If the moniker Girl In A Coma has you saying to yourself, “Hey! They’re ripping off The Smiths!” you are not mistaken. This young trio of chicks from Texas is in fact paying homage to the classic lyric penned by Mr. Morrissey, and one quick listen to the vocals of frontwoman Nina will lay all doubts to rest as to whom this girl models her singing style after. Dubbed the “female version of Morrissey,” she’s got a deep voice with a slight British undertone eerily similiar to Moz’s. She even dabbles in issues of celibacy like her idol, give a listen to “Celibate Now.”
Their Smiths-meets-Pixies-meets-No-Doubt sound caught the ear of Joan Jett last year. Jett signed them to her Blackheart Records label. Their debut release, Both Before I’m Gone, is by no means perfect, but songs like “Road To Home,” “Say” and the hook-heavy “Clumsy Sky” are hints at what’s to come from this band.
They’ll be doing this summer’s Warped Tour and most likely getting stuck on a side stage at an ungodly hour like 1 p.m., but I would plan my day around catching their set.
I swear I did not know Mason Proper was from Michigan! Everyone knows I’ve got a weak spot for Detroit bands (White Stripes, The Stooges, Gore Gore Girls, The Dirtbombs, The Detroit Cobras, The Hentchmen) — an obsession, really. I really need to just make the pilgrimage to the motor city already. It’s long overdue!
But Detroit is now not the only metropolis in Michigan to produce a noteworthy act sure to gradually drill its music into my psyche. Northern Michigan’s Mason Proper are poppier, more indie-centered than the garage and punk rock beacons south of them, but still I find the music irresistible.
On their debut Dovecote release, There Is A Moth In Your Chest, the pop-centric boys have written what are sure to be some permanent additions to your iPod. “Miss Marylou Carreau,” “Chemical Dress Eliza” and “My My (Bad Fruit)” may not mean much to you now, but they’ll be your new favorite songs in about 10 minutes. “Mr. Charm” is a quirky, spastic Pixies by way of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah sort of whacked-out expression that stands out like a white shirt at a metal concert, but whose charm is undeniable.
I can’t quite put my finger on whom they remind me of, but I look at that as a good thing. Their songs sound familiar upon first listen without sounding forced or like a second-rate imitation. It’s enough to keep me going back for more.
Musical virtuoso Thomas Lunch has constructed his own box and resides inside of it comfortably. Apart from the adjectives and verbs used to categorize music that can’t just be simply called “rock,” or “country,” or “rap,” Lunch seems to dare the listener to label him.
If I must, to please the readers who need a sketch of what’s to be expected upon listening to Diagrams Without Instructions, then let me be as ridiculous as I can while still maintaining truth to the uniqueness of his sound.
Thomas Lunch is of the experimental/indie/electronic/psychedelic/punk/garage/grunge/dark wave/folk variety. His lyrics and vocals are moody and deep, yet melodic and often funny. Compare him to Jane’s Addiction, Nirvana, Jonathan Richman, Devo, David Bowie, Pixies, U2, 30 Seconds to Mars, Sparta, Robyn Hitchcock, Beck, Towers of London and Talking Heads… but he sounds like none of them. Call him the Enya or Bjork of rock music because he is credited as the writer, composer, producer and player of all vocals, guitars, mini-moogs, synths, bass, and drum machines.
If that’s not enough to garner your attention, consider this: there is a song on this impressive debut called “Tater Tots & Robots.” Does this alone not tickle you?! Tater tots and robots, man! That’s poetry for the modern age!
Everyone with their ear on the pulse of the music world knows that The Mars Volta is comprised of “those guys from At The Drive In.” Dig a little deeper into the tomb of ATDI and follow the trail of the other 3 members (Jim Ward, Tony Hajjar, and Paul Hinojos), this will lead to Sparta. After 3 albums in as many years, and a couple lineup adjustments (Hinojos out, Matt Miller in; Keeley Davis added on guitar), frontman Jim Ward put the band on hiatus. Now the band is back with a mighty album and a headlining tour. Even without any national acts to share the billing, The Social had no difficulty filling up for the band that crosses over from Indie to Emo to Post Punk and back again.
