David Schelzel weathered the Ocean Blue’s early success remarkably well—so well that it never really dawned on him that 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of his band’s self-titled Sire Records debut. “I guess that’s a pretty significant anniversary,” says Schelzel matter-of-factly.
Hailing from the choco-tourism hub of Hershey, Pa., Schelzel and the rest of the Ocean Blue were essentially clueless teenagers when they signed a three-album deal with Sire. Now, the band has officially been around long enough to earn the “dream pop” tag, a misnomer that didn’t even exist when they first hit the road to prove that they weren’t, in fact, British.
“We always had a pretty realistic view of who we were and who we weren’t,” says Schelzel. “We’re all really fortunate to come from loving, caring families with great support systems. For me, being in a band is not the sum total of who I am. In the late ‘90s, when having a career in music wasn’t really a viable option anymore, it wasn’t like my whole world fell apart.”
Schelzel turned his focus to academics, eventually heading to law school in Minneapolis, where he’s now a successful attorney. These days, only founding bassist Bobby Mittan lives in Hershey, though the band’s operations are still based there. “We’re fortunate that we had a history on two major labels, which promoted us extensively all those years,” Shelzel says. “We still have a fan base that cares.”
The Ocean Blue’s seventh album. Kings And Queens / Knaves And Thieves, is out on Korda Records, a Minneapolis-based cooperative imprint the band helped launch. Leading things off is “Kings And Queens,” an early-’90s throwback that efficiently co-opts the lush and airy artiness of Britpop’s more lavish leanings without sounding dated or redundant. (You can download the song below.) Like much of the rest of the album, “Kings And Queens” demonstrates the Ocean Blue’s continued proficiency as expert assimilators of all things strummy, Anglophilic and slightly world-weary. “It’s a classic existential song,” says Schelzel. “The big thing is that we’re all basically the same.”
King And Queens is the band’s second full-length release since its 2013 return after a 10-year break. Outside his law practice, Schelzel has kept himself busy on side projects like 5 Billion In Diamonds, led by drummer/producer Butch Vig and featuring members of Soundtrack Of Our Lives, Spiritualized and Echo & The Bunnymen. Fatherhood has also been a priority, and whatever’s left is reserved for music. “The Ocean Blue is still a huge part of my life, but I don’t have to look to it for a way to make a living,” he says. “And that’s tremendously freeing.”
Time is strange. The punks told us to burn the past, that anything new beats anything old through sheer youth. At least, Bill Bored of the Cardboards preached that credo in Stephanie Beroes’ Debt Begins At 20, a little cult documentary from 1980 that invited viewers to hang out in Pittsburgh’s nascent DIY scene. Almost 40 years later, and the future promises more dread than freedom—urban planners buffer cities with luxuries that a growing lower-middle class can’t afford, policies threaten to rob women of agency, and conniving capitalists tag even the tiniest courtesy with a price. So when Eli Kasan says “I can’t explain why the world has to burn”on a blazing rant on the Gotobeds’ third album, Debt Begins At 30 (Sub Pop), he doesn’t have to elaborate—frustrated youths everywhere know the feeling.
Still, like the pioneers from his hometown, Kasan doesn’t savor the past. He must be sitting on a patio in his house, as over the phone, I can hear the birds chirp louder than passing planes. (We’ve had to carve out a rendezvous between our opposite job shifts, but Kasan worked out an alibi: “I was able to ‘work from home’,” he says, “which means I’m just being a bum.”) The story goes that he and his fellow Gotobeds starting writing Debt Begins not long after their breakout on Sub Pop back in 2016, Blood // Sugar // Secs / Traffic. And this time, instead of another perfectly imperfect scrap in a friend’s basement, the band would head to Chicago to record in a proper studio with another pal, Tim Midyett (Silkworm, Mint Mile). Kasan would try to actually plan some lyrics instead of devising everything ad lib.
