Isolation Drills: Chris Wilson (Ted Leo, Titus Andronicus, Hammered Hulls, Hound)

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

On March 12, my band Hammered Hulls played the Black Cat in Washington, D.C. The next day, the venue tweeted that they were cancelling all events for the foreseeable future. The evening before, at practice, we learned that the first band on the bill dropped off, and we wondered if we should do the same.

We wound up playing to a quarter of the folks who bought advance tickets. In hindsight, not cancelling might’ve been a little irresponsible on our part, but as far as we know, no one was infected with the virus that night, and it’s been a nice “last night out before lockdown” memory to hold on to these last couple months.

The next day, we were at Inner Ear Studio beginning to record our debut LP when I got the news that I had been laid off from one of my jobs. Shortly after, I got a call from my sister that my grandfather had died. I finished my drum tracks the next day, took a completely empty Amtrak back to Philly, got in the car with my fiancée and began the 18-hour journey to Arkansas.

I don’t think either of us will ever forget the 2,400-mile round-trip drive to a funeral during a global pandemic, but I’m glad that my family was able to get closure. I know so many folks have had loved ones pass during this and aren’t able to celebrate that person’s life. Not to mention all the people who are ill and alone in hospitals. 

So far, I’ve lost three tours—including one that would’ve brought me to Poland for the first time and my first Irish shows in a decade. One coast-to-coast trip is still on the table, but I’m checking my inbox daily for word that it too will be called off. Fortunately, none of these shows had been announced, so the majority of them will be rescheduled for next year (fingers crossed), and we didn’t have to make the difficult decision to pull the plug and head home in the middle of a world tour like our friends Algiers, who Hammered Hulls played with that night in March before everything locked down.

Financially, I don’t rely solely on music to pay the bills. I’m getting a little unemployment, and when Bandcamp did a fee-free day (where they waive their fee and give 100% of the money to the artists), Titus Andronicus put up a live set from the soundboard at 123 Pleasant Street in Morgantown, W.V., from last year, which a surprising number of people downloaded, and we were able to split up the proceeds from that. Look for Bandcamp’s next fee-free day; every little bit helps!

I’m the kind of person who wants to do all of the things all of the time, so it’s hard to let an entire year of my musical life pass by. But it’s been made a little easier knowing that those shows will be rescheduled and that two of my bands have complete albums that are just waiting for it to be safe enough for two people to be in the same room together while one of them spits lyrics into a microphone.

Thankfully my practice space has not been on lockdown, so I’ve been going there a couple times a week trying to stay productive on my own. My hope is to come out of this healthy and playing better than ever.

In the five weeks since I wrote the above, the closest thing to a revolution that I’ve witnessed in my time has been taking place. It’s inspiring to watch and take part in. But we’ve got to keep fighting. I urge you to donate to an organization that speaks to you if you’re able.

Write, call or email a politician who you think is not doing right by their people (Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council President Darrell Clarke, and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron are a few examples). As my bandmate Ted Leo once sang, “Pull on your boots and march.”

Black lives matter. 

MAGNET Television: Q&A With Craig Wedren

Craig Wedren is the only person to ever appear topless on the cover of MAGNET. This was back in 1997, while he was the frontman of the stylishly sophisticated, strangely sexy Shudder To Think. Since, Wedren has composed music for films and television (School Of Rock, Role Models, Laurel Canyon), published a photo book (My ’90s) and, earlier this year, launched the Sabbath Sessions podcast, featuring musical meditations to soundtrack mindfulness and mantras (check out daily livestreams on Facebook and Instagram). He has also survived both Hodgkin’s disease and a heart attack. Through it all, Craig Wedren still really rocks.

