May 2, 2013
Judging by the size of the venues she has been playing, it would be fair to say Marina Diamandis has had a good year. Last summer the pop songstress, who goes by Marina and the Diamonds, sold out the 1,100-capacity Fillmore. Now she’s back, still promoting 2012’s Electra Heart album, and has sold out the twice-as-large Warfield. Her current tour was booked in larger venues throughout the U.S.
“Oh my God; I don’t think two years ago I would have thought I’d have been playing 1,000-capacity venues,” the 28-year-old Welsh singer-songwriter said. “It’s weird because I couldn’t play those numbers in my own country. It feels really good.”
The album follows several archetypal female characters to tell the stories of celebrity life, broken relationships and power struggles. Diamandis also brings some of these characters alive on stage – she loves props – and parts of the show will be altered this time around. But she wants to please her new fans as well.
“Prop-wise and stylistically, there’s going to be a bit of a change,” she said. “But the main bulk of the show will be the same because even though some of the songs are different, there will be people there who haven’t seen the show.”
April 29, 2013
As the guitarist for Ugly Winner by night and General Manager for Cafe Stritch by day, Maxwell Borkenhagen seems like he’d probably be a pretty busy guy. When I met with him on a Thursday evening last week to talk a little bit about Café Stritch and its already-impressive trajectory, I’m reminded of that. When I find him, he’s just getting started on a cigarette on the street outside the café – just barely in compliance with San Jose’s outdoor smoking ordinance. I apologize for being late. “It’s a good thing you were,” he says. “We just had a huge rush.” We idle on the sidewalk and make some smalltalk, the din of traffic and the diners on the patio ebbing and flowing around us.
When he’s done, we push our way through the cafe — just about a month old and already doing brisk dinnertime business — and scramble up a skinny staircase into an office. It’s a chaotic scene: teetering piles of papers all around; a coffeemaker that takes up a good quarter of the desk across from me. My lopsided chair keeps threatening to pitch me off every time I lean too far to one side. Still, the controlled mayhem is a promising sight for a venue so new.
Cafe Stritch is downtown San Jose’s newest home for live music (and, according to several sources, really delicious mac and cheese). Though it’s ostensibly a restaurant for the time being, Borkenhagen has big plans for his family’s latest endeavor, plans that reach far beyond San Jose.
TBB: Let’s start with a little bit about how this place came to be.
MB: My parents opened Eulipia Restaurant in 1977. In the late ’70s and ’80s it was a place where there was a lot of live jazz and art, and it became a great café in a time when there was, you know, no South First arts scene. (At the time), this was kind of a shithole area of town.
Over the years it formed into this white-tablecloth, fine-dining place . . . there was still live music occasionally, and it was still associated with the arts community, but it definitely got more of an older crowd, to the point that by the mid-’90s it was pretty much just a fancy restaurant . . .
And when I was growing up, I just hated, hated San Jose. It seemed like there was nothing for me. I was getting into indie rock and post-punk stuff, and there were really no all-ages outlets (for that) — if there were I didn’t know how to find them. So, when I graduated high school I moved to Portland and went to school there, and I immediately fell in love. It was just the greatest place to me ’cause there was cool stuff everywhere. I was there for about four years, but by the end of it I started getting tired of the level of complacency there. There’s a cool coffee shop on every corner and music venues everywhere, and everyone’s in a band. It got the point where it seemed like there was no potential; just all these people living this Portland lifestyle that wasn’t really going anywhere. [More...]
April 26, 2013
Electronic dance music is a confusing phenomena: DJs have become the new rock stars of mainstream music, yet any average Joe can produce beats on his laptop. Somewhere in between comes the blur of independent electronic music artists who are working for indie recognition without becoming the status quo.
Enter NITEPPL, the duo-gone-solo “interstellar disco opera” project of San Francisco local Alton San Giovanni. In the midst of so much palatable music emerging into success right here in our own backyard, NITEPPL strives for electronic music that is heavier, darker, and capable of bending genres like a psychic bends a spoon. (See NITEPPL at the How Weird Street Faire on Sunday, 4/28/13.)
The Bay Bridged: How did NITEPPL come about?
Alton: NITEPPL started off an idea I had when I was living in Santa Cruz. I was making dubstep at the time. Then when I moved up to San Francisco I started working with a friend of mine, Gage [Seber] and we did that together for about two years. It represents a bunch of ideas I had about dance culture and people who go out at night basically.
TBB: Describe your sound.
