as part of a new series focusing on indie labels, we introduce (those who don’t already know him) y’all to Ed Shelflife! Not too surprisingly, he also has a day job, is a massive karaoke aficionado, is a soccer dad, cat lover and longtime vegan! Shelflife has put out loads of records that we adore. Meet Ed…
chickfactor: What year did you start a label? Where? Why? Ed Mazzucco: Shelflife started in 1995 from my bedroom in Southern California. I was inspired by a lot of the great international bands I was discovering at the time and I really wanted to help get these bands a little more exposure in the US. That was basically the label’s mission at the time and our first release (the Whirl-Wheels compilation) was the product of that.
What has been the most fun bit about running a label? I love working with so many amazing artists and helping bring their visions to life. I never grow tired of holding a brand new release in my hands for the first time. It’s a pretty magical experience working from start to finish with our artists to create a product together that will soon be shared and loved by our community. I put a lot of time and energy into making each and every release the best it can be.
What have been the biggest challenges? Right now the vinyl production bottleneck is causing me quite a headache. It’s all a bit insane, going from 3-4 month to 6-7 month turnaround times. We are doing our best to navigate through it, but really hoping the plants can catch back up in 2022.
What are the top sellers of all time on yr label? Off the top of my head, probably Airiel, The Radio Dept, and The Ocean Blue.
What new stuff are you working on in the coming year? We just released wonderful new albums by The Catenary Wires (ex-Heavenly), Always You, and Pastel Coast. We haven’t announced our fall releases just yet, but there are some really exciting things coming up.
What labels have inspired you? Factory, Sarah, and Slumberland are the first to come to mind. Slumberland probably was the most influential for me in starting Shelflife. I still remember writing letters to Mike asking for advice.
How do you find new records (not on your label)? Usually word of mouth from friends or sometimes on Instagram.
What are some great record stores and mail orders still operating? I have to give a shout out to My Vinyl Underground in Portland, OR. Hands down the best indiepop shop around today.
Can people get your releases outside your country? Yes, but sadly shipping costs and taxes are making it harder these days. Our solution has been to work with an overseas partner label on most of our releases, so fans can have a local label to service them. That helps a lot with keeping shipping costs down.
What bands/records are you really excited about? I have been really into the new Lightning Bug “A Color Of The Sky” LP and Submotile’s “Sonic Day Codas” CD.
He’s an indiepop guy (Kevin Hairs), an illustrator, a comic artist, an art teacher, and an apprentice spiritual medium! Meet Kevin Alvir, who lives in Brooklyn and is awesome.
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
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)
Last month Portland, Oregon’s Corvair released their wonderful debut album on the very fine WIAIWYA label out of London. The band is couple Brian Naubert and Heather Larimer, along with drummer Eric Eagle on the album. CF folks know Heather from her (John Peel approved!) band Eux Autres, whose music was used in TV shows and commercials as well. She’s also played on other folks’ record, including the Minus Five and Stephen Malkmus. Brian has played in loads of bands including Tube Top, the Service Providers and (solo as) Hoffabus. They’ve also created jingles! We caught up with Heather to see how she and Brian have been faring during this very weird era. Interview by Gail O’Hara
Chickfactor: How have you guys been holding up during COVIDtime? Heather Larimer: We are doing really well, actually. We had already basic tracked our record so once we went into lockdown, we were able to focus a ton on building up the record and playing around with ideas. We went through a lot of wine and candles trying to make quarantining a little less apocalyptic feeling. Having a project was so good for us. We would have lost our shit otherwise.
When did Corvair begin? We started writing the record about two years ago, not knowing exactly what the project was, just that we were collaborating. It’s funny how obvious it seems to us now—and it’s weird we didn’t try it a lot earlier.
Tell us about your nautical theme / water obsession on the new one. I guess there’s the obvious Jungian stuff, water as the unconscious. And then I think because Brian and I imprinted on each other when we were very young and then went our separate ways and reconnected, it’s really made both of us question what is volition and what is much deeper or older than our superficial daily “choices.” So this record is in so many ways Brian and I retrieving stuff from the deep—including our own painful early history together and the dark time that ensued when we tried to build lives apart that kind of collapsed. And then, his family is old-school Northwest people. S’Klallam tribe from Port Townsend and early settlers of the port town of Tacoma. But then there’s just the more associative and light parts, which were that we rented a cabin in Oceanside Oregon to go write songs and everything came together. We found all these sea creatures, which ended up being our album art. And we wrote a song about hope and added the words “Oceansided” at the end, because what does that even mean? And then we drove to “Cape Disappointment,” which is the best place name ever because some of the most instructive times in my life were when I miraculously got what I wanted and blam!—be careful what you wish for. This idea about finding land and with it, salvation and then…oh shit. So, we were both really feeling the symbolism and murky depth of the water stuff and we just ran with it. Plus, for videos it was pandemic-friendly—all we needed was a car and a camera.
How old were you when you started playing music? I started playing Sukuzi violin when I was about 6 and played until I was 14, and then I dabbled very lightly in bass and tambourine (haha!) and then when I was 28 I learned to play the drums and my brother and I started a band about a year later. I thought I was too old to start a band at the time. Ridiculous.
When did you write your first song? What was it about? Weirdly, Brian hung the lyrics to my first song on the wall of our studio. When I was 4, my dad typed up my song lyrics and later framed them once I was making music. I had forgotten all about it until Brian found them in the basement. The song is called “She’ll Never Let Me Play” and it’s about my mom, and my friendship with squirrels. It seems all cute at first but then it turns into a Steve Miller time-traveling diss track.
What were you like as a teenager? Very confused. I loved punk rock music like Hüsker Dü and the Replacements but I also hot-rolled my hair and wore, like, striped turtlenecks and scrunchies. It makes me laugh that I was too scared to play in a band or be in drama, because it’s obviously where I would have been happiest. I always sang in school even though I was never picked for the elite singing groups because I wasn’t showy or polished enough. I just cried bitterly into my scrunchie. But I’m like a cockroach. I come crawling BACK stronger!
Do you have kids or pets? I have two young sons, which is a trip, but they’re unbelievably sweet and weird. And a boy dog, a disturbingly muscular lab. Plus, Brian my husband slash bandmate. My house is a total sausage fest.
What else do you guys like to do besides making music? I like to write and read. And power lift. And travel. And snuggle the shit out of the kids and have movie nights. And then, Brian is one of the most well-traveled people I know, a great photographer and he loves to garden. That is the one activity I will never join him in. To me, gardening is a nightmare trifecta of tedium, dirt, and solar irradiation.
Your previous band was inducted into the Indiepop Hall of Fame recently. Tell us about that. That was such a thrill. I love that Eux Autres still matters to people. And that the song was “Other Girls,” which was the first or second song that Nick and I wrote together. We got to pick a location for our virtual commemorative plaque, and we chose Omaha’s Sokol Hall, which was an amazing place in our hometown that hosted bingo, gymnastics, polka lessons and all-ages punk-rock shows. I love Omaha so much.
Can you cook? What is your specialty? What’s in the fridge? I am a pretty dang good cook but I’m not very improvisational. I get uptight about the recipe. My best friend is the best cook I’ve ever known—she’s a food entrepreneur—so I always feel like a fool next to her. But she’s taught me some great stuff, just by virtue of the fact that she’s been feeding me for decades. And my mom and sister-in-law are also killer cooks. There’s always a lot of asparagus in our fridge for some reason. It’s so easy and toothsome. And pork. It’s the Other White Meat. Brian cooks a lot of brown rice and vegetable stir-fries that are great healthy staples; he’s a bold weekday improviser. I take us to the dark side of the fridge on the weekends.
What else is in the pipeline? We are going to record again in May, and we are so excited and nervous now that we have actual expectations, as opposed to last time when we were making it up as we went along.