Isolation Drills: Namarah

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Namarah: 2020 has proven itself time and time again to be the year I will always remember. Ironically, I felt the urge in my heart early March that this year was going to have a lot of huge moments; I’m sure some other intuitive folks felt the same way. That’s when we all began to quarantine and stay home. During that time, and even now as we try to navigate the phases of reopening the city of Philadelphia, I’ve learned that being present is hella important but hella hard and that I actually have no idea how to relax. I guess you could call me a doer, but I have watched myself now (because what else is there to do?) get up multiple times in a day to start a project and finish it, sit for max three minutes before getting up and doing something else. Many have called me the busy body. I used to be offended and claim, “That’s not me. I’m not that busy” I’m throwing out the flag on this one: IT ME. I see myself. 

During this period of quarantine, I have been forced to truly see myself and redirect my energy. Which inturn has allowed me some amazing creative moments; I paint more often, using watercolor on canvas and paper or on whatever is around. I don’t start with a plan. I go with the flow of how I’m feeling that day. It’s become a great meditative process for me since I am teaching myself how to settle my mind and body. I have had the pleasure of collaborating virtually with friends and strangers; one song in particular is now featured on Fuel The Fight 2, a local collab album for essential workers. You can find the song “Keep On” there; we wrote it for fun, and something beautiful came out of it. I love those moments.

While I teach myself to relax, I also have been allowing my superpower of throwing myself into work to push forward in building community. I truly believe the best work comes when individuals come together and create spaces for new innovative ideas to flow. With this in mind, I can’t help but look forward to today’s launch of Deia Tribe, a week of virtual experiences for creatives to connect, lasting until July 11. There are coaching sessions, music exchanges, conversations, dance classes and even virtual concerts. I’ve partnered with creatives based in Philadelphia and beyond, and I can’t help but smile ear to ear just thinking about it.

The word “deia” is an anagram for “idea” and also means new perspective—it came to me a few years back when I was in college and stuck with me. The Deia Tribe is the medium in which all my work flows. I write music, produce events and create with the community in mind. As we all were inside our homes, some of us were the most isolated we have been in our entire lives, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What does it look like for a community to connect digitally?” Deia Tribe is for all those who know that they need to break free from isolation in order to grow, thrive and embrace who they are. 

The time we take to embrace who we are happens at the rate of how many people who are in our life pour into our heart and spirit. As I stayed inside, I saw on the internet how quickly our society ran to Instagram Live to fill that void of community. I saw how we had deeper conversations and focused intentions. I saw how we, across the globe, rallied and marched for justice and continued to push forward for equity and equality. We would not have had these moments without the stay-at-home order.

It’s a dark time, and yet, I find myself wanting to shine brighter with hope and love each day despite it. My creativity has expanded in ways I couldn’t have imagined, and if it were not for the ones in my life who chose to love me and seek me out when I was quietly being my busy-body self, I would have stagnated. Thankfully, the universal truth of “it takes a village” is real, but villages don’t just raise children. They raise cities and people, strength and love—and, most of all, new ideas for the future.

A Conversation With David Gordon (FUNKILLER)

While sitting at his home in Gainesville, Fla., David Gordon apprehensively chats about his forthcoming FUNKILLER record. Talking about his own music is not Gordon’s strong suit, though he comes alive when his earnest sound is likened to the late Daniel Johnston.

“I actually have an original piece of his,” he says. “It says, ‘You can go crazy too, but don’t ever come back.’ It’s a beautiful thing.”

For those not living near Gordon in Florida, in some nearby Spanish-moss-covered town, you’ve likely never heard his lush, poetic music. He’s only released one album, 2005’s On Cemetery Road, and since then, he’s rarely played live. Instead, he’s been slowly chipping away at his upcoming Tropical Depression.

The 10-track album spirals freely, never clutching to a specific genre. From harmonious, airy ballads that’d make Brian Wilson smile to trippy, Flaming Lips dream pop, Tropical Depression delivers a classic listen-on-headphones experience. “Rattlesnake Freight Train” even delves into an ethereal Joe Meek/“Telstar” arena that quickly dissolves into some Cramps-tripping-on-acid rock ‘n’ roll. Somehow, Gordon’s music is still seamless and obviously cut from the same sonic cloth.

While Tropical Depression won’t be out until the fall, lead single “Divided Highway” was recently debuted by LaunchLeft, a Los Angeles label/podcast operated by his bandmate, Rain Phoenix. Rounding out the lineup is another Gainesville resident, David Lebleu of the Mercury Program.

