Thursday, November 3, 2011

Yip-Yip Interview

At first listen, the music of Yip-Yip could be mistaken for that of the chiptune/bitpop genres and whilst many of the sounds they use may bring to mind the 8-bit soundtracks of old video games, there is much more to the Florida based duo than mere retro mimicry. Since the early 2000s, Yip-Yip have released a string of albums of quirky and frequently hyperactive electronica with sporadic flourishes of saxophone driven jazz and ska thrown in for good measure. As with most of the bands I like, Yip-Yip are difficult to categorize but one thing that unites their back catalogue is the instrumental nature of their music.

Not so with this year's offering "Bone Up", which sees Yip-Yip introduce vocals and lyrics as core elements to the majority of the album's songs. Despite the processed nature of their voices, the result is a much more human and personal effort from the duo. The chaotic layers of vintage
synth sounds and effects that fans of Yip-Yip will know and love remain, but the addition of catchy lyrical hooks and interesting themes make "Bone Up" their most engrossing and ambitious album thus far. Additionally, they have created a series of experimental videos to accompany their songs which can be found on YouTube here. Whilst Yip-Yip already had a distinctive and well-oiled identity of their own, "Bone Up" has proven that after ten years of making music, the group are not afraid to try new things.

  Day Off by Yip-Yip

A much more detailed and thorough review of "Bone Up" can be found on the "Butter Yo Bread!" blog
here. Below is an interview I recently did with Brian and Jason, aka Yip-Yip:

Up until "Bone Up", your music was largely instrumental. What brought about the decision to record a more vocal heavy album?

Brian: We were working on this Nirvana cover a few years ago, so we turned the guitars into synthesizers, and we re-made the drum tracks with drum machines, and Jason played the vocal melody on saxophone. After we were finished it just seemed like it was missing something, and that something was some form of vocals. We had talked about maybe buying a vocoder at points over the years, but the cover helped push us to actually do it, and I ended up liking the vocals on the cover so much that I decided that I wanted to have vocals on all these songs we were working on for our next album, which was everything that became Bone Up.

Jason: The songs we were working at the same time as the Nirvana cover all seemed to be missing something too. Also, realizing how cheap, easy, and and fun those EHX vocoders are was a good push.

With the addition of vocals, it seems that your Devo influences have become more apparent. What other artists inspired your lyrical/vocal style?

Brian: Yeah, I'm not sure why, but the vocals seem to really make that connection for people that we're into bands like Devo. Before the vocals we hardly ever got that comparison, even though they have always been one of our favorite bands. Other vocals I think I thought of early on when figuring out how I'd like to sing in Yip-Yip was Nirvana, Cardiacs, Oingo Boingo, and Bruce Haack.

Jason: Nofx

"Too Much" suggests a frustration with the overload of media and technology. What's getting Yip-Yip's goat?

Brian: I think everyone is probably realizing that even though there are advantages to some of the latest technology, it's kind of consuming them. As much as you might seem like you're saving time with certain things, you're probably wasting a lot more than you're saving. I think there are times when everyone would like to just delete their stupid online accounts and all the crap off of their phones and I've definitely had those moments.

Jason: I don't do the internet stuff, really. I mean the social networking internet stuff. I love the internet, but the social networking thing is annoying. you get an account at some website, then when it's not cool anymore, you have to get an account at some newer, cooler website. Everybody moves from makeoutclub to livejournal to friendster to myspace to facebook to twitter to google+. After the first couple of moves, I just don't care anymore. I guess it's the same with promoting the band., myspace music, bandcamp, soundcloud and whatever else is out there. It's all just too much to keep up with.

Brian: Haha, you said "Too Much", good one, Jason.

  Too Much by Yip-Yip

On "Copy Cat" you say that it's impossible to be original nowadays. Is this something you believe?

Jason: Yes. But I think as soon as you realize that, you are freer. If everything's already been done, nothing is off limits.

Brian: It seems like the harder you try to be original, the more likely you'll be called out if something you do has already been done in a similar way. Most popular artists have it a lot easier because no one even expects you to be original anymore. 

"Hot Plop" also seems to deal with the creative process. Is it based on personal experience?

