Essential New Music: Ryan Adams’ “Prisoner”

Ryan Adams and I have had our differences over the years, the majority of them in the pages of this very magazine. But despite the multitude of criticisms I’ve offered (drive-by appropriation of American musical forms such as C&W, chronic inability to edit one’s back catalog, a sensitivity and temperament more befitting a WWF contestant than singer/songwriter), it’s undeniable that Adams has both persisted and succeeded in ways I thought he never would. So this review is all about props, and on his 16th solo album in the 16 years since he dispensed with Whiskeytown, he deserves them all. There’s craft galore on display here: Bad-romance post-mortem “Breakdown” is probably as lovely a song as he’s ever recorded, splitting the heretofore unexplored difference between the Boss and the Smiths; his storytelling has never been sharper (“Swear I wasn’t lonely when I met you, girl/I was so bored,” he opines on “Outbound Train,” a self-skewering self-examination that wouldn’t sound out of place on Nebraska); and Adams is starting to develop a classic way with a metaphor that even Hank Williams might’ve admired. (It’s hard not to hear “Haunted House” as a reading on the dissolution of his marriage to Mandy Moore; “To Be Without You” takes this subject even deeper and darker into the regret zone.) I’ve seen ridiculous reviews of his cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album that read way more into it than necessary and have basically concluded that this is the breakup album he’s always been threatening to write, his Blood On The Tracks. We may have had bad blood (and from Adams’ perspective, we may still), but, dude, I ain’t got nothin’ but mad love for you now.

—Corey duBrowa

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From The Desk Of The Flat Five: Thoughts On The Documentary “20 Feet From Stardom”

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.

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O’ Connor: I really enjoyed the movie 20 Feet From Stardom, but that title bugs me a little. I’ve never felt 20 feet away from anything. I’m very comfortable and feel super-valuable singing harmonies and supporting other singers. I didn’t want to be Elvis Costello—I wanted to be the ladies who sang “I’m giving you a longing look/Every day, every day I write the book!” Or the ladies who sang on “Lay Down Sally.” Or the ladies from Schoolhouse Rock: “Verb!/That’s what’s happenin’!”

Hogan: When it came out, so many people told me, “Hogan! You have to see 20 Feet from Stardom!” And a few years later when (sitting on my couch at 2 a.m. with wine and my laptop), I finally did see it—far from making me feel removed from stardom (or anywhere else some folks think I might rather be, or ought to be). On the contrary, my drunken notes from that night start off like this: “20 feet from my asshole! I’m a band person. A band person!”

Speaking purely for myself, I only ever wanted to make songs happen—it didn’t matter in what capacity. It’s just a blast to be part of a good song—whether that means singing the lead vocal, playing a bass part on a beat-up one-stringed guitar in the the Rock*A*Teens or singing backing harmony vocals. Which, on a few Neko Case numbers, means singing two or three words just once, a minute and 45 seconds into the song. So when people ask me, “What’s the hardest part of singing back-up?” I can honestly tell them, “Not singing.”

We are “The Noble Sidemen”—that’s what we sometimes say in the Neko band, and it’s true. There is an honor to being in the band. But nobody looks at the guitar player or the drummer and imagines that, while they’re playing their hearts out and kicking ass, they’re really wishing they were center stage at the mic—with all the pressures, scrutiny and uncomfortable undergarments that go along with that job.

There’s no All About Eve bullshit in what I do. When I’m singing harmony, I’m not holding a dagger behind my back, waiting for my “big break.” Hell no. I’m in the band, man. And that gives me great joy. The movie 20 Feet From Stardom actually confirmed the happiness and pride I feel from being just another part of the machine that serves the song.

I do love all those amazing singers featured in the movie, and I want all members of any band to get their due. I’ve pretty much had the good fortune to only work with bands who do just that—no caste system, all pulling together, sharing good times and bad. I’ve been treated with respect. I’ve tried to earn it with every note.

My Flat Five band member Casey McDonough was aghast the other night when I told him I wasn’t a big fan of The Commitments movie and had only seen it once. “Why?!” he asked. And I told him. Because at the end when they were onstage and the lead singer introduced the band, everyone was introduced with their full name, first and last. Except the backup singers. They were just introduced with their first names. And maybe it seems crazy to you, but that bugged me then and still bugs me now. Those singers were in the band. Just like the guitar player. Just like the drummer.

