The Bloomington brothers known as Busman's Holiday released their new LP Popular Cycles in mid-October. Next week, they'll celebrate that new release with a show at Pioneer on December 10.*
Popular Cycles finds Addison and Lewis Rogers taking aim at a huge pop sound — and we're talking Brian Wilson or George Martin huge. And, to the duo's credit, their arrow has zeroed in on that bullseye.
The sound here is indeed big. The intricately crafted arrangements on Popular Cycles make use of a 21-piece orchestra, in addition to a range of other arresting choices in instrumentation. But beneath the massive soundscapes and layered vocals lies the soul of Busman's Holiday: carefully written and lovingly performed pop songs overflowing with unique melodic and lyrical turns.
When all these elements come together, the effect is magical, as evidenced on the nostalgic "Make Believe," or the Beatles-esque "Evening Flows."
I caught up with Addison and Lewis in advance of their December 10 holiday-themed album release party at Pioneer. I was pleased to find the Rogers brothers to be every bit as bright, fun and engaging in conversation as they are in performance.
NUVO: You guys are known for your frequent performances busking around Bloomington. It seems to me that busking has been a big influence on your approach to making music. You have a very simple live presentation. Lewis, you often perform on acoustic guitar, and Addison, you're known for playing on a sort-of-makeshift drum kit built around a piece of Samsonite luggage.
Addison Rogers: Yeah! [laughs] One piece of Samsonite which I use as my bass drum and for a high hat type of sound, and then just a snare and cymbal.
I don't know how much that has shaped our music, but certainly it's shaped our approach to entertaining and having a relationship and dialogue with the audience, for sure.
Lewis Rogers: Well, I've actually always thought that a big reason we sing how we do is because I've trained my voice to singing on the street. You have to be loud. I think that for a while on a lot of our songs I was singing super loud.
David Byrne has that theory that music is shaped by its environment, and I think that's really true. I think that's one thing that's interesting about how we've evolved. As we've started playing different venues we started using microphones more, and the approach to music starts to change. Now I can have a song where I whisper. Before, we couldn't have a song where I whisper, because we were on the street and you can't play that way on the street. I've always thought that we've been molded by the busking.
NUVO: It's interesting to me that your live setup is so simple and basic, and the stuff you're doing in the studio is extremely complex. Can you talk about the gap between these two very different sides of the band?
Lewis Rogers: I've always wanted the songs to work in both of those setups. So you can explore this totally different world in the studio, but at the end of the day when you play it live for people, they understand that with just the chords and melody and a basic setup the song can also work.
I've always enjoyed when artists don't sound live like they do on the record. I know other people don't necessarily agree with that, but I totally do.
Addison Rogers: It settled into me at some point that we should not try to replicate what's on the record. If you want that experience, just listen to the record. The live show should be something you can't get otherwise and something that is as true as it can be.
We decided a long time ago, with our setup as it is, the records need to be exactly that or they need to be wildly different from that. So we've stuck to wildly different for a while.
NUVO: Your 2014 LP A Long Goodbye was a significant step forward for Busman's Holiday. It's an impressive record with ambitious arrangements and production. You recorded the LP in Canada with Mark Lawson, who is most know for his work engineering Arcade Fire's 2011 LP The Suburbs, which won a Grammy for Album of the Year in 2011.
I heard a really interesting story surrounding your work with Mark Lawson that started with an inheritance you received from an uncle. Can you elaborate on that?
Addison Rogers: Our mother's father died early on in her life, and she always wanted us to spend time with our great-uncle because that was the closest thing she had to her father. Unfortunately that didn't really come around. Then he passed away, and we got this inheritance. So we were trying to figure out what we should do with it.
We were having a late-night meal with our buddy David Woodruff at Steak 'n Shake, and we were thinking maybe we should get some equipment to make some videos. David said, "You're thinking about making this record. Have you thought about getting a producer for it?" Lewis said, "Well, there's probably only one producer we'd want to work with and that's Mark Lawson." At that point he'd just received a Grammy for working with Arcade Fire. So we're thinking there's no way he's going to work with us. [laughs] That is a total pipe dream.
At that point David was working at Fort William, and in the morning he told me to check my email. We found out that he'd sent a message to Mark saying, "These guys are orchestral pop, would you be interested in working with them?" Mark writes back, "Oh yeah, orchestral pop. That sounds great. Send me the demos."
