We cannot wait to read Bob Stanley’s new book! Go to these events if you can.
it is no secret over here at CFHQ that we dig the jim ruiz set (and the legendary jim ruiz group before it). they’ve been playing at CF events since back in the 1990s, and pam berry had the good sense to interview them back in chickfactor #9. ruiz & co. recently released a fan-fricking-tastic (third album finally) album called mount curve avenue (the compact disc and “digital files” came out on allen clapp’s mystery lawn music label and korda records), and we are excited to tell the world the latest news about that record: jim ruiz set has teamed up with portland, oregon’s ace shelflife record company to put mount curve avenue out on light-blue vinyl! we cannot wait to get our chocolate-smudged fingers on a copy. read more over on the jim ruiz blog and preorder your light-blue vinyl copy right here. the interview that follows was conducted by allen clapp to run in advance of chickfactor 21 last month, but the lazy editor didn’t get it posted in time. enjoy!
chickfactor: jim, you’ve always had a unique blend of melancholy and humor in your songwriting (you even referred to your uncle as being something of a mexican woody allen in one of your songs). who are some other songwriters past or present who can do that thing you do?
jim ruiz: thanks, that’s very kind. I think you could probably trace it back to 1989 and listening to the jazz butcher sing “girlfriend,” “only a rumor” or max eider sing “D.R.I.N.K.” you don’t know whether to laugh or cry and maybe you just do both. they were able to be able to be incredibly funny but never cross into the realm of novelty. I suppose loudon wainright III does kind of the same thing. there’s no reason depressing confessional lyrics need to be so serious.
over the course of your three recorded albums, you cover a lot of musical ground, but there seem to be a few kinds of songs to which you gravitate: transportation songs, songs that mention or reference your musical heroes, and self-referential songs that look back on an earlier time in your life. is this coincidental, or are those the things that most occupy the mind of the legendary jim ruiz?
I don’t know what you’re talking about. okay, you’re on to me. I honestly didn’t think anyone would notice that! true, perhaps more than most people, I go back to the well. in my defense, I do tend to stop at three. for instance, “groningen,” “minneapolis,” and “mij amsterdam.” there were no city songs on this record (mount curve avenue), but if you got a good thing going, why not! who would have wanted to hear tony bennett follow up “I left my heart in san francisco” with “I’ll see you in oakland—next time!” and “down and out in redwood city?” I would have!
you’ve always been more of a mod than a rocker. is it easier to be a mod in 2013 than it was in the mid 1990s?
no, it’s easier to be a mod when you’re in your late teens or early 20s, no matter what year it is. even bradley wiggins (winner of last year’s tour de france) seems just too old to pull off the mod look. at some point you reach the “aging mod dude” status. of course when I look in the mirror I think “hey mod!” but luckily people around here just look at me and think “preppy.”
last time I saw you, I noticed your volkswagen vanagon had a decidedly non-stock color scheme. would you care to describe this? how many paint jobs has your famous van had during its lifetime?
the vanagon has only had two paint schemes but many brush coats. as you probably know, car rust is an inevitable fact of life in minnesota. luckily as a child I painted many model airplanes, mostly from WWII. I didn’t suspect I would later use that skill on my car, the transition was a natural and easy one.
what’s the best thing about playing a chickfactor show?
just being asked kind of blows my mind. in london gail bestowed on us the title of “chickfactor band.” it wasn’t a public ceremony, and it didn’t come with a little statue, but it’s a moment I’ll never forget and will always treasure.
ultimate jazz butcher fan jim ruiz happened to be in new york city when the jazz butcher played at spike hill, brooklyn, on sunday, june 15, 2013! here is his review of the show.
it was a beautiful, still night in brooklyn when this fledgling music critic and his wife made their way to spike hill in williamsburg. after a car journey of about 1200 miles, from minnesota, the last 5 were covered on bicycles thanks to the new bike share citi bikes, which were located near our departure and destination points.
spike hill is a smallish venue with brick walls and a full bar and restaurant next door. while waiting for the show to begin in side bar, I was introduced, for the first time, to JBC sideman max eider, coincidentally my favorite living guitar player. luckily, I didn’t stutter and max graciously excused himself as the duo, dressed in suits which could loosely be described as “english,” was about to take the stage. I made my way to the front of the room and the show began.
it began with an oldie, “holiday,” as in english speaking gentleman on…. although odd to hear without the typewriter rhythm behind it, obviously a good one to warm up with, I remember thinking while watching max, “hey, I could play that!” that thought was a fleeting one as the set began in earnest.