In the band, it’s the best place to be. That movie proved it for me. Reading my last wine-soaked revelation from watching that movie makes me laugh my ass off, and it 100 percent came true: “I’m a band person. Oh god I am gonna be so much happier from this day forward.”

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The Back Page: Don’t Stop Now

I didn’t buy the Guided By Voices tickets thinking they could be for my last show. That was in October, when the December 30 show at Philadelphia’s Underground Arts went on sale.

I bought tickets because that’s pretty much what I do when GBV is involved. I first saw the band at the Khyber Pass in 1993—I know that with some certainty because I found video of that show on YouTube—and have seen Bob Pollard and his various lineups somewhere between 25 and 30 times in the years since. So buying tickets for a GBV show wasn’t exactly a big moment for me.

It became bigger later, after I was diagnosed with leukemia in mid-November. Regular readers of this column (all six of you! Hey there!) may well know that I nearly died in 2014 from a sudden cardiac arrest. I didn’t die that time (or I did, and this is all part of some weird afterlife where I don’t know I’m dead and I just keep typing). In fact, I recovered pretty much completely and was back to living pretty much as I always had for my first half-century on the planet.

But then: leukemia. I assure you, it’s not a word you’re really expecting to hear your doctor say. In this case, my doctor also said some pretty encouraging things, such as, “The goal here is a cure.” She also recommended that I begin treatment as soon as possible, so I went into the hospital that day and started chemo the very next day. The following month wasn’t a lot of fun, but exactly four weeks after I went in, I was released from the hospital. I was officially in remission and still chasing that “cure” my doctor talked about.

The big thing about getting out of the hospital when I did was that it was in time for Christmas and New Year’s. That had been a pretty big motivation for me, especially since I was in the hospital for Thanksgiving. The folks at the hospital, including a charitable foundation (thanks, HEADstrong Foundation!), do their best to make Thanksgiving pleasant for patients and their families. And it was pleasant. But there’s nothing like being home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I was thrilled to be out of the hospital for those family moments.

In the middle of the holiday season was the GBV show. When I walked out of the hospital, I had no idea if I would be able to make it. I didn’t know how I’d feel or what else might be going on. It didn’t help that, the very day I got out of the hospital, TV sports reporter Craig Sager died. I had known that Sager was sick, but I had never really heard anything about exactly what he had.

According to the news story that day, Sager died from acute myeloid leukemia. I had just spent four weeks being treated for acute myeloid leukemia. So while the goal was still a cure, clearly nothing was guaranteed here. As the GBV show approached, I felt better and stronger each day. I thought I could make it to the show. I also knew that I would be going back into the hospital in January for more chemo and, later, a bone marrow transplant.

Put that all together, and without being melodramatic, it seemed reasonably possible that this GBV show would be the last concert I would ever go to. And that seemed pretty fitting. I have had a lot of favorite bands over the years, and it would be fantastic to see the Who or the Clash or the Kinks or the Replacements or Uncle Tupelo one last time. But some of those would require reincarnation and some would probably just be depressing. GBV is the band I’ve seen more than any other, so it would be the perfect band to end on.

Then came the show. It’s a little weird to go to a venue and hand over your ticket thinking it might be the last time you ever do something like this. That makes it tough to approach a show with an open mind, when you’re thinking, “Man, GBV needs to deliver a show worthy of the occasion here.” You want to go out like Ted Williams, hitting a home run in your last at-bat, not standing in front of a stage watching some band go through the motions in the middle of a tour.

But that’s one of the reasons I thought GBV was the right band. Even going through the motions (and I’ve seen them on those nights), they’re damn good. When they’re fully engaged and at their best, they can be transcendent. On the next-to-last night of 2016, they were pretty damn transcendent. Pollard sounded as good as ever (and miles better than he did in that 23-year-old clip on YouTube). Doug Gillard was back on guitar and sounding as much like some blend of Keef and Townshend as ever. The setlist was 55 songs long and represented a remarkable career survey.

It sounds like the perfect show to end on, but it wasn’t. Not because of the band or the audience or the venue, but because of me. I enjoyed the show, believe me, but not nearly as much as I normally would have. I just didn’t feel right. I wasn’t sick or anything. I don’t mean there was anything dramatic going on. My head just wasn’t in the right place. I got the fastball I was looking for, but unlike Ted Williams, I swung right through it.

Ultimately, I don’t have full control on whether that turns out to be my last show. Leukemia and fate and some very good medical professionals will decide whether I have more time for going to see bands, or for anything else.

