Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Kyla Fairchild of No Depression: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

The No Depression Festival takes place Saturday, August 21, 2010 at Marymoor Park in Redmond, Washington and features Sera Cahoone, The Cave Singers, Alejandro Escovedo, The Maldives, Chuck Prophet, The Swell Season, and Lucinda Williams. Buy tickets for $45.


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Long before the internet came barreling along, music magazines were one of the most important ways for music fans to read about their favorites and discover new artists.

I've spent my share of time and money reading great 4-color, glossy, music magazines and newspapers through the years: Rolling Stone. Creem. Trouser Press. NME. Melody Maker. The Big Takeover. Goldmine. Musician. The Bob. Record. Matter. Forced Exposure. Spin. Magnet. Ray Gun. Jazz Times. Paste. Filter. Harp. Mojo.

How would the audiences of modern music have grown and expanded were it not for all these magazines and dozens more like them? I'd be lying if I said all these wonderful publications didn't greatly shape my tastes in music, art, culture, and prose--and my record collection.

But why are they important? Just like blogs or podcasts, it was and is the people behind them...the writers and editors, photographers and designers, sales reps and trafficking and subscription folks. People who, by and large, really loved music and played the roles of tastemakers and critics and curators, bringing their favorites to the masses.

No Depression was another magazine I often bought, too. No Depression published its first print edition in 1995 and continued through 2008, carrying on the great traditions of smart writing and in-depth interviews with a focus on Americana or roots music or, alt-country, as it was called in its earliest days.

No Depression was co-founded and co-edited by Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock. The pair of writers brought Kyla Fairchild on as Publisher shortly thereafter and today she's keeping No Depression on as an online-only publication to galvanize fans and musicians of Americana and beyond.

The name No Depression comes from The Carter Family's 1936 song No Depression in Heaven, covered by Uncle Tupelo in 1990 on their debut album. From there, it became the name of a bulletin board about alt country that lived on America Online back in those early days of the consumer web, at the same time when this idea of country-influenced rock was beginning to gain traction. You can read more about this history of the song and magazine on

I first discovered No Depression in 1995 at the UW bookstore when I was living in Seattle while working at another start-up magazine: MovieMaker, a title about independent film.

Over the course of 13 years and 75 issues No Depression featured artists such as Blue Mountain, Solomon Burke, Steve Earle, Jason & the Nashville Scorchers, Patty Griffin, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Loretta Lynn, Buddy Miller, Gram Parsons, The Shins, Son Volt, Ralph Stanley, The Waco Brothers, Whiskeytown, and Lucinda Williams, along with many others. We'll hear music from some of these artists during our interview.

Through the years the No Depression brand expanded through books, bookazines, radio series, tours, and more.

The Internet has clearly opened a lot of doors for music, without a doubt. I could argue, though, that it's reducing our attention span to nothingness in this era of “there’s always something else over there that is more shiny and new.” The reality of a shifting business model also means fewer record labels have a budget to advertise in magazines, making producing quality productions like No Depression magazine impossible.

Is this a good thing? I don't think so.

No Depression was highly regarded for its in-depth articles and interviews: they received Utne Reader’s Independent Press Awards for Arts & Literature coverage, and was cited as one of the nation's Top 20 magazines of any kind in 2004 by the Chicago Tribune.

With all their back-issues online, you can read 99% of their editorial content. You can also buy back issues of most of the print issues.

Fairchild is keeping the brand going by using the Ning social networking platform, volunteer writers and contributors, and 80,000 unique readers per month connecting and conversing at

In 2009, Fairchild added a concert held just outside Seattle in Redmond's Marymoor Park with Justin Townes Earle, Iron & Wine, Jessica Lea Mayfield, and Gillian Welch among others.

The 2010 No Depression Festival takes place Saturday, August 21st and features Sera Cahoone, The Cave Singers, Alejandro Escovedo, The Maldives, Chuck Prophet, The Swell Season, and Lucinda Williams. I’ve also featured many of them in this episode, too. Buy tickets for $45.

As so many online ventures, No Depression is now supported by advertising, merchandise and donations, so if you like what to hear in this show and on their site, then click on ads that interest you, buy something from from their advertisers, buy some No Depression back issues, books or bookazines, wearables, posters, bags and stickers, or make a donation.

I met with Fairchild in Seattle this spring to discuss:
* how she made her way into the publishing and advertising biz
* why she decided to take the leap to publishing No Depression online
* what she's learned being a pioneer in the field

Songs featured in the interview include:
1) Uncle Tupelo: No Depression (No Depression)
2) Lucinda Williams: Real Love (Little Honey)*
3) Son Volt: Catching On (Trace)
4) Blue Mountain: Blue Canoe (Dog Days)
5) The Shins: New Slang (Oh, Inverted World)
6) Jason and the Nashville Scorchers: Hot Nights in Georgia (Fervor)
7) The Carter Family: No Depression in Heaven
8) Buddy Miller: Returning to the Living Water (Universal United House of Prayer)
9) Merle Haggard: I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink
10) Emmylou Harris: Every Grain of Sand (Wrecking Ball)
11) Patty Griffin: Rain (1000 Kisses)
12) Loretta Lynn: You Ain't Woman Enough to Take My Man
13) Solomon Burke: Don't Give Up On Me (Don't Give Up On Me)
14) Steve Earle: Amerika v. 6.0 (The Best we Can Do) (Jerusalem)
15) Ralph Stanley: Poor Rambler
16) The Waco Brothers: Do You Think About Me? (Do You Think About Me?)
17) The Maldives: Tequila Sunday (Listen to the Thunder)*
18) Sera Cahoone: Baker Lake (Only as the Day is Long)*
19) Alejandro Escovedo: Faith (Street Songs of Love)*
20) Chuck Prophet: Where the Hell is Henry? (Let Freedom Ring!)*
21) The Swell Season: High Horses (Strict Joy)*

* Performing at 2010 No Depression Festival.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

George Wein of the Newport Jazz + Folk Festivals: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

My friends at the Newport Jazz + Folk Festivals would like to invite you to become "one of the folk" and offer Well-Rounded Radio listeners some special ticket discounts.

Simply follow links to buy tickets for the Newport Folk Festival and enter the promo code "UFOLK" or buy tickets for the Newport Jazz Festival and enter the promo code "UJAZZ" when selecting tickets. (Discount is available for a limited time only. Offer good while supplies last. Not valid on previously purchased tickets or at gate. Does not apply to Friday evening concert.) See you at the shows!


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Festival owner and producer George Wein may not be one of those names in the history of music that everyone knows as he so often kept himself behind the scenes, but Wein has had an enormous impact on the world of live music and festivals, especially jazz.