We sent him some songs and gave him Lewis' phone number. Then out of the blue one day Lewis gets a phone call from California; he answers the call only to find out it's Mark Lawson.
Lewis Rogers: I was just driving and I picked up the phone and someone said "Hi, is Lewis there? This is Mark Lawson." That sobered me up.
So then we started talking, and he thought we'd already recorded the whole thing and just needed it mixed. I said "We actually need the whole thing recorded." He said "OK, come up to the studio. I've got the keys to Arcade Fire's studio. Come up and we'll make this happen." I told him we didn't have that much money really. He just said "Well, we'll not worry about that right now."
It totally worked out and he's just a super nice guy. He got us. It was nice to find someone really talented who got you. That was a touching moment. You don't find that very often, especially with someone who is really going to do you justice.
It was synchronicity.
Addison Rogers: He had us up there for a week and arranged really fantastic musicians for us. Some that had recorded and performed with Islands, which is the group that came after The Unicorns. That's how we got into Mark Lawson. We didn't really know Arcade Fire very much. But we were both big fans of The Unicorns who were a super tight, three-piece, indie pop group Mark had produced. They were really funky, quirky and terrific. Lewis and I had seen them live. They came through Rhino's at one point, maybe a couple times. They performed amazingly.
We recorded in Farnham, Quebec which is about 45 minutes outside of Montreal. The recording space was crazy; it was an old Masonic temple. So it was like a huge church with great stained glass. A beautiful mixture of this decaying structure and this warm energy there.
We really hadn't had an experience like that before. We'd had recordings that had their own sense of space and experience. We recorded our EP before that at a friend's house and everybody was sort of new to recording strings and that type of process. But to be submerged into this entirely different environment was just terrific.
Lewis Rogers: Well, we'd just never been in a studio before. In my mind I thought "I've recorded albums. I've been in studios." But then you realize "I haven't been in a studio once!" So it was odd to go into this scenario where you're just thrown into things.
But luckily we were with someone who was a total professional. He'd say "Hey, you guys should just take your time and warm up." I think he sensed we were both kind of nervous.
NUVO: So this brings us up to date to your new LP Popular Cycles. I think this is a remarkable album. The songwriting and production are brilliant. There's some fascinating instrumentation on the record, including arrangements utilizing a 21-piece orchestra. And again you're working again with Mark Lawson. Did you return to Quebec for the recording of Popular Cycles?
Lewis Rogers: This time Mark came down to Bloomington. It was interesting because we did it in both Bloomington and Montreal. It was cool because on the last record we were going into this foreign place, so it was nice for Mark to come into our spot that we were most comfortable in and record us there.
He stayed at our parents' house. He specifically asked for home-cooked meals. We showed him around and made him feel like family. I think that it really helped us.
Then we went to Montreal and stayed with his family. We picked his kid up from preschool a couple times. I think that bonded us more. It was a really good experience.
Addison Rogers: On the first record we did with him, he at times specifically stated that he didn't want to touch what we were doing, he just wanted to record it. This time around there was much more collaboration and he took on more of a co-producer role.
Lewis Rogers: The first one isn't technically produced by Mark, it was just recorded by him. So on this one he added his flavor to it. Especially "Evening Flows"; that's the one he was involved in shaping the most.NUVO: Well, congrats to both of you. It’s a fantastic record. And you have a holiday themed album release party for Popular Cycles happening in Indianapolis on Saturday, December 10 at Pioneer in Fountain Square.
I don't make a big deal about my avoidance of Thanksgiving. I usually just try to find some alternative ways to spend my time while the majority of the country feasts.
But this year is different.
It's hard to abstain silently from this year's Thanksgiving celebration after repeatedly seeing images of state violence used against the indigenous communities gathered peacefully in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock. In solidarity with the protesters at Standing Rock, I've assembled this list of indigenous protest music to blast loudly from your sound system throughout the holiday weekend.
I understand that for most Americans Thanksgiving holds little political value and exists simply as a time to gather with friends and family. While I certainly respect that, I think it's important that we refuse to allow the barbaric history of violence and displacement carried out against Native American peoples to be falsified, forgotten or covered up.
