Posts

Photo: Kimberly Adamis
Photo: Kimberly Adamis

Lots of Heart On Ann Wilson’s Latest Album

Heart is one of the most popular rock bands of all time, with a catalog of hits like 70s and 80s radio staples “Alone,” “Crazy on You,” “Barracuda” and “These Dreams,” among many others. These classic rockers have sold more than 35 million records on the strength of Ann Wilson’s iconic voice and her sister Nancy’s exceptional guitar work.

While the Rock & Roll Hall of Famers are currently on hiatus, Ann Wilson is concentrating on her solo career this summer. She’s set to release a new album in mid-September and is now on tour with Jeff Beck and Paul Rodgers in what the trio is calling the Stars Align Tour.

“Touring for me is exciting as it ever was, and I still love it just as much as I ever have,” Wilson says. “This show is about the mastery of Jeff Beck, the incredible bluesy voice of Paul Rodgers and what I’m doing, so people can be rest assured they will go away humming.”

The tour makes a stop at Wolf Trap on August 20, though Rodgers will be MIA with only Wilson and Beck performing at the Filene Center.

“I’m not going to be harking back to the Heart stuff almost at all,” Wilson says of her upcoming set. “I only have one Heart song planned on the night. I’ll basically be covering the songs on my new record and doing songs that I have written over the last few years. It’s going to be really different but a lot of fun.”

Even though some fans may be disappointed that there’s not more Heart tunes being played, Wilson expects everyone to still enjoy her performance as most will be familiar with many of the songs. She feels it’s more important to support her new record than to draw from Heart’s discography.

“What I wanted with this [tour] is to be able to be shown as a singer. So far, we’ve done one show on this tour, but we got a fantastic response. I of course pay tribute to Heart by doing the one song, but I wanted to be brave and live on the edge and do new stuff.”

Wilson’s new release, Immortal, is named after the concept of the album, which is a tribute to some of the legendary musicians who are making the band in rock ‘n’ roll heaven even stronger.

“One of the criteria [for the album] was that all of the artists had passed on in the last few years,” she says. “The expressions these artists left in these songs are really great work, with great lyrics and great poetry. They need to be passed down in an oral tradition, sort of like cave drawings. They need to be left for generations to dig.”

With 10 tracks, Wilson pays homage to some of her favorite artists on songs that aren’t usually the first ones associated with the late musicians. For instance, her tribute to George Michael is with the song “A Different Corner” from his Wham! days, while she chose “Luna” to honor Tom Petty.

“I didn’t want to just go and cover a bunch of hits. My main theme was to honor the artists, so I went back through their bodies of work and found songs that really resonated with me, and it was really satisfying. I wanted to get really personal with the artists’ work.”

Of all the artists, she knew Chris Cornell the best, and honors him with the song “I Am the Highway.”

“I really love that song, and I wanted to bring it into a slightly softer acoustic mood without going all acoustic. I even play a flute solo in it. I just wanted the song to have a swing and be something people could feel ‘up’ about. The song itself is part of [Cornell’s] heart, and a wonderful song.”

Other tunes on the album include “A Thousand Kisses Deep” by Leonard Cohen, “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse and “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore. All three offer genres a little different than Wilson is usually associated with.

“I let the songs tell me what to do. The Cohen song is almost jazz and the Winehouse tune is almost gothic chamber music, so it’s definitely different for me. I welcome that and relish that. I’m always trying to push my boundaries out.”

Wilson is already thinking about what comes next after her tour ends. She’s formulating and developing an idea for an interactive storytelling tour and will continue writing when the mood hits her.

“I’m going to continue experimenting and moving ahead as long as I continue to enjoy it all,” she says. “I’m never going to become old and stale and do the same thing over and over. That’s not who I am.”

Catch Ann Wilson with Jeff Back at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center on Monday, August 20 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35-$75, and can be purchased at
www.wolftrap.org. Learn more about Wilson at www.annwilsonofheart.com.

Wolf Trap’s Filene Center: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; 703-255-1800; www.wolftrap.org

Photo: Colin Medley
Photo: Colin Medley

Dynamic Duo Partner Rocks DC

Lucy Niles and Josée Caron, better known as Partner, a Canadian rock duo with hilariously relatable lyrics and guitar chops for days, graced the DC9 stage Wednesday after making waves on the SXSW circuit in March. Ahead of their show, I sat down with the duo to talk inspiration behind their debut album, In Search of Lost Time, what it’s like working alongside a close friend, and how others can draw from their example to trust in their creative work.

Niles and Caron’s subject matter has an undeniable everyday appeal. With songs about making the most of weekdays off from a hectic work schedule on “Personal Weekend,” the paranoia that comes from being high in public on “Everybody Knows,” and the excitement of a new crush on “Play the Field,” listeners will find at least one relatable song on their first full-length album. The band says their inspiration for these songs comes from common threads amongst their lives.