But now, let’s rewind a bit. The first time I saw the Gotobeds, Kasan was stumbling around the stage with a lampshade on his head. He, of course, also stood on several amps; later, he joined one of his guitarists on the same guitar and wished Chunklet’s Henry Owings a happy birthday. Kasan also chuckles to recall his earliest writing, like the commercial updo for “Wimpy Garcia (Brotherfucker)” from album number one, 2014’s Poor People Are Revolting. “TFP (Tom Payne), our guitar player, was just so impressed by the song itself, that he was just like, ‘Wow, this is so great, it’s such a hit, we could sell this for a car. You’ve got to sing this for a car commercial, man,’” he says. “So I completely took the lyrics I had, and mashed in a bunch of junk. And so looking back, I’m like, ‘What the hell did I do?’ Like, it doesn’t make any sense.”
You see, the Gotobeds thrive on spontaneous combustion. You could talk about the “themes” of Debt Begins—a wariness toward the unwary, loans of all kinds, age abstracted as clocks—if you wanted to pigeonhole the perpetual frustration of living into some sort of artistic “intention.” But Kasan won’t take the credit for masterminding any grand scheme; more than once in our conversation, he admits that some of his best ideas were born from sheer happenstance. The foundation for “Bleached Midnight,” for example, came from a poem in a notebook that Kasan’s old roommate, Scott MacIntyre, left behind. “I was trying to write something about different facets of war, (such as) internally, and versus someone else, and actually being at war,” he says. “His poem was about being addicted to heroin.” So naturally, Kasan reached out, and MacIntyre lent some extra words.
In fact, every song on Debt Begins features at least one other pal or fellow musician—and that, too, was something of a coincidence. The dudes were hanging out at their home base in Chicago, where Midyett lived with another friend—and they contemplated the odds that Midyett would come over and collab on a song with them. “So at one point, our drummer Cary (Belback), since we’re all rap fans, he’s like, ‘Dude, this is going to be just like a mixtape, we’re going to have a feature on every track,’” says Kasan. “He said it as a joke. And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea.’” So Kasan lined up invites to some old friends, from Bob Nastonovich (Pavement, Silver Jews) to Bob Weston (Shellac, Mission Of Burma) to Tracy Wilson Dahlia Seed, Positive No). “I remember the point when we were wrapping up, and I told the dudes, ‘Hey, I need $200 for someone to record their vocals,’” says Kasan. “And so they asked, ‘Well, so who’s all on the record?’ So I told them, and then they asked, ‘Wait, so is there a guest on every song?’ And I was like, ‘We talked about this!’”
The ‘Beds have no trouble communicating with each other. Granted, faintly gothic barnburner “Slang Words”— which, ironically, concerns this generation’s loose lips and insensitive slander—was almost abandoned forever because of a misunderstanding between Kasan and Payne from nearly six years ago. “TFP didn’t have a guitar part for it, it wasn’t finished, I didn’t have all the lyrics, so we just scrapped it, and completely forgot about it,” says Kasan. When he did remember “Slang Words,” though, he was under the impression that his guitarist wasn’t into the tune. Clearly, he was wrong. “I could have just asked him at the time, but instead I just assumed,” he says. “it’s funny, the way that things stick out in your mind, when you’re a dude, and you’re talking to your fellow friends.”
That’s another running theme in Debt Begins. We all know these days that our landscape could use a few less douchebags, and Kasan constantly draws a firm line between those blokes (like the one “jamming Sublime” on “Calquer The Hound”) and the ‘Beds. “I wake in fright/I don’t have the right/To be so parallel,” he says on “Parallel,” a sober reminder that other folks face greater fears. But Kasan admits that even “enlightened” dudes like themselves still bump against barriers. “We’ve definitely all cried in front of each other,” he says. “I’ve held all of them, spooned them [even]. But it’s still like, I’m not sure how to check on this person, even though it’s kinda easy, almost, on the face of it.”
Still, Kasan and the gang still buck the patriarchy when they can. Both versions of “Debt Begins At 30” challenge the systems that be—particularly the latter, where the ‘Beds called in Victoria Ruiz from Downtown Boys to vent her own narrative into the maelstrom. “She was the only person who essentially had a blank check,” says Kasan. “(I told her), here’s the inspiration, here’s what I was trying to say. It’d be cool to have a non-white guy sing this similar song. You can interpret it however you like.” As of our conversation, neither of us yet knew exactly how close Ruiz hewed to the original. But even with my rusty Spanish, I can still hear some parallels. A “fuego” still burns around the same point as Kasan’s fire; Ruiz cries “palabras en débito” where Kasan shouts “These aren’t even my words/They’re out on loan.” And her refrain of “Debit comienza/Pero nunca termina” remains the same as the English: “Debt begins/Never ends.”
