JOVM celebrates Patti Smith’s 74th birthday.
JOVM celebrates Neil Young’s 75th birthday.
Initially making a name for herself with her critically applauded recording project Völuspa, the Bay Area-raised, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Kristen Knick is stepping out and away from her alter ego to release material under her known name. But there’s one thing that remains consistent: Knick employs a colorful sound palette to bring her lyrical themes of lucid dreams, forgotten nightmares, past mistakes and future possibilities to vivid life.
Some of Knick’s earliest influences include Kate Bush, Brian Eno, Neil Young and Stevie Nicks — but after discovering punk rock through her high school sweetheart, the Bay Area raised, Brooklyn-based artist found herself inflated with life; experiencing good music, love, drink and drugs. After several years, countless lovers, jobs and travels that resulted in a breakdown, Knick found herself in New York. Realizing that alcohol and drugs had been a detriment to her creativity, she got sober, and started writing and putting her experiences and emotions into very personal songs.
Knick’s latest album Close Your Eyes is slated for a release this fall through Swedish tastemaker label Icons Creating Evil Art, and the album’s latest single “Life’s a Placebo” is centered around a hazy, sepia-toned nostalgic production — tinny stuttering beats, woozy and shimmering ambient synths paired with Knick’s warmly inviting vocals. While evoking some long ago summer of carousel rides and unconcerned, childhood day dreaming, the song explores loos in its entirely, as the Brooklyn-based artist explains. “The song is sort of an epiphany, that life is a placebo,” Knick says. “Life is as we see it. I could choose to grieve over this loss and wallow in self-pity, or I could move on and make shit happen.”
“The recording process was with Eric Hoegemeyer and his chihuahua, Hoover, in his Astoria Queens apartment,” the Bay Area raised, Brooklyn-based artist adds. “I wrote the song when I first got sober in 2014 and when I brought it to him last year, he added some sweet synth tones and effects that gave it more dynamic than the bratty punk version I had recorded on my phone.”
Interview: A Q&A with I AM SNOW ANGEL’s Julie Kathryn
Julie Kathryn is a New York-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, sound designer, producer and creative mastermind behind I AM SNOW ANGEL, a critically applauded solo recording project that has received critical praise from the likes of Huffington Post, Indie Shuffle, Magnetic Magazine, Creem Magazine, Refinery 29, All Things Go and others.
The acclaimed New York-based artist and producer has developed a reputation as a highly sought after sound designer and producer working with Ableton and Splice.com – and she’s the co-founder of Female Frequency, a musical collective dedicated to empowering women and girls in the music industry.
Last year, Julie Kathryn released her I AM SNOW ANGEL full-length debut MOTHERSHIP. Recorded in a cabin in the wintry Adirondack woods, the album is a concept album that touched upon themes of isolation, longing, love, paranoia and the paranormal. Since, the release of MOTHERSHIP, the New York-based artist, producer, sound designer has managed to be rather busy: she gave birth to her first child, collaborated on Sophie Colette’s attention-grabbing “In Love a Little,” and continuing on the momentum of a rather big year for her both personally and professionally, the New York-based recently released a gorgeous and spectral cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song,” featuring shimmering, reverb-drenched guitars, atmospheric synths and Julie Kathryn’s vocals. Interestingly, her interpretation of the song is centered around a plaintive yearning and vulnerability.
I recently exchanged emails with the I AM SNOW ANGEL mastermind for this edition of the JOVM Q&A. For this interview, we discuss the difficult balance of one’s creative live with being a parent, her collaboration with Sophie Colette, leveling the playing field for women producers and of course, her aforementioned cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song.” Additionally, as a result of governments across the world closing bars, restaurants, nightclubs and music venues to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the impact on the music industry – especially on small and mid-sized independent venues and the indie touring artists, who grace their stages has been devastating. Much like the other artists, I’ve interviewed this year, I’ll continue to ask artists how they’re getting by, how they’re keeping busy and of course, how this period is impacting their careers.
