Essential New Music: Amor~Convertino’s “The Western Suite And Siesta Songs”

In 1997, Paris-based multi-instrumentalist Naim Amor moved to Tucson, Ariz., where he quickly found his way inside the orbit of Giant Sand and Friends Of Dean Martinez. Soon enough, he formed a band with FODM/Calexico’s Joey Burns and John Convertino, and even though their debut failed to take off, the collaboration has kept going, one way or another. On The Western Suite And Siesta Songs, Amor (Arizona) and Convertino (Ohio) are writing and recording separately, completing the tracks long-distance, and somehow making these 12 pieces work as a cohesive whole.

The flavor is spaghetti-Southwestern, with an occasional touch of Left Bank accordion. The playing—on delicately layered guitars, keyboards and percussion—is beautifully sympathetic, and the feeling as languorous as a long, straight line of asphalt baking under the desert sun, the heat rising in waves to conjure memories of roads not taken.

—Kenny Berkowitz

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From The Desk Of matt pond PA: Death And Leia

The 11th matt pond PA full-length, Winter Lives, features artwork that evokes Windham Hill’s catalog. Winter Lives arrives 11 years after Pond’s nearly all covers EP, Winter Songs. Pond, a New Hampshire native, understands the season that inspired Winter Lives, but he needed to write winter songs in the spring, so the album would arrive in context. Given his background, Pond didn’t scratch down too far to find inspiration. “It’s just visceral,” he says of winter. “There’s this coldness and shut-down emotional temperament to people in northern places, but when you get through that, there’s so much depth and reality to northern people.” Pond will be guest editing over the next two winter weeks. Read our new feature on him.

Pond: Since I first wrote about death, Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, have passed away. Shampoo, Star Wars, Singing In The Rain—these films left dramatic impressions on my childhood mind. Even though I was prone to falling madly in love with every actor on the screen, these human beings had eyes and actions that expressed empathy and infinite, intrinsic beauty. I celebrate them. And I will miss them.

We’re in a time when the icons are aging, when the first superstars are rapidly coming to the end of their lives. Inevitably, that means that some years are going to feel like 2016. With or without orange-hued, reality-star presidents. But still, 2016 was hard, seemingly rife with death. For some, I believe it appeared to have the look and feel of a couple rapturous harbingers, pirouetting past the last song of a bad dance-off. If I ever appear glib about the final curtain, I honestly apologize. The truth is I’ve probably never properly dealt with my own father’s death. So I guess my cool breezes are really just defensive hot airs.

Michael Cimino, Merle Haggard and Garry Shandling. These human beings thrilled me through film, music and television. I celebrate them. And I will miss them.

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MAGNET Feedback With Alejandro Escovedo

Sometimes it feels like I’ve spent two-thirds of my life listening to music and the other one-third writing and playing songs. Sometimes even in my sleep. Since I was really young, records were huge for me. I would look at those 45s and wonder how they were made and what made them sound so magical. I still feel that way. No matter how many years I make music, I still feel like it’s the one constant in my world that makes the most sense. I hope I always feel that way. Listening to and writing about these songs was a rush of so many memories, and where I was when I first heard them and who I was with. It’s really how I store history in my head: what music was around then. It’s like we’re all part of one big family of songs, and sometimes certain ones make the most sense. Then things change, and other songs take over. I hope it will always be that way for me and everybody else who loves all these sounds. —Alejandro Escovedo

Chris Bell, “I Am The Cosmos” from: I Am The Cosmos
Big Star still comes through loud and clear from more than 40 years ago, and a big reason for that is Chris Bell. He had a cosmic touch he brought to rock ’n’ roll, and coupled with Alex Chilton’s more streetwise sense, they formed a complete whole. Because Bell didn’t get to stick around as long he became a bit of an unsung hero, but to everyone whoever really listened to Big Star, it was obvious that Bell was a big part of what made that band so unique and unequaled. On this solo song, he almost sounds like he knows his time on the planet is limited and he’s getting ready to depart. Right into the cosmos.