What is Portland looking like at the moment? Portland is pretty devastated all around. The houselessness is like nothing I’ve ever seen. There’s graffiti on every surface city wide. And I’m so worried about the restaurant and food community, they are the heart of Portland. I have no idea what this city will look like in 12 months, but we are committed to staying here for a while. CF
10Records Heather Cannot Live Without Guided By Voices, Alien Lanes Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville The Replacements, Let It Be The Kinks, Village Green Preservation Society The Cars, The Cars John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Double Fantasy Built to Spill, Perfect from Now On The Bee Gees 1st New Order, Substance Cat Power, Moon Pix
chickfactor 13 (2000) published an interview with Jessica Griffin from the Would-Be-Goods 21 years ago conducted by Peter Momtchiloff, who ended up joining her band, which also features Deborah Greensmith and Andy Warren. I took a lot of photographs of them while I lived in London (2001 and 2004) that have ended up on their album covers, and the WBGs have played at many chickfactor parties. While some of us haven’t been able to focus or achieve our creative potential during COVIDtime, Jessica has become rather prolific. We checked in with her about how it’s going. Interview by Gail O’Hara
chickfactor: how are you holding up? jessica griffin: Fairly well, although my dreams are much more vivid than usual which must mean I’m more stressed out than I think.
How different is your life under lockdown than it was before? In some ways, very different. Peter (my partner and fellow Would-be-good) has been staying with me since it all began, and I’ve got into a different routine, cooking twice a day (except at weekends) and writing and recording songs daily.
What has been getting you through this time? Books, food, etc. Peter’s company, Zoom chats with friends and songwriting. I’m too restless to read much these days, although when I’m feeling anxious I devour 20th-century detective fiction. We’ve been watching the short Cocktails with a Curator talks from the Frick Collection and old black-and-white British films, e.g. Spring In Park Lane, Cast A Dark Shadow. I’ve always cooked regularly but food seems much more important now. We have a proper lunch every day which is quite old-fashioned (and French!) and I’ve expanded my repertoire quite a bit. I find cooking very calming.
What do you miss most about beforetimes? Friends and family. I haven’t seen my (grown-up) daughter for over a year as she lives in another city. She’s very Victorian and doesn’t do FaceTime/Zoom. And I really miss my almost-daily lunches at a wonderful local cookery bookshop/café run by an eccentric Frenchman.
How has London changed since this happened? For better or worse. I haven’t been further than a mile from home since March 2020 so I can only talk about my own part of west London. In the first lockdown, with almost no traffic and very few people around, you could smell the grass and flowers in the gardens and parks.
Seeing so many local shops, restaurants and cafés go out of business is heartbreaking, though.
Can Brexit be reversed? Probably not in our generation. I think it’s a huge mistake.
Let’s talk about your new songs! When did you start writing one song per day? And how many are you up to now? 2 October 2020. I thought it would be good to have a creative project as I was slowly turning into my grandmother. I’ve written 157 songs so far.
How has Peter been involved in the process if at all? My idea was to treat songwriting like a game or challenge, so I asked Peter to give me a title every evening. I would write and record the song the following day and play him the result. It’s worked for me in the way nothing else has. Sitting around waiting for the muse never got me anywhere. I should say that Peter doesn’t have any preconception of what the song should be about, or how it should sound. He just gives me a title and that’s it. Sometimes I will change the title retrospectively if I think it suits the song better.
Otherwise it’s a solo project — I do all the singing, play all the instruments (apart from bass on a few songs) and recording.
What have you learned about yourself as a songwriter, a musician and a home-recorder since you started doing this? I’ve learned not to be so precious about songwriting and to treat it like a job that I have to get on with every day, whether I feel like it or not. It’s helped me to override my perfectionist tendencies as I have to finish the song by the end of the day and play it to Peter even if I’m not happy with it. And I’ve learned that I can’t trust my own judgement, at least my first impressions. Sometimes I’ll think a song I’ve just written is rubbish but when I listen to it again a few days later I like it. And vice versa. My singing, guitar and keyboard playing were quite rusty at the beginning but they’re improving. And being in charge of the recording process means I can do as many retakes as I want, which has helped me to sort out some things I didn’t like about my singing.
Can you give us some details about some of the songs? Titles/subject/etc. “Ouija Board Romance” is set in a provincial English town in the 1920s and is about a housemaid being invited to join a séance hosted by her employer, and the unexpected result. “The Magic Hour” is about a suicide pact between a spoiled young man and an older courtesan in a hotel in Khartoum in the siege of 1884. “The Wind Will Change” is about a drifter in 1940s America, written from the perspective of a woman or girl who loves him but knows he’s not going to be around for very long. “Demon Lover” is the story of the ‘damsel with the dulcimer’ in Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan,” who is outraged that she’s been spirited away from her loom in rural Devon and abandoned in the dark cavern of the poet’s imagination. And finally, “Cavanagh, Cody and Byrne” is about a mysterious vaudeville act that might actually be something much bigger.
I don’t know where these ideas and characters come from. I always wanted to be a writer or film director so maybe these are the novels I would have written or the films I’d have made, compressed into song form. I can picture the characters and their settings in detail and I know who would play the couple in “The Magic Hour” – Omar Sharif and Jeanne Moreau. I’ve also written some songs about universal experiences and situations with quite simple lyrics which aren’t like anything I’ve written before.
And some songs in recognisable styles but from a female perspective, like “In The Mirror” which sounds like an angsty early Who song but is about being a young woman, having to be what other people want you to be and being able to be yourself only when you’re alone.
Do you have any rituals or unusual holidays that you celebrate? My daughter said at age six that she thought it was unfair that we had Mother’s Day and Father’s Day but no Daughter’s Day so we instituted it and I send her a hand-made card and a little present every year.
What are you reading? I started reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and Rachel Cusk’s Transit but am finding I can’t concentrate for long.
What is in your fridge? What is your specialty to make? The usual stuff, plus Thai green curry paste, tahini, fresh ginger, kefir. We’re eating very healthily—everything cooked from scratch, lots of vegetables, etc., but possibly a little too much of everything. Irish soda bread (Darina Allen’s recipe) is my lockdown speciality. I make it with spelt flour which gives it a kind of soft sweetness like English scones.
If you were running the country (or the world), what would you do first? I would absolutely hate to be in a position of power and can’t even imagine it. Being the mother of a small child was challenging enough.
What is your sign? Cancer.
What is your spirit animal? A rather small and motheaten bear.
When we’re allowed total freedom, what will you do first? Meet up with my sister and take her for the birthday lunch we had to cancel last year because of lockdown.
Any other future plans? Where and when will you release some tunes? I’ve just set up a page on Bandcamp where I’ll release some of my new songs very soon. Beyond that, I hope to finish the Would-be-goods album we were working on before lockdown and to start doing live shows again (if there are any venues left).
As Rhino Records prepares to reissue Fan Modine’s debut album, Slow Road to Tiny Empire, we checked in with a number of musicians, label heads and others about meeting songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gordon Zacharias, how Fan Modine’s sound has shifted across decades and what the album means in 2020. Written and recorded between 1995 and ’97 and originally released on Phovsho (vinyl) in 1997 and Slow River/Rykodisc (CD) in 1998, Slow Road is a critically acclaimed cult fave that is available now on digital services, with a deluxe vinyl version coming in the future. The album, which is a travelogue tracing his transition from Boston to New York, shows glimmers of greatness: a distinct voice in a crowded indie-rock landscape that included shoegaze, jangly pop, orchestral rock and space rock. Now a quarter century on, we listen to the folks who knew Fan Modine well, played on the records and helped Zacharias perfect his orchestral bedroom pop sound.
Compiled by Gail O’Hara
Musicians who played on Slow Road to Tiny Empire: Gordon Zacharias, who also produced; Joan Wasser; Clarke Martty; Dylan Fitzgerald; Kevin March ; Sean O’Brien Josh Hager
Tell us about the ideas that went into making the album.
Gordon Zacharias, Fan Modine: It is a travelog of my move from Boston to New York City. I developed an allegory around that and things going on in my love life, which later became a screenplay and second album. I wrote the songs primarily in Boston but completed it in New York. I jumped into the Sleepyhead van back to NYC one night at the Middle East after a show in ’95 and planted some roots in Carroll Gardens. I returned for my things a little later in ’96.
What were you like back then?
