Asking anyone to name five life-changing albums is no small feat, but Shaun Fleming, songwriter and frontman for Psychedelic Motown band Diane Coffee, handles it like he handles everything else: with style and grace. So here’s his list, in no particular order, along with some pictures we made last night before his show at Cleveland’s own Beachland Ballroom and Tavern.
“I don’t know if these are going to by my favorite albums of all time,” says Shaun. “But they will be ones that changed my life.”
Donovan: The Hurdy Gurdy Man
“I was in high school. I wasn’t really into music quite yet. I was just getting into theater and improv comedy, which helped me kind of open up. I was also a big skateboarder and I heard a song in a skate video that was super weird — it was very Donovan — it had a crazy sax solo. I remember, this was right when Limewire and Napster came about, but I didn’t have that because I thought it would ruin my computer. So I had to find the track name and go to Tower Records and ask them about it and they had to look it up. So I got this record, and at this point I only knew stuff that was on the radio. I’d never really heard anything from the ’60s and ’70s or anything like that. It was really bizarre, really new and I just fell in love. I got really obsessed with Donovan and bought every single record I could. I started wearing kimonos around, drinking a lot of tea; I mean, I was that kid in high school. I told my Dad about it and he was just like, ‘Oh, yeah, Donovan. You know, I played with Donovan a couple times.’ So I think that record pushed me into learning about music and discovering what was actually out there.”
4. Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon
“I remember the first Pink Floyd song I ever heard was Comfortably Numb. A friend put it on a compilation mix tape, and I was like ‘What is this?! What is this beautiful piece of music I’m hearing?!’ I remember people with Pink Floyd T-shirts walking around high school, so I knew the name before I knew the music, but didn’t really understand what kind of music that was. So I went to Tower Records and picked up my first Floyd album. I saw that (Dark Side) cover and I’d seen people wearing T-shirts of that triangle artwork, so just grabbed that one. Then I put it on it was just— and still, those last few songs— There’s only a couple albums where I actually always cry, and that one still brings me to tears, especially when I hear the whole thing front to back. I put together a cover band in high school, and all we did was Floyd and Beatles almost exclusively. Like, we did all of Dark Side of the Moon, we did all of The Wall front to back, we just were obsessed. That was my first band. So maybe that record started me down the path of being a stage musician.”
3. The Beatles: Abbey Road
“I was touring with Foxygen and it was our first time going to the UK. I was reading a Beatles book at the time and I remember as soon as we started driving around the UK, it felt so different than anything else I’d really seen. I started listening to Abbey Road and I swear to God I listened to nothing but that record on repeat the entire time I was there. I don’t know if it changed my life. There are very few things that really changed my life. But that one holds a special place. All those memories. First time I was ever touring, and it’s England, and when you do that, when you make that sort of leap, it was like, ‘I made it. I’m a rock ‘n’ roll musician now, really doing it.’ And that’s another one of those records that makes me tear up every single time.”
2. Young MC: Stone Cold Rhymin
“That was the first CD I ever bought with my own money. I was, I think, eight years old and my Dad took me to the record shop. I think I just grabbed the first thing that looked like something I might like. Even though there’s very little about that album that’s cool except for Bust a Move. I probably liked Bust a Move and I got the record because of that. It was the first record I ever bought, and I still put that record on all the time. I can rhyme every single verse on every single track. That changed my life just because it was the very first. I started buying CDs after that. That’s a good one. That’ll live forever. Bust a Move will never die. (laughing) Just the rest of the tracks will.”
1. Third Eye Blind: Third Eye Blind
“I really liked that record. It was incredibly melodic. I think when I was just starting to get into music, they were my favorite band at the time because they were what was playing on the radio. That’s all I would listen to was pop radio and stuff like that. I remember when I first started getting into music, when I first got a guitar from my Dad and started learning how to play, that was the first record I broke down and started listening to with the ears of a musician. I started trying to learn everything and figure out ‘How do they get those kinds of sounds?’ This was even before I started recording, and I started to understand how a record is pieced together. ‘Why does this sound the way it does?’ Noticing all of those little details. Plus that record is just amazing. It’s such a good album. I remember spending a lot of time learning how to play Jumper on acoustic guitar. I was that guy at parties. I’d bring my acoustic guitar. There’s a fire pit, and maybe some people have some beers that they took from their Dad, and I’m playing Jumper on guitar. (laughing) I was the epitome of a ’90s high school movie, and that record helped.”
Shaun is currently on tour in support of his new Peel EP. There are a lot of good bands, but not a lot of performers. I’m glad I found Shaun, who satisfies both.
When Carl Newman of powerpop outfit The New Pornographers answered my pre-show phone call he responded, “Hey, (Blown Speakers) I’ve got a song by that name.” So if he didn’t already know we were fans from our past shenanigans, our name was probably a good indication.
The band’s most recent album, Whiteout Conditions, is the first album with new drummer Joe Seiders, after longtime member Kurt Dhale left in 2014. It also marks the first album without a single song by Dan Bejar, who was busy making a new Destroyer album.
