October 16, 2012
So today Swans arrive in Florida for three dates before continuing on with its world tour. Starting with a show at the Social in Orlando (Buy tickets), the band will move closer to my area tomorrow, at West Palm Beach’s Respectable Street Café (buy tickets). You can expect a review of that show the next morning on the music blog for the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times.” Just follow the “County Grind” blog through the image below:
In the meantime, most of my coverage for Swans (besides an extensive, indulgent album review for the band’s new album The Seer on Independent Ethos) has been for the “New Times.” I spoke to its founder and frontman Michael Gira back in July:
First interview, on The Seer:
Second interview ahead of show:
Long preview: “Swans’ Michael Gira: ‘At the Best Moments, Music Plays You and Not the Opposite.’”
Shorter version that appeared in print: “Swans’ Michael Gira on Ecstatic Feelings, The Seer, and Being ‘All in the Sound’”
There’s also a third Q&A coming on influences and Gira’s love of the sound of children’s voices contrasted with the infamous dark din Swans have been known to create.
Update: here’s that third interview: Swans’ Michael Gira on the Value of Dynamics
Swans is one of the few bands I discovered during my college years, in the early 1990s, that I still have an affection for today. It’s a rare thing when a band that actually started in the early 1980s can so fiercely maintain a relevance in today’s alternative music scene. Gira does this with little desire to look back on anything, as he revealed in our conversations chronicled above. There are very few artists who can maintain such creative vitality during the length of time he has maintained Swans without selling the music short by succumbing to popular trends.
If you want to know what to expect of this show (though he told me this in July, and things may have changed since), Gira says, “It’s going to be a few things from the Seer, and three new pieces. I’m not gonna call them songs because they’re 20 minutes each. And one old Swans song, which is called ‘Coward.’ But that’s going to be arranged a little differently than the original.”
Here’s the vintage version of “Coward” (though Gira seems scary, he’s really going into places few dare: the Jungian Shadow personified):
Do not take that at all as a primer on Swans, as Gira notes in the quote above, the song has changed over the course of nearly 30 years since that was recorded. Here’s a recent official live video:
Finally, Gira also knows the darkness can be hushed and gorgeous. Here’s a great example from the brilliant 1992 album White Light From the Mouth of Infinity, “Love Will Save You:”
The final US tour dates include:
10/16 – Orlando, FL @ The Social
10/17 – West Palm Beach, FL @ TBA
10/18 – Tallahassee, FL @ Club Downunder
10/19 – Atlanta, GA @ Terminal West
10/23 – St. Louis, MO @ Firebird
10/24 – Chicago, IL @ Cabaret Metro
However the tour continues without pause to Europe with these dates:
10/25 – Toronto, ON @ Lee’s Palace
10/26 – Montreal, QC @ La Tulipe
11/01 – Reykjavik, IC @ Airways
11/15 – London, UK @ Koko
11/16 – Glasgow, UK @ The Arches
11/17 – Manchster, UK @ Sound Control
11/19 – Paris, FR @ Le Trabendo
11/20 – Nijmegen, NL @ Doornroosje
11/21 – Haarlem, NL @ Patronaat
11/22 – Hamburg, DE @ Kampnagel
11/23 – Copenhagen, DK @ Det Kgl. Danske Konservatories
11/24 – Prague, CZ @ Lucenra Music Bar
11/28 – Vienna, AT @ Arena Big Hall
11/30 – Bologna, IT @ Locomotiv
12/02 – Kortrijk, BE @ De Kreun
12/03 – Bern, CH @ Reitschule Gross Halle
12/04 – Lausanne, CH @ Les Docks
Allow me to temper the following review with the expectation that the album I am about to review is an acquired taste. It is also not for the faint of heart nor the easily influenced. Accepting that this review comes from a long-time Swans fan, allow me to declare the legendary New York band’s new album, the Seer, a masterpiece (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase the vinyl with MP3 download on Amazon). Though it saw release only this past Tuesday, Swans representation shared a preview copy via MP3 in mid-July, and I have devoted much time to appreciating the work.
