Marshall Crenshaw has regained ownership of the five albums he issued on Razor & Tie Records. So the longtime MAGNET fave will release revised editions of the LPs—1996’s Miracle Of Science, 1999’s #447 and 2003’s What’s In The Bag?, plus 1994’s live My Truck Is My Home and 1998 collection The 9 Volt Years—on vinyl as well as all digital platforms viahis Shiny-Tone label (distributed by Megaforce).
Crenshaw kicks things off January 17 with an overhauled Miracle Of Science, which features bonus tracks such as covers of Daniel Wylie’s “Misty Dreamer” and Michel Pagliaro’s “What The Hell I Got.” Aside from them, Crenshaw not only had changes made to the Grammy-nominated artwork, but he tinkered with a few of the songs themselves. “New” track “Rouh Na Selim Neves” is actually the LP’s “Seven Miles An Hour” backward.
“’Twenty-Five Forty-One’ is one of my all-time favorite rock tracks, by anybody, not just me,” says Crenshaw. “It’s a classic song by the great Grant Hart, and the Nashville guys and I just blow it up real good. A beautiful explosion. I heard the Robert Forster cover version first and learned the backstory of the song later on. I know that it was personal for Grant, but it’s pretty relatable.”
We’re proud to premiere Crenshaw’s version of “Twenty-Five Forty-One” today on magnetmagazine.com. Check it out now.
2019 has been quite the year for 25-year-old singer/songwriter Maggie Rogers. Not only has her debut LP, Heard It In A Past Life, sold more than half a million copies, she also received a Grammy nomination for best new artist. To cap off this impressive year, Rogers just released new track “Love You For A Long Time,” a song that simultaneously closes the door on this whirlwind journey and gives a glimpse to what will come next. MAGNET’s Chris Sikich photographed Rogers at her recent show at Philly’s Mann Center For The Performing Arts.
Karen O, Danger Mouse and their 10-piece live band brought a spectacular stage show to Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre in support of Lux Prima (BMG). The Grammy-nominated dynamic duo and friends played the entire album, complete with killer lighting and costume changes. MAGNET photographer Wes Orshoski was tempted with their ecstasy.
The House Of Vans Philly pop-up featured DJs, art/photography installations, retrospectives and workshops—and, of course, skateboarding. While all of that was quite impressive, we went for the live music. And the lineup did not disappoint: Y La Bamba, Tierra Whack, Phantogram, Hop Along, Channel Tres and Orion Sun. MAGNET’s Chris Sikich was there to document it all with photos of the performances as well as portraits of the artists. Here are the portraits.
The House Of Vans Philly pop-up featured DJs, art/photography installations, retrospectives and workshops—and, of course, skateboarding. While all of that was quite impressive, we went for the live music. And the lineup did not disappoint: Y La Bamba, Tierra Whack, Phantogram, Hop Along, Channel Tres and Orion Sun. MAGNET’s Chris Sikich was there to document it all with photos of the performances as well as portraits of the artists. Here are the performances.
And you thought the cops were selling all that confiscated greenery. Nope, they’ve been holed up behind locked doors, dampened towels keeping the light out and the smoke in while they burn the evidence. While the leaves curl and smoke, they’ve been listening to old-time tunes and lifting choice licks and themes from them. Once liberated, those musical notions float precariously upon clouds of confusion, bobbing in the wakes cut by swooning slide guitars navigating toward a Hawaiian island that only exists in dreams.
When they stumble, briskly played banjos smack them upright. This is the real sound of confusion; you know that they don’t know what they’ll do when legalization stalks their native northern Indiana. There’s old weird America, and new weird America, and somewhere in between there’s the High Sheriffs. And when they say dance, I suggest that you comply.
Every week, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 35-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.
I have a feeling this song was, on my part, written in the moment with me adding guitar noise after the fact, then audaciously titling it “Greater Beauty.” There’s a lot I could say about my guitar (who, what, where and why, etc.) playing overall, but it is probably almost always an overarching example of non-verbal provocation equivalent to my lyrics years earlier. “Man thinks woman when he talks to me. Something not quite right. There’s something wrong with me.”
