Posts

Photo: Chad Moore

Yeasayer Bring Episodic “Erotic Reruns” to 9:30 Club

A quick Google search on the band Yeasayer will show they fall under the genre of “experimental rock.” The Brooklyn-based trio consisting of Chris Keating, Ira Wolf Tuton and Anand Wilder have long been revered for their clever lyrics, electronic influence and inventive aesthetic.

But on their fifth studio album Erotic Reruns, released in June, the band looked to new sources for inspiration, drawing from the urgent and guitar-heavy sounds of seminal bands from the 60s and 70s. We caught up with Keating ahead of their stop in the District on July 12 to talk new music, the ideal setlist and why 9:30 Club is an important venue to them.

On Tap: Your new record Erotic Reruns has more guitar and rock influences than some of your past work. What inspired that sound to really come through here?
Chris Keating: I think we were looking to make something very immediate. I wanted the songs to be under three minutes and reference some of the 60s and 70s music I liked: some Bowie stuff [and] The Velvet Underground. We tried to make it guitar-based and not as electronic as some of our past albums.

OT: The shorter songs leave the album at just under 30 minutes (29:05 to be exact), which seemed like maybe a different approach to a full-length album.
CK: In theme with the title, Erotic Reruns, we wanted it to feel like a half-hour TV episode. People these days have a tendency to overload and pack an unlimited amount of material onto a streaming album. One of my favorite albums that came out in the last few years was the Pusha T album [Daytona] that was only seven songs long. I really appreciated that because I listened to it a few times and I was like, “Oh, a lot of other albums have like 21 songs on them.” We wrote about 20 songs and just decided it was a cool concept to come in under half an hour.

OT: The brevity almost makes you enjoy an album as a whole even more. Almost every album that I love has a couple of songs where I think, “I don’t really know why this is here.”
CK: It’s very rare that you can just listen to an album all the way through. And I think partly that is because we have this short attention span culture when it comes to music. It’s also partially because we want to curate our own singles, but it’s cool when an album can be played the whole way through. We tried to make it work that way.

OT: How did you decide what to include while avoiding filler or an overly long album kind of vibe?
CK: To be honest, I’m not really sure. At a certain point, you start listening through and you’re like, “Eh, I don’t know about this one” or “Yeah, let’s do that one” or “Let’s put out another seven-song record in a year.” When you start listening to them and you think [about] what works together in a group, some things stand out as outliers. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s really sort of an aesthetic decision.

OT: Yeasayer already has a rather large back catalog of music before you even factor in the new album. How do you curate the setlist you have now, and balance the old and new?
CK: We basically play the entire new album because it’s short enough. Then, we still have another 45 minutes of stuff from older records to play for [a total of] an hour and 15 minutes. You’re playing a new song, an old song, a new song, an old song. It usually works out pretty well if we time it right.

OT: It must feel good to incorporate a little bit of both. I would imagine as an artist who just made this new material, you’d really want to share it but not forget about older material or audience favorites.
CK: Oh, definitely. I hate it. I mean, just like everyone else, I hate it. I hate going to see a band when I know they’re only playing new stuff. We are very much of the mindset of, if a song was popular 10 years ago, you just keep it in the rotation. Maybe you shuffle some in and out. I guess there’s some level of artistic integrity to abandoning your back catalog, but I always thought it was a little frustrating.

OT: Speaking of live shows, you recorded your live album Good Evening Washington D.C. at 9:30 Club in 2013. Why did you decide to record it there, and what are you looking forward to being back there on your upcoming tour?
CK: Anand [Wilder] and myself both grew up in Baltimore. When we were in high school, the 9:30 Club was a really big deal. Whenever a friend was able to drive, we were going there to see bands like Pavement and Kool Keith, or The Roots and Weezer. It seemed like we were there once every few months. It was always just a special place. I didn’t realize how great it was until we started traveling the country and playing other clubs. DC is so lucky to have something like that there. I think it’s probably the best c lub of that size in the country, if not the world. It’s always a stop everybody looks forward to. It’s the kind of place where I’ll see a lot of family members and friends. I’ll look out in the crowd and see teachers from high school, which is really cool. Some random person will stop me at the dressing room door and be like, “Hey, we went to school together” or I might run into someone I haven’t seen in 20 years.

Yeasayer return to 9:30 Club on Friday, July 12. Tickets are $30, and doors open at 8 p.m. For more on the band and their new album Erotic Reruns, visit www.yeasayer.band.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Photo: Trent Johnson

SHAED Rise To The Top Together

The path to making it in music has never been linear. In the social media age, it’s become a bit cleaner – blog support, streaming and ravenous music fans on the Internet rallying behind you can quickly take an artist out of local obscurity and into the national spotlight. For DC’s SHAED, an electro-pop trio formed in 2016, a combination of almost every success marker in music of the past 20 years brought them to where they are now.

In the literal sense, they’ve joined On Tap outside the LINE Hotel in Adams Morgan on a sunny spring day. The trio of vocalist Chelsea Lee and twin brothers and multi-instrumentalists Max and Spencer Ernst arrived with all their gear in tow, and after our interview were straight off to New York. While radio play, streaming support and a strong fanbase all tangibly factored into their meteoric rise to success with only EPs and singles released, it’s their sheer hustle and willpower to make it in an industry constantly changing and challenging them that’s perhaps the key factor in their ascension.

