The Popdose Interview: Brandon Schott Checks Into Room 8

The relationship between Popdose’s existence and singer-songwriter Brandon Schott is a long and friendly one. Over the years, we’ve shared his latest efforts and engaged him on subjects like music, life, and existence. These are all subjects touched upon in his latest effort titled Room 8. The album is very different from his recent previous efforts in that it is literally just Brandon and his guitar in a hotel room (“8” by definition), trying to make sense of modern times and their accompanying noise and anxiety.

The site is celebrating ten years of existence and, coincidentally, so is Brandon Schott as today is the tenth anniversary for his remission from cancer. 

Both the new album and this milestone are worthy subjects for conversation. Brandon was only too happy to do both.

Popdose – You have mentioned that Room 8 was recorded in an unconventional way and because you “needed this” (which was how I interpreted your description). First, could you discuss how you did things differently from your regular process and second, what do you think brought you to feel that you needed such a deviation?

Brandon SchottThere was no intention to record an album, let alone do so in this manner and release it so quickly. Back in September 2017, on a whim I reserved a room a couple months in advance at the Joshua Tree Inn for a solo trip to the desert to unplug from the grind a bit and spiritually re-connect. I think I’d been feeling at that time, like many, that there was such an air of intolerance in our social climate, empathy in our public discourse at an all time low – I needed to reset my perspective and Joshua Tree has always been a tried and true source of renewal for me. 



When I booked the room, I also impulsively chose the Gram Parsons room, the very room in which he tragically died in the early 70s. Now, the weeks go by and the date grows closer and the weight of the admittedly curious decision to stay in that room slowly came into focus, and I began searching for a way through that darkness. Yet I was still being pulled there, and I didn’t understand why. I wasn’t much interested in being a ‘Gram’ tourist in that space, and it seemed the most reasonable way to approach this would be to claim the room for myself, transform it in a way. So, I decided to do a little writing and packed up a portable Pro Tools rig to capture whatever resulted.



Once I had everything set up the day I arrived, I started singing some of my own existing songs to the space – prayers, peace offerings to myself, to Gram – hoping to sage the vaulted ceilings into my own, one song flowed into another and another…even took on a few live via Facebook. There was definitely a ‘vibe’ in the air, and a movement in my heart. Around dinner time I had around 8 songs, which seemed like a poetic place to break.



Ten years ago, on February 23, you were informed that your cancer went into remission. I have to think that particular event changed your approach to writing music after that. How might that event have shaped this particular recording?

Many of the songs I’ve written since (and performed in this session) were certainly informed by that time – in the years that followed I’ve learned a humility and sense of spirit for sure. But its impact on this project was largely subliminal. It wasn’t until I’d burned the Room 8 performances to disc and listened back on my way home that I started to put it together that my ‘calling’ to the desert directly coincided with the 10 year anniversary of my own cancer diagnoses and treatment in the fall of 2007, that I was pulled into a room marked in death to perhaps confront my own life and mortality, and that I did so through song and without intent makes this quite a record of convergence.

By the same token, let’s play “what if” and pretend your cancer never happened. Ten years later, what might your music have sounded like? Would you have come to the same directions your are in now, or would Alternate Timeline Brandon have been very different?

Before I was diagnosed, I was already writing for another record – it was a very pop focused project, largely airy in theme and content. Some of the songs (“Verdugo Park”, “Henry”, “Dear Daisy”) were lifted onto later records, but I think it’s hard to say what tone my writing would have taken – what of life’s challenges would have resonated differently, or would my writing have dried up altogether? I don’t know. But I’d like to think there was always a sense of upward reaching to my creative voice – a longing for universal context, I’m just not sure it would have been as intensely informed as it may be now.

The economy of Room 8 and its intimacy is much different from where independent artists are at the moment. I feel like there is a sudden, added pressure on indie artists to parallel mainstream acts for fear that the music won’t get heard unless it sounds very heavily layered and orchestrated. Is there that sense of the current state of things, that whatever the “independent spirit” is, it cannot survive without a larger budget or ambition. And is Room 8 kind of a rebuttal to that notion?



I admit that many of my last few records have been very measured and produced, a lot of emphasis placed on orchestration and presentation. Perhaps there was a thought at some point to strip it back on the next recording but I never dreamed that would manifest in this way. The sequence you hear is exactly as the songs were recorded and rediscovered that night, and all on one microphone at that. I guess what marks a shift for me on this one is that Room 8 wasn’t at all premeditated, it simply exists as a pure moment in time. So much so that it was deliberately released two days after it happened, so I wouldn’t have time to overthink it or second guess.

