Normal History Vol. 504: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

“Over a low, sinister guitar line, vocalist Jean Smith growls, ‘If you know, if you know what a gun can do for you/You know that the knee can produce a reaction in a jerk/Who won’t shut up.’ Another guitar, barely perceptible, shivers beneath Smith’s words, like an electric eel flickering under the ocean’s glassy surface.” —Andi Zeisler, San Francisco Weekly, October 15, 1997

“Medieval Man” from Who Shot Elvis? (Matador, 1997) (download):

Normal History Vol. 503: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

In September, I launched an IndieGogo campaign to fund a free artist residency off the west coast of Canada. Sure, the idea is far fetched. A bunch of people put in enough money for me to buy a facility that they can then use to work on various projects that specifically intend to change the world. Suffice it to say that I did not raise $20,000, but I did manage to adequately introduce the project to artists, writers and musicians, and those who support political art.

“When You Know” from The Eagle And The Poodle (Matador, 1996) (download):

MAGNET Exclusive: Premiere Of Doug Paisley’s “Shadows”

Among other things, Doug Paisley is a firm advocate of efficiency. “Shadows”—available here as a free download—is the final track on Starter Home (No Quarter), a new collection of nine songs that’s just 34 minutes in length.

“There’s a lot of stuff left out in terms of the number of songs recorded and the number of versions we did,” admits Paisley. “But can you ever objectively say an album is too short or too long? If you like it, it’s too short—and if you don’t, it’s too long. I do think shorter albums are better for many reasons.”

The Toronto-based singer/songwriter took his time on this one, recording in four different studios around his home city as he went about the business of being an attentive father to his now five-year-old son. He fleshed out many of the tunes with a revolving lineup of local musicians during an on-and-off residency at Toronto’s Cameron House. And though it may have taken four years to hatch, Starter Home hardly sounds fussed over—quite the opposite. Its quiet disposition is a noticeable contrast to the more rugged full-band sound on 2014’s Strong Feelings.

“I don’t know if it’s the songs or the recording that makes it so much more dialed back,” says Paisley. “I was going for something a little more layered, with everything anchored around guitar and voice. Not that you’d necessarily detect this, but it’s still done live, for the most part. But the process was spread out over time and space.”

That gives Starter Home an unexpected cohesion as a compelling collection of moments, with Paisley’s Waylon-Jennings-by-way-of-Gordon-Lightfoot delivery and subtly intricate guitar picking providing the grounding. It’s an album that rewards patience, the songs revealing their subtle complexities over time as they draw you ever further into Paisley’s world.

“I’m a really big fan of (late country singer/songwriter) Don Williams,” says Paisley. “On his (1978) album Expressions, I initially thought there was so little going on. Then I looked at the credits for each song, and in some cases there were, like, 10 players. Something that really influenced me was how well they integrated that stuff and not have it all be at the same volume, marching in line. If these songs have achieved that at all, then it would be a real success for me.”

If you believe what you hear on Starter Home, Paisley is wrestling with the typical contradictions, urges, fears and obligations that come with maintaining an uneasy domesticity. “We’re not fighting, we’re just talking,” he sings on the title track. “Can’t you see my point of view?”

Says Paisley of the tune’s inspiration, “I was having a domestic quarrel over the telephone, and I went and wrote that song. For the most part, it has nothing to with my own life, but it was very much coming out of the state of mind I was in at the time.”

“Shadows” is the album’s most upbeat track—a persistent shuffle that recalls Jim Croce’s “Bad Bad Leroy Brown,” with a playful slide lick that will take up permanent residence in your short-term memory. At three minutes even, it leaves you wanting more.

“Some people had a bad reaction to it, but I was just like, ‘I don’t care—I love this song,’” says Paisley. “When I got back from the studio, I listened to over and over again because I was so happy with it.”

—Hobart Rowland

“Shadows” (download):

Normal History Vol. 502: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

In early 2019, Mecca Normal’s only live album will be released as part of a series of performances recorded for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s national radio program Brave New Waves. Unlike most of the other albums in the series, our session was recorded (in 1996) at a Montréal theater in front of a live audience and not at the CBC.

“Peach-A-Vanilla” from The Eagle And The Poodle (Matador, 1996) (download):

Normal History Vol. 501: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Fantastic to see Dave the other day! He’s been sequestered high-pressure style, immersed in the Winnipeg General Strike (1919) longer then the actual strikers were (by some number of weeks)!

We met on the way to our sushi joint (both dressed in solid black—me with studded leather belt) where we ordered the usual. Dave had a giant art book with him that took up a lot of room on the table beside us.

Over tuna and salmon sashimi, gyoza and negitoro maki, I told him about all the crazy shit happening in my world (the for sale sign in front of my building, looking for property and school buses and how I figure I did too much for my parents and am now experiencing symptoms that I’ve been researching).

Back to the giant book. After all the plates were cleared, I flipped it open. Dave sat beside me and we leafed through, looking at portraits by a Russian painter neither of us had heard of. We made observations about the work, and it was just fantastic! I don’t think we’ve ever done that! Sat side by side and looked at an art book!