“The last six months, we’ve been on a headlining tour,” Lee says. “We did a lot of radio promo, we’re working on an album and we’ve been writing a ton. It’s been really, really great. Obviously, the Apple commercial lifted off a bunch of things for us.”

The Apple commercial in question wasn’t even just an Apple commercial. When the new MacBook Air debuted at the end of 2018 at the annual Apple summit, SHAED’s song “Trampoline” soundtracked CEO Tim Cook’s unveiling. An artist’s song appearing as a sync in these iconic commercials is a badge of honor after the brand established itself as a musical tastemaker in the early 2000s. With this kind of exposure, doors begin to open – and quickly. But the band didn’t even know when to expect the change.

“Like nine months ago, Apple reached out to us because they were interested in using ‘Trampoline,’” Max explains. “We got them all the files, but then didn’t really hear anything for months. Two weeks before the commercial actually aired, they reached out and said, ‘We’re going to use your song.’  They didn’t tell us what it was for, and they didn’t tell us until that day. So the day everyone else saw the commercial was they day we saw it, too.”

“Tim Cook did the announcement in Brooklyn and I was like, ‘Let’s just livestream this and we’ll see what’s going on,” Lee adds. “Spencer and I were in the car driving, Max was at home and I just put it on. And Tim Cook goes, ‘Aaaaand the MacBook Air!’ I said to Spencer, ‘Wouldn’t it be so funny if our song came on?’ and it did. Spencer and I had to pull over and scream.”

“Trampoline” is a perfect introduction to the band’s polished, haunting pop sound. Its lyrics could even serve as an ethos to another thing that’s made the band so successful – their connection to one another. Friends for many years while pursuing other musical endeavors – Lee as a solo artist and twin brothers Max and Spencer as alt-folk band The Walking Sticks – their relationships eventually blossomed into the band as it exists today. Lee and Spencer are married, and the three live together and have a palpable bond evident in person and in their music.

The chorus in “Trampoline” is the somewhat wistful, “When I dream of dying // I never felt so loved.” Spencer says it’s all about embracing your worst fears and finding joy in what terrifies you. To be able to write a lyric this heavy, the people around you must love you very much. It’s clear this is the case for each member of the band. Their incredibly deep bond goes beyond allowing them to make great music; it allows them to embrace the unknown in all aspects of their lives, no matter how frightening.

The trio works on music from a studio in their shared home. They’re the first to admit that spending so much time together, even outside of recording or touring, would be less than ideal for many musicians. But from the outside, it’s clear it’s given them an edge.

“Our routine is to get up in the morning, eat breakfast and go right into the studio,” Lee says. “Over the years, we’ve gotten more comfortable with each other. We’ve been able to work through problems. Getting to know each other is such a complex thing and then on top of that, living together and spending so much time together…”

“It’s a unique dynamic, for sure,” Max says, finishing Lee’s thought. “I’m sure it wouldn’t work for a lot of people. But we just love making music together. Financially, too, it’s great.”

Spencer notes that, “There are times, clearly, when you spend so much time together you get on each other’s nerves.”

“But we give each other our space,” Lee continues. “It works out great for us. We’re traveling all the time now. We definitely get on each other’s nerves. But we also definitely know how to handle it and work smoothly through things.”

In addition to the support they provide each other, their native DC is also essential to SHAED’s success. They credit local outlets, venues and fans for their early successes, and for still following closely as they enjoy their newfound mainstream notoriety.

“It’s not a huge scene, but it’s very tightknit,” Max says of their experiences at home. “If you’re making cool music here, there’s ways to be seen and there’s an audience for it. People still come out to shows – even if you’re not on a huge headlining run around the country – people still come out and support local artists.”

This summer sees the band off to a whole host of amazing new endeavors including sets at festivals like Japan’s Fuji Rock, BottleRock in Napa Valley and Lollapalooza. With tons of material in their arsenal, the trio is in the process of putting together a new album and aiming for a fall release and subsequent tour. All of these events will surely invite new fans into their intimate sonic world, but in the meantime, they’re leaning on each other as things continue to evolve.

“Being a musician and being in this world is so hard,” Lee says as she puts one arm around each Ernst brother, and they lean into her. “To have this constant support – these people that you can rely on and trust and feel at home with – is huge for us. These two are the kindest people in the whole world. It’s really nice to have that family vibe.”

SHAED play DC101 Kerfuffle on Sunday, May 19 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Tickets start at $55. Gates open at 4 p.m. and the show begins at 4:30 p.m. For more on the event, visit www.dc101.iheart.com. For more on SHAED, visit www.shaedband.com.

Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD 410-715-5550; www.merriweathermusic.com

Noel Gallagher // Photo: Primary Talent International

Nostalgia Tours: Throwback Shows All Summer Long

Am I getting older or are the bands of playlists past just touring more often? It’s probably some combination of both – ah, the passing of time. No complaints though, because it means there are more chances to catch your faves of yesteryear throughout the summer.