“Ultimately our schedules just didn’t fit. I’m amazed it was the first time that happened,” said Newman.
While Bejar’s absence on Whiteout Conditions was noticeable, it made for a more cohesive album of only Carl Newman songs. But with seven core members in the band, all spread out over great distances, everyone else managed to put their signature stamp on this album and the recording process remained status quo.
“Working on my songs is a similar process every time. I maybe get it in my head that I want to make a different kind of song, but it’s still just going in there and trying to figure it out. It always feels like a puzzle to me. It’s just a process of trying a lot of things and seeing what works. To a certain degree, a lot of it comes back to being a music fan. I record something and then try to listen to it as if I were the person buying the record. If I think, ‘yeah, I would like this,’ it stays.”
Newman once tweeted out a message that songwriting isn’t easy. During our chat, he elaborated. “There are some parts I find easier than others, like the chord structures and melody and rhythm, and that’s what I start with almost always. And then I have to figure out how to fit the lyrics around this. That’s where songwriting becomes work.”
A few songs on the album, like title track Whiteout Conditions, and Second Sleep deal with common topics in music and art: anxiety, depression and insomnia, but still keep that upbeat New Pornographers pop sound.
“I try to write about things in a hopeful way. It’s about trying to get out of it. It’s about fighting it,” says Newman.
“Then you have songs like High Ticket Attractions that’s less about internal struggle and more about the external struggle of what’s going on in the world. It was 2016 when we were making this record, and the election, and there was that fear that if he won it would be as bad as it is right now. It’s terrifying to me for a number of reasons. It’s policy, but also you realize, ‘Holy shit, he reflects a massive chunk of America.’ I’m sure there was the Russian election hacking, and I’m sure there were nefarious things going on. But even with all of that, there are still tens of millions of people who thought, ‘I’d rather vote for him over her.’ That part is scary.
I think millions of people woke up the next day and thought, “Wait, this isn’t the country I thought it was. We have to readjust. The country we thought was America, it was a myth. This is America now. ”
After tours for Together and Brill Brusiers hit Cleveland’s House of Blues, it was nice to see The New Pornographers return to the Beachland Ballroom. If Neko Case had been there, she would have been happy, after being vocal about her fondness for the venue from the stage and her Twitter feed. In her absence, Kathryn Calder and touring singer/violinist Simi Stone filled in on songs like Colosseums, Champions of Red Wine and Mass Romantic.
The band hit songs from all seven albums with a 21-song set list and minimal between-song banter. All Carl asked of the audience was one simple request:
Don’t call him Hot Carl.
If you ask anyone in Goldmines how they’re doing, chances are they’ll say that they’re really busy. Cleveland’s femme foursome of Mandy Look, Jeanna Lax, Heather Gmucs, and Roseanna Safos are ready to keep their momentum going into 2017. After spending the end of last year supporting their self-titled EP release, Mandy and Roseanna took a moment from their relentless schedules to speak with Blown Speakers, before their recent performance with R.Ring and Split Single at the Happy Dog in Cleveland.
So R. Ring, are you excited to play with them? Mandy Look: Yeah. Roseanna’s like, “What, one of my main idols is stopping through?” Roseanna Safos: My only main, I mean, her, and the other one is Kim. You know what I mean? ML: Yeah. And she’s like, up there for me. RS: If I really explained how happy I am, it’d sound scary. We’ve played with Kelley. We’ve played with The Breeders before, and then we played with R. Ring, too. And then I’ve played with R. Ring too, with other bands. So we kind of know each other. My friend plays drums for her, so they asked us to do the show together, and I was really, really happy. ML: Yeah, it was awesome! RS: We were all just like “!” — Also Kelley Deal shared a Goldmines video, and that was pretty cool. So we’re excited for the show. I can’t wait. ML: I do appreciate how political Kelley Deal has gotten, too. Not incredibly political, but for the right reasons. Speaking for musicians, and about how we need healthcare, and how we need things like the ACA. We’re going to try to work different angles to be friends with her. So I may talk to her a lot. RS: Yeah. You do that. ML: Yeah, I’ll do that, and be like, “If you ever need a guitar player or a drummer, we’ll drive down and practice!”
Do you feel the same kind of commitment to those kind of issues? You know, being a band from Cleveland and experiencing everything that’s been going on lately? ML: Definitely. One thing that’s happening now is that you can’t do just one thing. It’s like the gig economy. You play in a band, but you also have to work a day job, and if you wanna be able to pursue any kind of art, you’re gonna be poor. Unless you’re born rich, you know? For the most part, like 99% of people. So I think those things are very important, to continue the arts and affect the community. Because, I mean, communities will just die out if you don’t have the artists, and they’re not really making money. I mean, not like they used to. Being in a band, I think a lot people don’t realize how much playing live music brings to the community. When you come see a band, you’re going to the restaurant next door to eat dinner, or you’re going to a nearby store to pick something up, you’re tipping the bartenders, you’re helping a small local business. RS: And you’re gonna spread happiness.
