Anna von Hausswolff: No Depression

With Dead Magic, Anna von Hausswolff freed herself from a dark place

Swedish organist Anna von Hausswolff has made the most aesthetically adventurous album of her career with Dead Magic (City Slang). The record, her fourth, opens with an eerie 12-minute suite called “The Truth, The Glow, The Fall,” rebounds into sinister, chain-clanking blues howler “The Mysterious Vanishing Of Electra,” downshifts into 16-minute cathedral-echoed epic “Ugly And Vengeful,” then gets Carnival Of Souls creepy with the haunted-sounding “The Marble Eye.” But there’s just one problem: She has no recollection of exactly how she managed to compose this magnum opus.

“I know it sounds unbelievable, but when I was making it, I didn’t know what I was doing,” she says. “I wasn’t aware. I wasn’t present.”

This Gothenburg-raised iconoclast—the daughter of avant-garde artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff—isn’t joking. After touring behind her last effort, 2015’s The Miraculous, she returned home and promptly fell into a funk. She did her best to keep up appearances, staying social and going out with friends. But inside, something had shifted.

“I was exhausted, and I felt like I had lost my imagination,” says von Hausswolff. “Or my own imagination was trying to project the idea that it was dead or gone or missing. It was very strange.”

She can’t pinpoint the nadir. The darkest days floated into each other, until they coalesced into an all-encompassing ennui. “It was this state of mind where you feel like nothing you do matters, like nothing you do is of any value—everything had lost that magical shimmer,” she says. Hence the oxymoronic album title.

The 31-year-old von Hausswolff soon discovered that the only way out of her dire situation was just to stay busy. She began to write new material, most of which would end up on Dead Magic. “I was very confused, not really sure of what I was thinking or doing,” she says. “I only knew that I had an urge to get out of that depression and to become more physical in my way of delivering my vocals, so I could get a connection that triggered my emotions again. So I really pushed myself to the perimeters.”

Gradually, her curiosity was rekindled. Listening to her feral snarling on “Electra,” however, she’s hard pressed to recall her motivation or even its lyrical theme. “That’s just what came out of the dark place I was in,” she says. The effort was written almost automatically, in 2016, then tracked a year later in Copenhagen by producer Randall Dunn, with von Hausswolff utilizing that city’s vintage Marmorkirken (or Marble Church) organ, the type of imposing instrument with which she’s most familiar. Now the songs are beginning to transform and blossom as she seeks to understand them, imbue them with deeper significance. What did she learn from her mojo-losing experience?

“That even if I start projecting destructive ideas onto myself or thinking my creativity is gone, it’s never gone,” she says. “It’s just your dark imagination working its way into your brain. It’s very strange how the mind works and how you can react to it.”

—Tom Lanham

Simple Minds: The Truth About Charlie

Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr on his 50-year friendship with press-shy music-making partner Charlie Burchill

As its longtime lyricist and singer, Jim Kerr is, for all intents and purposes, the Simplest Mind. Yet, ever since 1977, Kerr and childhood friend Charlie Burchill have been sonically tied at the hip. First as Johnny & The Self-Abusers (one Chiswick label single, “Saints And Sinners”), then as Simple Minds, the Glaswegian songwriting duo have never stopped making music, even if—especially in Burchill’s case—they don’t do many interviews.

“I can beat him at table tennis, but Charlie’s a tenacious sod,” says Kerr, waxing—one would assume—metaphoric about their co-joined talents as a 41-year-old team. “He’s a good guy, Charlie. Always was.”

If Simple Minds isn’t touring, multi-instrumentalist Burchill is writing music and melodies for the duo (and its added newer batch of sidemen) on a daily basis. “Charlie has always been the type of guy who gets out of bed in the morning and starts writing songs,” says Kerr. “Could be he’s at his piano with a cup of coffee or with his guitar twisting himself up. He’s meditating—yes, he does that—and he’s working on something. I do it, too—the daily writing—but not as diligently and dutifully as he.”

