New Music Now 001
Julius C. Lacking with Judy C. and Adam Elk of The Mommyheads
by Ian Koss
Stream this week’s show for completely verified details of The Mommyheads’ love affair with Cake, the dirt on what James Kochalka Superstar was doing at The Monkey House the night of February 20, and samples of 14 songs from 7 great albums chosen by 3 people who know the difference between vocal fry and “just a little schmutz in my throat.”
Thanks for listening!
This episode was produced by Frank Dreyer, Ian Koss, Rose Petralia, and Gregory Schaefer. Our theme music was composed by Avi Bortnick—check him out online at avibortnick.com.
Julius C. Lacking: Okay. Uh, greetings! Uh, my name is Julius C. Lacking. I am a staff writer for Ink 19 and a DJ at KAFM radio station, community radio station, in Colorado’s Grand Valley.
Judy C.: Hey, I’m Judy C. I am also a DJ host of a weekly program on KAFM community radio in the Grand Valley of Western Colorado.
Adam Elk: Hey there, I’m Adam Elk, from the Mommyheads. We’ve been around over 30 years, and we refuse to go away.
Julius: Very nice. Yes. I remember from way back when.
Judy: We all do.
Julius: It’s been a long time of not going away. So, um, let’s see. My, my first pick is, uh, from a band called Round Eye, their album is called Culture Shock Treatment. Now, Round Eye are out of Shanghai, China? Um, you know, there’s, uh, some information on their website. There’s also a picture and they look to be, you know, not necessarily native Chinese, uh, but they’ve been around for a while, and they’ve been making a ruckus in Shanghai, you know, voted like, Shanghai Best Punk Band, and, uh, and if you remember a band called Rocket from the Crypt, they have that like kind of all-out vibe and, uh, there’s a saxophone, I think that drops in now and then, it’s hard to tell with everything that’s going on.
Julius: Uh, but, uh, yes, their album is called Culture Shock Treatment. And, uh, here is the title track for that, which kind of explains *everything**.
“Culture Shock Treatment”
Julius: So, you know, that was pretty intense. I guess that’s not what you would expect to come out of Shanghai, of all places, but, uh, it is definitely what, I would call it punk rock.
Judy: I like. Actually, I didn’t do any research on what you had put in because I wanted to hear it sort of firsthand here and just get a clean reaction, and I like, and I want to dig in further. I think it’s great.
Julius: Adam, you said you played with Rocket from the Crypt?
Adam: Yeah, they’re from San Diego. We used to go, when we lived in California, we’d go down there and we opened for them at the Casbah Club, and it was really small and sweaty, and I remember they were really cool.
Julius: That San Diego scene was really something else.
Adam: I, I loved it. Um, you know, the San Pedro scene, you know, with Minutemen and we opened for, uh, not the Minutemen, but, um, Mike Watt in, uh, Charleston, South Carolina. It was so cool. There’s, there’s just a, you know, everyone’s so real down there.
Julius: Yes. And, uh, you know, here’s, uh, my speed of California. My second selection here is called “Armadillo Man.” And it has kind of, uh, definitely like a Dickies kind of vibe to me. Check it out.
Julius: One of those bands. All right, so yes, uh, Round Eye, uh, they have a back catalog that I’m going to be digging into a whole lot. Uh, I think, you know, that sound is timeless in a way. Um, it still sounds white, hot, fresh today.
Julius: Um, so Judy, what do you have for us?
Judy: Ooh, well, even in the time that ,since I sent you some suggestions, you know, music is just flowing like crazy right now. And so I could have easily switched to more albums coming out, but I’m sticking with my story, my original story, which is, uh, the highlighting, the Ghost of Vroom album Ghost of Vroom 1 from Mike Doughty, which is being marketed or sold as a side project. And I’m going to question that this is not a side project. This is just Mike Doughty right now, just living his best life. Um, this one was produced by Mario Caldato, Jr., who people know from Beastie Boys, um, his work with Jack Johnson in the U.S., but he’s a Brazilian-American composer, or a producer, who people know from these signature, signature works.
Judy: So I think it’s a return to a lot of roots. There’s obviously a nod to Ruby Vroom and the Soul Coughing sound. And this just really brings back that trippy vibe of Soul Coughing, the funk, the nonsensical words, the poetry, uh, it’s obvious that he can pull off some nonsensical, jazz influenced, including street drumming and rap, better than a lot of writers would be able to pull off. It’s really difficult to do this and do it right without sounding patronizing, or…
Judy: …sort of trying to be a Tom Waits-meets-Beastie Boys clone, so I’m so impressed by this album. I’ve been a fan for a long time. I actually have, developed friendships with some of his circle and have been out to see him often.