Jason: I like to think of hot plop as me talking to brian, even though we wrote it together. In the past, I think I've been looser and open to a little less precision. Ultimate precision isn't fun. Mistakes are okay. Letting a little bit of your humanity show helps people warm up to you. Nobody wants to watch a robot play music perfectly. Except maybe Brian. He loves nickelodeon music. But I think he is getting a little more comfortable with letting some of our imperfections show.
I recently came across your video demonstration of the wonderful Mego Muson synth. What sort of gadgets were used on the "Bone Up" album?

Korg MS-10, Micromoog, ARP Odyssey, Korg Mono/Poly, Korg M1R, Suzuki Omnichord, Simmons Multimallet, Synare PS-1, Korg Rhythm 55B, Alesis D4, and a couple of vocoders and effects for vocals. We actually didn't use the Muson on the album, which is sad considering how much I paid for that goofy thing on eBay a while ago.

What was it like supporting Otto Van Schirach and Atari Teenage Riots recently and how is "Bone Up" being received by live audiences so far?

Brian: It was fun playing a few shows that were all weird electronic music, and it's always fun to hear our stuff through really big sound systems. People are just as baffled by our new set as anything else we've ever done, which is surprising because we thought the stuff with vocals sounded way more catchy. People just don't like unfamiliar things, and most people either don't know us at all, or if they've heard of us, we probably sound nothing like whatever they remember of us.

Is it difficult to take the distinctive Yip-Yip sound and reconstruct it in a live context?

Jason: Yes and no.  Building our live setup has been a long process. Not terribly difficult, but long. A lot of trial and error. We've always been able to pull off whatever we were trying to do, even if we later realized that what we were trying to do wasn't quite right. Relying on sound guys to turn us up loud and pump the bass is one of the more annoying/difficult parts of playing live. Usually sound guys are rock and roller dudes and they see a bunch of electronics and synthesizers and other weird things and automatically don't like us, or they're afraid we're going to blow something up, so they don't give us very much volume. 

Are vocals to become a permanent fixture in your music?

Brian: I think we'll do a lot more with vocals in Yip-Yip, but I think we'll also mix it up with more instrumental stuff in the future.

Jason: Yes, i think the vocals worked for most of the new material. There might have been a couple of times we forced them in where maybe we didn't need to, just for consistency. So maybe not for every song, but they're definitely not going away. 

What's next for Yip-Yip?

Jason: Hopefully we won't take another 2+ years to release another album. I think it's going to be a little more fast and loose this time around.

Brian: We have some shows coming up in the next few months with our friends in Melt Banana, Aids Wolf, and OS OVNI, so we're working on a few new songs that we want to sneak into the Bone Up set for those shows. Once we finish writing everything, we're going to record those songs and hopefully put out an EP. We're also planning on taking some time off of work and school next summer to tour a little, so we're looking forward to that too. 

Listen to "Bone Up" In it's entirety here

Buy the album here

Yip-Yip official website

Yip-Yip on Bandcamp
Yip-Yip on Facebook
Yip-Yip on YouTube

Monday, October 10, 2011

Black Devil Disco Club Interview

Now that several years have passed since Bernard Fevre re-emerged from obscurity, he no longer has to deal with the question of who he is or whether he even created the music of Black Devil Disco Club himself. It is now established that Fevre produced several albums of quirky synthesizer music in the early to mid 70s before releasing the now infamous Disco Club EP in 1978. Over the course of the following two decades, he continued recording music largely in private and purportedly produced soundtracks for movies. The 2004 re-issue of "Disco Club" brought Fevre back into the public eye amidst rumours and claims that the album was too advanced and modern in sound to have really been recorded in the 70s or that it was in fact, the side project of a more recent producer.

This renewed interest in Black Devil Disco Club resulted in Fevre returning to the studio to record the new albums "28 After" (2006) and "Eight Oh Eight" (2008) both of which expanded on  the ideas explored on the original Disco Club EP. However, for his latest offering "Circus", released in April 2011 on Lo Recordings, Fevre enlisted  the services of a wide range of guest vocalists as diverse as Nancy Sinatra, Afrika Bambaataa and Faris Badwan of The Horrors amongst others. Musically, the distinctive Black Devil sound remains intact, the spacey synth leads, the sequenced bass riffs and ominous, repetitive drumbeats all remain, but the addition of more traditional vocalists has certainly added a new and previously unexplored dimension to the strange but always engrossing world of Bernard Fevre.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Bernard via email about the new Black Devil Disco Club album and his career in general:

"Circus" is the first Black Devil Disco Club release to feature guest singers. What made you decide to collaborate with such a diverse range of vocalists?