Last year I interviewed Jay Sweet, who co-produces (with Bob Jones) the Newport Folk Festival; Sweet has worked with George Wein since 2005. You can hear that interview and check out the line-up for this year's folk festival, taking place July 30-August 1.

The Newport Jazz Festival takes place August 6-8, 2010.

Wein was born in in 1925 in Lynn, Massachusetts and grew up in Newton, where he learned to play jazz piano and performed in a variety of jazz groups. As he details in our conversation, after serving in the second World War, he opened Storyville, a jazz club that solidified his lifelong relationship with jazz musicians.

In 1954, Wein started the Newport Jazz Festival; five years later, with the help of Pete Seeger and others, the Newport Folk Festival was born. Wein went on to start a number of festivals in other cities, including the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles, and JVC Jazz Festivals in cities around the world, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris, Warsaw, and Tokyo.

Throughout the years, the Newport Jazz Festival has featured the biggest and most innovative names in jazz. From Miles Davis to John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald to Billie Holiday, Count Basie to Louis Armstrong to Albert Ayler to Duke Ellington to Nina Simone to Wynton Marsalis, and the list goes on.

Wein and Nate Chinen wrote the biography Myself Among Others: A Life In Music, published in 2004 by Da Capo Press. It’s a terrific read for anyone interested in music festivals or the history of jazz over the last 60 years. Wein also now has a blog, Key of G: Notes from George Wein.

Wein could easily be called the grandfather of the modern music festival, introducing ideas like sponsorships into the equation as a way to sustain events of this scale.

For those who haven't been lucky enough to attend, the Newport festivals are held at Fort Adams on a peninsula overlooking Newport Harbor, Narragansett Bay, and the 11,000 foot Newport Bridge. Surrounded by water, sail boats and listeners and a very easy-going crowd, the festivals' location is hard to beat. Do yourself a favor and go.

In 2007, Wein sold the the festivals to Festival Network, but in 2009, the company was headed for bankruptcy and Wein stepped back in to ensure the folk and jazz festivals in Newport took place again. As in 2009, the jazz festival is sponsored in 2010 by the healthcare company CareFusion. As Wein discusses, he's also organizing new kinds of festivals in New York City.

Over the years, the Newport Jazz Festival has brought live albums recorded during the festival and Wolfgang's Vault now has select, classic Newport concerts available to purchase. There's also several videos available, including 1960's Jazz on a Summer's Day and Newport Jazz Festival 1962.

The 2010 Newport Jazz Festival takes place August 6-8 this summer. The line-up includes more than 30 jazz artists and ensembles performing at three stages. For a full schedule and details on buying tickets or directions, visit For tickets for the Newport Folk Festival, taking place July 30-August 1, visit

I met with Wein in his Manhattan apartment--which you get to by walking down a hallway lined with beautiful, framed posters from many of his past festivals--to discuss:
* how he curates festivals for audiences and how its changed over the years
* how the festival has evolved over more than five decades
* why he came back to give the Newport festivals another life

Photo credit: John Abbott

Songs featured in the interview include:
1) J.D. Allen Trio: Sonhouse (Shine!) (in preview) *
2) Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Zeno (Infernal Machines) *
3) Glen Gray-Casa Loma Orchestra: Casa Loma Stomp (1930 Okeh version)
4) Benny Goodman: Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing)
5) Elliot Lawrence: Elevation
6) George Wein: Back In Your Own Backyard (Wein, Women, & Song)
7) Ella Fitzgerald: Cotton Tail
8) Pete Seeger: Old Dan Tucker
9) Miles Davis: Fran-Dance (At Newport 1958)
10) John Coltrane: My Favorite Things
11) Dave Brubeck Quartet: How High the Moon
12) Charles Mingus: Cryin' Blues
13) Bob Dylan: It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (Highway 61 Revisited)
14) Balfa Toujours: J'ai vu le loup, le renard et la belette
15) Duke Ellington: I Let a Song Out of My Heart
16) Esperanza Spalding: Ponta De Areia (Esperanza)
17) Ben Allison: Fred *
18) Dizzy Gillespie: Newport Blues (from Newport Jazz Festival 7/3/1959; available on Wolfgang's Vault)
19) McCoy Tyner: Four by Five
20) George Wein: Please
21) Uncle Tupelo: Graveyard Shift (preview for Kyla Fairchild of interview)

* Performing at Newport Jazz Festival 2010.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Song Sparrow Research: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

You might recall the 50th episode of Well-Rounded Radio with Mike Dreese of Newbury Comics where I talked about the origins of Well-Rounded Radio. My friend, Marion Seymour, who played a big part in the story, has two sons. Her oldest, Harrison Boyce, is a terrific designer and you can see his work at Harrison also created the current Well-Rounded Radio site (in Movable Type).

Marion's younger son, Hamilton Boyce, is a musician who Marion has been telling me about over the years, from going to the Garfield High School in Seattle and playing jazz to his first band, Grotto Fork, to the recording of Song Sparrow Research's first EP, The New Ragtime Revolution.

Last fall, I downloaded Song Sparrow Research's first full album, Welcome to the Potato Famine, from Bandcamp and was, to put it plainly, blown away.

Where The New Ragtime Revolution showed the band was finding its own sound, Welcome to the Potato Famine is the sound of a band becoming quite confident. It’s a sonic adventure that demonstrates both intensity and restraint. Some of the band’s songs are 6, 7, or 9 minutes long and have the effect of both exhilarating you and leaving you spent at the end.

Song Sparrow Research’s line-up for both recordings was David Balatero on bass and cello, Hamilton Boyce on guitar and vocals, and Nash Turley on drums and harmonica.

With the album recorded at the Caldwell Sculpture Studio in Seattle in the middle of winter and vocals in a studio, the album has a big, epic sound, but also a level of intimacy through the vocals.

Song Sparrow Research has been compared to a variety of artists, including Neil Young and Jeff Buckley, but I also hear hints of Sonic Youth, The Velvet Underground, jazz, improvisation, noise, and metal in the songs, too.

You can see some videos on their YouTube channel, including clips from live shows and music videos. Follow them on Twitter and become fan on Myspace.

You can still download Welcome to the Potato Famine at Bandcamp. Personally, I think $9.99 is an excellent price. Or, go cheap and buy at Amie Street and help drive them up the charts.

Song Sparrow Research is working on their second album now in Seattle, with an expanded line-up that includes more strings and stand up bass.