The collection in and of itself is peculiar, in a good way. You do a stripped-down version of your song “Dandelion Rain” but also a pretty emotionally raw version of “We Belong,” which was famously done by Pat Benatar. What prompted these choices?



I honestly just pulled on the thread and let the moment take me where I needed to go. These were all songs of mine that spoke to a heart in need of healing. WE BELONG seemed to speak to a universality, a larger spiritual commitment to each other “whatever we deny or embrace for worse or for better – we belong”. It just fit. As I noted in my press release on the project, these were words I needed to feel in my heart and in my throat – they were all tied into a place of change, of reckoning. Perhaps by letting them out into the world in the way I did, they could provide a measure of that for others. All I can say is that for me, it was one of the most truthful, vulnerable and un-inhibited offerings I’ve ever been party to.

As an artist, where are we in this period of time as artists. Are creators feeling new pressures to either be a mouthpiece or to suppress themselves?

Neither of those approaches really connect with me – but I do believe we owe it to ourselves to continue to be honest and speak our truths without fear.  In this case, with so much unrest happening all around us, my contribution at this time is to give of and to myself a measure of hope. In my heart, these songs all speak to our shared humanity – we are all connected, and intensely worthy of each other’s compassion.  Room 8 is an ending and a beginning; where I am led next is still a mystery to me, but I hope my voice remains in service of our greater (and greatest) spirit.

Brandon Schott’s Room 8 is available now. You can find it at https://goldenstatemusic.bandcamp.com/album/room-8

 

EP Review: Léah Lazonick – “Movimenti della Luna d’Oro”

All it takes is 12 minutes to wow us.

With a sense of movement falling somewhere between the piano phrasings of Cage (thinking The Seasons, from ‘47) and Glass’ more emotionally driven Metamorphosis, Brooklyn-based composer Léah Lazonick offers us the beautific Movimenti della Luna d’Oro, translation: Movements of the Moon of Gold, a chamber suite in three parts now available on Francis Harris’ Kingdoms label. And it’s a singular accomplishment, if only for the fact that Lazonick unwinds her work in a bare sliver of time – offering slight but resonant piano etudes fleshed out with a small string section. It’s uncluttered and pure, and, on tracks like melancholy waltz “Movimento II Mezza Luna,” it positively radiates.

This is modern classical in a pretty straight-forward sense; though Lazonick’s work sometimes calls to mind fellow American pianist/composer Rachel Grimes, there’s little trace here of the post-rock-laced atmospheres of, say, Jóhann Jóhannsson. But there are moments where Lazonick’s flights on piano, her too-infrequent departures from providing structure, hint at the jazz leanings of Art Tatum or even Joplin, if only in their buoyancy. It turns out that, when she wanders from the path, she is at her finest. In fact, it’s hard to imagine –  though Lazonick is adept at framing short films with scores – that she can unfurl a piece as cinematic as “Movimento III Luna Piena” in less than four minutes. Intense stuff.

Though the first half of the EP offers few lulls, I could’ve done without the go-nowhere, 13-minute-long remix from Romanian producer Petre Inspirescu. That said, all in all, it’s a minor mis-step and the EP remains a shimmery-sweet little morsel worth tracking down, 12 minutes of chamber bliss.

-30-

Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll #14: Jump Into the Fire


(Archive)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

I’m beginning to feel distinctly that I am more trouble than I’m worth. It’s crunch time for Roscoe’s Basement — we’ve got a gig in less than a month, and our bass player will soon need couple of weeks off — but I am, by any reasonable metric, not pulling my weight. It’s bad enough that I can’t play a note, being as I am still in the early stages of physical therapy after my accident; I find myself having to bum a ride like a damned teenager.

My car is still fucked, and will be for some months while I sock away money for a full brake job. I work from home, and I live close enough to the PT practice that I can hoof it, and Danielle and I can make arrangements so I can cover appointments and family obligations — but she works full-time and has obligations of her own; imposing on her for transportation to and from band functions is out of the question. My bandmates have been incredibly generous; Tom has, on multiple occasions, come all the way out to pick me up, and Chuck has been kind enough to bring me home, even though I live on the ass end of Nowhere and am not in fact on anybody’s way to any damn place.

I should, in fact, be at rehearsal tonight. But despite everyone’s best efforts, we couldn’t find a way to get me across town. And so we have had to reschedule, which inconveniences everybody all over again. And so the band — one of the few areas of my life where I have felt like I was pulling my weight and making a net contribution — becomes another line in the deficit column. Another mark against me.

