Tuesday, August 12, 2014

THE URINALS: Unfolded (a history)

The Urinals have influenced many generations of punk, post-punkers, and art school rockers since their inception in the late 1970s. John took a few moments with us to explain the band’s unique history and beginnings...

The classic lineup began in 1978, how did you meet and what was the intention when you first started as a band? Was it meant to be a band?

Well, it was meant to be a performance – it was for a dormwide talent show at UCLA. The first version of the band was as a five-piece. We all lived on the same floor, and thought it would be funny to put together a band that couldn’t play. After the show, three of us decided we wanted to keep going. And the rest is infamy.

After formulating your first songs, was the minimalism deliberate and what do you think of the term “punk haiku”?

Falling James assigned that term to our material and when I first read it, I thought, “yeah, he really nailed it.” The minimalism was DEFINITELY deliberate. My influences up to that time included not only The Ramones (whose first LP was revolutionarily spare and direct,) but also more highbrow stuff like Terry Riley (“Surfin’ with the Shah” is our “IN C,” though it’s in D,) Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and the motorik velocity of Neu! and Kraftwerk. So, if you mix those influences, throw in a complete lack of musicianship, some anger, the usual youthful disaffection, and a smart-ass sense of humor, well then, you get the Urinals.

The Urinals shared the bill with some legendary groups such as The Go-Go’s and Black Flag. How did those audiences respond to your art-damage/smash in the face delivery style?

Early on, pre-hardcore, there was a lot of cross-pollination. There was a feeling of the excitement that all of these bands were essentially creating their own culture, which was called “punk” but wasn’t really defined. Anything went, so you had bands like Black Flag, The Last, the Go-Gos, Wall of Voodoo, Human Hands, Circle Jerks, Monitor, Leaving Trains, The Bags, each bringing vitality and idiosyncracy to a multi-colored scene. These audiences were open to variety, so they were very accepting. Only later did the definition of “punk” collapse into hardcore and audiences become intolerant of anything that deviated from a dull roar.

With three legendary 7”s from 1979-1980, which one best represented the band and what was the basis of Happy Squid Records?

You know, each of those singles is quite different, and each reflects a different element of the band. The first one showcases our discomfort with our instruments (only half-joking here,) but also throws down the “minimal” challenge of the songwriting; ANOTHER EP shows that we were capable of a kind of pop music, and the SEX single shows that we could turn up the volume and shake the walls. HSR was created because we knew NO ONE would be interested in releasing our stuff, and we wanted it in the marketplace.

A benefit of the name-change(100 Flowers) was also that we were more likely to get booked! Although the Urinals had played Gazzarri’s on the Sunset Strip, we were effectively banned from the Starwood until the name change made us more palatable to the Hollywood bookers.

Was there more success with 100 Flowers because of a more linear approach to songwriting?

The songs became more colorful as we got more competent, so they were probably more-audience-and-listener-friendly than the starker early material. I can hear psychedelia and pop in the 100F material that had been less overt earlier. Plus, we were getting more confident as performers. The first year of playing out was pretty nerve-wracking because we all knew that everything could just fall apart at any moment, which happened two out of every three shows. That’s the downside of starting out as a non-musician trying to play high-energy music.

Where can you hear the Urinals influence over the past 30 years in music and what themes still hold true?

It’s hard to say who we’ve influenced, and what we merely anticipated (by accident or design,) but we were certainly lo-fi before there was lo-fi. NO AGE, MIKA MIKO, and many of the Smell bands have cited us, but they were and are first and foremost their own bands. That’s the great thing about an “influence”—it’s a starting point that allows you to find your own voice. Before too long, no one can hear the influence, they just hear what you’ve become! You might not know, for instance, that one of the earliest role-models for my singing was Howard Wall of THE LURKERS. Emulating him was step one in allowing me to find my own singing style.

In the past and present, what are the cultural and political influences of the band that play a major role in lyrical content and the unique composition style of The Urinals?

No one ever asks about the content of our songs, so this is a welcome question! I come from a film-school background, so underground and world cinema was influential, as was Warholian art, politics (we’re on the left end of the spectrum,) sexuality and desire, self-loathing and self-discovery, addiction, denial, transformation. Anything and everything that one goes through as a human being. One thing that set us apart early on was the willingness to express sexual desire and romantic vulnerability in the context of punk-rock, which was generally thought of as being exclusively about anger.

The band is still playing out as The Urinals and 100 Flowers, what motivates you to keep the band alive and what are some memorable recent shows you’ve had?