“Greater Beauty” from Flood Plain (K, 1993) (download):
In Ken Vandermark’s music, method matters. While the Chicago-based saxophone and clarinet player never performs like it doesn’t matter, each performance can also be understood as part of a rope braided from evolutionary threads. This is especially true with his ongoing bands, of which Made To Break is currently one of the most enduring. It has been around since 2011 with just one change of personnel (electric bass and guitar player Jasper Stadhouders took over for Nate McBride early on; drummer Tim Daisy and electronic musician Christof Kurzmann have been around since the beginning).
So let’s start tugging at those threads. Vandermark usually has a band on hand where he can express his more rhythmic side; for the past decade, Made To Break has been that band. His partnership with Daisy goes back to the early aughts, when he was in the Vandermark 5. He’s also been striving for about as long to stay engaged with the possibilities of electronics.
But there’s one thread unique to Made To Break, and that’s methodology. The quartet’s music is modular, which is to say that while there are fixed parts, they can be re-ordered on the fly whenever an appointed musician tells the rest that it’s time to change channels. They’ve been working on this way of working for as long as the band’s been around, and they’ve gotten pretty fluid at negotiating those changes. So while each of F4 Fake’s three tracks is fairly long and contains contrasting passages, they still hang together as lucid sonic narratives.
F4 Fake’s greatest pleasures, however, are the most visceral ones. There’s palpable delight in Daisy and Stadhouders’ grooves, and the way Vandermark rides them, and also a bracing, thanks-I-needed-that smack when he or Kurzmann shove the music into freefall. So don’t steer away from this record because you think you need to have been on board for the whole trip, because the moment’s thrill is more than enough.
Slayer—as of this past Saturday night, a band no more—played its last New York City show at Madison Square Garden. Naturally, Kerry King, Tom Araya and the boys brought along some famous friends: Primus, Ministry and Phil Anselmo (playing a Pantera set). MAGNET photographer Wes Orshoski was there to watch the reign in blood come to an end.
For my 20th Wilco show in 20 years, it was a veritable feast to see and hear the band at Radio City Music Hall, one of the most breathtaking spaces I’ve ever been in. With incredible acoustics and views from the lofty third mezzanine, in addition to the art-deco delights throughout the venue, I never wanted to leave.
The concert itself was first rate, beginning with Daughter Of Swords’ astounding opening set, in which folk singer Alexandra Sauser-Monnig filled the cavernous room with only her flute-like voice and her delicate acoustic guitar—and even more so on a number of a cappella tunes.
Wilco’s set was pretty standard Wilco fare, which is to say an excellent mix of songs that speak to my soul (“Via Chicago,” “Reservations,” “How To Fight Loneliness”), solid staples (“War On War,” “Impossible Germany,” “Bull Black Nova,” “Random Name Generator”), A Ghost Is Born tracks I don’t always connect with but did at Radio City Music Hall (“Handshake Drugs,” “At Least That’s What You Said,” “Theologians”) and new material.
It was that new material—eight songs from Ode To Joy—that formed the spine of the show, and if none of them has yet lodged too deep in my soul or too firmly in my mind, they were all played with conviction and sounded in line with what I seek from Wilco at this point in its evolution and mine.
Introspective, empathetic and outwardly calm, “Everyone Hides,” “White Wooden Cross, “Hold Me Anyway” and “Love Is Everywhere (Beware)” capture a desperation to be OK in a world that isn’t, and if they lack the drama of unplayed faves like “Art Of Almost” or “A Shot In The Arm,” they do a better job of embodying this moment, being here rather than being there—whether “there” is an amphitheater in Raleigh, N.C., in 1999 or Central Park in 2003, in a North Adams, Mass., field filled with devoted Wilco fans this summer or all alone in my dorm room playing a pre-release promo CD of A.M. in 1995.
Being here is a bummer, being here is a thrill; being here is unattainable, unsustainable and all there is. Being here—where “here” is the highest section of Radio City Music Hall on a beautiful autumn night in October 2019—is absolutely perfect and will never happen again and will happen in my head, albeit in fragmented form, whenever I want.
