Gobble, gobble, NoiseTraders. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and survived (or had fun conscientiously objecting against) any and all Black Wednesday/Thursday/Friday festivities. Here’s to one last hurrah of autumnal, November-esque recommendations before the big poinsettia-packed plunge into my Christmas-themed picks. Okay, due to the timing, there is ONE holiday-fueled release in this week’s batch, but I still tried to give November its due. Alrighty, get into all the things!
We always like to preface our New Faces Nites with a swanky mixtape of the artists that will be performing at that week’s event. With our next New Faces Nite planned for this upcoming Tuesday (Dec. 2) at The Basement East in Nashville, TN, we’ve got a couple of extra reasons that make this mixtape worth picking up by everyone. First, while not exactly a “new face” by any stretch, the one and only (and NoiseTrade favorite) Jars of Clay will be headlining the December 2 event and they’re offering up an extra special track for the mixtape: their cover of John Denver’s “Christmas for Cowboys” (originally appearing on 2004’s Maybe This Christmas Tree compilation). Second, the rest of the mixtape’s entries are Christmas songs, which is always a nice introduction to a new artist. Five out of five stars (of both wonder and night) for this one!
You guys… Rhinos Are People Too is genuinely one of the most exciting bands we’ve ever had the honor of featuring on our site. The band describes their sound as “circling the roundabout where shoegaze, noise pop, and indie meet” and they characterize EP as “the auditive equivalent of a slap in the face.” Accusations of hyperbole aside, the band actually delivers in spades on both counts. From the explosive build-and-release of album opener “Abaddon” to the closing wash of “Pelkuri,” Rhinos Are People Too pack an insane level of passion and inventiveness into each reverb-drenched vocal melody, razor-wire guitar line, and thudding percussive assault. So far, my favorite moment on the all-too-short release comes in the crushing chorus of “Darkest Blue” and its ethereal male-female vocal punch. Seriously, give this one a spin, folks.
Yes, I reviewed this EP for one of my Weekend Wrap-Ups last fall. Yes, this EP is so ridiculously good that it deserves a second trotting out for those who may have missed it the first time. Yes, I might quote myself a little this time around. Cold November is an invitingly offbeat 4-song EP from singer-songwriter Shannon Stephens that wonderfully weaves acoustic blues, indie-folk flourishes, and a confidently cool vocal delivery together into a warm sonic blanket that is “primed and ready to soundtrack your fall.”
Jeff Casselman is a Canadian poet from Montreal, Quebec and Waking November is an enchanting collection of his short stories. Casselman was originally inspired to become a writer after reading Stephen King’s Night Shift, itself the first compilation of short stories from the famous author. Casselman admits to being “fascinated at the realism created in [King’s] characters” and ends up excelling at delivering the same quality of character development in his own poetry and storytelling.
When writer Will Hodge (@will_hodge) isn’t finding it hard to hold a candle in the cold November rain, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Happy (early) Thanksgiving, NoiseTraders! I’m keeping things short and sweet this holiday weekend but just know that a lot of love went into my Thanksgiving-themed picks for your eyes and ears. Consider this three-course musical meal and post-nap reading material to be your pre-Christmas present from yours truly, because starting next week, winter (music) is coming. Oh yes, a seasonal sonic tidal wave is swelling just over the horizon, but first… Thanksgiving-themed goodies await you in this weekend’s recommendations. Alrighty, get into all the things!
Pop-punk duo The Dollyrots released their super fun, amped-up cover of Little Eva’s 1963 classic “Let’s Turkey Trot” during the holiday season last year and it’s so nice to have at least one more entry on the far-to-few-Thanksgiving-songs playlist. The playful energy that Kelly Ogden and Luis Cabezas bring to the ‘60s novelty hit both shine a light on its silliness and highlight what makes the song perfect for a pop-punk refashioning. Crank this one up while you tackle all of your Thanksgiving prep and you’ll make short order of stuffing the turkey, peeling the potatoes, refinishing the bar stools, redoing all of the flooring throughout the house, or whatever else it is you do to get ready for the festivities.