Gordon:In high school I played in a band and was very influenced by the New Romantic thing and the Boston goth scene of the late ’80s. And then I had my heart devastated by an older girl who worked at a major label that I had my first real love affair with. She promised to take our band to the big time. And then had an affair with the guitar player. This coincided with me transferring from public school to an extremely progressive institution without a set curriculum. I began to read Hesse, and the Vedas and became interested in Eastern religion and ascetic living, and ultimately renounced making music as a career. ¶ I met a spiritual teacher and traveled with them for several years, hitchhiking and practicing yoga around North America. I became disillusioned with my progress and returned to Boston, got a job at Tower Records and auditioned for bands. I lived with art students, joined a techno band and encouraged them to let me sing. I befriended a security guard at the Museum School and he let me in to the building, where I attended studio classes and was taken under the wing of a few students and teachers. This propelled my interest and learning in digital audio and synthesis. ¶ Later I moved into an illegal loft downtown, where I lived with Joan Wasser and later Josh Hager. I began playing out in a band called Astroboy, which was inspired by Big Star and Spacemen 3 (in fact, people used to call us Spacemen 4). Then I decided to go solo and built a studio in my room with a Tascam 388 reel to reel and an E-Mu Darwin hard disk recorder. I took some Astroboy sessions I had recorded and erased everything but the drums and then overdubbed new parts over the slowed-down tracks. This became the basis of the first Fan Modine recordings. I didn’t start playing out as Fan Modine until I moved to New York.
What bands were you listening to back then? You often got compared to Folk Implosion or the Magnetic Fields, but I also think of Elephant 6 and the Lilys when I hear Slow Road.
Gordon: Having been introduced to Mary Timony by my roommate Joan, Mary and I became fast friends and I became a huge fan of Helium. The Dirt of Luck was released while we were first getting to know each other. I was also exposed to her boyfriend Ash’s band Polvo for the first time, but Helium was more my speed. I really didn’t gravitate toward indie rock except for maybe the Pastels. But all of a sudden my friends all seemed to be in these touring indie-rock bands so I got into it—especially the live shows. I had been listening to more psychedelic bands of the era, like Mercury Rev, Spacemen 3/Spiritualized, and deeply falling in love with Bowie and T. Rex, and some later Britpop bands like Primal Scream, Blur, and then dreamier stuff—MBV, Heavenly, Lush, Catherine Wheel. But given that I worked at Tower, nothing really escaped me. I remember hearing all of the latest grunge bands releases and being ok with them too. Lou Barlow used to come into Tower quite a lot, and he would scour the indie bins and I was pretty intrigued by him. I liked a few of his songs. But it’s true, a friend of mine at the time produced that Folk Implosion record for the Kids movie and it really resonated. And I always like Lou’s voice. He must have listened to as much of Martin Gore as I did. ¶ I became aware of Lilys in the same loft that I recorded the record in because the album cover was designed by a roommate. I heard him playing the cassette of mixes and freaked—asked if I could borrow it. Listening to that album almost maybe me stop recording, as I could never imagine making anything as good, or understand how he did it. I played that cassette for Jeff Buckley around that same time. He was visiting my roommate whom he was dating and shared my astonishment. He was also very encouraging about my own work. ¶ I somehow didn’t become familiar with Magnetic Fields until I moved to NYC, where the people I knew from Ladybug Transistor and later the Essex Green were infatuated with them. Soon after I was also in love with them and eventually met Claudia and Stephin and shared some performances, including Stephin’s debut of 69 Love Songs at a Chickfactor thing at Under Acme. I was barred from speaking to Stephin for a year because I had made a pass at him at Dick’s Bar one night. Claudia would call me their biggest fan. ¶ I’m associated with Elephant 6 in that I co-wrote and played on the first Essex Green EP. Members of that band also played in the live Fan Modine band.
Tell us about the recording process of Slow Road.
Gordon:I built a studio in my room with a Tascam 388 reel-to-reel and an E-Mu Darwin hard disk recorder. I took some Astroboy sessions I had recently recorded and erased everything but the drums and then overdubbed new parts over the slowed-down tracks. This became the basis of the first Fan Modine recordings. I would improvise over the drum tracks and build themes with keyboards and synths. Once I heard the makings of a song, I would transfer mixes over to the hard disk recorder and edit the tracks into a song structure. Finally, I would add vocals, percussion and string overdubs. ¶ This was all fueled by ephedrine and weed, and some very late nights. The loft I was living in was very active, with a lot of touring musicians coming through—just so much influence. My roommates were also getting 6-figure record deals, and people like Ric Ocasek and Jeff Buckley were stopping by.
When did you first meet Gordon? In what capacity do you know him? Mary Timony (Ex Hex, Helium): I met Gordon in 1995 in Boston, and we kind of immediately hit it off. I felt like we came from the same kinda music/art planet. He lived in a giant artist loft in a former factory in downtown Boston. We hung out a lot that summer. I remember sneaking into an empty loft in the same building he lived in, crawling around on gigantic platforms, talking about Brian Eno, joking around, and just getting lost in a good way, the way I usually feel when I’ve found a fellow music time traveler.
Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields): The Magnetic Fields probably played shows with Fan Modine multiple times, but I don’t recall the famous Dick’s Bar incident.
George Howard(founder of Slow River Records, former president of Rykodisc, cofounder of TuneCore, Professor of Business Management, Berklee and Brown): Gordon was friends with my closest friend and bandmate, Keith Grady, while we were in college. He was also friends with my friend and ex-bandmate, Joan Wasser (Joan as Policewoman). I distinctly remember Gordon being impossibly cool…he frequently rocked a white belt.
Kendall Jane Meade (Mascott, Juicy): I met Gordon in the late ’90s, through mutual friends, when I was living in Brooklyn. We hit it off right away, maybe because we both have midwestern roots. We also both had albums on Slow River Records, which was run by my college buddy, George Howard. (George had released two albums for my very first band, Juicy.)
Josh Hager (DEVO, formerly Elevator Drops, the Rentals after that; producer and engineer): I first met Gordon at a studio called New Alliance in Boston. That was around 1993/94. He was introduced by a friend. I was living at the studio and then became roommates with Gordon in Boston’s South End.
Joan Wasser (Joan As Police Woman, Dambuilders, Fan Modine): Did I meet Gordon through Josh Hager? Probably. This was 25+ years ago. Gordon, Josh and I ended up living together in a massive loft in the South End of Boston before it was a place anyone wanted to be. We all had bedrooms you could roller-skate in, and that’s not even including the common area! The closest life to us there were a homeless shelter and an Asian supermarket, and even that was a distance. This meant we got to be as wild and as loud as we wanted at any time of the day and night. Otherwise, totally free.
Jeremy Chatelain (ex Jets To Brazil / Handsome / Helmet / Cub Country / Insight): I met Gordon in 2003 when I moved to Chapel Hill, NC, from Brooklyn, NY. My girlfriend (now wife) and I were invited to Melissa and Gordon’s house for a party. We didn’t know more than two people in our new hometown, so we wanted to go meet the locals. The following week we were invited back for a BBQ with a few friends and I was asked to play bass in Fan Modine. It took me by surprise as I didn’t really know any of his bandmates, and I was looking to form a band of my own. Gordon struck me as a spacey, kind of far-out, artist. I loved his vibe. Plus, he’s funny as hell. I ended up playing bass in Fan Modine for a few years while I lived in Chapel Hill.
Ash Bowie (Polvo, Helium): I met Gordon around 1995 after I’d moved to Boston. He was part of a slightly younger art-school/rocker crowd that I didn’t really hang with, but I occasionally ran into him at parties. All I really remember is that he once implied that I didn’t like poetry because I wasn’t a big fan of his buddy’s band. He eventually relocated to Chapel Hill, and then I moved back around 2002, and we became good friends after that.
Chuck Johnson (solo artist; also plays in Saariselka): I met him when I lived in North Carolina, around 2003; soon after he moved there. We’re friends and for a brief time we were bandmates.
Missy Thangs (producer/engineer at Fidelitorium, Birds of Avalon, ex-Fan Modine): I met Gordon through Alex Maiolo. We played a handful of shows all over: SXSW, chickfactor zine’s 20th-anniversary shows, among others. This was in support of Gratitude for the Shipper. I was also a part of the Julu Road film shoot in Chinatown in NYC. Bubble tea, steamed buns and kombucha baby. It was a special time in my life. Gordon has always been very kind to me and I’ve always appreciated his apparent ability to stay true to himself. I admire him tremendously.