 

Both on and off the stage, Niles and Caron have a palpable and cohesive energy that many duos spend entire careers honing. In addition to the two on guitar, an equally talented three-piece band joins them for live performances. While they were in college, Niles and Caron spent time in and out of different projects before they formed Partner in their post grad years.

“Everyone in the other bands moved away and it was kind of just me and Lucy. We were living together and it kind of was just exactly the right circumstances,” Caron says of the band’s eventual creation. “One day we were hanging out and there was this guitar beside me and I just started yelling words.”

“It was around when she was getting into weed, so we would just smoke and talk about childhood memories and stuff like that,” Niles adds.

Forming the band led to an eventual permutation of old friends, and with each tour and recording session, their relationship becomes deeper.

“It’s a really fast way to grow as people. I think our bond is stronger now,” Niles says.

Caron is quick to agree.

“We’ve been playing together pretty much since we met, casually at first, then we started touring together but not as seriously,” she says. “It just sort of built up, but we also live together so we’re together all the time anyway.”

While their sound is distinct and decidedly self-assured, Caron and Niles say they find their inspiration from a host of artists.

“It’s all over the place,” Niles says. “Sound wise, we’re influenced by Ween, obviously, because they’re pan-genre. We’re kind of more influenced by attitudes and energies or whatever.”

“[We’re even influenced by] people that aren’t known really at all,” Caron adds. “We love to discover.”

“Pretty much anybody that seems like they know exactly what they’re trying to say and… they sound like they’re free, that’s what inspires us,” Niles says.

The duo also draws inspiration from many non-musical places.

“We’re really obsessed with the Enneagram personality test,” Niles says.

“It’s kind of spiritual, so it’s like we’re on some kind of path,” Caron muses.

Niles agrees, adding, “We’re trying to improve ourselves and shit.”

Caron emphasizes that recently, reality TV is “for sure” a huge inspiration.

This attitude translated beautifully into Wednesday’s live show, where Caron impressively belted Lady Gaga’s “A Million Reasons” after telling the audience the recent Netflix documentary on Gaga’s life “changed everything” for her. They also covered Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m The Only One” and sang a new song that was inspired by a poem written by Caron’s boss. Both band mates smiled through the entirety of the song, as if no one in the world was ever going to have as much fun as they were in that momentexcept maybe for their audience.

One of the most refreshingly unexpected aspects of their album are the skits—seven in total—scattered throughout. Consisting mostly of recorded phone calls, the skits make perfect sense in a world of songs about the band’s everyday life. Perhaps the most hilarious are the ones including Caron’s supportive and funny dad. I asked her how she managed to get such great soundbites of her dad, and she tells me the band played a bit of a trick to get them.

“We knew we had to get him when he didn’t know he was being interviewed, and then we asked for his consent later,” she explains. “But it’s also my dad, and obviously from the record you can tell he really wants me to do this kind of thing.”

Niles adds that “We definitely would not have gone forward with it if he hadn’t been okay with it.”

The band knew they wanted skits to be a big part of the album, but the better parts of it came together later.

“We knew we wanted to have skits from the universe and stuff of our album,” Niles says. “We wanted people to feel like they were having a whole experience. We didn’t really have any ideas for a skit, and then we just smoked a bunch of hash.” 

Caron says the band “wanted to show our life and everyone who was involved in the record and everything getting made.”

Niles adds, “We definitely didn’t realize how the skits would be received. But then we came out with the skits, and a lot of people said that they loved them and a lot of people are like ‘we love your album, but we hate the skits’ so it’s like completely 50/50.”

While their subject matter and energy is carefree and playful, the powerful and positive example they set as talented women telling the stories of their everyday lives is not lost on the duo. I asked them for advice they would give to any young creatives who are afraid to put themselves out there.

“I don’t wanna say there’s nothing to be afraid of, but you deserve to be allowed to take up space if you want to. In that way, you don’t have to feel like you’re not allowed,” Niles says.

“I think that when you make something that you love, you can feel safe in your creation, and can look for that feeling of being supported by your art,” Caron says. “That will give you the strength and the momentum to  put yourself out there in whatever place makes sense for you. It’s really about finding your voice.”

For more information about Partner, click here

Photo: Soleil Konkel
Photo: Soleil Konkel

One Half DC, One Half NC, Full-On Hair Metal: Meet Bat Fangs

You never know who you’ll run into when you travel. You might think it strange to schedule an interview with a band that’s at least partly from the District during the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. But during our visit down south last month, we were able to secure an interview with fast-rising duo Bat Fangs.

