Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Pylon: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

A brief history of Pylon? Four University of Georgia art students turned musicians inspired by the debut of music from groups such as The B-52's in Athens, Georgia formed their own band and recorded the single Cool/Dub (1979), albums Gyrate (1980), Chomp (1983), and a third album recorded during a reunion, Chain (1990) for DB Records...then disappeared again for too many years. In 2004 Pylon started playing together again and, thankfully, Gyrate can be heard by a new generation given its October 2007 re-mastering and re-release by DFA Records (now titled Gyrate Plus, given it includes the Cool/Dub single).

The band included then, and now, Randy Bewley on guitar, Vanessa Briscoe Hay's vocals, Curtis Crowe on drums, and Michael Lachowski on bass.

Music fans will know that the late '70s/early '80s in Athens, Georgia was a particularly creative period of time, also birthing The B-52s, R.E.M., The Method Actors, Love Tractor, and Oh-Ok. Pylon has, in truth, gone down in musical history as one of those most original bands that may not have had huge commercial success, but who has influenced an untold number of other musicians through their approach and style. Many will also know Pylon by way of R.E.M.'s cover of their song Crazy, which appeared as a B-side and later on Dead Letter Office. When Rolling Stone named R.E.M. "America's Best Band" in 1987, R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry said, "We're not the best rock 'n' roll band in America." Pylon, he said, was the best.

Gyrate is an album with angular rhythms and a simplicity that makes the music feel utilitarian, but always had enough funk behind it that the motivation seemed to be to get you up on the dancefloor. In a similar realm to The Bush Tetras, Gang of Four, or The Au Pairs, Pylon really created a language all their own using the very traditional line-up of vocals, guitar, bass, and drums. With simple, danceable, repetitive, funky music paired with Briscoe's raspy, primal, urgent vocals, Pylon’s music was unlike anything I'd heard—or have heard since—and it still stands up.

Sometime in October I happened upon the information that Pylon would be playing at The Mercury Lounge in Manhattan in early November and I knew it would be worth a drive from Boston. Not surprisingly, the show was amazing and Pylon’s music kept the sold-out audience dancing and having a chance to enjoy their music live once again.

Photo credit: Jason Thrasher

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Jose Ayerve of Spouse: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

After learning about him from members of Winterpills, Spouse's frontman, José Ayerve, sent me their latest release, Relocation Tactics, and, during a recent drive to Washington D.C. I listened to the album, once, twice, eventually about six or seven times on the drive down I-95 from Boston. Part of me kept wondering why Spouse was such a well-kept secret...and another part of me was wondering how soon I could get them on the show.

Ayerve is the constant thread behind Spouse, an indie-rock band that started in Brunswick, ME in 1995 and has released four full-length CDs and a variety of EPs since 2000. The band's albums include Nozomi (2000), Love Can't Save This Love (2002), Are You Gonna Kiss or Wave Goodbye? (2004), and their latest, Relocation Tactics (2007). The band's line-up has shifted, expanded, and evolved over the years, and we talk about the various incarnations it has had-and still has in different cities-in our conversation.

Spouse has drawn comparisons to a variety of indie rock bands in reviews over the years, including Pavement, The Pixies, Sebadoh, The Replacements, Dinosaur Jr., and Wilco. I also hear a bit of Boy and October-era U2 through their vocal and guitar styles at that point.

While some reviews of Relocation Tactics have used the word schizophrenic to describe the diverse musical sounds and styles that the band tackles, I see it as more of all the diverse influences that the band members have creeping into the work. More bold and anthematic than earlier releases, Relocation Tactics is one of those albums where the great songs just keep on coming at you, with songwriting and performances that feels like the group has taken what they do to a whole new level.

Spouse has a handful of live dates with Spottiswoode & His Enemies coming up in November in Boston, Providence, New York, and Arlington, VA and more dates in December in Northampton, Chicago, Nashville, Charlotte, Knoxville, and New York City. Check here for more details.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Jenny Toomey of The Future of Music Coalition: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

As a fan of her work in the band Tsunami, when I first heard that its singer/songwriter Jenny Toomey was working with a group of policy and legislative folks in Washington D.C. at The Future of Music Coalition, I was sort of surprised.

