07 April 2006
CAMP NAMA: NOT RIFF FRIENDLY
If you read the NYT article from a few weeks ago about the American goverment's Camp Nama and how their military tortured Iraqis for intelligence before shipping them off to Abu Ghraib, where they were tortured again, you might have seen this line:
Jailers often blared rap music or rock 'n' roll at deafening decibels over a loudspeaker to unnerve their subjects.
And they spelled rock and roll like that too.
So I've been working overtime. I've been talking to Iraqis, American soldiers, pretty much anybody with a military jacket, beard, or crazy hat. After that, I talked to some rock critics; some of those guys know a lot about politics. And now, I present an exclusive transcript of the jailers torturing an Iraqi with the aid of rap music and/or rock 'n' roll.
THE US MILITARY
CAMP NAMA, IRAQ
APRIL 15 2004
TOP SECRET: TRANSCRIPT OF AMERICAN SOLDIERS
AMERICAN SOLDIER #1: DO YOU KNOW ANY SUBJECTS
AMERICAN SOLDIER #2: YES LETS UNNVERVE THEM
AMERICAN SOLDIER #1: OK I WILL GET THE LOUDSPEAKER
IRAQI: AMERICAN SOLDIERS WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T BLARE THE RAP MUSIC
AMERICAN SOLDIER #2: WE ARE GOING TO PLAY YOUTHE RAP MUSIC
AMERICAN SOLDIER #1: AMERICAN SOLDIER #2 DO YOU HAVE ANY BIGGIE
AMERICAN SOLDIER #2: NO I ONLY HAVE SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS RAP
AMERICAN SOLDIER #1: DO YOU HAVE ANY BLACKSTAR
AMERICAN SOLDIER #2: YES
AMERICAN SOLDIER #2: IF WE PLAY 'UME SAYS' ONE MORE TIME I BET HE WILL TELL US INFORMATION THAT PERTAINS TO HIS LEADERS WHEREABOUTS
AMERICAN SOLDIER #1: I AGREE
AMERICAN SOLDIER #2: I JUST PLAYED 'UME SAYS' ONE MORE TIME
AMERICAN SOLDIER #1: GOOD
AMERICAN SOLDIER #2: IRAQI, TELL US THE INFORMATION
IRAQI: NO I AM TOO BUSY DANCING TO THE RAP BEAT
AMERICAN GENERAL: HEY WHAT IS THE MATTER IN THAT CELL!@!!!@!@
AMERICAN SOLDIER #2: HE CANT STOP DANCING
IRAQI: CAN YOU BUY ME A SUBWOOFER
AMERICAN SOLDIERS: NO
AMERICAN SOLDIER #2: I HAVE A SECRET WEAPON
AMERICAN SOLDIER #1: CADENCE WEAPON?
AMERICAN SOLDIER #2: ROCK 'N' ROLL
AMERICAN SOLDIER #1: LET US PLAY HIM THE ROCK 'N' ROLL
AMERICAN SOLDIER #2: GET THE DECIBEL MACHINE
IRAQI: IS THIS THE CLAP YOUR HANDS ALBUM
AMERICAN SOLDIER #2: YES THEIR HARDWORKING DIY AESTHETIC WILL CRUMBLE YOUR SPIRIT
AMERICAN SOLDIER #1: FUCK WE HAVE RUN OUT OF OPTIONS
AMERICAN SOLDIER #2: WE HAVE PLAYED HIM BOTH THE RAP MUSIC AND THE ROCK 'N' ROLL
AMERICAN SOLDIER #1: HE REMAINS NERVED
CATCHDUBS: HOODY HOO ITS ME SEARGENT CATCHDUBS DEPUTY GENERAL OF THE MASHUP
AMERICAN SOLDIER #1: HOLLA
AMERICAN SOLDIER #2: LIEUTENANT DUBS DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA INVOLVING THINGS
CATCHDUBS: YES I HAVE A CATCHDUBS MASHUP REMIX OF SKEE-LO'S 'WISH I WAS A BALLA' AND THE BREEDERS' "CANNONBALL"
AMERICAN SOLDIER #1: IS IT SICK
CATCHDUBS: YES IT IS OFF THE WALL
AMERICAN SOLDIER #2: NATIONAL SECURITY IS IN YOUR HANDS
06 April 2006
JUAN MACLEAN: RIFF MARKET INTERVIEW
conducted late 2005
Boston: "Rock and Roll Band"
Juan Maclean: It’s funny because I think of Boston as a bad city for music, the bands that it generates. I still think of it as generating these bands with goofy names, with puns in their names. Growing up though, my big turning point in music was when I was ten, twelve, around there, me and my friends were heavy into Kiss. The Kiss Army and all that business. I’m not sure how soon, but after that we went to hardcore, and that’s what Boston was really big for, hardcore. I don’t know if you know the This is Boston, Not L.A. compilation, big hardcore compilation with bands like Gang Green, Jerry’s Kids, the FU’s--this really violent, male-dominated hardcore scene, which was very much in keeping with my Irish Catholic South Boston upbringing. And I spent my high school years skateboarding around Boston going to punk-rock hardcore shows at the Rat. I don’t even know if that’s still there, and that was my entire youth, my upbringing. By the time I left high school I pretty quickly grew out of it and moved onto--I hate to say the word, or two words--post-punk.
