Interview with Beth Orton

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This article will be published shortly in the Groove guide. To promote the tour, i’m reeasing the full version here:

Sweet Mother’s kitchen

Picking up from The Comfort of Strangers Beth Orton’s new album Sugaring Season shows another bold departure, taking traditional folk instrumentation into some unfamiliar territory, shifting from the electronic textures that dominated her early work. It was produced in Portland by Tucker Martine (My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists). Its 6 year incubation was a result of parenthood, nuptials, and regaining confidence.

“Well, you’d know children change you. You start to see things through their eyes, and maybe you start to take responsibility for things that you never cared about before. I had to cancel shows when I became pregnant.” I’m sitting in a café just out of Wellington. The warm early morning breeze is drifting in over my half finished latté, disturbing the pattern on remaining froth. Half a mile away, singer, songwriter and mother of two, Beth Orton is rubbing her shoulders to keep warm. The phone is cocked in the crook of her neck, slipping down on occasion and requiring a rescue from the cushions on her arm chair. We’ve just been swapping stories about our little ‘uns. Beth has a girl of 7 (Nancy)and a wee ‘little man’ (Arthur), who’s 2. Her son and husband, banjo player Sam Amidon have been touring the US with her (Her daughter often hanging with the grandparents in Washington DC). She’s telling me about her 6 year transformation from a single mum into a loved up wife, back on tour and on a voyage discovering there’s still a keen audience for her music out there.

Although music came early in her life Orton’s confidence in her self as a musician has always fluctuated. “I was never a real guitar player. My earliest (recorded) stuff came from the guitars I found at William’s (Orbit) house. But I never really could play, not properly. I was a fan of some of the great folkies like Bert Jansch… (whom) I wanted him to play on (her 2nd release) Trailer Park… but that didn’t really happen… I’d been a fan of his for years.” In 2004, as luck would have it they ended up doing a gig together and sharing a dressing room. Jansch’s wife invited her for lunch, which became a teaching session. “He taught me formally, with tunings and theory. I was around there at their house nearly every week. I knew my limitations and it was nerve racking to push my self into new territory, but it paid off, I think.’ The longer she played the more her self-assurance grew. She started to play out side her own style, improving her picking. “Also, at that time I decided to move to the country for a little bit.”

So a solo mum and her daughter moved to converted barn in Norfolk, not far from her home town of Dereham. This was the closing of an emotional circle. At age 11 her parents split and she moved to London with her mother. Her father died soon after. At 19 her mother also passed on and Orton, seeking the need to escape took her self off to a Buddhist retreat in Thailand for several months. “When I came back, I was in this house all alone, in Dalston (London). No brothers or sisters. No body. I found an acting job in a play and we eventually toured Russia. Then I was always going to parties. I went to one with an actress friend and it was hosted by (Madonna collaborator) William Orbit. Anyway, I tried to bum a cigarette of him. He went off to find one. I went home with some bloke.” Days later, obsessed with Orton, he invited her to a Madonna Vogue party and attended her play. “He suggested I started singing for him. But I didn’t want a reputation as some bloke’s bird who can’t really sing releasing an album, just because we’re going out. It was a strange time. I was putting mum’s clothes in black rubbish bags, going around to William’s and listening to “Justify My Love” and playing his guitars.” That was the start of her creative life as a recording artist. Whilst she says Orbit wasn’t entirely encouraging her collaborations with him did start the ball rolling. Tracks like “Someone’s Daughter and Sugar Boy” became the basis for her hugely acclaimed Central Reservation. Several albums later she was back questioning herself. A restructuring EMI terminated her contract. “They didn’t offer me anything. I was beginning to think I’d run my course, although it was more about the label, in the end.”

Collaboration brought her out of the doldrums. First, working with Jansch, then with Tom Rowlands (Chemical Brothers) who showed her some techie tools and finally with her future husband (folk singer) Sam Amidon. “I knew Sam since Nancy was about 2. We were friends. We had dinners. But not dates. All this time I was writing, but not really playing. But Sam and others encouraged me.” Her new album, Sugaring Season, “is about that time in spring when it’s really cold but the Maple sap starts to build. It’s a sort of potential. It’s like me I suppose, waiting to be released. These songs are the product of all this experience, waiting to be tapped out.”