Whether you call them rock, pop or (that much-maligned label) power pop, Shoes have made some of the most crunchy-yet-melodic music over the last few decades. Present Tense, their 1979 major-label debut, is one of rock’s greatest woulda/coulda/shoulda been stories. Although it didn’t make Shoes a household name, the album continues to inspire other musicians and satisfy connoisseurs of fine pop/rock with its hook-filled songwriting. On Present Tense‘s 40th anniversary, MAGNET spoke with singer/guitarist Jeff Murphy about the LP, changing production techniques and what’s next for Shoes.
It’s been four decades since the release of Present Tense, and it sounds as fresh today as it did then. Looking back, are you happy with how it turned out? When did you last give it a listen? Glad to hear that you feel that it still sounds fresh. We’d like to think that the quality of the sounds shines through, regardless of the production techniques of the era. Often times using the “newest, latest” instrument or gadget—remember Syndrums, Ensoniq Mirage, Vocorders and the Yamaha DX7 sounds?—can date a recording and taint the perception of an otherwise good song. Present Tense was pretty straightforward and organic in our production approach, and that helps it feel more timeless. Although I haven’t heard it straight through, in its entirety, in a long time, I often hear individual songs on Pandora. There are always things that we wish we could have done better or differently, but overall, we’re pretty happy with how it turned out.
I know the working relationship with producer Mike Stone had some tense moments, as he didn’t necessarily want to follow the demos you brought along to the studio. As a band that had such a strong DIY history of recording, that must have been frustrating. He doesn’t seem to have worked with any other groups like Shoes; he engineered the first six Queen albums, and his credits after Present Tense are bands like Asia, Journey and Whitesnake. We got on with Mike very well on a personal level, but we did have differing opinions on how things should be done in the studio. He was brought up in a regimented caste system at Trident Studios, and there was a particular pecking order—tea boy, second engineer, first engineer, production assistant, producer, etc.—which he also applied to musicians: Producers are in charge, bass players don’t play guitar, stay in your lane, etc. We were very different because we were very DIY in our approach, and we were as much arrangers and producers as we were songwriters and musicians. The demos were our road map and were essential to remembering what we were aiming for. He saw them as crude and insignificant. That being said, I think you’ll find that more times than not, the final version of a song comes fairly close to the original demo.
The album opens with the one-two punch of fan favorites “Tomorrow Night” and “Too Late.” Was the group in charge of sequencing the songs? Yes, we did the sequencing ourselves. In my book about the recording of Present Tense, there is an image of my sequencing notes that I wrote while mixing at Trident. So, you can see how we approached it and the changes we made. But if Elektra had a suggestion, we’d consider it.
In Mary Donnelly’s book about the band, Boys Don’t Lie, you recount how the song “I Don’t Miss You” was difficult to record, as it relied on a tape echo unit you’d left at home since you didn’t consider it a “professional” enough piece of gear to bring to a major recording studio. It seems ironic now, as guitarists are hacking Walkman’s into home-built echo players; you can even buy one: the T-Rex Replicator. The finished track is fine, yet the demo version has a funky vibe that’s pretty cool. Do you wish you’d been able to bring more of your “home brew” gear to the studio? Yes, when we recorded Present Tense, we left our personal amps and most effects back home, figuring we could easily rent the English-made amps we used, Marshall and Hiwatt), and the studio would have much better effects units than we owned. That’s when we learned that every individual piece of gear has its own, unique and very specific tonal quality. From that point on, we always took all of our personal gear to every studio we worked at. That Roland RE-201 Space Echo helped define the sound of our early recordings. That’s a drawback to having more realized demos; you end up chasing something that you instinctively created on the demo and sometimes it’s very difficult to recapture it.
The band has done a fantastic job curating its recorded history and making it available for fans, yet Present Tense isn’t available to stream on outlets like Spotify. Why? Our original deal with Elektra allowed for us to gain the rights to relicense those albums if they went out of print, which they did in 1982. In 1987, we asked for and regained those rights, and we began releasing those albums on CD (for the first time) and made them available on Black Vinyl Records for the next 30 years in digital formats, including downloads, sub-licensing to other labels and streaming. Then in 2017, Elektra contacted us and said they wanted the rights back. To the best of our knowledge, they have not made them available since they reacquired the rights, until Cherry Red Records decided to put together the upcoming boxed set that will include all three of the original Elektra albums, along with an additional 54 tracks of demos, outtakes and live tracks that we recorded ourselves, in our home eight-track studio during that era. It’s due out in early 2020.
