Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review : 'Nashville' : 'They Don't Make 'Em Like My Daddy Anymore '

E'rbody's listening to fresh tracks as this week's episode of Nashville starts. Here's what happened in the wake of Lamar's transition to a new job as Lucifer's Executive Assistant.

Scarlett and Liam play her new song for Rayna. Scarlett, who has zero self worth, assumes Rayna will hate it. Of course, that's not true. Scarlett's going to have another rough episode as her unhappiness spills out everywhere. She has dinner with Liam and he, as they would say on The Bachelor, opens up to her about being a lonely workaholic. He hasn't really been able to work on his own stuff because he's hiding from his own music (3 cheers for self analysis!). Liam even shows her his lyrics. The thing you've got to remember, is that on Nashville, songwriting bears a certain intimacy. When Liam kisses Scarlett on the street, it comes as no surprise. Yet, she spurns him. Which is smart, but merely a delay because after having jealous feelings about her uncle and exes (and then crashing at the studio), she kisses Liam and it's like...

… this isn't going to end well.
Anyway. Juliette really loves the mix Avery did on her flip off ballad to country music. He tells her that some critic from the New York Times called her a "serious artist." She says he's the only one in Nashville who reads the New York Time. WELL.

Perhaps being the only Nashvillian who take the Times is a turn on because they hop into bed. Glen walks in and it's like COME ON DAD. He says some muckity-muck named Howie V (B?) wants to work with Juliette. The fly out to L.A. and this Howie guy is like the most insincere schmoozer you've ever met, like you'd have to stand in the shower for half an hour scrubbing furiously to get all the crap off. They re-record the song with strings and a brass section, and then he arranges a photo shoot that looks like something between Lady Gaga and Katy Perry's Grammys performance. When he references stripping the last little bit of twang out of Juliette, you just really hate him. Howie also treats Glen like dirt. Glen tries to step out of Juliette's way, but in the end she decides that she's just gotta do Juliette and not anyone else.

That's more than you could say for the Bluebird trio (Avery, Gunnar, and Zoe) who are basically going to be the Lumineers. They back Deacon at a show and then decide to be a band. Thus, the Bluebird Brigade is born. I will say, they do have some nice harmonies.

Backtracking, Teddy had to tell Rayna that Lamar died. He'll be wracked with guilt the rest of the episode that he let his ex father-in-law die, to the point where Teddy fesses up to Deacon's Lady Lawyer Friend. When the person you call in your darkest moment is someone else's significant other, and they turn up, you've got to wonder where that relationship is headed. Anyway. Rayna's freakily detached. Tandy's distraught. It all culminates with Rayna smashing up Lamar's study.

Bless her heart.

Stray Observations:

+ Loved Rayna's face when Daphne asked if Lamar was in heaven.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Q&A with Mainland

Photo Credit: George Brooks 

It’s going to be an intense few weeks for New York City band Mainland. The punk quartet is releasing its debut EP Shiner today, and is set to take their act to SXSW this March. Shiner is a 4-song EP brimming with a refreshing zeal for punk-inflected rock ‘n’ roll. Mainland’s guitarist and lead singer Jordan Topf checked in with The Musically Inclined via email to talk about working with Spoon’s Jim Eno, surviving NYC, and pursuing some serious barbecue while in Austin. 

How did you guys start playing together?

The band started a couple years ago, but this lineup began Spring of 2013 after our old bass player quit the band to live in a seminary and preach the word of God.

So, you’re about to release your EP Shiner; tell me a bit about it.

Shiner is a record we made in Austin, Texas. It combines raw New York City rock bands like Jonathan Fire*Eater, Television, and our friends into a pop context.

And you got to work with Jim Eno from Spoon, what was that like? How did you get hooked up with him?

We were introduced to Jim by our future manager Kimberly De Los Angeles. We met him while on tour in Austin. Working with Jim was a really exciting time because he was genuinely excited about our songs and our energy in the studio. We just went for it all day and night until we couldn't breathe. He brought a lot of urgency and determination to make these songs greater out of our souls. He's an amazing producer.

Tell me about how you guys write a song. Is there a division of duties, or everyone pitches in?

I write the songs in my apartment (lyrics and chords), and then bring the songs to the band. We act in the same way a committee acts, with a separation of roles. We sit and talk about the song itself, the influence, and where we want to take it based on demos I send to the band prior to a writing session. Then we hash everything out together as a band and edit tirelessly.

You’ve got a pretty identifiable sound– what pulled you guys toward late ‘70s punk?

