Q&A With The Handsome Family


Over the course of 16 years and nine albums, the weird, wonderful world of the Handsome Family has been populated by tales of ghosts, murders, bottomless holes and the mysterious deaths of Nikola Tesla and Amelia Earhart. For the Albuquerque, N.M., husband/wife duo of Brett and Rennie Sparks, an album of love songs is a startling left turn. The upcoming Honey Moon (due April 14 on Carrot Top) doesn’t sound too dissimilar from the band’s previous output—mainly a studious, modern-studio take on country, bluegrass and Appalachian folk sung in Brett’s deep Texas drawl—but it dials down the gothic-fiction storytelling in favor of a focused collection of material that happens to arrive in the same year the Sparks celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. Still, this is the Handsome Family; don’t expect flowers or chocolates. On Honey Moon, love is a female insect devouring her mate (“Darling, My Darling”), a diamond ring is shattered glass on the asphalt (“A Thousand Diamond Rings”), and happiness is living in a swamp with your significant other, dressed in pelts and howling like dogs (“Wild Wood”).

MAGNET phoned Brett and Rennie Sparks at home, intending to discuss love songs; we were soon engaged on the topics of hillbillies, moths, swamps and toilets. Needless to say, we’re psyched the Handsome Family will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week.

“Darling, My Darling” from Honey Moon (download here):

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From The Desk Of Tommy Keene: Intimate Rock Concert Moments, Volume 2 — Iggy Pop

tommy-keenelogo150frTommy Keene has been playing guitar hero for more than a quarter-century, both on his power-pop solo albums (his latest is In The Late Bright, out this week) and as a sideman for Robert Pollard and Paul Westerberg. Keene, apparently weary of all the critical acclaim, agreed to dole out some of his own praise. He’s guest editing magnetmagazine. com this week and compiled a mix tape for us with a free mp3.


Keene: In August 1973, Mott The Hoople played Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center in support of Mott. Opening up was none other than Iggy Pop. We were psyched! My brother and I had fifth-row seats on the aisle, but during Iggy’s opening set, my brother chose to sit up in the second row with friends of ours. I’ve read about this night in several Iggy bios. Apparently he and Bebe Buell were planning to take the Amtrak train down from New York because he wanted to schtup her in the bathroom, but a friend of hers spoiled that scenario by tagging along. That friend later offered him a couple of lines in the dressing room of what he thought was toot but turned out to be angel dust. The house lights went on and the show began as Iggy and the rest of the group ambled onstage. James Williamson, in complete Star Trek drag, hammered out the opening chords of “Raw Power” as Iggy stumbled around for a good minute or so before belting out the opening lines: “Dance to the beat of the living dead/Lose sleep, baby, and stay away from bed.” Something was clearly wrong, however, as they finished the song and Iggy laid down on the stage and muttered, “My doctor told me not to play tonight.” The band lurched on through a few more tunes, most memorably “I’ve Got My Cock In My Pocket” and “Rich Bitch” (“Buttfuckers trying to run my world”). After that one, he passed out, and Ron Asheton, who was on bass for this show, did the hand-swooping motion over him, like a fallen boxer—he’s out!

After a minute or so, Iggy got up, looking dazed and confused, as the band pumped out “Search And Destroy.” He started staring at little ol’ me on the aisle in the fifth row. He got down off the stage with the fallow spot following him and started walking like a zombie straight for me. I looked up to my brother and friends in the second row and saw them pointing and laughing at me. What the fuck was he doing? All eyes were upon me as he walked up to me. He stuck out his hand and motioned, “Come on, shake it, baby!” This was too surreal; I went to shake his hand, and he did the limp thing and pulled away. A guy behind me then smashed a Hostess cherry pie on Iggy’s bare chest while another squirted wine on Iggy from a wineskin. Iggy just rubbed it all onto himself, grunted and turned back to the stage. Three songs later, they pulled the plug and the house lights came on as he wailed over and over, “They won’t let us play anymore!” The Ig had gotten the royal hook indeed!

This concludes “Tommy Keene Week” here at magnetmagazine.com. Thanks to Tommy for writing about some really rockin’ good stuff. Go to the store and buy all his records, especially the awesome new In The Late Bright. As if you needed any more incentive to do so, download Late Bright track “A Secret Life Of Stories” here.