2013 NZ Church Tour

Friday 17 May Old St Paul’s, Wellington

Saturday 18 May Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland

General on sale Monday 4 March 9am

Tickets from Ticketmaster 0800 111 999 http://www.ticketmaster.co.nz and NZ Tix http://www.nztix.co.nz

Sugaring Season is out now!

http://www.beth-orton.net

Paul Kelly – Old St Paul’s Wellington – 22nd March 2013

The evening kicked off with Aucklander Lydia Cole. Her diminutive frame and barely there song constructs created a package that centred on the rejected world of a 22 year old girl drowning in the backwash from the sea of love. However, her voice showed a restrained power and professionalism beyond her years. Despite her self-confessed nervousness Cole showed she had the competence to quietly work a room with self-effacing humour. Pity we didn’t see more of it, though. Her songs were only held together by the simplest of strings and very rarely expanded to even a chord change. There was room to grow, so here’s hoping she can wrangle a band next time. Mind you, the audience were appreciative, perhaps reminded that Bic Runga also started this way, and look at her now!
For those who caught Kelly’s recent ‘mongrel memoir’ book tour shows another visit may seem a little too soon. After all the substance of that trip centred on his past works and although we all love to hear the classics one more time I can’t feeling just a little hungry for something new. And tonight that’s what we got. Accompanied by his nephew Dan Kelly on a vast arsenal of guitars the duo played Kelly’s new record, Spring and Fall through in its entirety. The album, which he made with Dan is a song cycle of a love affair, told from many sides, measuring the slow rise and crashing decent of relationship from the optimism of “New Found Year” and “When a Woman Loves a Man”, through infidelity (“I’m Gonna Be Good”) and betrayal (“Cold as Canada”) to the final autopsy years later (“Little Aches and Pains”). Kelly has always been able to tap humanity and emotion like the sap from a maple tree. His wry humour, sparse arrangements and sometimes haunting delivery transported me to the white collar brick terraced houses of Victoria, where I imagine the people in these songs reside. I can see the meeting of new lovers; the fighting; the arguments; the drinking to excess; the women in their pinnies and florals – the men in white singlets and jeans. That said, the of course these themes are universal and applying to any situation. Such is the power of a good song.
Given that he’s just jumped off a full on tour with Neil Finn across the ditch Kelly is looking and sounding in fine form. His short stature, thin frame and bald head is almost comical against Dan’s wild curly crop and towering body mass. Yet it was Kelly Snr. who did all the talking and most of the singing. The short guys are always the loudest! Jnr was content to play rhythm, lead and bass on individual tunes. BTW, full credit should be given at this point to the guitar tuner, almost the third member, who kept a constant supply of instruments at the ready, and in the correct key for the next tune. I wonder how Neil will measure up when he appears on Saturday night amongst this daring duo?
Part 2 of the show was not just a straight out ‘best of’ collection with Kelly carrying on his relationship theme with a couple of numbers, including an oldy “Difficult Woman” before the big guns came out (“Winter Coat”, “Before Too Long”, “Careless”, “When I first Met Your Ma”). Alas no “St Kilda to Kings Cross”. A personal favourite “Making Gravy” had the added effect of a telephone effect on the mic during the first verse. Kelly delicately picked his way around a sensitive and slightly sinister variant of “They Thought I Was Asleep”, a song about listening in on a parents’ argument in the backseat of the car – I think there were many lumpy throats after that one. As too there was for me after “Deeper Water”, which is about the relationship between a man and his son. Given my own elderly father’s poor health in recent days, I could help feeling a little closer to the song. A reworking of an EE Cummings poem produced ”The Foggy Fields of France” for Kelly’s 2007 Stolen Apples album. It was great to see him getting back to his poetry roots. That was affirmed in his last encore piece entitled “????” on the set list: – an a cappella construction of biblical verses centred around the phrase “Come and meet me in the air”. Given the location, the simple power of his lyrics and potential memories of the crowd leaving with his music ringing in their ears it was the perfect sentiment to round off the evening.

