“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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How does Flaming Lips singer Wayne Coyne spend his 45th birthday? By driving with his wife from Dallas to Oklahoma City, where he’ll meet up with his bandmates for dinner and drinks. And by talking to MAGNET. The Lips’ 12th and latest album is At War With The Mystics (Warner Bros.).
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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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Like 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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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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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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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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Beginning with 1991’s Girlfriend (after two major-label albums essentially went unnoticed) and continuing through 1999’s In Reverse, Matthew Sweet has staked his claim as one of the most consistent pop/rock purveyors. Fittingly, Sweet has capped his decade of quality work with Time Capsule: The Best Of Matthew Sweet 1990-2000 (Volcano), an 18-track (two are new) retrospective. Not beholden to a label for the first time in 10 years, Sweet is now focused on writing music for himself before figuring out what kind of record he’ll make and for whom. As quick with a laugh as with a self-deprecating remark, expressing even the most depressing thoughts with a chuckle, Sweet walks us through some career highs and lows.
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