When I started looking for a band, I drew up a list of dealbreakers. One of them was: I will not play with anyone who I have to carry. And now that’s me. I’m the dealbreaker. I’m the That Guy that every band has to deal with. Every band but ours. Until now, anyway.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Craig goes in for his hernia surgery today, which will keep him out of commission for a while. He’s on complete bed rest for a few days, then under doctors’ orders to lift nothing heavier than ten pounds for about a month after that. He weighed his bass before going into the hospital, and it came in at nine pounds five; still, he’ll need to keep off his feet wherever possible.

Meanwhile, I’m starting my second full week of physical therapy, and amid the tears and groans and cursing, there’s some hope. My left arm still won’t bear any serious weight — I accidentally roll over in my sleep one night, and gasp so loudly I wake Danielle — but the fear is abating. Hearing it said aloud that what’s holding me back is just plain old muscle stiffness changes the equation. I know what it is to feel stiff. This is something I can push through, something I can work my way out of.

And I work at it. I do my routine of stretches religiously, twisting and reaching and bending though the cords of my arm are so tight they nearly twang, like a banjo tuned sharp ‘til the strings are ready to snap and take out someone’s eye. I push through. And I start to see results. In these early days, starting from zero, the initial gains are big; but “big” is relative. I can chop a carrot again, do the dishes, button a shirt. Little things. There’s so much still to get back. But it’s a start.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

We’ve convened for a Saturday-afternoon practice, trying to squeeze in as much rehearsal time as our diminished state will allow; I’ve borrowed Danielle’s Jeep for the occasion. Craig is still laid up, but he’s left his gear in our practice space; the plan is for Mike or Chuck to trade off on bass and guitar throughout rehearsal. Before we really get started, on a whim, I sling on Craig’s bass. I’ve scarcely looked at an instrument since that first day out of the cast; I reckon I might try to play a little — just a few scales, to see how the physical therapy is paying off. And by God, I find my reach coming back! It’s uncomfortable and awkward, but I can play again — at least, after a fashion.

We plow through our usual opener, “10 AM Automatic,” then I stretch my arm out, twist it, shake it. It feels… weird. Not bad, though; just weird. Deanna must see the puzzled expression on my face, because she asks if I’m okay. “Getting there,” I say. “I think I’m good for another song or two, actually.” Just to stay limber, I think to myself.

And pretty soon “another song or two” turns into an hour-and-a-half solid, and it is the purest joy I have felt in months. I have always loved the bass — its tactile quality, the way the thump carries through your whole body — and while I can’t muster much flash in my compromised state, I can still fuckin’-A groove. Tom’s drumming impresses me all over again; he finds the pocket early on, and we slide on in and stay there, locked in tight. It’s magic.

And then I have to stop — though not on account of my elbow. In the euphoria of regaining some range of motion, I have forgotten what else I’d lost: my calluses. My hands have gone soft during those six weeks in the cast, and my fingertips look like raw hamburger after a single afternoon of playing hard. I will be all blisters in the morning.

For the rest of practice and all through my drive home, though, I’m too high to care. Weeks wasted moping around, and suddenly I am useful again. I feel on top of the world.

The feeling doesn’t last long. Danielle and I have a social event in the evening, and I can’t quite manage to tie my own necktie; I have to ask my teenager for help. Still, I’ve leveled up. One rehab goal achieved, and the next within sight. Not a bad Saturday’s work.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

We’re at Finn’s Tap Room in Victor, New York. My wife and kids are here. We’re finishing up a pretty good meal, and I am psyching myself up to morph from family-man Jekyll to rock ‘n’ roll Hyde.

The run-up to tonight has been intense. I’ve been an absolute monster in physical therapy, and at home I’ve set about rebuilding some rudimentary guitar chops. I started on an old nylon-string of Danielle’s, and worked my way back up to my Martin. As of our final rehearsal, I could manage three out of the four chords to “Sympathy for the Devil” with some skill — full barre chords are still tricky — and given that I only play on a handful of songs anyway, I’m ready to take the shot. (Playing the tambourine still feels like I’m sending an electric shock up my arm with every hit, but I suck it up.)

And this isn’t just a big night for me personally — it’s the longest gig we’ve ever played as a band, our first full show by standard bar-band definition: three sets spread over four hours. I’ve taken the lead in writing the set list, drawing on years of solo and band shows to craft something with pacing, something that moves, that almost tells a story — breaking up blocks of songs in the same key or with too-similar tempo, salting our originals throughout the night, looking for natural segues, mentally rehearsing patter to yoke it together when we do shift gears; I’ve working with the others in the band at every step in the process, kicking ideas back and forth over email, and we’ve written and scrapped a half-dozen lists on the way to tonight. And now we’re here. Thirty-four songs, three-and-a-half-hours and two breaks.

