interviews 2006

Secret Machines

Secret Machines

From Dallas to Brooklyn, and now to Chicago, Secret Machines have stopped by to talk with Jim and Greg and play a rare acoustic performance. The band is known for their full-blown, spacey rock sound, which Greg explains was perfect for the outdoor setting at Lollapalooza this summer. It's interesting, therefore, to hear them so stripped down. Listen to brothers Benjamin Curtis and Brandon Curtis on guitars and Josh Garza on percussion as they perform "Daddy's in the Doldrums" off their most recent album Ten Silver Drops and a cover of "Rest of the Day," by fellow Texans Bedhead. You can also check out the bonus track "1000 Seconds."

The Machines talk about their evolution as a band, which wasn't ordinary. They moved to New York and set up recording time in a studio before they had ever even played together. Their do-it-yourself attitude has paid off though. Both Ten Silver Drops and their debut Now Here is Nowhere were recorded by the band, despite requests from big name producers like Bob Ezrin. Thank God for Eno's "oblique strategies."

Go to episode 57
Andy Summers

Andy Summers of The Police

This week Jim and Greg sit down with Andy Summers, former guitarist for 1980s supergroup The Police. Andy was in town promoting his latest tome, "One Train Later." It's a memoir — a good one according to Jim and Greg — about his years before and during the Police era. Andy is honest and frank in the book, and it comes across in the interview. Our hosts start things off by asking Andy about the origins of the band and The Police's distinctive sound. Andy was largely influenced by jazz growing up and firmly established himself as a professional musician well before he helped form The Police. He had a brief stint with the jazz fusion/progressive rock band Soft Machine and did session work during the 1970s for artists like Neil Sedaka and Joan Armatrading. His Police band mate, drummer Stewart Copeland also came from a musically trained background. Jim points the irony in having two highly trained musicians emerge out of the British punk scene — a scene that demanded unpolished musicians and hated solos. Andy considers The Police to have been fake punk band.

Although Jim did not get to catch The Police at their first US gig at CBGB's, he did see the band shortly after at New York's The Bottom Line. The young self-proclaimed“drum geek”strategically sat behind Stewart Copeland's drum kit. He discovered The Police's disdain for each other, noting the“nasty, nasty”words Stewart had written in magic marker on his drum skins cursing the other band members. Jim asked Andy what it was like to work in such acrimonious conditions, especially with the rising megastar Sting. Summers says nothing negative about his experience and feels the fights helped fuel the creativity of the band. Greg reiterates that although several people over the years mistake The Police as Sting's band, Andy and Stewart really shaped the sound. Andy concurs, detailing how songs like "Walking on the Moon" and "When the World is Running Down" involved all three members of the band.

As the interview nears a close, Jim asks the question that burns in the brain of many a Police fan: Will The Police reunite? Andy is up for reuniting and is in contact with the other two members (he had dinner with them this year) but he won‘t sit around waiting for the phone to ring. He’s busy with his own career, producing solo albums, and working as a photographer and bandleader. The closest the Police came to a reunion was in 2003 for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. A reunion still sounds possible — let's hope this former Sting fan doesn't squelch such a possibility.

Go to episode 53
Pere Ubu live

Pere Ubu

It is rare that true pioneers grace the Sound Opinions studio, but this week Jim and Greg are joined by punk progenitors Pere Ubu. Many credit the famous (and often infamous) Cleveland band for being on the ground floor of the punk movement, but band leader David Thomas doesn‘t really buy into that label. In pure Thomas form, the singer/songwriter grouses about punk’s corporate co-opting, and prefers to think of himself as a folk singer. Whatever you want to call it, Sound Opinions thinks it rocks. Check out their performances of songs "Babylonian Warehouses" and "Caroleen," off their new album Why I Hate Women.

The title of Pere Ubu's new album, Why I Hate Women, is certainly a conversation starter. But, as discussed, these views don‘t represent those of David Thomas or Pere Ubu. Like many of Thomas’ songs, the tracks on this album are written from the perspective of a character, in this case inspired by the fictional writings of pulp novelist Jim Thompson. Thomas explains that most songs are just stories, defying the notion that 20-year-old rock stars have any true angst.

Go to episode 51
DJ Shadow

DJ Shadow

This week Jim and Greg are joined by John Davis, otherwise known as DJ Shadow. For listeners not familiar with DJ Shadow, he is an innovative and experimental hip-hop producer with an ability to infuse other music genres, sounds and samples into his work. For many, his album Entroducing is one of the landmark works of the last decade. His recent album The Outsider was not received as well. (Check out Jim and Greg's review). Our hosts ask Shadow about the scrutiny and why he chose to compose an album on his own instead of emphasizing samples. Fans, even those who were disheartened by The Outsider, will appreciate his desire to stretch himself and make something completely new.