How long were you in Boston?
Till I was 18, and then I moved to Providence. And that’s where I stayed until 1997. I went down there and that’s where I met Six Finger Satellite.
Brainiac: "Sexual Frustration"
It sounds like the Blues Explosion.
Oh, that’s why it sounds like the Blues Explosion; I can’t believe I just said that. I never thought that there was anyone doing what [Six Finger Satellite] were doing. Brainiac certainly came after Six Finger Satellite was already established. I mean we played shows with them, I liked those guys, I thought they were great and all that stuff. But we seemed to be out on our own most of the time. To be in the early and mid 90s as part of the indie rock scene, and come on stage and play not just a Moog keyboard--I used to play keyboards--but the standup liberation Moog that our singer used to play was outrageous, people were really angry about it. Which seems funny now, really funny and ironic now. It’s hard to imagine what a big deal it was, but it really was a big deal. People were like, “What are you doing with that techno-whatever crap equipment onstage, you’re supposed to be an indie rock band.”
One of the few bands we felt a real affinity toward was the Jesus Lizard. It’s funny to me now that people don’t know about them, and literally I to this day would make the statement that to me, I think they were the greatest rock band of all time. Literally. The Jesus Lizard shows, I’ve seen hundreds of them, because we used to tour with them, but in their hey-day, their live shows were absolutely like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and probably will never see again. I think when things started to come around in 95, 96, with Six Finger Satellite, is when I started to think about getting out of the band, because it felt like people had kind of caught up to us, and were more accepting of what we were doing, and somehow it had actually become…well, bands like Brainiac were starting to do it, a lot of bands popping up that were doing the same thing. Part of my motivation for being in a band was just being very contrary by nature, so as juvenile as it seems, to be accepted like that and have imitators popping up, was when I decided I didn’t want to do this anymore. Because we couldn’t have that same effect anymore, showing up and just, at once putting on a stunning loud show but having elements that people didn’t understand, having keyboards and that sort of thing.
The Chinese Stars: "Sick Machine"
I know what that is. It’s one of two things, it’s either Arab on Radar or Chinese Stars. I don’t usually talk about this, because I always feel self-conscious of sounding like someone from a generation ago, because people in previous generations are always saying, “It’s not like it was when I was there,” but I have to say that it’s just not like it was when I was there. I think a big part of it that I see is that there was a real emphasis on being able to play as a band in a powerful way, and I don’t know what happened to that ethic, but it doesn’t seem to exist anymore, or it’s not as overriding as it was back then.
In Six Finger Satellite, we would rehearse every night of the week--be in our rehearsal space, rehearsing. It wasn’t to become technically proficient in playing our instruments, it was to find out how can we make this the most pummeling, powerful type of performance possible. In the indie-rock world, I don’t know, it just doesn’t seem… If there are bands out there that sound like the Jesus Lizard, the Butthole Surfers, early Sonic Youth, Big Black or any of those bands, I don’t know where they are, I haven’t heard them. Everything sounds like indie-pop to me.
Why do you think that is?
I don’t know. That’s a good question. History will bear this out in a decade, whether it’s true or not. All the bands I mentioned, me included, all of us came out of a pretty heavy-duty punk-rock background, being into hardcore, Black Flag as kids, and then making bands, trying to take things to the next level, and there was a real almost fanaticism about how can we do something that’s powerful without resorting to playing things harder or faster like heavy metal or something, taking cues from bands like the Birthday Party. If they were around today, I don’t think they’d be on any tour sponsored by Playstation. I don’t think they’d be able to get a show down the street probably, because I don’t know if that’s what people… I mean, I honestly don’t know, because I don’t go to indie rock shows-- but I don’t think that a band like the Birthday Party would make it on any level, because of the whole aesthetic of presenting something that’s almost distasteful at shows. I mean, trying to piss people off, but being a good band at the same time.
Who does that anymore? Do people still do that kind of thing? Without a wink and a nod all the time? It seems to be now, if you do something, you’re conscious that you’re going to be judged even worldwide because of the internet. It seems like a big game, because people want to make it in the indie-rock world. There’s a system to being an indie-rock band. Like how there was a system to getting on a major label 10 to 15 years ago, the same is now true in indie-rock, where in the 80s and early 90s, nobody really cared about that. It was just getting together with your friends and creating music. I guess that sounds really naive in a way.
You keep bringing up bands' live shows.
Everything I think about in terms of a live show, is informed by hardcore shows, punk shows, with an air of violence and menace, moving into bands like the Birthday Party, Jesus Lizard, Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, Black Flag. It was not the case of people just getting on stage and standing, strumming guitars. There was a real concerted effort to transcend the recordings that were out there. Which is why I think of bands from that era, and try to talk to people about them like, “I know that Jesus Lizard records are amazing, but if you could have seen them live, they are absolutely stunning.” Which is what people used to tell me about the Stooges or the Velvet Underground, or even Led Zeppelin.