Although sweet potatoes wouldn’t be my first choice as the prime Thanksgiving accompaniment (c’mon, mashed potatoes, forever and always), jazz pianist Rick Gallagher’s “Sweet Potato Eyebrows” perfectly hits the sonic side dish spot in this musical meal. Upbeat, whimsical, and finger-snappingly jazzy, Gallagher’s Guaraldi-esque instrumental could easily pass as an outtake from the A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving score. In fact, try subbing it in over the Snoopy-and-Woodstock “Little Birdie” section and see if it doesn’t enhance the experience just a little bit. If you dig Gallagher’s jazz trio sound, he’s got quite a few other releases on our site (including a couple Christmas ones) to check out as well.
What’s Thanksgiving dinner without a little (overindulgence on) dessert? The Castros are an indie-folk duo that mix a variety of genres together to create their own brand of Latin-flavored, acoustic- based pop songs. “Pumpkin Pie” is a plucky little ode to unrequited (or is it?) love and it cleverly uses the oh-so-delicious nature of the winter-squash-meets-Cool-Whip confection as a metaphor for desire and longing. Or maybe they just like pumpkin pie. “Pumpkin Pie” can be found on last year’s My Dear, a totally fall-friendly EP (of which two more tracks are currently available on our site as well).
I first encountered the work of John Vorhaus via his truthfully-titled A Million Random Words book. Vorhaus has a wonderfully unique writing style and his comedic wit and love for clever wordplay guarantees an entertaining read each time you peruse his prose. I get a strong Tom Robbins vibe from Vorhaus and much of what I loved about the former’s Still Life with Woodpecker can be found in the latter’s The Albuquerque Turkey. Readers will enjoy the hilarious twists and turns of con-man-turned-straight-man-turned-con-man Radar Hoverlander and his Vegas-backdropped schemes and shenanigans.
Have you ever been moved by the use of a certain song during a television show, movie, or commercial and wondered how it got there? In our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One, we’re looking to shine a little light on that process by talking with Katie Jelen of Secret Road Music Services. In our chat, Jelen explains what a company like Secret Road does for artists, how music placement actually works, and what some of her favorite placements have been over the last few years.
Welcome to the weekend, NoiseTraders! Halloween is beyond officially over (no matter what the front yard of Mr. Can’t-find-the-time-to-remove-the-inflatables says) and November is trucking right along. Chicago is looking (and feeling) especially lovely this week and I hope the autumnal winds are blowing your way as well. I hope this week’s batch of recommendations includes a song or two that will really help augment this time of year. If not, well, there’s always next week. Alrighty, get into all the things!
From solo bedroom recording beginnings to its current indie rock trio iteration, Night Windows blends a disenchanted lyrical outlook with an enchanting instrumental approach. In the trio format, Ben Hughes, Ryan Buzby, and Tad Lecuyer play with equal respect to both what each other is doing and also to the spaces between their respective parts. As a fan of Pedro the Lion/Dave Bazan, I sense a kindred musical spirit in the four songs on the band’s current release Not Listening. I could tell you to start your sampling with “Not Listening”, but it’s seriously worthwhile to just dig into the whole thing.
In the market for some dreamy alt-pop that’s heavy on ‘60s-drenched melodies and ‘70s-inspired lyrical charm? If so, Captain Wilberforce has got you covered in spades. Following up last year’s Distance EP, The Late Captain Wilberforce EP picks right up with another batch of new wave guitar work, quirky vocal harmonies, and a welcoming wave of sonic charm. For my two cents, “The King of Indecision” feels like it might have the most immediate draw, but the new acoustic version of “Colour Me In” sounds like the best song Nick Lowe never got around to writing.
While I was first introduced to Katrina Stone’s voice when she sang with the jazz-folk duo The Likes of Us, her solo releases are just as unique and infectious. Never Wanna Grow Up is her most recent solo album and its 10 tracks are overflowing with pop hooks, singalong choruses, and feel-good beats. There’s an undeniable confidence running through the songwriting on Never Wanna Grow Up and Stone’s vocal delivery perfectly matches the sonic swagger.
As a child, author Catherine M. Wilson always wanted a book that placed a young woman at the center of the quests and myths she loved to read. After decades of not finding what she was looking for, Wilson decided to take matters into her own hands. The Warrior’s Path is the first book in the When Women Were Warriors trilogy and it includes all the missing elements from Wilson’s years of studying myth, legend, fairy tale, and folklore.
