Friday, May 24, 2013
When I was 16 I split the cost of a blue iPod mini with my folks. It was right before my (June) birthday, just at the edge of the summer. I bought an iTunes card and downloaded a set of 14 songs that largely shaped the feel of that summer. Those songs sounded the way that summer feels in the late afternoon. I get antsy. For some reason, this season alone feels like just about anything could happen. You've just got to get out there.
That's the basic idea I started working with for this new mix. This past weekend was great, and a lot happened, but most of all, it felt like summer started. With an excess of ideas, I put together "What We Trade Our Hearing For" in about two days instead of my usual month.
The songs came mostly from a playlist I keep called Mix Material. I started with "Stairway" by Yukon Blonde, which has the kind charging bassline that makes multiple appearances on the mix. The other quality it has is this big, fresh sound on the chorus. That's partly how I matched it up with "You Know Me" by Air Traffic Controller and "Shout it Out" by Mikal Cronin. With regard to "Shout it Out," holy smokes does that song live on an awesome album. If you haven't heard MCII, get a hold of it as soon as you can.
I also followed a certain pattern with the sound of the vocals on the mix. It's mostly guys who don't have particularly deep voices, so the feel is airy, especially on a song like "American Dream" by ON AN ON that has some additional hazy-sounding production.
One song I'm excited about is "Shove Off," by Luke LaLonde (current frontman for Born Ruffians). I had this sparse, quirky, little tune filed away because it's only recently become available on Spotify. It worked out well because I also needed a more mid tempo song to balance out the rest of the mix which is pretty damn foot-tappy. One of the worst "offenders" in that respect is the jittery "High School Lover" by Cayucas. My immediate attraction is the California indie pop/surf rock sound. What's more summery than that? I offer this: Nothing.
Also earning a spot on the mix is "Mountains" by She and the Sun. I actually reviewed their debut album a few months back and really fell in love with song's dreamy build.
The real point of pride for me on this mix is "Camilo (The Magician)" by Said the Whale. It was the last song I threw in my Mix Draft 1 playlist, and one that I found because I knew I just needed something else. What can I say about this song other than I can hardly even listen to the rest of the mix because I keep replaying it. I love the exuberance, the halting guitar, the hooky chorus, and I like the idea of this guy asking a magician for help with a girl. It's like a modern "Love Potion Number 9." Most of all, I love that it makes me antsy and ready to get outside. That's how summer should feel: happy and boundless.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
|Pictured: Neil McSweeney; Photo: Andy Brown|
TMI: How did you get started? How long have you been playing and writing songs?
McSweeney: I started lugging a little practice amp about on foot to rehearsals when I was a kid. Me and a school friend formed a band. Everyone else in the band eventually moved on from music making and I just couldn’t. I tried to live without it for a couple of years, go straight so to speak, but I felt the loss; I’d become obsessed with the songwriting more than any other aspect of it. The most interesting thing when I stopped doing it so much was how much great stuff I heard. I think when you’re focused on writing and honing your own sound, you listen very critically and analytically to other people’s music. And I got a break from that for a bit – where I could just listen as a fan – it was great. But then it meant I had to get back into it. I’ve been writing, playing, and recording with some serious intent for the best part of a decade now.
Your press materials mentioned that "We Are Here" is about the generational need to make a mark, can you expand on that?
I can expand on it a bit. But it can be a bit dangerous to a lyric to spell it out too much. My songs tend to be a little careworn. And for this EP I wanted to do something that had a bit of confidence about it. Each little simile relates in some way to an image or idea from a period in my late teens and early twenties where I and my friends felt deep down (despite a lot of surface insecurity) that we could have a big impact on the world. But some of that confidence necessarily involved a destructive or dismissive impulse towards the achievements of the previous generation and a fairly selective approach to evidence and reason.
Tell me about why you decided to cover Townes Van Zandt's "To Live is to Fly."
