Musicians, writers, poets, fans and friends will play his songs, read his work/tributes and tell stories about the great American poet and songwriter David Cloud Berman (Purple Mountains, Silver Jews) on what should have been his 53rd birthday.
it’s hard to leave the house in portland, oregon, without seeing an iconic queen bee bag. designer rebecca pearcy started making them (along with wallets, guitar straps and more!) in the 1990s and they were everywhere in the indie punk scene: durable, beautiful and waterproof! chickfactor’s editors are big fans. as rebecca gets ready to close the queen bee shop and move on to her textile business, we wanted to get the scoop. (she also makes music!) interview by gail
chickfactor: I bought my first queen bee bag at dumpster values in olympia in the late ’90s: a tarot card bag and wallet. rebecca pearcy: I love that you bought your first queen bee at dumpster values. I love kanako and that store. we started our businesses around the same time, and dumpster values sold queen bee plus lots of clothing I used to make for a long time. cf: so what’s the deal? why are you closing down queen bee? it seems very punk rock and anti-capitalist to do such a thing. well, I suppose it is kind of punk rock, though I hadn’t thought about it in those terms till now. I do still plan to try and carve an income out of my creativity, but hoping to expand into realms that don’t necessarily involve making and selling stuff. workshops, and more community-building / sharing skills type of work. but to your question, why: I’ve been running queen bee for almost 24 years. longer, really, if you count the time I was doing it before I went legit and got a business license. I’ve changed, the world has changed, and I’m ready to shift toward the stuff that I find really inspiring these days. queen bee has become such its own entity, that it has taken a long time for me to get to the point where I feel truly ready to dismantle it and move on. it has been a big part of my identity, but I don’t identify with it so much anymore. I want the work I’m doing to be more representative of who I am now, and to keep evolving as a creative person. it’s funny because many people in my life, especially other business owners are telling me how brave it is to do what I’m doing and I guess it is. It is a big leap of faith to let go of something that is familiar, even if it is super challenging. but that’s how queen bee started, with a leap into the unknown, so I’m just doing that again, but at a very different place in my life than I was then.
cf: tell us about the person you were when you started queen bee, how you have changed, and how the company has changed since then. I was living in olympia when I started queen bee. it’s hard to remember the timing of everything, because I was always sewing and making stuff and selling it. I was making stuff in my bedroom wherever I lived, and selling it at evergreen or at dumpster values, or at a riot grrrl convention or what have you. deciding to live in olympia after graduating from evergreen really changed my life. I thought I might like to move to san francisco but I quickly became intimidated by the challenge of finding housing there (even then, in the mid-’90s). so I decided that if I could find a job in olympia, I’d stay there. I got a barista job at batdorf & bronson and ended up living there for 11 years total. I’m so glad I got to live there, and become part of a real community, start my business, and play music there. so when I started queen bee I was really beginning to become part of life downtown: I lived at the abc house (a big land-trust communal living house on the west side, amazing experience, live shows and dance parties in the basement, fantastic housemates, affordable rent, good times). I started off by setting up my sewing station in the “rose room” at the abc house, but quickly realized I wanted to have a separate studio where I could work. my first studio was in the capitol theater building and it was like $100/month or something! a little while after being there, I got a call from stella marrs inviting me to move to a studio alongside her, nikki mcclure, amber bell, community print, khaela maricich, and k records. that was a dreamy situation. so many creative people, women in particular, working in the same building, bumping up against each other. very inspiring and special. ¶ back then, I was a scrappy, creative woman who was just living life in the hotbed of olympia awesomeness. I was young and writing songs, performing and going to movies and seeing shows and participating in olympia life. It was really great. In many ways I am still that same person. older, obviously, and I’m now married and have a 9-year old son, so my time and energy is pretty well split between work and family. I don’t have time to see all (or any) of the movies, or shows. with queen bee, I started off just by myself, and over time got too busy to do it alone. over the years, we’ve gone through so many stages, growing, contracting, adjusting, weathering the recession, etc. I’ve been through a lot and am pretty tired, honestly. ready to downsize to just me again and recalibrate to a new direction that’s better suited to where I’m at now and what I need and want as a 46-year-old woman. when queen bee started, the internet wasn’t a thing—even in that one way, so much has changed, it’s wild. I’ve learned so much, running this business—I hope I’ve become a better and better leader. things started off pretty casual and over the years so much of what has developed has been due to the folks I’ve hired to work here—it is because of their brilliance that we are so well organized and created systems to make things run smoothly. it’s great—that has been a big change! left to my own devices, things aren’t quite so orderly 🙂
cf: what was something you learned from attending evergreen that has stayed with you and made you successful? I did lots of independent study at evergreen, so I think that helped to prepare me for being a creative small business owner. you really have to just make so many decisions, all the time, when you’re running your own show, so it’s very beneficial to be an independent thinker and just problem solve the shit out of everything. and just the value of creativity at a place like evergreen—the value of looking at something from your own point of view and bringing that to the table—those are great qualities to have as an entrepreneur. cf: what was it that inspired you to make this particular design? how did that change over time? what was the most popular? well, one of the first things I designed that became part of queen bee was the wonder wallet. that came out of me just needing a new wallet and since I’m inclined to just DIY as much as possible, I made the first wallet with shiny black vinyl fabric with a vintage wonder woman comic laminated and stitched to the front. I don’t even know where the original inspiration for that came from. but I liked working with the vinyl fabric and faux-leathers and stuff. I was also making bags and stuff out of thrifted fabrics, vintage curtains, fake fur, and the like. I liked to shop for tough fabrics at auto and marine supply stores. I would drive to tacoma and seattle to hit comic books stores and buy all their vintage wonder woman comics, record stores and thrift stores for records to make my LP tote and 45 rpm bags with, and archie mcphee for packs and packs of loteria cards. after making bags with the comics, mexican loteria cards and kitschy stuff like that, I started developing my own appliqué designs. starting off with a simple star cutout and going from there. faux-leather, like real leather, is fun to work with because unlike woven fabrics, it doesn’t fray, so you can just cut and sew without having to finish the edges. that enabled me to really go crazy with the appliqué motifs and we always did fun contrasting stitching and stuff. over time I developed a whole line of waxed canvas bags, and heavier canvas in fun colors, and then printing onto fabric and creating the rebecca bearcy textiles line. ¶ the most popular designs have been the truckette messenger bag and the maximo wallet. they are the classic queen bee items that you see people carrying everywhere (that’s the truckette, the little sister to the trucker which is named that b/c the first ones I made were out of truck tarp fabric).
