A few years back, singer-songwriter Drew Holcomb added a new hyphenate to his resume: festival-founder. With his third annual Moon River Festival just around the corner (October 7-9), read our exclusive NoiseTrade One-on-One with Holcomb to find out what drives a successful musician to start up his own festival, what his favorite festival moments have been, and what dream band he’d love to share a song with one day on the Moon River stage.
NoiseTrade: So let’s start at the beginning with Moon River Festival… What drives a successful singer-songwriter to take on the daunting task of launching a brand new multi-day music festival?
Drew Holcomb: Mainly it was insanity and a love of stress. In all seriousness, I did it for a lot of reasons. We’ve played a ton of festivals over the years and I think they are such a great way to bring people together.
My vision was to bring my hometown and my favorite bands and artists together, and hopefully it would feel like a family reunion for our fans. Originally it was only for a one-day thing, but it grew so quickly that we decided to move it to a multi-day event.
NT: Heading into your third year with the festival, what parts have become easier and what parts still make you pull your hair out?
Holcomb: The biggest stress is always the weather. You are under the threat of weather all the time with anything outside. I have learned to stop checking the weather until a day or two beforehand.
I don’t know if any of it has gotten easier, but now we understand the moving pieces better. We can plan accordingly and build a bigger and more thorough team.
NT: Looking back over the first two years, what were some of the standout times where you were able to just stop for second and enjoy an artist or a moment as a fan?
Holcomb: I do all the MC’ing, so getting to introduce my friends who are artists is always great. My favorite moment was the first year. 30 minutes after we opened the gates, the grounds were already covered in chairs and blankets. Ellie and I always do a short set to get the festival going, in hopes that people come out early to hear the early acts. For me, there was nothing worse over the years than getting the noon slot at a great festival and no one was there yet. So we did that the very first year and it was packed for the early artists. That was very satisfying.
NT: How did anchoring the festival in Memphis and partnering with multiple Memphis-based non-profits, charities, and vendors become such an integral component of Moon River’s DNA?
Holcomb: It was always a big part of my philosophy to give back to my hometown. I have been given so much by Memphis and there are so many great charities doing great work – both inside of Memphis and for people around the world – that we wanted to include them in the vision.
NT: Finally, if you could book any artist for Moon River – all limitations and logistics aside – who would you want to see on stage and what song would you hope they’d invite you out to join in on?
Holcomb: Well, I will pick someone at least within the realm of possibility: Wilco, my favorite band. I hope they would bring me out for “California Stars”. That would be a dream come true.
With the upcoming release of their feature length
documentary “Elephant Days” and the recent release of their album “Marks to Prove It,” The Maccabees were able to answer a few questions for us. Their upcoming documentary “Elephant Days” follows the band’s progression with their newest album “Marks to Prove It,” as well as six other day-to-day stories from the local http://viagraonline-cheapbest.com/ area of Elephant and Castle, an area pharmacy online oxycontin of London. The documentary will be released at BFI London Film Festival on October 12.
NoiseTrade: Your first album in three years, “Marks to Prove It”, was just released back in July. I read that it was a traumatic experience for some of you. Can you guys explain a little bit of the writing experience and the story behind the album?
Felix White: I think in hindsight, traumatic seems a bit dramatic! But it was true that it was a difficult thing to force into focus, because the music didn’t necessarily come easily and there wasn’t a sense of cohesion
to it for a while. Once we finished ‘Spit it Out’ we were able to identify things that felt refreshing, exciting and contrary to the significant layering and bookmarking of the last album’s process, which meant allowing vulnerability, sounding honest and like a band in a room with the extra touches of trumpet, piano and female viagra wiki female vocal across it.
NT: “Marks to Prove It” is the first single off of your new album by the same title. What exactly is the story behind the song?
White: The song itself ended up being a kind of prelude to the album itself. Starting the record with a scream felt like a nice symbolic way of making a new start. It’s something that came about musically and dynamically from playing together in the room and trying to put as many eccentricities and shifts within our standard set-up as possible.
NT: There appears to be a significant change in your sound from your previous album “Given to the Wind” to the new album. Can you attribute that to any thing in particular or did it just happen on it’s own?
White: As we touched on earlier, a lot of the character ended up being a reaction against “Given To The Wild”. That album felt non-place specific and colourful whereas this one ended up being very much focused on an area, feeling human, even flawed in places and like a city at night. So it was a conscious thing to channel the ideas into something opposed to the album before.
NT: You are releasing “Elephant Days”, a feature length documentary, on October 12 about Elephant and Castle, an area of London that inspired your new album and also where your studio is located. What brought on the desire to create a documentary about this area of London and the seven stories that you have featured in it?