As mentioned above, The Outsider put more of the focus on guest vocalists and rappers than on samples. But with the current state of the music industry, Sound Opinions can't blame him. Greg asks the DJ what it was like to make music in the post-Paul's Boutique era, when copyright laws are making life more difficult for sample-based musicians. DJ Shadow explains that for him, using other people's music is both a way to be nostalgic and a way to call attention to music that people wouldn't hear otherwise. For more insight into copyright and copyright culture, check out Jim and Greg's interview with legal expert Lawrence Lessig.

Go to episode 50
Moby

Moby

Singer, songwriter, producer, and now troubadour Moby joined Jim and Greg a few weeks ago for a live interview and performance at the Public Radio Programmer's Conference in Philadelphia, PA, known to us in the biz as the PRPD. Moby has been on the show a number of times, but never before a live audience. The first song he performs is actually one he worked on for John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004 — and we'd like to think this event was no less auspicious for Moby. Also enjoy his rendition of a Johnny Cash song (one written by June Carter Cash), and feel free to sing along!

In between musical interludes that include the tracks "Go" and "Porcelain," Jim and Greg walk Moby through his musical evolution. His career, which now spans over 20 years, is celebrated in a new double-disc set entitled Go: The Very Best of Moby. Though, as Jim points out, the album doesn‘t do justice’s to Moby's hardcore punk, or even hardcore electronica roots. Fans know that Moby is no stranger to extremes, though. In addition to being a“rock star,”Moby is a Christian, a vegan, and… a tea lover!

Go to episode 49
Bauhaus

Scary Lady Sarah

For Jim and Greg, the ultimate Goth progenitors are the band Bauhaus. Named for the German art movement, the group made minimalist, electronic music that focused on dark subjects. Initially, they shied away from the term“Goth,”but with song titles like that of their debut single, "Bela Lugosi's Dead," you can understand why it stuck. Greg saw the group at the Coachella Music Festival in 2005, and vocalist Peter Murphy performed the entire song suspended upside down over the stage like a bat. So, it seems they've warmed up to the Goth moniker.

In order to go deeper into the Goth underground, Jim and Greg invite Scary Lady Sarah to join the show. Our guest has been a mainstay on the goth scene for almost 20 years. She is a DJ and promoter based in Chicago and Berlin, and runs American Goth Productions.

Scary Lady Sarah's goth rock picks:

Her other current faves include:

Go to episode 47
Glenn Kotche of Wilco

Glenn Kotche

This week Jim and Greg are joined by percussionist extraordinaire Glenn Kotche. He is best known as one of the members of Wilco, but he also has a number of side projects, and a new solo album entitled Mobile. Glenn joins our hosts to discuss all things drumming and to play some of his inventive music. What makes Glenn's drumming style so special is that it ranges from the avant-garde to the straight-ahead rock he does with Wilco, yet it's always in service of the song. You can hear his solo tracks "Monkey Chant" and "Projections of (What) Might" during the show.

After playing for a bit, Glenn gives our hosts a little tour around his kit. Some of Glenn's toys include crotales, a glockenspiel, contact mics (which amplify and alter the drum sounds), and a superball mallet (or half of it). The drummer also has a prepared snare drum which is affixed with different springs and wires, similar to a John Cage prepared piano. He also stole his wife's fruit basket, which the two received as a wedding present. But, perhaps the most unusual percussion instruments that Glenn uses are light-sensitive toy crickets that anyone can pick up in Chinatown.

The discussion ends with a conversation about some of the best (and worst) rock drummers. Some of Jim, Greg, and Glenn's favorites include: Mo Tucker of the Velvet Underground, Meg White of The White Stripes, Elliott Smith, Levon Helm of The Band, and Keith Moon of The Who (despite the accusations of overplaying).

Go to episode 42
Gov't Mule

Gov't Mule

Warren Haynes and his band Gov't Mule join Jim and Greg on the show this week. Haynes first became well-known as Duane Allman's replacement in the Allman Brothers. He played guitar and sang with the band until 1997, when he left to form Gov't Mule. He and drummer Matt Abts, keyboardist Danny Louis and bassist Andy Hess recently launched a new tour, and this show marks the group's very first performance with everyone together—though the band is no stranger to touring. They have a huge concert following, which is why many include Gov't Mule in the jam band category. You won't hear Jim and Greg utter that term too often though.

