Get Back: Let It Be Remix (Info Dump for the Insatiable)
Have The Beatles finally mined everything from their brief but splendid existence with GET BACK? Perhaps not for The Beatles Industrial Complex, nor for scholars. GET BACK stands as peak postmodernism, where culture commodifies its own cultural production, and in a critical twist, vindicates the original object of its discontent.
The original 87-minute LET IT BE was received as a downer, and its release at the time of The Beatles breakup compounded ill feelings about the film, Yoko, Linda, and Paul McCartney himself, all of which were suggested to have contributed to the breakup.
GET BACK was met with almost universal praise for its eight hours of restored cinema vérité. In lauding this new access to the exact duration of each long-gone perceivable present of the Beatles’ past, the loudest voices in social media chose to fawn over producer Glynn Johns’ fashion sense or delight in slamming LET IT BE director Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s pompous personality (bloviating while desperate to find a climactic spectacle and deliver his project on time, or at all).
Seeing three weeks in the life of The Beatles’ process confirms that neither Yoko nor Linda caused their breakup, and their husbands brought them to the studio of their own volition. Billy Preston saved the day musically. His talent and convivial personality together with his bona fides (he played in Ray Charles’ combo) revived The Beatles’ passion for being a band. GET BACK unequivocally showed Paul McCartney as a stone-cold craftsman who pulled “Get Back” and “Let It Be” out of his pocket with elan.
I asked filmmakers and musicians alike what they thought. Although they share expertise with the subjects, they speak for the whole of the viewership.
Film Editor1: “Get Back was not a tectonic shift in any way. Nine hours of edited content, released on a major outlet could have been something of a game changer. But it was… not really.”
Showrunner: “Will we see another mini-series based on the remaining 50 hours of footage?”
Musician1: “This captures how long and tedious recording sessions really are.”
Musician2: “This is the fantasy I’ve been waiting for.”
Me: Get Back = Let It Be Remix (Info Dump for the Insatiable)
Filmmakers can see what Sir Peter Jackson had and more important, didn’t have, to work with. As one editor told me, “the cadence of the cutting revealed how much the story that they wanted to present took place in audio only, and they worked for years to make it look like the cameras caught it.”
Director Allison Anders astutely re-centered the discussion. She praised Michael Lindsay-Hogg for “gaining the trust and creating an atmosphere where the most famous musicians in the world at such a critical time could feel free to share with you, and us, the intimacy of creative process, and for always having the cameras in the many right spots—the most incredible accomplishment!!!” (I felt 100% vindicated by her Instagram post)
Lindsay-Hogg’s career was already stellar. As director of Ready, Steady, Go, and music videos for the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” and the Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash,” he knew how to cover musicians in their natural habitat. He conceived The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus, but the band hated it and didn’t release it until 28 years later, when it had become the stuff of legend. And in the end, all Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s work, despite or because of his attitude and the bummer that is the original LET IT BE, has been vindicated by fans’ overwhelming desire to see more deeply into the creative process of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. CF
for the past 30 years, vocalist-songwriter-trumpeter gary olson has led the brooklyn-based pastoral-pop band the ladybug transistor through seven full-lengths, mostly all released via merge records. he’s also established himself as a go-to engineer, working from his home studio, named marlborough farms, on albums by hamish kilgour, jens lekman, and his very own self-titled solo debut LP, released via tapete records in may 2020. ¶ though billed as a “solo release,” olson was supported by norwegian artists ole and jorn åleskjær (of the band loch ness mouse), and the album was recorded in both brooklyn and hayland, norway. we asked the kind-hearted, soft-spoken singer-songwriter about the trans-atlantic recording experience and how it was to release an album during a pandemic. interview by janice headley
chickfactor: what made you want to release a solo album after decades of being ladybug transistor? I had been thinking about it for a long time, even going back to 2005. and then whenever I’d gather a few songs together, it would just wind up being becoming whatever the next ladybug record was. ¶ I think some of it was just… a clean slate after all this time. also maybe some flexibility as to who I could play with. I haven’t even got to play many live shows, but when I get around to doing it, it could be a duo or a full band or … just not being kind of bound to the strict “band” structure, and just being able to be more flexible with things. cf: so the songs on this new album, how far did they date back or were they written fresh in that 2019 period? we probably started in 2017 or 2018. I got a lot of encouragement from the guys who wound up co-writing all the songs on the whole album, where in 2017 or ’18, they just started sending me scraps of song ideas and we started trading ideas back and forth. and that’s what led to the 7-inch that came out before the record. cf: did you email files back and forth? or is there some website where you can collaborate? I did go over to norway—both the brothers, ole and jorn, they’re old friends of mine from the first time [ladybug] visited, going back to like 1999. we had always talked about doing some projects together. ole, the guitarist, had accompanied me for a little solo tour in norway and sweden and spain, when I wasn’t doing stuff with ladybug. but somehow, we didn’t write that much together. ¶ so we finally got around to doing it, and it was good to get a little bit of a push from them. they’d send me a rough draft—sometimes just a riff of a song or something that’s a little more fully formed—and then I’d start working on it and send it back. then I actually wound up going over to norway to record with the musicians that they put together, probably like four or five times over the process of it. so I did make it over there quite a bit, to work on all the basic tracking and all the things that kind of help to do in person and some arranging. and then from there we were able to send files back and forth to get it done.
cf: how do brooklyn and hayland differ? well, in hayland, there’s no town. It’s maybe 90 minutes outside of oslo and it’s real farming, rural country. the closest supermarket is maybe 15 minutes away and there’s a little village that’s maybe half an hour away. cf: that sounds like where I’m living in michigan. ole and his brother, they’re real country boys. they grew up out there. ¶ the things that are similar, though, is we both have operated our little studios outside of our house, and in his case, out of the barn in his backyard. he manages to get a good sound out there and the barn looks awesome. They’re really easy. It’s a real family vibe when I’m out there. they’re always happy to have me stay for a week or however long it takes. so it’s almost become this nice tradition over the years of going out there and visiting them. when I was there a few summers ago, I stayed at a little cabin in their backyard and you could see the moose walking out of the forest at a certain hour, if you were lucky. cf: that must have been really strange for you when the pandemic hit and then you weren’t doing these trips to norway. yeah, I mean, thankfully, I was able to get over there a lot, and airfare to oslo is amazingly inexpensive. It’s as cheap as flying to california or to the west coast. we did have a lot of plans and we were going to try to tour as much as possible and take whatever opportunity came our way. so yeah, the timing couldn’t have been worse. the record came out in may 2020, and that was pretty much the peak of everything: of COVID, of social unrest, political unrest. it was a hard time to find the space for this little record.
cf: a lot of bands delayed their release dates, but you held fast to 2020. why? my record label is in germany, and they were a bit more optimistic about things. the record was already manufactured, it was already going into distribution, and at that time, I think that no one thought we’d be in the same place nearly two years later. maybe it would just be a few months before everything got back to normal. so, it was a little bit of a gamble. I think the worst part of it is that many shops were closed for so long that it didn’t get into the stores at that crucial time. as far as browsing, I don’t think people really got to see it on the shelves very much. cf: now that restrictions are starting to lift, do you think you’ll eventually do a tour? yeah, I have plans that have been canceled twice already. [laughs] there’s a german tour that was supposed to happen in april that looks like it’s happening in november now, and then there’s some little festivals in norway that are coming in the summer, and I’ll probably do at least a few more shows around that. and I did do a show in new york last summer, in that little window right before delta hit. cf: gosh, that’s right. was it an outdoor venue? no, that was indoors. it was a little hectic. no one really knows how to act when you’re in an indoor setting. to have a beer, you have to pull your mask down for a second. especially at that time when things were really coming back strong. it was hard to get the etiquette down, at a show. cf: totally. [ladybug bassist/violinist/vocalist] julia came and visited me when I was in new york for the yo la tengo hanukkah shows. and it was exactly like that: you’d pull your mask down to drink, and then, the music’s so loud, if you want to talk, you kind of have to get up in each other’s faces. yeah, it’s a strange time for a show. yeah, I’m hoping we turn the corner now because I’d really love to get out there and play again. I only did that one show in new york, so I’m just hoping there’ll be more sometime this spring or summer.
cf: that would be so awesome. so, you came up with this very clever idea during the pandemic to deliver album purchases in the new york area via your bike! can you tell us about this brainstorm and what those bike rides were like? well, I really wanted to get the record distributed in new york because all the stores were closed. so I had the label send me a big box of them, and then got the word out that I’d be willing to deliver anywhere within the five boroughs. I’m not normally much of a long-distance cyclist, but I thought it would be an interesting way to see … I lived in new york my whole life, but I saw so many new streets and parts of neighborhoods that I’d never seen before when I was getting all the way out to queens and into manhattan. and it was also really nice to see people, because at that time, a lot of people were just emerging from isolating for a couple of months. I met a lot of people who hadn’t seen their families and hadn’t really left their neighborhood even. after a couple of months of just more or less doing the same, it was that thaw of seeing people face-to-face and having a short conversation and checking in—sometimes a longer one, I’d sit outside and have a beer with people and it was really nice. I even made a couple of new friends along the way that I still hang out with. cf: oh my goodness, that couldn’t be sweeter. so the new album, it definitely sounds kind of ladybuggy, but it also has maybe more of like a ’70s pop thing going on. and I was wondering, what were your influences in the making of this album? I’m trying to think if there is anything in particular. I’m always bad when I’m put on the spot about influences, but it’s OK. I think it’s more about trying to get a natural sounding production, which has always been something that I go for. so it might sound like the ’70s. maybe that’s where I’m wandering around [laughs]. cf: I can’t remember the title of it, but there was one song in particular that reminded me of that bee gees song “massachusetts.” oh yeah, which ladybug covered, oh, a good 20-odd years ago. cf: it just kind of had that sort of hazy, melancholy kind of quality… probably something with a lot of strings, I’d imagine, if it sounded like the bee gees. cf: I don’t know if you still do this, but what cassettes do you currently have in your kitchen? Let’s see. we had our kitchen painted, so there’s only a few dozen in there, but I do have a box that I stored here on this couch. let’s see what we’ve got: the bobby fuller four… cf: oh, I’m not familiar with them. you know, “I fought the law”? cf: oh, yeah!
