Molina is known to most as the man behind Songs: Ohia, and later, Magnolia Electric Company. His music was widely celebrated by reviewers and music lovers alike. Almost all of it was released on Secretly Canadian Records, as Molina was closely tied to the Bloomington music scene.
At the Saturday concert, musicians from around the country will gather to perform songs specific to the eras during which they recorded with Molina. Guests include Swearing at Motorists, Jennie Benford, Mike Brenner, Andy Cohen and Tim Midget of Bottomless Pit and Silkworm, David Vandervelde, members of Golden Boots, Lawrence Peters, Elephant Micah, Chris Kupersmith, with more guests promised.
It's also the release date for the Songs: Ohia classic Hecla & Griper, including the first time the album will be available on vinyl. Secretly Canadian was collaborating with Molina on this release, as well as other projects, before his death.
Another tribute album, currently available on Graveface Records, features covers of Molina songs by Jeffrey Lewis, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Phil Elverum, John Vanderslice and Allo Darlin'. All proceeds will be donated to help cover medical and funeral costs for Molina.
NUVO: Talk about your time in Indianapolis, and how you got into music.
RANDY PAUL: I grew up in Greenfield, just east of Indianapolis. I was given my first guitar from my grandma when I was about eight years old. I played around with it for a little while but never really took it seriously until a few years later. I got in trouble for stealing a bike and was ultimately grounded for an entire summer. I spent that time in my room, playing on a three string guitar. I later convinced my mother to have the guitar re-strung and tuned which opened my eyes to what a guitar could sound like. I learned to play by ear by listening to John Mellencamp, AC/DC, Metallica, and 80's rock.
NUVO: How did you figure out music was what you were meant to do?
RP: The first time I played on stage at a student recital I knew that this was something I would be doing for the rest of my life. The rush from the energy and undivided attention from the crowd made it addictive.
NUVO: Were there other Hoosier musicians who you used as influences?
RP: I, of course, return to Mellencamp. The Why Store, Henry Lee Summer, plus just about every guitarist that came through The Slippery Noodle Inn.
NUVO: When did you leave Indiana?
RP: I moved to Tampa in 1999 with my brother, Rick, and friend, Shorty. I met and joined a band called Olive Carpet, and we played locally for about a year and gained label interest at a time when the new music boom in Orlando was taking off with bands like Matchbox 20, Creed, and Seven MaryThree3.In 2001 we recorded our debut album Do You Know Who I Am in Nashville.
NUVO: What was your first big break?
RP: Olive Carpet headlined the National Conference of NACA (National Association of Campus Activities) Showcase in front of more than 5,000 at the convention center in Indianapolis. We toured, based on that performance, for two years and played 280 showsthroughout the United States.
NUVO: Why did you decide to relocate again, this time to Charlotte?
RP: Given that I was able to tour all over the country with Olive Carpet, I took note of cities I liked and where I might one day like to live; Charlotte fit the bill. It's not too small, not too large, weather is favorable year round and it's not too far from home.
NUVO: Speaking of home, coming back to, in Indy this month at Birdy's Is that extra cool for you?
RP: I'm very excited to play for friends, family and fan. It has been a long time since I have played in Indianapolis, and I'm looking forward to debuting my new single "Indiana Home." What better place to do it than in Indy?
Danny Brown plans to drop OLD, one of the most anticipated hip-hop albums of 2013, later this year. But a recent incident at a show in Minneapolis - when a female fan reportedly grabbed Brown, pulled down his pants and proceeded to perform oral sex on him - has eclipsed news of the upcoming release for now and has spawned a series of confusing and highly charged pieces.
There's a lot of conflicting information swirling around the incident, but the definitive piece thus far has been by tourmate Kitty Pryde, who published a long blog on Noisey two days ago. Kitty proclaims the incident was sexual assault.
"I'm mad as hell, to be honest.
"I'm mad that a person thought it was okay to pull another person's pants down during their performance in front of about 700 other people. I'm mad that a person thought it was a good idea to perform a sex act on another person without their consent. I'm mad that nobody made her leave. I'm mad that Danny had to actually wonder what he was supposed to do at that point. I'm mad that when I went home and said I had no respect for that girl, I was attacked for being a "slut-shamer" (after literally leading a girl to his hotel room at 3AM at her request) and, even more outrageously, for being jealous of the girl who sucked his dick. I'm mad that when two dudes pulled my pants down onstage, other people got mad too, but when it happened to Danny the initial reaction was like one big high-five."
Up to this point, Brown has not commented publicly on the incident, save for a since-deleted tweet response to Kendrick Lamar. He has, however, retweeted many expressions of support from his fans - and retweeted the link to Kitty's piece multiple times. That is, he hasn't spoken publicly until now.
@xdannyxbrownx I love you babe- Erika (@whootybish) May 2, 2013
I wanted to talk Brown about the incident. Scratch that. I wanted to talk to Brown about the response to the incident, which, to me, has seemed unfair and sexist. Perhaps I didn't present the conversation in the right way; looking back, I certainly didn't mean to say "bullshit" four separate times.Brown seemed extremely reserved throughout our interview; I'd be tempted to attribute that to the recent media storm, but I've never talked to the man before. He'll perform at Deluxe at Old National Centre on Tuesday, May 14.