I do have control over what I choose to do with the time I have left, whether it’s six months or 25 years. And I don’t think that was Ted Williams’ last at-bat. A few days after the GBV show, a friend texted me about a show scheduled for mid-January. Without even thinking it over, I told him to get me a ticket.

I didn’t know if I would be able to go—I might be in the hospital—but I did know this: GBV may still be the perfect band for my final show, but I’m thinking we’ll get to that a few years from now.
What do you think, Bob? Maybe 2025?

—Phil Sheridan

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From The Desk Of The Flat Five: The Barista Is Everything

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.

Ligon: I’m an espresso junkie. Some might call me a coffee snob. But I’m not a snob; it’s just very important that we get this right. Actually, my whole day depends on it. A badly pulled shot of espresso can ruin me. Once I’ve had the bad shot, there’s no undoing it. There’s no amount of perfectly pulled espresso that will fix my chemistry now. I’m going to be this angry-screwed up version of myself until I’ve slept it off. That’s why the barista is everything.

I’ve had shots pulled by two different baristas in the same coffee shop on the same day that were completely different. It’s frustrating. Apparently one of them just didn’t care as much. Don’t they know that my mood hangs in the balance? We have to get this right people! More importantly, my bandmates need you to get this right!

It’s 11 a.m., and somehow I need to be at my best about eight or nine hours from now. Only coffee—expertly grown, picked, roasted, poured and consumed at the exact right intervals—is going to enable this miracle to happen.

I don’t like it when I can tell that I know more about espresso than my barista does. I try to avoid this whenever possible, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. The first sign of trouble is if the espresso machine is a push-button, pre-determined pour. I’ll walk into a cafe, and the first thing I do is check out their machine. If it’s a fully automatic, push-button shot, I’m gone. “I gotta get outta here” is my typical exit line. Hell, they almost ruined the show tonight!

If a barista asks, “Do you want anything in your espresso: sugar or milk or anything?” then I know I’m in trouble. Anyone who can’t fathom the idea of drinking a shot of espresso without anything in it has no business being in this business. I’m sorry, get a job at Dairy Queen if you want to make milkshakes!

Also, please don’t think you’re doing me a favor by pulling me an extra long shot. You’re not. If I wanted a regular cup of coffee I would have asked for it. The perfect shot of espresso should be no more than one or two ounces, between 92 and 98 degrees Celsius, and served in a ceramic espresso cup.

I had a friend ask his barista to stop his shot short when he realized that the guy was pulling it way too long and the barista said, “Don’t you want the crema?” But my friend put it perfectly, “The crema starts with drop one!” Of course, that’s absolutely true. The crema isn’t hanging around at the very end just waiting to be released! Also, if the barista calls it “expresso” forget it. “I gotta get outta here.”

As far as I’m concerned, the snootier the coffee shop the better. I don’t care if the barista is a complete and utter asshole, just as long as they get my shot right. Go ahead, tattoo yourself, grow your beard, judge me as soon as I walk in—I don’t care. Just give me the good stuff!

Being a traveling musician means that you’re going to be bouncing around in a vehicle all day, sometimes for five or six hours—and once you finally reach your destination your job is just getting started. Getting the caffeine balance is essential to group harmony and sustainability. That is why I firmly believe that when it comes to being a traveling musician, the barista is everything!

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What The Hell Is Jeff Mangum Trying To Tell Us?

Over the past several months, a series of cryptic drawings by Jeff Mangum has appeared for sale on the official Neutral Milk Hotel website. The series, titled The Book Cipher Sings, appears to be full of clues and codes alluding to new music that could be on the way. Fans immediately noticed that several of the drawings say “Double LP” or “Double AWOL Bombe?” (which, when read aloud, sounds like a lot like “Double Album”).

In terms of new music, Mangum and Neutral Milk Hotel have certainly been “AWOL” (a military acronym for Away Without Leave) and the mention of the word “Bombe” could be a reference to the code-breaking machines used by British cryptologists to decipher the German Enigma codes during World War II.

But whether these clues are indicating new music from Neutral Milk Hotel remains to be seen. The band has not released an album since 1998’s critically acclaimed In The Aeroplane Over The Sea and when asked on tour, Mangum said multiple times that there would be no new music from the band.

Here’s what we do know:

Many of the drawings contain the phrase “Stage Magicicada Cassini Huygens” and reference elephants.

