Q&A With The Handsome Family

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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):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/DarlingMyDarling.mp3

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Wrens Watch, Feb. 23, 2009

wrenswatch921We’ve been fans of New Jersey’s finest since even before their first album came out back in 1994, so let’s just say we’re used to sitting around waiting for them to take their sweet-ass time putting out new music. (Three albums in more than 14 years makes the Wrens about as prolific as Boston, which is kind of like being as tall as Billy Barty.) As reported in a Wrens Watch Special Report, January 9 marked a huge milestone for the guys: guitarists Charles Bissell and Greg Whelan, bassist Kevin Whelan and drummer Jerry MacDonald. They issued “Pulled Fences,” their first new (well, sort of new) song since 2003’s The Meadowlands. Perhaps motivated by finally releasing something, the band convened—not in a real studio, but in Kevin’s basement—five weeks ago to begin work on its new album. And not only that, the Wrens recorded an actual song (which you can download for free here). When we checked in with Bissell two weeks ago, he took exception with our good-natured sarcasm and quickly ended the interview. Last week, we were anxious to discuss the recording progress the band had made, as well as its new YouTube channel and March 13 show at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom. But despite repeated calls, emails and texts, Bissell never got back to us. We thought that he was still pissed at us or that the Wrens were actually hard at work. Turns out that it was neither.

:: Wrens Watch, Feb. 23, 2009
Thanks for finally getting back to us. So have you guys been recording?
We’ve only gotten together twice since we recorded that song you all put up on your site: once without me and once with the four of us, but we just ran over a bunch of Kev’s songs rather than try to record anything. We were supposed to get together again, but one of Jerry’s kids was sick, so he wasn’t able to come and we cancelled practice.
Of course. Has the band been doing anything else?
Well, we had conference calls.
Conference calls for what?
To go over crap since we never see each other.
Jesus Christ. Your band communicates via conference calls?
If we rehearsed or recorded as often as we conference called, we’d make Bob Pollard look like he has writer’s block.
Anything else?
Yes. I’m finally, after about five years, assembling all my pedals. I know that doesn’t sound like much more than a chore, but for me, that was the thing I saved for last, kind of as a reward.
A reward for not recording? Sure, why not. Anything else?
We are playing SXSW. Maybe we should try to rehearse once before that. If we have time, that is. I’m not done assembling all my pedals yet.

Lost Classics: Spain “The Blue Moods Of Spain”

tapem200bThey’re nobody’s buzz bands anymore. But since 1993, MAGNET has discovered and documented more great music than memory will allow. The groups may have broken up or the albums may be out of print, but this time, history is written by the losers. Here are some of the finest albums that time forgot but we remembered in issue #75, plus all-new additions to our list of Lost Classics.

:: SPAIN
The Blue Moods Of Spain // Restless, 1995

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The Blue Moods Of Spain demonstrated what happened when the son of a jazzbo set forth to create a downcast, West Coast take on pure atmosphere. The cover art’s Blue Note quotation and Spain bandleader/bassist Josh Haden’s kinship to Ornette Coleman bassist Charlie Haden put the preconception of “jazz” on the tip of many listeners’ tongues. But Blue Moods was less about improvisational flair than it was about evoking a smoky, confessional vibe. Thankfully, all that ambience was backed up by considerable chops and Haden’s bottom-of-the-bottle baritone. Despite its immersion in the hipster Silverlake scene of the early ’90s (which included That Dog, featuring Haden’s sisters, Petra and Rachel), Spain had little patience for indie-rock preciousness.

Catching Up: Spain released two more albums before disbanding in 2001. In addition to various solo projects, Haden has collaborated with the Blue Man Group, Handsome Boy Modeling School, Donovan and others. Guitarist Merlo Podlewski has appeared on albums by Jack Johnson and Handsome Boy Modeling School. Haden has resurrected the Spain moniker and has plans for a new album and tour.

“Ten Nights”:

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.

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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”

http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/ASecretLifeOfStories.mp3

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:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/FirstWeTakeManhattan.mp3

MAGNET’s Oscar Predictions

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Slumdog Millionaire and Heath Ledger are locks. But what about Sean Penn vs. Mickey Rourke? Kate Winslet vs. Meryl Streep? Peter Gabriel vs. A. R. Rahman? MAGNET editor (and longtime amateur Oscar predictor) Eric T. Miller tells you who will win in each category tonight.

While I liked all the movies nominated for Best Picture, I don’t think any of them are even among the 10 or 15 best films of last year. Milk is the strongest of the lot, but I’m not even sure that was director Gus Van Sant’s best movie of 2008. (See Paranoid Park and decide for yourself.) As for Best Director, each of the nominees (with the possible exception of Danny Boyle) has made better movies, and I’m sure each of these guys will be nominated again. I’m fine with anyone but Brad Pitt winning for Best Actor, but I’m rooting for Sean Penn (realistically) and Richard Jenkins (unrealistically). Kate Winslet is as good as any actress working, and she is long overdue for an Oscar, but I think Anne Hathaway and Melissa Leo are just as worthy this year. Heath Ledger was as deserving for Brokeback Mountain as winner Philip Seymour Hoffman was for Capote a few years ago, so now it’s Ledger’s turn to win one that I think Hoffman could also claim ownership of. I’m fine with any of the ladies up for Supporting Actress, which I think is the closest race of all the big categories.