In his book American Holocaust (Oxford University Press, 1992), historian David Stannard argues that the genocide against Native American people is the largest in recorded history. Stannard estimates that as many as 100 million indigenous peoples of North and South America perished from diseases and brutality.
We cannot alter the past, but we can try to foster a better future by acknowledging and learning from the tragic and unforgivable crimes of our history. The music listed below attempts to open up artistic dialogue on this theme.
A Tribe Called Red — We Are the Halluci Nation (Radicalized Records, 2016)
I was privileged to work with this incredible Canadian electronic music trio back in 2011, when I convinced the Eiteljorg Museum to fly A Tribe Called Red to Indianapolis for a performance at the opening night festivities of the Eiteljorg's Native American Contemporary Art Fellowship. It was one of the group's earlier U.S. dates, but their powerful mix of electronic music and Native American sample material was already fully defined.
A Tribe Called Red's third and latest LP, We Are the Halluci Nation, is their best effort yet, both musically and conceptually.
The LP opens with the words of the late Santee Dakota poet John Trudell, "We are the tribe that they cannot see ... we are the Halluci Nation." The album moves on to feature a multitude of artists representing marginalized cultures from around the globe, all in tune to A Tribe Called Red's thundering electronic take on traditional First Nation music.
We Are the Halluci Nation features a vibrant range of voices from Swedish hip-hop artist Maxida Märak, who represents the indigenous Finno-Ugric people of the Sápmi Arctic region, to the American spoken word artist Saul Williams, to the Canadian Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq.
Native North America Vol. 1: Aboriginal Folk, Rock, and Country 1966–1985 (Light in the Attic Records, 2014)
This fascinating 2014 compilation features rare archival recordings from indigenous voices within the Canadian rock scene. Stylistically the vibe here ranges from Dylan-esque protest ballads to wild blasts of raw '60s garage rock.
Native North America is a fascinating journey into an under-explored branch of rock-and-roll expression.
Tanya Tagaq — Retribution (Six Shooter Records, 2016)
Tagaq's vocalisms abandon traditional stylistic modes of "good" singing in favor of more expressive sounds like grunting, howling, growling and yelping. At times Tagaq manifests the aggressive fervor of a wild rabid dog, while in more intimate moments her vocal eruptions take on a sensual quality.
The press release for Retribution describes the disc as a conceptual treatise on the "rape of women, rape of the land, rape of children, despoiling of traditional lands without consent." Retribution finds Tagaq manifesting the fury of the Earth incarnate, screaming out in defiance of all environmental crimes and transgressions.
On the amorphous "Cold" Tagaq's chanting documents the effects of global warming on the Arctic, while "Centre" uses hip-hop to verbalize global civilization's small place within the infinite scope of the universe. And Retribution concludes with a spare, but harrowing, take on Kurt Cobain's "Rape Me".
Tagaq has created a soundtrack for mankind's abuses against the environment and ultimately civilization itself.
He was 26 years old but already a veteran of the music business. Before leaving New Orleans in 1965, Rebennack had recorded some highly regarded singles under his own name while contributing songs and session work to legendary early rock and roll sides for labels like Specialty, Ace, Ric and Ron. In California Rebennack was an in-demand session player for hit-makers like Sonny Bono and Phil Spector, but he'd failed to establish his own unique identity as a musical force to be reckoned with.
But 1967 would be the year that everything came together for Rebennack, who rechristened himself with the identity of a mid-19th century New Orleans root doctor known as Dr. John. Working under the name Dr. John, Rebennack developed a funky, stretched-out take on New Orleans voodoo music that struck a chord with the psychedelic generation and propelled Rebennack to widespread underground notoriety. What became an all-encompassing NOLA sound hit its peak in 1973 as Rebennack landed a hit record with the irresistibly funky "Right Place Wrong Time."
Today Dr. John is a six-time Grammy Award-winning musician and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer who embodies the essence of New Orleans music for millions of fans across the globe. I caught up with Dr. John in advance of his November 19 date at The Palladium with Nicholas Payton.
NUVO: I want to start off with a left-field question for you. The paper I write for, NUVO, is based in Indianapolis. There was a great blues singer and pianist here in Indy named Leroy Carr. His best-known recording was an arrangement of "How Long Blues," a record he cut in Indianapolis with guitarist Scrapper Blackwell in 1928 for the Vocalion label.