cf: will you be moving out of the williams shop? yes. my lease is up at the end of the year. I’ll be moving to a studio on 15th & SE ankeny, but won’t have a retail storefront. so I’m planning to do more events, pop ups and folks can schedule to come shop at my studio when I’m ready. cf: what’s the last day folks can visit the shop? and order online? we don’t know what the closing date for the store will be—we are playing it by ear. It will come when we really don’t have much left to sell, honestly! It will probably be in december sometime. for online orders we will have to cut them off sometime in the next few weeks, possibly early december. when we announced the closure, we got a ton of orders, so the wait time is currently like 8-10 weeks. we’re very busy and will have to stop taking orders when we can’t accommodate the production of them anymore!
cf: will you make bags for your other brand: rebecca pearcy textiles? yes, but not nearly as much of a focus as it is for queen bee. I did design the lola convertible tote/backpack for the rebecca pearcy line, so that is cool. and I have ideas for other things. but I’m pretty into designing and making clothing right now, so will be developing that more, as well as continuing some home decor items and other accessories. whatever I feel like! cf: what are your personal favorites? well, I kind of always love whatever is newest or what I just designed! go figure. so, the lola convertible, that’s my daily bag. I also love the snippet wallet (tiny), and the maximo wallet (big), the becca backpack, and the ramona tote. and the marlo purse. so many! those are some of my faves. cf: do you have any rock star fans? have queen bee bags become part of popular culture in some way? hmm, I don’t know if we have any rock star fans! there are notable folks over the years who have bought from us. we made some custom truckers for wilco to sell at their shows a few years back. and word has it that cheryl strayed bought a bag to give to reese witherspoon. lots of folks in the indie northwest scene have been customers. I think the biggest way we’ve become part of popular culture is that people think the portlandia ‘put a bird on it’ skit was inspired by us. and I do think queen bee is a part of portland, olympia, seattle, PNW culture. we’ve been around long enough and are recognizable enough to fill that role.
cf: what do you think makes them so popular and beloved? I see them everywhere I go! it’s crazy. I don’t know exactly what make them so beloved, but I’m guessing: they are a nice combination of practical and stylish. they’re made for everyday use, and folks in the PNW tend to be on the practical side, as opposed to super fashiony. I mean, if it starts raining heavily, you don’t really want to have to worry about your bag. they are very identifiable and so people notice them and ask about them and their popularity spreads. the truckette, our most popular bag of all time, I think it just the right size, you know? not too big or small. and it has a satisfyingly square shape, a nice flat bottom so it can sit on a surface easily, it holds its own shape. cf: how many bags do you think queen bee has made? thousands and thousands! I wish I knew the actual number. cf: how many employees have you had/do you have now? I have 6 employees currently. at our biggest I think I had around 15 or so. I have worked with so many great people over the years. that’s one of the hardest parts about closing, is losing this little work family. they are all wonderful and I hope they all get to work somewhere where they’ll be appreciated.
cf: tell us about the rebecca pearcy line and your future plans. in 1997 I did an apprenticeship at the fabric workshop in philadelphia, where I learned how to design & print patterns in repeat onto fabric. It was like a door opening into the realm of what really clicks with me. at the heart of what I love to do, is my love for fabric, color, and print. so getting to create the pattern that is printed onto the fabric and then getting to design what to make out of that fabric, and then MAKE it, was just taking me deeper into what I loved. so after that experience, I really wanted to start to print my own fabric and create goods from that. printing in repeat on yardage of fabric requires a big table a specific set up so it took me a few years to figure that out, but when I did I founded rebecca pearcy textiles. I’ve been running that brand for a few years now, but it has always taken a back seat to queen bee. part of this transition is my desire to turn my focus and energy onto the project that I feel most inspired and excited about, which is the rebecca pearcy line. this brand’s focus is handprinted, silkscreened natural fiber fabrics, made up into home decor, soft goods, accessories, and apparel. clothing is really my favorite thing to make (I make most of my own wardrobe) but it always seemed too complicated to make a business out of clothing design, but I’m dipping my toes into that realm—apparently I just can’t not do it. I’m excited to explore that and whatever else is inspiring to me. this is an opportunity for me to develop a new path and see where my creativity leads me! I’ll be going back to working solo for the time being, while I get settled into a new routine, working at a new studio, selling through my website and doing some in-person events, pop-ups, that type of thing. cf: merci, rebecca!
records dusty cannot live without: the smiths, the smiths
neil young, after the goldrush
my bloody valentine, loveless
red house painters, II
augustus pablo, meets rockers uptown
stars of the lid, the tired sounds of
spacemen 3, losing touch with your mind
the wu-tang clan, the w
depeche mode, black celebration
cocteau twins with harold budd, the moon and the melodies
records ellen cannot live without: del, “motorbike annie/gypsy girl” (7″ single) I’m completely besotted with “motorbike annie.” I searched for a copy of this single that wouldn’t break my bank for more than a decade before finally, joyously finding one a few years back.
bee gees, odessa every bee gees album through the ’70s is essential for me, but this one has so many special songs.
the hollies, dear eloise/king midas in reverse I’m particularly keen on the title tracks and “would you believe?” on this album.
françoise hardy, la question it’s hard to choose between this one and ma jeunesse fout le camp, but la question is so hauntingly beautiful.
gilberto gil, self-titled (1968) this album is a wild journey. there’s not a bad moment on it.