SATURDAY, JUNE 15

Old School Hip-Hop Showdown
Eric B. & Rakim, Whodini, MC Lyte, Kool Moe Dee, DJ Kool and Dana Dane will all take the stage at Constitution Hall to make all your 90s hip-hop dreams come true in one convenient place. Tickets start at $44. DAR Constitution Hall: 1776 D St. NW, DC; www.dar.org

TUESDAY, JUNE 25

New Kids on the Block Mixtape Tour with Salt-N-Pepa and Naughty by Nature
Apparently, New Kids on the Block had so much fun celebrating the 30th anniversary of their album Hangin’ Tough that they decided to embark on an extensive tour. They’ll come to Capital One with all their hits and lots of friends on this tour – R&B icons Salt-N-Pepa, rappers Naughty by Nature and more guests will join the group. Tickets start at $39.95. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.viewlift.com

Pat Benatar, Neil Giraldo, Melissa Etheridge and Liz Phair
The power couple of Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo bring their hits to Wolf Trap alongside two of the best modern singer-songwriters: Melissa Etheridge and Liz Phair. This lineup pretty much consists of musicians you probably rolled your eyes at as a kid but now totally love. Tickets start at $35. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

FRIDAY, JULY 12

Backstreet Boys
Backstreet’s back! Your favorite boyband is sweeping the nation once again with their DNA World Tour. Grab your tickets and be transported back to a simpler time, when your biggest problem in life was you and your BFF having a crush on the same band member. Tickets start at $189. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.viewlift.com

SUNDAY, JULY 14

NAS + NSO Illmatic 25th Anniversary
Instead of merely touring around his iconic album Illmatic, NAS is incorporating a whole new spin on the record thanks to the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO). This performance featuring conductor Steven Reineke gives a whole new spin on what’s still considered one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. Tickets start at $30. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

WEDNESDAY, JULY 17

Jennifer Lopez
I would like to cordially invite you to a birthday celebration in honor of Jenny from the Block taking place this summer at an arena near you. While I obviously had no hand in planning this soiree, I still feel confident in saying I am sure it will be a ball. Tickets start at $59.95. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.viewlift.com

THURSDAY, JULY 18

Sheryl Crow
Soak up the sun with one of the most iconic pop country artists of all time at Wolf Trap. Don’t miss the Grammy winner as she tours for the release of her final album to be released later this year. Tickets start at $45. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

FRIDAY, JULY 19

Third Eye Blind and Jimmy Eat World
This lineup makes me want to grow out my bangs and sweep them to the side, reactivate my MySpace account, and tell my parents they don’t understand me. In all seriousness, both of these bands’ catalogs have stood the test of time, especially in the era of Midwestern emo revival. And if hearing “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World doesn’t immediately hype you up, you’re a liar, so come hear it live. Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; www.merriweathermusic.com

SATURDAY, JULY 20

Dave Matthews Band
I’m willing to bet you’ll be able to find everyone in the DMV who went to UVA at this show clad in basketball jerseys. Oh, and maybe some fans of the South African-born, Charlottesville-bred crooner will be there, too. Tickets start at $49.50. Jiffy Lube Live: 7800 Cellar Door Dr. Bristow, VA; www.livenation.com/venues/14407/jiffy-lube-live

SATURDAY, JULY 27

311 and Dirty Heads
Stoners and chill people of the world, rejoice! Good vibes abound at Merriweather as 311 and Dirty Heads take the stage for a relaxing evening. Tickets start at $46. Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; www.merriweathermusic.com

Hootie and the Blowfish and Barenaked Ladies
Dubbed the Group Therapy Tour, this collaboration between two classic 90s bands is the perfect place to hang out on the lawn and jam to songs that made up your younger years, which seems like its own special form of group therapy in a way. Tickets start at $35. Jiffy Lube Live: 7800 Cellar Door Dr. Bristow, VA; www.livenation.com/venues/14407/jiffy-lube-live

TUESDAY, JULY 30

Nelly, TLC and Flo Rida
Upon reading this lineup, I was instantly transported back to teacher-supervised school dances, as I’m pretty sure some combination of all three artists soundtracked every sweaty, awkward preteen event throughout America. You should attend this concert solely to celebrate that the days of braces and leaving room for Jesus between you and your dance partner are long gone. Tickets start at $25. Jiffy Lube Live: 7800 Cellar Door Dr. Bristow, VA; www.livenation.com/venues/14407/jiffy-lube-live

WEDNESDAY, JULY 31

KoRn and Alice in Chains
If you feel like a freak on a leash (I still don’t know what that song is about and at this point I am afraid to ask), this is the show for you. A coheadlining show for twice the angsty rock. It’s not a phase, Mom! Tickets start at $36. Jiffy Lube Live: 7800 Cellar Door Dr. Bristow, VA; www.livenation.com/venues/14407/jiffy-lube-live

FRIDAY, AUGUST 9

Train and Goo Goo Dolls
While Train’s more recent releases have been interesting to say the least, older songs like “Meet Virginia” and “Drops of Jupiter” still hold up as eternal bops. Paired with the similarly sensitive Goo Goo Dolls, get ready to feel all the throwback feels. Tickets start at $29.50. Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; www.merriweathermusic.com

SATURDAY, AUGUST 17

Smashing Pumpkins, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and AFI
Two of the most curmudgeonly names in music team up for a summer tour that’s sure to be chock full of weird asides from Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan and sibling hatred – or maybe just general hatred – from the more, um, outspoken of the Gallagher brothers. Oh, and AFI will be there to play that one song from Guitar Hero. Tickets start at $35. Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy. Columbia, MD; www.merriweathermusic.com

THURSDAY, AUGUST 22

Beck
On the heels of his 14th album (yeah, you read that right), Beck will bring two turntables and a microphone to Merriweather to help you round out your summer concert season. He’s joined by the absolutely stacked lineup of Cage the Elephant, Sunflower Bean, and the equally prolific and nostalgic Spoon (their debut album Telefono is 23 years old this year, you guys). Tickets start at $29.50. Merriweather Post Pavilion: 10475 Little Patuxent Pwky. Columbia, MD; www.merriweathermusic.com

