Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Your Next Favorite Band...Fun

In 2006, The Format released "Dog Problems," a record that is nearly flawless from start to finish.

Produced by Redd Kross's Steven McDonald with arrangements from Roger Manning (former Jellyfish founder), the record was criminally underrated. Lyrically and musically, it is one of the best pop/rock albums to come out this decade. Drawing influences from bands like XTC, ELO and Jellyfish, the duo (Sam Means and Nate Ruess) was miles ahead of their peers in terms of creativity and musicianship.

I was working on a piece for AMP magazine earlier this year and had interviewed Ruess by phone. I asked about a new record and he said they were going to get back to work soon, and were bringing back McDonald and Manning to help again. A few weeks later, however, it was announced that The Format was splitting up and there would be no follow up to "Dog Problems". The break was cordial, but the news still completely sucked.

Last week, the gods of music decided to make the world a little brighter. Through a MySpace post, Ruess announced that he had formed a new band, Fun (the band's name, not a commentary from me), with Andrew Dost of Anathallo and Jack Antonoff of Steel Train (both bands were constant tour mates of The Format). A press release went out soon after announcing that Fun will begin recording their debut album this September with.... (wait for it)... producer Steven McDonald, arranger Roger Joseph Manning Jr. Nice.

Their debut album should be available in February, 2009, but they have already posted a demo for the song "Benson & Hedges" (which can be downloaded from their MySpace page). And all is right with the world again.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Needed: New Spokesperson for Slipknot

I can't say I'm a fan of the band Slipknot, the goofy, gimmick-prone metal heads from Iowa (they wear masks for God's sake!), but someone needs to help out the group and offer better advice than their label.

The British and South African media this week have been reporting on a brutal incident in South Africa where a 16- year-old wearing a Slipknot mask and carrying a sword killed one fellow student and injured a few others at the school. In a predictable move, school officials are using an old chestnut from the 80's, blaming the attack on "Satanic music" (about 20 years ago, this was known as the "Ozzy Osbourne/Judas Priest" theory).

What was Slipknot's response?
Glad you asked.
Someone from Roadrunner Record's, the band's label, said: "We've had no confirmation that it was, in fact, a Slipknot mask. The band is not going to respond."

The teen apparently did not buy a sanctioned Slipknot mask from an approved seller, so the band has no response. Not a "We are saddened by this tragic event," or a "Our thoughts are with the victims' families," etc. The kid didn't shell out cash for the real thing, so the band will have no comment.

Stay classy Slipknot.

Friday, August 8, 2008

CD Reviews - The Replacements Edition

The Replacements
Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash; Stink; Hootenanny; and Let it Be

I’m the first to admit that re-issues of old albums are generally nothing more than a cynical way to cash in on a record twice.
There are very few albums that sincerely deserve a re-launch and are actually worth all the extras picked out of some long-forgotten vault, dusted off and slapped onto the re-release. The Replacements first four records, however, are a major exception.
The first couple of records (“Sorry Ma…” and the “Stink” EP) show a sloppier band that is bursting with potential. They tempered a bit of the brattiness with “Hootenanny” and Paul Westerberg started to evolve a bit lyrically. With the release of “Let It Be,” boasting songs like “Unsatisfied” and “Androgynous,” the band solidified itself as one of the best American rock bands. Ever.
The bonus outtakes and demo tracks Rhino added to these records make them worth the re-release. Here’s hoping their later albums get similar treatment. One of life’s big mysteries is how a band as brilliant as The Replacements have remained the darlings of critics everywhere and served as inspirations for an entire generation of punks and garage rockers, but never really managed to garner the mainstream success that far, far weaker bands have managed to snatch.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Clash - Live! (Finally)

Those bemoaning the current state of popular music (the line forms just behind me) can take a moment and relax.

Epic/Legacy has just announced that they will finally release "The Clash Live at Shea Stadium". The CD comes out on Oct. 7. There will also be a new Clash book coming out in November, "The Clash by The Clash."

This soon-to-be classic CD captures the band's Oct. 12th and 13th shows, opening for The Who's farewell tour, (as recounted in numerous bios on The Clash and Joe Strummer).

Here's the track listing:

  1. Kosmo Vinyl Introduction

  2. London Calling

  3. Police On My Back

  4. Guns Of Brixton

  5. Tommy Gun

  6. The Magnificent Seven

  7. Armagideon Time

  8. The Magnificent Seven (return)

  9. Rock The Casbah

  10. Train In vain

  11. Career Opportunities

  12. Spanish Bombs

  13. Clampdown

  14. English Civil War

  15. Should I Stay Or Should I Go

  16. I Fought The Law

The band was on the road promoting Combat Rock, at the time. This record is a must buy for any Clash fans - casual or die hard -and required listening for any up and coming bands who think punk rock started with Green Day and Blink 182.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Band Worth Watching: War Stories

It's easy to get cynical about music when you consider the overwhelming amount of mediocre, slapped together static that passes for music nowadays. But, every now and then - and it doesn't happen nearly as often as you'd think - I come across a CD from an unknown band that just blows me away; reminds me just how brilliant a band can be when you combine talent, emotion and ambition. San Diego four-piece War Stories is one of those bands.

Here's an expert from a recent interview I did with the group's singer. Their record comes out on Aug. 19. Here's a link to their MySpace page where you can listen to a few songs.