Finn’s Tap Room is a newly renovated space, a clean, spacious bar and restaurant that caters to a ski-resort crowd. We made the drive out in the late morning to set up and run a soundcheck in the nearly empty house. It’s making for a long day, but it has allowed us to be picky with our sound. We’ve got dedicated monitor mixes and reasonable stage volume. We’re spread between a raised platform in the corner and a small wooden dance floor immediately in front of that; the tiering lets us all hear each other without being uncomfortably loud, while giving us room to move. Craig — who’s still not at 100% but is, God love him, game to try — has a comfortable chair for when he needs it.

I’ve never been one to drag my family out to these things, but Shaun is home for the weekend, has never heard us play, and has expressed an interest in doing so. And so we’ve driven out an hour early and gotten a table for dinner. I pick at mine — I don’t want to get too loaded up before the show, and I have a mild phobia of accidentally belching on mic — and before dessert, the rest of the crew rolls in.

And then it’s go time.

And we are goddam dynamite.


Our hard work pays off in the pacing. The first set, the songs are is short and poppy; the middle is heavy on love songs in honor of Valentine’s Day, but sequenced to constitute a commentary on love and love songs, before things get spiky for the conclusion. We are just on — no technical glitches, no trainwrecks, all in good voice and good spirits, listening to each other, tight and solid. A quick break, then a second set — a little more hard rock, a little more new wave angularity, and a set-closing romp through Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire,” climaxing in a three-way percussion fight between Tom’s drumkit, Deanna’s cowbell, and my darabouka.

In the break, I amble down to wash my face and refill my water bottle. The hour is getting late, but there’s still a good-sized crowd at the bar and out at the tables; some friends and family, sure — though Danielle and the kids had to split mid-set — but plenty of strangers and new friends here for the long haul. Business is brisk. The owner is happy. This is what we live for.

The third set is loose and jammy. If writing a set list is occasionally an exercise in “One for you, then one for us,” this go-round is mostly (if I’m being honest) just for us — a ramble through Weezer’s “Undone,” a raging “Helter Skelter,” a tear through “Sunshine of Your Love.” By this time, though, we’ve built up enough goodwill to have earned a little self-indulgence; and even our self-indulgence is disciplined. The power pop format keeps our guitar players on a pretty short leash most of the time, but Mike and Chuck are unshackled here. Their interplay on “Love Buzz” crashes like waves, ebbs and flows like the tides; and Mike takes a long solo on “Sympathy” that raises the huckleberries on my arms, his hair in his eyes, long face blank with concentration. We end at the four-hour mark on the dot, wrung out but absolutely satisfied in the knowledge that we have delivered the goods.

We take our time with the load-out, and have a leisurely beer at the bar. For some reason Mike gets started talking to Deanna about horses, her great passion, and I start to lose track of the conversation.  Even having to impose on Chuck for a ride home doesn’t get me down.

It’s another level up; and even though I will get up on Sunday aching head to toe, with ears ringing and my voice shot, tonight, at this moment, I feel ten feet tall and bulletproof.

Dw. Dunphy On… The Evolution of Man

We have reached a turning point in the species. We can deny it or try to vote it out of existence by propping up those who seek a “return to the past” that, frankly, is an illusion. The reality is that this has been a long time in coming and rather than growing uglier in rejection of this, we ought to accept it fully. This is about growing up.

So let’s say it, guys: sexual harassment.

It shouldn’t have ever taken this long. These things were going on for much, much longer than the #MeToo movement, of course. It’s been a dominant and systemic thing. Last year seemed like a true turning point,(which is not to say that the abuses of men against women are now all over and done…no instant enlightenment is to be found, but for the men who truly care about this subject, it’s caused us to ask substantive questions.

I spoke to a co-worker about it in the midst of the Harvey Weinstein revelations. She is a strong person with a takes-no-crap personality, but she said with complete candor, “Oh yeah, it’s happened to me, more than once.” The occasional brush against, the hand that “accidentally” makes full contact with areas that never receive contact when it is truly accidental…the propositions. It was disheartening to hear it from her. It was angering.

It’s even more disheartening to hear those from an older generation bitterly grumbling about how no one can take a joke anymore, how “these broads are going to take over and there’s nothing we can do about it,” and how a little grabass never hurt anyone.

How would anyone know if it hurt or didn’t hurt when the victim said nothing about it? They said nothing because, historically, the victim wouldn’t be believed, and so the victim stayed silent. The consequences of not staying silent, particularly in the areas of workplace incidents, usually involved the victims being fired.