But who cares what I think? Here’s what I know:

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Actor: Sean Penn, Milk
Best Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Best Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, Milk
Best Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Cinematography: Anthony Dod Mantle, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Animated Feature: WALL•E
Best Foreign-Language Film: The Class
Best Art Direction: James J. Murakami, Gary Fettis, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Best Documentary: Man On Wire
Best Sound Mixing: Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo, Ed Novick, The Dark Knight
Best Sound Editing: Richard King, The Dark Knight
Best Film Editing: Chris Dickens, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Score: A. R. Rahman, Slumdog Millionaire
Best Song: Peter Gabriel, “Down To Earth,” WALL•E
Best Makeup: Greg Cannom, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
Best Animated Short: Presto
Best Documentary Short: Smile Pinki
Best Live Action Short: Toyland

Two Tunes That Should Have Been Nominated For Best Song:
Robyn Hitchcock’s “Up To Our Nex” from Rachel Getting Married

Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wrestler” from The Wrestler:

From The Desk Of Tommy Keene: Intimate Rock Concert Moments, Volume 1 — Keith Moon

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.

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Keene: The last time I saw the Who with Keith Moon was at the Capital Centre in Largo, Md. (site of infamous documentary Heavy Metal Parking Lot, by the way). It was 1976, and the Who were touring behind The Who By Numbers. My brother and I were in the second row, smack between Moon and Pete Townshend. We were so close that at one point, Townshend seemed a bit out of sorts and ran back to his Hiwatt amp and literally turned it up to 11—we were so close that we could hear the onstage sound of his amps whoosh over our heads like a 747 taking off.

Being a drummer from age eight to 17, I was enamored with Keith Moon. I still am, actually—he’s my favorite rock drummer of all time. We had eye contact with him throughout the entire show. I would air-drum his rolls as he was doing them, and he would look at me amazed with a “Right on, kid, you know your stuff!” kind of look. It was hilarious. He tried numerous times during the show to throw my brother and me drumsticks, and when he missed or someone else got them, he’d mouth a “Damn!” or “Sorry, I’ll try again!” At the end of the show, as the Who were doing taking their bows, Moon kept looking at us and motioning that he had something up his sleeve. After the other three members walked off, he grabbed one of his cymbal stands and walked over to the edge of the stage to hand the entire thing over to us. These absolute jerks in the front row must have thought it was for them. A complete melee ensued—my brother and I grabbed on to the base of the stand, each of us holding a tripod for dear life, but by then 20 other people had joined in on the action. All we could each get was one of the rubber stoppers on the legs of the stand as the rest of the throng grabbed everything else, cymbal included. The last thing I remember was Moon shaking his head and expressing regret, as if to say, “Sorry, guys, I tried,” as he sauntered off the stage.

The Who’s “Squeeze Box”:

Lost Classics: Space Needle “The Moray Eels Eat The Space Needle”

tapem200bThey’re nobody’s buzz bands anymore. But since 1993, MAGNET has discovered and documented more great music than memory will allow. The groups may have broken up or the albums may be out of print, but this time, history is written by the losers. Here are some of the finest albums that time forgot but we remembered in issue #75, plus all-new additions to our list of Lost Classics.

:: SPACE NEEDLE
The Moray Eels Eat The Space Needle // Zero Hour, 1997

spaceneedle360During its 1994-97 existence, this Long Island outfit only mustered two albums before falling victim to label ineptitude and commercial indifference. Space Needle seemed disorganized, at one point overlapping with Reservoir (drummer/vocalist Jud Ehrbar’s solo vehicle) and Varnaline (guitarist/vocalist Anders Parker’s extracurricular gig). Yet by the time of The Moray Eels, Ehrbar, Parker and guitarist Jeff Gatland had achieved a visionary, vision-inducing sound. Gone was the lo-fi bedroom prog of 1995’s Voyager; in its place were 13-minute skronk fests, Frippertronic-esque reveries and violin-laced indie pop. That The Moray Eels was delayed for a year while Roger Dean dithered over sleeve art depicting dragons flying over a moonscape, though, seemed emblematic of Space Needle’s fortunes.

Catching Up: Ehrbar recorded two Reservoir records and played on most of Parker’s releases, but he’s been quiet of late. Parker issued four albums as Varnaline and two under his own name and collaborated with Son Volt’s Jay Farrar as Gob Iron; he has four new albums in the can awaiting release details. A Space Needle retrospective, Recordings 1994-1997, was released in 2006.

“One Kind Of Lullaby”:
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/OneKindofLullaby.mp3

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?
Slusarenko:
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):
http://magnetmagazine.com/audio/gofortheexit.mp3

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):