The Magicicada is a type of “periodical cicada” that emerges from hibernation roughly every 13 and 17 years. It was roughly 17 years ago that Neutral Milk Hotel stopped touring the first time. According to Wikipedia, Brood VI is expected to re-emerge in the summer of 2017 in northern Georgia. (The Elephant 6 Collective originally hailed from Athens, Ga.)

Then there’s the possible connection to Cicada 3301, a series of complex cryptographic puzzles that may have been designed by the intelligence community to recruit codebreakers. The Washington Post called it one of the internet’s eeriest unsolved mysteries and described it as “a kind of internet scavenger hunt that relies on advanced code-breaking—and a working knowledge of things like obscure medieval literature and Mayan numerology—to unlock progressive clues. Who’s behind the puzzle is unclear, although many enthusiasts believe it’s a large, well-funded and shadowy organization trying to recruit into its membership. At this rate, we may never know.”

The Cassini-Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft launched by NASA in 1997 to explore Saturn. It’s expected to end its mission in September of this year. Many of the drawings include images of what appear to be ringed planets in front of the figures, numbered first, second and third, but the third planet is always depicted with two rings. Some have interpreted these as representing Neutral Milk Hotel’s albums, the first two being single LPs, and a clue for a forthcoming third double LP.

But there’s been much debate on Reddit and the Elephant 6 forums over whether or not these illustrations actually mean new music from Neutral Milk Hotel and Mangum, or something else.

They could be indicating a live album compilation from various tours (one drawing says “NY To SF,” while another says “1997 Chris Knox” referring to the member of the Tall Dwarfs that Mangum played with in 1998 and covered for a benefit record in 2009), or the drawings could be generating hype for the already-recorded but yet-to-be-released final album from another Elephant 6 band that Mangum was involved with, the Olivia Tremor Control. One drawing includes the phrase “Over The Countersign” scrawled on the back, leading some fans to interpret it as a clue for new music from that band since the first letters the words: O.T.C.

The lead singer of Olivia Tremor Control, Bill Doss, unfortunately passed away in 2012, but not before reportedly completing the recording of his vocal tracks for the final OTC album, The Same Place. The album was expected to be released in 2014, but it never materialized and there’s been no word on its status since a 2013 forum post by Bill’s widow.

Has Mangum taken the reigns and put finishing touches on the final Olivia Tremor Control record?

A leaked track list for The Same Place found online has only 11 songs that are rumored to be on that album but The Book Cipher drawings seem to indicate that whatever is coming from Mangum could include a total of 28 tracks, with seven per side. Each arm of the figures is segmented into seven pieces, and several of the drawings feature numbered lines extending from the hands of the figures up toward a series of seven concentric circles that look like tracks on a record.

Just recently, the mystery deepened when an image of the latest drawing appeared online. While similar to many of the others in the series, this one includes a series of three- and five-digit numbers written in the empty spaces. The three-digit numbers are all from one to 100, while the five-digit numbers are between 1,300 and 7,400. It looks very much like a code. Arrows point to the numbers 5-6-7 and 7-6-5 on the arms of the figure (which also bear resemblance to the rotors on a cryptographic machine).

Book Ciphers are codes created using a book as the cryptographic key. Numbers might correspond to pages or words to reveal a message. Are these new numbers on the latest drawing the “page numbers” of a book? So far, there have been no theories put forth as to what book the key could be.

The drawing also includes the words Angel and Echo—an Angel Echo is a term defined as “A radar echo from a region where there are no visible targets; may be caused by insects, birds, or refractive index variations in the atmosphere,” possibly a further reference to the Magicicada.

Whatever Mangum is trying to tell us, it seems to indicate new music on the horizon. I just hope we don’t have to solve the puzzle before we get it.

—Edward Fairchild

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Essential New Music: The xx’s “I See You”

On its second album, 2012’s Coexist, the xx doubled down on the minimalist aesthetic that made its debut an instant classic. Coexist found new ways to work with the spaces between Romy Madley Croft’s clear-toned guitar lines, Oliver Sim’s melodic bass and Jamie Smith’s restrained beats and gauzy keyboards, and new ways to throw Croft and Sim’s introspective vocals into sharp relief.

The danger of minimalism, however, is that it eventually becomes more difficult to create something fresh through subtraction rather than addition. The blare of horns that opens I See You announces a retooled, vibrant xx. I See You startles with its extroverted touches: the forceful vocals on “Say Something Loving,” the R&B hooks to “Lips,” the “I Can’t Go For That” Hall & Oates sample on “Hold On.” While “Performance” might fit on Coexist, almost every other song includes at least one disruptor, even if it’s as subtle as the increased BPM of “I Dare You” or the unison vocals of “Test Me.”

