Until the Grog booked Luna for last night’s show — their first time back to Cleveland in about 12 years — I honestly hadn’t listened to their records since 2009. They were lost in the CD-selling purges of my thirties. But conveniently, Spotify has a Best of Luna playlist to refresh my memory. Side note — they’re playlists now, not albums. That’s not to say they have any record I dislike; it’s just they get filed away in the drawer of really catchy indie rock songs.
Music fans like myself compare and contrast bands against their peers. My favorite game to play as a contrarian is to state the greater band is the one with the better catalog. Yo La Tengo are a better band than My Bloody Valentine. Is Loveless a great album? Sure, why not. But Yo La Tengo have plain old done more and therefore reached greater heights, so they’re the better band. People who worship at the altar of meteoric bands miss true greatness.
This is the point where writing about Luna gets tricky. They are both timeless and of a very specific time. Who exactly are their peers? The depth of music knowledge on stage last night went clear back to the Platters or Duane Eddy or my beloved Beach Boys. I like record collector rock. Dean Wareham seems like the kind of guy who has walls and walls full of obscure but totally great vinyl albums. But comparing Luna to either their own heroes or part of a revival is short sighted. It’s not revivalist; it’s syntheist.
Conversely, trying to place Luna alongside their contemporaries in the 1990s “alt-rock” doesn’t quite line up either. Pavement, Superchunk, Sonic Youth got up at the same time on the same stages, but everyone sounds more like each other than Luna sounds like anyone — a loser contradiction their lyrics often hint at. Luna aimed for a different target and hit it. Their success was on their own terms.
So what happened on stage? For one, the guitars sounded amazing. I’m not a gearhead, but a quick look at the stuff wasn’t complicated, but rather the stack of a band who dialed in their sound. The guitars sounded rich and full, with beautiful overtones and carefully sculpted reverb. The shimmering sound I heard probably sounds identical in every room they play. The economy of sound extended into the playing. The solos were similar to their records, and they were written right the first time, so a brief guitar solo (and one bass solo) kept the songs moving. For a band that prides themselves on the consistent dynamics of the rhythm section, the songs moved great.
When I was bullshitting online the day of the show, my friend Pete posted he found the first grey hairs in his beard, even though he’s been balding for years. I saw him later that night, and at age 32, he was one of the youngest people in the room. Luna are not minting new fans, and their setlist played liked it. Hits like Pup Tent, Chinatown, Bewitched. We joked about waiting around for the Velvet Underground cover, but it never came, although they did throw in a Cure cover. Their catalog is enshrined in the memories of their fans, and their fans know their influences well enough that all they had to do was run through the hits, have fun doing it, and everyone walked away happy. BTW Pete’s single.
Do you know the difference between classic rock and oldies? I do, and I bet you do too. Now, if you happen to be a Luna fan, ask yourself where do they fit in? Not do they sound like The Champs vs The Eagles, but are Luna part of a culture that has endured against the ebb and flow of fashion, or are they part of an emerging industry of keeping musicians employed, on the road and somewhat happy? Luna fans have been waiting a decade to see this show, a reasonable amount of time for side projects and time off, and not subject to the diminishing returns of the Pixies reunion. They walked off the stage happy, and their fans felt the same.
Cleveland country artist Charles Hill Jr recently recorded a direct-to-wax performance of his new song Little Buddy with new studio The Earnest Tube run by local engineer Clint Holley.
All Earnest Tube recordings are done straight to lacquer, with no overdubs, multitracking or mixing.
Hill wrote Little Buddy with hope that anyone with a child, grandchild, niece or nephew, can relate to.
The song was written the night of his baby niece’s first Christmas. “The whole song is about the moment I met her. Little facial expressions she was making when she was only a number of hours old, I looked at my sister and was like, ‘Well, you messed up. You made a me. You better try to make another one that’s like you.'”
“I’d actually sat down to write a song about Ken [Janssen, Cleveland friend, frontman and founder of Stow House Records, who died of ALS New Year’s Day 2015] said Hill. “This one just came out instead.”
This single is the very first Earnest Tube recording. Neither Hill nor Holley had done it before.
“We were just testing out how the process was going to work,” said Hill. “It was never to be released.” But since the recording turned out so well, he decided to run with it.
“It humanizes the whole [recording process]. There’s a little warble in it just because of how it’s done, but I like that. It gives it a sort of old school aesthetic.”
The single also features a B-side cover of Blaze Foley’s If I Could Only Fly and will be available in a limited edition of 25 hand-made custom pressings, signed and numbered by Charles himself, with proceeds benefiting hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico. These pressings form Wax Mage Records go on presale Monday October 16 on Hill’s Bandcamp.