beach boys, love you while not as transcendent as other beach boys releases, I adore this one. it makes me laugh, it makes me cry.
abba, super trouper the title track is fantastic, but even talking about “the winner takes it all” can bring me to tears. it’s such a heartbreaker.
eux autres, hell is eux eutres I love the exuberance of this record. I was working with nick when it came out and timidly asked him to ask his sister if she would join an all-female bee gees cover band with me (she fortunately agreed).
small faces, self-titled (1967) my ultimate thrift-store fantasy is to find a sealed original mono copy of this favorite small faces record in the bins. a lady can dream…
it’s been 23 years since rocketship released its wonderful debut LP, a certain smile, a certain sadness, and on october 11 the band is releasing a new album, thanks to you. songwriter and band leader dusty reske heard a felt song back in those days and rocketship was born. these days he lives in portland, oregon, and collaborates with ellen osborn and adam bayer. dusty thinks a certain smile still resonates with people in their twenties, but that people get more complicated as they get older. “thanks to you is for all the fucked-up children of this world,” he says. “I’m drawn toward melancholy pop and tend to stress that innate juxtaposition in all of my own compositions and recordings. in my lyrics now I use a broader lexicon, yet the subjects reflect much of the same longing for love and connection through dysfunction and alienation as always.” head to rocketshipmusic.com, patreon.com/rocketship, darla and bandcamp to get the new record and find out more. we chatted with him over the summer at a portland bar about music, family, gentrification and climate change, among other things. interview by gail o’hara
chickfactor: how long have you lived in portland? dusty: I think 13 or 14 years. where are you from? dusty: I was born in san francisco, and I lived in the wine country in sonoma county for years until the end of elementary school, then I moved to texas for a decade until my senior year. I lived in dallas and then houston and then austin a little while for college, and then I moved to sacramento when I was 17. did your parents move there for work? dusty: my mother’s new husband was from texas. strangely they thought there wasn’t enough opportunity in sonoma so they went to texas and texas was about to boom. why/how did you end up in portland? dusty: my partner at the time was going to move from brooklyn, where she had been living for 15 years or something. she was going to move back to the west coast—she was from the bay area as well. I was living in arcata. was that cynthia nelson? dusty: yes. after sacramento I moved to arcata in my late 20s. (we talk about kendra smith, who doesn’t live in arcata, but in the region. I interviewed her for cf18.) you and cynthia have two kids? dusty: yes, aurelia is 12 and leo is 8. are they musical? dusty: I wouldn’t say so. they’re both really into literature, reading a lot. leo is now getting into sports a bit. aurelia is into drawing. kendra actually has a song called “aurelia.” is that why you chose the name? dusty: it wasn’t, I came across the song later. are they quiet readers? dusty: they’re not quiet readers. they occasionally throw the books across the room. they’re not too into music yet, not rock music. aurelia has been in the portland girl choir for a while. leo will sometimes hit the drums. what do they think of your music? dusty: I don’t know if they hear it that much. I never throw on an old record but they hear cynthia and I composing our music around the house a lot, but that’s always in bits and pieces when we’re trying to figure something out. cynthia and I will play a lot of covers, again trying to figure out new material. but it’s just something that’s always in the background in the kitchen, not something they have to deal too much with. It’s just something they know their parents do. what do you think about portland now? dusty: yeah. I’m an absolute proponent of infill ecologically but it’s hard to deal with the neighborhoods changing so much. I can see why they tear down old shacks and put up duplexes. isn’t infill just high density? why are people against it? dusty: I’m not exactly sure. people do like their single-family homes and maybe only want to live on a block that has single-family homes, what they’re used to. apartment complexes are often stigmatized because they’re where poor people live or people with modest means. there’s often a lot of NIMBY-ism around that. I suspect that their disgruntled-ness is misplaced and it’s actually the new people that are more the problem. the houses are all okay, but it’s this new wave of middle-class consumers who are displacing all the artists. it does seem like californians are often blamed/demonized here but people are moving here from everywhere, right? gentrification is a tricky subject with a lot of different levels: one business opened on mississippi ave. and others followed and now the neighborhood is unrecognizable to many locals. can you blame the original business that was just looking for a place they could afford? change is inevitable but how does the city keep the original community from disappearing?
