When Carl Newman of powerpop outfit The New Pornographers answered my pre-show phone call he responded, “Hey, (Blown Speakers) I’ve got a song by that name.” So if he didn’t already know we were fans from our past shenanigans, our name was probably a good indication.
The band’s most recent album, Whiteout Conditions, is the first album with new drummer Joe Seiders, after longtime member Kurt Dhale left in 2014. It also marks the first album without a single song by Dan Bejar, who was busy making a new Destroyer album.
“Ultimately our schedules just didn’t fit. I’m amazed it was the first time that happened,” said Newman.
While Bejar’s absence on Whiteout Conditions was noticeable, it made for a more cohesive album of only Carl Newman songs. But with seven core members in the band, all spread out over great distances, everyone else managed to put their signature stamp on this album and the recording process remained status quo.
“Working on my songs is a similar process every time. I maybe get it in my head that I want to make a different kind of song, but it’s still just going in there and trying to figure it out. It always feels like a puzzle to me. It’s just a process of trying a lot of things and seeing what works. To a certain degree, a lot of it comes back to being a music fan. I record something and then try to listen to it as if I were the person buying the record. If I think, ‘yeah, I would like this,’ it stays.”
Newman once tweeted out a message that songwriting isn’t easy. During our chat, he elaborated. “There are some parts I find easier than others, like the chord structures and melody and rhythm, and that’s what I start with almost always. And then I have to figure out how to fit the lyrics around this. That’s where songwriting becomes work.”
A few songs on the album, like title track Whiteout Conditions, and Second Sleep deal with common topics in music and art: anxiety, depression and insomnia, but still keep that upbeat New Pornographers pop sound.
“I try to write about things in a hopeful way. It’s about trying to get out of it. It’s about fighting it,” says Newman.
“Then you have songs like High Ticket Attractions that’s less about internal struggle and more about the external struggle of what’s going on in the world. It was 2016 when we were making this record, and the election, and there was that fear that if he won it would be as bad as it is right now. It’s terrifying to me for a number of reasons. It’s policy, but also you realize, ‘Holy shit, he reflects a massive chunk of America.’ I’m sure there was the Russian election hacking, and I’m sure there were nefarious things going on. But even with all of that, there are still tens of millions of people who thought, ‘I’d rather vote for him over her.’ That part is scary.
I think millions of people woke up the next day and thought, “Wait, this isn’t the country I thought it was. We have to readjust. The country we thought was America, it was a myth. This is America now. ”
After tours for Together and Brill Brusiers hit Cleveland’s House of Blues, it was nice to see The New Pornographers return to the Beachland Ballroom. If Neko Case had been there, she would have been happy, after being vocal about her fondness for the venue from the stage and her Twitter feed. In her absence, Kathryn Calder and touring singer/violinist Simi Stone filled in on songs like Colosseums, Champions of Red Wine and Mass Romantic.
The band hit songs from all seven albums with a 21-song set list and minimal between-song banter. All Carl asked of the audience was one simple request:
Don’t call him Hot Carl.
If you ask anyone in Goldmines how they’re doing, chances are they’ll say that they’re really busy. Cleveland’s femme foursome of Mandy Look, Jeanna Lax, Heather Gmucs, and Roseanna Safos are ready to keep their momentum going into 2017. After spending the end of last year supporting their self-titled EP release, Mandy and Roseanna took a moment from their relentless schedules to speak with Blown Speakers, before their recent performance with R.Ring and Split Single at the Happy Dog in Cleveland.
So R. Ring, are you excited to play with them? Mandy Look: Yeah. Roseanna’s like, “What, one of my main idols is stopping through?” Roseanna Safos: My only main, I mean, her, and the other one is Kim. You know what I mean? ML: Yeah. And she’s like, up there for me. RS: If I really explained how happy I am, it’d sound scary. We’ve played with Kelley. We’ve played with The Breeders before, and then we played with R. Ring, too. And then I’ve played with R. Ring too, with other bands. So we kind of know each other. My friend plays drums for her, so they asked us to do the show together, and I was really, really happy. ML: Yeah, it was awesome! RS: We were all just like “!” — Also Kelley Deal shared a Goldmines video, and that was pretty cool. So we’re excited for the show. I can’t wait. ML: I do appreciate how political Kelley Deal has gotten, too. Not incredibly political, but for the right reasons. Speaking for musicians, and about how we need healthcare, and how we need things like the ACA. We’re going to try to work different angles to be friends with her. So I may talk to her a lot. RS: Yeah. You do that. ML: Yeah, I’ll do that, and be like, “If you ever need a guitar player or a drummer, we’ll drive down and practice!”