A: My sound is influenced by a lot of early disco and ‘80s music. Groups specifically like Goblin, this Italian group who worked in horror cinema in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. Obviously Michael Jackson as well as rock bands like Led Zeppelin. Kind of a large plethora of things. It’s easier for me to say what isn’t an influence. I know what I don’t want. I would label it as indie dance but that’s only in the interest of preserving some kind of idea of genre.
TBB: How has NITEPPL evolved since it’s conception?
A: NITEPPL started in 2011 and it has evolved so much. It’s changed from this idea of starting a whole giant art project with music and every kind of media. Graphic design, comic books, short story writing were all a part of it when me and Gage first started talking about it. When we first started neither of us had played a real gig before or ever negotiated a contract or dealt with other artists. It was kind of a fantasy. Now Gage is living in New York doing graphic design and I’m living out here.
It first started off as a way for us to get as good at producing music as either of us could and it’s developed through meeting other artists in San Francisco and being a part of the scene and seeing what other people are doing and also seeing how the music that I’ve made has influenced other people.
It started more techno. If I really had to describe it was a combination of Deadmau5 and Justice but… I was 19 when I started NITEPPL and I’ll be 22 on Saturday. It’s three years of experience that’s gone into making music. [More...]
April 24, 2013
Greg Ashley Band, 6/8/12, Saturn Cafe with Brian Glaze (drums), Josh Miller (bass), Wallace La Font (keys).
Back in March my world came crashing down, Greg Ashley announced he was moving to Austin. I freaked and immediately contacted him for an interview: so many questions, so little time. Thankfully, plans changed and Greg will stay in Oakland!
In fact, he is playing a whopping four shows this week. He played lead guitar last Friday with Sir Lord Von Raven for the King Kahn & BBQ show at Slim’s. He played again with Sir Lord on Saturday for the poorly attended 420 show with White Mystery, Wrong Words and so much more at Brick & Mortar. Still to come, Greg will play his own songs at Jack London’s Night Light this Wednesday with Yea Ming of Dreamdate and Brian Glaze, and then SF’s suuper kool Vortex Room this Saturday. For both upcoming shows, Greg will be joined by John of the John Brothers Piano Company.
Greg graciously stopped by MBL headquarters on Monday night to answer all the questions that needed answers. He requested scotch. I found some crammed in the back corner of the cabinet. I grabbed the tequila. We chatted for a good two hours and, with his assistance, I recorded the interview on an old four-track Tascam cassette recorder. Complete copies are available for a price. Here are the highlights:
On moving/not moving to Austin:
“I was trying to find a place where we can live like normal people, but also move my recording studio there…It’s hard to find a house where you can make all that noise…I recorded a Golden Boys record and one of Wes’s solo records (The Last Donkey Show)…We did half of it in Oakland and half in Lockhart, TX…in this cabin down there out in the country…The guy that owned the place… it had been sitting vacant…and he said you could live here rent free…I didn’t realize there was some structural stuff with the place but the main problem was the plumbing issues. I mean we were pretty much just using an outhouse the whole month we were there…just fishing and shooting BB guns which is fun for a couple days but for 2 weeks got pretty old. The toilet situation wasn’t really fixable.”
“SXSW was hell.”
On Sir Lord Von Raven (their record Please Throw Me Back in the Ocean was recorded in 2009):
“We have a double album worth of (new) stuff recorded. It’s just finding someone to put it out.” It sounds like Eran (Yarkon) might put it out (could be a great follow up to the first spectacular Guitars and Bongos release: Charlie Megira and the Modern Dance Club’s Love Police. Maybe Guitars and Bongos could be double records only?
Why the red wine, always the red wine?
“I found over time, especially playing instrumental guitar stuff, if I just drink wine, I can retain all of my motor function and it helps me sing too, whereas if I drink beer, liquor and stuff…you’re burping the whole time…I can still function if I drink wine or at least I can still play.”
The white shoes?
“I bought ‘em when I was 16 at some thrift store in Texas…I never really had the balls to wear them in Texas but when I moved out here…I wore them for years…I loved those shoes…I got them resoled like 10 or 20 times…There was this Korean guy in Berkeley at Shattuck and Ashby…He went out of business…He was so nice…He would be like, ‘These are the finest elephant skin shoes I’ve ever seen. It is a pleasure to be resoling them’…At some point I had taken them to…five places and no one would resole them…’There is not enough leather on here’…I still have them…Those shoes would backfire though. One time I was playing in Chicago at the Empty Bottle and…this guy came in (the bathroom) and saw the shoes (under the stall door)…He opened the bathroom door and announced to everyone, ‘Hey, Greg Ashley is here and he’s taking a shit.’”