When writer Will Hodge (@will_hodge) isn’t wondering if, after all these years, you’d like to meet to go over everything, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts, and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack
Greetings, NoiseTraders! Happy weekend to you and yours. As I flipped the page on my trusty Norman Rockwell calendar this week, I was delighted (and kind of shocked) to realize we’ve hit November already! So while yuletide shenanigans are just around the corner, may I offer the recommendation to give November its due. There’s lots of fall fun, Thanksgiving, and sportsball to be had in the next few weeks, so let’s just pump the brakes on the Christmas music there, shall we? I’m looking at you, crazy office lady. To help the situation, I’ve got a few recommendations here to tide you over before we go full-bore on the Bing-a-thon. Alrighty, get into all the things!
Broken Gold is a melodic alt-rock quartet that blends the best of 80s college rock and 90s alternative angst, all loosely stitched together with a jagged thread of modern-day punk. In short, it’s beautifully raw and honest songs played with unabashed punk rock bravado. Plus, half of the band’s DNA is made up of party punk band Riverboat Gamblers (frontman Ian MacDougall and bassist Rob Marchant), so you know it’s going to be full of in-your-face fun. Featured on this sampler is “Turning Blue”, the lead single from their new EP of the same name (out November 20 on Chicken Ranch Records).
If you’re a fan of two great tastes that tastes great together, then you owe it to yourself to check out Gospel Lee’s remix of Jordan Taylor’s “Modern Day Moses” single. I’ve raved about both rappers on here for a few of their own releases, but this is the first time they’ve combined their talents on the same track. Lee’s new verses mixed around Taylor’s hook provides a really nice contrast of voices and flow, and the beat underneath stealthily propels the song without clashing against the vocals. All in all, I totally dig this track and I sincerely hope the two collaborate on more music down the line.
Nashville’s own The New Schematics create an alt-pop melodic ruckus that places them somewhere between The Killers and the radio-friendly side of Ryan Adams with an extra splash of twang thrown in for sonic spice. They show a nice range of diverse musical moods on their 5-song self-titled EP, with the aggressive “Midnight” and the slow-burn “Born without Borders” rising to the top of the pack. Keep your eyes (and ears) out for these guys as this debut release already has many of the markings of a seasoned classic.
Described as “Shakespeare meets Freddy Krueger,” A Midsummer Night’s Mare from Andrew Michael Schwarz is a wonderful mix of high-brow and low-brow storytelling elements that are integrated so seamlessly that the lines between them are furiously blurred in the name of pure entertainment. This installment is Book One in the series and it follows the, shall we say, “adventures” of Poppycock, a serial killer who “commits his foul deeds on a race that no longer believes.”
Happy Halloween, NoiseTraders! May your trick-or-treat bags be rock-less and your Halloween TV specials be free of weird World War I flying ace montages. I’ve taken special care to craft this seasonal-spiced edition of my Weekend Wrap-Up in hopes that I might add a little sonic zest to your All Hallows brouhaha. With music and book recommendations dealing with ghosts, witches, and the very holiday itself, consider these picks as a bag-filling bounty of Halloween (or Fast Festival) candy for your ears and eyes. Alrighty, get into all the things!
Noah Gundersen released his achingly inviting Carry the Ghost album this past August and if you haven’t found your perfect fall soundtrack yet, this is the one for which you’ve been waiting. Ahead of the album’s release, Gundersen offered up the 6-track Carry the Ghost Primer here on NoiseTrade and if you missed out the first time around, it’s still available. The sampler starts off with two brand new tracks from Carry the Ghost: the pleading piano ballad “Slow Dancer” and the heartland burn of “Jealous Love.” The rest of the release features four songs from Gundersen’s equally intimate Twenty-Something EP. Of that gorgeous batch, “Bag of Glass” and “Heartbreaker” seriously cant’ be beat.