cf: do two more. the shop assistants… cf: yay! and oh yeah, gail might like this one: the cure’s standing on a beach and side two has all the b-sides and rarities from that time, so it’s a double play cassette. this one is actually what inspired me to do my own little cassette release. I did an edition of the album that’s 50 copies, and the b-side to the cassette is an instrumental version of the whole album, but I replaced the vocals with trumpet melody, so it’s almost like the easy listening version of the record, and that’s only available on the cassette itself. there’s no digital version of it, but maybe I should get around to putting something up. cf: classic chickfactor question: what would be on your rider? our classic one was, we’d always ask for chocolate, especially for san [fadyl] when he was with us, our drummer, and we’d always ask for candy, especially when we were touring in europe, because we just wound up with a lot of local or random stuff or some easter candy. whatever local junk food they had was always interesting. cf: what was your first concert, as a youth? [pause] do I have to say? [laughs] It’s so embarrassing. I could remember my first five, and the contrast is pretty wild. my first one was rush at nassau coliseum on long island, and I think my second was u2 on the unforgettable fire tour at radio city music hall with the waterboys. yeah. and the third was either like depeche mode and the smiths, around that same time.
cf: were they on the same bill? no, but they both played. I went to a lot of shows at the beacon theater and they were both at the beacon. we got really lucky with the smiths tickets because my friend brian and I were waiting on line to buy tickets. you used to be able to get the best seats if you went to the venue the day they went on sale, because they always held the first five or six rows and you could only get those in the box office… cf: wait, when you say “on line,” you mean like a physical queue? yeah, yeah, yeah. these were paper tickets. this was 1985. [laughs] the whole culture of kids my age waiting in line for concert tickets, you know, it was a very social thing you could do. so, we went up to the beacon theater to wait on line to buy smiths tickets. and as we were getting closer and closer to the box office, there was this rumor making its way down the line that after the first show sold out, they’d start selling tickets for a second show. so we just hovered around the box office until they started selling tickets for the second show and we got second row center tickets. cf: oh my god, that is so fortuitous. oh my god, so jealous. [laughs] so, I read that you are a gardener. and I have to ask, like, have you started anything yet? or like, what are you going to plant this year? or, what’s your favorite thing to plant right now? It’s still a little too cold out to do any prep outside, but I think sometime in march or april, we’ll start turning over the soil in the backyard. we grow a lot of tomatoes, and cucumbers do well over here, and like a big variety of peppers. we make the most of our yard in the back. normally, we’ll have at least a dozen tomato plants back there. cf: it must be really sunny? we do what we can. we had to prune a couple of trees to get a little more sunlight back there, but yeah, that does keep us busy.
cf: my partner has a huge backyard. it’s like an acre big and he gardens, which is why when I read that you garden, I was like, “oh, I wonder what he grows?” do you have any pests that come and eat your stuff? any deer or…? cf: yes, but I’m not sure what it is [laughs]… we have deer here. we have wild turkeys and they’re huge and they run in, like, flocks. yeah, they’re exciting when you see them. i see them in pennsylvania sometimes. there’s a grape arbor on the side porch here at the house, and normally you don’t get many pests or animals bothering anything in the back, but they love the grapes, the raccoons and possums. so, in the mornings, in the summer, in the fall, they’ll just come and sneak in in the middle of the night and have a party and the whole porch is just covered with grape skins and like the remains of whatever they’re eating. cf: we have a black walnut tree, they kind of have like this tennis ball casing and then the actual nut is within it. and I think it’s raccoons, squirrels, or one of those guys, but they crack them open and they just leave all the shelling in the yard. we cleaned the yard at some point last year and had bags and bags of shells. wow. cf: well, I only have one more question for you, and it’s another classic chickfactor question: gary olson, what do you have in your fridge right now? [pause] can I go look for you? taking a look really quickly. I just took a picture so I could look at it while I’m on the call with you and it’s like a crime scene. There’s way too much stuff, but let’s see. There are not too many things that are fresh because I’m about to go out of town for a week and I’ve been working for a while. but there are some blueberries, there’s miso, there’s kimchi. there’s a lot of cheese. I make kombucha, so there’s several bottles of kombucha. those are all the interesting things. There’s some beer, but sometimes I’ll have beer in the refrigerator for like two months. I just don’t go through it very quickly. CF
HARD + FAST, a collection of Melanie Nissen’s photographs from the period 1977-1980 in Los Angeles as punk was forming, is the book my OG LA punk friends and I have always wanted to exist. We all knew that we were living in a special time when you could see culture and society changing, and we couldn’t wait to document it ourselves. It was an era rich with samizdat—independently published zines about our scene, shown and told in our own words and pictures. Mainstream media were not covering the epochal change in pop music, art, and fashion, save for the occasional “look at this crazy new teen fad” filler on tv or in print. ¶ Our subculture took it upon themselves to document our own lives, much like a high-school yearbook does. Melanie, together with her then-partner, Steve Samiof, created SLASH, an era and genre-defining magazine with such an imprimatur that it organically grew into an avatar branding first wave punk. Melanie’s book of photographs overflows with the love and friendships that we LA punks shared, and yearbook/time capsule references to this important documentation is a recurring Proustian theme in this 2022 chat between two zine photographers. Intro and interview by Theresa Kereakes (who was also documenting the scene back then) / Photographs by Melanie Nissen
REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST CF: A lot of the things that I like about the book have nothing to do with punk rock, but everything to do with presenting a chapter of our lives that we lived at the same time. There are buildings that you photographed that are no longer there. Melanie Nissen: I have to say that’s what the book has become for me. I look at it the same way. It’s become documentary to me. You don’t see people on the street selling LA Times newspapers anymore [p 98, with Tommy Gear/Screamers]. You don’t see people on phone booths anymore in Hollywood [p 108/Tomata duPlenty/Screamers]. You don’t see old pool halls where you could just go into, or old eating places that were on the street, and old bars that existed that don’t exist anymore. For me, it’s like a time capsule. I think I really appreciate it on that level. And I’m really sentimental about it on that level, because I felt the same way that you did. You just don’t see this stuff anymore. CF: It’s like a yearbook. Melanie: Exactly. That’s how I feel about it now. I can look at the photos and it’s so funny, and you’ll probably relate to this—I can feel when I took that picture. I remember. I remember where I was. I remember how I felt. I remember taking the photo. I remember everybody’s face. I had a hard time with everybody’s name for the book, but I never forgot their faces. Ever. Everybody was, I think, really open to me taking photos and I really appreciate it.
ART FOR ART’S SAKE CF: Did you know when you were in the midst of it, that punk was going to be the transformative movement that it became? Melanie: Not at all. It was a very unusual time. It was like this big art group that all decided to pitch in and work together. It wasn’t really about anything else except the music. It was very unique that way. It’s so seldom that you get to have freedom in art, and that’s what it was to us—to show anything we wanted, say anything we wanted in the magazine. That’s a luxury in art. Those opportunities don’t come around a lot when there really aren’t any politics there, there’s nothing, money’s not involved, it becomes just a real art project. But no, I didn’t know at the time. I didn’t even take very good care of my negatives to be really honest with you. CF: I’ve talked to a couple of other people from the scene who just really put this stuff in the garage and it’s like, “Well, this is my stuff from the ’70s.” Melanie: That’s what it was. Except unfortunately, I had three really bad floods in garages. CF: So have I. Melanie: Did you, too? CF: Yes. I lost a lot of stuff in Hurricane Sandy. I moved to New York in the ’80s. Melanie: Yikes. CF: I was really devastated then I heard an interview with Laurie Anderson on NPR, where she was talking about the album she recorded with the Kronos Quartet, called Landfall, which was about everything that happened in Hurricane Sandy. And she had lost basically, her entire professional life: staging, work, all of her props and a lot of notes and stuff. Melanie: Oh, God. CF: But her voice was so calm. And I thought, “Well, if Laurie Anderson can get past this, then I can.” Melanie: Well, I did too. But at the time, it’s like you think, “Oh, what a bummer.” Then you just get over it and I think, “Well, that’s it.” Because I didn’t even really know if I would be using my photos again. Do you know what I mean? They were in bags. I didn’t really know I would be actively using them. I didn’t want them to get ruined and it was disappointing when I looked at them, but it’s like, okay, well, so this is what I have left. You move on.