dusty: I agree. it used to feel more grassroots: somebody who was kind of scrappy put together the money and got some couches and started a coffee shop. that’s a little romantic. it seemed more down-home. and now it just feels like massive capital infusions from above that come in and change a street like division so that it’s just a new city there. it used to be open fields and they built a new city. cf: that block on fremont between vancouver and williams used to be a field and now it’s that spaceship-looking office for instrument across from a new seasons. people who work there probably bought up a lot of the homes around there. dusty: they could afford it. when we bought our house, it seemed like it was the least expensive house in NE and we fixed it up a little bit over time but our mortgage is still really low from so long ago. now we have people who come in with really serious middle-class jobs working 40 hours and they can’t afford to buy a house in our neighborhood and so they’re renting. enough about gentrification! has rocketship been going this whole time? dusty: I’ve always been doing music but I’ve taken long periods off. when I moved to arcata, I got really into social activism so I was going to meetings all the time: food not bombs, the free bike program, all kinds of things that people were doing, zines. I didn’t have time for music. do you still do that stuff now? dusty: the activism? I’m embarrassed to say no. I’m not social enough, I’m a little too shy and awkward. I’d like to be involved more. I keep up with politics but now it’s just donations. portland is great because everyone shows up for everyone else’s rallies, but there’s also a fair bit of bickering and infighting within the left that takes everything off course. dusty: activism used to be a thing I could just hop on my bike and go do but now it involves other people’s schedules. when I first moved to town, I worked at the alberta co-op for almost a decade. we had a big action there where we turned it into a worker-run collective. we got rid of the management structure. but it was hard too: there was a lot of fallout and infighting among the folks who had been allies. what do you do to stay sane? dusty: ooh, I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ve figured that thing out. I don’t know if it keeps me sane but I have a lot of time to think while I’m working. I have a company that does ecological lawn care. I do lawn care and yard care by bike using all hand tools, just in NE portland. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been in my life and I’m outdoors all the time. I wanted to do something where I wasn’t on the computer all the time. it’s called eco-lawn care. did you do this before or just decide to start a company? dusty: pretty much the latter. I had a garden in the back, I had grown vegetables, and I’d been a bicyclist for many years, which is really important cause I’m hauling a lot of tools around. I’ve been riding my bike as my main transportation for 20 years. I was thinking about going back to school and I only have so many years left when I can even work so should I take on that much debt? it’s not rocket science, right? you just avoid using carcinogenic pesticides. there are so many stupid things humans have brought into our lives that we don’t really need: weed-wackers, gasoline mowers or those teeth flossers on a plastic stick. people love them, they’re so easy to use but if everyone uses those, we’re doomed. dusty: it’s funny you mentioned those. ellen has an instagram account [where she posts photos of those on the ground] and people respond to it: for whatever reason, people leave those things all over the city. but yeah, people don’t like the noise from leaf blowers and gas mowers. I was reading a statistic that the amount of gas that is spilled every year by people putting gas into their mowers is equal to an exxon valdez spill. that’s not even the pollution that comes out of the thing, and that’s just the US. what do you tell your kids about climate change? dusty: it comes up all the time. climate change is just one part of a complete ecological apocalypse that we’re approaching, not to overstate it: deforestation, loss of top soil, extinction, the list goes on and on. these subjects come up a lot when we’re explaining why we won’t buy a certain thing. portland used to be a green city, a green leader, but it doesn’t feel as much like that now. but at the same time there are people doing something on a small level and making a difference. dusty: we do have a lot of advantages here. the scale is of such a scope that I don’t think there is any hope. it’s just going to be really awful; the next century is going to be awful for young people. [heavy sigh] let’s get back to pop. what was your first concert? dusty: my mom took me to a bunch of stuff in the 1970s, I don’t know what it was. the first one I went to that I’m conscious of was ELO. I thought I was going to see the alan parsons project but I hadn’t realized how much I liked ELO, especially Xanadu. I think van halen was the second one. by myself it might have been the cure at an amusement park like six flags or something.
were you musical as a child? dusty: not really. my parents bought me a drum kit and a guitar when I was 13 or 14, thinking I was a little too shiftless. so I kind of fumbled my way around those for a long time. finally when I was 18 or 19, when I was in someone’s dorm and they were playing a song, I thought, I know all those chords. I can play a song. what was your first song about? dusty: when I lived in texas, in my junior year a bunch of fellows said let’s start a band. they had two-track cassettes. so we would just record some music and dub that onto the next track and add some tracks. that really meant a lot to me because I could suddenly see how you could make a recording. It had never occurred to me to do that. we made a cassette—I mean, it’s pretty funky, not-good music but it kind of caught on with people’s friends so people were playing it on the weekends. we kind of just wrote those songs together and a lot of it was first takes. when I moved to sacramento, I fell in with a fellow named josh berkley, who befriended me. we were in show choir together with purple sequins. he invited me out to his house and he had a four-track. we kept it in this comical vein, we couldn’t take it too seriously, laughable songs about people at school. that was our first exposure to songwriting. we did a cover version of “leave me alone” the very last song on power corruption and lies. for college I wanted to go back and visit with all my friends in texas. I moved back to austin for a bit. I came back for xmas in sacramento and josh had started a band, a synth-pop band with his buddy aaron. that was real compositions, serious attempts at making music and I was instantly sucked in. when I went back to texas, that’s all I could think about. I was listening to it on my walkman, on the bus, thinking, why am I going to this class so early in the morning? so my second semester I dropped out and moved back to california. you were like, I need to join this band! dusty: yes. when rocketship started, what were you listening to and what were you thinking you wanted it to be like? dusty: josh and I had been in a band for a while and we kinda had made our name around sacramento; we were called the rosebuds. we probably wrote 20 songs or something. we were listening to english shoegaze music and we were playing that a lot. after that fell apart, I wanted to shift gears. it was before slowcore really happened, but a lot of people were thinking the same thing. I wanted to do this really slow kind of music and bought this really old organ and brought it up to the second floor of this duplex and did a 4-track demo. I guess I wanted to sound like galaxie 500 or something. shoegaze music had become passé, so I sold all my pedals, got that money back and stripped everything back. I was also taking a recording class at sacramento city college. for some reason at the time they had a state grant that funded their studio—they had like a million dollars and they built a world-class studio. I came up with this band name—not original—“silver rocket”, based on the sonic youth song. I liked the contrast, I was doing this mellow organ music. this guy ed artegas, who was there with me suggested, why not call it rocketship? I knew this guy who’d been a fan of the rosebuds, robert cartwright, he played drums. so we started playing together and his girlfriend heidi (barney) had played piano in her youth. for me rocketship begins properly because they played me this felt album, let the snakes crinkle their heads to death. the very first track on that (“song for william s. harvey”), it was mind-blowing, this super-organ-driven pop song. by that time stereolab had come out so I think we were reassessing guitar rock, but for a long time before that you couldn’t have keyboards in your band. so I wrote “hey hey girl” when I was inspired by this upbeat pop sound that I heard on that felt record.