Julius: What is the first track you have picked out for us?
Judy: So I chose, “I Hear the Ax Swinging,” which is, uh, it’s starting with that spoken word sampling of, it’s hard to really detect unless you really slow it down or engineer it so that you can, but it’s a scripture sort of sampling.
“I Hear the Ax Swinging”
Judy: Mike’s a master of the sampler. He plays it on stage live. He plays with it everywhere. And these scriptural references kind of show his fascination with biblical scripture, both Old Testament, New Testament. He knows the Torah well. He really is studied in this, and even produced a musical based on the Book of Revelation, that had a short-lived performance in New York, I think.
Julius: That sounds pretty intense.
Judy: I have not seen it. Um.
Adam: No, I like what I’m hearing. It’s like, uh, there’s like a De La Soul swagger, uh, mixed w’ like a Jack Johnson chillness. It’s almost like what I, what I get from Bill Withers…
Adam: …which is like total confidence, you know?
Julius: Yeah. Everything is so loose and, and, you know, it’s always, it always feels like it’s on the verge of falling apart, but it really just rolls on. It’s unstoppable.
Adam: That’s where you want it.
Julius: All right. What is your second selection?
Judy: All right. The second selection I chose was the “Memphis Woofer Rock.” I actually really enjoy playing this on the radio. I think listeners again, kind of enjoy that funk vibe. Um, he’s again, going back into detail, references, nonsensical words, the stuff that’s hard to pull off if you’re not really confident in it. And he rhymes, and his study of poetry with, um, uh, Sekou Sundiata in New York at the New School really comes across here.
Judy: He was deep into that poetry study. He was, he was a child of that study and came up and has used it. But this is the album where I think he’s able to use it again, so much more without all the drama and fighting over licensing and songwriting credits that Soul Coughing was. That’s another story, but this, this track really gives you an example of his playing with fun in a way that he owns and not someone else, as he would put it, bullying him or telling him what to say and what to write.
“Memphis Woofer Rock”
Julius: Adam. So, before we get into your selections, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you are up to these days?
Adam: Well, the Mommyheads have been busy. I think we could feel time ticking now that we’re getting older, so we want to try to do as much as possible while we’re still friends. Um, and we still get along, we still love each other, so we just try to make as much music as possible, which, we’re trying for the one record a year. Which is not Guided by Voices 10 records a month, but it’s close. Um, and, you know, it’s really, a lot of our response has been from radio, which, you know, basically is amazing, you know, community stations and college stations is pure acts of love from musicians and music lovers.
Adam: And when, you know, our record goes to 67 or 56, like our last two, that that’s enough for us to keep going, really. Um, we don’t need to, it’s not about the money or anything, other than just people who we, who we would want to be friends with and would want to, we’d want to play for, approve. So that’s where we’re at.
Adam: And we’re, um, we’re also reissuing records that weren’t mastered or sold to 10 people in the ’90s. So it’s been fun. And, um, the next one’s coming out in September and the lead up to a song, um, this has never [been] heard before, uh, just mastered it’s called well, the album is called the Age of Isolation and, uh, it’s obviously about COVID and making music as a band during COVID, and age, “Age of Isolation” is the fourth song and kind of the center of the whole record.
“Age of Isolation”
Julius: That sounds pretty intense. I look forward to hearing the whole thing. Uh, so tell us about your, uh, your first pick here, uh, Once and Future Band.
Adam: Okay. So when, you know, when you have friends for 30, 40 years, they tend to know what you like. And in the same way, I heard Judy’s show and I knew I already knew that she, uh, you know, what her favorite TV show was and what she liked, you know, if she drinks tea or coffee, from the songs that she plays and the bands she plays, which were amazing. My buddy Bart Davenport, who I met in ‘94—we were in San Francisco and the best band in San Francisco were the Loved Ones and, and then Cake came around, and the Mommyheads and the Loved Ones and Cake were, like, we were like the triangle, it was like a love affair.
Adam: And, um, we ended up sharing members. I think the guitarist Xan McCurdy went from the Loved Ones to Cake. And my son’s named Xan. So there’s a long history between the three bands. And Bart Davenport, who would introduce me to music for the last 30 years, introduced me to this band. He texted me a link a year ago, and I ignored it.
Adam: And then, um, I went and like a nerd, in Barnes and Noble, I bought a prog magazine! And in the prog magazine was a CD sampler and it had XTC on it. And I’m like, I felt like a little kid. I’m like, “A CD! Rufus Wainwright, I remember him.” You know, and here, so I put it, I pop it in there. Sparks, they’re great, Field Music, Flaming Lips, I mean, you know, all the old buddies, and who blows me away? Once and Future Band. Why did they? I just can’t explain it. The song comes on, and I’m… I had to stop the car with my poor family in it, banging on the headrest, “Dad, get…” you know, it was like, I was trying to, like type a text to stop my boss from firing me, one of those, like.
