Clap Your Hands Say Yeah blew me away with their debut album. They were able to create fun, heartfelt rock with the rhythm of Talking Heads and jangly melancholy of Modest Mouse. Their second album, Some Loud Thunder, showed signs of growth, but failed to capture some of the magic of the first. Then they were done. One of the most buzzed about bands in recent history just shriveled up and died. Remember, they were one of the first to use digital and social to create, distribute, and market their music by themselves selling thousands of copies on the Interweb with no professional representation at all? It was a kind of blueprint laid out and used by nearly everyone over the last 6 years. Well, Alec Ounsworth realized that although the band is really good he, by no means exhibited enough songwriting strength and notoriety to strike out on his own. He saw an overcrowded indie market and cried, “Me too, me too.” Well he is back with CYHSY and a full album, Hysterical, is due in September.
The first time I shared this song with someone they said they dug it. Then asked whether this band would perform live in a dark chamber or long hallway. I answered, “dark chamber.” Apparently this was a rhetorical question. Yes “Montana” by Youth Lagoon – aka Trevor Powers – sounds very dark, but it is also epic and sweeping in a very subtle way. The same way “You and Whose Army” by Radiohead is: quiet, but creeping, growing and deceivingly powerful.
The song pokes at an indescribable feeling by trying to convey this mood through layers of evocative melody and somber tone; The state of mind of smiling while you’re crying. Instinct tells me the rest of Trevor Powers’ music builds on the collision of morose and grandiose based on this quote:
“For my whole life I’ve dealt with extreme anxiety.” says Powers. “Not anxiety about passing a test or somewhat normal things, but weird.. bizarre things. Things that only I know. I sometimes feel like I’m literally being eaten up inside. So I started writing these songs. Not just songs about my anxiety, but about my past and my present. Songs about memories, and all those feelings that those bring.”
OK, so the Tiger Lillies aren’t exactly “party” “music.” In fact, I routinely get yelled at by present company any time a TL song comes up in rotation. I can see how one might find the shrill falsetto of Martyn Jacques a bit grating, but they are so eerie, so macabre, and so darkly funny that I can’t help but love them. Around Jacques’ voice is his ever-present accordion, making the music seem like a ghostly echo from another era. It is accompanied by Adrian Stout on stand-up bass and Adrian Huge on percussion.
They possess this creepy, Something Wicked This Way Comes feel in their music; a horrific 19th century carnival vibe or the soundtrack for a nursery rhyme. Not the sugarcoated modern versions of nursery rhymes, but the dreary and awful stories of disease and death that often spawn these tales. The songs are modern, but I can’t help recalling bleak Dickensian scenes of urban squalor and despair when I hear them.
They have songs like “Heroin and Cocaine” which chronicles a school boy’s addiction and eventual death, “Larder” about a dead body decaying in a larder, “QRV”- a story about this mysterious drug that the whole town is abusing and dying from, “Johnny Head-in-Air” about a young boy being decapitated, and so many more including “Whore,” “Besotted Mother,” “Shockheaded Peter,” “Sodsville,” and “Hertha Strubb” about a young missing, girl feared to be dead. Their discography is long, forming in 1989, and all creepily awesome.
“Snip Snip” appears on Shockheaded Peter and Ad Nauseam. It is the story of a young boy that sucks his thumbs despite his mother’s stern warning that the tall tailor man will snip off his thumbs if he doesn’t stop. Well, he doesn’t stop and the tailor man busts in the door and … well, you’ll see.
The core of the Smashing Pumpkins was the telepathic relationship between Jimmy Chamberlin and Billy Corgan. On one hand there is a grandiose and ambitious songwriter and guitarist and on the other, a pummeling and incredibly dynamic drummer. Avalanches of howling guitar shift suddenly into waves of shimmering melody and back again. A drummer whose thunderous rhythm, lightning speed, versatility, and incredible meter anchored the music while carpet-bombing fills and elegant flourishes added to the melody.