did you know rose melberg (who is from sacramento) and mike slumberland (who put out rocketship) in those days? dusty: no. so heidi worked at a coffee roasting house of all places that rose worked at. so she gave rose our tape and rose kinda liked it so we met her through heidi. tiger trap was really important in sacramento. when did ellen (osborn) join rocketship? she’s the other primary band member? dusty: yes, and I would include adam bayer. ellen and I are best friends too. I wanted to put together a live band for your show [chickfactor 25 party at bunk bar, portland, december 2017], and I met ellen through adam. she was just the kind of singer that I had always wanted to work with. and she was in an all-girl bee-gees cover band! dusty: right, the she-bee-gees. are there any platforms you like to use for making or listening to music? dusty: I still download stuff for free and put it on my music player at home. for recording I use a program called ableton live. I have a bunch of shared software. do you have any pets? dusty: a cat named crystal. do you have any idols? anyone you admire for their style or stagewear? dusty: I’m thinking early morrissey with the open shirt and gladioli. [we discuss the fall of moz] are you playing much these days? dusty: it takes a lot of effort—or it has in the past—to put together the kind of band that I want or that can play the material. It requires a certain amount of musicianship, certainly on the organ. heidi used to do these incredible things, doing arpeggios on electric piano while she’s playing chords and then taping down a moog note. it’s hard to find people who can do that. it requires rehearsal and we’re not at a level where we can count on getting paid so it really has to be for the love of it and people’s lives are so busy.
is that why you gravitate to more stripped-down live shows? dusty: I’m flirting with that more and more: a lot less gear that’s easier to play for people that can also replicate a lot of the more modern sounds. I’m not in love with a loud drum kit where everything then has to get loud. it’s environmental noise pollution and it damages people’s bodies. it’s hard to know how big your audience out there in the world is because people haven’t seen you play much in a long time. dusty: we did popfest a few years ago in new york, san francisco and sacramento. I don’t like playing live that much partially because—at least in the kind of music that I play—it’s so repetitive. it’s not necessarily very creative. for me all the pleasure is in writing and recording the songs. by the time I’m done recording it, I’ve heard it thousands of times, and adjusted it and the minutiae and all the different ways that are meaningful to me, it’s hard for me to just hear it back in a way. I get particular about trying to re-create the recordings and how all the details are supposed to go live. So that presents its own challenge. it’s hard for me to just get together with a bunch of people and bash it out. what’s coming up for you and rocketship? dusty: our new record! I’m making 10 videos for it and that’s all planned out. before I met you today, I was working on the next record. so in the next 10 years, I’m going to be putting out lots and lots of material. that’s the plan. thank you, dusty!
our intrepid webstress janice headley (also of KEXP & copacetic zine fame) flew across the atlantic to brave scorching august heat, put on a life jacket and hit the high seas with the boaty weekender gang (kinda like the bowlie weekender but on a fancy cruise ship, 20 years later, and twee AF). for those of us too skint to go, here’s a peek into what went down.
words by janice headley • photographs courtesy janice headley and the boaty weekender
for me, the boaty weekender began with a guitar case crashing onto my foot. we were still at the hotel in barcelona, wheeling our luggage down to the shuttle bus that was going to take us to the cruise ship. I greedily refused to let go of my kas, a delicious orange soda drink that’s only available in spain, mexico and france, and was available in portugal, brazil, and argentina during the 1990s. (thanks, wikipedia!) at some point in the elevator, my boyfriend joe accidentally let a guitar case roll forward, right where my sandaled foot happened to be. I yelped, tried to push it off of me using my elbow (since my hand was still gripped around the tasty, tasty beverage), joe grabbed my drink to try and help, and then *DING* the elevator doors opened, and standing there was the gallant norman blake of teenage fanclub, who graciously took my beverage from joe while I stumbled out, hopping on one un-squished foot. embarrassing. what a gentleman. and that was how my boaty weekender began. (thank you, norman. no thanks to you, kas soda.) (no, I take it back, you’re too delicious to be mad at.)
we all boarded the bus that took us to the norwegian pearl cruise ship, which was huge. I’d never taken a cruise before in my life, so I was awestruck by the size of this thing. passes acquired, forms filled out, we boarded the boat, and headed to our lodging. music by the bands playing the event was piped into the hallways, and on the televisions in our rooms, concert footage of belle & sebastian played all day and night.
the boaty weekender, for anyone who doesn’t already know, was a four-day “floating festival and luxury cruise around the mediterranean” starting in barcelona, landing in sardinia, Italy, for a day, and then returning to barcelona. the event was organized by belle & sebastian and featured special guests yo la tengo, camera obscura, teenage fanclub, mogwai, the vaselines, django django, alvvays, the buzzcocks, japanese breakfast, kelly lee owens, nilüfer yanya, and, if you can believe it, more. in fact, despite it being a four-day event, I didn’t get to see every band play, not by a longshot. there were five different stages across the ship, and the sets often overlapped. but, here are a couple of notes on just a few of the bands I did manage to see. (I tried to write about all of them and even bored myself, so here’s an abbreviated take.)
the vaselines “who here has heard of the love boat?… creepy, wasn’t it?”so chirped the effervescent frances mckee during the vaselines’ first set, which just happened to be booked at the same time as an artist meet-and-greet on a different floor of the boat. (“we don’t need their party, we’re having our own party,” she insisted brightly.) she looked adorable in a hawaiian print dress while her bandmate eugene kelly wore a simple black tee.
the stage was on the floor where the check-in counters lined the back of the room, so there was a funny juxtaposition of employees helping customers while the vaselines tore through “sex with an ex” and “molly’s lips.” there was also a large jewelry retail area to the side of the room where no one was shopping. “I get really seasick, but I think gin and tonics should help,” she declared. “diamonds really help, too,” she quickly added.
the vibe reminded me a lot of matador 21 (which happened in a vegas casino in 2010), if you went to that. I had a lot of people tell me it reminded them of all tomorrow’s parties, too. waiters in yellow polo shirts walked the room, offering to get people drinks. you could actually buy drink packages ensured to keep the alcohol flowing all boaty weekend long. (hi, julie!)
belle & sebastian seagulls swarmed as the band played on the top deck of the boat. stuart murdoch was wearing naval white pants, a striped tank top, and a captain’s hat, while guitarist bobby kildea wore a full-on sailor’s suit.
the band played “dog on wheels,” “I’m a cuckoo,” “she’s losing it,” “another sunny day,” “stars of track and field,” the new single “sister buddha,” and the song “sweet julie” which made stuart remark, “doesn’t that sound like the love boat theme?” stevie jackson nodded, “it does, doesn’t it?”
