Foxygen: Excess All Areas

Foxygen is back with a grandiose love letter to America

Sam France and Jonathan Rado, the duo behind arch, hyper-kinetic pop provocateur Foxygen, are attempting to explain the unhinged, grandiose vision that lies at the heart of their latest album, Hang.

“It’s hyper-American music,” says Rado. “Hyper-American music.”

“Yeah,” says France. “We wanted it to be grand, cinematic. We envisioned it as a film, a huge musical film, and so, yeah, that’s what we made.”

“Like, we were definitely thinking of ’30s Hollywood musicals and imagery,” says Rado. “With ’70s production. Someone trying to do the ’30s in the ’70s, that was the angle. Or like Xanadu, kinda ballroom dancing pop.”

Recorded with Matthew E. White, kindred spirits the Lemon Twigs, Flaming Lips’ Steven Drozd (who was featured on their last album and now appears to be an auxiliary member of sorts) and Trey Pollard, it’s the band’s first “studio album” proper and just happens to feature a 40-piece orchestra on every track because, well, why the hell not? It is—and this is said with no little amount of understatement—a ridiculously ambitious, ludicrously ornate, overblown behemoth of a record. As musically restless as ever, Hang touches on a good deal of Foxygen’s beloved ’70s reference points. There’s Todd Rundgren (of course), Sticky Fingers-era Stones, Elton John, the Carpenters, Sly And The Family Stone—frequently, it would seem, within the same song.

And the band has gone Broadway, taking the aforementioned influences and adding a hefty dose of hallucinogenic vaudeville and Busby Berkeley musicals on bad acid. It’s a spiraling trip through Disney, Looney Tunes and a bizarre twilight zone where Bugsy Malone meets The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In short, the LP is by turns magnificent and maddening, flitting continuously from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Those who love Foxygen will love the band more, if only for the playfulness, irreverence and sheer gaudy spectacle of it all. Those who hate Foxygen (and there are plenty of haters out there) are only going to have their preconceptions reinforced. Indeed, it would be safe to say Hang could tip them over into bug-eyed, spittle-flecked rage. France in particular seems to revel in his role as arch provocateur, and he’s at his most foppish here, an eyebrow permanently raised, flouncing shamelessly. At times you could be forgiven in suspecting they’re hellbent on provoking a reaction from the more earnest of indie-rock purists, a performance-art duo that set out consciously to offend. Rado, however, remains adamant that they’re utterly sincere.

“I think there’s a really big misconception about Foxygen for a lot of people,” he says. “I mean, there’s an authenticity to what we do. We take the craft very seriously and, OK, so sometimes it does end up funny, but it’s never ironic. We don’t do irony. If we’re going to do something on a record, we do it the right way, because we’ve studied this shit for years and years. We take making our records very, very seriously.”

Foxygen, despite Rado’s protestations, retains the unerring ability to wind up the musical cognoscenti—these guys aren’t earnest enough, they’re scatterbrained pranksters, they lack “authenticity.”

“Look, it’s like this,” says France. “We’re meta, all right? We’re a little bit meta, and that really annoys people. With our songs and music, we jump in and out of the record. Like, we’re never afraid to manifest our personality in the music, and we embrace it. We’re just doing it as artists, and I know that sounds really pretentious, but it is art, you know? Do you remember when Lana Del Rey came on the scene and was on Letterman or whatever and people just trashed her? I mean, really trashed her. Everyone was just losing their shit. And I watched footage of her and everyone’s like, “Oooh, she sings out of tune!” but I thought she was really great. It ages like good rock ’n’ roll footage. I mean, fine, so she’s not refined in her singing or whatever, but there’s something there. But people are like, ‘What the fuck is this?’ When something massive comes around, people don’t know what to think. It makes them scared, which leads to criticism, right?”

France pauses, and without missing a beat, completely deadpan (but with an almost audible smirk), concludes, “So, basically, I think we’re just like Lana Del Rey.”