CF: Right. In the spirit of that, is it astonishing for you to see the legacy and the influence of Slash, just from the graphic style to the writing style? Melanie: It is. Steve Samiof was my partner at the time and we started it together. I think the very first issue, I really think it was the consciousness that we’re going to do a one-off art magazine. I really didn’t think we thought we would do more issues. I don’t know if we really thought it would go further than that. So it was a big surprise. We had read all about all the punk stuff happening in London and we were fascinated, because there wasn’t much of it here yet. So we went to record stores and bought every single we could possibly buy, and had to come home and listen to everything over and over. ¶ It’s like we both fell in love with the music, with everything about it. Everything about it was appealing; the fashion, the politics, everything. But did I think it was going to go on and on? No, I didn’t. CF: Yeah. We were just not like other people and we didn’t fit in anywhere, but we all fit in with each other. Melanie: Well, it’s funny. I have to say, everybody asks “Oh, what was it like?” And really, everybody for those three years that I worked with, was on the same wavelength. Everybody was generous with their work. Everybody helped everybody else. Every band helped each other. Everybody gave free work away for the bands to use. CF: I read a quote of you saying, “The first three years were magic, but by 1980, Orange County bands started taking the scene in a direction I didn’t love.” I related to that so much because I felt the same way. I don’t know if you doom-scroll Wikipedia, but the entry for Slash in Wikipedia, have you read it? Melanie: No. CF: It’s like a paragraph, but it conjectures that Slash just stopped because punk was considered dead anyway. But I relate to your quote, “the bands started taking the scene in a direction I didn’t love.” That makes sense to me. Melanie: Yeah. I also didn’t know them. I really didn’t know who they were. I can’t think that I have photographed a lot of them. It’s like I had spent three years with the same bands and all the beginning bands. It’s like it becomes a weird family in a weird way. Nobody cared about me with my camera. Everybody was used to seeing it. We would do photo sessions on the street. We’d never get permits or anything like that. It was very spontaneous. I don’t know. I just think after three years, all my favorite bands were going away. They weren’t really playing anymore. They all were off in different directions. ¶ Then you had the Orange County stuff, and I just didn’t know it. I just thought it was time to move on. I had been in it a lot and it was just time to do something else for me. CF: Do you agree with this: Slash as a magazine is a finite set, it’s like it’s a box set of LA punk rock being born, it’s almost like you inadvertently created LA punk. So, your book is its title. It’s just 1977 to 1980. Hard and Fast, in and out. This is a box set of that period. Melanie: Yes. CF: Did you intend to do it, or did you set the book up that way because that’s what you had? Melanie: I only was in it for those three years, so that’s really all I have to talk about. I don’t have anything to really say about punk. Your life moves in a different direction sometimes, and that’s what mine did. I had a full-time job.
CF: I was just going to ask you that. Did you and Steve and everyone else for the core of Slash, did you keep your day jobs? Melanie: Well, I had to. Steve’s day job was Slash, which it needed to be, because it needed one really strong leader that was there every minute. And he was that person. I worked full-time and I have a daughter. It was a lot. I used to go in the dark room and print all my own prints on the weekend. Yeah. It was a lot of work. CF: You bring back all these memories for me, flipping through your book; that image of the envelope from Richard’s Photo Lab [p 217] ! Melanie: I know. Do you love that? CF: I love that because I have boxes full of the same thing. Melanie: It’s like everything was at Richard’s in the beginning. It was all at Richard’s. He’d develop it, and then I had access to a really great darkroom, which I was lucky enough to get on the weekends. So I’d have Richard develop it and then I would go print it. But that is funny, Richard. That’s where you went. CF: One thing I really appreciate about your book that I haven’t seen in too many other punk photo books is that you’ve included Black Randy [p 62], The Screamers [pp 18-31], and The Kipper Kids [pp 112-113]. The Screamers were just so unique. And Tomata, before The Screamers, had quite a track record as a performer. Melanie: Yeah. Yeah. How good was he to photograph? CF: He was a living art project, right? Melanie: He had the best body language and the best space and the best tattoo. I could have just looked at him forever. I could have photographed him forever. Luckily, a lot of that stuff of him didn’t get wrecked, and I’m so glad I have so much of that early stuff. He was really great to work with. ¶ And Black Randy was such an underground star in the scene. He got up and performed in his underwear and a cowboy hat. It’s like, who are you? Then I became one of his backup go-go dancers at one of his live shows with Belinda from the Go-Go’s, Alice Bag from The Bags, Connie. And myself. We all had wigs on and all this makeup somebody did for us and we had dashikis on. We were his backup dancers. ¶ Black Randy was in our bed while Steve and I were designing the magazine in our bedroom. He just got in bed and just talked to us. He was so weird. CF: That’s this unique thing that only other people who were in that scene would understand. If you tried to tell someone Darby Crash was in your dorm, it’s like, well, they don’t understand. He was just a guy who I knew. And I had a TV and he didn’t. It was just that. Melanie: I thought he had a very sweet side to him. Am I right or wrong? CF: Yes, and I just thought he was really smart. Melanie: I thought he was smart and I thought he was always … I don’t know. I thought he seemed like a really kind person to me.¶ Yeah. Everybody asks, “Oh, and what about Darby Crash? What was that like?” And I’m thinking he was really nice.
CF: You could tell that you were friends in the pictures of him and Pat and Lorna. There’s not a menacing glance. And the young Don Bolles, he looks like a little angel. [pp 12-17] Melanie: I know. I know. I know. No, they’re pretty raw photos. It’s very more documentary than I thought it would be. CF: Is that what got you the most? Is that when you went back 40 years later and you thought “this is a documentary”? Melanie: Yeah. I thought it was a time capsule. I thought here is this one unique period of time in my life and everybody else’s life that was involved in that. And I’ll probably never see it again. This is not going to happen again. And there was that part of me that realized that part, that this was something very unique and wasn’t ordinary. I really appreciate it from that point of view. It was really fun and interesting and creative. ¶ The one thing that I find really interesting, is that it’s true, punk never dies. It never dies. It reincarnates itself. You see it in young bands. You see it in fashion. You see it in hair. You see it in jewelry. You see it in everything. Right now, it’s like hot pink and hot green DAYGLO, and black are the colors of the season. Well, that was punk. Those were the punk colors. And every once in a while, you see photos of chokers with big spikes on them, and then you have Marc Jacobs who’s looking at all the punk stuff. It just gets created over and over and over again, and I don’t really think that time’s ever going to go away, musically or fashion. It’s like Vivienne Westwood. She’s still making clothes. ¶ There’s a little band, a little punk band that was out there… Fidlar. I don’t know if you know them. They’re really good. They remind me a little of The Ramones. They were a very fun little band. You could just see it. And they knew all the people from the punk things. They’re really and they were totally into Slash. And I think, “Wow.” CF: I’m glad to hear things like this, and like you publishing the punk rock yearbook, time capsule. And it brings everyone back together to say hello and wow, wasn’t that something? Melanie: Well, and this is it for me. You know what I mean? I don’t have anymore. I don’t have a lot of punk to show anybody anymore. This is what’s left, or what I have. CF: You know what? It’s still definitive. It’s the foundational visuals of LA punk rock. It really is. Melanie: I don’t know. I hope that people get to see themselves in the book because it’ll be so fun for them.
CF: I think that they will, people will bring it up to them. They’re going to get a call from someone like, “Oh, my God, you’re in this book!”
DIY Melanie: If I never have to go through another box again, I’ll be really happy. I’ll tell you, the hardest part of this whole project was just digging stuff out and editing. It was really, really hard. And getting stuff scanned. Nothing was scanned, at all. ¶ I wound up too, and I hope it’s not boring for people, I put a lot of fan photos in there, fans and people that hung out. They’re not stars or anything. CF: I was so excited when I saw Cheri the Penguin [p 85] ! Melanie: I know. This was so part of the scene that I documented. It wasn’t just the bands. There hardly was anybody that I didn’t take photos of. And I thought, “Well, I’m going to put them in the book, even though nobody is probably going to know who they were unless you were there.” ¶ And is that going to appeal to people? Because basically, a lot of younger people would just be looking at strange people they don’t know. So I was a little concerned about that, but it’s like, how can you do the scene if you don’t do the people in the scene? CF: It’s like you just said earlier. It’s a documentary. It’s how people dressed. Melanie: Yes. CF: What’s so great is that everybody had their own unique style. It wasn’t like they could go to a Hot Topic and say, “I would like the punk uniform for Saturday night.” Melanie: Yeah. But you know what was great? They all made their own outfits. It’s like they had to plan. They had to make something. That was half the fun of looking at everybody, is to see what they came up with and what they created. It was really interesting, and everybody really made an effort for the most part. CF: Yes. Do you think that has anything to do with because it was the analog era? You literally couldn’t phone it in. You had to make a commitment. Melanie: Yeah. You did. There was nothing technical at all, right? CF: Right, there wasn’t. I was envious of people who had motor-driven cameras. Melanie: Yeah. And I was so happy to have access to a darkroom. I thought that was the height of luxury because there was nothing like being in the darkroom and seeing that image first come up. It’s so exciting, whether the photo is good or bad or whatever. It’s just thrilling. CF: The smell of the chemicals. Melanie: Yeah, which people don’t even use anymore. That’s why they really don’t want to develop black and white, because you have to get rid of those chemicals in a certain way now. CF: Oh no, I know. But it’s just they’re gorgeous. And I like the way you printed your photos with the carved out negative carriers. You could see the edges. Melanie: That was fun. I didn’t do that with everything, but I don’t know. I think for me at my age now and everything and from what I have left, this is like doing the last issue of Slash for me. Do you know what I mean? CF: Well, what is the future? What do you want to do? What would you like to do? Melanie: I don’t know. Well, I still take photos. Not a lot of people anymore, but I do a lot of abstracts and landscapes and all that kind of stuff. It’s different now. There are still artists that I work with because I went into the music business for the rest of my career and life. So I always wound up working with musicians, forever, which I felt really well-suited for after Slash. And that I get it and I get them, and they get me.
