Containe: An Oral History

Containe at the Old Town Bar, 1994. Photo: Gail O’Hara

All the way back in September 1993, chickfactor had its first ever live show at Under Acme. Something like 11 bands played (with a few others jumping on the mike), all sharing the backline. The show was $5. Versus were originally meant to play but couldn’t so I asked Fontaine Toups to play solo; she asked Connie Lovatt to join her and they played a few songs: Containe was born. I was so chuffed that I asked if I could put out their debut 7-inch. They were people I saw all the time, we all became friends, the rest is history. In honor of the band putting their records on Bandcamp this week, we asked a few friends, fans and collaborators to try to remember the details… —Gail O’Hara, Enchanté Records & chickfactor

When did you first meet each other?
Connie Lovatt (Containe, The Pacific Ocean):
In the early ’90s? We met through Richard. Her approach to awkward social situations and her humor are often wonderfully otherworldly so of course I liked her. 

Tell us about writing songs and recording. 
Fontaine Toups (Containe, Versus):
 It’s difficult to remember the details but what I can say is that writing music with Connie was inspiring and a lot of fun. She is one of the best lyricists I know. Our recording and writing process was done quickly. We never spent much time on either, at least this is what I remember. The less-is-more attitude was definitely at play. We will all have different versions of the same story and I’d love to hear Ed and Connie’s. If I could go back in time, I’d do the same thing all over again. 
Connie Lovatt: We both wrote songs in guitar and/or bass and shared them. The other would write bass or another guitar part and some vocals. Fontaine had a much stronger sense of what she wanted arrangement wise. 

Do you remember the first Containe show? What was it like?  
Fontaine Toups: Yes, terrifying and amusing. Where was it? You must have that answer because I certainly can’t remember. (September 10, 1993 at Under Acme)
Connie Lovatt: Gail put together our first show. Fontaine was going to play solo to fill in for Versus? Something like that. She asked me to join her. I remember it sounding really really good. It was memorable in that I was aware of every note and our voices and I loved it. 

Containe in NYC, 1995. Photo by Gail O’Hara

What was the biggest inspiration for the songs you wrote? 
Connie Lovatt: Playing a guitar for the first time. It was a whole new thing. 

What do you remember about making the records?
Connie Lovatt:
We made I Want It All with Adam Lasus (Studio Red) and he was always up and always energetic. He added so much levity to the process. If anything went wrong his first instinct is to laugh which was a big help. It was just Fontaine, me and Dave Frank on drums. We were a low-key crew. Fontaine had more experience, so I followed her lead. But I remember being so happy to be doing a full record of just our songs. 
We made Cowards with Nicolas Vernhes (Rare Book Room) and a whole host of characters. We had a lot of supportive input around us. There was much more jumping around between instruments and sounds but Nicolas kept all the trains running. He was great. It had momentum. I remember Fontaine had a bunch of good songs ready to go so the sense of direction was strong. I love all her guitar playing on that record. Spike Priggen deserves a note here. He took time out to help record some songs I was working on and Cowards came out sounding good enough to put on the record. 

When did you first meet/see/hear Containe? The Pacific Ocean? 
Gail O’Hara (Enchanté Records, chickfactor): 
chickfactor used to have parties where we would give out our new issue. Versus was scheduled to play at our first ever party with live music, but Richard had to bail for some reason. I suggested to Fontaine that she just play anyway: She asked Connie and Containe was born. I loved them so much I suggested putting out a 7-inch single and then Enchanté was born. 
Patrick Ramos (Versus, +/-): I heard both bands for the first time in ’96 when I joined Versus on drums. I liked both bands immediately. 
Mark Robinson (Teen-Beat Records):
 I actually can’t remember. This was so long ago! I first met Fontaine and Ed at a Versus show when my band played with them in 1991. Chickfactor was one of the most important (THE most?) zines of that era, and Containe and TPO were covered pretty regularly, if not in the interviews/record reviews, then in the ads for their records, so I think pretty much every Chickfactor reader was pretty well informed about them.
John Lindaman (True Love Always): 
I can’t remember exactly when we met, but it was around when we joined the Teen-Beat cavalcade of stars in 1997. I never got to see Containe live, but we did a few Pacific Ocean/ TLA/Versus shows in 1998.
James McNew (Yo La Tengo/Dump):
 I honestly can’t remember. I just feel like I saw them whenever I could.
Bob Bannister (Fire in the Kitchen): Having been a fan of Versus since their early days (wearing out the demo cassette that preceded the first couple of 7″ singles), I can’t remember exactly when, but I surely heard of Containe almost as soon as they came into existence. Same for TPO.
Alan Licht:
 I don’t remember seeing Containe or the Pacific Ocean playing live (before I played with them). I knew Fontaine from Versus, and then Connie just socially from knowing those guys. I remember bumping into Connie and Fontaine in the elevator at the Music Building when I was on my way to Run On practice and they were going to Containe practice…if Containe played Chickfactor nights then I would have seen them then, but I don’t have a clear memory of it.
Heather Larimer (Corvair, Eux Autres):
 I saw Fontaine play for the first time with Versus at The Crocodile and I was so mesmerized and thought she was the coolest girl in the world. I was obsessed enough that I very much wanted to name my firstborn Fontaine but he was a boy so I had to name him Lewis instead. The first chickfactor I ever read had a bunch of quotes from Containe and I just thought they were impossibly cool. In all the photos they looked like they were having the best time and just didn’t give a shit about what anyone else was doing.

Containe in NYC, 1995. Photo by Gail O’Hara

Are you a fan? 
Patrick Ramos:
I am. And not only because I like all the members as people, though that does help. And no, they aren’t paying me to say this.
James McNew:
Oh yes.
John Lindaman: OMG YES.
Bob Bannister: Yes!

What made you want to cover “Shy Song”? 
John Lindaman: I love “Shy Song” so much. Sometimes when you hear a song you think, “I could really add something unique to this with the singular power of my artistry” and sometimes you think, “man that would be fun to play, and I can probably just coast on what a great song the original is.” This was definitely the latter! Also I thought it would be good as a man singing it to change the lyric from “I want to fuck you like you’ve never been before” to “I want to thank you like you’ve never been before” because that seems like a more realistic attitude for a guy in a pop band.