This tour coincides with the release of the band's new album High and Mighty, and they play two new songs from the record, "Mr. High and Mighty" and "Children of the Earth," on the show. Jim and Greg note that Warren is "pretty ticked off" on a lot of the record. Warren explains that despite a potential backlash, it's important more now than ever for citizens and musicians to express themselves and be political.

Go to episode 40
Mission of Burma

Mission of Burma

This week's guests are the men of Mission of Burma: Roger Miller, Clint Conley, Peter Prescott, and Bob Weston. The post-punk pioneers were in Chicago to perform at the Pitchfork Music Festival, so they stopped by Sound Opinions for a discussion and performance. Jim and Greg explain that Mission of Burma is a rare example of a band able to break up, reunite and continue making music as good as (if not better than) they did before. Burma's first incarnation was in the early 1980s — they recorded one album in 1982 before they had to disband due to Roger's debilitating tinnitus, but their influence is undeniable. The band returned twenty years later to tour and record OnOffOn, and have recently released The Obliterati, which both Jim and Greg say may make their Best of 2006 lists.

Mission of Burma is known for combining pop melodies with quite a lot of noise. These characteristics often get the band thrown in the same pot as bands like Gang of Four and Wire, but listeners shouldn‘t confuse these post-punkers. One of Burma’s distinctive features is their use of tape loops. During their first go-around, Martin Swope would record the band's sound and manipulate it live with a reel-to-reel tape machine. Now Shellac's Bob Weston has the job, and you can hear the effects on "Max Ernst," which they perform live on the show. Another famous looper is Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, though he works digitally.

Another Burma trademark is the songwriting. All three regular members, Roger, Clint and Peter, pen very smart, rather literate lyrics. An example of this is another song they perform live, "Donna Sumeria." While it was Roger's attempt at a love song, it's also a witty pun on Donna Summer and the ancient Middle Eastern civilization. Greg cites it as an example of Burma's punk sensibility. Their music doesn't have rules and can even have disco elements.

Go to episode 38
Jason Lytle

Jason Lytle

Jason Lytle, the man behind Grandaddy, joins Jim and Greg in the studio this week. Grandaddy has impressed our hosts for years with its folk-pop melodies and adventurous, atmospheric production. The band's recent release, Just Like the Fambly Cat, however, was their last. Lytle discusses his decision to disband with Jim and Greg, explaining that the music industry and life on the road became too demanding. With the exception of a tour Grandaddy did with Elliott Smith, Lytle was unhappy with how larger corporate tours were structured. For this current acoustic tour, Lytle wanted to return to a simple road trip among friends.

Fans of Grandaddy need not mourn the loss of Lytle's songwriting and production, however. He has relocated to Montana, but promises that more music is still to come. Listen to the two songs he performs, "Disconnecty" and "Jeez Louise," the latter of which is semi-autobiographical. In addition, Lytle treats us to a Sheryl Crow cover, "Always on Your Side" — a surprising choice for sure. Next time perhaps he'll treat us to a song by Electric Light Orchestra, another secret favorite of our guest.

Go to episode 37
The Bellrays

The BellRays

California garage rockers The BellRays join Jim and Greg in the studio this week. Some listeners may be hearing of the band for the first time (as our hosts explain, they are a group on the rise). The BellRays gained attention at festivals like SXSW and through their appearance in a Nissan Xterra commercial, but many people may only be familiar with lead singer Lisa Kekaula's side projects: Her powerful voice has been lent to Crystal Method, Basement Jaxx, and a recent MC5 reunion tour.

No one should doubt that The BellRays is a collaborative effort, though. The band's fifth album, Have a Little Faith, was produced by bassist Bob Vennum (who happens to be Lisa's husband), and most of the songs were written by guitarist Tony Fate. These three are joined by drummer Craig Waters to achieve a sound that is hard to describe. Many clichés have been attached to the group's music, which our hosts decided to call "part Tina Turner, part MC5." It's all fine with the band; just don‘t say they’re from Detroit.

Go to episode 35
Rhymefest

Rhymefest

Rapper Rhymefest joins Jim and Greg on the show this week. Rhymefest, born Che Smith in Chicago's Jeffrey Manor neighborhood, is one of many Chicago rappers slated to be the next Kanye or Common. But Rhymefest is no novice to the scene. A longtime staple of the city's battle rapping scene, Rhymefest initially claimed fame after defeating Eminem in an emcee tournament. He later helped to pen Kanye West's Grammy-winning song "Jesus Walks." But now listeners can hear some of Rhymefest's own work, from his major label debut Blue Collar, released this week.