“I’m not one to go on Facebook and bitch about the president. I just don’t think it does any good,” says Hill. “Obviously he didn’t approach or execute as well as he should have with the hurricane in Puerto Rico. I mean, you can just see the apathy in the press conferences. So instead of getting mad about it on the internet, I decided it’s just better to try to stay positive and do something good about it.”
Additional copies will follow November 17 on Stow House Records, with a release party that night at Survival Kit, part of the 78th Street Studios art galleries. Hill will be joined by Al Moss on pedal steel and Mike Allen (The Dreadful Yawns) on bass. Supporting acts Clint Holley and Brandon Shields (The Lucky Ones) will also perform.
“I love playing [at Survival Kit]” Hill says. “It’s intimate. And especially with the third Friday [shows] you sort of get a built-in crowd and it’s all people that are there to absorb art in whatever way you give it to them.”
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.
Dead in the center of the Rumba Cafe stage, surrounded by guitars resting on amps in a sea of wires and cables, stood Shondra. The well-worn upright piano’s wood frame is tattooed with travel character and bears scars from years of delightful punishment under the hands and heels of Low Cut Connie‘s frontman, Adam Weiner. This esteemed partner in musical crime played host as the crowd slowly filled the front of the room. It was clear to see that everyone was excited to catch the infectious energy of a Low Cut Connie stage show. This Philadelphia five-piece is known to pull off some serious antics on stage. Several fans in the crowd pointed to the large steel structural beam running overhead, extending over the center of the stage’s very low ceiling. Would they be able to rock out to maximum effect without causing serious cranial damage?
Will Donnelly (rhythm guitar), Luke Rinz (bass), Larry Scotton (drums), and Jimmy Everhart (lead guitar) filed onto the stage, limbered up, and settled into their instruments. Adam Weiner strode to center stage and straddled Shondra’s bench. After tuning up, he immediately climbed the face of Shondra and stood as tall as he could on her top, cautiously testing his head clearance.
“People of Columbus,” he shouted as he pointed to the steel rafting above him, “If I die here tonight, you’ll know why!” Then a few moments later, to cheers in the affirmative, “Are you ready to get weird tonight?!”
Everyone in the crowd was getting down as soon as Adam, Jimmy, and Will laid into their first chords. Their bluesy garage boogie sound distills the best elements of rock ‘n’ roll’s finest roots and delivers with a blast of frantic heavy soul. The entire band kept the energy high from the start and didn’t let up the duration of the set.
Low Cut Connie’s blistering set featured a solid selection of songs from Dirty Pictures, Part 1, their new album due out May 19, including Dirty Water, Am I Wrong, and the album’s first single Revolution Rock n Roll. Mixed between this tour-de-force were fan favorites from their past three albums, including Shake It Little Tina, Me N Annie, Boozophilia, and Rio.
Adam Weiner commanded the stage as he pounded, stood upon, leaned across, and backbended over Shondra’s sturdy frame. His daring keyboard acrobatics recall the showmanship of Jerry Lee Lewis combined with the glitter blues style of David Bowie, Marc Bolan, and Elton John. Adam conquered the crowd with the same outrageous intensity of Mick Jagger mixed with the soulful sex appeal of Prince. He didn’t hesitate to join the party on the floor and get down with those in attendance. The whole crowd was totally into the whole vibe for the entire night. They grooved and danced with smiling partners, sang along to nearly every song in the set, and lifted their glasses in cheer and praise.
It was hard to believe that this was Low Cut Connie’s first time in Columbus. Based on the incredible reaction from everyone in the room, it was easy to see that their music knows no bounds. The band took a moment to thank the welcoming support from long-standing and new fans alike, and the local radio station for their continued support to “help us little guys.”
“Without you,” said Adam, “we can’t compete with Bieber and Twenty One Pilots.” He reached his hands out to the crowd and shared some gospel truth: “Columbus, I swear to you, I swear to everyone here, if you stick together, if you stick with LCC, you’ll never lose!”
The night drew to a close, but Low Cut Connie showed no signs of letting up. “We’re gonna do something kinda fucked up,” Adam said, with a wry smile. “Something from my favorite band in New Jersey, who got together for like five seconds.” And with that, they launched into a ferocious rendition of “Where Eagles Dare” by The Misfits, chanting the chorus, “I ain’t no God damned son of a bitch,” at the top of their lungs. Following that surprise, they laid into the staccato, funky rhythm of the classic Prince hit, “Controversy.” The rest of LCC continued to jam out as Adam jumped down to spread his sexy mojo into crowd, giving hugs and high-fives in every corner of the floor.
Low Cut Connie once again made a new congregation of freaky believers to spread their lively message far and wide. With their upbeat groove and electrifying stage presence, don’t miss an opportunity to see this band live. You won’t regret it.
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.