METAL DAD, COMPENDIUM TWO IS NOW AVAILABLE.
SPIFFY PAPERBACK AND KINDLE eBOOK: 180 COMICS, ONE NEW ESSAY, ONE FAQ, ONE FOREWORD, ONE Q & A, PLUS LIKE 10 NEW BULLSHITS!
…GET IT AT AMAZON! SHIPS FREE WITH PRIME!
He’s been releasing albums on a fairly consistent basis since the beginning of his career, but for the first time in a long time, it feels like timing is on Howard Jones’ side. There’s a Republican in the White House – just like there was during Jones’ entire chart run from 1983 to 1992 – and the world is in desperate need of Jones’ trademark eternal optimism, which we’re pleased to say has not waned one bit.
Armed with a new album Transform, which features three collaborations with electronic wizard BT, Popdose chatted with Jones about the new album, the American metal singer who shares his name, and the wonderful steps his mother took to make the lives of her son’s fans a little brighter. Jones was quick with a laugh throughout our chat, confirming that he is every bit the kind, friendly fellow that he appears to be.
Are you home right now?
Yes I am, I just got back yesterday from L.A.
What was in L.A.?
I had just been touring, doing my acoustic trio. It’s the first time I’ve done it, actually, with Nick Beggs and Robin Bolt. And we just did eight shows around the States just to try out the idea, and it went really well, so I’m gonna do more.
That was actually the eighth question I had planned, to ask you about that tour, because I was thrilled to see that you had recruited Nick Beggs, because I think he’s a criminally underrated bass player.
[Laughs] Yeah, he’s been a friend for a long time, and he was in my band for quite a while, and he’s playing for [former Porcupine Tree frontman] Steve Wilson, and [former Genesis guitarist] Steve Hackett, for years, and he had a bit of free time, so I thought, “I’ll grab him.” And he had a blast on this tour as well, so he’s up for doing more with me, so I think it’ll probably be next year, that we’ll come back to do it.
I’m just thinking, the chops between the two of you, you could form some synth fusion band if you felt like it.
[Laughs] It feels like one of those old time ‘70s super groups, you know? [Laughs] Robin, Robin plays with Phish, and with Marillion, and a lot of prog bands, so between us, there’s a lot of chops going on, and it’s so great to play with those guys. And when we’re not playing, we have such a blast being together. I call it gentlemen’s touring, it’s very civilized.
I have to share with you the outpouring of love that my Facebook friends sent me when I announced that I was interviewing you. Here are a few of the quotes: “He’s my most favorite,” “I’m such a fan,” “Loooooooove him,” and lastly, “Will you ask him to marry me?”
[Laughs] Well, that’s very nice, that’s a very nice comment, isn’t it.
I also learned that you are not the only working musician named Howard Jones. There is an American metal singer.
Yeah, that’s right.
So you’re familiar, then.
Yes, he used to be in Killswitch Engage. That’s right, we share a name. Sometimes, on my Spotify playlist, some of his tracks appear [Note: Jones is laughing through this entire sentence], and I think it must be a bit of a shock for people. We’re trying to get Spotify to alter that, but I think it’s quite funny.
All right, let’s talk about the record. I’m not sure if anyone has said this to you yet, but the world has never needed a Howard Jones record more than it does right now.
Well, that’s a great compliment, thank you, thank you. I feel the same. People are suffering quite a lot with what they see going on, and we all need a bit of encouragement to stand up and get through it, and to turn it round. I think that’s what this record is about. It’s about facing a storm, and not being afraid, and we can do this, we can be hopeful about the future and not get bogged down with our negative self. Challenge the times, starting with our own behavior. Really, have a good look at that, and work on that.
Tell me about working with BT. I will admit, I worried that his hyperkinetic production style would not be the best fit, but you two work rather well together.
Yes, I must agree, it really was a good fit, to be honest. I’ve always been a huge fan of his, because I see him as a real pioneer of his generation in electronic music. I mean, he’s just incredible, what he’s done, his work, and the standard of it, the new techniques that he’s brought for all of us to use, and the software that he writes, it just goes on and on. I don’t feel like that about many artists, so I went to see him down in Miami, doing an orchestral show combined with electronics, because I thought I really need to be there, and he found out that I was there, and he gave me a name-check from the stage, which was a little embarrassing, but very nice as well. Then we met afterwards, he invited me to his studio, we started messing around with his incredible collection of analog synths, and I said, “Look, man, we really should make a record together.” And we made three tracks. It was basically three ideas, and we made them into three tracks. And I just love the results.