this is as good a point as any to give my impression of pat fish, a.k.a. the butcher or just butchie to his friends. clearly enjoying himself, he was seated on a low chair playing a borrowed ovation acoustic guitar. a better frontman they simply do not make as he put the crowd, and just as importantly max, at ease with his pithy and hilarious banter. for instance, coming to max’s rescue later in the set when max sang the wrong first verse to his own composition “who loves you now?” with a comment to the effect that he (pat) was always the one to mess up. on another occasion telling the crowd if they wanted to sing along with a chorus – “please don’t.”
the set was front-loaded with songs off the new album, the last of the gentleman adventurers, kicking off with the title track. these new songs too benefited from brief intros from pat as when he revealed later in the set that the song “shame about you” was inspired by involuntarily uttering the phrase after seeing himself in the mirror one day, and when the identity of “black raoul” was definitively revealed to be his cat. the crowd, less familiar with these new songs, waited patiently, but with rapt attention, for the fun to really begin, and they weren’t disappointed.
the set then moved into what could be described as the glass era, the peak years of pat and max’s collaboration together. the first one, “southern mark smith” caused me to sing, a little too loudly, along with the line “I’ve found out already what makes my heart sing!” much to the irritation of nearby revelers.
then came max’s own tour de force, the aforementioned “who loves you now?” before the song began, max made reference onstage to an interview I conducted with him where it was revealed to the world, and remembered by himself, that wes montgomery’s version of “polka dots and moonbeams” was his inspiration for the song.
I asked myself, “how can my life get any better than this?”
after a rousing “girlfriend” came the sublime “betty page,” with max’s virtuosity, now in fifth gear, on display for all to hear. after a brief return to the new album for “shame about you,” max lent his hand to “shirley macLaine,” a post collaboration song from the 1991 album condition blue. the favor was soon to be returned.
the set had seemed to last for about 15 minutes when eider walked, a little mysteriously, off the front of the stage, as there was no backstage option. fish, looking perhaps for the first time a little unsure what to do, just stayed on stage as the crowd, almost better described as an unruly mob, demanded more.
the butcher graciously put max back in the spotlight for the closing two numbers, “partytime” with its genre-defining major 7 chords and the best guitar solo of the ’80s and “drink”—max’s own song, effectively giving the sideman the last word.
like love, perhaps musical collaborations are lovelier the second time around. If that is the case, and it appears to be, the future looks bright for jazz butcher fans such as myself. I only wish you could have been there.
postscript – for guitar players (nerds) only after the show I asked max way too many questions the first one being, naturally, what kind of guitar were you playing? “a gretsch” was his answer. when pressed for a little more information he told me it was a “double” anniversary. favored more by country players than jazzbos. the “double” anniversary features hi-lo-tron single coil pickups.
as I was standing near the stage I can attest to the fact that max plugged directly into a fender deville 4 x 10 amp. fiddling with a couple of the knobs during the show. the chorus effect made no appearance, apparently banished to a bygone era.
updated lineup for chickfactor 21 at the bell house in brooklyn! if you didn’t hear the bummer news about the pastels, please scroll down on cf.com for details.
tuesday, june 11 at 8pm sharp:
special guest Tae Won Yu (Kicking Giant)
Rose Melberg (Softies, Tiger Trap, etc!)
Versus (three Baluyuts and a Fontaine!)
The Cannanes (from Australia! Only US show)
Lilys (full noisy action)
with MC Dan Searing
wednesday, june 12 at 8pm sharp:
True Love Always (Teenbeat, first show in ages!)
The Aluminum Group (first show in ages!)
special guest Imaginary Pants (featuring Rose Melberg)
Future Bible Heroes (first show in 11 years, since CF10 shows)
HoneyBunch (original lineup!)
with MC Gaylord Fields
thursday, june 13 at 8pm sharp:
special guest Richard Davies (Moles, Cardinal, Fire Records)
Lois (with Stephen Immerwahr & Brendan Canty!)
