interviews 2012

Divine Fits band photo

Divine Fits

Well they are“super”and they are a“group,”but don't let the categorization make you think any less of the new duo Divine Fits. It combines the talents of Britt Daniel of Spoon Dan Boeckner of Handsome Furs and Wolf Parade, and Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks, along with keyboardist Alex Fischel. Britt and“serial-collaborator”Dan (both veterans of the Sound Opinions studio) share the singing and songwriting duties, and the musical relationship began with just a simple phone call…not an email! The result is the aptly named A Thing Called Divine Fits. Dan credits Sister Nancy as inspiration for the title. Check out video of their live performance.

Go to episode 366
John Cale

John Cale

When John Cale first visited Sound Opinions in 2005 as part of our debut on public radio, he shocked us all by name-dropping "Snoop Dogg," "The Neptunes" and the "MPC." These influences have come to fruition on the Welshman's latest recording Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood. And Jim and Greg were excited to have him come by the studios to perform the new material. Plus, there's no lack of things to talk about with Cale, considering his decades-long career that includes founding The Velvet Underground and producing music by the likes of Patti Smith and The Stooges.

Go to episode 363
Ty Segal Performing

Ty Segall

Knowing Jim and Greg's affection for pop melodies smothered in noise, it should come as no surprise that Ty Segall's music hits them right in the sweet spot. The 24-year-old musician was born in Orange County California, but made his name in San Francisco's thriving garage rock revival scene. Ty is nothing if not prolific. Since 2008 he's released eight albums, including three this year: Hair in April, Slaughterhouse in June, and now Twins in October. Shortly after Slaughterhouse's release Ty and his band joined Jim and Greg onstage at Lincoln Hall in Chicago for a live taping of Sound Opinions. He talked about the MTV reality show that ruined his hometown, his early punk influences, and his love of old garage rock. And of course, he and the band performed a raucous live set (we've only just regained our hearing).

Go to episode 360
Michael Angelakos

Michael Angelakos

This week, Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos is in the studio with Jim and Greg for a frank conversation and stripped-back live set. As Michael tells Jim and Greg, the band began with a belated Valentine's Day present. Angelakos - then a student at Boston's Emerson College - posted a track he'd written for his girlfriend to MySpace. "Sleepyhead" quickly exploded on the net. Passion Pit have since released two critically acclaimed albums and toured the world. Their latest release, Gossamer combines upbeat dance tracks and high production values with lyrics that explore Angelakos's own experience with addiction and mental illness. (As Michael tells Jim and Greg, the band had to cancel dates this year so that he could deal with issues related to his manic depression). The contrast between upbeat music and dark lyrics, Michael explains, is what he's always found interesting in pop music, and it's the key to the Passion Pit project. Despite Gossamer's harrowing content, Michael says the album is ultimately hopeful - an effort to achieve transcendence amid tough circumstances.

Go to episode 359
Japandroids

Japandroids

This summer three hundred fans joined Jim and Greg for a sold-out live taping of Sound Opinions at Chicago's Lincoln Hall. The night's special guests? Canadian garage rock duo Japandroids. Drummer David Prowse and guitarist Brian King were in a feisty mood, taking Jim to task for his characterization of their music as“wonderfully ugly.”"Is that a back-handed compliment?" Brian wanted to know. The two also performed tracks from their sophomore album, Celebration Rock (a Buy It for both Jim and Greg). Dave and Brian met as students in Victoria, British Columbia. (If you're thinking of visiting, Brian recommends the Wax Museum's "Chamber of Horrors.") They launched Japandroids in 2006 and tried to make a go of it in the Vancouver music scene, already home to bands like Chet and Atlas Strategic. Despite the fact there's only two of them, Japandroids make quite a roar, and they quickly made a name for themselves as an exhilarating live act. But they found frustratingly few venues to play in Vancouver. By the time Japandroids released their debut, Post-Nothing, in 2009, Dave tells Greg they thought it would be their farewell. That didn‘t happen. Internet fate intervened, Post-Nothing blew up, and Brian and David embarked on a year and a half of touring. As its title suggests, Celebration Rock is really a party record. But Greg detects a note of melancholy amidst the boozing. Brian’s response: "If this is the last record we're ever going to do, let's make sure it's the best record we're ever going to do."

