Friday, December 31, 2004
Well, it's been...a year. Disasters in politics and baseball, terrorismearthquakewar, personal triumphs and tragedies. With a good friend on his way to Baghdad, someone I love heading for rehab in a couple days, and another four disastrous years of Bush looming, being optimistic about the start of 2005 is a bit of a challenge for me.
Tonight will be my 48th DJ gig of of 2004. This might sound like a lot, but I've done as many as 75 in a year, so I actually took it easy this year. New Year's is a fun gig, because you have a captive audience, and they're all paying for an open bar till 1:30, so none of them are leaving. I have a few cool, bizarro tunes planned, some of which I tend to bust out on New Year's, some of which I have never unleashed in public before. I think a few tickets are still available if you call The Goldhawk at 201-420-7989.
What to expect from Hoboken Rock City in 2005? More gigs, more interviews and reviews and ramblings on this blog, and who knows what else. My best of 2004 lists will be up sometime around the end of January or beginning of February. I can't understand or relate to anyone who could finalize of the best-of-the-year list before the year is even over. It's bad enough that the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop ballots are due Monday. At least that's only the top 10. My complete lists—with far more than 10 albums and songs—will take longer to put together. But oh, will they be worth it.
Everyone have a safe and happy one. Don't do anything too stupid. Catch you live in the 05.
Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Okay peoples, I know I owe all y'all an update. The last week and a half has been absurdly busy, and the blog has been one of the casualties. Here's the rundown.
I'll start with the Friday before last. It's a weird but cool thing to DJ your own office party. The whole thing was a blur, but by all accounts the tunes were well received. The playlist for the gig won't be posted for a few reasons, not the least of which is the fact that my writing became unintelligible after a certain point. That hadn't happened in a while.
The Goldhawk's annual staff Xmas party was a goof and a half. The karaoke love was in full effect. They couldn't keep me away from the mic. I rocked The Strokes, The Killers, Elvis' "Suspicious Minds," Eddy Grant, and pitched in on group efforts on "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town." Everything from Andy Williams to Afroman got a turn on the sing-along playlist, and the results were often spectacular. The cliché "a good time was had by all" applies.
My 3rd Annual Xmas Party on Christmas Eve Eve was fun. I played four hours of Christmas music, stretching the boundaries of what constitutes "holiday" music by including The Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, Papas Fritas, and Depeche Mode. The train-wreck segues were in full effect. Of the three times I've done this, I think I'm happiest with this year's playlist.
It was great to see family over the holidays. Christmas shopping was a bitch and two thirds, but in the end it all worked out, and I think everyone was pretty stoked about their gifts. As was I...Santa brought me an Altec Lansing InMotion mini speaker system for my iPod and an HP digital camera—my first digital camera other than the crappy one on my phone, and the fruits of this new camera will surely begin to populate this blog and website soon. I also hauled in two David Cross comedy CDs, and a slew o' DVDs: Mr. Show season one, Live Aid, Dylan's Don't Look Back, Bowie's Ziggy Stardust movie, The Last Waltz, and All In The Family season one. I believe the tally is 24 and a half hours of DVD viewing, not counting special features. Netflix, schmetflix.
Yesterday, I hung out on the air with Pat Pierson on WRSU for Pat's end-of-04 show. It's always a trip to go down to my old college stomping grounds in New Brunswick, N.J. This was my second time in the Hub City this year, as I had joined two intrepid friends for a day and a night of Rutgersesque revelry back in May of this year. I knew the town would be dead with the vast majority of students out of town for the winter recess, but I wasn't prepared for just how dead it would be. I walked around in the near vicinity of the campus for nearly an hour before the radio show started at noon, and I saw maybe seven or eight students.
The expanded four-hour show was a gem. Live in-studio performances by Sleep Station and AJ & Matt Azzarto were great, and quite cool to watch from close range. There were call-ins from My Chemical Romance and The Star Spangles, as well as some of Pat's other DJ friends, like Jerry Rubino of The Hawk, Mike Marrone of XM, Chris Carter, and WRSU's own Sean Carolan. I rapped on-air with Pat a couple times about the best albums of 2004. I'll take full credit for the Rilo Kiley, Crayon Rosary, and Killers songs that were played. I took some pics, but I have to resolve some technical difficulties before I can post them here. You can hear Pat's show live every Tuesday from noon to 2 p.m. eastern time.
Up next is New Year's at The Goldhawk. Party like a rock star and hear me spin for the last time in the 04. For $70, you get four hours of open bar from 9:30 to 1:30, buffet dinner, the obligatory champagne toast, noisemakers and all that crap, and the best rock and/or roll this side of Regis Philbin. I'm biased, but I think it's a good deal. Call the club at 201-420-7989 for ticket info and tell them I sent ya.
Sunday, December 26, 2004
The sound board at Irving Plaza, Dec. 15, 2004.
Hope your holidays are going well. A full Christmas report from Hoboken Rock City is coming soon. Santa was good...
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
I'd love to stay and chat, but damn, this shopping stuff sure takes a lot of time.
But come hear some Christmas tuneage tomorrow night at The Goldhawk. Wear your worst Christmas sweater—apparently everyone else is.
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Did I mention that I was spinning tunes at Irving Fucking Plaza last night? No, I suppose I couldn't mention it until today, because it was a private party.
What a cool gig. I played about three hours of music before, inbetween, and after bands at the Wenner Media holiday party at Irving Plaza last night. Basically, it was the office Christmas party for employees of Rolling Stone, Us Weekly, and Men's Journal. It's extra meaningful for me because I weaned myself on Rolling Stone in my high school days, and in fact the first place I ever worked in New York City was in those very offices, when I did an editorial internship at Us in the summer of 1993. It's been a while, though; I walked several laps through Irving Plaza, wondering if I would see any familiar faces that I had not seen since I worked up in the office there, and I didn't recognize anyone. If David Fricke or Peter Travers were there, they were well-hidden. Tim Robbins—one of my favorite actors—was the obligatory celebrity sighting; damn, that man is tall.