NUVO: I don't want to make you talk about anything you don't want to talk about.
Brown: It's cool. I won't! [laughs] I won't talk about something I don't want to talk about.
NUVO: I know you've been retweeting a lot of messages of fan support in the last couple of days, and there's been a lot of things being said. I guess I wanted to know how much [of what's being written about the Minneapolis incident] is bullshit.
Brown: What do you mean bullshit? Like what?
NUVO: I've been reading all kinds of [pieces] about whatever happened in Minneapolis. ... I wondered if you had read anything [being written] and how much you think is right, if any.
Brown: I just don't like when people - with the whole thing, I don't like the way people are, like, taking the tabloid-y approach to it. ... I mean, it's what happened. The biggest thing with me is that I don't like when people try and throw the age thing. You know what I'm saying? It was a fuckin' - I don't do all-ages shows for one thing. The girl was fuckin' 24 years old. I talked to her after the show was over with. You know what I'm saying? I don't like that they keep trying to throw in there that he maybe "did" an underage girl. That's not true, at all. And that's the only thing that really upset me about it.
NUVO: (I hem and haw while thinking about my next question.)
Brown: Don't get me wrong, I'm just keepin' it [honest] with you. I'm not like, proud of that shit that happened. I'm not running around, feeling like the man or some shit. I'm not happy. You know what I'm saying? I'm not happy that that shit happened. It happened - it was cool. Don't get me wrong. It was cool that that type of shit happened. I don't, like - if this was the '80s or something and we could just hear word of mouth, than that would be cool. But we live in a world where videos and pictures and everybody wants to do a fuckin' article trying to track down the girl, talking to the wrong girl, you know what I'm saying? That shit is not cool.
NUVO: I agree with you a lot. Nobody should be persecuted for something that just happens.
Brown: It was a moment. It just - at the end of the day, I don't care about it. It might happen again, who knows? You know? There's nothing I can really - it's just - fuckin' - that's the way my shows are. It's a party. We're havin' fun.
NUVO: How is Kitty doing?
Brown: [laughs] Kitty's all right. She's all right. She's been knocking these shows out, crying every night.
NUVO: I really did love that piece that she wrote. I thought it was badass.
Brown: It was. It's one of those things that I have a love and hate relationship with it. It's like - I'm happy that she did it and stuck up for me, but she did open up a can of worms too, and bring a light to a situation that probably we wouldn't even be talking about no more, you know? But now it's not going away.
NUVO: The same world that lets you drop a massive album on the everyone for free and hit all over the world in ten seconds also makes shit follow you. Good and bad.
Brown: It's cool. I've been through way worse situations, you know?
But let's not forget the reason I wanted to talk to Brown in the first place: his music kills. So before chatting a bit about the unsavory cloud that's hovered over the last week of his tour, we talked about the music he listened to when he was young, what he writes (or doesn't write) on tour and what he thinks is real hip-hop.
NUVO: You'll be in Indy in about a week and a half here. You're wrapping up your North American tour and ending up somewhere in Europe. ... I wanted to know if touring allows you time to be creative and write, or if it's more of just a time to refine material that you're touring.
Danny Brown: I don't work on music when I'm touring.
NUVO: Too busy?
Brown: I don't know. I just don't do that. I might write. I'm not the ... I don't know. I'm more concerned with doing the show. I look at it like, if you practice too much you might hurt yourself.
NUVO: That makes a lot of sense.
Brown: You don't want to get hurt in practice. Most of the time, I'm spending all day trying to get my voice right to perform. I wouldn't want to be sitting around trying to rap all day and then go and play a show at night.
NUVO: Do you have daily vocal practices?
NUVO: [laughs] I just wondered.
NUVO: I forget who I was talking about the other day who does every single day and they run through them for an hour. (Writer's note: I later remembered I was talking about Stevie Nicks, who spoke at length during her SXSW official interview about her vocal warm-ups. It was on my mind.)
Danny Brown - "Express Yourself"
NUVO: For the future of powerful, influential hip-hop releases [like XXX], do you see them [being released] in the free online download mode or more of the major/minor label release mode?
Brown: Well, I'm signed to Fool's Gold, so I don't think they would let me put out another project for free at this point.
NUVO: You've also talked about hip-hop splintering in the last few years, opening up spaces for you, Macklemore, Mac Miller, other guys. Could you expand on that hip-hop splinter?
Brown: What do you mean?
NUVO: I guess, Danny, honestly I would just like to hear you talk about the state of hip-hop in 2013 and what is important and influential to you right now.
Brown: What's important to me is probably not important to everybody else, you know?
NUVO: I'd like to hear what's important to you specifically, though.
Brown: Me, personally, I just listen to what I like. I don't care about the other shit that's involved with it. I've been listening to hip-hop since I can remember, but I'm not even going to call it hip-hop; it's rap music to me. Hip-hop is fucking, like, a lifestyle that you live, and I don't see nobody around here spray-painting or fucking DJing in a park. That's hip-hop. You know? This is rap music. My take on it is that I like rap music with hip-hop intentions. And what I mean by that is hip-hop to me is when somebody is doing something authentic to them, and not doing what they think hip-hop should be.