I’m a big Led Zeppelin fan. So now looking at doing a live electronic show, before I figured out how I was going to do it, I’d seen a lot of things. I remember going to a Plaid show at Warsaw and I actually really like Plaid, and I liked the show, but it was just the two guys with their laptops and a mixer, and there was a camera projecting an image of their hands on the knobs of the mixer and the laptop and that’s what you watched. And I actually liked the show, it was fun.
Being electronic music, it’s not oriented towards people playing it loud. So you’ve got a lot of people standing up--or sitting down even--with laptops and hitting play. And there’s no way I’d want to have anything to do with that. As stupid or retarded as it seems, I’m just much more interested in having a show that's about having a good time, having it be a much more visceral experience, where you’re getting hit with things that are more powerful or easier to respond to in a physical way. The last thing in the world I want to do is stand up there and play to people standing with their arms folded looking up at me, and politely clapping when we’re done.
Much of what we do is geared towards avoiding that. In Kraftwerk, of course, got to be one of the biggest influences in my whole musical career, the first electronic band, and apparently their shows, in the early days, were pummeling, incredibly loud, powerful experiences, and they were taking cues from the MC5 and the Stooges. It always went back to that. If Kraftwerk could come off that way, then that’s what I wanted to do.
Is that why you integrated the live drums?
Honestly, I wanted it to be all electronic. James Murphy is the one that made me use live stuff. Now I’m glad he did. He’s actually the first drummer that played with us. It might be that he wanted to have his hand in playing live with me because he’s a control freak. I’m so glad he did that because it there’s a lot of improvisational things within a song structure that we do, and if we didn’t have things like a loud drummer, then when all is said and done, you may as well put a CD on and have that play. It also gives people something to look at, which I think you can’t underestimate at a live show. That seems like tripe or something, but I really think you should give people something to look at.
Wolf Parade: "You Are a Runner And I Am My Father's Son"
You’d be surprised what I don’t know. I don’t know what it is.
This is Wolf Parade--this is my theremin question.
Mostly when I hear [theremin] on recordings, I hear things like that where it’s used as an effect, like kind of funny noises. Honestly I didn’t know that a lot of people are even using them, but I don’t know how often you actually see people playing them, as in playing notes that go along with a song. Usually I just see people making funny sci-fi noises with them.
But when we use it, when Eric [Broucek] plays it live, it’s not to make funny noises. It’s almost like performance art or something, because he actually dances. Obviously the instrument responds to the way you move around it, and the way that he moves around it is in a dance, and at the same time he’s playing melodies that go along to the song. So it’s become a really defining feature of our live set.
People are always asking, “So what is that thing that the guy does the dance to?” Most people in audiences don’t know what it is or what’s happening, even where the sound is coming from. But it was the first mass-produced electronic instrument ever made. It’s still the only instrument you can play without actually touching it. I’ve always had one since the beginning. I’m not sure if we ever used one on any Six Finger Satellite recording. I don’t like it when it’s used for like scary movie effects. Is that what people are doing now?
It’s an incredibly difficult instrument to play, that’s the other thing, to even play a three-note melody on it, is incredibly difficult. So I guess it would require people spending a lot of time learning how to use it. It’s easier just to throw it onstage and make funny noises with it.
Daft Punk: "Human After All" (The Juan Maclean Remix)
The whole Less Than Human thing is out of a song "Less Than Human" that was actually one of the first songs I ever did. And my album was done for a long time before [Human After All] came out, so actually Less Than Human as an album was completed years ago, and that’s why I was really upset when the whole Daft Punk “Human After All” thing came out. I actually was kind of mad that that was going on.
That Daft Punk remix, Eric and I did that together, we literally sat down and were like, “Let’s outdo Daft Punk at Daft Punk,” and make a remix that makes Daft Punk sound like what people had wanted them to sound like for years, which was something off of Homework. And I know they were fans of DFA for a long time, but I’m sure there’s an element of it being funny to get the Juan Maclean “Less Than Human After All” or whatever play on words they can use it for.
It totally sounded like something off Homework to me.
That’s funny, I don’t really read reviews of things either, but no one else has really picked up on that, but that’s literally what we sat down and said, “Let’s make a Homework track.” To the point that we were paranoid, “Are they going to be mad at us for taking the piss out of them?” Which we kind of were. But I haven’t liked anything they’ve done since Homework personally.
Vitalic: "La Rock 01"
You get this a lot, I hear.
I’m not sure where the Vitalic thing fits in. My album was done for a long time; versions of it were floating around for a long time. There were people two years before it came out that were like “I love your album.” Which is why I think it’s not a stretch that people like that were ripping it off maybe.
Wasn't saying that actually!
Oh really? Yeah, there was a lot of that, it was so frustrating. You know, in electronic music you can turn things over so quickly, so I’m sitting here waiting for DFA to be done with the EMI deal, all this stuff is coming out, but you’re not getting at that.
We can go in that direction.
