Jack White @ The Omaha Music Hall. A Photo Essay by Mitch McCann.
Bar hoppers, buskers, bleach-blonde Southern belles, the bacon-only making guys at their aptly named food cart, Pig Vicious: this place has them all, a patchwork of people and philosophies beautifully sewn together by that delightfully easy-to-remember creed—“Keep Austin Weird.”
Twice a year everybody here gets gloriously weird all at once. In the spring, seemingly the entire recording industry descends upon Austin, TX for South by Southwest’s citywide collection of showcases. The Austin City Limits Festival is its easier-to-digest autumn counterpart. The last of the big four American music festivals, ACL Fest celebrated its 10th edition from September 16 through September 18 with a musically diverse lineup headlined by Coldplay, Kanye West, My Morning Jacket, Stevie Wonder, and Arcade Fire.
Friday September 16, 2011
After a string of hyped-up, danceable EP’s gave way to an even more hyped self-titled debut of affecting constructions and deconstructions of the human voice, it was clear that James Blake could lay down a good track free from the bounds of genre. Something maybe not so evident from listening to those releases on an iPod was quickly made obvious during his live set: there is a classically trained voice and musician playing those tunes—no laptops here. Blake effortlessly strung together deep cuts like “CMYK,” heavy hitters from his debut including “Limit to Your Love,” and a brilliantly stirring rendition of “I Never Learnt to Share,” with songs from his forthcoming EP, “Enough Thunder,” including Bon Iver collaboration “Fall Creek Boys Choir.” The precision of his on-stage act coupled with the hype steadily building behind each release suggests we might be seeing a lot more of Blake in this kind of setting.
Foster the People
Even if you didn’t own a radio, the size of the crowd packing the Google+ stage for their set was a pretty good hint that Foster the People were all over it this summer. Songs like “Call It What You Want” and the undisputed radio jam of the summer “Pumped Up Kicks” quickly turned into pop sing-a-longs. Not bad for a band that has existed for all of a few moments, but it’s hard to tell if frontman Mark Foster and his mates are here to make saccharine-coated yet depressed pop or just to melt the numerous indie-girl hearts that clearly outnumbered the male following in the crowd.
Friday night pitted Coldplay and Kanye West against each other on opposite sides of the park, giving fans the chance to watch the either the biggest soft-rock star in the world or bask in all the bombast of West, who cemented his status as the biggest rock star in the world with a blistering set of hits that had him pumping straight adrenaline into the crowd. Act One started with Kanye lifted to the sky by a scissor lift positioned behind the crowd and opening with “H.A.M.” before descending from his throne, rushing to the stage and tearing into “Power.” By the time he got to “Monster,” when Hova’s verse never materialized, the weeklong rumors circulating through the crowd that Jay-Z would join Kanye on stage were deflated completely. Other than that, the set was short on disappointments, as West confidently belted out a career-spanning list of essentials with such bravado that there might not have been enough room up there for Jigga anyway. Early hits such as “Jesus Walks,” “All Falls Down,” “Through the Wire,” and songs like “Flashing Lights” and “Touch the Sky,” were particularly crowd-pleasing. Through all that, even after stopping “All of the Lights” and imploring the crowd to sing the lyric “our nigga dead” louder in requisite Michael Jackson reverence, Kanye spared the audience from the ranting narcissism that has too often bogged him down. On this night Kanye played only the role of an extremely talented stage presence and performer shining his brightest, and the crowd packing the biggest stage (at a festival that has had a reputation for balking at rap) ravenously ate it up.
Other Highlights: Nas & Damian “Jr Gong” Marley, pork green chili from Torchy’s Tacos
What We Missed: Cults, Kurt Vile and the Violators, glimpsing Christian Bale backstage at Bright Eyes, Pretty Lights
Saturday September 17, 2011
Like Cults, the Antlers must have drawn a pretty damn short straw for a set time this early—12.30 pm. The shame here is that festivals are a great place to make new fans. Had they been scheduled later they surely would have made quite a few more than they did at this fairly lightly attended set. The band stuck to songs from their latest album “Burst Apart,” only diverging a moment for their debut album-opener “Kettering.” No band makes tragedy sound prettier, and that sound works surprisingly well live. In spite of the sparse attendance, before closing with “Putting the Dog to Sleep,” lead singer Peter Silberman put it best, saying “We love Austin…Fuck.” The feeling between the Antlers and those that did attend was surely mutual.
Playing on a stage lined with plants and jungle scenery, Cut Copy got people moving like few bands seem to be able to. Dan Whitford is a frontman in the truest sense of the word. By the time the first notes of “Lights and Music” seeped into the air, the man had an iron grip on the audience’s attention and had no intention of letting go; audience members at the heavily attended set didn’t begin filtering out till the end. Once the beat dropped on “In Ghost Colours” hit “Hearts on Fire,” the crowd was in an absolute frenzy, thousands of people jumping up and down in unison to the synth-pop gem. Getting someone to dance is no small task; convincing an entire crowd, which had kept their respective hands firmly planted in pockets through most of the weekend, to dance together is downright beautiful.
Not surprisingly, Stevie Wonder went from one of the most anticipated acts of the festival’s 10 year history to one of the most packed crowds of the weekend, drawing in perhaps the most diverse audience of any act there. Unfortunately, by all accounts about half of that eager crowd couldn’t hear much of anything Wonder was singing. Many speculated that Kanye West’s grand show had blown out the speakers. It clearly wasn’t Stevie’s fault as the man still rocked hard through covers of Marvin Gaye (“How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”), Michael Jackson (“The Way You Make Me Feel”) and songs of his own creation like “I Just Called To Say I Love You” and “Isn’t She Lovely.” Circumstance and a little bit of incoherent political ranting kept this one from becoming a classic, but there were still moments of pop magic to be found here.