To quote Cabaret Voltaire, “Sex, Money, Freaks.” OK, that doesn’t apply to us. My primary motivation is to create a body of work that is resonant. We also love when a set really takes off, when we’re firing on all cylinders and the audience gives us energy back – it’s a fantastic feeling, almost like sex. I’m left exhausted and happy. Memorable shows would include the Urinals playing at the Mike Atta benefit at the Echo (one of our best-ever sets,) our shows in Calgary last year, touring with Yo La Tengo, playing in Beijing in 2005, opening for Sonic Youth, touring with Mudhoney, playing SXSW with Nashville Pussy (it’s always fun to get out of town!)

If you could go back and change anything in your musical/creative career, what would it be and why?

Regrets, eh? I wish we had toured (more) early on. We rarely got out of town initially, while our compatriots like Black Flag and the Minutemen were out there raising national profiles.
I appreciate the level of interest that we’ve seen over the years. I’m grateful that what we did then, and what we’re doing now, resonates with people. Thanks for the support, all y’all.
-Kevin McGovern

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

REVIEW: THE DWARVES INVENTED ROCK N ROLL


Truth or die is the name of the game in America, outside of the saccharine bubble of virtual reality. The last decade provided us with academic and corporate roles that failed millions miserably. In the alleyways, backrooms, and corridors of the outside world, a storm of excess is brewing. Bold apathy, intelligent destruction, recreational drug use, two-hundred proof disregard, and unsafe sex light up the darkness and mediocrity of the times we live in.

It’s about time. Predictability and inspirational quotes get boring. I know how to read too… I don’t really care that much about what someone else said in a lifetime I never lived in. With that in mind, the Dwarves arrive back on the scene to join in the house wrecking party with “The Dwarves Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll”. This toxic blast of slick songwriting and trailer trash elegance gets off to a blistering start with the tracks “Hate Rock” and “Bleed Alright”. Echoes of later era G.G. Allin with a nice dose of the Accused blend with early Cheap Trick harmonies to solidify the heaviness and skull crushing delivery. The band is tighter than ever and takes the intensity higher than ten Red Bulls and Vodka. The album is closest in style to their classics Young & Good Looking and Come Clean.

Blag’s poisoned pop culture prose is on fine display and stays clever while managing to polarize at every possible moment. “Trailer Trash” is the love song of the summer for those of us who don’t care for the Hallmark channel or a daily routine that focuses on security. The nihilistic bubble gum-high burns bright on “Kings of the World” and the irresistible “Sluts of the USA”. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and Satanism are of the utmost importance when you enter the world of the Dwarves.

“Armageddon Party” and “Get Up & Get High” shake the walls of your dilapidated make-shift home with a sinister reminder about the joys of instant gratification. “Fiction” and “Dead on the Floor” show off the hard rock chops of the band and their undying loyalty to punk rock catchiness. Towards the end of the record, the twisted 1950s doo-wop of Sugarfix takes the wheel with guitars cranked in the “rock like a motherfucker” zone.

If you are looking for a “socially responsible message”, I suggest that you turn on the propaganda of a news network or even better, never leave your house. Aggressive, fun, and obscene are the rules of this unstable freeway. The Dwarves deliver, as we all should in the lives we lead. The trailer park just got a makeover and they’re giving away free money at the ATM. The party never lasts but the memories sure do.
-Kevin McGovern
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

WILLIE JONES: FIRE IN MY SOUL


Take the soul searing angst of Otis Redding, blend it with a boiling hot mixture of Stones classics like “Some Girls” and “Let it Bleed”, stir it up with the hot mess of summertime, and you’re left with the sizzling and sultry debut of R&B legend Willie Jones. An unadulterated complement for an evening of burning desire and an overheated apartment, the tracks on this slice of pristine groove will shake your moneymaker while satisfying that itch for some down and dirty rhythm and blues.

As the new Detroit epitome of coolness, Jones wastes no time in showing off his soulful prowess. This collection of 15 new tracks highlights the years of wisdom gained from a life in the heavy business of soul baring and soul searching. Funky bass line growl, steady grooves, clean blasting guitars, and hypnotic keys hover over the classic and secret heart of Detroit soul. Imitators beware; this is the real original deal. Jones began his career back in the 1950s, hitting the clubs with “The Royal Jokers” of Atlantic Records fame. The man has seen it all, from the beginning to the never-ending future.

