As we approach the end of fall and brace ourselves for another brutal snowbelt winter, watching trees lose their clothes a little more each day, listening to a band called Last Leaves just seems right. I put it on and am immediately transported to warmer, sunnier days. It may not be T-shirt weather anymore, but on my radio it’s close enough.
As someone with every Lucksmiths album shuffling daily on my iPod, continuously pumping perfect pop song after perfect pop song through humble speakers, I was stoked when Last Leaves formed to reunite guitarists Marty Donald and Louis Richter with bassist Mark Monnone. Drummer Noah Symons (Great Earthquake) completes the quartet. Their debut album Other Towns Than Ours picks up right where the Lucksmiths left off.
From the first moment of the first song, our boys are back, painting stories with warm witty words and gentle instruments like only they can. It all sounds so familiar. Their particular genius is alive and well throughout the entire release.
With the third song, The Nights You Drove Me Home, I’m back in high school on Sunday nights, in the passenger seat of my first love’s orange Chevy Vega. For the first time in years, I’m remembering those drives from one end of town to the other, recalling his jokes and how all we used to do was laugh.
Most songs on the album are looking back, many on past loves, as the band’s characteristic harmonies on track six ask, “The world we had/where did it go?” This may as well be a question for nearly every song on the album.
Songwriter Marty Donald spoke with us about this collection of songs, some of which were written while the Lucksmiths were still together, and others after Last Leaves formed.
“I didn’t stop writing songs when The Lucksmiths finished up,” he explains. “I’ve been doing it too long to even consider that, I guess. But I wanted to find new things to explore with my writing, without that change feeling forced. I’ve always been a fairly painstaking writer anyway, so I knew that would take a while. I also moved to the hills outside Melbourne around this time; a sense of place has always been fairly central to my writing, and it took a while for the change of scenery to work its way into my songs. Again, though, I wanted this to happen naturally rather than be contrived at all.”
“When it came time to do something with the songs I had, I didn’t have to give too much thought to working with Mark and Louis again,” Marty continues. “The sort of friendship and musical understanding we’d developed over the years shouldn’t be given away lightly! But I also thought it would be good for us to introduce something different into the equation. Noah was a friend I’d made in the hills, whose drumming is incredible and completely distinctive; from the first rehearsal we all had together, everything clicked beautifully.”
“When we first started working together on the songs I had, though, some worked and some didn’t,” Marty continues. “It took us a while to understand ourselves, I guess — for some sort of direction to suggest itself. Once it did — after we’d played a few shows — I began to find the writing process much easier. Having a better idea of how the songs would end up sounding was definitely helpful! A few of my favorite songs from the record — The World We Had and Third Thoughts for example — are from this slightly more recent period.”
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.
UK band Holy Moly & the Crackers has been loosely defined as “gypsy folk rock,” but their new album Salem is decidedly more rock than anything else. Turn it on and turn it up. This one’s a rager.
Just released on Pink Lane Records, lyrics feature allusions to baroque, superstitious practice and the dark arts — tarot, memento mori, witchcraft, hallucination — but with a heavier, crunchier sound than past efforts.
HMatC started out as a trio featuring Ruth Patterson (vocals, violin, keys), Conrad Bird (vocals) and Rosie Bristow (accordion, keys, saxophone). Over the past six years, they’ve added drummer Thomas Evans, bassist Jamie Shields, guitarist Peter Hogan and Martha Wheatley (trombone, backing vocals).
Patterson and Bird have an affinity for New Orleans music and culture, despite having yet to visit the US. “I think that makes it all the more mystical for us,” says Patterson. “All of our idols come from America: Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, they’re our kind of bread and butter.”
“I don’t know if America is actually anything like what I imagine in my head, but New Orleans is definitely someplace we’d really like to go. I just love the brass bands, the carnival idea of it.”
Patterson scored the entire album for string quartet and covered all those parts along with guest cellist Kerrin Tatman, a friend who recently moved nearby. The entire band went into the studio with parts fleshed out and knowing exactly what they were going to do.