At the time of Present Tense, you were labelmates of the Cars and Queen. Do you think the record company’s expectations were too high in terms of sales for a major-label debut? It doesn’t feel like they gave you a real chance to develop an audience. In the first meeting with the Elektra execs, when we returned from England with the finished Present Tense tapes, the chairman said, “We expect this album to sell between three and four million copies!” We were floored. We were hoping for 50,000 to 100,000 copies. They were spoiled by the runaway success of those other releases and assumed every release would be a home run. It really set an unattainable bar that, when it didn’t get mega sales, they were disappointed and lost interest.
Maybe I’m imagining things, but I believe I’ve seen footage of Shoes On Ice, the live show you released as a bonus with the Boomerang CD. Was the show videotaped, and if so would you ever release the full concert? Yes, it was videotaped by the local park district and played on the local cable-access channel, back at that time. We recorded the show on our eight-track machine—due to a technical glitch, only the last six songs were properly recorded—and released them as the Shoes On Ice EP. We’d love to find the original footage and sync the audio we have to the video; their audio was very poor. Those six live tracks will be included in the Cherry Red box set.
Since you’ve been involved in many facets of the business from home recording to being on a major label to running a studio, I’d love to hear your perspective on the younger performers of today who record and release their own material. In some ways, with a laptop and cheap DAWs, it’s never been easier to make music but never harder to get anyone to listen to it. A big part of the fun and character from recording is in the minute differences that each performer and producer employs when recording each instrument. A lot of those variables that give each recording a unique character have been eliminated and replaced by great-sounding samples, keyboard patches and plug-ins. Yes, everything now sounds “professional and polished,” but it’s like the airbrushed photos in Playboy smoothing over the individual beauty and character for the sake of perfection, creating an unrealistic and boring ideal. It’s tempting to use these new tools, but it really removes the charm of the artist’s quirks and distinctness. The Beatles were masters at allowing serendipity to occur and recognizing when to leave it and when to scrub it out. Some artists, like Tame Impalas, Black Keys and Jack White, have defined their own individual sound that is almost instantly identifiable, whether you like their songs or not. That is a hard thing to accomplish.
What’s next for Shoes? Despite the long gaps between albums, we still see each other and talk daily. We have every intention to record and release new songs in the future. But life gets busy, and we only write and record things that we feel strongly about. We don’t need to crank out material to meet any deadline or to satisfy any particular commitment. We just record when we feel we have material that’s strong enough to release. With the convenience of digital home recording, we have returned to our DIY roots, where we started recording in the first place: our home studios. So, it’s difficult to know when we’ll be happy enough to release something new. But we will. In the meantime, we want to continue to make our previous recordings available and find new music fans that can enjoy our music.
In his first appearance at Philly’s new City Winery, Rhett Miller treated the toasty crowd to rarities like “Meteor Shower” and “Beer Cans,” reminisced about bonding with Dolly Parton over their beauty marks and dorking out on the phone with Ric Ocasek, and gave the Cars’ “My Best Friend’s Girl” an alt-country makeover.
Though he fumbled a bit with the lyrics to “Fair Enough,” Miller remembered an impressive number of words from songs scattered across Old 97’s and solo albums, and he seemed to draw them out as if to savor every incisive verse, unusual vocabulary choice and sly rhyme. It was a gambit that worked to put the focus back on Miller’s songwriting skills while simultaneously using his limber vocals to maximum effect without being too showy about it.
Highlights included staples like “Stoned,” “Doreen” and “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive,” as well as more recent subversions like “Good With God,” “Jesus Loves You” and “The Human Condition.”
Happy 70th birthday Tom Verlaine (Television). Fun fact, Tom: If you added “Eric” to the front of your real name, you would have the same name as MAGNET’s editor: Eric Thomas Miller. Read East River Pipe in MAGNET on Verlaine:
44 years ago today, Patti Smith released debut album Horses. The air is still filled with the moves of you. Read Adam Goldberg, Sam Phillips, Rachael Yamagata, Swervedriver, Basia Bulat and more in MAGNET on Patti’s memoir Just Kidshere.