I first heard that song on a Cowboy Junkies tape maybe twenty years ago and that was the only version I knew until fairly recently. If I’m going to cover a song, then the lyric has to feel like it fits somehow with my own material – this lyric says exactly what I wanted to say but Van Zandt did it first and did it so well it doesn’t need doing again. However, musically, for me to want to cover something, I need also to be able to play and sing it in a way that fits with my style. I had to rework the song quite dramatically from both the Junkies version and the Townes original, but because it’s a great song, I think it survives my mauling.
My approach varies a bit. The three originals on this record were actually fairly atypical as they were written quite quickly together as a batch. I signed up for a thing called February Album Writing Month. It was just on a whim – I’d never heard of it and then a link to the website popped into my field of vision on the evening of 31st January, so I thought I’d give it a go. It usually takes me a year or two to write an album and another year to record and release the thing, so a month was a bit optimistic. But I enjoyed the challenge. And whilst I didn’t generate an album I did demo a few tracks that were worth finishing.
The melody line in a song relies more on serendipity than hard slog - the more worked the line, the less immediate it usually is. So, if I’m trying to find a musical thread to pull I usually just sit with the guitar and let my voice wander around while I play. Something always comes before too long and the more relaxed I am the better.
In a perfect situation, a lyrical phrase will arrive along with the melodic hook. This often works best because the lyric and the musical frame are in agreement. Then there often comes a fairly extended period of reflection where I wonder what that phrase could be about – I imagine the context in which someone would sing that line in that way. I cast around through my experience to try to find something true that is worth saying that could include the line. Sometimes at this stage the original line gets altered to fit my developing idea about the meaning of the song.
Once we’re in seemingly purposeful territory I set about refining and completing the lyric. I can’t do this ‘til I’ve persuaded myself there’s a need for a song like this in the world. I don’t write using a flip chart and a rhyming dictionary, fitting words to syllables mechanically to complete the song at all costs. I reflect on what feels meaningful and true and if the lyric has a hollow heart then I’ll discard it.
Thank you kindly. Well, I think the foundation of my style came from two things. The first was finding myself without a band and trying to build melodic parts into my playing that might hold the listener’s attention better than just strumming along. And the second was seeing Dave Rawlings play with Gillian Welch about ten years ago in Sheffield. I tried to create the impression of that sound in my playing – I never got close to playing like him but it certainly influenced me. The only other guitar playing I’ve ever really loved is J Mascis’. Oh, and I enjoy watching Jonny Kearney (an English folk guitarist) play. With all these three guys it’s really the strength of the songs and the way their playing complements and supports the songs. I can’t compete with any of them but I have recently paid some attention to getting a bit better – I even practiced a bit for this EP (and I never usually practice).
Do you see a progression from your 2009 album Shoreline? If so, can you talk about that?
I think there is progression there definitely. Mainly in my own developing certainty of what it is I’m trying to do as a songwriter and as a musician. Also, the EP was recorded with a confidence and clarity of purpose that was missing sometimes on the previous records. Being a completely independent musician means working with very loose deadlines most of the time. This is vital ‘cos the budget is so small (you can only ever have two of the following – Good, Cheap and Quick). With the EP we booked the launch before it was recorded to apply some pressure to the process and fortunately, having come straight out of the sessions for the next full album, it all just worked really smoothly.
Your third album Cargo will be out in September, what can we expect?
Well, I reckon it’s the best thing I’ve yet done. If The Seventeen is a summer record, then Cargo is winter. The songs deal in various ways with that difficult, sometimes bleak, period that we’re all familiar with. The thing about winter for me is that, when you’re in it, it feels like it’ll never end – it’s more like a destination than a road. But in fact it’s just as transitory as every other season. And just as necessary.