Produced by Matt Terry (Alison Moyet, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Killing Joke) Salem was fittingly recorded at the idyllic Vada Studios, which was once a medieval chapel above a family tomb. “It’s one of the best studios in the country. The acoustics — you can’t describe how good they are,” says Patterson.
Written in a day and a half after Patterson got pissed off, the title track uses the Salem Witch Trials as a metaphor for blaming others when things go wrong. “We kind of blame anybody else, all the vulnerable people in the world that can’t stand up for themselves, whether it’s refugees, asylum seekers, disabled people, women. It feels like they get a raw deal. It seems like everybody’s on a witch hunt for everybody else at the moment,” says Patterson.
Patterson takes these attitudes personally. “I’m actually a disabled person. I’m a wheelchair user. And I do find a lot of kind of anger towards people. I do have a lot of comments like, ‘Oh, you’re taking the benefits. You’re adding to society’s problems.’ It just made me really angry. There’s a lot in the media about blame this, blame that, and there’s this big fear thing we have. So Salem is about that and is a reaction against that.”
Vocalist Conrad Bird wrote the chords and initial lyric ideas for Mary about three years ago, and his brother Lo finished it off. The brothers agreed each could take the song to their respective bands and complete their own version. “It’s Noel and Liam Gallagher all over again,” jokes Bird.
HMatC had taken Mary into the studio in the past, but it hadn’t quite worked out. When they were getting the songs together for Salem, Bird rewrote it with folk-rap, celtic melodies and an industrial rock groove. It’s heavy, ballsy attitude fit right in with the rest of the album.
“I based the lyrics on the standard folk-song trope: you wake up and your woman is gone, so you hit the road. It’s Beat (in the Kerouac sense) and it’s blues,” continues Bird. “Mary leaves on St. Valentines Day, writing her message on the wall as cryptic explanation: ‘I’m a broken-winged raven, even Jesus needed saving, I’m a rose in the crown of thorns.’ So the protagonist hits the road, trying to forget her but can’t. A lot of my writing incorporates archetypes and folk song tropes to keep connection with that tradition, even if musically we are developing our genre and aesthetic.”
Whereas Patterson and Bird wrote most songs on the album separately, Hallelujah Amen was the first they wrote together from scratch. Bird’s vocal style is reminiscent of Tom Waits, giving a nice counterbalance to Patterson’s angelic tone. “I do think we captured the growl-y, gravely part. Then you’ve got this sort of ethereal thing,” she says.
The song concludes with an appearance by The Birmingham Community Gospel Choir. “There was not a dry eye in the room when they were doing their takes, because it’s just so powerful, their harmonies…. We were in the control room and no one spoke. It was amazing.”
Accordian player Rosie Bristow and Patterson wrote Cold Comfort Lane together. Bristow wrote most of the lyrics and the structure of the song, and Patterson insisted on its punchy, rock and roll arrangement.
“It’s a kind of girl power song. You don’t get a lot of that attitude— It’s usually boy bands that do this kind of thing, so it felt quite good to be a girl screaming into a mic,” affirms Patterson. “I’d never really done that before, found that kind of rock voice, so that was a new experiment for this album. Matt Terry was going, ‘give me more! Give me more!'”
HMatC is currently playing throughout the UK and hopes to make their way to the US within a year. Here’s hoping that happens. I for one will drive a great distance to see them do their thing.
Chicago melodic rock band The Kickback knows how to write a catchy pop song, even through the pain and heartbreak of divorce. Their sophomore album Weddings and Funerals just dropped Friday, and is almost entirely about the end of frontman Billy Yost’s marriage.
A universal, relatable breakup album for sure, but this is not sad bastard music like Elliott Smith or Bon Iver. If you don’t listen to the lyrics, the upbeat tone could seem almost the opposite. It starts off loud and fast and doesn’t let up for 32 minutes.
In late 2009, Yost moved to Chicago from his home town of Beresford, South Dakota. He made the move for a girl, whom he ended up marrying. Fast-forward a few years and divorce was imminent.
They’d met at the University of South Dakota when he was a 19-year-old freshman and she was a junior. “We were together for about 10 years and married for the last three,” he recalls. “The band was just gone all the time and dictated our ability to really do much of anything. I don’t fault her for leaving. I was just so blindly in love while not being able to understand how hard it was for her to prop us both up for so long.”