Like Gundersen, Nashville’s hypnotic psych-rockers All Them Witches are celebrating a new album with an exclusive NoiseTrade release featuring two new songs and an earlier catalog album. Their new album Dying Surfer Meets His Maker has an October 30 release date and the two songs featured here – “Dirt Preachers” and “Open Passageways” – are both thump-and-warble stunners. Also included here is their 8-song Lightning at the Door album from 2014 that Brooklyn Vegan described as “a heady brew of swirling tones and heavy blue-eyed blues rock.” These 10 tracks will give you a really wonderful taste of the heavy, psychedelic sounds created when All Them Witches get going.
There’s been a staggering amount of good music that’s resulted from the combination of Danny Elfman’s music in Tim Burton’s films and “This is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas is unquestionably one of the higher highlights. This is Halloween is a remix EP from J Crutch that features four techno-industrial takes on the cinematic-themed classic and each variation focuses on different elements of the song’s whimsical genius. Plus, they’re all instrumentals, so instant Halloween karaoke party!
James Zahn’s Death Walks the Streets is a graphic novel – emphasis on the word “graphic” – that tracks characters Michael, Malcolm, and Danielle as they traverse a slightly, nay extremely, violent Halloween night in the town of New Marshall. Ain’t It Cool News praised Death Walks the Streets by saying “there’s something beneath the surface and just off in the periphery that oozes evil” and The Pull Box warns to “leave your horror story stereotypes at the comic book shop door.” If creepy comics are your thing, this one’s for you!
Hey gang, nice to see you all again. Hope your weekend is already running strong and if not, well, I’m here to try and help. I’ve got some hymns for your heart, some hip-hop for your body, some quasi-vintage soul for your ears, and a hard-to-pin-down book to mess with your mind. I’ve actually been on the road away from home all week. So if anyone needs me, I’ll be over herezzzz…. Alrighty, get into all the things!
Sometimes a feature comes along on our site that just genuinely blows you away. Sandra McCracken’s Psalms album has been in nearly constant rotation for me since its release this past April and the singer-songwriter-hymnist is currently offering the uncommonly enriching album in its entirety for a 30-day period. As if that were not enough to be sufficiently stoked about, McCracken has also included nine additional (and equally compelling) songs for this special bonus edition. Additionally, any and all tip proceeds will go to A Rocha, a faith-based environmental organization. Win-win-win all around!
While I wasn’t familiar with MC Yogi prior to this release, I have really enjoyed this 2-track mixtape of ingenious samples, playful verses, and sound collages. Yogi Rising Mixtape is broken up into two volumes and I guarantee you’ll hear at least one or two familiar samples or lines that will help to ease you into the rest of the project. The mixing and scratching of Sol Rising, who I think is a real unsung hero on this mixtape, bolsters MC Yogi’s lines in a slick synergistic manner. Plus, the heavy-handed emphasis on 80s and 90s hip-hop samples really helps to drive home the festive atmosphere of this release.
Emma Lee Toyoda’s welcoming voice resonates with a nicely nostalgic throwback vibe, while still being framed within fresh melodies and present-day production techniques. Wine is in the Fridge is an interesting little release that showcases four of Toyoda’s songs in their embryonic demo form. With its tasty chordal changes and nice guitar-violin interplay, “Juxtapostion” is probably by favorite of the bunch so far.
What’s not to be intrigued by when an author describes their books as: “Genre-busting horror memoir. Brutally true.” Part adventure tale and part zombie horror, Chantelle Oliver’s Apocalypse The Memoir runs a unique gamut of storytelling twists-and-turns to deliver a truly one-of-a-kind reading experience. If you’re looking for the book you didn’t know you were looking for, Apocalypse The Memoir might just be it.
This NoiseTrade One-on-One Interview features a chat with one of our favorites, The Welcome Wagon. This husband-and-wife duo mixes a homespun approach to songwriting (often steeped in hymns) with a whimsical instrumental approach that yields really beautiful results. We talked to The Welcome Wagon’s Vito Aiuto about their new album A Work of Love in Progress and what you can expect from their exclusive 4-song sampler.
NoiseTrade: What can you tell us about the writing and recording of your new album A Work of Love in Progress?
Vito Aiuto: We started recording some new songs early in the summer with the aim of making a full-length record that would come out in 2016. That’s still the plan, but we also happened upon the idea of sharing what we were working on as went along. We’ve always sent songs along to friends and family as a sneak peak as to what we were up to the record came out, but this time we thought we’d widen the circle a bit. So we’ve called it A Work of Love in Progress because that’s what it is – a snapshot of what we’ve done so far in the creation of a new Welcome Wagon project.
