Grand Duchy Cultural Position #5: “Atomic Ranch” Magazine

grandlogo150c2120bcGrand Duchy is the latest venture from Charles Thompson (a.k.a Frank Black, a.k.a. Black Francis). It’s a duo with his wife Violet Clark that explores relatively off-road terrain for Thompson: high-gloss new wave and vampish synth pop. Grand Duchy’s playful and slightly Euro-affected debut album, Petits Four, is out April 14 on Cooking Vinyl. Thompson and Clark are guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with them.

atomicmag525We’re with Jonathan Adler on this one: Our homes should make us happy. Violet Clark and Black Francis have spent a few years transforming their house into a deeply personal expression of their tastes, whims and lifestyle. From the ’60s plastic molded hand chair at the entrance to the zigzag wallpaper to the art and books strewn everywhere to the karaoke machine to the custom concrete ‘trike track out back, our home is founded on joy, art and cultural edification.

Atomic Ranch magazine, likewise, celebrates homes and homeowners who haven’t lost their sense of humor or hunger for happiness. Although it’s technically a magazine for retro-heads and their vintage-y home decor, we find that even if you do not subscribe to the mid-century look in your own home (we adore mid-century everything but are all over the map in our own decorating), your actual brain will feel massaged and elated flipping through this magazine. The bright colors, clear geometric shapes and space-age references ooze optimism!

Grand Duchy Cultural Position #4: The Cars

grandlogo150c2120bcGrand Duchy is the latest venture from Charles Thompson (a.k.a Frank Black, a.k.a. Black Francis). It’s a duo with his wife Violet Clark that explores relatively off-road terrain for Thompson: high-gloss new wave and vampish synth pop. Grand Duchy’s playful and slightly Euro-affected debut album, Petits Four, is out April 14 on Cooking Vinyl. Thompson and Clark are guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with them.

cars390

Black Francis learned muted, plucky rhythm guitar from listening to the Cars on the radio. Violet bought all their records (on vinyl, natch) and studied the masterfully poppy song construction for hours on end in her aqua bedroom with the rainbow-and-wildflower-field photomural on one wall.

Ric Ocasek, the real Thin White Duke, was a freaky-looking frontman who made it hip for a frontman to be smart, funny and needily co-dependent with women. Ben Orr was the pretty-boy bass player who girls could crush on. His bass playing is monumentally influential on Violet, as were Greg Hawkes’ deeply satisfying and catchy new-wave synth confections. Ugly and pretty, perpetually in the lurch, acidic, rocking and leering, feeling exclusive yet utterly lowest-common-denom, the Cars’ ouevre is a steamy, dancey, flirty Saturday night at Froghoppers set to music.

“Just What I Needed (Demo)”:

Grand Duchy Cultural Position #3: Tommy Wiseau And “The Room”

grandlogo150c2120bc1Grand Duchy is the latest venture from Charles Thompson (a.k.a Frank Black, a.k.a. Black Francis). It’s a duo with his wife Violet Clark that explores relatively off-road terrain for Thompson: high-gloss new wave and vampish synth pop. Grand Duchy’s playful and slightly Euro-affected debut album, Petits Four, is out April 14 on Cooking Vinyl. Thompson and Clark are guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with them.

theroom390Once upon a time there was Grand Duchy. Then one day, we watched The Room. Now there is only The Room. And Grand Duchy is but a figment, residing within The Room. Possibly the most powerful, greatest film ever made, haunting and compelling, capable of moving the most stoic viewer to tears—of joy. Inept in every sense of the word, Tommy Wiseau’s genius lies in marrying his passion, sincerity and unswerving perseverance as a filmmaker with the worst script, most shiteous acting, heinous cinematography and maudlin and dated soundtrack ever in the history of film. You will love the extended close-ups of this auteur’s butt muscles and the inscrutable accent. Grand Duchy just purchased eight more copies yesterday to give to friends and strangers on the street. Buy one today on Amazon and host your own The Room viewing party. It’s better in groups; if you watch it alone, you might feel like you’re simply going insane.

Tommy, if you’re reading this, we love you and appreciate your contribution to our lives!

Grand Duchy Cultural Position #2: Pink Champagne

grandlogo150c2120be3Grand Duchy is the latest venture from Charles Thompson (a.k.a Frank Black, a.k.a. Black Francis). It’s a duo with his wife Violet Clark that explores relatively off-road terrain for Thompson: high-gloss new wave and vampish synth pop. Grand Duchy’s playful and slightly Euro-affected debut album, Petits Four, is out April 14 on Cooking Vinyl. Thompson and Clark are guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with them.

nicolas_feuillatte_rose200bIt’s actually called “rose,” but since we don’t know how to make the little accent go over the “e” in “rose,” we’ll just call it pink. Maybe the best thing to happen to a tongue since French kissing. Champagne is such a crisp and delightful experience anyway, but add a little color and a little fruit to the body, and it’s like Valentine’s Day in your goddamn mouth. A staple on our tour rider and in our personal relationship. There’s Mr. Thompson, Mrs. Thompson and a bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Rose in between us. We and the bottle, holding hands on a porch swing. Can you picture it? Good. Now go buy some and have it with your quinoa spaghetti and veggie balls tonight.