Ready for the split
The Thursday night dinner crowd at the Happy Dog comfortably occupied the back tables and choice spots along the bar. While most folks were enjoying a tall draft or a tricked-out hot dog, Roseanna and Mandy were both sipping coffee and fueling up for practice later that night.
ML: We’ve all been so busy lately! We can’t get together and speak! RS: But we’ve all been the busiest we’ve ever been, I feel. But we still do it. ML: Yeah, sort of. Yeah. We make it work. RS: We gotta get back on a regular schedule. We all want it. ML: I’m sure, as you know, everyone’s lives just get in the way. And it seems like we’ve got the most attention this year when we’ve been the least active, in a way. Which is cool. I guess it’s cause we released a record, so that helps push out things. RS: And it took forever for the split to come out. ML: Yeah, but it’s coming out at a good time. RS: Our split’s coming out with Shitbox Jimmy. Well, our record just came out, but our split with Shitbox Jimmy is coming out. Do you know where I booked the show for the release? You don’t know. But I booked it at The Phantasy Theater, just to be fun. I used to play there in the ’90s and had a ton of fun, and I know what it’s become. So I got a hold of them, and I’m like, “We’re gonna do it my way.” They were so excited to do it! We’re going to do it with my cover, one of my door people, no pre-sale, no credit charge. It should be a really fun show. A good excuse to go to the Phantasy before it turns into condos probably.
That’s a shame. It’s good that you got something going on with it, though. RS: I know! Actually the guy who books there, he was in my very first band in high school. So he was like, whatever you want. You can book it or play it, you can do whatever you want. That’s cool.
RS: The songs, that record, our split, Heather made like how many? Like, Heather does the Wax Mage thing. And I think they’re all sold out, the ones that she made. How many did she make? ML: I think 50? RS: OK, so that’s just her own thing, like she’ll make like 50 cool albums. When do we get them? ML: I think she said she was putting them into production. RS: It’s exciting! It’s gonna be really good. Shitbox Jimmy side is awesome, too.
So Wax Mage is Heather’s project? ML: Yeah, she and Sarah Barker, and they kinda just run it out of Gotta Groove. Gotta Groove lets them do what they want, and they just pay Gotta Groove for it in their time, which is awesome. For Gotta Groove, too, because they’re not taking ownership of them. It opened up a whole new world for Heather where she was kinda running a label. It’s just something she always wanted to do. Even though it’s not officially a label, but I think with Quality Time, they partnered up in a way, where Quality Time, they’re doing the work to do the distribution and stuff, and Heather does pre-sales to help pay for the record production. It seems to work. RS: And they do cool compilations. ML: And it’s cool for Cleveland, because people around the world are following them. With the Goldmines record, people have bought them across the country just because they’re more interested in the record art, in a way. But then they get the music and Heather’s like, “I’ve been getting a lot of feedback on the record.” And that’s cool. It’s good they’re not disappointed in the record they’re buying. So it’s very symbiotic.
Back in the van
On top of all of these preparations for their new release, Goldmines embarked on a tour of the Midwest through the month of April in support of acclaimed songwriter and Cleveland music legend, Craig Bell, formerly of Rocket From The Tombs, The Down-fi, and Mirrors.
RS: When I played with Bim in Obnox, he was just like everywhere. And The Gizmos. He saw Goldmines play at Studio-A-Rama. Mirrors played there, and he remembered when he saw me play with Obnox in Indianapolis. And then, when Goldmines played in Indy, he would go see us. So we know each other pretty well, but he just loves Goldmines. So he asked us to do it. He actually wanted to do more shows, but Mandy’s been super busy with her work. Craig Bell is the nicest man on Earth. He’s so active in so many projects like all the time. ML: I wish we could’ve done more. We were supposed to do a couple more. RS: Indiana would’ve been fun, but Mandy’s just busy. I mean, we’re all pretty busy. Very busy. But, that Columbus show we’re playing with DANA, too. Have you ever heard of DANA? Columbus band, DANA. They’re really cool. ML: Did you tell me about them? Or have I heard about them? RS: Uh, they’ve been playing a few times, they’re on Instagram and stuff. But they’re cool. They’re kinda harder. The lady plays like a Theremin. ML: Oh! Heather was showing me a video, she saw them playing on a thing. She said it sounds amazing. Oh she’s going to be so happy. RS: Well, I told her. And I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve known that band for a long time.”
RS: I got a new van. Well, I got a 2015 Dodge Minivan. Pretty new. It’s the nicest thing I’ve ever had. I’ve had, this is like my seventh one. Transmission issues. Always transmission. But that’s why I built my credit up like crazy. Because I never had credit. For this reason, for this van. So I got the van, saved up money. It’s pretty cool. We’re gonna hit the road and not be fearful. ML: Which is really exciting for our band. RS: So we don’t have to rent. ML: That stopped us. Actually, you wouldn’t think a van would stop you, like not having a vehicle to travel in. We used to travel so much because in HotChaCha we had a van, and going out of town was not a huge ordeal. You don’t take two or three cars. It’s like, now we can just hop into her minivan like a family. RS: One of the other things we did, we rented. And it sucked. And it’s so expensive! And then, before there, we borrowed a van, and then we had some trouble. And it wasn’t our van. We were responsible but felt kinda shitty and we kinda felt like, “What? Why are we..?” So I got a van.