Joe Pernice (Pernice Brothers, Scud Mountain Boys, New Mendicants)
Jim Ruiz Set (from Minneapolis! ace new LP out)
Dump (featuring James McNew, who is in Yo La Tengo!)
with MC Sukhdev Sandhu
New poster coming soon! + Lots of fun merch + Foxiest audience ever + No cell phones in the performance area! + Music by Gaylord of WFMU
we couldn’t be more excited to announce some good news: one of chickfactor’s top songwriters ever, joe pernice (pernice brothers, scud mountain boys, new mendicants), will be added to thursday night’s bill at chickfactor 21 with dump, lois and the jim ruiz set.
we are also thrilled to announce several of our guests: rose melberg’s band imaginary pants + tae won yu (kicking giant) will both be playing sets at cf21. each night starts right at 8pm so get there early!
photograph by l. stein.
future bible heroes is a songwriting collaboration between stephin merritt and christopher ewen (figures on a beach, the hiddle variable, famous boston DJ) with vocals from claudia gonson and merritt. in addition to reissuing their earlier recordings, they’re about to release their first album in 11 years, titled partygoing, and it’s effing ace (as good as their debut, memories of love). they will play chickfactor 21 on june 12 along with the aluminum group, honeybunch and true love always, mc gaylord fields and special guests. stephin will not perform due to ear issues; the live lineup will feature gonson, ewen, magnetic fields singer shirley simms and anthony kaczynski (figures on a beach). see you at bell house!
I did this interview to write their bio for merge records, but I wanted to print it here. I interviewed them back in chickfactor 11 also! interview by gail
chickfactor: the previous FBH album came out in 2002. now it’s 2013. have you been working on it for 11 years or did you begin more recently? what took so long?
stephin: since 2002 I’ve made four stage musicals and four magnetic fields albums, a gothic archies album and a through-sung live score to a silent film. but in fact chris and I have been working on FBH too, and parts of the songs “when evening falls on tinseltown” and “a drink is just the thing” are quite old. the first describes my experience of living in los angeles—and leaving it, which I did while recording partygoing; the second describes solving all your problems with alcohol, which I don’t do much anymore either. writing true and heartfelt lyrics is pointless because once you get around to singing them, they’re lies.
cf: do you feel freer and more playful making FBH music because it’s not your “day job”? your singing—especially on “how very strange” and “drink nothing but champagne”—is very funny.
stephin: thank you. I had other funny voices that didn’t make it onto the record, but they should be available as either bonus tracks or blackmail fodder. after singing exactly like angela lansbury on “mr. punch,” claudia has retired her stage-cockney voice, but I hope she changes her mind for the concerts. I want to see that.
cf: do you know when you write a song whether it will be for FBH, TMF or something else?
stephin: I only write FBH songs to chris’s instrumental songs (which are often perfectly listenable and finished before I get them), so I always know whose song I’m writing. I don’t always know what album I’m writing for, though: this album has less science fiction than before, but I had dozens of half-finished songs in that j.g. ballard universe mapped so much better by gary numan and john foxx.
cf: was there a theme for this record? I know it’s called partygoing but it seems like aging, rejection, death and austerity are recurring themes.
stephin: write what you know (as they tell you in school, when you don’t know anything yet). those happen to be the themes of most of my work, I’m happy to report. aging is a great theme for any writer, because one never runs out of material, and everyone over 12 is obsessed with it.
cf: do you have a different lyrical approach for FBH than for TMF?
stephin: other than a tendency toward science fiction, which sort of matches the “futuristic” synthesizers, I’m not aware of any difference. I’m still just sitting around in bars with a song in my head, rhyming “arcade” and “rodomontade.”
cf: how has FBH’s recording process changed since the previous releases?
stephin: for partygoing I encouraged chris to let me do more of the work, and just give me skeletal fragments, and then we could toss them back and forth as though we were playing a “sport” of some kind. and I did some remixing, not like junior vasquez, but like me, and the results sound a bit more like me than chris sometimes. which some will hate of course.
cf: are there any ’80s-sounding new bands that you’re fond of? contemporary acts?
stephin: the “electroclash” moment came and went without anyone ever contacting us about it, but I always quite liked ladytron, miss kittin, robyn, peaches, goldfrapp and their imitators. they’re all women. what can I say, I’m a gay man, I cried in public when donna summer died. my favorite country song of the last ten years is “you and I” by lady gaga (closely followed by trailer choir’s “rockin’ the beer gut,” a major feminist accomplishment which could never have been in the country charts I grew up on). our roots are in new wave.
cf: you seem to be able to get away with writing about anything as a lyricist. has anyone ever been offended by something you wrote? whose lyrics inspire you?
stephin: when the new york times trashed my first chinese opera adaptation, the reviewer was shocked that I used the word “fucking” in a song, and implied that it indicated a lack of seriousness on my part. now, on my planet, any medium that can’t use the word “fucking” is aimed at pre-school american children, a demographic not known for its patronage of opera, chinese or no. I’ve been listening to nothing but felt recently.
