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Congrats, Sharon!

The biggest of congratulations to lovely Sharon on the release of her wonderful new album Tramp, which came out last week. So happy to see people loving the album so much – it is gold. Yay.

Here is a thing I wrote about the last time we sat down, a few months ago. TLOBF posted it on their site also. I have pasted it below. Looking forward to seeing Sharon play at the Cargo in a few weeks!

Interview: Sharon Van Etten

Sharon Van Etten is a special person. Genuine, passionate, humble and talented; she’s a rare combination of many great things. On this occasion, we sit down to talk upstairs in a cosy Paddington pub. It’s the last day in a week of European press ahead of her forthcoming record Tramp, to be released on the 7 February 2012 by Jagjaguwar.

I’ve been a fan of Sharon’s music for the past three years. Along with her self released home recordings CD, she has also put out two records – Because I Was In Love and the glorious Epic. The last time I saw her was in her natural habitat of Brooklyn last summer when Sharon and her bassist Doug took me to see their new rehearsal space. They’ve since moved in, and Sharon reports; “It’s awesome. It’s so great. We share with one other band – Plus Minus, but they’re only there two nights a week… and it’s set up to record. We can go whenever we want, basically”.

I ask her what she’s been up to since the summer. She excitedly answers “ I finished my record! And I’ve been getting a new band together. I just added a singer – Heather Woods Broderick.” Heather (sister of Bella Union’s Peter Broderick) is sitting across the room. “And I still have the same bass player, Doug Keith, but he’s going to be playing guitar. I just got a new drummer. But we haven’t practiced as a four piece yet, so I’m really excited. When we get back to the States we’re going to start rehearsing the songs.”

Sharon is (clearly and understandably) well loved in the musical community, and Brooklyn is known for its bands aplenty – so it’s no real surprise that such an impressive cast of musicians appear on her new record. The list includes: Julianna Barwick, Zach Condon (Beirut), Thomas Bartlett, Matt Barrick (The Walkmen) and Jenn Wasser (Wye Oak). The album was produced by Aaron Dessner, of The National.

I ask how she ended up with such a stellar credits list. She replies she came to record with these artists through “touring with them, working with them and meeting them through Aaron” and further explains; “It was a combination of his friends and my friends that play on it. It’s funny because the winter is a good time of year when people aren’t really touring, so a lot of my friends were home that weren’t home when I was working on Epic. So, I was really glad they were around. I had a lot more time to schedule other people coming in because it was over the course of the year as opposed to two weeks.”

The album was mostly recorded in Aaron’s back yard studio at his home in Ditmas Park. Sharon describes the space as small and mentions, prior to recording Tramp, it had only been used to record High Violet and the Red Hot Compilation. On working with Aaron, she enthuses: “He’s so awesome. He was everything I could have asked for in a producer. He wanted to work with me because he was a fan and he just wanted to make my songs sound as good as he could. He didn’t want to cover up my voice, he didn’t want to overplay. He challenged me a lot because he knows how to do instrumentation much better than me. I don’t know how to talk in terms of theory, I don’t know how to tell a horn player what to play, you know? And I’d say yes or no if something wasn’t working. It was definitely a learning process, I’m not used to that many people working on a record, and having that much time, and having everything at my fingertips at that moment.”

So what’s next? Sharon anticipates a lot of touring is on the cards. “Tour like nuts. I want to improve my live shows. I’m excited to tour with Shearwater and War on Drugs. Before, with Shearwater, I was their tour manager… but we’ve only gotten to play together once”. That one time happened to be supporting Beirut at The Forum in London. “That was the first time I met Shearwater. And after that I tour managed them, but now we get to tour together. I’m excited.”

Sharon has previously worked at Ba Da Bing, the New York label founded by Ben Goldberg who now acts as her manager. Between working at a label and tour managing Shearwater, Sharon has a fair amount of experience of being on the ‘other side’ of the music industry. She agrees: “Yeah! I want to learn all aspects, you know?! Because, it’s nice to learn how to do everything so you know how everything works. I want to be able to learn from that, and I want to be able to help my friends as well. Outside of playing music, one day, I’d like to have another job within the music industry; and I think learning how to do everything is important. Just so you don’t become a spoiled musician and demand things of other people and have no idea…”

Talking to Sharon, it’s easy to get a sense of how much she loves music. The first summer I met her, she wrote me a list of bands to listen to. Included in the list were Timber Timbre, Forest Fire and The Antlers. I tell her that every time we meet I feel like I should ask for a tip. She recommends Olga Bell, laughs and adds “now I want to rack my brain for you…”.