“A Secret Life Of Stories”


In The News: Nick Cave, Conor Oberst, Superchunk, Leonard Cohen And Free MP3s

connor356We are MAGNET, so we are contractually and morally obligated to let you know that Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds will see their entire 14-record catalog reissued by Mute in remastered and remixed 5.1 surround sound CD and deluxe collector’s editions. The first four LPs (1984’s From Her To Eternity, 1985’s The Firstborn Is Dead and 1986’s Kicking Against The Pricks and Your Funeral… My Trial) are available starting March 30. Download “Bring It On” from Nocturama hereLeonard Cohen has followed up his first North American gig in 15 years by announcing an extended, 28-date tour. Tickets for some of the shows go on sale February 27, with additional sales on March 2 and March 9 … Indie legends Superchunk’s first new material on CD since 2001’s Here’s To Shutting Up sees the light of day April 7 (on Merge; go figure). The five-song Leaves In The Gutter EP appears to be a prelude to more ‘Chunk product: “Some of these songs are newer than others, but we kind of felt like if we’re going to get to work on a new album, we need to clear the decks of these songs first,” said frontman/back-surgery recoverer Mac McCaughan. Download Superchunk’s cover of Sebadoh’s “I Believe In Fate” here … Funny video makers OK Go kick off a bicoastal headlining tour in Philadelphia March 6. The most noteworthy aspect of this news is that the sorely overlooked (and great live) Longwave is opening the East Coast dates … Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall Of Fame inductees Metallica are releasing The Complete Metallica, a digital “boxed set” comprising the band’s entire official discography March 31 on iTunes. The mammoth, 163-track effort will hit other digital services April 28 … Sincere dude Conor Oberst (pictured) and his Mystic Valley Band will release Outer South (Merge) May 5. The outfit is playing a number of West Coast dates, including the Coachella Festival. Download “Danny Callahan” from Conor Oberst here … Instrumental kooks Los Straitjackets’ latest record, The Further Adventures Of Los Straitjackets (Yep Roc), is out April 28. While some recent efforts have included guest vocals, the new LP is the band’s first all-instrumental effort since 2003’s Supersonic Guitars In 3-DBritish Sea Power has written and recorded a new soundtrack for the 1934 film Man Of Aran, which is being re-released on DVD. (The CD and DVD are out May 5 on Rough Trade.) The band will perform the soundtrack live to the film at London’s BFI Southbank theater April 23. Download “Atom” from Do You Like Rock Music? here … And for those of you wondering what Jane’s Addiction has been up to—and, really, who isn’t?—the reunited original lineup is headlining the Sasquatch! Music Festival, held May 23-25 in Quincy, Wash. There’s a joke here about Bigfoot and Perry Farrell, but it’s best not to go there.

Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan” from 1988’s I’m Your Man:

From The Desk Of Tommy Keene: Chris Slusarenko Of Boston Spaceships

tommy-keenelogo150frTommy Keene has been playing guitar hero for more than a quarter-century, both on his power-pop solo albums (his latest is In The Late Bright, out this week) and as a sideman for Robert Pollard and Paul Westerberg. Keene, apparently weary of all the critical acclaim, agreed to dole out some of his own praise. He’s guest editing magnetmagazine. com this week and compiled a mix tape for us with a free mp3.

slushyv370Keene: I had the pleasure of being an auxiliary member of an exciting new band, Boston Spaceships, last year, playing guitar on their fall tour. Chris Slusarenko, along with vocalist Bob Pollard (MAGNET readers may know him) and drummer John Moen, is one of the chief architects of this awesome new combo. I recently spoke to Chris, who was also a member of Guided By Voices, about this project.

Keene: How did the idea of a new band with you, Bob and John originate?
Bob was having his art exhibition in New York City last year, and I was admiring this collage that has always haunted me called Brown Submarine. We started talking about how we needed to hear this collage as an album. It was the same thing that happened when we decided to do the TakeoversTurn To Red album. We got so obsessed with the collage as an album cover that we had it blown up to 12-inch vinyl size and drove around town looking at it. So Bob compiled 14 of his songs, some old and some new, and we started cranking on them. After the album (Brown Submarine) was done, Bob decided it didn’t sound like a side project but an actual band with the three of us as full-time members. He hadn’t been in a band since GBV, and he said it seemed appropriate for Boston Spaceships to be the next one to leave a legacy.