Maroon 5 headlined, and I think it might surprise some people that their encore set consisted of these three covers: "Rockin' In The Free World," Oasis' "Hello," and yes, "Highway To Hell." Big City Rock played a solid opening set.
Other than a slight delay in the beginning of Jann Wenner's speech and introduction of Maroon 5 that caused me to get lost in the '60s vibe for longer than I would have planned, it all went off without a hitch. Everyone at Irving was fantastic; the production manager, sound man, video guy, and bar staff all treated me very well. Maroon 5's sound guy, Nate from Big City Rock, the caterer, and all the Wenner Media folks I met were universally wonderful. People went above and beyond to accommodate all my needs, and it made the night that much more pleasant.
It was an office party, so people were busy gabbing, picking at the snacks, and, oh yeah, drinking their faces off. There were some good, enthusiastic dancers in the latter part of the evening, and that was a kick. There really are few experiences in life that are more of a goof than blasting ABC's "The Look Of Love" in a huge room with a waning party and getting five or six couples to dance.
Tomorrow night, big private music biz holiday party gig number two of the week, which will be my first time rocking the decks on the planet of Brooklyn. Details accordingly; don't wait up.
Wednesday, December 15, 2004
Damn, this Christmas shopping is not going as effortlessly as I had planned. I quote the poet Doug McKenzie: "This should just be The Two Days Of Christmas, it's too hard for us."
Sorry about all the short posts of late. Time is tight. Work's crazy, shopping looms, and even though I have three Saturday nights off in a row from the DJ grind, I still have some really high profile gigs coming up. One is tonight, another is Friday. Wish I could invite all y'all, but they're both private soirees. Suffice it to say that they are holiday events for major corporate musical entities, and I'm pretty psyched about both of them. Details after the fact, I promise.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
It only comes but once a year. Those of you who have never read the mad and marvelous rantings of Jersey City musician, writer, and sage Tris McCall might as well get your feet wet right this second with the newest installment of his annual Pop Music Abstract. I've barely had time to sink my teeth into this one, but this piece is always a must-read, as is almost everything McCall writes.
Monday, December 13, 2004
Forgive me; I realize that complaining about the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame is like complaining about the Grammys, but the induction of Percy Sledge is so lame it makes the choice of Buffalo Springfield seem inspired. The guy had one hit that people remember, and it sucks.
At least The Pretenders got in.
Thursday, December 09, 2004
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Yes, I know today is the 24th anniversary of the day John Lennon was murdered. But it happened long after my eight-year-old self had been put to bed. It was 24 years ago tomorrow that I found out he was dead.
I came downstairs Tuesday morning for breakfast, probably Cocoa Pebbles, or toast with butter and cinnamon sugar. Dad, smoking a Tareyton, asked me if I had heard who died last night. My immediate assumption was that it must be one of the Yankees. The team's captain, catcher Thurman Munson, had died on August 2 of the previous year when the private plane he was flying crashed in Canton, Ohio.
Munson's was the first death of a human being that had any real meaning to me. I was lucky enough to have all four of my grandparents alive until I was 14, and any other deaths among my relatives had taken place before I was born, or when I was too young to remember or understand. When I learned that Munson's plane went down, it was my first real existential moment. I remember relaying the news over the phone to my father, who was at work. At first he thought I was saying that the Yankees' plane had went down, and they were all dead.
So when this news of a famous person's death was thrust upon me on Dec. 9, 1980, I guessed it was a Yankee, until my Dad told me a few seconds later that it was John Lennon of The Beatles.
We had Sgt. Pepper in the house. In fact, we had two copies, because both of my parents had bought the record before they were married to each other. But strangely, the only other Beatles record in the house was the "Eleanor Rigby"/"Yellow Submarine" single. There was also John's Imagine on cassette, and his impenetrable-to-an-eight-year-old Some Time In New York City. That was the extent of my parents' Beatles collection. Yeah, we listened to Elton John, Billy Joel, Simon & Garfunkel, Donna Summer, and Meat Loaf more around the house. But The Beatles were in the family DNA. At least I thought they were, or that they should be. The Beatles were just there, in the air, on the planet, around. Like a force of nature.
I followed the media coverage of the Lennon assassination intensely. For years, I kept The Daily News' pull-out souvenir Lennon section in a bedroom drawer, until it got too tattered. This despite the fact that my own personal Beatlemania didn't blossom in full until 1986, the year I bought my first copies of Abbey Road, Rubber Soul, and Revolver, the year I entered high school.
I mourned Lennon all through high school. Sometimes I still do. Yoko says those who wish to remember John should celebrate his birthday rather than the day he was killed, and I agree with the sentiment; October 9 is a holy day as far as I'm concerned. But every time December 8 rolls around, I get a little misty-eyed and think a lot about a guy I never met, whose best work was done before I was born, and who still, despite all the twists and turns and tumbles the musical journey of my life has taken, remains my favorite singer and my favorite songwriter.
It used to be a tradition that I would spend all day listening to Lennon and Beatle music on both Oct. 9 and Dec. 8. This is no longer strictly the case, but more often than not it still is. Lying in bed trying to fall asleep last night, I decided to utilize my month-old iPod for a new kind of tribute. This morning, I made a playlist called Beatle John, and put every Beatles song that John sings at least part of on the list. I did it quickly, and I didn't check my work, so I probably left a couple out, and included at least one I shouldn't have ("Hold Me Tight"), but I came up with 99 songs. I know I duplicated "If I Fell," which is on both A Hard Day's Night and Something New; I have the U.S. Albums in the library, but not any of the anthologies, or the BBC stuff, or any solo John. Listening to it on random of course led to many great segues. I think my favorite was "Good Morning, Good Morning," with all those barnyard sounds, into "When I Get Home," which of course contains the line "I'm gonna love her till the cows come home."