The title also speaks to the way we think about our lives on a bigger scale. Our marriage, our family, our church, our friendships… we ourselves are all works of love that are in progress. We want to celebrate that fact. Love is helping us all to grow and change and become who God has called us to be, but he is happy with us right where we are right now, too.
NT: As a duo, what lets you know it’s time to get back in the studio and record another album?
Aiuto: A while back we endeavored to make sure that our lives contained lots of things that make us feel alive. Simply put, making music makes us feel alive. At some point it seemed like a necessity that we had to make all the arrangements and undertake all of the sacrifices necessary for us to write and play and record music with each other and our friends.
NT: What made you pick these four specific songs (“March 1,” “I Don’t Want To Go Downtown,” “Lord, You Have Searched Me,” and “Maybe You’re Right”) to represent the new album?
Aiuto: On the one hand, these songs might not really represent the whole album in the sense that these four are, as a group, a little more laid back than our previous work. They’re all pretty quiet, which isn’t necessarily the case with the record as a whole. They ended up as a little group because they were all recorded in the same span of time with some of the same players, so they all have a similar sonic palette.
But on the other hand, these songs do represent the new album because they focus some of the running themes that we’ve been thinking about: our relationship with Jesus, our relationship with one another and how difficult and rewarding and fruitful marriage can be. We’re also thinking a lot about how we are growing and changing as individuals. It’s all there in the songs.
NT: These four songs seem a little more laid back than some of your previous recordings. Does this mean that A Work of Love in Progress is a more relaxed album overall or are you just holding back the more excitable jams for the entire album reveal?
Aiuto: Yes, the excitable jams are coming! Some of it is logistics. We’re plotting to get our enormous choir all in one place at one time. It’s not all quiet ruminations on love and loss and hope. I’m learning to play the guitar like Noel Gallagher. We’ll get the big drums out. I have an engineer friend who helped design the transmission on the Corvette, so we’re going to fly him out from Detroit and have him work on the Welcome Wagon. It’s gonna be great.
Our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One Interview takes place with The Oh Hellos, the brother/sister folk duo comprised of Maggie and Tyler Heath. Get a peek into the literary influences behind their new album Dear Wormwood, their sonic mixture of folk songwriting with orchestral flourishes, and what it’s like to be in a band with your sibling.
NoiseTrade: Dear Wormwood finds inspiration by C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. What did you mine from each of these books and how do they both fit into the overall scope of Dear Wormwood?
The Oh Hellos: The Screwtape Letters inspired a lot of what we wrote, while The Name of the Wind influenced the way we wrote it. From Lewis, we borrowed the idea of letters written to a tormentor, some World War II imagery, and the struggle of walking a path without straying or faltering. The Name of the Wind inspired and challenged us to improve as musicians and lyricists. Rothfuss writes about music in such a beautiful way, and the language and imagery in his books informed a lot of our musical choices on the album.
NT: What specifically made you choose “Bitter Water,” “There Beneath,” “Exeunt,” and “Dear Wormwood” as the four songs to represent the album on your Dear Wormwood sampler?
The Oh Hellos: “Bitter Water,” “There Beneath,” and “Exeunt” are what we might call Chapter One. The protagonist of the album begins to express some doubts about how healthy their relationship with the letters’ recipient really is, which progresses finally to a resolve to leave and never look back – no matter what the recipient might say or do.
There’s a part in The Screwtape Letters – spoilers ahead – when the main character is killed during a WWII air raid. As his spirit separates from his body, he sees Wormwood in his truest form for the first time. This scene heavily inspired the song “Dear Wormwood,” which is the point in the album’s narrative arc at which the protagonist, being so far removed from the original relationship, can look Death in the face and say “no more.”
NT: With Dear Wormwood being your second full-length album release, what have you learned about the way you guys write and work in the studio between your debut self-titled EP, Through the Deep, Dark Valley, and now Dear Wormwood?
The Oh Hellos: We’ve learned not to write and record where we sleep ever again! By the end of recording this album, we were caught in a limbo between work and rest, never fully doing one or the other. While we were working, we’d be easily distracted and inefficient, and when we went to bed we’d still be tossing ideas around and working through parts in our heads.