Go to episode 357
El-P portrait

El-P

El-P, aka Jaime Meline, joins Jim and Greg in the Sound Opinions studio this week. Take a look at any of the underground hip-hop that came out of New York in late '90s, and chances are you'll find El-P somewhere in the background. As a rapper, producer, and head of the indie record label Definitive Jux, El-P has left an indelible mark on New York hip-hop. And he's not slowing up anytime soon. This year, El-P produced Killer Mike's R.A.P. Music and his own solo album, Cancer 4 Cure. El-P grew up in Brooklyn during hip-hop's golden age in the eighties. By 1993 he'd founded his own group, Company Flow. He tells Jim and Greg how creating the track "Last Good Sleep," for their sophomore album, Funcrusher Plus, transformed his approach to songwriting. The more specific and personal the story, El says, the more universal. Today, even El-P's“political”songs are more about internal struggles than external ones. In fact the title for his record, Cancer 4 Cure, is inspired by the idea that our bodies are constantly fighting off an illness latent inside us. Not to suggest that Cancer 4 Cure is a downer. There's hope, Jaime says, - though“not unbattered hope”- that the characters in his songs will come through.

Go to episode 356
OFF! band photo

OFF!

We at Sound Opinions thought it wise to send a noise alert to our colleagues the day OFF! visited the studio. This punk supergroup doesn't hold back, delivering minute long bursts of tightly structured punk anger. OFF! is the project of four veterans of the LA punk and hard rock scenes. They are Keith Morris of Black Flag and Circle Jerks fame, Dimitri Coats of Burning Brides, Steve McDonald, and Mario Rubalcaba of Rocket From the Crypt. Since getting together in 2009, the foursome has released two full-lengths: First Four EPs and this year's official debut, OFF! Their sound harkens back to the heyday of LA hardcore, the genre Morris helped develop in the late seventies with Black Flag. But the band firmly rejects the hardcore label. Steve explains how the term came to be associated with violence and the boneheaded, testosterone-addled teens“who were the reason I got into punk in the first place.”So what does the band prefer to be called?“We're a rock n' roll band”says Morris. "Just crank it up."

Go to episode 354
main image

Jack White

Jack White is one of the most prolific, inventive, and mercurial characters in rock today. This week, Jim and Greg head down to Third Man studios in Nashville for a wide-ranging conversation with the former White Stripe and recent solo artist. White is known for being loose with the truth in interviews (no, Meg White is not his sister), but his talk with Jim and Greg is surprisingly candid and thoughtful. He recalls playing drums with his brothers at age five, being tutored by a neighbor in rock history, and discovering the blues recordings of Son House. There was no expectation, he says, that The White Stripes - a band that took design inspiration from peppermint candies and thwarted notions of“authenticity”by playing the blues like kids - could ever make it in the mainstream. The element of accident and luck in the Stripes' success, he says,“will never be lost on me.”White describes how his first record as a solo artist, Blunderbuss, also came about by accident. When hip-hop artist RZA failed to show for his Third Man recording session, White decided to record with the band that had come in himself. Blunderbuss earned Buy it ratings from both Jim and Greg.

Go to episode 349
main image

Lydia Loveless

Country and punk might seem like strange musical bedfellows, but don't tell that to Lydia Loveless. On her new record Indestructible Machine, the rising alt-country star sings country songs about small town life, drinking too much, and cheating partners with a punk rock snarl. She performs a few of those tracks live in the studio this week. Lydia's embrace of country and punk has a lot to do with her upbringing. She grew up in Coshocton, a small town in rural Ohio where her dad booked country bands. By the time she was thirteen she was playing new wave music in Columbus bars with her sisters. Lydia chafed at her parochial surroundings as a teen, and that angst continues to inform her songwriting. If nothing else, Coshocton provided Lydia with ample material. Just take a listen to her performance of "Steve Earle," a tune about her hometown stalker.

Go to episode 348
Kelly Hogan

Kelly Hogan

You might not know the name, but chances are you've heard the voice. Kelly Hogan is best known as a backup singer for acts like Neko Case, Jakob Dylan, and Mavis Staples. If your spine's ever tingled listening to a Neko song, chances are you have Hogan's harmonies to thank. But on her new record, out on the illustrious ANTI- label, Hogan's the one out front. Hogan solicited tunes for I Like to Keep Myself in Pain from an impressive roster of songwriter friends - people like Andrew Bird, Vic Chesnutt, M. Ward, and Robyn Hitchcock. That Hogan can cover a Robyn Hitchcock song and make it her own gives you some idea of her interpretive abilities. She's also a big personality and consummate performer. She and the band stopped by the studio to play songs from I Like to Keep Myself in Pain. She explained to Jim and Greg how she started performing publicly and why her favorite songs are like "perfectly built little birdhouses."

