Q&A With David Lowery

Whether playing Camper Van Beethoven’s lysergic brand of cheerfully insane indie rock or prying Cracker’s bourbon-stained mother lode from roots rock, David Lowery has always been an American storyteller. Cracker was twice anthologized in 2006: Once by its former label, Virgin, in the form of Get On With It: The Best Of Cracker; and the other courtesy of the band itself, which re-recorded its songs for Greatest Hits Redux. Cracker also has a new studio album, Greenland (Cooking Vinyl), which weaves gritty blues, country folk and even Indian raga into its dusty, grand design. Corey duBrowa caught up with Lowery to get his take on the group’s warring best-ofs.

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Q&A With Eddie Vedder

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Pearl Jam is either album number eight or 188 from Eddie Vedder and Co., depending on whether you include official bootlegs (there’s 176 of them), live records (two), best-ofs (one) and odds ‘n’ sods collections (one). Either way, the 13-track LP is easily the Seattle quintet’s best studio effort since 1998’s Yield and a welcome return-to-form following 2002’s awkward Riot Act. Pearl Jam left longtime label Epic in 2003 and signed to J Records, the imprint run by 74-year-old music impresario Clive Davis. (The band’s new labelmates include Barry Manilow, Kenny G and Whitney Houston.) For a group as self-sufficient as Pearl Jam, something as cosmetic as changing record labels has zero effect on its musical output. Nonetheless, a change in scenery seems to have re-energized the band. While Pearl Jam finds Vedder once again raging against the machine (he has made no secret of his opinion of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq), this time out, his anger is focused and perfectly suited to these mostly hard-rocking songs that address the current state of the Union.

The 41-year-old Vedder spoke to MAGNET from Pearl Jam’s Seattle warehouse space.

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Q&A With Stephin Merritt

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“I do a lot of conventional things,” says Stephin Merritt. “But I don’t do them conventionally.” The singer/composer is best known for the pop-leaning Magnetic Fields and Gothic Archies, both of which he’s currently writing for and recording. But his latest album, Showtunes (Nonesuch), compiles songs from his theatrical collaborations with Chinese opera director Chen Shi-Zheng.

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Q&A With Tommy Keene

In a 1998 MAGNET interview, a somewhat frustrated Tommy Keene threw a scare into a small but slavishly devoted cult of power-pop enthusiasts by suggesting his then-current album, Isolation Party, might be his last. Thankfully, the prediction proved premature. Since then, he’s released a live record (2001’s Showtunes), another studio effort (2002’s The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down) and a rarities disc (2004’s Drowning), all to the kind of critical acclaim and commercial neglect that Keene has grudgingly come to accept over the course of a three-decade career. At age 47, Keene has just released his best work in a decade with Crashing The Ether (Eleven Thirty). Recorded at his Los Angeles home studio, Ether finds Keene producing and playing almost every instrument, yielding an album that recalls the twin peaks of his classic ’80s LPs: 1986’s Songs From The Film and 1989’s Based On Happy Times. The sessions that produced Crashing The Ether also found Keene simultaneously cutting tracks for a collaborative record with erstwhile Guided By Voices leader Robert Pollard. The duo’s disc—with Keene composing the music and Pollard adding lyrics and vocals—is set to be released under the Keene Brothers moniker this summer. Currently, Keene is touring as guitarist/keyboardist in Pollard’s solo band. It’s another plum gig for Keene, who’s previously handled similar chores for Paul Westerberg and Velvet Crush.

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Q&A With Moby

moby62qa550Like fellow one-named, slightly built, narcissistic workaholics Prince and Beck, Moby (the most charming and humanistic of that club) has slowed his output in the new century. Almost three years have passed since he released 18, a bloated album that still managed to soak up a wave of critical backlash. Moby’s new, sample-free Hotel (V2) is scarcely slimmer, even without its bonus ambient disc. While the first half of the record is stripped-down and kinetic, much of the second half—the primitive, sex-with-an-Atari-2600 burble of “I Like It,” the Vangelis-flying-too-close-to-the-ground “Homeward Angel”—never comes into focus. But even on 1995’s Everything Is Wrong and 1999’s Play, Moby’s industry trumped his inventiveness. His sense of economy—not no-wasted-gesture economy but rather bargain-basement, wow-it-has-a-shitload-of-tracks economy—holds up here as ever. Moby’s bang-for-the-buck philosophy seems tied to his relationships with various commercial users of his music. He revealed as much in a recent entry in his online journal, which cited childhood poverty as a possible reason for his shrewdness. Does the guy get a bad rap for issuing more licenses than a Las Vegas justice of the peace? Even he doesn’t know, and Moby is an expert on himself first. Hotel is another chapter of Moby’s meta narrative on the succor he finds in, well, being Moby. He can check out any time he likes, but he would never leave.

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Q&A With Thom Yorke

In 2003, Radiohead released Hail To The Thief while MAGNET was busy hailing itself on the occasion of our 10th anniversary. We’re all a little older and iTunes is a little less novel, but the following interview (which originally appeared in issue #60) is interesting in light of Radiohead’s 2007 digital self-release of In Rainbows. Clearly, Yorke has long been weary of conducting business—be it album sales, interviews or rock—as usual.

MAGNET: This interview is being conducted for our 10th-anniversary issue. Radiohead was in the first issue of MAGNET.
Yorke: Really? My god, that makes me feel old.