I sat down with Balatero and Boyce in December in Seattle to discuss:
* how the band recorded and produced their debut album in a giant metal working warehouse
* who some of their favorite artists are that also influence their work
* how are looking to make a living in this brave new world of music 2.0

Photo credit: Ethan Welty

Songs included in the episode include:
1) Song Sparrow Research: No Thoughts of My Own (Welcome to the Potato Famine) (in preview)
2) Song Sparrow Research: Tall Landlords (Welcome to the Potato Famine)
3) Garfield High School Jazz Band
4) Grotto Fork: Not Guilty (Ungulate)
5) Grotto Fork: ADAT (Ungulate)
6) Song Sparrow Research: Dry Sun (The New Ragtime Revolution)
7) Song Sparrow Research: Short Sighted (The New Ragtime Revolution)
8) Song Sparrow Research: Told to Send (Welcome to the Potato Famine)
9) Song Sparrow Research: From Mildew (unreleased demo)
10) Song Sparrow Research: From Mildew (Welcome to the Potato Famine)
11) Song Sparrow Research: Colored Paper (Welcome to the Potato Famine)
12) Song Sparrow Research: Told to Send (Welcome to the Potato Famine)
13) Song Sparrow Research: Amp Dead (Welcome to the Potato Famine)
14) Song Sparrow Research: No Thoughts of My Own (Welcome to the Potato Famine)
15) The Raggedy Anns: Standing in the Rain
16) Song Sparrow Research: Colored Paper (Welcome to the Potato Famine)
17) Song Sparrow Research: Heavy Shit (Welcome to the Potato Famine)
18) Song Sparrow Research: Experiments in Feedback Control (Welcome to the Potato Famine)
19) Song Sparrow Research: From Mildew (Welcome to the Potato Famine)
20) Song Sparrow Research: Green to the Ground (The New Ragtime Revolution)
21) Song Sparrow Research: Another Day/Gooseneck (The New Ragtime Revolution)
22) Song Sparrow Research: Heavy Shit (Welcome to the Potato Famine)
23) Song Sparrow Research: No Thoughts of My Own (Welcome to the Potato Famine)
24) Song Sparrow Research: Tall Landlords (Welcome to the Potato Famine)
25) Song Sparrow Research: Amp Dead (Welcome to the Potato Famine)
26) Song Sparrow Research: From Mildew (Welcome to the Potato Famine)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ken Irwin of Rounder Records: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

At a moment where what being a record label means is certainly in flux, Rounder Records is celebrating its 40th anniversary and, in many ways, showing what it means for artists who share a label and what that means to its customer and fans. (News on 4/14/10: Concord Records acquires Rounder Records)

Rounder Records was started in March 1970 by Ken Irwin, Marian Leighton-Levy, and Bill Nowlin (left to right). In our interview, Irwin tells us how the label came to be, and how they began with blues and bluegrass, and evolved the label to include folk, Cajun, Celtic, and reggae music.

Rounder also manages 18 subsidiary labels, including Heartbeat and Zoe Records.

As someone who knows a bit about bluegrass music, but wanted to learn more, I also ask Irwin to take us through the history of bluegrass.

Irwin kindly takes us through the history of bluegrass from Bill Monroe to Flatt & Scruggs to Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to Alison Krauss to Steve Martin.

From the Theme from Deliverance to Bonnie and Clyde to O Brother, Where Art Thou? to bluegrass festivals around the world, Irwin helps us to understand some landmark moments in the history of the form and why it’s thriving now more than ever.

There are, of course, a lot of great resources about bluegrass music online, including Wikipedia, DMOZ, International Bluegrass Music Association, Society for the Preservation Bluegrass Music of America, International Bluegrass Music Museum, Bluegrass Works, and iBluegrass.

There is also a terrific book about Bill Monroe by Da Capo Press, Can't You Hear Me Callin': The Life of Bill Monroe by Richard Smith.

From starting a record label because, as Irwin put its, “nobody told us we couldn’t” to winning a Grammy Award for Allison Krauss and Robert Plant’s Raising Sand collaboration, there are many lessons within Rounder’s story for musicians in 2010 and beyond.

In our next episode of Well-Rounded Radio, we’ll feature an interview I did with Scott Billington, the Vice President of A&R for Rounder Records with a focus on Cajun and zydeco music, much of which Billington has produced himself.

Rounder Records celebrated its 40th anniversary in March with a new concert CD and DVD, as well as a concert special on PBS. The concert featured Mary Chapin Carpenter, Minnie Driver, Bela Fleck, Allison Krauss and Robert Plant, Allison Krauss & Union Station with Jerry Douglas, Steve Martin, Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas, Madeleine Peyroux, and Irma Thomas.

They’ve also just revamped their web site, and there's a great book about Rounder, The Never-Ending Revival: Rounder Records and the Folk Alliance by Michael F. Scully.

I spoke with Irwin in Newburyport, Massachusetts to discuss
* why they started the label and how it has kept going
* how Rounder evolved through the years
* what some challenges are for roots music in the year 2010

Songs featured in the interview include:
1) J.D. Crowe and the New South: The Old Home Place
2) Alison Krauss and Robert Plant: Rich Woman
3) George Pegram: Mississippi Sawyer
4) George Pegram: Are You Washed in the Blood?
5) Joe Val: Along about Daybreak
6) Don Stover: Things in Life
7) Hazel Dickens: Hills of Home
8) Bill Monroe: Molly and Tenbrooks
9) Flatt & Scruggs: Go Home
10) MIke Seeger: The Memory of Your Smile
11) Bill Monroe: Blue Grass Breakdown
12) Jim & Jessee: Hard Hearted
13) Bill Monroe: Orange Blossom Special
14) Conne and Babe & The Backwood Boys: Home is Where The
15) The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Will the Circle be Unbroken
16) Summertown Road: Summertown Road
17) Vern Williams: When Springtime Comes Again
18) Steve Martin: Late for School
19) Alison Krauss & Union Station: Every Time You Say Goodbye
20) J.D. Crowe & The New South: Long Journey Home
21) Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass: At the End of a Long Lonely Day
22) Whitstein Brothers: Arkansas
23) The Soggy Bottom Boys: I am a Man of Constant Sorrow
24) Laurie Lewis & Kathy Kallick: Is the Blue Moon Still Shining
25) Alison Krauss and Robert Plant: Gone Gone Gone
26) Jimmy Rogers with Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters: Left me with a Broken Heart
27) The Balfa Brothers: J'ai Vu Le Loup, Le Renard Et La Belette
28) Bela Fleck: Crossfire
29) Minnie Driver: Cold Dark River (Rounder Records 40th Anniversary Concert)
30) Irma Thomas: River is Waiting (Rounder Records 40th Anniversary Concert)
31) Sierra Hull: Secrets
32) James King: Leavin'
33) Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard: Montana Cowboy
34) James Hand: Don't Want Me Too
35) Marcia Ball: That's Enough of that Stuff

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Well-Rounded Radio Fundraiser, Sunday, April 18th at 1 PM at Middle East Upstairs

For about eight years I've been interviewing musicians and industry thought leaders for Well-Rounded Radio. To date I've interviewed more than 70 musicians from every genre plus music industry thought leaders. The series now draws 18,000 listeners per month from around the world.