You've performed a couple takes on this song. In 1996 you laid down a version of the tune with Eric Clapton that seems to draw heavily from the 1928 Carr and Blackwell version, and in 2003 you recorded a version with Pete Jolly and Henry Gray for the Piano Blues volume of Martin Scorsese's documentary series Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues.
I'm curious if you were influenced by Leroy Carr's take on this tune?
Dr. John: No, I tried to listen to Leroy Carr's version but I couldn't get a good disc of it.
NUVO: Do you recall if you ever played on Indiana Avenue? That was kind of like our Beale Street; lots of great jazz and blues players came up on the Avenue.
Dr. John: Yes, I've heard of that. I have a great memory of working the Chitlin' Circuit. I remember being in Indianapolis during the days of the Chitlin' Circuit, but I don't remember exactly where I was.
NUVO: Your current tour is in support of Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch, an album you recorded in tribute to Louis Armstrong. I heard the inspiration for this album came from a dream where the spirit of Louis Armstrong visited you and told you to cut a record of his music in your own style.
Dr. John: That's correct.
NUVO: Had you ever thought about recording an album of Armstrong's music prior to this vision?
Dr. John: No, I had not thought of it. I had no idea in my head or on my brain that I would do something like this.
NUVO: That's such a fantastic origin story for a record. I'm curious what was going through your head when you woke up the next day after having this dream.
Dr. John: I didn't know what to think. I put it on hold for the time being and I did what I had to do that day. But I started thinking about it the next night and I realized that Louis had told me something good.
NUVO: Did Louis Armstrong ever come back into your dreams to give you a review of the finished album?
Dr. John: No, but I would be grateful to see him one day in the celestial lounge to see how he took that record.
NUVO: What kind of guy was Louis Armstrong to meet? Do you remember what you and Louis talked about?
Dr. John: Oh listen, Louis Armstrong was a gas to meet! I remember that in Joe Glaser's office he had this picture of Louis in Bucktown and I wanted to know if he'd passed thorough my pa's shop that was in Bucktown too.
[note: Rebbenack's father owned and operated a combination record shop and appliance store in the New Orleans neighborhood of Bucktown.]
But Louis Armstrong was laughing so hard about Ralph Schultz's Fresh Hardware store. He couldn't get out of laughing about that. But I could understand that. Ralph could marry you and divorce you. He could do anything.
[note: Fresh Hardware was a Bucktown hangout for a colorful cast of New Orleans characters, and in addition to peddling standard hardware store staples, the eccentric Schultz was known for catering to a wide range of his customer's needs.]
Although he's a native son, jazz music fans will forever associate Indy-born trombonist Phil Ranelin with the city of Detroit. It was in Detroit that Ranelin found his voice as an artist, forming the Tribe music collective with musician Wendell Harrison in the early '70s. Functioning as a record label, band and magazine Tribe tapped into the spirit of its era addressing revolutionary concepts in music and political thought, from black consciousness to universal themes of love and peace. The music Ranelin and company released through Tribe has lived on to impact several generations of musicians, influencing works of avant-garde experimentalism, EDM and hip-hop.
While so much of Ranelin's legacy rests on his time in Detroit, the trombonist is undoubtedly a product of the Indianapolis jazz tradition. Ranelin was born in Indianapolis in 1939, received his musical education here and gigged regularly locally until moving to Detroit in the late '60s.
Ranelin will return to Indianapolis for a September 16 date at the Jazz Kitchen. Ranelin's performance is part of the 2014 Indy Jazz Fest series, which also happens to coincide with his own 75th birthday tour.
I spoke with Ranelin via phone from his current home in Los Angeles, a city that has provided Ranelin with all the due praise and honor his hometown has failed to offer. There, Ranelin's birthday is recognized as Phil Ranelin Day, and they've proclaimed the trombonist as a "rare and valuable cultural City Treasure” and a "Cultural Ambassador for the City of Los Angeles." Ranelin's return to Indy should give local arts administrators and politicians reason to reflect on Indy's negligence in paying proper homage to the historic jazz movement of Indiana Avenue.
NUVO: You grew up during a musically rich period in Indianapolis. I know you attended Arsenal Tech high school, but I understand you also studied with the great educator Russell Brown from Crispus Attucks, as well as David Baker. Can you tell me about growing up as a musician in Indy during the late '50s?