Upon Sharon’s recommendation, I went to see She Keeps Bees live at a pub in Hackney, at their first UK show, almost three years ago now. The duo, Jessica Larrabee and Andy LaPlant, also live in Brooklyn and are a terrific band. Sharon asks if they’re in town (they practically live in Europe these days). “I haven’t seen them in so long now. I miss them. Jessica is so awesome. You know, she was one of the first people that we, just for fun, sang on each others’ songs, played shows together and stuff. They lived in my old neighbourhood and I didn’t have many friends in my old neighbourhood. It was really nice to just hang out and play. She would just play me new songs she was working on. Although she was super shy. She probably still is…”

I’d say Jess is a charming brand of shy. She can silence a room with her phenomenal voice and the stage banter is hilarious, though sometimes unfairly self-depreciating. Sharon laughs: “Did she ever tell the story, when her mum came to visit and she wanted to go bra shopping?” Yes. I think when Jess gets nervous between songs, her instinct is to talk about underwear shopping. Sharon continues to laugh.

It’s always a joy talking about music with Sharon. On Tune-Yards she gushes “she’s SUCH a great performer” and when we get on to Beach House adds “I need to listen to Teen Dream more. I was obsessed with Gila. It was on repeat for me. It was the soundtrack of 2009.”

I confess that I didn’t actually prepare any questions and I can’t think of any more off the top of my head. Talk turns to the weekend, burgers and then cats. Sharon asks “You’re a cat person? You grew up with cats, right?”. This is correct. She continues: “It’s only been the last five years that I’ve known I’m a cat person. I like dogs, but I’ve never really been around them. My old roommate was a huge cat lover so that was the first time I lived with animals, outside of the goldfish or hermit crab.” Hermit crab strikes me as a strange pet, and I tell her I’m not into that. She springs to their defence – “oh they’re super harmless. They don’t move very fast”. I explain I just dislike their existence in general. Sharon laughs hard. “Their existence? What? What has a hermit crab ever done to YOU, Anika?!” It’s a fair question.

To sit down with Sharon is always such a delight. She’s sublimely talented; her latest album, Tramp, is arguably her best yet. It showcases her songwriting at its finest. Aaron’s production is perfect. Her beautiful voice is gloriously at the forefront of the album; a tremendous instrument she wields like a master. It is wonderful. But not only this, she is also a humble and passionate woman; genuinely grateful for those working around her and appreciative of her talented friends. The live show packs a real punch with the full band, and I can only anticipate it’s going to get stronger and stronger. Sharon Van Etten is something special and 2012 will certainly be her year.

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Interview: Prince Rama

I wrote up an interview in prose for The Line Of Best Fit. It’s in PROse. Like a pro -

INTERVIEW | PRINCE RAMA

Learning about Prince Rama is a bit like watching season three of LOST without having seen seasons one and two. Trust Now is their fifth record. Fascinating, mysterious, curious and strange, you can’t help but want to glean more of their story.

Prince Rama is Takara and Nimai Larson. The sisters’ musical offerings through their swirling psychedelic pop conjures up visions of Middle Eastern palaces, midnight desert rituals and journeys on magic carpets. Takara says they find it “kind of funny” that a lot of press seems to assume they’re on drugs (they’re not). Their sound is confrontational, tribal and surreal. “Just recently I became interested in the process of glossolalia.” Takara says. That means speaking in tongues, in simple-people speak. “It feels so much more personal because it is getting in touch with this primal relationship with language that so often becomes hazy and obfuscated when you’re limited to only using pre-existing vocabularies.”

The new album (and its predecessor) was released this year on Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks label. “All the Animal Collective dudes have been really amazing to work with, and feel inspired by” Takara says. “Before we met them though I worked for this architect, Paul Laffoley, who has been a huge source of creative and philosophical inspiration over the years. He is a true visionary in every project he works on, whether it be building a levitating city, a house you can grow from a seed, or a time machine harnessed to a neutron star. Whatever it may be, his work is incredibly mindful of the relationship between architecture and utopic space, an idea I have really taken to heart and have tried to apply in my own endeavors.”