As for Kasan’s version—to some extent, that ties back to the stance against nostalgia, and growing up. Astute readers may recognize the opening verse (“Late last night, I sat Atlas on my lap”) from poet Warsan Shire’s “What They Did Yesterday Afternoon,” another serendipitous influence that our protagonist bumped into on Facebook. But when Kasan says the line, he’s not referring to a book. When his new girlfriend moved in with her daughter Atlas, he decided he’d become her father. “I never thought that I was going to have children, or that I would want to have children,” says Kasan. “But it’s like, well, I love my lady, so I love this kiddo. So I just try not to let her get hit by a car, make sure she’s eating food, don’t be an asshole. All those things you usually do.”
Of course, anyone who listens to Debt Begins will swiftly find that Kasan and the gang aren’t assholes. The future might look grim, but time has to march on – and while we can’t burn the past, we can at least make some noise with our fellows right now. And that’s all Kasan really wants with the Gotobeds. “You meet one person at a time, and that leads to something else,” he says. “To me, irrelevant of how many records we sell, or we don’t sell—the guests that I respect like it, the friends I really like are getting it. So I feel like I’m doing something right. Even if it’s not Car Seat Headrest level.”
If prospective employers were to review Lukas Nelson’s work history, they’d likely be struck by its diversity. Aside for his job as frontman for Promise Of The Real, he has ongoing experience as Neil Young’s bandleader and guitarist. That dream gig began in 2014, when Young jammed with Promise of the Real at Farm Aid 2014, which led to the 2015 album The Monsanto Years and an open-ended designation as his post-Crazy Horse backup unit.
Last year, there was Nelson’s ridiculously fruitful collaboration with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga on A Star Is Born. He co-wrote and co-produced a large chunk of the film’s Oscar-winning soundtrack. Oh, and that’s him and Promise Of The Real on stage with Cooper’s Jackson Maine, a character Nelson helped cultivate. “I’m big on learning—that’s for sure,” says Nelson of his varied experiences. “If it fits with my vibe, I’ll go for it.”
And then there’s the family legacy angle. The 30-year-old Hawaii native is the son of ageless country icon Willie Nelson. The two continue to be close, professionally and otherwise. Dad plays guitar on “Mystery” and makes an appearance on the final verse of “Civilized Hell,” both standout tracks on his son’s fifth full-length release, Turn Off The News (Build A Garden), out now on Fantasy Records. “It’s perfect,” says Nelson of his relationship with his father, offering nothing more.
Willie isn’t that only one on the album’s impressive guest list, which also includes Neil Young, Margo Price, Sheryl Crow, Kesha, Shooter Jennings, Lucius, Randy Houser, brother Micah Nelson and others. But never once does Turn Off The News sound like someone else’s album, partly because Nelson has come up with his most focused batch of songs yet. The other reason is Promise Of The Real, who’ve grown into a versatile and enthusiastic sounding board for their leader’s thoroughly engrained inclination to blur the multigenerational lines between rock, country, pop and R&B.
It’s hard to find a more compelling argument for Nelson’s growth as a songwriter than “Bad Case.” Available here as a free download, the album’s leadoff track is an inspired bit of Tom Petty-inspired déjà vu that deserves to be a hit—for whatever that’s worth these days. “I wrote it three years ago in Ireland, and it’s been through a lot of iterations since then,” says Nelson. “It’s about that whole concept of wanting what you don’t have.”
Turn Off The News’ overall polish and focus belies the fact that it was recorded in fits and spurts during brief breaks between tours. Working out of two studios in Nelson’s adopted hometown of Los Angeles, the group managed to record 30 songs, 11 of which made the album. As for a unifying theme, that’s fairly apparent. “There’s this sort of sinister matrix we’re being assimilated into with our phones and our news and everything,” says Nelson. “I think people are waking up to the fact they need to balance technology with reality. ‘Turn Off The News (Build A Garden)’—I was talking to myself when I wrote that.”