There's a lot of people who'll sit around and tell you that somebody like Gucci Mane isn't hip-hop. Gucci Mane is hip-hop; Gucci Mane don't need to be making A Tribe Called Quest songs; that's not his life. You know? So I like stuff that I think is authentic. That's what I listen to.
NUVO: You mention being young and listening to music; I know I've read that you've been rhyming forever and that your mom read you Dr. Seuss books. I'm really interested in what music does to young brains, and how it ends up influencing us later. Can you remember a few specific things you were listening to when you were really, really young?
Brown: You mean, on my own?
NUVO: Or in the house - what was around.
Brown: When I was a kid, my pops was 16; he had me at 16, so I was probably with him in his early twenties, you know? He just listened to whatever was the hot rap music at the time. He was a house DJ, so I heard a lot of house music and electronic music, and I think the biggest inspiration for me in house was Loose Ends. My pops, my moms, everywhere I go, they played Loose Ends. Something about that album. Maybe, I don't know if something clicked in my family, but any BBQ, they were playing that album. I still listen to it to this day.
Congratulations to James Strong Jr. on his new alumni award, named for the founder of the Afro-American Arts Institute.
From the IU Newsdesk:
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Indiana University's African American Arts Institute is honoring James A. Strong Jr. with the Herman C. Hudson Alumni Award.
Strong is an alumnus of IU Bloomington and the IU Soul Revue. He has become a critically acclaimed bassist, musical director and producer, playing for artists such as Toni Braxton, En Vogue, Tupac, MC Smooth, New Edition and LL Cool J.
Strong will be honored at the African American Arts Institute's annual Herman C. Hudson Alumni Award Banquet at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 16, in the Grand Hall, Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave.
Since his time as a band member in the IU Soul Revue, Strong has recorded, produced and performed for top record companies such as RCA, Warner Bros, Sony, Virgin, Atlantic, Universal, J Records, Jive and Capitol. Strong has played to sold-out crowds at Madison Square Garden, as well as for LL Cool J's Grammy Award-winning performance at New York City's Radio City Music Hall.
"Attending IU and being a part of the IU Soul Revue was a priceless experience," Strong said. "The creative environment under the mentorship of Dr. James E. Mumford inspired me and gave me tools and the confidence I needed to pursue a career in music."
When asked to define success, he said, "I ask myself these few questions: Did I wake up this morning happy? Did I wake up this morning pain free? Did I wake up this morning with the ability to better myself and to help someone else? If my answers are yes, then there is nothing standing in my way from being successful."
Strong will graduate from IU East in May with a degree in business. "Its never too late to finish what you've started," he said.
KO performance shots
Shots of KO (Kristin Newborn and Todd Heaton)
"I'm all over the place," laughs Kristin Newborn. We're sharing a table in the back of an Alley Cat with Todd Heaton, discussing the duo's new band, KO.
I'm chomping at the bit to hear Newborn and Heaton's newest recording project, a debut album slated for a late July release. Slothpop, Newborn's critically adored former group, dissolved amicably in March of last year. Now, almost exactly one year later, Newborn prepares to release a new album, set off for a host of shows and impress Indy once again. This year has been a diverse one for the duo, whose performance spaces have ranged from basement floors to the Hilbert Circle Theater stage, and just about everywhere in between.
I'm in a tall, cushioned seat at the Hilbert Circle Theatre. After spending too much time chatting in the front over gratis appetizers, I've been relegated to a seat in the back; I prefer it there - better to watch the crowd's reaction to the batch of songs compiled by Steve Hackman, who's debuting his Brahms "First Symphony" and Radiohead "OK Computer" mash-up. The performance features three singers, including Newborn. After solo songs from the other two performers, Newborn launches into a new piece (arranged by Hanna Benn), accompanied by the orchestra. It's delicate and lush, and although more than 80 orchestra members join in, Newborn owns the performance.
"When I was 3 years old, I would watch these musicals," says Newborn. "These sing-along, dance-along videos, and then I would go to this electric piano and be able to play back from ear. My mom [saw this and put me] in piano Suzuki [method] lessons that year."
Newborn grew up in Indianapolis; she spent her formative years studying classical music, sneaking into church sanctuaries to play the piano and performing with North Central's show choir.
"Classical music was really important to me; I played a lot of Bach, a lot of Mozart. I loved listening to Debussy," says Newborn. "Debussy is so beautiful."
After high school graduation, Newborn was set to move to Chicago to attend Columbia College, one of the largest arts colleges in the country. But something was subconsciously holding her back.
"It was so weird - I kept having these really bad dreams that took place in Chicago; I was having weird second thoughts about it," she says.
So, instead, it was off to The Young Americans (after a brief stop in Michigan for auditions) in Los Angeles. TYA is a traveling performance group for young professional musicians, with whom she crisscrossed the world, living for months at a time in places as far-flung as Japan and Germany.
"I loved [Young Americans] and I grew up a lot, playing with professional musicians," says Newborn. "And everyone was super different, but we had one thing in common: our love of music."
