Teenage Fanclub and
The Love Language
at El Club, Detroit, MI
March 7, 2019
We arrived at El Club in Mexicantown about 10 minutes early, but a late soundcheck left us waiting in the bitter cold Detroit winter air until doors finally opened nearly 30 minutes later. After security searched our bags and patted us down, we were allowed to wait inside as The Love Language finished soudchecking behind the thick black curtain separating the bar from the music hall.
It had been 8 years years since I’d seen The Love Language live, and the preview we got while sipping a legit bottle of Mexican Coke in the bar got me even more amped to hear these songs in person again.
Signed to Merge Records in 2009 after the first album, The Love Language is often upbeat melodic powerpop, but the albums don’t adhere to any one genre.
Songwriter/guitarist/vocalist Stuart McLamb has penned four full-length albums under the Love Language name: Baby Grand (2018), Ruby Red (2013), Libraries (2010), self-titled (2009) and just a few weeks ago released a single called Bees.
Whereas the first two albums draw from ’60s pop music like The Beatles or The Beach Boys, newer songs feel more like post-millennial guitar rock a’la The Strokes, The Killers or Tame Impala. McLamb explains, “The Love Language is just kind of what I’m feeling at the time, and I’m not really that concerned with it being cohesive, but I’ve always tried to make sure it’s genuine.”
McLamb made the move from North Caroliina to LA in May 2017 and LA is namedropped a few times on the newest album, Baby Grand. But the album was actually written while Stuart still lived in North Carolina before he even knew he was going to move.
“It was almost like art predicting life,” said McLamb. “There’s lyrics about moving, about wanting to live in other places, and it’s like hearing yourself say what you want out loud makes it come true. At the core, the album is really about taking a risk to get out of a rut.”
McLamb was joined on stage by his brother Jordan (keys/guitar/vocals), Thomas Simpson (drums) and Eddie Sanchez (bass/vocals). Not a shy bone among them, each member of the band laid into every song, eeking every ounce of rock ‘n’ roll out of their voices and instruments and into the receptive crowd.
It was obvious they were having a great time up there. Between songs they’d tell quick anecdotes and crack jokes, including a story about having too many martinis the night before and that “Jordan may have had a gummy bear, so we’ll see what happens.”
Their set highlighted uptempo, high-energy performances from each album, including Providence, Sparxxx, Heart to Tell, Frames, New Amsterdam and closed with an extended, balls-out performance of Calm Down that brought Stuart to his knees in front of his Pedaltrain, twisting knobs as the song continued to build, and culminating in a tasteful wash of feedback as the effects were allowed to ring out for just long enough before clearing the stage.
“That song has always been a fun moment to just go crazy at the end,” said McLamb. “We never really know where that’s going to go. You can go a million different ways with it because you’re not confined to a chord progression. We’re still figuring it out, and I hope we never do. It’s always different every night.”
“This tour has been really inspiring and we’re having a really great time,” says McLamb. “It’s a ton of work, but it’s felt really gratifying. For a cold-weather tour with some dudes in their mid-to-late 30s, we’re kicking ass.”
Yes, it’s clear that they’re having a blast. Just Saturday, McLamb wrote the following Facebook post: “I don’t know how or why but we’re all crazy sleep deprived and old but me & the boys are absolutely killing it and i am 100000000% down to rock until I die 🖤”
With the energy of The Love Language’s set still reverberating through the crowd,Teenage Fanclub rode that wave and started their set with a bang. Their first three songs, About You, Start Again, and The Cabbage kept the big-chord rock songs coming, bringing a heavier bend to some of their most reknowned songs.
Having released 11 studio albums since forming in 1989, the Scottish Brit-Pop band continues to craft solid powerpop tunes, often compared to Big Star. After all these years, the band hasn’t lost their approach to earnest expression and big-hearted love songs.
Teenage Fanclub charted in the US with 1991’s Bandwagonesque, and the crowd’s biggest response of the night was, predictably, singing along to The Concept.