It is relevant, actually, because I did take a long time to make my album. There were tracks we spent months on, not every day being in the studio working on the same track, but me coming back and forth here, because I have a studio at home. I read a lot about people who are almost bragging, “I made this track in one day,” or something, and I just find that so distasteful. And you can tell when you listen to it. I just think that if you’re talking about quality control, electronic music possesses the biggest offenders, people not having any quality control or any sense of self-editing either. I hear all the time, especially with more and more programs like Reason. To me, stuff that’s done in Reason, I can pick out immediately, and it's interesting to listen to once, and then very quickly becomes very tiresome because nothing much happens with it.
It’s just not interesting to me. I love the Kompakt stuff, even the new compilation that people complained a lot about it being boring. I’m a big fan of a lot of that stuff, but that’s an example of stuff that you can tell is done entirely in a computer for example. The sounds don’t change very much; it’s really easy to listen to it as someone who makes that kind of music, to just kind of say, "oh you did it on Reason," and literally hear samples from the Reason program that people just use on their recordings. Not just rock bands, but anybody making music before the advent of home recording--they really practiced things and got things right. And there was a lot of care taken before going into a studio. But now that anyone can sit and home and make a track in a day, it seems like there’s not as much care taken of things.
Frankie Knuckles: "Your Love"
I interviewed Derrick May once and that was one of the big things I talked to him about, that techno and house music were invented by black guys and then it very quickly became white people music. And my biggest influences in the electronic music realm are from those days, the early days of Chicago and Detroit, in addition to, as always, Funkadelic band and all that stuff. But there was a big Motown influence and soul influence in that stuff that got lost pretty quickly in electronic music in some ways. Maybe it didn’t get lost, but when white people started doing it, it just came out so horribly.
It’s such dangerous territory that no one wants to confront, especially white people, of white people, European people, doing black music. No one wants to talk about it, because no one even wants to say “black music”--no white person wants it coming out of their mouth, because people are so afraid of being politically correct about the whole thing.
Do you know Moodymann? I’ve been listening to a lot of that lately, and there’s a good example of a black guy making electronic music lifting soul samples and stuff like that, and it’s amazing. But I don’t know, if it’s some white guy in Germany doing it, it does end up being different somehow, and it’s usually terrible. But dipping into that whole territory, I mean, the bassline of "Give Me Every Little Thing" is absurd in a big way. I was really nervous about it at first because it’s so ridiculous. This is really like funk--a place where white people shouldn’t go. A stone’s throw away from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and who would ever want to be associated with something like that?
But Derrick May was saying, “Do you honestly think that young black kids are going to come dance to one of my DJ sets?” Black youth culture will not commit it to happen. Part of it is homophobia too, in a culture that’s so geared towards coming off as tough and from the streets, they’re not going to go dance to techno.
Sylvester: "Over and Over"
You've talked about how "Give Me Every Little Thing" was a combination of super-gay and super-macho.
My only way of dealing with any issue is just to be contrary--to bring things out, to make people uncomfortable, to throw things in people’s face, even if just for laughs myself. Something that really bothers me about indie-rock dance music, what it’s become, and even getting into the political realm, people who call themselves liberal in general, there seems to be an underlying homophobia that no one wants to admit to, but it seeps out in all kinds of different ways. And one of those ways is if you’re DJing and play a straight up disco track, usually it goes over like a fucking red balloon, except for a few girls dancing, who think it’s funny or something. But I really think that the gayness of disco bothers people, who would champion themselves as being otherwise very open minded.
Again, house music, Frankie Knuckles, one of the biggest influences on me of all time, and that music was literally made for the most disenfranchised group of people--gay black, Hispanic guys--that music was made for them to take amyl nitrate and go crazy dancing, making out in a dark club, having a good time. And I really think that type of thing was taken over by, I don’t want to say white people, but, by straight white people. There is a homophobia that’s not as overt as “Oh what’s that fag music?” But vocals like that and the Sylvester song kick in and the flourishes and everything, it just turns people off. I think it really bothers people.
Things like DFA have made it permissible for people to accept disco. Disco can be accepted when it’s re-texturized. Just the sincerity of the whole house music scene—especially Chicago—a lot of those tracks are so moving and stirring to me. I don’t know how familiar you are with that stuff. It’s just amazing, but I think it really turns people off.
I was just listening to that Frankie Knuckles track this morning. It's a gay anthem, and it’s like, it is such a stirring song. It’s amazing. It’s completely amazing. But there’s no trace of irony—irony wasn’t even on the radar when they were doing that stuff. There’s a sincerity to it that says, “This is what we are. This is our thing,” and I don’t think you find much anymore. But the homophobia part, I’ve seriously from the beginning been very conscious of it. I don’t know if fascinated is the right word, because I don’t really take pleasure in it. I only take pleasure in throwing it in people’s faces I guess. But then I’m not gay, so I also find it distasteful when people like Tiga, who is not gay, plays the whole “Oh I’m gay” angle or something. I just like to stir things up.