This past December, The Kickback traveled to Los Angeles to record Weddings and Funerals with multi-Grammy-winning producer/songwriter Dennis Herring (Elvis Costello, Animal Collective, The Walkmen, Ben Folds) at DTLA Recording, an expansive open space in the historic Arts District that Yost believes used to be an illegal marijuana grow house.
“It’s a very non-traditional studio,” says Yost. “It’s giant, it’s open-air. There are these big garage doors that are up most of the time unless you’re recording really loud stuff. The ceilings are probably 30-feet. It’s just this big room. Everybody’s just in the same room at all times. If you’re not the one recording stuff, you’re still in the middle of everything, which was a really cool way to make a record. You always knew what was going on.”
So the band arrived at the studio with a handful of partially written songs and got to work. “Our first record, we went in with every part completely written and ready to put on tape. But for this record, we showed up in LA with the verses and choruses and bridges but no idea of how everything was gonna come together,” he says. “That was scary, but it was also weirdly kind of freeing.”
Herring had a hand in helping the songs take shape. “It was good to work with someone who’s as bull-headed as we are,” says Yost. “We were hoping we could work with someone who would fight for songs, and Dennis was definitely that guy. He said, ‘When you’re recording, your feelings don’t really matter.’ He just wanted the songs to be good.”
“Dennis had a song-by-song approach, which I liked,” says Yost. “It takes longer, but Dennis works a little chaotically. At any given moment you weren’t sure if you were gonna spend the whole day reading a magazine, or if you needed to be ready to record drums on a song that had been reworked five times already and you weren’t really sure what the part was.”
“Especially for the other guys. I think it was 30 days of having to be on your toes at any possible moment, which I think was a little stressful for everybody, but it’s the way Dennis works.”
Despite his powerful singing voice and energetic promo videos, Yost is soft-spoken over the phone today. But he’s also super hilarious. Never once laughing at his own jokes, he delivers anecdotes and one-liners with a deadpan even tone.
“Dennis is kind of like that guy where they did that experiment where they would give a kid one donut now, or if they could wait, they’d give them two donuts an hour from now. That’s kind of how the workflow wound up working.”
The first track of the album, Will T, was also the first single they released. Will T starts off with a “La-ha-ha-ha” hook Yost describes as “the obnoxious one.” The track sounds like it just as well could have come from now-defunct Philly rock band Free Energy, if Free Energy had swapped the cowbell for sleigh bells and lasted long enough to suffer the demise of a wedded union.
“It’s the kind of hook where if you don’t like that song, you’re gonna fucking hate that song, and I get that,” he says. ”It’s one of those hooks that you wake up with in your head and wind up beating yourself over the head with a frying pan trying to get out.”
He started playing with the verses of Will T in college when he was 18, writing about “being scared of always eventually being disappointed in a relationship.” He put the song away for several years until it crept back in during his divorce. “We stuck that scary laughing chorus with it because the whole song just seemed like a joke. When I pulled it back out to look at it, the whole thing just seemed weirdly true, weirdly naive, or probably a little bit of both. So that laugh part just kind of made itself, and it’s really annoying. I think it just might be so jarring, it just forces you to listen to it whether you want to or not.”
The song False Jeopardy hits with a pretty big Pixies vibe, especially for the first half, but Yost says that wasn’t an intentional influence. “I think you spend a lot of your time ripping off bands you love, and hopefully you get to a point where they just become a little part of you. So I think I maybe years ago would have been actively trying to rip off the Pixies because I love them so much, but now I think it’s just a little part of our DNA.”
“(False Jeopardy) was the first or second song that got written for the record. That song’s kind of about blindly hoping everything’s gonna be okay and trying to talk somebody out of leaving. I think it’s a point a lot of people reach in their relationship where you spend most of the time trying to convince the other person they should stay, even though it’s probably not the right decision anymore.”
You can hear a demo of False Jeopardy during the fist two minutes of a movie starring Keanu Reeves called To the Bone, streaming on Netflix right now. “We didn’t even have the album version recorded yet,” says Yost. “But they liked the demo so much they wound up using it in the movie.”