A prolific and storied partnership ended almost as oddly as it began. Chamberlin, for any host of reasons sought a change, one that would keep him growing and even writing music in a more collaborative atmosphere than to that which he was accustomed. A brief moment of hostility and hurt feelings as Corgan cried, “go ahead and drive around in a white van for the rest of your life if you want” [I am completely paraphrasing here from accounts read before 5.26.2011] Surely this was a jab at walking away from the monster brand of SP that they built together to start over in a smaller band. Although Billy was the songwriter and creator, only Jimmy’s drums could match this attack to fuel and propel their sound.
Enter Skysaw: A band that sees the union of some unique and powerful talent. Mike Reina and Anthony Pirog earned respect with their own psychedelic prog-pop in the Fairfax, VA / D.C. area. United as Skysaw, these guys create a new brand of music that is lush and diverse enough to showcase the awe inspiring drum work of Chamberlin while indulging the songwriter and arranger in him as well.
Out of tact and a desire to be original I quell the need to ask the nagging questions about the Pumpkins split and the personal and musical dynamics that propelled it. Yet as I dig deeper the reasons become apparent, boiling down to simple, personal creative integrity. Frontman Mike Reina and Jimmy Chamberlin took some precious time from their loaded schedule to talk music, plans, drums, and yes a little Smashing Pumpkins.
K&N:I really thought “THIS” was a cool name. What happened? Was it for the sheer fact that it would be impossible to gain any search engine traction with that name?
Mike Reina: That was an issue with the name. We were into the idea of keeping the name very general so that it could take on many meanings while avoiding specifics. By the time we were ready to release though, we traded that idea for the imagery that Skysaw might imply.
K&N:The typical trajectory of a band starting off is to tour then record – how does it feel to turn that concept on its head?
MR: It’s interesting to construct tightly wound songs and then go looking for the places where they can stretch out a bit live.
K&N: Who put together the orchestral arrangement on “Am I Second?”
MR: Jimmy wrote the orchestral arrangement, Anthony transcribed it and we recorded it at my place.
K&N:I expected a radical change when you departed SP. I always got the feeling that you are a jazz man at heart and maybe felt you thought you were “dumb-ing it down” – at least to yourself – by playing “rock.” When you made the comment about not being into the music anymore I expected something closer to the Complex – you know, a jazz trio or quartet type scene OR a crazy fusion experimental thing. SkySaw, although different, is not apples and oranges when compared to SP.
Jimmy Chamberlin: To me, music is music and it is all relevant and challenging . I never once in my life have felt like I had to “dumb down” anything. In fact the simpler music was always MORE challenging for me. SkySaw represents an opportunity for me to explore things about being a musician that don’t necessarily involve playing the drums.
K&N:I think I just had this question answered within the last two responses in a roundabout way but I ask anyway: What are you feeling right now, in this band, that you were not feeling in your last band?
JC: Basically a better chance for personal evolution as an artist.
K&N: How many songs have you recorded as SkySaw?
MR: Eleven – I think and demoed probably 12-15 others.
K&N: What was Roy Thomas Baker’s involvement with the record?
MR: We worked with Roy early on. Jimmy sent him “No One Can Tell” and asked if he wanted to be involved. He loved the song and came out to my place to work with us for two weeks. After the first two weeks we decided to remain insular and produce the record ourselves. We started from scratch and continued working together as we had previous to our stint with Roy. He was hilarious, btw …
K&N:I can see that. Beyond the production genius I see the dyed-in-the-wool rock guy; A legacy from the decadent days of rock, full of stories, anecdotes, and colorful insight.
How I came to be a Pumpkin fan was two-fold. I grew up on metal so as it phased out and grunge moved in – I liked it, but it wasn’t doing it for me. Then SP came around with walls of guitar and an appreciation for the solo that was briefly forgotten with grunge. It re-vitalized metal / hard rock by legitimizing it in a new and valid form. It was also fearless in mingling with just about every other genre of pop and revealing deep emotion.