Other Highlights: Twin Shadow, Alexander, Iron & Wine, TV on the Radio
What We Missed: Chromeo, My Morning Jacket
Sunday September 18, 2011
Death From Above 1979
DFA1979 was one of ACL’s heaviest acts, and though no SXSW style riots were started, it certainly garnered the festivals most impressive collection of hipsters. The drum and bass duo is almost certainly more popular now, during their reunion, than when they released their sole album “You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine” only seven years ago. Bassist Jesse F. Keeler (also of MSTRKRFT) and drummer/vocalist Sebastien Grainger played a coked out set of dance-punk—including favorites from the album like “Romantic Rights” and “Go Home, Get Down”—that was tightly performed but didn’t prove much other than the fact that in this high-speed age of information, you can turn around and make money off the reunion thing a hell of a lot faster than Pavement or the Pixies did.
Fleet Foxes have quickly ridden that CSNY-style harmonization to the top of the indie band heap, hence the spot as the second to last act on ACL’s main stage. However, Robin Pecknold and the boys, musically gifted though they may be, seemed a bit out of place up there. Though the musical quality of beauties like “White Winter Hymnal” and “Helplessness Blues” didn’t dip, for whatever reason the crowd insisted on mushing those sounds together with an impressive din of chatter. Maybe this stuff is better experienced in a more intimate setting, or just maybe they haven’t quite developed as commanding a stage presence as the moment required. Regardless, this is hardly the last time Fleet Foxes will be in a position like this, and owning an audience of this size is a skill they will have to develop going forward.
Arcade Fire is, for all intents and purposes, a Canadian band. But Win and Wayne Butler’s roots can be traced all the way back to the Woodlands, TX where they grew up not far from the spot where they were batting cleanup for one of the nation’s biggest music festivals. Even after their first release, it was clear that the band was made to shine in grandiose moments such as this. After opening with a montage of clips from the Spike Jonze short film “Scenes From the Suburbs,” the band hit the ground running with “Ready to Start” and accelerated to a sprint with “Keep the Car Running.” The band’s energy was unrelenting, as its members scurried around stage for classics like every song from the “Neighborhood” suite on their debut album, and the rarely-played David Byrne collaboration “Speaking in Tongues.” Arcade Fire is one of the few bands built for this; songs like “Wake Up” and the encore “Rebellion (Lies)” and “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” lent a rare feeling of togetherness to a crowd of thousands—as if we and Win Butler and the rest of Arcade Fire are all trudging through this modern age as one.
Other Highlights: Empire of the Sun
What We Missed: The Head and The Heart, The Walkmen, Chiddy Bang, Broken Social Scene, Elbow, the last of the pork green chili at Torchy’s Tacos.
Independence Day was commemorated in more than one way by comedian/writer/actor/rapper extraordinaire Donald Glover. With the release of his new mixtape, ROYALTY, Glover’s rap alter ego, Childish Gambino, celebrates an independence from his light-hearted jokester roots. ROYALTY declares a new Gambino that fans better digest quickly, lest they be left in his swag-laden wake.
The resulting release is short on tongue-in-cheek literary references but packed to the gills with guest lyricists, producers, and hard-edged, often hook-less material. Gambino is eager to demonstrate that hip hop is something he could pursue as a life path, should he so choose. Often derided for his choice of lyrical focus, Gambino keeps his audience at a distance, going as far as asking them abruptly, to turn off his records and/or shut the hell up.
Gambino has solid rap chops — his verses often provide the oasis on a track full of lesser guests — but that doesn’t prevent him from suffering from building an entire track off of a weak premise (and to be frank, an awful rhyme scheme/central message to a track) in “Unnecessary.” It is not entirely clear where Gambino is headed by frivolously repeating the various unnecessary facets of being a comedian/rapper/television star, giving way to a frustrating level of aimless material. The track provides a deep valley for the record and is far below par for what is expected of Glover’s wit.
Continuing with that theme, on preceding track “Black Faces” Gambino would like to insist “[he] and Nipsey [Hussle] [are] on some grown [up] shit” but really they simply come across as a couple of hungry kids playing hip hop. Glover has always been sensitive to what comes across his @mentions feed on twitter. Undoubtedly, it is this level of self-awareness and neuroticism that makes Glover who he is; both sensitive and nerdy while simultaneously acting overblown and braggadocios. In fact this theme is a rather common vein in modern hip hop. However, if Glover aspires to be like Jay-Z, ?uestlove or any of the other icons he references, Gambino needs to find a better middle ground. Act like you’ve been there before, man.
A benefit the mixtape format offers Glover is to work out his various kinks (emotional or otherwise.) Many of these tracks would benefit from a singular vision, like the one prevalent throughout previous release CAMP, but not everything on ROYALTY belongs under this umbrella, allowing Glover to cut his teeth deeper into his rap aspirations. The best example of this is the almost scene-stealing potential of what I assume was intended to be the cornerstone of ROYALTY… but unfortunately for inexperienced producer-hat wearing Gambino, even a feature spot by Wu-Tang vet RZA couldn’t save “American Gangster.” Coincidentally enough, it is RZA’s entrance that derails the track. Right off the bat his flow slams the brakes on an incredible instrumental build courtesy of the Hypnotic Brass Orchestra. If Glover wants to keep his prized new “prod.” tag, he’ll have to learn to pull better performances out of his revolving door cast of guest spots.