I’m curious: which songs were recorded first, the ones you did with BT, or the ones you did without him? And obviously I’m not talking about the “Eddie the Eagle” song (“Eagle Will Fly Again,” which originally appeared on the 2015 album Fly (Songs Inspired by the Film: Eddie the Eagle)).
It was really mixed in, it was quite a long period of time…you know, he’s busy doing about ten projects at the same time, and I was working on my other tracks for the album, so it was really all muddled up together. They weren’t added later or started…I was working on those at the same time as the rest of it.
I ask this because I felt like, on the song “Beating Mr. Neg,” his production style had rubbed off on you a little bit.
No, that was well under way before, but I’m sure that [BT’s influence was] an element of that as well, though. I think that when you work with someone like that, with such great sonic vision, everyone raises their game, and my co-producer Robbie Bronnimann is a big fan of BT as well. It was a virtuous spiral, to make the best sounding record we possibly could. I think that’s one of the benefits of working with other great artists – it pushes you to do even better.
My wife has a theory that you planted an Easter egg in “The One to Love You.” There’s a piano bit at the end that she thinks is a couple of bars from “Assault and Battery.” Is she right?
It is, she’s absolutely right. That was BT’s idea, he wanted to put those Easter eggs, and references to my early work, and sounds, and riffs, and they crop up all through the track. And then, at the end, after the bit you’re referring to, there’s a sound track, a field recording, of where BT used to go and listen to my albums when he was 14. He used to take them out with his Walkman, and listen to them in this place where I think there’s a railway in the background, and there’s animal noises…he did an ambient recording there. And I thought that was so cool. I was really moved when he told me. I didn’t realize what it was.
What a compliment that is.
I know, I know. It really is. He’s a great guy.
So the bits that I hear that sound like “Hide and Seek,” that was deliberate as well.
Yeah, and the DX7 bass cropping up, and the brass sounds in there as well, and there’s a bit that sounds almost like the riff in “Conditioning.” Yeah, it’s lots of little references.
This is going to sound like a strange question. You have this old timey piano that pops up at the end of “Tin Man.” What I was wondering is whether that was an actual old timey piano, or a synth replicating an old timey piano.
I played it on a high-end sample piano, and then degraded it so that it sounded old. [Laughs] I’m very fortunate, I have a Steinway in my studio, but because I don’t always have as much control over the sound as I’d like, I usually save that for the more acoustic-sounding records. So that’s the truth, that’s how it was done.
I saw you a couple of years ago when you toured with OMD and Barenaked Ladies. I thought that was fitting, because I feel like technology is just now finally catching up to artists like you and OMD.
It was great doing that tour, because I had to work really hard on that tour, because I was opening up. I’m not used to doing that. So I had to really work [Laughs]. I was playing to a new audience – Barenaked Ladies are from a different generation – so I was having to win [BNL’s fans] over as well as my own fans, bless them for coming. But I think my favorite moment was doing “No One Is to Blame” with Barenaked Ladies in their set. That was just so great, because even though they have a different audience, everyone knew that song. And it was like, “Wow, this is so good.”
You told a story at that show about the factory job, and how your coworkers were telling you to give up the music dream and stay in the factory. I’m now thinking, what is the life of Howard Jones, the cling film factory worker? What is that guy doing now?
I literally took the first job that anybody offered me. I was at music college, and left because I wanted to get on with my own music. Got the job in the factory, first one that I was offered, and was able to earn enough money to establish my one-man band thing. I don’t think that guy would ever have stayed in the factory, because it wasn’t what I was meant to do, I knew that. It was a means to an end. But I’ll tell you what, though, I really loved the people I worked with, they were great to me, and I had a lot of friends there. They didn’t think I would ever leave and do what I did, but I did. I walked out, and I got a record deal [Laughs], but maybe I was lucky, you know. I was at the right place at the right time, doing the right thing. You need talent and determination, but you also need a little bit of luck as well to go with it, and if you have the luck, then you’re ready for it.