So little has shifted about what Kerr and Burchill do and how they operate.

“What has changed are the outside constants,” he says. “The industry has changed. The technology has changed. The world has changed. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve changed as people, too, because we were seriously children when we first met. However, amongst all that dizzying change, fundamentally, he and I are the same people. Think about what we do: Look for a sound, a melody, an emotion and the words to suit it all, then record it, then take it around the world. That was us since we were teens.”

—A.D. Amorosi

Simple Minds: Alive And Kicking

Four decades in, Simple Minds still offer songs of faith and devotion

“Concentrating on new music gives us something to hold on to in a world that’s spinning out of control and often unrecognizable.”

That’s Jim Kerr talking as a co-founding member of Simple Minds on the occasion of latest album Walk Between Worlds (BMG). As Kerr and longtime musical partner Charlie Burchill have since their start in 1977, Simple Minds still speak of life’s mysteries and its dream realities, of faith and one’s own sense of spirituality, and of positioning its narrators as romantics and outcasts. With all that existentialism—rather than continuing its sonic reign (or rain) as earthen, atmospheric, anthem makers on par with big-selling songs like “Alive And Kicking” and “Glittering Prize”—Simple Minds added risk to its mix and brought in elements of the electronic post-punk punch of its earliest albums such as 1980’s Empires And Dance and 1981’s Sons And Fascination.

“We do see divisions—Charlie and I—in how our records have sounded (from album to album), but for us, it really is one journey, one book,” says the Simple Minds lyricist/singer. “There are changes in our lives that create natural demarcations, influenced as we are by different things. But I don’t believe that the essence of what we do or who we are changes.”

Listening to Kerr’s vocals on initial Simple Minds albums (1979’s Life In A Day and Real To Real Cacophony) now, it’s remarkable how much older than his years he sounded then. “I hope I’ve grown into that voice,” he says with a laugh. “Because if I haven’t done so by now, I better hurry up. I do believe I have different energies for different songs. As soon as I approach the microphone—that is me. There’s no warming up. You don’t need to be screaming for attention all the time.”

Considering those earliest LPs, Kerr teases that there are many elements that he digs “and many that I do not.” Yet, there is one thing that the singer believes a Simple Minds listener can appreciate in all the earliest recordings: imagination. “You can hear us thinking; young guys boiling over with enthusiasm; sometimes over-reaching, which, by the way, for me would not be a minus. You have to reach.” Kerr also goes on to say that Simple Minds was born out of a vacuum in Glasgow, as the group had no real local reference or scene to learn from or with whom to share stories. “It was all learning on the hoof and in public,” he says. “What we had was what it was: us pooling together our influences and rather desperately trying to grow something out of those similar or disparate inspirations.” With that, Simple Minds, at its early electronic post-punk sunburst epiphany, was a collection of its strengths and weaknesses. “Preferably with just a few more strengths,” says Kerr.

Recording new albums (a crucial part of Simple Minds’ existence so to never become a museum piece) such as 2005’s Black & White, 2009’s Graffiti Soul and 2014’s Big Music found Kerr and Burchill increasingly more fascinated by the sounds of its earliest efforts with electronic twitches as a driving force. “The same is true with this new album,” says Kerr.

The songs on Walk Between Worlds began as most Simple Minds songs do: with a Burchill sound that provokes Kerr to imagine. “I’m not a b-minor guy,” he says. “I’m the guy who sees the courtyard or sees the woman or man inside that courtyard and one of them is writing a letter. I just see that stuff.” Turning (or returning) to the Euro dance-rock electronic sound of its past allowed those pictures—lyrics of faith and devotion—to be writ loud. “There are sounds we swore we’d never use again that are very much part of the present that add to the dialogue,” says Kerr. “Fifteen years after we thought something was dated and old, lo and behold, that sound reannounces itself as fresh. There is a new validity. You re-engage.”