We call ‘70s punk a reference because we are fond of the culture and bands that came from that era. Whether we sound like them is another story. 1977-1980 and 1995-2001 in New York might have been some of the most pioneering eras of music in history. The passion that these artists held for creating something unique and timeless is only matched by the fact that many listeners didn't realize this until 40 some odd years later. Suicide, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Thurston Moore, Glenn Branca, DNA, Teenage Jesus & The Jerk, Mars, Ramones, Jonathan Fire-Eater, Pussy Galore, etc. Their impact on our city is as evident as it ever was 40 years ago. It shows in the truest New York artists who understand the importance of the precursors and take their influence to influence creativity of their own.

So, I’m from Nashville, which can be a tough city for bands. Good, but tough. I imagine New York is as well. What are the best and worst things about being a band starting out in NYC? 

New York is a great place to be in a band, because there are so many places to play, and people that can potentially open doors for you like nowhere else in America. After being in the music scene for awhile, figuring out where we fit in, we realized what was legit and not just a trendy niche thing. We connect more with the bands that play in the Lower East Side than in Brooklyn. The bands coming out of Manhattan seemed way less pretentious and just more concerned with writing good songs than what was cool at the time. That, in my opinion, is the best– when you can disregard everything else that is going on around you and focus on what you're doing. New York can be tough for a lot of people if they get bogged down in what other people are doing.

Photo Credit: Henri Groux-Holt

You guys are heading to SXSW this year– do you have a strategy for making the most of that convergence of humanity?

Our strategy is to do what we always do at shows, and that's putting on a memorable live show. We'd also like to eat lots of barbecue whilst watching tons of awesome bands. There will also be meetings with folks who might put us on bigger tours/put us in the studio again.

Apart from playing, are there any bands you’re hoping to catch live?

Skaters, The Orwells, Eagulls, WET, New York Night Train.

What’s a song you wish you could have written?

I wish I could have written "Junk" by Paul McCartney. It's my favorite song of all time, because the melody is so hypnotizing and beautiful. He writes amazing melodies that seem so effortless, but he's McCartney and he makes everything seem so easy. Also "I Ran With Love (But I Couldn't Keep Up)" by an unknown English band called Spectrals. Louis Jones is the brains behind the now defunct band, but that song I have always called “the soundtrack to my life.” It's a really heartbreaking song.

I was snooping on your Twitter and saw you caught Her. Thoughts? I loved it but really hated all the high-waisted tweed pants.

Hahaha, I better watch what I say on Twitter. That movie got so many mixed reviews, but Spike Jonze posed a very interesting topic. Are electronics taking over human interaction to a point where we could fall in love with them? The stylizing of the film was so geeky 1970s it cracked me up, but it still felt so modern.

Tell me about your live shows. What can folks expect?

We have projections at our shows, because we want to create an experience. We're pretty energetic on stage, and believe that if playing the show isn't physical, then we're not communicating the songs to their fullest potential. Quite frankly, it's a wild time.

What’s next for you guys?

Our new EP Shiner drops February 25th! Along with 4 music videos for each song on the record. SXSW we are playing the Neon Gold Records party along with many other shows. We're currently writing our full length album.

Connect with Mainland

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Birdy Spreads Her Wings

There's a good chance you're one of the 50 million+ folks who have watched U.K. singer songwriter Birdy's smash Youtube cover of "Skinny Love" by Bon Iver. Back in January, I had the chance to talk to Birdy for American Songwriter Magazine about her upcoming LP, Fire Within. While she initially  gained exposure for her particular style of covering songs, this new LP is comprised of all originals. Check out what she had to say about co-writing with Mumford and Sons' Ben Lovett, dodging piano practice, and touring the U.S.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

'Cool Kids' : Echosmith

The weather is starting to warm up in Nashville. I don't think it's going to stick just yet, but it seems everyone I run into is elated to be north of 30 degrees for a change. In that spirit, here's a song I've been meaning to post that sounds like it belongs in this upcoming season. It's "Cool Kids" by Southern California's sibling band Echosmith. The singer wishes she were one of the cool kids. I've always liked songs with those sentiments– they're weirdly sincere when you think about it. When Weezer sang about  wanting to be in Beverly Hills, it was like, "You'd admit that?" But who could blame them? Money doesn't buy happiness, but sure solves a lot of problems, as does popularity. So, here you have it– the latest entry in a vein of songs that dares to own up to our more shallow, and more human tendencies.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Jimmy Fallon and the Muppets Cover 'The Weight'

If you ask me, the pinnacle of Jimmy Fallon's career isn't taking over the Tonight Show; it's this performance of the The Band's "The Weight" by Fallon and a full complement of Muppets. It's excellent in itself, but also cool in that it's shot to look like The Band's "Last Waltz" concert, down to Fallon in a black polo and jeans.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Review : 'Nashville' : 'Too Far Gone'

Pour one out for Lamar.
In Nashville, we prefer to record to tape. Just know that.