Is there anything on your musical bucket list that you haven’t checked off yet? I’m guessing not, but I thought I’d ask just in case.
Actually, there is one. I would like to write a song with Paul McCartney. Just one. Because he’s the closest person I feel a kinship to in songwriting.
I can see that.
Maybe that’s a little bit [chuckles]…maybe I’m elevating myself too much there, but there’s certain things that, this sense of melody and song construction. And sometimes I sound a little bit like him when I’m singing, people have said. Not a lot, but a little bit. I think that would be a really great…I mean, I won’t be the John Lennon element, I’ll be the other Paul McCartney. It’ll be McCartney/McCartney. I suppose I’m running out of time for that now, but I’m putting it out there. Maybe it’ll happen.
My favorite sentence from your Wikipedia page, hands down, is “His parents ran his fan club.”
[Laughs] Yeah, they did, yeah. My mother was the driving force, she was amazing. She was the best possible person to represent me, to be honest, because you can imagine the time, the ‘80s, my audience was late teens and just getting into their twenties, so they were writing to my mum with all kinds of teenage problems that they were having with their parents, and relationships, sex, and all that. And my mum would write back to them in the most brilliant, positive way, and she would sometimes quote my lyrics, so she became this global agony aunt for fans, and people still come up to me with, “This is a letter your mum wrote to me,” and it’s this treasured possession. What a great legacy she left! All those people she encouraged all over the world, and thousands and thousands of them.
And I’ll tell you what, what they used to do, so the fans would write to them, and my parents would invite them to their house! And they’d give them tea, and they’d have photographs taken, and they’d show them the memorabilia they had there. And they’d pick them up from the station, people from Japan…they were just amazing. They were incredible.
That is amazing. I didn’t know what you were going to tell me, but that is way better than what I pictured.
Yeah, they’re really, really great.
Years ago, I asked Thomas Dolby about the synthesizer showcase that he did on the Grammys with you, and Stevie Wonder, and Herbie Hancock. He told me this incredible story, but I was wondering if you had an interesting anecdote from that experience.
Yeah, well, I’ve got two big memories from that. Well, there’s three, actually. The first thing is me and Tom were waiting for him in London to come to the studio to start what we were going to do for the Grammys. And we waited and waited, and he never turned up. [Laughs] So we had to re-schedule it for L.A., just before the Grammys were going to be done, which actually was a lot cooler because it was at [Stevie Wonder’s] studio. So at his studio, all four of us were there, and then for some reason, Thomas and Herbie had to go somewhere, so it was just me and Stevie in the studio. So he starts jamming, and I start jamming with him, and we just kept on and on. It’s like half an hour of riffing, and doing grooves, and me and Stevie, yeah! It was a heavenly experience. And I thought, “He must be enjoying it, because he’s keeping on going.” If he had found it dull, he would have ended this about five minutes in, or something. So that was a treasured moment.
The other thing I always remember was, at lunch time, homeless people would turn up at the foyer of his studio, and they would be fed. He’d get food in for them.
Yeah, that’s right. He would organize it, that these people would be fed. And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really awesome.’
[Concerned that I may have interrupted him] That’s…sorry, was there more to this story?
No, I can’t wait to hear Thomas’ story! [Note: we’d sum it up here, but really, you should read it in Dolby’s own words.]
I have never heard that story before. That’s great, that’s a killer.
That is the end of my questions, but since the first press release I got for this record, you added a whole bunch more tour dates. Are those going to be acoustic as well, or is that going to be much like I saw with you and OMD a couple of years ago?
The tour over the summer, it’ll be much more of a production than the one with Barenaked Ladies. It’s three keyboard players, and one of them plays guitar as well, which is Robin Bolt, and then I’m going to play some piano as well – I like an acoustic element as well – but we’re gonna do songs that people know, the old stuff, sandwiched with the new stuff. And we worked on the Human’s Lib-era songs to inject a bit of the sound of the new album into it, so it should feel like it flows from the [laughs] historical document to the new album. That’s what I’ve tried to achieve, and I think it’s gonna work really well, because I really want people to hear the new album, but I don’t want them to have to listen to five tracks in a row. I want it to be mixed in with the stuff they’re familiar with.