Adam: And they’re like, “Dad, what’s wrong?” And I’m like, a’right, “Kids, everyone stop.” And I had to listen to the song, and it’s called “Andromeda,” and, um, what do I like about the band? Well, they’re, they’re from Oakland, so they’re going to be trippy. It’s led by a guy named Joel Robinow, who, uh, is also a session guy, uh, in Oakland and happens to play with Chris Robinson’s Brotherhood.
Adam: I don’t know much about Chris Robinson’s Brotherhood, but I know that if you’re going to play in that band, um, he was on the Servants of the Sun tour. Uh, so he’s got this great… this is his band and he plays in it with, um, he’s got Eli Eckert on bass and, uh, also the producer and incredible drummer is Raj Ohi… or Ach… I can’t even say it. Kumar. Raj Kumar. O, J, H, A. If you guys know how to pronounce that…
Julius: Ojha [oh-zha]?
Adam: Ojha, but his drumming is incredible. And his mixing and recording is incredible. And what they capture for me is that Canterbury sound from England, late ’60s, early ’70s prog, Soft Machine, Caravan, Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, David Allen.
Adam: They captured it and they modernized it. They mixed it with Steely Dan, I don’t know how they do it. People have said that they sound like a modern ELO, Roxy Music, Headhunters, Stevie Wonder, McCartney all mixed into one. And I’m a song guy and they have songs. It’s not noodling. It’s not “let’s, let’s do a lot of meth and then replicate that,” for people to go “why are they doing that?” It’s actually great songs. So, uh, “Andromeda” is song one, and “Problematic” is song two. And I hope you guys enjoy it.
Julius: This stuff, you know, this stuff is like technology. It just seems to get better and better and better over time. It gets refined, you know, this, uh, this super sharp pop sensibility. I don’t know. I…
Judy: I’m taking notes. Yeah, this is awesome.
Julius: …every time I think I’ve heard the last of it, there’s someone that comes across with a new idea.
Adam: Well, you know, it could be something as simple as mixing things and not getting it totally right, you know. They definitely have a Steely Dan thing, and who’s doing that? Who’s ever done it? And then mixes it with a Canterbury sound, which is psychedelic and floaty, and you feel like you’re going down a stream, you know. That’s the Canterbury sound, and you’re facing the sky, and it’s watery. And that, to me, mixed with Steely Dan, which is city and urban, smart, um, sort of knowledgeable, a little jaded…
Adam: Sophisticated, and also to have, it’s not like for me bad, progressive music or Baroque pop. You know, it can get noodley, and it loses me when there’s not, when there’s no foundation, there was no song, and these guys have songs and, and it’s, again, everybody wants a nice mix. Everyone has the drink they like, the mixed drink that they like, you know, “I don’t do rum,” or “I don’t do tequila.” This band just has that mix for me, and it’s, it’s been in the player since I’ve heard it.
Julius: Well, that’s a good lead-in for, uh, my next pick, which is, uh, you know, an incongruously-named band. Uh, when you have someone, an outfit named Rat Boys, you don’t expect this kind of, like, dreamy pop with a unique female voice and crazy harmonies fronting it. Uh, here is something of theirs called “Key.”
Julius: Yeah, it really stands out. You know, if you shuffle a bunch of incoming music, which is what I usually do, I just wait for something to pop out, nice and bright, and this was one of those things.
Julius: So this band, you know, their album is called Happy Birthday Rat Boy. And, uh, it’s actually the 10th anniversary of their EP, which they put out on Bandcamp in 2011. That’s like prehistoric Bandcamp times. And, you know, they’ve had a career since. They went back and they rerecorded those songs, and then they recorded some songs that have been favorites throughout the years through their tours, and then threw in another song called “Go Outside,” which is a new song and we’re going to play it in a second as a bonus. And the whole thing is just such a great summer album. It’s a, I like to think of it as you know, the album that makes you take the top down on the convertible. Uh, and, yeah, quite ah, refreshing stuff. Here is that track called “Go Outside,” which, uh, you know, given the times must be a reaction to the past year.
Judy: This is lovely.
Adam: What I love about this band is they sound like a band. And I feel like everybody’s ears are fighting back against the grid, and against every beat sounding identical, and ebbs and flows are not welcome here in music. And here’s a band that says actually, organic ebbs and flows and music where, what we’re feeling in the room, you know… like, “Come into this room with us, put the headphones on.”