Elsewhere on ROYALTY, simple fixes are all that are required to take the album the extra step, which again, is the point of a mixtape. That extra ten percent between good to great is always a challenge, and the point of Gambino’s hard touring and heavy output are to prove he has what it takes to survive in this game. A more involved touch is all that’s keeping “Shoulda Known” from a Top 10 Gambino track. “Doing sew sew, like a seamstress.” Really? That’s all you’ve got, Donald? Sample the Drive soundtrack all you want, no one believes you’re in the 1%.
As we continue through the album, extra kudos go to “Silk Pillow” a welcome cross-section of Childish Gambino’s talents if there has ever been one. Anyone who can draw that kind of performance out of Beck definitely deserves some quality attention. A little needed proof that when Gambino is present in a track, he can really bring it home. Perfectly placed to keep ROYALTY flowing, given previous track “Toxic” is predisposed to (purposely) weird sampling and some overly indulgent interplay between Gambino and manic comedy rapper Danny Brown. Fortunately, it is easy enough to scratch this one off the drawing board and head to greener pastures.
It will be refreshing to CAMP enthusiasts knowing that Gambino is still at his best during prolonged moments of raw emotion. “Wonderful,” with choruses provided by the exquisite vocal talents of newcomer Josh Osha, (as opposed to the high, pitchy renditions from Glover that listeners have grown accustomed to) fits splendidly in the Childish catalog and will indeed be one of the singles with the most legs to come out of ROYALTY.
The most important statement to take from ROYALTY is that we now have a more mature but not necessarily better-off Gambino. He is obviously struggling with his place in life. As he says on highlight track “We Ain’t Them” — “Back of my mind, I hope the show gets cancelled. Maybe then I can focus.” referring to his cult favorite sitcom Community — a line no fan of Glover’s is sure to take lightly. Through ROYALTY Gambino is at his most consistent, yet proving himself will always remain his (ultimately unattainable) goal. He attempts to match pace and style with each of his guests, not always successfully, but Gambino is an audibly more confident and progressive performer because of it.
After one of the most prolonged and anticipated build ups in debut history, MARVEL’s The Avengers has at last arrived at cinemas worldwide, and to almost as wide acclaim.
Writer, director and cult classic extraordinaire Joss Whedon helms what is possibly the most enjoyable cinematic experience since Christopher Nolan’s last installment of The Dark Knight. Much, much more than the sum of its parts and outshining all of its singular MARVEL predecessors, The Avengers is a summer blockbuster to end all summer blockbusters. From Whedon’s well-trodden ground in character development — more specifically female character development — through the film’s matter-of-fact pacing (clocking in at just over 2 hours, 20 minutes) The Avengers set all the pieces in their right places to deliver an out of this world product.
Ticket sales will knowingly reflect what MARVEL and Paramount knew all along would unlock their biggest film in recent memory: throwing as many talented individuals at their film just to see what stuck, and everything seems to have panned out in the studio’s favor. Whedon and story writing partner Zak Penn delivered an experience full of laugh out loud comedic moments both genuine and slapstick, the strong dialogue and characters that audiences have come to expect from Whedon, and of course some of the most well choreographed fight sequences this side of The Raid: Redemption.
Concerning the film’s faults (of which there are very few) the environment surrounding them quickly forgives slip ups as the cast never leaves a laugh undelivered or an action sequence flapping in the wind. The sense of suspended disbelief comic book fans have come to accept as fact will do viewers wonders as The Avengers requires very little work on part of the audience, which in the case of this particular film, is simply a testament to the creative ingenuity of its cast and crew. Whedon and crew elevated themselves past big budget movie status and slid straight into a well-deserved place in film history.
By Mitch McCann
Seeds: How did you get involved with “The Walking Dead?”
Charlie Adlard: [Series writer] Robert [Kirkman] emailed me out of the blue asking me if I’d be interested in drawing “The Walking Dead.” I did know Robert a couple years before; we worked on a comic book indirectly with another writer, Joe Casey. We did a comic book called “Code Flesh” for Image. We did 8 episodes; it wasn’t a full comic book. Image only published the first 5, so it was just hanging there, and I already drew them all. And Robert offered to publish those with his independent small press company Funk-O-Tron. That’s how I got to know Robert, and I met him a couple of times at various conventions, so when he emailed me I knew who he was.
Seeds: How do you and Robert collaborate on “The Walking Dead?”
CA: I get as much freedom as I would like as an artist, short of writing it myself. His scripts are very loose, to be honest. And I think the more we’ve got to work together the looser they become. Subsequently, because he trusts me to do my job, like I trust him to do his job. They are, as the business calls it “full scripts,” so it’s not like when Stan Lee worked with Jack Kirby and Stan Lee would write a vague outline for Jack Kirby and Jack, as a controversial point, wrote the comic himself.
There’s enough information in our scripts for me to do what Robert needs to put down, but the rest is totally up to me. Which is how I want it, and it’s a great working collaboration. We sort of leave each other alone, basically; we’re both incredibly busy and can’t afford the time to be emailing or on the phone with each other all the time. So we both need to be very professional as well. We have to trust each other to do a good job each month; otherwise the whole thing goes to pot.
Seeds: So when you see the script, how do you decide what to draw, or what to put into an image?
CA: In a script all the dialogue is there. Personally, I find working from a full script artistically more freeing than an outline… because you’ve got all the information down for you, and there’s no sort of discrepancy where the writer says, “I really wanted that there,” and you say, “Well, you should have put that in the outline.” There’s a lot of room for mistakes.