Smith’s 2015 album In Colour (credited to his DJ moniker, Jamie xx) is the obvious template: Both Croft and Sim contributed vocals to their partner’s club-happy debut. But what makes this xx album work so well is that the British trio hasn’t lost sight of what has made them special from their start as teenagers on their 2009 debut: their use of space and silence; the interplay between voices, Croft’s alto often in dialogue with Sim’s baritone; the earnest, self-aware, sometimes self-lacerating lyrics; the sense that this is a young band that grew up on hip hop and U.K. club music but whose DNA includes New Order, Young Marble Giants and the Cure without being self-conscious about any of them. It continues to add up to something special.

—Steve Klinge

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From The Desk Of The Flat Five: Just The Tip Of The Tip Of The Iceberg

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.

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Hogan: 24 years + 291 days later. Obit

I’m foggy on how we first met—it was either at the shitty, shitty White Dot club on one of those “Evening With The Garbageman” variety throw-down music nights—or maybe at Mudd Shack, that magic after-hours dork poetry slam in the old Tortillas burrito restaurant on Ponce de Leon Ave in Atlanta. But I do remember that he immediately blew my mind. I was an instant fan. The language in his poetry sounded ground floor but was meticulously crafted—dovetail joints—loose but tite like the best hip-hop rhymes—sophisticated—and truly Southern: dry, side-eye, sharp-as-a-shiv intelligence, humor, ribaldry. Such toothsome eloquence. Salt-lick vernacular. Double-dipped and fried hot. It’s hard to describe him to outsiders so that they’ll really get it — and what youtube clips that did survive do not do him justice. But to me he was a genius.

Our band the Jody Grind pretty much hand-cuffed him to our situation, and he traveled with us for about three or four years, opening our shows all over the place with his amazing poetry and spectacle.

I remember his buzzsaw voice and the way his coughs sounded like sneezes, so I was always “blessing” him until he’d get frustrated and yell at me to “cut it out!” I don’t really know what all he thought about me, but he always seemed bemused when I looked at him. Always little puzzled. Like he was trying to figure me out. He was always thinking. A buddha. Once during one of my love slumps he gave me some keen relationship advice that amounted to: “You, Hogan—you’re a classic paddler. Him? Well, he’s a classic floater. He’s gonna piss you off for the rest of your life.” Deacon was wise. And he was right.

Yeah, we all remember how he’d come running out onstage in Liberty overalls with the bibs dangling, wearing a giant white bra over his big man titties, sweating and heaving with adrenaline and stage fright, copper chest hair puffed up like Brillo pads. Or stomping out of a backstage janitor closet in muddy construction boots with that old ratty black and pink flowered muu muu flapping around his shins. The unbelievable racket of him banging his ball-peen hammer on that army surplus bombshell, and how he would start his set by revving a chainsaw held high above his head, gunning it over and over until the stage was shrouded in a big purple choke of gas fog. He sure knew how to make an entrance.

And though it might sound weird to people who only knew his onstage persona, one of the things I remember most about him is his gentleness—his shyness, deference, thoughtfulness, respectfulness, gentility, quiet intelligence, humility.

We all slept together so many nights on tour, five to a motel room, taking turns on the floor. Lord have mercy, that man could snore. And I remember his legs. He had great legs. Long freckled ones with incredible calf muscles. Skinny peanut toes sticking out of his Birkenstock sandals. That raggedy bright blue short-sleeve button-up shirt he always wore. His Stanley thermos. His knuckle wrinkles. How he’d hide his meticulously rolled toothpick joints down in between his cigarettes in the soft pack. That he’d comb his fingers through his lush red beard when he was telling you a story. That he was only 41. Forty-one.

I remember backstage at Sluggo’s in Pensacola in April of 1992. How there was no toilet and you had to pee out of a window, even the girls. I remember how that night after the show Deacon had wanted to ride back to Mobile with me and Bill and our manager, but because I felt sick and was getting laryngitis and wanted to lie down and sleep in the backseat, I am forever fucked in my soul because I said there wasn’t enough room. I said no. I said no. I said no.