John Cale, “Paris 1919” from: Paris 1919
There’s only one John Cale, and there won’t be any more. Here’s someone who had heavy classical training, came to America to work with a symphony under a Leonard Bernstein fellowship and ended up changing rock ’n’ roll forever in the Velvet Underground. He, Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison and Moe Tucker didn’t last long as a band, only two albums with Cale in it, but nothing was the same after them. It was Cale who brought in so much of the musical experimentation into songs like “Heroin” and “Sister Ray.” And then he was gone. By the time he made Paris 1919, he was ready to add a lot of his classical influences and bump them right up to rock ’n’ roll. This song still feels like it’s part of a bigger picture, almost like a movie, and Cale is pushing away at all the boundaries to get as many influences in as he can without it being cluttered. John and I worked together, and it changed my life. He showed me there is nothing to ever be afraid of in music. It’s always a friend.

13th Floor Elevators,“I’ve Got Levitation” from: Easter Everywhere
There was never a band like the 13th Floor Elevators. Their main lyricist, Tommy Hall, also just happened to play electric jug. He was on a one-man quest to elevate the world through the use of LSD and thought he could do that by starting a rock band in 1965 in Austin. He enlisted 17-year-old Roky Erickson to sing his lyrics, and put him with a band called the Lingsmen. “I’ve Got Levitation” is a call-to-arms for the Elevators’ quest. The manic bubbling of Hall’s jug, which was played with a microphone held up to the top of it while Hall blew away feverishly, still perplexes listeners. “What is that sound?” It was the sound of the music of the spheres, and it’s highly unlikely anyone will ever do it quite like this again. The band had a small hit with first single “You’re Gonna Miss Me” in ’66, but after that it was police harassment and mental hijinks that finally did them in. Some went to jail, some went insane. Either way, the 13th Floor Elevators were over before they really got started. To hear them now is to be amazed at how passionate and powerful they were. They really believed their music could change the world, and for those who heard it and agreed, it clearly did.

Calexico, “Falling From The Sky” from: Edge Of The Sun
Whenever I drive from Texas to California and I go through New Mexico and Arizona, I think of Calexico and then try to listen to one of their albums as quick as I can. They capture the wide-open mystery of so much of that land and remind me what an endless melting pot music can be. The way their voices blend with the horns and guitars is something all their own. Sometimes it makes me want to go find them and sit in and feel what a luxury it is to play with musicians like that. One of my dreams is to someday make a whole album with them in some out-of-the-way town; maybe even record it outdoors so the landscape seeps into the songs. “Falling From The Sky” feels like a song that arrived completely written when it came down from the clouds. Calexico is definitely one of America’s treasures.

The Dandy Warhols, “We Used To Be Friends” from: Welcome To The Monkey House
Portland is such a great music city and has been for a long, long time. One of the bands I always think about when it comes to Portland is the Dandy Warhols. They have that proud Portland edge of playing rock with plenty of bite to it. Starting with their name, which immediately flashes feelings of the Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol, the band has an uncompromising vibe that the Velvets helped invent 50 years ago. When we were recording last April in Portland, I thought about the Dandy Warhols and what the scene there must have been like when they started. I’m a big fan of finding about how different cities can cause different styles, like when I came to Austin in ’81 and we started Rank & File. I always feel like Portland gave that impetus to the Dandy Warhols: the rain, the coffee, the trees, the river. Everything around the city blends together to give groups their soul.

Sheila E., “Girl Meets Boy” from: single
You can absolutely tell from the first notes in this song dedicated to Prince how heartbroken Sheila was about his passing. I know how close they were and how strong their musical connection was going back all those years. There’s no way this music could’ve been anything different than what it is: a woman pouring out her feelings about someone she loved. As someone in my family, I share Sheila’s pain when she’s singing and also feel all that she’s remembering about her years with Prince. The Escovedos all have a similar spirit in our sensitivity, which no doubt dates back to my parents Cleo and Pedro Escovedo and the way they raised us, which Sheila got directly from her father and my brother Pete. It doesn’t get any deeper than family.