You’d have to go back pretty far in the annals of rock to find a more appropriately named band than War Stories.

In the midst of a major tour, trying to build up name recognition across the country show by show, the guys in San Diego’s War Stories got shoved out the door of a moving tour van (figuratively speaking, of course) by Sony Records before their debut even landed on the store shelves.

To make matters worse, their label refused to let the band keep any of their songs, preferring to preserve them a closet somewhere.

Bruised, a little jaded, but more determined than ever to bring their songs to light, front man Evan Robinson, along with drummer Adam Barker, bassist Eric Mace and guitarist Reid Curby went right back to work on their second, first record. The result is Vol. I, nearly a dozen beautifully-crafted songs that manage to sound both hauntingly intimate at times and tailor-made for packed arena sing-alongs. Though it’s almost cliché to compare a rock band to U2, a song like Vol. I’s “What Does God See” could easily fit alongside any of the tracks on the Irish band’s groundbreaking “October”.
I spoke with Evan recently in a very frank and open interview, covering everything from the band’s abrupt dismissal from the Sony family to the future of War Stories.

How did you find out that your debut was not going to be put out by Columbia? Did they give you a reason?
Evan: I got a call from our management half way through our U.S./Canadian tour with Kasabian and Mew. They said, "Columbia is dropping your band and is not going to put out the record." To be honest, I was not surprised. Even though we had great tours, a beautiful video, a strong record and an overall great "team"(ha) behind us, something didn't feel quite right. I often found myself in situations where I was forced to compromise my musical and personal integrity to keep the interest of the "machine." Though my experiences with the "machine" all seem horrible, in reality it was one of my life's greatest learning experiences. No regrets.

Did they let you keep the songs from that record?

Evan: Absolutely not. And given the fact that they basically hosed us off and hung us out to dry, you would think that the least they could do is give us back our songs that we wrote. But OH NO, NO my friends! For the last two years we have been trying to get our songs back. But in order to fight the "machine" you need an attorney, and attorneys LOVE money, and since we don't have the bank of Sony behind us anymore, no one wants to give us their time. All legal bullshit aside, those are our songs that we wrote. We are going to treat them that way.

Did you ever consider calling it quits after the first record fell apart?

Evan: It actually motivated us. It forced us to re-evaluate our intentions behind creating music. It reminded us that we write and perform music because it is simply who we are. The writing of songs and sharing them with people is what we love to do. That being said, we came to the conclusion that we were going to remain a working band whether there was $2 or $2 million dollars behind us. The end of 2006 was the time we were dropped. But it was also a time when we felt a sense of freedom and relief that we were no longer part of the major labels downward spiral. spi.ral- a plane curve generated by a point moving around a fixed point while constantly receding from or approaching it.

Once you finished this new record, did you consider talking to major labels again?

Evan: Of course the thought crossed my mind. I am a kid with a dream of playing music for a living. Major labels allow you to do just that. The problem is that the "dream" usually lasts for a very short period of time and sometimes comes with lifelong consequences. I’m 25 years old. If I want to be doing this when I am 60, I cannot put my career in the hands of a record company that throws their artists against a wall in hopes that it might stick. Not to mention being part of a "machine" that was designed to make the rich richer and keep the artist in debt. No thank you.

With the current state of the music industry, do you think bands really need record labels now?

Evan: Nope. You need a good manager, a part time job, committed members and passion.

Can you tell me a little about the songs on the new record? Is there a central theme?
Evan: This record is a compilation of 11 heartfelt songs. It’s the soundtrack to life. From the issues of depression and addiction addressed in "Without Love," to my frustration with the music industry stressed in "Rage," to my gratitude expressed to my guitar on the track "Beautiful," the songs are just real. I have experienced a whole hell of a lot these past few years, and it is really rewarding and therapeutic to share those experiences through my songs. The central theme to this record could be summed up by unconditional love.

Have you started touring behind this record yet?

Evan: No one in the band is independently wealthy, therefore making tour a difficult task at the moment. Plans to tour? Yes! I plan on spending the majority of my life on the road. There is no greater experience to me than sharing and performing our songs to new faces every evening. I believe that you experience more in one month of constant touring than most people experience in a lifetime. Call me old fashion, but I am a big fan of: playing our set, sitting down at the merch table, taking the crinkled up 10 dollar bill out of the persons hand, making a new friend and sending them home with a great record all at the same time. To meet and converse with the fans, the people that encourage us to continue to do what we love the most is a really great thing.

Anything else you want to add?

Evan: Ya, I would love to add this...Right now is a very exciting time in the music industry. Like Johnny Cash said, "What's done in the dark, will be brought to the light." As the greedy heart and selfish character of the business is revealed, the torch is being past on. The power is now back in the hands of the artists. The people that create and love music are now in control. As much as the "machine" would love to think that it is still in control, it is not. In fact, it is about as in control as a sperm that is trying to fertilize an egg inside a women who is on the pill. That translates to 0.1% control. As for the remaining 99.9% of bands, we need to embrace this change and take action. With the help of our fans, I truly believe we can resurrect the music business - this time being built on a foundation of sincere love for music. I hope to see you all at a show one day. Remember; where there is passion, there is success. Peace and Love.