How do you and Bob decide which tunes will be Spaceships songs and which ones Bob will use for his solo records?
Bob decides which songs will be used for which projects. His solo albums tend to be a bit more mature and darker in tone. Boston Spaceships has a more pop side, but it’s a lovingly weird pop side. The songs are shorter and full of youthful, sometimes naive, energy.

I think the production on the albums is really strong. Where do you record them? Do you labor on guitar and drum sounds, or do you just turn on the tape and let it rip?
We recorded Brown Submarine with Brian Berg and The Planets Are Blasted with Jonathan Drews, both of whom live in Portland, Ore. They’re insanely talented, and it’s really easy to explain what I’m looking for in terms of sounds and approach. I can say, “This song will have ‘A Woofer In Tweeter’s Clothing’ ending” or “I want it to sound like we lost the mic in the back of a cave and I died looking for it,” and they get it. John’s drum parts are done really off the cuff—we tried to approach the drums like early GBV, where it’s done in one or two takes and we’re on to the next one. Since we don’t have our own recording studios, I just work on all guitar, bass and keyboard parts acoustically until I can get into the studio. Then I only have three to five hours to get all the ideas out, but it makes coming back for the next session excruciatingly exciting.

Does Johnny Moen have a lot of input as to parts and arrangements? You two seem to have a good working relationship and chemistry.
In terms of the parts and arrangements, it pretty much starts at Bob’s house. Before we start recording, I sit down with Bob a few times and we listen to his acoustic demos on the speakers at his house (called “The Bigs”). We get hammered and talk about ideas, influences and approaches. The next day, when I look at my notes, almost every tune always has the phrase “kick ass” next to what needs to happen with it, especially as the booze kicks in. Then I just go home to Portland and obsess about the songs. I listen to them over and over. I try to get all the little parts of his demos down so they still have that Pollard feel and magic in terms of phrasing and energy. I’ve known John since 1988 while he was in the Dharma Bums, and we’ve played together in the Cavemanish Boys and the Takeovers. Playing with John is always fun. He’s got drive and swing, which make the songs really leap. He’s also an insanely quick learner, which is a total blessing. There’s a lot of his personality in those drum takes.

When can we expect another monumental Spaceships tour? West Coast peeps especially want to know.
I don’t know yet. If and when it happens, it wouldn’t be until our third album comes out in October. It’s called Zero To 99, and it’s pretty fierce and catchy. Lots of Pollard hits and haunts; I mean, when you flip over an album and you see song titles like “Mr. Ghost Town” and “The Question Girl, Alright,” you kind of have to hear it.

Boston Spaceships’ “Go For The Exit” from Brown Submarine (download here):

Free MP3 From Broken Spindles

broken375Broken Spindles‘ sole member Joel Petersen sloughs off the Robert Smith membrane he acquired as bassist for hipster dance-rock staple the Faint on his recently released third album, Kiss/Kick. On the remixed “Beatdown Breakup (Cassettes Won’t Listen),” laptop-pop auteur Jason Drake (a.k.a. Cassettes Won’t Listen) backslashes the Broken Spindles tune all the way to minimalist electronic bliss, working the same vein as the Notwist or a riff-saturated Fischerspooner. Although he recorded Kiss/Kick at the Faint’s Omaha recording studio, the optically intense Petersen insists Broken Spindles is independent from his other band. Petersen kicked off his tour February 19 in the national capital of masquerade, Las Vegas.

“Beatdown Breakup (Cassettes Won’t Listen Remix)” (download here):

The Felice Brothers Ready New Album

felice540b11Coke or Pepsi? Jack or Jim? Avett or Felice? Insulted by the pedestrian grouping together of these distinct commodities? You should be. The sweeping classifications of the “the” garage bands (Strokes, Hives, Vines, et al) from less than a decade ago resurfaced last year with multiple bands of “brothers” competing for affection. Front-runners of the pack the Felice Brothers return this April with a follow-up to the 2008 self-titled release that propelled them up the charts of AAA radio. The Brothers’ fourth album, Yonder Is The Clock (Team Love), derives its title from chapter nine in Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger and, according to the band, “is a nod to all of the American ghosts that lend their narrative and characters to the forthcoming release.” Felice Brothers tour dates after the jump.

