Don’t count on kiddie tunes from the pop pianist anytime soon.
Talking to Ben Folds two weeks ago was a career highlight for me, as I’ve long been a fan of both his original work and the very funny, imaginative and expletive-laden cover songs he’s recorded. Going into the interview, I wanted to focus on his most recent songwriting and how he felt about the 10th anniversary of “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” but Brian Winkeler at Robot House Creative here in OKC suggested another question that prompted some insight from the world-famous songwriter.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough room in my story to include Folds’ answer — slim to none — so a blog post will have to suffice. Here goes:
OKS: I spoke recently with John Linnell of They Might Be Giants, and he remarked on very young fans latching on to their music from their work on the children’s albums. I’m wondering if you’ve noticed younger fans getting into your music from the “Over the Hedge” soundtrack and if working with that potentially whetted your interest in writing songs for kids.
Folds: I don’t think songs have to be written for kids in order to be understood and consumed by kids. So, just a straight-up kids album, I’m not sure about that one. I don’t know how I feel about that. Because you see kids like 4, 5 years old listening to The Beatles. And it can be on the level that’s like, God, “Yellow Submarine.” I don’t know if you have to write it for kids.
To me, They Might Be Giants’ music is very brilliant. But their kid record, meh. I got that ’cause I had kids at the time and then I thought, “God, I don’t want them listening to this crap.” I played them Elliott Smith instead; they liked that. I think They Might Be Giants — Linnell especially — is just absolutely brilliant, so I don’t mean any disrespect. I just think that maybe that’s not the best purpose is to write to kids directly.
Well, there you have it. Folds plays the Civic Center with the OKC Philharmonic tomorrow night at 8 p.m., but you can also catch him tonight as he'll be giving a Mastersclass for ACM@UCO at Exhibit Hall D, Cox Convention Center, 1 Myriad Gardens at 7 p.m. It's free and open to the public.
Watch eight beautiful, grainy videos of Girls’ Christopher Owens at an SF gallery.
Stereogum pointed out late Tuesday that a bunch of videos of mushy-gushy bedroom songwriter Christopher Owens of Girls performing songs both released and unheard showed up on the openingceremony.us blog this weekend.
“I wrote this song a coupla days ago, hadn’t played it for anybody yet,” he said before dedicating “Key to My Heart” to his girlfriend. The song (and several others here) didn’t appear on last year’s “Broken Dreams Club” EP, nor on this year’s fantastic “Father, Son, Holy Ghost,” suggesting he’s probably got a wealth of scribbled-in notebooks full of lyrics stashed away somewhere.
The filters on the video (it’s almost exclusively black-and-white, except for “Cold Again,” with splices of sepia color), Owens’ jean jacket and the folkie setup make these performances seem really timeless. Watch for yourself:
Worry not, for OKSee was there taking notes for you.
The quick hits: ACM@UCO head honcho Scott Booker tossed open-ended questions Folds’ way for about an hour, which he spent detailing his start and several of the early business decisions he made. About 500+ sat in rapt attention, cheering and occasionally even gently heckling the two men on stage. Wayne Coyne sat front row, which Folds acknowledged during the interview.
Booker ended his bit, opening the floor to questions from the audience. The line formed long quickly, and OKSee took off for the Ra Ra Riot show a few questions in. However, it was more than enough time to hear some great, enlightening banter from Booker and Folds, particularly the nature and function of the artist within the modern music business. Also, he made a buncha funnies.
I’ve gone through my notes and assembled a highlight reel of sound bites that are below. Enjoy.
On growing up singing in the South, where the stereotype that musically minded boys were all homosexuals:
“My father said I had a terrible voice.”
On breaking his hand while defending his roommate from bullies at the University of Miami, and subsequently flunking a test and losing his music scholarship:
“I threw my drums in the lake.”
On his experience working on a music publishing deal in Nashville:
“I enjoyed it, sort of. I didn’t get any royalty money for three or four years because of the bad contract. ... Ben Folds Five happened because I got so scared of the Nashville thing.”
On the transfer from working on a Nashville hit-making assembly line to his own solo project:
“Suddenly I realized all the things that were getting me rejected were suddenly valued. ... Then I heard Liz Phair’s ‘Exile in Guyville’ ... and that set me off. I knew about The Replacements, but I didn’t really know about indie stuff.”
On the piano he lugged around during those earlier BF5 years:
“I borrowed a lot of money to pay for that first piano. It was in constant danger of getting repossessed.”
On the business end:
“We got a business manager who explained we needed to borrow money to pay taxes.”