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 1

UB40 and Shaggy
Legendary reggae group UB40 will be joined onstage by Shaggy for a lively evening of music from two of the genre’s best-known voices. Tickets start at $40. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts: 1551 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; www.wolftrap.org

Knotfest (Slipknot)
If you’ve been itching to break out your Hot Topic T-shirts, chain wallet and guyliner, this is the festival for you. This angst-filled festival features Slipknot, Volbeat, Gojira and Behemoth. Get ready to mosh! Tickets start at $35.50. Jiffy Lube Live: 7800 Cellar Door Dr. Bristow, VA; www.livenation.com/venues/14407/jiffy-lube-live

Photo: www.bbcmusic.co.uk

Foals Are Here to Stay

It’s been nearly six years since Oxford, England band Foals took home the Q Award for Best Live Act, and four since they were given the same award, but this time as Best Act in the World. Their sold out show at the 9:30 Club last night was a clear indication that should the band be up for those honors in 2019, they’re still every bit as deserving.

Though the band saw the departure of their former bassist Walter Gervers in the process of recording Everything Saved Will Not Be Lost Pts. 1 & 2, even with this lineup change their sound is as tight as ever. Foals opened with Part 1 single “On the Luna,” whose live iteration is surprisingly tamer than expected. Their stage is flanked by palm trees, perhaps a nod to the tropical sound that’s always weaved its way through their music. At times when the band rips through more anxious songs like “Exits” or “Inhaler,” it evokes a feeling of dystopia.

Still, Foals has energy in spades. They’re now the proud creators of five albums, with one more on the way (Part 2 is out later this year), but they’ve pieced together a setlist of songs new and old to engage concertgoers regardless of devotion level. This is a lost art when it comes to bands who have been at it as long as Foals, as it often skews toward shoving the new material at everyone or kowtowing to playing only the classics. When they opt to melt older songs like “Olympic Airways” into an absolute banger of a more accessible hit like “My Number” with an incredible drum solo courtesy of Jack Bevan, you immediately know there is incredible care put into everything this band does.

Even during a slow burn like “Spanish Sahara,” they avoid the dreaded treatment of a less peppy song as a seventh inning stretch. Even as bodies wander to the bar, fans start clapping, transfixed, and people return to their spots. They’ve been commanded not just by the band but the spell they’ve cast on those in the crowd, and for good reason – “Spanish Sahara” just happens to be one of their best songs.

And I’d be remiss not to mention the fact that, during the encore consisting of “Two Steps, Twice,” frontman Yannis Philippakis leapt from the Club’s second story balcony into the arms of a waiting crowd. The person standing next to me grabbed my shoulder in disbelief as she reached her other arm towards him. At a time when shows can seem a tad bit clinical, there’s nothing like a full on trust fall into a sea of fans to restore your faith in the art of the live show. Even if the leap happens every night, at every show, it still feels new and urgent.

Foals could easily fill a larger venue like The Anthem – past DC stops saw them at higher capacity outposts like the more formal, seated Lincoln Theatre, and the EDM-adjacent Echostage – but their specific brand of marrying the best elements of punk, math rock and tropicalia is tailor-made for a hallowed place like the 9:30 Club. They’re better off packing in hordes of hungry fans into smaller places, an apparent strategy on this tour, than forcing themselves to be something they are not in a larger location for the sake of selling more tickets.

They know who they are, and they’ve said it best themselves. Take the Everything Saved Will Not Be Lost standout “Syrups,” in which Philippakis sings “‘cause life is what you make it/you’ve got yours and I’ve got mine.” They’ve always had a strong sense of identity, but now they’re making sure we know who they are, too.

Sure, Foals could have changed and eschewed their niche sound just for the sake of it. But why do that when you can be true to what’s cemented you as one of the most exciting acts of the past 15 years, especially when it means you can leap from the balcony of one of the most iconic venues in the world?

Don’t sleep on your second chance to see Foals at the 9:30 Club on Thursday, April 18. Tickets are $38.50 and doors open at 7 p.m. For more on the band, visit www.foals.co.uk.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Photo: Amy Troost

Charlotte Gainsbourg’s New Era

French actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg released her fifth studio album Rest in 2017. Outwardly, its timing and themes appear to be the processing of Gainsbourg’s grief; she lost her sister, photographer Kate Barry, in 2013 and her father Serge in 1991. But it also marked a new era of the artist looking inward to grow through these experiences, and not despite them. While her previous work had been primarily written and composed by collaborators, Rest saw Gainsbourg taking control of the songwriting process, adding more significance to the album among the rest of her discography.

“It made me much more responsible in a way, but it meant that I was judging what I was doing and not being tolerant [of] myself,” she notes of the songwriting process.

Fellow musician Beck offered her sage advice as she tried her hand at new aspects of the album’s creation.

“I remember Beck telling me that it wasn’t such a big deal to write lyrics,” she says. “The thing that did it for me was, you try and write the worst song ever and that’s your starting point. [You] just let go and authorize yourself to be just who you are. That may be mediocre, but that’s all you can do – just keep going. It’s easy to say now, [but] it wasn’t easy when I was recording. I needed affirmation on every song. I couldn’t do it on my own.”