MAGNET conversed with Gordon about his life as a reclusive songwriter, but also about some of his favorite albums by other artists:

Continue reading “A Conversation With David Gordon (FUNKILLER)”

Isolation Drills: The Dawn Drapes

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Daniel Rice (guitar, vocals): I remember being at the neighborhood bar with a few close friends who were all about to go on tour together (Ali Awan and Slomo Sapiens) and making the decision to cancel a two-week run of shows throughout the South and the East Coast. We were also about to play Johnny Brenda’s to kick off with a solid hometown show, and it just felt like all of the air in the room was gone.

Mike (Sanzo, guitar, keyboards, vocals) plays with Slomo Sapiens and I play with Ali Awan, so we were both about to be on the road together but playing in separate bands—something that we had never done before and were very much looking forward to experiencing. Months of planning and preparing and practicing was suddenly meaningless; but the true weight of the situation hadn’t really set in yet.

The Dawn Drapes were having regularly scheduled practices at the house Mike and I live in, and we were in a great songwriting groove and the band was in a great place with new material. We made the decision as a band to take a break from meeting up together since we all don’t live together and wanted to be as safe as possible. That was definitely the hardest thing to put on hold. Luckily for us, we had recorded four new songs a few months earlier, so we had some new material ready for release. But not playing live to an audience is just so strange to us. 

There’s a lot of home recording going on with everyone in the band, and that is great! There will be so many songs to sift through, and that is always a good problem to have. I’ve been trying to stay positive and look on the bright side of things and remember to tell myself that slowing down can be a good thing. It’s definitely hard to imagine not playing live until 2021, but that’s the reality of the situation, and we’ve all got to deal with it.

The musicians in Philly have a great support network including the local radio stations and venues, who’ve all been outspoken about helping each other. Greg and Jenn Seltzer of Philly Music Fest launched a campaign to raise money for musicians; that was seriously amazing, and I know it helped so many of my friends in need. So looking on the bright side, there are things to be grateful for, knowing that the community is invested in seeing everyone shine through these dark times. 

Normal History Vol. 589: The Art Of David Lester

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 36-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

In the mid-’80s, David gave me a lot of great albums by bands he’d found out about when he squatted in London in the very late ’70s. I was introduced to politically charged music by way of punk rock. X-Ray Spex, Slits, Poison Girls, Raincoats, Au Pairs and Crass. Most of the bands he listened to had women in them. Exceptions were the Clash, Sex Pistols and Gang Of Four. Bands played benefits and rallies. Rock Against Racism, Rock Against Prisons, Anti-Nazi. I think he saw Gang Of Four on the back of a flatbed truck at a No Nukes rally.

“Revolution#Pine” from The Family Swan (Kill Rock Stars, 2002) (download):

MAGNET Television: Q&A With Sonic Boom (Spacemen 3, Spectrum, E.A.R.)

It’s only taken three decades, but Sonic Boom has finally released the “proper” follow-up to 1990 solo debut Spectrum. All Things Being Equal (Carpark), of course, isn’t the first music Peter Kember has issued in that time. Spectrum came out while his legendary Spacemen 3 was still an active band and before its 1991 swan song, Recurring. After S3’s dissolution, Kember released records as Spectrum and E.A.R., produced the likes of MGMT, Beach House and Panda Bear and collaborated with Yo La Tengo, Stereolab and others. All Things Being Equal proves Kember is still a modern master of soothing psychedelia sounds, which are the perfect prescription for today’s trying times.

Isolation Drills: Shamir

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Shamir: My time in quarantine has been relatively fruitful. I really hate to sound like I’m enjoying the pandemic—that couldn’t be further from the truth. I just find that I’m a very empathetic person, so when my surroundings feel hectic, I feel hectic, even when I’m not necessarily busy. When the world began to quarantine, that took a lot of social pressure off of me and allowed me to center my creative endeavors, which I also feel was a way to preserve my mental health as well.