Julie Kathryn’s full-length album Mothership and her rendition of “Tower of Song” – and below the jump, check out the interview.
WRH: You’re a new mommy. So before we start: Happy belated Mother’s Day. How do you balance the obligations and responsibilities of motherhood with your creative and professional life?
Julie Kathryn: Thank you! Being a mother is wonderful. It’s definitely been challenging to balance everything. Taking care of a baby feels like a full time job, as I expected it would, but I didn’t realize all the ways that I personally would be changed by motherhood – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Everything feels different now. I’m finding a way to make music in this new normal and I’m excited to see how it turns out.
WRH: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions in almost every aspect of our lives. For most of us, the seemingly indefinite fear, anxiety, uncertainty, loneliness and boredom of the past few months of social distancing and quarantines have been overwhelming. How have you been holding up? How have you been keeping busy? Binge watching anything?
JK: This is such a strange and uncertain time. I try to make a gratitude list every day to keep me balanced and thankful, particularly for my health. Also, I’m lucky that I have a clear and immediate purpose right now – to take care of my son! He keeps me focused and in the moment. I’m very grateful to be able to spend this time with him. In my free time, when I can find some, I make music, practice yoga and yes, binge watch! Dead to Me (Netflix) and Breeders (FX) are two of my recent favorites.
WRH: How did you get into music?
JK: I’ve always been very musical. I took piano lessons as a kid. I taught myself how to play the guitar during high school. For a while, I was an acoustic/Americana singer-songwriter. Eventually, I started engineering and producing my own material, and it became much more electronic. That’s how this project – I AM SNOW ANGEL – was born.
WRH: How would you describe your sound for those, who may be unfamiliar with I Am Snow Angel?
Dream pop. Melodic, electronic. Ambient and earthy at the same time.
WRH: Who are your influences?
JK: For this project, I was definitely inspired by Imogen Heap, Portishead, The Postal Service, Massive Attack, and other electronic and trip hop acts. Over the years, there are a lot of songwriters that I’ve studied, like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Bill Withers. The National is a band whose albums I’ve played on repeat for months at a time. I also love the artistry of Thom Yorke, Lou Reed, David Lynch. I love moody electronic soundscapes by artists like Trentemøller and The Knife, and 80s synth /new wave music like Roxy Music and Yaz. I also spent a lot of time listening to late 90s female R&B — Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Macy Gray. The list goes on and on and it’s hard to encapsulate it.
WRH: Who are you listening to right now?
WRH: Earlier this year, you collaborated with Sophie Colette on “In Love a Little.” As you know, I wrote about the song earlier this year – and in a lengthy statement for the song, Colette wrote:
“Working with Julie was an amazing experience – it was very hands on and communicative. We sat side by side and made decisions together from the tracing to the comping to the mixing. I learned so much about Ableton and the possibility of different soundscapes that could be created outside of traditional instrumentation.
It became apparent to me, that working with a female producer, who inherently applied these types of sounds to her own work, came with the advantage of being able to feel the same nuances of emotion without having to explain them to each other. Each session was an open-ended conversation and quite nurturing to be honest. Something about that female-to-female energy in a room is really powerful when the ego isn’t there.”
How was it like to collaborate with Sophie Colette? Do you find it easier to collaborate with women artists and producers?
JK: Working with Sophie was a lot of fun. I really like how our collaboration turned out. We were able to tease out some interesting emotional undertones in her song. I remember her showing me moody photos of an urban landscape at night in the aftermath of a storm, with the city’s colored lights reflecting in puddles on the dark streets. She said, “this is my inspiration for the bridge.” We spent the day sonically recreating this idea, and it became the soundscape for the bridge of her song. It was a really organic process. I do end up working with a lot of female artists, and I find that we often have similar communication styles and a shared experience of coming up in the music industry.
WRH: How do we level the playing field, so that there are more women producers?
