Wednesday, March 30, 2011

q/a with pete yorn : back to basics, celebrating 10 years of ‘musicforthemorningafter’

Back in 2006 Pete Yorn took a public break after releasing his third album, Nightcrawler. Seeming a bit disillusioned with the state of the world, Yorn was working his way through some personal issues but defiantly voices that he was never ready to hang up his guitar. And if in 2008 you thought this was a possibility, you couldn’t have been more wrong.

Two-thousand nine saw Pete Yorn release two albums–the much publicized album of duets, Break Up, with Scarlett Johansson and the haunting, studio-crafted Back & Fourth–followed by his self-titled, dubbed The Black Album, fifth album in 2010.

Touring in support of three albums in two years, Pete Yorn headlines Portland’s Wonder Ballroom on Sunday, April 3rd ready to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his debut album, Musicforthemorningafter, where Yorn says, “We will attempt to play my debut record in its entirety”–a feat he’s attempting on just six West Coast dates. Opening by himself is Ben Kweller whose youthful rock was anthemic for teens and college students in the early 2000s, capturing many of the same fans as Yorn. Kweller brings his “huge energy,” as Yorn puts it, “even as a solo act,” with his country-tinged, poppy rock singalongs including songs from his fourth studio album, Changing Horses, released in 2009.

In the three years between albums, Pete Yorn was certainly not sitting still; in fact, the 2010-released Black Album was actually recorded just a few weeks before Yorn would even enter the studio to lay down tracks with heralded producers Mike Mogis and Rick Rubin for what would become 2009′s Back & Fourth.

Those “black” sessions took place in Salem, Oregon over five days, with producer Frank Black (The Pixies) guiding the effort to discover Yorn’s true raw sound and cobbling together a backing band. The result is Pete Yorn’s most stripped down, rocking, and honest record to date, all of which stems from the organic environment in which it was recorded.

You were sick with the flu at the time you recorded your self-titled album. That’s something you definitely feel on the stutter start and then rough opening vocals on “Rock Crowd,” yet, on other tracks, you shine with such authentic, vocal strength and power, like on “Always” or “Paradise Cove I.”

Pete Yorn: Yes, I got sick on the second day of recording but we powered through. It was the nastiest flu that I’d had in years. I think the rawness of my voice suits the record well in hindsight.

Overall, it’s clear that this album is very personal and authentic, with heartfelt lyrics on tracks like “Rock Crowd” and contemplated joy on “Future Life.” How much of this album was pre-visioned, practiced and written before you went to meet Black and how much just happened?

The songs were all basically written before I met Frank. We worked on a few lyrics on a couple songs. The songs could’ve been recorded in a number of different styles. Frank was great at guiding the arrangements towards the no frills presentation that exists on the record. He stripped things down in order to make room for more power. It seemed counterintuitive at first, but it was ultimately the way to go.

Why a self-titled album after all these years? Does The Black Album nickname and subsequent dark cover art have anything to do with working with on of your heroes, producer Frank Black?

Although it is quite a raw and stripped back album…. [it's not called Pete Yorn,] it’s actually The Black Album to me. My name is on it, yes, but I went with the dark cover art as a nod to Mr. Black Francis. When I finished the project, we always referred to it as The Black Album or “[the black] project.”

Tell me about the recording sessions for this album, which took place in Salem at drummer Jason Carter’s studio. They came about quite spontaneously, and the whole album was recorded in just five days.

This project kind of came up last-minute. I had a bunch of songs. I was heading to Omaha to make Back & Fourth and a few weeks before I was set to leave, this opportunity to work with Frank popped up and there was no way I was going to pass that up. We gave ourselves roughly five days to capture as much inspired material as possible and we ended up with a whole record. I had no expectations other than, “Let’s see where this goes.” It was fun to hang out and work with Frank.

Read the rest on OMN.

Friday, March 25, 2011

yacht’s vision of utopia begins with ‘dystopia’

The first taste of YACHT’s upcoming full-length, Shangri-La, on DFA Records–the second on the renowned NYC dance label but fifth album overall–is here. The socially conscious “Dystopia (The Earth is on Fire)” is a song about disaster, natural and otherwise, in a world of earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and oil spills–the song was actually written last May “around the time of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” says YACHT.

The message is clear, warning that the tides are rising, the skies are darkening, and our overconsumption will be our demise, but telling us in a synthesized, rocking disco boogie with analogies to jackals and lions, stuttered vocal deliveries from Claire L. Evans, and emphatic declarations of “Let the mother fucker burn.”

