The New York singer-songwriter Connie Lovatt talks about all the amazing musicians who play on her new solo album, Coconut Mirror (out on our label Enchanté U.S. Sept. 27 on Bandcamp, CD and select streaming services). Workspace images courtesy of the artists.
Connie Lovatt, Coconut Mirror (Enchanté US, out Sept. 2023) Songs written by Connie Lovatt / Produced by Connie Lovatt
Connie Lovatt: vocals, acoustic guitar, tambourine James McNew: bass Jim White: drums Rebecca Cole: keyboards on Basin, Broke, Sisters, Snow Che Chen: lead guitar on Sleep, Snow, Lines Phoebe Gittins: piano on Broke, Gull, Heart, Honest, Kid, Snow, Zodiac Lucy LaForge: backing vocals, harmonica on Sisters Max Tepper: synthesizer on Heart, Honest, Snow, Sleep, Zodiac Bill Callahan: vocals on Kid James Baluyut: pedal steel on Sisters Hartley Nandan: screaming on Sleep
Recorded by the artists and Joe Wohlmuth Engineered and mixed by Joe Wohlmuth Mastered by Jeff Lipton and Maria Rice at Peerless Mastering, Boston, MA
Jim White: A brilliant friend that gave the album the topography of dreams. I’ve listened repeatedly to him playing on some of my favorite songs over the years and can barely believe he’s playing on mine. What kind of magic is this?
James McNew: If you could walk up to a music library and ask it “can you play bass on my songs?” and then the music library sits up cozy next to you and says “watch this” and solves all your problems.
Rebecca Cole: I asked her to play on some songs when she was practically 48 hours from leaving on tour with Pavement. Her suitcase was probably 1/2 packed on her bed. I got a very sweet “I’ll try” kind of answer. What she sent back sounded so good you would have thought I gave her a year’s time.
Che Chen: I think the most interaction I’ve had with Che is sharing a smile as we walk past each other at a club or a hallway in a rehearsal space. But I knew his guitar playing very well. To me he is psychedelic in that he’s both the mindset and the setting. I felt brave asking him to play. He was kind and overdelivered and I love it all.
Phoebe Gittins: I was at the end of my tattered thready rope when I started recording and man, I just didn’t know. Asking Phoebe to come by and play on a song to just see if it could be even something another musician could hold on to was one of my better moves. She is so melodic and musical that I’m telling everyone I know you need to lay roses at her feet and ask her to play on your songs. She’s the sweetest.
Max Tepper: Max is a family friend and our daughters have known each other from months old. He plays guitar and is road-tested and knows all the bands and all the stories. I knew keyboards and synths were a part of things in his world. I don’t know exactly when or why I heard synths on certain songs, but I was so lucky Max understood what I meant when I asked. He sprinkled the heavy sparkles!
Lucy LaForge: For my young daughter she was magical like Mary Poppins, except the umbrella was a guitar and the chimney sweep was a stuffed cow. For me, on this record, she was a rock who tried everything from tap dancing on the studio floor to harmonica, to trying all the harmonies on “Sisters” to autoharp. She has a bag of tricks no matter where she goes.
James Baluyut: A very patient man who helped me send off some final backing vocal ideas as he simultaneously figured out some flawless pedal steel for “Sisters.” He’s a positive force to be around when making music. Nimble and always pushing things forward. I took up his time but I brought him enormous chocolate chip cookies.
Bill Callahan: He’s one of my favorite songwriters of all time. I got to sing on a couple of his songs a while back. It took a few years for me to write a song good enough for him to sing on. He won’t be losing any sleep about my latest theory, but I do think I’ve shortened his 8 furlong lead by an inch.
Joe Wohlmuth: All contributors, except in-town Lucy, recorded their own work and everyone did an excellent job. This method, no matter how carefully done, created many sonic scenarios that were out of Joe’s control. Background noises, mic issues, consistency, tempo, etc., etc., had to be addressed and blended together to Coconut Mirror’s starry-eyed standards. Joe has an ear that no note can slide past unaccounted for and he helped guide these songs through every step with an attentive ease.