Black Francis, Cheetah Chrome, and Jon Auer of the Posies make notable appearances to turn up the heat even higher. Jones holds his own while combining his gritty streetwise style with today’s underground rock legends. World-renowned producer Jon Tiven is at the helm and makes sure each track gracefully bends into the next, like the perfect blues note burning between bars. Willie Jones is back on the map and the man is here to stay. Let the music do the talking.
-Kevin McGovern


CHERRY RED RECORDS

WILLIE JONES

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Monday, July 21, 2014

SINNERS HOLIDAY: Surreal Rock ‘n’ Roll Cinema


The current state of independent music and cinema is a tricky one for fan and artist alike. Contributions from fans have put many worthwhile productions into motion, anywhere from Bret Easton Ellis’s “The Canyons” to the latest Screeching Weasel recording. Independent film and music making now have the ability to avoid the cross contamination of corporate and sponsor influence.
Renegade filmmaker P.J. Wolff has brought together a cast of legendary misfits and rebels including John Doe, Corey Parks, Natasha Lyonne, and Duane Peters to whet your appetite in the explosive and seductive trailer for “Sinners Holiday”. Taking to the streets to get this monster made, Wolff is no stranger to greeting the impossible with voracious ambition.

Beginning with 2001’s Badsville(an honest portrayal of L.A's seedy rock n roll underground), Wolff brings his no holds barred vision to the digital era with his critically acclaimed short “9 Minutes” and the aforementioned feature in progress. We spoke recently about art, do-it-yourself, and the meaning of life in 2014.

What led to your decision to start an online campaign to get a feature film made?

(Wolff)The film almost happened a few times in the past but in the 11th hour, it would always fall through for some kind of crazy reason. So before just letting it fade off into the ether, I decided since nowadays there is something called Kickstarter, that I would give it a final do or die-last stand-go and see if I could make it happen.

How did you pull this illustrious cast together?

I called up a bunch of my semi-famous rock n roll friends, an actress friend (Natasha Lyonne), and somehow talked them all into going out into the desert with me for a weekend to do the trailer. Much to my surprise, they all actually came out for the weekend and everybody had a good time. Nobody got paid, we had fun, and we came up with the teaser that you can watch on the site.

How can fans of the project help contribute?

If you can kick in a few bucks, you can basically pre-order the movie and we have all sorts of cool stuff for contributing to the process. But most importantly, if you don’t have any money and like the project, you can go on social media and have your friends check it out, all of it really helps.

Why did you pick the grindhouse genre for the S.H. script instead of choosing typical Hollywood mainstream fare (action, rom-com, etc.)?

I’ve always been a big of the 50s, 60s, and early 70s B-movie and exploitation films. Particularly the mid-60s Russ Meyers’ films like “Motorpsycho” and its female flipside “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” Those and other films of that ilk always really turned me on. Not in a sexual way per se, although that might have been part of it, just the style and attitude, they all had this real loose fuck-you attitude.

I wanted to create something similar but unfortunately, one of the downsides of a few of those movies is the story. The dialogue and characters could be somewhat thin. I loved the aesthetics and wanted that style but with a more compelling story and more depth to the characters, that was the inspirado for Sinners Holiday.

Did you start as a filmmaker or musician first?

Started as a musician, I was playing in bands semi-professionally starting from the age of 15 through my early 30s. It’s interesting as I get older and move into other things, I realize how much of an education being in a band really is. You’re learning a lot of real life skills and also pretty valuable marketing, diplomacy, and personal management skills. It’s definitely a background I draw upon from a lot in filmmaking now.

What would you tell you a new band that’s out there and just getting started?

Focus on songwriting…period…end of story. You can have the greatest looking band in the world, the coolest singer in the world, but if you don’t have songs nobody will care.

What authors or directors have had the greatest impact on you?

For Sinners Holiday, writers James Ellroy and especially Jim Thompson were major influences. Many darker edged films that were out of the mainstream when I was growing up, the films of David Lynch and Gus Van Sant were intriguing and out of the ordinary. There was an art house theater in D.C. where I grew up. I spent a lot of time there absorbing and watching these interesting and weird foreign films. Those films would stay with me throughout my years as a musician, which eventually led me back into film.

Do you think that American audiences undervalue indie artists?

YES. So many of my music friends in bands can’t get arrested in the states. They make a few pennies doing club tours here but when they travel to Europe, they are selling out festivals. Many of my favorite artists (film and music) struggle to eke out a living applying their craft and barely keep their heads above water.