Neil Young TSB Arena Wellington 19 March 2013

Hey Hey, My My, My Neil Young will never die!  Yeah, I know it’s a cliché’ but still pretty true.  And this is a night for cliché’s.  Wearing scruffy jeans, an Aboriginal flag T-shirt and a work shirt, he kicks off with God Defend New Zealand (Neil always starts with a national anthem).  And this paints the scene.  Neil the troubadour, the balladeer has been left in the closet.   Tonight it’s Neil Young the Crazy Horse!  Accompanied by Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina these four are one organic, massive jam unit bouncing off each other with the energy and experience of many years in the trenches.  They’re one strongly bonded unit, who become even closer as the intensities increase, feeding off each other’s energy.  Still, it’s like your dad and his mates after four beers playing in the garage on a hot afternoon – bad and grimy with over bloated and unnecessary solos, bad half concocted gags and obvious, sometimes grating feedback.  This is Crazy Horse at their very best and we love it.   Only a band this overweight, this old and this cool could pull it off. 

Blast out a couple of tracks from the latest Psychedelic Pill (“Born In Ontario”, “Walk Like A Giant”).  Then take Live Rust and Weld as your touchstone, add a few old numbers courtesy of Neil’s analogue time machine and some stonking blow outs and you’ve got a classic Neil Young show in all his ripped flannel ragged, glory!

Speaking of it, cast your mind back the Rust…days.  Remember the road crew, dressed as Jawas crawling around the stage pre-curtain call?  Well they’re still on duty, having grown up as reincarnations of the Doc from Back to the Future.  They appear during the opening strains of the Beatles ‘A Day in the Life” show opener and noodle around dragging props  and old pipe organ, on an off for effect.  Several actually stay on for the whole show to twiddle the knobs of the huge, oversized Fender amps that are revealed in the opening track 1990’s “Love and Only Love” and from the first squeal Neil’s the stand over man torturing and strangling his guitar neck to squeeze the truth out it. 

Despite the sold out crowd of mainly 50’s plus, the Crazies refuse to go pro, jamming up song after song as if none of us need to get home in time to catch the babysitter before she eats all the Toffee pops.  There’s a sea of bald spots and glasses and, unlike Ed Sheeran teen fest last week, very few tiny i-phone screens glaring away in the dark.  It was tempting to put a bomb to work, to get some response.  But I guess, internally at least, they all were all pogo-ing around their own cerebral living rooms.   Neil cracks a joke about how pre-tech he is and points at his battered pedal box as proof of his authenticity.  With this as a cue he takes a moment to tease us about what track he’ll play next reciting off a lexicon of albums, accompanied by metallic cranking effects for his retro -chronometer till he finally settles on ‘Cinnamon Girl’ from Everybody Knows This is Nowhere.

More teasing fools me into thinking I’m going to get my personal fav “Cortez the Killer” which is morphed into a sandstorm rendition of “Hurricane’, all showing those young whipper snappers just how it’s done.  Because, let’s face it Neil invented ‘Grunge’ and still makes it better than any one else! 

The encore, F*kin’ up was a contrived stuff up.  A bad, embarrassing uncle joke intro to wrap up a stunning evening, complete with a protracted swear jar session towards the end and more improvised, muddy feedback guitar breaks.  That’s what’s great about this band – they can just make it up as they go along, and have more fun than a drunken skinny dippin’ session in a Wall Street fountain.  Pure mischief.  Pure Crazy Horse.  Pure entertainment.  Thank God you finally made it, Neil.   

The WORLD comes to Taranaki! What a Blast! World Of Music and Dace Festival – New Plymouth, NZ 15-17 March 2013

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This review was first published at www.grooveguide.co.nz

Photos by Tim Gruar

Before you read this you have to know that this is a very personal perspective, because experiencing this particular festival is and should be a very individual experience.  There’s virtually no way you can take in every event, every artist on offer over the 3 day weekend – but you can try!

Friday night had a very strong line up and it paid off in spades.  Vieux Farka Touré gave us solid, dependable desert blues and Tajikistan’s Alev family provided some more real world colour.  But then the magic really came, when South African Afro-jazz legend Hugh Masekela and his incredibly tight’n’funky big band took the stage.  With dark continental grooves and multi-syncopated rhythms plus his very larger than life personality it was a special show.  The man’s a legend for a reason and it was clear to see why.  By mid-evening the main Bowl stage was alight and blazing! 

By absolute contrast Northern Scots Lau proved to be the most innovative folkies I’ve ever seen.  In the first of two stunning appearances these three Guy Garvey impersonators managed to squeeze out some very original and moving tunes armed only with a violin, accordion and guitar.  It was clear from audience reaction that their dark ironic observations and gale force energy was hitting home (best served with a Monteith’s Black Beer, by the way).  Later, during their set I managed to sneak back stage to watch Fly My Pretties, which was a hearty, satisfying snapshot of several earlier shows, featuring, notably, the return of Adi Dick.  His honey soul voice has been sorely missed of late and it was great to see him back. 

