Interviews

Anyone with an appreciation for deep grooves, the healthy cross-pollination of musical genres and inimitable urban cool cried a little when New York’s Luscious Jackson decided to go their separate ways in the year 2000. From the ragged, souled-out jazz and dub elements of their first recording, In Search of Manny, to the glossy dance tracks of Electric Honey, this quartet (a trio for their last album) combined a melting pot of influences (hip-hop, pop, funk – their sophomore full length, Fever In Fever Out, even featured a backing vocal by Emmylou Harris) into a sound that stood unique on the modern rock airwaves of the last decade. Seven long years later, LJ aficionados have several reasons to listen up, among them the solo debut of band co-founder Gabby Glaser.

Gimme Splash (Latchkey Recordings) reflects much of what fans loved about Luscious Jackson, while revealing more of Glaser’s personal musical direction. Kicking off with the undulating 70s funk of “Spirit of Long Island,” the album features drifting Sunday afternoon reveries, fuzzed-out guitar jams, dark, eclectic dance rhythms and Glaser’s strange, cooler-than-you vocal delivery. We recently sent Glaser our questions via email, and present her answers here as they were written, save a comma or two. She came across much the way we imagined – forthcoming, unusual and enthusiastic about music and life.

Keenly Observed: What have you been up to since Luscious Jackson dissolved?

Gabby Glaser: Well, I never stopped writing songs, menial labor, got hitched to a big hunk o’Englishman, and a friend asked me to do this comedy thing which was real fun and the crowd loved it. (We played Siamese twin sisters entering a contest to get separated, played guitar and sang perverted spoof songs.)

K.O.: How and when did you decide that you wanted to record another album?

G.G.: I can’t remember ever not wanting to record an album. But yeah, I guess you could say the day we broke up it was definitely the plan. I had so many songs already written that were so different stylistically that it was hard picking which ones to record. I had a fantasy of starting a label called EP Records and putting out EPs with 5 to 7 songs each. Then I could put out all my own shit out on it too. One record of the mellow stuff, one hillbilly, one loud, one soundtrack instrumentals, one dirty, one dance stuff, etc. But in the end I recorded stuff that I thought would be fun to play live. That’s why the record’s kinda loud.

K.O.: What did you learn about the music business while you were in Luscious Jackson that you can apply to your career now? Do you have any advice for up-and-coming musicians?

G.G.: Well, I kinda blocked the whole music business part out; don’t have the best memories of it, a lotta double talk. My advice is basically just to work hard and keep at it no matter what. Not everyone’s gonna like your music, but if it really comes from your heart and you’re not just trying to ride on some musical bandwagon, people will probably come around and respond to it.

K.O.: Both Luscious Jackson’s music and Gimme Splash have the distinct mark of New York City on them. Tell me what NYC means to you and how it inspires you.

G.G.: NYC was such a great place to grow up, and I got to see so much at such a young age. Being raised on St. Marks Place was pretty wild, freaks everywhere back then. We also had the best block parties. Musically, I suppose the most inspiring time was when I was around 13 and started going to nightclubs and music venues. To be able to see PIL, Kurtis Blow, the Bad Brains AND go dancing til dawn at a nightclub all in one week was such a gas! You couldn’t help but be inspired by it all. And there wasn’t really a class system or anything like that. It was just people of all different races and ages coming together through the love of music and dancing. I’m still inspired by the city, but I think Brooklyn’s way closer to the feel that Manhattan was in the best way. It still has pockets of neighborhoods that haven’t been totally taken over and more of a community feel; not as crowded and hustle bustle. And I love that the buildings aren’t as high so you can see more sky.

K.O.: How would you spend a perfect summer day in the city?

G.G.: I love just chillin on the grass in the park with a good book and my Walkman (no Ipod yet). Also, having lunch with my friends at an outdoor spot and a bottle of white. And there are loads of free outdoor music shows that happen all summer. McCarren Pool in Brooklyn has great live bands every Sunday. Last year I got to see Deerhoof there and it was tooo fun!

K.O.: What’s the status of the Luscious Jackson children’s album? What was it like working on that project?

G.G.: The record’s been done for over a year and it was really fun making it, laughing fits constantly. Jill (Cunniff) and I recorded most of it at her home studio and we also did a bunch at this great producer/musician’s studio by the name of Nathan Rosenberg. Since Kate (Schellenbach) lives in L.A., we’d send her the music and she’d play drums to it and send back the tracks. Making it reminded me of when we first got together and everything was way more lighthearted. And you get to be REALLY silly when you make music for kids. I could do it forever.