A couple of local regulars opened the show. The ever popular John Ralston and experimental outfit, Hurrah. I caught the last half of Hurrah’s time onstage and what I heard was straight out of the Doolittle playbook. With two guitarists and three male vocalists, the band had enormity and passion, but the heavy reliance on the Pixies’ brand of sound was hard to overlook. If these guys could whittle down their blatant influence to a mere hint of color and style, then we could have a real powerhouse of sound on our local hands.
Blowing any expectations I had about them clear through the roof one song into their performance, Sparta proved mightier in person than on album. Ward’s live voice sounds like Perry Farrell at his most visceral. His presence onstage is captivating in the way Thom Yorke is captivating. He’s not all over the place, he doesn’t even seem particular comfortable at the center of attention, yet his delivery is so poignant that it is hard to look anywhere but at him.
Members of the crowd were so into the music that you’d think this was the biggest band in the world. Every start of every song garnered immense applause, and sporadic indie dancing sprouted up throughout the floor space. Personally, I stood mesmerized at the front of the stage feeling the perfect amount of bass from Matt Miller (too much bass is way too hip hop for my taste), the driving pounds of drummer Tony Hajjar, and the dueling shreds from Ward and Davis. All of these factors reel me in, but it’s the vocals that take this band out of “good” and into “great.” Ward doesn’t even seem to realize just how important his voice is to the success of the music, which — of course — makes him that much cooler.
The band opened with “Untreatable Disease” and closed with “Air.” There was an encore, and there were insatiable cries for more even after the band took their final leave of the stage.
“You guys have been amazing,” Ward said seeming genuinely touched, “hope to see you again real soon.”
Talking with Sienna DeGovia- the vocalist/bassist for The Randies- is like chatting with a friend. Her band put out one of the best releases of 2006 and they’re poised for stardom, but she’s got no rockstar poses or hangups. She’s a former ska lover who gets embarassed after meeting her idol, has a twin sister she can’t live without and is convinced that the sharks in Florida will climb onto the beach and eat her should she ever step onto the sands of the East Coast.
Why a hearse on the album cover?
Our title of the album, Saw The Light, has some different layered meanings, but basically it’s about getting out of harm’s way. We had this idea of pushing a car onto railroad tracks while a train’s coming down, and we just had a friend who had a hearse, and that was the coolest car we could find- and for free. (laughs) Maybe narrowly escaping death, I don’t know.
What books or movies turn you on or inspire you?
Ooh… I’m actually a big reader, and I have a new favorite book. It’s From Here To Eternity by James Jones, and I think it’s the characters- I just love getting really into a good character story. And visually, I like a movie to be really opulent and over the top in some way- visually or in storyline. I think my favorite movie that’s come out in the last few years is- something I can’t remember the name of! What’s it called? Um, something something of the spotless mind…
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Fantastic!
Yeah! Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The cleverness of the plot. Ooh! And Lost in Translation– that, I thought, was just visually stunning and it really tapped into something emotionally.
What song or album brings you back to grade school and to high school?
Well, my early childhood I was a Beatles fanatic. I was raised on a strict diet of The Beatles, but, ya know, I had my Duran Duran moments (laughs), so there’s that. Then in high school I was kind of a nerd rocker- anything quirky like Violent Femmes, They Might Be Giants. My brother got me into all of this early ’70s prog rock like Genesis and Yes (laughs), stuff like that. I was kind of screwed up on the time- I wasn’t so much into the music of the day. I used to just listen to any Beatles song and sing along. I have endless memories of driving around, when I was little, with my Mom listening to all of the Beatles albums.
You were in a ska band.