Events on Saturday until Midday, so I had the perfect opportunity to look around New Plymouth.  I have to say this little town has come to life.  The waterfront boardwalk and a visit to the Govett Brewster Gallery are compulsory, but there’s heaps more.  I can’t wait for the new Len Lye wing to be completed.  The essentials for any festival goer has to be a decent supermarket and great coffee.  The town has both, plus an awesome little viny junkies paradise in the main street and a brilliant Len Lye wind-wand on the shore. 

Come show time there was only one act to see.  Female vocal group Ayarkhaan are leaders in the growing revival and preservation of traditional music from Yakutia, the largest province of north-east Siberia.  These three elaborately decorated women are masters of the glottal ensemble style (a sort of throat singing) with the khomus (Jew’s harp), that legend says was made by gods and possess a magical voice.  Indeed it did.  The stories they wove were other worldly, esoteric, equine and epic – Nothing short of remarkable.  There were two choirs on offer this weekend.  The first was the Soweto Gospel Choir, who put in a solid performance of tingling harmonies and warm positive vibes. 

On the opposite stage the Correspondents mashed up swing music and house beats.  The quietly clinical DJ Chuck was completely outflanked by the manic dancing of Mr Bruce: a chaotic reincarnation of a Public School Harry Potter in a matador’s jacket.  Although more club directed, they utterly, hilariously entertaining.  An speaking of that, Cajun revivalist Anne Savoy and her family band were clearly big favourites.  They were all over the festival, performing several times, bringing smiles to everyone and even zipping up a wicked gumbo in the Taste the World tent with Master chef’s Jax Hamilton.  

Japan’s Shunsuke Kimura and Etsuro Ono, showed they are powerful innovators of the tsugaru-shamisen (an ancient Japanese banjo).  Originating from northern Japan, they take this elegant form of traditional music into a contemporary space giving it dynamic rhythms, almost as some kind of jazz improvisation.  Very different, challenging and original.

Also on the bill was World Music star Goran Bregovic and his Weddings & Funerals Orchestra.   The Yugoslav bandleader’s a legend on the WOMAD circuit, clocking up over 30 albums and has a reputation as being a bit of a brute on the scene.  But despite all that his brand of rowdy ommmpah bang-ching-clash-whine just seemed a bit of a letdown.  It all missed personality and spark.  Perhaps it was jetlag, or maybe he was having an off day. 

Jamming it large Electric Wire Hustle rolled out Mara TK’s whole family plus a clumsy appearance from Wellington musician Sam Manzanza, to finish the night off.

Sunday answer the prayers of the rain dancers bring the heavy black to this drought stricken farming community but it didn’t dampen any spirits or significantly dismiss any gate numbers.  I’d guess the Sunday nearly matched the 15K ticket stubs of the previous day.  For the final day I made a point of exploring some of the other offerings such as Nick Bollinger’s Artists in Conversation.  Although headliners Jimmy Cliff chose to stay holed up in his hotel to show time Norwegian rebel Mari Boine, whose sings in joik, the traditional music of her native Sámi people.  She told us of her early life in Gámehisnjárga, a village in Norway’s far north, and how she grew up among the strict Laestadian Christian movement discriminating against her people by declaring that singing in the joik style was the devil’s work.

But there was a moment of sunshine in the rain as a small girl danced without inhibition to Marie’s final drum song t which closed her session just as the hot rhythms of Brooklyn’s Antibalas drifted over from the main stage.  At WOMAD you can get a tattoo from a traditional Maori artist, so long as you don’t mind everyone watching or you can contribute to the Govett Brewster Gallery’s driftnet Taniwha, which was a feature of the kid’s parade later in the day.  Other little treats over the weekend included a human library where you can ‘issue’ a person for a half hour to learn about their life experiences.  For the kids, Fraser Hooper brought his improvised Victorian Boxy tournament in to coerce his spectators into a spot of comedy violence with outrageous results.

 Sunday’s weather managed to settle for an outing by Flying Nun legend Dave Kilgour, his young grungers The Heavy Eights, Sam Hunt and an appearance from legendary guitarist Billy TK, who’d also popped on Saturday night, supporting his son Mara in his Electric Wire Hustle set.  I think Kilgour had intentionally mistuned his instruments for effect and with Hunt’s poetry they produced best bedsit rock’n’read moments of the weekend.  It’d be great if these guys recorded something, I’d definitely order it!     