It's always been a labor of love, but the time has come for our first fundraiser!

Join us on Sunday, April 18th at 1 PM at The Middle East (upstairs) in Cambridge, MA for an afternoon of amazing live music from some of Well-Rounded Radio's past guests.

The line-up of performers includes:

> Lovewhip (hear my 2003 interview )
> Jeffrey Simmons (hear my 2006 interview)
> Spouse (hear my 2007 interview)
> Michael Tarbox (hear my 2004 interview)
> Ryan Walsh of Hallelujah the Hills (hear my 2005 interview with The Stairs and my 2007 interview with Hallelujah the Hills)

Your $20 donation gets you in the door--and bring some extra cash to buy music and merch from these wonderful + generous musicians! The show is ALL AGES.

You can buy advance tickets at The Middle East box office or online at Ticketmaster.

RSVP on Facebook and follow me on Twitter for updates and more.

his afternoon event will raise funds to cover our costs for hosting the site and bandwidth plus some of our ongoing marketing expenses to spread the word about Well-Rounded Radio.

Want to help spread the word? Invite your friends online or print out our pdf flyer and hang some in your corner of the (New England) universe.

Here's a rundown of who is on the mixtape:

1) Hallelujah the Hills: Blank Passports (from Colonial Drones)
2) Michael Tarbox: Whose Fault but Mine (from My Primitive Joy)
3) Jeffrey Simmons: Gonna Get You (from the forthcoming album
4) Lovewhip: Wrecking Machine (from Love Electric)
5) Spouse: Keep Being You (from the forthcoming album
6) Jeffrey Simmons: Little Wishes (from the forthcoming album
7) Michael Tarbox: Darkness is a Rider (from My Primitive Joy)
8) Hallelujah the Hills: Station (from Colonial Drones)
9) Lovewhip: Love Electric (from Love Electric)
10) Spouse: Impressed by You (from the forthcoming album
11) Michael Tarbox: November Song (from My Primitive Joy)
12) Lovewhip: Chaueffer Blues (from Love Electric)
13) Jeffrey Simmons: Each Day (from the forthcoming album
14) Spouse: Sudden Moves (from the forthcoming album
15) Hallelujah the Hills: Classic Tapes (from Colonial Drones)
16) Jeffrey Simmons: Get Through This (from the forthcoming album
17) Lovewhip: Automatic (from Love Electric)
18) Michael Tarbox: Beautiful Girl (from My Primitive Joy)
19) Spouse: Coaster (from Relocation Tactics)

See you there! - Charlie

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lawrence Lessig: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

This episode is dedicated to Dan Nash, a friend of mine in England who passed away on January 22. Dan was working on a number of different music projects including New Musical Order and Rockin' Daily. We were fans of each others' work online and were working together on Musicians for Music 2.0. Dan had a congenital heart defect and has left us at the young age of 28. I hope he is listening to this episode up there and enjoying it...

lessig.jpgIn many music and entertainment circles, the name Lawrence Lessig needs no introduction, but for those who don't know his work, here's some background.

Lessig is a lawyer and activist whose interests are mostly in intellectual property, copyright, technology, and political reform. He's has written five influential books, including Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace (2000), The Future of Ideas (2001), Free Culture (2004), Code: Version 2.0 (2006), and Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (2008).

Remix was just published in paperback in October 2009.

Over the past 10 years, Lessig has worked for both Harvard Law School and Stanford Law School. He is currently a lawyer at Harvard Law School and director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University.

Lessig is a founding board member of Creative Commons. In 2008, Lessig launched the Change Congress campaign, now called Fix Congress First.

Lessig talks about Creative Commons during the interview, but in a nutshell it's an organization with copyright tools that allows content creators to give various levels of freedom to others for them to remix and build upon the original work.

The idea behind remix culture is how an artist can take a work that a pervious artist has produced and build upon it to create something new. The term has become more commonplace in the last decade, but in fact the concept has been in use for decades, most notably in rap music starting 30 years ago.

Growing up in Queens, New York, I was lucky enough to hear the rap bands of the first era pretty early on (granted, thanks to bands like Blondie and The Clash and college radio putting Grandmaster Flash, The Sugar Hill Gang, Kurtis Blow, and Afrika Bambaattaa on my radar) which usually utilized sampling techniques when creating their music.

I have long been a fan of the groups who fine tuned the ideas behind audio sampling to perfection, in Long Island's Public Enemy and De La Soul. I’ve always thought both groups pushed the ideas behind sampling in ways that few others did before or since, albeit in very different directions.

With Public Enemy’s 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and De La Soul’s 1989 album 3 Feet High and Rising, at the moment it seemed like the idea of what music “is” was being reinvented.

But, after a series of lawsuits for a variety of musicians and labels, the art of sampling and remixing was largely hobbled, in either using others work with or without their consent.

Twenty years later, it is still mostly the domain of those willing to tread in dangerous waters or for artists who want to engage their own fans by allowing them to remix work as part of the growing participatory culture community. For remix artists who might be looking to push their ideas further, it’s unlikely they can put their work into the public without a sizable budget.

Having read all of Lessig’s work and seen two recent documentaries about the remix culture (Brett Gaylor’s RIP: A Remix Manifesto and Benjamin Franzen’s Copyright Criminals), I wanted to speak with Lessig about how current musicians could utilize Creative Commons and share with their own audience as well as look at how we music fans can better understand this era of shared creativity, which dramatically changes the idea of those performers vs. us in the audience.

In addition to these films and Lessig’s Remix book, some good reads on the subject include DJ Spooky’s book Sound Unbound (2008) and Matt Mason’s The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism (2009).

The show includes music from the earlier era of sampling as well as some recent examples of mainstream musicians offering up their work for remixing, including David Byrne and Brian Eno, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, and Bjork.