I saw Depeche Mode a few years ago, and they opened up their set with six songs from the new record, and I’m like, “Guys, come on!”
[Laughs] It’s a bit tough for audiences, that. I saw Duran Duran do that as well, and they did lose the audience for a bit. But people have gotta do what they’ve gotta do, and it’s great that they’re making new music. They’re obviously very proud of it, and they want people to hear it, but I’m gonna mix it in, you know, so that people have a fighting chance.
I’m not saying this as a guy who doesn’t want to hear the new material from the bands that I grew up loving, especially when it comes to a band like Duran Duran, whose last album, Paper Gods, I loved. But as you were talking about, try and mix it up a little bit.
Yeah, that’s the plan. I did the set list ages ago, so we’re doing all-new video material for it that relates to all the songs, and concepts in the music. That’s been a big project as well. And I’ve got a bee in my bonnet about…sometimes it’s overwhelming, and people almost, like, blank it out, there’s too much going on in the video. What we’re trying to do is just have the video occur at certain moments in the song, so it’s not all about, you know, a visual experience. You’re immersed in the song, and then a few elements will come up on the screen that enhance what the song’s about. That’s what I’m aiming for this time.
I think that’s a good call, because again, going back to Duran Duran, I saw them once [in 2005], and they put this incredible video together for the song “Careless Memories,” and it got to the point where I wasn’t even watching them anymore.
Yeah. If people are just watching the screen, that’s not what I’m aiming for. It’s a live experience with the artist, and the video should be part of the show like the lighting is, so that’s what I’m trying to achieve.
Thank you so much for chatting with us. I wish you the best of luck with the record. I really dig it, and I think your fans will, too.
Well, thank you. Cheers, all the best, bye.
We’ve heard about one-hit wonders and even no-hit wonders but what about groups that had multiple hits and still manage to be forgotten when people talk about classic soul? The Soul Children recorded for Stax Records at the height of the label’s popularity, they had three Top 10 pop hits, and they were mentored by the legendary songwriting/producing team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter. And yet they’re often not even part of the discussion of the glory days at Stax.
Hayes and Porter put the Soul Children together in 1968. The lineup included two women and two men and the intention was that the group would take up the slack left at Stax when Sam & Dave had to return to Atlantic Records after the infamous contract dispute between the two labels. The original Soul Children lineup included Norman West, John Colbert (a.k.a. J. Blackfoot), Anita Louis, and Shelbra Bennett. Colbert already had a career that included some solo singles as well as a stint as the lead singer for the Bar-Kays when they reorganized after the plane crash that killed four members of the group as well as Otis Redding. Louis sang backup on some Hayes/Porter productions, Bennett was a singer signed to Stax, and West had replaced William Bell in the Del-Rios but hadn’t found any success as a solo act after that.
“Give ‘Em Love,” a Hayes/Porter production, naturally, was the debut Soul Children single in 1968. The single’s Top 40 success on the R&B chart pointed to even more success ahead. That promise was realized when the group’s second single, “I’ll Understand,” did even better, reaching the #29 spot on the R&B chart. Still, pop success was proving to be elusive until the Soul Children released their fourth single, “The Sweeter He Is.” The two-part single was a Top 10 hit on the R&B chart and the group finally found some pop success when the record managed a #52 showing on the pop chart. As was the case with nearly all of the Stax Records of the day, the backing musicians on the Soul Children records included luminaries like Steve Cropper, Al Jackson, Jr, Duck Dunn, and Hayes himself.
The group only had a minor hit when they tried their luck with a slowed down version of the Sam & Dave smash “Hold On I’m Coming.” The single managed to crawl into the R&B Top 50 but did not cross over to the pop chart. The fate of the Soul Children seemed to be sealed when Hayes stopped working with them in order to focus on his solo career. They didn’t give up, however. They recorded a couple of albums including one at Muscle Shoals and released several unsuccessful singles. Then, in 1972, the Soul Children made their comeback with “Hearsay,” a song written by West and Colbert that turned out to be their biggest hit to date reaching #5 on the R&B chart and #44 on the pop chart.