Riding the next wave
While Goldmines continue to promote their latest releases, they’ve also focused on crafting new songs and sharpening their musical ideas. Their signature sound of sixties-style vocal harmonies doused in reverb-driven guitars and supercharged with hard garage rhythm comes from a wide range of influences.
ML: I think when Goldmines started I had this idea of us being ’60s influenced, kinda like the girl-group thing, but more like ’60s garage rock, you know? I just love it. Now, I’m like really into this idea of us being more like a Heart-esqe, glammy band. RS: Yeah, that would be cool. ML: Our new single on the split is really rockin’. It’s probably my favorite song I’ve ever written. It’s really tough and cool and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s cool, very cool. So that’s kinda where I’m drawing from. I mean, of course, I like everything. The ’90s is probably my prime time of growing up music. I’m trying to get back into that. I don’t really go on my iTunes. I don’t know, it sucks with technology. You get rid of all your CDs and you have all your iTunes. I don’t really even look at my iTunes anymore. But I need to get into it. Like, there’s too much Sebadoah I haven’t listened to, and I’m like, “I used to love that album.” Then I always think of all these other albums that I want to listen to, or these weird bands. RS: I gotta force myself to go buy a record this week. There are some new artists that really, really grab me, and I just have to have it, but not so much like I used to. ML: (to Roseanna) Are you drawing from anything? RS: Like in, us, in Goldmines? ML: I don’t know. I guess. RS: I’ve been trying to get into like a post-punk kind of thing. Well, because I heard some old HotChaCha stuff, that split we did with We Are Hex. And we were just fucking around, and it technically wasn’t that great, but what you did on your part was so good, well because you’re so good at that style, too. ML: I felt that kinda in Goldmines. Now I can play chords. RS: Well, yeah, because we’re not that band. You know what I mean? ML: In HotChaCha, I didn’t play one chord ever. I was just playing notes. RS: But you’re so good. You’re creative. ML: I don’t think I knew how to play chords. No, I did, yeah, I did! I just liked technology.
RS: (Notices song playing in the background.) Oh, I love this song. ML: We’re looking for a song to cover. RS: Oh my God! I would love to cover this! ML: I think we could cover this. RS: We’ll do it our way. ML: You know, we’ve had a lot of ideas. And then we try and do it, and like if it just doesn’t fit into how we are, you know, we don’t push it. Usually, honestly, I think everything I’ve covered we’ve been at a bar together and was like, “We should cover it!” We’ll probably end up covering this, because it’s just gonna — It’s like always a magical happenstampede.
Goldmines will perform next at the release show for their upcoming 12″ vinyl split release with Shitbox Jimmy on Friday, May 5th at the Phantasy Theater in Lakewood, Ohio. The “Cinco De Mayo” celebration is presented by Panza Foundation, Wax Mage, and Quality Time Records, and will include Goldmines, Shitbox Jimmy, Dime Disguise, and The Safeties.
Jason Narducy’s solo project Split Single and R. Ring [Kelley Deal (The Breeders), Mike Montgomery (Ampline)] are heading out on tour together.
This joining of forces came about because Laura King, who techs for Superchunk, will be playing drums with R. Ring on this tour. King knows Narducy, so she asked each group if they’d like to play some shows together. They agreed, and booked
12 shows in 12 days.
Over the years, Narducy has played with Bob Mould, Superchunk and Robert Pollard (Guided By Voices), Liz Phair and Telekinesis. He formed 4-piece rock group Verbow after college, featuring cellist Alison Chesley, and punk band Verböten when he was 10 years old—only one year after receiving his first guitar.
Thirteen-year-old Dave Grohl saw ten-year-old Narducy play in Verböten, and credits him as the catalyst that made him want to be a musician. “Watching Jason was the first time I thought I could start my own band and write my own kind of music,” says Grohl. “Jason totally set my life in this new direction. It wasn’t a Jimmy Page or KISS poster I had — it was fuckin’ him!”
Working solo under the name Split Single, Narducy collaborates with other artists to record his songs and play shows.
On his latest release, Metal Frames, Narducy is joined by John Stirratt (bassist for Wilco) and once again by indie rock’s busiest drummer Jon Wurster (Superchunk, Bob Mould, The Mountain Goats, and comedy duo Sharpling and Wurster.
For this tour, Narducy will be joined by drummer Tim Remus (Sweet Cobra) and Billy Yost (The Kickback) on bass. Certain dates will feature a second guitarist.
When Narducy set out make Metal Frames, he knew he wanted it to “be a little bit more rocking than the last record. I mean, I’m really proud of Fragmented World, it’s not like I have any regrets about it. But playing the Fragmented World songs live— I just wanted there to be some more loud rock songs.”
Narducy has brought a good sense of humor to promoting his music through a series of videos.