It’s no surprise they find Laffoley to be such an inspiration. The 71 year old artist and architect has had an incredibly prolific career; previously working with Andy Warhol and Minoru Yamasaki, and regularly exhibiting his own other worldly multi-dimensional paintings. His aesthetic is highly thematic and bold, as is Prince Rama’s (take a look at the band’s album artwork) and the sisters list him among their primary artistic influences along with Rem Koolhaus, Antonio Gaudi, James Turrell and Damien Hirst.

Before the release of Trust Now the band invited friends (which included G. Lucas Crane of Woods and Damon McMahon of Amen Dunes) to sing karaoke versions of songs from the record, which were recorded and posted online. The uncomfortable intimacy and Twin Peaks-esque surrealism was quite brilliant. “I’m pretty into the idea of karaoke on a paranormal level. It is the most banal form of possession. The act of singing someone’s song and trying to channel the mannerisms and nuances of that person, whether they be alive or dead, a close friend or a distant stranger, is a way of  unwittingly opening oneself as a vessel to channel the spirit world… not so unlike the tradition of mediumship. It is fascinating to me because of this inter-dimensional connotation,” Takara notes, “much more so then just asking people to remix songs or something.” On topic of karaoke, you’ll be pleased to know Elvis, Ace of Base and Lee Hazlewood rank highly in Takara’s list of favourite karaoke party jams.

What Prince Rama do so well is create their own world within and around their music, with the songs themselves being dense, complex and unusual. The sisters sing in various languages, and hearing other people trying to imitate them gives a whole new level of appreciation for their talents.

The artwork, the sound, the feel of the music, as with everything, is all about context. Takara agrees “Of course! It is the vessel in which the essence can be delivered. Both have to be there. Otherwise you just have a hollow shell with no substance or an amorphous substance with no chalice to drink it from.” In terms of the best time to listen to the album, she ponders, “Maybe Fall? I love the warm bright golds, orange, and crimsons. All very healing colours energetically. There is this paradoxical symbolism embedded in the aesthetics of Fall as well that is  really appealing. The focus on death and decay while simultaneously honoring the ritual of the harvest, nourishment, and ultimately growth and transformation. Putting out an album feels like honoring a simultaneous death and harvest. Its release marks the end of an era  for the people writing it. It is the culmination of a long period of growth and each of the songs become fruits of its harvest.”

And a truly magical experience the harvest of Trust Now is indeed. Rounding up our interview, I ask Takara what she trusts in most of all. With no hesitation, she responds “NOW”.

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Interview: St Vincent

Below is a transcription of a chat I had with Annie a coupla months ago for TLOBF. Her new record is out today and it’s great. She’s great to talk to. It was nice to get the chance to chat with her again.

Interview: St Vincent


I sit down with Annie Clark, aka St Vincent, at a hotel, after a day of photos and interviews. It’s a couple of months before the release of her third record ‘Strange Mercy’. She tucks into a snack from EAT.

Anika: I go to EAT for lunch sometimes

Annie Clark: Yeah?

A: I have turkey and cheese, with salt and vinegar crisps and a coke.

AC: Every day?

A: Not every day. That would be sad. How’s your day been?

AC: It’s been good. A little long, but good.

A: I came to the show yesterday, the Rain Dogs Revisited one. I enjoyed your songs. What was it like playing with that band?

AC: That’s a good band! A really good band. I loved every individual player. Sometimes you can get a group of really good players who don’t all play well together, but this was a really sympathetic and intuitive band. A band of people; and they played really well together. I think it’s rare, I’m realising more and more, how rare it is to get to have these communal experiences like that, that are different from… like, the communal feeling you get at a sporting event when you’re rooting for the destruction of someone. This, I’ve only known those people for less than a week, I just walked into rehearsals, flew in, had a dinner, did two hours of rehearsal then we had a show the next day. But I felt more connected and cared for them more than people I’ve known for a long time.

A: Wow.

AC: I won’t name names, but…! I think it’s rare, and really special, to have such a team effort to put on a show. And not in a competitive way, all in this was like ‘oh shoot, Camille really nailed it!’. Everyone’s really bringing it…

A: It’s all for the mutual love of those songs.

