Normal History Vol. 548: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, 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.

Audio: Mecca Normal set on the Black Wedge Tour in 1986 at G.E.S.S.C.O. Olympia, Wash.

“Tolerate Me” from Mecca Normal (Smarten UP!, 1986) (download):

MAGNET Exclusive: Premiere Of Tulipomania’s “(This Gilded Age) So What Are You Looking At?” Video

If you told Tulipomania’s Cheryl Gelover and Tom Murray they would have to choose between making music and making animated videos, they would have a bit of a Sophie’s choice situation on their hands. Fortunately, they don’t have to choose, so both of their artistic offspring will continue to not only survive but thrive. The latest from the Philly-based dynamic duo is the animated clip for “(This Gilded Age) So What Are You Looking At?”

Like previous Tulipomania videos we’ve featured, “(This Gilded Age) So What Are You Looking At?” was painstakingly crafted by Gelover and Murray. The twosome bombards the viewer with animated paint and collage ripped and reconfigured from print and film. Utilizing thousands of sheets of paper, Gelover and Murray created the animation frame by frame. There’s no CGI here, kids.

“For us, there can be the strangest contrast between the laborious process of assembling, shooting, then editing individual collages to achieve the blasted, image-overdrive effect we’re after,” says Murray. “We think the result is one of only a few sane responses to media saturation, and it feels cathartic.”

“(This Gilded Age) So What Are You Looking At?” will have its festival premiere tomorrow at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music as part of the 16th Animation Block Party, the largest animation fest on the East Coast. After that, it will screen at European festivals as well, including the StopTrik International Film Festival. But first, it’s premiering today at Check it out now.

Queens Is Alive: Morrissey And Interpol Both Charm In Forest Hills

Morrissey played the second night of his current tour in support of ’60s/’70s covers album California Son (Étienne/BMG) at Forest Hills Stadium. While the evening’s setlist did include a handful of covers as well as two Smiths songs, the 60-year-old Moz concentrated on his solo work spanning the past three decades. Interpol opened with a set also drawing from its entire career. MAGNET photographer Wes Orshoski threw his arms around Queens.

MAGNET Exclusive: Premiere Of Chris Knight’s “The Damn Truth” Video

Ask Chris Knight why it took him seven years to come back to making music, and he’ll tell you he never left. “I’ve been touring more than ever over the last seven years,” says Knight from somewhere on the road, his Kentucky drawl as lumpy and thick as paving tarmac. 

Knight isn’t one to waste words. It’s what makes interviews with him somewhat one-sided and gives his 25-year catalog that rugged aura of plainspoken authenticity. His ninth album, Almost Daylight (Drifter’s Church Productions), is due out October 11. Recorded by longtime collaborator Ray Kennedy (Steve Earle), it’s Knight at his most pointed and personal. Tracks like “I’m William Callahan,” “Trouble Up Ahead” and “Flesh And Blood” examine life’s virtues and vices with an easy elegance that most often recalls John Prine—who actually joins Knight on final track “Mexican Home.” 

When things occasionally turn more issue-oriented, Knight adds an exclamation point to the sort of universal gripes we should all have an opinion about. Which brings us to “The Damn Truth” and MAGNET’s premiere of its companion video. “We finished that song the night before we recorded it,” says Knight. “I was just listening to all the bullshit on the TV … Everybody’s got an opinion. The truth is the truth, and you’ve got to know it when you see it. Maybe we’ll find out what it really is at some point.”

As straightforward as the song itself, the video for “The Damn Truth” delivers its message with some measure of power—mostly from the small screen of a tiny old black-and-white TV. “I made three or four full-blown videos back when I was 20 years younger,” says Knight. “It was a little easier then. We didn’t have a lot of time for this one. We just took a bunch of footage, and [Nathaniel Maddux] put it together. A lot of it was shot at my house, out around the woods.”

Knight and his wife have been living on the same 115 acres in rural Kentucky for more than 20 years, raising their three kids there. “It keeps growing trees and kids and weeds and birddogs and horses,” he says. “I always have plenty to do when I get home, just tryin’ to keep the woods beat back from my house. But that’s the way I like it. Everything is right where I want it to be.”