They all embody something different with their style, voice, career, aesthetic, generation... They are real characters, bigger than life, and it was a challenge for me to see if my music could "dress" them. I wanted to prove I'm a good at A&R as well, moving forward, always trying something new, sexy and dangerous. Trying to be pop and experimental at the same time, like the Beatles which are my favorite band. I must say I'm very happy and proud of the result. Being 65 is not always easy so I'm trying to have fun as much as possible and to open my disco club to other people. It's now time to come together. I've been a solo artist for so long :)

How closely did you work with the vocalists during the production of the album? Was the music recorded first?

The whole structures (lyrics and music) were being finalised at the same time I was getting approval by the guests to sing on the record. It's been written & composed during 2 years before but I had to keep some arrangements and possibilities open depending on the people who were keen on working with me. It took some time to figure out who was the best to sing on which song as I hadn't really planned this at the beginning, it was more a natural process. Some came in my studio like Nicolas Ker (from Poni Hoax), Nancy Fortune or Afrika Bambaataa. I met some abroad like Faris Badwan (from the Horrors), YACHT or NZCA/LINES (Michael Lovett). Some hadn't much time or couldn't travel and did this on their own, but it was something pretty easy and funny to do. I was impressed by the result as they are real performers and professional. Jon Spencer was one of the first to agree and to do it in his NY Head studio, which was a perfect way to start. That's maybe why his track Fuzzy Dream is opening Circus.

How aware were they of your previous releases?

I don't really think they knew me before my proposal, except maybe NZCA/LINES, Nancy Fortune and Nicolas Ker. I guess they googled my name or asked some friends to know if it was a good idea! No one turned down my proposal, some never answered or some didn't work out although it was almost done but who knows, maybe next Bryan Ferry who was kinda OK as far as I understood but started touring, releasing a new record and having some medical issues... I guess I was the fan, not them :)

What made you decide to return to the public eye in recent years having been producing music largely in private since your releases in the 70s?

Being in my 60s and knowing that my music which no one cared about before is being appreciated by cool boys and girls from all over the world is a great reward. They could be my children... So I decided to make music again under BDDC name and tour. I'm being curious and thankful for this. Really.

Did you fear that you might lose some of the mystique that surrounded the history of Black Devil Disco Club?

When I did this music back in 78 I wasn't planning to make it legendary or so. How could I know? How would have I done? I guess I was just a bit ahead of my time and have been lucky that famous electronic performers like the Chemical Brothers or Aphex Twin loved my music. I might have lost some mystique dimension but I replaced it by another artistic life in which I'm having fun and recognition. I'm not a shadow anymore. I can live my black devil disco life.

EP featuring the track you did with Faris Badwan of The Horrors along with four remixes. How do you feel about other artists remixing your songs? 

It feels pretty strange and exciting at the same time as I've never been part of this culture. I didn't even know people where sampling other artists before the Chemical Brothers took my song Earth Message for their song Got Glint. Same with Aphex Twin, I didn't know people were re-issuing, re-editing music... But I'm now more into this, I'm just a bit afraid that my "soul" might disappear, that the core of the song vanishes, but after a few listen I generally discover new images, new visions inside mine. I can be seduced by something else than my own music of course. A good remix for me is when the producer is building something new inside the world of the original tune. But as usual it's a lot of work, not only looping two bars and replacing the drums by a random one :)

Are there any new musicians who have caught your attention lately?

In France I really like Pilooski, Mondkopf, dDamage or Sauvage. They are talented people who look for something new. They work a lot and have a vision. Abroad I would say Sal P from Liquid Liquid (but he's not that young anymore, though is younger than me, but still he's a nice kid), YACHT, NZCA/LINES, Planningtorock...

If there was any other vocalist you could collaborate with (living or dead), who would it be?

Maybe something with John Lennon, Serge Gainsbourg, Nino Rota, David Lynch, Lindstrom & Prins Thomas...or Grace Jones. David Lynch recently opened a club in Paris so who knows... 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Milgrom Interview

Milgrom are a promising animated band from Tel Aviv. Their catchy, hook driven tunes bring to mind the more guitar driven music of Stereo Total and euro kitsch of groups such as DAT Politics. That said, the group have a sound all of their own combining elements of punk rock, new wave, 60s bubblegum and electropop. The tremendous music video for the band's debut single "Boy" is a must see for fans of stop motion or animation in general and introduces us to the band members Dolly, Tom and Blank.