The album opens with the persistent throb of nylon guitar strings and the swirl of a four-note refrain on the high-end of a piano. As the guitar pulses on and on and the piano notes repeat over and over, other instruments layer up, creating a swirling repetitive din of electric guitars, drums and even hammer dulcimer that end in a ringing minor-key refrain that captures the typical dark tone of Swans. Insanity, Albert Einstein famously said, is defined as repeating the same action though always arriving at the same result. Here is the musical equivalent, so aptly named “Lunacy.”
Besides the sound of Swans’ mastermind Michael Gira moaning as if about to wretch, vocals do not appear in this lead track until well after two minutes have passed. And then, the voices of Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk, of the band Low, join Gira in a monotonous chant that includes the phrase: “Hide beneath/Your monkey’s skin/Feel his love/Nurture him …” among other expressionistic lines. The lyrics end with rattling dulcimer, piano and the rapid-fire thud of a bank of snare drums being flourished. The clamor crescendos as the voices chant, “Lunacy, lunacy, lunacy, lunacy.” But the song suddenly comes apart to a creaking, sputtering stop.
It is as if a building had just crumbled and the dust is now clearing. The song takes a turn into stillness, on an acoustic guitar’s ramble and the creek of bowed cellos with a distant, barely perceptible melody on what maybe a flute or a synthesizer. The instruments are loose and meandering. There are occasional swelling splashes of mallets on cymbals, as the trio’s voices take overlapping turns to softly sing, “Your childhood is over.” The voices sing slow and quiet, extending the words with soft tremolo and patient, possibly tired, extended syllables here and there, until the song fades away.
Prepare for a journey. The Seer, runs only a few seconds shy of two hours long, and is best experienced in one uninterrupted sitting*. This is a masterpiece of entrancing dynamics and mood. One cannot just pull these songs out of context, for maximum effect only arrives in a single sitting with two hours to invest. It takes a remarkable album to hold anyone’s attention for that long, and I can think of many acclaimed double-disc concept albums that fail to maintain such quality for their duration. However, the Seer is something beyond a concept album. It’s a meandering piece of expressionism in music that reveals an intelligent and sensitive awareness of a variety of instruments capabilities in creating mood. All these songs earn their moments because of the other songs in the album. This album is like a living organism.
When “Lunacy” ends with the soft whispering of “Your childhood is over” and the hushed hum of barely perceptible instruments, a percussive assault kicks off “Mother of the World.” This dichotomy, though seemingly in opposition, only enhances the effect of the other. The coda of “Lunacy” haunts and may linger like the ghostly wavering, glistening metallic creek that hums through the start of “Mother of the World,” as the second track heaves and crunches along on sporadic drums beats. The song is as much about its varied, yet steady beat, as it is about the surprising moments during its build-up, such as Gira’s quiet muttering honk that grows into what sounds like the chant of a shaman. The entranced man mutters along until everything halts to reveal a panting, solitary Gira, the creaking music reduced to a ghostly, aural residue on an erased tape, heard very faint below his exhausted breathing. The starkness of the rattle of those breathes shocks, which is then multiplied when all the percussion comes back only a few seconds in, then Gira snarls, “In and out and in and out. Again!” After a few refrains of the phrase by Gira, this song, like “Lunacy” veers into peaceful tranquility.
A humming organ and only one drum kit patters along softly. It’s all humming afterglow until the ramble of an acoustic fades in and a treated piano offers a repeated phrase. The instruments drone and entrance until Gira starts to sing, finally at an even-tempered tone: “and where are you now … oh mother … of the world?” The last syllable repeated in imitation, man-made echo. After a few verses as brilliantly expressive as any can be expected of this surreal songwriter, the song swells with tremolo mandolins and hushed, though frantically bowed violin.
“Lunacy” offers a brilliant set-up of what to expect in the extreme dynamics, original song construction and creative use of instruments throughout the Seer. “Mother of the World” offers a similar structure in a song that takes a third of the time longer to finish. Then comes the real epic moment of the album comprised of the nearly acapella “The Wolf,” the 32-minute title track, capped with “The Seer Returns.”