The two bands complemented each other well and made for a fantastic night. We definitely recommend catching this tour even if you have to drive a ways for it, like we did. Upcoming dates are in Boston, New York, Brooklyn, Philly, Washington DC and Saxapahaw, NC. Highly recommended!
All photos by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson. Prints, wall art, canvas, velvet and metal prints and more available at www.MaraRobinson.com. Simply click the images you want to purchase, click Add To Cart, and select the sizes you want.
Rob Kovacs is a classically trained musician from Cleveland, Ohio who works to arrange, perform and preserve the music from NES games of the 1980s on piano. His work can be seen on his YouTube channel 88bit. The version of Bloody Tears from Castlevania II that he discusses here has since been released. As he was leaving the interview, and we were bemoaning the lack of information about the original composers, my mind drifted to the old delta blues singers of the 1930s. Legendary artists like Son House and Mississippi John Hurt were mostly forgotten until the folk revival of the 1960s, when they were coaxed back into studios to make the documents of their music that continue to inspire to this day. Will video game music composers be viewed by subsequent generations with the same reverence? Rob thinks so, and he gets specific on the techniques he uses to produce his arrangements, as well as his personal history and connection to video game music.
T: How did you start playing video games? R: I actually started because my family, my Dad, acquired ten arcade games: Super Pac-Man, Donkey Kong Jr., Popeye, Centipede, Space Invaders, Asteroid, a game called Star Castle, which we don’t have anymore. I don’t know how long ago it was, but I talked to my dad, and he doesn’t even remember that we had it. My Mom does sort of, my sister does, but there’s a debate of whether or not we had this tenth game.
T: Have you replayed them?
R: I was at my parents recently, about a month ago, and I thought “I’m going to replay Centipede.” And the cool thing about Centipede is that it saves your top scores. It’s the only one we had that did it. So we had top scores for twenty years. Me and my brother-in-law would battle who would get the top score. So we would keep trying to get each other’s name off. I eventually had all the top scores. I thought, “I’m going to to play again,” and I ended up playing for almost an hour trying to beat my top score. My gosh, I might beat it. My nephew who is thirteen started watching. I got so amped trying to get my top score. I surpassed my top score which had been up for fifteen years.
T: Was this an introduction to home console, with longer games
R The only thing my sister had was an Atari. I think I was five or six, I got the nintendo for Christmas. Most amazing Christmas ever. I got Karate Kid, Golf, Mario Bros was in the box.
T: Mario had distinctive music. And you were a music kid too, right? So you’ve been playing music as long as you’ve been playing video games?
R Yeah, that’s accurate. When I was three, I would tinker around the piano, and my sister played piano, she’s twelve years older. She’s pretty decent. I loved when she played, so I would try to copy her. I started making up my own little tunes. Real little, started taking lessons.
T: The two things are linked, your family’s connection to video games and your family’s connection to music?
R: They’ve been a part of my life from the very beginning.
T: Which became more important to you? When did one over take the other?
R: When I was 14, music became more important. I sold almost all my Nintendo games. I had about 40 at that point. In a way, that was so I could focus more on music. I sold them all with the box and everything for $2 a piece. And now I’m a collector. It was the biggest mistake of my life. I didn’t get rid of all of them. I didn’t fully give up on video games. I kept the multiplayer ones that I could play with my friends. And I kept the Super Nintendo. And still played computer games. The newest system I’ve ever owned to this day is a Super Nintendo.
T: So the two are definitely linked. What do your parents and sister think about the 88bit thing?
R: My sister thinks its cool. She’s always been super supportive. My parents saw me, I got to play at Severance Hall, at the smaller hall, I can’t think of the name, for make music day. I did a short 20-minute set on a huge Steinway piano. My parents wanted to come to that. It was the first time they’d seen it live and they were curious.
T: Do they understand that nostalgic connection for you?