CF: How did the book come into being, finally? Melanie: I have a friend who designed the book. His name is Mike Lohr. We have been friends for like 20 years, and we have a wonderful friendship and rapport. When we thought about doing this book and was asked to do the book, I said, “There’s only one person who I’ll do this with. And it’s Mike, because he’s such a beautiful designer.” ¶ We did a series of weird punk T-shirts at one point and tote bags. We never did anything big. It was all little and nothing ever made any money, but we liked working together. So when this book came along, we had a chance to do a book together. ¶ Half of the project was that for me, that I got to work with Mike. And we worked together for almost, I don’t know, three, four years on it because he has a full-time job as an art director. We were limited to maybe two weekends a month, one weekend a month, so it took a long time. But I was so happy I got to work with him. It’s like our culmination together, and it’s really nice.
PARTING GIFT Melanie: I’ll tell you one thing that I had to learn that was very interesting for me. I had never shot concerts before. I had never shot music, and I had to learn how to shoot the bands live. I had to learn how to get up front, no matter what was happening or who was shoving who or pushing who. I was very fast. I shoot very fast, and I think you have to if you’re shooting live. I don’t know how else you get it, really. It was really a great challenge for me to have to do something new like that, and learn something new like that, and practice. I got better as time went on, but it’s something that I really valued that I thought, Oh, I have a split second to take a photo up here. Everybody’s shoving me and I have to do this. I have to get a good photo. I have to get something. And I loved learning that. That was a very good learning experience for me. CF: I think it’s all in the learning. Melanie: It is. Everything.
I carried a gun in college (a staple gun, silly!) and I made fliers for everything from my radio show to newspaper meetings and I made collages for fun. We even folded, collated and stapled chickfactor zine during the first few years. Before the internet, you had to use whatever you could find to make fliers: old magazines and newspapers, magic markers and Letraset, paper, staples, gluesticks, clip art. The art of the flier is long lost though we do have a culture that has taken band show posters to a high level. Henry Owings, editor of Chunklet zine, who also makes lots of other stuff, has made a new book called Plus 1 Athens: Show Fliers from a Legendary Scene that collects loads of fliers and ephemera and memories. We asked him a few Qs… (interview by gail / images courtesy Henry/Chunklet)
What time period did you live in Athens? How long have you lived in Atlanta? Where else have you lived? I moved to Athens in the fall of 1991 after a lifetime of being the new guy everywhere I lived. Before I moved to Athens, I was born out on the Maryland coast, then lived there, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Texas, Colorado and Alabama until my mom left my dad and we moved back to her hometown of York, Pennsylvania. I went to college there, then grad school in Pittsburgh, moved to Athens after I graduated. I lived in Athens from 1991 until (vaguely) 1997. I was on tour a lot towards the end. Shortly thereafter, I moved to Atlanta and have been here ever since. How many fliers did you consider for publication in the Athens book? Oh god. I can only say that I currently am holding onto 13,000+ flyers that are primarily from Georgia. As far as how many were specifically from Athens? If I were to guess, it would be a few thousand. How do you even begin the process of selection? I kinda wanted to hit everything, so I just took a lot of mental notes. Clubs, bands. I wanted to make sure everybody of some note were mentioned. I know I missed some bands, but whatever. I did my absolute best.
When did you get the idea for the book and how long did it take? So during the pandemic, which fittingly coincided with my divorce, I decided to try new things. Or perhaps just flex muscles I never flexed before. One of those activities I pursued in earnest was painting my house. Influenced by my dear pal Will Hart from the Olivia Tremor Control and cubist art of the early 20th century, I decided to paint my house. And I had a lot of fun. Like, a LOT of fun. ¶ At some point (May 2021 to be specific), I asked the folks at club called 529 at the end of the street if I could do a painting on the outside of the building. They politely declined, but they offered me the dressing room. Now, anybody that’s been in a backstage dressing room can tell you, it’s covered in more dicks and shitty graffiti than you could imagine, but I thought it would be cool to make a color study in the green room out of old Georgia flyers. ¶ While I was going through flyers I had found on line and was doctoring so they would print correctly, a little voice in my head said “Hey, somebody should do a book of these.” And well, the rest kind of happened quickly. ¶ I tend not to dawdle, and also I just have a lot of friends who opened their collections to me, and it just kinda took off from there. ¶ So yeah, time line hasn’t even been a year yet. ¶ I used to make fliers in college and walk around with a staple gun. Our tools were clip art, collage scraps, magic markers, etc. What are some of the weirdest show fliers you came across in this process? ¶ Oh god, my favorites are always risographs which are early color copies. They’re almost like their own genre of flyers. So beautiful. ¶ I think my favorite flyers have been the most ephemeral. I have a flyer for Athens band Melted Men where it’s written on a cocktail napkin.
You say in the book kiosks were the way people found out what was going on in Athens. Describe how that felt compared with the way we discover shows now. I dunno. I can only speak for myself which is I was, am and will always be a guy that relies on word of mouth. Flyers are fun to do and after Tr*mp won the White House, I mostly stayed off Facebook. I’ve edged back into it exclusively for this project, but yeah, I find most sources of “internet journalism” quite dubious, but then again, so were most magazines back in the 1980s. Tell us about watching the Athens documentary in 1987. I also remember being blown away by the Bar-B-Q Killers when I saw it. What kind of impact did the doc have on you? Athens GA Inside/Out had a profound effect on me. At the time I first saw it, I was living in York, PA, with no friends and just lurking at the local college radio station and just diving into music with all vigor. The scene in Athens just spoke to me. I don’t know how else to put it. The BBQ Killers were the punch in the neck that made me go “I need to move there.” Within a couple years, I had an Athens mailing address. Funny how that stuff works.
I lived in Richmond in the ’80s and it seemed like the SE indie scene had a big LGBTQ element to it (Now Explosion, B52s, etc.). What is the music scene in Athens like now and is that still the case? God, can I just take a second to say that Pen Rollings is probably the coolest queer in Richmond? He and I have been pals for a long time and when I published an interview with him in Chunklet about 20 years ago, it just showed me how silly the fuss over sex/gender politics have become. ¶ As far as the queer scene in Georgia goes, in a word, it’s “fertile.” I love it. Then again, I’m a heteronormative male, so consider the source, am I right? ¶ As far as the contemporary scene goes, I don’t feel like I’m an authority on the subject, but I do love that whoever you want to kiss or fall in love is no more important than the color of your eyes. Life is to live. I love to be in a community where everybody is allowed to just be who they are. Hard stop. Were there particular flier makers or bands that excelled at this art form? Like Ron Liberti in the Triangle, kind of like a signature person behind many? Man, that’s a tricky question to answer succinctly, but I’ll try. I’m cursed with being a designer, so of course I look at the general information hierarchy of a flyer, but I am also very infatuated with Dada and outsider art. If a flyer is good, it’s good. If a flyer sucks, it sucks. I fancy myself a lower case “c” collector of records, and that has afforded me an ability to size up a band or flyer based on their work. ¶ As far as proper designers go, I really tried to avoid using their work as it really fell outside of what was attractive to me. Not a single designer’s work is used seen more than three times in the entire book. That was a challenge, but also an opportunity to show even that much more instead of keeping things somewhat monochromatic. Are there shows or exhibitions that go along with this book? I’d love to, but nobody has asked! Is it true there is another one on the way about Atlanta? How is that progressing? Dude, it’s in proofing! Goes to print next week! Cranking out two books in five months. That’s not too bad.
There are some libraries around the country, such as DCPL, that really take good care of music history, using it in a way that the public can interact with it. What is your goal with these documents, not that you own them? Y’see, I don’t know the answer to that question, but I can say definitively that my goal is to have all of this material live eternally. I’ve been in touch with GSU, Emory and UGA about migrating the assets I’ve already scanned. My biggest aversion is that of bureaucracy and Zoom meetings. I just want to do the work. If some grad student wants everything I’ve digitized to make a database or whatever? By all means! I just am finding that to be brass tacks stuff. What are some fliers that you personally own and are prize possessions? God, before this project I had few. Seriously. However, there’s some people that have been unbelievably generous and given me just gem after gem. The stuff I am most attracted to isn’t the big names, but those that I just love. For instance, Athens band Limbo District’s flyers are my favorite and I think I own one! And I cherish it! I have so many folders of this stuff, but my goal for all of this is to have it in museums. Not today, but eventually. Is that your daughter listed as an editor of the book? How did you involve her in the whole process? God damn right! Look, I did Chunklet. I can say anybody is involved. Shit, I am doing this to have fun, and my 10-year-old daughter has been a good sport so yeah, I’m giving her an associate editor credit. Although she doesn’t do much except put books in padded envelopes, I do love involving her in my life.