YACHT’s ideological philosophies (much more on this below) have always been ever-present, playing a central role in the unique atmosphere they create, but could “Dystopia” be more grown up? If anything, it’s definitely sleeker, losing some of YACHT’s signature artsy yet jarring aesthetic but quite possible more palatable for a larger audience, which they continue play for–including a spot at this year’s Coachella followed by an extensive North American tour after much exposure last year opening for LCD Soundsystem in Europe as well as playing the Hollywood Bowl alongside The Chemical Brothers and Chromeo.

YACHT, along with their backing band The Straight Gaze (featuring Bobby Birdman and Jeffrey Jerusalem), is becoming a finely tuned machine and this first listen of their new album might hint that the rough edges have finally been sanded into smooth corners. Or maybe not. YACHT likes to defy our expectations.

Shangri-La, due out on June 21st, “was produced, mixed, recorded, and performed by Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans with our frequent collaborator and touring member Bobby Birdman, at the Marfa Recording Company, Jackpot! Studios, and in our temporary living quarters in Los Angeles, California.” And you can catch them in Oregon for the last two dates of their upcoming tour, May 14th at Portland’s Wonder Ballroom and May 15th at the Fort George Brewery in Astoria.

Read more on OMN.

Friday, March 18, 2011

making emotive electronics : q/a with eskmo

With more than a decade of beat engineering under a few monikers and countless collaborations and remixes, Eskmo (real name Brendan Angelides) is finally gaining a following worldwide after exposure in traditional media (BBC), the blogosphere (Brooklyn Vegan, XLR8R, Pitchfork), and clubs (alongside Flying Lotus and Amon Tobin). Next up, he’ll be opening for Beats Antique’s US tour on a month of dates including three Oregon stops, Ashland, Eugene and Portland, in the end of March and early April.

Striking an emotional chord, Eskmo says his style “sounds like a robotic tree would sound”–a perfect description of vibe he generates on his self-titled Ninja Tune debut, which dropped in October 2010. The organic and electronic cohesion is illustrated in sight and sound the first single, “Cloudlight” (video below, download track here), from Eskmo.

The Connecticut native but San Francisco transplant is inspired by “too much stuff to mention,” but his latest is “primarily about loss, gain, family, relationship, alchemy, love and stillness” and contains an enchanting palate of sounds, including “sticks being stepped on, soda cans, metal plates, etc….” Eskmo adds, “I record a lot of environments and natural sounds to incorporate into the songs.” (Listen to the whole album here.)

The album was written over a six month stretch “in the middle of a whole bunch of personal relationship-type stuff, a lot of deep life-experience type stuff happening that helped the music just bleed out of me. I just poured all those feelings into the music, it’s very cathartic. I allowed myself to let go of DJ structure – it’s not a ‘dance club’ album, because that kind of stuff hasn’t inspired me in years. This is the first full body of work where I’m singing all over it, and allowing myself to get over that furlough of expression has been really liberating.”

Your Ninja Tune debut features your own vocals a lot more than some of your past releases. Why did you decide to incorporate more of your own vocal samples on this album?

My last track of 2009′s “Let Them Sing” for Planet Mu really got me moving more in that direction. I just had a huge pull to let that side of me out. I almost felt like I made that track to say to myself: “Let yourself sing.” I knew it would drive some listeners off, especially since my background and influence is definitely not RnB vocals, which is all the rage. But it felt right to me.

You’ve explored a lot of territory with your music over the years. Tell me a little bit about the road that has led you to this point in your musical career.

I came from a band background, was introduced to electronic [music] in the mid ’90s and it took hold. I bought my first bass and 4 track and started writing in my bedroom. From there I branched out in various downtempo, then drum and bass and some heavier techno and gabber. Music was my fuel and kept me going.

Read the rest on OMN.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

about face : interview with oregonian film critic shawn levy

Oregonian film critic Shawn Levy explains why Portland is second best to Paris when it comes to watching movies.

"When you think of Portland, Oregon, you don’t think one of the world’s great movie towns, even though I would argue that it is," matter-of-factly states Oregonian film critic Shawn Levy. "But more from an exhibition than a production standpoint."

Portland is approaching "film museum" status, according to Levy. A land where many independent films run for weeks, even months, longer than any other national market.