K.O.: What is your writing process like?

G.G.: I usually do the music first, starting with guitar or keys, then do the lyrics. I also love piecing live instrumentation with samples, but I haven’t done that in a while. I’m sure I’ll get back into that soon.

K.O.: Did you know when you started what you wanted Gimme Splash to be like?

G.G.: Not really. Well, somewhat…I really love the way records sounded in the 70s, especially a lot of the punk bands from England, but also bands like the Stones, Funkadelic, even the easy listening stuff sounded good. I also really like a lot of the songs and slide guitar playing on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, and I wanted a lot of slide on the record. The transition a song goes through from writing at home to rehearsing with a band to recording is so vast. You don’t always get your intended sound, but you might get something cool you wouldn’t have expected.

K.O.: Is it just coincidence that your solo album and Jill’s were released so close to one another after all this time? (Jill Cunniff’s solo debut, City Beach, was released in February 2007.)

G.G.: Pretty much. Both our records had been done for quite a while, it just took forever to get ’em out.

K.O.: Are there any artists that you’re really excited about right now?

G.G.: I saw an amazing show that my friend Tia Sprocket did when I was in L.A. (Incidentally, she plays bass with me in my band now.) When she plays out it’s just her, an acoustic guitar that she plugs into an amp to get it sounding dirty, and she connects a drum pedal into the amp that she accompanies her music to like a bass drum. I can’t really do it justice trying to explain her, you just gotta see her live. She’s really incredible and I’m dang lucky to have her playing with me now!

K.O.: What are your plans and expectations for this album? How do you plan to spend the summer?

G.G.: Just wanna get the hells out on tour!!

Gimme Splash is out now on Latchkey Recordings. You can catch Gabby live on Monday, August 6 at Cakeshop in NYC.

Gabby Glaser
Latchkey Recordings

Girl Talk

On a recent summer night in Atlanta, the city’s diverse musical offerings presented themselves in maddeningly competitive fashion. In the Highlands, right-now local favorite Luigi showcased their spirited brand of rock at 10 High. A few miles away at the EARL, Charles Walker and the Dynamites celebrated the past with a rousing set of funk and soul. But at Lenny’s, the future was on display, and in its corner was a young man and his laptop.

A mere 24 years of age, Pittsburgh native Gregg Gillis already has 6 years of experience performing and making music under the Girl Talk moniker. His third release, Night Ripper, has set blogs ablaze this summer the way that Danger Mouse’s Grey Album did two years ago. Both projects challenge traditional notions of what constitutes creating original music. While Brian Burton focused on deconstructing two well-known recordings, Gillis’ raw materials are democratically drawn from every corner of the last 30 years or so of the pop charts and beyond. Night Ripper‘s sixteen cuts celebrate the ways that rhythm and atmosphere cross all genres, pairing odd-couple artists as though they were wacky awards show presenters, only in this case, they have genuine chemistry. The Notorious B.I.G. unleashes a seamless flow atop Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”; The Waitresses and Lady Sovereign engage in a gleeful call-and-response; everyone from The Pixies to James Taylor make an appearance. The record’s rapid-fire transitions and teasing song fragments will inspire your own private game of Name That Tune: now’s the time to put your knowledge of Sophie B. Hawkins or B-grade Paula Abdul singles to work. Composed almost entirely of samples, with the occasional original keyboard melody or drum machine loop, the term “mash-up” doesn’t do this project justice. Night Ripper is the old roller-rink staple “Stars on 45” fired through the stratosphere, or, as my friends would term it, strictly next-level shit.

“I’m kind of a pop music enthusiast in general,” explains Gillis of his decade- and chart-spanning ear. “Nothing’s tongue in cheek, it’s all sampling because I like the music.” Girl Talk was launched after high school stints in a couple of experimental noise acts. “The first album (was) kind of making avant-garde music out of pop samples, and then it faded into doing more beat-oriented stuff, which was the second album, and then it kinda slowly progressed into kinda party-based, blatant sample material, which is the new one.” While making more inaccessible music, Gillis noted that he got the biggest response from recognizable samples. “It was never a decision, it just kinda happened slowly, you know, trying to create fun party music for people.”