Yeah, right out of high school I was in a ska band called One Legged Bob. There were, like, 7 or 8 of us depending on the weekend (laughs). We had a lot of fun! I just listening to the 7″, the one recording that we made, a little while ago and it’s terrrrrible! We couldn’t even sing and every instrument was out of tune, it was so bad! But it was the most fun band I think I’ve ever been in. We’d play all of these parties and people didn’t care (how bad we were), they just wanted to dance! That was the fun about being in a dance band. People were so into it. Nowadays it’s so hard to tell if an audience is loving you, or completely bored (laughs) because everyone is really cool and nobody moves around… Ya know, until they burst into screams of adulation, but until that- while you’re playing- nobody’s moving except to move their heads a little. But at a ska show everyone was just dancing like crazy, so it was easy to tell that they were into you.
What made you switch genres, if you were so into it?
I don’t know. That band kind of fell apart, everyone went their separate ways- to college and stuff. I had always had a love for power ballad rock songs, I was really into the idea of singing big songs. I’ve always sung, but in the ska band I mostly played saxophone because I’ve also been very shy for most of my life and have been afraid to sing. Laura had approached me about starting a band, and she was playing mostly punk and rock music and I was into it. I wanted to write stadium rock ballads. (laughs) I pushed her in that direction, like big vocals and drama in the songs, and she kind of pushed me in a more edgy direction. So, it worked out.
You said that you were really shy. Why do people with shy personalities so often end up becoming singers? Is that some sort of masochistic thing?
YES! I would say so! It was extreeemely painful for me to get up and sing for people. I used to sing, with my sister and stuff, at parties- just accapella- and I would DIE before we’d go onstage. I would just get so afraid that I would lose my voice completely, I would shake so bad that I couldn’t sing… but I love singing, it’s my great musical love, so I never wanted to stop. I’ve always been compelled to it. The more shows we do, the better it gets, but I still get major stage fright and panic. Sometimes they (the band) have to smack me, throw stuff at me, to help me snap out of it! I guess it is masochistic, I don’t know why. It’s just the love of doing it that overrides the pain and fear.
I read that you were a twin. I just finished reading a book about twins and how there exists this secret language and intense bond between them. Is that true?
Courtesy of MSO
Yeah! Well, I’m a fraternal twin- so I’m not identical- but there’s definitely a bond that’s gotten even stronger as we got older- well, no, it’s always been there. I don’t know, I always wished we had more of a psychic connection. My sister’s really into travelling and I always wished that I could know what she was doing wherever she was in the world. Definitely a closeness like no other. Sometimes I think, or worry, that she’s gonna die and she’s definitely the person on the planet that I would be afraid of losing the most. ‘Cause she’s always been there, ya know. Wherever I was shy, she was not. Wherever I had shortcomings, she could pick up the slack, and wherever she had shortcomings I was better at those things. So it’s a balance.
This book I read is called The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. It’s a novel, with some haunting elements, but at its core it’s about twins. I couldn’t put it down, you should check it out.
Wow! I’m gonna get it and it sounds like it would be a perfect Christmas present for my sister- so thank you! (laughs)
With all of the bands, and scenes, that always come out of in and around L.A. is there any sense of community in the scene?
It’s hard in Los Angeles because there’s a lot of competition and it can be very music industry scene-y and gross. Then there’s also this too cool for school vibe that came out of the Silver Lake indie rock scene- which I have no time for that! I find it completely annoying and boring. But I, and we The Randies, are part of a really close-knit community of bands. We have a club every Tuesday night- actually it just moved to Fridays this last year- called Kiss or Kill. It switches venues every year, and the bands there have always been extremely supportive of one another. It’s a good thing to be a part of after dabbling in the other scenes in L.A. where you go to a club and people are only there to see their friend’s band play. No one’s interested in music, and in sticking around for a whole show. It’s refreshing to be part of an actual scene where people actually like music.
One of your first shows with The Randies was opening for The Breeders, and you’re a big Pixies fan. Did you get to meet Kim Deal?
Huge fan! I kind of hovered around her in the backstage area. It was a total fluke that we ended up playing with her. It was at Mr T’s Bowl and they already had the night booked with local bands, and then The Breeders contacted Mike Teevy- who was booking there- and asked if they could squeeze on cause they were trying to do a secret show before their tour. It was an awesome show, and she was really cool- from what I could tell. I didn’t actually meet her, face to face, until a few years later at a Pixies show…and that was just embarassing. It’s kind of embarassing to meet your idol sometimes.