Self-described by his Twitter handle as: "Writer. Dad. Film guy. Soccer Fan." the Brooklyn-born but present-day Portlander has been writing for The Oregonian since 1992 and serving as the paper's chief Film Critic since 1997.

Under the early tutelage of a father who was a comedic writer turned florist, but truly an old school film buff at heart, Levy knew that "writing was what I always wanted to do."

Publishing six entertainment-related books while working at a daily newspaper, Levy has delved into subjects like The Rat Pack, Paul Newman and Jerry Lewis and he's currently at work on a biography of Robert De Niro, slated for tentative release in 2013.

Feeling "fortunate to write about a subject that I'm passionate about and still entertained by after 25 years," About Face asked Shawn Levy:

Why is Portland a great movie town?

If you draw a line from City Hall to the Hollywood Theatre and make that the radius of a circle, in that circle you have more screens dedicated to independent, alternative, documentary, avant-garde, and experimental cinema than you do Hollywood studio films. And that is a unique situation for an American downtown. There may be more screens dedicated to those things in New York, LA, San Francisco, Chicago, but they are spread out all over the place. And in that spread they incorporate many multiplexes. We have a situation where, in that area I described, there are five commercial multiplexes but one of them is dedicated to this type of film (The Fox Tower). Then you have things like the Hollywood and the Laurelhurst and the Living Room and about a half a dozen single screen theaters.

So, what happens in Portland is a picture like the Stieg Larsson movies, The Girl With the… whatever the hell she has opens at Cinema 21 and plays for a week or two and then he replaces it. But then it can play at one of these neighborhood independent theaters for weeks and weeks and months. There are movies that have lasted in Portland longer than they have played anywhere else in the country. The filmmakers come here. Last year, The Secret of Kells, the Irish animated film that was up for an Oscar, played in Portland for like five months, and at a certain point, the director [Tomm Moore along with art director Ross Steward] flew over from Ireland to come to Portland to do a Q&A at a screening because he was so overwhelmed by the support the film had here.

Truly the only city on earth that I can think of where there are more central city screens dedicated to alternative than mainstream film is Paris, France, which to me is the best movie city in the world. You go to Paris tonight and you can see twenty Hollywood classic films in the original English with French subtitles--Westerns and film noir and musicals and they’ll have a Peter Lorre series or Lana Turner series. It’s like the city is a film museum and Portland approaches that.

The average American sees around 5 to 8 movies in the theater per year. How many do you see per week?

I see as many in a week as people see in a year. I see about 300 new movies a year--that’s an average year.

Many people fantasize that watching movies all days would be a dream job. Is it your dream job?

Yeah, it’s a dream job. But when you wake up, the reality of the job is that it’s only partly about watching movies. The real job is writing accurately, entertainingly, and on deadline constantly. In a film market like Portland, which is pretty robust, we get about 800 new movies a year. And when you start talking about 800, you’re not talking about kicking back and watching a movie. You’re talking about cobbling shoes or moving bricks from one end to the yard to the other. It’s just becomes like a labor at a certain level. And, particularly with newspapers shrinking down, there are fewer hands on the oars, and since we’re online and in print, there’s more work to be done. I know for a fact, I have a great job. But, it is definitely a job; it is not a golf vacation in Hawaii.

What’s your first memory of film?

It was definitely from my dad. I don’t know what anyone was thinking, but when I was about eight or nine, In Cold Blood came on TV and they [my parents] let me watch this movie. I fell asleep before it was over so I had no idea those bastards were hung or caught and for years I had nightmares. I mean nightmares! Dick and Perry were going to come in my house. It wasn’t until [laughs] I was in college that I saw the whole movie and I was like, “You mean they’re dead!” My parents didn’t sensor what I saw. I was allowed to see a lot of things.

I grew up in an era when there were no VCRs, no cable TV, and if you wanted to see a movie you had to wait for it to show on television and of course it would be chopped up and in black and white on a tiny screen. But my dad was really a film buff of the classic Hollywood era, and he would lead me to different films. He’d say things like, “Why don’t you take a nap after school so you can stay up and watch On the Waterfront with me.” I have specific memories of watching things with him, but I am never sure what films they were. I know what sort of films: Bogart and John Wayne and James Cagney.

It was also a time for a movie buff where you used the library. You read about movies and then you would pour over the TV Guide to see what was showing that week because you had these movies that you’d read about your whole life that you’d never had a chance to see--even in New York City where there were these great repertory cinemas that showed programs of Fellini films and film noir and all these other things--you could go ten, fifteen years waiting to see a particular film.