On average, Robert’s description will be either large panel or small panel. He doesn’t even define the exact sizes, or the shape or anything. That’s all up to me. A lot of it could literally be a couple of words of the description; it can be as simple as a closeup on whomever. If there’s something he specifically wants, he will put it down. I’d say your average script would be: X talks to Y, close up on Y, close up on X, wide panel, both in shot. Robert said when we started, don’t take these scripts as “this is how it must be done,” feel free to mess around with them. Which I do quite often.
Seeds: Could you talk about a comic book artist’s average workday?
CA: Very basically, a script goes to an artist. Especially in American comic books there tends to be a penciler and an inker. I do both jobs, pencil and ink, mostly because I’m too much of a control freak to let anyone else touch it. Basically, because me and Robert work for ourselves, and because Robert trusts me enough, I ink without him ever seeing the pages. So the first time Robert sees the pages is when they’re finished. So he trusts me enough to where I can do that. There is a slight thing with time. If I was stopping between pencils and ink to show Robert, it would slow me up, and it would slow Robert up. And we’ve built trust.
But I’m sure in other Comic book companies… they will send pencils in first, make sure everything looks fine, then goes to ink. But when I get the pencil and ink done, the page gets sent to Cliff, who is our gray-toner. Even though I do have time for pencils and inks, I don’t have time for the gray tones. Because “The Walking Dead” is a black and white book, the tones of gray add a little something to the artwork, I think. The book then goes to a letterer, who letters the script and then to the printer.
My day is very simple. I get up at 7 o’clock in the morning, I make sure my two kids get off to school. I get into the studio around half past 8. Procrastinate for about an hour. Then I work a very basic 9-5 day. For the last 5 to 6 years, that’s been about it.
Seeds: How much would you say you get done in a day?
CA: This is of no indication of an average artist… but I have reputation in the industry of being one of the fastest artists. I can generally do — and this is hard to quantify because I pencil them first and ink them after — but I would say that I complete two pages a day. And I do them quite small. I think the average normal size of an average American Comic book artwork is… I don’t know how to say it because Americans go by inches. But I draw around the same size of the comic, where other artists do a bigger page. And that was a decision made about halfway through “The Walking Dead” to try and do it faster.
Seeds: You’ve worked with Nobel Prize winner for literature Doris Lessing. Could you talk about how the drawing process worked with her versus a comic book writer, like Robert?
CA: This is a little bit of an interesting story. Doris Lessing is not a comic book writer. Believe it or not, the idea for getting her to do a comic initially started as: let’s get some famous authors to do comic books so we could get this great crossover thing, where people who read books by this author would now buy a comic book, and vice versa. Great idea if implemented right, and if the right person was writing. But not everyone can write comic books, and not every comic book writer can write novels.
So when I got the script of “Playing the Game,” it was nine pages long, and I had to do a 64-page book. It was not only nine pages long, but written in verse as well. There was hardly any panel descriptions, it was sort of a poem version of a Stan Lee script. It was just the most bizarre thing. I found out after accepting the job that every other artist friend of mine had been offered the script and they turned it down. So I literally had to sit there for a couple of days and figure out how to expand this thing to 64 pages. So in effect I wrote half of it. It was radically different, to be honest. It was a tricky one to do. A lot of it was trying to figure out what she was going on about, and perhaps I was being ignorant because I couldn’t work out what she was trying to say. I talked to some other artists, and they couldn’t figure it out. It just wasn’t me. It was just the bizarrest thing to do.
Seeds: Going back to “The Walking Dead”: Tony Moore was the original artist, and you were hired after 6 issues. Did you try to mimic Tony, or did you try to do your own thing?
CA: I did my own thing. I gathered that Robert picked me because I didn’t draw like Tony Moore. There are plenty of guys who draw more like him, so why not ask them first if that’s what he wanted? So I just assumed that he didn’t care that it didn’t look anything like Tony’s. I also wasn’t going to compromise. I assume if someone is ringing me up, they know my artwork. So I presume that they know what I do, and I presume that Robert wouldn’t ask me to draw like somebody else.
Seeds: You’ve been working on “The Walking Dead” since 2004. Do you ever get burnt out?
CA: No, not really. I constantly get fantastic scripts from Robert to provide inspiration. Because of my speed and everything, a project could last 3 to 4 weeks, and that could be frustrating — I’m just getting used to a character and I’m moving on to the next thing. I enjoy an ongoing process, and I enjoy getting to know the characters. It’s nice to be able to draw Rick in my sleep. I know every nuance in his face, so it’s great. And “The Walking Dead” keeps me locked in because it’s so good. It’s as simple as that. I’m just as intrigued to see where Robert is going to take it in the next issues. It is a weird sort of feeling to know that we’re locked into this for a very long time.
Seeds: Do you and Robert have a timetable with “The Walking Dead?”
CA: We do, we talk about that when we physically talk to each other. Which is unfortunately getting rarer, because of the busy-ness of being us. I’m sorta stuck turning the pages and Robert is doing his thing and the T.V. show, so we probably get to talk a couple of times a year. When we get together, we do talk about more long term stuff. Because there just isn’t the time in the day when we’re emailing each other, but that’s usually just a couple of sentences here and there. I have a very rough idea of what Robert has planned; though he’s done this to me before, where he tells me what he has planned, and it changes when it gets to that point.
Interview by: Gabriel Potter
Little over a month deep into their collaborative U.S. dates, tour mates Sleeper/Agent and fun. effortlessly crank out sets that are equal parts fast, tight, and loud.These snaps of the bands are but a brief highlight of a night full of kinetic energy and promising sounds.
Seeds.: You guys have mentioned landing on the Roadrunner record label, which is a traditionally harder rock-oriented label, so how do you guys find touring partners like Walk the Moon or GROUPLOVE?