Here, I do my best to not sound like a sniveling sycophant, but I failed …
But the first thing that caught my ear, making me listen further and appreciate SP, was the drumming. My friends and I were 17-18 when Siamese (Dream) came out. I remember listening every night on my buddy’s back porch with our friends. The guys that knew music would shoot glances back and forth at each other and bust out laughing – usually in utter disbelief – and be like, “what the fuck is that drummer doing?!!!” and “he’s not human!”
JC: Thanks, that is very flattering. I will say that those songs make me say the same things sometimes…….. Not the human part, the other part.
K&N:Ha ha ha! OK. I won’t argue, but I think they are damn near perfect.
Your drumming can be defined as pummeling or over-the-top. How do you bottle up the chops and intensity when working with a band? Is it knowing where to place the fills and flourishes within the confines of the music or is it to work with musicians that can write music that stands toe-to-toe with your attack?
JC: For me, it’s simply playing in context and listening. Those drum parts came about because of a need more than a desire. The Pumpkins provided a context for that type of drumming just like the Complex provides a different canvas and so on. It’s really about fitting the drums in the music, not the other way around.
K&N: I was drawn to your drumming because it sort of embodied everything about my favorite drummers: I could hear the hand speed and control of Chambers or Rich with the authority and flair of Krupa along with the rock power of Lombardo or Bonham dashed with the musicality and flourishes of Roach. Am I crazy? How exactly would you describe your style? It’s so distinctive and almost instantly recognizable in any song…
JC: First off, thank you very much again. I think that the goal of playing any instrument is to develop your facility to the point where you can be yourself and say exactly what you want to say. Those drummers that you mentioned, along with a few others, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Mel Lewis, and a couple hundred others, said things on their instruments that resonated with me. I took those things and learned them, when I could, and moved them around until they represented how I felt. Much in the same way you would arrange words to convey an idea. Music is a chance to be yourself totally and uninhibited. That is the whole point for me. I only want to sound like me. I’m not interested in sounding like anyone else.
Jimmy discussing creating an identity with his sound:
K&N:What have you done with your approach to drumming to help propel SkySaw that you did differently (or the same) as SP?
JC: I think that my approach is the same as it always is: To move the song forward in the best possible way whilst still demonstrating a personal opinion about the piece.
K&NHow did SkySaw become a band? Did you know each other before? Was it sort of forming anyway and then Jimmy entered the equation or did you meet first and decide to put together a band?
MR: Jimmy and I were introduced through a mutual friend. I went out to Chicago for a hang with him and to write and play a bit. We got along great and decided to become songwriting partners. Six months later I introduced Anthony with whom I’d been playing for a couple years and again it was a great fit and we continued. When we finished the record, I invited Boris and Paul to come down from New York to rehearse and we had our live band. I played with Boris and Paul in the DC based Phaser and I am a touring member for their NYC based Dead Heart Bloom. We are all thrilled to be playing together.
K&N:What is it like to play with a legendary drummer? I imagine his timekeeping is a huge bonus?
MR: It’s a great experience playing together. Each time is different and I notice something else he is doing that takes the music to a different place. My favorite drummers have arrangement at the forefront of their writing and Jimmy is a great arranger of music. Without any one element of his approach, we’d be playing a different song. Especially when I am playing piano, his precision gives me the sense that we are constructing a building together using sound. That probably sounds weird, but it’s the way playing with Jimmy makes me feel.
K&N:Not at all! I actually think I’m going to cry a little …
I always felt a differentiator was not only his impeccable timing, but also the ability to drive the music forward from the inside and actually add melodic qualities to the composition. Is that true?
MR: Very true. I haven’t heard a drummer that supports the vocal melody as well as he does. He’s driving. There is no question about that. The great thing about him is that he sees the point to which he’s driving before he gets in the car, but he’s ready to turn on a dime if the moment calls for it. He’s trained himself to be aware at all times and I think that gives him his edge.
K&N:Have you changed up your kit for SkySaw? I noticed a few pictures that didn’t seem to have the left mounted 14” tom or quite as many cymbals. If so, is this a reflection of your approach to this sound or brand of music?
JC: I moved things around for one show. My configuration is the same.
K&N:What do your jams sound like when you are hanging out / practicing / sound checking? Which direction does it go? Do you guys prog out, jam, get your metal on, heavy on showtunes?