R: I’m sure they do. The songs I play are the less known ones. That’s what I played at the concert. I didn’t think they’d be into it or really get it, but they do like classical music and piano music so I asked what they thought. And my Dad said, “It’s like classical music. I’m really impressed. It’s really good,” and I was really glad for that. That’s what I’m going for. I’m trying to take this music out of the toy realm and present it to people who might have never listened to it. Or if they did, they’re older than me and it’s just kids playing it and it’s obnoxious sounds.
T: When did you start thinking it was music?
R: I was in high school and my friend who was pretty internet savvy found a transcription of the Mario Bros theme, with all three voices. And he played some of it on piano. I thought, “This is so cool” and I had my band do an arrangement for the High School Rock Off 2000. We did an arrangement of Super Mario Brothers. In the US, I have to imagine, it had to be one of the earliest video game covers, live. At least that I’m aware of. It was a blast. It was at the Odeon. It was packed. People started crowd surfing as soon as we played that song.
T: Was it a rocking arrangement?
R: Yeah. We blended the first and second level. We added the pause button. Everyone would stop and pick it back up.
T: I know that you went to conservatory and really started focusing on contemporary classical music . You did your thesis on Steve Reich. Where was video game music in your head for you at that time?
R: Pretty non-existent. When I first started there, I did that arrangement of the Mario Bros theme that the band did. But I wasn’t thinking about video game music during college. No one else was.
T: Did you play games to relax?
R: I didn’t play much. I played some during the summer, computer games.
T: So you did classical music, and then you had a pop band, Return of Simple. What made you come back to video game music after your experience in pop and classical?
R: I was living in New York and I can’t remember exactly why, but I wanted to make an arrangement of Airman Theme from Mega Man II. Even before then, me and Gary Thobaben who was the bass player in Return of Simple, we played some games at home. He was living with me and once talked about doing a vocal arrangement with our then drummer who could sing. I don’t know if there are any vocal arrangements of Mega Man. That would be pretty insane. But that was just talk. Then I moved from New York, and decided the arrangement for Airman. It took a ton of work to arrange it and practice it and play it up to speed. But I finally made the video and it did really well. It has about 10,000 views pretty quick. It got a small interview by Game Informer and a couple other blogs. It did well, and I wanted to do the whole game, but I never got around to it. I never finished another video.
It wasn’t until a several years ago when I was teaching. I had a student who wanted to learn Bloody Tears from Castlevania II, Simon’s Quest. I figured out a simple version for her, and I thought I could do a really cool version. So I started arranging, and fleshed out a very classical sounding but very true to the original, just putting it on piano and adding octaves. It sounded badass, and I thought I should do as many Nintendo games as I can. This sounds sweet. The challenge is really high and I love it. One day, I had this idea to arrange music for video games, specifically NES games . I love the limitations that it has just the three sounds and the noise channel.
T: I know next to nothing about the technical process by which music was created. How is that music being played on the NES? What’s going on?
R: People think it’s a recording that’s being played, and that’s not the case. It’s a sound chip which produces the sound, like synthesizer. It’s an 8 bit sound chip. I’m not a computer guy, so I’ll explain it as best I can understand it. So the sound chip is making the sounds and it gets told to make the sounds by a code that’s already been written. So when you play the game, it will cue the codes. Plus the sound effects are when you get a mushroom and it cues that. Or it shoots a fireball. So all these sounds are technically being performed by the game.
T: But there’s not much variation? It’s not like if you play a piece on a violin or a different violin over there?
R: Yeah, they all sound the same, and the part will be on a loop and will sound exactly the same every time.
T: You mentioned they work on a loop. How do you think of taking a looped thing and arranging it into a piece that has an arc?
R: Sometimes I will just loop it, if it’s short. But as I’m arranging it and learning it, just get several ideas. Hmmm… I can expand it? Just like composing, you start off with an idea and think how can I do more with this? Same kind of idea with these small video game pieces. Not all of them. I try to expand them, give a little bit of shape, a beginning, a middle and an end.
T: You’ve played Final Fantasy, and I love that game because, and this won’t surprise you at all, is because it’s so narrative. You have to get your levels up and have some action, but ultimately you’re watching a story. When you play pieces from Final Fantasy, it seemed like you were pretty keyed into the game. How do you add the other emotional content of the game into the song?