For Ian Noe, getting the right road-kill shot became an obsession. “I couldn’t get it out of my head,” says the 19-year-old native of Eastern Kentucky. “I was trying to get that thing for three years. Melissa Stilwell is the one who took it.”
Stilwell’s striking sepia-toned image of an unfortunate deer—which hints at the stark artistry of Mathew Brady’s battlefield photographs of Civil War dead—wound up on the cover of Noe’s full-length debut for a reason. It perfectly captures the ominous sense of place he was after for Between The Country (National Treasury Recordings/Thirty Tigers), not to mention the dislocated desperation and resigned sadness that pervades the beaten-down corner of Appalachia where he grew up.
“We’d all go to my grandfather’s house on Friday and Saturday nights and just play all night long—that’s how I learned,” says Noe, who was coaxed into writing his first song at age 15 by his great aunt. “She just kept asking me every time she saw me until finally it just stayed in my head.”
Recorded in Nashville with characteristic restraint by Dave Cobb, Between The Country has to be one of the most stunning debuts of the year. Delivered with an intensity that’ll make your jaw ache, Noe’s vocals are a spare revelation, their emotive efficiency owing an equal debt to John Prine and Bob Dylan. “The first Dylan album I ever got was Bringing It All Back Home,” says Noe. “I threw it my grandparents’ cart at Walmart when they weren’t looking.”
Like it or not, the sorry humans that inhabit Between The Country’s 10 songs will take up residence in your soul—whether it’s the spurned alcoholic of “Irene (Ravin’ Bomb),” the menacing addict of “Meth Head” or any of the other hard cases who come to life in cinematic detail on tracks like “Junk Town,” “Letter To Madeline” and “That Kind Of Life.” In Noe’s sympathetic hands, each of them is more than an unredeemable product of skewed genetics and bad decisions. “I’ve known people like that,” says Noe, who’s at a loss to explain how he creates characters of such depth.
Available here as a free download, “Dead On The River (Rolling Down)” is Noe’s vaguely journalistic take on a murder ballad. “It’s based on some stuff I’ve heard about around where I’m from, and also the first season of True Detective,” he says. “You’re trying to create a feeling—if that makes any sense.”
Jesse Dayton long ago gave up on mainstream success, choosing instead to lend his voice, guitar skills and can-do attitude to a renegade-country subgenre that’s found some popularity with hipsters half his age. “I’ve been very fortunate,” says Dayton from an Austin, Texas, rehearsal space, where he and his band are prepping for the first show of a tour that kicks off in London on Saturday. “I haven’t paid my mortgage or rent doing anything else since I was 22.”
Though he may not be a household name, Dayton has done quite well for himself outside his home state—mainly through a series of happy accidents. He’s played guitar with Waylon Jennings, Ray Price, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, X and Ryan Bingham, and he’s written soundtracks for three Rob Zombie films. “It was a total fluke,” says the Beaumont native of his fortuitous affiliation with Zombie. “I knew one of the guys who acted in his movies, and Rob called me up and said, ‘Hey, you wanna make a fake country record?’ It was for this movie called The Devil’s Rejects. Rob gave me 75 percent of the publishing, and it helped me buy a house and put my kid through the University of Texas.”
A major draw overseas, Dayton averages about 250 days a year on the road. He’s also directed his own horror flick (2013’s Zombex), licensed more than 50 songs to film and television and (somewhat) quietly put out 11 studio albums and one EP since 1995. Most recently, Dayton signed a deal with Da Capo Press to write his memoir, and he’s hosting a new radio show on @GimmeCountry. On Mixtape Volume 1 (Blue Élan), out August 9, Dayton offers his inimitable spin on a covers album, paying tribute to the music and the artists who inspired him—everyone from Neil Young (“Harvest”) to Elton John (“Country Comfort”) to AC/DC (“Whole Lotta Rosie”) to the Cars (“Just What I Needed”). “The idea was to do cool renditions of songs that I thought the original writers would dig,” says Dayton.
