of pain. Is this going to be broadcast?

Hell no.

A: Thank god.

No worries. Your reputations won’t be ruined by this interview.

A: Uhhh... shit, I don’t know.

How about his most oft-used phrase while recording an album?

A: Oh, there we go. Some context. Ummm... . "We’re doomed." He says that a lot when we’re making a record. "We’re doomed."

Alright Sam, this one’s easier, what’s Archer’s favorite comic book series?

A: He would never know.

S: I don’t know.

A: We don’t talk about comics. He’s not interested (laughs).

Well do you have one?

A: Well, I guess Chris Ware. There’s a lot of people I like, and that’s kind of an obvious one, but...

"I need another beer." - Archer Prewitt

Archer, what’s Sam’s favorite sports team?

A: The Cubs.

S: I don’t have one.

A: He doesn’t really watch – he SAYS he-

S: I glom on to whoever’s winning at the time. The Sox, I was way into them DURING the World Series. Before that, I could care less.

A: I actually found out this year he played a lot of baseball in high school?

S: That’s true. I did.

A: And he was obsessed with it? I had no idea. I thought he was not as interested in sports as I was. And it turns out he was a –

S: No, I played baseball.

A: - a JOCK.

S: Total jock.

Sam, what’s Archer’s favorite thing about Chicago in the summertime?

S: Leaving. To his country house.

Where is the country house?

A: It’s a shack out in Michigan.

S: But it’s not in Chicago.

A: All my friends are starting to think it’s a fictitious place, because I never invite them.

Maybe you should stop describing it as a "shack."

S: I saw it, though. It IS a shack.

A: It’s a shack. But we’re working on it.

Archer, if Sam could be declared king of any land or idea, what would it be?

A: King of any land or idea? ... If he could claim himself?

He would be choosing.

A: I don’t know if he’d be comfortable with a King-ly position.

Archer, Sam would label _____ a genius...

A: Sun Ra.

Sam, Archer has an irrefutable talent for _____. I’d like this to be non-musical.

S: (to Archer) What was that term we saw today? Filling up the page? We were at the Folk Art Museum and there’s this really specific term where you’re compelled to fill up the blank page – I guess marks, in an obsessive manner. Archer’s good at that. And I think he was interested in that kind of thing.

Archer, what was Sam’s favorite band as a teenager?

A: Well, maybe The Clash, for a while.

S: One of ’em.

A: One of many. Maybe Curtis Mayfield.

S: The Police.

Are you being sarcastic?

S: No, I was really into that "Roxanne" tune. Elvis Costello. The Velvet Underground but that’s probably a little bit later. Definitely The Clash. I actually liked Bruce Springsteen a lot.

Last one: Sam, Archer would describe touring as...

S: A shopping spree. (uproarious laughter)

A: What? He’s as guilty of it as I am.

S: We like to take advantage of our worldly travels. We go and see all the art. And we’re really into that - it’s one of the perks. And we like to eat good food. And we like to buy stuff.

A: But we’re picky. It could be a little vintage photograph that’s striking. If you have space and a van at your disposal...

"Well, I keep hoping we make a blues-rock record. And I convince myself that it’s actually happening. And then I hear it and I’m like, ’What the fuck happened?’" - Sam Prekop

Where do put all this stuff?

S: The country house.

The Shack?

A: Oh, The Shack. That has more wall space.

Does The Shack have an Appalachian porch?

A: It’s got a little porch – think there’s some raccoons living under it. It smells kind of like animal droppings. But, it’s cozy. It’s a cozy little place.

Thanks for enduring that segment.

A: The segments over? "Wut’s ’ee laike?"

How do you account for The Biz (1995) being so much more rockin’ than the other albums?

S: Is it? I haven’t heard it in awhile. I want to try to get back to the rock.

I feel like The Fawn had a lot of electronic elements. Oui (2000) had a really strong organic element to all the songs.

A: I think that album was really great.

I love that album, Oui.

A: A lot of people, it seemed, writers had a lot of problems with that record when it came out. There was some good press, but there was also some really strong reaction to it from what I remember.

S: No, it was more the last one.

Well, the last record took another turn that I wouldn’t have expected as a fan. Because the last album returns to the electronic stuff, more strong in some ways than The Fawn.

A: I just remember The Fawn having a lot of generated beats and sampled things that John was comfortable representing him. They were his choices, and it was really interesting.