Describe any memories you have of Containe, especially any live show experiences. 
Stephin Merritt: 
Yes! Containe is the worst band name in history, and The Pacific Ocean is the best band name in history!
James McNew:
 I saw Containe at Brownie’s (?) early on and was blown away. It was amazing to see Fontaine, a goddamn powerhouse, in such a vulnerable light. Connie seemed freaked out to be onstage in front of people, but once the music would start she had this instantly soothing, wise presence. The onstage banter between them was pretty priceless, too.
Gail O’Hara: I loved the East Coast tour we did in summer 1995; they had a great show at the Middle East. Also Stevie Jackson from Belle and Sebastian was a Containe fan, and B&S invited them to open on some shows in 1998. Georgia Hubley came along on drums. Seeing Containe, who were by this point my BFFs, open for Belle & Sebastian at Town Hall was a dream. Then hearing Belle & Sebastian play “chickfactor” live for the first time that night, well, I was in heaven. 
Richard Baluyut (Versus): All three bands did a set together at CF21. I was thrilled to finally get to join the club!
Patrick Ramos: I have a vague memory of playing drums for Containe and looking up from behind the drum set at Connie and Fontaine stage right and left, but maybe that was just a wishful dream.
James Baluyut: The only times I saw Containe live, I was in the band. Does that count? I think it only happened a couple times. At any rate, the first time, in particular, I was thrilled, not only because Containe was excellent, but also because we were opening for Belle & Sebastian on one of their super early tours. It was super fun. I wish I’d taken some photos.

How would you describe Containe? 
James Baluyut: Effervescent, hooky and brilliant—what you want to hear on a spring day.
Richard Baluyut: To me, Containe is all about the confluence/collision of Fontaine and Connie’s beautiful voices and quirks (they’re both kinda weird). 
Bob Bannister: Some bands mostly write the songs together in their rehearsals while Containe sounds more like Fontaine and Connie wrote them at home with just guitars and voices and then fleshed out the other parts in rehearsals or recordings. (Of course, I don’t really know their working methods.) Connie started adding keyboard parts on the second Containe record, which was a great addition. Containe songs remind me of Marine Girls, early Tracey Thorn solo, and late ’80s New Zealand bands like Look Blue Go Purple and The Bats (and I’d be surprised if they weren’t fans of those bands). One thing that strikes me relistening to Containe is the number of different vocal approaches Connie and Fontaine used. Sometimes they’d do straight harmonies (different notes, same syllable, same beat), sometimes they’d have one holding sustained oohs and ahhs, while other sang the main melody, sometimes (and I think this is underrated in general), they sang in unison, which gives a really rich timbre. Finally, there is whatever they are doing on “Say Please,” which sounds like two people singing four parts without doing it via overdubs. Although Ed Baluyut contributed to the Containe records, I’m thinking his role as a leader in the Pacific Ocean brought a more art-rock sound: more dropped beats, angular guitar parts, etc.
James McNew: Kinda like Fleetwood Mac with Peter Prescott on drums, or like 100 Flowers led by two Denise Roughans.
Gail O’Hara: The sound of a dozen exes being exorcised. Perfectly balanced: Fontaine is pop. Connie is art. Loud, quiet. Containe was tailor made for fans of Helium, Cat Power, the Spinanes, Barbara Manning, Scrawl, etc. 
John Lindaman: Apart from basic genre descriptions and the level of quality of the work, both Containe and TPO had a similar uniqueness to them, which came from a successful combining of two distinct strong musical personalities. It’s pretty unusual for bands to be able to do that instead of “one of X’s songs, one of Y’s songs” or “Neil writes the lyrics but Geddy sings.” And maybe that’s how it actually was and it just didn’t come across that way—either way it worked!

Containe in NYC, 1994. Photo by Gail O’Hara

Containe and the Pacific Ocean were often described (dismissed?) as a Versus side project. Do you think they should have been bigger? 
James McNew: Everybody in that band is so talented, how could that be a bad thing. I wish they would/ could have released more music and played out more. 
John Lindaman: Both Containe and TPO were bands that should have been as big as whatever the biggest bands were at the time—the music was just light years ahead of what other people were doing. And the music is so different from Versus that I don’t see it as a valid point of comparison.

How are they different from Versus?
James McNew:
Similar in some ways, but it gave me an even finer appreciation for Fontaine’s perspective, as well as her power and creativity. Also, they cuss more in their songs, and cut down the guitar solos.
Gail O’Hara: More lyrically raw. They were playful and fun but also heartbreaking, devastating. Connie and Fontaine seemed to revel in the freedom to be in charge of their own thing. 

Is there a particular Containe/The Pacific Ocean song/album/era that resonated with you? 
John Lindaman: Only Cowards Walk Like Cowards is really one of the most perfect records of that decade, and really achieved what a lot of people were going for but failed to come close to! But those four records together represent a real body of work, and I’m glad to see them being brought back out together.
James McNew: The feelings that are bluntly revealed on those first EPs make them pretty magical. You sort of hear the sound of them deciding to be a band, or if they even want to bother with that route.
Gail O’Hara: For me it’s the second records from both: Containe really kills it on “Say Please” and “Summer”—I feel like it’s the most fully realized version of them. My favorite TPO songs are on Less Than the Needle: “Five” and “All the Better Luck.” All of these songs should have been on the Clueless soundtrack or in some teen film. 
Richard Baluyut: I’m terrible at song titles, so I’ll have to default to the hit, “Shy Song.” Surprising and joyous.
Mark Robinson: My favorite Containe song is probably “Shy Song”. It’s a hit and it has a bad word in it, which was oddly not super common at the time.
Bob Bannister: It has been a couple of years since I listened to the records, but returning to Only Cowards… over the weekend, I was reminded just how much I listened to it at the time. There was probably no mixtape I made in that era that did not include “Say Please,” “Why Why Why” or your “Your Brother’s a Star.” The same was true a few years later with “All the Better Luck” on the second Pacific Ocean record.