Beyond the advice of fellow artists including album collaborator Sebastian Akchoté, best known as SebastiAn, a change of scenery also allowed Gainsbourg the freedom she required to create Rest. She and her family traded their home in Paris for the bustling streets and relative anonymity of New York four years ago where she felt empowered to express her feelings through other forms of art, too.

While she’s no stranger to the silver screen, starring in films like controversial director Lars von Trier’s Melancholia and Nymphomaniac, she returned to other outlets of expression.

“I tried a little bit of everything,” she says of the time she took to record Rest, also spanning about four years. “I used to develop my own film but I wasn’t very good, so I didn’t continue. Drawing I did all my life. I love drawing. So, I was in New York and suddenly I felt like I was completely free to try and be unpretentious about it. You feel that everybody is an artist in New York. You don’t feel like it’s a big deal.”

As a companion to the album, Gainsbourg released a book of photos, notes, lyrics and more. She notes that Rest is an album that “doesn’t explain much,” and that she wanted to better convey the atmosphere she was in while making it.

“I would have been quite worried [about] sounding pretentious in wanting to release a book of everything that I had done during the making of the album, but a friend validated what she saw and said it would accompany the album quite well. I’m not taking myself seriously as a photographer or a painter, but at the same time it was lovely to be able to put all of that together to accompany the album.”

Overcoming stress and learning not to judge oneself while attempting the unfamiliar are common themes for Gainsbourg in her creative projects. She says after trying for years to break through internal barriers and write her own material, she brushed it aside because she felt like she wasn’t good enough. While trying to write in French, which she says carries a lot of weight for her, she removed some of the pressure by writing in English as well. This ultimately resulted in the bilingual element throughout Rest.

“It was funny to not really know where I was going and to be much less in control,” she says of bilingual songwriting. “That helped me have fun with the writing. I felt that with the French, I was being very sincere and honest and that that was the only way I could do it. And when I switched to English, it was more musical and finalized the songs.”

And while she never intended to hit the road with Rest, she had a change of heart and decided to recreate the magic of the album live as best she can on her 2019 tour. SebastiAn aided in the process, but in the end, she says it was up to her to strike a balance. Her hesitation around touring has been assuaged by the band she’s bringing along with her.

“I feel like I’m really part of a team for the first time,” she says, and you can almost hear any previous doubts melt as she speaks. “All of it is so much fun because they’re great musicians and great people.”

Gainsbourg will play the 9:30 Club on Monday, April 8. Doors are at 7 p.m. and tickets are $40. For more on the chanteuse, visit www.charlottegainsbourg.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com

Photo: www.thelincolndc.com

Jose Gonzalez Talks Bringing The String Theory On Tour

As I prepared to interview Swedish singer-songwriter José González, I played his cover of The Knife’s “Heartbeats” out loud in the office. One of my coworkers balked at the idea that it was, in fact, a cover and not an original song of his. That’s the magic of his work — he approaches music as a living, breathing thing to be reinvented constantly.

Now, he’s done the same for his own music and taken frequent collaborators The String Theory along for the ride. While on tour throughout Europe, González and the Berlin- and Gothenburg-based orchestra reimagined some of his best work and deep cuts for a compelling double album, released last month. Before González hits DC, orchestra in tow, we talked to him about this ambitious project, working with The String Theory and how he chooses his cover songs.

On Tap: What was the inspiration behind recording this live album and then bringing The String Theory on tour with you?
José González:
We’ve been collaborating for almost 10 years now, and on our first tour together it just sounded so amazing. It was a unique huge project to me at the time, and for weird reasons, both hard drives where we did the backup recordings disappeared — one in Berlin and one in Gothenburg — so since then we’ve been waiting until we got together to record again. When we started, we knew we just had to tour as much as possible and not lose anything ever again. That lead to this double LP that we released. We picked our favorite versions of songs from the European tour in 2017.

OT: A lot of the versions of your songs are a lot different than the studio versions. It definitely feels like your songs are living, breathing things. Why choose the songs you did from this project’s huge catalog?
JG: It started with them choosing which songs to arrange. I never gave them directions, I just let them choose freely. They didn’t know at first if they should choose the more popular songs or if they can chose any song. I wanted to give them that freedom. It’s such a big project to do arrangements for, and I wanted them to be excited, so it was fun to let them choose on their own. They came up with a mixture of songs I was a bit surprised about. Since we started touring we’ve been able to add more arrangements and choose from the songs we’ve been playing live. It feels like a band where I write the songs but they do most of the arrangements and artistic choices.

OT: Even being a bit more hands off with the decisions, what did this overall process look like for you and The String Theory?
JG: Some arrangements they did in great detail before we met, all written down very meticulously. But others were more dreamy and the musicians were asked to improvise. Of course there had been moments were things didn’t work, so I also felt like I was part of this process of making the orchestra more like a band, where people actually say no if they don’t like how we’re doing something — including me. Getting the percussion and beats somewhere I was comfortable with took a long time. My favorite percussionist is in the band, the only one who isn’t from Europe. He’s been touring with my solo band, and I didn’t want to lose that Latino touch since we’re playing with this more Nordic and German orchestra.

OT: Any songs that were particularly tricky to rearrange?
JG: One thing we were battling with for a while was the song “Down the Line.” We had an arrangement where it was very drony and trippy — simple in the arrangement, but heavy so to speak. It’s been changing shape from each concert until last tour when we recorded the album we started to do a Krautrock version, and finally it clicked after a lot of fighting [laughs].