Lotsa Pop Losers was a two-day music festival that took place at the American Legion Hall in Bethesda, Maryland on October 26, 1991, and the late d.c. space on October 27, 1991. Organized by three young independent labels in D.C. (Simple Machines, Slumberland and Teen-Beat), the festival was clearly inspired by the International Pop Underground Convention while also reflecting an East Coast pop/punk/indie/etc. music scene that felt pretty damn awesome at the time. The lineup was:
Saturday: Jonny Cohen, Swirlies, Kickstand, Lois Maffeo, Kicking Giant, Flying Saucer, Tsunami, Velocity Girl, Edsel, High Back Chairs Sunday: Lorelei, Versus, Tear Jerks, Eggs, Lilys, Linda Smith, Sexual Milkshake, Small Factory, Sleepyhead, Unrest
We checked in with the organizers (Jenny Toomey + Kristin Thomson from Simple Machines and Tsunami; Mark Robinson from Teen-Beat and Unrest) and some performers Erin Smith (who played with Unrest at the event) and Michael Galinsky (Sleepyhead) to see what they could remember about the fall festival three damn decades ago. —Compiled by Gail O’Hara
Did you attend Lotsa Pop Losers? What made you want to go?
Mark Robinson (Teen-Beat, Unrest): I did. The bands, the people, the fun. Erin Smith (Bratmobile, Teenage Gang Debs): Of course! It was a no-brainer that I was going to go. The 3 labels involved were some of my favorites, and the scene then was relatively small and insular—it seemed like all of my friends were playing! Plus, I am from Bethesda—and it was just too cool that one entire day of the fest was going to be held there. I’m very into Bethesda punk history. It might blow people’s minds now, but there were punk shows and venues in Bethesda, and certainly plenty of punks from there. I was very proud to introduce out of town visitors like Kicking Giant to my hometown! Michael Galinsky (Sleepyhead): Sleepyhead played and a lot of our friends were also playing. I can’t remember where we stayed, but I do remember that Otis Ball came with us. In NY we played with Kicking Giant, Versus, and Flying Saucer a lot so I think we were the NY contingent. We also played with Small Factory and I guess that made us the Northeast contingent. We had also played quite a few shows with the bands like the Swirlies and Eggs.
Were there other festivals like this you’d been to before? How was this different?
Erin: I had been to IPU (International Pop Underground Convention), which had just happened in Olympia, WA, 2 months before, in late August, 1991, with I believe only Kicking Giant, Sleepyhead, and Lois playing both fests. This was kind of cool in that it was 20 bands condensed into 2 days—so one long day in Bethesda at the American Legion Hall, and one long day in DC at dc space. It gave us a lot of time to all hang out together in one place! Mark: I think this was probably my first festival like this. Maybe my first music festival of any kind. Michael: We had also played at IPU and Lollipops and booze in Cambridge. This was more akin to IPU on a somewhat smaller scale. This was a bit more intimate and it was different for us because by this point we knew a lot more people so it was more like a reunion than being overwhelmed by a ton of new people. Somehow we were given a really prime spot on the bill. This was maybe the only time we played with Unrest, a band that I had a really profound respect for, so that had some meaning. Kristin Thomson (Simple Machines Records / Tsunami): Yes! We’d just attended—and Tsunami had played—at the International Pop Underground in Olympia, WA in August 1991. Jenny Toomey (Simple Machines Records / Tsunami): I’m sure we were inspired by IPU. We’d been to festivals before, but nothing as organized, three dimensional or as delightfully weird, as IPU. I’d spent 6 weeks in Olympia the previous summer after my first band Geek had toured the US with Superchunk and Seaweed. Aaron Stauffer talked me into coming back west and Candice was traveling so I rented her apartment and was living in the heart of the scene. So I’d experienced the strange time travel of the place up close. There were ways that Olympia was a north star and felt like it was way out ahead of the rest of the world, super feminist, queer positive, everyone was an artist and there were so many folks building and experimenting together—so much possibility. It was absolutely utopic. But there was also this darker, retro backward flavor to the town as well, a bizarro element, like a sci-fi novel where you walk through a time door and everything is cherry pie on the surface and sneaky drugs and violence and grudges underneath. Beat Happening had that mix in spades, like a caramel apple with a razor blade center. I think IPU was so great because it had that depth. It wasn’t just twee “hey, let’s do something fun and pretty”; it had a combination of bands and events and happenings that stretched across all that territory. Things that were public and celebrated and joyful and things that were hidden and dark. It was also so various; it had a “choose your own adventure” element. Some of the things I remember most was the happenstance of the event and have equal weight to the shows. Like, being in line at the grocery store between a Melvin and Jad Fair. Having to pitch a tent in the Capitol Theater because the recycling room in the Martin Apartments where you thought you were going to sleep was already taken by (I think) David Lester, and the Capitol Theater was full of fleas.