cf: any plans for the 6ths, the gothic archies, TMF? theater and film?
stephin: I’m writing a lot these days for all of the above, but nothing I can talk about yet.
cf: how does recording for FBH differ from working on TMF records?
claudia: chris first composes lots of sonic ideas, like dozens of them, and sends them to stephin. then, stephin makes melody lines over some of them, and decides which are the ones he wants to use for the album. the process goes back and forth. sometimes chris adjusts the pitch or tempo or adds a new section to accommodate the melody stephin has written. once the songs are written, we record lead vocals and harmonies, and a few more instruments.
cf: you sing on partygoing—do you contribute any other sounds / ideas?
claudia: on one song, there is a musique concrète solo. each member was instructed to go out and do field recordings of various ambient sounds, and stephin and his engineer charles knitted together all these sounds to make the solo. on other songs too, stephin added a few other instrumental lines. but the instrumental backing tracks, for the most part, are chris’s work.
cf: why do FBH play live so rarely?
claudia: we put out albums so rarely, that we didn’t have much occasion to tour. we did tour a bit after the first two albums, but back then it was incredibly difficult to get a stage set up with all those enormous bulky synths. we may do some shows for this album release, but the issue will revolve around the opposite problem, how to perform live in an interesting way without just hitting a button on a computer.
cf: do you feel freer and more playful making FBH music because it’s not your “day job”?
claudia: as the band’s manager, I can certainly say yes. but I also feel this way about playing with the magnetic fields. I enjoy my creative role with the band, since most of my time is spent wrangling over deals and contracts.
cf: who is pretending to be david bowie?
cf: is the FBH fan different from the TMF fan?
claudia: I think we have a lot of crossover but I have discovered that people, like my daughter and my parents, really enjoy FBH, because it’s got a synth-based sound and catchy beats. It’s very accessible to the disco set.
cf: how do you feel this album compares with the previous releases?
claudia: I really like the album. stephin and chris wrote some exceptional songs. it’s a bit depressing, lots of songs about suicide, and a nostalgic yearning for youth and happiness. but I think most of the FBH albums are like that.
cf: can we expect another FBH album in 2024?
claudia: hope so!
cf: the previous FBH album came out in 2002. now it’s 2013. what took so long? have you been working on it for 11 years or did you begin more recently?
chris: we began more recently. part of the reason it took so long is that stephin is obviously involved with a lot of other musical projects. another is that—since we all live in different cities, especially when stephin was living in los angeles—it was a bit more of a challenge for us to coordinate everything. back when we were recording eternal youth, we were both experimenting with different recording technologies, and successfully integrating them was somewhat of a hurdle. technology has finally caught up with what we want to do, so it seemed like the right time to collaborate again. I started coming up with some new ideas for FBH towards the end of 2009. a couple of TMF albums happened between then and now, so 2013 has turned out to be the year we’re releasing a new album.
cf: there are a lot of modern-day new bands that try to sound 1980s. are there any that match up to those from the original decade?
chris: when we released memories of love back in 1997, I was very surprised that the american press were quick to dub us an ’80s “new wave” band. it wasn’t our intention to be classified that way, and it certainly wasn’t what was in my head as we were writing and recording the album. I think that happened because we used a lot of synthesizers, which wasn’t very much in fashion back then. the times seem to have changed, and synthesizers are back in vogue, but this time around we didn’t make a conscious decision to make a blatantly new wave revival record either. however, we did use a lot of synths. ¶ one of the things that continues to attract me to a lot of music that came out in the ’80s is that it sounded like itself. it was new, fresh and surprising at the time…some of it still sounds that way. musical approaches and points of reference were blurred or sometimes completely obliterated. these days, it’s pretty easy for me to pick out what ’80s band influenced the sound of any particular new band, so the element of wonder is I experience listening to them isn’t as apparent. that said, I’m currently really enjoying the most recent albums by the soft moon, the knife / fever ray, freezepop, yan wagner and the horrors, to name a few.
cf: what kind of changes in technology have had an effect on the way FBH works?
chris: when we recorded our first two albums, we used our phones and the mail a lot, and sent things to each other on cassette or DAT. or we had to be in the same city. these days, it’s a lot easier for us to send music & ideas back and forth and develop them more fully. my studio set-up now is a lot more conducive to multi-track recording, and I’m not a slave to MIDI anymore. overall, the ways we work together have become much more flexible.