JK: For me, being visible as a female producer who can do it all – instrumentation, engineering, sound design, mixing – is important. When I was starting out in production, it really helped me to see other women who were doing it. Also, when I work with other artists, I share my knowledge and encourage them to learn production and engineering, in whatever capacity is appealing to them.
WRH: What advice would you give for women artists and producers trying to make it?
JK: Have fun!! The process of producing music is intense and quite involved, so it needs to be a fulfilling one. If the production process is merely viewed as a means to an end (ie, the finished product), it’s more likely to feel like a chore or an insurmountable feat. But, if the very act of creating music is thrilling and emotionally rewarding, the finished product is just the icing on the cake – a bonus. Don’t worry about doing it “right.” There are many ways to produce music. When possible, seek out mentors and collaborators who support and elevate you.
WRH: You recently released a slow-burning and atmospheric cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song.” What drew you to the song?
JK: I love Leonard Cohen. His songwriting and performance style have inspired me for a long time. I first visited the song a few years back when my dear friend Gus Rodriguez (he performs under the name Silbin Sandovar and is a wonderful musician, talent buyer, and connector of artists in NYC and beyond) asked me to cover a few Leonard Cohen songs in a tribute show he was putting together. I immediately felt connected to the lyrical content of this song, to the existential themes of isolation and loneliness that Cohen associated with being a songwriter.
WRH: Instead of a straightforward note-by-note cover, you turn Cohen’s song into your song. Was that an intentional decision – and was that a difficult thing to do, considering how beloved his work is?
JK: It wasn’t really intentional. It felt very natural for me to re-imagine the song in this way, and I didn’t overthink it.
WRH: So what’s next for you?
JK: I’m working on a new EP. In some ways, it’s a sequel to MOTHERSHIP, which I put out last year. So far, it feels ambient, emotional and layered. We’ll see where it goes. I’ll keep you posted. And thank you for talking with me!!
Beginning his professional life with working in finance and as a co-owner of London‘s The Society Club, the Norwegian-born, London-based singer/songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist Erik Brudvik left both to pursue a career with his solo recording project Brudini. Slated for a May 15, 2020 release, Brudvik’s forthcoming self-recorded and self-produced Brudini debut From Darkness, Light is a conceptual album that draws from his own personal experience traversing between two seemingly contradictory worlds before finding his creative voice — and of a life spent as a sort of itinerant traveler.
From Darkness, Light is reportedly a soul searching effort that thematically and narratively weaves an abstract, wandering tale through feelings of loss and longing, anger, lust and despair, towards cosmic consolation as the album features Brudvik’s lyrics and the poems of California-based poet Chip Martin paired with old-timey and atmospheric arrangements featuring creaky pianos, analog synths, syncopated jazz-inspired lyrics and occasional blasts of distorted guitar. The end result is a contemplation of the various transitions, compromises and dashed dreams of adulthood.
The album’s first three singles — “Reflections,” ‘Emotional Outlaw” and “Pale Gold” — were released to widespread critical praise in the UK with Louder Than War referring to the rising singer/songwriter as “an indescribable talent,” as well as praise from NYC music legend Danny Fields. Each of the album’s first singles have received airplay on Radio X, BBC Radio 6 and BBC Radio 2 personality Frank Skinner‘s program. Building upon a growing profile, Brudvik has developed a reputation as a must-see live act, collaborating with Lulu Gainsbourg, Lanah P, and Erasure‘s Andy Bell.
“Radiant Man,” From Darkness, Light‘s fourth and latest single finds the rising Norwegian-born, British-based singer/songwriting crafting a song that balances a thoughtful and earnest intimacy with a widescreen, cinematic quality that subtly recalls Harvest-era Neil Young, OK Computer-era Radiohead and The Invisible Band-era Travis — thanks, in part to an arrangement centered around strummed guitar, atmospheric synths, twinkling piano, shuffling jazz-like rhythms and Brudvik’s plaintive vocals.