After finishing her tours with The Young Americans, Newborn returned to her hometown. Fairly quickly, she settled into a comfortable musical collaboration with Lauren Elson (vocals, violin), Dan Zender (guitar), Bryan Unruh (percussion), Jeff Vyain (cello) and Drew Malott (bass, vocals). That collection of musicians was Slothpop. They released an LP in January of 2011, a magnificently strange collection of 10 strongly written tracks carried by Newborn's lilting voice. The group performed all over the state and elsewhere, gaining friends and fans steadily.
But by March of last year, it was time for something new. So with a brief goodbye ("Dearest loves, Slothpop is officially calling it off."), KO was born.
I'm in a basement of a stranger's house in Bloomington. On deck for the night is Floorboard, a gauzy three-piece group led by singer Biz Strother; Philly band Son Step; Steven Layne; Todd Heaton's Street Spirits; and KO. The basement is far from packed - in fact, a good portion of the people downstairs are band members themselves.
It's a nice space, as college town basements go. I'm posted up on the washing machine, with softly glowing Christmas lights swinging above my head. Newborn floats from person to person - she's the last act of the night, but she's there from the beginning, chatting quietly with other musicians. She's front and center when Heaton starts his set.
"I was always a fan of Todd in Our Imaginary Friends," says Newborn. "Then I heard these home recordings of Street Spirits that he did, and I messaged him right away and said, 'Todd, Todd, I love you. We should play music.' "
Street Spirits is a solo writing project that grows to a full band for live performances. Heaton's EP, released last summer, is a low-fi, dreamy confection with deep, dark undertones; his thunderous drums add gravity to the reverb-soaked vocals. Newborn loved those drums, and Heaton understood KO's songs.
"I didn't really know where the KO project was going," says Newborn. "And I didn't know Todd was going to play drums. I think a lot of people in Indianapolis did not know he played drums as well as he does. I think that was what was cool when we played our first couple of shows; people were like, 'Whoa, Todd!' "
Newborn brought five songs to Heaton initially, and they rehearsed only three times before their first live show.
"Then, she said, 'I have two more songs,' and then, 'I have two more songs,'" says Heaton.
Theirs is a musical partnership that works, and they're already thinking about future collaborations before this album is even done.
"It'd be cool, for the second KO album, for me to help out with songwriting and guitar [playing]," says Heaton.
But they've still got to finish up this album first.
"When I first demo'd these songs, I would be doing the percussion on my guitar with my thumb and it sounded like a djembe," says Newborn. "When Todd came, we formed this grungy, but still soulful, sound. When we first started playing out, someone said, 'Hey, you're afro-grunge.' I think it fits. I do have a soulful voice, and I'm inspired by a lot of African-style vocals; but Todd brings this hardness to it."
The genre name might be a mouthful, but the songs are really quite simple.
"We're minimalists," says Newborn. "We're really into a stripped-down sound. It's completely the opposite of Slothpop, which I felt like was a very full band, over-the-top and very emotional. KO is more playful."
The recording process was smooth; Heaton's drum parts fleshed out the tracks naturally.
"With the drums, it was easy to come to a conclusion with how the songs should be and how the feeling should be," says Newborn. "We've considered [adding someone else to the band], but for right now, it's really fun just the two of us."
Heaton hasn't paused his solo project; in fact, he's planning on completing a new Street Spirits album by the end of March. But it's got something in common with KO's upcoming release: simplicity.
"You don't have to say a whole lot for people to understand," says Heatonn "In music, there's a lot of people that have a lot of lyrics trying to get a point across ... but in actuality I think there's a genius in taking complex ideas and breaking them down into a simple platform."
I'm at the DO317 Lounge. It's July, and the cozy spot in the Murphy Building is just a few months old. The hallways are buzzing with gallery goers packing the rooms for First Friday, but all is quiet inside our space. After setting up, Heaton and Newborn launch into "I Will Run When It's Dark" (available for listening on MusicalFamilyTree.net) and I'm entranced. Just a few months after the announcement from Newborn that Slothpop is no more, this completely independently written batch of songs is already sounding years old.
"We've been having a lot of really neat opportunities [in Indy]," says Newborn. "And it's hard to consider living in another place. There's so many good things happening for us. ... I think that there are so many talented musicians here."
Spaces like the Murphy Building and promoters likes MOKB Presents have been welcoming to them; in fact, KO just wrapped an opening slot for '90s pop dreamboats Sixpence None the Richer.
Speaking of throwbacks, we spent time thinking back on those first shows Newborn saw when she moved back to Indianapolis. She remembers being impressed by Christian Taylor, Jesse Lee and Jorma Whittaker. She's still impressed by the wealth of what she calls "secret musicians" in Indy - people she didn't know were talented, prolific artists who pop up at venues regularly.
I'm alone in my apartment, cueing up KO's newest collection of songs on my computer and sinking into my couch.
The mastering process for Goldengal is about 50 percent done - they holed up to record once again at Queensize Studios, where Slothpop was recorded - and Newborn's let me hear a few of her newest tunes. I cue up "Goldengal," the title track, which starts with a slow, steady beat from Heaton and easy guitar riffing from Newborn. Thirty seconds in, the guitar spins and layers, leading in a vocal harmony and looping vocal tracks with Newborn's tranced-out rock scatting, a chorus of da-DATs and dum-dats. It's gorgeous, and I can't wait to hear more.