“Some of them are self-deprecating, some of them are poking fun. The Sexiest Elbows in Rock pokes fun at exploiting sexuality and making oneself vulnerable in order to promote music,” he says. “So just thinking about the absurdities of being a musician and having fun with that. And it’s a nice creative outlet for me to do something different from music and also collaborate with other people… whether it be comedians or actors or other people that I look up to. And if they’re interested in doing something absolutely absurd and silly with me, then it can be a lot of fun.”
For the video for Untry Love, Narducy enlisted the help of two friends, comedian Dave Hill and songwriter Anya Marina, who try to mold him into “the ultimate between-song frontman.”
The video was shot in New York the day after Trump’s election.
“The crew was not sure if they were willing to do it, and I don’t blame them,” recalls Narducy. “Everybody was in shock, especially in New York. I mean, there were people weeping in the streets. It was a very dark day. But we all said, ‘we can go home and feel bad about ourselves, or we can collaborate with friends and be amongst friends and do something creative and try to not think about it for 12 hours.'”
The album’s shortest song, White Smoke, about the Tamir Rice murder in Cleveland, is also one that came the quickest to Narducy.
“I’m fortunate that most of my childhood was in Chicago and in mixed neighborhoods, so I’ve always felt comfortable in diverse cultural surroundings,” he says. “Then I went to college in Baltimore, which is below the Mason-Dixon line, and I learned a lot about racism there and how real it is in America.”
“Trayvon Martin really struck home for me, that judgment. Then Michael Brown right after that. There’s so many. But Tamir Rice felt like the third one where they say that someone has a gun or they were going for a gun and they gave them a warning. You know, it’s sort of the same script. All of a sudden, with Tamir Rice, a video shows up that proves they were lying. It’s really difficult to watch that video, to watch a 12-year-old boy playing by himself. You know that was one of the lies; they said he was amongst all these other children and he wasn’t, he was by himself. And the cop car drives up into the park on the grass and the cop kills him in 1.7 seconds and then doesn’t help him. It’s just brutal. And then on top of all that, no one is held accountable for his death. So it’s a reminder that there need to be changes so that people in public feel safe, especially people of color.”
“I didn’t set out to write a song about that, it just sort of came out really fast,” Narducy continues. “It’s a short song and I might have written it faster than even the length of the song.”
“It’s important to me that that is discussed and that we move forward. It adds to my disgust with this current administration that Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general, is basically wanting to remove oversight for a lot of the actions that police officers take.”
“And listen, when I talk about these things— I’m friends with police officers. Just because you talk about something like this doesn’t mean you’re anti-police officer. I think 90 percent of police officers are doing the right thing, and sometimes they’re put in really horrible situations, and I couldn’t even imagine how scary they are or how much courage they take. It’s just— I don’t care if you’re a cop or not, if they murder someone, an unarmed person, they should be held accountable.”
R. Ring duo Kelley Deal and Mike Montgomery have been making music together since mid-2010. Their first full-length, Ignite the Rest, is set to release April 28 on SofaBurn Records.
Deal and Montgomery have a free podcast on iTunes where they discuss genre-defying Ignite the Rest track-by-track, sharing stories behind each song and talking about their history and the people they met along the way.
“We really go into each song,” says Deal. “Where the seed came from. Who had it. Did it start as a vocal thing or a guitar thing, or did one of us bring it more fully formed? Because it feels like each one has been a little bit different.”
Deal and Montgomery first met when he recorded the version of Scalding Creek she did with Cincinnati’s Buffalo Killers for Guided By Voices tribute album Sing for Your Meat.
When they got together, they agreed they didn’t want R. Ring to be like their other projects. “It’s not like there’s a process that’s set in stone,” says Montgomery. “It’s that there’s an idea that we should leave ourselves open to explore an idea to its own end, and let a song go where it wants to go.”
“When you are in a band that has defined roles, like there’s a singer, there’s a drummer, there’s a bassist, there’s a rhythm guitar,” he continues, “You end up almost subconsciously, inadvertently steering an idea to a destination with those roles in mind. You think, ‘Well I could do this part, but what does the other person play? Oh, the bass would go here. Okay, the drums would go like this, this is the beat.’ And before you know it, you’ve crafted a song. You’re not even done with the melody and you’ve got a full arrangement worked out in your head. It kind of takes it to a place that maybe it wouldn’t have gone if you weren’t a conductor and songwriter at the same time, trying to define the elements of the song.”
Just a couple months after meeting, R. Ring did their first show. “Someone asked us to get up there, and that’s what we did… We had fun, which was the most important thing… It was a totally open-ended thing,” Montgomery explains, “Like, this isn’t a band, there’s nothing proper hanging over us… It’s the idea that we could do something just for our own amusement and enjoy the process. That’s what the first show and the genesis of the band was all about.”
“Yeah, and it’s kind of been keeping that,” agrees Deal. “Because especially in this day and age, you hear plenty about the industry. It really is all about the process more than ever. More than ever. It really is like, ‘are you enjoying it? Are you enjoying who you’re hanging with? Are you enjoying the process of creating music? Playing with somebody else. You know, getting in a van and driving somewhere with somebody. Because that’s a really wonderful thing.”