EC: Most times the bands that you tour with aren’t going to be bands that you and your team choose that you think are good or bands that you’re friends with or that match your sound or energy well. The label hasn’t really helped in many, many ways but we’re the ones that pick and choose who we want to tour with. Walk the Moon we met over a year ago now in Cincinnati, their hometown, while we were on tour with this great band called Pomegranates, and we played a show with all three bands and Walk the Moon were great so when the time came to pick and choose who we wanted to open for us for this bigger national tour [who could] draw some people out and had a good energy to open up the set… When it came down to it, it not about the fact that Roadrunner has Nickelback or Slipknot, everyone down to the guys at Roadrunner and our management with [those guys.] It’s just not our thing It’s obvious… Hopefully it gets to a level where we can say that we have friend bands that are struggling and don’t get the recognition that they deserve. It’s hard to tour, so hopefully one day well have the ability to say ‘Look, we’re taking these guys on the road with us and that’s how it’s gonna be.
Seeds.: Your record has caught on pretty well, but do you remember being in the situation where, say, Walk the Moon or GROUPLOVE is now. Did you guys have a band that came down and extended that hand and helped you a little initially?
Eric Cannata: Yeah, we started out touring California early on and in between recording our record in Los Angeles we went out on a US run with Minus The Bear, we didn’t know anything about touring, and [MtB] and the band was right after us called Everest. They took us under their wing and taught us about touring, they were super sweet dudes. Taught us how to do the trailer how to tour better, with every tour. Every single tour you learn so much… luckily the guys from Minus the Bear, Everest and all the crew were super sweet people and kinda helped guide us along the way. I think we only missed one show on that tour, which is pretty good for a band that never really toured the U.S. before.
Besides that we’ve opened up for a ton of bands in the last two and a half years that we’ve been touring the States, Europe, UK, Indonesia, Australia, Canada. We’ve played with Neon Trees, Marina and the Diamonds, The Futureheads, Steel Train. A bunch of bands at this point. We did a tour with Incubus which was great.
Seeds.: Do you remember the first time thinking the album was going to be bigger than you’d ever thought it’d be, or maybe even a hit?
EC: It’s funny because everyone working on the record were convinced ‘this is gonna be a huge record.’ We were all really young, we’re still young, and just excited to be able to do this. We were all going to school at different colleges in California. This was something that we’ve always dreamed of doing - music full time. Now that we have the opportunity, it’s just a blessing, the record came out and we really didn’t realize the full effect of having a label and a team, the radio push and heavy touring opening for bands. Just trying to get our live show to a place where we’re really comfortable with the show and know that you just come to the show and you’ll hear something better than the records. That was really our thing. The record is doing very well and we’re very blessed people to be able to do this as a living, it’s really our dream.
Seeds.: Having a live performance sound anything like what’s on a record is definitely a virtue, like you said you’ll see these bands who have a hit and the first time they do a live performance they just can’t match it. Is there something that set your live shows that gives it that little special twinge to it?
EC: Recording our record live with our producer Joe Chicarelli, is just a really experienced dude. We didn’t realize until our first day of preproduction that we were going to record the record live. Which means we were in a room and we did all the instrumental tracking, drums, bass, both guitars together in the same room. The amps were all in isolated rooms, but we were all playing together to try and get that live vibe. Sameer would sing the scratch vocal and we would play one song over and over until we felt that we got a good take. And that [in itself] made our rhythm section play together way, way tighter. Then something else that sets us apart live is our energy. We’re all happy to be onstage, we don’t look like we’re bored, we smile and look at each other and bob our heads. We’re happy to be doing what we’re doing.
Seeds.: The record has been out for a while now and as you’ve said [Young the Giant] has been doing lots of heavy touring with some big opprotunites for you guys to play. You have probably played these songs thousands of times. How do you keep the tunes fresh every night?
EC: We change it up a bit. Actually after the record was done and we started touring we changed the songs a little bit… atmospherically? It’s not like we went in like ‘oh, I don’t like any of these songs, let’s not play any of them.’ Because when you come to a show you’ll hear pretty much exactly the record, but the changes that we’ve made are things to keep ourselves interested. Average listeners might not notice, but if someone really knows music, listens to the record - they’ll pick up on things hear or there. Different drum or guitar parts, just a slight variation to keep it interesting for us. I mean atmospherically because when I’m on guitar and I add a delay effect where there [wasn’t.] Or when Francois [Comtois] our drummer would add some interesting rack tom rhythm. Also what keeps us most interested is new music, it’s hard to get full songs done while we’re touring so heavily we just weren’t in any groove, and finally we got in some time off in the last three months before this tour started. We wrote a good amount of ideas and we’re actually touring and playing two new songs live. That’s really what keep the energy going. You gotta keep moving forward and keep having new ideas.
Seeds.: You guys have had a few singles make their way out on their own, like ‘My Body” and now “Cough Syrup” is gaining a lot of momentum of its own. What do you think people get when they come to your full album off those singles?
EC: I think the few singles that are out are good songs, they’re not my favorite as one of the writers. We all write together. Cough Syrup’s an older song. My Body not too much like every other song on the record. I think the cool thing about our record is it’s not just “My Body” and “Cough Syrup” that people seem to dig, everybody I talk to has a different favorite song, which I think is a sign that all the way through people are liking the record. It’s not like “Oh my god ‘My Body’ or ‘Cough Syrup’ is it” lots of people love those songs but they’re the songs that people hear on the radio… The good thing being that I see people singing along to every song, and when we start playing, one of slower songs ‘Islands’ which is really the only place that opens up on the record. Kind of gives it a little bit more room, it’s not so in your face with every single instrument being played the entire song through. That’s one of my personal favorites, it’s kind of a breath of fresh air on the record. I feel like there’s a couple points on the record that drop.