Anyway, this week we kick things off with Juliette and Avery in the sack, looking for her phone, which is lost in the sheets. Much like her life the rest of the episode. Long story short, she wants to spend her life hiding out at Avery's apartment, microwaving toast and ordering him new furniture. ("Those pillows are unisex!") At one point Deacon, shows up to ask Avery to engineer his live album (We'll do it #analog, says Avery), and Juliette was hiding. I was kinda anticipating this:

No luck. But! Before she gets too clingy, she does decide to go watch Deacon record his album at the Bluebird.

Speaking of the Bluebird, Zoe is creatively unfulfilled. Will gets Brent fired because Gunnar says it's pretty obvious something's going on between them. Gunnar also writes Will a song that's a little on the nose and Will is like:

That's too bad because Gunnar is kinda the "it" songwriter and Will is in bad need of demoes for that album of his that's dropping on the same day as Rayna's. Womp womp. Also too bad is that when Jeff agrees to "take care" of Brent, he also promises to take care of Will, personally. Creepy. I'd want to stay as far away from Evil Boss Man Jeff as possible. Scarlett is popping pills. She looks like hell and acts like the Roadrunner. On drugs.

Everyone who runs into her raises at least one eyebrow. This includes Deacon, but for now he's too busy catching Lady Lawyer Friend squeezing Teddy's hand and then getting told by Avery to walk it off before the show.

But now that we're talking about Teddy and known associates, Lamar is out of prison. Rayna and the girls, plus Tandy (for about a second) have a little welcome home party. The girls sing. It's great. Later, Teddy turns up to tell Rayna that he suspects Lamar had tried to have him killed. He also mentions something about Tandy, which leads Rayna to ask Tandy what the hell is going on. Tandy confesses she was the witness and she did it because she found out Lamar killed their mother. SO. Rayna confronts Lamar, who says that by the time Rayna's mom crashed her car, she was already dead and he panicked. Then: "Did you try to murder the father of my children??"He does not answer.

Rayna banishes him from the kingdom. He goes to Teddy's office to confront him. (SO MUCH CONFRONTATION.) Teddy tells him Tandy betrayed him and Lamar friggin dies of a heart attack while Teddy watches and does nothing. Karma? You decide.

Nashville won't be back for a couple of weeks, but the next episode looks like a doozy. Stay tuned

Monday, February 3, 2014

Q&A with The Farewell Drifters

Right to left: Dean Marold, Clayton Britt, Zach Bevill, Josh Britt

It’s well established that the best thing about tomorrow is that it’s always in the future. But for Nashville band The Farewell Drifters, tomorrow has finally come. Well, Tomorrow Forever, that is, their third album (and first release on Compass Records.) Last week I Skyped with band members Zach Bevill (guitar, vocals) and Josh Britt (mandolin, vocals) who were staying in a cabin in Virginia, mid-tour with the rest of the band. We chatted about the making of the album, listening to Death Cab for Cutie, and finding that moment in songwriting.

One of the last times I did a Q&A on here, I talked to a band on the eve of their album release, and it just so happens we’re in the same situation here. I’ll pose the same question, how are you guys feeling? 

Josh Britt: This is three years in the making for us, so it’s a huge relief. To have this thing that we’ve struggled over for the past three years be finally done, and to be ready to put it in front of somebody else is exciting.

Zach Bevill: I just can’t wait for people to actually listen to it. It’s been done for a while and we’ve been waiting to put it out, for various stupid reasons that don’t really matter. It’s a relief to know it’s finally going to be available, and people will listen to it. There’s probably a mixture of excitement and the normal little bit of fear.

JB: Always lots of fear involved. [Laughs]

Describe the album for me. 

ZB: This album came out of personal struggle; it’s doubting yourself and questioning yourself and the things you’re doing in life, and trying to find hope and move forward, and keep doing what you believe in, even when it’s hard. That came out too in the music. We approached this album differently. We took our time creating it, we spent a lot of time writing it– we wrote way more songs than we’d ever written. It was just a long creative process that felt like it was, in the end, much more fruitful than anything we’d ever done.