Do you have fond memories of coming to America in 1993 and trying to promote your album on the strength of “Creep” and trying to make sure people spelled your name correctly and all that?
[Laughs] I guess you’re young and you don’t give a toss. At first, we were just sort of excited that people were listening, because we were having a really tough time with the British press, which is something that’s just … continual. [Laughs] We were prepared to work hard. But at the same time, I never thought it was a particularly soul-enriching thing to pay lip service to these so-called alternative radio stations and meet the programmers who were just middle-aged men who had no fucking clue what they were doing at all.

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Q&A With Johnny Marr

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The Smiths couldn’t have been less like the Stones in most ways—sound and attitude, for starters—but don’t fool yourself about the parallels between guitarists Johnny Marr and Keith Richards. Both are impossibly skinny men of few words (Mick or Morrissey never stopped yammering anyway) but verbose, rhythmically intense guitar playing. Vilified by the press when he abruptly ended the Smiths in 1987, Marr—who many predicted would flourish while Morrissey faded into obscurity—kept a low profile for the next 15 years and became the ultimate six-string sidekick, playing with the Pretenders, The The, Billy Bragg, Neil Finn and Beck. He also put out three albums as Electronic, a dancey superduo with New Order’s Bernard Sumner that never quite equaled the sum of its parts. With the Healers—drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo’s son and current member of the Who) and bassist Alonza Bevan (Kula Shaker)—the prodigal Mancunian returns to rock ‘n’ roll. Yes, he sings, with a voice that’s part Sumner and part Liam Gallagher, and his solo debut Boomslang feels like past and future Marr. His trademark 12-string jangle peacefully coexists with backward-guitar leads and groovy percussion in psych-friendly, four-to-seven-minute tracks. While Boomslang may not be privy to the hyperliterate lyricism of Marr’s past vocal collaborators, it’s got a kind of (Northern) soul that words can’t manufacture.

MAGNET sent its Smiths superfan to meet Marr at a New York hotel. Upon spotting Marr in the lobby, superfan admits to hiding behind a potted plant for a moment to collect whatever cool he could muster.
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Interview TK: The Breeders Hang Up The Phone, Move On

Kim Deal wants to kick my ass. Which kinda sucks, because I love Kim Deal. I was one of those folks who always said the only thing wrong with the Pixies is Kim Deal doesn’t write and sing more of their songs. I loved the Breeders and was super-jazzed when Kim’s sister Kelley named Feel Nice, the debut album by the Psyclone Rangers (my band at the time), as one of her top 10 faves of 1993 in the pages of Rolling Stone. My fellow Rangers and I met up with Kelley backstage at Lollapalooza the following summer and a plan was soon hatched to have her sing on the follow-up album we were going to record that fall in Memphis. Unbeknownst to us, Kelley had developed a heroin habit in the interim. I remember long, drowsy phone calls with her from the control room of Ardent Studios, wherein she would say she still wants to come but she is feeling poorly. One day, we were sitting in the TV lounge when an MTV News Special Report announced that Kelley Deal had been arrested for accepting a FedEx package of heroin.

Fast forward four years or so, and I was in New York with the Flaming Lips. During a smoke break with drummer Steven Drozd, he casually mentioned that the last time he was in New York he was in bad, bad shape. With some gentle prodding, he mentioned that he was playing on a Breeders album (which ended up never seeing the light of day). It was around this time, as you may recall, that Kim Deal went off the rails, going through drummers faster than Spinal Tap and finally deciding to teach herself how to play so she could get the sound and the beat she was looking for. Drozd described the recording sessions as a druggy trainwreck and told me he packed up his kit in the middle of the night and left without saying goodbye. Some variation of this was included in MAGNET’s Flaming Lips story, and it eventually got back to Kim Deal.

Fast forward to now. The Breeders are back, everyone is clean and sober, and there’s a decent new album, Title TK. MAGNET arranged for me to do a phoner with the Deal sisters. It was pretty rough going at first; Kelley was friendly, Kim was surly and had been drinking. Kelley got angry with Kim for being rude. I decided to play the chaos card, and it went downhill fast:

—Jonathan Valania

I heard Steven Drozd played with you guys for a while.
Kim: [Annoyed] No, he didn’t play for us, dude. I know him, he’s a friend. He came up to New York because I asked him to work on some songs. He did so for about 10 days, and then he left. He never played for the band.

OK, I guess I heard wrong then.
Kim: Yeah, you did!
Kelley: God, Kim.
Kim: This is the dude that wrote that crap that Steven … Whatever, man. (Sonic Youth drummer) Steve Shelley was not in the band, either. I don’t know if you thought that—he was just a friend also.

I never thought they joined the band, that they just—
Kim: They didn’t join the band!

Can I ask a Pixies question?
Kelley: Jonathan, I’m gonna hang up.
Kim: No, I’ll shut up.
Kelley: I don’t want to talk about it … It was nice talking you, Jonathan. [Hangs up]
Kim: Kelley just got mad and hung up.

Is she mad at me or mad at you?
Kim: She’s mad at me. What’s the Pixies question?

If Charles Thompson called you and asked—
Kim: Shut up! Go away! Pass! What’s the next question?

Uh …
Kim: Dude, I’m out! Bye! [Hangs up]

All This Useless Beauty: George Pelecanos Interviews Steve Wynn

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Bars, hotels and cars are settings common to Steve Wynn albums and George Pelecanos novels. MAGNET had Wynn (pictured) and Pelecanos (also an Emmy-nominated writer and producer for HBO series The Wire) drive to a hotel bar (in a car) to discuss all things punk, pop and pulp fiction.

Were this a Steve Wynn song or a George Pelecanos book, our main characters would be sketched out like so: two strangers who cast long shadows in their respective fields meeting out of mutual admiration. Here they are in Washington, D.C., at the Henley Park, a small hotel at 10th and Massachusetts, hunched over the bar with tape rolling.

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