Ryan Adams, “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)” from: Heartbreaker
What’s so great about Ryan Adams is how he can mix up wildness and sophistication. Bob Dylan was the king of that in the mid-’60s when he first went electric. That kind of music jumps up the excitement level because it delivers everything. It’s also so hopeful and beautiful. What really comes through is how the singer is out there on a limb and isn’t joking. He’s been sad and he’s been high, and you can immediately hear that in the words, in the voice, in the music, in everything. Pure inspiration.

Neko Case, “People Got A Lotta Nerve” from: Middle Cyclone
Some singers are inspirational from the first note. They convey such a deep compassion that it’s like they’re opening an upbeat way of looking at things. Neko Case has always had that in her voice and songs. She sings about a lot of different things, but somehow always comes through as offering more than what was there before the songs started. Plus, she has Kelly Hogan in her band, which gives her extra points immediately. Kelly came to Portland to sing on my new album and took it all to a whole new level. So hooray for both of them, and for this right-on song that says so much about the modern world.

Bruce Springsteen, “Wrecking Ball” from: Wrecking Ball
There’s one thing that’s a given: Bruce Springsteen will always surprise you. It’s mind-blowing about the depth and breadth of the music he’s created and how it never stops. He might go quiet for a minute or two, but you know he’s coming around the corner that’s going to knock you out. “Wrecking Ball” did that to me. It’s like a folk song that has a steam engine attached to it, pushing it forward in a way that turns it into a modern fable. I remember when he first got going and reading the line Jon Landau wrote about seeing the future of rock ’n’ roll and its name was Bruce Springsteen. I never would’ve guessed back then Landau would one day be my manager or that I’d end up onstage singing with Springsteen. But that to me has always been the beauty of rock ’n’ roll: There’s no way to predict what’s possible. “Wrecking Ball” is one of those songs that makes everything seem possible. Whenever I need a shot of energy to get me past a roadblock or brainlock or some other kind of lock, this one always comes to the rescue with flying colors. I hope he sings forever.

David Bowie, “Lazarus” from: Blackstar
David Bowie is probably the most influential musician I’ve had. Something about his approach to what he did got so deep inside me, it’s like he’s always been there. Every time he’d shift styles, I was right there with him. If I had to pick one artist I could listen to for the rest of my life, it would probably be Bowie. When he died, it felt like the world had lost a big part of itself—especially when I heard this song. It seemed like his death was part of his art, which you’d almost expect it to be. Now I go back and listen to all his albums, and each one has a world of memories for me: what I was doing when they came out and what was happening in the world then. It’s like I see history through David Bowie’s songs. I love his voice, I love his writing, I love everything about him. Sometimes I’ll play one of his songs in my sets, and the choice will change depending on how I’m feeling. He really was the ultimate chameleon in rock ’n’ roll, but it was never an act. It felt like that’s who Bowie was at the moment. Whether it’s one of his last songs like “Lazarus” or one of his first, it’s one long line of sheer greatness. I think that will never change for me.