cf: there are scant details on the two first FBH albums about the “sounds” you make. can you share more info here and do SM / CG contribute to the music also?
chris: on those first two albums, I would basically come up with some song idea, and record all or most of the instruments at my studio in boston, usually MIDI sequences driven by a hardware sequencer live to two track. stephin would then get these fully formed instrumental tracks and have to write the lyrics and vocal melodies either around what I had come up with, or complementing it in some way. It became a process unto itself, as the instrumental tracks were already fully mixed, and any changes would mean lots of editing and completely re-recording the track on my end, or completely rewriting the lyrics on his. as far as the sounds go, I enjoy experimenting in my studio, and am quite content to just play around with sound manipulation. some songs came about because of a certain sound I was happy with…a full track could be inspired by something very simple. I also like to write at a piano, and then arrange those pieces for a fuller instrumentation. on the first couple of albums, since the music was already pretty much finished by the time stephin got the tracks, he & claudia would come up with elaborate backing vocal tracks, and in a few instances, stephin would add a lead instrument. these days, we have a lot more options.
cf: the house of tomorrow site says: “future bible heroes are a songwriting collaboration between stephin merritt (words and melodies) and chris ewen (instruments).” can you clarify your roles?
chris: nowadays we are much more of an integrated collaboration, and there isn’t one particular way a song will develop. “living, loving, partygoing” began as an idea stephin sang into my voicemail one night. “love is a luxury” began with the lyrics. as far as the tracks I instigated go, I made a point of sending stephin a lot of demos or song sketches, which I’d then develop more fully as necessary. this time around, we were able to write songs together using different approaches, and were able to arrange them along the way.
cf: whose music gives you inspiration?
chris: I love producers who love experimenting in the studio…conny plank, martin hannett, joe meek, lindsey buckingham. I continue to admire the magnetic fields of course, all of yellow magic orchestra, abba, brian eno, the gentlemen in cluster (or now, qluster), vince clarke, the throbbing gristle family, the human league and a lot of french and german synth-pop. recent inspirations include laurie spiegel’s the expanding universe re-issue, and everything john foxx has been doing lately.
cf: how long have you known stephin and claudia? how have they changed?
chris: we go back a while… we met around 1987 or 1988 I think, during the buffalo rome days. it’s hard to pinpoint exact changes—we’ve remained good friends over the years and through many scenarios, which means that they continue to possess the qualities that drew us together in the first place. claudia has become more self-assured. stephin’s become a more social creature. I think we’ve all grown up, which is probably something I’ve needed to do.
cf: are you involved in other musical projects these days?
chris: I’ve decided to completely revamp a project I started a few years ago called the hidden variable. It was a collaboration I instigated with several dark fiction authors, whose lyrics I set to music. besides a song I wrote with neil gaiman that claudia sings on, and one with gahan wilson that cosey fanni tutti sings, I’m planning on re-recording the entire album. there may also be the possibility of some instrumental solo material, and I’ll continue to come up with new ideas for FBH, in case we feel the urge to record a new album at some point.
most people know james mcnew from his other band, the condo fucks (and yo la tengo). as long as he has been in yo la tengo, he has been making his own recordings under the name dump. dump songs have sort have been filtered into yo la tengo these days so he is less prolific. we interviewed dump + yo la tengo for chickfactor 8 back in the mid-90s and again later, but here we are doing it again! we love dump and gilmore tamny conducts the interview this time and asks some excellent Qs. ps. dump performs at chickfactor 21 on june 13 with the pastels, lois and jim ruiz set. he also plays with the condo fucks and the pastels on june 15 at maxwell’s!
chickfactor: what chickfactor show do you remember best? missed but wished you’d attended? any particular fond/joyful/amusing chickfactor memories?
james: I think I Ioved every one I ever saw, and I definitely loved playing at them. I saw a lot of them. getting to see nice at under acme was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. same goes for the georgia hubley trio at fez. versus were just bloodthirsty at the bell house last year (“another face”!). gail was really the only person who ever asked dump to play, and that always meant a great deal to me. I will always remember the sight of magnetic fields fans in the front row with their fingers in their ears while I played my opening set.
who else will be playing with you for the chickfactor show unless that’s ruining a surprise? are you getting besieged with requests?
that shit’s top secret.
how has your relationship with the dump songs (if it does) change over time? the things that you like/that bug you tend to be the same when you revisit?