Most of our stuff is a lot more mellow than “My Body” and if you ask anybody in the band if we listen to I guess what “My Body” would be considered… none of us really listen to hard rock, we’re not hating on it, it’s just not our favorite type of music. I’m not too into bands with super heavy distorted guitars or super intense drums and stuff. I can say I think “My Body” is a good song, but it’s one of those things where I think there’s way better on the record, way more interesting songs [than “My Body.”] I think if I were to talk to people who had only listened to [those two songs] I would definitely tell them to come out to a show from before the Young the Giant record, songs from Shake My Hand we play. All the Young the Giant stuff and then you also hear some new stuff, the next record that we’re gonna put out. You kinda get a full little circle there.
Seeds.: Young the Giant writes within pretty common themes (i.e., relationships) but the flavor of the album as a whole is different from some of their contemporaries or if there’s something about your writing process that you think is unique to you guys.
EC: I think every band has their thing. All I know is that I’m really happy the way we do it just because we write together a lot of bands will have the one guy who writes everything and there’s other bands like us where it doesn’t matter if it’s a drum part, bass line, vocal melody or lyric, but something will inspire us to write a song and we’ll go from there. It used to be a lot more “A.D.D.” when we were younger then we matured a little bit, we did our first record. Kind of settled down and found each of our own places in the band. It’s really nice to be able to write with four other creative minds. It really connects us, a lot of bands don’t have that camaraderie of knowing we all did this together.
Seeds.: I think it was Sameer who said you all had this shared vision of the album while you were making it. What was the vision beforehand and how has it changed since then?
EC: The vision for the record was based on youthfulness and even the idea of summer. We’re from California and people have been saying the album has that summer-y feel.
We were all very young, I was only 18 or 19 when we recorded the record and we got to live right on the beach in West Hollywood. This life was given to us where we were told “You’re in a band and don’t have a normal schedule and can do whatever you want.” We kind of took that idea and hung the album on that.
Seeds.: Glee did a cover of “Cough Syrup” that was pretty true to the original and Sameer even did an anti-bullying video. I was just wondering your guys’ thoughts on how Glee used it and how that opportunity came about.
EC: That came pretty recently and we a really good opportunity. none of us watch Glee, but I know a lot of people that really like that show. It is great publicity for [the band.] I didn’t realize it would be that intense, some people online [had negative reactions] but so many more people thought it was great. There’s always going to be people that un-band’s gaining success or what would be considered selling out. I’m really young but to me that term ‘selling out’ doesn’t hold true to anything anymore. If ‘selling out’ means that the artist who’s writing these songs can make a living and continue writing these songs, because they have the ability and the money to, then more power to bands that are on commercial.
Nowadays, it’s not like records are selling like hotcakes. Bands need to find ways to stay with their heads over the water and one of the biggest ways is getting these things or commercials to make a living. Whatever you want to call it, it was a great opportunity, it got our name out there even more than it is right now. And it’s gonna help us get to where we want to be.
Seeds.: It was a great moment in the show, and they stuck pretty true to what you guys wrote. They chose a great way to include it in the show and for you guys to be the benefactor of that is a great opportunity.
EC: They did a great job recreating that song. It was weird listening to it. There were a lot of things that were spot on, there were little things we could tell, but they did a good job. That initial response chart-wise, the Glee version charted higher than our version, but it’s not a bad thing to get that publicity out there.
Seeds.: As a younger band, I think it’s important to get the perspective of somebody who has grown up with internet piracy and the downfall of the full-length CD… Does the band have any opinion on that? Do you think you would have been the same band if you had done it at a different time?
EC: If we were in a different time who knows if people would be into the music we’re making now. I think bands come at the time and get successful that [the music] happens.
About online piracy, we grew up with that was the norm. Which is really messed up. It’s not right, but when you grow up with it it seems normal. You know, “if everyone’s smoking pot, maybe I should smoke? If everyone is downloading the new Flaming Lips album for free, why am I going to go out and pay $12 to buy it? I’m broke anyway.” You know what I mean? If download our recorded illegally, but then we come around your city and you come out to a show and buy a vinyl or a shirt or even buy a ticket to the show - that’s the payoff. I can’t be like “Oh, you’re an a**hole, you downloaded our album.” I’m not gonna lie I’ve downloaded illegally before. It’s a messed up thing, but it was so normal growing up. Everyone would be downloading records, everyone still does. People my age, people old, even little kids. It’s weird, it’s kind of like we were thrown into this industry when the industry doesn’t even know what the hell to do.
It used to be like, you’re at a major record label and you’re good to go, now it’s like, you’re at a major record label and [the label] is so scared that they’re not going to make money from you anymore because records don’t sell [that they take] money from not only records, but this and that, this and that. It has been a good experience for us… but heads of the labels are like “These records 10 years ago, could be going platinum but instead they’re selling 100,000 records. If that’s the case we need to take money from touring, merchandise, from every single facet of where the band makes money.”
So for us, look, if you download our record, come out to a show and buy a $20 or a sweatshirt for your kid. We worked with [Grammy award winning producer] Joe Chicarelli and he put it in perspective for me when I was talking about online piracy. His report on it, and he’s an older guy… you’re blind to the fact that it messes with these artists and how it messes with their lives and their livelihoods, but then when you go back to when you were 13 years old and your friends or cousin or whatever says “Look at this there’s this website you can press a button and you get a CD for free!” Of course you’re going to do that, your first instinct is to fill up your 10 Gb iPod. Someone told me the other day if you fill up one of the big iPods 120 Gb, 60 Gb whatever. If you fill one of the up the cost of those in CDs is like $50,000… All that music you got for free.