Roky Erickson, “Starry Eyes” from: Don’t Slander Me
When Roky Erickson got out of the Rusk State Hospital for the mentally insane, he was lost. His years in the 13th Floor Elevators had been exhaustive, much of which was due to the massive amounts of LSD the band took. He’d been arrested for marijuana in 1968 and pled insanity to escape prison. Rusk was probably worse. When he finally was free and back in Austin, Doug Sahm set up a recording session with Roky and his band Bleib Alien. They recorded two songs for Sahm’s indie Mars Records, and “Starry Eyes” is one of them. It’s such a pure blast of Texas rock that it’s impossible to see why it didn’t become a big hit. It sounds like something Buddy Holly might have done if he’d lived long enough, and Doug’s chiming guitar and Bill Miller’s electric autoharp create their own Wall of (Austin) Sound. The single got a little airplay here and there but disappeared pretty fast. The vocals are so pleading and pure that to this day, it might be one of the very best things Roky ever recorded. The other side of the single was “Red Temple Prayer,” with the unforgettable chorus “Two-headed dog, two-headed dog/I’ve been working in the Kremlin with a two-headed dog.” Roky was to go on to a whole new career, some of which worked and some didn’t. He’s one of the greatest rockers ever out of Texas and still playing. He even has his own flavor named after him at Amy’s Ice Creams: Roky Road. They should rename a street there Roky Erickson Avenue and turn his birthday, July 15, into a city celebration every year.

Steve Earle, “Transcendental Blues” from: Transcendental Blues
What I’ve always loved so much about this song is that while it could only be by Steve Earle, it’s like he took a time machine back to the ’60s and dropped by a Byrds session in Los Angeles and asked them for help. The backward-sounding guitar solos, the echoed beats and the way he sings might have been inspired by their “My Back Pages” track, but then again Steve is such an unpredictable artist, there’s no way to tell what inspires him. It might be something he cooks up completely in his own head. Either way, there’s a relentless power to this song; at the same time, there’s such an undercurrent of sweetness that runs all the way through it. Maybe even a little Allen Ginsberg. I was born in San Antonio, and Steve is from around there, too, so who knows: We might have bumped into each other as children downtown by the Alamo. And even if we didn’t, it’s still cool to dream about such a meeting of two really little guys looking at each other across the plaza and trading transmissions about sometime ending up in the same racket. But back to “Transcendental Blues.” It’s one of the best songs of the past 25 years and always sends a chill up my spine.

Skip Spence “Cripple Creek” from: Oar
When Moby Grape’s first album came out in 1967, it was one of the best things I heard that year, which included Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and so many other timeless releases. There was something so appealing in all those songs. Two really stuck out: “Indifference” and “Omaha.” When I noticed that each was written by Skip Spence, I knew something amazing was happening. Then I read about how Spence’s mental problems caused him to leave the band and end up in Bellevue’s psych ward in New York. When an Alexander Spence solo record titled Oar arrived in 1969, I couldn’t believe how unique it was. He played all the instruments himself, recorded it in Nashville in three days and then disappeared. All those songs were like listening to someone losing himself but struggling to hang on. I’d for sure never heard anything like it. “Cripple Creek” could have been on the Band’s second album, but only if Richard Manuel had dropped all his defenses and come out the other side. Skip Spence was someone who’d been imbued by brilliance and visions but was battling what came with it. I’ve still never heard an album like Oar. Fifteen years ago, there was a tribute album to Oar called More Oar, and I got to record the song called “Diana.” It was cathartic trying to get inside Spence’s mind to try to find the heart of that song. I gave it my best, like the other 16 people on More Oar, including Robert Plant, Beck and Tom Waits. I heard that Skip got to hear the new versions when a nurse played him the tape of the whole album in his hospital room in Santa Cruz, and when it ended, he passed away. I still get chills thinking about that, and how he had lived on the streets and in group homes all those years after he recorded Oar in 1969 and rode his motorcycle back to California from Nashville. And that was pretty much it for Skip Spence: a rock ’n’ roll hero.

Uncle Tupelo, “Gun” from: Still Feel Gone
Having been in a band with a brother, I know what it’s like. Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy in Uncle Tupelo always felt like they were brothers. They had a submerged warfare going on that supplied so much tension that it was impossible not to think they weren’t related. You had to be related to be so dramatic together. This song could have been Jeff’s call to freedom in the band and maybe an early sign he would head off on his own. It’s definitely a rocker that shows his love of rock ’n’ roll, even when he says he sold his guitar to the girl next door. There’s also such a strong undercurrent of something sinister getting ready to happen, maybe it’s him knowing fireworks are coming for the band. When Uncle Tupelo split in half to make Son Volt and Wilco, it’s like fans got a bargain: two great new bands. “Gun” shows what Tweedy had in him and also showed he was only getting started when he did it.