"Goldengal is a real person," says Newborn. "I was trying to reach this person in some way; I think when you're with someone for so long, you can fall into these habits where you feel like you become further and further away. ... I don't think this person knows the album is named after them, which I think is fine."
A collection of formidable Indy talents guest on the record; this includes Heaton, of course, but also the collective talents of Derek Johnson (Johnsongs) and Leilah Smith (Homeschool). But the songs were written solo.
"I started composing songs right after I was done with Slothpop. It was natural - I was getting used to playing by myself and experimenting with pedals and playing more guitar."
Listening to "Goldengal," I'm struck again by the sheer beauty and resonance of Newborn's songwriting. Her music seems devoid of place or time, and her voice transcends trappings of genre and venue. From basements to the Hilbert Circle Theatre; spaces large and small are perfectly suited for KO.
"That's the awesome thing about KO. We can play in a basement, she can play at the ISO, we can play in a club - and it just works," says Heaton. "The magic of KO is that it's really versatile and unique, but open to everybody."
Like she said, they're all over the place.
"Goldengal" by KO
The Indianapolis and Bloomington music communities -- and the rest of the world -- were saddened to learn of the untimely passing of musician Jason Molina, 39, who died in his home in Indianapolis Saturday, March 16. The force behind Songs: Ohia and later, Magnolia Electric Company, Molina was signed to Bloomington label Secretly Canadian and released the majority of his work on that imprint.
"Jason is the cornerstone of Secretly Canadian," said a statement released by the label. "Without him, there would be no us - - plain and simple."
Molina experienced a variety of health problems in recent years, including a years-long struggle with alcoholism that led his family to ask fans for financial support to his rehab. Memorial contributions are still being accepted.
"I have not given up because you, my friends, have not given up on me. ... Keep the lamps trimmed and burning," Molina wrote in a note on the band's site in May 2012.
I phoned up Matthew Houck - - the man behind Phosphorescent - - in late February at his place in Brooklyn, where he's lived for six or seven years (he can't remember). Houck was gearing up to begin a spring tour for the new album Muchacho, a hauntingly beautiful new collection of songs he wrote, mastered and produced completely solo.
That's not new for Houck, whose experimental indie folk is created largely solo. What is new is the parade of musicians that accompanied the recording - more than 20 in all, who came in one by one to layer their instruments and voices over Muchacho's 10 songs, which were conceptualized largely during a solo trip to Tulum, Mexico, a town along the Caribbean coast.
You can hear that locale in Muchacho; I imagine crashing waves, the bright white sun, swaying palms in every track. This is an album that rewards multiple listens, and standout tracks "Muchacho's Tune," "Song for Zula" and "A Charm/A Blade" are addictive, with looping synths, horn choruses and muted, haunting guitar. Houck will return to Bloomington for the third time in five years for a show at The Bishop with Strand of Oaks on Thursday, March 28.
NUVO: I've seen you twice - both in Bloomington, where you'll play again in a few weeks, once at the Waldron and once at Russian Recording.
Matthew Houck: I remember that recording studio place; that was great. I don't know if I have any pearls of wisdom to drop about Bloomington, but I have spent time there because of Secretly Canadian. I used to live in this town, Athens, Ga., and it seems like a similar kind of vibe. A nice little artistic enclave in sort of a other-type of state.
NUVO: A dot of blue in a sea of red. So, let's talk Muchacho. I love this album. I've been playing it over and over, making the people in my house a little crazy. It's ... so sad.
Houck: It's a bummer, I know. It's a rough record.
NUVO: It's so beautiful and so sad. The first question I actually wrote down when I found out I was going to interview you was, "Are you OK?"
Houck: [laughs] You know what, with a little bit of distance from the record, I've asked myself that same question. Yeah, I think I'm OK. But it's a rough record and I'm kind of - - I listened to it maybe a few weeks ago. I hadn't listened to it since I had finished it and I kind of got a little distance.
"Song for Zula" by Phosphorescent
NUVO: I think "Muchacho's Tune" is my favorite track on the record, I think. You told Spin you made this "in the middle of a freakout." Can you tell me more about how the songs came together in that hut in Mexico?
Houck: The genesis [of the tracks] came together a little bit before that. I actually went down to Mexico to get away from my own life a little bit. My own life had become a little bit uninhabitable. I just got out, I wanted to get out of it and just write these songs. They had been starting organically, but I wasn't able to work on them. So, I figured, [the trip] would be a dual purpose: getting out of town, getting away from my own life, trying to focus and do some writing and finish up these songs that were brewing.
NUVO: I've actually been lucky enough to go [to Tulum] - -
Houck: Oh, you know this place?
NUVO: Yes, it's so beautiful. I feel like I'm transported back every time I cue up this record. I feel the airiness and the physical beauty of that place. And a lot of your lyrics feel like you're bringing the outside inside. How did the physical beauty of the space you were creating in affect your songwriting?