But we need to boil this down further. I want to – have to – believe that the majority of men in this world would never consider engaging in the large-scale actions described of Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Louis C.K., or any number of figures who used their power to justify decisions to violate. And yet, the majority of men, with myself included, have been guilty of shades of actions, those behaviors that, while not nearly as egregious, can be terribly demeaning, hurtful, and wrong. It’s how we were taught, and it’s part of the heritage.

Guys, let’s just admit it. Our whole lives, we’ve been taught by others (and reinforced by the media) to never give up, never give in, pursue, and in the end, you’ll win her heart. And if you don’t continually fight for it, how could you ever say you cared for her at all? Did you ever really deserve to win her if you didn’t pull every string, be relentless, proving your care with every unwanted display of your ardor?

Don’t tell me your elders, or society as a whole, didn’t introduce this idea that love arrives when you’ve “worn her down and pursued to the end.” But when you think about it, there’s an inherent creepiness to trying to force your way into someone’s life until they relent in exhaustion, and it is worse when the culture classifies it as romantic.

This moment in our history may, if we don’t do something incredibly, stupidly damning, be something akin to evolution. It’s the moment when we fully embrace things we always knew. Hearts aren’t for winning like carnival prizes. How you feel about someone may not be the way they feel about you, and nothing is going to change that. You can’t force someone to fall in love with you, no matter how many times Hollywood has convinced us otherwise. That might hurt you. It will definitely bruise your ego. How does it feel for that other human being who has come to dread your unending insistence in ways great and small?

I’ve been guilty of pining, of trying to find ways to “win her.” Guys, if you like her and she likes you, she’s going to be more mature than to play “hard to get.” These women who played that game weren’t playing a game. It’s time to believe them, rather than believing everything being said is code for something else.

And what of the media’s role? Guys, we’ve learned from pop stars and celebrities that we had to take what we wanted, what we deemed was ours, with no remorse or hesitance. Just maybe…they were wrong. I’m reminded of the song “Love Has Taken Its Toll” by Foreigner. It appeared on the 1978 album Double Vision.

Here’s the majority section:

Some girls you meet seem so complete
Like they don’t need nothin’ from you
They’re out to show you they don’t want to know you
When deep inside they do

Well, this girl didn’t want me or anyone else
She was alone, thought I’d give it a try
I was a young bull stompin’ in the field
I saw red when she walked by

Love has taken its toll, love has
Love has taken, taken its toll, oh yeah

I had to think fast, I watched her walk past
I knew I would have my way
So I swaggered up, I mean I staggered up
But I didn’t have a damn thing to say

Now, two handed strategy always works well for me
So I slipped my hands around her waist
I swore it was the right move, feelin’ so smooth
Till she backhanded me ‘cross my face

From the vantage point of 2018, forty years on, it’s pretty shocking. The dude sees a girl he wants to get with, and his first instinct is to start grabbing her. This was not as perplexing or controversial a notion back in the day, I can assure you. Something else that no one batted an eye about then, but certainly would now, is that the narrative of the song would have you believe that this tactic should be tried…because it works.

To make a long story short, she finally got caught
I had to tell her enough is enough
She said, “You’re just what I needed”, and boy
She nearly pleaded with me not to be too rough

Fine, you say. But that is a “cock rock” tune nearly a half century old. How is that emblematic of men’s generationally-inherited attitudes and beliefs, and aren’t we being a bit hyperbolic? Maybe. I also know that as beloved a movie as Back To The Future is – and hey, I love it too – the critical point is that for Marty McFly to survive, he has to get his mother to fall in love with his father. How does that happen? George McFly decks Biff Tannen. Why? To keep Biff from raping Lorraine, the future mother of Marty. This love didn’t arrive from two people getting to know each other. It came apparently out of gratitude for saving her from sexual assault.

And even this can be shoved to the side by saying this is a 33-years-old science fiction comedy, a point I’ll concede. But in America, there are lots of young men growing up with the misguided gift passed down from grandfather, to father, to son that there’s any realistic takeaway from the fiction. I’m using old media to further the idea that these antiquated concepts are going extinct. Let’s not try to drag them back to life. The way men have casually framed the idea of “getting a woman,” even within the most innocuous of intents, needs the dirt kicked on top of it too.

Hearts aren’t won. Hearts aren’t saved from dark fates just to be claimed for the desires of others. It’s time to revisit those lessons of “never give up, never give in, pursue,” reassess them and, ultimately, reject them as primitive logic, and further reject atavistic desires to crawl back to the cave, dragging our mates behind us.