On 550 Music’s (a division of Sony Music Entertainment) promotion of the single “Brick”:
“They treated ‘Brick’ like ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’: Release two rockers, then a power ballad. And it worked.”
On signing to a major label:
“It was a relief. It meant I didn’t have to move my piano anymore.”
On working as a producer:
“I like being the producer when I’m brining to life something that wouldn’t be music otherwise. The Nick Hornby collaboration, for instance.”
On certain of his works being considered “novelty” or a joke:
“My biggest frustration is the words ‘novelty song.’ I don’t know what that means.”
On Elliott Smith, with whom he toured (and whom Booker briefly managed):
“He’s such a great songwriter technically. He was trying to write Beatles songs, and people heard him for what he was, which was desperate.”
Odds and ends:
“I was writing waltzes about Howard Cosell and stuff.”
“We got a tour manager who’d worked for Slayer.”
“We spent money on a producer; we liked his name, Stiff Johnson.”
“After ‘Brick,’ I started pulling favors. Like, ‘OK, I want to make a spoken-word record with William Shatner.’”
“Rivers [Cuomo, of Weezer] was off on an island somewhere, laying in the sun. I think that’s where he got the song.”
“[‘Weird Al’ Yankovic] is the most not-weird man I’ve ever met.”
The indie-lit popsters’ singer talks songwriting, Wye Oak and pent-up aggression.
In case it isn’t clear from Future Islands singer Sam Herring’s unabashedly outward and dramatic performances, he recently underlined the fact that his band is all about applying their art-school convictions to infectious music over the phone.
“We’re a synth-pop band,” he said. “And yet we’re trying to add our own voice to the conversation. What do we as artists have to put into this?”
While there’s nothing in contemporary pop music that can claim similarity to Herring’s guttural, direct register, Gerrit Welmer’s keyboard melodies float high and clear above the guitars and drum machine sounds, just the way you’d expect from a great New Wave band that pours emotive, literary lyrics over pulsing, Joy Division rhythms (see “Vireo’s Eye”).
They’re playing at Opolis tonight, but OKSee caught up with Herring last week to discuss fellow Baltimoreans Wye Oak, songwriting and just why they sound so aggressive.
OKS: Where are you guys on the road right now?
Herring: We’re just leaving Pittsburgh right now on our way to Cleveland. It’s a short drive, so we got an amazing breakfast and we just actually got out of the Warhol Museum.
OKS: Tell me about the music scene in Baltimore right now, because it seems to be teeming with experimentation in a whole lot of different styles, not just one or two. There are guys like you, Wye Oak and band I happened across a couple of months ago called Small Sur that are all just wonderful and fearless and different.
Herring: One of the things that’s beautiful about the scene there is the variation in the music people are making. In our group of friends, it’s not like people are making music that’s comparable to us necessarily. The thing that unifies everybody the most is the want to play and support each other, to see what others are doing, and to get inspired off of that. We’ve been told that by a lot of musicians and friends.
That’s the beauty of the community. There’s a lot of genuine curiosity. In some scenes they’re known for a certain sound, but in Baltimore ... if you look at the band’s coming out of there, it’s all very different and I think what runs common through them is their hard work.
I don’t know if it’s because it’s a small enough city that there’s a collective consciousness-type thing — like in New York where you’ve got 10 bands doing this sound, 10 bands doing that sound, and 10 bands doing another sound — maybe there is a bit of that art-school mentality where people are adding to the conversation instead of canning things. It’s a healthy competition. Everybody’s very supportive. It makes us a stronger scene.
OKS: I saw Jenn Wasner from Wye Oak contributed vocals to your album. She’s played here in the OKC area like three times in the last five or six months, and I still wish I could see them more. Herring: They’re amazing. They play real hard.
OKS: Agreed. What’d she bring to “The Great Fire” that you can’t hear on the track?
Herring: The song was written and then, after playing it live a few times, we decided that it might be nice to bring in a female vocal as a new dynamic. I got the guys’ blessing to ask Jenn if she was up for it. She was really excited.
I sent her the song and said, “I want you to sing the second verse and then follow me on the choruses. Do you want to rewrite the second verse? What works for you?” and she said, “No, I like the verse, I like the words.” It was her idea to intertwine the vocals so it’d sound like they were shadowing each other, which I think was beautiful. She brings a softer side to what I think people imagine we’re like. I toned down my vocals to let her be the strong character.