Two of the tracks you'll hear are "Devil's Pie," which is based on a sample of The Strokes' "Someday," and "Bullet," which samples Citizen Cope's "Bullet and a Target." Rhymefest plays“Bullet”and explains the story behind this track to Jim and Greg. He recounts being at the mall, and seeing a promotion to win a brand new Hummer. But upon further investigation, the rapper discovers that this is not a sweepstakes he is signing up for, but rather the U.S. Army.

Go to episode 33
Jon Brion

Jon Brion

Jon Brion visits the show this week to perform and talk with Jim and Greg. Brion is mostly known for his production work with artists like Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple and Kanye West. Brion is also responsible for the innovative soundtracks to Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist was in town to perform at Chicago's Intonation Music Festival, and he stopped by to meet with our hosts, as well as a live studio audience.

What listeners may not know is that Jon Brion is also an accomplished solo artist, albeit not a prolific one. He holds a residency at Los Angeles club Largo, where he performs a cabaret-style act. Recently, however, a severe case of tendinitis has prevented Brion from playing live much. Lucky for Jim, Greg, and the audience, he was able to play both the piano and the "taro patch" during the interview. You can hear Brion perform "Knock Yourself Out" from I Heart Huckabees and the theme to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for the show.

One of the ideas our guest discusses with Jim and Greg is the art of the song. He finds songs to be“astonishing”and distinguishes them from“performance pieces.”Brion's example is the music of Led Zeppelin. He loves Zeppelin, but asks the listener to compare their melodies to that of someone like George Gershwin. Brion adds that one rocker who did manage to write wonderfully constructed songs that will stand the test of time is Kurt Cobain. Listen to how he plays Nirvana's "Lithium" followed by an old Cole Porter standard.

Go to episode 32
Radiohead

Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood

This week on the show, Jim and Greg have two very special guests: Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of the band Radiohead. Our hosts consider Radiohead one of the most important bands of the past two decades, and were thrilled to have the lead singer and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist on the show. Greg asserts that Kid A is the most avant-garde album to ever debut at the top of the Billboard charts — it's rare that a band can be so experimental and still achieve such mainstream success.

Radiohead was in Chicago to perform two shows at the Auditorium Theatre, and when they come to town, it is always memorable. Their 2001 outdoor performance at Hutchinson Field was a landmark event for Chicago music. Though the city has not always been eager to invite droves of young rockers into its public spaces, the success of that show seems to have paved the way for outdoor music concerts like Lollapalooza. Nevertheless, the Brits‘ return to the city this year was not completely drama free. The city rejected the band’s bid to play at Millennium Park, although it's not clear whether or not Radiohead would have even accepted. Never one to do the same thing twice, the band was eager to try out a smaller, indoor venue like the Auditorium Theatre.

Thom and Jonny explain that this tour was an opportunity to work on songs that may be a part of their upcoming 2007 release. That's good news, since some suspected that there might not even be a next album. Radiohead's extended family keeps growing, as does their interest in solo work, so there was speculation that they might not continue in this incarnation. But unlike bands of their stature who stay together for the sake of the business, the bandmates explain that Radiohead will go on as long as the music makes it worth it. And in the meantime, they'll have to juggle the music with the nappies.

Doing solo projects is still a priority for members of Radiohead. Jonny composed the music for the 2004 film Bodysong, which he also co-produced. And Thom Yorke will be releasing The Eraser in July, though he explains that the term“solo”is not really appropriate in this case. The album was produced and arranged by longtime Radiohead collaborater Nigel Godrich, and contains music composed by his bandmates.

One of the songs on The Eraser, "Harrowdown Hill," was inspired by the death of weapons inspector and government scientist Dr. David Kelly. After acting as a whistle-blower and telling a journalist that he disagreed with claims the British government made about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Kelly was found dead only days later. A Parliamentary committee investigated the death and determined it to be suicide, but many, including Thom, are skeptical of the validity of this finding. It's not the first time Thom and the band have infused their music with political meaning — though, as Thom explains to Jim and Greg, his approach differs from that of his fellow countryman.

Go to episode 30
Common

Common

This week on the show Jim and Greg meet with rapper Common, who happens to be visiting his hometown. Common is currently touring to promote his sixth (and, some would say, best) album, Be. Jim and Greg note that most hip-hop artists don‘t have his kind of longevity. In fact, Common is at an age where he has started to balance his career with fatherhood. Greg, who visited the set of Common’s sultry video shoot for the song "Go," asks him how he‘ll be able to present his more adult side to his daughter. Fans of Common’s videos should also check out his most recent, and most cinematic, "Testify."