The arrangements of the tracks are pretty subtle in the main but feature some very fine musicians, mainly from the traditional folk scene, but not entirely. There’s concertina and fiddle and banjo and mandolin, but also synth, musical saw, lap steel and touches of ragged distortion here and there.
|Photo: Chris Saunders|
I’m doing some of these solo and some with my band. In both cases I’ll be playing a fair bit of stuff from the EP and the album, plus a handful of my older songs. The band is a selection of some of the people who played on the record and includes Matt Boulter, Sam Sweeney, Lucy Farrell and Andy Seward. I love playing live and have been known to ramble on a bit between tunes. I think that’s because I like to think of gigs as being a collaboration between the folk in the room and the musicians on stage and when people really get involved you can get a sense of genuine warmth in the room. I think that’s special.
Connect with Neil McSweeney:
|Brad Paisley in the background: Accidental Cameo.|
The last we saw Juliette, she'd just discovered her mother dead, feet away from sketch ball Dante. This week, the show opened with Hayden Panettiere gunning for an Emmy by not wearing any makeup, and talking to a detective about what did or did not occur. It doesn't look good for Druggie Mom. It's obvious that Juliette hasn't put together what happened and thinks that Jolene was doing something dirty. Back at home, Deacon comes to see her, and she basically tells him to get lost because she is Mad As Hell. She won't be the last to have explosive feels on this episode. Jolene or no Jolene, Juliette is determined to go to the CMAs and pick up her damn award for Female Vocalist. In her dressingroom backstage, still gunning for that Emmy, she lashes out at Marshal and Glen (who has decided to make an appearance after she fired his butt in NYC). They tell her she doesn't have to be there, that she should grieve and she flips out about how terrible Jolene was. "I should be celebrating that it's finally over!" she yells, quickly realizing how that sounds.
"I didn't mean that," she says deciding to go home. But instead of going home, though, she goes to the funeral home to see her mom and it's way sad because she's crying and she asks Jolene why she left her alone. Now she really has no one. We hit record levels of sympathy for country music's biggest brat (a title T. Swizzle takes MWF and Sundays 'til noon). The next day, Glen delivers the award to her house with a hug, and I wonder about the faux-Daddy trap she could fall into, but hey. Next season, right? The funeral is a small affair. Rayna, Emily the assistant, the body guard, Marshall. Juliette has a really solid exchange with Rayna about her childhood. "I grew up in the dirt. Everything was filthy." Rayna tells her that she is good enough. During the service, Avery ambles up because, why not? Back at the house, a detective tells Juliette they found a destroyed SD card in the garbage disposal. Can't get anything off it, but whatever. Right after he exits, Emily goes oh shit, there's a letter here from your mom. The return address says "Heaven" and it smells like freshly washed cotton t-shirts. I made the last part up. Because the writers knew I'd be pissed if Juliette never figured out the truth, Jolene sent a note to her daughter explaining what happened. More feels.
|Me on my couch.|
Rayna has the girls in the kitchen for breakfast. She tells them she and Deacon are special friends and that they'll be going to the CMAs together. She mentions how she and Teddy are public figures. I complete the sentence with "must prove actual malice in a defamation case" because I've taken Comm Law a billion times. Do we like Deacon? Sure, they say. Maddie is holding her tongue big time. That is, until she shows up at Deacon's front door, chin quivering, and tells him she thinks he's her dad.
