- Name: Charlie
- Location: Brooklyn, NY
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On My Headphones
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On My Shelf
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Friday, May 25, 2007
So it seems kinda bizarre and surreal to think I’ve been working on this project for a year already. One random Thursday in California 365 afternoons ago, I’d had the idea to typing up the contents of a mixtape I’d just compiled and blasting it into cyberspace. What began as a goof, a high-tech storehouse for whatever trivia happened to be pinballing through my brain, quickly evolved into a genuine passion. Tossed-off entries soon stretched into five- or six-hour writing sessions. Newly beholden to something, I’d leave parties early to toil over posts or curtail nights out to browse new albums, the mid-twenties music geek equivalent of getting home to feed your dog.
When I started out, I thought there were maybe fifty music blogs out there. (Elbo.ws currently has over 2,000 registered.) I didn’t know how to upload a file and was near-certain I’d get sued the first time I posted an MP3. Basically, I was finding my way like a drunk in a funhouse. But I did start to slowly learn, gather readers, and even receive a few links along the way. I was even appearing in blurbs on band websites and engaging in unexpected dialogues with other listeners. Even with the hundreds of hours invested, it was turning into a pretty formative experience.
Far and away though, the best aspect of running this blog has been discovering music I’d probably have never encountered otherwise (or at least, not nearly this soon). Among the barrage of offerings that aren’t for me, I’ve found musicians and bands that have gone on to become definitive favorites. I've gotten to share them with anyone willing to listen, essentially penning public fan letters and ardent editorials. Inspired by Music Is Art's first-year look back, I thought I'd revisit some of these favorite first-year finds. Here then is Nerd Litter's guide to the best among the independent, the unsigned, the under-the-radar, and the up-and-coming:
* MP3: "In My Head" - The Ballet
* MP3: "I Hate The War" - The Ballet [Buy it]
* Band Website: The Ballet
* Previously Featured: Mixtape for my sweetheart, the drunk #12, Mixtape for my sweetheart, the drunk #13, The best 30 songs of 2006, The best 30 albums of 2006, Let's get personal: interview with Greg Goldberg, pt.1, Let's get personal: interview with Greg Goldberg, pt. 2
* MP3: "These Words I Write" - Clean Guns from Sometimes There Is Trouble [Buy it]
* MP3: "Regarded As Great (The Setup)" - Clean Guns from Living In Harmony [Buy it]
* Band MySpace: Clean Guns
* Previously Featured: Good clean fun: Clean Guns MP3s, Listening booth #6, Regarded as great: Clean Guns MP3s
* MP3: "Randy" - Hello Damascus from Harvest Dolls
* MP3: "Stafford" - Hello Damascus from Harvest Dolls
* Band MySpace: Hello Damascus
* Previously Featured: PDX Pop Now! 2006, Out in front: Hello Damascus MP3s
* MP3: "See Her, Seer" - Inlets from Vestibule EP
* MP3: "Roots on Sidewalks" - Inlets from Vestibule EP [Download the EP]
* Artist MySpace: Inlets
* Previously Featured: Inlets, Lewis and Clarke, Ola Podrida and Hula @ Union Pool, 2-24-07, Ambling steps: an interview with Sebastian Krueger, pt.1, Ambling steps: an interview with Sebastian Krueger, pt. 2
* MP3: "Dirty Boy" - Kemo Sabe
* MP3: "Snows on Friday" - Kemo Sabe
* Band MySpace: Kemo Sabe
* Previously Featured: Cleanliness is friendliness: Kemo Sabe MP3s
* MP3: "Hetchie Hutchie Footchie" - Mancino from Manners Matter
* MP3: "L'amour (or Less)" - Mancino from Manners Matter [Buy it]
* Band MySpace: Mancino
* Previously Featured: Video Tuesday #27, Two steps to the left: Mancino MP3s, L'amour (or Less) @ Union Hall, 3-3-07
Mas Y Mas
* MP3: "Everybody and Everything" - Mas Y Mas from Latin Outreach EP [Buy it]
* MP3: "SIDS" - Mas Y Mas from Proud Sponsors of Pepsi [Buy it]
* Band MySpace: Mas Y Mas
* Previously Featured: Listening booth #3, Filed under beautiful genius: Mas Y Mas MP3s, Rock so tough: Mas Y Mas MP3s
Photo by Will CalcuttBenoît Pioulard
* MP3: "Palimend" - Benoît Pioulard from Précis
* MP3: "Triggering Back" - Benoît Pioulard from Précis [Buy it]
* Artist Website: Benoît Pioulard
* Previously Featured: The depths and the seashore: interview with Benoît Pioulard, pt. 1, The depths and the seashore: interview with Benoît Pioulard, pt. 2, Video Tuesday #19, The best 30 albums of 2006, Listening booth #2
* MP3: "Guinea Pigs" - Desmond Reed
* MP3: "Who I'd Like To Meet" - Desmond Reed
* Artist MySpace: Desmond Reed
* Previously Featured: Just a really happy guy: Desmond Reed MP3s
* MP3: "The Real World" - Aaron Schroeder from Southern Heart In Western Skin [Buy it]