NT: For a folk duo, your instrumental beds builds and explode in very cinematic and bombastic ways. Do you hear the potential of these parts while you are first writing the songs or do they get created somewhere else along the way?
The Oh Hellos: A little of both! Most often, we have at least a loose idea of how we want to structure the songs, and the details happen along the way. Sometimes, though, that big moment is the first thing we write, and so the rest of the song shapes itself around it.
NT: Some siblings have a hard time being in the same room at the same time, much less write songs, craft albums, and play live shows together. What do you think has allowed you guys to work together so well for so long?
The Oh Hellos: We’ve always had a positive and supportive relationship! Neither of us like confrontation, so in writing music together we’ve really had to work hard to learn to communicate more honestly. At the end of the day, though, we know that we’ll always be family.
We’re so excited for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One as we get to bring you our conversation with the legendary Blake Babies. Iconic mainstays of the 1980s college rock scene, Blake Babies delivered a unique mixture of syrupy sweet vocals and caustic lyrics, all laid out over a bed of jangly guitar work and nuanced drumming. We sat down with the band to discuss their experience coming up in the Massachusetts music scene of the 1980s, their lasting impact on present day bands, and what we can expect from their catalog reissues planned for next year.
NoiseTrade: What do you hear when you listen back to this 1989 WERS radio broadcast?
Juliana Hatfield: I have not listened to it! It kind of freaks me out to hear myself back then.
John Strohm: It’s still hard to hear this music in an objective way. It triggers so many memories. I wish I could experience it without all the baggage, but it’s impossible. I’m judging my own performances as if I made them this morning. I’m frustrated with my guitar tone, knowing that it’s a borrowed guitar, and I didn’t get a nice one until later that year. But I get the charm. We are kids making it up as we go along, and that comes across.
Freda Love Smith: It’s strange and disorienting to listen to something that I barely remember. It’s a serious mind-fuck time machine! I was kind of terrified to listen, somehow assuming it would sound clunky and amateurish and that I’d feel embarrassed. But no… it sounds earnest, young, hardworking, and musical. We loved what we were doing and we were trying with all our hearts!
NT: With this specific recording capturing the band right before you started recording your Earwig album, what are some things that characterize or identify this period of the band for you each individually?
Strohm: We had a very frustrating period going into Earwig when we transitioned from a two-guitar band (me and Juliana) with a bassist to a one-guitar band with Juliana moving to bass. That’s the lineup here on the WERS broadcast – the three of us. Evan Dando played bass for six months or so, and that was a great band, but we just couldn’t replace Evan. He spoiled us. So eventually Juliana or I had to take up bass, and Juliana was generous in learning the instrument and she played really well. She sort of adopted Evan’s guitarist-on-bass style, which really worked. At the point of this recording, we’re still figuring out how to be a three-piece band. You can tell we’re all playing a lot to fill up the sound. Probably a year after this we added a second guitarist (Michael Leahy) and that took it to another level. But we’re still just figuring it out here. The technically good Earwig recordings are a little deceptive, as we still couldn’t play all that well.
Smith: I really hear the care that we took with the arrangements of the songs. Much of this stemmed from our work with producer Gary Smith and also our settling into being a 3-piece band. We were making the few ingredients that we had to work with really count.
Hatfield: I just remember being really excited about playing and recording music, like it was all sort of bursting out of me, and us. Also I was figuring out a lot of stuff, learning by doing. Like, how to play, how to record, how to mix. I was frustrated too, wanting things to happen more quickly than they were. Gary Smith, our friend and producer and one of the guys who started Fort Apache studios, was helping us a lot. He sort of took us under his wing. I was kind of high-strung back then so I imagine I was hard to deal with. I think John and Freda were probably very tolerant and forgiving of the foul moods I would get myself into.
NT: Since you all started in Boston, MA, how would you describe the college rock scene there in the 1980s?
Smith: I’d describe it as an embarrassment of riches. It was just astounding. Buffalo Tom, Galaxie 500, Big Dipper, The Lemonheads, Throwing Muses, Dinosaur, Jr., The Pixies, Volcano Suns. I absolutely loved every single one of these bands. I never felt like we were in their league!