Milgrom's debut release "Making Salad" is available for free download from the band's slickly designed website here and is one of the most uniquely enjoyable albums I have heard in recent times. "Blissful Abyss" is an infectious endeavor in soul searching with echoes of early Kinks guitar riffs whilst a French influence can be heard on "Blue Ball The Baird" and the upbeat "Summer". "Hot" continues the dark, cynical tone of "Boy" with unusual lyrics about a couple discussing their physical inadequacies and bodily hair. Perhaps it's because of my love of all things bleak, but it is the sombre closing track "Winter" which I found to be the most powerful and enduring track from the EP.

In addition to their music and animated video, the band have also created an impressive Jam Station arcade machine which allows users to create their own live Milgrom performances. The Jam Station is also available as an iPhone app and can be downloaded here.

I recently interviewed the band about their music, videos and plans for the future:

You have described yourself as an animated band. Could you elaborate on this concept? Who are Milgrom?

Milgrom are Dolly, Tom and Blank. They are stop-motion-animated figures and Milgrom is all about them.

The music is created from their point of view and has a strong relationship with the visual aspect. For instance the video for 'Boy' was created while the song was not completely done, not even fully recorded. We were building the two together piece by piece.

Your debut release "Making Salad" is available to download from your website. Do you feel that making music legally available for free is becoming an increasing inevitability for new bands?

Not necessarily, maybe it is more important for bands like us that don't promote their music in live performances. It's also getting more and more common those days that bands offer the album for free download aside selling it on iTunes and other digital stores. We hope that there will be a good balance and people who do appreciate the music will buy it and support the project this way.

The stop motion animated video for "Boy" must have been a labour of love to make. How long did it take to complete?

It was indeed quite a big piece of labour, and love (and arguments as well). It took about one and a half years of on & off shooting. The video consists of 4740 unique still photos.

Are there plans for more videos like this?

Sure! There are already ideas for some. We did some sketches for a 'Blue Ball' video which will probably be the next we make. Hopefully this time it will not take one and half years to get done.

Despite having a largely contemporary sound, there appears to be strong ties to 60s music on tracks like "Blissful Abyss" and "Blue Ball The Bard". Who are some of your musical influences?

Well, as the title "Making Salad" suggests, we have quite a long list of influences, even if they are not all immediately recognizable. To name a few - Deerhoof, Moloko, Primus, Micachu, Arctic Monkeys, Dat Politics, Cake, Bela Bartok, The Shaggs, french pop stuff and more and more.

"Winter" brings the EP to a close on a darker, more melancholy note than what has gone before. What is the story behind this song?

There's no specific event or story behind it, but more of a general expression of our generation's experience growing up in these crazy times. How we've lost trust in the system, how we start to understand that its all about what WE know and what WE do about it. I guess the tone is melancholy but there is hope and optimism hidden behind it. We're optimistic.

Could you describe how the Milgrom Jam Station works?

The Jam Station is a musical arcade machine we made because we wanted people to mess around with our music and animations. The machine lets players simply mix different loops and sound samples from our songs, or play completely freestyle using an intuitive set of buttons and joysticks. It allows up to 3 people to play together, one on each instrument, the drums, guitar and vocals. It's not only for musicians, though, but also for any music lover who wants to actively experience music in a different, non-linear way. The machine tours around bars and galleries, and kind of functions as our 'live' show. And we just released a special version of the station for iPhone, so now more people can enjoy it!

What's next for Milgrom?

On the upcoming months we'll probably work on more videos for 'Making Salad' songs and soon after we want to start working on the next album. We're also thinking about taking Milgrom to a live stage. But for that we will need to wait until we (hopefully) have enough resources to create a nice technologic-music-animated setup.

Follow Milgrom on Facebook here
Official Milgrom website here

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bill Holt Interview

In the early 1970s, Bill Holt, a happily married company executive with 3M quit his job to commence recording what would eventually come to be known as "Dreamies". The initial release of this unique album consisted of two lengthy tracks simply titled "Program Ten" and "Program Eleven" which take the listener on a trip into the fascinating world of Holt's imagination. Melancholic guitar strumming and psychedelic vocals supplement intricately layered synthesizer sounds and recorded samples culminating in one of the most original albums I have ever discovered. The great shame about "Dreamies" was that it went largely unheard upon its initial release in 1973 but in recent years it's notoriety has been gradually building amidst the murky depths of the internet and via Holt's own website.