Do you feel the same kind of commitment to those kind of issues? You know, being a band from Cleveland and experiencing everything that’s been going on lately? ML: Definitely. One thing that’s happening now is that you can’t do just one thing. It’s like the gig economy. You play in a band, but you also have to work a day job, and if you wanna be able to pursue any kind of art, you’re gonna be poor. Unless you’re born rich, you know? For the most part, like 99% of people. So I think those things are very important, to continue the arts and affect the community. Because, I mean, communities will just die out if you don’t have the artists, and they’re not really making money. I mean, not like they used to. Being in a band, I think a lot people don’t realize how much playing live music brings to the community. When you come see a band, you’re going to the restaurant next door to eat dinner, or you’re going to a nearby store to pick something up, you’re tipping the bartenders, you’re helping a small local business. RS: And you’re gonna spread happiness.
Ready for the split
The Thursday night dinner crowd at the Happy Dog comfortably occupied the back tables and choice spots along the bar. While most folks were enjoying a tall draft or a tricked-out hot dog, Roseanna and Mandy were both sipping coffee and fueling up for practice later that night.
ML: We’ve all been so busy lately! We can’t get together and speak! RS: But we’ve all been the busiest we’ve ever been, I feel. But we still do it. ML: Yeah, sort of. Yeah. We make it work. RS: We gotta get back on a regular schedule. We all want it. ML: I’m sure, as you know, everyone’s lives just get in the way. And it seems like we’ve got the most attention this year when we’ve been the least active, in a way. Which is cool. I guess it’s cause we released a record, so that helps push out things. RS: And it took forever for the split to come out. ML: Yeah, but it’s coming out at a good time. RS: Our split’s coming out with Shitbox Jimmy. Well, our record just came out, but our split with Shitbox Jimmy is coming out. Do you know where I booked the show for the release? You don’t know. But I booked it at The Phantasy Theater, just to be fun. I used to play there in the ’90s and had a ton of fun, and I know what it’s become. So I got a hold of them, and I’m like, “We’re gonna do it my way.” They were so excited to do it! We’re going to do it with my cover, one of my door people, no pre-sale, no credit charge. It should be a really fun show. A good excuse to go to the Phantasy before it turns into condos probably.
That’s a shame. It’s good that you got something going on with it, though. RS: I know! Actually the guy who books there, he was in my very first band in high school. So he was like, whatever you want. You can book it or play it, you can do whatever you want. That’s cool.
RS: The songs, that record, our split, Heather made like how many? Like, Heather does the Wax Mage thing. And I think they’re all sold out, the ones that she made. How many did she make? ML: I think 50? RS: OK, so that’s just her own thing, like she’ll make like 50 cool albums. When do we get them? ML: I think she said she was putting them into production. RS: It’s exciting! It’s gonna be really good. Shitbox Jimmy side is awesome, too.
So Wax Mage is Heather’s project? ML: Yeah, she and Sarah Barker, and they kinda just run it out of Gotta Groove. Gotta Groove lets them do what they want, and they just pay Gotta Groove for it in their time, which is awesome. For Gotta Groove, too, because they’re not taking ownership of them. It opened up a whole new world for Heather where she was kinda running a label. It’s just something she always wanted to do. Even though it’s not officially a label, but I think with Quality Time, they partnered up in a way, where Quality Time, they’re doing the work to do the distribution and stuff, and Heather does pre-sales to help pay for the record production. It seems to work. RS: And they do cool compilations. ML: And it’s cool for Cleveland, because people around the world are following them. With the Goldmines record, people have bought them across the country just because they’re more interested in the record art, in a way. But then they get the music and Heather’s like, “I’ve been getting a lot of feedback on the record.” And that’s cool. It’s good they’re not disappointed in the record they’re buying. So it’s very symbiotic.
Back in the van
On top of all of these preparations for their new release, Goldmines embarked on a tour of the Midwest through the month of April in support of acclaimed songwriter and Cleveland music legend, Craig Bell, formerly of Rocket From The Tombs, The Down-fi, and Mirrors.