The Soul Children appeared at the legendary Wattstax concert in Los Angeles in 1972. After a few less successful singles, the group returned to the upper reaches of the charts in 1974. “I’ll Be Your Other Woman” turned out to be their biggest hit, reaching #3 on the R&B chart and #36 on the pop chart.
Storm clouds were hanging over Stax when the Soul Children left the label in 1975. At the same time Bennett, who had sung lead on “I’ll Be Your Other Woman,” changed her name to Shelbra Deane and left the group for a solo career. The remaining trio signed to Epic Records in 1976. They had some success with singles for the label notably the #19 R&B hit “Can’t Give Up a Good Thing” in 1978. During their time at Epic, the Soul Children reunited with Porter who produced an album called Where Is Your Woman Tonight? in 1977. When Stax was resurrected by Fantasy Records in the late 1970s, Porter brought the group back home. Unfortunately, the one album that the group recorded for the newly reconstituted label, Open Door Policy, was not successful and they decided to call it a day in 1979.
The Soul Children put 15 singles into the R&B charts and five on them into the pop chart. When the subject of classic soul comes up they have earned a place in the discussion.
When it comes to the music of John Westmoreland, founder of the band that bears his surname, there’s a lot more to what meets the eye or ears. He was born and raised in North Carolina, and with long locks and a patchy beard, he would not look too out of place on stage with Band of Horses or The Black Crowes. But yet, the singer/songwriter of Finnish heritage studied Jazz and Classical Composition at Berklee College of Music before becoming a founding member and lead guitarist for the West-African fusion band Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba (nominated for “Best African Group” in 2014 by AFRIMA, the All Africa Music Awards). On an Emerging Artists Grant from the Durham Arts Council, he travelled to Peru to study shamanic healing music from Amazonia.
And now, here he is in 2019, far from all those genres dropping a dark, mournful ballad that would make the perfect elegy for Leonard Cohen; Popdose proudly presents the premiere of ‘The Sparrow’ from Westmoreland’s debut album, Cast Fire:
Cast Fire is an album that meditates on life, death, and the realms of the soul. “Grief is an overwhelming, deep, and beautiful state,” Westmoreland said in advance of the album’s release last week. “I don’t think we should take for granted that grieving just happens automatically when sorrowful circumstances arise.”
The death of Westmoreland’s grandfather led him down a genealogy path to discover that T-bone Slim, one of America’s greatest leftist poets and outsider bards, was his great granduncle. Slim, born Matti Valentinpoika Huhta in 1880, spent much of his life writing essays and songs for the Industrial Workers of the World union before dying mysteriously in 1942. In the 1960’s, activists in the Civil Rights Movement took renewed interest in Slim’s work. For his next project, Westmoreland plans to revive Slim’s poetry and music for a new generation.
In the meantime, Cast Fire begins to steadily heat up and turn heads. ‘The Sparrow’ video was directed by Cristal Alakoski; the haunting collaboration features dance and choreography by Laura Pietiläinen in co-creation with Sade Risku and Marika Aro. Those breathtaking, otherworldly dresses that glow like apparitions emerging from David Lynch’s Black Lodge, are by Minna Hepburn.
Cast Fire is available for download or streaming on all major music platforms.
Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode One Hundred Six
As quickly as the boys conclude one installment of Radio City…, the world keeps spinning out of control for Jon and Rob to immediately get on their collective horse and deliver to you another episode. So now, with show #106, Rob and Jon discuss (amongst many topics) the collapse of the AAF before its maiden season concluded; the passing of toaster extraordinaire Ranking Roger; the start of baseball season; the question of $850 million dollars currently unaccounted for by the wife of New York City’s mayor; a brewing bagel controversy in St. Louis, plus “In Our Heads” and a great deal more!
As we always tell you, plan to set time aside and get comfortable as you settle in and join Rob and Jon on another wild conversational ride!
Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode One Hundred Six
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.
As the Broadway season comes to its end Off Broadway…rolls along, to appropriate the title of one of a trio of shows currently playing away from the Main Stem.