Instant Funk: "I Got My Mind Made Up"
I don’t know how much of this story you know. When I first made “Crush the Liberation,” I was done with it in my studio at home, and I brought it here. And Tim and James were like, “What is that sample?” and I said, “I don’t know, it’s just some old Salsoul record.”
I knew exactly what it was. For about five minutes, we discussed whether we would acknowledge what the sample was, or whether we’d just put it out there, figuring we’ll take our chances. We decided to just put it out there and take our chances. So when the album went to EMI, someone at EMI very astutely said, “What is this sample? I think it’s from that Instant Funk song.” Which is incredible; I can’t believe he even picked it out, because when it comes down to it, it’s a pretty generic one-bar percussion loop that could be from any disco record. It’s really not unique, that section of it. So they said, “No you have to clear this.” We got in touch with the people who control the Salsoul catalog. And there was a back-and-forth because they were asking a ton of money for it--more money than I ever spent making the whole album, or more money than I would ever make from the album myself. We went back and forth, back and forth. My contention was, it was just a one-bar percussion loop that could be from any record. And the guy kept saying, “No, you also use the bassline and some other things,” and even people at DFA and EMI started saying, “Yeah, you do have a bassline”--they started believing Salsoul, until one day we found out that the guy at Salsoul wasn’t even listening to the right Maclean song. He was listening to “Dance with Me,” which has nothing to do with the sample that’s on “Crush the Liberation.”
At that point we had already agreed to a price on it, but that guy was trying to make us pay for something that wasn’t even theirs; it was mine. He had never even heard “Crush the Liberation” at this point. That’s how little he knew about what he was doing. But I still had to pay a fair amount of money for it and give up publishing and all this other stuff; it was a real sore spot, because it was in the 11th hour of putting the album out, and there was really nothing I could do at that point. I think the record had already been pressed at that point. It’s the only sample on the record, by the way. That’s what kills me about it. It’s like the only thing I’ve ever sampled.
Ricardo Villalobos: "Hireklon"
If my stuff is influenced by anything having to do with drugs in any way, it’s in a less overt way--who I am is so informed by years and years of the most horrific drug use. I played in a band that was infamous for that kind of thing. The bass player died of an overdose and all these kinds of things. So coming out of that whole thing, of course it’s something I live with everyday. It’s something I have to contend with all the time, because I put myself in this whole music scene, that seems to so much revolve around drugs, specifically ecstasy—or I don’t know, it could be smoking pot or whatever.
I absolutely can’t do any of that stuff. It’s a weird position to be in. I feel like sort of an anomaly. I don’t drink, I don’t do any drugs or anything. Again, Derrick May is another person who says, “I’ve never drank in my whole life. I don’t do any drugs or anything.” These guys that are really into this whole--I don’t know, it seems groupy, it’s this whole positivity in music kind of thing.
Hearing about a whole genre of music revolving around a certain drug, I would actually probably be into it, but that stuff never seems to have much staying power either. I don’t know what more to say about it except it’s something I have to contend with everyday. There really are times I’m surrounded by people who are doing coke or something, and I think, “I don’t know if I can even do this anymore.” Because drugs seem to be so much a part of electronic music. I don’t care if people want to do drugs, but it gets to a point where it becomes…I was going to say a crutch. If you have to do a whole load of drugs to enjoy some kind of music or going out or something, I’m just not really interested in it I guess.
Young Jeezy: "Go Crazy"
There’s two entirely different levels to it. One is all about perception and imagery. Like the song you just played. The other is someone like me. My whole experience with drugs was so horrible that those kinds of things--walking around with a tee shirt with a snowman on it--would be so off the charts in terms of anything I could ever relate to, it’s absurd.
I was a teacher for six years, teaching kids--I don’t know if you know this--in a youth detention center. It was really substance abuse oriented. I was a substance abuse counselor, working with kids. And I can say as somebody who worked with kids every single day, that they really are walking around singing songs, mostly rap songs, rapping about doing drugs and that kind of thing, and it really does influence kids like that. But they’re going to find things that they want to find anyway, to be influenced by.
But I think it’s silly, people that are presenting it in that way, people that could not have had any real experience with any kind of substance abuse problem. It’s just not funny. It’s so far from the realm of anything you would ever think to sit down and write in a song. When your parents won’t let you into their house anymore, you have no money and you’re out on the streets--the idea of walking around with a snowman on your tee shirt is absurd.
I always struggle with it, because I present it in some ways like I think it’s funny, like people do whatever drugs people want to do, but on the other hand I find it really distasteful when people stop doing drugs and then become very preachy about it. It’s terrible. But in the end, my whole thing is, I don’t do any drugs, I don’t drink or anything. I really think it’s an inherent part of why I could be way more successful or prolific than someone who is drug-addled, who can’t get anything done, who just can’t be smart about it either.
Nick Drake: "Pink Moon"
I heard you wrote "Love Is in the Air" specifically to land a VW commercial.