How do you see these records and the bands’ legacies at this point? 
Patrick Ramos: Both bands are grossly underappreciated. The songs are complex, catchy, honest and still refreshing to listen to 20+ years on. FYI:  I’ve added them both to my Spring 2021 Playlist. I want to believe that one day they’ll both get their due credit in the lineage of rock history but who decides these things? Cleveland?
John Lindaman: I don’t know how much of a legacy anyone has at this point, but if you heard them then you tried to rip them off, and if you hear them now for the first time you’ll understand where some other bands you liked were getting their ideas from!

What other bands/musicians spring to mind when you listen to Containe? And the Pacific Ocean? 
James McNew:
I think fans of music from New Zealand in the ’80s and or NYC/Chicago/ Louisville etc. in the ’90s would be moved by it. I don’t really see them fitting squarely into anything or any time, which I think is a plus. They were able to be themselves, together.

Tell us any other stories you remember about Containe and the Pacific Ocean. 
James McNew:
I remember they were really nice people who made special music together. I consider myself lucky to have seen them play.
Patrick Ramos: Versus, Containe and the Pacific Ocean when not playing the same shows were always at each other’s shows so we had a lot of fun together. The problem again—and I’m really not trying to make this about me—is that all of the details and nuance of those times that make for a good story and should have been put to paper are now lost to me. But answering these questions made me dig out the CDs and I’m blasting them now. If I remember anything, it’s that it feels just as compelling and exciting as it did when I first heard them, like the gift someone gives you that you didn’t realize you really needed.

What was it like being on Enchanté?
Connie Lovatt:
Being on Enchanté is exactly what you think being on it would be like. Gail is a fierce defender of artists. And once we became great friends, it also felt like famIly. And a place I could cook. And a place I could sleep. CF

Enchanté!

We are super-excited to announce that our catalog will be on Bandcamp starting Friday, April 2. Enchanté Records released five records from 1994 to 2002 and they are all up there (with a few songs missing from the comp). Plus, we are going to eventually find the CDs and make those available too. (No Spotify, no Amazon, just Bandcamp, the most artist-friendly platform!). We will also be releasing new music in the coming months and years. Check the site on Friday for more information!

1. Containe, I Want It All (Enchanté 1, 1994)

2. Containe, Only Cowards Walk Like Cowards (Enchanté 2, 1996)

3. The Pacific Ocean, Birds Don’t Think They’re Flying (Enchanté 3, 1997)

4. The Pacific Ocean, Less Than the Needle, More Than the Shotgun (Enchanté 4, 2000)

5. Various Artists, All’s Fair in Love and chickfactor: cf mixtape 1 (Enchanté 5, 2002)

We chat with DJ Gaylord Fields about the WFMU Marathon and other stuff

Gaylord in his natural habitat in 2012. Photo: Gail O’Hara

It’s that time of year again, friends! Time to open your wallets and throw some cash at WFMU to keep the best radio station ever fully operating! This coming Saturday, March 13, join Gaylord Fields and Todd Abramson when they host Yo La Tengo, who show up once a year to play your requests on demand (when you make a pledge of course!) We have known the sharply dressed, smart, funny Gaylord since the mid-1990s, when we met and realized we both had the best (kinda similar) taste in music and we were both copy editors! In recent years he’s been a regular MC at many chickfactor events and we love his radio show on WFMU. We caught up with him to see how he’s been handling COVIDtime and got the scoop. Interview by Gail O’Hara

chickfactor: How are you holding up? 
gaylord fields: I’m shocked at how my typical non-Pollyanna brand of optimism has been tested but has withstood the ordeals we’ve been through both with the pandemic and the sociopolitical reckonings of 2020–21, both in the US and throughout the world. If I can survive the worst year I ever lived through, with 2016–19 taking the other four spaces in that ignominious top five, with my head aloft, I can count myself fortunate.

How has your life changed during the COVID time? 
Between the forced-upon-me sedentary lifestyle and my recovery from the major back surgery I had last year to correct a crippling spinal disorder that left me bedridden for two months, I underwent a drastic redistribution of my body mass. So now I have a personal trainer who tortures me via Zoom. My brain is slowly learning to accept exercise as not being futile, but it isn’t doing it quickly enough for my liking.

Also, I learned that if you’re going to be stuck in bed for months at a time, it’s best to do it when there is literally nothing going on to get all FOMO about. 

Have you been vaxxed? 
Yesterday I received my second dose of the Moderna — a.k.a. the Dolly Parton — vaccine. Here on day two, I thought I had escaped any adverse side effects, but an hour ago I was shivering under a duvet, a flannel sheet, and an Irish knit sweater! And now I’m sweating and fanning myself from the heat! I could not be happier.

Photo by Petra Houbova

What music/film/art/books/snacks have gotten you through the pandemic? 
My current “wow” group is Sault, a mysterious Afrocentric British R&B collective that released two of my favorite albums of 2020, Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise)

The last film I watched was Coming 2 America, which was pleasant enough for revisiting characters I liked in the original, mostly the secondary ones played by Eddie Murphy under pounds of latex. The last film I thoroughly enjoyed was during a socially distant trip to a Pennsylvania drive-in this past summer to view Rock ’n’ Roll High School. Worth the price of admission alone just to see Joey Ramone invent mumblecore. Fun fact: PJ Soles, who starred as high school student Riff Randell, was older than three of the four Ramones. 

As for art, I allowed myself a rare museum trip to the Whitney, where I marveled at the video of Alexander Calder at play gleefully manipulating his magical Cirque Calder. There’s also a Calder exhibition opening at MoMA at just the time when I’ll be pronounced 100% vaccinated. 

I just started reading Margo Jefferson’s Negroland, because I’m fascinated by an American Black upper class I knew practically nothing about as a product of the Black working class. 

You didn’t ask about TV, but I watch a lot of 1960s and ’70s detective shows, such as Naked City and Cannon, respectively, because there is no story arc or even a B-story to be found. 

Thanks to the fine people at the employee-owned King Arthur Baking Company, I got into baking doughnuts, until my carb loading while doing the opposite of running a marathon made my blood sugar levels rise — hence the dreaded Zoom personal trainer.

