our second event in New York was at the Chashama space in Brooklyn where Steve Keene was having an exhibition. As the editor of the Steve Keene Art Book, I was sad to miss a number of book launch events earlier in 2022, so I was happy to put on this event with the book’s producer and SK documenter Dan Efram. Many of the pieces on the wall were from his or other private collections, so they were not all for sale (sadly!) Christina Zafiris, who worked in the marketing department at Matador Records when the label did a series of “Pavement Trees” made by SK, wrote about the experience of doing those in the book, and asked me to edit her essay for the book, which led to me editing the whole book. Another contributor to the book, Sam Brumbaugh, interviewed Bridget St. John for chickfactor 12 back in the late ’90s. (Read his essay from the book here!) Our love for Bridget’s music led to us having her play at many of our big festivals over the years in both New York and London. We named one of our festivals at Bush Hall in London “Mon Gala Papillons” (it takes its name from a photograph by Jacques Lartigue), which inspired Bridget to write a song of the same title! We love Bridget. (Photos: Gail O’Hara)
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…
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.
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
When it comes to indie-pop flame keepers, few do it better than the East Coast band Jeanines. We love their 2019 debut album and cannot wait for the next one out early next year on Slumberland. We caught up with Alicia Jeanine and Jed Smith (My Teenage Stride) to see how they’ve been holding up, what they’ve been listening to and doing over the past few strange years since we saw them play in January 2020 in a chilly basement record shop in Portland. Interview by Gail
CF: What has changed since the pandemic happened? Did you have to cancel plans? Change residence? Change your working style?
Alicia: The week we were supposed to leave for Europe to play the Madrid Popfest plus two other dates, the entire world basically shut down. That was super disappointing, of course, but we hope to get to Europe eventually! I also graduated library school in May 2020 and moved to Western Massachusetts for a new job this February, which totally changed our working style. We used to go to our practice space together weekly and work on recording stuff, but now we have to do almost everything separately. Jed helped me get a super basic recording setup in my apartment here, but things still take much longer and aren’t as fun, unfortunately.
Jed: What Alicia said, plus a West Coast thing in September that got canceled. Since Alicia moved we’ve seen each other plenty, either me up in Massachusetts or her down in the city for shows, but we can’t really practically record in the same way, so that’s a bit frustrating and the process definitely isn’t as fun.
What were you like as teenagers?
Alicia: I was socially maladjusted and had very few friends. I was definitely slowly getting into more and more indie bands, but not many people I knew were into that kind of thing. I was pretty isolated and grew up in suburban sprawl not super close to any cities.
Jed: From ages about 13–18, I was more or less completely asocial. So all of junior high and high school, basically. I wasn’t picked on or anything and actually had good social skills—I remember people even trying to befriend me and I’d just…not take them up on it. All of my teen years were spent alone recording songs on a 4-track pretty much as soon as I picked up drums and guitar at 14, doing special effects makeup (I kid you not), and painting (poorly). I can’t really regret not hanging out with anyone during those years because I spent it being creatively productive. Oh, I did have a weird sort of uh…love triangle in like 11th and 12th grade with two girls at school—I was totally in love with one of them who had a boyfriend and the other one had a crush on me and it was fraught and sad and stuff but this all happened at school—I never hung out with them outside of school, nor did I try. So yeah, I was a weird, very much intentionally solitary teen I guess. Okay, that was wayyyyy too much info sorry.
Are you from musical families?
Alicia: Yes, my mom has a degree in music and used to teach piano. She only cares about classical music, though. I’m glad to have that foundation (I was forced to take piano and violin throughout my childhood) but I never wanted to be a classical musician. I definitely think some of my ability comes from my mom, though!
Jed: Yeah, my grandmother was a piano player, basically a stride piano player like Jelly Roll Morton or Fats Waller; she was a virtuoso with perfect pitch, wish we’d recorded her. My grandfather played drums a bit in church jazz bands and my mom is a jazz musician semi-professionally. So I grew up with a lot of jazz.
When did you write your first song, what was it about, what was it called?
Alicia: I didn’t write my first song until about six years ago, actually, with the encouragement of Jed. I don’t remember what it was called or what it was about, though!
Jed: The first song I remember writing, which I can still recall completely, like arrangement and everything, was when I was 7, and it was called “Salt Water Up My Nose.” It had a sort of music hall McCartney arrangement with groovy drums and bass arpeggios like Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. I didn’t start playing instruments till I was 14 though, so I had no means to record any of my ditties till then. I was always obsessively doing it though.
What is your songwriting process like?