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
The permalink is here
Local college music scenes often struggle to survive in the undergrounds of their respective towns, but these days New Brunswick, N.J. takes the concept one step further.
When you cram thousands of young adults together just as they’re discovering their creative potentials, it’s hard not to end up with a hell of a lot of bands. And while a good number of those bands will never be ready for prime time, those that do create worthwhile art need places to play in order to win fans and refine their craft.
But what if there is no there there? With the demise of the legendary dance club The Melody a few years ago, and the disappearance of The Budapest Lounge as a cool venue after a late-'90s heyday that surprised Rutgers alums who knew the Buda as a townie bar to be avoided, the last club standing is The Court Tavern. The Court is now the only legitimate rock venue booking indie bands in this college mini-city. It's a far cry from the days when the Court operated alongside The Melody as well as hipster enclaves like The Roxy and Bowl-O-Drome in the early '90s and Patrick's in the '80s.
With just one club paying attention to local indie talent, and no dance clubs or record stores within walking distance of campus, the New Brunswick rock scene has transformed itself by going underground. Literally. In the rundown pre-war houses rented by students, basements have blossomed into miniature rock clubs. It is in these tiny spaces where burgeoning hardcore, emo, electronic, and indie rock talent can be found in the shadow of a state university with tens of thousands of students.
Huma is one of the brightest spots in the current Brunswick rock universe. With dreamy keyboard-guitar songs that bring to mind bands like The Postal Service and Stars, this sister-brother-girlfriend trio has put smiles on the faces of the kinds of kids who crowd into those makeshift basement venues. Brian (guitar/vocals/brother), Laura (keyboards/vocals/sister), and Jess (guitar/vocals/girlfriend) hit The Goldhawk this Thursday for their Hoboken debut on a bill with their friends and fellow lo-fi Brunswick talents Crayon Rosary. In advance of that show, the three Humas gathered around a speakerphone and I called them for a quick chat.
Mike: When did the band start up?
Brian: Maybe two years ago we started messing around, writing songs. Nothing serious at first. March 2003 was our first show, at CB’s Gallery. It was just acoustic. And then we started adding the electronics.
Mike: When did you make the first six-song CD?
Brian: That was a year ago. We’ve all been so collectively busy with school and everything, but we’ve written a lot of stuff. Now we’ve finally planned out a new EP we’re going to do. It’s going to be more mellow, I guess. We’re getting more into the use of sound. We’re concentrating more on parts and layers. I think we’re becoming better and more confident at singing. And we’re trying not to be as lazy with production. Once this semester is done, over the winter break we’re going to get everything done. Otherwise it’s too hectic. By the time we get everything set up, we’re all ready to go to bed. [laughs] Hopefully we’ll find the funding to get it mixed and mastered. There are two or three little labels with the potential to release it, so hopefully one of them will have the funding to make it a slightly more professional release. It’s not going to be poppy, dancey, upbeat like the other stuff. It’s spacey, and acoustic, and pretty.
Mike: So all three of you are students?
Brian, Laura, and Jess: Yeah.
Brian: I’m the perpetual student.
Mike: What is the New Brunswick music scene like at this point?
Jess: There’s a lot of hardcore.
Laura: There’s a variety of different bands. There are some up-and-coming indie rock bands, definitely. We play shows together all the time. And there’s a couple basements and little venues that are always supportive of local bands.
Mike: What’s up with these basement venues? I lived in New Brunswick from ’90 to ‘95, and that’s something that wasn’t there then. When did that culture of houses and basements being used as indie rock venues spring up?
Laura: Probably after The Melody closed.
Brian: Aside from The Court Tavern, there’s nothing else in New Brunswick. There are six to ten of these houses in town now, maybe up to a dozen. There are about four staple houses that have more than one show a week. People find out about them through myspace.com, thenjscene.com, mailing lists, and obviously word of mouth. Some charge a $3 cover. They soundproof the basements, and the cops hardly ever break them up. Shows have only been busted a couple times in the last year and a half. Some of these shows are packed.
Mike: There’s nowhere else for indie rock bands to play in town?
Jess: Just the college.
Brian: The college shows are never very smooth. Unless an organization is sponsoring a show, you are stuck playing in a dorm basement or a student center lounge that tends to have no decent PA system. That was a big problem for Palomar, for example, when they came to New Brunswick last year. When the organizations put on shows, then they get great sound people.
Laura: Also, usually it’s not about the music, it’s about some sort of cause that they’re having it for. It’s like some random variety show. They’re not necessarily focused on a cohesive sound, but rather getting people out for the cause, which is still great.
Mike: Plus you don’t have the club vibe.
Brian: Yeah. But overall, I think New Brunswick is really diverse. There’s one house here that puts on a lot of electronic shows, a lot of noise shows, and breakcore. And a couple houses that do a lot of hardcore and emo. That’s really popular. And there’s a lot of people who play indie rock. Crayon Rosary, Pineapple, Television Down, Brian Bond.
Laura: There’s a lot of solo acoustic guitarists too.
Brian: Yeah, a lot of people influenced by Jeff Mangum [Neutral Milk Hotel] and Iron & Wine. I think the biggest problem with New Brunswick is that there’s not really any big bands that come through, so you’re always playing for the same people. We’ll be playing, and we’ll be talking to our friends from the mic while we’re playing. Like, "Hey, nice of you to show up." [laughs] When The Melody used to be around, Le Tigre used to play, and there were big bands that would come through. And that helped other bands. But I think it’s growing again.