Common actually performs "Testify" live for our hosts. This song was produced by longtime collaborator and fellow southsider Kanye West, and includes the producer's signature use of soul samples. For Be, Common also worked with ?uestlove of The Roots and rapper and producer J Dilla, who passed away just weeks before this interview. Dilla, or Jay Dee, has been a mainstay on the hip-hop scene, producing songs for De La Soul, Pharcyde, Janet Jackson, and D'Angelo. Dilla also worked with Common on Like Water For Chocolate, producing one of his biggest hits, "The Light." As Common explains, the loss of his friend and former roommate will be life-changing. And in his memory, the rapper does some freestyling over Dilla instrumentals — a first for Sound Opinions.

Go to episode 26
Art Brut

Art Brut

This week's guests are the members of Art Brut: Eddie Argos, Ian Catskilkin, Jasper Future, Mikey B., and Freddy Feedback. Sound Opinions was anxious to get these Brits on the show after seeing them play at the SXSW Festival in Austin, TX. The band, which got its name from a French theory of outsider art, was in Chicago as part of its first U.S. tour, and just released its first album, Bang Bang Rock and Roll, in the U.S. earlier this week.

After lead singer and songwriter Eddie Argos warns the kids to "stay off the crack", we hear a bit of music by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. Richman was a major influence on Argos as a songwriter. Argos explains that his career as a musician did not really come easily. After his former bandmates all left to go to university, Argos moved to London for a second try. But there were not many takers, because, as Argos explains, he is not much of a singer and can't play an instrument. Lucky for us, an inebriated Argos was able to convince a few people to join him, and so emerged Art Brut.

What Argos may lack in singing talent and musical ability, he certainly makes up for in personality. In the vein of singers like Damon Albarn and Lou Reed, Argos knows that attitude, wit and a voice are more important than formal training. That voice comes through in songs like "Formed a Band," where he expresses delight in the sheer act of forming a band.“Why not?”he explains to Jim and Greg.“Why can't we get on Top of the Pops?”People who have seen the band (who tours in a 40-foot tour bus) play live know that is a valid question indeed.

Go to episode 24
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Jim and Greg sit down with the band Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. This East Coast quintet was one of the success stories of 2005. They paid for, produced, and released their self-titled debut album on the ‘net without the help of a record label. Now they’ve sold over 100,000 albums and are selling out shows across the country. Professor Lawrence Lessig, cyberlaw expert and esteemed Sound Opinions guest, cites the band as an example of how people can use the Internet to propel music. A community formed around the band — one that was still willing to pay for their music despite the fact that it was available for free. As Jim points out, this completely contradicts what the RIAA and music industry execs would have you believe.

The lead singer of Clap Your Hands, Alec Ounsworth, is often compared to Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, and this goes beyond just vocal quality. Alec mentions his love of Another Green World by groundbreaking“non-musician”Brian Eno (or Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno as his parents know him). You can hear a lot of the New Wave sound and Eno's philosophy in the band's music, like on the spartan, rhythmic New York sound of "Sombre Reptiles."

The band, which got its name after the members saw“Clap Your Hands Say Yeah”scrawled on a Brooklyn wall, play several songs from their debut album. Jim sees keyboardist Robbie Guertin's parents sitting in the Chicago Public Radio control room and reminisces about when his own mom used to come to see him play at less-than-refined venues like CBGB's. He adds that Joey Ramone's mom also used to carpool him and the rest of the band to their gigs. It seems parental support is crucial to punk rock success.

Go to episode 22
Steve Wynn & The Miracle Three

Steve Wynn

In preparation for this week's guest, Steve Wynn, Jim and Greg do a little primer on the Paisley Underground music scene that developed in California in the 1980s. Jim plays a song by one of the seminal bands of this scene, The 3 O'Clock, whose very psychedelic name was inspired by Tom Wolfe's assertion in "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" that if one drops acid in the early evening, the high of the trip will occur at 3:00 a.m. The 3 O'Clock was helmed by Michael Quercio, a musician who started as a punk rocker. After discovering psychedelic rock, however, his sound, and his look, began to change. It was Cuercio's affinity for the music of the '60s, as well as the brightly colored paisley clothes, that gave this scene its name. While the name did not do the music justice, the influence of the Paisley Underground on contemporary bands like Oasis and The Secret Machines is undeniable.