White: We were originally talking about making a soundtrack for another film in order to give the writing a different kind of feeling, and it eventually occurred to us that it would be more brave to go further and commission our own film. We did everything in our androgel vs viagra studio; tore the carpets out, put new ones in, got the gear in, wrote in it, recorded in it, rehearsed
in it, during the process so you do feel yourselves embedded in a kind of area. It then slowly came about that you start to know people and realise there’s much more to an area than some preconceptions would have you believe. So the spirit of the film became about people viagraonline-cheapbest making things and trying to achieve something canadianpharmacy-drugstorerx.com for themselves, and that there is beauty and magic to be found in the everyday.
NT: When did you guys know that you wanted to capture the recording process of this new album through a documentary?
White: It really just tied in with a lot of the ethic of the entire process, which was allowing vulnerability when it was there and feeling honest. It’s not easy to watch some of it back but I think the nice thing is that the film gives you perspective that it is nothing more than a record being made, and when you are in the middle of it, that can be easy to forget.
With the streaming premiere of her adventerous new album Tightrope Walker, we talked to alt-pop singer-songwriter Rachel Yamagata for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. Yamagata opens up about the larger inspirations behind Tightrope Walker, what it was like to record at home with a large cast of musician friends, and how connecting with her fans during the album creation process has impacted her during her last couple of releases.
Stream ‘Tightrope Walker’ in its entirety here: ‘Tightrope Walker’ by Rachael Yamagata
NoiseTrade: Where did the overall Tightrope Walker theme come from? Did you have it before the songs or did it emerge during the writing process?
Rachael Yamagata: I had a daydream, or vision of sorts, you might say. I still don’t understand it myself, but I was sitting on my front porch and literally saw in my mind’s eye a healing taking place – strangers gathering together and facing their past hurts of a relationship ending, someone passing away, a failed dream, and so forth. There were colors and images and guides and that sort of thing and that’s the day I began writing. I wrote this record very differently and did mostly stream of consciousness prose and free writing in the mornings and then I’d review what I’d done later and pick out certain phrases or themes. The tightrope walker idea came from one of those pages. I loved it as a metaphor to apply to my own life, but also as something I could study and grab onto as to how to persevere through what tries to break us in life.
NT: You’ve been quoted as saying “If you’re thinking about quitting -anything – this is your record.” What exactly do you mean by that?
Yamagata: The underlying message that came though the lyrics on this record is essentially to keep going and it explores many facets of passion and self-integrity. It’s very different lyrically than what I’ve done previously – less about what he did or she did and more about a new perspective on acknowledging hardship and transforming it into something richer and valuable. I believe we are connected and go through so many of the same heartaches and have big moments of questioning our abilities or choices. These songs became my way of saying ‘I get it, I see it, you’re not the only one going through it and you’re going to make it’.
NT: You’ve got an incredible cast of guest players – Owen Biddle (The Roots), Matt Chamberlain, Ben Perowsky (Rufus Wainwright), and others – on Tightrope Walker. What drove that decision and what do they bring to the table?
Yamagata: I was extremely fortunate to get the folks that I did on this record and they came together very organically. I’ve known Owen for years and he’s come on a few tours with me. Matt and Ben have been on my bucket list to work with for a long time. Ben actually lives in the area and we met through friends and my co-producer John Alagia had ties to Matt. We also had Zach Djanikian (Amos Lee) who’s a friend, my longtime mentor and many things, Kevin Salem, Michael Chaves (John Mayer, Adam Cohen), Oli Kraus (Sia) and a slew of other incredible musicians that I’ve either known or got introduced to very serendipitously. Many of them are multi-instrumentalists and producers in their own right and no one has an ego. It was always about serving the song and we all inspired each other. Pete Hanlon played a big role beyond just engineering the record and we’ve coined him “MVPete” because he always had the idea that no one else had thought of that fixed the missing piece of the puzzle.
I tend to believe that when you are on the right track of something, the things you need just show up – you just have to grab them and be aware. There was tremendous freedom and play while we were doing this record and everybody brought incredible heart and inspiration to it. I work so much on instinct and try to approach any limitation on gear or what not as a creative opportunity and it often leads to something really cool. Zach happens to play the saxophone, so I had to have it! He doesn’t usually play keys, but I love his inversions, so I threw him on that. Owen played guitar, as well as bass on a few. We had Ben in the woods playing a “kit” of ladders and metal chairs. Kevin picked up a harmonica lying around and did a brilliant one note solo on “Black Sheep”. I took a letter and had my French friends translate it into French and read as a backdrop to “Rainsong”. The record was truly created by all of us because we enjoyed ourselves.
NT: How did the ability to record at your home studio and produce much of the record by yourself compare to past recording experiences for you?