S: The Biz and The Fawn really reflect John’s studio (Soma) at the time.

Then how do you account for the difference between the two albums?

S: We did The Biz almost all live in a box together on an 8-track tape machine.

A: An 8’ x 10’ room. It was unbelievable.

S: And then John got all this stuff – a computer and stuff. He got all this money to do a soundtrack for a movie. I also remember feeling I’d come to an impasse with guitar. I’d run out of guitar things to do. And I messed around a lot with a 2-bit DJ sampler and a keyboard. I came up with a lot of beginnings of tunes that way rather than guitar. But it’s funny to think back to that. It’s like the dawn of computer albums.

It seems like you’re not sure of what’s going to be happening until everyone’s together. But do you have any idea what direction you want to be moving in now?

A: Ideas start to develop over time. Just through conversations – what the focus might be on in terms of group effort.

S: It’s never like a pre-conceived situation.

A: It seems like we have an idea we try to fulfill, then we all just ignore it anyway.

So what’s the idea –

S: Well, I keep hoping we make a blues-rock record. (laughter) And I convince myself that it’s actually happening. And then I hear it and I’m like, "What the fuck happened?" Over and over, the blues-rock dream is dashed... by... somebody. But, it would be interesting if it was as cut-and-dried as, think of what you want and then do it. In effect, I think that would make terrible records for us. So we don’t really do that. You have to generate that stuff to do something. But at some point I figured out that you have to pay attention carefully, almost slyly, to all the stuff that you don’t realize is happening. You hope you’re listening at the right point to capitalize on the better shit. It’s always this – could it be the wrong jam on that piece of toast this morning that fucked everything up for that tune? But lately I’ve just started messing around a lot in my home studio and playing a lot of guitar.

For the new Sea and Cake record?

S: Yeah. And I’m not sensing a super clear direction yet. I sort of want – and we always say this – a more immediate record.

More immediate?

S: I would like to play all the stuff as a band for a while, and then record it. One of the main differences I think, starting with The Fawn, is that all those tunes were written specifically for a record. Whereas with The Biz and Nassau we played, I mean we knew we were making a record, but we played a lot of those tunes live as a band before they were recorded. So they sort of evolved differently. And Oui and the last one were all written for the record.

I thought Oui and the last record were so different from each other – dramatically.

A: Yeah, I do too.

I thought the last one was almost more of a dance record. A lot of the melodies were classic stuff, but just the sound seemed a lot more hi-fi.

A: I think one thing, which is a great point to get to, is that we strip away a lot more now. I think with the last record we came together as a full band to construct the songs, whereas before it was just Sam, Eric, and I so sometimes it got a little Baroque, in terms of that fabric I was talking about. And when you have the drums slamming away, you can tend to play a lot less because there’s that fourth eventual member – he’s there now. And he’s filling the space that you were trying to fill. So it was great to me to get to that point where you can decide to sit out for a stretch. Things get skeletal and you know the vocals – the thing about Sam is he sings after the music’s made.


A: Pretty much. And he comes up with vocal melodies that really shift the song around. So when you first hear it it’s like, "Wow, the song is really different now. It’s better, but I didn’t expect that." So maybe you didn’t want to be playing something there. And then if it doesn’t mesh, you take the guitar away. So it’s even more skeletal than you even planned. So it’s really – it’s what I like about a lot of music, when things get really elemental.

S: I think we suffer from overly decorating things.

A: I feel like the last two –

S: Ornamented. We just totally contradicted each other.

A: I think they’ve gotten really skeletal and really specific.

S: I have to admit I haven’t listened to any of those records in a really long time. So...

But your impression is that they’ve become more and more ornamental.

S: Well, in a sense. The last record is a lot of post-production. We did take away a lot of stuff, but then adding to what was not much there yet. And Oui was a lot different than that in that that thing was pretty much arranged. We knew what it was going to sound like before we recorded it. And I guess I’m feeling we should do that this time a bit - in terms of being able to really tell that we’re playing as more of a unit, as more of a band.

A: Like the decisions are being made at the time they’re being recorded.

S: More of a real time situation that’s documented. Now, whether or not we can resist adding the tasty... whatever, sample... we’ll see.

Interview: Dead Meadow (Tiny Mix Tapes)

Would be nice if some interview intro paragraphs had just never happened. But growing older necessitates the confrontation of brutal realities.