Betsy Wright, one-third of DC-based rock band Ex Hex, and North Carolinian drummer Laura King released their self-titled album – a nod to the raucous hair metal of the 1980s – in February. Wright, who plays bass in Ex Hex, has put down the four-stringed instrument for its six-stringed cousin to produce speedy riffs, and King has found a serious niche rocking her drum set to the legendary genre of yesteryear.

Before their Luce Unplugged show on April 26 – part of a monthly concert series hosted by the Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM)’s Luce Foundation Center for American Arts – we wanted to give locals a chance to learn a little bit more about these retro-inspired rockers.

On Tap: How long have you two known each other, and did you share a musical connection before forming Bat Fangs?
Laura King: We met because our bands were playing together.
Betsy Wright: Our bands played shows together in 2015, and we met a few times. I was trying to start playing music with a drummer, and I just thought of her because she’s really good. We hit it off as friends and when I contacted her, she was super enthusiastic, so I just went down to North Carolina and we jammed. We just kept going
back and forth.
LK: I said “Yes” because I love Ex Hex and my previous band had just broken up, so I was in a bit of a rut as far as not knowing what I was going to do. I didn’t know she played guitar at first, but as soon as I heard her demos, I was like, “Wow, she shreds.”

OT: How long had you been “cranking acid-soaked, 80s hard rock for the living and the dead,” and when did you decide that you wanted to make a record in that genre?
BW: I wrote a bunch of the songs before we started playing, and that was what was coming out of my brain.
LK: Then we got together and both realized our love for 80s hair metal and glam. We rode that wave for awhile, and that’s how it ended up.
BW: That’s the music that I grew up on, and that’s the place I was at. Plus, I never stopped liking that music. Going back and listening, I started learning all kinds of guitar solos with that 80s metal sound. I just went through a phase.

OT: How different are your roles in Bat Fangs in comparison to previous projects?
BW: I never played bass before I was in Ex Hex, so that was actually the big learning curve. I always played guitar, so I was like, “I guess I can play bass.” But then I was like, “Oh sh-t,” because bass is a lot different. It took me awhile to figure out the feel. I ended up playing really evenly and very simply to be in line with the kick drum. However, when I’m at home and when I write songs, I play guitar.
LK: I think that this band has brought out the drumming I’m supposed to do. I played drums in lots of other bands, and some of them have been more hardcore or more punk. Some were really quiet, but I think this kind of sound has brought out the best of my ability. It worked out really well, and that’s what makes it so seamless.

OT: There’s a not-so-subtle use of zombie imagery in your album art that’s reminiscent of iconography used by bands like Black Sabbath and Metallica. Why did you decide to use that influence?
BW: We were talking about album covers, and we were trying to get people to do it, and no one would. So, I decided to draw it myself, and my favorite record cover from all the ones I kept looking at was Masters of Reality by Black Sabbath, which is just black with purple letters – it looks awesome. I just decided I was going to do something like that, so I drew it out and enlarged it. Laura put in Photoshop and added the colors; we made it together.

OT: What slasher flicks and other media in the genre did you draw from to create that atmosphere in your music?
LK: We watched some slasher movies.
BW: I read Dracula last year again, and I love Frankenstein – it’s like my favorite book ever. I always listen to the audio books of it around October. It’s weird because a few of our songs are like that, but there are some that are not like that at all.
LK: It was right around Halloween when we got together, and we put out a song around then, but [that was] way before our album.  

OT: How does living in different states impact how you both hear and write music? Is it seamless to combine those views when writing songs?
BW: It’s been really natural. Things came together really fast because we don’t have to explain stuff to each other, and we just kind of play. We mess around with different beats and arrangements, but it’s kind of easy. I’ll have riffs or lyrics to a song, and then we get together and work on it.
LK: We work together for days straight when we’re together, and jam for like six hours with lots of breaks. It’s fun.
BW: Sometimes, we’ll do freestyle jams and some cool riffs will come out of that, too.

OT: How many songs did you two throw out while putting together your album?
BW: We didn’t play together for that long, so we kind of recorded and boom, boom, boom. Plus, we don’t have that many songs on the record, so there aren’t too many, but we did throw out a few. They just didn’t fit.
LK: They didn’t feel right. We might revisit them.
BW: Plus, we’re always working on new stuff.

OT: When starting something new after a long stint in other acts, is there an inevitable sense of relearning a process of working with another person? Is that a refreshing experience?
BW: Yes, we’re still in the honeymoon phase. We get along really well, and it’s been fun because it’s new.
LK: Bands can be tough to be in; in my last band, my guitar player wouldn’t look at me for three months and I was like, “I can’t do this.” We’re really tight now, and we’re in another band together. But yeah, Bat Fangs is fun.