Now we have Spotify, Pandora. All those different ways of finding new music. You can have them on your phone, press a button and you’ve got all this new music. Those are definitely good things.
Seeds.: What can people expect from this tour?
EC: Yeah, people coming out to this tour can expect a little weirdness, we play the remix to Ignition by R. Kelly last night in Chicago. In fur coats. It was pretty epic.
Seeds.: You guys have a lot of sold out dates on the upcoming tour…
EC: We went on our first headlining run in 2011 and all those shows were sold out as well, but that was playing to 150 to at most 500 person rooms. And now I think every show on the tour is sold out and we’re playing to 1,000 to 2,5000 people. It’s a dream tour. I guess as we’re more tour-wise, you realize it could all still be better. You could always be better. Whether its your guitar tone to how the tours get ran, little things… We’re very very lucky to be able to do this. I get up on stage and I just smile, “Where the hell am I? How the hell did we get here?”
Q&A by Mitch McCann
The Alabama Shakes don’t have a full length album, but with a humble EP coupled with singles and demos plastered online, the Alabama Shakes have come from nowhere making MTV’s list of “Artists to Watch” for 2012.
Formerly just The Shakes, and hailing from Athens, Alabama, their heavy blues rock influences intact and under the leadership Brittany Howard. Who shreds on guitar and boasts Aretha-esque vocals. Songs like “Heavy Chevy” will make your head bob, while songs like “Boys and Girls” will enter your very soul. “It gives me a certain feeling when we play it out live. The song is as simple as it can be. It wasn’t some hard song to write, but I’m proud to play it. It’s a whole different mood when we play that,” explains Zac Cockrell, the Alabama Shakes bassist. He took a minute to speak with Seeds about The Alabama Shakes and their recent fortune.
Seeds: In May, the Alabama Shakes will be together for three years. Did you or any of the rest of the Alabama Shakes anticipate this level of success?
Zac Cockrell: No, not at all. We pretty much just played for fun on the side. We all had jobs. We never anticipated a career of it. The opportunity came, one thing lead to another, and we ended up going for it. We had no idea we would be this successful. A shock to all of us.
Seeds: The opportunity, when was this?
ZC: I think it started around last July. We continued our day jobs, but that was the time when we got management. They started getting some more shows and things like that lined up. I think it was the end of October, when we were doing it full on.
Seeds: If your EP wasn’t as well received, to what degree would you continue to pursue making music?
ZC: We would be doing it as long as we could. Not that we weren’t hoping the EP would go well, but we had no idea what would come. We planned on playing regardless. The original plan was to put out a full length album, but we started playing more and more shows. And we did bigger venues with the Drive By Truckers but we didn’t have any merch to sell. So that’s how the EP came along. We needed something to sell.
Seeds: Over the last several months your life has changed drastically. Touring the U.S. the U.K., and putting together the new album. How has this acceleration affected the band? Was it difficult to leave parents and significant others behind?
ZC: Yeah, but were happy to be in the position that were in, and love doing what were doing. It does take some getting used to, leaving home as much as we do. Steve has two kids of his own. We all have relationships and things like that, so that takes some getting used to. But, we are fortunate to be able to do what we are doing.
Seeds: What do you do on your downtime in touring cities? Any interesting travelling experiences?
ZC: Nothing too extravagant. But it’s all new territory for me at least. I’ve never traveled at all. Going out west was new to me, going up north, I flew for the first time. I haven’t traveled much into the south until recently, so it’s all interesting to me to see new different places.
Seeds: Most bands pile up in a big van for touring. Is this what the Alabama Shakes do? If so, do you find that your privacy is ever being violated?
ZC: We’ve all been friends long enough, so we knew what to expect from each other. Brittany sometimes wishes that another girl might be there for company, but it goes good. We spend a whole lot of time in a van just riden. So we try not to get onto each other’s nerves-as little as we can at least.
Seeds: Your southern influences are brazenly apparent. Who’s influenced you the most?
ZC: A lot of the old session guys: Steve Crawford, Bob Dylan, David Hood, all them session musicians. I look to them a lot. Especially after being in the studio a lot lately. Because that stuff is tough, and that’s what they did for a living and didn’t get a whole lot of credit for it. I look up to them a lot.
Seeds: What’s your favorite part about the creative process with the band? Who does the lion’s share of the arrangements?
ZC: As far as the arranging, it’s pretty well a group effort. The lyrics, are mostly Brittany, there’s a few songs that Steve and Heath kinda help with. As far as musically, it’s a group effort. There’s some things me and Brittany had arranged before the band kind of started. A lot of the songs are a group effort.
Seeds: You and singer Brittany Howard used to meet after school to write music. Are any of those originals on the new album “Boys and Girls?” How have these songs changed for you in these (almost) 3 years?
ZC: These songs have definitely changed a lot. We had a lot of ideas that we would record on a computer, and sometimes we would go back and dig stuff out. “You Aint Alone” was one that the structure was kind of there, a little bit. We had ideas, and we just finished it out after the whole band got together and started playing. “Going to the Party” was another song that we had before. But they all kind of took a different shape after we all got together.
Seeds: How has your process changed from early music you wrote?
ZC: It’s still the same, I would say. Some of those songs are from ’06 when in high school. There’s no real formula to what we do. Whatever sounds nice, and whatever sounds like music we’d wanna listen too.
Interview by Gabriel Potter
For a decade Max Bemis has displayed his inner thoughts, public breakdowns, and road to recovery though his band, Say Anything. Starting out as a scrappy, and mostly solo, effort, 2004’s debut …Is a Real Boy cemented the groups reputation in a burgeoning indie/emo scene. Lyrically focusing on his own mental breakdown, it broke the mold by combining snark with cynical pop music.