I cringed a few times while putting together the reissues, but I guess everybody does that, like when you see old photos of yourself. unless you’re really good-looking. but I still liked most of the songs, or at least the ideas. I feel like I have gotten a lot better at writing songs since then, but I can still relate to old me. depression is timeless.
many are superstoked about superpowerless and I can hear music getting reissued—tell us a bit about how that came about?
I was approached by thomas moor of the/his moor music label, of berlin. I was already a fan of their catalog & bands; he was a fan of the dump records. I am always kinda surprised when anyone says that, since they were so difficult to find. I dragged my heels on doing the project until he finally convinced me. so I spent a LOT of time turning it into a deluxe package; bonus tracks, photos, a bunch of new artwork and a ton of new notes I wrote for them. there’s no doubt at least one frustrated moor employee will punch me one day. still, I am very happy with the results. I’m glad he thought of it.
I read once that charles barkley was so keyed up after his games that afterward he’d often vacuum the house to relax. do you have to do any such similar things after shows?
I love charles, so I’ll try that. I also heard he would get his lady friends to shave his head for him. normally I like to pretend like I didn’t just play, and get on with my life, then scrutinize it later.
I’d think touring so much would—if you were inclined—turn one into a bit of armchair sociologist/anthropologist, noting regional differences or ways fans interact, or bass player vs. guitar personalities, etc. any thoughts?
everyone, everywhere, is nuts.
who do you know or admire that might prompt you to say: “that gentlewoman or gentleman, __. _______ _______, has exquisite taste.”?
walt “clyde” frazier.
are there any human virtues you admire or weaknesses that depress you that, when manifesting themselves in music, make you admire/loathe even more? like: subtlety. or: showoffyness. or, the opposite?
traditional “weaknesses” like not being a virtuoso, or having an unusual voice or take on reality, can be total pluses. fearlessness, whether to express yourself or challenge yourself, or just in general, is definitely something to strive for. also, personally, I don’t like when artists supply me with answers. I like mystery; I don’t want them to tell me what their songs mean. I don’t even want a lyric sheet. I prefer to use my imagination and come up with my own meanings.
what show have you played that has most felt like a hallucination? place you’d like to play you haven’t (parthenon, etc.?)
many of them feel hallucinatory, if all goes according to plan. the shows I played as a member of man forever were all that way. I have been insanely lucky to play at some pretty sweet places. that said, I would like to play at an aquarium.
what’s your perspective on musical literacy? If it isn’t too nosey, how technically literate are you or have you had to become? how would you say or observed it being a help/hindrance?
not very. I have learned to do some stuff. I am mostly self-taught, and completely self-taught on bass (I learned by watching and studying the greats, namely sue garner). I took guitar lessons from age 9 to about 12. one day my teacher refused (in disgust) to teach me a van halen song, instead trying to get me to play some fingerpicky blues thing. That was it for lessons. Technical proficiency is by no means a prerequisite for great, important music. by itself, without feeling or ideas behind it, it’s just dumb. to me, few use it for good. But just to name some who do, glenn jones, william tyler, mary halvorson, tortoise and the boredoms all make music I absolutely love.
what non-musical (piece of?) art(s) has had the biggest influence on your music?
the work of jim woodring, for sure.
do you ever feel like you glimpse, out of the corner of your mind’s eye, some instrument not yet invented that you wish was? can you describe?
no, but I would love it if I could get a car horn that is not only deafening but is also a flamethrower.
would you ever—presuming you haven’t, pardon if my internet research skills are lacking—like to do some sort of sound installation à la christo or spiral jetty (etc.)?
oh, most definitely. when do you need it by?
basically if olympia, washington, singer-songwriter lois maffeo isn’t there, then it’s not really a chickfactor party. even though we interviewed miss lois for chickfactor #5 back in 1994, we are interviewing her again! she performs at the bell house in brooklyn on thursday, june 13 with the pastels, dump and jim ruiz set, mc sukhdev sandhu and special guests.
interview by gilmore tamny (of the yips & wiglet fame)
chickfactor: tell us a bit about the last your experience playing the last chickfactor show yonder brooklyn? highlights? unexpected pleasures? things you’re looking forward to this time?
lois: there’s a reason that gail always calls her chickfactor shows parties. there is a togetherness on these nights that doesn’t exist on most (any?) festival bills. It’s like everyone there, bands and audience, has this connection through these shared loves. It’s really magical.
any dish on chickfactor or gail or pam you wanna share? gaudy nights? bank jobs pulled? musical japes not yet known to adoring chickfactor public?
gail o’hara and a magnum of veuve cliquot is a dangerous combination. the last time that lois and dump shared a bill, gail, james and I sat on some steps at NYU (or was it columbia?—editor) and drank this massive bottle of champagne in scavenged paper cups. needless to say, I don’t remember much about that show and fear my set may have been a disaster.
how do you view the songwriting process these days?
sadness and torment are such invigorating tools for songwriting. but handily enough, I have avoided them for a long time and as such, my output has languished. but I’m not complaining.
what are the upsides/downside to playing out less? what do you miss or how do you feel freed up?