—Neil Ferguson

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From The Desk Of Blossoms: Movies

British quintet Blossoms is unapologetically ambitious. Rather than quietly release 2014 debut single “Blow,” the band announced it with an ardent, online manifesto. “We want to be heard by everyone,” it read, in part. “We want to be as mainstream as Will Smith, as great as the Smiths, and as uplifting as Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” The band has just issued its self-titled debut. Blossoms will also be guest editing all week. Read our new feature on the band.

Tom Ogden: I’ve always been a big fan of movies growing up. I went to the cinema a lot as a child. The first first I remember seeing at the cinema was Small Soldiers. As I got older, I got really into Alfred Hitchcock, and Vertigo has become my favourite film. I also really like gangster films, such as GoodFellas and Donnie Brasco.

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Essential New Music: Brigitte DeMeyer And Will Kimbrough’s “Mockingbird Soul”

Will Kimbrough is a journeyman guitarist and songwriter with countless solo and collaborative credits to his name. Acclaimed vocalist Brigitte DeMeyer, though younger than Kimbrough, is approaching her second decade of music making. While Mockingbird Soul isn’t the duo’s first collaboration, it’s their first album as a credited pair, and it showcases their solo and shared talents quite cleanly and pleasurably. Both Kimbrough and DeMeyer definitely sound more at home in the better-appointed spaces in the American Tower Of Song, and the record works best when it fully embraces that crisp, clean aesthetic; “The Juke,” which tries tentatively for a dirty-blues vibe, seems by contrast the LP’s most mannered moment. More successful are the moments when the pair leans into the bright runs and clean vocals that show off their impressive technical chops. Of these, the slide-heavy title cut, the sly, jazzy “Carpetbagger’s Lullaby” and “Honey Bee,” and the moving letting-go story of “I Can Hear Your Voice” are particular highlights.

—Eric Waggoner

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In The News: Animal Collective, Los Campesinos!, Gin Blossoms, Sun Ra, Grateful Dead, Nightlands, R.Ring, Beans, Upper Crust, Pere Ubu And More

The new EP from Animal Collective, The Painters, has just been released digitally by Domino. The band will tour North America in May … Los Campesinos! has announced the February 24 release of sixth album Sick Scenes via Wichita … New Miserable Experience, the 1992 debut album by Gin Blossoms, turns 25 this year. UMe will honor the occasion March 24 with a vinyl reissue along with the band’s 1996 release Congratulations, I’m Sorry … Modern Harmonic will issue an album of unreleased Sun Ra music 50 years after its recording, Thunder Of The Gods, on April 7 … Also on April 7, Fujiya & Miyagi will issue a self-titled LP on Impossible Objects Of Desire … The 1977 Cornell performance by Grateful Dead will be available as an official release for the first time in honor of its 40th anniversary on May 5. May 1977: Get Shown The Light is an 11-disc boxed set containing the legendary concert, as well as three other previously unreleased performances … John Lee Hooker’s 100th birthday year celebration will begin March 31 with the release of a multi-label compilation album, Whiskey And Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest, via Vee-Jay … I Can Feel The Night Around Me is the new album from Nightlands, the project of the War On Drugs’ Dave Hartley, will be available from Western Vinyl on May 5 … The Company label will issue the new Chaz Bundick + the Mattson 2 album, Star Stuff, on March 31 … March 3 will see the release of Ed Sheeran’s “÷” (pronounced “divide”) via Atlantic … The debut full-length by R.Ring (featuring the Breeders’ Kelley Deal and Ampline’s Mike Montgomery), Ignite The Rest, is due out from Sofaburn on April 28 … Beans, founding member of Anti-Pop Consortium, will return after a five-year hiatus with three albums and a 226-page book. All three albums—Wolves Of The World, Love Me Tonight and HAAST—are set for a March 31 release via his own Tiger Rawwk label … Delusions Of Grandeur, the latest LP from the Upper Crust, will be available April 7 … Fire will issue a four-LP boxed set featuring the work of Pere Ubu, Drive, He Said 1994-2002, on March 10.