Clarke Martty: Gordon and I had the same day gig, working at a video duplication firm on Newbury Street in Boston. I filled in on drums for the last utterance of Astroboy, for a few shows. At the time, we were hanging a lot at this group flat that overlooked the Boston common, a lot of mutual friends were living there and we convinced Mel Lederman to play bass with us and formed the Fan Modine. We rehearsed in Mel’s basement rehearsal space in the same building, and fastly gained a repertoire of about eight songs. My favorite of that bunch was a group effort called “Horus”—I don’t know if it ever got developed into something later on. When Gordon moved into his flat in the SoWa district of Boston, we rehearsed and recorded in that space for a while. The most memorable time was one weekend recording session where we recorded my drums in the (4th floor) stairway, putting mics on the different floor landings between the 3rd and 5th floors. Listening back later, it was a massive drum sound, but a bit undefined once overdubs happened. We did a few shows live; the most memorable was at the Gardner Art Museum, when we played the big room there for an outstanding crowd, opening for Syrup USA. Big fun! Then I left for a hired-drum tour, and was away from Boston for about two months. By the time I returned, Gordon was basically working alone.
Murray Nash (cofounder Phovsho Records; executive producer; CFO): I was working in Soho in 1995 and every Friday night I would drop into Rocks in Your Head, a small but iconic record store. I had a habit of asking the folks behind the counter what music they would recommend and buy it in good faith. If I liked it, I would go back to the same person and take further recommendations. That’s how I met Gordon: He was someone who would pull out all these albums and I would just buy them all, no questions asked. After about 4 weeks of this, he challenged me as to who I was and whether I was a talent scout for a record label. Truth was I had just moved to NYC, was a bit of a record collector with an interest in music that seemed to overlap with Gordon’s, and not much else, other than work, was in my life. The next week I turned up with a six-pack: we sat behind the counter and drank beer, played music and chatted, while he manned the cash register. ¶ One week Gordon turned up with a tape of “his music” and upon listening to that I realized I was in the company of somebody with an exceptional voice, a sensitivity and complexity of insight I hadn’t fully appreciated, and a unique way of expressing it. All this led to the establishment of Phovsho Records, the release of Slow Road to Tiny Empire and a life-shaping friendship. We both insisted this would be a vinyl-only project—which was pretty much commercial suicide in the mid-’90s.
When/how did you become aware of Fan Modine? George Howard: I’d guess it came through either Keith or Joan [Wasser]. But who knows. In hindsight, it was a pretty cool little scene in the early ’90s in Boston. My label, Slow River, was signing artists who I thought were making interesting music around town (Willard Grant Conspiracy, Tom Leach, Juicy, Future Bible Heroes with Stephin Merritt) and around the country (Sparklehorse, Josh Rouse, Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, who had moved from Boston/NH to SF, etc.) It was still sort of a small community; and in addition to putting records out, I was playing in my band around town/the country too. Pretty inevitable that we’d run into each other.
Matt McMichaels (Surrender Human; The Mayflies USA, Chris Stamey’s Big Star Third project): I first really met Gordon in the summer of 2010, when my pals Lee Waters and Michael Holland suggested I might be a good fit to play guitar with the band he was putting together in advance of the release of Gratitude for the Shipper. But Gordon and I quickly realized that we had in fact met before, back when he was living in New York and my Chapel Hill–based band the Mayflies USA was playing up there every six weeks or so. My brother-in-law at the time was Rob Sacher, owner of Luna Lounge, so the Mayflies would stay at my sister and Rob’s apartment on First and A and play at Mercury Lounge, Luna, Brownie’s and a bunch of Brooklyn dives. It was the best of times. We also probably drank together at Henry’s in Chapel Hill back in the indie rock heyday, but we couldn’t credibly recall.
Jeremy Chatelain: I knew nothing about the band before being asked to join. But we shared some musical tastes and I loved his songs, like, a lot. I feel extremely lucky to have played on Gratitude for the Shipper and I think it’s one of the best pieces of music I’ve ever been involved with.
Ash Bowie: Fan Modine played with Helium in Philadelphia, and I was playing in Helium. I can’t remember who the headliner was (maybe Sonic Youth), but we played in a large theater, and they were great. I don’t think I had seen them play previously, but they played a jaw-dropping version of “Cardamon [sic] Chai” that reminded me of My Bloody Valentine.
Did you work together on music? Joan Wasser: Gordon and I made a lot of music together. As far as I know, I was “in” Fan Modine. I did several shows with Gordon and various musicians in Boston and NYC. We made music in the loft all the time. I remember recording magnificent drums in the echoey stairwell of that building.
Josh Hager: Yes, Gordon and I have worked on some collaborations that are unreleased. Though if I remember correctly, I do say a word or two on his first record. I also worked with him on the beginning stages of Homeland in my studio and played on a few tracks. I also played on a track that we did at the record plant in L.A. Can’t remember the name.
Jeremy Chatelain: Yes. I played shows with Fan Modine over the course of a few years. We went on a short tour with Andrew Bird. And, I played bass on Gratitude for the Shipper. We recorded the bass and drum tracks live in his living room in an old house right off the main drag in Carrboro. He fed Lee Waters (the drummer) and I sushi and beers while we recorded, he was a warm and gracious host. It was a great musical vibe. He was fun to work with. A quirky, melodic pianist and fantastic lyricist. He’s the only musician that I know who can pull off singing about sandwiches and make it sound emotive.
Kendall Meade: I was touring a lot during the time I met him, playing keyboards for Helium. In between tours I would record songs I was writing for my solo project, Mascott, wherever I could. Gordon invited me to record one of my songs at his place on 3rd Street in Brooklyn. We did it in one afternoon, a raw and natural recording. There’s a lot of street noise on the track—I thought that was so cool and unique. The song is called “Baby, Go Away”.
Ash Bowie: Yes, we actually worked out some Fan Modine arrangements as a piano/guitar duo and recorded them using his friend’s Nalga tape deck. I don’t know what happened to those recordings. Later, Gordon put together a new version of FM with me on bass, later switching to guitar as other friends joined. We had a few shows and played on the Gratitude for the Shipper LP.
Chuck Johnson: He asked me to play guitar in the touring band version of Fan Modine. We toured with Andrew Bird in support of Homeland. I also played guitar on Gratitude for the Shipper.
Murray Nash: Not on Slow Road. It was pretty much completed by the time I got involved. There was mixing and mastering and that was all. I would describe my contribution to the final product as perhaps influencing the production at the margins. I was more the financial enabler of the project. I have a deep interest in music and spend a good part of my life (still) unearthing and listening to music. But I learned through this enterprise—and those that followed with Gordon and others—that what I listen for, and what I hear is very different to what a musician does. Maybe my comments and feedback were useful in some sense, but mostly my role was as the enabler—with few if any strings attached—to let Gordon do what he wanted to do. At one level I just wrote some checks. Actually I became more than that, and Gordon seemed to trust my advice and comments and would involve me in pretty much every decision.
Matt McMichaels: I played in a revolving-door era of Fan Modine from about June 2010 to April-ish 2011. I jumped at the chance to play with Lee and Michael, since they are both amazing players and good friends, and I had heard that this Gordon guy wrote great songs. The genius keyboard player Charles Cleaver was also involved, though he was replaced by the awesome Paul Finn (Kingsbury Manx) when Charles moved to Brooklyn. At some point Lee also had to bow out, but he was replaced on drums by Michael’s twin brother Mark. That was fun, since those two have a weird, psychedelic fraternal chemistry that I had admired since their days in the criminally underrated Jennyanykind. Eventually Alex Maiolo came on board to add a third guitar (and a vast array of swirly guitar effects) to the mix, since my abiding love for the Replacements means I have an aversion to pedals. I remember Seamus Kenney conducting a handful of string and horn players while we crowded together on some small stage, but that may be apocryphal. I was mostly tasked with singing harmony vocals and trying/failing to replicate the strange and beautiful guitar parts that Polvo’s Ash Bowie had played on the Gratitude record.
Is there a particular Fan Modine song/album/era that resonated with you?
Kendall Meade: I will always love “Cardamon Chai” and “Homeland” and “Pageantry.” Some of my favorite songs of all time.
Josh Hager: Slow Road is the album that resonates the most. It brings me back to a carefree particularly magic time in my early twenties when Gordon and I lived in a giant loft in Boston.
Stephin Merritt: My apartment was too small to have a turntable, so I have never heard Slow Road till today. I like it, it’s like hearing an extrapolation of what Ariel Pink would have been doing several years earlier. And the slowed-down drums sound like the record I’m making now.
