Tag Archives: 2017

Carl Newman Talks Depression, Insomnia, Trump on new album

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.

Carl Newman, The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
Carl Newman by Mara Robinson

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.”

The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson

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.

The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson

“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. ”

The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson

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.

Kathryn Calder, The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
Kathryn Calder by Mara Robinson

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. 

The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
The New Pornographers in Cleveland
Blaine Thurier by Mara Robinson
The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
Kathryn Calder, The New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
Kathryn Calder by Mara Robinson
Simi Stone, New Pornographers by Mara Robinson
Simi Stone by Mara Robinson

UK rock band Holy Moly & the Crackers release new New Orleans inspired album

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. 

Holy Moly and the Crackers Salem album artwork

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. 

 
 
 
 

Spoon just added Cleveland date

This morning, Austin’s Spoon announced they’re bringing their world tour to Cleveland’s House of Blues on Friday May 12.
Tickets go on sale this Friday.

Released March 17th on Matador Records, Spoon’s ninth release Hot Thoughts currently sits high at #9 on the US Albums Chart, and is reaching new heights internationally.
Dance along for yourself.

 

Spoon Hot Thoughts

Spoon
Spoon photo by Zackery Michael.
Live image by Debi Del Grande.