His little seed corn front teeth. His diagonally framed Polaroids. The cheerful little jingly bell dangling from his rearview mirror. His hard crush on Richard Petty. His and Benjamin Smoke’s true and pure manly mutual admiration friendship love affair. How he once said that when he was young and had hair he got “more ass than a toilet seat.”

Whenever I hear that Dolly Parton song “Joshua,” I always cast him as the fearsome mountain man she sings about, living off all by himself—wild and imposing to those that didn’t know him, but sweet and cream-filled to those that did. I loved him. I love him. I miss him. I miss him so much. Actively. With fangs.

“Life is an illusion, so you might as well make it a good one.”  Deacon Lunchbox

“They got dope-sniffing dogs at Dollywood. My vacation plans are ruined.” —Deacon Lunchbox

Tim Ruttenber 1950 – 1992

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Exclusive Cover Story Excerpt: Ty Segall Interviewed By Fred Armisen

Here’s an exclusive excerpt of the current MAGNET cover story. To read the whole thing, order a copy of the issue here.

Interview by Fred Armisen

Photo by James Elliot Bailey

By the time you’re done reading this interview, Ty Segall has probably made another solo album or one with the many bands in which he plays. Segall’s new, second self-titled LP shows the multi-instrumentalist is at the top of his very prolific game. MAGNET asked actor, comedian, musician and fellow studio rat Fred Armisen to go under the hood with Segall.

I was asked by MAGNET to interview Ty Segall. I said yes right away, as I’ve always loved his records (and him!). He’s built up such a solid discography. I’m really impressed by that. I felt like I knew him, just from bumping into him at different events. I saw him most recently at a video shoot for a new song. I’m always in a good mood after a conversation with Ty. He’s funny and always seems to be wanting to make more things. More art and music. A few days later, we did this interview. —Fred Armisen

