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!