JB: The other day someone was asking if our music was folk rock or folk music. In the studio, and any time in the process, I never thought to myself, "What genre are we making?" Or, "What is it going to sound like?" It was more like, "Well, I want to write this song for people that are messed up, and maybe they don’t always want to be messed up." That’s how I felt about myself. I was writing a song for that person, who was me, but with this hope that there’s other people like that who would hear it in the same way I hear it– which is always daunting, because I think if you’re an artist and you put out music, and nobody connects with it, it reinforces the feeling that you’re weird.

When I think about “Modern Age,” “Starting Over,” and a few other spots on the album, what surfaces to me is the recurring idea of a fresh start, or wanting another shot at something. Is that fair?

JB: Yeah, for sure. “Modern Age” is about all that stuff that I just said, just ignoring it and saying, “This is our year no matter what anyone feels or cares about. If I’m the only one who feels this way, that’s fine. Let’s go for it.” “Starting Over” is laying out all the doubt and saying, "Maybe one day you’ll find me happy.” That’s thematic on the record.

ZB: We’re always trying to find that hope. Having lyrics that break your heart is one of my favorite things in the world. If I’m feeling bad, I can listen to something and it makes me feel even more sad, and that’s an amazing thing sometimes. I think that’s a worthy thing to aspire to when you’re writing, to connect with people on that level. But at the end of the day, I don’t feel like we’re the kind of people that wanted to walk away from this record or walk away from life feeling like that, so I guess that’s what comes out in those songs.

I found an interview on Youtube where you guys were talking about “Neighborhoods Apart,” and Josh, you prefaced it with a bit about how there are things you could express in a song, that maybe you couldn’t say otherwise. Why is that? 

J: I think in a song, it’s one layer away from me. That song in particular– I spent my whole life trying to say something to a friend that lost his family. He was my best friend, and even a best friend, I couldn’t bring myself to say "I’m sorry." Nothing felt good enough. And then when I did, it didn’t feel real enough, and to me that’s what music has always been. You listen to bands to feel something even more. I’m a very reserved, introverted person. I have a hard time communicating anything in life. Music has a way of giving me a voice in the world. I do feel weird a lot, and that’s my attempt to be normal.

Tell me about how you guys write together. 

ZB: A lot of times, Josh and I are writing on our own, individually, and sometimes we’ll bring each other finished songs. On this record, we finished a lot of them together. Over the years it’s gotten easier to write together because we know where the other person is going to go sometimes, and we really trust each other. Nashville is a songwriting town, so people can turn it into a business meeting, but to us songwriting is such a personal endeavor– to let someone else in on that process can feel invasive at first. Over the years as we’ve been writing together, we started to realize we’re going through some of the exact same things in life. It’s almost like group therapy.

JB: What I was talking about earlier, writing songs as your own way of doing things– I always hate writing songs like, “Hey, let’s just write a song together because we want to.” And even songs that I have something to say, it’s very internal and I want to get it out. I have a hard time co-writing, but there are a lot of songs like “Brother” and “Coming Home” that we started from the same place– it was a conversation. We were both going through things with brothers and it’s like, here’s what we would say. We actually found ourselves having this common ground even though we’re very different people. Those songs are special for that reason, because they feel like it’s me and him saying something rather than me saying something and then getting together with a bunch of guys around a coffee table to write a song and finish it. I hate that stuff. It’s just a different way of looking at songwriting. I’m never the guy who’s like, “Oh, there’s a song in that.”

ZB: That’s like the most overused Nashville line.

JB: Whenever anyone says that, it makes no sense. It’s so different than how I look at songwriting. I don’t mind writing songs for fun, but songs that are my own and that I really get something out with, I can’t do it that way. It’s never a rhyme scheme or something. But this album is really the first– specifically those two songs, and “Starting Over” was one, where I had a bunch of big ideas and I had everything that I wanted to say out there but I didn’t care about how it went together. And we basically cut half of it to make the song.

You mentioned that you wind up with these big ideas that eventually turn into songs, how do you come to those? 

ZB: To me, songwriting is more like a moment– having a moment that is impacting you in some way and then exploring that. Usually, it’s a feeling or emotion in that moment that you can’t get out of your head, so it starts coming out in a song, for me. I’ve had people in my life, after hearing one or two of these songs that might be sad be like, “Are you ok? Is everything ok in your life?” [Laughs] I’m like, “Yeah, it’s fine.” But that’s because to me, it’s a moment. It’s about being honest. Life isn’t perfect. This thing kind of sucked and I kind of felt this way, but it doesn’t mean that my life is a disaster. But I don’t feel the need to tidy up every song and say at the end, “Oh, by the way, everything’s fine now!”