He also does a number on the Clash’s “Bankrobber,” available here as an exclusive download. “I saw the Clash in San Antonio when I was 14, and it changed my life” says Dayton. “The next day, I cut my hair like in a duck tail like Joe Strummer’s, got a black leather jacket and quit all sports. It’s not easy to do what’s cool, man—it’s hard. The Ramones were riding around in a van.”
These days, nothing about the music industry is glamorous. “You got to really want it—unless you’re some 16-year-old pop diva,” says Dayton. “I do everything out of my house. I bought a 45-foot RV with bus bunks in it; I got a crew. I don’t have a famous father. I don’t have big boobs. I built all this shit myself.”
Lucette (a.k.a. Lauren Gillis) has been called everything from indie pop to folk to R&B to country, sometimes in the same sentence. She’s at least a few of those things on Deluxe Hotel Room (Rock Creek/Thirty Tigers), just her second album in the several years since she made her official debut at age 19.
Canada has a way of nurturing the indefinable, and Gillis is from the landlocked heart of that country: Edmonton, Alberta, a city she continues to call home. “My family is here, my boyfriend is here, my community is here,” says Lucette. “It’s a good place to be—for now.”
Lucette has also spent some time in Nashville with two of its most prolific creative minds. Her 2014 debut, Black Is The Color, was produced by the ubiquitous Dave Cobb and featured ominous Appalachia-tinged single “Bobby Reid.” For Deluxe Hotel Room, Lucette chose her longtime champion, Grammy-winner Sturgill Simpson, whose backup band provides stellar musical support. “First of all, I really wanted to showcase my singing. Second of all, I wanted to incorporate elements from all the types of music I love,” says Lucette, who’s as much a fan of Amy Winehouse, ABBA and Rihanna as she is of Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Blaze Foley.
Simply put, Deluxe Hotel Room is all over the place, though it’s neatly bookended by two stunningly direct piano ballads: the mood-setting title track and closing plea “Lover Don’t Give Up On Me.” In between, Gillis dabbles in synthy mechanizations (“Full Moon Town”), Brill Building pop (“Angel”), gospel-infused folk (“Crazy Bird”) and languid R&B intertwined with Brad Walker’s inspired saxophone runs (“Out Of The Rain” and “Fly To Heaven”).
There’s also slowburn confessional “Talk To Myself.” Available here as a free download, it’s a painfully personal portrayal of someone who’s not quite holding it together under public scrutiny “I’ve struggled with the way I’m perceived by other people to the point where it’s been detrimental in my life—especially in my late teens and early 20s, when it came to my self-image and my body,” says Lucette. “I almost felt more comfortable when I was starving myself. The song was cathartic for me because now I’m far more comfortable talking about those things.”
The only genre that’s noticeably absent on Deluxe Hotel Room is country—which is a bit surprising given the Simpson affiliation. “Sturgill is a really good example of someone who takes serious creative liberties with the term country,” says Lucette. “Going into this record, I really did some digging within myself and realized that I’m really not a country artist.”
Jay Farrar doesn’t want to overly politicize Son Volt’s ninth release. “There’s definitely protest songs on it—it’s the tradition of the bard to sing about what’s going on,” says Farrar. “I was raised on folk music with political content. Basically, when you see turmoil, you write about it. Another Son Volt album to compare it to would be Okemah And The Melody Of Riot, so I’m roughly on the 10-year plan.”
Roughly, yeah—Okemah is actually 14 years old. And it doesn’t possess the easy beauty of the new Union (out tomorrow on Transmit Sound/Thirty Tigers). Available here as a free download, “Devil May Care” finds Farrar rethinking the album’s one-dimensional direction. “About midway through writing the record, I felt I had to balance things out—that there needed to be some songs that represented a more regular rock ethos,” he says. “So I thought of the ‘anything goes’ essence of rock ’n’ roll—bands like the Who, the Stones and the Replacements.”
Where 2017’s Notes Of Blue took Son Volt in a sometimes dirgey direction as it toyed with blues authenticity, Union revisits the folky elegance that made Trace’s quieter moments so enduring. In fact, new tunes like “The 99,” “While Rome Burns” and “The Reason” would’ve fit quite nicely on that 1995 classic. “With Notes Of Blue, I was really trying to explore and get inside some of those alternate tunings the old blues guys used,” says Farrar. “For the most part, I went back to standard tunings on this one.”