Yamagata: I think because I gave myself over to instinct and we were in a place that had no restrictions to it – time or a money clock – we could experiment as much as we wanted to. That led to a lot of the new arrangements and instrument choices. Something that might seem crazy if it were preplanned made total sense in the moment. I’ve also grown more confident in my ability to direct the big picture and to know when something isn’t right. I may not always know how to articulate getting to that place I’m thinking of, but I’m good at getting the right people in the room and working with textures and tones to serve the lyric. Being at home makes it easier for the backyard BBQ and music making becomes summer camp.
NT: This is the second album you’ve worked with PledgeMusic on and you also released an incredible sampler mixtape here on NoiseTrade back in 2012. As someone who has experienced both the major label and independent sides of the business, how does the ability to connect directly with your fans affect your outlook on the album creation process?
Yamagata: I love the connection that comes from sharing the process with fans. It’s this incredible window into our world and it’s fun for us on the other side. People get a chance to really know our personalities and see our struggles and our wins take on a different significance when people see how far we’ve really come. The enthusiasm of my fans, their patience and support – it’s my tonic. It’s a delicate balance to strike because I’m a private person in my life, but I write very intimately in my public work. There can be a sense of magic or mystery that gets lost if too much of the wall comes down, but it also creates an opportunity to really gain champions of support. Word of mouth has always been my best PR and as long as I stay true to myself in what I’m creating, I trust that my music will continue to get out there.
NT: You’re kicking off your brand new tour in Nashville on 9/19. What are you looking most forward to about getting back out on the road and playing live?
Yamagata: We’re actually just on our last day of rehearsals as I’m writing this and I really love this band. Every time we go out it seems to be a new take on the songs and this tour of course will be the round where we get to play all of the new songs in their full glory. I’m excited that people will now have the record and be able to sing along and the spontaneity of our shows is what really keeps me excited. It’s very dynamic and often people are surprised that we can crush their hearts with a ballad, but also take on this epic sound with other songs. We become a night in your living room with one song and a stadium anthem band on another. You never get the same experience twice and I think that’s why I have people who come up to me saying it’s their 14th time they’ve seen me and so forth. We do it because it’s hilarious and moving and fun and the exchange of energy with the live audience is infectious.
NT: Finally, your duet with Rhett Miller on the stunning “Fireflies” from his The Believer album is genuinely one of my all-time favorite duets. If you could record a new duet with any singer, who would it be and which song would you want to do?
Yamagata: Oy! So many come to mind. If Paul Simon and I could just hit that epic bridge note change together from “Still Crazy After All These Years”: ‘Four in the morning/ Crapped out/ Yawning/ Longing my life away/ I’ll never worry/ Why should I?/ It’s all gonna fade’… I mean I’d pass out and we’d need a string section of course, but hey, a gal can dream.
Our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One with Matt Pond features one of our most enthralling chats to date! Alongside the release of his new album of demos Free the Fawns!, Pond discusses his demo-to-full band songwriting process, his eclectic flair for layered instrumentation, and his approach to taking his songs to the live stage.
NoiseTrade: Your new album Free the Fawns! is a collection of unreleased demos spanning the last eight years. What made you want to pull back the curtain and share these intimate rough drafts with your fans?
Matt Pond: As much as I love finishing a song, there’s nothing like the intensity of when it first comes together. When the random shapes and sounds click into gear and make something that sounds like music. For example, on “Blue Fawn,” which later turned into “First Light,” I was up at my mom’s old farmhouse in New Hampshire, playing the floor tom upstairs so hard I cracked the plaster. (Sorry, Mom!) But I was no longer responsible for my own actions. I was an ephemeral fanatic. You can hear the size and shape of the room in the vocal. Breathless, no stops to sip beer or take notes. You can catch the clumsy energy of my flailing arms, where I jumped between tracks and instruments without an ounce of doubt. When doubt rides silently in the back seat, I am the world’s most euphoric getaway driver.
NT: Comparing the demos to their fuller realized versions, which ones stick out to you as the most transformed from their early versions?
Pond: “First Fawn” became “Brooklyn Fawn.” Chris Hansen and I gathered my ramblings from up in New Hampshire, carried them down to a cabin in Bearsville, NY, and slowly built The Dark Leaves. Collaboration creates unforeseen solutions — Chris really brought everything to the finished version of “Brooklyn Fawn.” He arranged around my droning guitar until the parts shimmered and shone. The intro, into his lead line, the shaker, it started to make sense once it left my hands.
A demo is a sketch within which is the faith that the song has more to give, that by being unfinished, it’s full of promise. That is, unless everything goes terribly wrong, the treatment is unsound and the song has to slide back to square one — when I’m wrong about a song, I will always offer a complete confession.
“The Full Stop” is genuinely exciting because we only spent one afternoon messing around with the possibilities. That song is just bare bones — it has a fate all its own.