—Emily Costantino

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From The Desk Of The Flat Five: Record Store Love

In music, a flat five is a passing chord that harmonizes well with almost any sound. The singers in Chicago’s Flat Five—Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough and Alex Hall—are as versatile as the name of their group implies. They’re all well-known songwriters, musicians and side-persons in their own right, but when they sing as the Flat Five, they touch on something transcendent. Their complex, intertwining harmonies bring to mind the shimmering sounds of the Four Freshmen, Beach Boys, Lambert, Hendricks And Ross, Harry Nilsson and the Everly Brothers—singers who could create breathtaking emotional effects using nothing but their voices. The Flat Five will be guest editing all week. Read our brand-new feature with them.

Hogan: I grew up in the suburban hinterlands, about 40 miles west of Atlanta. I woulda given my left lady nut to have had a local independent record store to go to back in the day, but all we had in my town was a cruddy Kmart full of Debby Boone and Dan Fogelberg LPs and man, did that suck. “Here, have some vanilla.” “Don’t you guys have any other flavors?” “Sure! Here—have some french vanilla!” Most of my friends were happy with vanilla, but I had an itch. I needed a place to go where I could find out about real music. I didn’t even know what was out there, but I knew something was happening that didn’t involve the Captain, the Tennille or the Bread. I was getting hints.

While baby-sitting late at night at a neighbor’s house in sixth grade, I saw a beautifully disheveled Bette Midler on Saturday Night Live singing a great song that went “Those were days of roses/Poetry and proses and Martha/All I had was you and all you had was me, ” and even though I didn’t know the title, I tried to memorize the song on the spot so I could find out what it was. But then the next day I remembered that there was nowhere for me to go to even try to buy that record—and no one to even ask about it! Which, if I had, I would’ve found out that that song was written by Tom Waits. Tom Waits. I could’ve known about Tom Waits when I was 12! Oh, the time I would’ve saved!

But no. I probably just flipped over my copy of Styx Pieces of Eight and played side two again.

A few years later, on another late-night TV show, I got a boner from a clip by a crazy hyped-up band called the Dickies. The next weekend, I begged a ride 16 miles to the closest chain record store to try to buy a Dickies record. Turns out all I got for my gas money was a blank stare from the teenage employee and a mute gesture toward the monolithic Phonolog. Oy, the Phonolog.

Are y’all familiar with the abject hopelessness of the Phonolog? Might as well just go ahead and kill yourself. It was a reference source about seven phone books thick, full of mostly obsolete information, printed in really small type, and if you did actually find an entry (and the accompanying billion-digit serial number) for the record you were looking for, you would write all of that out on a tiny order slip, and wait three months or more—only to have your slip come back stamped in red: “out of print.” Son! Of! A! B!

I probably just went home and played side one of Journey Infinity again. Things weren’t looking too good for me and music.

Then, when I was about 17 and finally mobile, I found Atlanta’s Wax ‘N’ Facts—a truly independent, weird, grumpy, capricious, filthy dirty, nook and cranny-y, hip, dorky, opinionated, cram-packed and bottomless golden barrel of music record store! Finally! The record store that changed my life. Ahhhh! I had no idea that so much music—so many kinds of music—existed in the world. Duke Ellington! Price! Barbara Dane! Blowfly! Bartok! Oscar Brown Jr.! The Del Rubio Triplets! XTC! Stuff Smith! Sheila Jordan! Peter “Snakehips” Dean! Yma Sumac! Jonathan Richman! Speedy West! Style Council! Latimore! I realized that I could never ever live long enough to listen to even a fraction of it, but I was sure gonna try.

More importantly, it also made me realize that, if Blowfly and Bartok both rated Sharpie-labeled plastic LP dividers, then maybe there was enough room for me to make music in this world, too. Maybe one day there’d at least be room for me in the generic “H”s. I’d been secretly dreaming about it forever. You could say that a record store saved my life. My parents might say that a record store ruined my life. Either way, I won.