Gaylord’s radio show homepage illustration by Greg Harrison

How long have you been at WFMU? How did you get involved? 
I did my first program in August of 1992, so my 29th year will be swiftly approaching. I’m trying to reckon if perhaps 30 years is enough, but I have made no concrete decision about my radio future either way. I got my start early in ’92, when I was discovered by the WFMU music director at the time, David Newgarden, whilst I was DJing a show at Maxwell’s at the request of headliners Yo La Tengo. I guess I was making some oddball musical choices, because several WFMU DJs that night recognized me as one of them, just like in the movie Freaks, but to an arguably more positive and definitely less tar-and-feathery outcome.

How important is the marathon to keeping the station going? 
The two-week-long WFMU Fundraising Marathon is by far the primary source of the station’s operating budget, as we steadfastly maintain our stance of airing no commercials or underwriting, and accepting no money with strings attached. We’ve seen too many other stations compromise their way to irrelevance once they began answering to anything but their own individual tastes and whims. We refuse to put on such a straitjacket. I think that’s a thing worthy of support.

What are your favorite shows on the station right now? And in the past? 
There are way too many favorites for me to list, especially now that we have three Web-only streams as well as the broadcast station proper. Also, I wouldn’t feel comfortable singling out some of those favorite shows and colleagues while slighting others. But to name just one out of many fabulous former programs that I enjoyed in the past, I really miss The Radio Thrift Shop, a country-leaning show hosted by the lovely and talented singer-songwriter and chickfactor 25 performer Laura Cantrell. 

Check here to buy this!

Tell us how long Yo La Tengo has been doing their marathon duties? What are some of the most memorable performances/covers of theirs? 
I had a thought that the band’s first appearance might have been 1997, but I recently checked with Ira Kaplan, who makes the persuasive case that it was 1996. If I take his word as gospel, that marks this year as the 25th anniversary of this wonderful WFMU tradition. For the past few years, former Maxwell’s impresario Todd Abramson, a.k.a. WFMU DJ Todd-o-phonic Todd, has been hosting them, and me, on his three-hour show instead of the band being forced to curtail their appearance during my inadequate for the task two-hour program. This also makes it a bit of a homecoming, as Todd, Ira, Georgia Hubley, and I shared a Hoboken home during the late ’80s and early ’90s. 

In a quarter century, there have been too many renditions to recall, but I swooned mightily a couple of years ago when James lent his golden high tenor to bring forth a gorgeous version of Lois’s “Shy Town.” And they also memorably performed “Outdoor Miner,” by Wire, which is a shade less than three minutes — or less than two if you prefer the LP version — of left-field pop bliss.

You can own this too.

How long have you known them? In what capacity? 
I knew who Georgia and Ira were from seeing Yo La Tengo perform here and there, and from the copy of Ride the Tiger I picked up at Pier Platters, but we didn’t become actual friends until early 1987, when I was invited by Todd to take over the biggest bedroom in the house the three of them lived in, and they are to this day three of my favorite people ever. Much later, I met James McNew when he completed the trio, and what’s not to love about him?

Can you tell us any stories from the early days of Maxwell’s? 
One of the first times I went to Maxwell’s, in the early ’80s, the band A Worrying Thing opened for the group I actually wanted to see, namely the Cyclones. I preferred that first band in their later incarnation when they renamed themselves after an apocryphal tale concerning the 1962 New York Mets and a three-word Spanish phrase. I also once saw rockabilly behemoth Sleepy La Beef go into the kitchen and chug-a-lug a carafe of hot black coffee, then clamber onstage to play his oversized heart out for hours. 

Do you have any favorite memories of their Hanukkah shows? 
Forgive me for making this first memory about my own participation, but one of my happiest moments on a stage ever was sharing the one at Maxwell’s with Lois to perform an unrehearsed comic deconstruction of “Je T’aime (Moi Non Plus)” as an encore. Performing with her was a dream I never imagined would become real. Also, I must say that any time the Sun Ra Arkestra, featuring the ageless Marshall Allen, are part of the onstage Hanukkah celebration, as they were last in 2019 at the Bowery Ballroom, it’s a transcendental moment. Next would be seeing the late and great Neil Innes perform Rutles songs, backed by a worshipful Yo La Tengo in the roles of Dirk, Stig, and Barry, again at Maxwell’s.

Do you have any beloved memories from chickfactor shows? 
Every chickfactor show has been a reunion of sorts of lovely people I have not seen in a long time, sometimes in decades. It thrills me that the chickfactor community is not something people age out of, although many of us started off not quite fully formed when we entered this special world. 

As for a personal MC memory, I recall at the Bell House in Brooklyn when I divided the audience as well as the performers into two gangs: One group I dubbed Team Horizontal Stripes, and the other was Team Gingham Checks (my own posse, membership duly marked by the lilac gingham shirt I was sporting). I may have had Lois on my ginghamed side, but we were up against the striped likes of Small Factory’s Phoebe Summersquash. No one was harmed, all were delighted. It was a chickfactor event, after all.

Gaylord with Sukhdev and Tae at Bell House, 2017. Photo by Gail O’Hara

Another was when Sukhdev Sandhu, Tae Won Yu, and I held a meeting of what I cheekily called the “chickfactor men of color” in the Bell House’s automatic photo booth.

Then there was the London chickfactor 25 show at the lovely Lexington in my home away from home, Islington, when Cathy Rogers of Heavenly, Marine Research, and, evidently, Junkyard Wars fame, approached me after one of my typically freewheeling and off-the-cuff announcements and said, “I never have any idea where you’re going with these introductions, and somehow you pull it all together at the end!” I told Cathy that if I’ve learned anything from watching gymnasts, it’s that you can perform any sort of mad gyrations and twists and turns, as long as you stick the landing at the end. 

What were your most treasured purchases from Pier Platters or Other Music? 
Thanks to recommendations by my longtime dear friend Katie Gentile, who was working her way through grad school as a Pier Platters clerk, I own all the early Bus Stop Label 45s, mostly seemingly recorded by different permutations of Ric Menck and Paul Chastain. I also did all of my Sarah shopping there, whenever one of those precious discs would somehow wend its way from Bristol to Hoboken. I also have many, many cherished releases put out by Flying Nun, such as the three Look Blue Go Purple EPs, as Pier Platters — where I was later a clerk myself — had the most comprehensive New Zealand indie collection on the East Coast, and possibly in all of North America. But the most valuable thing I have from Pier Platters is its distinctive handmade swirly open/closed sign, which Bill the store proprietor let me take home on the store’s final day.