Thematically, the song is centered around a narrative that’s older than time, and yet strangely relevant and contemporary: it follows a well-meaning protagonist, full of good intentions who fights onward despite being slowly crushed by a tidal wave of enormous forces beyond his control. The human spirit can be indefatigable — and in these very dark and uncertain times, we’ll need to dig deep, perhaps deeper than ever before to make it to whatever awaits us on the other side.
“‘Radiant Man’ is the story of a person fighting against a tidal wave. In the midst of a crisis, I find there is something about the enduring human spirit that emerges and brings us closer. ‘Radiant Man’ is an homage to this human radiance, echoed today in streets everywhere from Wuhan and New York to Sao Paolo and Milan.”
Throughout the course of last year, I wrote quite a bit about the Los Angeles-based psych rock act The Dream Syndicate. The act, which is currently comprised of founding members Steve Wynn (guitars, vocals), a critically applauded singer/songwriter and solo artist and Dennis Duck (drums), along with the band’s most recent members Mark Walton (bass) and Jason Victor (guitar) can trace its origins back to the early ’80s. At the time Wynn along with fellow Dream Syndicate founding member Kendra Smith and future True West members Russ Tolman and Gavin Blair founded and played in one of Davis, CA’s first New Wave bands — The Suspects, Wynn also recorded a single with another band 15 Minutes, which featured members of Alternate Learning.
After returning to his hometown,. Wynn spent a brief stint researching in another local upstart band, Goat Deity with future Wednesday Week members Kelly and Kristi Callan. And while with Goat Deity, Wynn met Karl Precoda, who had answered an ad seeking a bassist. The duo of Wynn and Precoda started a new band with Precoda switching to guitar. Wynn’s college pal and former bandmate Smith, along with Duck, who was then a member of Pasadena-based act Human Hands joined the band, completing The Dream Syndicate’s first lineup. (Interestingly, as the story goes, Duck suggested the band’s name as a reference to Tony Conrad’s early 1960s New York-based experimental ensemble, best known as the Theatre of Eternal Music, which featured John Cale.)
With the release of their Paul B. Cutler-produced debut EP, The Dream Syndicate received attention locally for a sound influenced by The Velvet Underground, Neil Young and Television, with aggressively long, feedback-filled improvisations. In 1982, The Dream Syndicate signed to Slash Records subsidiary Ruby Records, who released the band’s 1982 full-length debut, the attention-grabbing and influential Days of Wine and Roses. Building upon a growing profile. Rough Trade Records released Days of Wine and Roses’ lead single “Tell Me When It’s Over” as the A-side of a UK EP, which included a live cover of Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul” that was released in early 1983. Shortly, after that Smith left the band and joined the David Roback (best known for his work in Mazzy Star) in Opal. Smith was released by David Provost.
Their Sandy Pearlman-produced sophomore effort Medicine Show was recorded and released through A&M Records in 1984 — and as a result of being on a major label, the band opened for R.E.M. and U2. Attempting to build on a growing profile, the members of the band released a five song EP This Is Not The New Dream Syndicate Album . . . Live!, which was noteworthy as it was the last recorded effort to feature Precoda, who left soon after to pursue a career in screenwriting — and it was the first to feature Mark Walton on bass. The EP’s commercial failure led to the band’s first breakup — although a temporary one. The band was then dropped by A&M Records after the label rejected the band’s demo for “Slide Away.”
During the band’s first break up, Wynn along with Green on Red’s Dan Stuart wrote and recorded 10 songs with Duck and a number of other musicians, which was released by A&M Records in 1985 as Danny and Dusty’s The Lost Weekend. After the release of Lost Weekend, Wynn, Duck and Walton teamed up with Paul B. Cutler to form a then-newly reunited iteration of The Dream Syndicate that recorded two full-length studio albums — 1986’s Cutler-produced Out of the Grey and 1988’s Elliot Mazer-produced Ghost Stories. The band recorded a live album Live at Raji‘s which was recorded in 1988 before the release of Ghost Stories but released afterward.