Montgomery agrees, “This is what the album is about. This is what the podcast is about. Talking to you right now is as much a part of being in a band; it’s as key or as relevant or as focus-worthy as anything else. Doing music is really about making art and creation and expression a part of your life. So anyone that’s involved, whether you’re a poster silkscreener, or photocopying things at Kinkos, or a journalist—”
“Or a photographer,” chimes Deal.
“All of that stuff. All of these interactions, these relationships, this humanity is really like a small experience of the creation of a song,” Montgomery continues. “It’s not just playing a song live at a show, it’s everything that goes into it. All the neat people we meet along the way… from the person selling tickets to the roadie to the bartender to the opening act to the mechanic who did the oil change. All of that stuff, that is music to Kelley and I. And that’s what R. Ring is about, acknowledging that music is woven into the fabric of your life. A band is not defined by the narrow parameters of a single, an EP, a record, a tour. Being in a band is really your life.”
“There’s a lot of collaboration and cooperation that needs to take place, so you might as well enjoy it and you might as well surround yourself with people that you like being around,” he says.
This holistic outlook and openness led them to the musicians who play with them at shows and on album tracks, including drummer Laura King and cellist Lori Goldston.
Montgomery met King a couple years ago when she bought an R. Ring t-shirt online and his small one-man operation forgot to send it, so she emailed to remind him. “They just got to talking,” says Deal. “So when we went on tour last year, we had her band, Flesh Wounds, open some shows on the east coast. That’s how we started hanging with her.”
“Now we’re like soulmates,” agrees Montgomery. “We’re on a team. We’re buddies.” He recalls that King was “instrumental in pulling (the song Cutter) together” while recording the Ignite the Rest album, when he and Deal weren’t sure it was shaping up.
Lori Goldston played cello on four tracks: Cutter, 100 Dollar Heat, Steam and You Will Be Buried Here. Deal met Goldston when The Breeders were touring with Nirvana for their In Utero tour. Goldston was Nirvana’s touring cellist. “I reconnected with her when Mike and I did a show in Seattle,” recalls Deal. “I walked in and there’s Lori Goldston. She happened to be in one of the local bands playing with us that night. I invited her to join us. I listened to her set and it was just beautiful. I said ‘Hey, can you just keep your stuff up there and just play along with us?’ She said ‘Sure!'”
“She put her cello through pedals and an amp,” continues Deal. It wasn’t like ‘I’m going to find a melody and play countermelodies that you can hear distinctly through everything.’ It was more like an ambience or overtone. Swells and meanderings. So it was really nice and atmospheric stuff that she was doing. And ever since then I was like, ‘When we do our record, we’re definitely gonna have her come out.’ And we did, and she came, and it was awesome.”
Split Single and R. Ring play Cleveland’s Happy Dog Sunday, April 23. Local favorites Goldmines open (featuring members of Hot Cha Cha).
Check back with us after the show for our review and photo recap.
April 19: Newport, KY at Southgate House Revival
April 20: Columbus, OH at Rumba Café
April 21: Detroit, MI at Trinisophes
April 22: Chicago, IL at Schubas
April 23: Cleveland, OH at Happy Dog
April 24: Philadelphia, PA at Everybody Hits
April 25: Kingston, NY at BSP Kingston
April 26: Brooklyn, NY at Babys All Right
April 27: Baltimore, MD at Ottobar
April 28: Washington, DC at Comet Ping Pong
April 29: Chapel Hill, NC at Night Light
With an amazing career spanning 30 years, Matthew Sweet has been the answer when it comes to guitar-driven power pop. His breakthrough records from the early 1990s, like Girlfriend, Altered Beast and 100% Fun, highlight the chord-ripping rock and endearing songwriting that set his style apart in the era of “alternative” music, much like Elvis Costello’s emergence parallel to the eruption of British punk in the 1970s. Like a true artist, he has continued to write, perform and collaborate on an astounding number of projects through the years — and shows no signs of slowing down yet. Matthew talked with Blown Speakers before visiting Cleveland on his current tour of the Northeast U.S., and discussed his next album, Tomorrow Forever, among other things.
Matthew Sweet: The whole thing is recorded. I still have to mix it, and I have to figure out what makes the album and what happens with the rest of the songs. I recorded 38 songs for it, so I’m going to try to figure out what the main album is.
There’s supposed to be a bonus disc that some people pledged for, and that was going to be demos, but given the time frame and I got started a little late, I mostly just made real recordings, so that bonus thing will also be full of studio songs.
Were there any direct influences that were drawing themselves out while you were making the new album?
MS: That’s hard to say. I think that it really just came from me. I’ve moved from living in a new place, and it’s kind of on its own steam. I wouldn’t say there was something I was particularly listening to or wanting it to be like. I just started picking ideas and doing it like I normally do, which is a little bit mysterious. I store up short minute long ideas or something. When I go through my day before I’m making a record, I’ll occasionally record little things and then save them up, or if I have nothing I’ll make them up that day or whatever when I need them. But somehow once they’re that little thing, it’s like the seed of what it’s going to be, and it just sort of becomes that. I just trust that it will and then it’s like magic or something.
