Tag: R.E.M.

New Video: The Dream Syndicate Releases a Hallucinogenic Visual for Sprawling and Mind-Bending “The Regulator”

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. 

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New Video: Melbourne’s RVG Releases an Intimate Visual for Aching and Anthemic “I Used To Love You”

Romy Vager is an Adelaide, Australia-born singer/songwriter, who as a teenaged goth kid runaway left her hometown, drawn to Melbourne, Australia. Upon her arrival in Melbourne, Vager joined her first band, Sooky La La, a project that crafted material centered around anger and discordance. Sooky La La were misunderstood, never found a following and routinely cleared rooms. Eventually, the band split up and as a result, Vager committed herself to write songs that people would actually like and want to listen to by doing what countless other aspiring songwriters hope to do: match feelings of alienation, loneliness and feeling misunderstood to melody, introspection and enormous, soul-stirring hooks and refrains. 

For a while, Vager was living at The Bank, an erstwhile recording, rehearsal and performance space that took over an old bank building in Preston, Australia, a suburb about six miles from Melbourne. The Bank was a scene unto itself, featuring a handful of bands that would soon become acclaimed, including Jalala, Gregor and Hearing, who all played, practiced and lived there. Naturally, living in an enormous space surrounded by musicians, who were constantly working and refining their work was profoundly inspiring to the Adelaide-born, Melbourne-based singer/songwriter. 

Back in September 2015, Vager launched a tape of solo material that hadn’t actually been pressed and landed her first solo show at The Bank’s downstairs performance space. For her live solo debut, Vager recruited Drug Sweat‘s and The Galaxy Folk’s Angus Bell, her Bank neighbor, Gregor’s and Hearing’s Reuben Bloxham and Rayon Moon‘s Marc Nolte to be a one-off backing band. And as the story goes, once they began playing together, they all realized — without having to say it aloud — that they needed to continue as a band. Shortly after that show, they initially formed as Romy Vager Group before shortening it to RVG.

RVG’s 2017 full-length debut A Quality of Mercy was recorded live off the floor at Melbourne’s beloved and iconic rock ‘n’ roll pub, The Tote Hotel. Initially released to little fanfare — no press releases, no music videos, no press photos of the band or any significant press push, the album’s material was heavily inspired by The Go-Betweens, The Soft Boys and The Smiths and centered by Vager’s passionate and achingly vulnerable vocals. Much to the band’s surprise, their full-length debut received attention and praise across their native Australia and elsewhere — and as a result of a rapidly growing profile, the band caught the attention of Fat Possum Records, who signed the band and re-issued A Quality of Mercy, which led to a much larger profile internationally. 

Building upon a growing profile, the band then went on world tours with Shame and Kurt Vile. Late last year, the band released the Victor Van Vugt-produced single “Alexandria.” Written as a response to the immediate aftermath of Brexit and Trump, the song is appropriately urgent and ardent. Featuring jangling guitars, pummeling drums, a rousingly anthemic hook and Vager’s earnestly plaintive and gravely howl, the song finds the band gaining a subtle studio sheen — without scrubbing the grit and honesty that has won them attention. 

2020 will be a momentous year for the rising Melbourne-based band. They recently signed to Fire Records, who will be releasing their highly-anticipated sophomore album Feral on April 24, 2020 throughout the world — excluding Australia and New Zealand, where the album will be released through their longtime label home Our Golden Friend. And to mark this exciting new era for the band, they recently announced Feral’s second single, the devastating and heartbreaking, anthemic ballad “I Used to Love You.” Simple and sincere, the song tells a familiar and fairly universal tale: a narrator, who proudly reclaims themselves and their lives in the aftermath of an embittering breakup. The song’s narrator may be proud and defiant; but there’s the sad acknowledgment of something deeply important coming to an end, iAnd while firmly establishing the band’s reputation for crafting an enormous, heartfelt hooks centered around personal experience, the song manages to recall Concrete Blonde’s “Joey” and R.E.M.’s “One I Love.” 

Directed by documentarian and narrative filmmaker Tom Campbell and shot by Edward Goldner, the recently released video for “I Used To Love You,” is a cinematic and intimate video featuring a contemplative Romy Vager, who at points sings the song’s lyrics directly at the viewer — and with the same earnestness and heartache as the accompanying song. “There’s a lot of power in reclaiming yourself but also a lot of sadness. I adore Tom’s video and feel like it captures the energy of the song perfectly,” RVG’s Romy Vager says in press notes. 