I miss being lost. so often we would be on the outskirts of a city and running late and having to ask someone on the roadside how to get to the club. inevitably the answer was “just turn there by the kroger. you can’t miss it.” and lo, we missed it every time.
how has birdie’s variety changed/enhanced your relationship to inatmate objects? history/the past?
I’ll just note here that birdie’s variety is both the name of my fanzine and the once-a-year sale of recycled cookware and useful things that I hold. (this year it will be at the unknown in anacortes, washington, on july 20.) apart from helping people get their hands on non-toxic and durable cookware, the appeal of the birdie’s sale comes in writing the pricetags. that is where I get to detail my thoughts on each object. (see photos.)
Is there (a) holy grail or grails of objects you’d like to find?
I don’t really search for things. I like to just come across them. what I like about finding things in thrift stores is that a person donated the object so it could benefit someone else. and estate sales can be fascinating in the way they illustrate a life through the stuff that was acquired along the way. In short, there are other ways of establishing value beyond looking up the price of something on ebay.
do you feel like lovejoy with nose for authenticity?
Your question hits upon one of the few ye olde TV sleuths that I don’t follow!
any lois maffeo recipes for cobbler/pesto/drinky-winkies you can share?
just some advice: grow herbs and put them in everything.
any artists (bands/writers/painters/what have you) of late that are driving you wild?
I’ve been listening to troubadours like idiot glee and karl blau, studying the songs of leslie bricusse & anthony newley, rocking out to hot hooves and faithfully following jarvis cocker’s sunday service on BBC 6. and gail introduced me to connie converse and molly drake who both made these spare and perfect songs that get right to the heart of things.
photograph by tae won yu
nothing’s too good for the common people:
a paul kelly retrospective
saturday 15 june 2013, 11am–6pm
cantor film center, 35 east 8th street (between greene street and university place)
free and open to the public (but you must RSVP)
presented by the colloquium for unpopular culture & chickfactor 21
11:00am: introduction by sukhdev sandhu
11:15: this is tomorrow (2007), 54 min (NYC premiere)
12:15pm: what have you done today, mervyn day? (2005), 45 min (NYC premiere)
1:30: finisterre (2003), 60 min
2:45: take three girls: the dolly mixture story (2012), 40 min (NYC premiere)
3:45-4:15: discussion between paul kelly and bilge ebiri/ Q&A
4:30-6:00: lawrence of belgravia (2011), 86 min (NYC premiere)
over the last decade, paul kelly – already well known as a musician (as a member of the much-revered east village and birdie) and graphic designer – has forged a reputation as one of the most distinctive british documentarians of his generation. refining an unusually lyrical brand of psychogeography informed by pop-modernist aesthetics, he moves between the city symphony, film essay and companionate portraiture to fashion beautifully composed and deeply atmospheric evocations of overlooked places and individuals. whether working in collaboration with the band saint etienne on a lushly ambient trilogy about london, or in his witty and empathetic films about the much-beloved dolly mixture and lawrence of felt, kelly’s films are immediately recognizable and immediately lovable.
nothing’s too good for the common people is the first retrospective of this key filmmaker’s work to have been held anywhere. organized by the new york-based colloquium for unpopular culture (kiss me again: the life and legacy of arthur russell; leaving the factory: wang bing’s tie xi qu; a cathode ray séance: the haunted worlds of nigel kneale) in collaboration with chickfactor magazine, it will feature the US premieres of many films, introductions by a constellation of artists and musicians, and paul kelly himself in discussion with the director and writer bilge ebiri.
to mark nothing’s too good for the common people, there will be available for sale copies of a very limited-edition book designed by rob carmichael (john cale, LCD soundsystem, animal collective’s ‘crack box’) and featuring contributions by a wide range of writers, musicians and architectural historians including jon dale, travis elborough, alistair fitchett, dan fox, joe kerr, stephin merritt, jude rogers and peter terzian.
thalia zedek is kind of an indie-rock bad-ass. before she formed come with chris brokaw, she was in uzi, live skull and dangerous birds. this spring, she is touring solo to support her new thrill jockey release via, and then touring with come as matador gets ready to reissue 11: 11 in may. gilmore tamny (from wiglet/the yips) managed to ask thalia a few questions to get the dirt.
chickfactor: any opinions on the “roadrunner” official song for massachusetts?
thalia: I’m all for it. I think that jonathan richman is an american icon right up there with woody guthrie and massachusetts should take advantage of the bragging rights
cf: touring for via with low (portland, san francisco, etc.) coming up and then I think with the come reissue—sounds like a great lineup. Any plans beyond the spring or later with come?