Alicia: Usually I sit down with the guitar and try to will something into my mind, the beginnings of a song. Often it works but sometimes it’s just not the moment. Other times I’ll get a little snippet of a melody or a phrase in my head and sit down and try to work it into a song.
Jed: Either a song pops into my head and I go record it, or I think about a song I want to exist and I work out the arrangement and everything in my head, including the production aspects, so it’s more like writing a record than a raw song. I don’t sit down with an instrument to write, so it’s an entirely uh…cerebral process, which makes recording it a joyless, obsessive sort of act of transcription. Working with Alicia changes that process and it’s way more fun.
Where do you write and record?
Alicia: I write songs at home. Most of the recording happens at the practice space in Brooklyn, but now I do some recording in my apartment in Massachusetts.
Jed: I write when I’m doing something mundane like shopping or cleaning or showering—mowing the lawn used to be a good time for thinking of songs. It’s good to have the nervous part of me busy with some other task so I can free up the good part of me to think about songs. I record everything in my practice space/studio in Bushwick.
Your debut album is awesome! What were you going for when you recorded it?
Alicia: I always say I write sad folk songs and Jed turns them into indiepop gems. So yeah, I handed them to him as simple acoustic things, and he transformed them into pop hits! We both were super into adding lots of harmonies.
Jed: Thanks! Alicia’s early songs were more often than not minor key songs written with acoustic guitar. I liked the idea of up-tempo, super short minor key pop songs, that’s really the main concept I personally had in mind. I couldn’t think of that many examples of it that were contemporary besides Veronica Falls. We also both really love multipart harmonies including hymnal stuff.
What’s it like being on Slumberland/WIAIWYA?
Alicia: Being on Slumberland is a dream come true, and Mike Schulman (Papa Slumber) is the nicest, best person you could hope to have on your team. Working on the EP with John from WIAIWYA was also great.
Jed: Same as Alicia, having a record on Slumberland was always a dream and a lot of my friends over the years were in bands I really loved like Cause-Co Motion and Crystal Stilts, who had records on Slumberland—but my first Slumberland obsession was Aislers Set, and I still consider Linton to be one of the greatest songwriters and pop musicians of the past 20+ years. Their stuff was really inspiring to me. WIAIWYA are another great label with great bands and it’s been an honor having a record there.
What is the pop community like where you live?
Alicia: In Brooklyn the pop community is doing all right, perhaps not as vibrant as it’s been in the past. It definitely skews older currently. In Western Mass I’m still trying to find any pop community that might exist!
Jed: Brooklyn/NYC has had a lot of great guitar pop…some you could call indiepop, for whatever it’s worth, but some like the aforementioned Cause Co-Motion and Crystal Stilts, who for me were more part of the continuation and mutation of the sort of 60s music that’s always been the core of my musical DNA. Right now it’s disjointed. But there’s always great music being made everywhere, even if the people making it aren’t letting anyone hear it.
Whose lyrics do you adore?
Alicia: Nothing is coming to mind right off the bat, but I’ve always found the Siddeleys’ lyrics quite clever.
Jed: I’m always reticent to say it, but I think Mick Jagger is one of the greatest lyricists of all time when he’s not being childishly misogynistic, and weirdly underrated in that sense…especially considering they’re the second most famous band of all time. Other than that, Linton from Aislers Set’s lyrics are one of the things about them that’s exceptional and makes them stand out from other bands associated with indie pop. I also think Kim Deal is one of the most underrated lyricists of all time, especially on Pod. Chris Knox also.
Where in NYC are you living now? If we came to visit for one day, what should we do?
Alicia: Jed lives (and I used to live) in Ridgewood, Queens, right next to North Brooklyn. Depends what you like to do! Ridgewood has some great restaurants and bars (both old and new). The music scene right now is kind of in flux/trying to emerge from the pandemic.
Jed: I live in Queens right over the Brooklyn border next to Bushwick. NYC is a horrible place for a day trip or a several-day trip, I think it’s best experienced by actually living here.
How has NYC changed since the crazy time started?
Alicia: A lot of places have closed but some haven’t. A lot more outdoor seating, of course!
Jed: It’s weird and traumatic and wonderful as ever. The music venue situation is upsetting but I think it’s finding ways to mend. Andy Bodor deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. Cakeshop forever.
Can you cook? What is your specialty?
Alicia: I can cook but don’t like to. Sometimes I make this thing with green beans and kidney beans that sounds boring and bad but tastes quite good.
Jed: For about four years, I was an obsessive bread baker—like three times a week or so, back in like the mid-2000s. Other than that, Mexican and Italian are my things since forever.
What’s in the fridge?
Alicia: Eggs, yogurt, fruit, salad stuff, seltzer.