AC: Exactly, exactly…

A: How did that all come about?

AC: I just got asked to do it. And that’s such a great record. Mark Cardenell, who put it together, and Dave Coulter who was the music director – really talented guys. And I worked with Mark before because I did this night of Brooklyn Music at this amphitheater in Lyon last summer. It was me, and The National, and Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings… and The Dirty Projectors.

A: Amazing. What I really liked about it was that I really like the idea of an album, and listening to it start to finish, not skipping anything. When you see it performed in that way you can really appreciate every single part of every song. Especially hearing it performed by different artists; every song gets its own spotlight. I was just thinking… if you were to do that with any other album, to have the chance to get your own crew together and do that, what would you pick?!

AC: Woah. That’s a really good question. Uhm. God. Well the thing about the Waits stuff… I love that album a whole lot. It’s tremendous. I felt emotionally invested in it, just as a listener. But then, once I started to learn the songs… I mean: I was very intimidated actually to learn the songs. I still have this thing where even though I have a trained ear, in a lot of ways, when I like something I think it’s magic. It still alludes me how they put it together. I can’t reason how these three simple ingredients… you know? I could never figure out the recipe. But once you start digging in and learning it, you go ‘oh okay’ and it demystifies it a little bit… I mean, there’s a period of it being demystified, then it swings back around to going: ‘Holy cow! This text is so rich! These lyrics are so rich!’ The characters speak for themselves. Even Downtown Train which is the most working class, almost Bruce Springsteen-y, fist pumper of a song, on that album, the dark horse on that album in some ways… that one, when I started to sing it, and sing the words, I found I really emotionally connected with it. But in a totally different way from how it’s presented on the album. It took on its own life, like an alien spawn inside of me.

A: Intense! It was cool to hear all those interpretations. Returning to what you said earlier, about being all in it together, the day before that show, I saw another show at the Barbican. It was called Congotronics Vs Rockers.

AC: Oh!! Congotronics! Sooo cool!

A: It was the coolest thing.

AC: Was Battles involved?

A: No, it was Wildbirds & Peacedrums, who I know you toured with.

AC: I LOVE them!!

A: I love them too. They constantly amaze me with their creativity.

AC: Was it just the two of them?

A: So for Congotronics, it was them, Deerhoof, Juana Molina… and then Konono No 1 and the Kasai Allstars.

AC: Fuck you! That’s the coolest lineup ever.

A: 19 members all on stage at once, taking their own songs and interpreting them in different ways, and just jamming new jams together.

AC: Oh my god, so cool. Was it amazing?

A: It was amazing. I’d never seen the Barbican flip out like that. People in suits, getting up and dancing. Losing it.

AC: Oh my god. I wish I could have seen that.

A: I knew you had toured with Wildbirds, as well. So how did that go on that tour?

AC: Lovely. They are just the loveliest people. It was just so easy. Again, it just comes down to this super-team-spirit camaraderie. Mariam just sings from here; it’s the most guttural, amazing thing. It was nice to have this counterpoint and get to talk to them backstage, or talk to her about singing. She’ll look you in the eye, she has a lot of power. She’s a very powerful person. It was nice to have this energetic person who I really looked up to…

A: I love the way she moves. I guess when you’re playing you always have your guitar. How would you be if you didn’t have your guitar. Would you dance?

AC: I would probably have to, right? Or… I would do the exact opposite.

A: Stand still?

AC: Stand perfectly still probably.

A: That might be awkward…

AC:… OR, awesome.

A: Hmm, perhaps. Maybe you should have a go.

AC: Maybe I will.

A: So. I guess it’s been two years since you were here. What have you been up to? Made an album………? Where did you record it?

AC: I recorded it at John Congolton’s studio in Dallas.

A: And you worked with him on Actor as well.

AC: I did. I finished Actor with him. I actually started with another producer and it didn’t work out very well, so I called John. “Johnny, baby, I need your help!”. And basically started over. And made Actor. We kept all the woodwind parts but basically started over.

A: I’ve only had a chance to listen to the new album, uhm, one and a half times, but I thought it was excellent.

AC: Thanks!

A: It’s a lot to take in. But I think that’s a good thing, because if you listen to it once, and you feel that you’ve heard it… what’s the point? How do you feel you’ve changed from the last record?