I have got some new material that I’m really excited about working on and hopefully recording in the near future. I don’t want to wait 4 years this time!
cf: what do you like/love/find not awesome/hate about touring?
I love traveling and looking out the window from a van, meeting new cool people and exploring new cities. and reconnecting with old friends. what I don’t like is flying and club promoters who don’t appreciate musicians and the effort that it takes to tour.
cf: writers like to talk about their writerly routines and I’m curious if you have a particular sort with song-writing or practicing. is it cyclic? daily? inspiration based? do you work better under looming deadlines or slogging along day-in/day-out (etc.)?
I’m definitely inspiration based but looming deadlines definitely speed up my process. I find that sitting down and just noodling around on my guitar is how most of my songs start out. sometimes finishing them is a problem for me!
cf: how do you write the lyrics for your songs? go they come first/second or hatch as the song does? who are some of your favorite lyricists?
lyrics pretty much always come last for me, but on the rare occasion that the music and words come at the same time, that is truly magic and those songs are my favorite. some of my favorite lyricists are nick cave, leonard cohen, vic chesnutt.
cf: first few favorite-favorite songs as kid/young person?
“the boxer” by simon and garfunkel. I used to sing the La Di Li part over and over again!
cf: are there any artists–books, painters, dancers, whatever–that you would say have influenced you a lot in last 10 years?
carla bozulich is doing some really cool things these days. she used to be in geraldine fibbers but has a new project now called evangelista that has put out a lot of cool records on constellation records. I find her music and her work ethic really inspiring!
cf: tell us a little about the recording process for via. I imagine you are pretty technically conversant at this point with so much recording under your belt. what sort of sound were you looking for, if you had an idea ahead of time, and then how you went about executing it?
we worked with andrew schneider again as the engineer and producer. I personally think he is a genius. he just makes us sound like us and sounding natural in the studio is actually no mean feat. I wanted the record to sound warm and deep, but I don’t really like getting into the technical aspects of it. it’s just not my thing so I just try and record with really talented engineers.
cf: is there any show you were dying to see that you are still kicking yourself for having missed?
I had the chance to see rowland howard perform in melbourne in 2005 but I was too jetlagged and exhausted from touring to make the show. he has since passed away , and I really really regret not seeing him that night. he was a big influence on my guitar playing.
cf: how many guitars do you own? What are some of your favorites?
4 electric guitars and 1 acoustic. I have a tele deluxe that I used on the early come records and two black hagstrom I guitars. also a pale blue kalamazoo. my first hagstrom which I got as a birthday gift from a bunch of my friends in the ’90s is my favorite. they knew that I had put a down payment on it and they pooled together the rest and gave it to me for my birthday. it was amazing!
cf: is there any folk music from a region or tradition you particularly dig?
rebetica, which are greek “hash songs,” indian music, as well turkish and romanian music too.
cf: what are some things you do outside of playing music that best ‘feed’ your music? I mean, like: biking? reading? watching bad TV? cooking? etc.
I love cooking, especially BBQ in the summer and biking around!
cf: I know you’ve done some volunteering with girls rock camp boston. could you talk a bit about your experience?
it was great. I volunteered at the first boston rock camp for girls as a guitar instructor and band coach and also at a ladies rock camp as a band coach. kids love making noise so it was a lot of fun to encourage them to thrash away and see them just break out with these huge smiles! I also discovered what I had already suspected, that I’m not that great at teaching people instruments. I’m a great band coach though!
cf: short list of places you’d like to travel, either touring or not?
lithuania, latvia, indonesia, new zealand, israel for a start. china and japan too!
cf: I’ve always thought you were a very stylish gal. any influences in that area? anyone whose style you admire?
thanks! ’70s-era mick jagger meets goodwill is what I’m going for. not sure if I’ve achieved it or not.
cf: do you have any animal cam weaknesses?
I love to watch baby seals frolic!
photograph by lana caplan