The star attraction is Isabelle Huppert, ranting and raving as The Mother. An actress once noted for her stillness in the films of Claude Chabrol and other European auteurs has been getting her freak on recently, in movies like Greta and the Oscar-nominated Elle. She’s unbound and uninhibited once more in Florian Zeller’s play, a companion to The Father, for which Frank Langella won a Tony in 2016.
In that one Langella, stricken with dementia, was attacked by the constantly rearranging set as his memories faded in and out. In The Mother, Huppert attacks Mark Wendland’s set, which as the show opens is dominated by a long and fancy white sofa that seems to cage her. Anne (listed as “The Mother” in the Playbill) will bust out of its confines over its 90 minutes, as the anxieties of empty nest syndrome take its toll on her mental health. Peter, her husband (aka “The Father,” it’s that kind of show), tries to calm her, but his entreaties, coupled with her suspicion that he’ll be cheating on her during his impending business trip, have the opposite effect. Compared to his petite co-star the solid, sheepish Chris Noth is like an oak tree up there on the Atlantic’s stage, yet Anne cuts him down to size with her withering remarks and erratic behavior.
As Anne drinks and pop pills “The Son” (Nicolas, played by Justice Smith) arrives, and mom seeks to possess him, or maybe seduce him. “The Girl” (Odessa Young) then slinks onto the scene, and Anne tries to compete for Nicolas’ affections by wearing the same revealing red dress she’s got on. Well, maybe; it could all be one substance-addled dream, and scenes are replayed from different perspectives, letting Huppert flail about as victim or villain. If all of this sounds weird rest assured that it isn’t, or it isn’t weird enough. There’s something very studied about The Mother, and all that eccentricity, even enacted by a master accompanied by clever lighting cues and projections and other production sleight of hand, becomes repetitive. Freud may be dead, but he and his fixations are unkillable. In a humorous irony the strongest and most mysterious element of the play occurs when its star is sitting on the couch, leafing through a book–which is to say, before The Mother actually begins, so get there early.
After 25 years of theatregoing I’ve finally seen productions of all of Stephen Sondheim’s major musicals. A flop in 1981, Merrily We Roll Along, (whose production and reception are recalled in the 2016 documentary Best Worst Thing That Ever Could Have Happened) eluded me despite a half-life of restagings, culminating (for now) in the Fiasco Theatre’s top-to-bottom “revisal” at the Roundabout. True to its title the troupe has, with Sondheim’s blessing, steamrolled over it, reducing it to one act and a handful of performers, making merry on a Derek McLane set that looks like the furniture shop in Arthur Miller’s The Price, now brimming with showbiz tchotchkes.
Not too merry–this is Sondheim, and the standards the show eventually birthed, including “Not a Day Goes By,” are slotted in amidst a funk of dashed hopes and unrealized ambitions. Based on a Kaufman and Hart play (this production pulled from other versions of the book, by Company scribe George Furth), the show begins in 1980, with self-satisfied movie producer and composer Frank (Ben Steinfeld), drunken critic Mary (Jessie Austrian), and others in their professional and personal circle revealed in all their self-satisfied shallowness. The show then goes back in time, ending in 1957, with the same characters (including lyricist Charley, played by Manu Narayan) enjoying the first flickers of hard-won success in the arts and toasting relationships that we know will corrode over the decades. Sondheim’s rueful “Old Friends” is an elegy to what’s been lost. (Backstage the generations have passed the baton: the show’s new orchestrations and arrangements, for an eight-member ensemble, are by Alexander Gemignani, the son of the show’s original musical director, Paul.)
Under Noah Brody’s direction the show moves quickly–just not fast enough to disguise the thinness of the characterizations, which are at the mercy of the reverse chronology. (Beyond the song “Old Friends” we never get a sense why they were old friends, or lovers; all that registers are the disappointments.) That Fiasco’s players are more aspirational than satisfying as actors and singers magnifies the flaws of this well-meant staging. Sondheim loves puzzles; maybe he’s always intended Merrily We Roll Along to be a musical one, incapable of ever truly being solved.