Kristin: There were so many parts of IPU that I loved. The Melvins playing an outdoor afternoon show. The Cake Walk. The Planet of the Apes movie day. And, honestly, one of the most emotionally raw Fugazi shows I ever witnessed. I also remember the jolt of joy I got when our event passes came in the mail, cut with pinking shears and hung on fat red crafting yarn. The entire ethos of IPU, and K Records, was very inspiring. Jenny: We had a lot of experience organizing shows because of our involvement with Positive Force and from being in a band and booking tours. At those shows, in addition to bands, there were typically speakers, tabling, and sometimes there was also a die-in, or a punk percussion protest, or a march. But Lotsa Pop Losers was very different from a Positive Force show. It was way more whimsical and it was a joint effort, and it was a moment the newer labels were finding each other, and imagining the possibilities of what we could do together. When Kristin joined the Simple Machines crew, we just egged each other on into making every little thing extra with the label. So, before a tour, we’d do things like hand silk-screen and individually monogram thrifted golf jackets for every member of our band, and for the bands we were touring with. (Wish I still had that jacket). And Mark Robinson certainly had a bit of that “extra” in how he was running Teen-Beat, with the numbering of everything and hand making record covers and with the way he followed his passions with abandon. Mike of the three of us seemed to know a lot more about what was actually going on in the broader music sphere and out in the world, likely because of everything he saw as Vinyl Ink. So we were really able to bring our fetishes together for Lotsa Pop Losers.
Organizers, what do you remember about putting it together?
Mark: Jenny and Kristin from Simple Machines came up with the idea and were the ring leaders. They then generously asked me and Mike Schulman if Teen-Beat and Slumberland would be involved, respectively. They made tons of cool merch. Trading cards for all the musicians/bands, Lots of Pop Losers t-shirts, posters etc. Kristin: It’s funny to look back now and realize that there were only eight weeks between playing IPU in Olympia, and Lotsa Pop Losers in DC. You have to remember, this is pre-internet, so all of the organizing with Mark at Teen-Beat and Mike at Slumberland happened in person or on the phone. To add to this, both Jenny and I had full-time, non-rock jobs. So, to me looking back 30 years, the fact that it happened on an eight-week timeline is astounding, just on a logistical level. How did we confirm 20 bands in time to get Peter Hayes to design and for Jeff Nelson to screen a three-color poster that included all the bands’ names? Lots of post-work Big Gulps and late nights. Jenny: I tend to forget the things that were difficult, particularly so many years out from the event, but in my memory it seemed to come together with very little effort. We were connected to and incredibly inspired by the Dischord scene, who also had a kind of boundless energy for running at things they were curious about. Knowing them made it easy to get the beautiful posters made by Jeff Nelson and Peter Hayes. We were beginning to feel proud of the other labels in the DC area—Teen-Beat and Slumberland. I know there was a lot of mutual admiration among our labels, so it was easy to call Mark and Mike, and just delegate responsibilities for inviting all of these new bands and pulling everything together.