As far as I can tell, there are two interviews with Bill Holt online. The first can be found on the now defunct Cyclik Defrost here and the second was with Evan LeVine from the highly recommended Swan Fungus here. I recently contacted Bill to cover a few of the details concerning "Dreamies" and his career in general that had yet to be investigated and to bring attention to this under appreciated musician and personality. Many thanks to Bill for being so helpful and cooperative.

Was your decision to quit the security of your job at 3M and record "Dreamies" somewhat spontaneous or had the idea been slowly burning away for a long time?

Well I was in the job for about 10 years. I enjoyed it immensely for almost the whole time. I think most people go through stages in life, start to question what's up. I think my decision to leave 3M was classic Maslow's hierarchy of needs where you start out just trying to get a roof over your head and food and security then after you get that you start to ponder some other meaning of life. It was just in the last couple of years in the corporate world I realized, having done well at one thing, maybe I should try to use that confidence gained to follow my heart.  In the early 1970's when I left my corner office at 3M, the whole culture was turning on it's head. The whole concept of being "a free spirit" was new, at least to me, and it looked incredibly attractive. It's not like I dropped out into oblivion. I saved up a years worth of money. Had a plan. I was off to be a successful groundbreaking artist armed with all the latest musical tools and a definite idea of what I wanted to do.

"Dreamies" still sounds remarkably fresh and unique (it was included in MOJO magazines top 50 "most out there albums of all time"). How do you feel about the album now after all these years?

Extremely happy and proud. Every now and then I listen to it and think - how'd I do that? Dreamies Program Ten and Eleven sound much more detailed, more intricate to me now then when I recorded it.  For me the hardest part of being an artist is the revealing yourself part. At times, I was embarrassed by it.  So the recent acclaim is comforting, fulfilling. I love Dreamies, always did.

The titles of the two long tracks on "Dreamies" were inspired by The Beatles song "Revolution 9", so I assume they were an influence. What other bands or musicians influenced you at the time? 

Not much else that I actually listened to. Mainly, I read. About avant-garde composers.  I was fascinated by the dictionary definition of musique concrète.  So it was abstract concepts that inspired me, not so much what I heard. Experimenters like John Cage, somebody I read about never listened to. Most of all a real appreciation for fearless original artists. Even Picasso.  One of a kind. Like Bob Dylan's unconventional voice. Or playing music backwards on Strawberry Fields.  I realized you don't have to be a musician to make music. All you have to be is human. As long as there were no rules I was happy. Maybe that's part of why I left the corporate world. Looking for a place, a life with no rules.

How did you feel when sampling became common practice and mainstream in music years after the release of "Dreamies"?

Never noticed really.  But to answer your question, that my 1974 Dreamies is said to be a precursor of things today make me very proud.  It's what I wanted. To have some influence. Don't we all? At the time I was simply doing what I loved doing.  All things considered, I would prefer to be of my time rather than that far ahead of my time.

As far as I'm aware you never performed the album in a live context and had little desire to do so. Do you feel this restricted your exposure in hindsight and would you do anything differently if you could go back to the time of "Dreamies"?

I do wish I had been a performer. Even now I imagine performing Dreamies as some sort of multimedia orchestral thing but that would have to be the doing people who know how to make such things happen. By the time I was 30, I was  just too conventional a corporate Catholic school person to up and leave my young family behind while I headed out for a life on the road. What I loved most really was the studio. The gear, what I could do with it, the experimenting, the wiring things together, hearing the sounds, doing stuff with the mics, spicing tape, sorting through samples and soundbites, writing music, designing the cover art. That was all I needed. And it was all done in the comfort of home with Carole upstairs making vegetable soup. I can't really picture Dreamies groupies. I would probably be an odd bunch.

The long series of political satire videos that you have presented on seem like an extension of some of the themes that are hinted at in "Dreamies". To what extent is political commentary a part of your music?

A great deal. A driving force. One of the great satisfactions I get from knowing so many people have been under the headphones with Dreamies, is knowing that they heard John F. Kennedy explain the meaning of freedom. His inaugural where he recites we are the heirs of a great revolution. I sometimes wonder how many listeners actually hear what they are listening to. That first Dreamies album is an expression of the politics of the time. Not a documentary, more an expression of the mindset. A combination of love, chaos, confusion. Maybe not political commentary, more like subliminal commentary. That's what I was looking to do. You listen, you enjoy, you come out of Dreamies different than when you went in.