The Velvet Underground, “What Goes On” from: The Velvet Underground
When I bought the third Velvet Underground album, I wasn’t sure what was going on except that it took my breath away. It was a lot quieter and was missing all the wilder instrumental sounds that John Cale brought to the band with his electrified viola. It seemed like the band had turned a corner into almost a folkier era. Of course, I was wrong. They were still the pioneers they’d always been; you just had to listen with open ears. “What Goes On” stood out immediately as one of the highlights. It had a relentless beat from Maureen Tucker’s jungle drums and a hypnotic rhythm guitar pattern, sometimes slashing and never slowing down. There was also this persistent organ playing chords in the background that got completely under my skin. Then there was Lou Reed’s voice. He sounded sweet and angry at the same time, which was one of his specialties. The lyrics were Reed at his best, like a missive from Manhattan that had to be reckoned with. When he broke into what he once called his “ostrich guitar” lead, it felt like a million bees had been let out of their hive and trying to sting you all at once. It was the Velvets at their best. More than 10 years later, I was working at the big Harry Ransom library at the University of Texas in Austin, and on the first day, a grad student came in and brought back all these dozens of books he checked out over the past 10 years. Turns out it was Velvets guitarist Sterling Morrison, who’d been working on his doctorate there. We got to be friends later, and he loved coming to our shows and talking. And he could really talk. I wrote a song for Sterling called “Tugboat” after he died in ’95 because he’d ended up working on tugs in the Houston Ship Channel after he got his Ph.D. I never could figure how that happened, but that was so Sterling: enigmatic to the end.

Lucinda Williams, “Are You Alright?” from: West
A great Lucinda Williams song can smash your heart into a million little pieces almost without trying. And this is a great one. She tiptoes right up to the mystery of love and makes it seem like something you can understand, and before the song is over you realize you’ll never realize what it all means, and it’s going to be one of those things where you just have to live with the mystery. And Lucinda does that with such a beautiful voice that sounds like she knows so much more than anybody else. There are times when Lucinda writes like she’s made some kind of deal with a being from the beyond that lets her know everything while we know nothing. She was around Austin when I first got there in ’81, but it was obvious she wouldn’t be there forever. “Are You Alright?” is so direct and disarming, it’s like there are all these laser beams being zapped toward you and there’s no escape. She’s reaching out and asking the one question we all want to hear from someone we love: “Are you alright?” That says it all.

Sir Douglas Quintet, “Mendocino” from: Mendocino
No matter how much time you spend in Texas, whether you’re born there or you end up living in Austin, Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth, El Paso, wherever, Doug Sahm’s music is going to get into your bloodstream. It’s like he’s in the air there, and it’s just a matter of time before songs like “Mendocino,” “She’s About A Mover,” “Groover’s Paradise” or even “You Never Get Too Big And You Sure Don’t Get Too Heavy That You Don’t Have To Stop And Pay Some Dues Sometime” (that’s a real song title) will start bouncing around in your head and your heart. Doug Sahm is Texas music. That should designate him State Musician and put his picture up in the capitol. This song was his comeback from two years of tripping in the Haight-Ashbury with Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia and all the others, and brought him back to the top 10. It’s got that far-out vibration that Doug loved so much but also was tight and compact and delivered the pop goods. It was also his last hit single, but that didn’t matter to Doug. He was always in it for the groove and had about as much fun as any human that ever lived. Whenever I want to reconnect with my true roots, I listen to Doug, in the Quintet, the solo albums and right on through the Texas Tornados. He was a guiding light forever and still is. Sometimes I think it’d be fun to get with the Quintet’s Vox organist Augie Meyers to make a whole album in one day. Just doing Doug songs we both love. I did “Too Little Too Late” for a tribute album a few years ago and was so happy to take one of Doug’s later and lesser-known songs and really do a trip on it. Doug would’ve been happy about it for a few seconds, would’ve told me he liked it, but quickly added his original was better. That was Doug, and that’s why we loved him. I miss him every day.