Houck: I understand what you mean, because it's a thing that I don't know if you're really conscious of what you're doing while you're doing it. You know, I can say for sure that being there while writing was definitely influencing the lyrics, but that stuff kind of happens subconsciously. I can say for sure that it wouldn't have been written like that if I had been in my apartment - - well, I can't say for certain, I guess. But that stuff happens - - it's an ephemeral thing that happens behind the scenes in your mind. Hopefully, if you do your job right, you can sort of capture it. So I'm glad to hear it did that for you. It's really good to hear.
"Wolves" by Phosphorescent
NUVO: You open and close the album with a sun invocation. Why did you choose to do that?
Houck: That was something that was a conscious choice. It was a conscious decision to end it and start it that way rather than starting with a sunrise and ending with a sunset, which may have been the logical way. It seemed important to me to start it with an ascension and then end it with another ascension. It's rising - - I call it a cone. It felt very much like that. Part of it is because the record is so bleak, so it's [to say] it's not all bleak. Maybe saying to myself or maybe to the listener, it was a conscious decision to focus on the light instead of the dark.
NUVO: You tracked and mastered this yourself, and, I assume, wrote it all yourself. I know you've produced entire albums solo before - - I think Pride was like that. But on this one, you called on 20 different musicians to add parts. Tell me about the production and recording process.
Houck: It was a bunch of folks! I had an idea to get a big, live thing together, but it didn't work that way at all. Because of schedules and everyone being so busy, I ended up tracking this stuff by myself, when I came back to New York and set up the studio again. And then, I ended up bringing in each musician one at a time. There was a never a point when we were all playing together. The process was like a sculpture or painting or something. Everyone on the record, I had them basically for one day, which speaks to how good they all are. I am lucky to have found such an amazing crew of people.
They all came in and were able to record everything in one day one at a time. Then I would take those tracks and work with them and spent a long time carving spaces for each instrument and, yes, building up the songs from various places.
NUVO: That's interesting that you refer to it as a sculpture - - I just heard this quote again the other day. Supposedly Michelangelo said something to the effect of, "David was always inside of the marble, and I knew he was, I just had to carve him out of it." Thinking about the intricate pieces and layering that went into this record - - I'm thinking of the chorus on "A Charm/A Blade," those horns and building that one by one. It doesn't feel like something that was put together piece by piece, it feels like a full live group. That brings me to my next question - - how are you going to do this live?
Houck: It's weird. In the past, I've always allowed the live band to be a separate thing from the recordings. To just let the songs be what they are for that given night, for whoever's playing them. But for this record, I do think we're going to be able to recreate the album. We played one show to test the waters a bit. It was at the old CBGB's space. It's going to be flexible; some of the dates are going to have a few more members than others. But I think we're going to be able to recreate this record live. Minus the horns; I'm not bringing any horns out.
The songs are sounding really full and rich. This is the first time I'm trying to be true to the versions on the records and bring them to the stage. And so far, it's working! It's sounding really, really good.
NUVO: Spin described your words as exhibiting "lyrical nudity." What do you think when you read things like that?
Houck: I'm OK with most of it. Even from the very initial stages of doing this, I called this thing Phosphorescent as opposed to calling it Matthew Houck, you know? There's an intrinsic layer of protection there. I know there's a healthy mix of truth and fiction in this stuff. A lot of times, I'll be really concerned about a line or a part of the song, and oddly enough, no one will ever mention it. But then people will be really affected or concerned about me personally [laughs] based on a lyric or something. And the funny thing is that [lyric] may be a toss-off line for me. I think there's a healthy distance between the work and myself.
I don't sweat it too much, even though there's a tendency with musicians and songwriters specifically, to put everything out like it's your diary or something. And to some degree, it is, because you can't escape your own thing. But I feel OK about that - - people can project whatever they want. I am a little bit jealous about filmmakers and authors of books - - I don't think that people assume that it's such a direct line to your personal life. I don't think people watch a David Lynch movie - - Mulholland Drive or something - - and assume he's a lesbian with amnesia. They're not concerned about David Lynch.
NUVO: I do worry a bit about David Lynch sometimes.
Houck: Yeah, you might be right, maybe. You might be right.
There aren't a lot of people who can list "rodeo bull rider" and "Academy Award winner" side-by-side on their resume. But Ryan Bingham's not an ordinary guy. He's a folk rock road warrior who's not road-weary. And he's an award-winning songwriter who penned "The Weary Kind" after reading the script for 2009 country music movie Crazy Heart and realizing the characters from the movie's plot didn't stray too far from the characters in his own life.
"Reading about "Bad" Blake, I thought that my father was very much like him," says Bingham during an early March phone call. "A lot of his friends were like that [too], so I kind of grew up with those characters in my life from a very early age. ... And I wrote the song not even really thinking about the film - - there wasn't much expectations for me yet, because it was so early on."
The songwriting was less a pressure-filled experience than a career oddity that had Bingham in disbelief all the way up to his climb to the Academy Awards podium in 2010.
"It was very surreal for somebody like me to get thrown into that world all of a sudden, to be a part of it," says Bingham. "I was just having fun with it while it lasted; I didn't feel all this sudden pressure of living up to anything. I've always thought that all I can be is myself.