Joan Wasser: Listening to this music again is really bringing me back. This was a very special time for us all. If I’m not mistaken, the first verse of “Tinseltown” mentions the Dambuilder’s song “Shrine.” It was clear that Gordon was making something very special. Slow Road was made mostly in Gordon’s bedroom. As I’m listening, I realize I played (violin) on the first two songs… and probably more… yes, more: “Marigold,” “Cardamon Chai.” “Cardamon Chai” is effortlessly romantic. “Rhubarb Pie” has got so much swag. “Trash in Romance,” oh man. I love every track. These are the sounds of us growing up and learning to make music.
Ash Bowie: I’m most familiar with Gratitude for the Shipper because I played and recorded those songs, and it’s arguably Gordon’s strongest batch of songs. My personal favorite album is definitely Slow Road because it’s the most intimate and homemade-sounding, which complements Gordon’s creative vibe better than a conventional production approach. I do like Homeland a lot, as well.
Jeremy Chatelain: I really like Homeland and Gratitude. Those were the songs I performed and recorded. I particularly like “Wormwood Scrubs.” It’s very British in its concept and the music is jaunty and fun.
Chuck Johnson: Big fan of Slow Road to Tiny Empire and Homeland! Those songs are truly classics and have a timeless quality.
Matt McMichaels: “Pageantry” and “Waiting in the Wings” from Homeland are great. They are a distillation of the un-self-conscious orchestral bedroom pop that Gordon does better than anyone on his best days.
Rhino is about to reissue Slow Road to Tiny Empire; how do you see it and Fan Modine’s legacy at this point in time, 23 years later.
Mary Timony: When he made [Slow Road], I listened to it constantly, and was super-inspired by it. Listening 23 years later, it sounds just as inspiring to me: It’s timeless.
Jeremy Chatelain: Oh geez! I feel like I went into the Fan Modine universe quickly and exited quickly as well. Gordon deserves any accolades he receives. He’s a great songwriter. I can’t believe those records are that old.
Stephin Merritt: Every record should sit around for 23 years before you hear it.
Kendall Meade: What Gordon achieved with that record is mind-boggling for someone in his twenties. Such vision and talent.
George Howard: It is impossible to deny—listening to his music now a million years later—how enduring and brilliant it is.
Missy Thangs: I loveSlow Road to Tiny Empire. It was through playing with the band that I found Slow Road, it’s a brilliant record. Its aesthetic deeply resonates with me, the textures, moodiness, arrangements. Gordon is a creative genius.
Josh Hager: Gordon’s genius as a singer and songwriter has been tragically overlooked. I’ve always admired him and his abilities. He was a very big influence on me. Hopefully he will take his place in history as one of the greats!
Kurt Heasley (Lilys): I loved the copy of Slow Road Gordon gave me. Listened to it a lot in Connecticut while recording The 3 Way actually.
Joan Wasser: I hear it as fresh as it was then. Gordon was way ahead of his time, in my opinion.
Chuck Johnson: It still sounds fresh today, the way that any carefully crafted pop. I consider it part of the canon of lush, orchestrated pop.
Murray Nash: I find that at some point with an artist you move from songs and albums to seeing the body of work as a more a biography of that artist’s life—good times, tough times, smart choices, silly choices, present in my life and not. And as someone who really got to know Gordon and will always see him as being among their closest friends and most important people they met through life, then I can’t help but see his body of work in those terms. No favorites, just parts of a larger whole. That said, the pieces I was most directly involved in were the early albums from Slow Road through to a couple of subsequent releases. So I have an intimate awareness of that period. After that, I moved back to New Zealand and Gordon had already relocated to NC. The later albums feel more like letters from a friend, than direct observations or co-creations in any sense. I have a special place in my heart for the “Pageantry” single: the lines that were to become “Pageantry walks through the door” were originally, “Patti Smith walks through the door”—she used to frequent Rocks in Your Head, too. She walked in one day when Gordon was behind the counter composing that song. There was also a recording made of a radio show (WFMU?) Fan Modine performed in the mid/late 90s which was just Gordon and one other. Acoustic instruments and live. I always had a soft spot for “unplugged” Fan Modine and that recording just spoke to me. I don’t think it was ever released. I can’t find my copy.
Gordon Zacharias: I think Slow Road is my best work. I made a lot of very deliberate albums after that, and they are mostly missing the spark that this one has.
What made you want to put out Slow Road?
George Howard: I could not stop listening to the demo tape. Just over and over and over again. “Cardamon [sic] Chai was on it and rough versions of a couple of the other songs that eventually made it to to Slow Road. I thought then—and think now—that they are beautiful, perfect, fractured songs. In hindsight, I’m clearly not the best judge of what a pop song is. In my world, Gordon and Josh Rouse and Stephin Merritt and Charlie Chesterman are all superstars with Top 40 hits.
Do you remember any details about the process?
George Howard: It was sort of nuts, but aren’t the creation of most sui generis records? I remember getting to the office—by this time, Rykodisc had entered into a deal with my label (Slow River) so I was trying desperately to take advantage of this bigger machine that I now had access to for the benefit of my artists. There would be like 15-minute voicemails from Gordon where he’d talk, in various accents, about how “haaaaaard” he was working, and would play snippets of songs, and sort of ramble. In my infinite (lack of) wisdom, I would then play these messages to my Rykodisc overlords thinking they would be as charmed as I. I’m not sure that was the right move. ¶ There were also many “conversations”—I mostly listened and shook my head into the phone silently—where Gordon would give me the back story of the Tiny Empire and Pho and all sorts of things that I figured I just wasn’t smart enough to understand. It was like Pynchon calling or something.
Murray Nash: To release Slow Road we needed a name for the record label. We went out to a Vietnamese restaurant to discuss. The label name was inspired by the Pho menu item. The observant Phovsho historian will note that Slow Road was released as Phovsho 003. This was actually the first release on the label, not the third. We reserved places 001 and 002 for two earlier albums Gordon told me he had recorded. (We never did release those albums. Releasing those at some point would be interesting.) We had 500 vinyl copies pressed. We still have boxes of the original vinyl. In vinyl form, Slow Road never did hit sales even close to 500 units. Slow sales of Slow Road taught me a lesson in the importance of distribution. It wasn’t enough to have a great record that everyone who heard it loved it. It gets pretty frustrating to win awards like “Best albums of the year, you will never hear” (I think Slow Road won that award in Magnet). It’s particularly unfair to the artist. It was one reason I was really happy to hear the album was being picked up “by a real label” and that it would be released on CD—the dominant format of the time.
What other bands/musicians spring to mind when you listen to Fan Modine? Where do you see them fitting in? Joan Wasser: This kind of question is always hard for me because almost anyone who makes music pulls from an enormous variety of influences. I remember us listening to that first Cardinal record of Eric Matthews and Richard Davies. I hear some similarities there, but Gordon was going for a much looser, textured and dirtier sound, which I personally adore. There’s some Elliott Smith and some traditional Indian music. In other words, like anything truly great, it doesn’t really fit anywhere.
Josh Hager: The Elevator Drops. Since that was the band I was in at the time and Gordon did a short stint as our keyboardist. Indie rock was king in the ’90s. But I always thought Gordon’s music had a depth and timeless quality to it that other bands didn’t at the time.
Stephin Merritt: I think Radio Dept would enjoy it.
Kendall Meade: Ladybug Transistor, the Dambuilders, Helium. This era of orchestral, melodic and indie art rock coming out of the East Coast.
George Howard: Neutral Milk, Teenage Fanclub, T. Rex, Slade, The National (at their best)
Jeremy Chatelain: Nothing in particular comes to mind. I know that Gordon and I were both serious Anglophiles at the time. Fan Modine fits between singer/songwriter music and great pop music. Gordon draws influence from fantastic places. He’s very hip. But Fan Modine has a pretty unique sound in the pop/rock universe. I remember that he would give me a little grief sometimes for being so “rock.” He said to me once that, while I was busy listening to Led Zeppelin, he was probably listening to Japan.
Murray Nash: Scott Walker. David Sylvian. The Magnetic Fields. Bobby Callender. Prince.
Matt McMichaels: The Smiths, the Magnetic Fields, and Belle and Sebastian come to mind. Gordon can credibly use the word “’twas” in a song, and that is punk as fuck.
Tell us any other stories about Gordon and Fan Modine.