Another visit back stage at the bowl stage was entertaining as I was roped into an impromptu lesson by a member Salsa stars LA-33.  Later, on the Gables stage local hero and NZ’s Got Talent star Mihirangi launched her debut album of vocal loop alchemy to A rapturous reception.  It’s been 12 years in the making she told me later.  Well, done then, worth the effort!

Aaron Tokona’s ‘jam band’ Ahori Buzz cheekily rocked out the Sunday night crowd with some pretty loose home-grown psychedelica, which didn’t always hit the mark.  Tolkona likes to impersonate ‘Boy’ era Taika Waititi but the off colour remarks between songs might have also been a bit crass, given it was a family show.  And it was interesting to see Catabrian soul diva and FMP’s LA Mitchell joining the ranks.  Still, the kids moshed in the pit, whilst the olds held their fingers to their ears and wiggled their tooshies.  In the corner, a gypsy girl danced with a hula hoop and little boy jumped in rhythm on the spot shouting “  Oh man, coooool!”  However the coolest, most extreme and nostalgic moment came with the pairing up of the National Maori Choir with Joe Lindsay’s Ska cheese makers The Yoots who just nailed their performance of classic waita.  Despite having had only one two hour rehearsal they carried off the day.  When Ake Ake (Maori Battalion song) was played there wasn’t a dry eye, nor a bone less wigged in the joint.  It was one of those special festival moments. You had to be there!

A poignant final to the weekend came later when Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff midway through his highly professional 80’s nostalgia set, belted out the sunniest version of “I Can See Clearly Now’ (the rain has gone) during the day’s heaviest downpour.  Fresh from winning a Grammy forBest Reggae Album’ last month he was pure class.  I’ve never really given him much of a look, being too main stream for my tastes but I have to acknowledge he’s pretty good at what he does.  

While the Bowl stage was closed down Novalina and the Correspondents (who do it better in the dark, by the way) took the  show home elsewhere, before Tenzin Choegyal and the Tibeten Monks closed the festival with a moving ceremony and the destruction of their three day constructed sand mandala. 

Yet again this was three of the best days spent in the ‘Naki,  So, when do tickets go on sale for next year?  Sign me up!

Me, Myself and Joan

Published in the Groove Guide March 2013

Wouldn’t you know it.  I’ve just fed, bathed and put them both down and I have 10 minutes before singer songwriter Joan Armatrading is scheduled to call.  I’m half way through checking out her new album when my two year old wanders in brandishing a milk bottle demanding a top up.  She becomes easily distracted by the music on YouTube clip and plops herself right down in front of my laptop.  Right then Joan calls.  It’s 6.45 in the AM at her end.  She’s up scrubbed and dressed.  It’s 7.45 in the PM here, I’m sitting amongst the dinner dishes and staring at my defiant toddler.  “Very rock’n’roll,” she acknowledges, suppressing laughter,” but you have to do what you have to do.” 

Whilst researching for this I became aware of what a private and shy person Armatrading can be (ironic since I involuntarily sharing my private life with her).  And, up front she warns me not to delve too deeply.  “If I go quiet, you’ll know why.”  Yet I can’t help noting how warm and generous when is.  Perhaps she’s aware of my predicament.  Perhaps it’s that confidence that comes with performance, being lost in the moment.  “Yes, it’s funny, that I was painfully shy when I started out.  I wanted to just write, initially.  Not perform.  I was encouraged into it, and I found that when I’m lost in the songs then I can have the confidence to perform them and really let it out.”  I note that many of her lyrics are autobiographical, for a private person.  “Sometimes.  Every writer, be they jazz or Heavy metal writes about relationships and Love.  We have to.  But I’m not going to explain my lyrics or songs.  The listeners have to interpret those for themselves”.   

 As a  shy, afro -headed waif with a big deep and confident voice Armatrading hit the scene back in the early 1970’s with “Love and Affection”, “Show Some Emotion” and continued into the 1980’s with ‘Me, Myself, I” “Walk under ladders” and “Drop the Pilot’.  And although she may have faded from the AOR charts over recent years she’s still been prolific clocking up 19 studio albums.  The last three Into the Blues, This Charming Life and Starlight are impressive for two reasons.  “I played all the instruments on those my self, because I had these ideas in my head and I wasn’t sure anyone else could understand what I was trying to do.”  Also, each album had a particular style.  “As you may know I like to write in different styles – Blues, acoustic, Rock, reggae, jazz.  For Into the Blues I wanted to focus just on a blues style and tried hard not to veer off course.  But once I go started it was easier to follow that course.  And for This Charming Life I had a pop theme going.  I realised during the last one that I had a jazz theme to finish, so Starlight has a different feel again.” 