It may surprise to listeners who are only familiar with "Walk Like an Egyptian," but The Bangles were also pioneers of the Paisley Underground. Their original sound, with its three- and four-part harmonies and sing-songy melodies, paralleled that of The Mamas and the Papas and The Byrds. Lead singer Susanna Hoffs continues to work in this genre; she and '90s indie pop star Matthew Sweet just released a 1960s covers album featuring songs by The Left Banke, The Beach Boys and The Who.

Greg points out that the Paisley Underground sound was not a homogenous one — in fact, what bonded these bands was a punk sensibility that welcomed other musical styles. Unlike many other punk bands at the time, these acts didn't see why they had to conform to a strict policy of three-minute, Ramones-style songs. And what's more punk rock than non-conformity? One band that went above and beyond its punk and psychedelic influences was The Long Ryders. They took more of a country approach and can be seen as pioneers of the alternative country scene that now houses bands like Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, and The Bottle Rockets.

The Rain Parade is the next Paisley Underground band up for discussion. While the members of The Rain Parade never saw the major label success like their peers in The Bangles or The 3 O'Clock (who were signed to Prince's Paisley Park label), many went on to work on successful projects. David Robeck formed the band Mazzy Star, which had an alternative hit single with "Fade Into You" in 1993 and Matt Piucci went on to work with Crazy Horse. The remaining bandmates reincarnated themselves as Viva Saturn.

Greg plays a song featuring this week's guest, Steve Wynn. His band The Dream Syndicate was a group that both Jim and Greg became fans of in the early '80s. They emerged in LA as one of the pioneers of the Paisley Underground sound. Steve then released a number of solo records and has spent the last few years with his most recent band, The Miracle 3. Steve and his band members, Linda Pitmon, Dave DeCastro and Kirk Swan, joined Jim and Greg for an interview and performance at the Chicago Recording Company.

The Dream Syndicate never made it into the 1990s, but its innovative sound continued to influence artists. While other LA bands at the time, like Black Flag, Social Distortion and Bad Religion, were making post-punk and punk music with a really hard edge, The Dream Syndicate stuck to a swirlier, psychedelic pop sound. For this reason, Jim and Greg explain, no matter how many solo projects he embarks on, our guest will most likely always be remembered as the lead singer of The Dream Syndicate.

After playing a track from Days of Wine and Roses, which Greg calls one of the masterpieces of the Paisley Underground era, our host asks Steve about the chemistry between two guitarists. In this case, Steve's partner in guitar is Kirk Swan, who was in another innovative '80s indie pop band, Dumptruck, Steve responds that the basic formula of guitar, drums, and bass is simple, but never gets old. He points to bands like Neil Young and Crazy Horse and Television as examples.

Jim asks Steve about why he continues on in this business after so many years. As Steve jokes on his website, this new album is one of several“comebacks,”but music is not such an easy life to come back to. After being pegged the“new Springsteen,”Steve and the band had somewhat of a difficult time. He explains how that hurt the band (and indirectly how he hurt Jim one drunken night). Thankfully they both came out on the other side.

Go to episode 21
Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins

Jenny Lewis

Another California native with a country spirit is singer/songwriter Jenny Lewis. The Rilo Kiley frontwoman joins Jim and Greg to talk about her latest solo album, Rabbit Fur Coat. Last year Rilo Kiley achieved some success with their second album More Adventurous, and even opened for Coldplay and played at Coachella. Therefore, the timing of this solo project seems to be curious. As Jenny explains, however, doing solo projects and side projects has always been apart of her band's experience. She previously worked with Ben Gibbard on The Postal Service, and Rilo Kiley bandmate Blake Sennett has another band called The Elected.

One of Jenny's motivations for this solo album was her desire to sing with women. She is joined on Rabbit Fur Coat and in our studio by The Watson Twins, Chandra and Leigh Watson. Jenny explains that she grew up singing with her mother and was inspired by albums like Gonna Take a Miracle by Laura Nyro and LaBelle.

It should be noted that Jenny didn‘t just grow up singing. She was also a fairly successful child actress and appeared in ’80s movies like Troop Beverly Hills and The Wizard. She explores some of that history on the album. She also addresses people who are skeptical of her authenticity — being that she was born in Las Vegas and bred in L.A. rather than Kentucky. But, as Jenny points out and as listeners learned in the previous segment, California and towns like Bakersfield have significant country roots. Oddly enough, Jenny is not the only member of Rilo Kiley to have that dreaded“child actor”label. Blake Sennett was a regular on shows like Boy Meets World and Salute Your Shorts.