Of new songs such as “Utopia,” “Magic” and “Sense Of Discovery,” Kerr says he couldn’t have written of the faith and experience within each lyric: “You would have had to run around the block a few times to glean that experience and have that level of reflection.” The lyricist acknowledges that faith is a condition outside of Godliness or religion but that devotion and conviction, though a personal issue, drive some of his most stirring new stories. “Without sounding an arrogant little sod, faith is what drove me in the first place,” he says. “It makes our music mean something. You have to have a sense of heightened something else. And whatever name you wish to call that, so be it. The vibe, the flow, the muse. Some people call it God. It’s a calling to be written and a calling to be sung.”

—A.D. Amorosi

Philadelphia Soulless: Mt. Joy Is Just The Latest Band To Leave MAGNET’s Hometown In Search Of Fame And Fortune

If you didn’t read our brand-new feature on Mt. Joy, do so now here. In it, the band talks about relocating from Philadelphia to the sunnier climes of Los Angeles. But you can bet your vegan cheesesteak that Mt. Joy isn’t the first band to leave MAGNET’s hometown just as its national profile is on the rise. Swear to Rocky, it’s a pattern we’ve noticed firsthand since Hall & Oates showed our city absolutely no brotherly love by moving to NYC in 1980. A decade ago, in our 15 In Philly series, we wrote about three newer bands that left us Quaker City lifers behind: Marah, Matt Pond PA and Burning Brides. But sorry, traitors, we got the laugh. It took youse guys leaving for both the Phillies and the Iggles to finally become World Fucking Champions. Yard Brawlers on you, dudes. Read “Exiled From Broad Street” below. (And we were just kidding about the “soulless” and “traitors” jabs. Youse can take the boy out of Philthadelphia, but youse can’t take the Philthadelphia out of the boy.)

15 In Philly: Exiled From Broad Street

Mt. Joy: Get Happy

Mt. Joy’s fast and furious 21st-century success story

If the internet hadn’t upended the music industry 18 years ago, it’s hard to say whether Mt. Joy would be in the position it’s in now. “These dreams are more than paper things,” muses Matt Quinn on “Astrovan,” a groovy, blues-tinged standout from the Los Angeles-by-way-of-Philly band’s self-titled Dualtone debut.

It wasn’t anything as tangible as paper that figured into the group’s unlikely ascent from obscurity to the festival circuit. That fame came by way of Spotify, when “Astrovan”—with the help of its Deadhead Jesus protagonist—accumulated no less than five million streams with zero promotion. “I just thought it would be fun to have a song on Spotify to show my friends and family,” says co-founding guitarist Sam Cooper. “Then it just took off and had, like, a million plays in the first month.”

“We chose an Astrovan for the lyric because it’s just a funny car,” says Quinn. “But it speaks to a certain level of socioeconomic class, in some respects. I think people are grabbed by the contrast of Jesus and the Astrovan. Then, when they dive in, they connect with the story within the song, as well.”

For a while there, Quinn and Cooper were living out that story within the song—of being fitfully content with just scraping by. Quinn was going to law school and punching numbers for a company that handled music-download royalties; Cooper was pursuing ad-agency work. “We weren’t thinking of music as a career,” says Cooper. “But things changed pretty quickly.”

With “Astrovan” lighting up Spotify, the phone calls from labels started coming in, and Mt. Joy was compelled to find management and fill out its lineup. They landed multi-instrumentalist Michael Byrnes through Craigslist and added Sotiris Eliopoulos on drums and Jackie Miclau on keys a short time later. The band settled on the well-respected Dualtone imprint, home to a fairly diverse roster, from the Lumineers and Delta Spirit to Shakey Graves and Robert Earl Keen. Foregoing a big-name producer, they chose Jon Gilbert, known mostly for his live sound work at major festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo. “We recorded it over nine or 10 months last year at his home studio in Pasadena,” says Cooper. “He was amazing—he’s a genius with different sounds.”