What’s your favorite Athens band from 1992 and now? From 1992? Oh god, that would be Harvey Milk. Maybe the JackONuts. Synthetic Flying Machine (which became Neutral Milk Hotel and the Olivia Tremor Control) didn’t figure into my life until 1993, but they’re another top favorite. ¶ From now? God, tough question. So many to choose from. I’m an enormous fan of Linqua Franqa. She’s like the MC5, but a one-person badass. How long has/was Chunklet been around? Chunklet started in 1993. Modestly. And it crept forward until issue 20. Cranked out some books. Kept doing stuff under the Chunklet moniker out of laziness. And so here we are 29 years later and yeah, I’ve put out over 100 records, 20 issues of a magazine, four books, several DVDs, probably put on 1000 shows. What was the question again? What’s going on with your label? I really don’t know. It’s just a hobby that just keeps going forward. I just haven’t met many people who have told me “no” when I ask if I can put out a record with them. I’m like a kid in a candy store.
Are you a trained designer or self-taught? Never took a single class. Entirely self-taught. How did the internet help you make the book? I used the internet (and social media specifically) exclusively as a tool. Finding people with the material is the biggest challenge and those people are usually one degree of separation away from somebody on Facebook or whatever. I just fucking loathe looking at Facebook as the final resting place for any of this stuff. Fuck that. I just have been using it to find people. That’s it. Where can we get the book? Either the Chunklet website or my bandcamp site. A few stores carry it, but the vast majority of the 500 copies of Plus 1 Athens’s first printing were sold direct to customers. Any other books you’d like to mention you’re working on? Or future plans? I think the Atlanta book is it. As you’ve become aware of over the past year, I’m a designer of the impending Steve Keene Art Book we both worked on. I’m quite delighted with it. But then again, I’m a working designer. And I work! ¶ As far as future plans…..a lot has kind of been popping up. I’m going to do a book of Georgia flyers once the Atlanta book is done only because I have so goddamned many, and all these podunk towns have one or two flyers and I think it a beautiful love letter to the state I call home. ¶ Otherwise, I’ve been in the preliminary stages of doing similar books on Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Both are cities near and dear to my heart. I’ve also been doing some work on a similar book on Alabama because again, it’s very near and dear to me. Cut me some slack, I started this eight months ago! It’s a work in progress! CF
Our interview with San Francisco songwriter GLENN DONALDSON (currently of the reds, pinks & purples and vacant gardens, formerly of skygreen leopards and art museums, etc.) is long overdue, as he’s been making great jangly music for decades. Of course everyone is still listening to Uncommon Weather, and Summer at Land’s End comes out today/on Feb. 4 but the U.S. vinyl has been delayed thanks to satan, I mean Adele or something. Collector nerds: If you haven’t already preordered the vinyl LP, do it. There are two vinyl editions: a limited-edition double yellow vinyl record with a bonus album of instrumental songs not on the album, which is only available in the U.S. from Slumberland, and a green single vinyl LP version. UK people: the vinyl is actually out today (Feb. 4) on Tough Love. Interview by Kevin Alvir
chickfactor: What is your life like these days in San Francisco? Glenn Donaldson: Pretty simple and hermit-like. I work from home, take walks around the neighborhood, record songs. I’m really into making vegan stews from scratch lately. It’s all about having a base of shiitake mushrooms and fermented bean paste. They are pretty good! cf: This is very chickfactor: What were you like as a teenager? An insecure dork, but maybe most people were like that. I was hung up on girls and moping around. cf: also chickfactor: What is driving you mad? Constantly entering passwords, which is 90% of remote work. cf: What spurred you into making music? Punk was alive in Fullerton when I was a youth, and that was the siren song. It felt like a place where a loser like me could be great. In my hometown we had Adolescents, Agent Orange, Social Distortion, etc. These are world-class bands, so it felt like anything was possible.
cf: Did you always see yourself doing music? If it were not music, what else do you think you’d be doing? I wanted to be an artist of some kind, maybe a poet or a painter or a musician. I wanted to wear striped sweaters and drink espresso in dimly lit cafes. cf: Do you do anything else outside of music? Gardening, visual arts, etc… I’m a crude artist as well, mostly collage, some painting and bad stoner drawings…and now photographing my neighborhood I suppose? I have a book of collage art coming out this year on a micro-press. cf: Your work has a cinematic feel to it. I get a sense you are inspired by movies and books. Are you? Can you elaborate on that? That’s a nice compliment, thanks. My favorite writer is Denton Welch. He had a way of taking everyday events like a walk through a garden and making it epic. Movies sure… but I feel like I’m more directly influenced by comedy, the idea of really opening yourself up as a performer and dealing with raw and personal stuff. cf: Anything that you are watching on tv or (shall I say) streaming? I like that new HBO series Somebody Somewhere. It probably won’t find a huge audience, but I think it’s beautiful. An old favorite is Detectorists. I love small stories.
cf: A great question for our auteurs: Do you prefer to play live or record? Definitely recording. There’s nothing more satisfying that putting the final touch on a song, painting on some bits of feedback or melody lines. I struggle with even wanting to play live, but it is rewarding and helps you move onto the next bit of inspiration. cf: Can you tell us what your first song that you wrote was like? It was definitely a rip-off of a Dischord-type hardcore song. I didn’t play any instruments until much later, so this would be just me imagining hardcore riffs and writing really bad lyrics about “Justice” or something I knew nothing about. cf: Is there a source of inspiration or influence that people who follow your music may find surprising? I love Lana Del Rey. She’s my favorite contemporary songwriter. The more cringey she gets, the more I eat it up. “Arcadia” is the best song out right now. I’m a student of classic songwriting, so my list of favorites would be very long (see below), but I’ll mention Leonard Cohen, Kirsty MacColl and Peter Tosh off the top of my head. cf: Can you describe your worst live music experience? As a performer / audience member. Someone threw a lit cigarette at me at a festival in Belgium and almost set my shirt on fire. For some reason they stuck my band Skygreen Leopards, an acoustic band, on before BORIS, and the Belgian doom metal fans were enraged. It was totally stupid and insane but very memorable!
cf: I’ve asked you this over social media, but what does Astral Projection feel like? Reds, Pinks & Purples have a song called “I’d Rather Astral Project.” Hence, my audacity to ask this… I think I may have experienced this—I do a ton of meditation… but I would love to hear what other people have to say about it. Oh, interesting left turn! That song is a bit tongue-in-cheek about having social anxiety basically, but I do wonder about the power of the mind sometimes, powerful stuff, especially if you get into visualization and meditation. I have taken LSD a few times, and you can definitely arrive without traveling. cf: How do you feel the past two years have changed you? (y’know – the pandemic) I am more comfortably and colorfully dressed with many clashing patterns. Also, I am into colorful sneakers all of sudden after never wearing them at all. I am suddenly more successful as a musician than I have ever been, and yet I barely leave my neighborhood. cf: When things get back to workable normal, what do you want to do with yourself / yr music? I want to tour and play some enormous festivals, really sell out and make big gestures like Bono. Set my shirt on fire with cigarettes and lose my mind permanently while onstage, then crash hard coming back to reality, realizing that it’s all pointless. CF
Records Glenn Cannot Live Without Unrest, Imperial f.f.r.r. Long Fin Killie, Houdini The Magnetic Fields, The House of Tomorrow Tracey Thorn, A Distant Shore Cocteau Twins, Blue Bell Knoll Bad Brains, I Against I Colin Newman, A to Z Codeine, Barely Real The Smiths, Meat is Murder Reptile House, Listen to the Powersoul East River Pipe, Shining Hours in a Can Jones Very, Words & Days The Jam, Sound Affects Augustus Pablo, East of the River Nile Galaxie 500, Today Die Kreuzen, Century Days American Music Club, Engine Hüsker Dü, Warehouse: Songs & Stories Go-Betweens, Liberty Belle & the Black Diamond Express Eyeless in Gaza, Caught in Flux
New Jersey natives Andrew Romano and Alex Naidus met in New York, but they became especially close friends after relocating to LA just six months apart in 2013. A few years later they found themselves playing together—almost accidentally—in Massage. This was an unexpected second act for Alex, who had previously played bass in the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. ¶ Much more low-key by design, Massage started with a single demo that Alex had penned but never shared in his Pains days. Soon there were more members—including bassist David Rager, original drummer Michael Felix and subsequent drummer Natalie de Almeida—and a strikingly melodic debut album in 2018’s Oh Boy. Quietly staking their claim as among the most ardent students of jangle pop in LA’s deeply fragmented music scene, Massage followed up that record with 2021’s Still Life, a dramatic leap ahead in songwriting chops and collective confidence. Showcasing the voices and songs of Andrew and Alex as well as those of keyboardist Gabi Ferrer, the album earned release through labels in Australia and Spain, beyond the band’s US home on Mt. St. Mtn. in Sacramento. ¶ The songs on Still Life feel instantly classic, hitting all the right touchstones while remaining very much their own creations. Following the opening one-two hit of “Half a Feeling” and “Made of Moods,” there’s the lasting sensation that we’re experiencing something special and well worth cherishing. Sung by Gabi with music written by Romano, “10 & 2” is another highlight, as is the Gabi-helmed “The Double.” The more recent Lane Lines EP has followed through on the second album’s dazzling promise, foregrounding a new studio version of the album track “In Gray & Blue” and showing subtle new sides of the band. ¶ We chatted with Andrew and Alex (both journalists), the cofounding songwriters of Massage in early 2022 about starting the band, fine-tuning their round-robin songwriting and the West Coast indie scene.intro and interview by Doug Wallen