Kristin: Lotsa Pop Losers was an opportunity to add some handmade, community-driven extras. We designed and silkscreened “Teen Slumber Machine” t-shirts. We put together sets of “DC Treasure” baseball cards, highlighting some of the cool people and places in the scene. And the show included an indie rock scorecard, so audience members could run up to the front of the stage to get their card stamped after each band. We’d had some practice with Positive Force shows putting together booklets, and Simple Machines probably had six or eight releases by now, but I’m sure being at IPU, being on tour, reading new zines, buying new 7-inches, and working with Teen-Beat and Slumberland, we were bursting with ideas about all the fun things we could pack into a show. (A sidebar on what was also happening Sept/Oct 1991: I just noticed while looking through some archival folders for this article that we also organized a Positive Force show at the American Legion Hall in Bethesda in the same eight-week period— September 30, 1991—with the Melvins. We got a noise complaint from the police, but instead of stopping, the Melvins continued to play on volume level 1 and stage whispered their lyrics. And, of all things, the famous Nirvana show at JC Dobbs in Philly was the next day— October 1, 1991. I didn’t go up to Philly for this, but Jenny did.) Jenny: And it’s hard to remember that back then we were touring without (and largely living without) the internet so on the road there was little to do but read, journal and imagine the next amazing things you’d work on when you landed.
Performers, what did it feel like to be there? What were the fans like?
Erin: Much like with IPU, with so many bands, the venues being small, and the acts themselves being pretty obscure—the fans really were the other musicians. There was not a clear demarcation between the bands and the fans. A lot of mutual admiration society going on, with bands watching each other from the pit. Bratmobile were slated to play, but weren’t able to given that we were all in college and living on 2 different coasts. I did play 2nd guitar with Unrest at the dc space show, which was incredible— they were one of my favorite bands! I played probably 3 or 4 songs with them—I did this twice live—the Lotsa Pop Losers show, and later in Chapel Hill. Mark: I seem to remember that there were almost as many performers in the audience as there were “fans.” Michael: This felt a lot like a community event than a fan event. The audience was likely 50 percent people in bands who were playing. That made it more intimate. It made it both low pressure and high pressure at the same time. We always wanted to bring everything we had to every show, and since we were largely playing for peers, the stakes were higher in that regard, but there was also a sense that people understood us so we had less to prove. Kristin: I remember it being a really joyful, eager, friendly crowd. Jenny: …and it felt like a lot of the audience were in the other bands. It was a community event. There wasn’t that divide of performer/artist vs consumer/audience. Kristin: …which was also cool! It was a time when most of these bands were just starting to tour, so we were all pretty excited to watch each other perform.
It seemed like an exciting time for the East Coast pop scene. What did the community feel like then?
Jenny: It felt alive with possibility. It wasn’t like we didn’t love the Dischord scene—I was obsessed with the Dischord bands and wouldn’t miss a show—but the next generation of labels were also coming into their own and putting out great records and I loved them too. It felt really exciting. We were still living in the Positive Force house at that time, and there were people who didn’t think it was punk enough and who were very suspicious of the Sub Pop commercialism, which was beginning to influence so much of the independent music scene. Some of our housemates would spend hours arbitrarily deciding which of the pop groups were sufficiently punk, adding logic loopholes exempting the groups they liked. It felt like they were fighting the world’s smallest war and the unnecessary heavy atmosphere was one sign that it was getting time for us to move out into the first Simple Machines house. Erin: In 1991, with Gen X just starting to be able to take a little tiny piece of the control of the media from Baby Boomers, it felt like everyone I knew in the local punk community was starting to get nationally recognized at the same time. Things like Sassy Magazine (for which I was the Washington Bureau Chief) started to take notice of the DC bands and give them some national press. SPIN and the Washington Post started to write about it more and more, too. This is just about the time Nirvana broke and things got really crazy. Mark: Small. But there was definitely a connection between the DC and NY/New England bands—like we were doing something new and somehow connected to each other. My band had already been around for 8 or 9 years at this point, so it was interesting and great that we were included in this movement, scene, or whatever it was. Michael: Having a bunch of bands that we regularly played with and saw at other shows created a pretty powerful sense of community. Everyone in bands that we played with was involved in other creative activities and that created pathways for all kinds of creative connections. I feel like that community made it possible for me to find a foundation to be creative.