James and Tim refused to work on it. James seriously disappeared. Tim walked into the studio and said, “Well, I think it’s best if you just do this one yourself.” And John and I have always talked about it from the beginning when I was working on it, I said, “This is the song for the Volkswagen commercial.” And I’m not being disingenuous with the song in any way, I love the song. But it really was, here’s a song, spoonfed to Volkswagen. But it’s funny that you play the Nick Drake song, because people wouldn’t think this about me, but some of my favorite music is stuff like Nick Drake, like Neil Young, melancholy singer-songwriter stuff. It was my version of that.
I don’t know. ["Love Is in the Air"] seems like the perfect song for it. Imagine two gay guys driving around in the front, and he puts it on, and they’re smiling at each other. They have their mountain bikes on top of the car and they’re all outfitted for a day outside.
Annie: "Me Plus One"
Are you guys gonna work with each other?
Wait, why do you say that?
She said that you guys were going to work together.
That’s so funny because literally like three years ago, I wrote her an email--I’ve never met her, never talked to her--I wrote her an email saying, “I’d love to do a track with you. Are you interested, do you want to sing on a track?” And I never heard from her. I thought she didn’t like me or something, because she never got back to me. That’s so funny. Her song, “The Greatest Hit,” I love that song. I think I’m in love with her because of that song. Me and a million other people when they heard that song.
The Juan Maclean: "Dance With Me"
It’s my favorite song on the album by the way. When we’d be in the studio--me and James and Tim--James is very direct and likes to come and say “Let’s do this and that” and nothing out of place. He’s pretty controlling with things. Tim and I, after he would leave, would set up these stations of synths and drum machines and stuff, turn out all the lights, light candles and go on these extended jams, which is the kind of thing that James is just not into at all.
That was one of the nights where, four in the morning, me and Tim set up all this stuff, darkened the studio. And ["Dance With Me"], the foundation of it, is a jam that he and I did, it was like three hours or something. And then from there we cut down--well, actually the fifteen minutes of the song is actually an unedited tape, a section of continuous jam we did--took the foundation of it, and then I went back in and added a piano part, and not much else.
Then we had Nancy come in to do vocals on it, and just looped the track, left her downstairs at like three in the morning and told her to do stuff. We came back in the morning and that’s what she’d done.
I’m so self-conscious saying this about something I made, but it seems like the most moving track on the whole album. There’s something really stirring about it to me. I just think of it as melancholy. That’s why it's funny, even in the vocals, the lyrics, “I’ve given you my best, it wasn’t good enough.” It’s just more that kind of melancholy, not actually depressing, sort of like a Pink Moon kind of thing. It’s a sort of happy song, but there’s something sad about it at the same time.
It’s funny though, that track. I really go out of my way not to read anything written about me. But there’s no way not to get trickles of what people are saying, and how people are responding to things. That was sort of the direction, that’s really what I like to do, stuff like ["Dance With Me"]. Then songs like “Tito’s Way”, “Give Me Every Little Thing” become the big thing and it really moved way over into that direction.
There’s a lot of pressure to have album number two come out fairly quickly, which it will. But I still have to tour more, and that’s what I think is going to inform album number two more than anything else. It’s going to be way more in the territory of what our live shows are like. But this is where things like trying to second-guess what you’re doing or guessing what it is that people are talking about come into play, because that means more loud stuff, loud drums, loud playing and that kind of thing. And that’s really already come and gone. Do I really want to do that?
Visit: The Juan Maclean
05 April 2006
YOU MIGHT SEE RIFF IN DESIGNER UNDERWEAR
Download: Jonathan Richman's "Cosi Veloce"
Show morning, J emailed me bits from an amNew York interview with Art Brut's "wacky frontman":
AMNY: It's such a different sound. Was that a conscious effort among the group to sit down and make something new?
AMNY: The name Art Brut, I think, kind of helps with that perception of you guys positioning yourselves as outsiders.
Show start, AB played "Enter Sandman" for Argos's entrance music. We laughed, the German kids and sub-18s next to us went berserk beating the shit out of each other, and I spent the rest of the night totally fucking vexed by the fact that both reactions were not only equally legit, but somewhat symbiotic. Art Brut's gonna be popular for one reason (if this actually happens; not sure Downtown's throwing the big bucks down if Atlantic's not pushing the record a la Gnarls), and cult for the same set of observations. Both sides will scream "they just don't get it"; both will be right.
Look, I'm entering Douchebag Territory and I know it. There's no wrong way to eat a Reese's, right; still it's not like each of us hasn't tried to, like, light a peanut butter cup on fire and straw-sip the fumes up the butt or whatever. Art Brut does the "magnificent banalities" thing way too well for people not to be hit eight different ways, nine different times by lines like "Why don't our parents worry about us?" or "Can I get you a cup of coffee?" Every song this guy writes is as universal as 'Happy Birthday', and I feel like he knows it, at least by now.