RS: When I played with Bim in Obnox, he was just like everywhere. And The Gizmos. He saw Goldmines play at Studio-A-Rama. Mirrors played there, and he remembered when he saw me play with Obnox in Indianapolis. And then, when Goldmines played in Indy, he would go see us. So we know each other pretty well, but he just loves Goldmines. So he asked us to do it. He actually wanted to do more shows, but Mandy’s been super busy with her work. Craig Bell is the nicest man on Earth. He’s so active in so many projects like all the time. ML: I wish we could’ve done more. We were supposed to do a couple more. RS: Indiana would’ve been fun, but Mandy’s just busy. I mean, we’re all pretty busy. Very busy. But, that Columbus show we’re playing with DANA, too. Have you ever heard of DANA? Columbus band, DANA. They’re really cool. ML: Did you tell me about them? Or have I heard about them? RS: Uh, they’ve been playing a few times, they’re on Instagram and stuff. But they’re cool. They’re kinda harder. The lady plays like a Theremin. ML: Oh! Heather was showing me a video, she saw them playing on a thing. She said it sounds amazing. Oh she’s going to be so happy. RS: Well, I told her. And I’m like, “Yeah, I’ve known that band for a long time.”
RS: I got a new van. Well, I got a 2015 Dodge Minivan. Pretty new. It’s the nicest thing I’ve ever had. I’ve had, this is like my seventh one. Transmission issues. Always transmission. But that’s why I built my credit up like crazy. Because I never had credit. For this reason, for this van. So I got the van, saved up money. It’s pretty cool. We’re gonna hit the road and not be fearful. ML: Which is really exciting for our band. RS: So we don’t have to rent. ML: That stopped us. Actually, you wouldn’t think a van would stop you, like not having a vehicle to travel in. We used to travel so much because in HotChaCha we had a van, and going out of town was not a huge ordeal. You don’t take two or three cars. It’s like, now we can just hop into her minivan like a family. RS: One of the other things we did, we rented. And it sucked. And it’s so expensive! And then, before there, we borrowed a van, and then we had some trouble. And it wasn’t our van. We were responsible but felt kinda shitty and we kinda felt like, “What? Why are we..?” So I got a van.
Riding the next wave
While Goldmines continue to promote their latest releases, they’ve also focused on crafting new songs and sharpening their musical ideas. Their signature sound of sixties-style vocal harmonies doused in reverb-driven guitars and supercharged with hard garage rhythm comes from a wide range of influences.
ML: I think when Goldmines started I had this idea of us being ’60s influenced, kinda like the girl-group thing, but more like ’60s garage rock, you know? I just love it. Now, I’m like really into this idea of us being more like a Heart-esqe, glammy band. RS: Yeah, that would be cool. ML: Our new single on the split is really rockin’. It’s probably my favorite song I’ve ever written. It’s really tough and cool and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s cool, very cool. So that’s kinda where I’m drawing from. I mean, of course, I like everything. The ’90s is probably my prime time of growing up music. I’m trying to get back into that. I don’t really go on my iTunes. I don’t know, it sucks with technology. You get rid of all your CDs and you have all your iTunes. I don’t really even look at my iTunes anymore. But I need to get into it. Like, there’s too much Sebadoah I haven’t listened to, and I’m like, “I used to love that album.” Then I always think of all these other albums that I want to listen to, or these weird bands. RS: I gotta force myself to go buy a record this week. There are some new artists that really, really grab me, and I just have to have it, but not so much like I used to. ML: (to Roseanna) Are you drawing from anything? RS: Like in, us, in Goldmines? ML: I don’t know. I guess. RS: I’ve been trying to get into like a post-punk kind of thing. Well, because I heard some old HotChaCha stuff, that split we did with We Are Hex. And we were just fucking around, and it technically wasn’t that great, but what you did on your part was so good, well because you’re so good at that style, too. ML: I felt that kinda in Goldmines. Now I can play chords. RS: Well, yeah, because we’re not that band. You know what I mean? ML: In HotChaCha, I didn’t play one chord ever. I was just playing notes. RS: But you’re so good. You’re creative. ML: I don’t think I knew how to play chords. No, I did, yeah, I did! I just liked technology.