Mike: When The Melody closed a few years ago, I had heard rumors at one point that it was going to reopen somewhere else, or there would be another similar club to take its place. But I guess that just kind of died.
Laura: It’s all Johnson & Johnson and Robert Wood Johnson [Hospital]. Downtown is all being bought up by the hospital.
Mike: Is there a good record store in New Brunswick anymore?
Brian: There aren’t any. There are no record stores in New Brunswick.
Laura: Tunes closed about four years ago.
Brian: There’s not even a Sam Goody anymore. Vintage Vinyl [in Fords] is the only thing. And Princeton Record Exchange.
Laura: And there’s Curmudgeon in Hillsborough.
Mike: In the early ‘90s, New Brunswick had some great record stores, especially Cheap Thrills and Music In A Different Kitchen. The Sam Goody opened my senior year, I think. It sucked, but at least it was an option. It’s weird that if you’re a student living in the dorms now, and you don’t have a car on campus, there is nowhere to go to buy a CD. But how much does that even matter today—does everyone just download like crazy?
Jess: I would say in the dorms they all download.
Brian: They have Direct Connect. It’s beyond the grasp of the RIAA. So they can’t get in trouble, because it’s through the university. So I know a lot of kids download a lot. But I think a lot of kids really support a lot of the music. There are so many vinyl freaks. And people always buy every band’s merch when they play a show.
Laura: A lot of kids get music at shows.
Brian: The kids that support the scene definitely buy a lot and support it financially, as well as showing up for shows and the social atmosphere. Plus you can buy so much stuff online.
Mike: So Thursday night will be your first gig in Hoboken, but you've spent time in town before. What are your impressions of Hoboken?
Brian: I wish I could afford to live there. [laughs] It’s definitely cool. The restaurants, the cafes, I like the atmosphere of Hoboken. I love Maxwell's. I like that it’s outside of New York City. I don’t think I could ever live in New York City, particularly. That’s why Hoboken is nice, because it’s a little smaller.
Huma plays The Goldhawk this Thursday, Dec. 9 at 10 p.m. Crayon Rosary plays right before them, at 9 p.m.
"This song is for anyone who's had their hearts smashed to bits" was how they introduced one song; "This song is for anyone who's had their face smashed to bits" was the intro for the one that followed. Put mildly, The Trashcan Sinatras turned in a marvelous set of music tonight at Maxwell's, and exhibited gentle good humor in their understated way. Stripped down to a four-piece—they usually are five—these Scottish gents played some old faves but heavily favored material from their latest CD, Weightlifting, their first full album in eight years.
It was a pretty empty back room at Maxwell's for a band of this calibre, but it was a last-minute booking, no opening act, a rainy Monday night in December. The forty or so people in attendance ate it all up. Loop Lounge DJs were well represented in the crowd. One of them, Pat Pierson, will have these very same Sinatras playing and chatting on his radio show today from 12 noon to 2 p.m. Tune in.
My biggest beef with the Trashcans is the inconsistent spelling of their name. On the artwork for Weightlifting, Trashcan is one word, lowercase c. This clearly isn't a design conceit. It's on purpose. Tonight at the show, I picked up On A B Road, their two-disc, 42-song b-sides and covers collection, also a 2004 release. On the cover and spines, it's Trash Can, two words, capital C. I realize this is the height of nerdity, but which is it, boys? I don't even care which one you choose, just pick one and stick with it. I proofread album text for a living; don't you understand it's exactly this sort of inconsistency that drives me to the edge of insanity? Have you no regard for my feelings?
Haven't spun that b-sides comp yet, but for $15 it's shaping up to be one of the steals of the year. The covers include "Tomorrow Never Knows," "Love On A Farmboy's Wages," "Senses Working Overtime," "Dolphins," "The Lady Is A Tramp," "Something Stupid," "I Know It's Over," and "Alfie." Rock.
Friday, December 03, 2004
Jon Corzine, U.S. Senator and owner of a luxury apartment about five blocks away from my decidedly non-luxury pad, made it official yesterday, declaring his candidacy for the most powerful governor's office in the nation.
I tend to be suspicious of those who run for office touting the fact that they are not career politicians. I maintain that career politicians are no worse than career painters, or career bartenders, or career shoe salesmen. You don't hire someone with no experience fixing refrigerators to fix your refrigerator; why choose someone with no experience writing and debating legislation to write and debate legislation? There's the argument that those who stay in office longer tend to become corrupt, but I don't buy it. McGreevey got himself into enough trouble as governor in less than one term, and the fact that the affair he engaged in was a homosexual one has nothing to do with the fact that he recklessly endangered the Democratic Party's standing in this state.
I also tend to be leery of those in politics with enormous personal fortunes. There's that implication that you're buying your way into office. And that's disdainful. But the poorer candidate isn't necessarily the more honest one; witness Kerry vs. Bush.
New Jersey's political landscape is so screwy, and so dominated by entrenched machinery, that a relative newcomer with boatloads of money can tout these qualities as assets rather than hide them as liabilities. I have no doubt that Corzine would be a good governor, perhaps even a very good one. Yet I'm not sure how I feel about him running for the office at this time. Corzine has shown himself to be a strong, respected voice in the senate, and it would seem like a great shame for him to give up that role without serving a full term. The Dems will also need someone to replace Frank Lautenberg in the senate in 2008, or sooner if he leaves before the seat he's keeping warm is up, as is rumored.
Conventional wisdom is that Rep. Robert Menendez moves up and takes Corzine's senate seat. Fine, except that Menendez, my congressman, is the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House. That's a lot of pull to have in your corner. Call me selfish, but I don't want to give that up. If Bob sticks it out in the House and a few things play out the right way, he could even end up Speaker someday. And I sure as hell would like my congressman to be Speaker of the House. Wouldn't you?