 

Founded by The Weight’s and Gentleman Jesse’s Joseph Plunket (guitar, vocals) and Silver Jews‘ Brian Kotzur (drums), who also started in Harmony Korine’s critically applauded film Trash Humpers with State Champion‘s Sabrina Rush (bass), the rising Nashville-based trio Country Westerns can trace their origins to when the then Brooklyn-based Plunket relocated to Nashville, where he founded Duke’s, the sister bar to my beloved Clem’s. Although Nashville has a long-held reputation for teeming with solo artists and hired guns, Plunket met Kotzur, and the pair bonded over their mutual desire to be in an actual band.

Throughout 2016, Plunket and Kotzur spent their time in Kotzur’s garage writing material and tracking demos, eventually honing their sound. With the encouragement of their friends, they began looking for the band’s third member. Playing with a number of different lineups including Bully’s Reece Lazarus, who played on some of their earliest material, Plunket’s and Kotzur’s friend Sabrina Rush joined the band, completing their lineup after a series of lineup shuffles. Best known as a violinist and member of Louisville, KY’s State Champion, Rush had never played bass until that point; but bass came naturally to her, and Plunket and Kotzur quickly realized that her harmonic bass lines managed to perfectly flesh out their sound.

The first recordings with the band’s current lineup were recorded in Nashville with engineer Andrija Tokic, but the band was soon convinced to leave Nashville to record a couple of songs with Matt Sweeney at Brooklyn’s Strange Weather Studios with Daniel Schlett. Interestingly, the Sweeney-produced material caught the attention of Fat Possum Records, who signed the band during a brief break in the recording sessions.

Slated for a May 1, 2020 release, the band’s self-titled debut album reportedly finds the band playing with a bigger sound than what one would expect for a trio. Interestingly, the album’s first single “Gentle Soul,” which features a jangling guitar riff, Plunket’s raspy and growling vocals, a insistent and propulsive rhythm section and an enormous finds the band’s sound leaning heavily towards Document-era R.E.M. and 80s John Mellencamp: earnest lyrics, inspired by and written from hard-fought and harder-won experience paired with ambitious and accessible songwriting.

 

 

 

 

 

Live Footage: the bird and the bee Cover Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” with Dave Grohl on “The Late Late Show with James Corden”

Comprised of singer/songwriter Inara George and seven time Grammy Award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin, who has worked with the likes of Sia,Adele, Beck, Kendrick Lamar, Foo Fighters and Paul McCartney, the Los Angeles-based indie pop act the bird and the bee can trace their origins to when they met  while working on George’s 2005 solo debut All Rise. Bonding over a mutual love of 80s pop and rock, the duo decided to continue to work together in a jazz-influenced electro pop project.

The Los Angeles indie pop duo’s debut EP Again and Again and Again and Again was released in late 2006. They quickly followed that up with their self-titled full-length debut in early 2007 — and with their earliest releases George and Kurstin quickly developed a reputation for bringing a breezy elegance to their work, which finds them putting their own idiosyncratic twist on time-bending indie pop.

Although serving as the long-awaited follow up to 2015’s Recreational Love, the bird and the bee’s fifth album, Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen actually closely follows 2010’s critically applauded Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Hall & Oates. And while Van Halen‘s most anthemic and beloved work may initially seem like an unlikely vessel for the Los Angeles-based duo’s sound and approach, George and Kurstin are both lifelong fans of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen. As the story goes back in 2007, George caught her first-ever Van Halen show, during the first tour to feature David Lee Roth as the band’s frontman since 1985. George was so charmed by Roth’s presence, that after that show, she approached Kurstin about writing a song for Roth. The end result was the swooning serenade “Diamond Dave,” which appeared on their 2008 sophomore album Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future. “We asked him to be in the video, but instead he signed a picture and gave me the yellow top hat he’d worn at the show I saw, which I thought was very sweet,” George says in press notes. “When we were trying to figure out who to cover for the second volume of Interpreting the Masters, we were both a little bit like, ‘Oh my god, can we really do it?’ But then we just went for it.”

Slated for an August 2, 2019 release through No Expectations/Release Me Records, the duo’s fifth album features an impressive backing band of guest musicians including Justin Meldal Johnsen (bass), who has worked with Beck and Nine Inch Nails; Joey Waronker (drums), who has worked with R.E.M and Elliott Smith; and Omar Hakim(drums), who has worked with the David Bowie and Miles Davis assisting the duo in making familiar David Lee Roth-era Van Halen anthems completely their own, imbuing even the most over-the-top tracks with a slinky intimacy.

