Normal History Vol. 539: 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.

Between Livermore And Tracy
He’s got the white coat, no stethoscope
Cause the movement to die out
Several times over
Walking the walls
A cardiologist, white coat, no stethoscope
Between Livermore and Tracy 

On rotation
Uneventful, one uneventful night
Just one uneventful night 

In the hall, he wouldn’t know left from right
He’s got the white coat, no stethoscope
Between Livermore and Tracy 

In rotation
Just one, just one uneventful night
Just one night of sleep
Between Livermore and Tracy 

Can you hear delirium with that machine
or is it just me?

Between delirium and quick clarity 

Delirium

“Between Livermore And Tracy” from Empathy For The Evil (M’lady’s, 2014) (download):

MP3 At 3PM: Katie Rose

“Beginnings” is the latest from singer/songwriter Katie Rose, who we first profiled three years ago. Rose started her career in 2011 when she was only 13, so she’s already a vet now that she’s hit the legal drinking age. “Beginnings” starts off sounding a lot like a fairytale movie but progresses into something reminiscent of a Broadway musical. Rose’s soft voice matches the initial simplicity of the tune, but as the song unfolds, both come out of their shell. “Beginnings” proves there’s definitely more special music to come from this determined young songwriter.

“Beginnings” (download):

MP3 At 3PM: Zoe Konez

South London singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer/promoter Zoe Konez is the epitome of a hands-on musician. Bringing her inspiration wherever she goes, Konez spends a lot of time making music for and with people who have faced challenging circumstances. In addition to her solo work, Konez continues to write and perform with Catbear, her most excellent duo with Sarah Smith. And Konez is also very active in the LGBTQ+ community. “We Got Lost” is her latest solo single, and it’s a folky psychedelic winner. Download and/or stream it below.

“We Got Lost” (download):

Normal History Vol. 538: 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.

Wasn’t Said
Look ahead to the time
when you’ve forgotten
all that was said

when you look behind
and it doesn’t matter anymore

Look ahead
it’s hard to want to go there now
that’s where you’re heading
that’s what you’re waiting for
it’s what you’re waiting for
that time, when you’re looking behind you

and none of this will matter
all of this confusion
will be so far, so far in the past
it won’t matter in the now

In the now
that’s still ahead

Looking ahead to when
none of this is gonna matter
how it went
and what was said
and what wasn’t said

To create this void of no communication
no communication
no communication now
there’s nothing now

but to look ahead
when none of this will matter
what was and wasn’t said

It wasn’t said

“Wasn’t Said” from Empathy For The Evil (M’lady’s, 2014) (download):

Normal History Vol. 537: 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.

What’s Your Name?
When you’ve taken your hands away
from your eyes
from your face
from your mouth – what do you see?
What do you say?
What is your name now?
What is your name now that you can see, that you can speak,
not looking, not at me, now that you can see?
What is your name now that you can speak?
When you’ve taken your hands away from your eyes,
from your face, from your heart – what do you feel?
What do you say now that you feel?
What is your name?
What is your name?
Now that you see?
Now that you feel?
Now that you speak? What do you say? What do you say?
What is your name?

“What’s Your Name?” from Empathy For The Evil (M’lady’s, 2014) (download):

MP3 At 3PM: The Last Bees

Milwaukee’s Ian Ash (a.k.a. the Last Bees) says the purpose of his music is to bring back the sound and vibe of the British Invasion pop/rock of the ’60s. Well, he’s achieved his goal, writing and recording songs that capture the youthful innocence of early Beatles songs. The Fab Four are actually quite an obsession for Ash, and he makes no bones about wearing that influence on both of his blazer’s sleeves. The Last Bees just released their self-titled debut EP, and one of the standout tracks is “True Or False” (written with—of all people—Jim Peterik, who co-wrote all of Survivor’s hits, including “Eye Of The Tiger”). It’s a perfect summer song, so download and/or stream “True Or False” below.

“True Or False” (download):

Normal History Vol. 536: 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.

Sook-Yin Lee, film director, actor, TV and radio host, discusses Mecca Normal on The Strombo Show (CBC Music).

“Mecca Normal, led by Jean Smith, who was considered the godmother of the riot grrrl movement. She was always somebody onstage, it was her and David Lester playing this very urgent and energetic beautiful but rusted passionate music that was very political and artful. Both of them are visual artists as well, and I think they were part of the Black Wedge Tour, that was a very political movement of art and culture, and resistance, activism. Activism was key in that community growing up, and so yes, she was always onstage. And she was one of those people who half of the punks hated her and couldn’t stand the singing, “What is that noise?” and so many people loved her. They did feel to me in the very early days that they were kind of, you know, on their own path. Not necessarily of the crowd and completely full of conviction. This song is a beautiful song, it’s called “Throw Silver,” and there’s something in Jean Smith’s voice that is like an injury, it’s like a wound, but it’s a wound that is healing, that is like a shard of glass that is beautiful. She encompasses these paradoxical gorgeous elements and she’s a real powerful, dynamic woman of words and painting and song.”

“Art Was The Great Leveler” from Empathy For The Evil (M’lady’s, 2014) (download):

MP3 At 3PM: Jess Clinton

Jess Clinton is a Brooklyn singer/songwriter with a raspy voice and a pure rock rhythm. On new single “Sleeping Woman” (off Real Glass Heart, out July 26), she shows us her mysterious side, inspired by an imagined scene of supernatural women coming together in unity to join feministic forces. Guitar riffs repeat a common theme, while the transparent vocals creep together in harmony. The curious-yet-mystical theme the lyrics are devoted to match the ominous feeling produced by the sounds. Clinton is interested in making music that relates to human emotions, and she wants to dig deeper into the psyche. Her upcoming album will explore this more, but for now, “Sleeping Woman” gives us a preview of what’s to come. 

“Sleeping Woman” (download):

MAGNET Exclusive: Download The Ocean Blue’s “Kings And Queens”

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.”

—Hobart Rowland

Normal History Vol. 535: 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.

One of the things that comes up in this comprehensive (two-hour) radio interview that David and I did recently on CKUT (McGill University, Montréal) is that when we tour, we typically go to a college or university radio station on our way into whatever city we’re playing. We do our own booking, so we’re free to structure events to make time for radio, which, we typically use to focus on topics (feminism, grassroots organizing, poverty) other than selling albums (which is perhaps atypical). 

I’m pretty sure we also talked about Smarten UP!, the zine I started in the early-’80s, with the tag line: A How To Change The World Publication, and that’s still the course we’re on. The zine became a label. Onstage, I spoke a lot between songs. We sought out print media, radio and TV interviews to illuminate the idea of women forming bands that focused on their experiences in culture and society, and the idea that it is possible to change the world. I figure we’d have gone on being a band without the riot-grrrl energy, but it definitely re-vitalized our role and purpose, blasting feminism into the future as the New York Times states.

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