Go to episode 346
main image

Van Hunt

Singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Van Hunt grew up in funk-soaked Dayton, Ohio. Today he counts Frank Zappa and Ray Charles - not to mention Bach - among his influences. That musical adventurousness is just one reason Jim and Greg were drawn to his latest album, 2011's What Were You Hoping For? Van dropped by the studio to perform tracks from the record, and he let Jim and Greg in on the story behind his first independent release. Van got his start in the music biz a decade ago producing R&B and hip-hop tracks for the likes of Dionne Farris in Atlanta. When he went solo in 2004, it was on a major label. But the higher ups at Capitol weren't so thrilled when Van shunned the standard R&B format for a freewheeling mix of sounds that recalled the soul and funk of Sly Stone as much as it did the glam of David Bowie. In 2008, they shelved his third record Popular. Now that he's on his own, Van's free to indulge his genre-blending impulses.

Go to episode 344
willie-book

Joe Nick Patoski on Willie Nelson

At age 79, Texas musician Willie Nelson has released his 66th studio album, Heroes . Few artists can rival Nelson's longevity, or boast a more wide-ranging musical career. In his many decades making music, Willie has never fit into any boxes-rock/country, religious/profane. On the occasion of Heroes, Jim and Greg revisit their conversation with Nelson biographer Joe Nick Patoski. As Patoski reveals in his book Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, Nelson's non-conformity is what makes him such an amazing musician and such a thriving American icon. Jim and Greg discuss with Joe Nick the difficulties Willie had in making the transition from a songwriter to a successful solo artist. They also talk about his family history, his outlaw status, both literal and figurative, and his role as the“zen bubba”of pot.

Go to episode 342
main image

Philip Sherburne

EDM - or Electronic Dance Music - has exploded over the past decade in Europe and the United States. But if names like Skrillex, Tiesto, Deadmau5, and David Guetta mean nothing to you, never fear. Jim and Greg have brought in Spin's Philip Sherburne, author of the“Control Voltage”blog, to offer a primer for the un-initiated. They kick off the conversation with a discussion of the genre's recent evolution: from the short-lived nineties rave scene with its anonymous DJs spinning in dark rooms, to the audio/visual spectacles presided over by celebrity DJs that we see today. A new emphasis on showmanship, and the adoption of dub step's aggressive, bass-heavy beats have won superstar producers like Skrillex, Tiesto, and Rusko a huge, youthful following says Sherburne, effectively making EDM the new stadium rock. But he'd also suggest keeping your eye on the up-and-comers, artists like SBTRKT, Four Tet, and Caribou.

Wrapping things up, Jim and Greg put the new artists we've heard in historical context. After all, as Jim says, covering dance music can give you deja vu. Greg reminds us that todays EDM producers are following in the footsteps of disco artists like Giorgio Moroder, Chicago house and techno musicians, Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin, Fatboy Slim, and - dare we say it - Brian Eno.

Go to episode 341
main image

Screaming Females

If ever a band was perfectly named, it's the Screaming Females. Ok, true, there's only one screaming female in the New Jersey punk trio, but Marissa Paternoster has quite the set of pipes. And, as Jim and Greg point out, she can shred too. She credits people like Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead and Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins for influencing her guitar style. But when it comes to the band's ethos, that's pure DIY punk. Drummer Jarrett Dougherty explains that self-releasing albums was difficult at first, but they approached it with professional aims, unlike many of their New Brunswickpeers who were satisfied with nothing more than releasing internet demos. Now the Screaming Females are on their 5th release called Ugly. Check out their performance live on Sound Opinions.

Go to episode 340
main image

James Mercer

You're in a beloved band at the height of success. Natalie Portman tells the world that your band will change lives. So what do you do? Blow everything up, of course. At least you do if you're James Mercer. The Shins frontman and founder followed up his Grammy nominated, Billboard charting album Wincing the Night Away with a decision to completely change the group's lineup and sound. He sought out producer Greg Kurstin, best known for working with Lily Allen and Kesha, and the result is Port of Morrow. As he discusses with Jim and Greg, this transition wasn‘t easy, but was necessary. And it’s not the first time Mercer made an unexpected collaboration. He and Danger Mouse (of Grey Album fame) joined together for Broken Bells. Check out video of Mercer performing songs from the album, as well as an oldie, but goodie.

Go to episode 338
main image

Sharon Van Etten

Many songwriters view their craft as a form of therapy. But despite the highly personal nature of her tunes, for Sharon Van Etten, sharing is caring. During her conversation with Jim and Greg she explains that it's selfish to perform songs people can‘t relate to. There’s certainly nothing selfish about her performance in our studios. Check out the video here. And check out her moving 2010 release Epic and her most recent album Tramp, produced by Aaron Dessner of The National.