She lifted that song with her vocals. We went into the studio, she sang it a couple times and I asked if she could do a sonic scale at the end and she just blew it away. I think she did five or six takes and me and Chester, our producer, were sitting in the other room just jumping up and down, high-fiving each other like “This is gonna be awesome!”
Now I kinda sing the lines the way she sings them, ’cause I like the way she does it better. It was a lot of fun.
OKS: It doesn’t sound too much to me like you guys write lyrics while strumming a guitar or playing a piano. Walk me through your process.
Herring: Some songs come along easier than others. Right now, we’re working on a new song and I’m workshopping it and playing with melodies, but that’s only one out of three songs where I take a couple days on it to try to figure out what I’m trying to say.
Oftentimes, it is pretty much just us sitting in a room, with Gerrit playing keyboard or piano or organ, and William plucking a bass, with me just sitting back and seeing if anything happens, seeing what words pop up. Sometimes Gerrit will come up with a really strong song structure and then William and I will work on our respective parts to go with it.
I enjoy writing like that because I feel like it’s a really solid process. It’s however they pop up, and they yield different results. I think it’s good to have variations in writing styles and seeing what happens.
Usually, I’ll feel out the music for myself, see where it takes me and freely write fine melodies that speak to me. And like I said, sometimes they come really easy — I’m like, “How did I write that?” — and then there’s other songs where I’m like, “I know exactly how I wrote that: I fought over those two lines for days and days and days trying to decide if it was bullshit or not. Or if it was worth it, or if I was taking a chance, or if I was taking too much of a chance, those kinds of things.”
You have to be a critic as well as an artist. You have to trust it when you’re right on point, questioning if you’re doing something new, or if you’re using a cliché for yourself or against yourself. I think there’s a lot to be said for talking about clichés. I love to flip a cliché. Like, “I’m going to make this mine.”
OKS: All these songs on “In Evening Air” sound really tense in that all the aggression and drama seems subterranean. It’s not always easily evident, and it’s not angry either. Why is that?
Herring: In telling a good story and allowing a buildup of tension, then breaking that ... the punk aesthetic’s a big part of us, from way back. We’ve always made music with whatever means were possible, and we’ve done it hard, done it sweaty and done it dirty.
There is that force, but I’d chalk it up to building tension within a song, because it’s gripping. I really want to grab people onstage. Not physically, but I want the performance to be gripping and to affect. We want to move people physically and emotionally. If we can get one of those it’s great, and if we can get both, it’s amazing. Having that catharsis is the goal.
“Long Flight” is the perfect example of that, where it’s just kinda smooth, there’s this repetition, then the second verse which is a little bit heavier, some repetition, then the third verse and the last chorus just breaks everything — it’s all out. While it builds to this climax of force and anger, we’re also letting go of it all. That’s what it’s like in writing — especially for me — writing a song so you can understand certain aspects of myself, so I can put it out, I can perform that song and build to that release.
Or I don’t know, maybe Gerrit and William have a lot of rage inside of them that I don’t know about.
Future Islands play Opolis Friday, supported by fellow Baltimoreites Ed Schrader’s Music Beat and Mike and Mike. Their third full-length album, "In Evening Air," is out now.
Watch meek-voiced Idahoan Trevor Powers (aka Youth Lagoon) give a powerful in-studio performance.
Pitchfork’s often criticized for its enormous sway on consumers, which — from time to time, whether intentionally or without intention — it wields to blow bands up (see: Broken Social Scene) or completely and viciously implode them.
Having nabbed Pitchfork’s “Best New Music” accolade on its recent debut, “The Year of Hibernation,” barely legal Youth Lagoon most definitely qualifies as the latter, and deservedly so. Watch this beautifully lit video for the song “July,” where Powers draws you in with his airy mumbles and plinky piano playing before ratcheting up the drama into a kick-drum-powered funeral march.
I’ve been listening to this guy’s album for a few weeks now and can verify that several songs on it go from frail to triumphant in mere, wonderful moments. “Posters” and “Afternoon” both get capped by welcome dance beats, the production all fuzzed out and swirling around them. It’s a great record about growing up, and I’m excited to say I’ll be seeing him in Denton, Texas, next week. Watch “July” over at Pitchfork.
A tame Johnny Depp and disheveled script leave ‘The Rum Diary’ with a nasty hangover.
Drama Matt Carney
Written by Hunter S. Thompson at 24, but unpublished until his early
60s, “The Rum Diary” was a fictionalized account of his besotted time in
Puerto Rico, what in reality was a nine-month stint between gigs as a
New York City journalist.
Turning Japanese? Do you really think so? Then head over to ACM@UCO tonight for Boris!