* MP3: "Jean, I Know You Will" (Demo) - Aaron Schroeder
* Artist Website: Aaron Schroeder
* Previously Featured: Here's your fill: Aaron Schroeder MP3s, Listening booth #7
* MP3: "The Mother and The Colony" - The Shondes
* MP3: "Let's Go" - The Shondes
* Band Website: The Shondes
* Previously Featured: Let's go!: The Shondes MP3s, The Shondes @ Galapagos, 3-30-07
* MP3: "Manhattan '81" - Talkdemonic from Beat Romantic
* MP3: "Mountaintops In Caves" - Talkdemonic from Beat Romantic [Buy it]
* Band Website: Talkdemonic
* Previously Featured: Eardrum symphony: Talkdemonic MP3s, Happy Yom Kippur, Beat romantic: an interview with Kevin O'Connor, The best 30 songs of 2006, The best 30 albums of 2006, PDX Pop Now! 2006, Video Tuesday #33
* MP3: "If We Had Daggers They Would Fly" - Tartufi from Us Upon Buildings Upon Us
* MP3: "It's Not The Wind Chime That's Broken, It's The Wind" - Tartufi from Us Upon Buildings Upon Us [Buy it]
* Band Website: Tartufi
* Previously Featured: Grizzly Bear @ The Independent, 9-29-06, So we are alive: Tartufi MP3s, Tartufi @ Bottom of the Hill, 11-30-06, The best 30 albums of 2006
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Up high and ugly: Xiu Xiu MP3s
|It's all too fitting that Xiu Xiu gets me playing mindgames. After all, this is music that's nothing if not insular, demented, perverted and bipolar, a push-and-pull of psychic and physical scars. For the last week, I've been agonizing and debating over how I should rank the band's five albums-proper and on what criteria. Complicating matters considerably, best to worst doesn't seem to be an adequate metric—it's something more like most manageable to least manageable, or most inflinctive to least inflictive.|
The cause of all this hopscotching and hand-wringing is my recent return to their 2005 effort, La Forêt. It had never made as much of a dent on me as my long-maintained favorite, Fabulous Muscles, or their latest output, The Air Force. There were certainly songs from La Forêt I loved upon contact ("Muppet Face," "Pox") but the album's flow felt too frontloaded and uneven, stilted with too many self-defeatingly slow, bedraggled moments detracting from the surrounding mindfuck-pop.
But two years later, with new ears and in the wake of The Air Force, I'm retracting that criticism. I'm even strongly considering shifting La Forêt into the number two slot of whatever hierarchy I settle on. More and more, it (along with the ever-present Fabulous Muscles) seems like the ideal midpoint between the raw inaccessibility and sonic sadism of debut Knife Play and the kinder, gentler (by admittedly distorted Xiu Xiu standards anyway) resolutions of The Air Force.
Yes, La Forêt has always been prickly and dense, exotic and imposing and immense, everything suggested by its suggestive title. But what I originally viewed as flaws in the flow now sound more like strengths, obstructions and rough patches that prevent it from being fully loved and understood. They contribute the requisite lows to an arc that feels real and sloppy, a true peek into a mind's wilderness. And though I may never rock out to the whispery, clawed-from-the-soul narrative of "Dangerous, You Shouldn't Be Here," it drains me and draws me in enough to make the battering finale of "Yellow Raspberry" all the more explosively ultimate. In other words, the trudgy moments are necessary here as moats to cross or beasts to battle.
In contrast, The Air Force now strikes me as perhaps a little too clean. I loved it for sheathing its pain in pop like a beauty queen's black eye caked in foundation. It made the moments of breakdown and the deviations from a rehearsed script all the more thrilling (take the nonsense end of "Bishop, CA" for one). I loved the way Jamie Stewart's voice quivered on the precipice of tumbling over the edge and how the industrial melodies threatened to shatter inoperably at every twisted turn.
But with some distance, I also wonder if the limited number of actual malfunctions makes The Air Force too digestible. If it's a diagnosis of dressing up the ugliest things in stitches and sequins, it also feels like a closed file, a therapy session cut off after the treatment's worked. La Forêt however isn't interested in disguising the mess so much as letting it spill out. While it may not be nearly as easy to glimpse, it comes off as far more unsolved and unresolved among the two. I still feel the compulsion to pay it visits and (psycho)analyze every traumatic note. I still need to pick up its pieces, pick at its fresh scabs, try to reassemble it into something coherent. If The Air Force is the next-day repackaging of the hurt, La Forêt is the night of. It's the damage and the damager, the wreckage still flying in slow-motion trajectories, the fists and fingers still wrapped around their targets.