What performances do you remember? New artists discovered?
Mark: Pretty sure this was the first time I saw Versus play. Not only was their set amazing, but they would quickly become my favorite band. One interesting thing about this festival that there were a lot of New York and New England bands… My band had played CBGB and other places like that in New York countless times, but in 1991 we had started playing different venues like the Spiral which was a kind of hub for bands in this new scene. Michael: Kicking Giant roaring through their set. Unrest being unreal. Lilys. Jenny: I remember Jonny Cohen had a great set, and it might have been one of the first times we saw Small Factory who were a fan favorite for the VG crew. And, of course, Unrest and Versus, who to this day remain my favorite, favorite bands.
What was the vibe in general?
Jenny: It felt like a new scene. It also felt established … not a beginning, but an actuality. Like “here we all are, of course we are here.” Kristin: There was also a really great ratio of women performing. DC had a number of women who were either in bands or played important roles in the punk scene. And even though this wasn’t a deliberate plan, it’s affirming to look back and see just how many of the bands playing at Lotsa Pop Losers had women in them. Mark: The vibe was just one of having fun. Michael: pleasant low-key calm, with some intense musical moments.
Was it covered by mainstream media then and if so, did they get it?
Jenny: My memory isn’t good here. I think a person from SPIN or Option came down, but we thought it was kind of weird to have mainstream interest. I have a memory that Mark (Jenkins) from the City Paper may have written something. Kristin: Lotsa Pop Losers might have been even a few months too early for the mainstream music press to be interested in this East Coast indie scene. I feel like the Providence Indie Rock Explosion, which happened about six months later, attracted more music press attention. I believe that was one of Belly’s first shows, and by then you could really feel the momentum building around some indie rock bands. Michael: I recall seeing some stuff in zines but not really the media.
Anything else you remember?
Erin: I was not a fan of the name Lotsa Pop Losers—a play on both Lollapalooza and Sub Pop’s use of “Loser” at the time—because the fest was full of some of the most underground and amazing bands I knew, not to mention the coolest people! No way were any of these people “losers”! Michael: I remember doing “surrender” with Otis. Mark: Each label got to choose approximately one-third of the bands that would perform. I also wanted to screen a film, Hippie Porn by Jon Moritsugu, so we did that on the first day at the VFW hall. There was a TV and VHS player set up in the corner and perhaps 2 or 3 people gathered around and watched it before the first band played. I remember it being kind of cold since it was the end of October, but I was still wearing shorts. It always took me a while to change my wardrobe to match the seasons. I also remember not being completely in love with the name of the festival; that it was kind of named after Lollapalooza—and that we were “losers”—ha ha. Jenny: Looking back 30 years, I think it was just one of those moments when things came together. They happen from time to time where a lot of complementary energy just shows up in the same space. For us that was exactly when a few different labels and bands became intertwined in such a strong way. Out of it came records, tours, friendships. When I finally joined Facebook about five years after it started, someone advised me to only friend people who I would let sleep on my couch. As a couch surfing and couch sharing musician, that was a pretty long list, but when I look at my friends list today, all the LPL alumni are there. It’s awesome to see so many of them are still creating, collaborating and sharing music with the world, and if any of them are ever up in Catskill (Kristin: or near Philadelphia!) you can let them know we’ve actually got a guest room now.
Read this 2013 oral history in Washington City Paper for more quotes about the event!
Happy Bandcamp Friday! On August 6, our label, Enchanté, will release The Other Shore Demos, 10 unreleased recordings from THE PACIFIC OCEAN: three are completely new and seven are different (some very different) takes on songs that appeared on their third record, So Beautiful and Cheap and Warm (Teen-Beat Records). Recorded by Ian James (Flower, Cell, French) in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, in winter/spring 2001, the demos were recorded by main songwriters Connie Lovatt and Edward Baluyut along with drummer Steve Pilgrim.