Go to episode 19
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club joined our hosts for an in-studio Buried Treasures performance. Listen to their live songs performed exclusively for Sound Opinions.

Go to episode 16
Jeff Chang

Jeff Chang

Jeff Chang, author of Can‘t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation, joins Jim and Greg in the studio this week. Jeff, who co-founded the Quannum Label in San Francisco, was on the show previously when his book first came out, and he and our hosts engaged in a discussion of hip-hop's history. Now that Jeff's book has come out on paperback, Jim and Greg welcome him back to the show to discuss where hip-hop is today and where it is going. In order to get a sense of hip-hop's diverse makeup, the three music journalists decide to embark on a geographical tour of the genre, beginning with Chicago and working their way through the United States, and even the U.K.

Go to episode 15
Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

Film critic Roger Ebert joins Jim and Greg this week. The three critics sit down to discuss some of their favorite movies made about music. Roger has called Woodstock the greatest rock documentary ever made. In fact, he thinks it's just one of the best movies ever made. He also recommends Hard Day's Night and Gimme Shelter. One movie Roger didn't love was Martin Scorcese's film Don't Look Back. In Roger's original review, he took Bob Dylan to task for being kind of a jerk (though he reconsidered the movie years later).

One of Jim and Greg's favorite rock and roll movies was actually written by Roger Ebert himself. He wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls with Russ Meyer. The movie was quite successful and eventually became a cult classic, particularly in the rock world. The original story, written by Jacqueline Susann, was about struggling actresses. In this version, the actresses were turned into struggling rock stars. Despite the fact that the movie is not mentioned in Fox's official history, it is coming out this year on DVD.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was not our guest's only screenplay. Roger and his partner Russ Meyer also penned a The Sex Pistols movie entitled Who Killed Bambi. The movie never came to frution, but Roger describes his memorable experiences meeting Sid Vicious and John Lydon.

Before they let him leave, Jim and Greg ask the movie expert about music. Roger chooses Hank Williams as his DIJ pick, and also talks about being a fan of the Mills Brothers, Laurie Anderson, and fellow Chicago native Liz Phair.

Go to episode 14
Leslie Feist

Feist

This week's guest is Leslie Feist, an up-and-coming singer/songwriter. Born in Calgary and bred in the Toronto music scene, Feist is one of many Canadian indie acts rising in popularity. It seems that our neighbor to the north is the next Seattle or Portland. Bands like Broken Social Scene and Peaches, who can both claim Feist as collaborators, plus The Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, Metric, Stars, The Constantines, Hidden Cameras, and Death from Above 1979, are all coming out of Canada (and are all a far cry from Shania Twain or Bryan Adams). During her interview with Jim and Greg, Feist performs "Gatekeeper," "Mushaboom," and a cover of "Secret Heart" by Ron Sexsmith. There are a number of covers on her latest album, Let It Die, including "In and Out" by The Bee Gees and "Now at Last" by Blossom Dearie.

Go to episode 13
Copyright Symbol

Lawrence Lessig

Next up, Jim and Greg play a bit of The Grey Album, a mashup of The Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album made by DJ Danger Mouse. This album received a lot of critical praise in 2004 (it even topped both Jim and Greg's year-end lists). It's a completely modern work that could not be made without recent digital technologies. The rub? It cannot be purchased anywhere, and most people who have heard it don't own a hard copy. This is because according to current copyright law, what DJ Danger Mouse did was completely illegal. To discuss how laws like this are stifling art, and how music in the digital age is changing, Jim and Greg welcome the definitive expert on this issue: Lawrence Lessig. Professor Lessig, a faculty member of Stanford Law School and founder of its Center for Internet and Society, has authored three books on cyber law and free culture, tried cases before the Supreme Court and founded Creative Commons, an organization trying to expand the range of creative work legally available to share.

While copyright laws have existed for over 200 years, music was not protected for a long time. Early in the 20th century, protections for musicians and songwriters were put in place, but these laws did not necessarily hinder creativity. Once a song was recorded, anyone had the right to record it. This encouraged artists and was fundamental to the growth of the music industry — so much so that even the RIAA defended this right. The 21st century version of this kind of conversation between artists is sampling — but under current law, Professor Lessig explains, sampling is considered piracy. Therefore, creative expression and evolution are not fostered the way they were in the last century.

Digital copyright laws also affect the consumer. In fact, Lessig suggests that“creator”might be a more appropriate name. In the last century, fans would buy music or make mixtapes, but current technology allows listeners to take part in the creative process. The law currently treats these creative consumers, many of whom are kids, as thieves. While our guest doesn't condone illegal behavior, he hopes to see existing laws change, rather than prosecute fans who are hardly criminals.