One must consider all three tracks together as one piece, as they all work that well together. Unless the barely touched strings of an acoustic guitar and the subtle hiss of what sounds like an oscillating fan, which appears halfway through the song, count as instrumentation, “The Wolf” sounds, or better, feels acapella. Gira slowly mutters softly in that wonderful gravel baritone of his: “Now, feed … me through … the power … line/Wash … me in … your blood … less light…” The song ends with the screeching, netherworld quality of bagpipes blown at full force, damn the notes. Meanwhile, dulcimer and tubular bells are beat at frantically against a droning hum recalling the distant honk at the end of King Crimson’s “Sailor’s Tale.” The bashing and screeching slowly fades away as the drone continues to hum and burble. A hushed, metallic industrial groove then appears, augmented by the light trill of what sounds like dulcimer, offering a shift in the piece. It is moments like these, these dichotomous swings and shifts into different moods that make the entire album. They appear between songs and within songs and often find an entrancing groove before making shocking shifts that both depend on the prior music and oppose it.
The title track is a half hour exploration in prolonged dynamics that can leave one entranced if one gives it a close listen. I have been lulled into dozing exhaustion while paying too close attention to it. “The Seer” is the epitome of a master manipulating a jam session to earn the moment when the singing finally appears, almost eight minutes into the piece. Gira’s singing only involves the quickly repeated phrase of “I see it all.” It seems to come out of the song’s looping, entrancing quality of pattering drums and rambling, sighing guitars. It builds and builds until the song sounds like something one might hear when trapped in a crashing wave before coming to an extended grinding halt featuring spastic, buzz-saw guitar work, waiting harmonica and various creaking instruments. It ends with Gira singing a nonsensical, almost tribal chant** on a grooving melody that feels long absent from existence.
In a song as sprawling as “the Seer,” it takes a genius well attuned to the natural vibrations of music to know how to hold back the singing and leave it as minimal as it appears during this ultra-long song of over 30 minutes. This is soulful music. Gira never over exerts his control over it. He is presenting us with a pure aural creature, something indeed to experience.
When “The Seer Returns” finally appears with proper lyrics and a more restrained, moody quality as drums, churning guitars and the looping howl of female voices (former Swans member Jarboe), a sort of re-birth has occurred. After the tumultuous, extended quality of “the Seer,” it almost feels as if language and civility has been re-born with the return of coherent words. But the imagery Gira spins in his lyrics are once again, signature Swans gloom and grim viscera: “… in a field of sticky black mud/I’m down here naked/There’s a hole in my chest/Both my arms are broken/Pointing east to west.” Then, not so much a palindrome, but a sort of circular surreal picture: “Your light pours into my mouth. My light pours out of my mouth. My light pours into your mouth.” The music marches along in an entrancing, luscious quality.
But, by now, odd shifts in the music should be expected, and the next one, “93 Ave. B Blues” offers a doozy. It opens with the screech of a clarinet and shares more DNA with free jazz than anything else in the Swans catalog. It features mostly squawking woodwinds, the layered howl of Gira and occasional explosions of sporadic percussion including pounded bass strings and screeching, buzzing guitars in a classic noise rock vein. In keeping with the free jazz principal, as it seems to go nowhere and everywhere at once. So when two of the most tranquil pieces of the album follow, they become well-earned respites.
Out of the reverberating feedback that closes “93 Ave. B Blues” comes the hushed, if still grim “The Daughter Brings the Water.” It’s spare and features flat pattering percussion, creepy reverberating guitar and even some decorative vibraphone. Veering the album into true gorgeous territory, however, meant bringing in Karen O to sing lead vocals. She offers a patient accompaniment to the slide guitar and delicate piano that make for the music of “Song for a Warrior.” Her voice quivers like the embodiment of fragility. After she sings “Some people say/God is long dead/But I heard something inside you/With my head to your chest,” the song swells in a cascade of chimes and bells and tremolo piano. It’s a song of optimism in the face of death, which is treated as a path to a cycle rather than something final. There is plenty room for hope in the music of the Swans, and this song may well inform all the so-called gloom of the album.
The great and key thing about the Seer is the beautiful lulls from intense noise and din Swans often achieve. Swans have always been fantastic at hushed moments contrasted with pummeling sounds, but the band has never received enough credit for that. One of my favorites song in their catalog is the luscious “Her” from 1992’s The Love of Life or the majestic “Other Side of the World,” also from that album (Though out of print and kind of expensive on the secondary market, the album is a good starting point). Those moments have always been key to the Swans aesthetic and there are plenty such moments on the Seer.