A major upgrade on Union is the chiming Rickenbacker work of on-and-off member Chris Frame, who rejoined the group on the Notes Of Blue tour. His inventive leads propel and enhance what are some of Farrar’s prettiest melodies in decades. “I’m been listening to a lot of Tom Petty lately, and it just seemed like the 12-string needed to be there,” says Farrar. “In some ways, it’s synonymous with protest music, going back to the Byrds and Bob Dylan.”
In the end, it’s the protest tunes that win out on Union. “I took it as my job to report on what I was seeing,” says Farrar. “There’s a sense of resignation there—you know, like, this really shouldn’t be happening. There’s such a cultural divide going on right now that doesn’t need to be there. There needs to be more of degree of reconciliation, which is where the title comes from.”
And if Union is indeed the sound of a heaving populace in the throes of disparity, Farrar is as focused as he’s ever been—and oddly at ease. Guess we can thank the Donald for that.
Forget to get your own special sweetheart a gift this Hallmark holiday? We have you covered: Just read her/him/them this classic MAGNET feature from 12 years ago, when Kevin Shields first talked publicly about My Bloody Valentine finally following up 1991’s seminal Loveless. Never mind the love, here’s the Loveless.
Loveless isn’t simply My Bloody Valentine’s shoegazing masterpiece; the 1991 album is also the basis for one of alt-rock’s greatest yarns. It’s been reported that MBV leader Kevin Shields spent three years and a half-million dollars painstakingly piecing together Loveless in the studio, bankrupting the band’s label, Creation Records, in the process. On the 15th anniversary of the LP’s release, Shields tells MAGNET that things aren’t always as they seem.
The two things we’re really known for are spending Creation’s money and making records with loads of overdubs on them. The exact truth is this: About a month before we started Loveless, Creation pulled away from Rough Trade distribution and said, “Our contract is up with you. We don’t want to sign again.” By the time we resumed recording in September of ’89, Creation was already bankrupt.
When we first started Loveless, no one signed to Creation. When we finished the damn record, they had hit records and bands on Top Of The Pops. They were a very successful label. All that stuff about us nearly breaking Creation because we spent all their money is literally 100 percent lies.
Another interesting fact is that we were only in the studio a year and 10 months. We spent six months out of the studio touring behind (1990’s) Glider EP, so really, we were only in the studio a year and four months. The last two months, it was £600 a day. Every studio before that was between £200 and £250. If you actually do the math, you realize that those figures don’t add up (to the records’s reported £250,000 price tag). About a year after Loveless, Creation got in trouble, right before Oasis, because Primal Scream spent £1 million on Give Up But Don’t Give Out.
Creation’s financial situation had nothing to do with us, except we made them much richer by getting tons of bands to sign to them that wouldn’t have otherwise. We signed to Creation because of the Jesus And Mary Chain. I do sound like I’m being pretty negative about the whole Creation thing, but it’s more that I just get bored when people ask me. I’m just going to tell the truth now. I always used to gloss over it, but I’m bored of glossing over the truth.
Basically, Creation was out of their minds on drugs. No one was prepared to front us the money to get our act together or give us the money to get equipment. Between having nowhere to live and having no real equipment, we were actually getting somewhere with an audience. When we made Loveless, no money had arrived. We thought we had proven ourselves; at that point, it was the whole music scene that came after us. People were into the whole juxtaposition of the kind of gentleness with the extreme violent side of the music.
Creation founder Alan McGee is kind of an unusual character. Our relationship with Creation was mostly through label manager Dick Green. McGee was really excited by us, but he was never around. We’d see him once a month or once every few weeks, but he didn’t understand when we’d do the slow songs. When we were recording, he told me that it should be more like (1988 EP) You Made Me Realise. He spent all that year trying to get us to release another song off Isn’t Anything called “(When You Wake) You’re Still In A Dream” as the next single. We were like, “No, we’re finished with that now. We’re moving on to a new thing.”