Interestingly, for Kurstin, an accomplished jazz pianist, who once studied with Jaki Byard, a pianist that once played in Charles Mingus‘ band, one of the greatest challenges he had translating Eddie Van Halen’s virtuoso guitar work into piano arrangements that kept some of the spirit and vibe of the original. “I know there’s a jazz influence with the Van Halen brothers, so I tried to channel some of the things that I felt might’ve influenced Eddie,” Kurstin notes. “In a way ‘Eruption’ is almost like a piece of classical music, so I mostly treated it that way as I interpreted it for piano,” he adds, referring to the iconic instrumental guitar solo from Van Halen’s self-titled debut. 

While creating arrangements around Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work will reveal the duo’s ingenuity and playfulness as interpreters and arrangers paired with a deeply nuanced reading of the material, which is influenced by their deep and profound emotional connection to the band.“I remember being 10-years-old and seeing their videos and feeling both excited and totally terrified—I responded to them in this very visceral way,” George says in press notes. Kurstin, who also is a lifelong fan, actually got a chance to work with Eddie Van Halen in the early 80s when the Grammy Award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist was a 12 year-old member of Dweezil Zappa’s band. “I got to hang out with him in the studio and go backstage when Van Halen played The Forum, which was a really big moment for my younger self,” Kurstin recalls.

Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen‘s album’s second single “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” is a slinky New Wave-like take on the original, centered around an angular and propulsive bass line, atmospheric electronics, shimmering and arpeggiated synths and while bearing an uncanny resemblance to New Order and It’s Blitz!-era Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the track is imbued with a feverish quality.

While much of Van Halen’s material, whether it was David Lee Roth-era or Sammy Hagar-era is seemingly familiar to the point of well-worn, the first two singles off Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen finds the duo crafting a loving and thoughtful take on beloved material. And they manage to do so in a way that retains familiar elements but within a playful, post-modern, decidedly feminist fashion. 

The duo were recently on The Late Late Show with James Corden, where they performed their sultry rendition of “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” with a special guest — Dave Grohl, who played drums. 

New Audio: the bird and the bee’s Jazz-like Take on Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher”

Last month, I wrote about the Los Angeles-based indie pop act the bird and the bee — singer/songwriter Inara George and seven time Grammy Award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin, who has worked with the likes of Sia, Adele, Beck, Kendrick Lamar, Foo Fighters and Paul McCartney — and as you may recall, the act can trace their origins to when the duo met while working on George’s 2005 solo debut All Rise. Bonding over a mutual love of 80s pop and rock, the duo decided to continue to work together in a jazz-influenced electro pop project.

The Los Angeles indie pop duo’s debut EP Again and Again and Again and Again was released in late 2006. They quickly followed that up with their self-titled full-length debut in early 2007 — and with their earliest releases George and Kurstin quickly developed a reputation for bringing a breezy elegance to their work, which finds them putting their own idiosyncratic twist on time-bending indie pop.

Although serving as the long-awaited follow up to 2015’s Recreational Love, the bird and the bee’s fifth album, Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen actually closely follows 2010’s critically applauded Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Hall & Oates. And while Van Halen‘s most anthemic and beloved work may initially seem like an unlikely vessel for the Los Angeles-based duo’s sound and approach, George and Kurstin are both lifelong fans of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen. Back in 2007, George caught her first-ever Van Halen show — and it was the first tour to feature David Lee Roth as the band’s frontman since 1985. George was so charmed by Roth’s presence, that after that show, she approached Kurstin about writing a song for Roth. The end result was the swooning serenade “Diamond Dave,” which appeared on their 2008 sophomore album Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future. “We asked him to be in the video, but instead he signed a picture and gave me the yellow top hat he’d worn at the show I saw, which I thought was very sweet,” George says in press notes. “When we were trying to figure out who to cover for the second volume of Interpreting the Masters, we were both a little bit like, ‘Oh my god, can we really do it?’ But then we just went for it.”