If running Corzine is what it takes to keep the Republicans out of Drumthwacket for the remainder of this decade, I'm ok with it. Hell, I may volunteer for the campaign. But if by spring it seems likely that Acting Gov. Richard Codey can beat Bret Schundler, Doug Forrester, or whoever else the Repubs run, I say we go with Codey, and leave Corzine on the national stage.
If Corzine becomes gov, the statewide Democratic Party is going to have its work cut out for it if Jersey is to maintain its Democratic presence on Capitol Hill. And it will severely jeopardize the unique status New Jersey enjoys as the only one of the 50 states with a Democratic governor, a Democratic majority in the state legislature, two Democratic senators, a Democratic majority in its House of Representatives delegation, and whose electoral votes in the most recent presidential election went to the Democrat.
I love this state.
I'm doing the usual Saturday night rock thing at The Goldhawk this Saturday and next. After that, I'm taking off three Saturdays in a row, but I'll have two more gigs there for the month.
On the eve of Christmas Eve, I'll be doing a night of holiday rock & schlock. This will be the third consecutive year I've unleashed this holiday monster on an unsuspecting public. For a sense of what to expect, check the set lists from the first two here and here.
And it's not too early to start thinking about New Year's. Details tbd, but I'll be at The Goldhawk that night too.
- This Saturday, Dec. 4 at 10 p.m. - Hoboken Rock City
Mike C. spins rock & roll.
- Next Saturday, Dec. 11 at 10 p.m. - Hoboken Rock City
Mike C. spins more rock & roll.
- Thursday, Dec. 23 at 9 p.m. - Mike C.'s 3rd Annual Xmas Party
Mike C. explores the good, the bad, and the ugly of holiday tuneage.
- Friday, Dec. 31 at 9:30 p.m. - The Goldhawk New Year's Eve Party
Mike C. provides the raucous soundtrack to your drunken revelry.
For advance tickets, call 201-420-7989 for info.
all the rock is at...
936 Park Ave., corner of 10th St.
Thursday, December 02, 2004
Let me get this straight. Nancy Sinatra is playing Maxwell's tonight. On Monday, the Trashcan Sinatras (no relation) play there. And then on Tuesday, Nancy's daughter, AJ Azzarto, plays The Goldhawk. Coincidence, or cosmic convergence?
I caught Nancy live twice in 2003, and she puts on a fun show. She should be even more interesting this time around, in the wake of her first new album in eons, with all that solid new material written by Morrissey, Jarvis Cocker, Jon Spencer, et. al.
The Trashcans show Monday is an acoustic affair. Should be a great way to experience the songs from their new album, Weightlifting. They are one of those bands I have always somehow managed to miss, despite the best of intentions. I hope to be there for this one.
For a real treat, check out AJ Azzarto and The New Hoboken Four on Tuesday at 9 p.m. in The Goldhawk's intimate back room. After having limited success going the indie rock route in bands like Sleepington and Rocket, AJ has found a perfect niche interpreting the popular songs of her grandfather Frank's generation. Her well-chosen sets have evolved since she began performing this material two years ago, but they always prominently feature some of the lesser-known material by the Berlins, Porters, Van Heusens, and other writers of the American popular songbook of the first half of the 20th century.
And I do not exaggerate when I say that every time I have seen her perform--probably six or seven times so far--has been better than the time before. Her charming stage presence is enhanced by the understated but proficient backing of The New Hoboken Four, who set the mood perfectly.
Oh, and I'm not just saying all these nice things about AJ and her band because the I've sung harmonies with her and her husband on Beatles and Band songs around a campfire in Vermont. And certainly not because the Four's drummer employs me as a DJ at his bar on weekends.
That's another whole post, the issue of objectivity in music writing. Soon, soon, along with all these other posts percolating in my brain.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
The permalink is here
A chat with Dan Geller of electronic pop geniuses
I Am The World Trade Center
By Mike Cimicata
Life is bigger, and R.E.M. is not the only band from Athens, Georgia that knows it. Through a battle with cancer, ill-timed romantic angst, the disintegration of a record label, and dogged controversy about their band’s name, I Am The World Trade Center has risen above it all with one of the most consistently rewarding albums of 2004.
Boasting a dozen glittering synth-pop gems that bounce with bright, danceable beats and melancholy lyrics, The Cover Up (Gammon), released earlier this year, is a major step forward for the dynamic duo of singer Amy Dykes and keyboardist/programmer Dan Geller. On this, their third album, the band’s sound coalesces. Ms. Dykes’ impassioned vocals stand in sharp contrast to the monotone likes of many of her electro-pop contemporaries, and Mr. Geller’s beats are similarly striking, exhibiting a relentless pop sensibility and a plethora of memorable hooks.
Upon relocating from Athens to Brooklyn in 1999, Amy and Dan took inspiration in their view of the Manhattan skyline and invoked its most prominent symbol when they named their band. The couple began recording their debut album Out Of The Loop on a laptop computer, then moved back to Athens before the record’s July 2001 release. Despite the confused and sometimes negative reaction the World Trade Center moniker came to provoke, they stuck with the name when it came time for their 2002 album, The Tight Connection.
Amidst all this, Dan’s boutique record label, Kindercore, fell apart in 2003. Outside investors, brought in to provide financial backing and free up Dan to concentrate on A&R and his own band, staged what amounted to a hostile takeover of the business. While the legal wrangling continues, the well-respected label that was a home for beloved indie artists such as Dressy Bessy, Palomar, Kitty Craft, Japancakes, and World Trade has been permanently shuttered.
Amy faced the biggest challenge of her life when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma this April. After months of chemotherapy, and despite complications like a severe lung infection and a freak accident in which she was bitten by a rabid cat, Amy’s cancer is in remission and she is in good health. All this took place in the wake of a drama in which Amy and Dan, who have been involved romantically for some time, temporarily broke up while on tour earlier this year.