After years on the road and three full albums, Bingham parted ways with his long-time band and long-time label for the release of Tomorrowland. Nothing acrimonious with the band, just time for them to go their separate ways.
"I'd been on the road with the band for almost ten years, and they dedicated a lot of time going on the road with me and playing these songs," says Bingham. "None of us had much of a home life or any kind of normal life other than being on the road constantly and playing shows. We were tired and wanted a break. (One member) was getting married; another one (was opening a music venue)."
The label was the same kind of story. Lost Highway Records was absorbed and broken down by Universal, and the employees Bingham had spent time with had been let go. It was time to go their separate ways.
"The [people laid off] were the ones that mentioned to us, 'You know, you guys could probably do this on your own." It was a natural thing to do instead of finding another label."
So Axster Bingham Records was born, and the first release was Tomorrowland, a collection of solo songs. Tomorrowland doesn't stray too far from his Southwestern grit roots, and neither does Bingham. Although Bingham spent some time soaking up the glitz and glamour that comes with being an Academy Award winner, he looks back most fondly on his time as a young musician striking out in Texas. Growing up in New Mexico and West Texas, Bingham listened to a lot of Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. He moved near Austin in the early 2000s, and found it a welcoming place for a musician trying to find his voice.
"It's such a melting pot for music," says Bingham. "It's really diverse; you have all the blues and zydeco; jazz comes up from Louisiana and the South; you have the mariachi and tehano stuff from Mexico and the Western swing and folk, songwriter, Woody Guthrie stuff from Oklahoma."
And it's a town that supports burgeoning talent by taking care of their beloved local musicians -- transplants or not.
"There's tons of programs that help musicians get health care; there's all kinds of stuff," says Bingham. "I don't think I could have done it anywhere else. If I would have moved somewhere else at that age and tried to play music I don't think I would have found that kind of support structure."
In the meantime, there's more Oscar-winning music to listen to - - while discussing current musical tastes, Bingham tells me he's been regularly listening to another Academy Award-winning musical release.
"I've been listening to this Rodriguez record from the [2013 Oscar winning documentary] Searching for Sugarman," he says.
Bingham will join HoneyHoney for a show at the Vogue Friday to celebrate NUVO's Spring Guide launch. Join us for a Bulleit Bourbon tasting at 6 p.m. at the Alley Cat before we move to three more bars. The tasting includes drinks at each location, a custom flask and appetizers
It's not so often you find novelty, holiday-specific, local hip-hop. In the spirit of the most sexual of holidays, we present: If Cupid Had a Gun [Prod. Uzi Beats]" by T-Smuve.
Matthew Milia, the frontman for Michigan folk rock group Frontier Ruckus, is verbose. His words tumble out of his mouth, one after the other after the other, in song, and as I found out Wednesday, in interviews.
It's often difficult to stay on track during a phone interview - artists have given the same versions of answers to questions so many times in so many slightly different ways that disjointed pieces of former thoughts can come together in odd ways. But Milia's tumbling words make sense; no, they more than make sense. They're pretty beautiful - and they should be, I guess. That is, after all, what he's known for.
We spoke last Wednesday, the day after the release of his band's brand new double album, Eternity of Dimming. It was a day spent monitoring online chatter and charts, and Milia was forthcoming about the strangeness of releasing art into the world to see it deconstructed in a million little ways all over the web.
It's probably more personal for Milia to see that deconstruction than for some others. He's very open about the fact that inspiration for most of his songs comes directly from his life, from his home, his family, his room. Enternity of Dimming is a collection of tales from Milia's life in the suburban outposts of Detroit: icy cold winters and green, green summers, freckles and drug stores and black ice and parking lots.
Frontier Ruckus will perform at the Bishop in Bloomington this evening with locals Rodeo Ruby Love and Cincinnati's Pomegranates.
NUVO: You just released Eternity of Dimming yesterday! Is it a relief to have those songs out of your brain and into other people's brains?
Milia: It really, really is. It's been done for about a year, so I've already written another record. But this is such a huge record; it's 20 songs. It's like a weight lifted to have people hear it.
But then I remember all the insecurities that come with putting art into the world. It's been overwhelmingly very positive, but it's the weird kind of things that take you by surprise. But it's been great.
NUVO: What's the day of releasing a double album like? Is anything that different? Do you eat a special breakfast?
Milia: You find yourself on the Internet a lot. More than usual (laughs). There's this whole side to it - the music business side - seeing how it's doing, how people are reacting to it. I wish I could remove myself from that. But I'm an only child though, so I'm really in tune to attention and what kind of attention I'm receiving. But I'm very open and honest about it - I can be an insecure person.
NUVO: It's hard to expose yourself like that. I have to say, I've read about a lot of albums, and this is the first one that I've ever seen a word count listed in the notes. 5,500 words in lyrical length - which is amazing.
Milia: Nobody can take that away from me. If the quality of the words isn't great, at least there's a lot of them.
NUVO: There are a lot of words. I am a huge fan of your music, and I love Okkervil River and prose poetry folk - you could read your songbook like a book, honestly, and get a lot from it. Can you tell me a few memories from writing this? I really love "If The Summer" and "Black Ice World."