So listen up, young people! I come from a beige and forlorn shag-carpeted past with a warning: Don’t mess this up! A real record store is not some Etsy-y boutique “oh isn’t this quaint” luddite hold-over exhibit that you visit like Colonial Williamsburg! Record stores—real record stores—are the bloody, pulpy, veiny, throbbing reasons that your favorite bands exist! Don’t believe me? Go on twitter and ask ’em!

Count your blessings if you were lucky enough to grow up near an actual record store! And if you’re lucky enough to live near one today, get up off the internet and take a walk there right now! I beg you! Young people! Don’t mess this up! Record stores need you! And for sure, you need them. Trust me. I’m old. I’m from the past. I know stuff. Now get out of my yard!

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Essential New Music: William Basinski’s “A Shadow In Time”

In the 15 years since William Basinski began releasing The Disintegration Loops—his epochal tape-loop masterpiece that’s become inseparable from its now-legendary recording on his Brooklyn rooftop the night of 9/11—the work has garnered levels of myth usually reserved for folk heroes and minor deities. Even so, Basinski has proven remarkably capable at existing far outside of his own legacy, his uncanny ability to wring entire worlds from his famously deep tape archives proving more remarkable with each subsequent release. A Shadow In Time is no exception, splitting its time between the placid ambiance of the title track and the impossibly melancholy lament of “For David Robert Jones.” The latter, an elegy titled for David Bowie, ranks easily among the most somber pieces in Basinski’s catalog, its yawning lead orchestral sample very gradually opening up to a mournful, distorted horn line, which itself slowly gives way to a cavernous silence.

—Möhammad Choudhery

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Normal History Vol. 413: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 33-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

While I was in my room listening to CCR and Rush, my parents were playing jazz on the hi-fi at the other end of the house. I loved how they loved it, how loud they played it, how they related to it, how it fit with the art they made, how they talked about hearing jazz at (the?) Hickory House (and other clubs) on trips to New York in the ’60s.

My teenage years were 1973-1979, but, by 18, I was living on my own in a tiny apartment closer to my boyfriend, the classical cellist who gave me several Jimi Hendrix albums. By 19, I was living with a man 10 years older than I was (a newspaper photographer), buying jazz albums (Lester Young, Thelonious Monk, Yusef Lateef) loosely based on my parents record collection.

While I was a teenager living at home, the AM radio on a small shelf above my bed was everything. It was almost always on—unless I was reading (sometimes with one of my mom’s ice-cold seven-percent apple cider stolen out of the fridge) novels (Daddy Was A Numbers Runner, Another Country) until I went to sleep. My parents didn’t really read. Not the way I did, one book after another. I was always curious why they weren’t curious about what I was reading. Just as well.

There was a time when the public library started loaning LPs, and I took out a Grateful Dead album that made me feel slightly nauseous, and a Wings album that resulted in a similarly visceral reaction.

Around 1975, I recall trading a can of three tennis balls (I guess I gave tennis a try or maybe they were my brother’s) for Led Zeppelin’s Houses Of The Holy which always felt kind of tainted by the method of acquisition. I’d had IV for a long time and I liked the colors on the cover of “Houses of the Holy”, but I didn’t like the album much. I mean, let’s say you listen to “IV” a lot for a couple of years, then you slide Houses Of The Holy out of its sleeve, put it on and you hear “The Song Remains The Same”? What a drag. And then the violins on “The Rain Song.” Serious bummer. As was the horn section on “The Crunge”plus stupid lyrics. The 9/8 time signature meant nada to me. Wait … is that a keytar on “Dancing Days”?

“Then” from the album Calico Kills The Cat (K, 1989) (download):

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From The Desk Of The Flat Five: First (And Second) Jobs

Ligon: My best friend Willie and I were going to save money and travel to Europe, so we both applied for a job at Steak ‘N Shake at the same time. We each got dishwashing jobs. I worked two days. Willie worked one. Then on my first day off, I had tickets to a Cardinals game and asked him if he could go. He said, “Well, I gotta work,” and I said, “Just fucking see if you can get out of it.” So on his second day of work, he actually went to ask our boss if he could go to the baseball game with me instead of working. Willie asked, “Could I just work a late shift?” and our boss said, “Absolutely not.” So Willie said “Well then, I guess I quit.” Then he went with me to the game, and there went our European vacation.