AC: These songs are closer to my guts.

A: Are they all fairly new?

AC: Yeah. They’re less than a year old. Strange Mercy… I took that title for this album. I thought ‘oh’, it was like looking at all the other songs through that prism and realising there was a thread, and that was the thread.

A: What is a strange mercy?

AC: Well, in the instance of the song, you’re telling someone a merciful lie. You want to protect someone so you give a half truth… or, like in Chloe In The Afternoon, you’re looking for catharsis through an S&M scenario. You know there’s a lot of strange mercies in the world? There are lots of mammals, that when they give birth, cats for example, if there’s a runt in the litter, if it’s clear it won’t survive, the mother cat will devour it.

A: That is a strange mercy. A sad mercy.

AC: Yes. There’s a lot of that.

A: The album cover. This is the first without your portrait on. Why the change? Is that your mouth?

AC: It’s not. It’s sort of an homage to this Can cover; there’s a hand reaching through… I just thought it was funny. Funny in a dark way. We had to stretch white latex completely over someone’s face, so they can’t breathe… to get that shot.

A: That sounds logistically pretty difficult to pull off. What’s your plan for the next year?

AC: Touring! It’ll be busy. Tours. I’m playing London on November 9th.

A: Where are you playing?

AC: Royal… Festival Hall.

A: Really? No way.

AC: Oh. Does that not sound right?

A: That’s a big venue.

AC: That can’t be right.

[EDIT - SHE MEANS QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL]

A: It’s highbrow.

AC: Oh… I don’t think that’s where I’m playing. If you build it… they will come. So, yeah, touring. I start a US tour in October. Lots of press. All the normal album releasy stuff.

A: Are you looking forward to returning to touring?

AC: Yeah. I am. (laughs) Did you see my eyes glaze over? Like a Stepford Wife: ‘yes I like touring’. (laughs). No. I do. I feel comfortable, I’ve spent all my adult life on tours. And ironically, I think touring keeps you young.

A: Have you played in Japan?

AC: I toured with Sufjan in Japan. I love Japan! I think if the Japanese embrace you, it’s a great fanbase. I’ve been over there with my aunt and uncle and they’d play shows… and it was a really enthusiastic crowd.

A: Where do you prefer touring? Here? The States?

AC: I love being anywhere where there are people. I mean, I do quite a bit better in the States than I do here. So in terms of sheer volumes of people, I can do sell out tours of good sized venues. Here, it’s a little different.

A: Well if you’re playing Royal Festival Hall…

AC: Hah. I totally just threw that out. I have no idea.

A: I’ll find out and change ‘Royal Festival Hall’ to wherever you’re actually playing.

AC: Probably, like, a Flannery’s Pub…

A: Yeah, Weatherspoons. You’re playing in Weatherspoons. Anyway… what have you been listening to lately?

AC: Lately? Oh! I’ve been listening to a band called the Pop Group. They’re GREAT. You would like them. They’re, like, demented funk. They put out a record called ‘Y’ in 1979.

A: Great year for music.

AC: Yes! Recession equals good music. Also lots of Nick Cave. But that’s always. But yeah, Pop Group: Y. It’s just the letter ‘Y’.

A: Sounds hard to Google.

AC: Ha! Yeah. Took me some searches.

A: Have you had much time to relax during the time off, or have you been busy with odd shows and stuff?

AC: Actually, so after I finished the record in mid April, I had May. May was pretty quiet. And part of June.

A: What do you do when you’re not doing music things?

AC: I mean, I still do music… but just, like, living in NY. I got very social. I’ve been getting very social. Like, when I was in Dallas recording I really didn’t see anyone. You can’t go out and drink and show up to the studio the next day and expect to have your bearings… so I was pretty much isolated. Pretty much me and John in a room for two months together. May and June were very social. Saw a lot of shows…

A: What did you see?

AC: I saw James Blake at La Poisson Rouge, it was really great. I saw… this tribute to Kate McGarrigle.

A: Oh! I saw the London show.

AC: It was so beautiful.

A: The London one was so soon after she passed away. People were crying on stage, breaking down.

AC: Oh my god. I can’t imagine…. it was intense. It was still intense a year and a half later. But beautiful.

A: I’d love to see that Kate McGarrigle show again. They wrote some great songs. It really slipped by a lot of people….