We live in a golden age. You can watch thousands of movies without getting out of your chair. I remember it was decades before I got a chance to see [Orson Welles’] Touch of Evil. Same with The Manchurian Candidate or certain foreign films that you would read about but you just never saw [in theaters]. It was a different time and a challenge to be a film buff.

Has something been lost with all this convenience?

Oh, I don’t know. I suppose it winds up throwing all movies into the same pool, but I think we’re better off being able to see things. If I get interested in Carl Theodor Dreyer, or some obscure director, I can see most of his work without traveling to Denmark. It’s kind of overwhelming, but it’s definitely better.

What influenced you to become a film critic?

I was always steeped in journalistic writing and I always wanted to be a writer. [As a child,] The writers that drew me were columnists and opinion writers--the people who had their little picture in the paper seemed to carry more authority than the guys who just had their names.

But it wasn’t until after graduate school that I started writing about film. My first gig was about 26 years ago, and it barely paid. I mean barely. I was lucky because I was in Southern California and even though I didn’t have any relevant degree or experience, there were a lot of entry-level jobs at entertainment publications.

I got hired by a magazine called Boxoffice, which is a trade publication for theater owners. We wrote articles about peanut or coconut oil for popcorn. "Cup holders: Are they the new thing?" But we also reviewed every movie, including porn.

How was that?

Well, I didn’t do it, we had correspondents. The mail would come and the other editors and I would look at it and say, “Do we draw straws to see who touches that thing?”

We were a very active magazine and I got to do all sorts of reporting, writing, interviewing, and reviewing. It was a real introduction to the field and within about a year and half I went to a much better magazine called American Film where I was senior editor. Before I was there, it was owned by the American Film Institute and everyone in Hollywood was a member of the AFI so they all got American Film Magazine.

We would get letters, not for publication, from Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck, Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee. These people would call if they saw something they didn’t like or they would try and get things into the magazine that they were interested in.

On one hand, that was a kind of pressure. On the other hand, it meant that if we wanted to send a reporter to a set or get an interview, we had a lot of good fortune. We were very successful even though we weren’t a massive magazine like Premiere or Entertainment Weekly. We were prestigious. We weren’t interested in gossip. We weren’t interested in who is making how much money. We were interested in the art of films so people felt safe talking to us. I interviewed Akira Kurosawa and Pedro Almodóvar and Wim Wenders. You could get these people on the phone because you were American Film.

Give me a highlight from your time with American Film—whether it was someone you interviewed, a celebrity you met, or maybe even if Spike Lee called you to bitch.

All those things happened.

I was invited to the opening gala for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Library--the people who give the Oscars. It was the most star-studded thing I have ever been to and I’ve covered the Oscars. But this was like a cocktail party and you were surrounded by legends. It was still the late '80s, so in the room were Elizabeth Taylor and James Stewart, Gregory Peck and Shelley Winters and lots of contemporary stars, but I saw those people all the time. These people were done making movies and you never saw them out.

As I said, I got to interview Akira Kurosawa, which was a crazy interview. He was in Japan, I was in Los Angeles, and we were conducting the interview via fax. I would fax a question and he would fax an answer. He was so kind about the whole thing that afterwards, I didn’t ask for it, he sent me a copy of his autobiography in Japanese, autographed.

What gets you excited in today's film world?

There are a couple of dozen filmmakers that I get excited by. Not so much actors anymore. Actors I enjoy, but actors are kind of like pitchers on a baseball team. If it’s a good baseball team, you could pitch a good game and if your team scores nine runs and doesn’t make any errors, you’re the hero. But you pitch the exact same game and you have a shitty team that doesn’t score and they keep dropping the ball, you’re gonna lose. That’s the way it is with actors.

In Portland, the directors whose work I always look forward to include Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, Aaron Katz, and increasingly Kelly Reichardt. Then people like Almodóvar, Scorsese, Soderbergh, Wes Anderson, Bryan Singer, the Coen brothers, David Lynch, Sam Raimi, Spielberg. There are so many.

How do you view new films? Do you physically go to a theater for a screening or do you get a lot of DVDs?

Both. I would say maybe 40% of the movies that we review are from [DVD] screeners. But, the major studios do not release screener copies of their films because they are so worried about bootlegging. For studio films, we’ll see them anywhere from two weeks to three days in advance of opening day.

And when you watch a screening in a theater, do you always sit in the same place?