The band broke up for the second time in 1989 — and a batch of previously unreleased material was released that included 3½ (The Lost Tapes: 1985-1988), a compilation of studio sessions and The Day Before Wine and Roses, a live KPFK radio session, recorded just before the release of the band’s applauded debut album were released. After the breakup, Walton went on to play bass in the Continental Drifters while Wynn went on to become an acclaimed singer/songwriter, who restlessly explored a variety of different styles and sounds while leading a number of disparate projects including Steve Wynn and The Miracle 3, The Baseball Project and others.
Wynn led a reunited Dream Syndicate to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their full-length debut that featured Walton, Duck and Jason Victor, Wynn’s longtime Steve Wynn and The Miracle 3 guitarist at an appearance at 2012’s Festival BAM in Barcelona Spain. The reunited band went on to play a handful of other live sets, including two 2013 Paisley Underground reunion shows that included The Bangles, The Three O’Clock and Rain Parade. September 2014 saw the band playing a handful of shows in which they played their first two albums in their complete entirety — and those shows marked the band’s first shows in the Southeast in almost 30 years. Between their first reunion show and 2017, the band played more than 50 shows together.
2017’s How Did I Find Myself Here was the band’s first reunion-era effort and the band’s fifth full-length album overall. Recorded at Montrose Studios, the album featured a lineup of Wynn. Walton, Duck, Victor and Chris Cacavas (keys) with Kendra Smith contributing lyrics and vocals to the album’s final track “Kendra’s Dream.” The band closed out that year with three songs, which landed on the 3 x 4 compilation, a collection of tracks that featured new material from their Paisley Underground counterparts — the aforementioned The Bangles, The Three O’Clock and Rain Parade with each of the four bands also covering songs by the other bands.
Last year saw the release of the John Agnello and The Dream Syndicate co-produced These Times, the band’s second reunion-era effort and sixth overall. Interestingly, the album’s material is a noticeable sonic departure for the band. “When I was writing the songs for the new album I was pretty obsessed with Donuts by J-Dilla,” the band’s Steve Wynn explained. “I loved the way that he approached record making as a DJ, a crate-digger, a music fan wanting to lay out all of his favorite music, twist and turn the results until he made them into his own. I was messing around with step sequencers, drum machines, loops—anything to take me out of my usual way of writing and try to feel as though I was working on a compilation rather than ‘more of the same.’ You might not automatically put The Dream Syndicate and J-Dilla in the same sentence, but I hear that album when I hear our new one.” Additionally, Wynn changed his process for writing lyrics. Instead of the song’s sound being dictated by previously written lyrics, he wrote all of the album’s lyrics after the band finished instrumental tracking, so that the lyrics were influenced by the sounds being played.
Slated for an April 10, 2020 release through Anti- Records, The Dream Syndicate’s third reunion-era album and seventh overall The Universe Inside will reportedly be one of the most mind-bending efforts they’ve released to date — and for the first time in their lengthy history, every song on the album is a group songwriting effort. Musically, the material draws from each individual member’s eclectic interests and passions — Dennis Duck’s love and knowledge of European avant garde music, Jason Victor’s love of 70s prog rock, Mark Walton’s experience in Southern-friend music collectives, Chris Cacavas’ interest in sound manipulation and Wynn’s love of 70s jazz fusion. Recorded in one session, the band recorded 80 continuous minutes of soundscapes. “All we added was air,” Wynn explained. So, aside from vocals, horns and a touch of percussion here and there, every instrument is recorded live as it happened.
Interestingly, the album’s first single is the sprawling and epic “The Regulator.” Clocking in at just under 21 minutes, the track sonically is a a sort of seamless synthesis of Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson-era Miles Davis, motorik groove-driven prog rock and 60s psych rock as the track features droning eclectic sitar played by The Long Ryders’ Stephen McCarthy, a sinuous bass line, soulful sax flourishes by Butcher Brown’s Marcus Tenney, Wynn’s vocals fed through vocoder and ghostly effects buried within the trippy and funky mix.