I had such good luck in the cheap 45 bins at Other Music that it mentally allowed me to go extravagant on some of the store’s pricier imports, such as the Tom Zé reissues imported from Brazil.

Do you have a current favorite record store? Online one? 
I rarely visited local record stores, even pre-lockdown, as the pickings are slim in New York, and my usual vacation forays into shops have obviously been curtailed. But the last local record store I visited pre-lockdown was the Greenpoint, Brooklyn, outpost of Academy Records. I will correct my lack of local shopping once I’m comfortable to do so again, and look forward to crossing two rivers to get to such Brooklyn shops as Earwax, Rebel Rouser, and Captured Tracks, to name just a few.

Online, I use Discogs to find mostly old and rare 45s, and I still patronize Dusty Groove, especially for my Brazilian musical needs.

Do you listen to any podcasts? 
When I actually went into an office pre-lockdown, I used to walk to the train station listening to John McWhorter’s Lexicon Valley language podcast — love his linguistics work; not as big a fan of his politics, but they never intrude. I guess I could consider him the William Safire of the 21st century in that regard. Nowadays, the only podcast I listen to is called Nothing Is Real, and you can guess by the name that it’s Beatles-related. The two Irish hosts go deep into the Fab Four’s careers, both as a group and solo, yet in a way that isn’t old hat or slobberingly hagiographical.

What is a Melody Dad? 
My late friend Trevor Jenkins, who was a composer of production music in his native London, referred to me as such with regard to my show’s embrace of melodic components, and it is an honor I wear proudly. I was quite chuffed that someone who wrote melodies as a career thought I had a keen ear for picking out and combining indelible ones for interesting effect. I always listen to my air checks post-show, but I have yet to re-listen to the one I programmed in his memory a couple of years ago. It’s still too soon, too raw.

I know your wife is involved in helping animals. Is there a place folks can donate to help her out?
Kathleen is the director of community cat education for the NYC Feral Cat Initiative, which recently partnered with the longtime animal welfare nonprofit Bideawee. So if you would like to support community cats by donating to help fund programs such as Trap-Neuter-Return and shelter-building seminars, here is the place to do it.

It’s a mocktail, kids. Photo by Vicky Sweat 

What are you going to do when we are all vaxxed and are given a green light to be free? 
Because I’m now set up to work remotely, once it’s absolutely safe to do so, I plan to couch surf in L.A. for a few weeks and get caught up with all my friends on that coast. A side trip to my beloved Palm Springs may also be in the offing.

I’d also like to visit the chickfactor editrix now that she lives in the same time zone as I do.

Any other news about you or WFMU? 
WFMU is unparalleled in its diversity of programming, but recently we had a bit of a reckoning about its somewhat less diverse roster of actual programmers. As such, we’ve enacted internal programs to make the station more inviting to BIPOC and other marginalized groups. Within the past year, the on-air staff has become more representative of our community and our nation than ever, but we can’t rest on our laurels, as this is an ongoing struggle.

Also, this past summer I joined the station’s board of directors, and as proud as I am to take on such an important role for a radio station I love and believe in, I never saw myself as boardroom material beforehand. Mind you, WFMU is far from corporate, but this is real grownup stuff nonetheless. I promise to take on this role with the utmost seriousness, whatever that word means relative to WFMU.

Will you MC some shows at chickfactor 30 (gasp!) in 2022? 
Try and stop me, Gail! I have a travel budget burning a hole in my Venmo account! Have quirky MCing style, will travel!

Thank you, Gail, for interviewing me, and I hope to see everyone everywhere during chickfactor 30.

Thank you, Gaylord! 

Tune in to WFMU on Saturday, March 13 at 3 pm EST to hear Gaylord, Todd and Yo La Tengo!

Gaylord prefers crisp plaid shirts and cardigans. Photo by Matt Fiveash

Thinking about David Cloud Berman on what should have been his 54th birthday

Photograph from our event in Portland a year ago by Zach Selley

One year ago on January 4, 2020, chickfactor put together a show at bunk bar in Portland, Oregon, called Bike Chain Rain where friends and fans could remember David Cloud Berman on what would have been his 53rd birthday. today (January 4, 2021) he would have been 54, and he probably would be pretty horrified at the state of things. here are some photographs and videos of our event at bunk last year. We also gave all the proceeds (save for a few expenses) in support of Moms Demand Action and Write Around Portland. On the TV during the show the Titans stunned the Patriots.

The audience at Bike Chain Rain, January 4, 2020, photograph by Zach Selley

LINEUP Douglas Wolk (MC)

Mo Daviau read “The Charm of 5:30”

• Gail chickfactor read a letter Connie Lovatt sent to her mom about David  

Kjerstin Johnson read the Loew’s monologue

Jon Raymond read “A Letter From Isaac Asimov to his Wife Janet, Written on his Deathbed?” 

Lance Bangs read “Hieroglyphics, Notebook # 5”

Sophia Shalmiyev and Kevin Sampsell read “Self-Portrait at 28”

Chelsey Johnson read “Cassette County”

• Portland guitarist Marisa Anderson played her own instrumental song

• Portland band A Certain Smile played “Wild Kindness”

Franklin Bruno played “The Frontier Index”

Oed Ronne (the Ocean Blue) performed “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son” with Nancy Novotny and HK Kahng

Rebecca Gates and William Tyler gently slaying the crowd: photograph by Gail O’Hara

William Tyler performed “Tennessee” 

Clay Cole performed “We Might Be Looking for the Same Thing” and
“Only One for Me” with Rebecca Gates
WATCH HERE

Rebecca Gates performed “Snow Is Falling on Manhattan” (WATCH) with William Tyler; and “Albemarle Station” (WATCH)

Silver Jews and Pavement members Stephen and Bob played six songs; photograph by Zach Selley

Stephen Malkmus & Bob Nastanovich performed…
“Secret Knowledge of Back Roads”
“Buckingham Rabbit”
“Advice to the Graduate”
“Random Rules”
“Welcome To The House of the Bats”
“Trains Across the Sea”
WATCH THE FULL SET HERE

Thanks to Craig Giffen (https://12xu.com) for the audio/video

Photograph of Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich by Zach Selley

RIP LD Beghtol, splendid butterfly

LD Beghtol (December 1964–December 2020)

Oh LD. I don’t remember exactly when I met LD but he just twirled into the Magnetic Fields universe around the time that 69 Love Songs was being designed and recorded. He was in a band called Flare. He sang on 69 Love Songs. He was a graphic designer who became instrumental in bringing chickfactor’s design to another level; his photoshop expertise also elevated the quality of my photography in the print publication. He became our designer in chief; I usually chose the art but he made it all work in chickfactor issues 12 to 15, our chickfactor mixtape, many event posters, and even a book of my photography that was published (limited edition, 7-inch size) in 2012.