I sat down with Lessig at his office at Harvard Law School to discuss:
* why it’s unlikely the current copyright system will change
* why Greg Gillis, also known as Girl Talk, has not been sued
* how Creative Commons works and how musicians can use it to engage their fans even more

Songs included in the interview include:
1) Public Enemy: Welcome to the Terrordome ( ) (in preview)
2) Grandmaster Flash: The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel
3) De La Soul: Me Myself and I (3 Feet High and Rising)
4) Public Enemy: Night of the Living Baseheads
5) Beastie Boys: Sabotage remix
6) Radiohead: Reckoner (In Rainbows)
7) Nick Olivetti: Nasty Fish remis of Reckoner
8) David Byrne + Brian Eno: Help Me Somebody (My Life in the Bush of Ghosts)
9) Owl Garden: Secret Somebody remix
10) Hit me somebody
11) Girl Talk: No Pause
12) Girl Talk: In Step
13) Danger Mouse: Encore (The Gray Album)
14) Nina Simone: Lilac Wine: The Album Leaf remix
15) Bjork: Venus as a Boy remix
16) Fatboy Slim: Praise You
17) Radiohead: Weird Fishes: Amplive remix

If you enjoyed this episode of Well-Rounded Radio, give a listen to other interviews with have done with music industry thought leaders, including Scott Kirsner, author of Fans, Friends, and Followers, Michael Bracy of The Future of Music Coalition, Tim Westergren of Pandora, and Dave Kusek, co-author of The Future of Music book.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Yoko K.: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

The first time I heard Yoko K.'s music, through a submission I received via SonicBids, I found myself pulled into her alluring soundscapes and songs and kept coming back for more over the following weeks. With layered recordings hinting at influences like Bjork, Massive Attack, Portishead, Brian Eno's ambient work, and jazz vocalists, Yoko K.'s music is all her own.

Yoko Kamitani, who works under the name Yoko K., was born in Japan and moved to the United States in 2004. Her debut album, 012906, was released in 2006 by Asahra Music in Washington D.C., which won her the Best Album in Electronica/Dance award at the 6th annual Independent Music Awards.

Yoko K. performed, produced, programmed, and recorded the album almost entirely by herself. As singer and keyboardist, she also has the help of some string and horn players, but the scope of 012906 doesn't feel like an album recorded at a home studio with the help of a few musical friends. Instead, it's the kind of project an early-era Bjork might have created with a level of confidence, risk, and adventure that made me think Yoko K. was overdue for more attention. And, as with most albums that reward repeated listens, I kept finding new layers to what Yoko K. was doing on the album, truly moving electronic music a step forward through her choices of instruments that she pairs. I love the mood that the entire album creates when heard in sequence.

Yoko K.'s influences are trance, trip-hop, and classical, but she also weaves in jazz, Celtic, and funk at unexpected moments to great effect. There's an air of improvisation, though as a sole artists/producer in the studio, it is likely more planned than not.

Also like Bjork, Yoko K. has a playful persona that resonates throughout the work, as if she herself is finding her way through the words and music. 012906 mixes electronic instrumentation with acoustic instruments, resulting in organic electronica, as she calls it.

Yoko K. is working on her second album and, in something of a Well-Rounded Radio first, she has shared ten demo versions and early mixes with us in advance of the final product coming out later in 2010. To me, each piece sounds like Yoko K. is creating more complex pieces and I'm sure her next release will be even more accomplished than the first.

Yoko K. has also created music with other collaborators as well as producing music used in conjunction with artists and organizations with some political and societal inspirations. She is also a keyboard player and backing vocalist for Dust Galaxy, a solo project of Rob Garza from Thievery Corporation, and toured across the United States and Europe in 2006-7.

Yoko K. also performs with Aphrodizia, Aphrodizia at The Velvet Lounge, Aphrodizia at The Velvet Lounge II, Aprhodizia at The Velvet Lounge III, an experimental music ensemble, in the Seduce & Destroy series and with visual artists; some highlights can be seen at All Our Noise, Presentation at NMWA / CreativesDC and From Nothing. You can also see two videos of her songs Blues of Grande Chai and Hello Hello.

Yoko K. was also generous enough to let me use Hello Hello as part of the Musicians for Music 2.0 presentation that I recently posted online:

I sat down with Yoko K. in Washington D.C. to discuss:
* how her first album came to exist
* how those first songs come together for her while working mostly alone
* how her work with visual artists is impacting her aural work

Songs included in the interview include:
1) Take Off (012906) (in preview)
2) Uchu Ryokou (012906)
3) 012906 (012906)
4) La Complainte D'r2 (012906)
5) Blues of Grande Chai (012906)
6) Eleventh Year (012906)
7) Deviant Flower First Mix (demo for upcoming album)
8) Hello Hello (012906)
9) Bubblenest Short (demo for upcoming album)
10) This Beast (demo for upcoming album)
11) AppleZ videoedit (demo for upcoming album)
12) Hug Robot (demo for upcoming album)
13) Cry 129 (demo for upcoming album)
14) Yoake (012906)
15 Carry On (demo for upcoming album)
16) Vaspa (demo for upcoming album)
17) Prisoner (demo for upcoming album)
18) Underwater (demo for upcoming album)
19) Tap (demo for upcoming album)
20) Yun Ae Se Po

To purchase Yoko K.'s 012906 album visit the, Amie Street, Asahra Store, CD Baby, iTunes, or Lala.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Erin McKeown + Jill Sobule: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

I've been a fan of Jill Sobule (left) and Erin McKeown (right) for a long time and, in the last year or so, they have become pioneers of new fundraising models for the music industry. They both also have new albums out and are out on a US tour together through the start of December, including:

* Wed Nov 04: Ann Arbor MI at The Ark
* Thu Nov 05: Cleveland OH at Beachland Tavern
* Fri Nov 06: Buffalo NY at The Ninth Ward
* Sun Nov 08: Chicago IL at Old Town School of Folk Music
* Mon Nov 09: Madison WI at High Noon Saloon
* Tue Nov 10: Minneapolis MN at Cedar Cultural Centre
* Thu Nov 12: Seattle WA at Tractor Tavern
* Fri Nov 20: Santa Monica CA at McCabe’s Guitar Shop
* Sat Nov 21: Santa Barbara CA at SOhO Restaurant and Music Club
* Sun Nov 22: San Diego CA at Casbah
* Fri Nov 27: Denver CO at Walnut Room
* Sun Nov 29: Kansas City MO at Record Bar
* Mon Nov 30: St. Louis MO at Off Broadway
* Thu Dec 03: Asbury Park NJ at The Saint
* Fri Dec 04: New York NY at Highline Ballroom
* Sat Dec 05: Philadelphia PA at World Cafe Live
* Sun Dec 06: Goshen MA at The IMA Big Barn

I was lucky enough to have some time with them both just before their first show of the tour at Club Passim the famed club in Cambridge, Massachusetts that started as Club 47 in 1958. You can find their upcoming dates at on McKeown's site or Sobule's site.

Sobule has released eight albums since her first, Things Here are Different in 1990, including releases on the Atlantic and Artemis Record labels. Her latest album, California Years, was financed entirely by her fans with tiers of donation levels and corresponding tiers of how donors were involved with hearing or participating in the record itself. Aiming for $70,000, Sobule ultimately raised close to $90,000 from 500 of her fans.