There are three more tracks to explore that close out the Seer, “Avatar,” which runs just shy of nine minutes, “A Piece of the Sky” (just over 19 minutes long) and “The Apostate,” which runs 23 minutes even. If the descriptions of the songs that precede these three intrigue enough, these three will not disappoint, as the cycle continues with them. I’ll restrain myself so as not to give away the ending of the Seer, but dynamics remain enthralling and entrancing moments abound featuring more of Gira’s voice and even Jarboe’s, as well as Akron/Family. In fact, the end of “A Piece of the Sky” is nothing short of gorgeous, heart-aching beauty, lead by Gira’s voice and vocals.
This is an art rock album if there ever was one. It’s as impressionistic as it is expressionistic, just as it is powerful and delicate. Without reservation, I would say this is the most awesome thing I’ve heard this year, if not one of the most powerful moments in my history of listening to music, and easily the best of Swans’ catalog … yet.
*I interviewed Gira recently, and he suggested the best way to listen to the Seer is without breaks, digitally. You can read my interview with Gira at the “County Grind” blog site. A longer profile on Gira, Swans and the Seer will appear in the print version of the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times” in early October, ahead of the band’s live performance at West Palm Beach’s Respectable Street Café (buy tickets).
** Gira said the end of “the Seer” is actually a slew of coded erotic phrases. “The words at the end of that whole piece are kind of a secret erotic message,” he told me via phone with a laugh. “There’s a lot of sexuality in that, but I don’t really say any specific words, but I think if you listen, you can glean what I’m talking about.” Indeed, when one listens loosely to it, one will hear phrases like, “My cock in your mouth” or “you sat on my mouth.” Meanwhile, a rhythmic, brief scratch on a violin’s strings seems to suggest ecstatic female moaning.
August 13, 2012
We’re coping with the loss of one of the best guitarists the Miami-area local scene has ever been blessed to have. Dan Hosker passed away on Saturday while in hospice care (Read my friend Tony Landa’s post on how he ended up there). He was 46. I wrote a little tribute to him on the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times” blog. Read that by jumping through the “County Grind” blog logo below:
I had written about his band, the Holy Terrors a couple years ago (Haunted by the Holy Terrors). For me, they stole the night from Interpol during an after-show gig that featured Interpol’s drummer Sam Fogarino returning to his South Florida roots in the Terrors.
Though he was barely known outside of South Florida, Hosker brought something special to the music world. He had a genuine love of playing and exploring the sonic possibilities of guitar. He was an important part of the touring version of the legendary experimental noise band Harry Pussy with Bill Orcutt and Adris Hoyos in the mid-nineties while maintaining his devotion to the Terrors, an alt-punk band he formed with former New Englander Rob Elba. His last project involved him playing banjo in the country roots outfit Boise Bob and His Backyard Band. In between there were experimental outfits, post-rock and garage bands.
The photo above comes from a still image of a cable access television show I used to host on local Miami music. He really humored me that night, but we were all nervous. Watch the whole awkward thing below, beginning with the Terrors performing “Turn” off their debut full-length album Lolitaville):
Dan Hosker, you and your guitar will be missed.
June 13, 2012
This weekend will see a unique celebration unfold in South Florida to none other than Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, the inventor of ambient music, world-renowned record producer and glittery prog-pop glam pioneer otherwise known as Brian Eno. I have covered Eno’s work on this blog in some depth over the years. One of my most consistently popular posts is an examination of Eno’s music in Peter Jackson’s underrated film the Lovely Bones (Brian Eno and ‘the Lovely Bones’) from back in 2010. I also posted an extensive interview with one of Eno’s more recent collaborators, the British poet Rick Holland (Eno collaborator/poet Rick Holland corresponds on craft – An Indie Ethos exclusive [Part 1 of 2]).
Now, some area South Florida musicians and Kramer, the man who founded Shimmy Disc, will perform a variety of Eno’s music at Fort Lauderdale’s Cinema Paradiso this weekend. They will also screen the 14 Video Paintings DVD on the big screen.