chickfactor: Alex, can you talk about following up Pains with Massage? Alex: It was one of those life things where everything happens at once: I left the band, I was in a long relationship that ended, and I started a job at Buzzfeed. I started in New York, but there was a job opening in LA. “Leaving music behind” sounds so dramatic, but I needed to start my new life. I was kinda heartbroken and coming to a city I didn’t know that well. I didn’t have any plans to join a new band, and I purposefully didn’t do that for a while. ¶ The impetus to start again was Michael [Felix], the first drummer in Massage. He played on the first album and half of Still Life. He wanted to start playing drums again and said, “What if we just jam?” I told him I wasn’t really a jammer, and I just had a bass. But there was a rehearsal space where you could rent a guitar by the hour. ¶ It was purely just a way to hang out. I only knew how to play a few songs on guitar, [including] a song I wrote while I was in Pains. It was just a demo I made at home for fun. So we played that and it was a good time. I mentioned it to Andrew at a party and he said, “I want to do that.” And unbeknownst to me, Michael had the same thing happen with his friend David [Rager], who’s [now] the bassist for Massage. We rented the same rehearsal space and there were two guitars, bass, drums and my one song from five years ago. And it was like, “This is fun. We could keep doing this.” Andrew: We both had the experience of writing songs for high school bands when we were younger. I didn’t think I would ever have a band that was a creative outlet again, but then we stumbled onto this thing. It was just friends doing music, with no great ambition beyond that. CF:It sounds so accidental. Did you share a lot of touchstones right away, or how much did it sound like Massage early on? Andrew: Well, that first song, “Kevin’s Coming Over,” is on the first album. CF:So that was sort of the blueprint. Andrew: Yeah. Alex and I were friends in New York but not really close, and then we became really good friends out here. There was a mutual friend of ours named Kevin who was doing night school. [The song] was just ramshackle, really rough indiepop. I think it’s about Kevin, but also an attempt to do that kind of thing. ¶ We like the same bands. I think the first phase of Massage was us writing towards the sound we wanted. The first record is kind of halfway there, and Still Life feels like we’ve gotten to that point, where the songs we write are really the kind of songs we like to listen to. But we do feel like we’re learning this as we go. CF:Again, it seems very organic. I loved the first record but it didn’t get a lot of attention, but Still Life has had a higher profile and is on a few different labels… Alex: I hope so. If it just finds its audience however it does, that’s cool. It blew my mind that a couple people not only didn’t know I used to be in Pains, but didn’t even know who Pains is. That’s rare, in fairness, but it’s neat. It’s just interesting how it flows. CF:So neither of you had properly sang lead before. Did you have to build yourselves up to that? Alex: There are definitely times where I have the singer syndrome that I feel like a lot of people have, especially people who make music like this. There’s an impulse to bury the vocals. But that’s what I sound like, and I’ll just do the best I can. The songs come first: to me the vocals are serving the songs. Andrew: I’ve been on a bit of a New Order kick, and in New Order, when Ian Curtis died, they didn’t know which one of them was going to sing in this new band. It ended up being Bernard Sumner. He’s not a [natural] singer by any stretch of the imagination, but I wouldn’t want anyone else singing in that band. There’s something so perfect about the precision in a lot of their music and then the fragility and vulnerability of his voice. It makes that band work. So having a little imperfection can make it more appealing. CF:And the keyboardist, Gabrielle, sings and writes songs as well. Andrew: Gabi is my sister-in-law. It felt like this big gap [of time] before she joined, but it was only a few weeks after we started.
CF:I love how the new record flows between the three of you. Is it tricky to accommodate three singers and songwriters in one band? Alex: Not at all. It just lays where it lays. Andrew and I have this thing too, where we write a lot of songs and share demos to inspire each other. So we end up with the same amount of songs, and Gabi will have hers too. There’s a symmetry that just happens naturally. Sometimes I think about that band Sloan, who have three main songwriters. Andrew: Teenage Fanclub too. Alex: Right. I always wondered how they do that, [but] it just comes out of us and we look at the [collective] pile. So far it’s been easier than you’d think. Andrew: The Go-Betweens are a total model in that regard too. They worked together really well to [showcase] the best songs. I’ve done a couple songs now where I’ve written the music and the melody and then handed it over to Gabi to sing and write the lyrics. The first one was “Crying Out Loud” on the first record, and then “10 and 2” on this record. It’s amazing to see her come back with lyrics that are a million times more eloquent than anything I could have come up with—and suit her voice so well. ¶ And Gabi is a fantastic harmony singer, both in finding the right harmony and having this unusual tone and tenor to her voice that just melds really well. So the amount of harmonies in the band is a direct result of that. Alex: She [also] does all the visual art for everything we’ve done, and she does music videos and animation.
CF:What does it feel like to be an indie pop band in LA, especially when San Francisco indie pop is having such a moment right now? Have you found your niche? Andrew: So you’ve noticed we’re not from San Francisco? (Laughter) We get lumped in and people say we’re from there. Because the name for the San Francisco scene now is “fog pop,” we were joking that we’re “smog pop.” We’ve got two smog pop bands in LA; we need a third one so you can write the trend piece. ¶ We love everything that’s going on in San Francisco, including bands we’ve played with a bunch of times—Cindy, Flowertown, Telephone Numbers, April Magazine—to the point where we’re envious about what they’ve got going on there. It seems like a really kind and friendly scene. We don’t have that in LA. One band we love and have played a few shows with is Semi Trucks, which used to be Venetian Blinds. They have a record [Vs. California] that just came out on Meritorio in Spain. ¶ Other than that, it’s been pretty [sparse]. But the past two years have been pretty weird [due to the pandemic]. We haven’t played a lot of shows, so there’s been a pause of any scene formation. But I’m not aware of many bands here doing the kind of thing we do. Alex: It has felt ephemeral too, because the last show we played pre-pandemic was with the band Semi Trucks used to be, Venetian Blinds. But also this band Smokescreens, who are on Slumberland and had David Kilgour record their album. But I think that band isn’t a band anymore. Our friend David Stern, who plays as D.A. Stern, also has a record on Slumberland. ¶ This is so much of an enthusiastic friend exercise for us that our version of a scene is when we have band practice every week and go out for beers after. We’ll all go to shows together too, so we can kind of carry our own scene around in a little backpack with us. We are our own scene, and that’s satisfying enough for me. Andrew: It’d be nice to foster that a bit more. Le Pain is another cool band who just formed here. The bass player used to be in Dummy, and they’ve put out a few singles. But LA’s a weird place: whatever the music scene is here, I don’t know what it is. It’s so vast, and then you get close to the Hollywood side and it’s got nothing to do with our lives. There’s a place on our side of town that we play at a lot called Permanent Records Roadhouse, and it’s nice to have a home base. ¶ And you can knock the internet all you want, but there’s a scene that can form virtually. There are all these bands we’ve discovered through Bobo Integral in Spain or Mt. St. Mtn., our label up north [in Sacramento]. And there’s a label in London called Prefect: they put out The Tubs, Mt. Misery and a French band called Eggs. You start finding these little pockets of like-minded bands throughout the world and exchange messages. In these pandemic times, that’s been a nice substitute for not having a tight-knit scene here in LA.
CF:I love how you guys don’t hide your influences from song to song, whether it’s The La’s or the Jesus and Mary Chain. But do you have moments where you worry that something sounds too much like its inspiration? Alex: Only occasionally. It’s literally just the Jesus and Mary Chain [thing], especially coming from Pains. When I wrote “Half a Feeling,” it just came out completely done. It felt really good to do, but I thought it was probably too on the nose. I sent it around and Andrew was like, “This rules. We’ve got to use this.” I’ve dragged my feet to this day about that song: there’s a lot I love about it, but I knew [JAMC] would be the one [big] signifier. ¶ But it goes back to what I said earlier about the song being paramount. It’s helpful to have these references we all share. Just little things that can help shape it into what our ears want to hear. But the songs are still distinctly us. Andrew: We’re not skilled enough to do the karaoke version. We might like how something works, but we can only ever do it in our own way. It ends up coming out sounding like us. Our limitations make it our own. Alex: This is a half-baked metaphor, but if you have a state-of-the-art scanner, you put something in and it comes out perfectly. You’ve made a copy: it looks good, but you have the same thing as you had before. But if you think of a punk show flyer, it’s been xeroxed a hundred times and you’ve cut something extra out and taped it there. It’s like faded and black-and-white. That’s our version: the source material may be there, but we’re just doing our best to paste it together with the tools we have. Andrew: I think we both really are students of how songs work. We’re constantly passing around songs we hear, trying to figure out what’s working and what’s not working. In that sense, we’re always listening to music and trying to unlock its mysteries. ¶ An example would be “In Grey and Blue,” a song there’s two versions of: one done at home for Still Life and one where we got to go do the single version with studio tools. And that came from listening to the Technique album by New Order and asking, “How do these bass lines work? What are they doing with acoustic guitars on these tracks that are otherwise really electronic-sounding? How do those tensions create this sound?” There’s not this great range in the melodies, but there’s something that Sumner does with the range of his syllables that makes it really catchy and memorable. ¶ We went a little overboard with trying to get the sound and the vibe to evoke that, but I don’t think it actually sounds like a New Order song. It just touches on some of the same mechanics. And we’re always thinking about it on that molecular level. That’s what’s interesting to me about writing music. CF
Beatrix Madell: My top ten: soccer players of the year (this took forever, too many to choose from) 1. Christen Press 2. Alexia Putellas 3. Catarina Macario 4. Kristie Mewis 5. Katie McCabe 6. Alyssa Naeher 7. Sophia Smith 8. Jenni Hermoso 9. Caprice Dydasco 10. Beth Mead Beatrix Madell is a 13 year old who lives in Brooklyn and loves music (playing and listening), theatre and film, science, and women’s soccer.