As a holder of a BA (Hons) in History I was expecting Armatrading to have a passionate understanding of the technical aspects of musicology.  “I hated those exercises.  I have always been a musically free thinker. I play what I want.  If I start playing an A flat and hit a Bsharp and it fits then I’ll keep my happy mistake.  I don’t want rules restricting me.  Music has this history, it references itself and you get to the point where it needs to sound like one thing to become something else.” 

 One of the lines that best sums up Armatrading and her work is revealed in the single “Tell Me” – We can dare to be different/ but be different together.  “I was playing a show in Germany and there was a Gothic show down the road; all these kids in white face paint, black clothes and boots and outrageous hair.  It occurred to me that in the unity to be different I society they were all conforming in their group. On a smaller scale we do that playing unusual sports that we discover everyone does or listening to a different band, that it turns out all our friends have.  That’s what attracts us to our friends.  We seek to be different with them.”  The best example of this was when she toured 56 venues in the UK, with a new act in every town.  At the end of the gig Armatrading got all the acts together to meet and record. “I noticed two things.  Individually they were often shy – like me when I first started out.  But when they were on stage they had the courage to change from introverted to extraverted.  I also noticed that they were unique individuals when they were in there home tows but together as a group these different people were united (individuals). I like to have a variety and a mix of styles.  And being different together is part of that.” 

About now I’m reminded of how different my 2 year old is.  While I’ve found talking to Armatrading fascinating, my daughter has lost all interest and dropped off to sleep on the bean bag in the corner.  Oh, well, it takes all sorts …

Catch Joan Armatrading performing in all her eclecticism at
Wellington – Michael Fowler Centre 20 March
Auckland – Bruce Mason Theatre 21 March

Interview: Glen Frey

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Published in Groove Guide March 2013 and www.grooveguide.co.nz

Groove Guide has a good old natter with Eagles guitarist and founding band member Glenn Frey.  

Ok, so where are you?

Well I’m here in my studio, the Doghouse, it’s in LA.  We recorded (the Eagles) A long Road out of Eden here.  It’s been around about 15 or 16 years or so.” 

“This is where I recorded my new album (After Hours).  It’s different from my previous rock stuff.  I wanted to do material from the Great American Songbook.  My Dad’s 91 and my Mum is 87.  I wanted to record something from their day – from the 1930’s to the 1960’s.  I think at this point in my career I could do something honest, and take a bit of a risk.   

What was behind the idea for the new album?

“Richard (Davis) and Michael Thomson and I started looking up these songs on Youtube and we were arranging them, in the studio on piano.  We would break them down, work out the orchestra parts and what knot.  I wanted songs that a really great, that I really loved like “For Sentimental Reasons” and Burt’s “The Look of Love”.  There’s “Route 66” which (he hums the chorus) is a great, enduring sort of rhythm… and there’s (Una Mae Carlisle’s) “Getting old before my time”.  I like that a cocktail hour song.  Yes, a sort of lounge feel.”     

Lounge and Jazz seem miles from your earlier stuff?

“There was music in our house, mainly what my parents like and I had plenty of pop on the radio so I went that way…I had early bands like the Hideouts (later the Subterraneans) which were all about being a teenager with a guitar.  I could play a bit and that helped.  Pop was the way to go.  But I’ve always like the old stuff, too – especially the jazz standards.  There are tracks by Tony Bennett, and Dinah Washington – like “I wanna cry” and Peggy Lee, America’s sweet heart.  At night you just want sit down and chill out and listen to these great songs.”

“The Eagles were a radio friendly band. We were lucky with that.  It’s what sold, too.  Back then (in the 70’s) radio was king.  But it was also big in the earlier years and those songs (from my album After Hours) are all about the killer radio days, too

The Eagles were almost early Americana – Musicians seem to look back to the earliest roots of their country to find their identity when things are bad.