Courtesy of Classic Stage Company Marc Blitzstein’s The Cradle Will Rock is another one for my growing Glad I Saw That file. It is not, however, an argument for future revisits. Tim Robbins’ film Cradle Will Rock (1999) celebrated the 1937 debut of the show, which was directed by Orson Welles and produced by John Houseman under the auspices of the Depression-era Federal Theatre Project…and shut down by the Works Progress Administration on the eve of its Broadway bow, allegedly due to concern over its radical content. (The show would go on, with the two forming the legendary Mercury Theatre, and would yield the first cast recording in the bargain.)
Its tumultuous history has tended to obscure this “play in music,” an attack on capitalism run amuck, which is infrequently revived. You can see it in other shows: the more user-friendly Hadestown mixes mythology with politics, and Urinetown borrows its satirical elements for outright farce. But the semi-operatic, largely sung-through piece is something of a slog for much of the way, and casting performers in multiple roles doesn’t help. (It really doesn’t help that the characters represent talking points more than actual people.) Subtlety isn’t its strong suit: Foreman (Tony Yazbeck) arrives in Steeltown USA to unionize the workers against Mr. Mister (David Garrison), who from scene to scene uses his “liberty commitee” to devour all of the town’s enterprises, and principles, with handfuls of cash thrown about. Everyone, from the newspaper to the ministry, is on the take; can Foreman and his few allies, including the hooker Moll (Lara Pulver), save Steeltown’s soul?
In its final, more “musical theater” third, this staging begins to take hold, and I was moved by its close. The posturing, however, is hard to shake off, and for too long fine actors like Yazbeck, Pulver, and Rema Webb (who gets the most galvanizing number, an ode to the callously misused called “Joe Worker”) are locked into two dimensions. True to its origins John Doyle, the master minimalist behind revivals of Sweeney Todd and Carmen Jones, has given the show a threadbare, acoustic rendering, too much so: the actors are in rags and a piano works overtime, grinding out rather than accompanying the songs. Stuck in the muck and too rarely aspiring to beauty, this production of The Cradle Will Rock is so pinched even AOC might object.
Starting this weekend, trendy music genres like trap, EDM, trance house, crunk, or whatever the hell else the kids are listening to these days will step aside while their dark overlord, Industrial Music, takes a fast and furious encore in the national zeitgeist. After making its way through the festival circuit for the past year, Julia Nash’s celebrated feature-length documentary, Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records, finally makes its way into home theaters with the official Blu-Ray/DVD release (April 16), and an accompanying soundtrack that’s out this weekend in time for Record Store Day.
Adding to the terror, Ministry will be performing a Wax Trax! era set list at select film screenings in Brooklyn, Toronto, Austin, San Francisco, and Los Angeles; the tour kicks off April 13 at the House of Vans in Chicago. A Q&A with Nash, Al Jourgensen, and other film participants will accompany these events. For people like me who grew up in and survived this era, Wax Trax! tickets are arguably the hottest score of the decade.
While I won’t be in attendance, parenting duties will keep me sleepless in Seattle, I have seen the film and can easily say it is must-see TV – not just for former scenesters, but for their kids who may be shocked to learn their parents were ever this edgy, dangerous, or cool.
Much like how last year’s Bad Reputation told the unlikely (platonic) love story of Joan Jett and her longtime producer/manager/BFF Kenny Laguna; a beautiful love story sets Industrial Accident into motion. The film begins with the discovery of a treasure trove of lost music and artifacts in a run down barn in Hope, Arkansas and steadily makes it way to Denver, then Chicago, and eventually around the world as the relationship between Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher unfolds.
The film nicely fills in a few hundred gaps in my understanding of a scene I was quite obsessed with at the time, but since there was no Internet in the mid to late 1980’s, and acts such as Pailhead, A Popular History of Signs, and Cassandra Complex weren’t splashed on the covers of mags like Smash Hits and No.1, my friends and I pretty much had to rely on fanzines, record store clerks, club DJs, and left of the dial radio hosts to turn us onto these bands.
Were the Revolting Cocks named after a chicken uprising or a nasty phallus? Did KMFDM really have it out for Depeche Mode? Was Wax Trax! Al Jourgensen’s vanity label similar to Prince’s Paisley Park? I need to know! Industrial Accident is the gateway to answering all of these questions and more.
