Normal History Vol. 531: 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.

I listened to this song today and admired its humor and narrative trajectory. Exchanges with co-workers during my online-dating years. Honing those stories, turning them into novels and songs, elevating the mundane nature of plodding through experiences that would otherwise have dampened my enthusiasm. My passion for editing, writing and adding tasty bits to our songs became infrastructure I hung onto in the early aughts, soon after I’d quit drinking (in 2000) and returned to the work force after 15 years self-employed in music. And then, lo and behold, after 15 years of part-time-joe jobs, I popped out the other side to become self-employed again. This time as a painter.

“The Dark Side Of Maria” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

MAGNET Exclusive: Download Lucette’s “Talk To 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.”

So you can cross that one off the list. For now.

—Hobart Rowland

Normal History Vol. 530: 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.

This is one of those songs that at various stages of writing, rehearsing and recording I wondered if it was political enough. 

Following a fairly unremarkable exchange with a friend while he made dinner, I took a nuanced stab at setting the scene in the kitchen to convey a specific emotion—the sadness of a man who thought it might be better if he disappeared and started again with a new identity. I guess if it was a dating situation this would be called a red flag.

“His Own Madness” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

Normal History Vol. 529: 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.

Excerpt from possibly the longest song I’ve ever written. “Fallen Skier” is about a first date jammed packed with what I thought was comedy gold, but the song ended up being interpreted (in reviews) as sad if not profoundly pitiful. I think one reviewer asserted that I, as an intelligent feminist, would never find a man. She was right, but that’s beside the point. Isn’t it? Regardless, it was a downer at the time. While I was still looking. 

Near the end, out on the pier, after the sun has gone down, he asks me about this music of mine, “Is it ever all-out punk?” 

He seems concerned that it might be hardcore punk. I stand, a middle aged woman in a fantastically subtle silk jacket all the way from Japan. Hush Puppies. Curly hair blowing in the wind, and this guy is fretting over the possibility that I’m actually Henry Rollins.

“Fallen Skier” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

Normal History Vol. 528: 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.

A male poet friend of mine recently told me how much he liked this song. Weird. He doesn’t usually like our songs. So I had a listen and tried to figure out what he liked. It’s about art being historically dominated by men, so that wouldn’t be it. It asks where women’s art is. I doubt that would be it. It’s pretty overtly feminist and this particular friend isn’t. I considered various turns of phrase like “I couldn’t be an overachiever if I tried” which I think is funny (for a feminist) or “History reminds me I’m a man. I’m important. Yes I am.” None of my quips seemed like the kind of thing he’d go for. Not really. So I asked. 

“What do you like about the song?”

“The piano!” he said. “It sounds like something I’d play!”

“1922” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

Normal History Vol. 527: 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.

In March, Mecca Normal’s iconic anthem “I Walk Alone” was included in the feminist TV show Better Things.

“To Avoid Pain” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

Normal History Vol. 526: 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.

Ever wonder who this David Lester guy is? Even I learned a thing or two about his radical origins in this incredibly one-sided audio interview (and I’ve known him more than 35 years).

“I’ll Call You” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

Normal History Vol. 525: 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.

Over on Facebook, it was a thrill to have Bikini Kill Records share a video snippet of “I Am Here” on International Women’s Day.

“Feminism was not a phase or a failed experiment. We are here!” 

“Attraction Is Ephemeral” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):

MAGNET Exclusive: Download Tyler Ramsey’s “Breaking A Heart”

Tyler Ramsey’s “Country Teen” was arguably the best thing about Band Of Horses’ Why Are You OK. So it makes some sense that he broke from the group a year after the album’s 2016 release to resume his solo career. “Ten years is a long time in any relationship, except for maybe a marriage,” says Ramsey. “Especially with a bunch of dudes who are basically living together and carrying all the stereotypical baggage of being in a rock band.”

With the new For The Morning (Fantasy), the versatile multi-instrumentalist has found common ground between the subdued acoustic nuance of his previous work and the lush Americana grandeur of Band Of Horses’ Grammy-nominated 2010 album, Infinite Arms. Nowhere is that reconciliation more evident than on “Your Whole Life,” “A Dream Of Home” and “Breaking A Heart” (the last track available here as a free download). With its pronounced Laurel Canyon vibe, “Breaking A Heart” sounds like some lost Desperado-era Eagles gem, though with a mist-shrouded Appalachian soul. “The chorus was looping around in my head for a while,” says Ramsey. “I had everything written for the song, but there were a few lines troubling me, so I called my dad and we came up with the last few lyrics 20 minutes before I tracked the vocals.”

Seasoned singer/songwriters Thad Cockrell and Molly Parden provide harmony vocals on the song, and the fluid pedal-steel accompaniment comes courtesy of Music City session ace Russ Pahl. “Russ did it in Nashville and sent the files over,” says Ramsey. “I was literally jumping up and down when I heard it.”

When he’s not on the road, Ramsey lives with his wife and daughter on an idyllic piece of rural real estate 14 miles from his hometown of Asheville, N.C. Much of For The Morning took shape during Ramsey’s regular writing excursions into the woods on his property. He took the demos he made at home to La La Land studios in Louisville, Ky., where he worked with engineer Kevin Ratterman and longtime friend Seth Kauffman (Jim James, Lana Del Rey). Finishing touches came at Fleetwood Shack, the Nashville studio of former Band Of Horses bassist Bill Reynolds, who departed the group the same year as Ramsey. 

Not that Ramsey is opposed to looking back. For The Morning includes “Evening Country,” a full-band variation on “Evening Kitchen,” from Infinite Arms. “It was the only thing on Infinite Arms that was super bare bones,” he says. “That was the dimension I was really pushing in that band, trying to give fans something that’s more intimate. It was fun to have that influence.”

—Hobart Rowland

Normal History Vol. 524: 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.

Mecca Normal began touring soon after we released our first album in 1986. The urge to play live quickly evolved into Black Wedge Tours with like-minded poets and minimalist musicians, but by 1996, we felt like we’d been on the road a very long time. Music industry years are much like dog years. 10 equals 60. Which, regarding the new album: LIVE in 1996, translates to incendiary intensity by three veterans (David and I are joined by Peter Jefferies on drums) of a handful of overlapping scenes including PNW DIY, riot grrrl, poetry, feminist punk, grunge and NZ noise when we headlined this beautiful little theatre in Montréal. 

“I’m Not Into Being The Woman You’re With While You’re Looking for The Woman You Want” from The Observer (Kill Rock Stars, 2006) (download):