McKeown has also released eight albums since her first, Monday Morning Cold, in 1999 including releases on Nettwerk Records and Signature Sounds. McKeown raised money to produce her new album, Hundreds of Lions, by producing a series of online video variety shows, each webcast from different spots at her home in Western Massachusetts. McKeown charged a subscription rate to view all four episodes. You can still subscribe and view these. The album was just released by Ani DiFranco's label Righteous Babe Records.

McKeown was also on a panel called "The New DIY: Creative Control in an Accelerated World" at the recent Future of Music Coalition Policy Summit in Washington D.C.

McKeown and Sobule are literally leading the way in the new music ecosystem where musicians and music fans are connecting directly with each other via the internet. Instead of musicians sharing their revenue with a record store, a distributor, and a record label, artists are utilizing fan-funded opportunities to allow them to bring new work to their fans. Some other recent examples include David Bazan, Kristin Hersh, Idlewild, Issa (Jane Siberry), Marillion, Amanda Palmer (hear the Well-Rounded Radio Interview), Public Enemy, and Michael Tarbox (hear the the Well-Rounded Radio Interview).

Sobule's California Years was produced by Don Was (Was (Not Was) and producer of Bonnie Raitt, Rolling Stones, B-52’s, and many, many more) and written over the past three years after she moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and is often very much about the Golden State. As she has long done, Sobule switches between subjects that touch you and humor with some real substance...she keeps you guessing and coming back for more.

McKeown's Hundreds of Lions was produced by her longtime musical partner Sam Kassirer (Josh Ritter (hear the Well-Rounded Radio Interview), Langhorne Slim, Kris Delmhorst). Together they experimented with pairing acoustic and synthesized sounds, resulting in a lush, sophisticated record that continues McKeown's musical journey as a performer that you can never quite predict what sounds she'll be creating next. Just the way I like 'em.

We recently spoke in the dressing room at Club Passim--with all the sounds you'd expect in a nightclub and restaurant-- to discuss:
* how each of them came to decide to organize fan-funded projects
* some pros and cons to recording and releasing your own work
* what they’ve learned by being pioneers...and what they still aspire to learn

Songs featured in this episode from McKeown's Hundred of Lions and Sobule's California Years albums include:
1) Erin McKeown: Santa Cruz
2) Jill Sobule: Nothing to Prove
3) Jill Sobule: San Francisco
4) Jill Sobule: The Donor Song
5) Erin McKeown: The Foxes
6) Erin McKeown: The Rascal
7) Jill Sobule: Where is Bobbi Gentry?
8) Erin McKeown: To a Hammer
9) Jill Sobule: Palm Springs
10) Erin McKeown: You, Sailor
11) Jill Sobule: Empty Glass
12) Erin McKeown: The Foxes
13) Jill Sobule: League of Failures
14) Erin McKeown: (Put the Fun) Back in Funerals
15) Jill Sobule: Spiderman
16) Erin McKeown: 28
17) Jill Sobule: Mexican Pharmacy
18) Erin McKeown: Seamless
19) Jill Sobule: A Good Life
20) Erin McKeown: The Boats
21) Jill Sobule: The Donor Song

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Scott Kirsner of Fans, Friends & Followers: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

Somewhat unintentionally, a number of the last handful of episodes of Well-Rounded Radio have been about what may well be the future of the music business, with interviews featuring Michael Bracy of The Future of Music Coalition, Ariel Hyatt of Ariel Publicity, Jeff Price of TuneCore, and Joshua Boltuch of Amie Street.

As more and more power has been taken out of the hands of the traditional music industry and put in the hands of musicians, it's feeling like the goals are no longer a major record label deal, massive amounts of commercial radio airplay, a hit video on MTV, or the cover of Rolling Stone, even if those things are still all very welcome.

So what's next, for both musicians and music fans who want to discover their next favorite band or recording?

Certainly it's going to be a more direct relationship between them than ever before and, at least for the near future, will entail the artists or their "people" closely managing these relationships through tools like email, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Myspace,, and an ever-growing list of online technologies that are helping us all to connect.

Scott Kirsner's new book Fans, Friends, & Followers looks at how some pioneers are using the internet to connect with their audience, grow that fan base, and turn it into something profitable without the traditional infrastructure in the music, comedy, publishing, and film & video industries.

Kirsner is a journalist for Variety and The Boston Globe and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, Wired, Fast Company, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, BusinessWeek, and Newsweek, among other publications.

Kirsner writes the CinemaTech blog, which explores the way technology is changing the entertainment industry. He is the author of Inventing the Movies, a technological history of Hollywood published in 2008, and The Future of Web Video: New Opportunities for Producers, Entrepreneurs, Media Companies and Advertisers, first published in 2006.

Kirsner is one of the founders of the Nantucket Conference on Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Future Forward events. He also speaks and moderates regularly at entertainment industry events, including the Sundance Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, and the South by Southwest Film Festival.

As some recent success stories like Jill Sobule, Issa (the artist formerly known as Jane Siberry), or Amanda Palmer (hear the Well-Rounded Radio interview with Palmer) are proving, artists can also go direct to their fans to help fund recording or visual projects as well.

Kirsner's book approaches each subject as a question and answer session, featuring such Internet music successes as Jonathan Coulton, OK Go, DJ Spooky, Jill Sobule, Richard Cheese, Chance, and the Coverville podcast, along with a look at new business models in video, visual arts, and narrative writing.

The episode features music from many of these artists as well as a number of musical artists who I am friends with or follow or are fans of on things like Facebook and Twitter. I essentially sent out a note to a variety of musicians that I am connected to and, to Scott Kirsner’s point, I basically crowdsourced the majority of music in this episode in a matter of about five hours. Many of these songs are new that have not been released or demos, which I think is a great example of how the internet has changed how musicians, online media like me, and audiences like you are all now interacting.

I sat down with Kirsner at his office in Beacon Hill in early Summer in Boston to discuss:
* why he decided to write about a book about this subject now
* how all these changes in connecting are changing how musicians are behaving
* some ways to use the internet to better engage your fans--and find new ones

Music featured in the episode includes:
1) Pressure Cooker: Without Purpose (in preview)
2) Zoe Keating: Walking Man (in preview)
3) Lovewhip: Love Electric
4) John Haydon: Blue Van
5) The Jescos (including Timothy Bracy of The Mendoza Line): Movable Feast Blues
6) Lagoon: Blind
7) Song Sparrow Research: Colored Paper
8) Hallelujah the Hills: Classic Tapes
9) Jonathan Coulton: Code Monkey
10) Jill Sobule: Nothing to Prove
11) Amanda Palmer: The Point of it All
12) John McGrath: Some Holy Ghost
13) Preacher Jack: I'm in Love Again
14) Richard Barone: Girl
15) Dear Leader: Barbarians
16) OK Go: Here it Goes Again
17) Young Tremors: Pebble in My Sea
18) Bodega Girls: She's Into Black Guys
19) Jenn Vix: The Fire
20) Richard Cheese: Gin and Juice
21) The Sissormen: Maddie Sweet Maddie

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jay Sweet of Folk Festival 50: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

The Newport Jazz Festival started in 1954 by George Wein and is celebrating its 55th anniversary on August 8th and 9th in Newport, Rhode Island.