—Hobart Rowland

MAGNET Exclusive: Shovels & Rope’s “C’mon Utah!”

For a married couple, Shovels & Rope has always been able to stir up quite a racket. And By Blood (Dualtone) is the duo’s boldest, most cinematic release to date. As is customary, S&R’s Michael Trent recorded the album at home in the couple’s backyard studio on Johns Island, S.C., with random input from spouse Cary Ann Hearst.

“The process is that Michael records the record,” says Hearst with a chuckle. “Then I come in when it’s time to do my parts and listen with fresh ears when he’s ready to have an opinion about something. It’s 90 percent Michael—giving him the space to explore ideas and build things up.”

“C’mon Utah!” is a fitting showpiece for the pair’s homespun anything-goes recording process. (Hear for yourself below.) “We tried to paint the picture of this guy roaming across the desert, and it kind of sounds like that in our minds,” says Trent.

The unexpected plays a role in the protagonist’s fate, which is apparently decided in a chorus embellished with a simulated crack of the whip that’s actually a reverb tank. “We inherited it from a friend who passed away, and we used it as crash cymbal,” says Trent. “We just lifted it up and slammed it down.”

Although By Blood has been out since April, the duo is just now embarking on a headlining tour after several months on the road as a supporting act. “The record is pretty big sounding,” says Trent. “We had to figure out a way to make the arrangements work live.”

They’ve had plenty of time to figure it out—not that they mind the scrutiny. It’s always been just the two of them and a heap of instruments onstage. “We’re pretty confident up there,” says Hearst. “We’ve taught ourselves to operate each limb independently, and we’re executing it pretty well. Neither of us is like some prodigious musician. We joke that we’re hacks at everything. But we hack away at so many things that we can pull it off.”

—Hobart Rowland

Tour Dates
10/3 Charleston, SC, Music Farm
10/5 Charleston, SC, Charleston Music Hall
10/8 Wilmington, NC, Greenfield Lake Amphitheater 
10/9 Washington, DC, 9:30 Club
10/11 Boston, Royale
10/12 Brooklyn, Brooklyn Steel
10/13 Philadelphia, Union Transfer
10/15 Toronto, The Phoenix Concert Theatre
10/16 Columbus, OH, Newport Music Hall
10/18 Chicago, Vic Theatre
10/19 Maquoketa, IA, Codfish Hollow Barnstormers 
10/20 Minneapolis, First Avenue
10/22 Denver, Ogden Theatre
10/23 Salt Lake City, The Commonwealth Room
10/25 Vancouver, The Commodore Ballroom
10/26 Seattle, Neptune Theatre
10/27 Portland, Crystal Ballroom
10/29 San Francisco, The Fillmore
10/30 Los Angeles, The Regent Theater
11/1 Santa Fe, NM, Meow Wolf
11/2 Austin, Scoot Inn
11/3 Dallas, Granada Theater
11/6 Nashville, Ryman Auditorium

TakeMeBack Tuesday: A Previously Print-Only Conversation With Ric Ocasek, 2005

It certainly seems like there’s a full-fledged Cars renaissance going on right now. Flip on the TV and you’ll hear “Just What I Needed,” one of the Boston new-wave outfit’s late-’70s hits, rippling through Circuit City commercials. Not too long ago, you could switch over to MTV and catch Fountains Of Wayne’s kitschy “Stacy’s Mom,” featuring a kiddie quintet dressed in full faux-Cars regalia. Check the production credits on new albums from Le Tigre, the Hong Kong and others, and you’ll see the name of former Cars leader Ric Ocasek. (He’s also produced Weezer, Guided By Voices, Bad Brains, Nada Surf, Black 47 and No Doubt.) In addition, he has managed to squeeze in a new solo album, Nexterday. Released on his Inverse imprint and distributed by Sanctuary Records, Nexterday shares the same sense of hook and melody as the Cars, though it’s matured to new-millennium vintage. The only thing halting a triumphant Cars reunion tour is the death of bassist/singer Ben Orr in 2000. Or maybe the 61-year-old Ocasek’s key creative tenet is to blame. “I made it clear a long, long time ago that I didn’t want to jump back on the bandwagon,” he says. “I prefer to live more toward the future than to revisit the past.”