they continued to play as the sun descended and darkness rolled in. by the end of their set, the moon was shining vibrantly from above.
band name bingo this was not as exciting as I had hoped it would be. (sorry, boaty-ers.) I liked the concept of band names instead of letter/number combos, but the execution was a little weak.
the first round, the band names were just shouted out, but the following rounds, only trivia on the bands were revealed and it was up to you to know if the band was on your card or not. for example: “this band’s frontman was freddie mercury.” (that’s a real example, I’m sad to say.)
the evening was co-hosted by stina of honeyblood, who was wearing an adorable two-piece with fantastic strappy platform sandals. the crowd booed whenever a bad band came up (sorry mumford & sons) and it was quick to correct the hosts when they mispronounced a scottish city.
teenage fanclub the fellas were in fine form and their harmonies were pitch perfect all performance. I somehow missed the news that euros childs had joined the band following gerard love’s departure, so I was delighted to see him on stage adding his gorgeous vocals.
they closed with “everything flows”—a perfect song for the cruise, except I want the captain to set a course he doesknow, thank you very much.
band t-shirts spotted R.E.M. new pornographers teenage fanclub (also in tote bag form) belle & sebastian
wind down meditation I’m embarrassed to admit I slept in this day and missed the buzzcocks, kelly lee owens, django django, and/or alvvays, as well as the collage club gathering. there was a lot of stuff scheduled for earlier in the day!
ironically, for a girl who overslept, I first headed over to the “wind down meditation” session with gen kelsang machig, a representative from the kadampa meditation centre glasgow with 15 years of experience. she led us in a quiet meditation session that was just lovely. after it was over, she told the audience, “If you have any questions, just find me on the boat, I’m the only one dressed like this,” referring to her traditional garb. (and I did find her later in an elevator!)
belle & sebastian Q&A I made it up to the pool deck for most of the belle & sebastian Q&A, which was moderated by comedian alex edelman, who joked that scottish people keep all their emotions bottled up and communicate instead through belle & sebastian songs. the questions were all very thoughtful and serious, even leading stuart to say, “c’mon, don’t you want to ask us about your futures? we are all clairvoyants, you know.”
wine tasting with neil and ira ira (of yo la tengo, natch)’s brother neil “has 25 years of sales and support experience in the wine and spirits industry as well as advanced wine certification.” (thank you, google!) so, the siblings teamed up for an evening of wine tasting. I don’t like red wine, so I didn’t go, but joe tells me toward the end of the tasting, they did, indeed, break out a riesling. (sigh.)
camera obscura it’s been so long since I’ve seen camera obscura in concert, I had forgotten how good they are live. they did “let’s get out of this country,” “the sweetest thing,” “desire lines,” and, of course, “lloyd, I’m ready to be heartbroken.” hearing their harmonies was absolutely awe-inspiring and made me miss my karaoke bestie, laura. (hi, laura!)
japanese breakfast I bounced back to the atrium to see japanese breakfast next. she was looking super smart in an ’80s-inspired power suit with a crop top underneath. she smiled a lot during their set. their drummer is serious about his mullet. she would step aside when the guitarist had a gnarly solo.
yo la tengo they started off their pool deck performance joined by euros childs for a rendition of “sea cruise.” (you know, that vintage song that’s all “oooh-eee, oooh-eee baby.”) and then norman and raymond from teenage fanclub joined them for a few songs, including fan favorite “stockholm syndrome.” I can’t remember what else they performed; I took lousy notes.
band t-shirts spotted: camera obscura belle & sebastian paul mccartney (???)
cagliari, sardinia not a band, but the city that we ported in for the day. joe and I took a taxi to the beach and soaked up the sun and the crystal-clear blue, blue water for most of the morning before returning to the city and having the most amazing lunch, thanks to neil kaplan’s recommendation.
band t-shirts spotted: japanese breakfast the breeders ween (ween?) austin city limits with paul mccartney (him again?) daniel johnston (thanks, james!) radiohead
yoga with frances mckee I was scared to take this class, but knew I couldn’t let the opportunity to take yoga with the woman from the vaselines pass me by. she’s a really good teacher. I didn’t realize it, but apparently she runs a yoga studio, so that explains it.* she’s kinda hardcore though; imagine her sharp scottish accent barking, “straighten yer legs! don’t look at what yer neighbor is doin’! don’t forget to breathe!” (*editor: read all about it in CF18)
belle & sebastian perform fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant after repeat viewings of both the vaselines and japanese breakfast, I ran over to the stardust theatre to watch belle & sebastian perform their 2000 album fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant in its entirety. I feel bad, because when it first came out, I didn’t like this album very much. but I loved hearing it live. once the album was played, they began taking audience requests, which was a little clumsy with lots of awkward moments as they tried to remember how to play forgotten songs. and there was a cute moment where they got a bunch of kids from the boat, dressed up in their nautical finest, to shake percussion during “legal man.”
yo la tengo on sunday night, yo la tengo took the pool side stage for the second time for another awesome set. about midway through the set, a very handsome man took the stage and began to recite the opening prose to donovan’s 1969 surprise hit single “atlantis,” a song that went to #7 on the billboard charts upon its release. (thank you, wikipedia!) this wonderful performance was the paramount of a spectacular weekend, and I called it a night thereafter ’cause I knew everything else would pale in comparison.
band t-shirts spotted: eugenius teenage fanclub beat happening spiritualized british sea power
(P.S. final word from james yo la tengo, who we asked to comment on the boaty cuisine: “the food on the boat was good and readily available. the soft-serve was a nice touch. there were a few restaurants on the boat, where you could sit and someone would take your order. there was also a wildly popular buffet-style full contact scrum which was pretty fun. I didn’t locate any scottish-themed food, but maybe I just wasn’t looking hard enough.”)