Milia: "Black Ice World" is actually one of the more verbally economic tracks. There isn't that much verbosity going on, but that's kind of why I like it. It's kind of a refreshment in the midst of all this verbosity. That was very inspired by being locked up and lonely in a Michigan household in a very intense winter, where the outside world was just bitter, bitterly aggressively cold and inhospitable. So you're locked inside of this warm, glowing house at night, and outside is so cold that the windowpanes and doorknobs are dripping with condensation. It's kind of that internal, locked-up feeling. That was a very seasonal kind of song.
"If the Summer" is one of the few songs I wrote on a piano instead of a guitar. It's a young love kind of song. That was probably written in the winter, but remembering summer. Specifically, remembering a younger summer with a younger love, and regretting. It's very much a song about regret for the way something happens, and a fear that the next summer won't have the same kind of purity or innocence. Purity of love, goodness of love. It's a fear, "If the summer won't return in the same way," and it will just be full of adulthood and sunburns.
NUVO: Are you still playing that old '70s Epiphone that was your first instrument?
Milia: Yeah, yup. That was my dad's guitar that he got in the '70s.
NUVO: Do you think you'll ever let go of it, or will it be your main guitar forever?
Milia: No, no! (sounding scandalized). That's my guitar. I wrote the majority of my songs on it -
NUVO: You sounded so mad when I asked that!
Milia: You can't have it! (laughing) No matter how much you offer me, you can't have it. It's my most sentimental and prized attachment.
"Nerves of the Nevermind" by Frontier Ruckus
NUVO: Tell me about nostalgia. You're a collector of things - literally - and of memories, turning them into songs. What types of things do you collect?
Milia: Collector is a nice way of putting it. Hoarder is what other people call it. I'm on the road a lot, and what do you do when you have a couple hours to fill in the town? I go to record shops, I go to bookshops and I go to vintage clothing stores. I come home with way more shit than I left with. I just luckily moved in Detroit and I have more space to keep my hoarding stuff. But I have more books than I could ever read, way more records than I could ever listen to. Something about just having volumes of other people's verbosity just comforts me. Having those objects to me is inspiring. The history of art and creations and people's creativity.
NUVO: I also read you say that you have a compulsion to be a tour guide - to show off the things you know in your hometown. Could you create a songbook tour of places that have inspired you to write certain songs and then offer it to super fans? (laughs)
Milia: I've had people ask me to do that, actually, in letters and stuff. The thing is, I live in a very typical - I'm a product of a very typical, banal, suburban landscape. In all my music and writing, I've romanticized it and mythologized it as this extreme kingdom of memory and beauty. Really, it's just ugly strip malls that most people hate. But that's the kind of message in all the music. These are the specific and particular places that, just by the merit of them being what I know and where I come from, they're beautiful. And everybody has that exact thing catalogue of place, even if it's not suburban. Everyone comes from similar places, but everyone has a different system of locales that are beautiful [to them] just because they are physical extensions of those places - those parking lots, those drug stores and movie theaters.
I've chronicled mine very specifically, to gratify myself and release those kinds of memories. But I've found that other people can relate because they have a similar specific system of place.
NUVO: Do you collect maps?
Milia: I do. I wallpaper with maps a lot.
NUVO: I do too, actually. Have you ever felt - and I think this is a particular nostalgic feeling that I can't exactly describe; there's probably a German word for it - a sense of home in a place that you've never been before? That enough things are the same and familiar that it provokes nostalgia even though it's completely new?
Milia: I think there is probably a German word for that. Luckily, the place I'm describing that I come from is a very abundant and redundant landscape throughout America. Wherever I go there are strip malls and parking lots. Fortunately, what I'm trying to describe and express is reiterated in all of America's landscapes.
One time I was driving through South Dakota and it was dead of winter. Very inhospitable in the outside world - and I was driving through a system of malls and hotel chains that I swear to god look like exact replica of the mall where my mom worked growing up that I write about a lot. It was really eerie. Literally, the way it was laid out was exactly the same in South Dakota.
NUVO: What did you grow up listening to? What's your musical home?
Milia: I always say Bob Dylan and Neil Young because those are the things that my dad introduced me to that probably had the biggest impact on me as a songwriter. Those were my first experience with really idiosyncratic songwriters.
But, honestly, I grew up listening to the radio. I played travel soccer growing up, and on the way to soccer practice or a soccer game, I listened to '90s alternative rock. Gin Blossoms, Goo Goo Dolls, Third Eye Blind and Oasis. And a lot of that seeped in. I'm a sucker for the first time where we're honest with ourselves as products of the '90s, because that's what was everywhere. Some of the electric guitar tones and some of the chord changes reflect that.
NUVO: All right, I think I have time for one more question, and it's going to be about crafts. Is that white-out on a lot of your covers?
Milia: It's just white paint. And sometimes it's not always white paint, it's just paint. I do all the paint graphics because I like writing in paint like a child. But sometimes that person who lays it all out will change the color. But I like white paint. And it looks like white-out, which is a nice household tool. I'm all about domestic appliances, just things in junk drawers.
[A+E] Classical Music, Jazz + Blues + R&B
[Music] DJs + Dancing
[Music] DJs + Dancing
[Music] DJs + Dancing