Erin Moran, A Girl Called Eddy 1) Love Goes to Buildings on Fire. Best book I’ve read about music since Viv Albertine’s Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys 2) Jim’s Organic French Roast Decaf 3) Get Back 4) Singing on Burt Bacharach’s latest record Blue Umbrella 5) SolaWave Skincare Wand. It’s a red light therapy/microcurrent thingamajig doing yeoman’s work trying to lift my jowls 6) Call My Agent! on Netflix. French, funny, smart 7) The ramen at Menkoi Sato, 7 Cornelia St. NYC 8) Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold 9) Tom Ford’s Lost Cherry. Not a film about a young boys’ journey from Milan to Minsk, but a perfume. Oh the almond-y/Vidal Sassoon shampoo smell of it 10) The Dodo on instagram
Janice Headley (KEXP, chickfactor): Ten Things I Liked in 2021 (In No Particular Order) 1) Season 3 of Stath Lets Flats (to be fair, my partner Joe did not like it AT ALL, so your mileage may vary.) 2) Zoom karaoke w/ west coast pals 3) The podcast Films to Be Buried With with Brett Goldstein 4) Huichica Music Festival (I now wish every music festival was held at a winery.) 5) Japanese stationery store niconeco zakkaya [263 E 10th St in NYC] 6) HBO’s Insecure 7) Glossier’s Monochromes eyeshadow sets (particularly in Heather) 8) Blake’s Hard Cider Strawberry Lemonade 9) Crying in H Mart: A Memoir by Michelle Zauner 10) Licorice Pizza (except for the unnecessary racist Japanese bullshit, and yes, I know Paul Thomas Anderson has a Japanese mother-in-law [Maya Rudolph’s stepmom], but that is still no excuse.)
Nancy Novotny’s top records Rather than calling it a “best of” list, I’d say that these are the 30 albums & EPs (culled from a list of over a hundred favorites) that possessed something “je ne sais quoi, oh so very special”* for me. Your mileage, of course, may vary. In no particular order: Merope – Salos (Stroom) Andy Aquarius – Chapel (Hush Hush) Meril Wubslin – Alors Quoi (Bongo Joe) Blue Chemise – Flower Studies (B.A.A.D.M.) Nathan Salsburg – Psalms (Quarterstick) Vanishing Twin – Ookii Gekkou (Fire) Conny Frischauf – Die Drift (Bureau B ) Derya Yıldırım & Grup Şimşek – DOST 1 (Bongo Joe) Dummy – Mandatory Enjoyment (Trouble In Mind) Richard Dawson & Circle – Henki (Domino) Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victim (Matador) Monokultur – Ormens Väg (Mammas Mysteriska Jukebox & Ever/Never) Hawthonn – Earth Mirror (Ba Da Bing!) Henry the Rabbit, Beatrice Morel Journel & Semay Wu – Songs of the Marsh (Moon Glyph) Tarta Relena – Fiat Lux (La Castanya) Grouper – Shade (Kranky) Hamilton Yarns – Outside (Hark!) Steven R. Smith – In the Spires (Cold Moon/Worstward) Oddfellow’s Casino – The Cult of Water (Nightjar) Dechmont Woods – November ’79 (Woodford Halse) Blod – Missväxt (Grapefruit) Midwife – Luminol (The Flenser) Green-House – Music for Living Spaces (Leaving) Doran – Doran (Spinster) Various Artists – Incantations (Seance Centre) Beautify Junkyards – Cosmorama (Ghost Box) Shirley Collins – Crowlink (Domino) Laura Cannell & Kate Ellis – October Sounds (Brawl) Jonny Nash & Ana Stamp – There Up, Behind The Moon (Melody as Truth) You’ll Never Get to Heaven – Wave Your Moonlight Hat for the Snowfall Train (Seance Centre)
Some notable singles: Claire Cronin – “Bloodless” (Orindal) Bas Jan – “You Have Bewitched Me” (Lost Map) Constant Follower – “The Merry Dancers on TV” (Shimmy-Disc) Large Plants – “La Isla Bonita” (Ghost Box) Astral Brain – “Five Thousand Miles” (Shelflife) Burd Ellen – “The High Preistess and the Hierophant” (Thread) Dean McPhee – “The Alchemist” (Hood Faire) Garden Gate – “Tarot” (Library of the Occult) La Luz – “Tale of My Lost Love” (Female Species cover) (Numero)
Some notable reissues/archival anthologies: Persona – Som (Black Sweat) Aurita y su Conjunto – Chambacu (Mississippi) Alice Coltrane – Turiya Sings (Impulse!) The Doubling Riders – Doublings & Silences Vol. 1 (Btx3R/F01101/Exe) Aunt Sally – Aunt Sally (Mesh-Key) Alison Knowles – Sounds from the Book of Bean (Recital) Oh OK – The Complete Reissue (HHBTM) Kiko Kids Jazz – Tanganyika Na Uhuru (Mississippi) Pamela Z – Echolocation (Freedom to Spend) Kiri-uu – Creak-whoosh (Stroom) Joel Vandroogenbroeck – Far View (Drag City) Michèle Bokanowski – Rhapsodia / Battements solaires (Recollection GRM) Michael Ranta – Taiwan Years (Metaphon) Roger Fakhr – Fine Anyway (Habibi Funk)
Jens Lekman’s ‘Smalltalk‘ column appears irregularly on his website. It’s always quiet and wise. One column dealt with going bald. “What bothered me the most was the pressure to be proud of myself. It didn’t allow for a natural transformation. I remember people shouting at me, ‘Be proud. Take off your hat. You look great.’ But my face had just made a U-turn. What used to be a frame for the canvas that was me had disappeared. I wanted to mourn.”
Lots of friends spent lots of time in hospitals this year. In December I read an old History Workshop Journal obituary of Clive Goodwin (1932-1977), widower of English pop artist Pauline Boty (1938-1966) – “In America, whoever calls for medical attention for another person is responsible for paying the bill. Clive was killed by capitalism.”
Ancient historian Robin Lane Fox’s gardening column in the weekend edition of the Financial Times. He’s been writing it for over 51 years and is unfailingly equable except for his dislike of gnomes.
Andrew Tuck’s wry and calming weekly essay on Monocle on Saturday radio show. Common threads: walking the dog, the weather (meteorological or otherwise) in London, how to be a good work colleague.
Wanting to give Gabriel (played by Grégory Montel) a long hug every time he lost a client in Call My Agent. And an extra can of whipped cream.
Laura Barton’s impossibly sad account of travelling to Greece during the pandemic to begin a round of solo IVF. She wrote it in 2020, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it in 2021. “For a week I feel truly pregnant. And then suddenly I do not. One day I wake to feel a tangible distance between the synthetic hormones and my own body. I do not tell anyone. Instead I walk down to the water, stay out far beyond the mandated hour. I marvel at the flicker of tiny fish moving between the boats in the harbour. I look at the bright yellow tangle of fishing nets, the deep pink of wooden shutters, the distant mountains, snow-peaked against the bluest sky.”
Pallavi Aiyar’s The Global Jigsaw Substack. Aiyar writes about China, about cats, about travel. She’s also, unfashionably though not necessarily incorrectly, in favour of cultural appropriation. “As a writer, and as a person, I’ve desired to stretch my identities; to be supple. The imagination’s work is to bend and twist around the policing of boundaries— political, religious, gastronomic, temporal. The writer, the reader, or any curious person, really, has a proclivity towards inhabiting the past and the future, as much as the present. They extend themselves beyond their ethnicity, gender, colour, sexuality, and empirical experiences to imagine other lives in other places and times.”
Belatedly discovering the writing of Jewish educator and children’s rights champion Leila Berg (1917-2012). Her autobiography Flickerbook (1997—and republished last year by CB Editions) is a funny, raw, diaristic account of coming of age in the 1930s—“Fancy Joan Littlewood and Jimmy Miller getting married! We all talked about it. Fancy concentrating all that spikiness together, and having double-spiky agitprop children!”