“Wonderful Life” from The Felice Brothers (download here):

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Free MP3 From Stinking Lizaveta

sl2375cA collective slap to the forehead occurred at MAGNET HQ when we realized our recent 15 In Philly coverage (a 15th-anniversary look at hometown bands) neglected even to mention Stinking Lizaveta. The West Philly trio has been playing instrumental prog/metal since 1996, and hardly a week goes by that the group—brothers Yanni (guitar) and Alexi Papdopoulos (upright bass) and Cheshire Agusta (drums)—doesn’t appear onstage at some local divehole. (In Philly, you don’t go see Stinking Lizaveta; they see you.) Steve Albini put them on the bill for All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2004, and Fugazi’s Joe Lally issued one of SL’s records on his label. So what’s MAGNET’s excuse for the glaring omission? We’re kind of scared of these people. They are technically superior musicians and they look like they have ties to the Russian mob. Besides, we’re sure our neighbors over at Decibel have it covered. Download the title track from the upcoming Sacrifice And Bliss (At A Loss, due March 31) here or stream audio below. Warning: The riffage will dislodge your Thor/Viking helmet beginning around the 2:00 mark.

“Sacrifice And Bliss” from Sacrifice And Bliss:

Free MP3 From Popup

popup370The sound of young Scotland—whatever it is these days; ranging from the excellent wobbly pop of Frightened Rabbit to the kinda-OK arena rock of Glasvegas—gets another voice with Popup, whose debut arrives May 5 via Conor Oberst’s Team Love imprint. Download A Time & A Place track “What’s The Matter Now?” here or stream below. This particular song has the jitters—Popup doesn’t always sound like it’s playing at 78 rpm—but it’s the best showcase for frontman Damian Gilhooly’s heavyweight Scottish burr.

“What’s The Matter Now?” from A Time & A Place:

From The Desk Of Tommy Keene: Rock ‘N’ Roll Dressing Rooms

tommy-keenelogo150frTommy Keene has been playing guitar hero for more than a quarter-century, both on his power-pop solo albums (his latest is In The Late Bright, out this week) and as a sideman for Robert Pollard and Paul Westerberg. Keene, apparently weary of all the critical acclaim, agreed to dole out some of his own praise. He’s guest editing magnetmagazine. com this week and compiled a mix tape for us with a free mp3.

Keene: Playing guitar last year with Bob Pollard’s Boston Spaceships, I made a new friend in Spaceships drummer John Moen. (John’s main gig is handling the skins for the Decemberists.) We were talking about various venues and dressing rooms when he introduced me to a new term: “fluffy.” As in, “Was the dressing room fluffy, meaning nice and accommodating to the artist’s needs?” The backstage accommodations on that tour ran the gamut from luxurious and very nice to downright stanky and nasty. Rock ‘n’ roll dressing rooms on the punk-rock, Frank Riley circuit are notoriously bad, the missing ingredient usually being the private bathroom exclusively for the performers. This inevitably leads to gangs of men peeing into any handy receptacle, be it a huge trashcan/piss bucket and various cups and bottles—or, if there’s a door handy, a nice patch of grass or a dumpster in the alley.

I was a bit envious when I visited John backstage at the Decemberists’ show at L.A.’s Wiltern Theater last fall. Not only were there dressing rooms, showers and bathrooms galore, I couldn’t help but notice the wardrobe case on display in the main room. Hmm, what shall I wear tonight? Maybe that shirt, which would go great with that pair of trousers! No more Motel 6 ironing boards or wrinkled shirts hanging on the seatbelt in the van that everyone knocks down when they get in—man, this is fluffy living! As I prepare to go out on tour this spring with the Tommy Keene Group, I’m sure I’ll run into some fluffy and unfluffy dressing rooms. If only I could borrow that wardrobe case.

“Big O Gets An Earful” from Boston Spaceships’ upcoming The Planets Are Blasted (download here):

Free MP3 From Pravada

pravda350If you like the indie-pop stylings of Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s, you might want to check out their “sister band.” Pravada, which includes three Margot members, released debut album Manus Piere this winter on the Musical Family Tree label. If you don’t feel like shelling out the cash to buy it, you’re in luck: The Indianapolis band is offering free downloads of three tracks from the LP. Margot fans will dig Pravada’s atmospheric, epic brand of pop, though there’s no evidence of the Royal Tenenbaums fixation that Margot frontman Richard Edwards possesses, which isn’t a bad thing.


“Atlas” from Manus Piere (download here):