I googled the guy and saved some images to refer to. I’m interested in how that might play out. Having been introduced to a new painter in that way, seen larger reproductions in the book and then the jpgs. The brain will have collected data in ways that my conscious mind is unaware of.

Anyway, I mentioned some of this in an email to Dave and he wrote back. “It’s Sevro not Servo 😀.” And I replied, “He’ll always be Servo to me 😂.”

“Drive At” from The Eagle And The Poodle (Matador, 1996) (download):

Normal History Vol. 500: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

I cannot wait for the Mecca Normal live session in this CBC Radio Brave New Waves series. Somebody give me a release date! Plus, I’m really excited about the LP insert with about 30 of my paintings on it.

Someone PMed me on Facebook saying they didn’t know I co-produced the first Cub release. Keep up, people!

Cub’s live session on Brave New Waves is great! That was the thing. By the time Vancouver bands got all the way out to Montreal to play on Brave New Waves, they were really tight! Also, I was very touched by the nice things that got said about me in the interview with host Brent Bambury, who calls me the “international goddess of the rock indie scene … she’s like the oracle.” omg

“Cave In” from The Eagle And The Poodle (Matador, 1996) (download):

Normal History Vol. 499: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

The concept of a safe haven, utopia or that “little slice of paradise” takes many forms. The lyrics to “Kingdom Without Weather” might be somewhat dismissive of the idea of settling back into home ownership at the expense of broader involvement, but, as a person who doesn’t believe in either money or the mysterious marking of land to call one’s own, I’ve been trying to secure a place where artists can go to make art that rails against capitalism, the patriarch and injustice on all fronts! Won’t you join me or at least chime in?

“Kingdom Without Weather” from The Eagle And The Poodle (Matador, 1996) (download):

MAGNET Exclusive: 

Premiere Of The Herbert Bail Orchestra’s “Mountain Bar”

A half-decade between albums might’ve snuffed out most bands, but the Herbert Bail Orchestra isn’t your average band. The vaguely mysterious Los Angeles entity is fronted by Anthony Frattolillo, who’s been enjoying some success as a filmmaker since being selected for the Cannes Young Lions Program in 2014. So that makes the new, self-released History’s Made At Night, a labor of love, more or less.

“I’m in it for the long arc,” says Frattolillo.

The Herbert Bail Orchestra certainly has evolved since 2013’s The Future’s In The Past, which helped peg the group as a gypsy-folk collective. A few moments on History’s Made At Night further that already dated trend, but “Mountain Bar” isn’t one of them. Available here as a free download, this modestly cinematic wonder is more in line with the laid-back Laurel Canyon vibe of other standout tunes like “Hometown Honey,” “Cherokee” and “Headed North Again.” Lyrically, “Mountain Bar” reflects on a memorable early gig for Frattolillo, though the overall gist is less about backtracking than moving on with one’s life.

“It was a packed house, the crowd was going crazy, and they turned on the lights,” says Frattolillo. “So we set up in the middle of the square outside, people started coming out, and the police came, because it was like 2 a.m.”

Unless you live on the West Coast, don’t expect to see the Herbert Bail Orchestra in a town near you. “We’ve tried the touring thing already,” says Frattolillo. “It’s wild to me that there’s not more support for baby bands—that they have to make such an investment in touring. Often I find myself in van with a production crew hauling gear, and I’m thinking, ‘Wait a second, I decided I didn’t want to do this anymore.’ Then I realize it’s for a film, and I’m actually being paid.”

—Hobart Rowland

“Mountain Bar” (download):

Normal History Vol. 498: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Back when I wrote this song, “here” was specific, and the general dissatisfaction expressed was about a relationship. Fast forward 25 years (to now), and although I still live “here”—in the same room, where I pay the same rent—I’m pretty sure I’m done with relationships.

The “here” back then was more about my life than this room. Now that you’re in my life, this is how things are gonna be, etc. Well, now that I’m still here (both in my own life and this same room), it seems to me to be a pity that so many songs have been written about relationship strife—which is actually one of the reasons I want to set up an artist residency program to focus on music and art that intends to create progressive social change.

“Now That You’re Here” from The Eagle And The Poodle (Matador, 1996) (download):

Normal History Vol. 497: 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 34-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

I loved school! I loved my teachers, but I did find it a little weird that my first-grade teacher was the same as my third-grade teacher. I think I assumed there would be progress, not repetition. I’m sure I loved Mrs. McGillvary the first time around, but maybe twice was once too many. Plus, she pronounced the “d” in Wednesday and insisted that we do the same and I knew she was wrong. It held the door open for her to be wrong about other things, too. Who knows? Maybe that’s why she did it. Was she pointing out the fallibility of authority and mass acceptance of rules? Wed-nes-day. Funny. The fact that she also pronounced the silent “e” never bothered me. Indoctrination.

“Mrs. McGillvary” from The Eagle And The Poodle (Matador, 1996) (download):