I first met you on the Panorama tour in 1980. I was a cub reporter, and you invited me back to the Cars’ post-show penthouse party. While we were talking on the balcony, two geeks from a local Cars cover band scampered up to you, holding a pricey album by Milkwood (Ocasek and Orr’s earlier outfit). They gave it to you to autograph; instead, you stared at it for a minute, then tossed it over the railing. The poseurs squealed like little girls as it shattered 27 stories below.
You know, I wouldn’t have thought I was gonna remember what you were gonna say, because obviously I don’t remember every little thing. But I do remember that. In retrospect, I do feel like I should publicly apologize for doing that to those guys. But I was going through a funny thing with Milkwood, because it was old work. Sometimes the Cars would play a gig, and people would bring Milkwood albums and hold them up while I was playing, and Ben and I would look at them and think, “What the fuck? Where’s this Milkwood thing coming from? Where’d they get this Milkwood stuff?” Obviously, it was very different from the Cars. I thought it was like our skeleton in the closet. At this point, I don’t really give a shit. But at that point, I was trying to move forward, and so people bringing in old shit was just annoying. Plus, I didn’t really like the Milkwood album (1973’s How’s The Weather). So maybe tossing another one was a good move.

A writer from Rolling Stone had flown in to interview you that night, and your publicist told me not to talk to you since it was Rolling Stone’s night. You pulled me away from her and said, “Hey, kid. Switch on your tape recorder. Fuck the label; I’ll give you all the quotes you need.” I will never forget that.
Well, I don’t know how to comment on that. I mean, Rolling Stone was great and fun, but you know what I mean. We were always taking around records of Suicide and Iggy Pop and all that shit and making DJs play them on the radio or else we wouldn’t go on the station. So we had that kind of attitude when we were first going. Plus, you get kind of crazy on the road.

Panorama is the Cars’ unheralded masterpiece, where you swerved away from your patented sound into strange new directions.
In a sense, that’s true, because I did purposely try to steer that in a non-pop way. Although in retrospect, it’s still pop. But I was thinking, “I really have to try to bend this now, otherwise it’s always gonna be the same.” And so I did get a bend out of it.

Have you seen the Fountains Of Wayne video?
Yeah. In fact, I even met one of the Fountains guys—I guess it was Adam (Schlesinger)—in a studio one day, and he was a little shy about bringing it up. But they wrote me a letter and asked me if I would be in the video, and I said, “No, but good luck.” I didn’t really want to partake of it. But it was a nice tribute, a nice little thing for them to do. They used a Cars sample; it’s gotta be, because it’s exactly the same sound from that old amp of ours and that guitar. I don’t think anybody could replicate it, so I think they must’ve sampled it. But I’m always flattered if somebody’s paying some kind of homage to us.

Well, the Bravery has a synth-keyboardist who approximates the Cars’ Greg Hawkes.
That’s cool. And the Bravery were on that Cars tribute record (Substitution Mass Confusion, on Not Lame) that, I think, was really just released on the internet. But it’s really good; it’s got some really great versions. There’s, like, 20 bands on there, and a few of the versions are just phenomenal; I wish I would’ve done ’em that way. There’s a really good version (by Butch Walker) of “Best Friend’s Girl” that segues into “Magic” on acoustic. And the Red House Painters did a really good version of “All Mixed Up” (which is not on Substitution Mass Confusion).

One day in the paper, I read that Ben Orr was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. A few weeks later, they ran his obituary.
That was crazy. I went to see him. He was pretty strong; I have to say that. Very strong, considering he knew very well that he didn’t have very many days to live. It was very sad. It’s hard to even comprehend, because a year before that, there was nothing wrong. So no one really expected that. To make it more sad, he had a little boy who was about four at that point, and when I went to see Ben in Atlanta, his little boy was there, too. It was sad for me, because I have kids, like, “Oh my God, the poor little kid doesn’t even barely know what’s gonna happen.” I guess I didn’t really believe it. I was asking some people around, “Well, how long do you think?” They were going, “A few weeks.” I said, “Nah. You gotta be kidding.” But there’s no way to get out from under pancreatic cancer, from what I understand. It’s a horrible thing to have.