Do you still have the original Moog Sonic 6 or modified drum machine that you used on "Dreamies"?

Sorry you asked that question. Reminded me of what a goofball I can be. No I do not have my Sonic Six. I tossed it out like a piece of junk. It was not working. I started my business after Dreamies, getting back on my feet. Forgetting about music. Wanted to erase the whole thing, move on, get out of debt.  By the mid-1990's I was total business again, making money, getting starched shirts from the cleaners again - so I'm cleaning out a room in my office, come upon the Sonic Six in that military grade hard gray case that opens to reveal a keyboard and a gray blue and white dashboard filled with knobs and switches - and I figure it's broken, it's from my past life, so why not throw it in the dumpster. In my next life I won't do that. I am the opposite of a hoarder. I'm a disposer of the past. I  think it helps keep life new. So I toss out a lot of the old. The homegrown drum machine vanished many years ago.

How do you feel about the Internets role in bringing about a renewed interest in your work?

Great. My music was recorded, mixed for headphones but not many people listened with headphones in 1974. So the combination today of digital downloads plus everybody on headphones is perfect. It love it. Flattered that young people today appreciate Dreamies. It kills me to see the free bootleg downloads. I saw one bootleg site with a counter that said Dreamies was downloaded 1720 times. For me that's a lot!  A lot of missed royalties that I could really use these days. That really bugs me. I spend time policing the internet, but it's impossible. Makes it hard to think of music as a way to support yourself. On the other hand, without the internet Dreamies would be buried in the dust of the past.

What do you think about the 2006 reissue of "Dreamies", which subdivides the two programs into ten separate tracks?

I did that personally. Many times I was advised by college radio that you can't play Dreamies because it's too long. The tracks obviously make it more accessible.  I think the tracks also make for an interesting way to listen. I did it so the tracks blend seamlessly, so I don't think there is a downside. The other thing about the reissue CD is the package. The retro black LP look. With the same label as the original 1974 LP. The booklet with all the photos of the moog and recorders, the lyrics. I wanted Dreamies to have a first class package that would stand the test of time, and I think we succeeded with that CD reissue.

What made you decide to finally record the follow up album "Dreamies: Program 12" after over 30 years of no officially released music?

A combination of things. Around 1995 when I sold my business I started gathering up all the latest gear for a new studio. This time music and video. The whole internet computer audio video digital thing was just coming on line. I ran my business on Apple, loved it.  When multimedia came along I knew I was off to the races again. It was as exciting as the years when the Moog and the Beatles came along.  Coincidentally the renewed interest in the 1974 Dreamies came at about the same time as the horrific 9/11 attack. Just as breathtaking earthshaking as what I experienced 40 years before when Kennedy was assassinated.  All of that came together for Program 12.  I wish I could do that  music over.  On the bright side, getting such bad reviews for Program 12, hurtful stuff, helped me in a way. Made me a bit more fearless for my new stuff.  Nevertheless, 30 years from now Program Twelve will be a bit of an American time capsule.

Recording "Program 12" must have been a much less cumbersome and frustrating process compared to the original "Dreamies" album. How do you record music nowadays?

I  have a great Mac studio using Logic software tied to a rack with a Mackie mixer and 10 or so gizmos feeding a MOTU into the Mac. It's hybrid analog digital.  I try not to upgrade too much, I find it's important to get a complete comfort level with the gear so you be totally fluid with creative part. The big challenge with digital is too many choices, too easy to do things over. You can go on on and on. With tape, analog there's a certain discipline at work that says not all things are possible. You can only mix down so many times. At some point you can't go back and do it over. You don't have 20,000 instruments and 50,000 FX to choose from. I would never want to go back, but, from a creative standpoint, I am still figuring out how to coexist with digital. The main thing for me these days is conveying the emotion, telling the story. That never changes.

From what  I've read about you, you don't strike me as someone who sits still for very long, what are you working on these days?

