Ruthann Friedman is best known for penning the 1960’s hit single “Windy” for the Association. She played an integral part in the folk and hippie movement of those turbulent times. She was crashing in David Crosby’s basement when she wrote the tune. Hanging out with the likes of Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, and Van Dyke Parks she was at ground zero of a musical explosion that would blur the lines between acoustic folk and psychedelic song structure. She released one lone album during the end of that decade, “Constant Companion”.
During the mid-2000s, much of her unreleased material from 1965-1971 began to receive reissue on various indie labels. She recently released her first new recording in 40 years “Chinatown”. “Chinatown” is essential listening. Her latest recording is a brooding and shadowy introspection that sophisticatedly blends intricate acoustic strumming with darker psychedelic melodies. She took some time and spoke about her past and recent return to the burgeoning folk revival.
What made you decide to record new music (Chinatown) after 40 years?
People wanted to hear it. I started playing out, writing new songs, and people like them. A friend of mine from San Jose, John Miller, heard the song “The End” and told me I needed to record it. I then went to San Jose and started recording. This process would become “Chinatown” which took a few years to do.
I started writing new songs about 7 years ago when I was called back. I received a call from Water Records and they told me that they were going to reissue the “Constant Companion” album from 1969. Shortly thereafter, I received a call to participate in a festival. I was playing only my old songs and they were not so relevant. Some of them are but not to me. I began writing songs that reflected how I feel now. The songs are much more complex and the lyrics more worried-over than they used to be. My songs used to be about how I wanted things to be and now, they are about how I really feel about things.
In the Long Beach area and across the globe there is a resurgence in the folk movement. How would you describe the essence of folk to someone just beginning to play in the folk scene?
It depends where you are. Folk music is the music of the people. It’s thematic and has some relevance to the culture that it’s in. A need to express just what the hell is going on… “Springhill Mining Disaster” on my new record is a good example I think. Folk is about community and one circle or group of people blending with another, like a Venn diagram. I came out of folk and now many things including folk, jazz, show tunes, literature, and country influence me.
Did you have any exposure to the Beat Generation in your teens?
My sister was ten years older than I was and she went to the University of Chicago. When she would come home on vacation, she would bring her Bohemian friends who brought banjos and guitars. This was pre-Beatnik and my first exposure to Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. Allen Ginsberg is brilliant. Reading “On the Road” in junior high was like… I don’t have to do this… I can get out of here! (laughs). It set me free in a way.
Do you feel that your idealism as the time conflicted with the radio success of “Windy”, which you had offered to the Association to record?
No. I was poor. I had no money. I was living because of the kindness of others. It happened and my reaction was to take off and form a rock n roll band.
Did artists like Janis Joplin or Jefferson Airplane influence you musically or chemically?
Chemically? (laughs), they had the best acid. I think we were all influenced by the same people and happened to be coming out at the same time when it all happened.
I just saw the 1971 cult classic movie Peace Killers, what do you think of the movie and how did you get involved with the soundtrack?
The worst movie ever (laughs)! I did the songs for the movie and my lawyer at the time got me involved in it. The Drag City label just released the songs on a white label 7” in fact. The movie is so bad it’s good.
What is the biggest misconception about the counter culture of the 1960s?
That we were any different from any other people… we did things differently but we were just people. There were different rules and we broke the rules. We took LSD and saw that societal rules were things that were imposed upon us by whatever society we were in. Different cultures have different sets of rules and why were ours right and theirs wrong? We smoked marijuana and realized that this isn’t the devil’s weed. This is one thing they’ve lied to us about, now what else have they been lying about?
I lived in Big Sur for a year and we had squatted a cabin. It was a very primitive situation. All the stuff I saw going on around me…it was still people cheating on wives and girlfriends just like suburbia. It was a suburban existence but with flowers, no underwear, and hairy legs. The ideas at that time are what were important. We changed the world but we didn’t change people. People will always have the same desires, needs, and wants. They did then and they do now, just like all throughout history. Only the rules change.