Toomey fronted the indie rock band Tsunami for much of the 1990s and a subsequent solo career that she continues today. She was also the co-founder of Simple Machines Records which, between 1990-1997 released over 70 records for acts including Tsunami, Scrawl, Ida, Grenadine, and Liquorice. Toomey's band mate and business partner was Kristin Thomson, who is also a Deputy and Education Director at The Future of Music Coalition. When you put it all together, though, it all makes perfect sense: she's an independent musician who is still looking out for other working, independent musicians.

Started in 2000, The Future of Music Coalition's founders were Policy Director Michael Bracy, General Council Walter F. McDonough, Executive Director Toomey, and Technologies Director Brian Zisk.

Today, the Future of Music Coalition’s mission statement is "a national non-profit education, research and advocacy organization that identifies, examines, interprets and translates the challenging issues at the intersection of music, law, technology and policy. FMC achieves this through continuous interaction with its primary constituency – musicians – and in collaboration with other creator/citizen groups."

Among the issues that the coalition has focused on are music licensing, payola, low-power radio, health insurance for musicians, network neutrality, record label contracts, Internet radio licensing, and many other topics that are key to the current and future era of music-making for both independent and rising musicians.

The organization’s seventh policy summit takes place in Washington D.C. on September 17-18, 2007 (and I’ll be at the summit this year, so drop me a line at if you are attending). The summit includes a mix of industry professionals, public policy experts, and musicians with a mix of panels and parties to help educate attendees and work toward reaching collaboration. Audio podcasts of many of the panels are available online after the show. For more information, visit their event site.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Eilen Jewell: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

I first heard Eilen (rhymes with feelin') Jewell's music as she was playing at the Green River Music Festival in Greenfield, Massachusetts in the summer of 2006. Jewell was playing an outdoor stage, under a tent, with a myriad of activities going on around the festival property for both kids and adults, but the crowd was listening with rapt attention...not an easy thing to do when playing in such a setting!

Jewell's debut album, Boundary County, was self-released in 2005 and she subsequently signed to Signature Sounds, which released Letters from Sinners and Strangers in late June 2007. Jewell is playing live in the coming months at various points around the US.

Her music bridges a number of different worlds, including folk, country, blues, and jazz. If this isn't Americana at its most intertwined, I don't know what is. Jewell is often compared to singers such as Billie Holiday, Gillian Welch, Lucinda Williams, Norah Jones, and she cites them, and Hank Williams, as influences, too. I also hear a bit of Mary Margaret O’Hara in Jewell’s voice.

Jewell's band consists of Jason Beek on drums, Jerry Miller on electric and steel guitar, and Johnny Sciascia on upright bass. The group's secret weapon is guitarist Miller, who can take the band from folk to blues to jazz to soul all within a single song. Other musical guests on the disc include Daniel Kellar on violin (formerly of the Tarbox Ramblers, who I interviewed a few years back) and Alec Spiegelman on clarinet, both of whom help Jewell’s music stretch into new territories.

At a recent live performance at Boston’s Lizard Lounge, I thought, if you closed your eyes for a minute, the music really could transport you back in time about 60 or 70 years...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Brent Bell of PDX Pop Now!: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

Over the past four years in Portland, Oregon a group of volunteers at PDX Pop Now! have put on a 3-day, all-ages, free festival (this year's dates are August 3-5, 2007) and released a 2-CD compilation featuring some of the diverse music being made in Portland these days.

To quote their mission statement: "PDX Pop Now! is dedicated to stimulating and expanding participation in Portland music. As an all-volunteer organization committed to being accessible, current, and local, we provide and support live performances and recorded materials. We aspire to advance a sustainable community which values inclusivity and a high caliber of artistry to enable a creative dialog between artist and audience."