R: Stuff from Final Fantasy is so well-written. It’s clear that Nobuo Uematsu is on different level. I recently transcribed the battle theme from the original Final Fantasy, and I barely had to do anything with it, other than solve a few of the limitations of the sound chip itself, moving a few notes up and down the octaves, where they should have been.
T: What’s the register of the chip?
R: The chip is actually pretty wide, but as you get further away you have different problems. You also have the limitations of the TV that they’re probably hearing the music on. They don’t have subwoofers. Nintendo is mono anyway. Fixing some of those, it came out really easy. I didn’t have to do anything with it. Some of the other pieces, more rare games, there’s this game called Arkista’s Ring, it has a couple looping songs and there’s a lot room to make it grow. Those are the games I have more fun with.
T: Do you think that comes from your experience in minimalism, where you’re often presented a theme with subtle changes? Is it hitting that button in your brain?
R: I wonder that. I think there’s a lot of crossover between minimalism and video game music, especially early video game music, because video game music was so short. The themes are not long, they’re looped. But they’re not minimalistic in the way Philip Glass or Steve Reich is. They’re not small bits of information. There’s usually a melody. But I think there is some crossover.
T: But the skill in general. Jazz improv is different from the mutations of a minimalist piece, which is different from a noise artist. Where do you see the additions you’ve made?
R: I guess more closer to minimalist, because I’m not going full classical romantic. Some people do and they sound great. Martin Leung, the video game pianist, he does great stuff and it’s very flourish-y. I try to stay away from that. I try to stay true to the feeling of the game. Just trying to get all the notes is super difficult, but if I can add to it, that also enhances the feeling the music is trying to convey, not a lot, maybe some harmony, maybe some octaves, maybe some percussion somehow.
T: You mentioned the sound chip has an effects channel. Do you do the coin blip from Mario to add grace to it?
R: Yeah, so you touch on two things. There are five channels on the NES. One is sound samples, sometimes you’ll have voice over, it’s usually pretty poor, crushed voice sample. Sometimes they use it for drums. Mario 3, for instance has a sampled bongo in it, these Jamaican-sounding drums, and those are samples. They sound great. That’s a rarely used channel. The other channel is a noise channel that doesn’t have any pitch, just white noise. A lot of times that was used for drums. Now you have three left, and those were your tones. You can have up to three notes happening at the same time. Those were your limitations of the NES. Sound effects also used the music channels. Like in Mario, when you jump, that takes away one of the music channels. The music drops out. You don’t notice it. They usually pick the counter voice or the middle voice and that’s gone every time there’s a sound effect. Sometimes, yeah, I will try to throw in different elements. Like in Marble Madness, I’ll try to throw in the death sound. When you beat the level, there’s a little victory theme.
T: What do you draw on when working this? Do you record it and play it back and try to figure it out? Or do you try to extract it from the cartridge and digitally transfer it? R: From what I’ve researched, there isn’t a good way to rip it from the rom and put it into notation. What I end up doing is, there are NSF files that are the music files, and I’ll put them through another program called Famitracker NSF Import, which will import the sounds and play it and show all the notes being played. That also allows me to isolate every channel. So I use that and then transcribe them into a notation program, Sibelius, and write out each voice, all three, and sometime the sound channel as well. So once I have the notes all transcribed, then I try to play them and to figure out a way to combine all three voices.
T: When you transcribe in that fashion, that’s not like what you would hear when you play the game?
R: First is just figuring out what the notes are and the rhythms and then writing them out in three different lines, like if you had three singers or three violins. Then I have to arrange and combine them into two staffs for a piano. Where to put the third voice is usually the hardest part. Because it’s usually some sort of mix of both hands.
T: In most piano music, there’s a bass and treble. Do most video games operate on a similar principle?