Basically, when he’d come to these sessions in January and April of ’89, I just said, “I don’t want you to come to the studio anymore.” He didn’t like that very much, but before we even started Loveless, there was a problem. I know he was only trying to be helpful, but he was jumping around saying, “This has to be the best record ever made!” He was looking for a group to be the next Primal Scream or the Sex Pistols. We were his biggest bet. Instead of us including him and bringing him in, we just sort of pushed him away. They thought it was strange that I wouldn’t let them in the studio—like I was being overly artistic—but it was more because a studio for us was like home. We were all homeless until after Loveless got made.
The way I saw it—because I was the producer and kind of in charge of everything—I was a bit of a tyrant. I would just really be strict. It got to the point where I lived with these songs for more than a year, and the melodies were only in my head.
I’ve always told people exactly how I’ve made a record. The average My Bloody Valentine track is about one or two guitar tracks: less than a White Stripes or Cramps record. I could only get away with having one or two guitars at any one point because if you put a few on, then it took away from the effect, it sounded smaller and smaller. Basically, a My Bloody Valentine record has the same amount of tracks on it as most bands’ demos do.
When making records, I got it into my head that some of the big no-no’s were no echo, no reverb, no chorus or flanger and no panning. The one effect I would use was this reversed reverb effect, which is very reverb-y, all of these things I was against, right? But the irony was that with these effects, you could actually play harder and it sounded really different. If you played softer, the sound changed dramatically. I would work with a tremolo to get this other dynamic and suddenly had a language I could kind of express myself with, which I never really had before. I found a voice, and I could do it well.
After a while, I was playing in such a way that people thought it was some weird effect or studio manipulation. People in the press couldn’t get their heads around it. We were going for a sound that drew you in. When people make records, they add; they try to clarify everything with cue and compression and stuff. Everything has its own space and doesn’t sound like it’s happening in the same place. We weren’t trying to make anything stick out too much. Everything was quite full on. The vocals, especially. We were kind of amused that people would think we were singing softly, but in fact we were singing in a very controlled way. Then we’d get compared to a lot of other shoegazing bands; they were doing everything we hated, using loads of chorus, flanger and all these effects on their guitars and singing genuinely softly and it was all whispery. It was so hard to get away from that. We were singing as loud as we could to sing the way we wanted to. (Singer/guitarist) Bilinda Butcher’s voice in particular had a really breathy quality to it, but she sounds like that when she sings pretty loudly, too. Neither of us could sing in a shouty sort of a way.
Anyway, people forget now that “alternative” is just another way to make a million pounds. Back in those days, it was really hard to get a publishing deal if you weren’t on a major label. We only got our publishing deal around Christmas of 1990 because we had done our licensing deal with Warner Bros. We never got paid a penny for any records we sold in America. We’ve never been accounted to by Warner Bros. Alan McGee and Dick Green were only 27 or 28 and weren’t experienced. They were guys who had never in their life managed a band’s career. They’d only had bands who’d done well, like the Jesus And Mary Chain or the House Of Love, who’d leave the label the minute they were playing to 1,000 people.
The really sick part of the whole story is that we’d been offered two different major-label contracts. Seymour Stein wanted to sign us to Sire, but we didn’t want to sign a major record contract. We wanted to be in charge of everything. We signed to Creation for £15,000 even though we’re being offered £150,000. I would never accuse Creation of ripping us off. It was all down to the human inexperience, drug taking and lack of awareness and petty mistakes. I resent Alan McGee’s lies, but he can’t help it. He lies about everything. That’s just his style. If people choose to believe that, that’s their business.
A lot of people say the reason My Bloody Valentine didn’t make another record is because we couldn’t. That’s mostly true, but not because we couldn’t make another record, but because I never could be bothered to make another record unless I was really excited by it. And just by fate or whatever, that never happened. I’m quite optimistic about the future, even though experience has taught me that I’m probably just delusional. I do feel that I will make another great record. We are 100 percent going to make another My Bloody Valentine record unless we die or something. I’d feel really bad if I didn’t make another record. Like, “Shit, people only got the first two chapters, but the last bit is the best bit.” It’s just that it’s taken me such an oddly long time for that to happen. How long will that take to transpire into an actual physical record? I don’t know.