AC: I know!!! It really does.

A: You say, do you like Kate and Anna?

AC: Yeah! And they’re like ‘who?’. Yeah. I didn’t really know them until recently. Who else? Oh! Justin Vivian Bond! She used to be in this group called Kiki and Herb. It’s this cabaret, synth trance show. She’s such an incredible performer. I’ve seen that show at Joe’s Pub like six times.

A: I like all the music videos you’ve done in the past. What’s next?

AC: We’re going to do one. Uhm… atleast two. Yeah!

A: How involved do you get in that? Do you find someone and say ‘here’s the song’…

AC: Yeah! Well, typically how it works is different directors will submit a treatment. I’ve worked with Terri Timely, the directing duo before…

A: I liked Actor Out Of Work…

AC: Yeah! That’s disturbing. That psychologically took quite a toll on me. You know, they’re actors. Fake crying. But it was hard to sit across from people for hours, bawling their eyes out… I think the other thing is, I put it together later, I think the producer or whoever, had told the actors not to ‘bother me’. You know “don’t bother ‘the talent’”. So I’d be like ‘that was great!’ and they’d be like
‘thanks’ and skulk off. I felt responsible for their pain…

A: Are you into film? What good films have you seen lately?

AC: There’s a really dark film called Leap Year. That was… a friend of a friend’s friend, is John Waters and he recommended it. So we went to see it. It’s about a lonely woman in Mexico who starts having an affair with a guy who, errr…. like, there’s a lot of sex in the movie. It starts off with him slapping her during sex to, like, test the waters. You can tell she gets into it. So there’s crazy, intense, S&M style degradation. But…. you can tell there’s actual affection between them. But the intensity and pain in the scenarios gets more and more intense. I mean, I was kinda watching…. few things shock me, but this was shocking. And deeply disturbing. But really well made. A great film.

A: Would you ever consider directing?

AC: Ohhh… I don’t know. I know that I typically think in colours and more abstract ideas, to write. I don’t think about music or chords, that kind of building blocks stuff… so maybe it could work the other way. But this movie, Leap Year; don’t get it confused- there’s like an Amy Adams film where she falls in love with a chipper Irish lad…

A: I’ll be watching that one and be like: ‘Hmm, it’s not as dark as I was expecting’

AC: ‘So wait, when does Amy Adams get pissed on?’ ‘I’m waiting for the water sports scene!’. I hope they make an American remake and cast Amy Adams.

A: That would be… pretty interesting.

AC: ‘Hmmm, this is great but when does Amy Adams get her nipples burned with cigarettes? Hmm’.

A: You should pitch that to someone.

AC: (Laughs) It’s a really intense movie. It really fucked me up for a couple of days. But y’know, it was good.

A: Those are the best ones, that leave you thinking…

AC: Right. Tree Of Life was good. I walked out and I just couldn’t carry on a conversation for days.

A: Have you seen the film Dogtooth? That’s the last film that left me thinking for days.

AC: No!

A: It’s Greek. The concept is that this family have these three young adult kids, who have been kept in this compound their whole lives. They’ve been taught the wrong words for things, taught that you can never leave the compound or you’ll die etc. They understand nothing about the world… like, a cat comes in the garden and they freak out because they think it’s a monster. They’re insane.

AC: Do they ever leave?

A: I won’t tell you.

AC: Oh! Don’t spoil it. I really want to see it.

A: It’s amazing. Just like, wow. You’re parents have a lot of responsibility to… not destroy your life like that. You should check it out.

AC: I really want to.

A: Would you like to do music for a film?

AC: I’d love to.

A: Can you think of any directors in particular?

AC: Terrence Malick. Werner Herzog. Lynne Ramsey. Claire Denis…although she already has Tindersticks locked down. Actually, Kelly Reichardt…

A: Have you ever been asked by anyone?

AC: Yeah. Little bits. Sometimes people will come and say ‘we really want to use this Rolling Stones song but we can’t afford it, can you do a sound-a-like?’. And that’s not very fun. No. If the director’s at that point of knowing what they want but it’s too expensive, they’re never going to be happy with whatever.

A: That’s all. Thank you so much.

AC: My pleasure.