I continued to work at Steak ‘N Shake just long enough to suck the nitrous oxide out of all the whipped cream cans in the walk-in refrigerator, and then I quit. When I left, all that whipped cream was completely flat.

Then I was too embarrassed to come back and get my one and only paycheck, and when I finally did come back three months later they didn’t even know who I was. The manager on duty said, “We were wondering who this belonged to. Here’s your 50 dollars.”

My second job was at Kentucky Fried Chicken with my friend Dave. We’d been there for about a month when a new manager arrived and started making life miserable for us. Our previous manager had been fired for doing something awful, but I don’t remember what.

One night Dave and I walked out into the alley to smoke a joint by the dumpster. Our new boss burst out of the back door and said, “All right! Finish the night and then you’re fired!” Dave laughed and said, “Fuck that. If I’m fired, I’m leaving.” The she pointed to me and said, “Scott! Finish the night and then we can talk.” But I said, “Umm, I think I’ll just go with Dave.”

McDonough: The summer I turned 14, I was a caddy at the Ravisloe Country Club in Homewood, Ill. I was the worst caddy ever. I hated golf. Never liked golf. Ed Norton addressing the ball—that’s about as close as I ever came to liking golf. And I liked Caddyshack, but Bill Murray wasn’t anywhere near this place. (I do like mini-golf, ya know, but that’s probably because of the crazy holes with Frankenstein, a giant windmill or a big gorilla. It’s more about that than it is about golf.)

Also, my eyes kind of have their own thing going on. When I look up in the sky, I see all kinds of floaters. But when I was a caddy, whenever someone would hit the ball, I was supposed to follow it up into the air, watch it sail, determine where it landed, then go find it. Because of my floaters, I never had any friggin’ idea where it went. “It was here a minute ago! You’re the a-hole that knocked it away! Why don’t you go look for it?”

But I would grudgingly be out there at 8 a.m. waiting for a turn on the green, and then they would give me 10 dollars at the end of it—and I’d run to Record Swap and buy a Beatles album. That was really about it.

I was supposed to be paying off a guitar that my parents had bought for me: an Ibenez Les Paul “Lawsuit” that I eventually traded for my first bass: a Kustom. Anyway, I don’t know if I ever finished paying them off, because I was such a shitty caddy. Worst caddy ever.

The next job I had was as a dishwasher at Tom’s Family Restaurant for $1.75 an hour, a free meal and all the Pepsi you could drink. They definitely lost money on me on Pepsi alone. And my free meal was usually three eggs, some hashbrowns, toast, a cheeseburger and fries. That lasted about six weeks until one Saturday night I didn’t feel like going in. Working there was nothing like Diner. I had just seen that movie several times and thought, “I could do that”—but of course it’s more fun hanging out at the diner than working there.  I know that now.

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Jesca Hoop: All Stripped Down

On Memories Are Now, Jesca Hoop navigates the spaces between the notes

The first thing you notice about singer/songwriter Jesca Hoop’s seventh full-length is how spare it sounds, each song assembled only from two or three instrumental elements and Hoop’s warm-yet-adaptive, shape-shifting voice. Then you stop hearing that sparseness, so rich does the album sound. Somewhere near a half-hour into its 40-minute running time, it hits you again, and you start wondering how the hell Memories Are Now can sound so expansive, considering its skeletal arrangements.

Part of the answer lies in the clear, unadorned production of Hoop’s own voice and guitar, which remain front and center. Produced by fellow songwriter/musician and sometime collaborator Blake Mills, Memories Are Now isn’t strictly Hoop’s most instrumentally austere disc; Undress and The Complete Kismet Acoustic offered voice-and-guitar renditions of previously released songs. But from the outset, Memories was planned as a raw representation of Hoop’s formidable songwriting talents.