Slated for an August 2, 2019 release through No Expectations/Release Me Records, the duo’s fifth album features an impressive backing band of guest musicians including Justin Meldal Johnsen (bass), who has worked with Beck and Nine Inch Nails; Joey Waronker (drums), who has worked with R.E.M and Elliott Smith; and Omar Hakim (drums), who has worked with the David Bowieand Miles Davis assisting the duo in making familiar David Lee Roth-era Van Halen anthems completely their own, imbuing even the most over-the-top tracks with a slinky intimacy.

Interestingly, for Kurstin, an accomplished jazz pianist, who once studied with Jaki Byard, a pianist that once played in Charles Mingus‘ band, one of the greatest challenges he had translating Eddie Van Halen’s virtuoso guitar work into piano arrangements that kept some of the spirit and vibe of the original. “I know there’s a jazz influence with the Van Halen brothers, so I tried to channel some of the things that I felt might’ve influenced Eddie,” Kurstin notes. “In a way ‘Eruption’ is almost like a piece of classical music, so I mostly treated it that way as I interpreted it for piano,” he adds, referring to the iconic instrumental guitar solo from Van Halen’s self-titled debut. 

While creating arrangements around Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work will reveal the duo’s ingenuity and playfulness as interpreters and arrangers paired with a deeply nuanced reading of the material, which is influenced by their deep and profound emotional connection to the band.“I remember being 10-years-old and seeing their videos and feeling both excited and totally terrified—I responded to them in this very visceral way,” George says in press notes. Kurstin, who also is a lifelong fan, actually got a chance to work with Eddie Van Halen in the early 80s when the Grammy Award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist was a 12 year-old member of Dweezil Zappa’s band. “I got to hang out with him in the studio and go backstage when Van Halen played The Forum, which was a really big moment for my younger self,” Kurstin recalls.

The album’s two singles found the members of the bird and the bee taking on Van Halen’s “Panama” and “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love.” The duo turned “Panama” from a power chord-based arena rock anthem into a sultry club banger, centered around shimmering and arpeggiated synths, bright blasts of twinkling piano and cowbell, a wobbling Bootsy Collins-like bass line and George’s sensual vocal delivery. Their cover of”Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” was a slinky and shimmering New Wave-like take that recalled New Order and It’s Blitz-era Yeah Yeah Yeahs while imbued with a feverish quality.  The album’s third latest single finds the band taking on “Hot For Teacher,” the last official single that band released with their original lineup.  Featuring drummer Omar Hakim, who has worked with David Bowie, Sting, Daft Punk, Weather Report, Madonna, Kate Bush and others and a spoken word cameo from Beck, the bird and the bee deliver a swinging bop jazz-inspired take that actually pulls, tugs and teases out the jazziness of the original — particularly within Eddie Van Halen’s dexterous guitar solo-ing. Interestingly, much like Easy Star All-Stars take on Dark Side of the Moon, the bird and the bee version of “Hot For Teacher” isn’t a purely straightforward cover — rather, it’s a subtle and mischievous modernization that retains the spirit and intent of the song in a thoughtful and loving way. 

Comprised of singer/songwriter Inara George and seven time Grammy Award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist Greg Kurstin, who has worked with the likes of Sia, Adele, Beck, Kendrick Lamar, Foo Fighters and Paul McCartney, the Los Angeles-based indie pop act the bird and the bee can trace their origins to when they met  while working on George’s 2005 solo debut All Rise. Bonding over a mutual love of 80s pop and rock, the duo decided to continue to work together in a jazz-influenced electro pop project.

The Los Angeles indie pop duo’s debut EP Again and Again and Again and Again was released in late 2006. They quickly followed that up with their self-titled full-length debut in early 2007 — and with their earliest releases George and Kurstin quickly developed a reputation for bringing a breezy elegance to their work, which finds them putting their own idiosyncratic twist on time-bending indie pop.

Although serving as the long-awaited follow up to 2015’s Recreational Love, the bird and the bee’s fifth album, Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen actually closely follows 2010’s critically applauded Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Hall & Oates. And while Van Halen‘s most anthemic and beloved work may initially seem like an unlikely vessel for the Los Angeles-based duo’s sound and approach, George and Kurstin are both lifelong fans of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen. As the story goes back in 2007, George caught her first-ever Van Halen show, during the first tour to feature David Lee Roth as the band’s frontman since 1985. George was so charmed by Roth’s presence, that after that show, she approached Kurstin about writing a song for Roth. The end result was the swooning serenade “Diamond Dave,” which appeared on their 2008 sophomore album Ray Guns Are Not Just the Future“We asked him to be in the video, but instead he signed a picture and gave me the yellow top hat he’d worn at the show I saw, which I thought was very sweet,” George says in press notes. “When we were trying to figure out who to cover for the second volume of Interpreting the Masters, we were both a little bit like, ‘Oh my god, can we really do it?’ But then we just went for it.”