Whether the cops will be called on the party remains to be seen. While it obviously violates traditional interpretation of U.S. copyright law, Gillis’ work raises question about how, exactly, artistic production is encouraged by restricting the use of cultural products as materials for expression. Thus far, the establishment has kept an open mind. “I actually talked to (a) label on the phone,” says Gillis, many of whose artists he’d sampled, “and (the label rep) was just jokey about it, like, ‘I can’t believe you got away with releasing this album, ha ha ha,’ and I was like, yeah, it’s really weird talking to you about this, but he was cool, he had no problem with it, you know what I mean? And now he’s commissioning me to do remixes for him.” While Gillis hasn’t yet met any of the artists who appear on Night Ripper (and has also managed to avoid any lawsuits), he has one high-profile fan in kindred spirit Beck, who not only ordered up two remixes of his own, but also used Girl Talk as a recent opening act. A biomedical engineer by trade, Gillis defends his creations on both moral and economic grounds. “If anything, I’m promoting these artists. If you won’t allow this, then you’re just holding back music that people potentially like. That’s it.”

Although he’s captured some songs on disc as a badge of legitimacy (“I like doing it, and it’s nice to get it out, and I want people to take it seriously”), the Girl Talk experience is definitely a living work in progress. Gillis constantly pieces together the elements that keep his raw, sweat-drenched show current and ever-changing. “I’m always just sampling things and not even worrying about what I’m gonna use it for – just a drum breakdown or keyboard solo, or whatever. I just sample it and catalog it. I have this catalog. So I’m always doing that, and whenever I play live, I just mix and match loops, and for all my live shows, especially because I play Pittsburgh every couple months or so, I’m always trying to do new material, try to keep up to date with whatever’s on the radio, whatever I like, trying out new things. I never really play the same set twice.”

Much to what seems like his bemusement, the blessing and curse of internet hype has visited Gillis this year, peaking when Pitchfork Media came calling. “It seems ridiculous, but I really think they may have paid attention just because people started writing about it on their blogs and shit. But yeah, that hit and all of a sudden people really started to take to it, and all of a sudden you’re doing Spin interviews and stuff.” The anti-DJ’s taking it in stride, making future plans in the face of public scrutiny. “Now that the press has hit so hard, I kinda just wanna flip it entirely, and just do something really weird. I’m working with this friend of mine who goes by the name Hearts of Darknesses, he’s on Schematic Records, and he’s like my best buddy and we tour around a lot – we’re kinda workin’ on an album together that would just be really some samples, but just really strange kinda pop music sorta deal. Right now I’m still making new music in the style of Night Ripper, so maybe I’ll do something else on that level again.”

Whatever direction he chooses, it seems clear that the love of pop will be his guide. “You can make these emotional and nostalgic and whatever connections because of this music, and kinda manipulate it and create something new out of it. So, that’s been the plan from the first album going on, and it’s changed shapes and forms, but it’s still the same thing.” Gillis takes a moment to reflect from the white-hot core of Hipster Central: “It’s equally cool and equally insane.”

– Amanda Langston

Girl Talk performs at Azul this Friday, October 6.

For more info: http://illegalart.net/

Special thanks to Rebecca BlankenshipNouvelle VagueSongs To Learn and Sing: Reinventing the ’80s with Nouvelle Vague

For a child of the crass, bloated 1980s, 38-year-old Marc Collin is the epitome of charm. Maybe he’s just an average Frenchman, but it’s not every day that a thickly accented music producer phones me while en vacances on the island of Corsica, so I’ll go with the glamorous picture in my head, thanks. When not ensconced in living the European good life, Collin is busy creating fantasy through music. His love affair with New Wave bands began as a schoolboy in Versailles, an obsession that he’s turned into an international success. It’s the last thing that Nouvelle Vague’s mastermind producer had in mind. “We were just expecting to sell maybe, I don’t know, ten thousand, twenty thousand, something like this, to interest the people who were into this culture, and that’s all. People, they really like it! And it’s like, most everywhere in the world. So it’s a very good surprise.”

Nouvelle Vague (all apologies to ABBA tribute act Bjorn Again) are perhaps the most credible cover band you’ll ever hear. A product of Collin’s inspired imagination, their two albums spotlight tunes from giants (U2), footnotes (Heaven 17) and downright obscurities (Scottish act The Wake) of the 1980s underground, stripped of all period details and reworked into oft-unrecognizable bossa nova and Carribbean-influenced numbers. “I tried to imagine what could happen if this song had been recorded in the 1940s or ’50s…so it’s a kind of game,” Collin explains. Bande A Part, their latest release, continues the experiment in the same spirit of their original self-titled work, this time tackling tunes as diverse as Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” and Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself,” and turning Yazoo’s club banger “Don’t Go” into a lush, magical torch song. The collective, which employs six vocalists on the new album, is defined by its musical sophistication and the strength of its material. Although he could easily push the Nouvelle Vague experience as a high-concept gimmick, Collin is insistent upon celebrating the decade’s body of work as respectable, rather than mere fodder for nostalgia. “We always just remember the fashion, the politics, the energy (of the ’80s),” he explains, “but finally there were also sometimes very beautiful songs, and I wanted to prove that.”