Julius: So there you have it. Uh, Rat Boys, the incongruously-named Rat Boys, and Happy Birthday Rat Boy. Uh, Judy, what is your second album?
Judy: Okay, well, naturally I had to go with Dinosaur Jr. when another album was released, and I consider this the longest band reunion of all time, except for the Mommyheads. You’re getting there. Um, my gosh, I’ve been a Dinosaur Jr. fan since, um, college, and then my second time in college, and some grad school, and it just reminds me of those good times when I really was in sort of a golden state of learning, doing college radio, too. Um, and this album for me, just revisits the sound that you would expect. So, lots to love here, and I think it’s classic Dinosaur Jr., but with the Kurt Vile peppering of something, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.
Julius: So this track, this first track you’ve picked out for us is called the “Garden.”
Judy: I did the “Garden” because I’m also just a big Lou Barlow fan, as Lou Barlow playing himself. Um, and his vocals have always been—I like Mascis’ vocals, he’s, it’s guttural, it’s that… I forgot what the word is, but you sort of fry your vocal cords to do this low range, um, it’s it’s gonna kill him one day, but man, it’s, it’s so signature—but Lou’s vocals, to me, reek of that, again, that cerebral pop sound where you can hear all the words and you’re just grooving with it, and the “Garden” to me, I think is some of his best work yet. I think it just reflects where he is right now, and maybe he and Mascis are getting along better. I heard, I think I read it in a review, that maybe, because they’re both fathers, that they’re, they’ve put aside some of their vitriol, and um, and we know as parents, those of us who are parents know that, that mellows… it’s not all about you anymore. It’s about getting along or doing something right, and so maybe that’s helped, but I just love the song. I think it’s beautiful.
Adam: I have a little tidbit about Dinosaur Jr. We did our first recordings as a band with Wharton Tiers. We go in and we’re so young, we’re 16, 17, and there’s two stacks of tapes. One is Sonic Youth, Sister, which he had just worked on, they just left the studio. And the other stack was You’re Living All Over Me. And, and I didn’t even know really at the time, like what and where I was at, and these guys were walking in and out, and we’re just, we’re just trying to tune our guitars properly, you know, that’s all.
Julius: That’s awesome. So tell us about your second selection here.
Judy: Uh, I, it was hard to pick because again, I’m an album… I like to put the vinyl on, listen to the whole thing, but, um, in terms, yes, in terms of radio and I also try and think in the minds of the listeners and I hear kind of the same tracks played, but “I Ain’t,” to me is kind of a nice opener, again, it features Mascis’ guitar. There’s just unmistakable places where they come in, they do the song, and they get out, and it’s like, as Adam says, I mean, I like a song, I don’t need to hear them… you know, I have a former relative who had a word for it, and I really don’t even want to use the phrase here, but it’s, it’s like, you’re just in the room with yourself, enjoying your own music, but in the end, the listener wants to hear a song. Where’s the beginning, where’s the middle, where’s the end, and then go, outro, out. And so “I Ain’t” does that for me. Um, it’s a short statement, and again, you get to hear Mascis’ guitar, which is so, it’s like hearing Nels Cline, you know, when you’re hearing Mascis play, um, it’s the reason electric guitars needed to be invented.
Judy: That’s what that does for me is that, that magic. So, “I Ain’t” is classic Dinosaur Jr.
Adam: I love his guitar playing in the sense that you always know it’s him, because you feel it in your stomach.
Julius: All right, uh, let’s see, Adam, getting back to you, but before we get into your picks, since I have you here, I’m going to put you on the spot and see what info I can dig up on one of my very niche, ’90s obsessions, Tarquin Records.
Adam: Oh wow. You have a Tarquin… So my son just shifted schools, and Tarquin is the brother of Peter Katis. So our fourth record was done with Peter, who—his first production was with us in his parents’ basement—went on to do Interpol, National, Jonesy, Frightened Rabbits, Sting, Phish, you know, and he even knew he, he knew it too. He’s like, “You better stick with me, because I’m great.” You know, and we didn’t. We went with Don Was, and he still reminds me, you know, you kind of blew it. But anyway, Tarquin is his brother. And the Philistines Jr. is an amazing band, and they’ll never get respect. I don’t understand it. I mean, they’re just an amazing band.
Adam: Um, so, um, yeah, Tarquin records.
Julius: I really, you know, that whole thing felt, it felt like such an intense project, you know, that was just putting out stuff from this very close knit group. And yeah, James Kochalka…
Adam: We just played with James in Burlington, Vermont.
Julius: Oh, wow.