Jed: Yogurt, too much cheese, beans, too much seltzer.
What day jobs have you had?
Alicia: Librarian, proofreader/editor, software tester, admin stuff.
Jed: Special education, barista, video store/music store, proofreader/editor, copywriter, internet “journalist,” music lessons, recording engineer/producer, soundtrack composer. Past couple of years it’s mostly been copywriting and recording/producing, paid work–wise. I also do wet work for the CIA occasionally. Not really though. OR DO I REALLY THOUGH?
What are you reading/watching/eating at the moment?
Alicia: I’m about to start reading something that looks really good, but I don’t remember the name! I’ve been watching so much Masterchef, it’s very dumb.
Jed: If I visit Alicia it’s nonstop Masterchef, so I guess I have to count that. World/American cinema from 1935 or so to 1985ish. Reading, I’m on a Joan Didion kick right now and just finished Kiss of The Spider Woman by Manuel Puig. I also read books about sharks and deep sea life as often as possible.
What radio shows/DJs/podcasts do you love?
Alicia: Lately into podcasts by Jamie Loftus; the current one is about Cathy comics. Also love Maintenance Phase (about bodies/dieting/health fads) and You’re Wrong About (rehashing historical moments with witty banter).
Jed: My friend Neal Ramirez has a great show called Sound Burger, and my friends Owen Kline and Sean O’Keefe both have wonderful, unpredictable shows on this indie station called K-PISS (no, really.)
Fave record stores?
Alicia: None in particular, but I love places with a great and well-priced used selection.
Jed: Earwax, Captured Tracks store, Academy Records, Deep Cuts, and Rough Trade, all in Brooklyn except for Deep Cuts, are/were all great.
How do you consume music? (Platforms, formats)
Alicia: Spotify and records, mostly.
Jed: I rarely listen to music casually so it’s usually one song or piece, on YouTube, staring at the screen, or my iTunes library. I think YouTube is the best option for music on the internet outside of Bandcamp (for newer/smaller artists).
Do you use any apps or software in to make music?
Alicia: Logic to record; Voice Memo to jot down ideas.
Jed: Logic for recording and production, voice memo to remember a vocal melody occasionally. In the past I’ve also used Audacity and Garageband.
Who is your style icon?
Alicia: No one?
Jed: No one. Though David Hemmings’ white pants in Blow-Up make him 10x more foxy.
What are your day jobs? Hobbies? Pets? Kids?
Alicia: I’m the outreach librarian at the public library. Music is my hobby, I suppose. I have two beautiful cats—a calico named Heidi, and a gray and white tabby named Biscuit. They are delightful.
Jed: I’m a copywriter as my regular thing, peppered with recording/mixing/soundtrack work throughout the year. My extremely lovely black cat Elsa is my familiar.
What would you do this summer if money and COVID were not in the way of your dreams?
Alicia: Travel more and maybe tour.
Jed: Buy a car and do a road trip across the country and then drive up the coast of California listening to “Babylon Sisters” on repeat. Help some friends out.
What bands/venues do you want to play with/at?
Alicia: Dream pairings that won’t happen—Aislers Set, Dear Nora.
Jed: Alicia’s picks are good. My Teenage Stride played in this cool outdoor venue at Primavera years ago. I’d like to do that again but having rehearsed more.
Future plans? Upcoming tours/records?
Alicia: We have a new LP coming out in early 2022 and we are hopefully playing some dates in California at the beginning of January around the SF Popfest!
Jed: New Jeanines LP in early 2022 on Slumberland as well as new Mick Trouble LP on Emotional Response in January, with a special limited edition w/flexidisc bonus thingie for Rough Trade which I’m excited about. Touring Jeanines and Mick in SF Popfest and the West Coast in January also.
Records Alicia Cannot Live Without
Dear Nora – Three States
The Siddeleys – Slum Clearance
Les Calamités – C’est Complet
The Aislers Set – How I Learned to Write Backwards
Nice Try – S/T (2016)
The Mantles – Long Enough to Leave
Elliott Smith – all?
Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing
Go Sailor – S/T
Connie Converse – How Sad, How Lovely
Songs That Jed Cannot Live Without
“All My Hollowness,” Tall Dwarfs
“Nothing But Heartaches,” the Supremes
“This Angry Silence,” Television Personalities
“Anything Could Happen,” The Clean
“Myself When I Am Real,” Charles Mingus (from Mingus Plays Piano)
“Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” The Four Tops
“Luck of Lucien,” A Tribe Called Quest
“Back Up Against the Wall,” Circle Jerks
“Doe,” The Breeders
“Quick Step,” The Adverts
“Ready Teddy,” Little Richard
“Hit It and Quit It,” Funkadelic
“They Don’t Know,” Kirsty MacColl
“Don’t Believe the Hype,” Public Enemy
“Oogum Boogum,” Brenton Wood
“Lady Rachael,” Kevin Ayers
“Solace- A Mexican Serenade,” Scott Joplin
“Dawn,” The Four Seasons
“Get Right Back,” Maxine Nightingale
“I Bet You,” Funkadelic
“Sabbath Bloody Sabbath- Black Sabbath
“Theme de Camille” from Contempt/Le Mepris soundtrack- George Delerue
“Queen of Fools,” Barbara Mills
“Do I Love You,” Ronettes
“Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” Cyndi Lauper
“Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home,” Kinks
“Gideon’s Bible,” John Cale
“Touch the Hem of His Garment,” Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers
“Mona,” The Beach Boys
“Electric Funeral,” Black Sabbath
“Sweet & Dandy,” Toots & The Maytals
“Into The Groove,” Madonna
“After Eight,” Neu!
“Your Heart Out,” The Fall
“No Side To Fall In,” The Raincoats
“Street Fighting Man,” Rolling Stones
“When I Grow Up,” The Beach Boys
and every Velvet Underground album
Chickfactor: How are you holding up during crazy COVIDtime?
Kevin Alvir: Gail! I’m good—thanks for asking. I never thought I would handle a pandemic so calmly. I would say I’m an anxious sort definitely before 2020 and to live in times of turbulence… I seem to thrive. haha. Certainly last year (2020) was really bonkers and waking up to what an insane world this is…. that is quite sobering.
What did you learn about yourself during this time?
I definitely thought about where my time and energy went to. The frantic commute energy, the workplace energy, the socialization energy. I’ve discovered my spiritual side, which surprises me.
What kind of changes did you make to your home/workspace/etc?
Living in NY, at home I feel like a tourist. (paraphrase Gang of Four) So my apartment was pretty bare. Now that I’ve been living in it with my bf, we’ve spruced it up with artwork and plants. Comfier furniture. Better drawing desk in my office. It’s a real nice place to be. Now I love it. I do have a similar “frenetic commute energy” when I have to go to the next room for a zoom lesson.
Tell us about your latest release on Bandcamp. Is it also on CD/vinyl/tape?
I just put out a new Kevin Hairs 3-song single called “Stay Mild, Man Child” and a couple months ago I put out an album called Dad of the Universe. It’s just digital. I’d rather not make more consumables with plastic and tapes and stuff. I don’t think I’m that kinda artist. I just like having music digital now. BUT… about the music, I felt like I had a shift in thought about making music. The songs I make kind of feel like my poems and cartoons with a janglepop background. They certainly retain my sense of humor. Some friends tell me that listening to my music makes them feel like they’re actually hanging out with me. So that’s kinda what my music is like. haha.
What are you missing the most during this time?
I miss seeing so many friends. I miss restaurants. I miss the ease of going outside. There’s this layer of fear (a bigger one) added onto going out. I miss the community aspect of things.
How differently do you see your home now that you’ve been spending more time there?
I love it. I would think about how in zoom calls, I am still able to retain my identity. To be more clear, like when I would go to work or see my therapist, I always felt like I would have to adapt to the workplace and or my shrink’s office. Always feeling at the mercy of other people. If that makes sense.
Where did you grow up? Where all have you lived?
I grew up in Northern Virginia suburb Annandale, close to Washington, D.C. I went to college in Richmond (VCU), lived in Philadelphia for a couple years, and then just loved being in Brooklyn for over a decade.
What were you like as a teen?
As a teen, haha. I was definitely troubled. Repressed gay youth in the suburbs. Since I felt so alienated, I just got really into whatever turned me on (musically). So I was a total fanboy about music, starting with the local Arlington music scene — Teen-Beat, Simple Machines, Dischord. Teen-Beat really resonated with me. But you know, I think I dressed like a freak… and was kinda dour haha but also really funny and sarcastic…only to hide my anger/vulnerability. haha.
What was your first concert?
Technically, the first concert I went to was Ocean Blue & Marshall Crenshaw. I appreciate both artists now. My oldest brother is a Crenshaw head. I just wanted to see the Ocean Blue bc they had a video on MTV at the time making the rounds. “Sublime.” Not exactly a fan although I toured with them a lil 10 years after that.
First record you bought?
When I was 12 years old, I used my Xmas money to buy Julie (comedienne) Brown’s Trapped in the Body of a White Girl but what REALLY counted was Electropura by Yo La Tengo. I remember putting down $14 cash for that CD and how weird and esoteric it seemed.