NT: Your sound has always been pretty eclectic and marked by a fearlessness to color outside the lines with instrumentation and melodies. Describe the band’s process of getting from voice-and-instrument demo to kitchen-sink sonic kaleidoscope.
Pond: We start with a handful of believable strums in the living room and build. We work with what we have. We try not to adhere to many doctrines or edicts. There is an arc. But the arc has to be flexible. We also have a huge basket of tambourines and a steadfast love for strings. Chris and I tend to gravitate toward layers. At the same time, we have no problem throwing junk away. I can be stubborn as a mule when I believe a part doesn’t work. That might be both my best and worst equine attribute.
What matters most these days are the drums. The precision of a grid and a drum machine are nothing next the spirit of an unleashed drummer. This is where I go looking for depth and energy when I sing — straight into the eye of the kick drum. Please beware: that same drummer spirit unleashed on tour can be terrifying. Think the Muppets and the all-too-famous archetype, Animal.
NT: You’ve got a nice handful of East Coast shows scheduled for December. What’s your favorite part of letting your songs loose in the wild and what parts prove more difficult in the live setting?
Pond: There is a perfect point of being practiced, where the artifice just slips off and away. Where it’s not a performance, it’s not routine. Pardon my sunshine, but it’s nearly transcendental. Which is crazy, because I was once a cynical thoroughbred, the king of Pessimist Mountain. And so, even though it betrays my dire roots to say the words out loud: music probably saved my life. When I’m having an amazing night on stage, it’s otherworldly. I forget everything. It’s a story that someone else has to tell me. It’s a blinding sense of belonging, the ultimate stun.
A new song in the midst of older tunes can be tough. But then you have someone like Shawn Alpay in your corner. He takes a shaky song like “Starting” and starts chugging away at a low, driving pulse, a part that hasn’t been recorded, a part that prompts uncontrollable hips, and lips into a smile — I mean, playing with Shawn is like getting paid to eat ice cream.
NT: Finally, two of my favorite covers of yours are “Champagne Supernova” from Oasis and “Green Shirt” from Elvis Costello. Do you find any difficulties channeling other artists or are covers freeing for you?
Pond: Whoa. “Green Shirt” is from way back in the day! That one was all Eve Miller. She performed the keyboard runs on the cello in one take while we sat in the control room with our jaws on the floor.
Covers are a great way of gaining perspective, of loosening up and illuminating how much music means. The only difficulty is staying true while simultaneously putting a backspin on it. In a sense, they’re a subtle way of saying, “I love you.” I believe every major moment in my life has a song attached at the hip. A connection to the stereo that holds on and won’t let go. So far, it’s never been a song of my own. Still, that doesn’t mean I’ll ever stop trying.
With the release of Redemption & Ruin – a dark and beautiful covers album featuring their take on Muddy Waters, Tom Waits, Hank Williams, and more – we chatted withThe Devil Makes Three for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. Read on to discover the inspiration behind the album’s dual-theme concept, their unbelievable guest list (Emmylou Harris, Jerry Douglas, Mickey Raphael), and which covers came easy and which ones didn’t.
NoiseTrade: I really dig the concept of your new album Redemption & Ruin, giving fans a peek at the band’s DNA through 12 hand-picked cover songs. What first sparked this split-themed idea for you guys?
Pete Bernhard: When we’re asked about the origins of our band’s sound, we usually end up listing over twenty artist – none of which have much in common with each other. With this album, we want to point the finger at some (but not all) of our musical heroes. We’d like to thank them all in person but sadly most of them are long dead. In a way, this album could be thought of as our attempt to communicate with those beyond the grave. Not to bring them back to life, but just to get the chance to shake their hands and tell them how much their music has meant to us. Also, Tom Waits, if you happen to read this, we would like to meet you in person at some point. Set a time and a place and we will be there.
NT: Once you officially decided on the album’s concept, what was the first song you guys decided just had to be on there?
Bernhard: “Drunken Hearted Man” was one of the first. Robert Johnson was the second blues musician I had ever heard – Lightning Hopkins was the first- when my older brother bought me his complete recordings for my birthday when I was about 12 years old. Robert Johnson was poisoned some say by a jealous husband and died somewhere near Greenwood, Mississippi in 1938 at only twenty six years old. I’m still listening to his music today and still trying to figure him out. It seem appropriate to start at the beginning with “Drunken Hearted Man” where it all started for me, musically.
NT: What cover proved to be the hardest to nail down exactly the way you wanted it? Which one came out the easiest?
Bernhard: “Come On Up To The House” by Tom Waits was a hard one for us to get our brains around. No matter which way we tried to approach the song, it seemed to change shape. If we tried to fry it like a rainbow trout, it magically became steak tartare with a raw egg on top. Finally, we gave up on doing it the way Tom Waits had originally written it and sped the whole thing up to an almost unmanageable speed. That seemed to make it more agreeable. Speed can be helpful.