Dead Meadow
Bowery Ballroom, NYC, Mid-December
[December 2005]

In the dystopian parallel universe where only my opinion matters, where CR’s perceptive subjectivity is turned to objective reality, Dead Meadow is the greatest band in the world, genre be damned. It took a record store clerk suggestion, many ambivalent and disoriented listens, one excellent and two mind-blowing live shows, and countless album listens thereafter for me to reach my conclusion. No one I’ve heard comes close to what they do.

But what is it that they do? I’m not exactly sure, though my lack of clarity mostly results from the frustration of attempting to describe the sound of a band that deals so heavily in the ethereal. More realistically, I’m lazy. Let’s just say they rock and they groove, at various speeds, and their music derives little from our culture of instant gratification.

The difficulty in categorizing this band is evidenced in their dearth of press, and almost non-existent level of hype, though one can sense this changing quickly with another incredible album. Or, maybe not. Perhaps this band is just hard for some to take - a little too intense. Maybe the smoke machines and psychedelics, the rolling drums, undulating bass, flowing guitar solos, and high-pitched, usually undecipherable vocals are a bit hard to approach. Maybe you have to want to like it, or maybe it helps to be a little stoned to hear the music the first time around.

Then again, who fucking cares!? They’re amazing and Tiny Mix Tapes collectively said as much, awarding Feathers the 11th spot on our Top Albums of 2005 list.

Finally, to avoid any confusion, their first two albums were released on Trotolatta Records, formerly run by Joe from Fugazi. They’re going to release their Peel Session too. Also, DM began as a three piece, then added a second guitar player for Feathers. Unfortunately, he wasn’t into touring, so now it’s back to three. And they’re from Wasington, D.C. This is all going to come up in your life very, very soon. So, please don’t forget and please, please, please don’t ever stop shopping. Thanks.

I noticed in the Thank You’s for your last two albums – I still don’t have the first two, have been trying to get them, but –

Jason Simon: They’re about to come back out, actually.

Really, somebody’s going to put them back in print?

JS: Pretty much us. We’re going to reissue them ourselves, just on our own label, you know. Cause we own them – keep it in the family.

You didn’t have to buy them back from...

JS: No, Joe’s cool. He’s moved on. He has a family. He’s not running a label.

When’s that going to come out? Do you know yet?

Steve Kille: Maybe in the summer. In six months. Yeah, summertime.

Great. So, for the last two albums I noticed you thanked Wu-Tang for Feathers but not for Shivering King...any particular reason for that?

JS: Well, you know, they weren’t really being that cool back then, you know. They’re some of those guys that want to see you once you get kinda big, then all of a sudden they’re your friends. But, you know, once GZA started coming by and droppin’ the mad rhymes...

SK: Yeah, Method Man wasn’t about the Shivering King.

No, it was too heavy for him...

JS: Well, no, actually they were about it, but they weren’t about it before then. They didn’t know. So then Shivering King came out, and then they heard that, and then they were like, "THIS is the shit!"

"It seems when people hear the band referred to as that, they don’t even listen. They just start writing ’Stoner Rock.’"
-Jason Simon

So it was like six months after...

JS: RZA was like, "Yeah, we gotta get down with this kind of stuff." Meanwhile Jay-Z’s with John Mayer - liking that shit. Linkin Park...

SK: Ryan Adams and stuff...

JS: No, but truth be told we were just rockin’ that shit a ton during the making of Feathers.

Can you guys talk a bit about how the ideas for the band came about within the D.C scene, and also the extent to which the band Sleep influenced you guys?

SK: I don’t know, it was simple. D.C. had a lot of punk rock stuff and we wanted to do something different. That’s the short end of it. And Sleep was just one of those bands that influenced it. More than Sleep -

JS: Sabbath –

SK: Yeah, Neil Young and stuff like that. It was kind of getting back to the roots. But, I think it’s like any kind of music scene. It’s funny, you get asked about D.C. all the time...


SK: ...but, people are in to all sorts of things that make up any music scene, anywhere. D.C. was just like – I mean, luckily it was a music scene. It’s not like we were in some out-of-nowhere sort of town or something. There were cool people playing music. And you would be able to open up for them and stuff. And even playing with bands like Fugazi or whatever, who are totally in a different sort of vein...they’re musicians, too. We were into what we were creating. It – it was cool.

JS: We all grew up on that stuff, but it was just like, it got to the point where it was, "Enough of bands sounding like Fugazi." It did push us a little bit.