Was it disappointing, or just awkward?
I was just really drunk! (laughs) I was just babbling about how we had played our first show ever opening up for her at Mr T’s… I was one of those things where you wake up the next day, hand to face, and go, “Oooohhhh, what did I say?” How embarassing! It’s not a shining moment in my past, but I just pretend it didn’t happen in that way, but it did. She was very polite though, she must have drunken fans climbing all over her all of the time so she must have some way to block it out.
Yesterday was an election day (Nov. 7th). Are you at all involved in politics, or current political issues?
I try to be aware. My sister- my twin- is a public defender, so she’s very involved in certain issues and holds these get-togethers that are political information gathering parties, basically. I try to stay (informed), but it’s really hard on the road ’cause I can’t get my daily fix of NPR which is what I really rely on. I don’t watch tv, so I never know what’s going on as far as network news. I was stoked with the outcome of the election! I though it was pretty amazing! Finally! We spoke up, so that was good.
Do you have any future tour plans?
We’re doing a short tour in December- just five days or something. In January we’ll head out to the East coast, try to do a residency out there, or something. We just keep lapping the country.
You need to get down here to Orlando.
That’s one thing we want to do! If we can get into some kind of residency and then tour up & down the coast. I really want to see the East coast- just for selfish reasons, but also to spread The Randies word! Yeah, I want to go to Florida, I’ve never been there. Except for the sharks. There are so many there! Don’t they just come up onto the sand and get’cha?!
They do, actually. That’s why we have to lock our doors at night, because in Florida the sharks can walk.
(laughs) I’m sure!
I fuckin’ love sharks. They’re fascinating. I grew up here so I didn’t realize that it’s not everywhere that you hear of shark attacks almost daily.
Really? Do you, like, see them swim by when you’re swimming and stuff?
When I was younger I worked on the beach and I boogie boarded a lot… I’ve seen the fins in the distance…
OH MY GOOOOD! That’s so scary!
They’re scary, but they’re amazing. They’re the perfect killing machine!
(laughs) Well, I saw this video- from a helicopter- of a Florida beach- and there were all of these swimmers and the camera zoomed out like 10 feet, or even closer, and it was just teeming with sharks. Nobody knew they were there- it’s scarrrry!!!!
Come to Florida, and I’ll keep the sharks away from you while you’re here.
A quick rush down the block, straight from The Casualties show, and I arrived into the much more spacious confines of The Social for Minesota’s Tapes ‘n’ Tapes. It was a completely opposite vibe from the madness of the punk show, and I welcomed the more relaxed atmosphere of an Indie Rock crowd.
Starting earlier than scheduled (“Do you want us to start now, or in 15 minutes?” the band asked the crowd after setting up.), T ‘n’ T opened with “Just Drums” and played through pretty much every tune on their debut release, The Loon. Compare them to Pavement all you want, but what I really hear in their complex song structures, nonconformist vocals and driving beats is the Pixies. The band’s irresistible songs (the spaghetti western rockabilly of “Insistor,” the sexy and chaotic rhythms and ah-oooh-ooh-ooh lyrics of “Crazy Eights”) are worlds better live than on disc. The highlight for me was when the quiet keyboardist, Matt Kretzmann, busted out a tuba on one of the greatest songs of the past year, “Cowbell.” A song so catchy I had to resist the urge to scream out “More Cowbell!” when it ended!
Tapes ‘n’ Tapes
The set is short (one album’s worth of music, ya know), but satiates my thirst for good Indie Rock. “Good” in the sense of meeting the bar set by bands of Alternative‘s past, before the saturation of the underground marketplace, when you didn’t have to sift through mountains of shit to find a diamond. Tapes ‘n’ Tapes bring me hope for a genre that can very easily become mundane, or at least repetitive.