In recent weeks, the band played some well-received shows in Georgia, and they plan to do some regional touring in February. Billed as The Twin Powers, the pair also DJs on Wednesday nights at The Go Bar in Athens. Dan even has launched a side project, Baryshnikov, to explore the more guitar-oriented side of his music.
And those are just their musical pursuits. Amy teaches a course on the history of textiles; Dan, who has a graduate degree in biological engineering, is writing a book on the emerging technology of biodiesel. Get the feeling that these two are kind of busy?
Calling in from Athens earlier this fall, Dan Geller was an upbeat presence, full of charm. Though it's not easy to tell over the phone, I thought that I heard him laughing, I thought that I heard him sing, and if I'd squinted hard enough into the speaker, I think I would've thought I saw him try.
Mike C.: I have to start by asking how Amy is doing this week.
Dan Geller: She’s doing good. She had a CAT scan recently and her tumors are gone. So from now on it’s just recovery. She had chemo last Friday and she’s doing better already. Usually a day or two after chemo she starts to get better. She has two more treatments and then that’s it. So we’re very happy about that.
Mike: How is her mood?
Dan: Good. She’s a very up person, always. She really was a fighter on this thing and just took it in stride. I mean, she had such a positive attitude through this whole thing I don’t really know how she did it.
Mike: And she was bitten by a rabid cat a couple weeks back?
Dan: [laughs] Yeah, and we just laughed. It was so ridiculous. If it was a movie, no one would ever believe the plot. We took her to the hospital and we had to DJ that night. So I dropped her off with some friends, they got her stitched up, and she came back down and she DJed that night.
Mike: Do you just throw up your hands at that point, when something crazy like that happens on top of everything else?
Dan: Yeah, it’s like, whatever they throw at us. [laughs] You know, if it doesn’t kill us it only makes us stronger.
Mike: Well, you must be the strongest band in rock and roll at this point.
Dan: Exactly. Don’t forget it! [laughs] Our combined weight is maybe 210 pounds.
Mike: You have this benefit show, and it’s part of a Cure vs. Smiths theme?
Dan: Yeah, we’re playing our first show since this all happened. And we’re doing "Boys Don’t Cry" and "Suedehead." The last tour we went on, we went out with this arsenal of covers, and those were were probably our two favorites among the batch that we did. And we put this all together in the past couple weeks. Amy said, "Well, I could probably play a set." For months we’ve been promoting this as an event that was a benefit for Amy, and now all of a sudden we have to change our promotions because we’re actually going to play.
Mike: It makes sense that you’re doing a show like that, since you’ve chosen such great covers on your albums. You had Blondie and The Stone Roses on the last one, and you have The Jam’s "Going Underground" on the new one. Is it just love that makes you pick a song to cover?
Dan: Yeah. Every song that we cover is one of our favorite songs. We do a lot of covers. We were contemplating at one point doing a covers album because we’re usually taking guitar-based songs and taking all the guitars out of them, essentially. Though the Jam cover I actually played guitar on.
Mike: But it’s not really that prominent on the track.
Dan: It’s more the beats that carry the songs, usually. Although, it’s funny, "Going Underground" is one of our most guitar-heavy songs. But the guitar is still under-mixed.
Mike: I guess that and the last track on the album, "Rock It," which starts with that guitar riff...
Dan: Yeah, that’s definitely the most guitar-based one. That’s what Amy likes to call my song. That was entirely me, basically, and then I forced her to sing on that. She’s not a big fan of that one. But I love closing with that song because it kind of brings down the house. And because I’m in control of the beats, I’ll throw that out at her and she’ll be like, "Oh boy, here we go." [laughs] That song is basically the blueprint for a new band I started that I sing in, where I can get all that out of my system. It’s called Baryshnikov. It’s me and a guy that was in this other band called The Breakheart Beat. We’re recording in the next couple weeks, and we’re probably going to start out with a seven-inch.
Mike: Cool. So catch me up on the chronology here. Did you grow up in Georgia?
Dan: No. Amy grew up in Alabama, and I grew up in Milwaukee. I came to Athens in ’91 to go to college and Amy came here in ’93, also for college. She did one year of college in Alabama and then came here. In 1999, after I got my graduate degree, I moved to New York. Then about a month and a half later, Amy moved to New York. In 2000, we moved back to Athens.
Mike: So the new album was recorded in Athens.
Dan: Yeah, actually almost all the albums were recorded in Athens. Out Of The Loop was started in New York, completed in Athens. And everything else was recorded here.
Mike: How has the recording process changed for you over the years? I know the first album was recorded using a laptop.
Dan: Yeah, it was almost your basic bedroom electronic record, as if it were made on a four-track, but it happened to be made on a computer. And it was just the knowledge that someone would need to work on a four-track. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just threw it together. It has a certain charm that a lot of people really like. Through the years I’ve learned what to do. On the second record, I definitely went at it with a more educated base, and that was still 100 percent on the computer. But the new one, I did all the tracks on the computer and then we wrote the songs in the car while we were on tour. Then when we got back I took all the tracks off the computer and went to a real studio with a vintage analog console and ran everything through that. So we brought in the whole analog thing that we had never explored before, and I think it really cleaned up the sound and made it a lot more polished than the last two records. We also had an engineer and a producer who were very active in working on it with us. We spent a lot more time on this than anything we’ve done in the past. We wanted to make a professional record this time, just to see if we could do it, basically. [laughs] To do it our own way, having no knowledge of what we’re doing. It’s kind of nice to have other people give opinions on things. I learned a lot through the whole process.
Mike: So you said you wrote the songs in the car—you mean the lyrics?
Dan: When we were on tour I would have the laptop with me and we would stream it through the car stereo, just sit there, and rearrange songs and sing. Because we had eight- to thirteen-hour drives, so we’d just kill time by writing the record. And when we got back, the record was written.