“The first step we took was to think about where the loyalty begins between myself and the listener, where that relationship forms,” says Hoop from her adopted Manchester, U.K., home. “And Blake and I decided that it happens in a live setting, where I’m much less wrapped in sonic information. My studio albums can be quite dense. So we wanted to create more space and be more discerning about what sounds were used.”

With other material, in other hands, such a project might’ve ended up sounding airy or lightweight. It’s to Hoop and Mills’ credit that Memories Are Now sounds as full as is does—even at times heavy, as on “Cut Connection,” a stomping track that provides one of the album’s more unsettling moments, both musically and lyrically: “I’m living a dream/In the dream I’m buried alive,” Hoop sings coolly, and later, “I summon your hands/To bring me what is mine … I don’t waste my breath/Don’t waste my time.” (Much of the album, perhaps fittingly, mines this subject—the idea of stripping things down to the essence, leaving behind what’s no longer necessary.)

As on all of Hoop’s LPs, styles and genres abound. “I’ve never felt loyal to any one genre,” she says. “I think that can cause trouble. If you’re an artist who identifies with a genre, you’re setting yourself up for some relative ease, but if you don’t know exactly where you fit, if you’re just playing and enjoying whatever you find, it’s hard to know whether it’ll resonate with people. Or whether it will again, when you put out another album.”

But Memories’ humble arrangements allow Hoop’s voice to be displayed comfortably in multiple settings. Check the gamboling folk/country harmonies and fuzztone roll of “Simon Says,” the harplike ballad plucking of “Songs Of Old” or, in particular, the watery, tremolo-drenched “The Coming,” which deploys divine and satanic imagery to spin a tale of love gone tough, endurance gone exhausted.

“The Coming,” which closes the album on a strong, stately note, was the first song to arrive in the process. “When I began,” says Hoop, “I kept thinking ‘15.’ I needed 15 songs to make an album.” (Memories Are Now ultimately contained nine.) “I was a little overwhelmed. So I went for a long walk—about 10 miles—and hummed to myself the whole way. But I was still frustrated. Nothing came. So I made dinner, and went to my writing room, and the little gates of my mind opened up after a bit. I didn’t produce anything on that walk, but that walk seemed to clear the way to produce ‘The Coming.’ So I had to approach the rest of the songs with that same trust.”

It’s a trust that extended to the production of the album as well. “I know Blake very well,” says Hoop, “but I didn’t know how good he was as a producer. I was surprised at his level of knowledge and skill, what he was able to do in such a short period of time. Sometimes it’s a negotiation, but production always has to serve the song: How do we best convey the communication and emotional intention in this song and keep the integrity? That was Blake’s intent the whole time, particularly in terms of the voice, its unique ability to communicate. I’d want to do another take, and he’d say, ‘I don’t ever want you to sing that perfectly.’ He really encouraged me to come raw, to let the songs remain human and flawed. I think that’s what he wanted to protect all the way through.”

—Eric Waggoner

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From The Desk Of The Flat Five: The Roches

In music, a flat five is a passing chord that harmonizes well with almost any sound. The singers in Chicago’s Flat Five—Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough and Alex Hall—are as versatile as the name of their group implies. They’re all well-known songwriters, musicians and side-persons in their own right, but when they sing as the Flat Five, they touch on something transcendent. Their complex, intertwining harmonies bring to mind the shimmering sounds of the Four Freshmen, Beach Boys, Lambert, Hendricks And Ross, Harry Nilsson and the Everly Brothers—singers who could create breathtaking emotional effects using nothing but their voices. The Flat Five will be guest editing all week. Read our brand-new feature with them.

O’Connor: Urbana, Ill., 1987: I was away at Southern Illinois University, and my boyfriend at the time was two hours north at the University of Illinois. We were competitive mix-tape makers. His were usually better, but mine a close second. That’s when I first heard “Want Not” by the Roches (and “Bobby Brown” by Frank Zappa—what a weirdo … ) I loved my Walkman in college, and listened to a ton of Beatles tapes. Instruments bouncing back and forth between the left and right side of my brain. But the extreme panning of vocals on “Want Not” by the Roches made my head spin with glee. I’ve been chasing that level of panning on every record I’ve made since. It was the beginning of what would be a lifelong commitment to the music of the Roches.