The Other Shore Demos track listing: All songs written by the Pacific Ocean Connie Lovatt: vocals, bass and keyboards Edward Baluyut: guitar and vocals Steve Pilgrim: drums and keyboards Recorded by Ian James in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, winter and spring 2001
“Lights On” (LISTEN) Connie: This is a long-distance story song. The kind of nonsense words that worked as place holders grew on me so I kept them. Mostly for it being fun to sing. The situation deserved more pointed words but these words had more see-saw to them. “Lights On” is just a better title.
“It’s Too Late” (LISTEN) Connie: A reliably unreliable scenario got some focus on this one. Somewhat. And “Give” seemed a more generous title. Most situations deserved some generosity. Even dumb ones. And then the lyrics went through a big change too. Gail calls this song “British Pop.” Vocal melody to the verse written with Fontaine Toups.
“Spanish” (LISTEN) Connie: The song, as we worked on it, we called “Spanish” because of the tone Ed was getting from his strings and the kind of “neck up” fun playability he was having with it. After lyrics were set and it was time to record, we named it after my friend Adam. Lyrics were sprung from a certain social gathering he told me about. It’s a hug for Adam in song form.
The Pacific Ocean formed around 1996 and made music through the early 21st century, releasing one EP and two albums (2 on Enchanté, 1 on Teen-Beat). The heart and soul of the band were Edward Baluyut (Versus, Flower, Containe) and Connie Lovatt (Containe, Alkaline), with Steve Pilgrim as a pretty regular member. The band played at many chickfactor events in NYC.
Who is Ian? What was his role in it? Ian is a longtime forever friend from late teen years who was in a band with Richard Baluyut called Flower. He was also in Cell and French. He knows how to crush it on guitar and bass, and he was kind enough to share his space and equipment and record these songs.
How does this music sound to you now? We love it. We were a good band. We worked hard for each song and practiced often and hung out more than we practiced. Not every song we made was perfect but we made a lot of perfect songs.
Why didn’t you make more records after this as The Pacific Ocean? Good question. Connie moved to the city of angels. Everyone had babies. Babies can take the wind out of anyone’s sail for a while. Nothing against babies. They’re better than songs.
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.
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.
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. AlsoStevie 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 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
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)
versus are one of our long-running music and people crushes. we cannot get enough! they are a chickfactor house band! anyway, we asked another CF event regular (lois maffeo) to interview them for this year’s fest. they play chickfactor 22 friday, march 21, with the clientele, barbara manning & the saturday people at bell house.
interview by lois & photograph by michael galinsky
lois: I was in the middle of a room full of indie bands sleeping on the floor of dave auchenbach’s house after a big night at the providence pop fest in 1992. versus had arrived late, after a gig in some other town. it was probably four in the morning when I woke to see figures with guitar cases moving gingerly across the bedrolls. richard baluyut was stepping over my sleeping bag when he looked down and darkly intoned, “I heard you made brownies.” that phrase (accurate, I may add) kickstarted a long friendship with richard that soon came to include his versus bandmates fontaine and ed and patrick and james. you’d think that over the past 20 years, I would have gotten around to asking richard some of these burning questions. so thanks, gail, for assigning me to interview richard in advance of versus’ appearance at chickfactor 22 on friday, march 21 at the bell house in brooklyn.
is it true that you once got a guitar lesson from roger miller of mission of burma?
richard: I never had a lesson from roger. he did sell me his guitar from mission of burma, before they got back together. when he needed it back, I sent it back to him of course! I believe I still own it, but I haven’t held it in over a decade!
can you describe the ownership timeline of the famous black rickenbacker guitar?