Kendall Meade: Once Gordon joined me for a Mascott tour of the Midwest. It was just the two of us, and I don’t think he was happy with how sparse we sounded as a duo. He proposed that we ask whoever we were opening for to basically jam with us during our set. It was a totally Gordon move that I was happy to go along with because I trusted him and looked up to him musically. Each night was a different experience depending on who played with us. It was wild and weird and exciting. I remember laughing a lot on that tour, getting a flat tire and having to get the cops to help us change it, staying with my mom in Detroit, meeting Doug Gillard for the first time in Cleveland. I miss Gordon a lot, he’s so fun to hang out with.
Josh Hager: At the time in 1994 I was literally living on a shelf in a tape closet in a recording studio. Right after he and I met, he offered me a room in his south end loft. He literally saved me from that roach and rat-infested place! We immediately set out to cause some Dadaist mischief. We wound up performing and starting a club out of a drag bar called Jacques. It was a brilliant time. We were both very broke but it didn’t matter. It was all about the music. I have so many stories it’s hard to recount in such a short space. He moved to NY and we kept in touch. I would come and visit or stay with him for periods. He was always better at connecting with new people and making friends than I was. Within a short time, he had a network of people who would support his music, etc. We worked together less during this period though I think I did sit in with him for a show or two.
Chuck Johnson: He has a remarkable skill at long, late night drives. He also has some sick dance moves.
Stephin Merritt: If only I remembered this Dick’s Bar fracas, I’d be happy to tell it from my perspective. Maybe under hypnosis?
Missy Thangs: I even loved the fat suit.
Murray Nash: One Saturday night in NYC, Gordon and I went to the birthday dinner for a sound engineer we were working with. That night would change our lives forever. The dinner was at an Ethiopian restaurant in Queens. I met my future wife Birgit at that dinner; Gordon and I headed downtown and later that same night Gordon met his future wife.
Matt McMichaels: Gordon has supreme self-confidence and a vision of what he wants out of his music, combined with an endearing vulnerability that makes you want to help him tilt at his windmills. Lee Waters called him “Gorgeous Gordon.” He once insisted on donning a ridiculous fat suit when we played in a Comic Book shop parking lot on a 100-degree day in Chapel Hill. He got all of us, a bunch of grizzled indie rockers with day jobs and kids and obligations, to agree to drive to a warehouse in Burlington, North Carolina, on a weeknight for a video shoot complete with green screens and a crew and catering and no apparent budget—because that was his vision. I only played with him briefly, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, like probably everyone who has been pulled into the Fan Modine orbit. Gordon is a unique creature who writes songs from a strange and beautiful alternate universe, and I am glad I know him.
Ash Bowie: I never knew Gordon as a goth. I’m pretty sure he was wearing a fur coat and large plastic sunglasses when I’d see him around. More of a ’70s Elton John glam look.
Joan Wasser: Gordon was one of my best friends in Boston and when we moved to NYC. At that time, I had not begun writing songs yet. I was making tons of music, but not singing or writing my own material. Watching Gordon create such unique, gorgeous creations was like being around magic. He was magical.
Gordon Zacharias: I have made several albums over the years, and have managed a Brazilian rock band (Boogarins) since 2013, building a label and publishing company in 2017 . I am married to a wonderful woman and we are raising our two children in North Carolina.
our intrepid webstress janice headley (also of KEXP & copacetic zine fame) flew across the atlantic to brave scorching august heat, put on a life jacket and hit the high seas with the boaty weekender gang (kinda like the bowlie weekender but on a fancy cruise ship, 20 years later, and twee AF). for those of us too skint to go, here’s a peek into what went down.
words by janice headley • photographs courtesy janice headley and the boaty weekender
for me, the boaty weekender began with a guitar case crashing onto my foot. we were still at the hotel in barcelona, wheeling our luggage down to the shuttle bus that was going to take us to the cruise ship. I greedily refused to let go of my kas, a delicious orange soda drink that’s only available in spain, mexico and france, and was available in portugal, brazil, and argentina during the 1990s. (thanks, wikipedia!) at some point in the elevator, my boyfriend joe accidentally let a guitar case roll forward, right where my sandaled foot happened to be. I yelped, tried to push it off of me using my elbow (since my hand was still gripped around the tasty, tasty beverage), joe grabbed my drink to try and help, and then *DING* the elevator doors opened, and standing there was the gallant norman blake of teenage fanclub, who graciously took my beverage from joe while I stumbled out, hopping on one un-squished foot. embarrassing. what a gentleman. and that was how my boaty weekender began. (thank you, norman. no thanks to you, kas soda.) (no, I take it back, you’re too delicious to be mad at.)
we all boarded the bus that took us to the norwegian pearl cruise ship, which was huge. I’d never taken a cruise before in my life, so I was awestruck by the size of this thing. passes acquired, forms filled out, we boarded the boat, and headed to our lodging. music by the bands playing the event was piped into the hallways, and on the televisions in our rooms, concert footage of belle & sebastian played all day and night.
the boaty weekender, for anyone who doesn’t already know, was a four-day “floating festival and luxury cruise around the mediterranean” starting in barcelona, landing in sardinia, Italy, for a day, and then returning to barcelona. the event was organized by belle & sebastian and featured special guests yo la tengo, camera obscura, teenage fanclub, mogwai, the vaselines, django django, alvvays, the buzzcocks, japanese breakfast, kelly lee owens, nilüfer yanya, and, if you can believe it, more. in fact, despite it being a four-day event, I didn’t get to see every band play, not by a longshot. there were five different stages across the ship, and the sets often overlapped. but, here are a couple of notes on just a few of the bands I did manage to see. (I tried to write about all of them and even bored myself, so here’s an abbreviated take.)
the vaselines “who here has heard of the love boat?… creepy, wasn’t it?”so chirped the effervescent frances mckee during the vaselines’ first set, which just happened to be booked at the same time as an artist meet-and-greet on a different floor of the boat. (“we don’t need their party, we’re having our own party,” she insisted brightly.) she looked adorable in a hawaiian print dress while her bandmate eugene kelly wore a simple black tee.
the stage was on the floor where the check-in counters lined the back of the room, so there was a funny juxtaposition of employees helping customers while the vaselines tore through “sex with an ex” and “molly’s lips.” there was also a large jewelry retail area to the side of the room where no one was shopping. “I get really seasick, but I think gin and tonics should help,” she declared. “diamonds really help, too,” she quickly added.
the vibe reminded me a lot of matador 21 (which happened in a vegas casino in 2010), if you went to that. I had a lot of people tell me it reminded them of all tomorrow’s parties, too. waiters in yellow polo shirts walked the room, offering to get people drinks. you could actually buy drink packages ensured to keep the alcohol flowing all boaty weekend long. (hi, julie!)
belle & sebastian seagulls swarmed as the band played on the top deck of the boat. stuart murdoch was wearing naval white pants, a striped tank top, and a captain’s hat, while guitarist bobby kildea wore a full-on sailor’s suit.
the band played “dog on wheels,” “I’m a cuckoo,” “she’s losing it,” “another sunny day,” “stars of track and field,” the new single “sister buddha,” and the song “sweet julie” which made stuart remark, “doesn’t that sound like the love boat theme?” stevie jackson nodded, “it does, doesn’t it?”
they continued to play as the sun descended and darkness rolled in. by the end of their set, the moon was shining vibrantly from above.
band name bingo this was not as exciting as I had hoped it would be. (sorry, boaty-ers.) I liked the concept of band names instead of letter/number combos, but the execution was a little weak.
the first round, the band names were just shouted out, but the following rounds, only trivia on the bands were revealed and it was up to you to know if the band was on your card or not. for example: “this band’s frontman was freddie mercury.” (that’s a real example, I’m sad to say.)
the evening was co-hosted by stina of honeyblood, who was wearing an adorable two-piece with fantastic strappy platform sandals. the crowd booed whenever a bad band came up (sorry mumford & sons) and it was quick to correct the hosts when they mispronounced a scottish city.
teenage fanclub the fellas were in fine form and their harmonies were pitch perfect all performance. I somehow missed the news that euros childs had joined the band following gerard love’s departure, so I was delighted to see him on stage adding his gorgeous vocals.
they closed with “everything flows”—a perfect song for the cruise, except I want the captain to set a course he doesknow, thank you very much.
