Tuesday, August 22, 2006
BLAST FROM THE PAST
Good News for Modern Man (Pachyderm)
Now, this is what I call a very pleasant surprise!
Grant Hart, of course, is best remembered as one third of those melodic hardcore punksters Husker Du. Together with Bob (Sugar) Mould and Greg Norton, Hart would blaze a musical trail in the 1980s that would lead on to the Pixies and ultimately Nirvana.
For those who feared the worst, expecting a bit of the post-grunge malaise in Hart's current material would be glad to learn that Hart has re-defined his work somewhat through the kaleidoscopic lens of the 1970s. The result is a refreshing and challenging set of songs that threaten to make Hart a cult hero all over again.
Drawing from the best work of David Bowie and John Cale, "Good News For Modern Man" contains the same cutting edge accessibility that the likes of Bowie and Cale once excel in. A successful marriage of artistic and commercial values. Well, commercial in the sense that much of "Good News For Modern Man" deserves to be played on heavy rotation on any radio station you would care to name.
The opening "Think It Over Now" epitomises this method succinctly. A densely layered production albeit minimally arranged with Hart delivering a drop dead gorgeous melody that one cannot fail to hum along to after the first listen. The country-flavoured "Nobody Rides For Free," the surf rocking "Run Run Run To The Centre Pompidou," the elegant "You Don't To Have To Tell Me Now," the Joy Division evoking "Teeny's Hair" and the chillingly Bowiesque "A Letter From Anne Marie" and "Seka Knows," build on this foundation brilliantly.
Even with the obvious budgetary constraints (this album is gloriously D-I-Y), Grant Hart has created a thing of incredible beauty - you can hear it in the way he attacks each song with tremendous gusto. "Good News For Modern Man" is the sound of an artist in full control of his faculties and gifts. It is the sound of classic music making.
Saturday, August 12, 2006
PoPINIONS: MICHAEL CARPENTER
What was your criterion for the songs selected for SOOP #2?
Really, I just had a big list of songs that I'd write down in my diary as they'd dawn on me. They had to be from indie label artists and had to be reasonably recent. I wanted the songs to reflect my time in the guitar pop world. And ultimately, they just had to be songs i liked. In terms of which songs I ended up doing, it just worked out that when I had an opportunity to do a song, I'd look down my list and see which one I 'felt' like doing. I remember Mark Erelli's "Ghost"... I was hesitant to put that on my list even. Yet on that particular day, and that particular mood/frame of mind i was in, it was just the song i wanted to do. So there was a certain amount of 'planets aligning' that decided the track selection.
Any songs that didn't make the cut that you might like to mention?
I did a version of Butterfly 9's "Goodbye Angel". The story behind that is a little strange... I was never that convinced that I did a good job, mainly on the vocal. But I was never sure whether that was just because I know the band well, having started playing with them before their debut album was even finished a few years ago. I wasn't involved in the original recording, but have become very close to Matt and Suzy from Butterfly 9.. Matt is now my studio partner, and we're a great production team. So I've always LOVED the original, and thought I tried a little too hard on my version. Also, I recently produced another version of this song for an up and coming country artist, and thought that version was even better than mine. So i thought it better to leave it off. There were a lot of songs on my master list that I never recorded though.. including tracks by Cliff Hillis, Walter Clevenger, Rob Smith, Cherry Twister, Starbelly and the Pyramidiacs. I was even thinking of doing a Finkers cover. I thought it'd be a laugh to cover myself! So I could do another version of this album pretty easily. Guess we'll see if this one sells!
Which are your favourites among the bunch?
I actually like most of them a lot. "Super Tuesday" is a bit of a triumph for me, because I thought the original was like the Holy Grail of powerpop for this generation, so i was pleased that my version captured the spirit of the original while making it something uniquely mine. I'm pretty pleased with how well "Long Red Bottle Of Wine" turned out. It's hard to play guitar knowing you're up against Bobby Sutliff! And i was particularly happy with my vocal in "Long Way". I'm pretty pleased with how "Sunday Morning Drive" turned out as well. It's pretty much how I planned it and I've never been much of a finger picker or slide player, and I managed to pull off both on that track. And I'm happy that "Urban Skies" sounds a little like Jeff Lynne!
Which song was the easiest to record and which was the hardest and why?