So yeah this was a fantastic show like they'll always be, so visceral but so personal too. I just hope Argos will leave it like that. Dude does not need to stop "Emily Kane" mid-song to spell out for the fans he's accrued since November that it's not about (to paraphrase) "a guy named Eddie Argos still in love with his first girlfriend, a girl named Emily Kane" but really it's about "being 15 years old in love with being in love." He doesn't need to play the cool considered Zach Morris figure timing out the stage while Jasper Future prances around, rocks out like a little brother who just discovered rock and roll during, ahem, "My Little Brother." Same song, he doesn't need to bring up the guys from Little Brother and have them rap about how they only listen to bootlegs and b-sides. I fucking know those guys, and they listen to a lot more than that.
Yet I saw people actively benefit from Argos spelling it all out, and others need more, so I really don't know. All the German kids yelled "LA sucks!" during "Moving to LA" and kept on moshing with big fucking grins on their faces. Next to me an old man was wearing a shirt with no sleeves; his buddy was banging his chest with extreme strength and precision, double-time. I didn't know what to tell either of them.
I'm really jealous. This band's a fave and they still don't make me mosh; they don't even make me want to rock out. I like them as artistes, anti-academics by choice not by stupidity, and inevitably I get hung up on how fucking smart these songs are, how finely tuned the delivery, how "These Animal Menswear" sounds like "Where Is My Mind?" and how Argos winks at me before singing "Where is my mind?" I'm jealous because bumping into me was a guy with a pretty ridiculous hat, one of those fedoras people buy at Urban Outfitters that everybody looks OK in but nobody ever looks that good, and I would have loved to slam an elbow into him and call it good fun. The encore was "Good Weekend"; right in the middle of the pit a guy and his brand new girlfriend started making out like they were 13 years old and watching Ghost Dad; I wished I wasn't so self-conscious.
04 April 2006
RIFF RAFF UND RUNTER
Koushik + And The Lefthanded
Download: And The Lefthanded's "Disturbing You"
Funny when people get competitive about people dying--how close they were, how much the death's like totally fucking with them man, how it's the 9/11 of deaths (never forget) or the Total Recall of dudes dying (i.e. there is a guy in another guy's stomach who reminds you your dudes died), etc. Koushik had his Dilla Dilla shirt on last night. He yanked at it, pointed to it a bunch just so you know where his heart's at, during what was effectively an amped-up Jay Dee Dee-Jay tribute set: Slum's "You Know What Love Is," D'Angelo's "Devil's Pie," some Manfred Mann and jazz breaks and space is the place mashups in the mean. Scarce to begin with, people anxiously kept to the sides of the room, as if we might all start holding hands and kumbaya and maybe a hologram of Jay Dee might spring up and start breakdancing.
Take it two ways: Koushik's is music that pushes focus out the middle to the details, wallpaper for lovemaking since it doesn't distract from the matter at/on/in hand. That, or it's so coma-inducing the Merc's side bartender actually went out to the sides of the room and brought people their beers. Koushik went several minutes past his allotted, possibly on some 'Jay Dee will live on forever!" shit; the soundman told him to stop.
Vacate the middle, move ears from the song to the sound to the mood--from Koushik's lounge-hop to Finnish trio And the Lefthanded's kraut, an easy enough jump. The band's been around forever as Larry and the Lefthanded, but guitarist Larry quit, so q.e.d.. Lazy fuzz ballad "Love Me Now" sounds more Cosmic Jokers to me than Black Rebel Motorcycle Club--lead singer Timo Kaukolampi's screamed whisper has the same shaky English affections of 'down-townnnn'--but I can see people confusing the two. "Yin & Yang" makes a good case for ATL as 'Harmonia does Pop' or kraut-pop or motorik surf, cheery, borderline goofy synth melodies over grave propulsive drones, but can't say that about "Rocket Rock"--barely a Clinic c-side (so, a Neu! j- or k-side). Kaukolampi worked a bunch with Norway's Annie on Anniemal, so no surprise to hear strains of her squiggly "Wedding" in his "Two Masters"--on record something like Ben Folds Plays the Future, but live so so so much better, the noble piano switched out for synths and fun.
So maybe ATL's a formula of sorts--take kraut, straighten the hair, cut the Tim Leary bullshit--but so is the equation I use when I want to graph quadratics or synthesize water, and I synthesize a shitload of water anymore. The band played their best cut second-to-last; it may have been called "Walking on Mirror" but it's the one with the ripped "Taxman" bassline and "96 Tears" Vox sounds regardless, a centerless jam left soft-focus by morning fog, and I could have listened immer und immer wieder.
03 April 2006
PUTTING RIFF MARKET ON SUICIDE WATCH
Notes on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Phenomena"
So much to dig here--not the least of which is that "Phenomena" is more "Bang" and less Fever to Tell, more rhythmically libidinous, less Burger King commercial. Way back when, before "Maps" played in Crate & Barrel and Angus Andrew was a punchline, Nick Zinner's guitar lumbered, juggernaut riffs, none of this "texture" shit. He didn't cede "Bang" to Karen O's celebrity trill; if anything, he spoofed her bravado, proved her foil, antagonized her little brother-style. Same now with "Phenomena." Perhaps you know my childhood friend Pat Blankus, who once stole his sister Shelly's training bra, drenched it in orange juice, then hung it off his family basketball net--Shelly was really upset about this (she was still in training). Both songs are exactly like that.