Fred Armisen: What phone situation are you on? On a speaker phone? Are you at home?
Ty Segall: I have you plugged into my stereo really loud but no one is around, just so I can hear you better.
Armisen: Awwww. That’s so cool.
Segall: But you’re not on speaker phone. Just so you can hear me better.
Armisen: Yeah, I hear you great. I can hear you really clear; I’m glad I’m not in a car, and I’m glad I’m not wearing a little headset. I’m on a phone phone, and I’m definitely glad about it.
Segall: You’re definitely phone phone-ing.
Armisen: I’m phone phone-ing. Wait, should we be recording this? Is this already recording?
Segall: I don’t know. I don’t really know how to do that.
MAGNET: You guys are already being recorded.
Armisen: Oh! Who is this other voice?
MAGNET: It’s Megan from MAGNET.
Armisen: Oh, how are you?
MAGNET: I’m good. How are you?
Armisen: Good. We both really like MAGNET. I’m representing both of us with this one compliment.
Segall: I agree with that compliment.
Armisen: Well, first of all, hello, Ty, it’s good to talk to you. We’ve known each other a little while. So it’s not like we’re complete strangers to each other, and in fact, we saw each other the other day because I did a little something in your video that they’re shooting in L.A.
Segall: Yes, you did very well, by the way. That was amazing.
Armisen: Oh, thanks.
Segall: The close-up shots—I don’t know if you got to see those—were very good.
Armisen: Oh, good. And what was the concept of the whole video?
Segall: The song is just one big pun. It’s called “Break A Guitar,” so I thought I’d go extremely literal and just explode and destroy a bunch of guitars. To tie it all together, though, it’s supposed to take place in my brain. So it’s a little bit of a Lynchian zoom into my ear, through the ear canal into the brain, and that’s where you are, along with others. And that’s where the destroying takes place.
Armisen: You obviously play a lot, you tour a lot and everything—what is the state of people smashing instruments? Like is that happening a lot or not at all? Do you see it once in a while? Is it real? What is your perception of people smashing drums and guitars?
Segall: I don’t think it’s that real anymore. I think it was a lot more prevalent in the ’90s when there was a lot more money in the music industry to replace your gear. I’ve never done it with any good piece of equipment that I actually like. I’ve seen it happen maybe twice in seriousness. I don’t think it’s a very serious thing happening nowadays.
Armisen: I don’t think so, either. I don’t think I’ve really seen it.
Segall: I think I’ve only really seen an accidental destroying of gear. Or like a person loses their shit and yells at the crowd and slams their thing down. Whatever the thing is that they’re playing.
Armisen: Right. It never feels right to me to smash something, because I always feel that something could be useful. Like, “Oh, you never know, you could use this guitar or whatever.”
Segall: I think that’s a very normal and healthy way to be. I feel the same way. I’m more about giving things away instead of breaking them.
Armisen: That seems fine! Because someone could always use it; that I really like. To someone, it has value.
Segall: Yeah, instead of breaking a guitar, for instance, just give it to someone and pass it on.
Armisen: Because I would have loved it when I was a teenager like, “Oh wow, I got this guitar because they didn’t need it anymore.”
Segall: Yeah. I’ve done that a couple times at shows. Just like, “I don’t feel good about this guitar, maybe you would like it.” And it seemed like the kid liked it, so …
Armisen: Well, I’m very happy to be talking to you, and I love your new record.
Segall: Thank you.
Armisen: And last time I talked to you, one of the things we discussed was your body of work. It seems to me like you’re in a very solid place in the music world, like I have the sense that you’ve accomplished a lot. There’s a real library of work. When was it that you felt you had accomplished that—where you could look at your discography and think, “Oh, I really have a full body of work”?
Segall: You know, I don’t know. I don’t really look at myself like that. I like to just constantly be thinking about what I’m working on. I don’t look at the past records I’ve done. I think that would kind of drive me insane a little bit. I’m more about continuously trying to work on more stuff. But that’s cool! I’m a huge fan of bands that are just constantly doing different records all the time, so I would like to do that. I don’t know what that really means, but I just look at it like, “Is this thing gonna be a different kind of record than before?”
Armisen: When you’re singing or playing, especially when you’re recording, do you ever picture somebody else in your mind? Do you play the part of somebody else—do you think, like, “This is what so and so would do if they were playing this part”? Does that happen at all or is it just you?
Segall: Not playing live. Honestly, the brain tends to turn off, and it’s more like an ethereal kind of situation. Especially with the loud stuff. It’s more feeling the physicality of the music. Obviously, the brain is on and there’s intention and a thought process going on. But recording and writing, there’s lots of references and recording moves that I’ve either learned from listening to records or, like, “Oh, I love this mix that this person did of this song. I’m gonna try that.”
Armisen: Sometimes when I’m—and by the way, I’m not trying to make this about me, just as an example—there are times where we’re writing a sketch or performing a sketch, and I’ll think, like, “Well, what would Molly Shannon do? She would do it like this.” I’ll just do an impression of a comedian I like. And I suppose it’s kind of like just picking from them, but it helps me get to someplace quicker. But there might be a different goal for music, I’m guessing.
Segall: I totally understand that. I think for me it’s like recording or writing where you can take an influence. I think it’s totally fine to take a riff from a song and invert it and create a different vocal melody. It legitimately does turn it into a different song. It’s taking a cue or an influence, even just to get moving with an idea. I definitely do that stuff, for sure.
Armisen: How much do you tour? I think I don’t know how much you tour. I’m only imagining that you do it a lot, but maybe you don’t?
Segall: I used to tour a very large amount. Now, I’m probably one of the more laid-back touring people in my age group or whatever. It feels like that at least. I do maybe three tours a year now. I don’t think that’s too crazy anymore. I used to be gone like six months out of the year. But now it’s cool. We kind of make it count. Not that it didn’t count before. But for each record, we’ll do a cycle.
Armisen: When you tour, what kind of a vehicle are you in?
Segall: It’s funny, in the U.S. we get a van that my bandmate Charles and I own together, and it’s a great vehicle. And in Europe, we actually just started touring in a bus, which is kind of crazy. I’m a big fan because you can actually do things. You can travel through the night. It’s strange because the bus is cheaper. You know, we have so much gear, and our touring manager and our booking agent and our sound man come with us in Europe. In the U.S., it’s just us. In Europe, we have a few more people, so it would be more expensive to get two vans than it would be to get a tour bus.
Armisen: That’s a nice place to be, for sure. Have you ever traveled to a city and been talking to someone and they go, “You’ve met me already, why are you reintroducing yourself?” Or have you forgotten someone’s name and you’re going, “Do I know this person?” And they’re, like, “Yeah, you stayed with us.” Are you at that point in your career yet, or is it more controlled?
Segall: No, I’ve definitely forgotten people and totally made an ass out of myself many, many times. It’s always a really shitty feeling.
Armisen: You almost want to yell at yourself in your brain, like, “Yeah, of course that’s who that is!”
Segall: But you’ve gotta give yourself credit, though, that some of those people are insane—the other side of it where some people are psychopaths who will guilt trip you for not remembering meeting them for 30 seconds.
Armisen: Because that’s also a rude thing to do anyway. I don’t think I would ever do that to anyone else. If they ever forgot me, I wouldn’t give them a hard time about it. I’d be, like, “I understand, it’s OK,” I mean we’re meeting each other again anyway. I don’t think it’s ever fruitful to give someone a hard time about something.
Segall: Definitely not.
Armisen: Let’s do a quick magazine break. Hey, you’re reading MAGNET. And I’m here with Ty Segall, and we’re having a conversation. Stay tuned for the rest of the magazine! Plenty of pages coming up; we’ve got reviews. And I hope you’re enjoying it!
Segall: [Laughs]