Grand Duchy Cultural Position #1: Woody Allen Movies

grandlogo150c2120bcGrand Duchy is the latest venture from Charles Thompson (a.k.a Frank Black, a.k.a. Black Francis). It’s a duo with his wife Violet Clark that explores relatively off-road terrain for Thompson: high-gloss new wave and vampish synth pop. Grand Duchy’s playful and slightly Euro-affected debut album, Petits Four, is out April 14 on Cooking Vinyl. Thompson and Clark are guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week. Read our Q&A with them.

sleeper545Where do we begin, what’s not to love, and what can be said that hasn’t already been said about Woody Allen? He is the greatest philosopher/moviemaker of the 20th century. An atheist with a healthy fear of God just to be on the safe side. Violet grew up watching comic gems such as 1973 existential sci-fi romance Sleeper over and over on Sunday afternoons with limitless glee. 1986 familial masterpiece Hannah And Her Sisters made young Violet pine to get grown up and move to the Upper East Side, have dysfunctional, passionate affairs with artists and host sadirs. Charles is particularly smitten with 1980’s Stardust Memories, a film about the vapid inanity—and shifting sands—of fame, idolatry and integrity in the arts industry. (Don’t forget the subplot that sees Allen’s character compulsively and blindly drawn to the sexy, creative, complicated and crazy-making woman; something Mr. Black knows a thing or two about.) Ultimately, when Mr. Allen says, “80 percent of success is just showing up,” it makes Grand Duchy very, very happy to be here.

Q&A With Grand Duchy

grandduchy535b1Once you’ve been around the block with him a few times, you just call him Charles. You can still call him Frank Black or Black Francis (the latter seems to be in favor these days), but Charles Thompson has made it clear that he’s going to wear whatever nametag he likes and clock in whenever he feels comfortable. (Fortunately, he shows up for work a lot, both as a solo artist and with the Pixies, with whom he’ll play live dates this summer.) Grand Duchy is his latest venture, a duo with his wife Violet Clark that explores relatively off-road terrain for Thompson: high-gloss new wave and vampish synth pop. Debut album Petits Four (out April 14 on Cooking Vinyl) is playful and slightly Euro-affected, from the Dandy Warholesque “Lovesick Season” to the Clark-sung “Long Song,” which brings Kim Deal’s Pixies vocal turns rushing back to mind.

MAGNET reached Thompson and Clark at their home office in Eugene, Ore., where the couple seemed as relaxed and content in their kingdom as nobility will allow. Grand Duchy will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com this week; check in daily for posts by Violet and Charles.

“Black Suit”:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/BlackSuit.mp3

Continue reading “Q&A With Grand Duchy”

Ken Stringfellow’s Foreign Correspondence: Norwegian Design

kstringfellow1110fYou probably know Ken Stringfellow as the co-leader of Northwestern power-pop all-timers the Posies or as a sideman for R.E.M. or latter-day Big Star. He’s also a solo artist (we’re particularly fond of the soft-rock American beauty that is 2001’s Touched) and is currently preparing the debut by his Norwegian garage-rock band, the DiSCiPLiNES. Each day this week, magnetmagazine.com guest editor Stringfellow will be filing reports from his home on the European continent.

norwegein-design390Norwegian design is alive and well. Employing the good kind of distortion, bright colors. (You’ll understand why when you go there; the eyes need relief from evergreen trees, blue sky and white snow.) These are some of my favorite graphic-design studios in Norway

1-Up: I worked with Joakim on the design for the DiSCiPLiNES album cover. I love his use of melting forms, colors, and best of all, he’s a horse thief; he slapped a photo of horse by Richard Kern right on our album cover. Had I not been been quickly vetted by Lydia Lunch, we would have been in lawsuit city. Mediocre artists borrow. Graphic designers cut, paste and make you figure out how to deal with it.

Yokoland: They are experts at incorporating childlike handwriting, found objects (scanned, photo’d and arranged to make letters) and, again, bright children’s-book colors for their work. They’re too expensive for me to use, but that’s because they are so damn fine.

Amp Design: These guys fed me some T-shirt designs that were so fucked up, they would have scared away anyone under 15 and over 50. In other words, perfect. They can get credit in the straight world, too, but let ’em loose, and they unleash all kinds of rave/Bosch nightmares. Excellent.