I didn’t do a lot of thinking about what I wanted it to be like, but it has a wide range of stuff on it and I did try to make sure it has lots of different types of songs. For instance, I recorded it in three batches, and I think that the first batch had a variety of things, and then the second batch was a little more power-pop, and then the third batch was really slow, moodier type of stuff. But that’s the most I thought about it. I was like, ‘Well, I want to make sure I have slow stuff,’ you know?
Has being back in your old home state influenced the album, like how you were saying about a move back and everything?
MS: Well I guess your house and where you live is the most solid thing. I mean, for me, in my life, it doesn’t matter where I am in terms of doing music. I can do what I do anywhere, and I have. I’ve lived a lot of places, but there’s something about when you’re settling in and you have that comfort of your own space, and I think that did factor in somehow.
I grew up in Lincoln, and so Omaha’s really a bigger city than I grew up in. Although, Lincoln’s a good size, I mean the University of Nebraska’s there, it’s only fifty miles away from here. But it has been cool to connect to how I felt when I was really young. I’ve always been bad with remembering what all happened when I was little. I’d meet other people throughout the years who I grew up with, and I always felt like they remembered all the stuff, but I just didn’t remember it exactly. And there is a little bit of that being here — that I just can feel like I’m more connected with that part of my life. So there is something weirdly comforting about that.
Do you still have the home studio in your new place? How was it moving everything to a new location?
MS: I do. Well, that’s cool, too, to have a new room that I work in. I’ve never had a pro studio set up at home in terms of like “the room.” I’ve never built a room to be a studio. It was funny because when I sold my place in Los Angeles, it got in local papers and online, and it said I sold my home ‘with recording studio,’ but there was really no recording studio in it, except my gear being in one of the rooms of the house. And that’s really the same way it is here, but our new place had a really good room for me to do music in, so it’s always fun being in a new space doing that. It has been cool setting up my studio and making it my own sort of vibe.
You’re hitting the road in September. This will be your second time coming through Cleveland in two years. What is it that keeps you coming back to this area and do you have any favorite moments or memories about playing in Cleveland?
MS: I feel like there must’ve been a time where we didn’t come as much, and then we started coming more often a few years ago. I mean, back in the day, we came there and there were always great rock crowds, and we played a lot of different places that had different vibes and stuff.
Then we played the Beachland a few times over the last few years, and that was when we really started playing Cleveland again. We played there a few times, and then we played the Music Box, and we had a great time there. It’s a really nice venue, and spacious, and has a really good backstage and stuff. I have positive memories of it, so it’s comfortable.
But in general, Cleveland, it’s such a great music city and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is there, and I have some history with it. I had a really cool moment in my career when we got to play at an opening of the John Lennon exhibit that Yoko Ono curated in there in 2000. Two or three bands played at it, and we were able to meet Yoko and have her sign our little books at the exhibit. It was up in this room where they had a lot of John’s handwritten lyrics on walls. So that was a trip and is a cool memory from being around there. It’s always been a rock and roll town so it makes sense that it would be a place good for me.
Your songs have been used in a lot of popular movie soundtracks from the 90s and on. Has anyone asked you to write a film score or perform a complete film soundtrack, like Prince on the Batman soundtrack?
MS: Not really. I would’ve done it, I’m sure. I got close to that sort of thing. Unfortunately, when I probably could’ve done something like that easier was when my career was early enough in success. I was touring all the time and maybe didn’t have as much time to get into that sort of stuff. Later on, I’ve never really concentrated on trying to change the kind of work I do because I just like being an artist and writing my own songs. But I’ve always felt like I could do it pretty easily. I guess the closest I got was a little bit of incidental music in Can’t Hardly Wait, the teen movie. I had a song on the soundtrack of it, but I ended up with a little bit of background music for it.
Are you still crafting pottery? Is the Lolina line still going on?
MS: It is, theoretically. I have all my stuff here and I actually have a small garage just for doing pottery in, but I haven’t really set it up and started doing it. It’s been kind of a long break for me but I am going to get it going sometime soon. I got embroiled in the album pretty quickly after we moved and I’ve only really been working on that. Some of the rewards from the Kickstarter campaign include 3-D printed things that I’m making. I’ve scanned from pieces of my pottery, like a cat head, and then use them in building the 3-D things. I’m also making a bronze cat sculpture as one of the things people could get as an incentive. To do that, I think I’m gonna carve it out of clay, and then we’ll make some sort of a mold from it, so I’ve got to get into some clay and get it going. I’m thinking sometime this fall is when I’ll actually get all that stuff rolling and get back on the wheel. Make some things to get myself going.
I think that doing pottery, the way I do it, it’s very self-taught. I’m not like a pro at doing it, it’s my own weird way. I learned just a little bit from others, but kind of like my guitar playing, I just kind of learned it on my own. It has this thing about it that’s kind of like music, which is why I like pottery. Where you can get lost in it, and it’s hard to imagine how you did it afterwards, for me. I listen to a song I’ve done and I can’t really imagine where it came from. It’s sort of like when I said magic, that’s sort of what I mean.