So you were a little frustrated?

JS: Yeah, yeah. Definitely. We just got back into what we were into before punk rock. You know, Zepplin, Sabbbath, and Sleep. You know, Jerusalem and all that are pretty fuckin’ cool musical achievements. I just really dug the fact that it was so heavy and rockin’, but was also so chill. You know, the droning aspect. It was just so laid back, where in D.C. is was all about fast punk music.

And you’re on Matador now, a label that’s known for Steve Malkmus, Cat Power, Interpol, Guided By Voices and stuff like that. And, I don’t know, do you feel like you’re out-of-step with a lot of what’s going on or that you’re in a different –

SK: Well, even that list you just named off are all on different steps with each other. That’s what’s cool with the label; every band’s kind of doing their own thing.


SK: And I think Matador’s one of those labels – there’s a lot of them out there – but each of the bands has their own eclectic appeal. Each band’s kind of doing their own thing, but it’s heartfelt. There’s something worthwhile and deep and important, which is cool. I mean, we don’t sound like Guided By Voices, but Guided By Voices is an incredible band.

"It’s funny, you get asked about D.C. all the time..." -Steve Kille

Didn’t you guys tour with them?

JS: Yeah, four or five shows.

What was it like to tour with those guys?

SK: It was great.

JS: Awesome.

I bet.

JS: Yeah, I mean it’s cooler to be on a label like that than to be on a label that specializes in like, heavy fuckin’ stoner sludge metal. And already people are associating us with the term "Stoner Rock."

Yeah, that’s my next question...

SK: Well, and the same thing goes if you’re a pop band. "We’re on a label with fifty other pop bands!" It’s cool to be on a label where every band’s a cool band.

JS: And "Stoner Rock" – it’s just a fuckin’ term. And I think it’s become such a set genre that’s kind of lame.

Do you guys feel enclosed by it – that term?

JS: We don’t personally, in any way. It seems when people hear the band referred to as that, they don’t even listen. They just start writing "Stoner Rock."

I didn’t get into you guys as fast as I would have otherwise, if not for that term.

SK: Yeah, it’s kind of derogatory at this point.

It is.

JS: At this point, yeah. When there are so many fuckin’ bad bands that are just like, "DR-DR-DR-DR." I mean it’s cool that it’s good music to get stoned to, but that’s anything good.

Right, lots of music’s good to get stoned to.

JS: Yeah, anything with quality and some levels to it is good to get stoned to. So, it’s kind of a gay term. I honestly hate seeing it.

Do you guys feel like you’re going to try to bring in a fourth member again?

JS: Well, not the same fourth member. But, I don’t know, we’ll always do different stuff. It was really cool. I was personally feeling a little burned out as a three piece and was psyched to work with another guitarist. ’Cause you could lay back more and get a little more texture. But, in doing that, now I’m just stoked about being a three piece again, you know? So it’s all about just changing, and keeping it fresh so we’re always fully enjoying playing. I don’t think there will be a fourth member fully joining our band, but there might be some people playing with us on tours and stuff like that.

Now that you’re a three piece again, do you feel, with the new stuff, that you’re going in, I don’t want to say a backwards direction, but back to an older style?

SK: No, I don’t think so. I think it’s just a newer version of stuff that we’ve yet to touch on.

JS: It was an adjustment, writing these new songs for two guitarists and then playing them with one guitar. I mean, shit was adjusted. But, they’re different now. It’s cool. Things change.

Interview: Akron/Family (Tiny Mix Tapes)

The hippie stick waits for us all, somewhere.


Pseudo Beards for Pseudo Freak-Folkers
[August 2005]

Akron/Family is four guys in their twenties who currently live in Brooklyn, New York and play music together on a regular basis. They came out with a self-titled LP last March, on Young God Records. It’s really good. You just may like it, too. And they’re on tour. Band member Seth pays his bills working at a coffee shop. It’s called Gimme Coffee and it’s in Williamsburg, a neighborhood largely filled with young white adults who like art, or like being around people who like art. I had the distinct privilege of interviewing Seth and fellow band member Ryan at this very coffee shop. The coffee was good and I remember the walls being mostly bare. Anti-atmosphere atmosphere, perhaps. Ryan claimed that Gimme Coffee has the best coffee in New York City. If you’re in the area, try it out, and maybe, if enough people buy coffee there, they’ll soon be able to weather the costs of putting things up on their walls. Unless the owner is opposed to having things on the walls. Those damn owners... thank god we have good people like Hugo Chavez in the world to keep a few of them honest.