So, it's the morning after Gunnar and Will got arrested. Gunnar, sans leather jacket, goes to talk to his producer dude and tells him that the outlaw was his brother, not him, and that the songs were Jason's. Producer dude is. Not. Worried. Stealing songs is pretty outlaw, he says, and that mugshot is marketable. Yikes. What's more, producer dude isn't interested in the sweet, singer/songwriter Gunnar even if Scarlett is. You know what they say, "Bros before hoe(downs)!"Anyway, Gunnar tries to make nice with Scarlett vis-a-vis flowers and is taken aback when this does not seem to magically fix everything. She expresses doubts about what they've been doing. Later, Will tries to put in a good word for Gunnar. Avery once again shows up. I imagine him to be some weird modern day Rumpelstiltskin who pops up in times of need, but will ultimately be a bad business partner. He invites her to a gig that night. Gunnar find out, goes to the gig to lurk in the back and watch Avery invite Scarlett up on stage. The next day, Gunnar goes to visit Deacon, who is throwing up on his porch. Deacon shoos him away and Gunnar calls Scarlett about getting Coleman over pronto. What happens next is like a Whole Thing. Fighting, screaming, breaking shit– Deacon wants to be left alone and sure does not want paper mache niece Scarlett witnessing his descent into drunken madness. Between Deacon and Coleman, it turns into Coleman trying to break a bucking bronco. Deacon eventually passes out. It's hella unpleasant to see him like this. Later on, he wakes up to Coleman sitting guard in a chair and persuades him that he has seen the error of his ways and shall be attending an AA meeting, like right now. After a shower, Juliette calls him and asks him to come to the Bluebird memorial service. Deacon agrees, pops some pills, and pulls out a handle of Jim Beam from beside the toilet. (I keep my bottle there too!) Deacon stays at the Bluebird for about a second before Rayna follows him out into the parking lot and takes off in the car with him in an effort to keep him from driving. Elsewhere, Gunnar proposes to Scarlett. Her answer? No idea, it was a silent montage set to Juliette's Jolene tribute. Also silent, the car fight as Rayna swerves to miss hitting a car and flips the hell out of Deacon's car. It's like the end of season two of the O.C., another soap that featured its share of deaths, near fatal accidents, proposals, Will, and relationships best summed up like this:
And in case you aren't already emotionally drained, the Cumberland deal is about to explode on Teddy, Tandy quit, and Peggy is preggers.
So there you have it. All in all, I'd give this season a B. It did some seriously pointless wandering and often gyrated between nothing happening for weeks and burning through characters and plot lines, but you couldn't say it wan't interesting. I want to know what's going to happen to these twisty, tangled people, and I've honestly been impressed with most of the songs that have appeared on the show. (Just downloaded "Gun for a Mouth.") That's what will bring me back for season two. It's been a pleasure recapping this season and I hope to "see" you around the site. Here's to more Southern fried drama in the fall!
+ Too bad Liam didn't turn up.
+ Will is definitely going to be dealing with the reality of being a gay man in the conservative world of country music. If they play it right, this could actually be a substantive plot line.
+ Did I mention that Deacon tackled Teddy outside the Capitol? Because he did and it was awesome.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
I found a few videos of the show on YouTube.
It's been quite a weekend here in Nashville. On Saturday night, I found myself at the end of a six-year quest to see the great Avett Brothers live. By more than a few twists of the universe, I've managed to miss them for one reason or another more times than I can count, and across two different states. Even though these misses have driven me half crazy, I don't think I'd trade in Saturday's show for an earlier one because it so well punctuated a weekend that was marked in other ways by endings and shifts.
The Avett Brothers played a sold out show at the Bridgestone Arena. Though their reputation for wildly energetic concerts is well known, I was unprepared for just how much power they generated. They could give any rock band a run for its money. From the second their silhouettes appeared on a curtain at the front of the stage, they blazed through the show with a musicianship both scary precise and crazy raucous. Their set incorporated songs mostly from their past three albums, several traditionals, and a Buck Owens cover– The Avetts slid between amped up bluegrass and deafening rock, with just a little church in there to stay on the good Lord's good side.
When the show was originally announced at the beginning of the year, I wondered what might be lost in the move from playing a venue like the Ryman Auditorium, to playing the mammoth Bridgestone. The concern was unfounded. I love the Avett Brothers in part because for me their music is a little ragged and always poignant, much in the way Scott and Seth (who each did a traditional) sing with gravel and purity respectively. When they played "Down with the Shine," Scott Avett singing "Things change and get strange with the movement of time, it's happening right now to you" while gesturing at the crowd couldn't have affected me to any greater extent. The same is true for the sound of the arena singing "I and love and you" together back to the band. All those voices sounded so much sweeter than I could have guessed.