As an innovative person who has survived the ups and down of the creative world, what are your thoughts on people pursuing their creative dreams?

Whatever you’re doing artistically…be it music, filmmaking, painting, etc… stick with it. If it’s part of your soul and something you can’t stop doing, don’t stop doing it. If you get a chance, check out Sinners Holiday on Kickstarter.

-Kevin McGovern
Fear and Loathing in Long Beach Official Site
… if you’re in the Long Beach area, make sure to grab a copy of our latest issue at Third Eye Records, Rubber Tree, Durty Mick, Fingerprints, and Dead Rockers

…until next time

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

HONEYCHAIN: FUTURA


Honeychain breaks the sound and style barrier on their most recent release “FUTURA”. This infectious EP of punk soaked garage-pop has an enormous sound that shrouds the listener in a flurry of electric guitars, sexy vocals, and relentless rocking beats. Even more impressive is that band founder Hillary Burton wrote all of the songs and plays every instrument on this showcase of premium Los Angelian rock n roll. A razor edged prowess that constructs songs into anthems shines through these five tracks of love, regret, and clever observation. Life in the big city and its sometimes-seedy beaches takes on a new meaning when turned into sonic blasts, cunning jolts that riff the nuances of Southern California perfectly.

With the bite of The Pandoras and the class of The Primitives, opening track “The All-About Me Girl” grooves on a kickass chord progression that hits hard while igniting the senses with a crisp chorus that addresses that self-absorbed someone we all know, that gives us the brush. “Easy to Forget” follows with an indictment of the wannabe narcissist in our lives. If Susanna Hoffs sung for the Ramones, it might sound something like this. The pristine grittiness of the mid-tempo ballad “Two Fools” has a classic picked apart power-chord flow that lets the choruses come crashing in while the beach-drenched melody pours slowly but surely.


The smash hit off this short but sweet collection is the frenzied and seriously fun “Lucky One”. Fast and scattered guitar licks complement the intense songwriting. This tune will definitely turn some heads. Shamelessly catchy and relentless in its energy, you’ll have this one on repeat for quite some time. Closing out the idiosyncratic festivities is a Ronettes inspired number that surely knows how to make dynamics and mood swings co-exist. “Than You” is a perfect closer and contains my favorite lyrics penned by Hillary. She exclaims, “I'M YOUR BIG DISASTER - OF A HAPPILY EVER AFTER, I WISH THAT I COULD FLEE (ME)”. Now that is a train of thought I can always relate to and that’s what makes for the best rock n roll.

Honeychain became a full on band shortly after this recording. They are currently working on a new recording with the legendary Kim Shattuck (of Muffs fame) producing. If that wasn’t enough, they are also invading the International Pop Overthrow Festival in L.A. this summer. Very worth your while…

-Kevin McGovern

Honeychain

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Friday, June 27, 2014

EUREKA CALIFORNIA: CRUNCH



Eureka California
Crunch
HHBTM Records
reviewer - Evan AD


Athens, Georgia’s Eureka California have been active since 2007, with singer/songwriter Jake Ward remaining the only static member since their formation. On 2014’s Crunch (HHBTM Records), Ward bares his proclivity for higher knowledge once again, stating in the album’s opening track Edith (One Day You’ll Live In A Bunker) that “I’m a deep thinker, and I know who Descartes is.”

At times, Ward’s voice is reminiscent of that of Rhett Miller of Austin, Texas’ The Old 97’s: a pining, bourbon-drenched ode to someone or something lost long (but not too long) ago. On tracks like I Bet That You Like Julian Cope and Happy Again, Ward resembles a Teenage Hate era Jay Reatard: a snotty, vibrant display of corduroy angst. This comparison is eased by the overdriven, home-mixed touch that Ward has bestowed upon another quality recording, as he is also the band’s head studio man.