A few of the questions and answers in this interview relate to a band bio that Michael Gira, their label’s owner and former member of Swans, wrote for the Young God website. I, like every other music journalist who has and will write about this band, heavily relied upon it.

So what do you guys do in the band?

Seth: Well I play guitar and, um, sing, and on this record I did some, I guess you would call engineering. But not really engineering -– a little less than half of the stuff was recorded at home. But I did some computer stuff on that, too.

Do you have a Pro Tools setup or anything like that?

S: Now I do. This stuff was actually all done on Fruity Loops.


S: Yeah.


S: Yeah.

Ryan: Pretty impressive.

A friend of mine used that to make hip-hop beats.

S: Yeah, it’s like a hip-hop beats program.

R: We’ve got some hip-hop beats coming up.

Oh, is this going to be a side project?

R: Oh no.

S: We have a split coming out in September, and we used an excerpt from a long lost Fruity Loops hip-hop beat. But yeah, some of the stuff [on the album] was recorded on a four track and then cut up into pieces and put back together in fruity loops so we could arrange. It was a weird process.

From reading the band description on your site written by Michael Gira, which I’m basing a lot of these questions on, it sounds like you started from a pretty organic place making the music and performing it...

[Ryan emphatically shakes his head "No"]

... no?

S: Well some of the stuff was simultaneously being written and worked on at home while different stuff was being written and worked on as a functioning band that was playing live. So we were playing some of these songs like "Running Returning" in a different form or "Lumen" in a different form. We were playing those as a live band. But the songs we were working on at home were a little more stripped down, sort of by their nature. And the songs we were playing as a band became a little more epic. So when Michael talks about editing, it’s more about him coming in to work on producing songs we were playing as a band that hadn’t been recorded. And we had to work out ways to record that stuff.

How did you hook up with him?

S: We sent him some recordings of the stuff we’d been doing at home.

And were you sending stuff to a lot of different people?

S: We sent it out to a fair amount of people. He was just one of the few that replied. Looking back, it ended up being a really fortuitous thing, because he’s a very interesting guy. And working with him can be up and down, but it’s just been a total hands-on relationship that I don’t think we would have gotten from any other label in the world. I personally think we’ve learned a lot from him.

And you’re both from small towns. Now, did you all come here on your own wanting to be in a band or – how did everything come together?

R: Right now? Over me? I’d say... Seth moved first.

S: I moved here right before Miles moved here, the bass player. He and I started writing songs in my apartment and I grew up with Dana the drummer. He was living in Florida at the time. He had visited and talked about moving to the city. And he moved here and started playing with us, maybe four months after we’d started writing some stuff. We’d played up in Ithaca as a three piece and Ryan opened up for us. Dana and I had known Ryan from upstate playing in a different band there. So we convinced Ryan to move to the city. That was all within 8 months or so.

And that was, what, 2003?

S: Yeah.

So what was that life like for those two years between – or how long did it take between everybody getting down here and getting hooked up with Michael?

S: Less than a year. When Dana moved down here we moved out to a loft in Bushwick. Then when Ryan moved down he moved into the loft. Then Miles’ girlfriend left for the summer so he moved into the loft. We were all living in this one big open space for the summer and it was really hot.

R: It was ridiculous.

S: We were all kind of miserable... poor and miserable. And I’d stay up all night working on the computer and keeping these guys awake making weird noises. And another friend came and was staying in the place, too. So it was five of us in one place and it was so hot.

But you’re smiling as you’re telling me all of this.

S: Well, looking back it was – it was ridiculous. The fact that we did that. Cause if someone posed the idea of it now to me, it’d be like, "No way. I’m NOT doing that."

But that was only for the summer?

S: Well, no. We stayed all the way through the winter. We had the year lease and we all moved out and did our things. But, we got a lot of recording done.

"Maybe we’re not so normal about the way we approach making music, as we’re really intense individuals, in that we seek to make the best music that we can. Maybe that’s not normal. I don’t know. Maybe it is." -Ryan

Ryan, would you say that you hated it more than anybody, or would you say your animosity is matched?

R: Uhhhh, I think we all didn’t like it very much. But personally I had a really hard time.