I am happy to say I am newly inspired with Dreamies Program 14. It's called Good Fortune. I can only do Dreamies inspired, so I feel blessed to be inspired again.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dominique Leone Interview

Dominique Leone's eponymous debut full length release is an album brimming with ideas and originality. When I first listened to the 2008 album, I was struck by the sheer variety of styles and influences on show. Commercially palpable tracks such as "Duyon" and "Conversational" put Leone's fondness for melody and traditional songwriting to the forefront, bringing to mind the songwriting of Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson. On the opposite side of the coin, the sample heavy "Kaine" and fourteen minute long "The Return" demonstrate a darker, more experimental edge to the former Pitchfork critic's music. Leone has since collaborated with artists as disparate as Bob Drake, Lindstrom and R. Stevie Moore as well as releasing the equally intriguing, if less eclectic "Abstract Expression" in 2009.

Last month, Dominique was kind enough to partake in an email interview with me concerning the music of his first album as well as touching on his present day activities.

Your debut LP is extremely varied in its overall sound. Was there a desire to be as eclectic as possible particularly as it was your first full length album?

Not really.  The only decision I made was to use what I thought were the best tracks I had at the time.  Most of those tracks were recorded over the course of a year or so, 2003-4, at my house.  Similarly, most of the tracks on the next record were done 2005-2007.

"Nous Tombons Dans Elle" is a fine example of the diversity of the album. Comparisons to The Beach Boys and New Wave artists have been made yet there still seems to be so much more happening here, what other artists influenced this track and the album as a whole?

Gosh, good question.  That track was really just me making music that made me feel happy-- I'm kind of ADD in a lot of respects, and I think that track sums up a lot of how I feel when I'm inspired, happy, stimulated.  The track says "we're falling into her, each of us", which was a line that referred to the notion of giving into temptation, or letting your impulses guide you to whatever might be.

Was the decision to open the album with "Kaine" and leave the more accessible "Claire" and "Conversational" towards the end of the album an intentional decision to challenge the listener?

No, I didn't ever think of trying to challenge anyone.  I put that track first because I liked the way it just kind of exploded from the get-go.  I like when songs do that.  Philip Glass does that too; he'll just start a piece with all the gears already in high.  Doesn't waste any time.  It might also come down to the ADD thing again, just not really having the patience to build a long intro, and wanting to get to the meat of the things immediately.

Aside from "Nous Tombons Dans Elle", "The Return" is perhaps my favorite track on the album, what inspired you to write this thirteen minute long epic?

That song was my "getting out of depression" song.  I had gotten out of a long relationship, and was super down.  The "return" is me getting back to my life, and out of the mire of self-pity.  I wanted to make a song that sounds like what it feels like to go through that, with the messy, torturous moments resolving to the still messy euphoria of realizing that things get better, and you can start to move on.  There's a lot of weird guilt in there too, like "should I be happy now?  is it too soon?"   A lot of my songs are ambiguous like that, not really making a firm statement as to whether things are happy, sad, resolved, left up in the air.


Lyrically, tracks such as "Blist" and "Duyon" suggest interesting stories and ideas. What influences the lyrcial aspect of your songs?

Well, "Duyen" was actually inspired by a real person with that name.  "Blist" was more abstract, but inspired by another person I knew.  I write songs from a pretty relentlessly autobiographical place.  John Lennon is a big inspiration in that regard, as far as just writing about what you know, which generally comes down to all the stuff you go through in life.  My modes of expression can be more or less abstract, varying from song to song, but I have a hard time just writing a "story" that isn't related pretty closely to things I feel or have gone through.

How important do you feel live performance is to your music? How do the recorded songs transfer into your gigs/shows?

I love performing live, though depending on the song, the translation from record to performance can be a challenge.  We recently started playing "Nous Tombons" live for the first time (not sure why I waited so long), and it's fairly different from the recording, sonically speaking.  We play the same form, and don't really change any of the music, but because my band is drums, guitar, synth/vox and bass clarinet, the sound is definitely different than the track-- more stripped down, more "rock".  But I like working things out with the band - the best part of playing live is letting the music take on a life of its own, and letting the musicians put their own stamps and personalities into it.

Since the release of your debut album, you have been involved in several collaborations and released your second album "Abstract Expression" in 2009. Did you feel the need to create a more solidified sound for your sophomore album? How do you feel the two albums compare?

For the second record, I went back to the original tracks I'd done in 2005-2007, and remixed them.  I knew a little bit more about recording than I had when I'd first created them, so I wanted to use that to help them sound better.  However, I also mixed the whole thing myself, and learned how important it is to have another set of ears giving feedback on the music!  It's really easy to get lost in your own music when you're making a record.  After awhile, it becomes almost impossibly to make objective decisions about anything because you've heard everything way too much. 