This evolution of man must take place, and will take place.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Fifty-Two

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Fifty Two
 
Ladies and gentlemen…  the big one!  Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross is officially 1 year old!  The 1st Anniversary show is in the books and it’s a masterpiece.  There is no shortage of things to talk about and dissect on this celebratory episode including former “Law & Order” cast member Diane Neal’s decision to run for Congress; the wild ride of the stock market; Poland will now jail anyone accusing Poland of complicity with the Nazis;  the sale of the L.A. times to a biotech company as smaller papers close down their actual brick & mortar buildings; Amy Rigby’s new album, a look back over this first amazing year, a different spin on “In Our Heads” and a ton more – there’s a lot of show – and rightly so – that you will not want to miss.
 
So pop the bubbly with us and join the fun – this is where all the merrymakers have gone.  And this second year can only be better…
 
Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Fifty Two
 

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.

What’s THAT Supposed to Mean?: Veruca Salt, “Shutterbug”

They did warn you about the Seether.

Three years after coming out of nowhere with a powerful series of rock hooks on their debut album American Thighs, the quartet fronted by Louise Post and Nina Gordon roared back with the 1997 sequel Eight Arms to Hold You“Sequel” was literal in this case — lead single Volcano Girls featured a callback to their breakthrough single Seether.

Both of these albums are underrated classics, entertaining relics of a time in which a handful of rock bands actually had a sense of melody. They were underrated because there was still an element of the rock press that couldn’t get over the notion of attractive women playing electric guitars. A couple of decades had gone by since Heart had supposedly smashed the stereotypes that women don’t play rock, but Heart had spent the 80s doing schlock-rock ballads for MTV consumption, and critics were determined only to take Liz Phair seriously at her most explicit.

And yes, Post and Gordon attracted a considerable amount of gossip. Gordon was dating Blake Smith from a band called Fig Dish. (As things started falling apart, she dated Stacy Jones, the drummer who replaced her brother, Jim Shapiro, in Veruca Salt.) Post, like many celebrities and snowboarders of the time, dated Dave Grohl.

While we can’t blame Veruca Salt for Taylor Swift’s career of angry breakup songs, it’s pretty clear that one should not do wrong by Post or Gordon. But when it comes to whoever is the target of Shutterbug, their loss is clearly our gain. This is one ferocious kick in the teeth with haunting melodic hooks. (And an interesting counterpart to the Gordon-penned Loneliness Is Worse, the soaring power ballad asking the age-old question, “Don’t you wanna be happy with me?”)

At least, we think this is a breakup song. The last verse certainly sounds like it. The first verse, according to two unverified accounts on the interwebs, refers to PJ Harvey and is probably not meant to be insulting. The journalism veteran in me hates to pass along unverified info, but we have to consider the prospect that these are three loosely related snapshots rather than one prolonged nasty breakup.

But we’re going to proceed under the notion that this is at least partially an “up yours” to an ex.

Post wrote this one, and she takes the listener through the journey. She’s on the road — the verses start in Bristol, London and Philly — and wearing down, tired of the hotel TV and a little groggy. Oh, you want to break up? Yeah, she doesn’t need your shit right now, OK?

And it’s not her, it’s you. “You’re right where you always wanted to be. You can’t change.”

And she’s not getting out of your head. After the band drops out for a second to let Post deliver the seething “You monkey, you left me,” she taunts her ex. “And I know that you miss me by the way you kiss and resist me.”

In the first pass through the chorus, Post ponders the woman on her TV screen and directs everything to “her” — “it’s her thrill, it’s her wonder, it’s her will, it’s her way home.” In the second time through, it’s “your.”

Third and final chorus? “It’s my thrill, it’s my wonder, etc.” And “I’m right where I always dreamed I would be.”

Post may sound like a wounded animal at times on this track. But she’s got the power. She’s very much in control of her own life, and you blew it, you idiot.

So … who is this about?

The obvious signs point to Grohl. As the comments at Song Meanings point out, Grohl is in many ways “the last living rock king,” and the “monkey” could refer to the man who sang Monkey Wrench. But there was apparently a Periscope session in which Post said it was about Nick Cave. (I’ve yet to find any reason for the song to be called Shutterbug, a title reinforced by some camera-clicking effects on the recording but not much else.)

The song also may be three separate snapshots. There are two unattributed references around the interwebs suggesting the first verse is about PJ Harvey.

The thought of Nick Cave being the last living rock king is depressing on so many levels. So let’s fast-forward to the happy ending … Post and Gordon are both happily married by all accounts.

And back together. And sounding good, both on new material and classics like this. (No, I have no idea how to decode Laughing in the Sugar Bowl, I just know I was thrilled to hear it and even happier that my son frequently requests it in the car. He has great taste.)