Putting the project together was a revelation for Collin as well as his collaborators, many of whom had, incredibly, never heard many of the original songs before recording them. This naivete wasn’t an intentional part of Collin’s plan. “It just happened,” he says. “When we asked the Brazilian singer (Eloisia) and after, Camille, to sing ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart,’ or ‘Just Can’t Get Enough,’ or ‘Guns of Brixton,’ we just realized that they didn’t know at all this kind of songs. It’s not their culture. They are young, like, 25, you know.” With the exception of his original childhood cassettes, Collin often didn’t even own copies of the tunes his band ended up recording, resulting in discoveries all around. He recalls, “When I listen to all these bands when I was young, I didn’t know exactly what they said. For me the interesting thing…was the energy, the production, the sound, the voice, but not really the lyrics. I really discovered again these songs with the lyrics.” His young protegees focused on the words as well, “because they took ideas for interpretation” from them. As far as Collin is concerned, his singers’ unfamiliarity with the material turned out to be a bonus. “We discovered that it was a very good thing, because they were totally free” to create their vocals free of any prior associations.

As Collin tells it, it sounds as though creating the actual tracks was a breeze. “It’s very easy! You ask the guy to come, ask a friend to play the guitar, I give him the chord, and I say, okay, let’s go, let’s play it like a pop way…and for me it happened. You can say, oh yeah, it’s very good to hear this songs like this. As long as we get the right idea I think it’s very simple to do it.” The essence of the tunes – “the chords, the melody and the lyrics” were his main focus, laying a solid foundation on which to point them in a new direction. The end result has created a demand to hear the material live. “It’s a kind of cabaret show sometimes. The girls, they wear beautiful dresses, and we try to act like an entertainer, and it’s something very warm, and very live, and always a kind of freedom on certain songs.” It’s a formula which has proved popular around the world, so much that touring for the first album took the band to over 20 countries. “What was a big surprise,” says Collin, “is to realize that almost everywhere in the world, there were people who have listened to New Wave or post-punk music. It’s happened in different generations…in Mexico, for example, it’s young people who are listening to The Cure or New Order. In Bangkok you will find people who will know all the stuff.”

In the same way that their band name is descriptive in multiple ways (the term means “new wave” in French and “bossa nova” in Portuguese), titling their new album Bande A Part is a chance for Nouvelle Vague to make another statement of purpose. Like the Godard film of the same name, this is art marked by the urge to stand out from its peers. According to Collin, though, the French meaning of the phrase is more finely tuned than the literal suggestion of “someone just alone and not with all the people. And it’s true that Nouvelle Vague is a strange concept, because it’s not really…you can say rock and roll, or indie pop, or electronic, or jazz, or even lounge…it’s difficult to really try to have a name on what we are doing, so we are kind of, you know, we are not into a movement.” Hey, whatever they are, we just can’t get enough.

Nouvelle Vague burn up the Variety Playhouse on Thursday, September 21. The Submarines, reviewed elsewhere on this site, get things started.

Listening to Band of Horses’ “Monsters” feels like rolling a huge rock off your chest. Its lazy banjo line, distant vocal and cloudy instrumentation builds into a tangled declaration of hope (“If I am lost, it’s only for a little while”), setting free its pent-up angst and hurt with a deep, beautiful breath. It fits right in with the nine other songs that comprise Everything All the Time, the Seattle-based act’s debut full-length. Drifting along like a hazy Neil Young daydream, the tension of its folk, pop and country instincts dissolves into a playful romp (“Weed Party”) or folds itself into a track (“Our Swords”) that accommodates all three. This begs the question, is this album really the work of a man who gets down to the King of da South?

You betcha. Benjamin Bridwell and his five traveling companions have been passing the time between gigs by “listening to a lot of awesome dirty hip hop, like Chamillionaire, and T.I., and that new Ghostface record,” adding that “when summer tour starts, it’s nice to have a lot of really good old reggae to listen to during the day.” Regardless of the influences evident in his work, Bridwell accommodates whatever peculiarity his ears desire. “It seems like every tour,” he explains, “a different band will pop into your mind that you just HAVE to have on the road – the last tour, I just had to have some Hall & Oates.” True to his word, the band busts out an enthusiastic cover of “You Make My Dreams” when they hit the stage of the
EARL in Atlanta.