I'm not sure which was the easiest... most of them went down pretty quickly without much fuss. I remember I ploughed through "Long Red" really quickly. I had a pretty clear idea of the general approach for that and nothing about it seemed to take too long. "Super Tuesday" was easy, becuase I only had a short time to do it, and I just went for it, left it a bit messy because I didn't have time to make it nice. Most of the others had a fair amount of vocal arranging going on and that's always time consuming. I know I spent a lot of time crafting things for "Ghost" - I wanted that to be a REALLY good production, and knew that there'd be NO backing vocals on it, so the lead vocal had to be good.The hardest ones I remember well. "Sun".. man.. I'm still not really happy with it. I was trying out a new piece of gear, and i think I got too caught up in being a bit obtuse with the layering. I mean, electric sitar, banjo and piano on one song. Plus I was never that happy with the drum sounds. I'm rarely unhappy with the drum sounds I get, but I remember doing this extremely quickly and thought the drum sounds were a bit sub par. I should have spent a little more time making sure the mics were hearing the kit right. I mean, it doesn't sound bad as obviously I still included it, but I feel like it was a bit of a missed opportunity. I think I like it mostly because it's an AMAZING song - even i couldn't kill it! It still shines through as an incredible song. But I did my best..
Which favourite artist/band would do a great cover version of one of your songs and which song?
Oh man, where do i start? If I was to go major label, I'd love to hear Tom Petty do "Believes Again" or Sheryl Crow do "The Ache" or the Dixie Chicks do "Love Is Like". Or in a fantasy world, the Beach Boys circa "Carl and The Passions" doing "Thinking About You". Keith Urban or Bruce Springsteen doing "The One For Me" would be nice too. In the indie world, which is what I think you were alluding to, I'd love to hear Andy Bopp do "Can't Be All You Need" or the Shazam do "Tonight", or Walter Clevenger do "King's Rd" or Chris von Sneidern do "Never Be Alone". Actually, probably my favourite would be Robbie Rist doing anything he'd like but i think he'd do a great version of "Good Enough"!!
Check out the SOOP #2 review at www.powerofpop.com
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Saturday, August 05, 2006
PoPINIONS - JEFF SHELTON (SPINNING JENNIES)
To coincide with the release of Full Volume: The Best of Spinning Jennies, PoP posed a couple of email queries to Spinning Jennies' guitarist/vocalist Jeff Shelton (above, right) and got some speedy responses...
How did Spinning Jennies begin and why did it end?
We started in 1993 - the rather unglamorous result of three musicians answering ads in the local paper. We formed for a mutual love of the "pop hook", despite our first drummer's favorite band being Steely Dan! We had a good 11 year run - from 93 - 2004. Five albums, several mini tours and the usual bouts of struggling to get to the next level eventually wore us out. But we had alot of fun, played alot of shows and grew musically. We're all still good friends.
There's mention of old school and new school Jennies - care to clarify the differences?
I never heard the term "power pop" until 1996. Seriously! Growing up I always loved what were basically pop bands (REM, The Smiths, The Police)...and when the Jennies started, we were basically a "melodic rock" band.
That sort of "naiveté" crafted our early sound. After '96, I think we became more conscious of the power pop sound and style and focused more on tighter song structures, catchier hooks, and a bigger anthemic-type power pop songs.
Which bands do you consider were the Jennies' biggest influences?
Everything flows downhill from the Beatles (obvious answer!)
But more specifically...bands like the Posies, Cheap Trick, Husker Du, early REM, Redd Kross, Sloan, The Who all had a huge influence on our sound.
What is your favourite memory of playing with the Jennies?
Ohh....man. So many stories...so little space!
The most vivid, precarious rock-star moment I recall was in 96 or 97, we played a show outside Sacramento and all became too intoxicated to drive home so we ended up crashing at some crazy woman's house in the hills. I remember sitting at a little kid's table in her kitchen eating Cheerios w/ our bass player at 4 in the morning...wondering if we were going to make it home alive. Getting banned from a club in San Francisco for "playing to loud" was another highlight.
Having spent more than 10 years in the 'pop underground' - where do you think the scene is now compared to 1993?
Like night and day! The Internet has made a huge difference of course. Before the Net...people had to physically go out and see shows in their neighborhood to become aware of bands. We had big shows in the early days. People would come out and support local music. Once the Internet exploded and the Dot Com revolution snagged up retail space in the city, the live music scène changed dramatically. After 1999 or 2000, we focused more on reaching far corners of the world (like Singapore!) where people craved exactly what we were doing.....rather than trying to revive a local scene that was dwindling.
Check out the PoP review here.