On recording Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies Man (likely Leonard’s least popular, least sold, least appreciated record):
“I got into Leonard Cohen when I was 11 or 12 because of that Nirvana song (“Pennyroyal Tea”)…When I was in high school, I would put him on at parties and my friends would be like, ‘What the fuck is wrong with you? This isn’t party music. This is annoying and depressing,’ and I would be like, “No, it’s sooo good…Check it out.’…But then I realized I could put (Death of a Ladies Man) on at a party…It’s just a weird, sleazy record. This is a niche of Leonard Cohen music that he’s not satisfied with…This is the one thing maybe I could contribute to doing my own thing with it…There was work left to be done on that record…It would be nice to think he (Leonard) has heard it.”
April 23, 2013
“Okay here’s the deal,” lead singer of Tartufi, Lynne Angel tells me over the phone. The San Francisco band is currently on tour across the country in support of their latest album, These Factory Days. I’ve just asked her where their band name originated from. “We used to tell all these tall tales about it because obviously everybody wonders about that. But the truth of the matter is, that when we were a trio, the previous band member was in Italy and saw the word ‘tartufi’ on the menu which is just Italian for savory truffles and really liked it — she left but we kept the band name.”
Tartufi’s Italian-inspired band name is hardly what the band is known for. This San Francisco stronghold has been playing together for nearly 12 years and have hopped many stones in terms of genres. In fact, Tartufi covers so much ground stylistically, it would be kind of unfair to pinpoint them JUST as “experimental.” Their powerful, complex songs are something from a electric rock opera…or something. They embody a post-rock quality that is also uniquely layered, and their looped manipulations are particularly intricate and rich in sound.
Surprisingly, Tartufi started off as a power pop band back in 2001. The band’s three releases between 2002 and 2005 (Westward Onward, So We Are Alive, and Trouble) helped to cultivate a Bay Area clout around their name, but, in 2006, Tartufi shifted gears from power pop to the dramatic soundscapes of experimental rock. They released Buildings Upon Us soon thereafter, debuting their new loop-rock sound. Longer songs, complex layering, and reverb and delay added to Angel’s vocals.
Going in a completely new musical direction after your first three albums sounds like the synopsis of a stress nightmare for most bands. Or a thrilling risk that could really open up an audience to something new and unexpected. Luckily for Angel, Brian Gorman, and newest member Ben Thorne, the latter proved to be true.
“It takes a minute to sell your audience on [on experimental rock],” said Angel. “I’ve talked to people who say ‘I have ADD so I can’t listen to songs that are more than two or three minutes long.’ And I’m like ‘Here’s this album, it’s 26 minutes long. Try to just relax and listen.’ It’s hard to sell people something that takes a while to relax into. But once everyone sees what’s going on and they see the lyrics and hear the loops and get the stylistic changes that are happening [they seem to get it.] It’s a different genre, I think not everyone is going to be into it — but the reception has been really nice.”
Interview: Bleeding Rainbow on playing in SF and unexpected influences (playing Great American, 4/28/13)
April 19, 2013
In its relatively short existence, Philadelphia’s Bleeding Rainbow has gone through quite the evolution. Originally a duo named Reading Rainbow consisting of spouses Rob Garcia on vocals and guitar and Sarah Everton on vocals and drums, the band is now a full-fledged, hard rocking four-piece (legend has it that indie punk goddess Carrie Brownstein told them Reading Rainbow was a weak name—and when Carrie Brownstein says some shit like that, YOU CHANGE YOUR NAME).
The band released two albums as Reading Rainbow: 2010′s Prism Eyes, in which the duo explored pop song structures; and, prior to that, the self-released Mystical Participation, which is composed of more amorphous, droning numbers.
But now Sarah is out front, playing bass and properly showing off her vocal chops, while full-time drummer Greg Frantz and lead guitarist Al Creedon have been added to the lineup. With the new name and new personnel came a new album: January’s Yeah Right, which takes all of the lo-fi noise of Reading Rainbow’s first album and does a mighty fine job of amping it up before cramming it into the more pop-oriented song structures of Prism Eyes.
That isn’t to say Bleeding Rainbow is experimenting any less with its sound. Rolling Stone recently premiered Yeah Right cut “Oblivion”, and Everton told the magazine that the song was their attempt to incorporate Everly Brothers-style vocal harmonies into their music.
You can hear some of those harmonies at work in the video for “Waking Dream,” which Everton directed herself:
I recently spoke with singer/guitarist Rob Garcia about how Yeah Right is holding up on the road, what less-than-obvious influences (other than the Everly Brothers) went into the album, and what’s next for Bleeding Rainbow.
The Bay Bridged: How’s the tour going?