Beyond the great music, what interested me most about PDX Pop Now! is that the organization is volunteer-run, which by its nature changes the reasons for such a festival and compilation and is quite a different setting than a CMJ or SXSW festival. They also confess to wanting to keep it local, so I thought I'd include this show not so much because they want PDX Pop Now! to become a destination festival, but to sample the great musical acts on the compilation CDs and to provide some ideas and background for music fans in other parts of the world who might want to create their own local music event in the spirit of what PDX Pop Now! is doing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hallelujah the Hills: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

About two years ago I did an interview with the members of The Stairs on the eve of their final shows. The Stairs released two albums, 2002's Miraculous Happens and 2005's On Sleep Lab, both of which were brilliant and ambitious pieces of rock and roll with instrumentation and a scale that defied its lo-fi production. So, if you want the full story, make sure you also listen to this, too.

Around the same time as The Stairs were ending, Ryan Walsh, one of the band's songwriter, vocalist + guitarists, and Eric Meyer, The Stairs' drummer, formed Hallelujah the Hills and started recruiting new members. The band now includes David Bentley (cello + guitar), Elio DeLuca (organ, Moog, guitar + sampler), Joseph Marrett (bass), and Brian Rutledge (trumpet + melodica). The outfit recorded their debut, Collective Psychosis Begone in 2006, signed to Misra Records early in 2007, and it was just released on June 5th. The band is out on tour now, hitting a number of cities along the east coast and mid-west.

Hallelujah the Hills have been compared to the Elephant 6 (the collective of bands and musicians who emerged from Louisiana in the mid 90s that includes The Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, and Beulah among others), The Mountain Goats, Guided by Voices, and Wilco. I suppose there is some truth to these, but what sets Hallelujah the Hills apart is Walsh is a versatile songwriter first, with the layers of instruments and arrangements that are added to them only serving to build upon a strong foundation.

And, as a result of listening to Collective Psychosis Begone as complete album (remember them?) for many months, I thought it would be most interesting to do a behind the scenes look at each song or a “director’s commentary,” as film-school grad Walsh so accurately called it.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Well-Rounded Radio Book Review: The Show I'll Never Forget

Book Review: The Show I'll Never Forget (2007, Da Capo Press)

How to you write a review about a book filled with writings from esteemed novelists, writers, and musicians writing about inspirational or life-shifting concerts? You don't.

I enjoyed reading this book not because I learned that much about music, but that it confirms, beautifully and lyrically, what an important element music is in so many of our lives and our collective and individual growth and maturation.

Some highlights include Rick Moody on The Lounge Lizards, Chuck Klosterman on Prince, David Gates on James Brown, and Bruce Bauman on Television. For a full list of the contributing writers and the artists they write about here.

The show I'll never forget? Well, I wrote about my R.E.M experience at New York's Ritz in 1983 a few months back as part of my interview with The Rudds, but the second one that comes to mind was The Fetchin' Bones at Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey sometime in 1984.

Their debut album, Cabin Flounder, had come out a few weeks or months earlier on DB Records and it consumed me. Don Dixon had produced it and it's hard to explain what the music sounds like. Part punk, part country, part soul, part ska, part funk, there wasn't a bad track on it. The band dressed in thrift store threads that were not the work of any stylist or the like...these were truly some of the oddest clothes anyone could find in thrift stores and it suited the band's music perfectly.

Maxwell's is still one of my favorite venues. Small, intimate, not fancy in the least...and connected to a great restaurant where, during that period, you'd often get to see Peter Holsapple or Ira Kaplan or Glenn Morrow of any number of New York and Hoboken music luminaries.

In 1984, Hoboken was not yet quite as gentrified (yuppified? starbuckified? pottery barnified?) as it is today, so trekking out to Maxwell's (from Queens, NY, on the other side of Manhattan) always was a bit of an adventure whether you went by PATH train or by car, but after seeing a show or two there you knew it was well worth the ride down Northern Blvd or on the Long Island Expressway, cutting thru Manhattan, and out the Lincoln Tunnel. Loop around the exit ramps and a few side streets, and the smells of the Maxwell's coffee factory (now defunct...probably turned into lofts or condos or such) greeted you as you parked down the street from the club.