Then I confuse Annie talking about jellies and jams and burgers and scare her saying I don’t like vegetables. What a nice lady. Warm, friendly, clearly very intelligent, articulate and incredibly talented. Strange Mercy is a stunning and brilliant record.

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Intrview: Common Prayer

This is an interview I did a little while ago with Alex and Jason of Common Prayer. The interview was originally published over on TLOBF. Here it is again incase you missed it.

Go here to hear their musics. Hopefully 2011 will see the band back over here!

Interview: Common Prayer

Can you think of two sentences that rhyme to describe Common Prayer?

Common Prayer sat in a chair, all the while people just stood and stared.
Their mouths fell open and no sound came out – but still the people began to jump and shout.

How has 2010 been for you?

Jason Russo: Busy, fruitful, fun.
Alexandra Marvar: A thrilling series of trial and error.

Did you enjoy coming to the UK? What were your highlights?

A: We very much enjoyed coming to the UK. Highlights included not being turned away at customs, Robin Bennett’s birthday show in Oxford, how fast the trains go, the ancient monk-made causeway in Steventon Oxfordshire, rocky Brighton beaches, the civilian orchestra at Paddington Station, learning what Cornwall is, and Neil Halstead trying to teach us to surf.

Do you have many new songs?

J: Oh yes. Some of which we began recording near the sea in Cornwall. We are very excited. We are aiming for a “The Books remixing the White Album” vibe.

A: It’s good to have goals.

How did you find and choose the images for the There Is A Mountain album cover?

J: The front was designed by Alex and a very talented young man named Mat Hudson aka Orphan Elliot. He makes me hopeful for graphic design and art in general. We wanted to fit everyone we knew on the cover – this is as close as we got. There are several generations of our families in there.

A: Also some mugshots of criminal offenders from the 1800s, and Werner Herzog.

Do you have a favourite mountain and why?

A: Mount Ararat because of its mythical proportions, but also because once I hung out at an elementary school of kurdish muslims at its base, then scrambled into its foothills to participate in the scattering of the ashen remains of a secret descendant of Attaturk, and then it rained for the first time in months—it was a very favourite-mountain-making type of experience. Mt. Denali in Alaska is pretty great too. Its size is inconceivable even if you’re staring at it.

J: I love the Catskills cuz I grew up hiking in them, lately I have been longing for the huge mountains of the American West though. My brothers and I plan to wrestle the bears there.

What’s the plan for 2011?

J: More music. We hope to be over there in the spring, maybe to finish some more recording, definitely to play some shows. Our second record will be ready by summer I think…

A: More travel. I have spent the latter half of 2010 devising massive list of excuses for us to come back to the UK.

Can you tell us about the O+ Festival and how it went? It looked really cool.

A: It went so well! Participating artists were paid for their art and music with medical, dental and other health services from art-loving doctors. Some of my favorite bands got cavities filled. Doctors’ appointments, chiropractic care, eye exams, acupuncture… Also there was tons of great music and giant wheatpaste posters all over the Catskills/Hudson River Valley neighborhood of uptown Kingston, where I live. So, we had a ball. We’re filing for non-profit status and already planning next year’s fest. Watch some videos at www.opositivefestival.org.

What are your favourite records from this year?

A: The Books The Way Out, Foals Total Life Forever, Liam Singer Dislocatia
J: The Silent League But You’ve Always Been The Caretaker, Sereena-Maneesh Abyss in B Minor, Favourite Sons The Great Deal Of Love

Seen any good bands live lately?

J: At O+ we saw a lot of amazing folks including Nina Violet and Phosphorescent, at CMJ we danced around to Darlings, and at ATP New York we loved Papa M, and Dungen. At Truck Festival we fell in love with Islet (our new favorite band from Wales). I guess we only see bands at festivals lately.

A: Actually, I just saw Tunng recently in Brooklyn. I coveted their array of jangly percussive things and their sampler situation.

Alex, if you could give Jason a super power, what would it be?

A: I would give Jason immunity to illness.

Jason, if you could give Alex a super power, what would it be?

J: I would give Alex the power to read minds.

In a movie about Common Prayer, who would you get to direct and play each band member?