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From The Desk Of matt pond PA: Grandaddy’s “Sumday”

The 11th matt pond PA full-length, Winter Lives, features artwork that evokes Windham Hill’s catalog. Winter Lives arrives 11 years after Pond’s nearly all covers EP, Winter Songs. Pond, a New Hampshire native, understands the season that inspired Winter Lives, but he needed to write winter songs in the spring, so the album would arrive in context. Given his background, Pond didn’t scratch down too far to find inspiration. “It’s just visceral,” he says of winter. “There’s this coldness and shut-down emotional temperament to people in northern places, but when you get through that, there’s so much depth and reality to northern people.” Pond will be guest editing over the next two winter weeks. Read our new feature on him.

Pond: Grandaddy’s Sumday helped me up through my shaky transition from Philadelphia to New York: I was a robot. I didn’t know anyone. I kept to myself. I ran. I took Hydroxycut so that I could see my ribs. I wanted to be perfect. I tried not to eat anything except lettuce. I didn’t know how to fix myself. I did pushups all night. I cleaned constantly. I was a robot. I would half-heartedly listen to music while I ran. Sumday caught my ears, my mind. Listening to Sumday, I realized how crazy I was acting. (It’s always been important for me to realize what was really what and escape an episode. I mean, otherwise I’d be stuck on the wrong television series about a life I shouldn’t be living, playing a part that no one could understand.)

Video after the jump.

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Essential New Music: Berwanger’s “Exorcism Rock”

Since the dissolution of indie-pop darlings the Anniversary in 2004, Josh Berwanger has recorded two roots-rock records with the Only Children and a solo album in 2013. His newest eponymously named band finds the Kansas native as a skilled purveyor of breezy guitar pop—which is to say, aside from revving the tempos and cranking the amps, Exorcism Rock is not a drastic departure from Berwanger’s solo LP.

As always, the man knows how to bait a hook, although in the lyrical department, he’s no Dylan. Case in point, “Rats & Cats” will make you want to break into dance like the Christmas episode Peanuts gang, but the chorus “Girl, I want you so bad” earns zero points for originality. Later, Berwanger delivers an entire song called “I Want You Bad.” Let’s hope she finally returns his calls so the man can move on to weightier sentiments.

—Matt Ryan

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Film At 11: Hawai

We are pleased to bring you the premiere of the brand-new video from Hawai this evening. The clip for “On My Own,” which comes from last year’s Working All Night EP, is a calm performance video bathed in red light—something simple and singular that goes well with the song’s clean, grounded pop. Check it out below.

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From The Desk Of matt pond PA: The Sundays

The 11th matt pond PA full-length, Winter Lives, features artwork that evokes Windham Hill’s catalog. Winter Lives arrives 11 years after Pond’s nearly all covers EP, Winter Songs. Pond, a New Hampshire native, understands the season that inspired Winter Lives, but he needed to write winter songs in the spring, so the album would arrive in context. Given his background, Pond didn’t scratch down too far to find inspiration. “It’s just visceral,” he says of winter. “There’s this coldness and shut-down emotional temperament to people in northern places, but when you get through that, there’s so much depth and reality to northern people.” Pond will be guest editing over the next two winter weeks. Read our new feature on him.