When the rest of the city left town on holiday weekends, LD and I would hole up in my Manhattan apartment and/or his office on 23rd street and work work work on chickfactor. We would spin many singles. We would sit on the floor eating pad thai. We would plot upcoming shows. We both had extremely busy day jobs and yet we were productive AF during all of our free time. Other times we’d be communing with Stephin at St Dymphna’s over tea (Stephin’s chihuahua Irving Berlin would often eat the entire Irish breakfast) or later at Dick’s Bar on Second Avenue or the Phoenix where we would watch show tunes, sip Courvoisier and talk endlessly about people and music and art and life. I would often try to leave to go home and the boys would buy me another drink and set it in front of me.

LD was a force of nature. If he loved you, he *REALLY* loved you. But if you crossed him, it was murder. If he cared about you, his loyalty knew no bounds. He once wrote a set list that was built to torture a certain musician who LD believed had wronged me. He felt everything extra deep. Some of his creative partnerships didn’t last: If he burned the bridge, that was it. But he lived a creative life through and through; whatever day job he was doing, you can bet he spent every free moment doing a million small creative things. His grand moments in the spotlight with the Magnetic Fields in New York and London were among his proudest moments; as a featured singer he would come out with all the drama one would expect in such moments. He made you believe he *was* the King of the Boudoir all right.

Our relationship was complicated but we mostly got on like a house on fire. He found community with both the Magnetic Fields and chickfactor (among others), along with New York music culture in general. He and Dudley and Stephin were like a trio of charming, sulky sweethearts, and LD was like a bitchy-diva sibling to me. We mostly got along well but struggled with creative differences. Although the vile and brutal year 2020 took him along with many other cultural icons and American lives, his art will live on, and you can bet he had a million new projects simmering away that we’ll never get to see. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, but I won’t forget him because he was unforgettable. RIP, LD.

interview and photograph are from chickfactor 15, 2002, by Gail O’Hara

Here are a few things we designed together:

anna burch: the chickfactor interview

kendall mascott interviews the detroit-based pop queen

anna burch makes music that is nothing short of addictive, with songs chock full of singalong choruses and lyrics that feel like secrets. she has been a music maker for a while now, performing as a side lady for michigan-based bands like frontier ruckus and failed flowers. listening to her solo music is like hanging out with the coolest girl in school who doesn’t care what anyone thinks: there’s just something about her that naturally exudes confidence. I absolutely loved speaking with anna—on one of her rare afternoons off from touring—about weird shows, being a bratty teenager, the nuances of jamming and the angel olsen show that inspired her to keep writing songs. (she’s about to head to the UK to play indietracks with girl ray as her backing band!)

intro & interview by kendall meade (of mascott, anders & kendall and red panda records fame, as well as a side lady in helium, spinanes and others) & photographs by gail o’hara