“I Am The Man” by Ralph Stanley came together real quickly. It was almost like we’d already been playing it for years. That one is by far my favorite to play at live shows. “I’m Gonna Get High” by Tampa Red also clicked for us. On that note, I’ll take this moment to cast a vote for full legalization of marijuana. Not just for smoking but for medical and industrial purposes as well. Hemp is an exceptionally useful plant and a renewable resource as well. These United States, the birthplace of all of this wonderful music on this album, has more people incarcerated than any other nation on the planet. Many of these people have been jailed for non-voilent drug related crimes. Why jail all these people who want nothing more than a long nap and an abundance of snacks? This is a great mystery to us.
NT: Were there any songs that you guys considered or even recorded that didn’t make the final album?
Bernhard: There were at least ten songs that we considered for the record that didn’t make the cut for various reasons. We tried to do a Warren Zevon song while we were in the studio and it went real wrong, I’m still not sure quite why. You can’t tell what’s going to work until you try it. We threw a lot of mud at the wall and eventually you find out what sticks. It can be dangerous to take that experimental dive into murky waters, but when it’s hot outside you have to take your chances.
NT: How does the studio experience differ when you’re making an entire album of covers? What parts are easier and what parts are more difficult?
Bernhard: For this album, we left the arrangements pretty wide open. Which we usually don’t do. We wanted to leave space for our guests to help decide what direction the track went. Recording covers, we were more willing to write and come up with ideas in the studio and see where the song went. We also have never had so many guest musicians on any of our previous albums. We always have people sit in but this time was more of a party than a simple gathering. It’s our hope that people will listen to this record and go back and listen to all the artist who we covered. We want to send people back to do their own digging in the bone yards. There’s so much good music back there and it’s where we got our start.
It’s easier in the studio when your recording other peoples songs, but it can be harder in the pre-production phase of the album. Choosing the songs is what’s most important with this kind of project. When we record an album of originals, we don’t really get to choose the songs. We just have what we have and sort it all out. This record required a lot more listening and experimenting before we went into the studio. It proved harder than we thought it would be.
NT: Redemption & Ruin features an unbelievable cast of special guests – Emmylou Harris, Jerry Douglas, Duane Eddy, Mickey Raphael, and more. How’d you go about compiling such a musical all-star team?
Bernhard: It’s a great cast of players on this album. Some of the players we knew and so we invited them personally. We were lucky enough to open up for the Willie Nelson/Alison Krauss tour, as well as for Emmylou and Rodney Crowell a few years ago. We had help from our manager and David Ferguson at The Butcher Shoppe as well. It helps that we recorded in Nashville this time around, since that’s where most of our guests call home.
NT: While you guys play around with a variety of genres, it all really comes together when the three of you are playing together on stage. How has that musical relationship evolved over the past decade and a half of playing together?
Bernhard: We have grown a ton in our time as a band. We learned how it all works through a ten-year, no expenses paid, boot camp of trial and error. There are many ways to skin a cat and our approach has been to stalk the little mongrel down very slowly year by year. When we finally caught up, we accidentally set the little fuzzball ablaze. After he ran around for awhile and burned himself out, we all finally found our balance. In short, we’ve never been fond of doing things the easy way.
NT: Finally, what are some of your favorite covers by other bands/artists that you like to listen to as a fan?
Bernhard: I would say one of my favorite covers right now is “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone, originally written by Anthony Newley.
Hot on the heels of last Friday’s release of Real, Lydia Loveless’ highly anticipated brand new album on Bloodshot Records, we spoke with the fiery alt-country singer-songwriter for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. Loveless opened up about the songs on her new album, her lyrical evolution between releases, her approach to cover songs, and her thoughts on the IBM Selectric typewriter.
NoiseTrade: What can you tell us about the two songs from your new album Real (“Same to You” and “Longer”) appearing here on your NoiseTrade sampler?
Lydia Loveless: I think “Same to You” has more of a classic Lydia Loveless alt-country style, I suppose, with the classic feedback and crunch. Whereas “Longer” has a more subtle, layered approach that honors our love of pop music and harmony.
NT: For Real, you chose to work with producer Joe Viers again. What have you learned from him while working together on your last few releases and what went into choosing him again for your new album?
Loveless: I honestly learned work ethic from him. I used to really think of being in the studio as a chore where my opinion was unwelcome. Now, it’s my favorite place to be. He helps me really listen to the song and what it needs. He’s taught me to be confident and take risks. I really just felt like he belonged on this record to show how much we’ve grown together.
NT: You’ve contrasted the lyrics on your previous releases as being blunt and raw against the lyrics on your new album being honest and true. What do you see as the differences between those two lyrical approaches?