Adam: And the only people in the audience were Guster. There were no one else, it was just Guster. And we were like, this is great, we’ll play for Guster. Um, and James came out and rocked the house, you know, was almost hanging off the chandeliers, and it was just like a snowdrift outside of 20 feet of snow. And no one showed up. But they’re amazing, you know. It’s the Connecticut scene, and who knew there would be a scene from Connecticut?
Julius: You know, I have this theory that those places, that they have, they sometimes have the best scenes because they have to build everything from scratch, you know, they…
Adam: Agreed, agreed.
Julius: …there’s no one sending it to them, you know?
Adam: So yeah, there’s a Siberia element. So it says song follow up with song two, but it’s called “Shift in the Astral Plane.”
Adam: It’s coming out in September. And again, it’s on a, uh, Age of Isolation, and you can hear the song here. And what it’s about is I was going to the city during COVID and I’m a New Yorker. And to see the city shut down was mindblowing. It felt like the Flintstones. I felt like weeds were going to grow and never stop from the, the cracks in the pavement.
Adam: Like I was going to have to bring chickens to pay for the subway. I didn’t know what was, what’s happening, and so I wrote a song about it. You know, there’s a line that says a huge, “the only thing moving are the shadows of buildings.” I’m not quoting myself properly, but it’s basically describing what it’s like to be in New York during COVID, so that’s “Shift in the Astral Plane.”
“Shift in the Astral Plane”
Adam: So Gravel Pit going back to Bart Davenport, from that Cake, Loved Ones, Mommyheads, San Francisco scene, Bart in ‘94 told me about this guy in Boston that writes a song a day, and kind of blew my mind. His name is Jedediah Parish. And he’s in this band called the Gravel Pit. And I… back then there was no internet, so I, I did a mail order and got CDs and they were great. And again, it’s a band no one knows. They’ll never be in Pitchfork. They’ll never be anywhere cool. Um, but we love playing together and they’re part of that Connecticut scene too. And what I love about this band is I think they made their best record last year, which, which is called Serpent Umbrella.
Adam: It was, it was, uh, produced by the bass player, Ed Valauskas. This was literally that. I just wish I was playing with a band that knew how to kick butt properly. That knew how to like, make you go home and cry yourself to sleep that you just saw such power with such control and economy like, you know, the way Wilco brings it down really quietly and then rocks you back out. It’s not all just power, and it’s not all just quiet. And, and this band has it. Gravel Pit has it. And “Stingray” is the first song.
Adam: And I love it. It’s so catchy, it’s just, you’re gonna sing it for years. Um, uh, so this is easily my second pick for the last year of music. And the other song I have is “Monomaniac,” which is just another gorgeous pop song. And, you know, there, we all came up with They Might Be Giants and we came up with that sort of, you know, in New York, in the ’80s, and, um, we had our versions of Crowded House in New York. It was a lot of grunge and a lot of heaviness, but we had some pop. We had the whole, uh, Hoboken scene with the Bongos. And I see the Bongos and They Might Be Giants. I see Gravel Pit as part of that lineage…
Julius: There were certainly a lot of bands who just went out and did everything themselves without, you know, much of a plan other than putting it out. I think, you know, They Might Be Giants fit along with that also, right? Uh, touring and, and supporting that, and just, well, I guess that’s still putting it out. Right.
Adam: Well, I, I know what you mean though, because back then, if you weren’t heavy and angry, it was tough. You weren’t part of the scene and, you know, They Might Be Giants, perfect example. We’re old friends. We knew everybody that played in the band, you know, that toured with them. They were a complete anomaly. And so they just had to do it. And there was nothing like it, zero. And I think they realized over time that by continuing, that was the win. By just continuing to write and having the Dial a Song.
Adam: And I think that most bands and I’m, the Mommyheads included, learn from that tenacity and learn from, just do it for yourself and people will hear it and go, I like that, or they’ll hate it. But, but just falling into a scene because there’s a scene, we have thousands of bands that did that. And we forget them.
Adam: Obviously, these are the songs that I [?], so I’m a sucker for a good hook. So these guys bring it and Jed still can write clear, concise songs. He still sings his butt off. And the band rocks. Again, they don’t have to turn up too much. It’s the energy. They, they know how to play together. And some bands, they click in the first year and some bands, click over time, and this band is still clicking. It’s amazing. They’re firing on all cylinders. I can listen to it all day. Um, the live version is a little different, but still packs a wallop. Some bands just copy the recording. Some bands do completely different things. They just, I can’t wait to play with them again. Seriously. It’s and there is not a lot of bands I feel that way about, so to be quite honest, and Gravel Pit is one of them for sure.
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