OT: That one definitely struck me as the biggest departure from the original studio version. I can’t imagine coordinating the arrangements with that many people. What’s it been like touring with such a big group?
JG: It’s a lot of fun. When we started touring, many people in the band hadn’t been touring in the way that we were touring, so it was a breath of fresh air to have all these excited and amazing musicians in this trip of their life. For me, it’s been amazing to hang out with them, they’re all so excited to sing and hang out. Its just a very different dynamic than going on tour with just a few people. We’re like a little village, traveling around. It’s 22 musicians and then with crew, it’s nearly 30.

OT: Not a tour-related question, but I know you’ve gained notoriety for your unique covers of songs like “Heartbeats” by The Knife and “Teardrop” by Massive Attack. How do you decide what to cover, and what does your process for putting your own spin on these songs look like?
JG: There’s a lot of gut feelings going on. I know when I first hear a song and read the lyrics I’m on the right track, one other trick has been to do songs that are pretty well-known but maybe not expected as a cover. That’s a trick that I borrowed from Cat Power or Johnny Cash where their thing was to do cover songs in an unexpected way — in their own style. More recently, I guess I stopped doing covers in that style and have been okay with doing songs that are just nice to listen to, like “Blackbird” by The Beatles. So those have been my different, but main, ways of doing covers!

José González and The String Theory play the Lincoln Theatre on March 20. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Show at 8 p.m. For more on the artist, visit jose-gonzalez.com.

Lincoln Theatre: 1215 U St. NW, DC; 202-888-0050; www.thelincolndc.com

Photo: Michael Coleman

Buck Meek Brings Solo Work to SXSW

Buck Meek, a Texas native who made his name as the guitar player for Brooklyn folk-rockers Big Thief, stepped away from the band momentarily last year and released his self-titled debut album.

We caught Meek’s acoustic showcase in midtown Austin on the final day of SXSW. A captivating songwriter with an unusual but inviting vocal style, Meek reeled off a half-dozen songs for an admiring mid-day audience, then he sat down for a conversation with On Tap.

On Tap: That was a quality set, Buck. Cool, intimate songs. So, you’ve lived in Brooklyn for many years now, much of that as the guitar player with indie rock band Big Thief. But you grew up near Austin, Texas in a town called Wimberly in the Texas Hill County. I’m hearing that Texas sound in your music and lyrics despite your East Coast educational pedigree. Is that intentional?
BM: I lived in Brooklyn for seven years. I grew up in Wimberly and left in 2005 to go to Berklee College of Music in Boston. I was there for five years and it was a natural migration down to Brooklyn. A lot of people in my [musical] community moved down to Brooklyn. I made a lot of friends who went to Berklee to study jazz and ended up feeling disillusioned with the institutions of jazz and started joining punk rock bands or other methods of expression around jazz.

OT: You’ve been playing indie rock for years. What prompted the shift to a more folk, singer-songwriter oriented direction?
BM: This project is all my own songs whereas Big Thief is Adrianne [Lenker]’s songs and I’m the guitar player. There is a familial spirit with Big Thief but this project under my own name is all my own material and it’s a little more intimate and definitely more based on my roots here in Texas.

OT: Since we’re at SXSW in Austin – the epicenter of Texas music- tell us more about how this place informs your music.
BM: I try to be as honest as possible in my songwriting. Naturally, it [Texas] arises. I grew up in Wimberly, Texas surrounded by a lot of the outlaw country out there. Ray Wylie Hubbard and Butch Hancock from the Flatlanders. I saw those people a lot growing up. Have you ever been to the Kerrville Folk Festival [located in the Texas Hill Country about two hours west of Austin]?

OT: Unfortunately, no. But I have a feeling it should be on our bucket list.
BM: The campgrounds out there are just an incredible variety of some of the greatest songwriters on earth, most of which have never put a record out. They’re just blue-collar workers who come out to Kerrville every year and share songs around campfires at nighttime.  I’ve been going to the Kerrville folk festival since I was 13 so I was surrounded by a lot of good songwriters out there, known and unknown. That was my biggest influence as a songwriter but then I moved to New York and played all this punk rock and rock and roll and experimental music. This project is an honest reflection of all of those influences for me, I think.

OT: You opened for Jeff Tweedy of Wilco at his sold-out solo acoustic show at Austin’s Paramount Theatre earlier this month. What have you learned by touring with an Americana icon like Tweedy?
BM: Jeff reached out and I really respect how curious he is. He is always uncovering younger artists and reaching out and helping them – sharing his resources and insights. He’d originally reached out to Big Thief and we collaborated with him at the loft and developed a friendship from there. When he heard my record, he was really supportive and invited me out to be with him on the solo tour. I really look up to him and seeing him boil it down to solo with just an acoustic all by himself with just guitar and a microphone…and he’s funny. He’s so funny. And he’s playing a lot of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo songs, and solo songs, but just to hear them all in their bare form on an acoustic guitar, it is a masterclass for me. Hearing these songs naked away from Wilco on just an acoustic guitar as a skeleton of a song is so powerful.

OT:What informs that unique style and vocal phrasing of your solo work?
BM: Before I was writing songs, I grew up playing ragtime and the jazz music of Django Reinhardt, also a lot of Romanian music, New Orleans swing and Western swing. I grew up playing swing music and I think that syncopated sound is what really influenced my rhythmic phrasing in my songwriting, too, bending outside of the bar lines a lot which you here in jazz.

OT: What are you hoping to get out of SXSW?
BM: I just hope to swim every day that I’m here.