Go to episode 336
main image

The Alabama Shakes

The Alabama Shakes have only just released one full-length album and its members are only their early 20s, but already they are receiving a staggering amount of praise. Their fans include critics as well as Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers and Jack White. Jim and Greg think they deserve every accolade they get for successfully bringing back and updating that great soul and rock sound of the south in the '60s and '70s. The quartet includes lead singer Brittany Howard, guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell, and drummer Steve Johnson, plus touring keyboard player Ben Tanner. And Brittany and Heath explain to our hosts that they have diverse musical tastes, but are certainly very influenced by the Muscle Shoals sound. Another key to loving the Alabama Shakes? Brittany's voice, of which she's too modest.

Go to episode 333
main image

The Kills

It seems unlikely that a punk singer from Florida and a blues guitarist from England would link up, but lucky for us they did. Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince formed The Kills over a decade ago, and 4 albums later, they‘ve perfected a mix of gritty, soulful blues with minimalist punk rock elements, all with just two musicians and a drum machine. As Jamie explains, that setup began as a practical, money-saving decision, but it’s one they favor to this day. In more surprising fashion, they're also loyal to their recording studio in Benton Harbor, MI. Jamie says the lack of atmosphere keeps them on track. And Alison, who moonlights with Jack White and The Dead Weather, admits to a fondness for the Meijers social scene. Check out video of the band in the studio.

Go to episode 331
main image

Nick Lowe

This week Jim and Greg are joined by the“Jesus of Cool,”Nick Lowe. He's been writing, recording and producing music for over 40 years, and his latest release The Old Magic harkens back to his Pub Rock roots. Lowe began playing in the bands Brinsley Shwartz and Rockpile before going solo and producing. But, his songs are probably even better known than he is. There's "Cruel to Be Kind," "I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass," and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding," which was made famous by Elvis Costello. Lowe admits that Costello's version is more earnest than his own, and generally he favors humor over seriousness. Check out his in-studio performance and video.

Go to episode 329
main image

Fred Armisen

You know him as Fericito, the Tito Puente-like talk show host on Saturday Night Live or Spyke, the stretched hipster from Portlandia. But before Fred Armisen was a comedian, he was a punk rock drummer, working with groups like Chicago band Trenchmouth. It was only after spoofing the music industry conference SXSW and its "How to Make It"- style seminars that Fred transitioned into comedy. He went on to successful television projects and also produced a hilarious mock drum instruction video and a single by the aging hardcore act Crisis of Conformity. He returned to his old Chicago stomping grounds as part of Portlandia's live tour and spoke with Jim and Greg about the connections between music and humor. For example, musicians and music fans are rife for parody. And, Moammar Gadhafi is more like a rock star than you might think.

Portlandia fans should also check out Jim and Greg's interview with Carrie Brownstein and the members of Wild Flag.

Go to episode 327
main image

Dessa

Try to put Minneapolis-based performer Dessa in a box and you quickly run into problems. She's a philosophy student turned slam poet, a member of Minneapolis's hip hop collective Doomtree, and a lecturer in hip hop poetics. In an environment where many rappers and rap fans are quick to dismiss hip hop that mixes rap and singing, Dessa's three solo albums combine rap, harmonies, and unusual instrumental backings. She and her band stopped by the studio to perform songs from her latest album, Castor, The Twin. Dessa describes finding inspiration for songs on the city bus, and explains why rap lyrics are not just poetry by another name. She even has some advice for first time performers: If your legs are going to shake, best not to wear shiny pants.

Go to episode 326
main image

Debbie Harry

Even now, 31 years after the release of "Rapture," one is impressed by how cool a rapping Debbie Harry sounds. The Blondie lead singer was always ahead of the curve sonically, incorporating R&B, reggae, and, gasp, disco into her songs. During her visit to the show, Debbie talks to Jim and Greg about these varied influences, and what the scene was like in downtown New York in the '70s and '80s. We certainly have Blondie to thank for bringing a little dance back to the punk mix. And the up-tempo sounds continue on the band's latest release Panic of Girls.

Go to episode 322
main image

The Jayhawks

After 8 years apart, the original lineup of The Jayhawks are back together with a new album called Mockingbird Time. Lead singers/guitarists/songwriters Mark Olsen and Gary Louris were joined by fellow Jayhawks Karen Grotberg, Marc Perlman and Tim O'Reagan for a live session in our studio. Mark and Gary talk to Jim and Greg about their decision to reunite and how their less-than-hip sound allowed them an easier transition into this century. At the time of the release of their two big albums in the 1990's, Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass, which featured the hit song "Blue," the band's melodic, harmony rich sound was anything but grunge. Even the harmonies themselves were unusual. Mark and Gary never wanted to be the Righteous Brothers, and instead went for more of a Dylan/Emmylou approach. You can hear this style during their performance-check out the tracks and videos.

Go to episode 320