I was the Music Editor from Time Out New York from 1996–2000, so I had the privilege of playing records for musicians like these four. Because TimeOut was so densely packed, it had to get cut down for space (hence no introduction) but is still very good, as you’d expect. RIP, David.
Our friend Michael Galinsky (also of the band Sleepyhead) is a fearless and prolific photographer (and filmmaker) who has been out there everywhere snapping away for the past 30 years. His body of work features street photography from Iraq, stunning portraits of tiny baby Chan Marshall and teenage Mary Timony and so so so much more. His latest book, the Decline of Mall Civilization, is currently being kickstarted and it shows what North Carolina malls looked like 30 years ago. Order your copy now or just pitch in a few bucks!
if you’re here, chances are you adore music by talulah gosh, heavenly, marine research and tender trap. the odds are good, then, that you already like the catenary wires, featuring indiepop royals amelia fletcher and rob pursey. they’ve just released a new album, til the morning, on tapete records and are heading out on tour just now. we caught up with them about their band, their kids, and their lives in kent these days. interview by gail o
chickfactor: what did you set out to sound like with the catenary wires?
amelia:initially we were aiming to sound really minimal. we had moved to the countryside and didn’t know anyone, so we started out as just the two of us playing at home, late at night, with our daughter’s small acoustic guitar. on the first album (red red skies), we wanted to retain that homespun melancholic intimacy, so we kept the instrumentation very simple. this had the upside that we worked really hard on the songwriting and the lyrics, but we ended up feeling that the songs were almost forced to do too much because the instrumentation wasn’t doing enough. we decided to see if we could find a way to achieve the same intimacy, while creating something more musically interesting too.
rob:we wanted it to sound full and rich, but we didn’t want it to sound like any of our previous bands (with a standard rhythm section and standard instruments driving everything). so we recorded the guitar and singing first, knowing that this might be enough, then added the other instruments—and then, if we felt we needed any, we added drums. so, the whole thing was recorded upside down, really. the ‘drums’ were often a piece of wood dropped on the floor, or a metal agricultural trailer being hit. we wrote the songs and recorded them in a fairly remote, rural place, and we wanted the record to sound like that.
cf: tell us a bit more about the new album.
amelia: we are really pleased with how it has worked out. it is made up of twelve songs which are pretty varied but have lots of common thematic threads, both lyrically and musically. we recorded the album with andy lewis. we met him when he was playing with the indie band spearmint, but we were impressed by his far wider set of music references, such as having produced judy dyble (fairport convention), having played bass with paul weller and DJ-ing 60s soul records. he was also happy to work with us to record it at home. his theory is that wherever you can plug in a kettle, you can make an album. so we decided to test that out. I think my favourite song is “dream town,” partly because I don’t think it quite sounds like anything else, partly because I find it moving, and partly because it feels very real to me. more prosaically, it is also one of the most jointly written of the songs, in that we both wrote parts of the tune and both wrote parts of the lyrics. a lot of the songs are co-written to some extent, but we rarely hit that degree of balance.
rob: the building where we recorded the music is not soundproofed, so you can occasionally hear birds tweeting in the background, and other rustic noises too. the songs are not exactly idyllic though, so hopefully these gentle rural sounds feel poignant rather than whimsical. we are always a bit paranoid about turning into folk musicians, I don’t know why, but here we are, recording gentle songs in lovely countryside with the birds tweeting away in the background. we discussed this issue with andy, and have made sure that the birds have reverb on them, so they aren’t too ‘pastoral’.
cf: has becoming parents influenced the music that you’re making?
rob: I’m sure it has, in many ways. sometimes very literally. for example, the lyrics to “hollywood” are a reaction to our daughters’ love of US TV shows, US YouTubers, the ongoing dream of fame and celebrity in L.A. because of my old job (running a TV drama company), I saw the process up close and I am very aware of the gap between the dream and reality. I think the harvey weinstein scandal was breaking at the time too. in the last bit of the song, my voice is his voice, and the voice of many other male directors and producers, telling the young actress to give a performance that is disingenuous and potentially exploitative.
on top of that, we get to hear a lot of the music they like. quite a lot of it is about falling in love, how great it is to kiss someone etc.—just like pop music has always been. so we redressed the balance by doing songs about divorce, falling out of love, adultery etc.
we are also influenced by living with our mothers. amelia’s mum passed away last autumn—she had parkinson’s disease so took quite a lot of looking after. my mum is with us still, and is very fit and well. but both of them lost their husbands and had to face life on their own again. they both experienced the ultimate, un-wished for divorce. and I think that influenced a few of our songs.
amelia: having to be at home to look after my mum also influenced our decision to record the album at home. at the time, we thought we might be making a compromise in not using a proper studio, but actually working at home allowed us more flexibility to try things and gave the whole album a better sense of place, as per rob’s comments about the birds, above. we used local musicians too, including a fluegelhorn player and trombonist from the village, who usually play in military bands but really enjoyed having to turn their hand to indie! we have ended up filming our videos very locally too and editing them ourselves at home. it just seems in keeping.
cf: are your daughters recording and playing shows these days? do tell. rob: dora’s band (wait what) seem to have stopped. they’ve all been doing their GCSE exams, so maybe that’s why. they are more sensible than we are. dora’s still playing the guitar though, and I reckon she will find herself in another band. I hope so. I think it just depends on meeting the right people to be in a band with. ivy is also playing a lot of music, and is a very good singer. she sings ‘properly’. earlier this evening she was doing a rendition of “back to black” by amy winehouse. that’s who she sounds like. how terrifying!
cf: what’s happening in kent these days? are there any good musicians or bands coming from the region?
amelia: a strange thing happened when we met our producer, andy lewis. it turned out that he already knew the tiny village in kent where we live—which no one has usually ever heard of—because he had just finished recording an album here with fay hallam. it turned out that she was a neighbour who lived about 6 doors away from us. we in fact already knew about her music but were totally unaware of her proximity! she is a really great hammond player and singer and she ended up both playing on the album and becoming a member of the live band.