 

 

Photo: Michael Coleman

Australian Pop Artist Holiday Sidewinder on Owning Her Sound, Sexuality

Yes, Holiday Sidewinder is her real name.

Proclaiming “no gimmicks,” the Australian-born singer confirmed the authenticity of her moniker toward the end of her enthralling set at SXSW’s Australia House on Friday afternoon, surely answering at least one question on everyone’s mind.

Cloaked in an orange leotard, stilettos and a cheetah print overcoat, the platinum blonde does seem a bit gimmicky at first glance. But absorbing Sidewinder’s commanding stage presence and watching her deliver breezy but knowing alt-pop songs that reference artists as diverse as Madonna, David Bowie and the Beastie Boys, it becomes clear this is a woman of substance – fully in control of her artistic vision.

After several tours as the keyboardist in Alex Cameron’s faux-sleazy and fabulous lounge act – including stints opening shows for The Killers – Sidewinder has come into her own as a solo artist. From the 80s synth-pop vibe of “Casino” to the propulsive, dance-y “Trash Can Love,” to the sexual empowerment anthem “Leo,” Sidewinder ably borrows from her influences to make a sound all her own. As she sipped straight tequila on ice after her well-received set, Sidewinder sat down with On Tap to talk about her music, her upbringing and taking charge of her sex appeal.

On Tap: You come from a musical family. Is this something you always knew you wanted to do?
Holiday Sidewinder: Yeah, I did. My mom’s a singer, my uncle’s a songwriter and my grandfather’s a songwriter. My mom recently showed me a drawing I did when I was five where I’d drawn myself and it says, “Holiday Spice,” and it has an airport banner and I’ve got a suitcase. I guess I’ve manifested that because I haven’t had a home in years. [Sidewinder calls Los Angeles home, but says she is “literally homeless.”]

OT: How’s Austin treating you? What do you hope to accomplish at SXSW?
HS: I’ve been here four times now. It’s such a cool town. I’m just having a great time. Everyone told me it was Hell on Earth (because of the SXSW crowds), but I have had an amazing time. I saw [funk rock legend and mega-producer] Nile Rodgers yesterday. I spoke to his manager, which was really cool. I have a lot of friends who are playing here and it’s a community thing. I think it’s for us all to get together with the film industry and come together and support each other in a digital age. We’re all here, we all love this and we’re looking for solutions to make it work for us financially.

OTLet’s talk about your music. You have a new album, Forever or Whatever, dropping this spring. I hear a lot of different influences in your sound. Where does all that come from?
HS: I referenced a lot of different things when we were writing this record. It’s Beastie Boys, New Order, early Madonna and Tom Tom Club. I have eclectic taste. I listen to a lot of Exxótica and weird sh-t like the Talking Heads. I just like keeping the energy high. I usually start with a rhythm or a beat or a groove. I feel if you have a good groove, the rest of the song will carry itself.

OT: Sexuality looms large in much of your music – and certainly your persona. Is that intentional?
HS: I figure if I’m going to be sold on my sexuality anyway as a woman, I may as well take control of it. I was kind of liberated a year and a half ago with a few books I read. My perspective really changed. I found it empowering. With gaining sexual agency, a lot of other good things come – especially for women. We live in a rape culture and women have been second-class citizens in the patriarchy, and I think gaining that power back is the first step in a way.

Learn more about Sidewinder here.

Photo: jaredandthemill.com

Jared & The Mill on New Music, Growing from Regrets and Embracing SXSW Chaos

When I met Jared Kolesar of Phoenix-based indie folk band Jared & The Mill, we were about 20 minutes behind schedule. I blamed our inability to share our whereabouts and locate each other on mercury retrograde. It’s also what I’d blamed for the great Instagram and Facebook outage earlier in the week, but Kolesar insisted “that was a big marketing scheme by us.” For reference: the band’s latest album, released last month, is called This Story Is No Longer Available, and the title fits all too well with the social media mishaps and miscommunications from earlier in the day.

“I like it because there are so many meanings you can pull from it,” Kolesar says of the title. “The idea that social media is this thing where if you want to peer into someone’s life, you have access to it. There were a lot of times where you could have no idea what was going on in someone’s life unless you were right there with them, and those days are far gone.”

The record itself isn’t just about social media, though. It’s about being a better person and the struggles to better yourself and gain understanding for those around you in the process. While it sounds heavy, it’s a positive message – and Kolesar is quick to explain that he sees making mistakes as a good thing in the grand scheme of growing into who you are as a person.

“I’m a big believer in celebrating the good things you have in life, and that you have to have things that you regret doing in order to be a good person so that you can empathize with people who also have regrets in life,” he says earnestly.

The band brings this optimistic message to SXSW hot on the heels of their record release. And while it’s their seventh time at the festival, it’s a special one because of how much they have to celebrate with their new music.

“A lot of people I’ve talked to here have said that this is their favorite album yet, which is awesome to hear,” he explains. “A lot of times people are suckers for early stuff. But they’re really excited to hear the new stuff. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

I can’t help but wonder if jumping into performing at something as intense as SXSW a mere month after releasing a new record is a lot, but as they’re no strangers to the madness that is the festival, they’re able to focus on connecting with fans and celebrating their new material live on stage every night.

“There’s no god at SXSW,” Kolesar says with a laugh. “You just kind of give it up and accept the chaos. It’s our seventh one, so we all knew what we were getting into.”