The band became a mainstay on events such as Warped Tour, where their sound fit just as well alongside punk bands as well as slower, acoustic acts. Much was made of Bemis’ deeply personal, and occasionally embarrassing, lyrics on their third and fourth albums. However, they showcased a man who was embracing his own maturing in the most public way possible: on a stage, surrounded by those who brought his feelings to life.
After the touring cycle for 2009’s self-titled album completed, many wondered what was left for the group to accomplish. Bemis found God, got married, and released a few low-key solo acoustic albums. The band changed labels and did a few supporting tours. All this was done whilst the fourth proper Say Anything album waited.
But now, here it is. Anarchy, My Dear, treads familiar ground while refining the Say Anything formula to it’s most vital: pop music with shout-along choruses that still, somehow, carry a message. The album is a testament from a man who is no longer focused just on his own internal struggles. Rather, he seeks to observe on the new ways he interacts with the world around him. To this end, he talked to the Dailyer about his new album, his definition of anarchy, and pretension.
Seeds: How did the creation of Anarchy, My Dear differ from your previous albums?
Max Bemis: It was mostly an internal thing where it felt a lot more natural writing the record. There was less pressure outside of my own inner competitive drive. There was no unnatural pressure when it came to writing it. Once we signed to a label we knew would support us no matter what we did, the whole process of recording and writing was very freeing. There was nothing being imposed on the process.
Seeds: Anarchy is a strong word and ideal. Why use it on your album?
MB: There are a few different reasons why I relate so much to that term. I see it as a positive thing in my life. I have a very particular, specified, definition for it. The root of the word is talking about no king, no government. In an ideal world there are no divisions between nations. I’m not a communist, I don’t believe the way our capitalist system works is necessarily the best, but I’m also not smart enough to know the exact system to replace it. I do know the way it’s built, the competitiveness, pride, warmongering, and the way our society functions on a global level is wrong. I think that it’s been going like this for thousands of years. Ultimately, we can do a lot to help the world with our actions.
The more important reasoning on anarchy, the reason I wrote a record about it, is because I think it’s an internal quest to free yourself from the boundaries that are placed on you by the systems we have in place. I think you don’t need to tear it all down, literally, to tear it down in your own mind and become confident in your own individuality.
To me, that’s where I believe that anarchy is a positive thing. I don’t see it as pure chaos, unless you want to be really metaphysical about it. I see it as a way for people question, and make decision based on heart rather than what they’re told.
Seeds: Your prior records are known for showcasing your decaying mindset when they were written. This one is different. Are you happier now?
MB: No one is always happy, or is always in a positive place. Your life doesn’t become gold because you’re in a positive mind space. No one is on cloud nine all the time, I have issues and troubles just like anybody. I’m not the type of person to be complacent. I do try to question everything. There are certain things in my life I have utter faith in. I believe that life is a journey where you can go and question yourself. Nothing is perfect.
Seeds: “Admit It” is one of your most infamous songs, and it trashed ‘poser’ culture during the time it was written. Now this album has “Admit It, Again.” Why?
MB: It came from knowing how much the first one meant to our fans. We have a habit of really challenging our fan base, and I think we’ve put them through the wringer to some extent. We don’t lie in one place or recreate the same record over and over again. We’re daring them to come with us to the next place as we mature as a band. Throughout that process, I try to give back and not live in spite of them. Just because I may grow out of one thing doesn’t mean I’ve grown out of everything.
But, just because I want our audience to grow up with us doesn’t mean I don’t think I need to give them some of what they want. That’s built in to me, as a songwriter. I enjoy entertaining our fans a lot. I thought it one of the most entertaining things I could do, and I got really exciting about writing it. Hopefully fans will get excited knowing there’s another ‘Admit It.’
Once I realized how much it make people stoked, I realized there was a lot I had to say about the issue and about the people I wrote the first song about. That culture has come so far, eight years later, and my goal was to write about it and how it has evolved.
Seeds: The lyrics in the song make allusions to Pitchfork. Why call them out specifically?
MB: I’m not a huge fan of the site, but the quote in the song is meant to reference the reverence that certain people hold for it. It’s just a website, whether it’s great or not. There are some really awesome writers that work there, and they do have good taste in music. But it’s the fact that they, and many people, consider them to be the end all, be all in terms of what is right, wrong, good, and bad.
There’s an entire culture for whom Pitchfork is the bible. If Pitchfork thinks it’s good, then it’s good. And that annoys me. There’s been other publications that have the same effect, but Pitchfork just happens to be the one that has been given that amount of power unduly, considering that it’s just a pretentious website.
Seeds: Why do you record Say Anything records, with the exception of drums, by yourself?
MB: I really enjoy the process of writing and playing guitar parts. I hear a lot of the arrangements in my head when I’m writing songs. I even tend to write as I go. If something pops in my head, I just lay it down. Even though the guys in my band are super talented, the process of teaching them to play it on a moment-by-moment basis, to play exactly how I hear it in my head, would be laborious and difficult. It would even be demeaning for these super talented guys to have to do everything exactly how I want it.
Seeds: Your upcoming headlining tour comes though Lincoln. How are you feeling about it?
MB: I couldn’t be more excited. It’s been years since we’ve done a proper headlining tour because we’ve been in the process of finding a label and promoting our record. It really was a break for us. Based on the reactions we’ve been getting, we’re super stoked to graduate these new songs into the steady lineup. To have people sing them back at me is such a visceral, crazy experience. I’m really looking forward to it.
Interview by Jacob Fricke