From the way things are going, it looks like Daryl Hall isn’t the only one with dreams coming true. Thus far, Bridwell, along with guitarist Mat Brooke, has found that the rewards of his new project have exceeded anything he’s experienced before. Having cut his touring teeth with Brooke in their previous outfit Carissa’s Wierd (Brooke sat out their most recent outing), Bridwell is quick to acknowledge the benefits associated with having both a widely well-received album and bigger promotional muscle. Being Sub Pop’s new stars ensures that “all kinds of different people get to hear us now. Before..we could only do certain cities. With this band, different promoters’ll take risks on us to fill the room, whereas with Carissa’s Wierd, it was kind of a battle to get certain shows.” Recent appearances on MTV2’s Subterranean and Late Show with David Letterman have also raised the band’s profile.

Increased exposure is just one of the changes that Bridwell’s experienced lately. While he served as the drummer in Carissa’s Wierd, Band of Horses showcases his vocal and songwriting talents. (One might say he’s, um, taken the reins of the operation.) Some of the songs on Everything were written almost two years before being recorded, evolving from Bridwell fooling around on guitar. “I was just messing around with tuning and seeing what the hell worked, and trying to find the melody in it…and hopefully the song is just begging to get out.” Producer Phil Ek’s involvement with the project gave it an unofficial Northwestern seal of approval, putting the Band in the company of several other noteworthy West Coast acts (Modest Mouse, Visqueen and Pretty Girls Make Graves among them). Drawn specifically to his work with Built To Spill, Bridwell met Ek in Band of Horses’ early days and seems stoked that they were able to collaborate. He assures me, “You can’t really go wrong with a Phil Ek record.”

His star producer aside, Bridwell’s path to recognition as one of the indie world’s new voices to watch was also smoothed somewhat thanks to a fortuitous hometown connection. The singer hails from the Columbia, South Carolina suburb of Irmo, where one of his brother’s high school buddies was none other than Sam Beam. The Iron & Wine mastermind established a friendship with Bridwell long before either one had a career in music, one that came in handy when Beam invited the pre-name change Horses to take an opening slot on his 2005 tour. Tastemakers at Sub Pop caught some of their shows and, turned on to the act’s quiet grandeur and sun-dappled reverb, “definitely got involved and made sure they got us. It’s awesome,” confirms Bridwell. “I’ve been a fan of Sub Pop since I was a kid, so it’s an honor.”

While Band of Horses’ career is focused in the Northwest, the South certainly inspired some of Everything‘s humid, languid atmosphere. While he dismisses the suggestion that his music, drenched as it is in life and wonder, is spiritually inspired, Bridwell admits, “There’s definitely angles on the record where I wanted to express where I come from.” He’s more open to the notion that the Band of Horses sound reflects the rhythms of nature and the slow pace of the Southern summer, though it’s also well acquainted with the “sit-in-the-bar-during-the-daytime” crowd. “It’s a little bit of both. You got your emotionally depressed and your wonderfully upbeat nature dude at the same time. So it’s a little mix of all that stuff. A shut-in and an outdoorsy dude.”

Bringing this message to the people requires logging a lot of time on the road, the reality of which Bridwell conveys in humorous and blunt terms. “You just ride in the van, hope that no one has to piss all the time, and then you geto ut and unload and do a little sound check, and then later on get wasted and go play a show and dry off, hopefully.” The goal? “We’ll do whatever it takes to sell these records.” Although Bridwell doesn’t know how many discs they’ve moved (a Sub Pop representative says that it’s nearly 28,000), he takes an optimist’s approach: “It’s like, anyone can buy it, so let’s fuckin’ work it!” He’s also a pragmatist when it comes to gaining recognition and sales, reasoning, “The thing is, everyone’s in this field to try to make a career out of it. You’re tryin’ to make sure that you can feasibly do it without killing yourself.”

It’s a cause that conscientious music fans can support with pride. For the uninitiated, Bridwell promises that a typical Band of Horses show is “a little bit loud, a little bit quiet, a little bit silly, a little bit serious. Just kinda like the record is, we have our high moments and our low moments, and it’ll be fun for everybody.” In other words, everything all the time.