RS: (Notices song playing in the background.) Oh, I love this song. ML: We’re looking for a song to cover. RS: Oh my God! I would love to cover this! ML: I think we could cover this. RS: We’ll do it our way. ML: You know, we’ve had a lot of ideas. And then we try and do it, and like if it just doesn’t fit into how we are, you know, we don’t push it. Usually, honestly, I think everything I’ve covered we’ve been at a bar together and was like, “We should cover it!” We’ll probably end up covering this, because it’s just gonna — It’s like always a magical happenstampede.
Goldmines will perform next at the release show for their upcoming 12″ vinyl split release with Shitbox Jimmy on Friday, May 5th at the Phantasy Theater in Lakewood, Ohio. The “Cinco De Mayo” celebration is presented by Panza Foundation, Wax Mage, and Quality Time Records, and will include Goldmines, Shitbox Jimmy, Dime Disguise, and The Safeties.
Best known for his talents as the lead singer and songwriter of Toad The Wet Sprocket, Glen Phillips has continued to perform as an independent artist focused on honest storytelling and compelling songwriting. The latest stop on tour in support of his latest album, Swallowed by the New, was to a packed but chilly crowd at Cleveland’s Music Box Supper Club. The biting cold and rain on a wintery March night couldn’t stop his passionate fans from sitting in on this show.
But first, wrapped in comfy scarf, blue dress and rose cowboy boots, Amber Rubarth took the stage and warmed up the icy crowd with a selection of acoustic numbers. The comforting blend of indie country and folk rock from her upcoming new album Wildflowers in the Graveyard were lovely and her light, soft voice captured the intimacy and strength of her songs. Even her gentle spin on REM’s Losing My Religion recast the classic song in a new light. Later in the set, the crowd got a preview of Glen Phillips as he joined Amber onstage for a stirring guitar and vocal duet. Amber will be returning next month for the Cleveland International Film Festival in support of her starring role in the movie “September 12th.” The film discusses people’s compassion and coming together following the events of September 11th. Amber and co-star Joe Purdy will perform after the screening in Tower City on April 1st and 3rd.
Glen Philips was excited to finally feel better for once. After just getting over a recent bout of sickness, he was finally able to let loose, bringing smiles and laughs to the crowd and his friends onstage. Joined by talented musicians/songwriters Amber Rubarth and fellow Toad collaborator Jonathan Kingham, Glen featured a majority of the tracks from Swallowed by the New, while taking time to weave their stories and settings between songs. At one point, he told the story of how Baptistina was named for the original source of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, only to find out the source was later disproven.
Even though Phillips’ songs are emotional, the night was filled with fun and good spirits. His priceless reaction after his mention that the tour would be ending in Pittsburgh the following night was met with jeers and boos. “Is it a sports thing?” he asked innocently, before getting briefly educated about the infamous rivalry between the two cities. He started a new song, only to stop and remark, “You know, back in the day, this kind of hate was reserved for someone else breaking into your town and stealing all your sheep or something.”
The standout moment of the night belonged to Jonathan Kingham. Before turning the stage over to Kingham for a song, Phillips asked the crowd what they wanted to hear him play. Unanimously, we voted for “funky freestyle,” which Kingham obliged with a solo acoustic version of Every Little Step by Bobby Brown, complete with dance breakdown and off-the-dome freestyle lyrics. Bars included having the meatsweats from his pre-show shortrib dinner, and apologizing to the guy stage right for having to pay full price for a seat with a direct view of his ass all night. “You won’t normally see that at a Glen Phillips show!” he quipped at song’s end.
Glen’s voice is still as distinct and expressive as ever, with touching and tragic lyrics about love, loss, faith, his divorce, and hope combined with his signature folk-inspired songwriting. Even while Glen admitted on stage that “my songs are mainly about how sad I am,” each song of the evening’s set illustrated a wide range of feeling: from the forlorn lighthouse love song in the album’s opening song Go — which muses that sometimes the most loving thing you can do for someone is to let them go — to the closing inspirational, stomping, hymnal chorus of Held Up. Glen also played several popular songs and fan favorites from his Toad The Wet Sprocket years, including All I Want, Walk On The Ocean, and an encore crowd request of Crowing that got the room singing along and ended the evening on a high note.
Glen Phillips — perhaps best known as the pure-voiced frontman for alt-rock darlings Toad The Wet Sprocket — plays Cleveland’s Music Box Supper Club this Saturday March 18 with a full band.
Amber Rubarth opens the show.
Check back with us after the show for our review and photo recap.