Mike: You said before that Amy calls "Rock It" your song, but the songs are mostly written together?
Dan: Yeah, they’re always written together. Well, that one, I must have written Amy’s lyrics, because I don’t think she likes them. It was kind of spontaneous. I had this track, and started singing that "rock it" part messing around with a vocoder. Then the song was done and it didn’t have any Amy parts on it, so I thought, I have to make sure she has something to do on this song.
Mike: "Future Sightings" deserves to be the big hit single.
Dan: We kind of thought of it that way too. We were so happy with how so many of the tracks turned out that my favorite on this record changes all the time.
Mike: "Future Sightings" was the first one that jumped out at me. What do the lyrics mean?
Dan: Most of the songs on this record are about our breakup, because we broke up during the writing of the record. That one, I think, was Amy’s realization that she didn’t think our relationship was going to work out, like she was waiting around for something to happen that was never going to happen. And that thing was me wanting to get married eventually, which I do. And we’re sort of engaged. We’re sort of back together now. It’s very ambiguous at this point. But certainly through her whole treatment I’ve been by her side holding her hand. For this time, we are definitely together, and I would never let her go through this alone. And we actually got back together two weeks before she was diagnosed. We went on tour together. At South By Southwest, we broke up. And then at the end of the tour we decided to get back together, and then she was diagnosed with cancer. No matter what happens, we’re going to be best friends forever. We’ve traveled the world together, but we’ve also been through hell and back together.
Mike: Since we’re talking about bad things, the one other I know of is the Kindercore situation. What can you say about that at this point?
Dan: It’s in litigation. I hadn’t heard from our attorney on it in a while, and then this week she started calling me again. She’s definitely still pursuing this. Ultimately, though, it was a really big era in my life and I was sad to see it go. But also when we started collaborating with the people we are now suing, at that point in time we had considered letting it go. So it just came a year later than it should have, and we probably should have just let go.
Mike: But it must be a nightmare not to be able to end it on your own terms.
Dan: Yeah, it didn’t end with us giving ourselves the terms. But what we want to see is the bands get the rights to their records back. That’s all we want to do, because everybody that was on the label was our friend. And now some of their records are in limbo and we feel pretty bad about it. Plus there’s the matter of a gigantic debt that I’ve incurred over this whole thing that I’d like to see go away.
Mike: Do you miss the business end of the music business at all?
Dan: [laughs] No. It was so nice signing to Gammon and having someone else take care of all the bullshit. And being able to call somebody else, instead of having somebody call me. I can call somebody and complain, for once, which is really cool. It was a totally different experience that was so much less stressful and so much less work. When the first two World Trade records came out, I was working full time on them because not only was I the band member, but I was essentially the head of marketing on it, the head of manufacturing, of everything, and it was overwhelming. A World Trade release would really beat me down. A normal release I would just do my normal duties. But having to be the band out there doing the interviews and supporting it by touring was just crazy combined with trying to run the business. So it was nice this time to let somebody else take care of the bullshit. And they did a fine job taking care of the bullshit.
Mike: Before Amy got sick, was there supposed to be a full tour to support this record?
Dan: Right now was supposed to be six months of touring. We were really psyched to do that, because this album was written 100 percent with the live show in mind. On the tour we were on when she got sick, we were playing five of these songs every night. But unfortunately, no one had ever heard them before. It’s going to be exciting to go out and play songs off of The Cover Up and have people actually know them. That’s what I’m looking forward to, to play one of the new songs and have people freak out like they do on the old songs.
Mike: It seems like a great time for the kind of music you’re doing, with so much buzz about things that have a new wave and post-punk bent.
Dan: Well, good, I’m glad you think that. You never know on the other side. You think it, but then you think, is that reality? But this album is doing really well despite the fact that we’re not touring. And I don’t know if that’s a consequence of Gammon running the show and them knowing what they’re doing better than I did. But also, the really great thing about Gammon is that this is the only record they’re working right now. So all their resources have been put behind this record. Plus, I think we made a record ten times better than what we made in the past. I hope that helps.
Mike: The beauty of being on an indie.
Dan: Yeah, there were other offers out there that we entertained, but this is the one where we knew we’d get the attention that we wanted. On Kindercore, I had to say ok, this is my band, I can’t put this as a priority because it’s going to put the other acts off. There are opportunities that World Trade passed up in the past because of Kindercore, and now we don’t have to do that anymore.
Mike: When I DJ, I play a mix of the familiar and the obscure, basically...
Dan: That’s exactly what we do when we DJ, too.
Mike: ...and when I started spinning songs from The Cover Up at my gigs in Hoboken, I had one person who had never heard the new record before come up out of nowhere and ask if it was you. She said she’d seen you play in Austin.
Dan: Awesome. A lot of people have seen us at South By Southwest. But when we go there anytime, it’s a gigantic reception. In fact, I would probably say that’s our biggest market. And I don’t really know why, but we’re really happy about it because we love Austin. Unfortunately, we usually end up playing there during South By Southwest. It’s great, but we don’t get to play for people who live there, you know, our real fans. It usually sells out with all the industry people.
Mike: What do you spin at your DJ gigs?
Dan: Obviously, The Smiths and The Cure. Pulp is another huge one for us. And, you know, The Rapture, and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and all that kind of stuff. My favorites are The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays, The Charlatans.
Dan: Yeah, that’s my thing. Amy’s thing is Blondie and Saint Etienne. We do a Wednesday night every week here at The Go Bar. Recently I’ve been doing what I like to call my 120 Minutes set. Cause if you DJ for four hours it gets kind of ridiculous. I’ll do an hour of only stuff they would have played on 120 Minutes. And people go crazy for that stuff. Even kids who were too young the first time still seem to know. The one that really shocked me is I played "Mandinka" by Sinead O’Connor and people went crazy. I don’t know if it’s the guitar riff or what. Why an 18-year-old kid would know that song is kind of weird to me, but they seem to really like it.