chickfactor: one of the reasons I was excited to talk to you is because I’m from detroit and it’s exciting to hear such great music coming out of my hometown.
oh, nice. I actually didn’t grow up in detroit. I grew up on the west side of michigan, right in between detroit and chicago in saint joseph. I moved to detroit four years ago. 
cf: how do you like it? how do you like the indie music scene?
I like it. it’s small. I’ve got some good friends. there’s a lot of buzz. there’s a lot of talent here but it’s still a pretty small scene, but it’s fun.
cf: who are some of your favorite bands or favorite places to play? the magic stick?
I’ve only played the magic stick once and it was a really weird show. the metro times put on this brunch thing and they paid us all to do it, so we did it, but no one was there to see us. so, everyone was kind of talking over it.
cf: what are the local bands you love?
I would say stef chura, she’s a good friend of mine. it’s funny though because all my favorite bands try not to play in detroit very much so it’s hard to catch them. but stef’s one of my favorites. bonndune is really excellent. I really love deadbeat beat. there’s also this band don’t that’s pretty new but they’re good. fred thomas is detroit adjacent. he’s in ann arbor now and he was in montreal for a minute but I think I can still safely call him detroit.
cf: I wanted to talk a little bit about your lyrics if you’re comfortable with it. from your songs it sounds like these midwestern boys are a bunch of heartbreakers! is writing about that subject cathartic? can you talk more about it?
yeah, for sure. it’s funny and [the record] definitely feels very time specific. there were just so many conditions that clicked with writing the record. like, you know, kind of refocusing on music, moving, collaborating, recording and then everything that comes with moving to a new scene that’s a smaller scene than you’re used to. and then the drama that I wasn’t really prepared for—small-town drama. It just felt really high school or something and my defenses really came up. it stirred up some old insecurities that I had from high school probably. that’s where a lot of the attitude comes from, if there’s any chip-on-the-shoulder attitude, it probably has something to do with that. like feeling kind of like the new girl and not knowing the ropes and making some missteps and trying to salvage my dignity.
cf: that’s a really perfect way to put it because I sense a bit of a tough girl in there and it sounds like you were just kind of protecting yourself.
definitely. I was trying. I was really trying. there was a lot of drama. 
cf: if there was any advice you could give your teenage self in saint joe, what would it be?
man, teen me probably wouldn’t listen. I was such a brat. but I guess I would just tell me that no one’s, like, against you. I had this natural feeling that nobody likes you and I think a lot of teens probably feel that way. everyone’s just trying to get through. and it’s better to just find the people who will be nice and help you along and not to concern yourself with the people who just make you feel inadequate.
cf: I totally agree. my niece is a teenager now, and I’m always like, “listen, just FYI, you don’t have to be friends with the drama queens.” I wish someone had told me that!
absolutely. dude, I was friends with the crazy girls and I stopped being friends with them at such a fragile point. I stopped being friends with everybody when I was like a sophomore in high school and I was very alone for a minute. I had a best friend who I met in art classand she was great. we acted like we didn’t give a shit, but of course I still gave a shit. (laughs)
cf: what are some of your favorite spots in detroit?
I live in hamtramck now. it’s such a funny interesting place. two square miles and really densely populated, which is totally different than a lot of areas in detroit, so it is pretty walkable. I like going to yemen caféfor dinner late night. aladdin’s is probably my favorite. there’s just a lot of great middle-eastern food here. I’m not totally a vegetarian, but I like to eat mostly that way. there’s this little bar bumbo’s that I like. I like living in hamtramck. I used to live in corktown. I can’t afford corktown anymore.
cf: you look very confident when you play live. is it because you’ve been a side lady for so long?
yeah, for sure. being a side lady as you say is a role that I definitely got comfortable with but wasn’t initially comfortable. especially when I was just singing and not playing an instrument because I did that for a while. I had all these moves that I would do, like holding the mic stand in a specific way or hands on my hips or whatever. it was very sassy or something. once I started playing bass, it was really fun and I felt super comfortable and really confident just playing bass and singing. and, I mean, I did it for so long I got pretty used to it. but every different band has a different energy and there’s always an adjustment like, when I started doing solo stuff it was terrifying. playing shows by myself with my own songs for the first time was the most stressful, and I had some shows where I hated it. I would get off stage and I would be like, “this isn’t worth it. this isn’t fun.” I’m shaking I’m sweating like “this sucks.” but once I started playing with like a full band and—especially after the record started coming along—once we arranged it to a full band sound and I started playing with a band, it just became really fun and that’s where I’m at now. we’ve played a bunch at this point and we’re about to play a whole lot more. at this point every show is different. the energy is always different. but once you get up there and lock into the songs it’s just fun. so I feel like I’ve kind of beat the stage fright for now anyway.
cf: are you self-taught or did you have any training on voice or instruments?
when I was a kid, I took piano lessons. my mom’s a pianist and she also was the church children’s choir director. I took piano lessons and I was a total brat about it: didn’t want to practice, would cry at the bench. I wish I had been more of a serious student. in high school I picked up guitar and I would go to these lessons that was basically this amazingly cool middle-aged dude who just ran lessons out of his garage space. I would bring him CDs of music I liked and he’d just figure it out and then teach me. it wasn’t very theoretical it was just kind of like, let’s learn this weezer song today. I did take some voice lessons when I was in early high school. that’s something I should do again. I would really like to take some voice lessons mostly for breath control and being able to play as many shows as we do and learn how to save, save my voice.
cf: you have excellent pitch. did you have any training from your mother?
not a lot of formal training from her. we’d sit at the piano and sing duets together—disney songs or she had the sheet music to carole king’s tapestry. she would give me advice sometimes. my mom is pretty critical I think. but I did totally learn to harmonize from her because every song that comes on the radio she’s like, “gotta sing the third,” you know?
cf: that’s adorable.
that is one thing I learned from my mom.
cf: how does it feel in the studio working on your own stuff versus recording for other bands? do you like the recording process?
the record was mostly done with friends who are younger than me, kind of new and dabbling in the home recording world. it was a learning experience for everyone involved and the benefit of that was getting to spend a ton of time on arranging. I feel like we fine-tooth-combed all of the lead guitar parts and that was really, really fun. recording for other bands, I usually am just a pinch hitter. it’s kind of like, “okay, it’s your turn, go sing harmony vocals.” so this time I was way more invested in every little thing and that was super exciting. I only spent like a day and a half in a real studio. when I started working with collin dupuis, who wound up mixing the record, he came up to his detroit studio and we worked for a day and a half and it was very chill. I’ve been in studios where there’s way more stress and tension and competing ideas and all that stuff. but collin was just super-laid-back and we re-tracked like three of the songs mostly live and even used some scratch vocal takes so it was pretty painless. it felt great and I look forward to working in a studio environment again on a whole project. 
cf: what are your favorite snacks and drinks to have on hand when you record, when you’re in the studio?
oh, man, I’m always stressing about my voice, so tea for sure. I’ve also tried different things like swallowing olive oil. I’m not sure if it helped. definitely tea, anything with caffeine, kombucha, coffee. I know coffee’s not great for your voice, but I don’t really like to drink alcohol while I’m recording. it’s fun when you’re demoing and arranging. but mood altering substances…I’m not  interested in them when I’m recording.
cf: I read an interview with fred thomas (from failed flowers, etc.) and he mentioned that you are not particularly into jamming. I relate to that because sometimes jamming can be very stressful. 
oh my god. I know. I thought it was hilarious that he used that anecdote but I was kind of like, “thanks dude.” (laughs) there are certain conditions in which it is fun. I recently was hanging out with my friends who are in this band called minihorse. they were working on their album and I sang some vocals on it. but then they had brought in our other friend to write a lead guitar part and we all wound up hanging out and I started noodling around on guitar and wrote this minuscule guitar line. I felt so proud of it and when they sent me their record I immediately went to that spot. I was like, “yay.” so it can be fun. the failed flowers thing for me, I kind of replaced someone in that band and I came to it when I was really busy working on my record. I would always have to drive to ann arbor to work with them and, yeah, it was kind of just like, “let me just learn new songs.” none of us really had the time or energy to do full on jamming sessions. just yesterday I started demoing out some stuff with my friend ben, who’s in minihorseand it was really fun. if it’s not clicking, it can feel kind of draining and a bummer. but once you hit a good thread it’s addicting. I wound up staying there until like three in the morning and I had not planned on it. 
cf: do you know that you and dylan both have songs called “belle isle”? they’re both about this kind of idealized love that you kind of have to leave behind.
oh my god, that’s amazing. no one’s told me that. wow.
cf: are you a fan of dylan at all?
I am. It’s funny because I saw dylan play, when I was 14, with the dead and I was just like, “I don’t get it.” he’s like, you know, he’s very old and playing a keyboard and his voice is terrible. but then after that I really started digging in—context, time, it all matters. I was really into dylan in my early college years and especially when I first joined frontier ruckus. the songwriter was very obsessed with bob dylan so I kind of got sucked into that world through him and that band. blond on blond, blood on the tracks. dylan’s great.
cf: you’re on heavenly in the UK and polyvinyl here in the states. do you see any differences between working with the label in the UK versus the states? have you met all of the UK label people yet?
I did meet jeff from heavenly at sxsw and it was such a pleasure. I got to hang out with him after a solo set I played and we sat up on the balcony and drank beer and talked for a long time. he’s really funny, really charming and I just was not paying attention to the time or my phone when I was hanging out with him. I can tell the way he talked about the label that everyone’s like really excited and the label is the best it’s ever been. so for a label and jeff having such a long career, that’s really cool to hear that everyone’s really engaged and excited. so, yeah, I’m excited about heavenly. the heavenly thing happened through polyvinyl and it happened really quickly. they were kind of just like, “oh, they want to pick up the album for, you know, overseas.” and I was just like, “oh, okay. cool.” I was told they were great and I did a little bit of research and it just kind of happened. it was great actually meeting jeff and I’m looking forward to meeting everyone else. there’s definitely a huge difference in interacting with the polyvinyl crew versus heavenly. I get a lot of emails from polyvinyl. so, it’s a lot of emailing, but they’re really great. I got to hang with them down at sxsw too. and every time I’m in new york, they treat me really well.
cf: chickfactor is primarily about female musicians. could you name a few that have influenced you or that you just like?
from a young age I loved diana ross and carole king. I still love carole king. that’s probably the longest standing musical inspiration for sure. in recent years, I’ve been really inspired by angel olsen. I was living in chicago and wasn’t really doing anything with music and then I saw her play a little solo set at this like community center in logan square and I was just super blown away. I hadn’t seen a lot of women singer-songwriters. when I was in frontier ruckus, most of the bands we played with and toured with were all dudes and I played with all dudes, so seeing her play was really inspiring and after I saw her got my guitar out again. it influenced me to want to start writing my own stuff. alvvays is a band that came through detroit when I was in the very early stages or writing. they played at the UFO factory and I think I was there by myself. I was a little bit stoned and I watched them play. I was really sad, I remember, at the time. I watched them play and it made me cry. I was just like, “oh my god. this is so good.” her voice is so pure and the music’s so poppy and beautiful and it was just so unexpected. I hadn’t heard of them before and I just went because I needed to get out of the house so I was like, “oh I’ll check out this show.” it was described as canadian dream pop on the facebook event, so I just went and I was super blown away by them. cate le bon also is someone that I’m just completely enamored with. she just oozes confidence onstage, it’s so amazing to watch her play. I opened up for her project with tim presley in chicago, and she was really, really sweet and I was so nervous. I just felt like, man, I really want to be cool and talk to you but I’m just like, yeah, I’m fangirling. I saw her play a couple times after that and she remembered me but I just felt, like, so embarrassed. but yeah, I loved her. she was so incredible. her guitar playing is insane, just the most counterintuitive parts. and she carries the melody. it’s just amazing to watch. she’s so good.
cf: do you have any other musical crushes?
I just came back from south by southwest and I thought it was gonna be really stressful but it was actually really inspiring to see a bunch of bands that I had been listening to. I got to see and play with this australian band called hatchie and I’m obsessed with them. they’re so good, they kind of have a cranberries vibe. I got to see girl ray, this awesome band from the UK. their parents must have done them well. you can tell like they listened to really good music growing up, they’re so talented. those were my two big band crushes from south by.
cf: thank you so much, anna!