I don't recall who opened the show with Fetchin' Bones, but I remember going with my friends Stacey, Stefani, John, John, and John. I remember we ate at the restaurant (probably French onion soup, which was always among the best offerings) and I remember we drank some beers. That much I remember.

From about the second song in, we, and a group of about 20 to 25 other Fetchin' Bones converts in front of the foot-high stage at Maxwell's, starting dancing to the band's mix of punk, funk, ska, etc. Just as on record, Fetchin' Bones shifted gears so dramatically and convincingly live from one genre to the next that we literally were dancing, frugging, shaking, pogoing, and basically sweating for about the next 90 minutes. The Fetchin' Bones members, Marc Mueller, Hope Nicols, Dana Pentes, Aaron Pitkin, and Gary White, all did just about the same, albeit while they were playing music, but I remember having that kind of communal feeling where the line between the band and audience was pretty much non-existant.

In some ways that show was like a hundred other ones that I saw with this group of friends in New York, New Jersey, Long Island, etc., but the intensity of the joy of it all still strikes me as something amazing that many bands could not muster. At the end of the show I was utterly exhausted (and probably craving a cigarette) and completely in awe that a band could keep up that kind of energy for so long and never "lose" the audience. Impressive indeed.

We saw Fetchin' Bones a dozen times over the new handful of years at lots of other venues: The Cat Club on 13th Street and Broadway was a favorite, CBGB's, and we still all reminisce about the week we saw Fetchin' Bones, The Reivers, and Mojo Nixon + Skid Roper about five times during one of the CMJ Marathons, including a show where Stefani somehow finagled us tickets onto the Staten Island Ferry where we had a blast and ended up out in the harbor.

And, ironically, as I was writing this, I did a search online to find out that not only has Fetchin' Bones made Cabin Flounder available on iTunes and eMusic and other digital download sites, BUT they have also reunited and are playing their first reunion shows on June 30th at Amos' Southend in Charlotte, North Carolina and on July 1st at Smith's Olde Bar in Atlanta, Georgia. I am hoping a Boston visit is in the works...and I'll have to invite a new group of friends to see them when they come!

To find out more about "The Show I'll Never Forget" visit Da Capo Press Music Books.

To find out more about Fetchin' Bones, visit MySpace or buy their mp3s at iTunes, eMusic, or the like.

Back in a few days with our interview with Hallelujah the Hills.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Panos Panay of Sonicbids: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

Sonicbids is an online service that offers musicians a way to submit their EPK, or electronic press kit, to a number of outlets for consideration. These including clubs and live venues, compilation CDs, festivals, songwriting contests, film, television, + commercial licensing, magazines, awards, college bookings, podcasts, Internet radio, and plenty of other opportunities, as they call them.

The company was founded in 2001 by Panos Panay and is still run by him today. And as of May 2007, Sonicbids is coming up on 100,000 members and 80,000 promoters from more than 100 countries around the globe.

I won’t say more than that because 1) I think Panay and I covered pretty much everything about how Sonicbids came to be and what some of their larger goals are as the proverbial playing field gets flattened and 2) because it’s a pretty long interview and we should get right to it!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Antibalas: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

Brooklyn, New York-based Antibalas is a collective of up to 17 musicians whose origins were in celebrating Afrobeat music, made famous by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti in Nigeria in the 1970s, but since their origins in 1998, the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra has changed names to simply Antibalas and continues to infuse funk, jazz, Latin, soul, and classical elements into their music to keep it growing in new directions.

The list of influences to these musicians would be a hefty list, but during out conversation they do provide some insights into some prime musical influences beyond Fela Kuti, including Fugazi, Bob Marley, Talking Heads, and Eddie Palmieri and the Harlem River Drive Orchestra.

Antibalas have released four albums to date including Liberation Afro Beat Vol. 1 in 2001 and Talkatif in 2002, both on Ninja Tune Records. Who is This America? was released in 2004 on Ropeadope Records and their newest, Security, was released in early March 2007 on ANTI- Records.

Antibalas is currently on tour around the world in support of the new CD. Catch them if and when you can.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Help Save Internet Radio

Wanted to make sure people were aware of a recent activity from the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB).