Boris — whose repertoire includes everything from heavy metal to pop to art punk — may hail from Tokyo, but its roaring sound is rarely lost in translation. The Japanese trio has been churning out solid tunes for nearly 20 years, at first through their own label (the hilariously named Fangs Anal Satan) and more recently on stoner-metal label Southern Lord.
The band made its first big splash stateside with the release of 2005’s critically acclaimed “Pink” and carried that momentum forward with four studio albums from 2006 to 2008 and an eruption of new material in 2011 that made its way onto three full records: “New Album,” “Heavy Rocks” and “Attention Please.”
Boris has steadily toured the U.S. for well over a decade — including a major gig supporting Nine Inch Nails in 2008 — and it’s right in the midst of its latest run of dates, which included an appearance at Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin on Sunday.
The band makes a stop tonight at the ACM@UCO Performance Lab, 329 E. Sheridan, the site of the former Green Door. Through an interpreter, drummer Atsuo took the time to talk about being workaholics, mixtapes and Boris’ label as a Japanese heavy-metal act.
OKS: You guys have been playing together for almost 20 years now. How have you evolved and improved the most over that time?
Atsuo: We've just been learning who we are and how big we are in terms of what our capacity is. Who you are and who you think you are. We've learned a lot, but at the end, we just realize who we are.
OKS: You released three studio albums this year. What led you guys to wanting to cram that much new music into a single year rather than spreading it out?
Atsuo: We are just being total workaholics. After tours, we always just want to get back to the studio and start recording. We had a tour before this big American tour, and we've already made 20 songs between them. It's just how we roll.
OKS: What about each of these albums are you most proud of? What do you think you did best on each one?
Atsuo: There was an unreleased album, in our minds, that was meant for 2009. That album led to the two albums — "Attention Please" and "Heavy Rocks" — and "New Album" was a sort of combination of those two. We wanted the audience to hear between the lines or albums or songs the different arrangements. If the audience can enjoy the difference and decide what they like better and ask questions about that to themselves, that was our goal.
Music doesn't have answers. The industry has always been trying to give answers, like we are trying to do this or trying to do that. Listening to bootlegs and mixtapes or different sources of the same song, the definition of the song expands between the takes. Everybody should open their mind to realize that sometimes there is no answer and the searching itself is the fun thing, not knowing the answer. That's what we were trying to express through those albums.
OKS: You are probably best known for your heavier, metal stuff, but you play a lot of different of styles of music. What keeps you from committing to any one genre and what makes you want to explore those different sounds?
Atsuo: To us, the genre, the word itself, it's whatever. We don't care. It's just a word. Every time we come to America, we are described as a Japanese heavy-metal band, and we're like, “We don't care.” It's whatever they want to call us. Putting someone into a genre is the easiest thing you can do.
OKS: How are the crowds in Japan and the U.S. different?
Atuso: We strongly feel that American culture is nothing like what we have in Japan. There are not that much support systems to do touring there, and the venues are just completely different. It's a club where you go listen to the music, but no one hangs out or drinks or socialize in the club at all. That difference is making touring in America much better.
OKS: What sort of plans do you have for the near future in terms of new music?
Atuso: We're confused with how the industry is taking us. These days, people think music is free. Maybe that has to change or there's no more physical records or anything like that. We'll just have to see.
Watch seven and a half gorgeous minutes of Sigur Rós’ soon-to-screen concert film, ‘Inni.’
If this black-and-white beauty is any indication of the artistry of Vincent Morisset’s upcoming concert documentary about Iceland’s best-known post-rock band, Sigur Rós, then I may just sell everything I own and buy a one-way plane ticket to Reykjavík after finally seeing this thing.
The song is “Festival” from the album “Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust.” The film, “Inni,” shows tomorrow at Oklahoma City Museum of Art, 415 Couch, and focuses exclusively on the band’s performance, according to Morisset’s website. Watch:
For more about Morisset, who
identifies himself as a "web-friendly director," watch this interview
with him in Barcelona from earlier this year.
Hometown hops abound for every part of your Thanksgiving festivities.
Food and Drink Features Matt Carney
All my extended family lives out of state, so we usually meet at my
grandparents’ house in Missouri for the holidays. So close to Kansas
City, Mo., Boulevard brews are aplenty, as are St. Louis’s Schlafly
(they have a September- October-only pumpkin ale that literally tastes
like you’re drinking a spiced pumpkin pie still glowing from the oven),
but this year I’ll bring a handful of my favorite Okie beers to share
with the cousins, aunts and uncles.