I had a chance to talk to some of the musicians involved in this project for a pretty in-depth preview piece for the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times” music blog “The County Grind.” Check out the details of who will cover what and more after the jump through the blog’s logo below:
I have produced another artist profile piece for another “New Times” publication in South Florida. This one appears in the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times,” and it has something to do with Roger Waters’ upcoming June 15 performance of the Wall in Broward County. No, it is not Roger Waters (“He’s not talking,” I was told) but his son, Harry Waters, who has toured with the former Pink Floyd bassist/vocalist/songwriter since 2001. We spoke via phone, last month, while the band took a break between shows in Los Angeles. “Lovely nice weather,” he said of the place, in his quick, chirpy English accent. He has his own show worth noting that will take place in South Florida a couple of days after the Wall show at Fort Lauderdale’s Revolution Live (buy tickets). The show benefits local 501©(3), Community Arts & Culture.
You can read the entire piece after the jump through the publication’s logo below. It also features an interview with a South Florida-based saxophonist, Michael Sinisgalli, who collaborated with Harry once before and will participate in this up-coming show:
Though he started learning piano at the age of 8, following his parents suggestion, the 34-year-old Waters would not find a true love for the instrument until several years later. “I definitely wasn’t one of those prodigal children that picks it up, and that’s all they do,” he said. “I played kind of for four years, but I didn’t practice or anything, and then when I was about 12, I got a new teacher, and he sparked my passion for piano music, like boogie woogie and Scott Joplin and that kind of thing, and Fats Waller.”
In my profile on the younger Waters, we take a closer look at how that early passion in swinging piano music led him to form his own jazz band, which he plays on the side of these Wall shows since they kicked off in the fall of 2010 (Roger Waters to do the Wall on next tour; I also reviewed an early performance of one of these shows here: Waters’s ‘the Wall’ live cements theme with vivid production). The younger Waters said he has played a few of these jazz shows during the tour of the Wall, and this would mark his second in South Florida. “I did a few in Argentina, in BA, which was really nice. I did some in Eastern Europe, so kinda of as many as I can. Yep! Yeah, they’re really cool.”
Here’s some recently up-loaded, HD videos of some of his performances in Buenos Aires, Argentina:
Finally, this has to be my favorite number of his, “Jarrets Dreams,” and we talked about it at length. He described it as “more of a textual kind of thing, and it’s a little longer. There is a melody. There is a tune and some soloing over some very basic chords … I never solo on that because the piano is not the melody. It’s like a groove-based thing. It’s like one of those Herbie Hancock tunes where you have a bass line that just goes throughout … and the piano serves that purpose. It just underpins the rest of that song. If I stop playing that phrase, the song would disappear (laughs). I can’t really solo over that because you have to play it with two hands, that phrase. You can’t play it with one hand, so it’s not like I can play with one hand and then improvise over the top. So that’s my role in that song, it’s just to keep the song going. Yeah, it has that hypnotic, repetitive kind of nature, which is what I was going for, so I’m pleased with that song. It’s fun to play, really.”
May 1, 2012
If the lack of music coverage on this blog about music and film has seemed apparent, that is because I have returned to freelancing at the two South Florida-based “New Times” publications. They pay, but they have exclusive control. They are also print, which still matters to many musicians, labels and venues, so I did get some good “gets,” the first being a phone conversation with the singer of the official Genesis cover band, the Musical Box, who are based in Montreal, Canada.
Though the mere mention of the name Genesis makes many flashback to Phil Collins and hits like “Invisible Touch,” to this writer, the true Genesis existed within the progressive rock scene of the early seventies with Peter Gabriel as theatrical frontman. The Musical Box specialize in that era of the band. Speaking to the band’s singer, Denis Gagné, it immediately became apparent that he too shares a special nostalgia for the early Gabriel-era Genesis. I spoke to Gagné ahead of the band’s South Florida debut to perform the band’s 1974 double album the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, scheduled for tomorrow.
As the Musical Box is the only Genesis tribute band officially sanctioned by Genesis, they were granted amazing access to the original Master tapes of the Lamb. “Me and Sébastien [Lamothe, the band's co-founder] sat down at the Farm studio, at the board and played with the tracks,” said Gagné with a laugh. “So every texture that we were wondering, ‘What is going on here? we could hear, actually.”