Rounding out the 1+1 equation is drummer Marie A. Uhler, who’s rhythmic tempos certainly help to magnify the band’s already prevalent Alt-Country-Polaris (the one off band from Pete & Pete, not the ATV company) sound. Uhler assists Ward in taking the listener to such locations in time as Berkeley ’89, London ’79, and Austin ’98 without ever making them leave the couch. The finishing track How Long Til The Medicine Takes echoes Roy Orbison, not so much in actual sound, but in chord structure, guitar tone, and the eerie, ethereal way Ward closes with a haunting reminder “It all seems normal until you sound it out”. – AD
8.2 / 10

FFO: Billy Bragg, early 90’s indie rock, The Old 97’s - Too Far To Care, ice cold lemonade on a porch swing in mid July
Standout Tracks: Sneaky Robby, Twin Cities, Happy Again


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Monday, June 16, 2014

SUSAN SURFTONE: RECKONING (INTERVIEW)



Embrace escapism, let the rain leak through the roof, and when everyone around you feels comfortably numb, make them move and shake like they have a life worth endangering. The swagger and punch of surf-guitar rock is essential. Essential in the process of experiencing the demands of pleasure that radiate throughout this planet… Susan Surftone returns to the fold with her latest record “Reckoning”, an attractive car crash of Link Wray, the Ventures, and The Raybeats.

“Mojo Junction” rumbles and slides into high gear with a slight homage to the classic “Pipeline” but twisted into a new surf anthem for a new millennium. Susan has a classic soloing style that brings to mind the raggedy lead playing of Dave Davies in his prime. “Circles” builds on the white heat, crashing and building with Johnny Thunders style dynamics allowing the sultry string bends to surf the raw tuneage.

The title track “Reckoning” displays a darker side of the wave spectrum, with a haunting melody that cruises the crisp night air in a wayward pining. A sparse and plodding heavy beat courtesy of Steve Kravac, gives this track a hypnotic psychedelic sound. Kravac’s drumming always compliments Surftone’s vision perfectly with a keen awareness to bold rock n roll structure. The follow up track “Secrets” is surf-party reckless fun with its flirtatious and bouncy go-go swing.

The track “Vortex ‘59” is a true standout among the recordings with its bright and menacing chord and solo combinations bringing to mind the best of the 80s garage-rock revisionist movement. Top-ten material in this reviewer’s universe, with its notably sharp and slick pop/rock collisions. The closing number “Mystery Train” provides just that, a saloon-blues infested one-way ride out of town, destination unknown…. Susan took some time to talk to me about her latest release in the following interview down below.


How does the new record differ from your past recordings?

“Reckoning” is probably a bit further away from what would be considered traditional surf music than I have gone yet. I think my three solo recordings have each moved progressively toward other influences. Also I’ve done my first slow original song on “Reckoning”.

Was there a different approach in the studio with the latest collection?

The new record was recorded at my producer, Steve Kravac’s, studio Hell’s Half Acre outside of LA. “Shore” and “Too Far” were recorded at Jackpot! in Portland. We used some different effects on “Reckoning” and one song has a twelve string on it.

Who is currently in the band and what are your tour plans?

Well, for recording it’s me and Steve Kravac. He plays drums and I play guitar, bass and keys. For tours there’s a line-up on the east coast and one on the west coast. West coast is Avory Gray (keys), Dan Ferguson (bass) Paul Barrell (drums) and East coast is Kim 13 (keys), Brian Goodman (drums). The bass slot is open right now. A documentary is in its initial stages right now so tour plans are dependent on when filming happens.

Do you think recordings or playing live benefit you more as a musician?

I think I’ve seen more growth as a musician from recording. I saw a big leap forward in my songwriting when I started to play bass on my recordings. It gave me a better understanding of how parts really fit together and enhance each other.

In the past two years since we last spoke, what changes have occurred in your life that had a profound effect on your outlook?

I broke my right hand last summer. I tripped and fell on a sidewalk while on the east coast in Hudson, NY. My first thought while lying on the sidewalk was “it’s over”. I have a chronic pain condition in my right hand as a result of a severed nerve and I didn’t know if my hand could recover from the break. The original songs on “Reckoning” were written shortly after the hand healed enough for me to play. As it turns out my ability to play is as it ever was. I learned sometime you have to get up and dust yourself off literally.

What inspired the intense cover art on your latest CD?

That photo was taken by me in a small park very close to where Avory and I live. We noticed the very strange red sky at night and thought it might make an interesting cover for the CD so we made several trips to the park to take photos. In some of them mist appeared. There is no photo shopping or anything like that. The cover is the actual photo. We didn’t see the mist until we got home and looked at the photos on my computer. We have no idea what that is but we do have other images with mist in them.

Have you witnessed the surf-garage scene growing bigger as you’ve toured and is there a new interest in the genre that you witness at your live shows?

I think there will always be a core audience for surf-garage but it does ebb and flow a bit. One thing I have noticed is more women are at the shows and are interested in surf-garage. I think that’s great although there is now occasionally a line in the ladies’ room.
-Kevin McGovern

SUSAN SURFTONE

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