We missed the opening act, Kentucky Prophet, due to a latent childhood attraction to Legos and the existence of the Legoland store near the House of Blues in Downtown Disney. Nonetheless, the crowd was enthusiastic when a black-clad Frank Black gave them props between songs shortly after the set began. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The club was sparsely populated when we got there, which was a bit surprising. It filled up some before the curtains parted, but it was never what I’d call crowded. Nice. Frank Black and some personal space seem to go together like coffee and mugs.
Smooth-headed and dressed in a black suit and shirt, the soon-shiny Frank Black led his capable band through a shortish set of Frank Black classics spanning his solo career and a couple of interesting covers. No Pixies songs, mind you. The man has class.
My familiarity with Black’s catalog is limited to a handful of songs and “Sir Rockabye,” a gem of a track off an obscure Hello Club EP (those need to be re-issued, Flansburgh). But I was surprised at how many songs I recognized off the stage — “Ten Percenter,” “Headache,” the smirking “I’m Not Dead (I’m In Pittsburgh)” off his new album, Fastman Raiderman. These were peppered with covers like Roxy Music’s “Re-make/Re-model” and Larry Norman’s “Six-Sixty-Six,” Black also credited that Pittsburgh song as being written “mostly by Reid Paley.”
The date — a Friday the 13th, in October no less — seemed a bit conducive to the overall mood of the set. Songs about dying, living a terrible life, making bad decisions, contrition, regret, paranoia… it seemed like Black was making a mix tape for a death-row inmate. Whether that was intentional or not, it worked to great effect.
Heavyset and shaved bald, Frank Black wouldn’t look out of place selling you tractor parts or running the latest PowerPoint on sales figures in the conference room. In this age of prettyboys, his presence on stage seems a mismatch, at least until he opens his mouth to sing. His bandmates — the legendary Eric Drew Feldman on bass, Duane Jarvis on guitar and Western Beat impresario Billy Block on drums — also looked distinctive, and played their instruments with whip-crack accuracy and ferocity. Drummer Block was particularly entertaining, grinning and bouncing his platinum Shih Tzu cut to the beat, often communicating with Black via grimaces. Black traded between his signature blonde Telecaster and an acoustic steel-string for his guitar in some songs, and Jarvis correspondingly put on his black Les Paul for something twangier (a hollowbody I didn’t recognize) in those numbers.
A handful of concert-goers wore Pixies hoodies and such, and I wondered what Black thinks of seeing them in the audience wherever he goes. His songs often carry part of that signature Pixies sound — the dropped measures, loopy chording and disjointed vocals — but it’s clear from this performance that he has amassed an outstanding body of solo work that will eventually dwarf his days with that band.
Stoley P.T. is one of the only bands that I know where their background is more entertaining than their music. Now I won’t get stupid; Lesson #1 is a funky, hard-nosed, rocker, approximating what it would sound like if The Pixies and Pavement had a kid, but once you hear the background, Stoley P.T. becomes even better. The frontman and mastermind behind the band is a guy only known as Stoley who used to front The Lupins (best known as that one band who sang that one song on the Dumb & Dumber soundtrack). Once their label dumped The Lupins, they disbanded. Typical story, right? Now enter Joe’s Apartment. Yep, the MTV movie with Jerry O’Connell. MTV had a contest where someone won an apartment in NYC for a year rent-free. How does this factor in? That’s how Stoley moved from Chicago to NYC. He won the contest. As he went looking for jobs he ended up landing a spot on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” as, among other characters, a gun-toting, NASCAR-driving Jesus. When he wasn’t working with Conan, he was writing songs and performing them to an ever-increasing audience all around the Big Apple. But he wanted a band, so he recruited Berklee College of Music graduate Rob Draghi on drums and Mark Turrigiano on bass (who was replaced after recording the album by Malaysian-born Janine Yoong). Since then the trio has been touring behind Lesson #1. As for the album itself, it’s not as interesting as the story you’ve just read. It’s intense, in-your-face indie rock that makes the listener feel joyous in his/her collective hopelessness. What exactly does that mean? It means if you are an indie geek with a penchant for a “Cat Bong” you’ve just found your new favorite group. If not, then take a listen anyway and find out why In Music We Trust is one of the best music labels on the planet.