My first taste of industrial music came from WMNF-FM in Tampa, Florida, courtesy of a post punk radio hosts Chris and EJ Ford; I taped their show every week and soon amassed quite the collection of the industrial classics that packed the dance floors on dark wave nights at the London Victory Club and Ybor City ‘s post-apocalyptic Pulse nightclub. By the time I landed at Kent State University in Ohio, Wax Trax! releases were regularly landing on the 1988 and 1989 new release pile at WKSR-AM. The Wax Trax! label alone warranted heavy rotation – if there were radio friendly mixes.
Until this documentary came out, I could not name a single member of KMFDM or Front 242; and while I could name every member of Revolting Cocks, I really had no idea who they were or what they looked like. Industrial Accident puts faces to the names; their first-hand accounts help fully explain how the scene took root and where it all went to hell.
Director Julia Nash (Jim’s daughter) tracks down virtually everyone who is still alive, along with people who inspired Jim and Dannie (members of Dead Kennedys, Bauhaus, and Throbbing Gristle) or those who took inspiration from their store or sonic output (Dave Grohl, Trent Reznor). Reznor, oddly enough, profited most from the scene, harnessing its most visceral and commercial elements into Nine Inch Nails’ debut Pretty Hate Machine.
I went to school with NIN’s founding drummer, Chris Vrenna, and one of my favorite memories was when a bunch of us (I’m pretty sure he was there) went to see Wax Trax! militarist dance band, Laibach, in Cleveland’s Flats district. Word got out in the Slovenian community that a band from the motherland was in town, so peppered into the crowd with the goth kids were elders in authentic garb, ringing bells instead of clapping. Most of them wound up on the dance floor at Lift soon after the show. I am grateful the movie includes Laibach, one of a few Trax-era bands still going strong, for I’ve always wondered just how the hell such a band came to be (Opus Dei is one of my fave albums of the era, featuring “Geburt einer Nation” the world’s most bizarre Third Reich anthem that turns out to be a loving cover of Queen’s ‘One Vision’).
Industrial Accident makes a good companion film to New Order Story and the fictionalized 24 Hour Party People, two movies that told the story of the rise and fall of Factory Records. Sadly, the “we have no contracts” independent spirit of both labels led to their ultimate demise, but this film and its soundtrack remind us of why it all mattered so much anyway.
Ministry’s brief sojourn to Arista Records where they released the dark pop classic, With Sympathy, is briefly alluded to in a blink and you missed it portion of the film – perhaps that story will have to wait for another documentary (suggested title, Without Sympathy: Bat Into Hell). But Uncle Al Jourgensen is front and center in this story, along with former member Paul Barker, to explain how major label money from both that deal and one with Sire Records also gave rise to a ton of the most beloved Wax Trax! acts. One of the most interesting segments in the film tells of a happy accident – collective failure to understand how Al’s pricey Fairlight sequencing machine worked – led to the creation of the propulsive rhythms that made the genre so sinister and danceable.
There’s a quote in the film – I forget who uttered its brilliance – “Nothing ends unless you say its over.” So perhaps, 2019 will usher in a new dawn for Industrial Music. My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult recently dropped a new album (In The House of Strange Affairs) and Meat Beat Manifesto will release Opaque Couché, their second new album in as many years, on May 10. Jourgensen’s metal version of Ministry has been raging against the machines of George W. and Donald J. for two decades now; perhaps this brief tour will re-ignite his desire to produce music angry kids of all ages can dance to. As his acoustic cover of the Dead’s ‘Friend of the Devil’ a while back proved Al can sing as well as he can scream. There’s millions to be made in the sonic ear candy space between Ministry’s early Wax Trax! hits and Pretty Hate Machine, someone’s got to make it, why not the godfather? Side note, writing this up for Popdose inspired me to plunge $80 into Ministry’s 7-disc Trax! Box (worth every penny).
In the meantime, the Industrial Accident soundtrack reminds us why we cared all along. Album highlight “Animal Nation” by Revolting Cocks is given a run for its money by powerful rarities and reissues by Ministry, Mussolini Headkick, KMFDM, Laibach and Thrill Kill Kult. The CD releases promises to include some mystery tracks; I will update this post as soon as I know what they are.
Pick up Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records on Blu-Ray or DVD April 16.