chickfactor 25: a series of fortunate events

The Softies


The Pastels

chickfactor & the hangover lounge are thrilled to present a celebration of 25 years of pop, friendship & community at the Lexington in London

Saturday, November 11 // Doors 7:30, Show 8

Sunday, November 12 //  Doors 7:30, Show 8

THE SOFTIES
STEVIE JACKSON (from Belle & Sebastian)
THE WOULD-BE-GOODS
THE CATENARY WIRES

Both nights will feature MC Gaylord Fields (WFMU)
& chickfactor / Hangover Lounge DJs downstairs

 

Lois


Kicking Giant

Kites at Night

Stevie Jackson

The Would-Be-Goods

The Catenary Wires

 & & &
ABOUT THE BANDS:
 
• THE PASTELS — The pop geniuses Stephen McRobbie, Katrina Mitchell & Co. came down from Glasgow to play at CF20 in London. We are thrilled to have them back.
• LOIS — Lois Maffeo is indie royalty from Olympia, Washington, where she has made many great albums for K Records.
• KICKING GIANT — Tae Won Yu & Rachel Carns formed this powerful union in New York via Olympia, WA, in 1989. This is their first-ever show in the UK. A double LP reissue of their early work, This Being the Ballad of Kicking Giant, Halo: NYC/Olympia 1989–1993, will come out on Drawing Room Records later this year.
• KITES AT NIGHT are Rose Melberg & Jon Manning (with Jen Sbragia on bass for this show), whose previous band was called Imaginary Pants. This is their first show in London.
• THE SOFTIES — Indiepop queens Rose Melberg & Jen Sbragia (from Vancouver BC & Portland OR, respectively) reunited for the chickfactor 20 shows in 2012 in NYC, Portland and SF. This is their first-ever show in London.
• STEVIE JACKSON is the amazing guitarist, singer and songwriter in Belle & Sebastian! He also happened to write a song named after our zine “chickfactor.”
• THE WOULD-BE-GOODS — Jessica Griffin, Peter Momtchiloff, Debbie Greensmith & Andy Warren are indie legends based in London & St Leonards.
• THE CATENARY WIRES — This super-duo formed in 2014 when Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey (ex-Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research, Tender Trap) moved out of London.
• Gaylord Fields is an excellent WFMU DJ, a music writer and a longtime MC for chickfactor events.
• The Hangover Lounge is a much-beloved event that happened for years at the Lexington, a label and a community that’s often collaborated with chickfactor before.
• chickfactor is a fanzine started by Pam Berry and Gail O’Hara in 1992. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, it will publish a new print zine in late 2017.