My generation may have missed out on Led Zeppelin, but we’ve got Jack White.
Here’s the part where I unabashedly praise the man’s divine kills as a musician and songwriter and go so far as to say: Jack White silenced the death rattle of rock music with The White Stripes and has gone on to ensure the future of modern music with The Raconteurs. Was I excited to see the band- which pairs White with the brilliantly underesimated Brendan Benson and the solid Greenhornes rhythm section of Patrick Keeler and Jack Lawrence- play live? Truth be known, I was sick to my stomach with anticipation!
Opening with a 45 minute warm-em-up set of Beatles-inspired psychedelic rock was Dr. Dog. The classic pop sounds with a modern twist had the audience cheering for the modest band from Philadelphia. With two vocalists and an eclectic combination of sounds- from Beach Boys sweet harmonies to Pixies eccentricities- Dr. Dog were a perfect fit for the night’s big bill.
As I secured my spot front and center in the photo pit, the idle chatter behind me suddenly ceased and evolved into a roar as the house lights fell and 1, 2, 3, 4, the Raconteurs stepped onto the Hard Rock Live stage. An instrumental improvisation loosely following the chord progressions of “Hands” only furthered the 3,000 fans’ building pandemonium. From the second the intro turned into “Intimate Secretary,” we were all on a roller coaster ride where the twists, drops, and rolls got increasingly more fierce.
There are bands that sound great live. They nail every note, sound just like they do on record, and there’s nothing wrong with having that kind of consistency… but when you get together a group of musicians who are so in tune with one another that the songs can ebb and flow with seemingly no vocal communication between band members and sound so tight that they seem to have spent hours rehearsing the subtle changes- then you have a truly exciting live band. Take a guess at which kind of band The Raconteurs are.
They’ve only got one album of tunes to pull from so in between those 10 perfect melodies we were gifted with diverse covers. We’re witness to “It Ain’t Easy” (David Bowie) and an unbelievable rendition of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang.” The song had already reached high levels of cool when Quentin Tarantino used it for the shocking opening sequence of Kill Bill, but The Racs have rocketed the song even further out of the “cool” stratosphere.
The camaraderie between bandmates- particularly between White and Benson- should squash any doubts that this band is merely a side project. They seem to be genuinely having a blast onstage, and it’s nice to see Jack relaxed and smiling onstage. Free of his White Stripes persona he can shake free the restraints he placed upon himself in that band and explore new terrain. (Note: But Jack, don’t hang up the red, white and black outfits for good. You’ll break my heart if ya do!)
The Raconteurs are in the infancy of what is sure to be a monumental career.
To see more photos of this and other shows, go to jencray.com.
You can say that any indie rock band with off-kilter vocals, unconventional melodies and experimental drum beats could trace their lineage back to Pavement. You can cite Pixies as a major influence on a band’s seemingly nonsensical lyrics and vocal yelps. What is more difficult is to acknowledge these common jumping-off points and still discover a reason to listen deeper.
Indie Rock saw its heyday in the late ’80s/early ’90s. After this “Alternative” music went mainstream (thank you Nirvana) the wonderfully quirky world of the once-underground got so saturated with blah that many of us moved on in search of new fresh sounds as the millennium approached (thank you White Stripes). It has been recently that the world of oddball experimentation in rock music has become interesting once more.
Minneapolis natives Tapes ‘n’ Tapes have come to remind us that often times a banal form of music can still have its moments of transcedence even in an era where the chioces of music to listen to are billions and they’re all at our fingertips (or on our friend-lists). The band’s full length debut The Loon has a brilliance that sneaks up on you. From opening moments of infectious grooves in “Just Drums” to the closing power chords and soft rock-a-byes of “Jakov’s Suite” here is a release to get excited about! No tracks to skip, and a repeat player to be sure.