On Friday March 2nd, the CRB announced its decision on the royalty rates Internet radio webcasters must pay the music industry to license the music they play.

The problem is, the new rates amount to well over 100% of even the most-successful webcasters' online radio revenues. Take a look at an example here. This means, unless the rates are drastically changed, most or all of your favorite Internet radio stations will be bankrupt or simply shut down, and this burgeoning industry will go silent.

What can you do?

Let your representatives in Congress and Senate know you want them to step in and do something to save Internet radio. Let's not let four major record labels and the RIAA determine when and where innovation takes place for all musicians and music fans across the country.

Visit,, and/or to send a message to your representatives today to ask them to prevent this change from going through.

To find out more visit , Save Our Internet Radio, and RAIN (Radio and Internet Newsletter).

Please share with anyone you know who also enjoys Internet radio (or those who do not enjoy monopolies)...and thanks!

- Charlie

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Winterpills: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

When I first heard Winterpillls debut back in 2005 it came across as a breath of fresh air: a delicate and perfect interplay of harmonies between a man and woman’s voices plus chiming, tasteful guitars, but all with an urgency in the lyrics and songwriting which made it an impressive debut.

Winterpills is Dennis Crommett on electric guitar, Dave Hower on drums and percussion, Philip Price on vocals, acoustic guitar and keyboards, and Flora Reed on keyboard and vocals. Occasional members include José Ayerve on bass, who also produced the bands debut and co-produced their new CD, and Brian Akey, also on bass.

Winterpills don’t get reviewed without people like Elliot Smith, Simon and Garfunkel, Iron and Wine, or Low getting discussed. When I hear the band, I think of the late 60s, as if Winterpills could have played alongside the Los Angeles music scenes that brought us Love or The Byrds or the San Francisco scene that fostered Jefferson Airplane. Were they playing then, they’d likely be considered folk-rock, a phrase that today seems to mean something very different...

On Winterpills’ myspace page, they also cite influences such as The Innocence Mission, Stars, Elliott Smith, X, Joni Mitchell, Bjork, Stephen Merritt, Neil Young, George Harrison, ABBA, Sun Kil Moon, Harry Nilsson, Leonard Cohen, Elton John, and Sam Beam of Iron and Wine.

Winterpills does what all great bands do, bringing together some disparate and perfectly-matched skills to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Their 2005 release garnered a number of critical rave reviews in The Washington Post, The Big Takeover, and No Depression. Their new CD, The Light Divides was produced by Dave Chalfant, José Ayerve, and Winterpills and was released by Signature Sounds and Soft Alarm Records in late February.

The band is out now on a tour of the east coast, midwest and several shows at SXSW.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Frank Morey: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

The first time I learned about Frank Morey was in an article in the Boston Phoenix by Ted Drozdowski a few years back. I found a few Morey's CDs on and at Boston's now-defunct Hi-Fi Records store and, as cynical as I am, I was a little surprised that Morey was not already some huge musical commodity...

Sure, at first listen you might think Morey is a Tom Waits knockoff, but truthfully Morey’s roots trace back through a a diverse set of blues, folk, and honky tonk music, including some other musical heroes, such as Louis Armstrong, Howlin’ Wolf, Ray Charles, Leadbelly, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen, all of whom have helped inspire Morey to craft his own unique sound. In combination with true skill at storytelling and singing, each of Morey’s CDs has improved on the formula and brought him to his fifth CD, the wonderful MADE IN USA.

Morey’s earlier CDs include Bourbon Soaked Halo from 1998, Father John’s Medicine in 2000, and Cold in Hand and The Delmark Sessions (released by Delmark Records), both of which came out in 2002.

Based in Lowell, Massachusetts, an industrial city northwest of Boston where Jack Kerouac spent much of his youth before heading out on the road. Morey is still based in Lowell and speaks in the interview about how this city with its industrial roots also has influenced him and his writing. As often quoted, Morey says, "You can sit down in some bar in Lowell and there’s going to be somebody in that place that you couldn’t invent. They’re beautiful and crazy and for some reason they all want to sit next to me."