When did you write your first song and what was it about?
I was 19 I think. I wrote a song called “Pet Rock.” I was inspired by the Tall Dwarfs musically. Lyrically, I was inspired to speak from a POV of someone not wanting to be taken for a ride or abused… but it was cute.. and sounded … ehhh. I’d rather not hear it. haha.
What bands you have been in?
I always had a band… of some making. I had a band called the Lil Hospital, Knight School, The Hairs, and well now it’s my solo thing: Kevin Hairs. I’ve helped out in other bands: Sprites, Basic Plumbing (Patrick Doyle of Veronica Falls band), BMX Bandits (played 4 shows in the Bandits).
What is your day job?
My day job??? Hrrrm, kinda piecing it together. I was working for a tech company doing office manager stuff. Moonlighting doing my illustration work when it came in (sporadically). However, I got let go from said job at the start of the pandemic. But thankfully, I’ve had a lot of commissions to do: Logos, Spot Illustrations, Portraits, Pet Portraits, Album Covers, Animations. I also teach art to kids over Zoom, which I love and avoided doing for so long. I want more students. And this is kinda controversial, but I am an apprentice Spirit Medium. I’ve been taking classes and developing my ability. One hour of meditation a day. I talk to the dead and communicate messages to loved ones. Not everyone likes hearing about it. It scares people and it’s out there. But it’s very real to me.
What neighborhood do you live in? Best and worst things about it? Top haunts?
I live in Crown Heights in Brooklyn. Midland-Brooklyn. Best thing: the apartments are so spacious. I have so much room. The food is diverse in the neighborhood, which is great. The Ryerson is a restaurant down the street from me. Their food is the best and the music they play is always up my alley. Some jangle, fuzz jams. Bars are hard for me. I don’t really like to drink and bars are always so loud.
What are the best bands in Brooklyn these days?
Pale Lights / Love Burns, Jeanines, Nice Try / Racecar, Frankie Cosmos are my personal faves.
Tell us how Fanboy Memoirs came about?
Fanboy Memoirs started when I just did a lil’ cartoon of teenaged me watching Cat Power for my instagram. People responded and wanted me to do more of them. I have so many stories of talking to “so and so” before or after the show. I just wanted to be making music and living that life. But yeah, I met Stephin Merritt as a teen. He was flirty. David Berman was just the kindest soul. Jennifer Herrema was intimidating but sweet.
Do you still do portraits by commission?
I still do!! Yep. I advertise it on my socials. Mainly on that hellhole platform Facebook – but I’m always open. I feel like I’d do another one of you, Gail. I feel like I’ve gotten better at my portraits since. But people can follow me on Instagram and see my work and message me.
Have you thought of cashing in on the NFT craze?
I did set up some NFTs with my friend Ivan. I have a mistrust of it. Get Rich Quick schemes really turn me off. But I did set some up. I haven’t heard anything about them. So still not *life-changingly rich* haha.
What’s your sign?
LIBRA through and through. haha.
Who do you have a crush on?
The woman who played Anathema Device in Good Omens. Comedians John Early & Kate Berlant, Any Australian in music is so charming (haha), Will Schwartz from Imperial Teen. Crushes went from “Oh I bet they’re into cool stuff” to… “Oh my god, there’s something about them that I just want to be their best friend.”
What are you reading/watching/eating?
Reading: a lot of Manga. Astro Boy & other works by Osamu Tezuka. Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. Dolores Cannon (fringey mystic hypnotherapist). Spirit Medium books.
Watching: Barry (HBO), Search Party, Arrested Development, Ranma 1/2.
Eating: I am on the Keto diet now (like every gay guy in NYC). So I just eat cheese, salmon and salad. I feel great. But I miss donuts.
What can you not wait to do as soon as everything reopens?
I am excited for small club shows. Music performances. But I also want to nurture all the online communities and friends I’ve made too.
Any other plans for the future?
I’m doing a Young Adult graphic novel, and I’m so excited. It’s a definitive version of my Lisa Cheese webcomic with a bigger story. AND becoming a working Spirit Medium. I need to practice. So if anyone’s interested…
Thanks, Kevin! CF
Records Kevin cannot live without!
1) The Aislers Set, The Last Match
2) Sportsguitar, Married, 3 kids
3) Yo La Tengo, Electropura
4) Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque
5) Apples in Stereo, Fun trick noisemaker
6) Television Personalities, And don’t the kids just love it
7) Pastels, Truckload of trouble
8) Bats, Daddy’s Highway
9) Guided by Voices, Alien Lanes
10) Stereolab, Emperor Tomato Ketchup