richard: I bought it in 1990, and used it on our early singles. traded it to tae won yu for his SG, which became the versus guitar. tae brought the rickenbacker with him to olympia and made it the classic kicking giant guitar. but he got bored of it and sold it back to me when we were passing through on tour. I sold it to jeff cashvan, who later sold it to carrie brownstein, who made it the signature sleater-kinney guitar. quite an illustrious history! I haven’t seen carrie play it in a long time though; I hope she’s passed it on…
if you could play in any band from the past, which one would it be?
richard: I wish I’d been in the who, isle of wight-era so I would be wearing a jumpsuit…
what is your favorite sci-fi novel?
richard: invisible cities by italo calvino? I was more of a fantasy guy. I only read civil war history now…
what are your top 3 favorite things about new york city?
richard: double-features at film forum. mamoun’s falafel still standing. not living there.
Doors 7pm, showtime 8pm. $20 advance; $25 at the door; advance two-day pass $40.
Tickets on sale at noon EST Monday, Feb 3!
Also will be available at Other Music.
Thursday, March 20
WITHERED HAND From Edinburgh and led by Dan Willson, the ace band has a brand-new second album, New Gods, coming out March 25 on Slumberland Records. It was produced by Tony Doogan (Mountain Goats, Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, The Pastels) and features a stellar array of guests including members of Belle & Sebastian, Frightened Rabbit, Black Tambourine and The Vaselines. New Gods also features CF cofounder Pam Berry and a song called “Black Tambourine”! New single.
JIM RUIZ SET Hailing from Minneapolis, the legendary Jim Ruiz & Co. often play at CF parties. They released Mount Curve Avenue, their third LP, in 2012 and on vinyl in 2013 on Shelflife Records. Their jazzy Max Eider-influenced pop has always made us swoon. Tonight’s lineup is Jim Ruiz, Emily Ruiz on drums, Allison Labonne on bass, and Kim Serene on marimba and accordian. (Interview in CF9)
LILYS / KURT HEASLEY Super-talented East Coast (mostly DC, Virginia, Pennsylvania) songwriter Kurt Heasley has been putting out records as Lilys since 1991 that feature a noisy brand of pop we love. He has been working on some new material and will play some of that tonight.
AMOR DE DÍAS The London-based duo featuring Lupe Núñez-Fernández (Pipas) and Alasdair Maclean (see The Clientele) hasn’t toured in the US since 2011. They released a brilliant second album called The House at Sea on Merge Records in January 2013. The combination of Spanish guitar, English melancholy, the spirit of Gal Costa and a touch of cinematic magic makes them one of the most intriguing songwriting pairs working today. They’re currently making their third album. Recent track!
Friday, March 21
THE CLIENTELE Originally from Hampshire and now London, the Clientele is one of our fave pop acts of all time. This lineup featuring Alasdair Maclean, James Hornsey on bass and Mark Keen on drums hasn’t played together since 2005. The group hasn’t played in the US since 2010. These three got back in the studio for the first time since 2010 to record a new 7″ single for the Merge Records Thousands of Prizes thing, which is their first new material in 4 years. (interviewed in CF13)
VERSUS Many associate this band with ’90s indie rock but they put out a pretty bad-ass LP on Merge Records in 2010 titled On the Ones and Threes. Another “chickfactor house band,” Versus has switched off members over the years but this year will be the handsome Baluyut brothers Richard and Ed and foxy Fontaine Toups (CF Cover Girl issue 6).
BARBARA MANNING Barbara Manning used to be the poster girl for San Francisco, and has participated in some of the best pop music ever (with 28th Day, World of Pooh, SF Seals) and especially as a solo artist. She’s currently living in Long Beach and is a high-school chemistry teacher! We are very happy to have her on the lineup. CF Cover Girl issue 4.
THE SATURDAY PEOPLE This fab DC pop group hasn’t played in a while! Featuring the original lineup, which was Terry Banks (Dot Dash, Tree Fort Angst, glo-worm); Dan Searing (glo-worm); Greg Pavlovcak (Ropers); and Ara Hacopian. Interviewed in CF15.
chickfactor fanzine was started in 1992 by pam berry and gail o’hara in d.c./nyc.