During this time, I rediscovered my love for cinematography and video editing, something I haven’t done since high school when I shot a really dodgy rap video. (Which I’m still proud of till this day.) Rekindling that love has been my favorite thing to come out of this whole insane time, because for the first time, that side of my skill set has been put on display in a big way because of my self-made quarantine music videos.

I hope I can find ways to implement this level of self-experimentation when the world speeds/opens ups again and find ways to balance this newfound level of productivity with my regular typically hectic social and travel schedule.

Country Westerns: Lean And Mean

It’s been a curious journey thus far for Joey Plunkett—from fronting much-admired Brooklyn band the Weight to largely abandoning music to run Duke’s, a popular watering hole in East Nashville. “I followed an ex down here who was a country singer,” says the Atlanta native. “I was spinning my wheels, and the relationship ended. I kept thinking I’d move back to New York or Atlanta, but I just kept hanging around—until the opportunity came to open a bar.”

Plunkett’s latest opportunity comes by way of Country Westerns, the trio he’s assembled with former Silver Jews drummer Brian Kotzer and violinist-turned-bassist Sabrina Rush. The name is a bit of a misnomer, given that the band favors raspy roots-rock gut checks over twang authenticity. It’s a sound that’s tightly wound yet slightly unhinged, thriving off that dichotomy. “I’m Not Ready,” the fourth track from the band’s new self-titled Fat Possum debut, has all signature assets of Country Westerns’ Hüsker Dü-by-way-of-Lucero model: a taught melody grounded by a pulsing rhythm section, throat-shredding lead vocals and sporadic bursts from Plunkett’s guitar.

“It’s one of those songs that came to me quickly,” says Plunkett. “It’s mostly about having no control over time and the forces around you. It’s a noisy song about not going gentle into that good night.”

A year prior to Plunkett’s arrival in Nashville, Kotzur had a brush with indie filmmaking as the lead in Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers, a darkly humorous 2009 horror flick shot on worn VHS video. Plunkett and Kotzur eventually met and gelled over their common opinions on the chemistry of making music. “I just wanted to be in a band,” says Plunkett. “I’ve never been good about shifting from one project to the next. For a lot people here, that’s their forte. But it’s not my personality.”

By 2016, the two were recording demos in Kotzur’s garage. Early music featured Reece Lazarus (Bully) before Rush settled in on bass. Recording began in Nashville with engineer Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Hurray For The Riff Raff) and continued in Brooklyn with Matt Sweeney (Chavez, Zwan) and Daniel Schlett (War On Drugs). “For us, it was always about trimming the fat,” says Plunkett. “When we hooked up with Matt, we really cut everything down to the bone. It’s like we took a scalpel to it.” 

Six of Country Westerns’ 11 songs are less than three minutes in length. “Harder and faster compensates for not being as much of a hotshot player,” says Plunkett. “I don’t feel like I’m some virtuoso, but I want to feel like I’m sweating for it.” 

An interesting side note: The video for “I’m Not Ready” was shot at the abandoned Starwood Amphitheatre outside of Nashville. “We had to carry all these amps about a half-mile through the brush to find the place,” says Plunkett. “Brian told me he’d seen Ice-T, Easy-E and Van Halen there. He had this idea to do a low-rent version of Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii.”

—Hobart Rowland

Isolation Drills: Honey Radar

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Jason Henn (guitar, vocals): It’s hard to put into words how we feel at the moment. Some of our friends and co-workers have lost family members to COVID-19. Our close friend Alice died after a long illness that wasn’t COVID-related, but no one could be there with her in the hospital because of the virus, and that was heartbreaking. A lot of our friends are in bands or work service jobs and get by on a slim margin even in good times, and we all feel their anxiety right now. 

We didn’t have a ton scheduled for the spring, so the biggest disruption for the band has been to finishing recordings for a new album, though we’re attempting some remote recording. We were looking forward to playing with Eyelids and Early Day Miners in April, and we hope those shows can be rescheduled. We were also invited to the U.K., which is obviously on hold until it’s safe to do. We usually play some long-weekend trips throughout the year, and probably would have gone south or northeast at some point this summer if things were normal. About the only thing unaffected is our group text thread, which is mostly Beatles memes.