Strohm: Freda and I moved to Boston specifically because we thought it would be a good place to start a band, but we really lucked out. I was a hardcore kid and I knew about the Boston hardcore scene. However, by the time I moved there in the mid-80s, the hardcore scene was in transition and I really didn’t want much to do with it. We were taking our cues from stuff like REM, the Replacements, Husker Du, X… not really hardcore, but stuff that evolved out of punk. But we wanted to pursue a more melodic sound and we found many peers around the Boston scene, bands coming up such as The Lemonheads, Buffalo Tom, Big Dipper, Throwing Muses, Galaxie 500, The Pixies, and a few dozen bands that aren’t as well remembered. Around 1988 or 89, none of those bands was big enough to sell 300 tickets, so we all played the same rooms, the same bills, went to the same parties and shows. It really felt like a scene, and there was a real excitement because everybody shared this feeling that these bands were really fucking good. We saw bands really starting to break out from places nearby, like Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth…we felt like that could be us. It all got pretty surreal when bands from our scene started getting popular overseas and selling out in New York. But then, once we started to get a bit popular, it all felt scattered. Freda and I left Boston and I didn’t think about local scenes too much. I really think it was a pretty powerful moment, though. That moment right before all those bands really got noticed.
Hatfield: There were a lot of interesting indie rock bands playing around town and none of them really sounded alike. It was fun and there was no pressure to conform to any kind of local sound. It was so exciting to see Dinosaur (before they added the “Jr.”) play at full Dinosaur volume at a small club to about ten people. And it was exciting to open for the Pixies at The Rat (did that really happen or am I imagining it?), another tiny club. I think we (the Blake Babies) felt dorky compared to a lot of the cool bands around town. I did, anyway. I was always very intimidated in the presence of J. Mascis, even though we were technically peers.
NT: As a band that featured two women in a generally testosterone-fueled music scene, did you all face any unique/unnecessary situations during your trailblazing years?
Strohm: I guess I should let the women in the band answer that, but since I was in a band with my girlfriend at the time (Freda), it bugged me a lot that so many of our fans were guys nursing a crush on one or the other of the women in the band. We encountered some blatant sexism here and there from the older music business people, but for the most part those trails had been blazed. A woman playing in a rock band wasn’t all that radical by the late 80s.
Hatfield: I disagree that the music scene then was generally testosterone-fueled. I think the boys in the indie rock scene in the late ’80′s were not macho at all. In the mainstream, yes, probably we would have experienced a lot more sexism. But we were underground where people were a lot more accepting of girls playing in bands. Later, when we started to tour out in the world, Freda and I started to feel more of that sexism, I think. It was ugly and undeniable but, thankfully, we were shielded from some of it by the good people/guys around us like Gary Smith, Strohm, fellow bands, and the crew guys. And we were based in the northeast, which was more liberal and tolerant than other areas. Some of the worst things I can remember during that era happened in the south. When we all shaved our heads I got so much shit from men in the south. Guys shouting “Dykes!” at me and Freda from the audience in Clemson, South Carolina, and various obnoxious comments from strangers like, “What are you, a boy or a girl?” from an old man in a restaurant somewhere in the deep south.
Smith: I’m still garnering perspective on this. The fact that there were so many women in bands in our immediate scene kind of normalized it for me, but on the road I faced some infuriating moments. I’m really stuck on this time that a sound man actually took my kick drum out of my hands as I was loading out. It was kinda like “Hey little lady, let me help you with that.” As if I didn’t lug that fucking thing every night of the week! And as Juliana mentioned in her answer, there was the bile and hatred we faced in the deep south. In Clemson, somebody hurled a can of beer at me, right at my face! I think the hurler was upset that I’d shaved my head, and possibly also that I was beating the shit out of a set of drums. I’m guessing I wasn’t performing femininity in a way in which he was comfortable! Also, I think I could write an entire book about the way I was treated in drum shops. Drum shops are the worst for mansplaining douchebags. At this one drum shop in Lawrence, Kansas, the guy who worked there was respectful and kind and cool and I took a photo of him! I still have that photo as proof that the unicorn exists.