Catch Bat Fangs’ Luce Unplugged show on April 26 at 5:30 p.m.; show is free to attend. If you can’t make their SAAM show, catch them at 9:30 Club on June 5. Learn more about the band at www.batfangs.bandcamp.com.

SAAM’s Luce Foundation Center for American Art: 8th and F Streets in NW, DC; 202-633-5435; www.americanart.si.edu/visit/saam/luce

Photo: Holly Andres
Photo: Holly Andres

The Decemberists Experiment Sonically on I’ll Be Your Girl

The Decemberists are often both revered and pigeonholed as the founders of the modern folk movement – they’ve been playing accordions and wearing suspenders onstage since before it was cool (and commonplace to see) – and plenty a remark has been made about frontman Colin Meloy’s propensity to weave actual folklore into his narrative songwriting.

As bassist Nate Query astutely noted in a recent interview with On Tap, “I think early on, we were defined by the ways we were different from most bands – by having accordion and upright bass and folk instruments and songs with four-syllable words and stuff.”

But if you’ve ever seen the band live or spent a good chunk of time digging into their discography, you know that their skill, talent and creativity extends across any genre-lization. With eight full studio albums, several EPs, and a handful of collaborations and side projects under their belts, The Decemberists have proved that they are a musical force to be reckoned with – with some theatrics thrown in for fun.

The band released their latest album, I’ll Be Your Girl, this March and have embarked on the Your Girl/Your Ghost 2018 World Tour to support it. Many critics are hailing the album as a radical departure from the band’s traditional style and sound, aka the long ballads, operatics and epic poetry-type rock music we’ve become accustomed to receiving over the years.

Certainly, many of the tracks incorporate synths and techtronics, evoking a sort of 1980s video game-style, “analog” alternate reality, and producer John Congleton encouraged pushing toward the less expected choices. But it’s not as if The Decemberists of “The Upside Down” came through a wormhole to create I’ll Be Your Girl. Instead, the album simply crochets together multiple elements the band has used in the past and brings some of the less exaggerated ones to the forefront. After all, even in the most synth-heavy track, Meloy is still singing about a “cutting stone.”

“This record probably is full of some surprises for people, but really, even with this record where we branched out a little bit sonically, I don’t think we did anything we hadn’t already done,” Query says.

And yet, he adds, there is a definite art to staying both interesting and interested in making music together when you’ve been doing it as long as The Decemberists have been.

“When you’re mixing a new record, sometimes you end up building in certain challenges and parameters just to sort of make it interesting. Sometimes, you just pick up a different instrument because if it sounds different to you, [then] you’re going to get fresh ideas or sometimes, you just need to mix things up to keep it going. And I think [on] this record in particular, we tried to do a lot of that and really not be afraid to follow a weird idea down the rabbit hole.”

What is perhaps a more notable divergence from The Decemberists’ norm is the album’s obvious reflection of the zeitgeist. Rather than conjuring whimsical tales of old and allegorical references (though you’ll still find plenty of darlings and rivers and thistle in there), Colin Meloy and the band have been very vocal about how current events and the sociopolitical landscape in America influenced the making of this album.

In fact, Meloy recently described the sensation of moving from despair to humor in an interview with The Atlantic: “We’re having a very shared experience. It’s almost galvanizing, people coming out of the woodwork and saying, ‘Sh-t is f–ked up.’ There’s something therapeutic in looking at the apocalypse and laughing.”

“Everything is Awful,” for example, sounds ironically like The Lego Movie movie song “Everything is Awesome,” but with an obvious dark twist. In “Starwatcher,” an odd and ominous military-style percussion takes hold. And finally, “We All Die Young” has a trippy “Yellow Submarine” sensation with the added discomfort of having the voices of actual children on the track. And even Carson Ellis’s album artwork and accompanying short animations aren’t shy about being provocative – among other images, we see a cartoon version of Donald Trump with devil horns.

So while I’ll Be Your Girl may not be the radical sonic upheaval some have claimed, it does reiterate that The Decemberists are no amateurs. They are a skilled and experienced band influenced by both an awareness of the world around them, the lives that they lead alongside their musical ones and how all of those things are intertwined.

Query, for instance, was phoning from his son’s school where he was volunteering for the day. And while excited for the Your Girl/Your Ghost tour to bring “new stuff onstage, new things on [his] pedal board, new basses and ramping it back up after some down time this winter,” he says the band is equally excited for the opportunity to travel the country to visit spots like Red Rocks, Wrigley Field, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture – a chance to see the people and places that really are America.

Don’t miss The Decemberists at The Anthem on April 21. Tennis will open. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and tickets start at $45. Learn more about the band at www.decemberists.com.

The Anthem: 901 Wharf St. SW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.anthemdc.com