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Pond: Reading, Writing & Arithmetic was always my late-night go-to on the New York subways. Although I love a good cardboard crown, I don’t want to go down as the king of disenchantment. It’s just that there’s a distinct feeling to riding in an empty subway car after an Interpol show/uptown wedding/Union Square movie/bookstore reading/bad improv/bad date/surprisingly mindblowing comedy. Perhaps it’s banal baloney—these were my best-loved moments. There was no one—in or outside my mind—to summon self-consciousness while I swung round the shiny germ-infested poles and soft-shoed the slowdowns into the stations. It was my own bittersweet musical. Reading, Writing & Arithmetic, angular and awkward at times, sparse and melodically searching—Harriet Wheeler pulling it all together with her powerful, delicate voice, her powerful, delicate lyrics. “It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year, which makes my eyes feel sore.” And in that sense it makes sense. Simple realities are sung, strung with that balance of heartbreaking belief, the modest beauty of the mundane. Sad subway songs for the over-zealous, overgrown misanthropes.

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MP3 At 3PM: Red Porch Kid

Red Porch Kid will release Rocketship on January 27. Singe/songwriter Michael Stovall gives a downtrodden introduction with “Good Heart,” a small and simple acoustic song that seems to echo warmly off of dimly lit bedroom walls. Check it out below.

“Good Heart” (download):

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MAGNET Classics: The Making Of The Afghan Whigs’ “Congregation”


The making of the Afghan Whigs’ Congregation

By Matt Ryan

There are many remarkable things about Congregation, the Afghan Whigs’ third record, but topping the list is the fact that it ever saw the light of day. The problem, first and foremost, was that the band was particularly adept at breaking up.

“Yeah,” laughs bassist John Curley, “we broke up on a fairly regular basis. I would chalk it up to strong personalities and young guys who hadn’t learned how to communicate very well yet. It’s hard driving around in a van. It didn’t really feel like it at the time, but looking back on it, we really did a lot of miles and a lot of shows. You’re around the same people all the time, and oftentimes scraping together enough money to drive to the next town or share some food at Taco Bell. It’s not an ideal situation. It’s fun and romantic, but it’s stressful, too.”

“We broke up before we even got signed to Sub Pop,” says singer and principal songwriter Greg Dulli. He goes on to explain that the band decided to play two final shows—one in Chicago, one in Minneapolis—the latter at the encouragement of a bartender named Lori Barbero, who is now better known as the drummer in Babes In Toyland. “We ended up having such a good time that we got back together and made Up In It,” says Dulli of the band’s first record for Sub Pop. A subsequent European tour saw the group split again in Amsterdam, each member going his separate way. “We were quite the dramatic, soap opera band,” says Dulli. “We were kind of wild, you know? We liked our poisons.”

In the wake of this latest dissolution, Dulli began writing songs, including “I’m Her Slave” and “Let Me Lie To You,” that he assumed would appear on a solo record. Eventually, he would move from L.A. to Chicago and reestablish phone contact with Curley, which in turn led to Dulli meeting up with the band in Cincinnati to work on some songs. Notably, these early sessions yielded Congregation’s first single and indie-level hit, “Conjure Me.” Unfortunately, the band’s troubles were far from over.

The second roadblock came during the actual recording of Congregation, a time when Sub Pop was circling the drain. “Until Nirvana’s Nevermind came out, actually six months to a year after Nevermind came out, we were not on firm footing financially,” says Sub Pop cofounder Jonathan Poneman. “One of the manifestations of that was inconsistent ability to pay out studio bills. There’s a famous story that Greg can articulate about him getting stranded in Los Angeles because we basically didn’t have money to fund the recording according to the agreement we had come up with.”