NT: Many present day bands list Blake Babies as an influence and have even name dropped the band in interviews . For example, Bully comes to mind recently. How does that feel for you all and to what do you attribute your lasting sonic legacy?
Strohm: I’ve met the people in Bully before – they are a local band here in Nashville – and they’ve given me no indication that they know our band! But I do hear an influence, whether it’s direct or they are mining similar influences as us. I’ve seen the references in the press. When young bands or music writers acknowledge us as influential, that feels amazing. That’s the best thing, really. We felt at the time that a big reason we were toughing it out – and it was very hard to do this band for a lot of reasons – was to build some sort of musical legacy that could become more important over time. We didn’t necessarily expect it to happen, but I think we really hoped it would. Now that we’ve built our lives in other directions it matters less than I would have expected, but it’s still very satisfying. I can only really speak for myself, but I’m such a geek music fan that it just blows my mind to think that something we did as kids decades ago actually has a life and continuing influence today. The very best thing that could happen is to inspire young people to want to make music, or to influence the music they make. That sort of thing really validates the whole experience, and everything we put into it.
Smith: I’m proud of the initiative we took in the early days of our career. How when nobody would sign us, we put out our own record. Also, how we worked hard and worked together because we cared so much about what we were doing.
Hatfield: I am just glad no one got killed, that we didn’t kill each other, or kill ourselves.
NT: You guys have recorded some really stellar covers over the years (Ramones, Fleetwood Mac, Dinosaur Jr., Stooges, The Grass Roots). Are these more to just give a nod to your influences or did those specific songs resonate with you all in a special way?
Hatfield: Sometimes you do covers to show how cool you are, to show how much you know, how smart you are, how ahead of the pack. It’s like being able to claim you discovered something before anyone else did. It’s like the pride I felt in being one of the first bands to talk up the Frogs’ seminal album It’s Only Right and Natural before everyone else did, before everyone else got on that bandwagon. Sometimes covers are just a fun thing to do or they get you away from your own musical habits and shake things up. You want to show you have done your studying, that you have learned the history. Of course, the cover song has to have some kind of resonance to you – the person playing it – or it won’t be fun. Or you want to twist it around. Like, singing “Loose” from a female perspective, it makes you look at the song in another light. Some of the covers we recorded were things I had never heard before they were brought to me. I wasn’t a big MC5 fan and had heard hardly anything of theirs before Strohm suggested “Shakin’ Street”. Same with the Fleetwood Mac son. I wasn’t very familiar with the Tusk album. That was Strohm’s idea, again, I think… or maybe Freda’s. I think “Temptation Eyes” was Gary Smith’s idea. I hadn’t heard it before.
Strohm: We were such music fans in general, we’d fall in love with songs and want to play them. I had a special love for hearing Juliana, with her very feminine voice, singing macho songs like “Loose” or very male-centric songs like “Severed Lips”. I dug the irony. But for the most part, it was all about playing songs we loved and trying to bring a fresh perspective. “Temptation Eyes” was our producer Gary Smith’s idea and he was very insistent.
NT: Also, individually, which cover was your favorite to record (and why)?
Strohm: We used to do a lot of Neil Young songs, those were my favorite to play live…especially “Barstool Blues”. My favorite recorded cover is “Severed Lips”. I just like the way Juliana sang it.
Hatfield: I liked doing “Raisans”, the Dinosaur song. But that wasn’t a Blake Babies recording. I was so enamored of You’re Living All Over Me, it is one of my top ten albums of all time. Learning the song and playing it was like going to school and going to church and doing a really important job, for me. It was a form of worship. I still have fantasies of someday recording the whole You’re Living All Over Me album, really faithfully and seriously.
NT: Freda, what can we look forward to from your new book Red Velvet Underground? Juliana and John, what’s your favorite part?
Smith: The book includes some of my fondest Blake Babies memories about our early tours, about the apartment we shared in Boston, and about experiences and meals we shared during that pivotal time. It also includes a few recipes inspired by that era, including a version of the black bean soup that fed me during some of my more broke musician stretches!
Strohm: I’ll let you know after I finish reading it!
Hatfield: My favorite part is the recipe for garlic placenta, where Freda cooks up and eats her placenta… SO PUNK ROCK!!