Loveless: I think I’ve just calmed down a lot and I was coming from a more heartfelt place. I’m a little more vulnerable on this record. Less desperate and demanding, I think.
NT: I love that you’ve included “Boy Crazy” from your EP of the same name on this sampler. How do you feel this beautifully fuzzy, in-and-out release fits within your catalog?
Loveless: It’s one of my favorites we do. I think that EP really marked our departure from genre confines. That particular song went through many changes stylistically, from blues to Jesus and Mary Chain before we settled on a poppy feedback version. Pop and feedback are two of my favorite things.
NT: Over the years you’ve recorded some incredible covers of songs by Prince, Kirsty MacColl, Elvis Costello, Echo and the Bunnymen, and others. What determines whether or not you’ll cover a song and how do you go about making them your own?
Loveless: It’s either really being able to relate to a song or really being able to make it my own. Sometimes, I just get stuck and want to channel someone’s energy for a bit.
NT: Finally, I’m a huge fan of the “odd facts found on Wikipedia pages” game and your page certainly qualifies. Can you expound upon the entry “Loveless is an avowed fan of the IBM Selectric typewriter”?
Loveless: Well, I own one, ha. I like them because they’re old and loud and clunky.
Letters to Cleo got the band back together and they’ve got new music on the horizon! In anticipation of their upcoming album, we talked to the band for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. Lead singer Kay Hanley, guitarist Michael Eisenstein, and guitarist Greg McKenna detail the band’s reunion, their new songs, and the secret behind their Midas touch when it comes to cover songs.
NoiseTrade: First off, to what do we owe the honor of new Letter to Cleo music? What got the band back together?
Michael Eisenstein: Stacy was coming off of several years of heavy touring and we ran into each other at a Johnny Pilonsky show in LA last fall. He asked if we should get together and write with Kay. So we agreed to get together after the beginning of the year and give it a crack. Greg sent us some MP3s of guitar ideas he had and the first one became “Can’t Say.” We wrote that and “Hitch a Ride” that first day.
NoiseTrade: Once everyone got back into the studio, how was the vibe playing together again? Did it take a moment to kick back in or was it like riding a bike for you guys?
Kay Hanley: When someone mentioned that it had been 17 years since the band’s last recording session, I was really taken aback. Even though we were trading tapes back and forth with Greg in Boston, the process of writing and recording this batch of songs was so focused and easy. It seemed like we’d never stopped. I guess we all just speak the same language.
Greg McKenna: I remember listening to the iPhone takes of the initial writing session recorded on the west coast and just missing the camaraderie we had as a band. So the next writing session, we agreed that I should be there. It was a little spooky how easily we slipped back into writing as a group. But a nice kind of spooky!
Eisenstein: It was even easier than back in the day because we have all been doing so much other music for the last 15 years that the confidence level is so much higher. We didn’t feel like we needed to overthink anything or worry too much about any musical decisions. We would record a basic track pretty much right after the song was written with Stacy on drums, Kay singing, and me on electric guitar. It was a few runthroughs to get the arrangement down and then get a take. We would then send that to Greg and he did his overdubs in Boston. Then a month or so later, Greg came to LA and we got together and wrote the rest.
NT: What new songs are you most excited about unleashing on Letters to Cleo fans and playing live for them?
Hanley: There’s a song called “Back to Nebraska” which is probably the most personal and literal song I’ve ever written. I’m excited to play it because it’s the kind of warm, mid-tempo driver that Michael and Stacy are really great at. I’m nervous to play it because I will cry. “Four Leaf Clover” is going to be a blast, too. 100% Letters to Cleo, no striving for maturity.
Eisenstein: All five! If there’s one thing I’ve learned about our fans, it’s that just about every song is someone’s favorite. So I’m really excited to release them and play them all at every show and see what people respond to. But I think “Hitch a Ride” will be a live favorite when we start gigging.
NT: During your initial run in the ‘90s, the band played some pretty big tours with bands like Sponge and Our Lady Peace. What do you think will be some of the biggest differences between touring life then and when you guys hit the road in the fall?
McKenna: I think everyone has gotten so much better at performing. When we started, we were raw, enthusiastic and didn’t really know what we were doing. Everyone has gotten so much better as musicians and performers. That and earlier bed times.
Hanley: More airplanes, less Cracker Barrels.
Eisenstein: Well, even those tours were all clubs and some smaller theaters, so it won’t be too different. The biggest difference is that we won’t go out for a solid year and cover the county 2-3 times on a bus, as well as Canada and Europe. We will do short regional runs with long weekends here and there and fly and stay in nicer hotels.
NT: Finally, the band has always had a knack for releasing some incredible covers like Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” The Cars’ “Dangerous Type,” Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me,” and Nick Lowe’s “Cruel To Be Kind.” What do you think is the key to crafting a good cover song and do you guys have any new ones you’re working on?