MR: Jams are spacey and can definitely get proggy. No metal.
K&N:What is the name of this song and will it see a release?
JC: “Cathedral.” It is fairly new, not yet recorded and will be on the next release following Great Civilizations
K&N:Rumors are that the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex had a couple of tracks in the works, details?
JC: The complex lives and will rise up again at some point. Mohler and I started working on stuff before I left the Pumpkins and we continue to do so. It’s really just a time issue. We are both very busy these days.
K&N:What, if anything, can you say about the upcoming Smashing Pumpkins re-masters and re-releases?
I am very excited. Those records are sacred to me and I’m thrilled that they will be repackaged and marketed to another generation. The Pumpkins still have a lot to offer, old and new I’m sure.
K&N:As a respected musician and accomplished drummer, what is your summation of Mike Byrne? Ya know, if you were evaluating or grading him or just your opinion.
JC: I think Mike is perfect for what Billy is doing now; a great drummer with an extremely bright future.
K&N:As a social media and marketing guy in my day job, I always ask this of bands:
A) How are you using social media tools and tactics to spread the word (music) of SkySaw and engage fans and followers?
MR: Facebook and Twitter are great and are clearly changing the way music is exposed to the listening public. We are still a young band, having a great time playing out and learning to adapt to any tactic other than standing in a room together writing and playing. That said, we are ramping up on social media and are very excited about the prospect of being in contact with anyone and everyone that is into our music
B) Are there any devices – tablets, laptops, smartphones that you absolutely cannot live without; essential for tethering yourself to home (friends and loved ones) or for keeping notes and ideas for the music?
MR: I have a dumb phone, my laptop died three weeks ago and I still have a pulse (as of this writing), so I guess that means no. That said, I had to borrow Jimmy’s iPad to answer these questions, so maybe that’s a big yes? I have a lot of musical ideas coming to me throughout the day and especially during sleep right before I wake up, so part of my editing process is actually not documenting it. If I can remember it by the time I get to an instrument, than I usually consider it worth pursuing. That has definitely backfired before though. I have forgotten a couple really good ideas that I was sure were good at one time. But then again, there are things I documented in GarageBand quickly on my laptop and those are now gone as well. You have to be ready to jump on an idea the second it strikes because when it goes it goes and that moment of inspiration is very fickle more often than not….
Well, inspiration has definitely struck this band. Their blend of lush progressive pop is striking chords with critics and fans. Great Civilizations is as good as a debut album gets and the three main contributors in Reina, Pirog, and Chamberlin seem to be firing on all cylinders while sharing equal footing. SkySaw will be opening for Minus the Bear at The Ritz in Ybor City on Wednesday, May 25th. Be there.
I was just thinking to myself, “what happened to the Beastie Boys?” Then, BAM! New album. Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2 is exactly what I needed right now. The right blend of hip and goofy, but an excellent mix and some songs that are down right nasty. “Ok” is one of my favorites on first listen. This album sounds like B-Boys 2011 while drawing from the best parts of Paul’s Boutique and Ill Communication.
Ol’ Merle – aka The Okie from Muskogee – is one of the last real outlaws; country musicians with true grit and balls. Merle along with Willie, Waylon, Johnny, Coe, Kristofferson, Williams (Sr., Jr., and now carried on by Tricephus), Shaver, and a handful of others defined country music as the soundtrack of the outlaw, a sound that married the stark American realism of Country and Western with the backbone of rock ‘n roll. The music was imbued with a sense of experience and truth that lends authenticity. These dudes and some gals lived what they wrote about. The boots and hats worn by these guys were picked out by these guys and probably would be worn by them even if they had a job at a gas station as opposed to a performer. They made real songs that resonate with music lovers of all types in contrast to the current slew (since the 90′s actually) of over-produced radio pop sung by some jerk in tight jeans with a phoney twang and an ornamental guitar that passes for country these days. That is the type of sound that resonates with fat sorrority girls, guys in shiney pick-ups that don’t know shit about music, and moms. Anywho, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, some real outlaw music in ”Mexican Bands” from Haggard’s latest, true-to-form record, I Am What I Am.