There were several moments when I could hardly believe I made it out to the show. When they played "Salvation Song," it felt so surreal and so good to hear what I've always thought to be something of their mission statement: "We came for salvation, we came for family, we came for all that's good, that's how we'll walk away. We came to break the bad, we came to cheer the sad, we came to leave behind the world a better way." And that's why I've chased them for so long. I can't think of another band that manages aspiration against life's struggles and confusions with more heart and reassurance.
I caught my white whale, which is proving to be slightly melancholic as things tend to be when they end. But most of all, I think how much I enjoyed this show and how far it surpassed my hopes, and it casts back a really nice hue on the past six years.
Here's to endings.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
This week's episode of Nashville certainly had enough drama to satisfy the requirements of a season finale. And yet, we've got one episode left next week. Here's what the writers set up for us.
Rayna's just finished up the current leg of the tour with a show in Charlotte, NC. Bucky steps in for some house keeping. 1) Gotta finish the record. 2) Gotta find another act. But that's okay, because Deacon's there to suck face a while. Who even knows where Bucky went? Deacon and Rayna plan to have dinner with the girls. And they do! And it's damn heart warming. Mama Jaymes makes dinner and Deacon hangs out with Maddie and Daphne. They play "Ho Hey" together because the producers were like We can milk that song a little more. Everyone's so contented, we're a turkey away from a Norman Rockwell painting when Teddy walks in like:
He's not stoked to find Deacon there when he kept Peggy away at Rayna's request. He has the audacity to acuse Rayna of having an emotional affair with Deacon the entire time they were married and she's like WHOA. I loved you when Daphne was born despite the fact you have the personality and looks of a 2x4. (I may have embellished that last part.) The next day, presumably, Rayna gets two surprises. 1) Luke from the O.C. crashes Rayna's label auditions and does well. 2) Rayna gets served with a restraining order to keep Deacon away from the girls. She shows up at Teddy's office to ask what, pray tell, is wrong with him and he says, "I took your father's advice and grew a pair." So, Teddy thinks Lamar's words of wisdom are Mr. Rodgers-caliber now? Must-follow gems of guidance?
Maybe. Rayna goes to see Lamar and he's in a sweater drinking tea. Whatever. She asks him for help and he's like I'll take care of it. I shudder. Anyway, Rayna's in her bedroom recounting everything to Deacon on the phone, and Maddie overhears her saying "I love you." Rayna admits she was talking to Deacon. Maddie is like... You dated Deacon before Dad, yes? Rayna, in some kind of parenting gymnastics combo pulls the Trust Me/I'll Tell You When You're Older cards. Here's the thing, Maddie is a sharp kid. This isn't over. Rayna and Teddy go to a hearing about the restraining order. It's temporarily shelved. Later, they have a heart to heart where Rayna is like You gotta trust me, bro. She asks for a lot of trust considering. He agrees. Anyhoodle, later whenever, Rayna is at the Opry to introduce Scarlett and the new Highway 65 record label. Back at home, Maddie starts digging through her mom's closet and manages to find paternity papers. Sobbing on the phone, she tells a friend she doesn't think Teddy is her father. I intend on watching next week's episode from behind a riot shield.