Ken Stringfellow’s Foreign Correspondence: Human Heat

kstringfellow1110f1You probably know Ken Stringfellow as the co-leader of Northwestern power-pop all-timers the Posies or as a sideman for R.E.M. or latter-day Big Star. He’s also a solo artist (we’re particularly fond of the soft-rock American beauty that is 2001’s Touched) and is currently preparing the debut by his Norwegian garage-rock band, the DiSCiPLiNES. Each day this week, magnetmagazine.com guest editor Stringfellow will be filing reports from his home on the European continent.

humanheat360cStringfellow: A good representative of the gentle, dreamy kind of indie pop that Norway specializes in. Norwegians really love Americana (like Wilco’s earlier, funnier films) and Britpop. And black metal. And catchy synth pop with astoundingly high chorus hooks. Put that together, and you get many bands who like organic sounds (Wilco) and reverb (Doves-style U.K. pop) and can really play (the metal discipline) and know their way around a melody. (Try not to think of “Take On Me” for the rest of today, now that I’ve mentioned it.) I would say Human Heat are the best of the new crowd, but you have their ragged cousin Hiawata!, their uncle Kenneth Ishak (who produces many of these bands and is a great songwriter himself) and his band Beezewax (I produced one of their albums) and their upstart siblings I Was A King. All worth getting records by.

“Boy Says/Girl Says” (download):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/boysaysgirlsays.mp3

Ken Stringfellow’s Foreign Correspondence: Tim Wendelboe

kstringfellow1110fYou probably know Ken Stringfellow as the co-leader of Northwestern power-pop all-timers the Posies or as a sideman for R.E.M. or latter-day Big Star. He’s also a solo artist (we’re particularly fond of the soft-rock American beauty that is 2001’s Touched) and is currently preparing the debut by his Norwegian garage-rock band, the DiSCiPLiNES. Each day this week, magnetmagazine.com guest editor Stringfellow will be filing reports from his home on the European continent.

coffeebar5545Stringfellow: Let it be said that I spent two decades living in Seattle and, essentially, saw the rise of McEspresso culture, which was paralleled in Seattle by its counterweight, the pursuit of espresso excellence. Meanwhile, in Europe, the Italian machines have been increasingly set aside for nasty pushbutton models, and here the creep toward One Company, One Coffee is personified by Nespresso, which has been keeping Nestlé afloat during the crisis. It seems that Europeans prefer to self-medicate with the little multicolored foil packets rather than, say, a shot of Cuervo with an MGD chaser. Oddly, France, the epicenter of gastronomic elitism, is home to some of the most unpleasant, burnt, soapy, slapped-down-with-no-love café on the planet. I think the French enjoy suffering and wingeing, and the acrid tang of a Gauloise (now smoked outdoors) and a horribly mangled espresso are their daily tithe to compensate for the largesse they enjoy, living in what they are sure to tell you is the greatest worst country on earth. Now, stepping back from this view, and zooming out far enough to refocus on Norway, we discover a different mindset altogether. Tim Wendelboe trained at Stockfleth’s, which is a fairly decent place to get your morning started, but then took it up several hundred notches by opening his own roastery and espresso counter in Grünerløkka, Oslo’s hipster neighborhood. Nothing but coffee and maybe one or two bakery items. No flavored syrups, no tea, no donuts. It’s just ridiculously perfect espresso, sourced from the best possible growers in Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, etc., roasted to the absolute highest standards; the boutique also serves as a school for roasters and baristas, with people coming from around the world to train with Tim. What I love about TW is that every imaginable detail of the environment—the look, the music selection (and its groovy ’60s Tandberg playback system), the utensils, etc.—has been overseen and is consistent with Tim’s commitment to his craft. Being a frequent traveler, eating in restaurants with Michelin’s highest accolades, staying in top hotels on tour—nowhere in Europe have I found better espresso than Tim Wendelboe’s, and only a few of the most fanatical places in Seattle can rival it.

Ken Stringfellow’s Foreign Correspondence: Tristan Egolf

kstringfellow1110fYou probably know Ken Stringfellow as the co-leader of Northwestern power-pop all-timers the Posies or as a sideman for R.E.M. or latter-day Big Star. He’s also a solo artist (we’re particularly fond of the soft-rock American beauty that is 2001’s Touched) and is currently preparing the debut by his Norwegian garage-rock band, the DiSCiPLiNES. Each day this week, magnetmagazine.com guest editor Stringfellow will be filing reports from his home on the European continent.

tristonv340Stringfellow: Here we encounter an exception to the list (Tristan Egolf being an American author), but he did live, write and was discovered and first published here in Paris. I was in a bookstore in Berlin a couple of years ago, looking through the small quantity of English-language books. One title stood out. In fact, made me laugh just to see it: Kornwolf. I bought it on the spot and found inside a wit comparable to other favorites of mine, George Saunders and Thomas Pynchon. I soon picked up Egolf’s first novel, Lord Of The Barnyard, which depicts an alternate universe that places a thinly disguised Long Winters singer John Roderick (OK, not really, but the comparisons were striking) in the midst of “Pennsyltucky” and imagines the ensuing chaos. Egolf was, like me, a musician (he had a band called Kitschchao, which released one seven-inch) and a Paris resident, and he has a daughter about the same age as mine. I would have truly loved to have known him, as it seems we had much in common. But Egolf killed himself in 2005, just after the completion of Kornwolf. I have yet to run in to anyone who knew him, and there isn’t a ton of info on him on the web, so, if anyone reading this did know him and could reminisce a bit, please contact me: ken@kenstringfellow.com. I can’t recommend the two books above highly enough. I have his second book, Skirt And Fiddle, on order at The Red Wheelbarrow bookstore in Paris.