In addition to changing laws, Professor Lessig recommends that record companies use the Web rather than fight it. If he ran a label, he says, he would encourage people to participate in the creative process and remix an artist's work. Lessig would also allow and encourage artists to release their music on the internet. A small number of bands including Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Wilco have been able to do this with really positive results. Finally, if he ran a label, he would not bite the hand that feeds him, backing away from the harmful DRM technologies that labels are bundling into their content.

Go to episode 12
Colin Meloy

Colin Meloy

Next up on the show is an interview with Decemberists lead singer Colin Meloy. Colin came through town on his solo tour and seemed to be enjoying a break from the major label bureaucracy that is now involved in launching a Decemberists tour.

After performing "Tristan and Isolde," a song he wrote with his first band, Tarkio, Colin discusses his literary roots. While he does put heavy emphasis on narrative in his music, this songwriter hesitates to call himself a storyteller. He cannot hesitate to call himself an author, however — Colin wrote about The Replacements' Let It Be for the ‘33 1/3’ series, describing the impact that that album made on him as a budding musician.

The next song is "Barbara Allen," a tune originally performed by Shirley Collins, a British folk revivalist who has been a big inspiration to Colin. He explains that fans can look forward to hearing more Collins on the next Decemberists record. These same fans can also look forward to Jim's bodhrán jam session with the band.

Go to episode 9
Jon Langford

Jon Langford

Next up, Jim and Greg sit down with Jon Langford of The Mekons, and his current band, Ship and Pilot. Many of the band members will be familiar to music fans, including fellow Mekons singer Sally Timms and punk rock pioneer Tony Maimone of Pere Ubu. In addition to playing with The Mekons and Ship and Pilot, Jon is a member of the Waco Brothers and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts. In addition, he is a painter and author and recently put on a multi-media performance at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art based on his three-volume set The Executioner's Last Songs. Those albums raised money for the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

If that wasn't enough, Jon Langford also has a new album coming out in March. Hear live performances of some songs off that album on the show. In addition, Gold Brick features a cover of the Procol Harem song "Salty Dog." Like Jon, Greg is a big Procol Harem fan and wonders why aside from their hit "Whiter Shade of Pale," they were so underappreciated. Perhaps they just needed to be on more soundtracks.

Go to episode 8
Donovan

Donovan

This week Jim and Greg talk with legendary '60s singer/songwriter Donovan. In honor of his 40th anniversary in the music business, Donovan has written an autobiography, released a box set, and set out on tour. A contemporary of Bob Dylan and The Beatles, Donovan was acclaimed for his finger-picking style, which he garnered from The Carter Family and demonstrates for our hosts.

Jim and Greg also want to know about the sex, drugs, and rock and roll in Donovan's life. Specifically, they discuss his experience being busted for drugs in 1966. His arresting officer, Sgt. Pilcher, later targeted fellow British rockers Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and John Lennon.

Another part of the Donovan mythology involves the origin of his song "Mellow Yellow." As Jim points out, many people believe that Donovan was alluding to the ability to get high by smoking banana peels. While Donovan does not refute this idea, which was tried out by Country Joe McDonald, he also admits that part of the song's imagery was taken from a“marital device”he saw advertised in a magazine. In his book, Donovan also suggests that Andy Warhol may have been inspired by the "electrical banana."

Jim and Greg also ask Donovan about covers of his songs. They play for him the Butthole Surfers' rendition of "Hurdy Gurdy Man." Other notable covers include Hüsker Dü's "Sunshine Superman," Eartha Kitt's "Hurdy Gurdy Man," and My Morning Jacket's "Wear Your Love Like Heaven."

Go to episode 7
Julian Casablancas

Julian Casablancas

A solo Jim sat down with Julian Casablancas, lead singer of The Strokes, just hours before the band kicked off its American tour at the Park West in Chicago. The Strokes' third album First Impressions of Earth had been released that same day—a fact that seemed to concern the lead singer. First Impressions is a departure for the band in that it's their first album not produced by Gordon Raphael. Rather, the band looked to David Kahne, a higher-profile producer who took a less minimalist approach and stretched the band's sound with the introduction of unusual instruments like the mellotron. The production also lets more of Julian's voice shine, which you can hear in tracks Julian chose to play: "Juicebox," "Ask Me Anything," and "Vision of Division." Check out the video for "Juicebox," featuring one of the stars of Arrested Development, and one-half of Mr. Show.

Go to episode 6