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Friday, September 26, 2014
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Wednesday, September 24, 2014
The spaces in between have a duplicity, they can surge momentum or deliver dream crushing confusion. When people talk about doing something new, changing their lives, or even their wardrobe, a sickening doubt always hangs in the air. Is it worth risking everything you’ve ever known and distrusted to give into the lustful motion of endless nights of pleasure and complete intoxication of all senses? Music has a way of guiding waves into the unknown through haunting melody, self-reflecting rhythms, and the masochistic strumming of road weary chords.
I used to think nostalgia was deadly. It can sting if you don’t bring the ghost into the present to see what captured your intellect and sex drive in the first place. Sometimes looking into the looking glass reveals the disappointing over exaggerations of our imagination or an opportunity to resume unfinished business. Stay in the sludge of complacency or drift and drift into the night with an insatiable appetite for unsolicited purity. The kind of pure that purrs with bite marks and bruises to remind you of how not invisible you really are.
Within the collection known as “Up at Lagrange” by Hobbes Fanclub, the reverberations of these feelings are breathing in distorted waves. Twisting and turning with seductive reverb and lucid solos that scream with Velvet Underground balladry, the empty spaces pop and spark with sugar coated heaviness that relies on nuance and power equally. This sequencing of airy vocals, sweet scattered guitars, and a pulsing bottom section grinds the shoegaze genre with a flirtatious bite of early 80s post-punk. A silver-tongued cocktail brimming with enough emotional turmoil and indifference to keep you awake all night but never promises you the memory of what you’re about to experience.
A dreamlike tornado of “Pleased to Meet Me” Replacements twists into a decadent pose with Galaxie 500 and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Tracks such as “Into the Night” and “Outside Myself” highlight what this band is capable of while providing an album that’s in perfect balance with itself. Standout tracks include the hypnotic “Stay Gold” and the feverish “Up at Lagrange”. This is definitely a band I will keep an eye on and one that keeps it hot coolness with each repeated listen.
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Thursday, September 18, 2014
Something was missing in my quest for refined seediness and uncensored relationships. I was chasing an illusion, the famous one that leads struggling creative types to hang themselves from the Hollywood sign. I wasn’t comfortable with the suicide thing because I have so many places and people to meet, but not in Long Beach or Los Angeles. Empty relationships are considered business or networking possibilities. All the while, you’re slowly losing your mind while trying to follow the lead of overachievers, workaholics, irritating alpha males, and poor little rich girls. I couldn’t take the loneliness of it all. What fucking happened to me? Where did I go? Why am I still here? I realized I didn’t have much in common with these people or many other people in the various cities I had lived in.
I had been in and out of a sick and twisted marriage for five years or so. This so-called relationship was so excruciatingly nauseating that dry heaving felt like breathing to me. I was trying to align my visions of rock n roll suicide with a world of heavy money, fast cars, false egos, and deadly doses of OCD. At the end of the day, my only accomplishments were primarily auspicious beginnings. But that’s just the thing, you know? Aspiring this and aspiring that, potential and possibility, pieces of an unreality that embraces you with betrayal and psychic vampires.
My psyche was maxed out, my libido was in limbo, and my passion was rotting away. I packed my clothes, records, laptop, and a two guitars into my small two-door cruiser. It was time to travel into the unknown; the direction of North would be the starting point. Goodbye California and goodbye yellow brick road. Goodbye to the good times I wouldn’t let go of and the bad times I used for repetitive stagnation. Goodbye to the dreams of living in a Bret Easton Ellis novel and goodbye to the imaginary city that should’ve been overcrowded with punk rockers worshipping at the altar of the Masque.
It all made sense as I finally crossed the California state line to depart into the future. Those ambitions and goals were based upon someone else’s scene, someone else’s memory, and someone else’s retelling of history. I have my own history, my own memories, and my own scene. My own scene is whatever I want it to be, and it exists when it’s supposed to. I’m a slacker, a writer, a musician, sometimes-scumbag, and I have some of the coolest friends in the world. You can react to reality or create your own. I am now in it. I hope this makes some kind of sense to someone out there.
On a side note, I think I have to change the name of the blog and zine...I really really should...catch you guys the next time around.
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Tuesday, August 12, 2014
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.
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Sunday, August 3, 2014
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.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014
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.
CHERRY RED RECORDS
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