Jared’s SXSW Favorites and Must-Sees

Best Music:
“I saw Donna Missal at the VEVO House and she is rad – she is way too rad. I also saw KOLARS the other day, Rob and Lauren are good friends so it’s always good to check them out.”

Must-See Spots:
“There’s a lot of cool things that happen at Hotel Vegas and a lot of good food trucks around there.”

“There’s a really cool mezcal bar on seventh street attached to a whiskey bar called Seven Grand.”

Painting: Fernanda Pereira // Photo: Hugo Oliveira

Panda Bear Brings “Buoys” To Life

Last summer, Noah Lennox, perhaps better known as Panda Bear, embarked on a tour with his band Animal Collective promoting the ten-year anniversary of their record Sung Tongs. During that time, Lennox pivoted to producing material for his solo career. The result is an even more atmospheric version of the ambient sounds the artist is known to pioneer. On Tap talked to Lennox around the release of his record on inspiration, the importance of how music is physically released and the value of creating in the present moment.

On Tap: You just released a new album as Panda Bear, Buoys, this week. Tell me more about how this record was created.
Noah Lennox: I wrote these songs on the guitar. I was just singing the songs with the guitar and a rudimentary drum machine. That was the foundation for everything. The guitar came from Dave [Portner] and I doing [practice for] the Sung Tongs record – we played a bunch of shows [as Animal Collective] for it this past summer. I hadn’t really played guitar for a while so it took me a couple months to get my hands into shape again, and I think while I was using the guitar a bunch I just started writing little songs here and there while I would practice for that stuff. 

OT: It sounds a bit more austere than some of your previous releases, was this a conscious choice?
NL: I did feel like I was a bit tired with the methods I had employed with the past couple records — it was like a system I went to the end of the road with in a way. I was interested in pushing myself into a space I was unfamiliar with. As far as the starkness of the sound, we figured out early on in the process that it was an architecture that kind of worked, as far as the sub-bassy stuff, because that became the pillar early on with pitched 808 samples. [For] his record we went in the opposite way of packing the arrangements full of sounds, which is kind of my move the past few records. I felt like any time we would add more into the arrangement it meant that the deep sub bass stuff wouldn’t represent itself in the room in the same way. We wanted to sort of keep this architecture of the empty.

OT: Although you’re a Maryland native, you’ve lived in Portugal for quite a while now. How has your life there affected your music?
NL: Certainly the environment plays a part, but that’s really hard for me to define. I feel like all the influence is subconscious and implicit in a way. It’s really hard for me to trace the dots on how that colors what I do; I’m sure it does, it’s just hard for me to define. Lisbon is a really different place than what it used to be. When I lived in Brooklyn, it felt like it went through a similar transformation. I got there just after it was starting and I left before it finished but I’m seeing a similar thing transpire in Lisbon over the past seven years or so. Not musically, although there are a lot of younger folks doing DIY-type music, which I really dig. It’s more in terms of [how] Lisbon felt kind of less affected by the rest of the world, or less interested in it or conversation with cultures outside of Portugal. It feels more like any sort of big European metro area than it used to.

OT: Your previous record, A Day With The Homies, was vinyl only. Why did you choose to release it that way?
NL: The original inspiration for that was sort of weird and random. It came from brands like Supreme and Palace and these other streetwear companies that do these releases of new stiff in finite quantities. I don’t like the resale part of it, I think that’s really corny, but it got me thinking about how that rewards the most hardcore people. I was jazzed about making something the people who would pre-order it or be down for no matter what.

OT: Why pivot back to a more traditional release with Buoys?
NL: Doing it [vinyl only] isn’t altogether positive, in that there are people who are left wanting. Ultimately, I preferred this method, which is for everybody. I wouldn’t want to do limited stuff all the time. I also should say that whereas Person Pitch was conceived as a CD as its ideal form, for A Day With The Homies it was the vinyl, and for this one I always envisioned its ideal form as streaming.

OT: Is that something that changes as you record new material or do you start out knowing you want to make music tailored to a specific format?
NL: It’s not always cut and dry. I can’t say that for every single release I have this ideal image of the thing in its particular format. But those three have a specific form that was kind of my most perfect version of it.

OT: Physical editions of music have seen such a resurgence over the past 10 years. Why do you think that is? What makes them maintain value?
NL: I think there’s two things going on with vinyl – one, people are getting less and less CDs so it’s becoming a digital or a vinyl thing, those are the last people standing in the race of the format. And two, I feel like the size or the imagery you can get on vinyl is kind of a big deal. I really like having that big slab for artwork, it just looks nicer in that way.

OT: As you mentioned before, you recently toured with Animal Collective to play your record Sung Tongs front to back for its ten year anniversary. Would you consider a similar tour format as Panda Bear?
NL: I supposed I’m open to it, but I’d have to be really inspired beyond [the fact] I can make a lot of money on this, that’s kind of cheesy to me. It’s been kind of weird, I guess. We agreed to do it one time and it was more fun than I imagined it would so I was down to do it more, but I’m sort of wary of getting stuck in that routine as opposed to the the present day creative things I have going. I’d rather focus on that. It was kind of fun, I have to admit. I just wouldn’t want that to be the driving force of what I’m doing. Even if it has less traction publicly, I’d still rather just keep going with what’s happening today.

Panda Bear plays the 9:30 Club on Monday, February 11 with Home Blitz. Doors are at 7 p.m. and tickets are $25. For more on Panda Bear, visit www.pandabearofficial.com.

9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; 202-265-0930; www.930.com