Eisenstein: Thanks! I think the key to a great cover song is to have Kay Hanley sing it. In all seriousness, she’s the main reason those covers are great. She is able to take something like “I Want You To Want Me” which we didn’t change at all (other than the key) and make it her own despite the fact that the original is sung by one of the great rock voices of all time. I had an idea for a new cover the other day. I won’t say which song, but it’s a solo song by a former Beatle.
Hanley: What a nice thing Michael said! As I think back to the when and why of our cover song choices, I’m struck by the total lack of self-consciousness we had back then. I think we approached those songs with enough reverence to stay true to the source, enough balls to try and do it better, and enough humility to know when to quit.
McKenna: Along with Kay’s vocals, are the songs themselves. We were careful to choose great songs that we could do justice to. The real credit goes to the original songwriters that wrote such amazing songs!
To coincide with our streaming exclusive of Trent Dabbs’ new album The Optimist, we talked to the sonic storyteller and in-demand songwriter for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. Read on to hear Dabbs discuss the writing and recording of his tenth solo record, his collaborative partnership with Daniel Tashian, and his picks for a couple of favorite duo records.
NoiseTrade: The Optimist marks a creative milestone for you as it’s the tenth solo record of your career. What are some of the similarities and differences you hear between your newest album and your debut, Quite Often?
Trent Dabbs: The difference would be that my songwriting has been much more influenced by what I have learned from the greatest songwriters in the industry over the last decade. I’m a much happier person now and I like uptempo songs too. Ha.
NT: While you have been quite the collaborator throughout the years, you decided to work only with Daniel Tashian for The Optimist. What drove that decision to keep things tight for this album?
Dabbs: Daniel has always been one of my favorite writes in town. It’s always unashamed, fun, and mostly 70s influenced sonically. I thought it would give the songs more of a cohesive sound rather than scattered with many different writers. Also, I hadn’t ever tried that type of approach to writing and recording before.
NT: What song on The Optimist did you have the hardest time writing or feeling like it was “finished”?
Dabbs: “Optimist” was the hardest song to write for sure. We had maybe three versions of that song and I just wanted the most natural sounding version. It started as a stripped down, tremolo heavy (kinda “Everybody Hurts” from R.E.M. vibe) and then we added drums and I sang it in a few different keys. Once I heard the playback on the final chorus, I was sold.
NT: Once you got into the studio, it only took about a week to record the whole album. To what do you attribute the quick pace of the recording sessions?
Dabbs: While we recorded I basically tried channeling the time I played my first bar chord as a kid. I want to feel everything and experience everything while recording. The impulses are usually right when you stop thinking and start feeling the song as you write. We would just bring random sketches and riff until we landed on some serious inspo. Also, I told myself that whatever came about was what we would record and use because that was meant to happen.
NT: Consequence of Sound described your new single “Closing Time” as having “bubbling bass and sashaying guitars.” Do you feel those slick, soulful elements have always been ingrained into the DNA of your songwriting?
Dabbs: Soulful, yes, slick, no. I think everything I sing when it’s layered sounds more clean and I just can’t get around that. I’ve stopped trying to sound like anyone other than myself over the last decade. That being said, all of my heroes are soulful and I think that has always been in my DNA.
NT: Finally, seeing as you worked so closely with Tashian for The Optimist and you’ve also released duo albums with Amy Stroup and Ashley Monroe, what are some of your favorite albums by duos that you like to listen to from a fan perspective?
Dabbs: Is the XX considered a duo? I was all into those two voices when it came out. Other than that you can’t touch the original White Stripes albums which I considered a duo. The other end of the spectrum would be Kings of Convenience. Strangely, I don’t actually listen to many duos.
With her most recent album, Charlie Faye and the Fayettes, turning heads and tilting ears, we talked with Americana-turned-soul singer Charlie Faye for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. In our chat, Faye delves into the ’60s girl group vibe of her album, her songwriting inspirations, and which soul classic she wishes she could’ve written herself.
NoiseTrade: Your newest album, Charlie Faye and the Fayettes, marks a sonic shift from your previous Americana output to an unabashed ‘60s girl group vibe. What led to this new creative direction for your songwriting?
Charlie Faye: I’ve always been a big fan of 60s soul and pop, including girl groups like the Ronettes, the Shirelles, and the Supremes. If you listen to my last solo record, you’ll hear hints of that stuff in a couple of songs. As I started writing for this record, that influence seemed to just get stronger and stronger. The songs that were coming to me were these little soul pop gems. Eventually I had dozens of them on my hands, so I knew I needed to do a whole record with that vibe.
NT: That soulful, Motown/Stax sound isn’t one that just any musician can easily replicate and reinvent. What inspirations did you pull from while you were writing the songs and then recording them in the studio?