It's slightly younger sibling, long known as the Newport Folk Festival and going by the name George Wein's Folk Festival 50 this year, is celebrating its 50th anniversary on August 1st and 2nd. The folk festival was started by Theodore Bikel, Oscar Brand, Albert Grossman, Pete Seeger and George Wein.

Jay Sweet (pictured with founder George Wein) has been producing the festival for the last few years and you may also know his name as Editor-at-large for Paste magazine. Sweet also co-owns a music services company called Sweet & Doggett.

This year's line-up includes The Avett Brothers, Balfa Toujours, Joan Baez, Billy Bragg, The Campbell Brothers, Neko Case, Guy Clark, Judy Collins, Dala, Dear Tick, The Decemberists, Brett Dennen, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Elvis Perkins in Dearland, Tim Eriksen and the Shape Note Singers, Fleet Foxes, Arlo Guthrie, Iron and Wine, Ben Kweller, Langhorne Slim, The Low Anthem, Del McCoury, Tift Merritt, Tom Morello: The Nightwatchmen, Joe Pug, David Rawlings Machine, Josh Ritter (listen to the Well-Rounded Radio interview with Josh Ritter), Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Pete Seeger, Mavis Staples, and Gillian Welch. You'll hear some highlights from many of these artists woven into my conversation with Sweet.

You can buy tickets to next weekend's festival at and if you can't make it to Newport, listen to NPR Music's webcasts.

It's safe to say most people know about the festival because of a single event: the time Bob Dylan plugged in and allegedly got booed by fans of his acoustic music, but when you think about it, that's kind of silly. Newport has been going for all these years bringing new talent to their stages long before and after Bob Dylan was booed (or not).

I've attended the festival several times in the past and it's always great fun. It's a beautiful venue at Fort Adams State Park surrounded by Newport Harbor and Narragansett Bay and the mood feels more like a gathering of friends than it does like many big music festivals these days.

To learn more about the spirit and performances of the mid-1960s version of the festival, there's a 1967 documentary film entitled Festival based on the 1963-1965 festivals out on DVD.

With Boston's Summer of 2009 non-stop rain ceasing for a little while, we took advantage of it and did the interview in Sweet's backyard on Boston's north shore. There’s a bit of wind hitting the microphones at the beginning, but it doesn't last. And so when you hear birds, now you’ll know they are the real thing.

I sat down with Sweet to discuss:
* how and why the festival has kept its loyal audience over the years while also keeping up with times
* how they curate the festival with both familiar and unfamiliar names on the bill
* why playing the festival is a seminal moment for so many artists in their careers

Music featured in the episode from artists performing at the George Wein's Folk Festival 50 in 2009 include:
1) Langhorne Slim: Rebel Side of Heaven
2) Josh Ritter: To the Dogs or Whoever
3) Pete Seeger: The Wreck of the Old 97
4) Tift Merritt: Broken
5) Arlo Guthrie: Grand Coulee Dam
6) Iron and Wine: White Tooth Man
7) Ben Kweller: Things I Like to Do
8) Neko Case: Don't Forget Me
9) Fleet Foxes: Mykonos
10) Del McCoury: I'm Bound for the Land of Canaan
11) Dear Tick: Friday XIII
12) Dala: Lonely Girl
13) Tao Rodriguez-Seeger:
14) Mavis Staples: Freedom Highway (live)
15) Billy Bragg: The Beach is Free
16) The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love 2
17) Joe Pug: Hymn #101
18) The Campbell Brothers: Good all the Time
19) Ramblin' Jack Elliott: Sowing on the Mountain
20) Balfa Toujours: J'au vu le loup, le r
21) Tim Eriksen and the Shape Note Singers: The Maid Freed From the Gallows
22) The Low Anthem: Charlie Darwin
23) Gillian Welch: My First Lover
24) Joan Baez: God is God
25) The Avett Brothers: I and Love and You

Jay recommends Bonnaroo, Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and The Forecastle Festival.

Charlie recommends Bumbershoot and Green River Festival.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Joshua Boltuch of Amie Street: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

So, back in the 70s, my older siblings Michael, Maureen, Joseph, and John respectively turned me onto Arlo Guthrie, Carly Simon, Led Zeppelin, and The Monkees and my cousin Thomas turned me onto The Clash, The Ramones, and Talking Heads.

With that kind of introduction and education, it's no surprise I got hooked on music and started buying vinyl.

If I remember correctly, Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was my first in 1973 at Korvettes in Flushing, Queens...of course a double album. My dad told me that if it affected my grades in any way, he would take it away. I was seven.

$4.99 was then the going rate for a single LP. Then the prices slowly starting climbing over the years, despite Tom Petty’s very public efforts in the early 80s, and vinyl rose bit by bit until it was about $7.99 or $8.99.

When CDs came along in the late 80s, even though they were less expensive to produce, the list prices put them at $14.99 or more. Over the last 10-15 years, the street price has settled at about $11.99 or so, but of course lots of places sell them for more and less than that. Of course now CD prices are dropping in price to compete with digital downloads and they are often costing less than mp3s albums.

After the demise of the original Napster and the rise of iTunes, the $.99 a song model arose and somehow took hold. But in an era where many listen to music free from myspace or off of artists’ web sites and others file share, most working musicians are wondering how they will make a living making music when it's clear you can’t rely on the sale of a physical product any longer, along comes an idea that I really like.

Amie Street was started in Providence, Rhode Island on Amie Street on July 4, 2006 by Elliott Breece, Josh Boltuch and Elias Roman while at Brown University. They are now based in Long Island City, just across the river from Manhattan. Roman is the Director of Business Development and Operations, Breece is the Director of Product Development, and Boltuch is the Director Public Relations and Marketing.

We'll talk more about how Amie Street works during my interview with co-founder Joshua Boltuch, but the idea is that when a song is added, it starts free up to .98 and will go up in cost as demand rises up to a maximum of .98. Occasionally, shoppers who frequently recommend artists will also get credits from Amie Street, so it’s a bit of a buy back strategy.

The mp3 files are all free of digital rights management, or DRM.