Along those lines, Gilbert has done an exceptional job of corralling Mt. Joy’s various influences and points of reference, from Traffic, the Grateful Dead and Talking Heads to more recent acts like Dr. Dog, the Revivalists and My Morning Jacket. He also succeeded in not sucking the life out of the performances, applying a grainy indie-soul finish to the whole thing. “In terms of the album’s sound, we were thinking Alabama Shakes and Michael Kiwanuka,” says Cooper.

Thanks to the streaming gods, Cooper and Quinn now find themselves in the enviable position of returning home as conquering heroes—or something along those lines. “I’ve basically been living out of a bag since I got to L.A.,” Quinn says. “Philly still feels like home.”

“We’re still living there in our minds,” says Cooper.

—Hobart Rowland

The Low Anthem: Slow Dissolve

The Low Anthem’s inner groove and the parable of the salt doll

The story of the salt doll, like most parables, tells itself simply and well. After years on dry land, the salt doll arrives at a shoreline. “What are you?” asks the salt doll. “I am the sea,” the water replies. When the doll presses the matter—“Yes, but what are you?”—the sea invites the doll to place first a toe, then a foot, then a leg into the water. With each deeper measure, the doll understands a little something further but must give a part of itself to the sea in order to gain the knowledge. In the end, the doll, having gradually given its entire earthly body over to the sea in order to deepen its understanding, comes to know the sea in full because (“The sea is I!”) the sacrifice is at last equal to the wisdom it desired.

Having released its fourth full-length record, Eyeland, in June 2016, Providence R.I.’s the Low Anthem had barely begun the first leg of the support tour when a serious car accident in Washington, D.C., crushed most of its instruments beyond repair, totaled the van and laid its members up in the hospital for various stays of recovery.

“Everybody was bedridden for two or three weeks,” says frontman Ben Knox Miller. “I got it the least serious of anybody, but Jeff (Prystowsky), my writing partner, got it the worst.”

It took the band four months to get its Eyeland tour even halfway salvaged. In the meantime, Knox allowed himself a little time to focus on small projects at his house. One of these projects began when he awoke in a darkened bedroom to hear that he’d left a turntable rotating while the needle jumped and clicked in the record’s inner groove.

“I don’t know why I’d never thought to use that as a metronome,” says Knox, who quickly began Rube Goldberg-ing a series of effects and apparatuses, from scratching nicks and divots in the stylus to change up the beat, to running the whole audio signal through a length of PVC pipe. Over this set of organic, half-randomized beats, Knox wrote and played spare musical and melodic threads.

“The process was literally destructive—as in, destructive to the stylus,” he says. “When I played the demo stuff that I’d come up with for Jeff, we did try some re-recording. But we quickly realized that re-recording couldn’t replicate the most interesting sounds on the demos. You couldn’t just ‘re-do’ it, because the sound of the thing had changed incrementally in real time as the record turned. So this new record largely grew from cleaning up and adding onto what was already there.”

The Salt Doll Went To Measure The Depth Of The Sea (Joyful Noise)—Knox ran across the parable in Kay Larson’s John Cage bio Where The Heart Beats, which, he says, “lit me up”—is a sparse, minimalist record when considered alongside the more expansive Eyeland. But the hushed, intimate collection of songs honors the contemplative mood that sparked its composition.

The music honors its moment of birth, the dearly-paid-for time that allowed it to germinate. “Some of the obstacles (to re-recording it) were technical,” he says. “There was no way to impose any time changes on what was recorded, so the core of the music’s ‘time’ had to remain, or we’d have had to throw the whole thing out. And there was a kind of ‘sound assassination’ even with the smallest parts. The tiny micro-voltage of that needle jumping and skipping around in the groove had to be brought up into an order of magnitude where humans expect to hear music. The components were tiny and simple and organic, and they just sounded in the end so different from a digitally generated loop.”

And, like the salt doll, ultimately dispersed throughout the whole—everywhere present, nowhere locatable. Is there a better way to think about creation?