It is a dense album both thematically and musically*. Even for Gagné, a long-time Genesis fan since the age of 10, in the late seventies, the Lamb, revealed more of its power as he grew more familiar with the music. “It’s a masterpiece. A lot of the songs that I used not to like … I’m a big fan of now, since we play them on stage … like ‘Back in New York City’ I used to not be a fan of because I used to think, ‘I can’t sing that. He’s screaming.’ For a singer, it’s not something you look forward to,” he said and laughed. “But then, when we played the song together, it’s such a strong riff and the whole feeling is really, really awesome. It changed my whole perspective of the song. It’s one of the songs I love to play and that I love to listen to, which was not the case when I was younger.”
Gagné said his band tries to do justice to Genesis as they performed the album back in the mid-seventies. They looked at photos and video clips, like the one below, which features part of “Back in NYC,” filmed in Bern, Switzerland in 1975:
Tickets are still available for the show. You can read more of my interview with Gagné in the original preview piece for the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times” by clicking on the publication’s logo here:
The article covers the significance of this era of Genesis and also what the Lamb is superficially about with some more quotes from Gagné. They also published a retrospective piece I wrote on the ever-changing look of Gabriel from song-to-song during his productive if underrated years in Genesis.There are many pictures and video clips, click on Gabriel’s mug below to jump to that article, entitled “Nicki Minaj of Prog: The Many Faces of Peter Gabriel’s Genesis Years”:
Edit: The “Broward/Palm Beach New Times” posted my review of the show here (disappointed no photog was there). Read it here.
*In the not too distant future I plan to write an appreciation to the subtleties of the album, so follow this blog for the appearance of that in the next few days.
March 1, 2011
It has nearly been 10 years, and the last time I saw Bright Eyes perform, main man Conor Oberst had recruited 13 other musicians, enlisted two other bands as support, and charged just $12 at the door for the show. He finally returns to my part of the US (South Florida) on March 2 with Cursive as a support act. My, has Ticketmaster/Live Nation taken over! Now tickets are nearly $50 (Get them here).
Bright Eyes’ new album, the People’s Key (buy the vinyl here to support the Independent Ethos), came out Feb. 15, and it features some of Oberst’s best work to date. Dare I say, it’s much more grown up compared to the emo, albeit inventive, quality of the last album I owned from Bright Eyes: Lifted or The Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground (buy the vinyl here to support the Independent Ethos). I received that album in advance of his 2002 performance in Miami, which I noted at the top of this post. Of course, there have been other Bright Eyes releases since that have showed Oberst exploring his creativity to various effect.
Obviously, Oberst is a man changed since 2002. With that in mind, I wanted to offer a good chunk of an interview I did with him via telephone ahead of that 2002 show. You can read the product of the Q & A below at the website for the “Broward/Palm Beach New Times.” In the back and forth below, I cut out the straight-up, dull questions that revealed Oberst was sitting at the table, having coffee and reading the paper at the Omaha home he shared with two roommates at the time:
Are you looking forward to it?
Will this 14-piece orchestra break the bank?
At full capacity there’s 14 people on stage. On the majority of the songs there’s 13 people.
There’s actually three drums, and a bass player, and, let’s see, a couple of keyboards, then a guy that does pedal steel, banjo and then all those strings and horns. We have trumpet, flute bassoon, cello violin, vibraphones and chimes. It’s quite a band.
That’s horns and strings, right?
We have it severely budgeted. If nothing goes wrong, it’ll be cool. Everyone will get paid a little bit. It’s not going to be a huge money-making endeavor for anybody, but it’ll be great. It’ll be fun, and I think we can pull it off. We made sure of that before we got all these people involved.
Doesn’t it embarrass you to spill your guts out in your songwriting in that way, in front of an audience?
I’m never embarrassed, but there’s times when I’m more self-conscious. It’s more comfortable in certain environments than others. It depends on the vibe of the show and the environment. Those kind of things factor into what kind of performance. We’ve learned to just play our songs in any circumstances. When you’re opening up for another band, you can be met with indifference or even dislike, but you kind of get over that. In general, I like playing music. I like playing the songs. It’s good to do it in front of people that want to see it.