“I know what you mean about musicians wanting to look back (to the folk era), what they are calling Americana – that thing of looking back (to find some core identity to hang on to in modern depression ravaged, globalised America).  I’m not sure that’s the case though.   In the 70’s we were sort of stealing from our forefathers.  Country and AOR was popular on FM radio, where album tracks got played.  You could be more experimental, too.”

Are you defined by your earlier music, like “Hotel California”?

“That song – it was a demo that Eagles guitarist Don (Felder) wrote. He’d given us plenty of ideas since he’d joined but always without lyrics. But this one had room to write something.  We were interested.  We called it ‘Mexican Reggae’.  That was the working title.”

“Don (Henley) and me wrote most of it (the lyrics).  We all drove into L.A. in the evening. Nobody was from California but if you drive in to Los Angeles in the evening you see this glow on the horizon of lights (like the Arctic lights, sort of).  Don and I were thinking of Hollywood, all those dreams of being a big star.  So we got the messages of drugs booze and all that stuff that was so excessive in the 70’s.  We wrote ‘Life in the Fast Lane’ and ‘Wasted Time’ and other songs based on those trips.”

“Yes we became the occupants…the guests of Hotel California.  But, you know, it was a first time for everything.  When you’re young, everthing’s on your radar.  We tried it.  There’s a first time for everything and a last!”

“And, you’re right, the Eagles got big. We were, as you say, part of that thing (the record industry juggernaut).  But that was how it worked then. You were part of that world then.  It was all very exciting and we were along for the ride.”

“I am humbled some times when, like you say, you hear of your stuff being sung (by a school choir, at a wedding, etc.)  It’s great to know that the Eagles songs are part of people’s lives.  Yes, they own them now.”

Music Review: Tegan and Sara – Hearthrob

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Published in March Groove guide and www.grooveguide.co.nz

Here’s a fun fact.  Betcha didn’t know that the identical Quin twins from Calgary were initially signed by Neil Young’s manager over 13 years ago and immediately went out on the road in support of the Ol’ Ragged Glory-monger! The result was a small, utterly fanatical and loyal fan base and, of course, an admirable back catalogue of tuneful, angst ridden indie-pop and rock.  That was all very well, but on recent tours with the Black Keys and Killers it occurred to them that they’d been doing a performance version of “riding a pedal bike on the highway”.  Or so they told the Vancouver Sun, recently.  “If you want to compete with the best cars you need to step up your game”.

Ok, so what does ‘upping your game mean’ when you’ve built a reputation on a particular style and delivery?  How can you change that and increase your fan base.  How do you protect your current fan base, without alienating or ostracizing through radical change? Well to find that ‘omph’ there was a throwback to the future – circa 198-something.  Tiffany, Bannanarama, Wham! They all got the call up.  The result is product of big, glossy pop peppered with skin-tingling sincerity and romantic declarations. And that’s where the line is crossed.  What’s with this obsession to hark back to this time.  Believe me I was their.  Stock Aiken Waterman were the devil’s own producers.  Really does anyone really want to dredge up “Locomotion”-era Kylie.  Seriously?  It’s bad enough that Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and Marina Diamandis are increasingly mining the low points of that decade.  Although I’ll give them credit for seeking out the nuggets when they can be found.  But I’d never expected the twins to stoop this low!  Other reviewers have commented on how remarkably refreshing it is to hear hearing the authentic thoughts of two 30-somethings fully magnified in the huge sugar hit of mainstream radio pop.  But I’m not convinced.  The last thing I’d want is to see is the home videos of my teenage crushes reproduced by Peter Jackson in 3D and Dolby surround sound.  When you’re overbloated, nausea is likely! 

Producer Greg Kurstin (Pink, Kelly Clarkson) is responsible for the fiasco that is Heartthrob.  No amount of indie guitars in this mix can hide the saccharine synths and pastiche pastel washes that taint every song.  Sure lyrics tackle love in a frank and honest manner.  Rejection, frustration, self-doubt and self-acceptance also get an airing.  But I’m left wondering if half these were Katy Perry’s out takes, minus the candy-covered irony.  Lead single, “Closer”, is about the thrills of a new romance:“All I dream of lately, is how to get you underneath me/I’m the type who won’t get oh so critical … I won’t treat you like you’re oh so typical.”  Yet, typically, the temptation to bury the sentiments in unnecessary layers of schmatlz completely kills and originality or appeal.  Clearly Rick Astley’s come back has competition.  Watch out mate!