Long before they wound up having smash hits in America with grandly melodic anthems, rousing choruses and devotional lyrics, Scotland’s Simple Minds were a dark and obsessive poetic post-punk ensemble whose music was inspired as much by glam’s masters (Bowie, Reed) as it was krautrock (Neu!) and early, arpeggio-heavy electronic disco (Giorgio Moroder). That Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill and Co.’s most recent works seem to reach back into deep past probably says as much about youthful zeal—and intimacy—as it is a need to outrun the band’s reputation for arena-filling sound.
That said, tonight Simple Minds kick off their first North American tour in half a decade, playing arenas (albeit smaller ones) and promoting excellent latest album Walk Between Worlds. To get you ready, read our Simple Minds features from earlier this year:
9/24 Sands, Bethlehem
9/26 Basie, Red Bank
9/28 Metropolis, Montreal
9/29 Bud Gardens, London
9/30 Sony Center, Toronto
10/2 Beacon, NYC
10/3 Orpheum, Boston
10/5 Tower, Philadelphia
10/6 930 Club, Washington DC
10/8 Tabernacle, Atlanta
10/9 Ryman, Nashville
10/11 Hard Rock, Cleveland
10/13 Pabst, Milwaukee
10/14 Fillmore, Detroit
10/15 Chicago Theatre, Chicago
10/18 Paramount, Denver
10/20 Grand Sierra, Reno
10/21 Pearl, Las Vegas
10/22 Humphrey’s, San Diego
10/24 Orpheum, LA
10/25 Masonic, San Francisco
10/27 Roseland, Portland
10/28 Moore, Seattle
10/29 Orpheum, Vancouver
11/2 ACL Live, Austin
11/3 Toyota Music Factory, Irving
11/4 Revention Music Center, Houston
11/6 Saenger Theatre, New Orleans
11/8 The Fillmore, Miami
11/9 Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg
11/11 Hard Rock Live, Orlando
After years of trying to find their identity, Frigs are finally ready for their closeup
In the eight years since vocalist/guitarist Bria Salmena and guitarist Duncan Jennings started playing together, the pair has endured a wholesale variety of change. Originally dubbed Dirty Frigs while pursuing undergraduate degrees in Montreal, the now Toronto-based abrasive-pop/ noisy-grunge outfit has dropped the “Dirty,” gone through different rhythm sections and experimented with a host of styles before zeroing in on sounds inspired by PJ Harvey, Sonic Youth, the Breeders and Sebadoh on 2016’s Slush EP and debut full-length Basic Behaviour.
For Salmena and Jennings, the upheaval was necessary: Montreal is a tough slog if you’re not somewhat bilingual, their previous moniker felt uncomfortable to them, band members came and went, and it wasn’t until they wrote (as Dirty Frigs) an older song called “Swampy” that Frigs found directive and direction.
“We took a really long time to figure out what kind of music we wanted to make,” says Salmena. “We came from different backgrounds and were trying new things. We’ve always fallen into the alternative-rock frame, but we experimented with a lot of different genres, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We wanted to dip our feet in a lot of places and see what we could take from that. Years later, it’s resulted in this record.”
This trial-and-error approach and ongoing transformative air haven’t abated despite Frigs’ growing popularity and their inking a deal with popular Canadian label/management company/publisher/merchandiser Arts & Crafts. Basic Behaviour was recorded over a 16-month period at different locations, including a makeshift home studio where early sessions and the record’s first half were captured. And the plan going forward is to not rest on their laurels or play things safely.
“Our new stuff keeps evolving because now we’re not afraid to veer off into weird places,” says Salmena. “I think it’s uninteresting when there’s no real musical growth or when every record sounds the same. You want people to rely on a certain sound, but you want to make it special and stand out as something that only this band could’ve written.”
UNDER THE INFLUENCE WITH BRIA SALMENA
Dazed And Confused
“I rewatched it the other night, and it’s very problematic, incredibly sexist and very fucked up, but it was a turning point in my adolescence for understanding ’70s culture and music. Despite the movie’s problems, there is a sense of nostalgia for 14-year-old me.”
“Duncan has been really inspired by this record. It’s been on repeat at his place for a while.”
“I discovered I had a bag of silver tinsel in my closet left over from an old Frigs show where we hung it everywhere, and now my office/studio room is covered in tinsel. It’s gaudy and stupid, but fun and I love it.”