Mike: It’s always interesting to see what "the kids" know.
Dan: Yeah, I mean, sometimes you think they’re going to know something and they totally don’t, I don’t know if that’s happened to you.
Mike: Oh, absolutely. Do you spin vinyl, CDs, or what?
Dan: iPods. That way I can walk to work, get drunk, and walk home. I don’t have to worry about driving down there with two turntables. We were originally CDs and vinyl, and then we went to just CDs, because I put everything that we had on vinyl onto CDs. And then I finally put everything onto the iPod.
Mike: The one thing I’m concerned about with DJing using an iPod is the experience of looking for a song. Is it totally different because you’re not looking through physical CDs, you’re flipping through a menu?
Dan: Well, you’re right, because you can look at the side of the CD and they’ll jump out at you. And you’ll be like, "That’s next." I kind of miss that part where you see a cover and you’re like, "Yes." At first, that was difficult. Now I don’t even think about that anymore, really. At first that was an issue, but you get over it after doing it five or six times. It is better, though, because you can scroll through all the names of the bands. Sometimes, when you’re doing the spine thing, you’re just flipping and you’re not really thinking. But on the iPod these names are all going by, and the one that you want will jump out at you. I’ve gotten to the point now where I know what my next five songs are going to be anyway. So I just play it that way. I do a search for the exact song I want, and it comes right up, and I don’t have to worry about tons of CDs. And I don’t have to worry about putting the CD or the record in the wrong place anymore. I use an iPod and a Dell jukebox. On the Dell, you can make a playlist on the fly, and change the order of it, and they play one right after another, where on the iPod they kind of take a while to go to the next song. At the end of the night, I’ll put on Franz Ferdinand, followed by The Rapture, followed by The Killers or whatever, and go out and dance with everybody. [laughs] And that’s what they want; when it’s the last 20 minutes of the night, I know exactly what to play. So I just go out, and by that time I’m blitzed so I just go out and dance with everyone. As the DJ, when you go dance with the people at the club, they love it. It’s awesome.
Mike: In some ways, I feel like DJing is the biggest scam in the world.
Dan: It totally is. I get paid, I get drunk for free, and for the first hour, the bar doesn’t really fill up until 11, and the night starts at 10. So for the first hour, I literally just listen to all my favorite songs on a really great sound system with free drinks non-stop. What could be better? But I love dancing. So for me, the frustrating part is that you have to stand behind the booth and play all the songs I really want to be dancing to. There is that side. The guy that’s in my new band DJs also. He’s DJing tonight, so I’ll be there dancing all night, and he’ll be the one making the money and getting the free drinks.
Mike: For the uninitiated, which would include me, what is biodiesel?
Dan: It’s one of those hot topics right now. Willie Nelson uses it, and Jonathan Richman just toured on it. It’s diesel fuel that you can use in a regular diesel engine, but it’s derived from vegetable oil or waste animal fats, or cooking grease, or whatever. The book’s not going to be called this, but the working title is Biodiesel For Dummies. But it’s not going to be totally like the yellow Dummies books. If you don’t know anything about it you can pick it up and read it, and if you’re an engineer and you need to get some information, that information’s also going to be in there. What I want is a book that legislators can pick up and use, because we’re trying to get tougher legislation passed on this. And also if Joe Normal wants to go make it in his backyard, we want him to be able to get some ideas too.
Mike: Is this legislation something that would require auto manufacturers to implement biodiesel technology?
Dan: That part was already tackled. It’s at the point where you can put it in any diesel engine in America, the warranty is good, it’s not going to break the engine, it just works. So now the problem is price. And because oil prices are going through the roof, we’re becoming very competitive. Right now, if you make it out of used cooking oil, it’s competitive with petroleum diesel. But there’s such a limited amount of that that if we used all the cooking grease in America we wouldn’t even put a dent in the amount of diesel that’s burned. So what we really need is for people to be growing soybeans, or peanuts, or any oil seed, or a new oil seed that we haven’t found yet, that makes tons of oil. And making these crops specifically as energy crops to convert into biodiesel and use it in trucks. We’re trying to get subsidies for the people who want to be the first to do this, to make it so that the little guy, the farmer, can start making this stuff and actually make money off of it. Eventually, once it goes large-scale, it will be profitable. [laughs] Is that too much?
Mike: No, it’s interesting. It might not be the sexiest thing in the world, but it’s important.
Dan: Musicians really seem to like this field because of the touring aspect of it. Lollapalooza was going to be fueled on it, had Lollapalooza materialized this year. Because the tour vans are diesel vans, the tour buses are diesel buses, generally.
Mike: Any political thoughts in this political season?
Dan: Obviously, being an artist and someone who’s working to try to improve the environment, I certainly am behind this Democratic ticket. "Going Underground" is basically our song to Bush.
Mike: How so?
Dan: It was written at a time when Thatcher was in office. The Jam didn’t want to be a part of that world they were living in. And we feel the same exact way. It’s pretty much how we feel about Bush right now. If he’s re-elected, we don’t even want to be here anymore. My other band just did a moveon.org benefit and I DJed Monday at a voter registration thing. We’re very active because locally we have a lot of important races here too. The town commissioner is a pretty important race. Athens is a very small town, and there are a lot of issues here, because it’s basically divided between students and the people that live here year-round. And unfortunately, the students don’t get to vote because most of them are from Atlanta, so they kind of get walked all over, and it’s kind of weird. I live here and I own a house here, but I really feel for the students because if it weren’t for them, there wouldn’t be a town. So I’m kind of standing up for their rights, even though they have no idea I’m doing that. [laughs]