—Eric Waggoner

Albert Hammond Jr.: Living Through The Past

Albert Hammond Jr. is still saying yes to just saying no

Diving into the wreck, as feminist poet Adrienne Rich put it, is a process many artists come to engage in once they’re on the other side of trouble. For Albert Hammond Jr., who came to worldwide fame as a member of the Strokes, the past hasn’t always sat so easy. A three-year period of intense drug use overlapped with the band’s recording of and touring behind 2003’s Room On Fire. Fortunately, Hammond saw the danger and pulled himself out of it successfully.

“It’s still what people want to ask me about,” he says. “That kind of question really pisses me off: ‘Oh, how can you still be creative without the drugs?’ It’s like, ‘No, man. No.’ For me, the really creative stuff only came when I got the drugs out of the way. They were an impediment, not a motivator. It amazes me how much better stuff you can produce when they’re not part of your daily process.”

—Eric Waggnoner

Albert Hammond Jr.: Trouble Boys

Albert Hammond Jr. crafts an album about brotherhood, loss and existential identity—and it rocks

“I knew the story,” says Albert Hammond Jr. “I’d always known the story, but when I was 36, some parts of it I hadn’t known before started coming out, and I thought, ‘Wow, why didn’t anybody tell me this sooner?’”

Here’s the story: Albert Hammond Jr. was—or is, or was to have been—a twin. But early in the development process, as sometimes occurs, his fetal brother ceased to develop, after which point Hammond continued on his own. What he didn’t know until recently was that developed parts of his brother had remained in the womb intact. When Hammond was born, at least one fully grown part of his brother—a tiny, complete fingernail—emerged with him, embedded in the placenta.

Hammond’s aunt was the one who finally shared that piece of information with him, three and a half decades later. “It was so moving to me,” he says. “It made complete sense, too. I was an only child, but I’d never really felt alone.”

The story of Albert Hammond Jr.’s brother, and the implications it raises for identity and creativity, are at the heart of Francis Trouble (Red Bull), Hammond’s fourth full-length. In other hands, such a subject might’ve resulted in a heavy-sounding meditation on birth, death and infinity, but Francis Trouble wraps its thoughtful lyricism in lively, energetic rock music.

“I sort of like that,” laughs Hammond, “that people might come to it expecting a much heavier experience, and instead it’s this colorful, bright sound. It fits against the last record (2015’s Momentary Masters), too. That one was all about the shadow, the black-and-white, and this one’s about color, about using dark energy to create something beautiful. The inspiration comes from the story, but the music didn’t want to situate any of itself in darkness.”

Anthony Burgess, the British author of canonical adolescent dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, once suggested that youth might be prone to damage because it has a surplus of energy, but very little of the necessary patience or training required to create; and so instead it turns to destruction, which feels easier and more within reach. Hammond, the guitarist of the Strokes and the son of famed songwriter Albert Hammond Sr., knows how much of yourself can be consumed by a flaming youth.

“I’m grateful for both the band and my father,” he says. “At the same time, that sort of background can create challenges. The songs (on Francis Trouble) needed something for their own sake. Funnily enough, I needed to be something else in order to show my strengths and weaknesses more freely.”

Francis Trouble clearly bears the imprint of Hammond’s eclectic solo aesthetic in its driving tempos and passing-note chord changes. But the album leans deeply into a much more powerful and expansive sound than even the Strokes are wont to deliver, as if the critical questions of identity and brotherhood raised by the LP’s inspiration required a fuller sound to adequately explore. “Set To Attack,” “ScreaMER” (with its irresistible backing-vocal quote from the Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil”) and the comparatively demure “Rocky’s Late Night” set the project’s tone, which is intense but never morose.

“There are heavier layers in the lyrics, but the music’s fun,” says Hammond. “Sometimes writing gets heavy. I always forget. I’ll be walking around and ask my wife, ‘Why am I so bummed?’ ‘Well, it’s because you’ve been churning things up, and you’re in the middle of a process.’ But this one, even though I was unsure about what I was doing, it felt cool. It didn’t even feel like ‘me.’