New York City 2009: It was one of the very first times I left my budding family to tour. Back then, when the boys were little, I had to turn down gigs and touring opportunities. But there are certain people I always say yes to. Neko Case is one of them. I love the shit out of that lady! It was the perfect tour scenario, less than a week away from the kiddos. I had sung on a few tunes on Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone record. She graciously asked me to do a few shows with her and the band right around the record’s release. One show being David Letterman.

I wasn’t the only one that said yes. We were to sing “This Tornado Loves You” on the show, and I was beyond thrilled when I found out that Rachel Flotard (Visqueen’s front woman and an all around funny-as-shit super badass) and one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Lucy Wainwright Roche, would be back-up singers as well. All of us put sprinkles of vocals on Neko’s record that year. Kelly Hogan (who I’m convinced is maybe a singing polygamist because she has been Neko’s and my long-time singing wife) was the fearless leader of our backup singing pack. Hogan’s been singing live and on Neko’s records for many years now.

(Did I mention that Drew Barrymore was on the show with us? She flew in and out of the studio, and we only got whiff of her fairy dust. But hey, we were in the same building at the same time!! All I heard was “Drew needs a straw!”)

It just so happened that Lucy Wainwright Roche was also opening for the Indigo Girls in the city that night. I’m a blubbering fan of Amy and Emily, and I was excited to see Lucy do her thing, since I was really diving into Lucy’s first two records at the time.

Little did I know that when Lucy put us on the guest list, I wound up sitting in the VIP section with her mother and two aunts. Now, her mother is Suzzy Roche, and her aunts are Maggie and Terre: the Roches!!! I was sitting at a table with the Roches watching the Indigo Girls. It was too much. Too much, I say. I tried to keep it together, but it was very difficult. The Roches are my favorite family group of all time. Their melodies, harmonies and sense of humor hits me in all the right spots. I’m in awe of their guitar playing too. You can just tell they’re doing it right.

Near the end of the Indigo Girls’ set that night, the Roches got onstage and sang “The Hammond Song”—and, of course, it was pure gold. I tried so hard to be cool, and they were just so loving to me. It was a night I’ll remember forever.

Recently, Maggie Roche died at the age of 65 after a long battle with breast cancer. She was the main songwriter of the group and will be missed so much by all of her fans.

I’ve been reading a lot of tributes to Maggie, and this quote stands out: “‘It’s very important to collaborate successfully,’ she told me. ‘It’s rewarding every time you can manage it. I hate to use the word ‘share,’ because it’s so overused, but whenever you can share anything with someone else and not feel like you got ripped off, it’s very exhilarating. That’s what I get out of recording and performing. I hope that’s what other people get out of it.’” (from Maggie Roche: The Hidden Heart Of The Roches By Geoffrey Himes)

Since that magic New York City night, I’ve had the opportunity to become closer with Lucy Wainwright Roche (I’m always singing her songs at my solo shows!) and have gotten to know Suzzy a little bit. After Maggie’s passing, Suzzy described her sister as “smart, wickedly funny and authentic—not a false bone in her body—a brilliant songwriter, with a distinct unique perspective, all heart and soul.”

Hogan: From the time I first saw them on SNL in 1979 (while eating frozen coconut cream pie, babysitting in a suburban cul de sac in Douglasville, Ga.), the Roches meant everything to me—they were brilliant and playful, but also had those crazy blue-steel-perfect harmonies. I was blow away by the seemingly simple presentation of what I already knew (from singing in choir) was intensely complex and difficult music to pull off.

Later that night, as I walked home alone down silent streets, I was humming “The Hammond Song,” and my head was filled with new musical possibilities. Thank you and farewell, Maggie Roche. You and your sisters opened my ears.

P.S. Yep, The Roches are harmony geniuses—but really the secret harder thing to do is unison singing, and they are the top, top, top of that mountain. Assassins of unison. Mad respect.

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