“The Congregation album at that time was kind of an expensive record,” says Sub Pop cofounder Bruce Pavitt. “I remember ’91 was a very, very difficult time for the label. We laid off most of our staff. That August, we released Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge by Mudhoney, which wound up selling 100,000 copies, and that really revived the label. And then by Christmastime ’91, we realized that Geffen was going to send us a check for half a million bucks. So, right before Congregation came out, we knew we were back on our feet, but at the time Congregation was being recorded, we were totally broke. It’s a miracle we paid off that recording. I remember Mark Arm from Mudhoney saying, ‘Look, Mudhoney is making all the money for Sub Pop. What you’re doing is subverting those funds and you’re giving it to a band that isn’t even from here.’ He was right—that was exactly what was going on. At the same time, we really had a deep faith in the Whigs to come up with a brilliant record, and they totally delivered.”

Pavitt mentions that the band received a $15,000 advance for Congregation, but Dulli remembers it differently. “We didn’t get an advance; they were paying as we went,” he says. “I was working with this guy who was not really sympathetic to the Sub Pop plight. It was recorded in fits and starts, and I remember being locked out of the studio and I had to call the guy and make threats against his property if he didn’t give me my tapes. That kind of became an agitated situation. Sub Pop went broke. I got stuck down in L.A., and then Nevermind came out. That sort of set me free, in a way. I remember going to Nirvana’s show at the Palace and personally thanking them.”

The studio in question was Buzz’s Kitchen outside of L.A., where overdubbing and mixing occurred following a week or so of recording at Seattle-area studio Bear Creek. By all accounts, the band loved Bear Creek—so much so that they would later record Black Love there in its entirety. Buzz’s Kitchen? Not so much.

“Bear Creek is where it started, and then we moved to some shithole out in Sun Valley,” says Dulli. “It was just bad. My least favorite studio I’ve ever been in. I think the engineer moved us. Kind of sold us a bill of goods. Told us we were going to a studio in L.A., and it was Sun Valley and technically L.A. County, but not exactly Los Angeles. We got kind of swindled there and ended up in a really hot, crowded box in the middle of a not very savory part of town.”

The engineer in question was Ross Ian Stein, recommended to the band by Shawn Smith, a Seattle singer/songwriter who provided backup vocals on Congregation’s “This Is My Confession” and “Dedicate It.”

“I did not get along with Ross Stein,” says Dulli. “He was in my way. I never saw hide nor hair of that guy ever again. I remember it’s the last time I was going to take advice from Shawn Smith.”

“It really ended up being a contentious relationship,” says Poneman. “Because Sub Pop was a fancy name and we were good at corralling headlines at the time, but we were also famously broke, Ross was very concerned about getting paid, which is understandable.”

“I remember the sessions being kind of antagonistic,” says Dulli. “But in a strange way, I think that worked to the songs’ advantage, because it’s a prickly record, you know? I can feel the tension on that record, and it is very real.”

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From The Desk Of matt pond PA: Sundays And Nuns

The 11th matt pond PA full-length, Winter Lives, features artwork that evokes Windham Hill’s catalog. Winter Lives arrives 11 years after Pond’s nearly all covers EP, Winter Songs. Pond, a New Hampshire native, understands the season that inspired Winter Lives, but he needed to write winter songs in the spring, so the album would arrive in context. Given his background, Pond didn’t scratch down too far to find inspiration. “It’s just visceral,” he says of winter. “There’s this coldness and shut-down emotional temperament to people in northern places, but when you get through that, there’s so much depth and reality to northern people.” Pond will be guest editing over the next two winter weeks. Read our new feature on him.

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Pond: I don’t like Sundays. I don’t like the feeling of failing and falling the day seems to imbue. Silent and gray. (Morrissey sometimes really said it best.) Sundays are the chasm in which I was dropped off between parents, the nights I first developed a healthy case of insomnia—dreading the dawn, waiting to get on the hillbilly bus and go to school. If I were in solitary confinement, I believe I could spot a Sunday just from the alchemical reaction between the hours and my soul. But I do like nuns. Theoretically, that is. I believe in their belief, their undying dedication to a premise, both indeterminate and totally determined. Their fervor is insane. And the habits, the black-and-white elegance of medieval constancy, of dragon-slaying fortitude. They’re both classic and core.

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