R: A lot of times on piano, there’s a lot of chord action and you can’t do that. Because a chord is three notes, and it would take up all three notes and there would be no melody. So a lot of time you have melody and the bass and for the chord, they’ll arpeggiate it. So that middle voice is moving a lot.
T: It can’t actually play a chord, but it suggests it. R: I try to play it like it is, that’s the challenge. It’s harder. It’s more similar to Bach or baroque music where you have three or more voices happening at once and there weren’t a lot of chords there. It was single voices that, when they line up, they create a chord. In that way it’s very similar, except it’s a lot more rhythmic, super syncopated and super fast, especially Mega Man, very high bpm. A lot of stuff is 150-180, and that middle voice they’re just making a counter melody and it’s super busy and funky.
T: A lot of Bach music was played on harpsichord which has difficulty forming chords. So the synthesizer chips were unable to play chords? R: You could, but it would block it out. You could only play up to three notes at once.
T: Could you change the timbre?
R: You had two triangle waves and one pulse wave. Maybe I have that backwards. From there, you could vary the shape a little bit. Especially the square wave.
T: But your piano is going to have a piano sound. You make your best guess as to what fits where? R: Sometimes all the voices will be in the same octave, in the same register. Mega Man, I keep going back to Mega Man because it’s great, all three voices for Metalman are all right around Middle C, so I have to pick what’s supposed to be the bass, and they do that by changing the timbre. Even though it’s not actually lower than the other pitches, it’s more woofer sounding, I’ll drop that down and the melody is higher and clearer sounding.
T: And then you spread that out to make it playable on a piano. R: Yeah. The chord thing is interesting. Composers get around that by programming a chord in one of the voices, and it would oscillate through the notes super fast, arpeggiate through the notes.
T: So if you’ve got three voices, one goes 1-3-5, the second does 3-5-1 and the third 5-3-1?
R: You could do that. That happens that sometimes when they’re doing a delay effect. Even just the one voice alone. One voice was bass, one voice was melody, and then one voice would sometimes do a chord by cycling through the notes super fast.
There’s a guy named Tim Follin, who does amazing stuff. If you listen to his work with the game for Silver Surfer, for solstice. You’ll hear that. You’ll hear these glistening sounds, and its one of these voices being a chord.
T: This brings up another equally interesting question. What do you know about the composers who worked on this? R: I know very little. It’s hard to find and I want to know more. I recently watched a cool documentary called Digging in the Carts which explores the composers of video music, especially early on. They interview the guy who did the music for Gimmick and he just works on a rice paddy and doesn’t do music any more. The game wasn’t released in the US, but the music is great. They interviewed him and he talked about how much effort and work went into it and how much pride he had, but he never got any feedback because all the people playing it are kids. They’re toys. So recently he found out the band The Advantage did a cover of it. He was so thrilled and so happy to hear that his music was staying alive.
T: A lot of these people are still alive, right? If you were a 20-something composer for hire in the ’80s, you’re only in your fifties now.
R: I know two of the people who worked on Sonic the Hedgehog live in Cleveland. One I know really well, Leonard Dicosimo.
T: You’ve joked about using this as an excuse to rebuild your video game collection. What are you working on next? R: It justifies me having over 300 video games. As far as the music I’m working on, I’m working on Star Tropics. Working on more Final Fantasy. Bunch of Megaman 2 stuff, Castlevania 2. I just recorded Bloody Tears recently—I’ve had that for a while—I’m going to release that soon.
T: Is the goal to have an album based on one video game or one composer? R: Yes, I d love to do an album based on one composer or group of games. Or by publisher. I’ve got to figure out the copyrights.
T: You’ve also talked about publishing the arrangements as sheet music. Who gets paid there? R: Probably the companies that released the game. I know it’s up in the air. At one point, it wasn’t even considered copywritten music because it wasn’t recorded, it was performed by the chip. A lot of big games have been re-released, and that music is clearly copyrighted, but a lot of the rarer games.
T: I’ve heard the term abandonware, because everyone associated with it is gone from the industry.