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From The Desk Of The Flat Five: Wizard Stats

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.

Name: Casey McDonough
Role in the Flat Five: vocals, bass, piano, guitar
Height: 5″6′
Hair: blonde
Eyes: blue
Favorite singers: Solomon Burke, Dolly Parton
Favorite vocal groups: Clovers, Shirelles
Favorite bands: Beatles, Beach Boys
Favorite actor: Mickey Rourke
Favorite actress: Betty Lynn
Favorite movies: It’s A Wonderful Life, Night Of The Hunter
Favorite TV show: Route 66
Favorite TV couple: Morticia and Gomez Addams
Favorite TV theme song: “WKRP In Cincinnati”
Favorite TV dinner: Swanson
Favorite authors: Peter Guralnick, Roddy Doyle
Favorite food: Aurelio’s pizza
Favorite drink: Schlitz
“A&W or Dog N Suds?” Dog N Suds
Favorite baseball team: Chicago Cubs
Professional goals: to spread love and hope, one song at a time
Personal goals:
relax more, worry less

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In The News: David Bazan, Me First And The Gimme Gimmes, Dave Davies, Mark Lanegan, Ha Ha Tonka, Sondre Lerche, Craig Finn, Six By Seven And More

David Bazan has announced the March 7 release of his new album, Care, via Undertow. He’ll be playing several festivals around the U.S. this spring … Rake It In: The Greatestest Hits is a best-of album from Me First And The Gimme Gimmes, due out from Fat Wreck Chords on April 7. The band is currently touring Europe, with a North American tour to follow this spring … Partisan rds will issue Death Song, the latest release from the Black Angels, on April 21 … The new album from the Kinks’ Dave Davies and his son Russ Davies, Open Road, will be available March 31 … On April 28, the Mark Lanegan Band will release its latest LP, Gargoyle, via Heavenly … Bobby Darin And Johnny Mercer’s 1961 collaborative effort, Two Of A Kind, will be reissued as an expanded edition by Omnivore on March 24 … Snow is the first new record from the New Year in nine years, set for an April 28 release via Undertow … Bloodshot has announced the March 10 release of Heart-Shaped Mountain, the latest album from Ha Ha Tonka … The fifth full-length from Cory Brannan, Adios, is due out from Bloodshot on April 7 … March 17 will see the release of Gary Clark Jr.’s second live album, Live North America 2016, on Warner Bros. … Flatfoot 56’s seventh studio album, Odd Boat, is set for an April 28 release from Sailor’s Grave … Hopeless Romantic, the latest record from Michelle Branch, will be available from Verve on April 7 … UMe will issue Hits And Pieces: The Best Of Marc Almond And Soft Cell, a compilation album featuring the career of Marc Almond, on March 10 … Gnomonsong will release Tara Jane O’Neil’s new, self-titled album on April 21 … The new Sondre Lerche album, Pleasure, is set for an April 14 release. The singer is currently touring his home country of Norway, with a North American tour to follow … On March 24, the third solo album from Craig Finn, We All Want The Same Things, will be available from Partisan … Six By Seven will reissue its 2000 album, The Closer You Get, with an additional LP of Peel Sessions and b-sides, as well as a greatest-hits CD, from Beggars Arkive on February 17 … From Where I Started is Sera Cahoone’s fourth release, due out from Hearth Music on March 24 … Relapse will release Obituary’s self-titled 10th studio album on March 17 … The first two albums from Pinback, 1999’s Some Voices and 2003’s Offcell, will be released on vinyl for the first time March 17 as Some Offcel Voices … On April 14, the first new album from Fionn Regan in five years, The Meetings Of The Waters, via his own imprint 常に愛 TSUNENI AI/Abbey.

—Emily Costantino

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