Releases are moving forward, and our latest one is an LP compilation called Sing The Snow Away, which collects singles released on the Chunklet label between 2015-18. We dug up about 10 bonus tracks, and Byron Coley wrote an essay on the band’s history with very thoughtful notes on the songs. 

Jordan (Burgis, bass) has had the toughest quarantine of us all. His neighbors’ house caught on fire, and it spread to his house. Jordan and his partner got out unharmed, but sadly not everyone next door did. A total nightmare to have happen in the middle of this already insane time. Before the fire, he was mixing and mastering a number of projects, recording a bunch of guitar and clarinet noise, and released an album and two EPs with Magnetic Bells. There’s another EP on the way, though now he’s mixing it via Bluetooth to the TV in his hotel room.

Armen (Knox, guitar) has been really productive. He finished a new solo album in quarantine that he released on April Fools’ Day, and his band Fake Nudes contributed a track to the Fuel The Fight comp to benefit frontline workers.

Mark (Rice, drums) and his partner run a print studio called Pressure Club, and he’s been posting new work online, including some great experimental puzzles. He also drums in the Coke Dares, and they’ve been doing a webinar-style series of discussions of their latest album, Fake Lake.

Quarantine for Jesse (Stober, guitar) has mostly consisted of episodes of 90 Day Fiancé and alien conspiracy-theory documentaries. I saw him briefly to hand off a plant that belonged to Alice. He texts semi-regularly about Japanese noise records and Jim Shepard. 

I’m very fortunate to be able to do my job remotely more or less the same as before and am trying to pay it forward. Everyone should tip their postal carrier and delivery drivers as much as humanly possible. One silver lining of working from home has been listening to music all day. The new Lithics album just hit my doorstep. I’m close to finishing my County Records collection and just got the last Messthetics comp I needed, so I’m listening to Fiddlin’ Doc Roberts and the Versatile Newts nonstop.

MAGNET Television: Q&A With Marissa Paternoster (Screaming Females)

Screaming Females—fronted by guitar god Marissa Paternoster—celebrate a decade and a half of musical greatness this year. The latest collection of punk fun from this Jersey trio is a vinyl release of 2013’s out-of-print, limited-to-100, cassette-only Chalk Tape EP. Chalk Tape, which follows last year’s Singles Too collection, is available for pre-order from Don Giovanni until July 26. It won’t make you sorry.

Essential New Music: Quin Kirchner’s “The Shadows And The Light”

Smart bandleaders know that if you want you band to sound good, nothing’s more important than a good drummer. You’ll hear a lot of musical differences between jazz saxophonist Greg Ward, Afrobeat combo NOMO, tropically tinged pop group Wild Belle and folk/jazz/prog singer Ryley Walker. But they’ll all tell you the same thing about Quin Kirchner: He makes their band sound good. Given his versatility, Kirchner faces an existential challenge when he puts on boss cap: What music is really his? 

The Shadows And The Light affirms Kirchner’s allegiance to a jazz lineage that stretches back half a century. To a time when Sun Ra was trying to redeem us with the lure of heading for space, and when the bands soundtracking your movies and TV shows were led by and populated with folks with bonafide jazz chops. This sprawling double album is well-stocked with swinging cadences, richly textured horn riffs and pithy, expressive solos played by a gallery of crack, Chicago-based musicians. Seven sidemen step in and out from track to track as needed, which ensures variety and keeps the music from ever sounding too busy. The material is split between Kirchner’s originals and 20th-century chestnuts by Ra, Carla Bley, Kelan Phil Cohran and Frank Foster. While it feels like a crime not to give a shout out to all of the musicians, Nate Lepine’s flute and Rob Clearfield’s electric piano deserve particular acknowledgement for the spiritual, ‘70s vibe they evoke. And Kirchner’s own playing does just what it’s done for all his employers: make the band sound good.

—Bill Meyer