Slated for an August 2, 2019 release through No Expectations/Release Me Records, the duo’s fifth album features an impressive backing band of guest musicians including Justin Meldal Johnsen (bass), who has worked with Beck and Nine Inch Nails; Joey Waronker (drums), who has worked with R.E.M and Elliott Smith; and Omar Hakim (drums), who has worked with the David Bowie and Miles Davis assisting the duo in making familiar David Lee Roth-era Van Halen anthems completely their own, imbuing even the most over-the-top tracks with a slinky intimacy.

Interestingly, for Kurstin, an accomplished jazz pianist, who once studied with Jaki Byard, a pianist that once played in Charles Mingus‘ band, one of the greatest challenges he had translating Eddie Van Halen’s virtuoso guitar work into piano arrangements that kept some of the spirit and vibe of the original. “I know there’s a jazz influence with the Van Halen brothers, so I tried to channel some of the things that I felt might’ve influenced Eddie,” Kurstin notes. “In a way ‘Eruption’ is almost like a piece of classical music, so I mostly treated it that way as I interpreted it for piano,” he adds, referring to the iconic instrumental guitar solo from Van Halen’s self-titled debut. 

While creating arrangements around Eddie Van Halen’s guitar work will reveal the duo’s ingenuity and playfulness as interpreters and arrangers paired with a deeply nuanced reading of the material, which is influenced by their deep and profound emotional connection to the band.“I remember being 10-years-old and seeing their videos and feeling both excited and totally terrified—I responded to them in this very visceral way,” George says in press notes. Kurstin, who also is a lifelong fan, actually got a chance to work with Eddie Van Halen in the early 80s when the Grammy Award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist was a 12 year-old member of Dweezil Zappa’s band. “I got to hang out with him in the studio and go backstage when Van Halen played The Forum, which was a really big moment for my younger self,” Kurstin recalls.

Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen‘s first single is the duo’s  “Panama,” which finds the them turning the beloved, power chord-based arena rock anthem into a sultry club banger, centered around shimmering and arpeggiated synths, bright blasts of twinkling piano and cowbell, a wobbling Bootsy Collins-like bass line and George’s sensual vocal delivery. The album’s second single “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” is a slinky New Wave-like take on the original, centered around an angular and propulsive bass line, atmospheric electronics, shimmering and arpeggiated synths and while bearing an uncanny resemblance to New Order and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the track is imbued with a feverish quality.

While much of Van Halen’s material, whether it was David Lee Roth-era or Sammy Hagar-era is seemingly familiar to the point of well-worn, the first two singles off Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 2: A Tribute to Van Halen finds the duo crafting a loving and thoughtful take on beloved material. And they manage to do so in a way that retains familiar elements but within a playful, post-modern, decidedly feminist fashion.

 

 

The bird and the bee will be embarking on a 15 date North American tour throughout the summer, and the tour will include an August 17, 2019 stop at Elsewhere. Check out the rest of the tour dates below.

Tour Dates
08/02/19 – Los Angeles, CA @ John Anson Ford Theater # – TICKETS
08/11/19 – St. Paul, MN @ Turf Club * – TICKETS
08/12/19 – Chicago, IL @ Sleeping Village * – TICKETS
08/14/19 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Mr. Smalls Theatre * – TICKETS
08/15/19 – Providence, RI @ Columbus Theatre * – TICKETS
08/16/19 – Philadelphia, PA @ World Cafe Live * – TICKETS
08/17/19 – Brooklyn, NY @ Elsewhere * –TICKETS
08/20/19 – Carrboro, NC @ Cat’s Cradle * – TICKETS
08/21/19 – Atlanta, GA @ Aisle 5 * – TICKETS
08/22/19 – Birmingham, AL @ The Saturn * – TICKETS
08/24/19 – Dallas, TX @ Trees * – TICKETS
08/25/19 – Austin, TX @ Parish * – TICKETS
08/28/19 – Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom * – TICKETS
08/29/19 – San Diego, CA  @ Casbah * – TICKETS
08/30/19 – San Francisco, CA @ Rickshaw Stop * ^ – TICKETS
# = featuring Dave Grohl on drums and Justin Meldel-Johnsen on bass
* = support from Samantha Sidley and Alex Lilly
^ = additional support from DJ Aaron Exelson