“’The Regulator’ is a microcosm of the entire record,” Wynn explains in press notes. “It was just a formless, trippy mass as we all started playing together. There was an early 70’s drum machine—a Maestro Rhythm King, the same model used on There’s A Riot Goin’ On—with Dennis locking in and setting the pace. Stephen grabbed an electric sitar because it was the first thing he saw. Jason and I were kicking pedals on like lab monkeys in a laboratory and Mark was a lightning rod, uniting all of those elements into one tough groove. I collected a list of random, unconnected lyric ideas that I kept on my phone. I tried them all out in random order in my home studio just to see how they would feel and that one-take test run is the vocal you hear! There’s just so much lightning-in-a-jar, first take excitement on this record.”
Directed by David Daglish, the recently released video for “The Regulator” is a psychedelic journey through New York that’s equal parts panoramic, somnambulistic, political and hallucinogenic. Throughout, the video accurately captures the city’s frenetic and maddening energy, its lunatics and crackpots, its bold dreamers and hustlers, its sublime beauty and its gritty soul — it’s essentially a microcosm of our world.
Over the past few years, I’ve spilled a fair share of virtual ink covering Mark Lanegan, the Ellensburg, WA-born, Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, known as the frontman and founding member of Seattle-based grunge rock pioneers Screaming Trees, and an acclaimed solo artist, who has collaborated with an eclectic array of artists and bands — including Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain on an unreleased Lead Belly cover/tribute album recorded before the release of Nevermind; as a member of the renowned grunge All-Star supergroup/side project Mad Season with Alice in Chains‘ Layne Staley and Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready; as a member of Queens of the Stone Age featured on five of the band’s albums — 2000’s Rated R, 2002’s Songs for the Deaf, 2005’s Lullabies to Paralyze, 2007’s Era Vulgaris and 2013’s . . . Like Clockwork; with The Afghan Whigs‘ Greg Dulli in The Gutter Twins; as well as former Belle and Sebastian vocalist Isobel Campbell on three albums. Additionally, Lanegan has contributed or guested on albums by Melisa Auf der Maur, Martina Topley-Bird, Creature with the Atom Brain, Moby, Bomb the Bass, Soulsavers, Greg Dulli’s The Twilight Singers, UNKLE and others.
As a solo artist, Lanegan has released 10 critically applauded albums that have seen a fair amount of commercial success. (Ironically, his solo work has seen much more commercial success than his work with Screaming Trees.) The Ellensburg-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, guitarist and JOVM mainstay’s tenth solo album Gargoyle was a collaboration between him, British-born and-based musician Rob Marshall and longtime collaborator, singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Alain Johannes. That album’s material was both an expansion and refinement of the Krautrock-tinged blues of his two preceding albums 2012’s Blues Funeral and 2014’s Phantom Radio.
Somebody’s Knocking, Lanegan’s 11th full-length solo album is slated for an October 18, 2019 release through Heavenly Recordings, and the album’s material finds the acclaimed singer/songwriter turning to some of his most formative musical influences and loves — electronic music. “I’ve always been into electronic music since I was a kid,” Lanegan says in press notes. “I think the reason those elements have become more obvious in my music is that my tastes have changed as I’ve grown older. The bulk of what I listen to now is electronic. Alain Johannes and I had actually written “Penthouse High” for Gargoyle but then it didn’t really fit on that record. I have been a huge fan of New Order and Depeche Mode forever and have wanted to do a song along those lines for a long time – a blatantly catchy, old-school dance-type song.”