Musicians receive 70% of the revenue from each sale. And yes, I know that for musicians recording music costs a lot of money, especially if you go into an 24 track studio to do it, but I also know there's something to pricing things at the right point to get those impulse buys. Part art and part science, on Amie Street more than a few times I have bought an artist’s entire album because I heard 60 seconds of a song, like it, and it was priced at $3.00. Would I have done that if it were priced at $9.99 or $16.99?

I find the interface of Amie Street to be among the best out there in terms of leading you from one genre, artist, or song to the next. It might not be quite the same as wandering the aisles of your favorite brick and mortar record store, but there is something about the interface and sampling opportunities that are more thought-out than what most of the big online music retailers have done.
It has also incorporated some social networking functionality into the site, so you can see what other friends are listening to and be turned on to artists in a more webby way.

This interview was recorded in October 2008 and I'm afraid it just delayed for a handful of reasons, but I’m happy that it’s seeing the light of day now, just as Amie Street comes up on their third anniversary.

I sat down with co-founder Boltuch at the Amie Street offices in Long Island City to discuss:
* How and why mp3s started getting priced at $.99
* How Amie Street is using the net’s technology to help music fans find more music
* Why musicians are submitting their music to Amie Street and what they like about the business model

Music featured in this interview includes:
1) Passion Pit: Little Secrets
2) Dirty Projectors: Stillness is the Movie
3) Harlem Shakes: Nothing but Change Part II
4) Juana Molina: Un Dia
5) Tulsa: Fill Her In
6) Machel Montano: Defense
7) Sadie: Dien Blaues Auge-Brahms
8) Camera Obscura: French Navy
9) The Faraway Places: Run While True
10) Marco Benevento: Now They're Writing Songs
11) Boyou Roux: Zydeco Sont Pas Sale (No Salt in The Snap Beans)
12) Prabir and The Substitutes: Who's Going to Love You?
13) Chuck Brown: Autumn Leaves
14) Heidi Berry: Time
15) Elvis Perkins in Dearland: Shampoo
16) Peaches: I Feel Cream
17) Gongui: Me Ama Te Amo
18) Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens: Trouble in my Way
19) The Kills: Fried My Little Brains
20) These United States: Honor Amongst Thieves
21) MSTRKRFT: 1,000 Cigarettes

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Rick Berlin: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview

Rick Berlin started making music in the early 1970s and continued through a handful of bands over the last three decades, including Orchestra Luna, Orchestra Luna II, Luna, Berlin Airlift, Rick Berlin: The Movie, The Shelley Winters Project, and, most recently, simply as Rick Berlin.

As a piano player and songwriter, Berlin's style has run the gamut from the theatrical to the confessional. In several of these incarnations, Berlin came close to breaking it in the music industry, but as he's learned, sometimes the stars don't always align the way they should. During our interview, Berlin takes us through anecdotes about some of these bands and we'll get to hear musical highlights from throughout the years.

Having grown up in New York, I was aware of Berlin's music over the years and learned about his 2006 album Me & Van Gogh from Hi-n-Dry Records from feature articles in The Boston Globe and The Boston Phoenix. His latest CD, Old Stag, was released in 2008.

In many ways, these latest two records and his upcoming project are a third (or maybe a fourth?) act for Berlin’s career and at 64, it’s great to hear him making such intimate, sparse, and powerful music. Berlin is a truly great story-teller songwriter, engaging you in parts of the story without giving it all away.

For fans of Tom Waits, Randy Newman, Lou Reed, Bruce Springsteen, Ben Folds, or Leonard Cohen, Berlin's albums will be a welcome addition to your collection.

Berlin recorded Me & Van Gogh at Hi-n-Dry, the studio and music collective that I’ve featured on Well-Rounded Radio in the past with our interviews with Twinemen, Jimmy Ryan, and Monique Ortiz. Billy Conway, drummer for Morphine, Twinemen, and the Chip Smith Project, co-produced Me & Van Gogh and Tom Dube engineered and mixed it.

Old Stag was recorded in Berlin's living room, with help from sound engineer (and neighbor) Joe Stewart and string arrangements from Brendan Cooney.

Berlin will be performing at the new Hi-n-Dry space at The Somerville Armory on Saturday, May 9th with a string quartet. For more information and to buy tickets, visit Brown Paper Tickets. The concert is a fundraiser for The Mark Sandman Music Project. You can also check for other upcoming performances on Berlin's site.

You can see some video of Berlin on YouTube.

Berlin is also working on a video documentary about our shared home town, Jamaica Plain or JP. Take a look at some clips of Jamaica Plain Spoken on YouTube; Berlin is open to receiving donations to help complete the project.

We recently met at his apartment, down the street from the Brendan Behan Pub, to discuss:
* The various musicians and artists he's worked with while making music over the years.
* How he found himself playing on Mark Sandman’s piano to record Me & Van Gogh with the help of the Hi-n-Dry group
* How he recorded Old Stag at home and on a limited budget, with great results

Songs featured in the interview include:
1) Rick Berlin: House on Fire (Old Stag) (in preview)
2) Rick Berlin: Don't Talk about Joan (Me & Van Gogh)
3) Orchestra Luna: Doris Dreams (Orchestra Luna)
4) Orchestra Luna: Boy Scout Songs (Orchestra Luna)
5) Orchestra Luna: Little Sam (Orchestra Luna)
6) Orchestra Luna II: Greyhound (live) (Special Class)
7) Orchestra Luna II: Dear Kate (Special Class)
8) Luna: Dumb Love (demo)
9) Berlin Airlift: Over the Hill (Berlin Airlift)
10) Berlin Airlift: Don't Stop me from Crying (Berlin Airlift)
11) Rick Berlin: The Movie: Eddy Isn't Coming Home (Filmclip)
12) The Shelley Winters Project: Nothing (Forced 2 Swallow)
13) The Shelley Winters Project: Blood (EP)
14) Rick Berlin: Me & Van Gogh (Me & Van Gogh)
15) Rick Berlin: Rock n Roll Romance (Me & Van Gogh)
16) Rick Berlin: Do You Still Love Me (Me & Van Gogh)
17) Rick Berlin: City is Empty (Live at Jacques)
18) Rick Berlin: Never Stops Raining (Song Saves)
19) Rick Berlin: Unknown Soldier (Old Stag)
20) Rick Berlin: Happy Lesbians in the Snow (Old Stag)
21) Rick Berlin: Your Light is On (Old Stag)
22) Rick Berlin: Michiko (Old Stag)
23) Rick Berlin: Elle (Old Stag)
24) Rick Berlin: How Can I Hate People I Don't Know?
25) Rick Berlin: Walkin' in the Hood (Song Saves)
26) Rick Berlin: Criminal (Me & Van Gogh)
27) Rick Berlin: John Lennon's Nose (Old Stag)