S: Well, you had just moved to New York, too.

So you were going from a country –

S: Right, nice Lake house...

R: To not having a job. Living in New York City. Living with these people I didn’t know - without a bedroom.

So you didn’t even know each other very well...

R: We were acquaintances.

S: We were acquaintances, yeah.

R: We hung out a few times at parties and stuff.

S: It was kind of like seeing a girl that you’d seen around for awhile and being like, "you wanna get married? Wanna come to New York and marry me?"

R: "And move into a loft!?"

Right. So you wrote most of the songs in those eight months?

S: Yeah, for the most part everything here was written. "Before and Again," "Suchness," "Corey." "I’ll Be On The Water" was a little older. "Afford." Uh –

R: That was a little older too – "Afford." Wasn’t it?

S: No, "Afford" I recorded in the bathroom.

R: While I was there?

S: Yeah. I would go into the bathroom to try and get away from everybody. And sit in the bathroom, you know, with the microphone on the toilet – playing and singing into it. That’s the recording. "Afford" was recorded in the bathroom in the loft.

So how much time has passed since the loft?

S: A year and a half.

Have you noticed the songs changed or any kind of shift in the music since you left?

R: We didn’t have any – there was no way that things were happening. So, it just continued to change...

S: There was never any direct idea of what we were doing, ’cause we were doing stuff at home and then we’d go to the rehearsal space and work on different stuff. We were playing live. I don’t know. We were trying to figure out what the hell we were doing. Looking back and even looking at this album, it seems like a bunch of creative people figuring out how to work together. Trying to figure out how to combine their specific creative outlets and make it work. So one song sounds like this, and the next song doesn’t really sound anything like it. But the thing that ties it all together - I think we all do have some place where we all connect. And since then we’ve continued to develop that and focus more in one place. But I hear it and it sounds like four creative individuals trying to work it out.

I had to ask if you guys have found the "strains of magic" within the NYC music community.

S: Oh, that’s from the press release right? Yeah, I mean [Michael’s] talking about the myth of New York - the Frank Sinatra "New York, New York" idea of making it here.

Yeah, I thought more of the punk movement or musical cultures coming out of the city.

S: Well, yeah I think it’s for everybody. Whatever, if you’re – I came here as a jazz musician. I wanted to play jazz. But it’s the same thing I think for a lot of people who come here to find what they’re looking for.

[to Ryan] Do you like New York?

R: Yeah, for the most part. I’m coming to realize that I’d rather be living in the country. But this is where I am and what I’m doing right now. There are qualities about it that I love.

S: I mean I would say that I’ve found a fair amount of magic living in New York City. For me, and it seems like this for other people, it seems like going to New York City, especially when you’re a young person looking to do whatever it is that you’re looking to do, you undergo some sort of transformative experience where, in one way or another, if you do decide you want to do what you wanted to do – it enables you to do that. It can take many different shapes like if you meet someone like Michael Gira who maybe lets you into the business or you discover this thing about yourself or you – whatever situation – and you come there wanting to do something and not being able to do it, not knowing how to do it. And you go through these trials and tribulations – trying to find a place to live, trying to find a job, and everything’s so intensified and it’s hard to find work, it’s hard to find a place to live. You can’t do this, you can’t do that and then all of a sudden you find yourself doing the thing you wanted to be doing. And you look over and you remember that person and running into them three years ago and now they’re doing the thing they wanted to be doing. However people get there - that trip from A to B in New York City – it IS a magical experience... if you want to look at it that way.

Well, yeah, as much as you were talking about this album being you guys just feeling around and figuring things out, you do seem sure of yourselves to release an album like this. That is...

R: Kinda random?

... more stream-of-consciousness as a listening experience. You’re not worried about -

S: Having a specific audience. A niche. Yeah, well the tunes that were worked on at home – there were kind of like two completed albums of home stuff which both had their different kind of vibe. And then the songs we’d never recorded as a band. And we picked different songs from each three categories and then...

R: Put it on The Best of Akron/Family.

S: ... thus far

R: We actually thought of calling it that.

Wait... do you have a title?

S: It’s self-titled.

R: We couldn’t decide on a title.

Why decide on a title if you don’t have to?

S: Well yeah, I mean the Grateful Dead; their first album is self-titled...

On the other hand, you have to decide on titles from this point forward.

R: No.

Two self-titled albums?

R: Just keep doing it self-titled.