JB: For me, it’s an emotion more than anything. I did this personality test that said I have a hard time letting go of emotions and I hold on to them for days.

ZB: Which is true.

JB: Songs come out of that personality flaw, perhaps, for me. I get very depressed for two days, then I can’t deal with it, or I’ll think I’m the greatest thing in the world for a day, and I’m super happy. It goes all over the map.

Ok. Let’s talk Death Cab, since we established prior that we're all three fans. This might be an impossible question. If you guys could have written one of their songs, which one would it be?

JB: I would say, “What Sarah Said” from Plans, or “Styrofoam Plates.”

Tell me why. 

JB: I got into Ben Gibbard years ago and I think it was because of “Styrofoam Plates.” It just sounded timeless. I felt so much of what he was saying and I don’t have his situation in that song. Both those songs, at the time in which I heard them, I wasn’t experiencing the same thing, but I was crying. There’s very few people who can do that to me. That whole ending of “What Sarah Said–"  “Who’s going to watch you die?” That made me go into this weird depression for like a week. I couldn’t believe that a writer could be that. He’s like one of the three people in the world that have inspired me to try and write like that. Not that I think I’ve succeeded, but that’s the kind of thing I want to feel when I’m writing a song.

ZB: I would say “The New Year,” just because that song– there’s something about the whole idea of everybody dressing up and pretending to be happy. The feeling that you have to pretend that you’re happy when you’re not, that breaks my heart because I’ve felt like that before. You have to be super happy about what you’re doing sometimes in order to come across like you’re into it. Even being in Nashville, the number one question I hear when I see people I know around town is, “How’s it going? You guys been on the road, touring?” And sometimes I’m tired, I’m doubting whether music is worth it, and I feel like I have to be like, “Yeah, it’s great, the band’s doing well!” I identify with that. Then, “You’re Heart is an Empty Room” also gets me, probably for some of the same reasons– searching for happiness and not really understanding why you don’t have it.

                                                     Bevill and Britt

So, you guys are on tour right now. Tell me a tour story. What’s something that’s interesting or weird that’s happened on the road?

ZB: The other night, we were playing a show in Roanoke, VA and we were playing “Motions,” which is probably the slowest, quietest song on the record.

JB: We’d just set it up with this dark story, like "This is going to be a sensitive moment." It was almost a joke, like "This is the most sensitive we’ve ever gotten." The place is totally quiet.

ZB: I’m sitting there playing the opening lines on the piano, and I sing the first couple of lines, and all of a sudden, we hear this "doom chicka doom chicka doom chicka doom" and it was this drum machine that our bass player uses for a bass synth, and he accidentally pushed the wrong button. It’s like the loudest drumbeat comes in the middle of this sensitive moment, and I just couldn’t handle it.

JB: Then we tried to pick up the song where we left off.

ZB: The whole crowd was dying laughing, we’re dying laughing on stage. It was ridiculous. It’s this song about your heart being broken.

JB: Everyone in the crowd and us was laughing for the entire rest of the song.

ZB: Except for me, because I was trying to sing.

JB: Everyone is dying laughing through “Our love is so worth saving.”

Oh, no!  I hope someone got video.  Is there anything else you'd want to add? 

JB: The one thing that I would like to add is that as songwriters, we’re really thankful to be in a band with guys that want to play our music and want to create the music with us. There was a whole big creative process that happened after the writing of the songs that involved Dean, our bass player, and Clayton, Josh’s brother, who plays lead guitar. He’s probably the best guitar player I’ve ever played with, so it’s cool to be in a band with someone like that.

Connect with The Farewell Drifters

Nickel Creek Reunites

There's been no better Monday in months. This morning, bluegrass/folk trio Nickel Creek announced they're releasing their first new album in 9 years. And for the lucky folks in cities like Nashville, NYC, Boston, and Chicago, they'll also be swinging through town on a short spring tour. You can find full tour dates on their website, as well as a brand new song called "Destination."

Nickel Creek split in 2007. While members Chris Thile, Sara Watkins, and Sean Watkins have been involved in various solo projects and collaborations (Punch Brothers, Fiction Family), we sure have missed them together. Check out "Destination" below.