Although Somebody’s Knocking came together during an 11 day session in Los Angeles, much of the album’s deepest musical influences are decidedly European, including the album’s two other writing partners Martin Jenkins, who records as Pye Corner Audio and the aforementioned Rob Marshall, who contribute some newer, murkier forms. Reportedly, Lanegan approached working with each of the album’s writing partners from the perspective and lens of a fan and interpreter.
Lyrically speaking, the album purportedly sets the listener down multiple rabbit holes, as Lanegan paints psychedelic pictures inspired by the music. “I feel like I write lyrics instinctively. I let the melody come first and then it tells me what the words are going to be and I write whatever feels appropriate,” Lanegan says in press notes. “That said, I’m also influenced by everything I’m into. I don’t usually like to talk about what a song means to me; I prefer that the people who connect with a song do so with their own interpretation. It never crossed my mind what Neil Young meant by After The Gold Rush, only the personal movie it created in my head. My entire life, all the music that I’ve connected to has drawn me in like that. Joy Division, Nick Drake, Son House, The 13th Floor Elevators, The Gun Club… all the music that meant the most to me, the music that saved my life was the music that told my own story back to me.”
Naturally, some aspects of the real world can’t help but seep their way into the album’s material. “It seems to me that the entire world is in a weird, precarious place right now,” the Ellensburg-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter says in press notes. “I try to not be someone in a constant state of worry and alarm but watching the massive divide that is taking place and the political situations, especially in the US and UK makes me think, ‘what the fuck are these idiots thinking?’ The hatred, racism and all this other fear-driven shit, these ‘adults’ that continually drive the machine that perpetuates this ignorance to their own ends should all be in the prison cells instead of the non-violent drug “offenders” in them now. I can’t specifically say how any of this effects my writing but I know that most of the things that occupy my thoughts have a way of coming back out in a song.”
Now, as you may recall, I wrote about the bluesy-Heaven Up Here-era Echo and the Bunnymen-like “Letter Never Sent.” The album’s latest single “Night Flight to Kabul” may arguably one of be the album’s more dance floor friendly tracks, as it’s centered around thumping, four-on-the-floor drumming, rumbling bass lines, shimmering and skronky guitars, a tight motorik groove and Lanegan’s imitable croon. In some way, the song will likely remind listeners a bit of a bluesy take on the likes of Gary Numan and New Order. But lyrically, the song evokes a hallucinatory and surrealist fever dream, in which things aren’t quite what they seem.
Directed by Dean Karr, the recently released video for “Night Flight to Kabul” is a hallucinogenic and feverish dream. ‘“The artistry and genius of Dean Karr is what made this video happen,” Mark Lanegan says in press notes. “5,000 still photographs taken in eight hours were painstakingly put together to give the appearance of a strange wraithlike figure moving weirdly through the desolate landscape of the Salton Sea. My third video with Dean in three different decades and I have to say this was the best. The most artistically challenging and satisfying.”
“We had been talking about doing this video for ‘Night Flight to Kabul’ for a month or two and my only concern was how could I pull this off with such a challenging budget for my friend?” The video’s director, Dean Karr adds in press notes. “Being a photographer before I was ever a director, I decided to use my Nikon D810 still camera for the entire music video and turn it into animation throughout the entire clip. What a simple solution! There’s lots of post work involved, which was done by editor and FX artist Joel Nathaniel Smith. There’s alot to be said for the simplicity of working WITHOUT a crew, it was just Mark, myself and a fan of Mark’s (Jason Hall) who drove 3 hours out of his way to meet us at the The Salton Sea, CA to help us shoot a beyond unique video! I think this is one of the freshest looking things out there today and love the ‘melty’ moments, which remind me of doing hallucinogenics back in the day!”