Lyric Video: The Dream Syndicate Release Trippy Visuals for Motorik Groove-based “The Way In”

Over the past couple of months, I’ve written a bit about  Los Angeles-based psych rock act The Dream Syndicate, and as you may recall the act, which is currently comprised of founding members Steve Wynn, an accomplished and critically applauded singer/songwriter, guitarist and solo artist and drummer Dennis Duck, along with bassist Mark Walton and guitarist Jason Victor, can trace its origins back to the early 80s when 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 the area’s first new wave bands in the Davis, CA music scene, The Suspects. Wynn also recorded a single with another band, 15 Minutes, which included members of Alternate Learning.

After returning to his hometown, Wynn spent a brief stint of time rehearsing in another local band, Goat Deity with future Wednesday Week members, Kelly and Kristi Callan — and while with Goat Deity, Wynn met Karl Precoda, who had an answered an ad seeking a bassist. The two started a new band with Precoda switching to guitar. Wynn’s college pal and former bandmate Smith and Duck (Mehaffey), who was a member of Pasadena-based act Human Hands joined the band to complete The Dream Syndicate’s initial 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 UndergroundNeil Young and Television, complete with aggressively long, feedback-filled improvisations. The members of the band 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 RosesRough Trade Records released their debut’s 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. Smith left the band and joined David Roback in Opal — and she was replaced 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 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 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 and solo artist with a reputation or restlessly exploring a variety of different styles while leading a number of different projects including Steve Wynn and The Miracle 3The 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 BanglesThe 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.

Anti-Records released the band’s fifth full-length album How Did I Find Myself Here in 2017, which featured a lineup of Wynn, Walton, Duck and Victor with keyboardist Chris Cacavas. Recorded at Montrose Studios, the album’s notable final track “Kendra’s Dream” featured vocals and lyrics from Kendra Smith. Building upon the growing attention around the reunited band, the members of The Dream Syndicate recorded three songs, which were included on the compilation 3 x 4, a collection of tracks that featured new material from their Paisley Underground counterparts, The Bangles, The Three O’Clock and Rain Parade with each of the four bands covering songs by the other bands.

Slated for a May 3, 2019 release through Anti-Records, the John Agnello and The Dream Syndicate co-produced These Times will be the second full-length studio album since the band reunited, and the album’s material is reportedly a subtle yet noticeable departure for the band sonically. “When I was writing the songs for the new album I was pretty obsessed with Donuts by J-Dilla,” lead singer and songwriter 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 also changed up his lyric writing process for the album — instead of the song’s sound being dictated by previously written lyrics, he wrote all the material’s lyrics after the band finished instrumental tracking, so that the lyrics were influenced by the sounds.

The album’s first single was the atmospheric and surrealist dream, “Black Light,” a track built around a looped arpeggiated key and congo sequence, shimmering bursts of guitar, and a motorik groove comprised of a propulsive and sinuous bass line and a backing vocal section that sings “aaah” while Wynn’s vocals sing surrealistic and symbolic lyrics about how the night exposes our darkest and deepest inhibitions and fears. “Put Some Miles On,” the album’s second single continued in a similar vein as its immediate predecessor with the track featuring a chugging, motorik groove, blasts of feedback driven guitar, twinkling synths and Wynn’s languid, speak-singing vocals delivering surrealistic lyrics with a profound double meaning — with the song making references to getting older while being on the road and actually playing the influential work of Miles Davis.

“The Way In,” These Times‘ third and latest single is the album’s lysergic, Starfish-era The Church-like opening track. Centered around a chugging, motorik-groove, looping, feedback and distortion pedaled guitars, the song as the band’s Steve Wynn says in press notes is “the leadoff track, kind of a Rosetta Stone, decoder ring, instruction manual to light the way,” the band’s Steve Wynn says of the album’s new single. “It’s all about clearing the decks, dusting off, fastening the spacesuit and bracing yourself for what might come next.  It sounds like something we might have heard on the radio in 1981 when we were forming the band thinking, ‘Maybe we ought to sound like that.’”

Filmed on the vibrant streets of Madiera, Portugal, the recently released lyric video for “The Way In” is an aptly hallucinogenic visual that feels like falling down the proverbial rabbit hole.