rob: in a pub down the road, on the second tuesday of every month, the local folk singers gather and take it in turns to sing their trad songs. I really like it, and maybe when I am 75 I will see if they let me join in.
cf: what’s in the fridge? what’s in the picnic basket?
rob: in the fridge, there is a lot of daal and cauliflower curry, cos we made far too much of it yesterday. there is a pot of crab apple jelly that my dad made. there are bottles of beer. and there are parsnips. not sure what to do about them.
amelia: there is nothing in the picnic basket. but at least there isa picnic basket. which means one day there might even be a picnic! you never know.
cf: what records do you play more than anything?
amelia:we get force-fed a lot of car seat headrest, brockhampton and billie eilish by the girls, all of which are really pretty good. if we are allowed to play anything ourselves, I usually find myself heading for the delgados (older) and girl ray (newer). rob is a bit obsessed with sleaford mods. we also keep on listening to some of the great duettists, such as nancy and lee, serge gainsbourg and brigitte bardot, johnny cash and june carter, just to see how they go about making duets work. we still feel we have a lot to learn on that front.
cf: is there any news about your previous bands (reissues, etc.)?
rob: I don’t think so. personally, I like leaving those things as they are. you can hear most of it online if you want to, and I think it’s a bit odd when bands start behaving like their own archivists. we did just discover a cache of old T-shirts—talulah gosh, heavenly etc. I took pictures of amelia wearing them (the history of our bands in T-shirt form, see more on our instagram: @thecatenarywires) and we put them online. actually, sorry, there was one shirt that was an XL, so I had to wear that one. anyway, it was much-liked by the indie fraternity, so that probably goes to show that there is an appetite for the old stuff. I also found the old U-Matic video of ‘I fell in love last night’, the first heavenly single. I’ll get it digitised at some point and stick it online so people can watch it again, if they like.
amelia:well damaged goods did reissue all the talulah gosh stuff recently, so we do let these things happen sometimes. I’d personally quite like to do a ‘greatest hits’ that covers all our bands. but we’d probably end up having such big arguments about what actually were the ‘greatest hits’ that it may not be worth it!
cf: what’s a good story about john jervis you can tell us?
rob: john’s girlfriend, alexandra, is an amazing knitter and maker of clothes, and john is now mostly dressed in things that she makes. he looks very stylish, these days.
cf: who is your favorite london band these days?
rob: I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t really know. I spend too much time in kentish pubs listening to octogenarian folk singers and have lost touch with the capital, and its young people.
cf: what are the catenary wires up to this summer?
rob: we are playing at indietracks! we will spend a lot of time with the kids, once school breaks up. we are going on holiday with them, to jamaica. we don’t normally do that sort of holiday, but I help out with a charity that’s based over there, so that’s our pretext. we are also going to visit athens, georgia, and new york, and will be playing a couple of catenary wires shows—just as a duo. most of our gigs these days are as a five-piece (with andy lewis on bass, fay hallam on keyboard and ian button on drums), but we like going back to the duo format occasionally.
amelia:we are really just on holiday in america too, but we thought we would slip in as many shows as the kids would accept, which ended up being just two. they are semi-tolerant of, but not at all impressed by, our indie antics. CF
we’re publishing a few of our polls that were left out of CF18.
daniel handler (lemony snicket):if I didn’t live near amoeba records and wander the aisles once a month, I would have absolutely no idea what is going on. stephin the magnetic fields:without convenient access to record stores, it has become practically impossible to find anything I like from this century. on the other hand it has become much easier to find french baroque harpsichord music. sukhdev cf: I don’t listen to much american music any more. sweden, france, japan are more important to me. (perhaps that’s chickfactor’s influence.) shawn belschwender:without chickfactor, I’m like a blind man groping an elephant. I don’t know what anything is. so I rush right back to the safety of NWBHM bands. clarissa cf: in the early days of chickfactor, my musical discovery sources were equal parts kim’s underground, wfmu, going to shows by artists I liked and getting there in time for the opening acts, and people on whom I had crushes sending me mix tapes. these days, my main source of musical discovery is looking at joel whitburn’s top r&b singles 1942–1996 and then finding artists I’ve never heard from it on spotify. I’d also say going to starbucks, but for the past eight months the only song they’ve played is rostam’s “bike dream” on continuous repeat. also, the golden age of chickfactor, as well as everything else, is right now. mac merge/superchunk:weirdly not much—though I throw away fewer tapes now that everyone’s demo is a soundcloud page. bandcamp is a great way to discover stuff which didn’t exist then, but there were more record store employees to recommend stuff back then. gaylord cf/wfmu: it really hasn’t, though nowadays I can’t bend down to look at records without throwing my back out. ashley cf: I’ve died a little on the inside. I just listen to NPR and podcasts now. I hear it’s much easier to discover new music now but it just seems overwhelming. michael white: like everyone else, it’s mostly online now—which, of course, isn’t as romantic as, say, seeing something interesting looking in other music and taking a chance on it, but it also means I don’t waste $35 on some japanese import I subsequently discover is terrible. evelyn cotton candy: I guess I don’t read zines as much, so new music is more word of mouth. kevin the hairs: I feel a bit more out of touch. I see what friends are listening to or what reviews I come across or what bands my friends are listening to or recommend. lisa levy: I still mainly hear about bands through friends, though pandora and spotify also occasionally come through with something interesting. joe the pines/foxgloves: I’ve gone from listening to radio 1 to listening to radio 2 to listening to bbc 6music. the same disc jockeys eventually turn up on all three, and steve lamacq is still playing mega city four and kingmaker. jeff drawing room records: hmm… well… the internet has sped up my discovery to ultra-fast light-speed. I tend to self-research more instead of seeking out the good tastes of friends and acquaintances. as I’m older too, I’m more open to lots of different sounds than when I was younger and stauncher in terms of music I enjoyed. tom square cotton candy:being currently 28, my musical discovery process pretty much began around chickfactor’s golden age.