R: I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it. I want people to play it. Part of the reason I’m doing this is to help preserve and keep this music alive. Music needs to be performed to stay alive. I don’t want to be the only one performing it. I want to make arrangements that other pianists can program in their own concerts.
T: What do you know about who else is out there?
R: Martin Leung is really popular. He went to CIM actually. He’s not from here, but he went to school here. He does more romantic style. When you think of big romantic piano pieces, that’s his style. He’s done hundreds of games. His first video was him blindfolded playing all Mario Brothers in the early 2000s. One of the early viral YouTube videos. He’s had a career now playing video game music. There’s tons of band that play and make arrangements. Descendents of Erdrick, Bitforce, the Marcado Brothers.
T: What other types of performances would you like to do with it?
R: I’d love to put on concerts, like classical concerts. An hour and a half with an intermission of just video game music on Steinway piano. Some ensemble stuff as well. In addition to that, I’ve started playing video game conventions. I was in Austin recently for the classic games fest.
T: How much do you think people need to know video games in order to get it? Or do you think it stands up on it own?
R: I think it stands on its own. I think if you played anybody the raw sounds from the video game, the 8 bit sounds, not everyone is going to like that sound. In fact, anyone who didn’t grow up with that is not going to like that sound. My parents do not like that sound, for example. It sounds annoying. But when you take it off that sound and put it on real instruments , it gives it a more human quality and the music can speak for itself. My parents didn’t recognize the music, but they enjoyed it. My parents are biased, so that’s a bad example. But I played at neosonic fest here in Cleveland, it’s a new music festival, contemporary classical, I did a 45-minute set of video game music, and I had a lot of people in their 50s-60s who have never heard any of this stuff. They were like “I’ve never heard any of this stuff. That was fantastic. This is from a video game?” I was so happy to have that response because that is what I was going for.
T: Was that due to its similarity to classical music or on it’s own merit?
R: I think it sounds new. It has a fresh sound to it. It sounds like nothing else you would hear on a piano.
T: What’s your plan for the future of this? How do you want people to hear this? R: The YouTube channel is a lot of people’s first exposure to it. That’s generating requests and bookings for live performance. I’d love to do a full evening classical concert. But I’m definitely going to keep doing YouTube.
T: And publishing the transcriptions? R: I don’t publish them commercially. I offer a PDF download as an award to my Patreon subscribers. I don’t think we talked about Patreon at all. I’ve had it from the very beginning when I posted my first video. I sent out a mass email and some social media posts and a handful of friends jumped on. It adds a huge motivation for me. I get some monetary support and just knowing people care enough about what I’m doing really makes a difference.
You can see more videos via Rob’s YouTube and support him via Patreon.
What better way to celebrate Record Store Day than with some new music! Specifically, a song all about how awesome record stores are. The Junior League is a project by New Orleans transplant Joe Adragna. His sixth release since 2006, the latest album Eventually is Now is a mix of true stories and inspired tales. The lead track, Teenage Bigstar extols the virtues of record stores and the great things that happen there. It chronicles two true stories from Joe’s life. Aptly named, the song strikes of Teenage Fanclub meets Big Star.
Verse one recalls the day Joe met Alex Chilton at a New Orleans record store called The Magic Bus. Joe was a Big Star fan and quietly mentioned it to Chilton, not wanting to bother him. Chilton casually waved it off and instead grabbed the records from under Joe’s arm to see what he was buying. Chilton held up Joe’s copy of Beach Boys Live in London and started talking about how great they were, how he toured with them in the ’60s, and what a great drummer Dennis Wilson was. Chilton took out the record, handed it to the clerk, asked them to play Barbara Ann, and started playing air drums along to the beat.
Verse two is inspired by the night Joe went to see The Minus 5 and wound up taking Scott McCaughey, Peter Buck and John Ramberg to that same record store. They talked about The Beatles and The Monkees, and after the show Joe vowed he’d make a record if it was the last thing he ever did musically. Lucky for us, he’s still going strong. Check out the rest of Eventually is Now on Bandcamp or Spotify.
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.
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