band t-shirts spotted R.E.M. new pornographers teenage fanclub (also in tote bag form) belle & sebastian
wind down meditation I’m embarrassed to admit I slept in this day and missed the buzzcocks, kelly lee owens, django django, and/or alvvays, as well as the collage club gathering. there was a lot of stuff scheduled for earlier in the day!
ironically, for a girl who overslept, I first headed over to the “wind down meditation” session with gen kelsang machig, a representative from the kadampa meditation centre glasgow with 15 years of experience. she led us in a quiet meditation session that was just lovely. after it was over, she told the audience, “If you have any questions, just find me on the boat, I’m the only one dressed like this,” referring to her traditional garb. (and I did find her later in an elevator!)
belle & sebastian Q&A I made it up to the pool deck for most of the belle & sebastian Q&A, which was moderated by comedian alex edelman, who joked that scottish people keep all their emotions bottled up and communicate instead through belle & sebastian songs. the questions were all very thoughtful and serious, even leading stuart to say, “c’mon, don’t you want to ask us about your futures? we are all clairvoyants, you know.”
wine tasting with neil and ira ira (of yo la tengo, natch)’s brother neil “has 25 years of sales and support experience in the wine and spirits industry as well as advanced wine certification.” (thank you, google!) so, the siblings teamed up for an evening of wine tasting. I don’t like red wine, so I didn’t go, but joe tells me toward the end of the tasting, they did, indeed, break out a riesling. (sigh.)
camera obscura it’s been so long since I’ve seen camera obscura in concert, I had forgotten how good they are live. they did “let’s get out of this country,” “the sweetest thing,” “desire lines,” and, of course, “lloyd, I’m ready to be heartbroken.” hearing their harmonies was absolutely awe-inspiring and made me miss my karaoke bestie, laura. (hi, laura!)
japanese breakfast I bounced back to the atrium to see japanese breakfast next. she was looking super smart in an ’80s-inspired power suit with a crop top underneath. she smiled a lot during their set. their drummer is serious about his mullet. she would step aside when the guitarist had a gnarly solo.
yo la tengo they started off their pool deck performance joined by euros childs for a rendition of “sea cruise.” (you know, that vintage song that’s all “oooh-eee, oooh-eee baby.”) and then norman and raymond from teenage fanclub joined them for a few songs, including fan favorite “stockholm syndrome.” I can’t remember what else they performed; I took lousy notes.
band t-shirts spotted: camera obscura belle & sebastian paul mccartney (???)
cagliari, sardinia not a band, but the city that we ported in for the day. joe and I took a taxi to the beach and soaked up the sun and the crystal-clear blue, blue water for most of the morning before returning to the city and having the most amazing lunch, thanks to neil kaplan’s recommendation.
band t-shirts spotted: japanese breakfast the breeders ween (ween?) austin city limits with paul mccartney (him again?) daniel johnston (thanks, james!) radiohead
yoga with frances mckee I was scared to take this class, but knew I couldn’t let the opportunity to take yoga with the woman from the vaselines pass me by. she’s a really good teacher. I didn’t realize it, but apparently she runs a yoga studio, so that explains it.* she’s kinda hardcore though; imagine her sharp scottish accent barking, “straighten yer legs! don’t look at what yer neighbor is doin’! don’t forget to breathe!” (*editor: read all about it in CF18)
belle & sebastian perform fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant after repeat viewings of both the vaselines and japanese breakfast, I ran over to the stardust theatre to watch belle & sebastian perform their 2000 album fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant in its entirety. I feel bad, because when it first came out, I didn’t like this album very much. but I loved hearing it live. once the album was played, they began taking audience requests, which was a little clumsy with lots of awkward moments as they tried to remember how to play forgotten songs. and there was a cute moment where they got a bunch of kids from the boat, dressed up in their nautical finest, to shake percussion during “legal man.”
yo la tengo on sunday night, yo la tengo took the pool side stage for the second time for another awesome set. about midway through the set, a very handsome man took the stage and began to recite the opening prose to donovan’s 1969 surprise hit single “atlantis,” a song that went to #7 on the billboard charts upon its release. (thank you, wikipedia!) this wonderful performance was the paramount of a spectacular weekend, and I called it a night thereafter ’cause I knew everything else would pale in comparison.
band t-shirts spotted: eugenius teenage fanclub beat happening spiritualized british sea power
(P.S. final word from james yo la tengo, who we asked to comment on the boaty cuisine: “the food on the boat was good and readily available. the soft-serve was a nice touch. there were a few restaurants on the boat, where you could sit and someone would take your order. there was also a wildly popular buffet-style full contact scrum which was pretty fun. I didn’t locate any scottish-themed food, but maybe I just wasn’t looking hard enough.”)
if you’re here, chances are you adore music by talulah gosh, heavenly, marine research and tender trap. the odds are good, then, that you already like the catenary wires, featuring indiepop royals amelia fletcher and rob pursey. they’ve just released a new album, til the morning, on tapete records and are heading out on tour just now. we caught up with them about their band, their kids, and their lives in kent these days. interview by gail o
chickfactor: what did you set out to sound like with the catenary wires?
amelia:initially we were aiming to sound really minimal. we had moved to the countryside and didn’t know anyone, so we started out as just the two of us playing at home, late at night, with our daughter’s small acoustic guitar. on the first album (red red skies), we wanted to retain that homespun melancholic intimacy, so we kept the instrumentation very simple. this had the upside that we worked really hard on the songwriting and the lyrics, but we ended up feeling that the songs were almost forced to do too much because the instrumentation wasn’t doing enough. we decided to see if we could find a way to achieve the same intimacy, while creating something more musically interesting too.
rob:we wanted it to sound full and rich, but we didn’t want it to sound like any of our previous bands (with a standard rhythm section and standard instruments driving everything). so we recorded the guitar and singing first, knowing that this might be enough, then added the other instruments—and then, if we felt we needed any, we added drums. so, the whole thing was recorded upside down, really. the ‘drums’ were often a piece of wood dropped on the floor, or a metal agricultural trailer being hit. we wrote the songs and recorded them in a fairly remote, rural place, and we wanted the record to sound like that.
cf: tell us a bit more about the new album.
amelia: we are really pleased with how it has worked out. it is made up of twelve songs which are pretty varied but have lots of common thematic threads, both lyrically and musically. we recorded the album with andy lewis. we met him when he was playing with the indie band spearmint, but we were impressed by his far wider set of music references, such as having produced judy dyble (fairport convention), having played bass with paul weller and DJ-ing 60s soul records. he was also happy to work with us to record it at home. his theory is that wherever you can plug in a kettle, you can make an album. so we decided to test that out. I think my favourite song is “dream town,” partly because I don’t think it quite sounds like anything else, partly because I find it moving, and partly because it feels very real to me. more prosaically, it is also one of the most jointly written of the songs, in that we both wrote parts of the tune and both wrote parts of the lyrics. a lot of the songs are co-written to some extent, but we rarely hit that degree of balance.
rob: the building where we recorded the music is not soundproofed, so you can occasionally hear birds tweeting in the background, and other rustic noises too. the songs are not exactly idyllic though, so hopefully these gentle rural sounds feel poignant rather than whimsical. we are always a bit paranoid about turning into folk musicians, I don’t know why, but here we are, recording gentle songs in lovely countryside with the birds tweeting away in the background. we discussed this issue with andy, and have made sure that the birds have reverb on them, so they aren’t too ‘pastoral’.
cf: has becoming parents influenced the music that you’re making?
rob: I’m sure it has, in many ways. sometimes very literally. for example, the lyrics to “hollywood” are a reaction to our daughters’ love of US TV shows, US YouTubers, the ongoing dream of fame and celebrity in L.A. because of my old job (running a TV drama company), I saw the process up close and I am very aware of the gap between the dream and reality. I think the harvey weinstein scandal was breaking at the time too. in the last bit of the song, my voice is his voice, and the voice of many other male directors and producers, telling the young actress to give a performance that is disingenuous and potentially exploitative.
on top of that, we get to hear a lot of the music they like. quite a lot of it is about falling in love, how great it is to kiss someone etc.—just like pop music has always been. so we redressed the balance by doing songs about divorce, falling out of love, adultery etc.