They’re probably not going to bounce around in their underwear in an ornate setting as they did for this video, which raises a few more questions (among them: “How did they avoid banging into each other and giving each a concussion in those big swinging things?”). And they’re probably going to have to rely on ancient history if they want to write any more breakup songs.

 

Dw. Dunphy On… Joe Satriani, Steve Scott, and “Altered Sweet”

Hi folks; didja miss me?

I don’t believe I’ve written a piece for Popdose since late-2017, although I have worked behind the scenes on a few of the posts published under the Popdose Staff title. A great big, warm “no prize” goes to the folks who can figure out which posts they were.

Why the delay in jumping back in? You can say it’s been a process of reevaluation as well as a policy of restriction. In the second half of 2017, I started getting a lot of requests to review albums. I mean, a lot, and uniformly they emerged from the “Americana” genre, and furthermore, aside from the few I wrote about, the majority of them did not rise to the level – I felt – deserving of the real estate.

That’s a really negative statement, more than a bit arrogant on first experience, and unfortunate but necessary. This mash-up subculture of rock, folk, and country has reached a tipping point not unlike that of the late 1990s when everyone was “alternative” and the returns were more than diminishing. As an artist myself, I am keenly aware of the difficulties of musicians to get coverage, and it certainly pains me to deny coverage of an artist based on the genre they have chosen to perform in.

Nonetheless, for every sincere musician who chose to go acoustic and rural, no matter where they came from, from the mountains in the West to the canyons of New York City, there are now at least three acts who chose to do the same for cynical reasons. I tried to be polite about it and tell these artists that I wasn’t the right person to cover them at that moment. (I certainly wasn’t. Having had to deal with family medical issues and devote my attention to their ongoing care, I was not in the proper state of mind to tell former club kids that their new mandolin skills were subpar.) The flood of albums persisted.

So I have to do something I really hate doing. Much as independent record labels now no longer accept unsolicited materials to review, I’m not accepting albums from Americana for review. I will still review things from the genre from time to time, but I will seek them out. I think my stance is fair. With my present impression of the scene being as negative as it is, as an artist, do you really want to take that shot?

As a reviewer, it is my responsibility to be objective when I engage with the music I’m critiquing. I find it impossible to offer such objectivity with so much trend-chasing occurring within the style. Proceed at your own risk.

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Here’s an artist I thought I was done with, but has now scored two significant wins in a row: 2015’s Shockwave Supernova, and now What Happens Next. The man behind those albums, Joe Satriani, never stopped being a great guitar player, one of the finest of our times. Nonetheless, I wasn’t excited by those albums from the aughts. I’m prepared to say that it was less about Joe than it was about me.

But with these two albums, and What Happens Next in specific, it feels like excitement is back. Whereas some albums seemed to either be fighting the legacy of Surfing With The Alien or actively trying to mimic it, this new record is much more confident, and stridently ballsy while still being modern.

I’m going to give a fair amount of credit to producer Mike Fraser for this. Producers prior to this seemed to be too much in awe of Satriani the guitar player – and why not? – but that meant the guitar often overshadowed the composition opportunities. It was all about shred and gliss, but the song itself? More of a frame than a necessity. What Happens Next sounds to these ears like well-conceived melodies that, nonetheless, have virtuoso playing involved. I imagine Fraser having the right level of respect for the chops but also having a clear ear for the song as a whole, and the guts to step in when the balance was disrupted.

Speaking of balance, what a power trio this album turns out to the public. Chad Smith gets to blast the drums in ways he seldom does with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and bassist Glenn Hughes (of Deep Purple, Black Country Communion and, briefly, Black Sabbath) further asserts himself as a hard rock legend.

For those who let Joe Satriani go by the wayside in the previous decade, might I suggest that What Happens Next forcefully presents itself as an album to pick up once again? In a year that’s only begun, this one has the goods to be the rock album of 2018 by the end.

 

 

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Steve Scott was always an artist who followed his muse, and it almost always was his undoing. More a poet than a conventional pop star, he nonetheless recorded fantastic rock songs in the 1980s, mostly backed by the band The Seventy Sevens, sometimes recorded by the producer Charlie Peacock who would be recognized later on as the writer of Amy Grant’s “Every Heartbeat” and producer for The Civil Wars. Scott had a tense, powerful new wave sound that sat perfectly next to the nerviness of artists like Simple Minds and The Call. A big distribution deal between his label Exit Records and A&M Records didn’t pan out. Tracks appeared eventually on the compilations Magnificent Obsession and the rightly beloved Lost Horizon.