On good nights, when you’re not distracted by things or when everything goes well, I hopefully go back to the same general moment of when I was like writing it and kind of just like channel that time. If the band’s sounding tight and everyone’s together, it can be like a really good experience.
I had some pretty cool parents. They never discouraged me from doing music or anything I wanted to do.
It just seemed like a nice idea. One of the themes of the record was what music can do for people, like what it does for me and my friends but also just like for people listening to music, not just our music but any music, the role music plays in people’s lives as like a positive force. The girl singing along to the tape in the car was just a pretty image to me, I guess, cause that’s what I do: just driving, singing along to whatever my favorite shit is. That was kind of the idea. In a way you make music for yourself and for your friends, but if you’re putting out records and going on tour you’re hoping to make a connection to people.
Where did you learn to sing with such power, you sound like your head is about to explode?
I’m trying to take care of it now. I think when I play in Desaprecidos* (read my story on Desaprecidos) I scream a lot more, and that’s when I’m pretty hard. It’s hard doing a tour with them because it’s when I’m in that range of my voice where it’s borderline damaging to it. I quit smoking cigarettes like two months ago. That never helps, either.
Does it hurt to sing the way you do?
It doesn’t hurt at the time that it’s happening, but I always feel the aftermath. I pretty much loose my voice after every show, and it always comes back the next day. It would be pretty shitty if I never get it back.
How did you discover your voice? How old were you, when did you find that way of expressing yourself?
Well, I learned to sing by trial and error. I started singing way before I knew how to do it at all. Therefore, I was pretty terrible at it for a lot of years. I think by doing it all the time I’ve gotten better at singing. I didn’t think about it too much it’s just the way it came out. It was more kind of warbley and weird before, and over the years I’ve been trying to eliminate those characteristics of my voice, even though I can’t entirely, ever.
Every record, I think, it changes. It literally did change while I was still recording music. I have recordings of me singing before I went through puberty, and that was a whole other thing. I had to relearn to sing.
So you were watching “120 minutes” (visit the “120 Minutes” archive) as a kid. How old were you? Would you say that was what made you want to be a singer in a rock ‘n’ roll band?
I had an older brother that played in bands and dug a lot of music and gave me a head start in liking slightly more obscure music. Now he plays in a band called Sorry About Dresden and lives in North Carolina, but, still, he’s got babies now. They put out CDs, but he’s got a lot of stuff on his plate. He’s also a seventh grade teacher.
I always had an inclination to music but that definitely opened my mind or made me realize there was a whole bunch of stuff that I didn’t know about. ["120 minutes"] just opened my mind to a lot of music I wouldn’t think I would have otherwise gotten into. Prior to that it would have just been the music my dad listened to, still, like great shit like Neil Young, CCR, frickin’ Simon and Garfunkle. Even though now I like a lot of the stuff that my dad loves, at the time it would seem way cooler to be into REM, the Smiths or whatever. Just ‘cause it seemed like some kind of big secret.
What do you think you are famous for?
I don’t know how it answer that. Playing music I guess.
You know what I mean, young, prodigy rocker…
They all write pretty much the same story: “young kid recording on 4-track since he was 12, makes a lot of angst-filled punk-indie-folk albums, now making orchestrated folk.” They talk about Omaha in all the articles: the Omaha music scene, which is still pretty funny to me. I think they all just kind of re-write what they already read. Not that that phenomenon is limited to me. I think that’s just kind of the way it works. I guess it’s easier for writers. To a certain extent it makes sense because not everyone reads the same publication.
What is the most common misconception about you?
They think I’m sad all the time. I think people just kind of… It’s a hard thing to do: to step out of your body and critique themselves. I think I’m sad sometimes. I think everybody’s sad sometimes, and just because of the music, they assume it’s just all the time. I think I just go through phases at times when I am able to socialize and do whatever with everybody and feel pretty good about the world, sometimes it feels like you just want to retreat. I think that’s common to a lot of other people.
What would you like to be known for?
I guess I would wish people would recognize the songs, music. What I’m asking for is I guess impossible because I wish people would just be into the music and not really care what I’m about or whatever.