I’ve got several pieces around the house that we ended up keeping though a lot was made and sold. When I look at pottery that I made over a few years ago, I go, ‘How did I ever make that?’ It’s hard to imagine how I knew how to do it on the wheel. It’s different from music because it’s like a solid thing.
I think I will be able to just do it still. I think, in a weird way, maybe I’ll be better at doing it even though I didn’t do it during that time. You go back to a feeling, and if you can get in that kind of a meditative state where you lose yourself, you can do it. That’s when it works. You know, pottery is really weird. Some days it just seems like you can’t do it at all, even for people who are great at it. Some days it’s just not happening, something’s wrong, and then you get in that sort of zone, and it happens. I’m more used to creating that feeling with music and a lot less used to it with pottery, but I still have faith in that concept.
How do you feel about the Kickstarter approach and using this kind of method to connect with fans and get your work out?
MS: I like it. It’s something I’ve always wanted to try, and I talked about doing it for a long time before I ever did one. I can’t say whether I’ll always do it through Kickstarter. In a way, I feel like it would be hard to do it multiple times or something, but what it gets for me is this fire under me to really try to do something great. I’ve really tried to make it come to life in a strong way, and it’s afforded me more time to spend on recording and record more things just out of wanting it to be very special. Because it’s paid for by fans, I want them to really like it. The only way I really knew to make sure it’s especially good was to just record a lot of stuff and then pick the things that just work the best. That’s been great, although it’s making it a little harder to choose what the album is. I’m getting close to that.
I think the hardest thing about it is that it’s taken me so long to do, and some people get impatient about it, although the vast majority are just really great and supportive. I think that trying to stay super engaged with communicating and keeping everybody happy is something I’m not as good at. I’m a person who’ll decide one day, ‘I want to do Facebook,’ and I’ll do posts or I’ll get engaged, but then the next day, I have no urge to do it. I just know myself in this way that. That’s been the hardest thing, I think, between me and the Kickstarter, is me giving enough extra stuff because I’ve just been so focused on recording.
Having said that, people are great and it’s really fun to give a big update and tell them where I’m at. Last month, when I got done with all the rough mixes and everything was recorded that’s going to go on all the parts, it was fun to tell everybody, ‘Look, here’s where it is, and we can see light at the end of the tunnel now.’ I just have to get all the rewards going and mix it this fall and we’ll be good to go.
If there was a (purely hypothetical) biopic movie of your life coming out either this year or next year, who would you want to play your role, and who do you see playing any of the other guys in your band, like Ric (Menck) and Paul (Chastain)?
MS: Ha! This is great. I wish I had a couple days to think about this. There’s a guy who looks like I looked when I was young. People tell me, ‘That guy reminds me of you.’ To me, he’s much cooler than me, and also a really cool actor. His name is Michael Pitt. He played Jimmy Darmody, the young, up-and-coming bootlegger guy on Boardwalk Empire. We may not really look that much alike, but he’s cooler than me and somewhat similar.
He can play me, and then, god, who could be Menck? Who’s really tall? You need someone tall and skinny so that’s the actor. Paul would be a smaller guy. I don’t know, I just have to think a little bit more about casting those two because it would have to really be right. In a way, Steve Buscemi would be good as Ric, but he’s not tall enough and he’s too old to be with Michael Pitt. Meet the older and the youngers, you know? Buscemi has the personality that’s a little more like Ric. But no, it can’t be all people from Boardwalk Empire!
Concert/photo recap, Music Box Supper Club, Cleveland, 9.13.2016
Instead of bootlegged whiskey, Matthew Sweet has been chord-running an intoxicating collection of hits and fan favorites as his fall tour winds through the Midwest and toward the Atlantic coast. His visit to Cleveland’s Music Box Supper Club proved to be another outstanding performance that his devoted listeners have come to love.
The night began with a rousing performance from Cleveland’s Chris Allen, known for his work in the bands Rosavelt and The Boys From County Hell. His brand of hard-strumming heartland rock with a subtle touch of Telecaster twang was a perfect match for the evening. Joined by Tom Prebish on bass, and Fred Perez-Stable on congas and percussion (instead of the usual drum kit because the kit couldn’t fit on stage in front of all of Sweet’s band’s gear), the trio delivered a strong, yet intimate set that included several Rosavelt favorites, like The Last Heartache and Perfect Girl.
Matthew Sweet arrived on stage to a packed seated house. As usual, he was joined by Ric Menck on drums and Paul Chastain on bass, both long-serving bandmates and the core duo of Velvet Crush, and featured the incredible non-stop talents of John Moremen on solo guitar.
Matthew’s set covered plenty of his popular singles, like Girlfriend, Sick of Myself, and Time Capsule, and also showcased signature tunes from his recent releases, such as Byrdgirl and She Walks The Night. By the end of the night, the crowd of steadfast fans in the audience got more hits and rock sweetness then they bargained for.
For more details on east coast tour dates and venues, and more news on the upcoming album, visit Matthew Sweet’s official website.