It’s doubly sad, because the time is perfect for a Cars comeback.
If Ben was still around, I would think about it. And I agree, it would probably be an interesting and fun thing, and I love all the guys in the band. And I know a couple of guys in the band still want to do that kind of thing. Greg, Elliot (Easton, guitar) and David (Robinson, drums) are still around, and it’s been talked about over the years.

Is that why you agreed to license “Just What I Needed” to Circuit City?
Well, a lot of that money goes to the band, too. And maybe I’m a little bit better off than the band, financially, because I do a lot of other things in my life. But I got a little bit of, “Oh, could you please? We could really use it!” I kind of fell to that, even though philosophically, I really never wanted to do that. But after Dylan did Victoria’s Secret, I thought, “If Dylan’s gonna do it and Lou Reed’s gonna do it, maybe I’ll just forget about what I said 30 years ago and do this.” So I did it. Plus, Ben’s estate gets a cut.

I’m surprised that you even had time to make your new album.
I know. I did the album in the basement, really. I did it a couple of years ago, oddly enough. I was gonna release it on an indie label or via the internet, but then Sanctuary heard the record and wanted to put it out.

What is this “nexterday” of which you speak?
You know, what it sounds like: another word for “tomorrow.” It really just came from my four-year-old son, who didn’t know what tomorrow was, so he called it “nexterday.”

And you and (supermodel) Paulina Porizkova are still together.
Oh, yeah. For a good 20 years. And it’s still like we just met about two weeks ago. It was the best move, but I knew that, anyway. After a couple of marriages, I learned some stuff about me and what a marriage should be, how you co-exist with a person. So we made some rules in the beginning about this relationship, ’cause we both worked. We made sure that we didn’t grow separately because of what we were doing individually. I went with her when she worked, she went with me when I did. And we always had a very open communication: no fucking around, no lying, no calling each other “fuckhead” or “bitch.” Just a little respect for the other person. I’m speaking for her as well, but I think we’re pretty happy. We’ve got two children, and it’s pretty cool.

Is there any prime directive when signing a group to your record label?
I’m not looking for pop hits. Just some solid, real-deal stuff.

—Tom Lanham

Essential New Music: Sam Rivers Trio’s “Emanation”

Sam Rivers’ jazz journey was as long as it was extraordinary. Born in 1923, he toured with Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, recorded essential sides with Dave Holland and Anthony Braxton, operated one New York City’s key loft-jazz venues during the 1970s, and kept an avant-garde big band going in Florida, of all places, right up to his death in 2011. Rather than rely on the tender mercies of the music industry, he diligently documented himself, and his estate has recently selected Lithuanian label NoBusiness Records to turn Rivers’ archive into finished releases. 

Emanation is the first fruit of this partnership, and it’s an excellent start. Recorded in 1971, it offers two complete sets by Rivers’ working trio with bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Norman Connors. A gifted multi-instrumentalist, Rivers moves easily between muscular saxophone, airy flute and stormy piano playing, sustaining a thread of invention that never goes slack. 

—Bill Meyer

Just Like A Pasadena Daydream: The Cure, Pixies, Deftones, Throwing Muses, Joy Formidable And More Rock The Rose Bowl

Hot hot hot, indeed. Pasadena Daydream was an eclectic festival held at Brookside—part of the famed Rose Bowl complex—in the sweltering SoCal summer heat. While the lineup was stellar—including Pixies, Deftones, Throwing Muses, the Joy Formidable, Mogwai, Chelsea Wolfe, the Twilight Sad and more—the main draw was a rare U.S. appearance by the Cure, celebrating its 40th anniversary. MAGNET photographer Wes Orshoski said hello to a night like this.

The Cure
Throwing Muses
The Joy Formidable