Do you like doing interviews?
It’s not the easiest thing to just talk about yourself and obviously the fact that it’s always the same thing, same questions and same general thing, but at the same time I know it’s necessary. At the end of the day, it’s a positive thing, it’s worth it. It brings up attendance at the show. It helps us out, it makes the shows better … Just let the music talk.
And that’s, for the most part, what I got. It’s also on tape somewhere, and one day, I’ll convert my interviews to mp3s to upload them here and on YouTube.
Bright Eyes’ current US tour actually kicks off with the Miami Beach show. The other tour dates are as follows (many dates are already sold out. For up-to-date details, visit Oberst’s official site here):
03/02/11 Bright Eyes in Miami, FL Fillmore Miami Beach At Jackie Gleason Theater w/ Cursive
03/03/11 Bright Eyes in Lake Buena Vista, FL House of Blues / Cursive
03/04/11 Bright Eyes in Atlanta, GA The Tabernacle w/ Cursive
03/05/11 Bright Eyes in Asheville, NC Thomas Wolfe Auditorium w/ Cursive
03/06/11 Bright Eyes in Richmond, VA The National w/ Cursive
03/08/11 Bright Eyes in New York, NY Radio City Music Hall w/ WILD FLAG + Superchunk
03/09/11 Bright Eyes in New York, NY Radio City Music Hall w/ WILD FLAG + Superchunk
03/10/11 Bright Eyes in Boston, MA House Of Blues Boston w/ Mynabirds
03/11/11 Bright Eyes in Portland, ME State Theatre w/ Mynabirds
03/13/11 Bright Eyes in Toronto, ONT Sound Academy w/ Mynabirds
03/14/11 Bright Eyes in Royal Oak, MI Royal Oak Music Theatre w/ Mynabirds
03/15/11 Bright Eyes in Chicago, IL The Riviera w/ Mynabirds
03/16/11 Bright Eyes in Champaign, IL Foellinger Auditorium w/ Mynabirds
03/17/11 Bright Eyes in Nashville, TN Ryman Auditorium w/ Mynabirds
03/19/11 Bright Eyes in Austin, TX Auditorium Shores SXSW
04/02/11 Bright Eyes in Kansas City, MO Uptown Theater w/ Conduits04/03/11 Bright Eyes in Milwaukee, WI The Riverside Theater w/ Titus Andronicus
04/04/11 Bright Eyes in Minneapolis, MN First Avenue w/ Titus Andronicus
04/05/11 Bright Eyes in Minneapolis, MN First Avenue w/ Titus Andronicus
04/08/11 Bright Eyes in Vancouver, BC Commodore w/ Titus Andronicus
04/09/11 Bright Eyes in Portland, OR Crystal Ballroom w/ Titus Andronicus
04/10/11 Bright Eyes in Arcata, CA Arcata Community Center w/ Farmer Dave Scher
04/12/11 Bright Eyes in Oakland, CA Fox Theater w/ Farmer Dave Scher
04/13/11 Bright Eyes in Pomona, CA Fox Theater w/ Jenny and Johnny + Farmer Dave Scher
04/16/11 Bright Eyes in Indio, CA Coachella
05/24/11 Bright Eyes in Edmonton, AB Shaw Conference Centre w/ Death Cab for Cutie
05/25/11 Bright Eyes in Calgary, AB Stampede Corral w/ Death Cab for Cutie
05/27/11 Bright Eyes in Bend, OR Les Schwab Amphitheater w/ Death Cab for Cutie
05/28/11 Bright Eyes in George, WA Sasquatch Festival
06/01/11 Bright Eyes in Knitting Factory Concert House Boise, ID w/ Jenny And Johnny
06/03/11 Bright Eyes in Denver, CO Filmore Theater w/ Jenny And Johnny
06/04/11 Bright Eyes in Council Bluffs, IA WestFair Amphitheater w/ Jenny And Johnny
06/06/11 Bright Eyes in St. Louis, MO The Pageant
* Around the same time of this interview, I also interviewed Denver Dalley, co-founder of Desapercidos for another show (I took the photo at right at that show).
(Copyright 2011 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)