After the Charlotte show, Avery helps Juliette with her monitors and suggests that whatever tune she's humming, she write down. Thanks Avery! They banter a bit about the drunken scene at the CMA party, and she tells him he's going to help her get that song down. That means he winds up at her house and she sort of opens up about how she dosen't believe in love (which is pretty cliched), and I find it contradictory because she's clearly starting something up with Avery, yet she's playing all jaded. Do you talk about personal feelings with randos? I didn't think so. Let's not forget Dante's still out there somewhere with a sex tape and the intention of blackmailing Juliette. At first he asks for $2 million, and then realizes he can ask for more. Juliette will have to sell off some stuff to come up with the new asking price of $10 million. While talking to her security team, Juliette dejectedly tells them Dante can release the tape. She'll get out in front of it. At least he won't make as much money. Jolene, who's just been to her old dealer for a bag of pills and... something else, is freaking out. What about the CMAs?! What about the new album?! Juliette's too broken down to care. So, Jolene gets Dante's number off her daughter's phone. That night at her place, she calls Dante and tells him she loves him and basically lures him over with the promise of money in exchange for the SD card. When he arrives, she demands the card because she in fact, is not in love with him, but is out to spare her daughter the humiliation of a tawdry scandal. When he asks for the money and stalls, she shoots him. Jolene calls Juliette who is about to do an interview about said tawdry scandal, and tells her not to. She says some nice words and Juliette is like WHAT IS GOING ON DRUGGIE MOM. By the time Juliette and various people in suits arrive at Jolene's apartment, they find Dante dead on the floor and Jolene dead on the couch from an overdose.
COME ON. I'm honestly sad to see Druggie Mom go. Despite many past transgressions, it's good to see flawed characters achieve some type of redemption. I think Jolene had a ways to go, or at least deserved a little better than skeazy murder/suicide, even if it means that she was trying to be selfless. Juliette cries while watching local news coverage of her mom's death.
Over in the political intrigue portion of the show, Tandy and Lamar are in a meeting about what to do with that land they've got. She wants a mixed use high rise. He still wants the ball park. She's like: Hey. It's OVER old man. Tandy, while stroking her well-worn copy of King Lear, meets with THE BOARD and they plot some kind of overthrow. At the end of the episode he shows up and kicks her out of his seat.
Over in East Nashville, Gunnar comes home looking like hell. "Are you ever going to have a recording session that doesn't end at dawn?" Scarlett chirps as birds help her with house work. No. It's an image thing. One must stop showering and only wear leather jackets in order to be a badass. She reminds him she's making her Opry debut that night. He runs off because his producer guy says that Vandy's radio station wants to do an interview with him. He tries really hard to be, (inarticulate and dickish) cool during this interview by responding "I do what I want" to just about every question, including one relating to his love life. Scarlett is listening in her car and is like:
Alas, they all wind up in jail. Backstage at the Opry, Scarlett is nervous. Deacon's there, though. She gets the special dressing room for artists making their Opry debuts. Someone delivers a present for Scarlett from someone in the audience. It's a whisk form Avery because of that one time he had her sing into a whisk in the living room. Good times. Sort of. Scarlett performs. It's great. Meanwhile in lock up, Luke and Gunnar talk. Gunnar doesn't even know what his deal is. Nevertheless, he thanks Luke for having his back. Luke apologizes about that thing and tells Gunnar about how his dad caught him and kicked him out of the house. He doesn't know his deal either, but he knows he's happy on stage. Scarlett bails the both of them out and basically breaks up with Gunnar. "I can't be with you like this. I fell in love with you, not your brother," she says. We feel better about her character. Three cheers for the lady with the backbone.
Next week: All hell breaks loose and Maddie apparently will play a round of Are You My [Daddy]? with Deacon.
+ Where do they store Liam through all of this?
+ I've been waiting so long to use that gif from The O.C.
+ Moment of silence for Druggie Mom.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
If for some reason you haven't found your way to the iTunes stream of the National's new album Trouble Will Find Me, take this as your guidepost. Open up iTunes, and check the rotating banner. The album is pretty stellar so far, but in the immortal words of LeVar Burton, "You don't have to take my word for it."
Trouble Will Find Me will be available for purchase May 21.
You might remember I did a Q&A with U.K. trio Haiku Salut last month. Check out my review of their new album Tricolore from Consequence of Sound and find out why accordion and electronica work so well.