As a lead-up to MMJ‘s new album, Circuital, they are releasing a song a week for five weeks. The first four were live tracks from their 5-night stint at Terminal 5 in NYC last October. The 5th song, out today, is a new song and title track from the forthcoming album. It’s a little too new for me to comment accurately except that it’s fucking awesome. Circuital comes out May 31st and the band will be hitting a series of Festivals including the Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
Awwww yeah. I remember when I was actually scared of Ice Cube. N.W.A was pretty successful at painting a picture of some serious hard-asses that had no tolerance for middle class white boys like myself. They were about as successful as King Diamond or Deicide was in convincing me that they had ties to the occult. Now I’m all growed up and I realize I could beat all those guys’ asses … at the same time. Before Cube moved on to do a shitty string of kids’ movies he had some solo stuff that intermittently packed a punch. The heaviest hitter of these songs was the ultimate “diss” song and Fuck You letter to former N.W.A mates and management, “No Vaseline.” I wonder if he felt a little bad when Eazy-E died AIDS or when Dre changed the face of rap about a year later?
Ha ha – Not really, I just thought that would be a funny headline, but the seventh track on The King of Limbs, “Give Up the Ghost” draws the “Grizzly Bear is the American Radiohead” comparison full circle. It starts with birdsong and builds a haunting layered vocal call and a stripped down percussion that may just be an amplified slap of an acoustic guitar body. Gentle guitar chords are accompanied by layers of vocals with different treatments and all is reminiscent of GB’s folkier approach to electro-alternative. This was also the point that the new sound began to sink in…
The album opens with looped piano notes and then a modulated beat creeps in sounding like a tennis shoe in a dryer. My first instinct was to assume, “here comes another insane Kid A-ish departure from normalcy.” Where In Rainbows came on with a completely new feel, The King of Limbs definitely harkens the Kid A / Amnesiac era as the first two tracks unfold, but only in their deconstructed approach to pop. The tendency is also to use synthesizer references in explaining the ambient sounds, but since this is Radiohead there is usually a far more organic-meets-outlandish technical production afoot. What sounds like synthesizer could be notes played from a harp in the basement of an old house, sampled and played backwards at half speed. Cheeky bastards!
The third song, “Little by Little” creaks forward from the delicately constructed electro-haze with a simple and soft, yet driving guitar chord festooned with a wall of maraca-like percussion. Elegant duel guitar parts bolster the chorus until the simple and sinister sounding acoustic progression returns. This song and the closer, “Separator,” are the easiest to wrap your head around and help you to digest the sonic approach to the rest of the album. For instance, my first exposure to “Lotus Flower” was through the video that was released just before the album. I think I was so transfixed by Thom Yorke’s apoplectic gyrations that it mitigated the impact of the song. After listening to the album once, then again the simple beauty of “Lotus Flower” emerged.
In the end Radiohead was able to continue the amazing feat of producing a new album that sounds fresh and inspired while being unmistakably Radiohead.
I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me. First I can’t get this song out of my head, then when I finally get around to listening to Kid Cudi‘s new album, Man on the Moon 2: Legend of Mr. Rager, it’s his anthemic song with Kanye – “Erase Me” that won’t escape me. I’m trying to maintain my rock cred here, but it is the single / terrestrial radio worthy ear worms that have overtaken me lately.
I was eager to hear Cudi’s new stuff because I thought the first album was a true evolutionary step for hip-hop in the seamless meshing NY rap style with indie / alternative sensibility and layered electronica. Man on the Moon 2 is just that – a sequel. It doesn’t seem to break any new ground – on the first few listens anyway – and in fact, appears to be missing some of the unique edge that Ratatat may have brought to the table by producing the debut. It is good and there are are a handful of standouts including this super-catchy song, but I think I was just expecting more. It’s dark and introspective with descriptions of heavy drug use and allusions to suicide which builds on the themes of the troubled soul and MC. So in that sense, it may purposely be a sequel that does not expand too far beyond the original by design.