Forsaking the pop sound that had forsaken him first, he released The Butterfly Effect in 1992, a hypnotic combination of spoken-word poetry and ambient synths. We Dreamt That We Were Strangers and Crossing The Boundaries followed after in the same vein. All these are artistic achievements for those who have minds open enough to accept them, but are still far too esoteric for those who just want to dance.

Nearly 20 years after his last release of new material, Scott returns with Cross My Heat (word exchange intended). It is, once again, Scott’s thoughtful poetry set above field recordings, found sounds, and creative muckery of his old pop past. All the old caveats apply, that his work might be too cerebral, too artsy for general consumption, but I want to push back against those easy dismissals.

Even though the nine tracks on Cross My Heat are poems, Scott is a poet with something to say, often approaching his work as a field reporter with a gift for the language rather than a Saturday night open-mic slammer.

My conundrum as a reviewer is that it is much harder to classify the recording enough to make it crystallize in your mind, much less entice you to give it a try. It has no beat. You can’t dance to it. But Scott’s voice, super-clear with his British accent still in play, is eminently listenable and never comes across as a sleep aid, as one might presume a poetry recording to be. Much as a good song will do something to you and for you, even if it does not make your body move, so too do Scott’s performances here. 

I guess, in this case, you’ll have to trust me. For those who are even slightly intrigued by the previous, admittedly haphazard description, Cross My Heat is recommended. You can find the album at: https://hardingstreet.bandcamp.com/album/hsal-38-cross-my-heat

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Altered Sweet, as shepherded by pop-rock aficionado Keith Klingensmith, is one of the more entertaining compilations to cross my transom in some time. A member of the band The Legal Matters as well as head of Futureman Records, Klingensmith knows people, specifically people who love the music of Matthew Sweet, and he knows how to get them on-board.

Need proof? Altered Sweet has a veritable who’s who here: Lindsay Murray with Gretchen’s Wheel honors “Walk Out” as only she can. Stabby Robot, featuring the more-than-perfect choice for a Sweet tribute Paul Melancon, is dead on target with “We’re The Same.” Michael Carpenter, who recently indicated he was retiring from rocking, doesn’t sound particularly retiring on “Girlfriend.” Lisa Mychols never disappoints, and fails to disappoint (again) with a confident rendition of “Looking At The Sun.”

Other standouts include CokeRoque, being Coke Belda who positively killed with his wonderful Bee Gees tribute album in 2017. Here, Belda filters Sweet through a Brian Wilson filter and the end result, although surprising, is remarkable. Chris Richards & The Subtractions nearly steal the record with their cover of “Someone to Pull the Trigger.”

If you like your pop-rock, or Matthew Sweet, or your Matthew Sweetened pop-rock, you owe it to yourself to check out Altered Sweet, complete with its Altered Beast homage artwork (also provided by the multi-talented Lindsay Murray). This one has the ability to singlehandedly redeem the whole multi-artist tribute album subgenre. Find it at: https://futuremanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/altered-sweet

Popdose Sunday Brunch: Episode Three

They asked us if we could serve Italian and French main courses at the same time. We were aghast! You can’t just mix tastes like that! You can’t!

What are you giving us here?
· Know Your Rights by The Clash
· Lessons In Love by Paul Carrack
· Don’t Be Scared by The Fixx
· A Girl Like You by Edwyn Collins
· Life Of Crime by A.D.
· Please No More Sad Songs by Idle Race
· Shot In The Dark by Ozzy Osbourne
· Johnee Jingo by Todd Rundgren
· You by Breakfast With Amy
· Rings On Her Fingers by The Smithereens
· I Should Have Known Better by Yo La Tengo
· Love’s Theme From Midnight Express by Giorgio Moroder
· Where Your Eyes Don’t Go by They Might Be Giants
· Ludlow Street by Suzanne Vega
· Montana by Frank Zappa

Popdose Exclusive Song Premiere: Television City, “Engadine”

Popdose presents the premiere of “Engadine”, from a new entry into the rock & roll fray, Television City.

Television City is a Detroit roots rock band led by the songwriting of Brian Raleigh. Raleigh and his cohorts mix up a love of a good melody, a rock dude’s passion for big guitars and an aging punk’s undying affection for energy and snarky wit. Add in the no-bullshit heart, soul, and sweat of a guy who has spent years wearing out albums by the Replacements, Springsteen, and Soul Asylum (pre-Grave Dancer’s Union, please), among the many acts who’ve left their mark on his musical imagination.

Their self-titled debut album will be released on Friday, April 27th, 2018.

https://www.teeveecity.com