Rob Garcia: The tour is going great! We all love going out on tour. We start feeling really frantic if we are at home in Philly for too long. The current tour is extra special for us because it is the first national tour since our album came out.
April 10, 2013
“Where are you calling from?” Jason Pierce asks me over a fuzzy phone connection in late March, 2013. When I say San Francisco, his responds “Oh, lucky you. We’ve played a lot of good shows in San Francisco. That part of the world is good. There’s something in the water.”
It’s been over 22 years since Pierce departed from Spacemen 3, the minimalist band that was “taking drugs to make music to take drugs to”, and created the legendary English space rock band Spiritualized. Since then Pierce, aka J. Spaceman, has injected his music with more than a fair dose of mainstream-defying creativity. Not only is the music itself abstract, emotive, and suggestive of the higher feelings sound can reveal and inspire; the name Spiritualized has been branded as its own sort of counter culture. Specially-made album packaging – like the pill-box CD case for 1997’s Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, in which the CD was in-cased in a pharmaceutic-ally made push-through foil wrapper – has added to the vision within Spiritualized. Their music isn’t just influenced by medicine, it is medicine.
By combining psychedelic space rock with ‘90s era drug culture and the unabashedness of an artistic mastermind, Pierce demonstrated that his music was not just “music to take drugs to”, it was literally a drug. “I’ve said that records are like time machines,” Pierce explains, “you pack all this stuff really carefully and all this detail and you push it off into time and you can never retrieve it, you can never pull it back and make changes.” And because his art is all about embracing the temporal moments in life, it’s no surprise that Pierce is still creating boundary-pushing psychedelic music and touring regularly.
This particular tour, however, is only 3 weeks long. “We picked a lot of places that we don’t normally play on this tour,” Pierce says. “It’s small and I’m losing money on it but I still think it’s important. Even if the business model doesn’t work it’s still fucking important to go out there and play and to continue making records. Because you can’t do it unless you feel like what you’re doing now is the most fucking important thing in the world, but it’s gotta be certain. It’s not comfortable and it’s always a challenge.” [More...]
April 9, 2013
John Murry and Tim Mooney (Photo: Jude Mooney)
John Murry, a Tupelo, Mississippi native who moved to Oakland ten years ago after getting his start in the music industry in Memphis, released his Graceless Age LP last week domestically via the Evangeline Recording Company, the label owned and operated by his wife, Lori. The album, which is Murry’s solo debut, was released last fall in the UK, where it received a great deal of attention and placement on year-end lists.
It’s been a long ride for Murry. Shortly after moving to the Bay Area from Memphis, an addiction to pain pills led to a separation from his wife and daughter. The separation led to a heroin addiction, which led to an overdose in the Mission that nearly killed Murry and is recounted in the epic “Little Colored Balloons“.
Despite the gloomy foundation for the album, Murry found redemption. Eventually, he cleaned up and was reunited with his wife and daughter, who both appear in the video for “California”, where he explains, “I swear it ain’t you, it’s California I can’t stand.” In fact, Graceless Age is more about Murry’s love for his wife and daughter and his quest for redemption than it is about his drug use. The most powerful moments on the album take place when he is seeking or discovering that redemption, such as the moment in “Balloons” where he cries out to his wife, “I miss you so goddam much,” the uplifting outro on “Things We Lost in the Fire”, or the key change toward the end of “Southern Sky”.
I could spend all day talking about how much I enjoyed Graceless Age or going into detail on his story, but you can learn all about that from his features on NPR’s Here and Now, The Wall Street Journal, or The London Times. Plus, Murry has an awful lot to say that’s worth hearing. Just like on his albums, a conversation with Murry is wildly entertaining, deeply philosophical, and brutally honest. Some highlights of our conversation are below.
The Bay Bridged: Could you talk about producer Tim Mooney’s impact on the album?
John Murry: I don’t think that any of this would exist in the least if it weren’t for Tim, in any form. It’s fair to say that the time that we did that, the condition that I was in was kind of beyond the condition that anyone would tolerate in any environment, and Tim was very much a lifeline and he was easily my best friend. I think all of that factors into what he did and why it’s sort of difficult to explain really what he did, because what Tim really did was sort of created a way for me and him to work together and sort of sonically…and he allowed me to lyrically say what I wanted to say but to find the textural elements and the sonic foundation…to sort of transmit it. I know that if Tim were still here and the world were maybe the world that Tim and I liked, we’d still be working on that record. I really liked that, and it was kind of a world that we got sucked into really easily – the world of waiting until you find these brilliant mistakes or these sounds that sound like they haven’t been created before or a way to break the box without anybody knowing that what they’re looking at are fragments. We spent a lot of time doing that.