we are also influenced by living with our mothers. amelia’s mum passed away last autumn—she had parkinson’s disease so took quite a lot of looking after. my mum is with us still, and is very fit and well. but both of them lost their husbands and had to face life on their own again. they both experienced the ultimate, un-wished for divorce. and I think that influenced a few of our songs.
amelia: having to be at home to look after my mum also influenced our decision to record the album at home. at the time, we thought we might be making a compromise in not using a proper studio, but actually working at home allowed us more flexibility to try things and gave the whole album a better sense of place, as per rob’s comments about the birds, above. we used local musicians too, including a fluegelhorn player and trombonist from the village, who usually play in military bands but really enjoyed having to turn their hand to indie! we have ended up filming our videos very locally too and editing them ourselves at home. it just seems in keeping.
cf: are your daughters recording and playing shows these days? do tell. rob: dora’s band (wait what) seem to have stopped. they’ve all been doing their GCSE exams, so maybe that’s why. they are more sensible than we are. dora’s still playing the guitar though, and I reckon she will find herself in another band. I hope so. I think it just depends on meeting the right people to be in a band with. ivy is also playing a lot of music, and is a very good singer. she sings ‘properly’. earlier this evening she was doing a rendition of “back to black” by amy winehouse. that’s who she sounds like. how terrifying!
cf: what’s happening in kent these days? are there any good musicians or bands coming from the region?
amelia: a strange thing happened when we met our producer, andy lewis. it turned out that he already knew the tiny village in kent where we live—which no one has usually ever heard of—because he had just finished recording an album here with fay hallam. it turned out that she was a neighbour who lived about 6 doors away from us. we in fact already knew about her music but were totally unaware of her proximity! she is a really great hammond player and singer and she ended up both playing on the album and becoming a member of the live band.
rob: in a pub down the road, on the second tuesday of every month, the local folk singers gather and take it in turns to sing their trad songs. I really like it, and maybe when I am 75 I will see if they let me join in.
cf: what’s in the fridge? what’s in the picnic basket?
rob: in the fridge, there is a lot of daal and cauliflower curry, cos we made far too much of it yesterday. there is a pot of crab apple jelly that my dad made. there are bottles of beer. and there are parsnips. not sure what to do about them.
amelia: there is nothing in the picnic basket. but at least there isa picnic basket. which means one day there might even be a picnic! you never know.
cf: what records do you play more than anything?
amelia:we get force-fed a lot of car seat headrest, brockhampton and billie eilish by the girls, all of which are really pretty good. if we are allowed to play anything ourselves, I usually find myself heading for the delgados (older) and girl ray (newer). rob is a bit obsessed with sleaford mods. we also keep on listening to some of the great duettists, such as nancy and lee, serge gainsbourg and brigitte bardot, johnny cash and june carter, just to see how they go about making duets work. we still feel we have a lot to learn on that front.
cf: is there any news about your previous bands (reissues, etc.)?
rob: I don’t think so. personally, I like leaving those things as they are. you can hear most of it online if you want to, and I think it’s a bit odd when bands start behaving like their own archivists. we did just discover a cache of old T-shirts—talulah gosh, heavenly etc. I took pictures of amelia wearing them (the history of our bands in T-shirt form, see more on our instagram: @thecatenarywires) and we put them online. actually, sorry, there was one shirt that was an XL, so I had to wear that one. anyway, it was much-liked by the indie fraternity, so that probably goes to show that there is an appetite for the old stuff. I also found the old U-Matic video of ‘I fell in love last night’, the first heavenly single. I’ll get it digitised at some point and stick it online so people can watch it again, if they like.
amelia:well damaged goods did reissue all the talulah gosh stuff recently, so we do let these things happen sometimes. I’d personally quite like to do a ‘greatest hits’ that covers all our bands. but we’d probably end up having such big arguments about what actually were the ‘greatest hits’ that it may not be worth it!
cf: what’s a good story about john jervis you can tell us?
rob: john’s girlfriend, alexandra, is an amazing knitter and maker of clothes, and john is now mostly dressed in things that she makes. he looks very stylish, these days.
cf: who is your favorite london band these days?
rob: I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t really know. I spend too much time in kentish pubs listening to octogenarian folk singers and have lost touch with the capital, and its young people.
cf: what are the catenary wires up to this summer?
rob: we are playing at indietracks! we will spend a lot of time with the kids, once school breaks up. we are going on holiday with them, to jamaica. we don’t normally do that sort of holiday, but I help out with a charity that’s based over there, so that’s our pretext. we are also going to visit athens, georgia, and new york, and will be playing a couple of catenary wires shows—just as a duo. most of our gigs these days are as a five-piece (with andy lewis on bass, fay hallam on keyboard and ian button on drums), but we like going back to the duo format occasionally.
amelia:we are really just on holiday in america too, but we thought we would slip in as many shows as the kids would accept, which ended up being just two. they are semi-tolerant of, but not at all impressed by, our indie antics. CF
we are excited to announce chickfactor 18, a new limited-edition print issue of the fanzine featuring big, fun interviews with:
KENDRA SMITH (OPAL, RAINY DAY, DREAM SYNDICATE, ETC)
LINDY MORRISON & AMANDA BROWN (THE GO-BETWEENS, CLEOPATRA WONG)
FRANCES MCKEE (THE VASELINES)
GERARD LOVE (TEENAGE FANCLUB, LIGHTSHIPS)
+ A JUKEBOX JURY WITH JOANNA BOLME (JICKS), REBECCA COLE (MINDERS) & KATHY FOSTER (THERMALS)
+ OUR USUAL POLLS
+ MANY BOOK, FILM, LIVE & RECORD REVIEWS
+ LOTS OF ORIGINAL PHOTOGRAPHY & ILLUSTRATION
chickfactor 18 was edited by gail o’hara, who cofounded cf with pam berry in 1992 (yes, belle & sebastian wrote a song about it). graphic design was beautifully done by jen sbragia (from the softies & all girl summer fun band). we couldn’t decide on two cover stars so we have made two covers—one in royal navy & one in espresso!
our amazing writers and contributors for CF18 are: photographers gail o’hara, laura levine, bret lunsford, curt doughty & a host of others; illustrators rachel blumberg and jen sbragia; interviewers include o’hara, lois maffeo, pete paphides, and blumberg; writers include kevin alvir, joe brooker, mark butler, wayne davidson, bryce edwards, gaylord fields, daniel handler (a.k.a. lemony snicket), alice hubley, kendall jane meade, peter momtchiloff, thomas mosher, piotr orlov, chris phillips, sukhdev sandhu, dan searing, lydia vanderloo, doug wallen & michael white.
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. They rarely play live and haven’t played NYC in forever.
The Pacific Ocean was a NYC indie featuring Edward Baluyut (Versus), Connie Lovatt (Alkaline, Containe) and drummer Steve Pilgrim. They made two records for chickfactor’s flagship label (Enchanté Records) and haven’t played a show in ages.
Bridget St John is an English singer-songwriter and guitarist, best known for the three albums she recorded between 1969 and 1972 for John Peel’s Dandelion record label. Peel produced her debut album Ask Me No Questions. She has played at many chickfactor parties including CF20 in 2012 in both London and New York.
Honeybunch is an indiepop band from Providence, Rhode Island, formed in 1987 by Velvet Crush member Jeffrey Underhill. They have played at many chickfactor parties including CF20 in 2012.
is a Nashville-born, New York-based country music artist. A longtime DJ for WFMU, Ms. Cantrell has been making beautiful records since her debut, Not the Tremblin’ Kind, way back in Y2K. She was a friend and favorite of the late John Peel. Her most recent release, Laura Cantrell At The BBC, compiles the best of her UK radio performances from 2000-2005, tracing the arc of her rise as an Americana artist on the airwaves of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Joe Pernice has made a lot records with the Pernice Brothers, Scud Mountain Boys, The New Mendicants (with Norman Blake) and Roger Lion (with hip-hop producer Budo.) He is also a novelist and a TV writer. He and Joyce Linehan have owned Ashmont Records, Inc. in Dorchester, MA. since 1999.
Cotton Candy is Mark Robinson (from the bands Unrest, Air Miami, Grenadine, Flin Flon) and Evelyn Hurley (Blast Off Country Style). Their band, which is mostly a cappella, focuses on reinventing advertising jingles and other radio and TV commercials and PSAs. Mark and Evelyn also run the Teen-Beat label. We saw them recently in Portland and they were delightful and fun!