As far as how the two albums compare, I personally think the songwriting on Abstract Expression is better than the s/t.  The songs are more crafted as songs, in the vein of, say, Randy Newman or Paul McCartney.  Not that I'm anywhere near the songwriter those guys are, but the way I wrote the songs was maybe similar, as far as structure, and thinking about the lyrics.  I think the sound of the album is better than the debut, less noisy, less "lo-fi".

Now that you have several releases under your belt, do you feel like you have ditched the "music critic" tag which followed you when you first started releasing your own music?

Hard to say.  Some people only know me as a musician, while others probably only know me as a critic.  I identify as a composer who performs his own music.  When I was writing record reviews, I approached them just like I would a composition, thinking about how they'd be structured, how the transitions would happen, the "style" of the piece, etc.  How people view my work, and my identity, seems mostly out of my control-- so I just try to focus on the work, and let everything else take care of itself.

What's next on he horizon for Dominique Leone?

I'll be recording my next record with my live band in August!  In July, I'll be staging a version of Stravinsky's Les Noces, with two pianos, choir and percussion.  In a few weeks, I'm putting on a show to benefit Tim Smith of Cardiacs-- all the bands will be doing Cardiacs covers!  Beyond that, I have a 12-inch in the works with a French label Upcode, dancey music, and also thinking about the next time I want to travel back to Europe to play.  Plenty of work to do, hopefully enough time to do it.  :)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Carlton Ware Money Boxes

Carlton Ware was a Stoke-on-Trent based pottery manufacturer which was established in 1890 and operated for over one hundred years producing a range of frequently garish tableware and novelty cutlery. In the late 1960s they produced a range of colourful, somewhat psychedelic money boxes which I have a great fondness for. I have acquired a small collection of seven of these money boxes which I have photographed:

I saw one of these horses on an antiques TV show which first introduced me to the money boxes.

A green and yellow cat with a floral pattern. The most recent addition to the collection.

A smiling pig. There were also variations of the pig with fantastic psychedelic patterns.

A fairly straightforward blue train filled with random numbers. Also available in other colours.

Noah's Ark. I've come across this one in green on eBay.

There were also several head shaped money boxes such as this clown which was my first purchase.

Last but not least this fantastic pirate is probably my favorite and is seemingly somewhat rare.

There are quite a few styles that I have yet to acquire including birds, frogs, snails and an interesting model based on "There Was An Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe". The following link has photos of some of the other styles and patterns that I don't have:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bobbie Craig - The Animal Alphabet Book

Published in 1987 by Ladybird books, this was no ordinary animal alphabet book. Bobbie Craig's wonderfully illustrated hardcover features a diverse and unusual array of creatures who partake in activities corresponding to the first letter of their name's (ie C is for cat, camel, cow, crow, cobra and crocodile counting cards). So not only do children learn about the animals, they also become familiarized with all manner of other words and subjects.

However, it is the sheer variety of the animals included which makes this book truly unique. Altogether there are 123 creatures represented throughout, many of which are extremely obscure and exotic to the extent that some of them are rarely found in books intended for adults. This refreshingly unpatronizing approach refuses to talk down to its readers, it simply presents these fantastic animals in impossible environments for children to marvel at.
Below are the scanned images from the original book that was bought for me by my mother in the late 80s which I still have in my possession.

Just like real life.

But who's the birthday boy?




The falcon looks none too pleased to have a fly in his floss.

Nice waistcoat.

A happy bunch.

One of my favorites, a pity the impala became impaled on the central crease.

Product placement?

Kudos for the Kudu.

I fear for the Llama when the big cats wake up...

Manic expressions galore.

Undoubtedly my favorite if only for the Narwhal's expression.

It still makes more sense than Clockwork Orchestra...

The pigeon's making a mess as usual.

Interesting entry as the Quagga has been extinct for over a hundred years...

Unfair on the rattlesnake really, he doesn't even have any feet.

Snails and sunbathing don't mix.

Another classic.

It really should have been "viewing various vests."


This one bothers me. With all the obscure creatures in the book you'd have thought they would have used an animal that actually begins with X. 

The inevitable zebras.

Front and back cover, note the "IR £1.00" price sticker is still on the back, long before the days of the Euro currency.