As always: Everything But The Girl, Night and Day; The Style Council, The Paris Match; Blueboy, The Joy of Living. But also: Shelleyan Orphan, Beamheart; Steve Beresford, Vous qui passez sans me voir; Time Is Away on NTS Radio. And and and – all of Kings of Convenience’s first LP for 12 years, Peace Or Love. Sad, tender, bitterly gorgeous.
susan anway: I’m presently listening to the wayward bus/distant plastic trees cd for the 1000th time – give or take a hundred. it’s the first magnetic fields collection that I fell in love with, and the record I’ve shared the most with close friends and passersby. (back in the day, I think I bought a handful and gave them away in an effort to impress its brilliance upon everyone I could.) susan anway’s voice was a huge reason why. like many fans, my introduction to the band probably came via the “100,000 fireflies” single. not long before – or after – I saw the ramshackle orchestra that was the magnetic fields live band at the time, with stephin singing. I remember really enjoying them, well enough to buy the cd when it became available and was completely blown away by the songs, the instrumentation, but most of all – feeling deeply moved by susan’s voice. she had the perfect mix of sweetness and world-weariness – so well-suited to the diversity of songs. it would be impossible for me to pick a favorite vocal performance from this record – all of it: the mournful appalachian ballads (“tar heel boy”), the synthetic disco pop (“tokyo a’ go-go”)…resonates equally. there’s magic in the songwriting and recording for sure – but for someone i’ve never met, the impression she left on me is deep and long-lasting.
michael nesmith was the singer of my favorite monkees songs (“don’t call on me” & “what am i doing hangin’ round”) – but I never heard those songs when I was young. the song of his I knew and loved best for years and years was his 1970 single “joanne.” I think mainly because I’ve always loved melancholic & melodramatic songs and singers – that song affected young me as much as anything by roy orbison. I don’t remember exactly how i got there – but at some point I discovered his 1972 album, archly titled and the hits just keep on coming. life is full of little sonic discoveries that leave you wondering how you had not heard a thing before now? from the haunting opening chords of “tomorrow & me” to the stomping closer “roll with the flow” – it’s a packed record in every way except for the instrumentation, featuring just michael and pedal steel player red rhodes. a record full of deep observations and seemingly simple songs that in a fairer world, would be given equal reverence to gene clark, or gram parsons’ best work.
Two spectacular birthday presents are the inspiration behind my 2021 end of year list. My husband surprised me by commissioning Jen Lemasters to create Trish Keenan and Laetitia Sadier action figures. These thoughtful, one-of-a-kind gifts are the highlight of a year otherwise filled with tedious monotony. I began the pandemic channeling my stress into genuine productivity. I flourished for a spell, however the one note feeling of chronic emptiness crept in late summer and stayed. I realized only recently that I have been quietly grieving for the death of our collective loss of life. Not just the very real people who have passed away during the pandemic, but for all of our own lives that evaporated in March of 2020. In truth, this year was hard.
Miraculously, music has continued to offer me a meaningful connection to the world at large and create a bridge to my prepandemic self. Music and friendships forged over the past two years, remind me that there is still plenty of good in this world. This has made a hard year, gratefully much softer.
Circling back to my end of year theme, I wanted to share 10 artists (in no particular order plus a playlist of even more music) that I as a fan of Broadcast and Stereolab, have really enjoyed this year. Opalescent with their rainbow array of influences from around the world and multiple decades, 2021 was a VERY good year for fans of retro-futuristic pop. Wishing you all love, joy, kindness, great music, and good health in this year.
Since we couldn’t play this year or go to hardly any shows, we watched a lot of late night music documentaries to get our fix. These were our favorites, unranked.
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND (2021) Heather: Todd Haynes made something so exuberantly creative here. It hits the head and the heart simultaneously. It’s fascinating to me that Lou Reed knew he wasn’t naturally a great player or singer but was sure he was born a rock star. And he kept making great records long after he won the argument. Brian: I love art, and I love artists. Sometimes artists can be too arty doing art for art’s sake. I appreciate some of VU’s droney soundscapes and simple & rough pop songs but for the most part this documentary reminded me that this band is pretty terrible and Lou Reed seems like a snob.
STEELY DAN – AJA: CLASSIC ALBUM SERIES (1999) Brian: This is a master class on how to nitpick and tweak until something is absolutely perfect. This goes against what many rock bands believe is the proper approach to recording and writing but Steely Dan proves that being mind blowingly anal and fighting for a vision can produce something sexy and brilliant. Heather: This blew my mind. Michael McDonald’s weird backing vocals on “Peg” (“foreign moo-vee!!”), all the wildly different parts they auditioned for each song. Fagen and Becker muttering commentary over each other like an old married couple. The weird celeste in “Deacon Blues.” I don’t think there’s a song that captures the wiry feeling of a 6AM solo cab ride into New York better.
AIR STUDIOS – UNDER THE VOLCANO (2021) Heather: The ambition of AIR Studios was crazy. It was supposed to be on a moving sailboat but alas George Martin settled for a remote island and they had to roll the massive console in on logs. Recording there seems like the most immersive studio experience ever–and Duran Duran hated it, which says a lot about them. And then the Earth swallowed the studio with back-to-back natural disasters–it’s pretty biblical. Brian: This satisfied my itch for more behind-the-scenes footage of studio work in remote tropical places. I’ve always fantasized about being locked up in a faraway place with nothing to do but record. One thing that stuck out was how much writing was done in the studio by many of these bands. Ah, the lost art of slowly creating new material while the studio racks up a massive bill that the label will pay, then take out of your royalties.
BEATLES – GET BACK (2021) Heather: We just finished this the other night, and it took us 6 viewings, but it was edifying, a balm for my black and withered heart. The love between John and Paul is so palpable. I wept through the final rooftop concert because Double Fantasy era John was my first love. Brian: I loved this so much. It was too short!!! Now I want so badly to see detailed footage of bands recording my favorite records. Let it Be is my least favorite Beatles record, yet I gained so much respect for every member of the band. The working relationship, brotherly love, and work ethic these guys had, all while eating toast. They were sloppy when they were allowed to be and perfect when they needed to be. And I’m happy to know that so much of the drama between Yoko and them was just hype.
PINK FLOYD – LIVE AT POMPEII (1972) Heather: My whole life, I could never sit through this–instant narcolepsy!–but it is in fact awesome and so weird. David Gilmour is an angel; he exudes a steady grace. Roger Waters strikes me as the kind of guy who’d come up to you at a bar just to mock your shoes. Brian: I’ve seen this many, many times since my first viewing as a 16 year-old peaking on some stuff I tried for the first time. It was a religious experience. The scene of David singing at the end of “A Saucerful of Secrets” brings tears and chills to this day–I think this is the most perfect male vocal ever recorded, as well as the most amazing video of a male vocal performance. I love this part so much I completely stole it for a song in 1999, two years after Radiohead stole it for “Exit Music (For a Film)”.
BEE GEES – HOW CAN YOU MEND A BROKEN HEART? (2020) Heather: I do not know what celestial channel Barry Gibb’s spiritual radio is tuned to, but it is the rarest of talent. Also Robin’s voice–what is that? I love Idea or 1st era BeeGees but this made me reconsider Main Course as a pretty cool inflection point. Plus I love watching stuff about sibling bands because I was in one for a long time; it can be painful to make art together when you have the exact same wounds. Brian: I liked learning much more about the early Bee Gees and how they got sucked into the world of disco. I feel the film tried to overhype their place in disco, but I walked away not thinking that they helped create a movement, but rather appropriated it and sold it out. It makes me wonder what they would sound like under the influences of today’s popular music. Ugh.
ZZTOP – THAT LITTLE ‘OL BAND FROM TEXAS (2019) Heather: I always thought ZZTop was what happened when three pervy unwashed uncles formed a band. But I was wrong. They are unwashed pervs who also are singular musicians. It gives me great pleasure to imagine them playing a small bar in Texas way back when and the crowd realizing how fucking good they are after about 3 minutes and just losing it. Brian: It’s so satisfying to see this band perform and learn about their beginnings. They’re much more artistic and weird than people give them credit for. One of the best live bands on earth, and one I still listen to on cassette in my old Chevy van whenever I’m making a run to the dump.
THE SWEET – ALL THAT GLITTERS (1974) Brian: These guys are simply amazing. In some ways one of the best rock bands ever. Each player was immensely talented and could sing. They put on incredible shows and took control of their management and trajectory. Very underrated. Watch clips of their old stuff! Heather: I was surprised to learn that the Sweet started as a boy band. I remember reading years ago that Motley Crue idolized them–and it really showed in their early bubblegum Satanism.
WOODSTOCK ’99 – PEACE, LOVE AND RAGE (2021) Heather: Neither of us could sleep after watching this, it was so dark. The Korn Era totally defiled “alternative” music. This movie was mostly just watching shitty people be inspired to be way shittier, to a very shitty soundtrack. Happy New Year everybody!!!!! Brian: I really believe that the rage Fred Durst tapped into with the crowd was the seeds of the Trump presidency. Only instead of burning food carts and port-a-potties, they grew up and lit America on fire.
JUDAS PRIEST – BRITISH STEEL: CLASSIC ALBUM SERIES (2001) Brian: My favorite album by one of my favorite bands of all time. Yes, I grew out of heavy metal when I was 16 but I will always love this band and album. Rob Halford is perhaps the best rock singer of all time and the production on this record is astounding. I love that they recorded in Ringo’s house and used his cutlery to create the clanking “metal” sound on one song. Every single song is great and this doc, though cheesy and slow, gives much insight into that. Heather: I cried a LOT because I can’t watch Rob Halford without projectile crying. He is incandescent with Love– for his audience and the world. Our friend got us great seats at a Priest show a couple years ago and Rob changed outfits like 8 times. He truly loves what he does!