“That John Denver song, ‘Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stones)’? I can’t stop listening to it. Yeah, that’s it. It’s so hard to remember just that one little thing, you know? But I’ve really been enjoying sitting in this place for a while. It’s already within you and around you. There are signs all around. We’re usually blinded by the day to day. But if you really observe long enough, you start to notice that good things come toward you.”

—Eric Waggoner

Olden Yolk: Poetry In Motion

Olden Yolk takes folk-inspired music in a futuristic, abstract direction

Shane Butler has always been interested in exploring the outer limits of sound. The arrangements he crafted with his band Quilt often took the music to unexpected places. When he began collaborating with fellow songwriter/guitarist Caity Shaffer as Olden Yolk, the duo decided to give free rein to their creative impulses, crafting sounds that were even deeper, wider and more unusual.

“We definitely spend just as much time listening to experimental, instrumental and textural music as we do to more song-based music,” says Butler. “It’s our goal to make something that’s expansive on a sonic front, something you can go back into and listen to many times and be able to find a new sound or texture on each listening.”

Olden Yolk’s self-titled debut (on Trouble In Mind) meets that goal with songs that explore the often-hidden nuances of everyday emotional experiences. The poetic lyrics are accompanied by dissonant, ambient sounds that complement the songs without breaking the intimate mood they’re creating.

“They’re not completely narrative or written linearly,” says Shaffer. “They’re not ‘come here and let me tell you a story’ songs in the traditional sense. I would hope for them to be open to interpretation, although many of the songs do reference specific situations in our lives.”

Shaffer and Butler share lead-vocal duties, using lush harmonic overtones that blend into a single presence. On songs like “Cut To The Quick” and “Takes One To Know One,” they break into rhythmic spoken-word interludes that add another dimension to the tunes.

“Poetry is an important practice for both of us,” says Shaffer. “We’ve both kept poetry journals our whole lives. I’ve read and performed poetry a handful of times this past year. Poetry has had a significant impact on both of our lives.”

—j. poet


Ka Baird’s Performances
“We’ve seen Ka Baird in different iterations through the year, and it has been incredibly inspiring. Ka’s mix of acoustic and electronic instruments, vocal experimentation and visceral performance is truly original.”

Truth Or Consequences, N.M.
“Our minds roam back to the energy in the town, the hot springs and the surrounding landscapes. Especially when it’s nine degrees in NYC and snow-filled, with trash lining the streets.”

Death Simulation Workshop
“In order to live, you have to die. So, try meditating on the things you’ll inevitably leave behind. After we did, we opened up to a new form of empathy and understanding of the death process.”

Fischerspooner: Casey At The Bat

Casey Spooner talks about his Fischerspooner hiatus

“I walked away from music in 2009 and focused on film, theater, visual art—I mean, anything but music,” says Casey Spooner. And his options were many.

Spooner collaborated with Imagine Fashion, filming video interviews with James Franco, Chloë Sevigny and Justin Theroux. “That was therapeutic, talking with fellow artists about the creative process,” says Spooner, who went on to bring his talents as a video director to short films such as 2012’s Dust. “It was a sort-of sequel to Paul Morrissey’s Flesh. The whole thing was the step after reality TV—a smart extension of a rotten thing.”

By this time, Spooner had started working with NYC’s Wooster Group theater/dance/media company—not only as an actor in plays such as Hamlet, but in Tennessee Williams’’ Vieux Carré, as what he calls “a homosexual consultant” (“Everyone was straight in this gay play”). Then there was CRY, TROJANS! (Troilus & Cressida), the play in which Spooner, cast as valuable prisoner, had to look his weight in gold. “There were members of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the cast, and we—me in particular, dressed only in a loincloth—had to distinguish ourselves,” he says. So they all worked out and got crazy buff.

Beyond muscle mass, Spooner grew out his hair as well as his mustache. “From there I got interested in online culture, people performing constantly in front of any camera they could and self-broadcasting,” he says of what in part became the photographic installation element of SIR. It was during this installation that Spooner stripped his art down to the core: a perfect analogy for what would come to be on the new Fischerspooner LP. “It was liberating,” he says.

—A.D. Amorosi