A: I guess I would be played by Parker Posey? The part of Karen Codd would be played by Michelle Williams. The part of John Anderson would be fought over by Jude Law and Owen Wilson and Jude Law would win. For the part of Jason, Alex would cast Robert Downey Jr., though Jason has occasionally elicited heckling cries of “Jeff Goldblum!” from his audiences. And Woody Allen will play his inner child. I will leave the casting of our English members up to a more knowledgeable transatlantic casting director.

Recommend something? It can be anything…

J: I recommend cured Italian meats (thinly sliced), the films of Mike Leigh and Robert Altman (well, Shortcuts at least), tarp camping or at least 3 nights a year sleeping outside with out a tent, the poems of Ikkyu, the band Magma (or just watching this), push-ups, trying not to buy too many things, the book “Underworld” by Don Delillo, a good knife, flossing/tongue scraping, kombucha, killing something and eating it at least once in your life, and making eye contact with people.

A: David Berman’s Actual Air. Specifically “Self-Portrait at 28″.

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Interview: Wildbirds & Peacedrums

Interview: Andreas Werliin (Wildbirds & Peacedrums)

Many a moon ago (like, a year and a half ago), I did a little interview with Mariam, one half of the Swedish duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums. It’s quite long and fun, you can read it here. Here is an interview I recently did with Andreas for (and originally published on) The Line of Best Fit.

(Andreas) Hello Anika- Great to see you last time!

Hello! How are you?

I’m all good – preparing for the upcoming Japan tour.

What have you been up to since we last saw you here, back in May?

We have finally moved from Gothenburg and we ended up in Stockholm. A safe choice.

I love the way Wildbirds & Peacedrums’ live show is constantly evolving. Last year you had a drum circle, this year a choir. What next?!

Well, the combination would be amazing. 20 drummers and a 20 piece choir.

What inspired you to call in the use of the choir?

Since we have toured constantly the last years just the two of us decided we really needed to bring in some other people. We like to double our sound instead of adding sounds, so voices it was.

I saw that the wonderfully talented Hildur Guðnadóttir did the choir arrangements for the new songs, how did you end up working with her?

We are huge fans of her work and when we heard that she’s also an arranger the choice was easy.

You’ve released ‘Retina’ and ‘Iris’, two separate EPs which form ‘Rivers’. What made you release the album in two halves?

We didn’t want this release to be “our 3rd album”, we feel it’s more of a conceptual side project. And the ideas of two sides that differ and still complete each other was inspiring.

For me, the energy of Wildbirds & Peacedrums really comes across live. It’s clear both you and Mariam love performing live. What is it that you love so much? How does it make you feel?

It’s definitely the physical side of playing live that we like. The direct contact to the audience and the way a room vibrates. We are improvisors and can’t play a song the same way twice unfortunaly.

What’s your favourite show you’ve played?

I still think it’s at the Goldmund festival 2008. The audince made that show very memoriable.

Do you have a favourite song to play live?

No, and I hope we’ll never get a hit song!

How did the US tour with St.Vincent go?

It was like a family vacation – squeezed in to a SUV we saw the Redwoods and the Grand Canyon. St Vincent was great to tour with as well, really nice people.

You’ve played all around the world, is the reaction to your show the same globally or is there a noticeable difference between the US and Europe?

The best countries to play is where they actually have a need for live music. Both in US and in Europe everyone is so spoiled with great live bands – play for hard studying Chinese students and you’ll feel that your music actually matters.

How long have you been playing the drums? Can you play any other instruments?

I was banging cans in the kitchen before I could walk – it’s like I haven’t had a choice. No other instrument has caught me actually…

Who are your favourite drummers?

Paal Nilssen-Love, Jim White and Nana Vasconselos. Oh and Little Dragons drummer Erik Bodin, he’s fantastic!

What are some of your hobbies outside of music?

I actually just picked up skateboarding again after a 12 years brake – the rush that comes from falling in high speed is uncomparable.

What music have you been listening to lately?

45rpm instrumental remix vinyls played at 33rpm is like listening to music the way it was supposed to sound.

5 hopes for the coming year?

That our right wing gouverment doens’t win the election. That my Grandmother stay healthy. That we get a cat. That people finally understands that fashion blogs is dangerous. And that the upcoming Dr Dre album is as amazing as The Chronic and 2001. That would make my year

Wildbirds & Peacedrums are a phenomenal band. Their music is unique. They have a show with the Voices choir at Union Chapel this coming November. Be there!

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