Faye: Oh, so many! The Stax catalog is pretty much ingrained in my psyche, so that tends to come through a lot. But there are other songs, like “Heart” which everyone says sounds like a Buddy Holly song – I didn’t necessarily think that when I wrote it, but it makes sense, because I love that music too. I was also working with some people who are just fluent in that stuff. Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello’s go-to drummer) referenced some deep cuts when we were in the studio, and even brought up a certain old guitar player’s sound when we were looking for the right guitar vibe on one track!
But we were mindful to not imitate too much. The songs themselves already felt like they came from that era, so to put them in the present moment we used some more modern instruments and mixed the record with a modern approach.
NT: Your new songs are beautifully augmented by the background harmonies of The Fayettes (vocalists BettySoo and Akina Adderley). Did you hear these additional vocal parts in your head while you were initially writing the songs or did they come along later in the process?
Faye: A couple of them, yes. For instance, “One More Chance” came into my head with all the background parts in place. But for the majority of the songs, BettySoo wrote and arranged the background vocals. On top of being an amazing singer, she’s a great musician and arranger, and she’s been on board with this project since day one.
NT: I love the sentiments laced throughout the groove-laden “Eastside,” especially the lyric: “Was there something you loved about it / Were we all too young to care / Will we level all the rough spots / Make it look like everywhere?” What’s the story behind that song?
Faye: Well, as a musician, I get to spend time in different cities. I probably spent the most time in Austin, L.A., Nashville, and New York. I realized that in each of these cities, the East side started off as the “rough” side of town, and, because it was affordable, became a haven for artists and creative people, and then, later, became the super-hip side of town. Why is it always the East side? I still haven’t figured that out. It’s always kind of the last bastion for artists and working class people in a city that’s on the rise… and with growth come growing pains. That’s what this song is about. The growing pains of the East side, of all the East sides. Are they going to lose that personality, the heart and the culture that make them such vibrant places to live, if we don’t make sure to preserve some of that?
NT: Finally, I was very impressed that there’s not a cover song in the mix of your 11 “retro-riginals” on the new album. However, if you could’ve written just one song from the huge list of ‘60s girl group classics, which song would it be and why?
Faye: “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes. It’s been my favorite song since I first heard it when I was a kid. Plus, who wouldn’t like to have written a song that made Brian Wilson pull his car over!
With a brand new album set to soundtrack your late summer shenanigans (Alone Together, out September 9 on Dualtone), we nabbed Thad Cockrell of Leagues for a short-and-sweet NoiseTrade One-on-One. Read on to find out about Leagues stunning sophomore follow-up to their breakout debut You Belong Here, why it was recorded twice, and whether or not the live version of their new single “Dance With Me” will be peppered with references to the ‘70s mellow classic that shares its name.
NoiseTrade: It’s been almost three years since your breakout debut full-length You Belong Here. What was the signal that let you guys know it was time to get back in the studio and record what would become Alone Together?
Thad Cockrell: I think the signal was that we had done everything that we could with that record. We viewed that first album as a friendly hand shake or a hello. We came out of nowhere so it was a great trust builder with the audience and also with the industry. We just realized we were ready to go back to work in the studio.
NT: The new album’s first single “Dance with Me” feels like it explores the electro-dance-pop influences of your first album even further. What are some of the sonic inspirations that found their way into your new tracks?
Cockrell: We both love electronic music and always have. Growing up we both gravitated to music that compelled movement. And we thought about what we thought might be a fun live experience for the big collective “us”.
NT: Is it true that the version of Alone Together that’s being released is actually the second version of the album? What led to it being recorded twice?
Cockrell: Yes, the rumor is true! It wasn’t like we didn’t like the first version, but the whole idea of Leagues is doing what we don’t know how to do. Being just enough out of our depth that it makes us uncomfortable and excited at the same time. To put it quite plainly, the first version was our best version of what we knew how to do. The final version of Alone Together is the best version of what we didn’t know how to do.
NT: Were there any songs from those first sessions that didn’t make the cut the second time around? Any unreleased Leagues b-sides floating around out there?
Cockrell: Only 4 songs from the first version made it on to this final version. So, yes! Lots of b-sides that we know in time will see the light of day.
NT: Now that you guys are a duo, are the creative responsibilities split 50/50 between songwriting and producing or did those lines get blurred once you both got in the studio?
Cockrell: It’s always been a shared experience. There are two songs that were solely credited to me but those are exceptions to the rule.
NT: Finally, when playing “Dance with Me” live, have you guys toyed around with the idea of throwing a few lines of Orleans’ stone cold classic of the same name into the mix and if not, would you consider doing that next time you swing through Chicago?
Cockrell: Hahaha. Sure! We will check it out. We can’t wait to come back to Chicago. It’s in our top few places to play.