I have one problem with "Phenomena." Let me give you a hint--a lyrical hint. Sing this to yourself: "Something like a phenomena, baby/ something like a phenomena." (!!!!!!!) If you're not ripping at your skin uncontrollably, as if your entire body is swathed in bedbugs or mini-spiders or really expensive aftershave balm, I suggest you place an order at mini-spiders.com and tell them to rush it.
What's my problem? As a typist, and an athlete, I don't get worked up about grammar too often. Simeon crizzed Reefer's podo pants--hoey. You see, I really don't give a shit. Spuscriptions? Yes, five spuscriptions.
But say you're the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. You're on the cover of SPIN, a magazine about rock music. Whenever you are on stage, at least two of your six hands total are pouring beer on Karen O. Is it too much to ask that you know how to correctly conjugate the Greek verb phainomai--meaning "I seem," or "I appear," or "I am able to be sensed"--the singular middle-passive participle of which gives us the word "phenomenon," a word you meant to use in the song "Phenomena" but instead you mistakenly used the plural form, i.e. "phenomena"?
Brass tack #1: Phenomena is the plural of phenomenon. "A" phenomena is not even nonsense, it's just incorrect. Maybe Karen O figured she could genderize "phenomenon" by inflecting its ending--"a" is a solid choice if you want to feminize a word, such as the female version of the name Brian ("Briana") or Big La, the name of my hypothetical all-woman Big L tribute band. Anyway, this might be what happened, given some of the other personifying liberties O affords herself, e.g. "Don't fall asleep with the motor on/ She'll make you sweat in the water." Sure she will.
Brass tack #2: What does it mean to be "something like a phenomenon" anyway? If a phenomenon is, generally speaking, "something that is/can be sensed (by, say, the five senses)," as opposed to something that definitively "is", then what in hell does it mean to be "something like something that is/can be sensed"? It's not like I haven't seen The Matrix either.
Download: Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines"
"Something like a phenomenon." Did Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel, who tucked this gordian knot of a lyric into their early-80s don't do coke rap "White Lines," know the trouble it would cause? Aside from what exactly made Notorious "B.I.G." and "Who shot J.R. (Writer)?", the meaning of this lyric might be the biggest question in hip-hop today.
A phenomenon--not just any phenomenon, but something like one. Karen O--she blew it. She took the meta-phenomenal mystery, the "vision, dreams of passion, nothing to gain except etc. etc. etc.", the rock-yer-bodyisms, and merely made them sound cool. Duran Duran covered "White Lines" with rock guitars, and simply flipped the song into a cocaine anthem not unlike what the Clipse did to Common's "The Corner" or when anybody who does karaoke at Sing Sing. Even as recently as 2003, Limp Bizkit took a shot at cracking the code; according to them, the meaning sounds something like a gorilla taking a shit into a studio microphone.
So let me take you on a journey--to the year 1997: "Candle in the Wind 1997," "Wannabe," "MMMbop," "I Believe I Can Fly," "Hypnotize," "Mo Money Mo Problems," "I'll Be Missing You." The writing's on the wall now, isn't it: Puff Daddy murdered Princess Diana.
Recall also: LL Cool J's comeback un-hit "Phenomenon." It peaked at #14 on Billboard's hip-hop charts and #55 on the Hot 100, then disappeared relatively quickly even for LL, who would have the "Starsky & Hutch" paper stacking soon enough and probably forgot he even made the song thereafter. Look, I'm not saying LL was Puffy's accomplice or anything, but I wonder what he knew.
Download: LL Cool J's "Phenomenon"
In the beginning of the song, he approaches a woman "draped in Chanel," who tells him "she love Tupac but hates some LL." How LL presents the scenario, the woman has no idea she's talking to LL--self-deprecation we're surprised the careering rapper allows himself. What's unclear, the woman may well be playing LL after all, willfully ignoring his celebrity to tip the convo's power dynamic in her favor. With his identity unaccounted for, LL's merely a phenomenon to her--and to himself. So who's taking whose piss?
"She can take a prince, turn him into a king," LL asides same verse. It's proleptic--LL will have fully seen that transformation by the end of verse three, when he's "in the brand new mansion with the lake in back" and "sick and tired of freakin' to morn'" and "got it all figured out, mami, I like that." He just wants to be he. Except once again point of view is crucial. Can she actually shape him, or does LL just think she can?
"Say what you want, but keep your lips sealed," LL says at the end--turns out he's been playing her the whole time, letting her think she's master when really she's the "playgirl." Has your mind fucked itself yet? LL is the something that's like a phenomenon.
"No joke," he said verse one, "No joke, all this love." There's something both behind and beyond the phenomena for LL: real agency and real results. As for the agency, LL tacitly acknowledges his and her own by calling for an end to their masquerades ("Let bygones be bygones, no more games"). Why else would he do that though, but because something has become of the deception: love. "It's real in the feel," LL confides a line before the last. Chemically predisposed, psychologically, biologically, fated or for whatever reason said feel is real--can't knock that.