I’ve written quite a bit about the internationally acclaimed Algerian Tuareg pioneers of Desert Blues and JOVM mainstays Tinariwen over the past handful of years. And as you can recall, the act can trace its origins back to the late 1970s when the band’s founding member, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib (guitar) joined a small group of Tuareg rebels living in refugee camps in Libya and Algeria. The rebels Ag Alhabib hooked up with had been influenced by radical chaabi protest music of groups like Nass El Ghiwane and Jil Jilala, Algerian pop rai, and western artists like Elvis Presley, Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana, Dire Straits, Jimi Hendrix, Boney M, and Bob Marley — and they started writing music that meshed the traditional folk music of their people with Western rock, reggae and blues-leaning arrangements.
Despite a series of lineup changes since their formation, the act has toured regularly across the European Union, North American, Japan and Australia, playing some fo the biggest festivals of the international touring circuit — and at some of the world’s biggest clubs and music venues. But one thing has been consistent: they’ve firmly established a sound that evokes the harsh and surreal beauty of their desert homeland, centered around the poetry and wisdom of a rough and tumble, proud and rebellious people, whose old-fashioned way of life is rapidly disappearing as a result of increasingly technology and encroaching Westernization and globalization. And while 2017’s Elwan (which translates into English as “The Elephants”) thematically touches upon on the impact that Westernization and technology has had on the lives of their people, their exile from their homeland as result of religious and ethnic infighting, the uncertain future of their homeland and their longing to be back in their homeland — with the tacit understanding that many within the band may never see their homeland ever again.
Slated for a September 6, 2019 release through Anti- Records, the acclaimed JOVM mainstays’ forthcoming album Amadjar reportedly is as close as listeners can get to the proverbial soul of the band as it was recorded in a natural setting. Accompanied by their French production team, who arrived in an old camper can that has been converted into a makeshift studio, the Saharan Africa JOVM mainstays’ journey to the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott takes about 12 days or so. Every evening, the caravan stopped to set up camp and the band went to work under the stars to prepare for the recording sessions, talking through things, and letting their guitar motifs, thoughts and long buried songs come. Then, during a final two-week camp in the desert around Nouakchott, the band, joined by The Mauritanian griot Noura Mint Seymali and her guitarist husband, Jeiche Ould Chigaly, recorded their songs under large tent in a few live takes, without headphones or effects.
Once recorded, a host of Western musicians added additional instrumentation including the Bad Seeds’ Warren Ellis, who contributed violin; Micah Nelson, the son of the legendary Willie Nelson and a member of Neil Young‘s backing band, contributed mandolin and charango; Sunn O)))‘s Stephen O’Malley contributes guitar; Cass McCombs, who contributes guitar; and Rodophe Burger.
Lyrically and thematically, the album explores the continuing political, social, humanitarian and environmental problems faced in their home country of Mali and continues Tinariwen’s pursuit to highlight the plight and issues of their people through their music. The album continues the band’s ongoing work of highlighting the plight of the Tuareg community — from the collapse of infrastructure and public services, climate change and the ongoing political and military conflicts that have plagued their homeland since it gained independence in 1960.
Interestingly, “Kel Tinariwen” Amadjar’s latest single continues in a similar path of its predecessors as its centered around shimmering and looping acoustic guitar, call and response vocals, handclaps and drums and while the addition of a sinuous electric bass line helps to modernize the song, the song feels as though it’s an effortless synthesis of the ancient and the modern. Thematically, the song touches upon two ancient things: the treacherousness of those power mad and greedy sorts, who will sell out their people — and a triumph of the righteous over them. Cass McCombs contributes some trippy vocals towards the song’s coda and his guitar work.
Directed by Celidja Pornon, the recently released video for “Kel Tinariwen” is a cinematic and intimate shot visual that follows the band and their crew as they travel through the desert with their makeshift recording studio. We see tons of earthy browns and oranges, eerily beautiful landscapes, enormous and seemingly endless skies, and Van Gogh-like suns. Over the course of their journey, they stop for the night, set up camp, play dominoes, joke and chat and at night, they jam and write songs — the songs that represent the struggles and concerns of their people and of their homeland. We also get glimpses of the band performing for an ecstatic group of Tuaregs, who cheer them up and record every moment.