Left side aisle, about two-thirds of the way back. I’m fidgety. I am really fidgety if I don’t like the movie.

What's your best advice for aspiring writers?

You can't follow everyone out of the bookstore and explain what you meant. What you meant has to be on the page, otherwise you're not doing your job. Publication is a form of letting go and when you let go, the words are subject to scrutiny. You may not always like what the scrutiny brings, but that’s the job. If you're writing for readers, then readers do have the last say.

Read this article in About Face Magazine.

Friday, March 4, 2011

introspective atmospherics : q/a with cale parks of brahms

Brooklyn-based, “chillwave” trio BRAHMS performed their debut gig just “three months after we played the first notes together,” says lead singer and producer Cale Parks. “That’s when we became BRAHMS, at that first show at Terminal 5 in New York opening for Passion Pit” in January 2010.

Not bad for a band who until recently had only released four, hastily recorded demos. “We made these four songs to make a MySpace page basically to book shows as a new band.” Parks continues, “The new songs are nothing like the demo. It’s the same band but [in the beginning] we made a bunch of songs and knew we wanted to be a band but we didn’t have an album written.”

That album is now written, yet to be recorded, and being finalized while the band is currently on tour opening for Asobi Seksu, visiting the West Coast for the first time. (Plus they even share a couple of upcoming road dates with Starfucker before they hit SXSW.) Portland was spared the misfortune of missing the band as they recently had to cancel the three preceding shows “due to a family emergency” and are still on schedule to play the Doug Fir on Sunday, March 6th.

The latest offering of BRAHMS’ darkly atmospheric, surging style is the self-filmed music video for “Repeat It,” the B-side to their soon-to-be-released debut 7-inch. “‘Repeat It’ is like ’90s, Front 242 industrial gothic with actual melodies–a dance track but still our thing,” according to Parks. After shooting the footage themselves on their iPhones and surveillance cameras while on tour and while in Tokyo, BRAHMS first-ever video was edited by friend Adam Bennett.

The new BRAHMS tracks offer a bit of a departure from what early internet (and East Coast) fans heard on their demo. “It’s gonna be more chilled and atmospheric,” Parks says. “All the sounds are gonna be a little more intense, bassier” as reflected on the above track and the 7-inch A-side, “Add It Up” (listen below).

The difference is, the music BRAHMS is now creating has a definite vision; it’s survived a year-long gestation period. They are decidedly, especially in the live setting, “going less for ‘dance music’ like Hot Chip or Passion Pit or a dance show. It’s more about creating some kind of atmosphere,” says Parks, to get people thinking about the sounds. It’s passionate and introspective. “There’s definitely more to it than getting drunk and dancing.”

The rest of the new material for their future album is still in flux. While on tour, they band has lots of planning to do, figuring out how to finalize the songs and record them, but most of all, they’re looking forward to returning home to New York City in April, inspired to finish the record.

“All the songs are written so there’s no more writing in the studio as we go along,” says Parks. “But we’re taking our time, and I don’t think a year as a band is a very long time to work on an album, but I guess in today’s internet time, it is.”

Continually working on some 30 songs, the band now needs to choose which songs work together as an album. “In the context of the flow and vibe of an entire album, I think we’ve narrowed it down to 11 songs. We have no idea how it’s even going to be released. It’s still in such early stages but there is an actual album being formed now which is really exciting because you can see the picture and what it’s going to be like–just making it come true and happen and getting it out there.”

Putting out their debut album also includes managing their own style as they create photography, album art, and music videos. So far, they’ve done it all themselves. “Unless you control the way you present things visually, other people will try to do it for you,” simply states Parks. “It comes to the point where we do have people that want to help out and they’ll have a very good foundation because we will have presented that to them.”

Performing “solo music for a few years off and on” under his own name, Cale Parks, 30, (who formerly held down the rhythm sections of indie bands Aloha, White Williams and Cex) is a Cincinnati native but NYC resident for five years. Looking to put together a live band in October 2009 to back his solo project, he hooked up with Drew Robinson, who “I knew was looking to start something new,” says Parks, and Robinson’s friend and fellow Baltimorean Eric Lodwick.

In BRAHMS, Parks, who has a Bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies and Percussion Performance, handles the beat production and all percussion as well as playing the keyboard and singing. On guitar, vocals and keys is Drew Robinson with Eric Lodwick providing bass, some synths, and backing vox.

Read the rest on OMN.