Along with False Jeopardy, Rube was one of the first couple tunes written for the album. “I wasn’t sure how the record was gonna work yet. I started working on it right when I found out my marriage was ending, so I wasn’t sure whether I was gonna try and write about that yet, or just write about anything else but that,” says Yost. “So (Rube) wound up being a hybrid, sort of, about Lee Harvey Oswald, who I was reading about at the time, and this lady falling in love with him. But it still ended up being also about the end of my marriage. But people dancing to a song about Lee Harvey Oswald seemed like a funny proposition to me.”
Pale King was one of the last songs written for the album. Yost wrote it after watching the four-hour documentary Tom Petty: Runnin’ Down a Dream. “As we were getting close to finishing vocals, Dennis kind of put on his California night scarf and was just like, ‘I want you to get the last two choruses done and we won’t do many vocals tomorrow because you shouldn’t be able to talk very well.’” The song title was borrowed from the unfinished David Foster Wallace novel, which he was writing when he committed suicide. “It’s mostly just about hating what you are,” admits Yost. “I think that’s probably what a lot of these are about.”
Yost says the track Reptile Fund is an example of Dennis Herring’s work method. “We were working really hard on something else one night. Dennis had been gone for a day or two, so we’d been left to our own devices. And Dennis rolled in about 7:00 one night, and we thought he was gonna just pop in and say hey. But he said, ‘let’s stop everything we’re doing and record this really ornate part.’ You can’t really hear it on the choruses of that song, but there’s this countermelody going on with a glockenspiel and a piano and a sped-up guitar line and like two other instruments. That’s just what he felt like doing at that moment. I love it. It’s one of my favorite parts of that song.”
So what was it like to write an entire album about the dissolution of your marriage? Turns out it’s not always the salve we’ve been led to believe.
“When I was writing the songs, I didn’t ever feel better,” admits Yost. “I felt like I just kept churning out all of this horror that seemed to just keep going on and on. I didn’t feel better. It wasn’t cathartic, just tiring. It wasn’t until the record was close to done that I just became grateful those feelings had somewhere else to go.”
The Kickback are currently on tour and possibly coming to your city soon. They’ve been on the road for much of the past few months and will continue for a several weeks more. They recently ended about seven weeks opening shows for ‘90s alt-rock heavyweights Bush (as in Glycerine, Machinehead, Everything Zen) and have recently begun their own tour of headlining dates.
18 — Raleigh, NC — The Pour House Music Hall
19 — Charlotte, NC — The Evening Muse
20 — Charleston, SC — The Royal American
21 — Atlanta, GA — Vinyl (Center Stage – The Loft – Vinyl)
22 — New Orleans, LA — Gasa Gasa
23 — Houston, TX — Warehouse Live Greenroom
25 — Austin, TX — Stubb’s Austin
26 — Dallas, TX — Gas Monkey Dallas
28 — Kansas City, MO — recordBar
4 — Appleton, WI — Mile of Music Festival
5 — Appleton, WI — Mile of Music Festival
9 — Indianapolis, IN — HI-FI Indy
10 — Cleveland, OH — Grog Shop
11 — Columbus, OH — Rumba Cafe
12 — Chicago, IL — Thalia Hall “TKB Thalia Brawl”
16 — Horicon, WI — Horicon Phoenix Program Summer Concert Series
17 — Minneapolis, MN — 7th St. Entry (First Avenue & 7th St Entry)
18 — Sioux Falls, SD — White Wall Session
19 — Fargo, ND — The Aquarium
22 — Seattle, WA — High Dive
23 — Portland, OR — Doug Fir Lounge
24 — San Francisco, CA — Brick & Mortar Music Hall
26 — San Diego, CA — Soda Bar
29 — Los Angeles, CA — Resident
30 — Las Vegas, NV — Beauty Bar Las Vegas
31 — Salt Lake City, UT — Kilby Court
1 — Denver, CO — Lion’s Lair
2 — Sioux Falls, SD — Icon Event Hall + Lounge