Ranelin: Musically I think Indianapolis is one of the world's best kept secrets in a way. There's a wealth of knowledge there, and I was blessed to have been around that coming up. As you mentioned I studied with Russell Brown and David Baker. I had a total of maybe eight lessons with Baker but those lessons are still with me.
When I was a freshman at Tech, I discovered a record in the school band room. I used to look at this record from time to time for about a year before I ever played it. But when I was a sophomore I thought "Why don't I play this?" It was an album by Sonny Stitt and J.J. Johnson, and for me it was mind-boggling. At the end of the record there was something called "Teapot." iIt opened up with a Max Roach drum solo and J.J. came in immediately just playing on the changes. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. After it was over I looked at my classmate and said "You mean to tell me that a trombone can sound like that?" [laughs] Prior to that, I had only been playing marches in the marching band. It was a turning point for me getting more interested in the trombone.
A couple years later after I graduated from high school I had the privilege of meeting and playing with Wes Montgomery. I'd met Melvin Rhyne through one of Russel Brown's summer programs. I happened to run into Melvin one day and he said "Hey man, what are you doing right now? Why don't you come by The Hubbub. Bring your horn and I'll introduce you to Wes Montgomery." So I came through and Wes was his beautiful, beautiful self. Wes was always seemingly in a good mood. I played with Wes and he invited me back. I ended up going to jam sessions with him every week for about three months in a row.
NUVO: You came up during a time when many great trombonists were emerging from the Indianapolis scene. Guys like J.J. Johnson, Slide Hampton, David Baker and yourself took that instrument into new directions. What was going on at that time to push musicians to explore the trombone?
Ranelin: That's an interesting question. The trombone is such a difficult instrument it tends to lead you into figuring things out musically. A lot of trombone players end up being pretty good writers, and arrangers also. I think that's part of the nature of the instrument.
It is amazing that some of the top trombone players came out of this little town. I hear a lot of people say "Wow, Indianapolis is such a little place, but it's produced so many great players." And it's not just trombone players, Indianapolis has produced great brass players too like Freddie Hubbard. You've got Freddie Hubbard, J.J. Johnson, Wes Montgomery. There's three of the top musicians in jazz and they come from this little place called Indianapolis, Indiana.
NUVO: Speaking of Freddie Hubbard I understand he befriended you early in your career, and later on in the late '70s you both recorded together.
Ranelin: I just want to slightly correct you, Freddie Hubbard wasn't just a friend. He was a hero. He was only a year and a half older than me. We went to high school together. We developed a real close friendship, especially when I moved to the West Coast. At that time we were hanging out extensively. Every Thanksgiving I was at his house. He was a special friend and I valued him immensely. Freddie, for me, is my very favorite trumpet player. And I don't stand alone, that's not a biased statement. In terms of jazz a lot of people agree that it doesn't get any better than Freddie Hubbard.
NUVO: Can you tell me about your decision to move to Detroit and what led you to co-founding Tribe Records?
Ranelin: There again The Hubbub comes into play. I'd go by there and stand in with whatever band was there. There were a lot of great musicians coming through there including Grant Green and Eddie Harris. This particular time it was a band from Detroit and after the session was over the leader came and said "I really like the way you play. Are you staying pretty busy around here?" I said "No." He said "If you ever decide to move to Detroit, look me up immediately. I could get you some work."
That was music to my ears because I was getting very little work in Indianapolis. I didn't have any real ties in Indy at the time; my marriage had kind of broken up. So I decided to take him up on his offer. I moved to Detroit and immediately called him. He said "We're rehearsing, come on by." I go to the rehearsal, and come to find out it was a rehearsal for one of the Motown acts. In fact it was The Temptations. I played and I got the gig. They were heading out right that week on a 10-day tour and ironically enough the first stop on the tour was Indianapolis. At that point I'd only been gone from Indy for about a week, and most people hadn't realized I'd even left. [laughs]
A Cultural Manifesto is now available on WFYI's HD2 radio. Tune in Wednesdays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 p.m. as NUVO's Kyle Long explores the merging of a wide variety of music from around the globe with American genres like hip-hop, jazz, and soul.
(Editor's Note: This article was graciously boosted on social media by Indy Jazz Fest [IndyJazzFest.net]. Indy Jazz Fest had no input on the content in this article or the decision to create it.)