S: Led Zeppelin did it four times in a row.

R: But they had numbers with them.


S: Still, "Self-Titled 1," Self-Titled 2."

R: I think we should do it without titles. People would be like, "You know the one? Not the one with the thing on the front but... "

Or you could really confuse people and make the next one self-titled but with the exact same cover.

R: That would be hilarious.

S: But then we’re getting into postmodern territory.

Well, I think you guys are already there.

R: Are we? Are we postmodernists?

Well, no not really. Just the way [the album] sounds. In terms of the packaging and all that, it’s very artful, there’s nothing postmodern about it.

R: So you think the sound is postmodern. Oh no.

Umm, well I guess everyone has their own ideas of what postmodernity is and means... but yeah I’d say so. I mean with the interlude.

S: Yeah, but I don’t think so. I think it’s more about looking for meaning in a postmodern age. If you listen to what all the words are about...

"I wanna see the thing in itself, I don’t wanna think no more... "

S: There’s like all these different influences and you don’t know how to put them together.

It’s post-postmodern.

S: Yeah it’s post-postmodern. It’s post-irony. Well, you’re trapped in this world where there are all these different influences – none of which are really yours. There are all these things that you kind of feel a connection to, but you don’t own any of them, and yet there is something that you own. And you are stuck having to recombine all the things that you don’t to try to say the one thing that you do. It’s kind of in there, I think... post-postmodern.

[The coffee shop closes at this point. We gather our things, and continue this little talk on an adjacent stoop]

You guys listen to any contemporary stuff? Any bands around that you enjoy?

R: Neutral Milk Hotel.

S: We were just listening to the Neutral Milk Hotel.

I never listened to them.

S: Really? It’s really good. We were listening to In an Airplane Over the Sea.

R: It’s worth buying.

I don’t burn, I buy.

S: I wouldn’t say that about many albums over the last ten years.

R: I wouldn’t either.

Really? I enjoy the risk of...

S: It’s weird that you ask me that question because when I moved to New York City in the years leading up to it and when I got here I was so consumed with finding the newest thing and the thing that had not even happened yet. And then at a certain point I was just like, "Okay, there’s nothing going on." And so I’ve been more into what’s happened in the past. The stuff that’s known is great. And it’s kinda cheesy, but there’s so much stuff in the past that’s been great and so much today is just...


S: Yeah, well no, it’s just hard to tell sometimes because when you get into what’s happening then there’s fashion and there’s just so many things to consider - and those things play a role, too. I mean, Bob Dylan was fashionable at the time. But after ten years I think it’s easier to look back and see stuff a little more objectively. There’s new stuff that I like. I like listening to Bonnie "Prince" Billy at work in the coffee shop.

R: You listen to Sufjan Stevens in the coffee shop a lot.

S: He’s good.

R: He’s a Paul freak, dude. He’s gotta be a Paul freak. I was listening to him the other day and I realized, "This dude loves Paul."

Do you have any qualms with what the journalists have been writing?

R: We were just discussing that.

S: It’s interesting. A lot of what is written just comes from the press release.

The press release paints you guys as this totally isolated –

S: The press release is a lot more extreme than what we actually are... as people.

R: We’re pretty normal dudes. Maybe we’re not so normal about the way we approach making music as we’re really intense individuals, in that we seek to make the best music that we can. Maybe that’s not normal. I don’t know. Maybe it is.

I don’t think anyone goes out to make bad music.

R: No.

S: No, but we’re all just really intensely driven on making – we’re intensely driven in that one way. So I guess isolationists and all those things are an out current of that.

R: Like we usually – if we have a free night we’ll usually end up at the rehearsal space, not at the bar. We’re more interested in making music.

S: ... than hanging out or partying.

R: The thing about the media is that they really can’t fully portray who we are as people. They can only portray an image of what we are as a whole.

S: And it’s not at fault of journalists or anything.

R: It’s just the nature of the medium.

S: And I mean, we’ve just met you for an hour. And not to say that your idea of who we are as individuals is going to be false, it’s just that – it’s only an hour. I don’t know that much about you. So, inevitably there’s going to be some differences.

R: That’s why so far we’ve been categorized with freak folk music and we were discussing before we came to talk to you that we’ve never met any of those people. We’ve never hung out with them. We’ve never played music with them. It’s kind of idealized as this group of people that all make music together and hang out and stuff, but it’s not.