* MP3: "Muppet Face" - Xiu Xiu from La Forêt
* MP3: "Yellow Raspberry" - Xiu Xiu from La Forêt [Buy it]
* Band MySpace: Xiu Xiu
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Listening booth #16
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Behind the blog: Shake Your Fist
Shake Your Fist doesn't update everyday, but I still check it everyday. I do it in the hope that there'll be a new entry but also just to browse through the considerable archives. It makes me want to strive harder in my own posts, raising the capacity of my writing, digging up untrod descriptors and newborn metaphors. It makes me want to plunder used CD bins too, excavating obscure finds and little-known wonders to champion. Needless to say, Shake Your Fist has quickly become one of my favorite music blogs, a exemplar of quality in a medium often tagged as sloppy and tasteless. So it was a pleasure to have an opportunity to chat with Amy, the guiding force behind the blog:
Nerd Litter: What was the genesis of Shake Your Fist?
Shake Your Fist: Originally, it was to be a group blog with a group of six of us who went to grad school together. It was going to cover not just music, but books, politics, technology, etc. I always intended to write about music and I became the lead pretty early (like the first week). I was also reading a lot of MP3 blogs at the time, and was particularly inspired by blogs like Spoilt Victorian Child and The Mystical Beast—personal, idiosyncratic blogs like that—and so SYF became an MP3 blog. Jon and Joe stuck around, but over time it has pretty much become my baby.
NL: Where did the title come from?
SYF: Oh God, I hate this question because it's such a meaningless name. It came from a James Merrill poem I happened to be reading at the time. I threw out a bunch of titles to the original group and I think the first choice was Type Slowly—which would have been great! But it appeared at the time to be on reserve by some other bloggers. For the record: I hate the name Shake Your First. But I'm stuck with it now.
NL: James Merrill is one of my favorite poets, so I give it a pass.
SYL: You're kidding! I adore him.
NL: I read his Selected Poetry (1946-1985) pretty incessantly for a while. Did you go to grad school for English then?
SYF: Erm, yes. But I actually wrote my Master's thesis on film. So it was sort of an English/Film degree.
NL: Oh nice. I was going to ask you about this later, but since you've delivered the segue... Tell me a little about your film tastes. I was reading some of your thoughts on Caché and that intrigued me enough to want to know more.
SYF: Yikes! Such a big question. I used to be an utter film geek, starting in high school, through college where I did some student filmmaking and then worked briefly in Hollywood after college (but nothing glamorous). And then some writing about film in grad school. It's weird because I have lost touch with a lot of the film scene but still know the language, if you know what I mean. Some of my favorite filmmakers—Bergman, Renoir, Hitchcock, Mizoguchi, Ozu, Truffaut. Many others. For some reason, I'm blanking on all of the Americans right now.
NL: Kubrick and Scorsese? Those seem to be the cineaste consensus.
SYF: Hmm. Early Scorsese. I wasn't wild about his latest. Kubrick was British, right?
NL: According to IMDB, he grew up in America and then moved to England once his film career started up. So we're both right.
SYF: All right then. No, not a big Kubrick fan.
NL: Oh, and Altman. I love Altman for the most part.
SYF: Some Altman. But Ready to Wear was probably the worst film I ever saw!
NL: That’s absolutely true. I saw that when it came out and I'm still recovering. But then there's Nashville (minus the reporter) and The Player (minus nothing). He just has such a scope and a talent for making an ensemble feel like a universe. What's the last great film you saw?
SYF: I'm extremely critical of film. More so than any form of art. I'd have to say Half Nelson because it's the only recent-ish film that really impressed me. Before that—and this is going back two years now so it should tell you something—Me and You and Everyone We Know. I was actually planning to walk to the bookstore and pick up Miranda July's new collection of short stories today. But it was raining.
NL: Yeah, I was thinking of checking that out too. I have some problems with her work—the usual ones, I’d imagine—but at the end of the day, it's still more affecting than stuff that plays it safe. Where do you find out about the music you post?
SYF: So many channels. I read a lot of blogs, websites, magazines, I troll MySpace (which I pretty much hate but have gotten used to). eMusic is a huge resource. I'm always checking out the new additions and have found a number of good things that way. But finding music is the thing I dislike most about writing this blog. I don't post about 75% of the music I listen to either because I find it has already been covered extensively elsewhere, it's on a major label or it's something I don't have the vocabulary to write about.
NL: What's one of the things you don't have the vocabulary to write about?
SYF: Oh, for example, I'd love to be able to talk about John Coltrane’s Giant Steps and why I find it so moving. But I don't know how to talk about jazz.
NL: I’m still sometimes intimidated by instrumental electronic music. Not that I can't write about that, but just the sense I won't really nail how I feel or what it does. Just kind of flutter around it.
SYF: Oh yes. I'm getting better with electronica, but it's still a challenge.
NL: What are some of your posts that still stick out in your mind as particularly successful?
SYF: I'm the worst person to ask this question. I'm pretty dissatisfied with the vast majority of the things I post. I love the process of writing. It's pretty much the only reason I keep blogging. But I always get this sinking feeling when I read back what I've written. One of the few posts I feel almost completely satisfied with was something I wrote about a year ago on Fleetwood Mac. It was sort of this weird fusion of personal history, band history, song analysis and a bunch of other stuff. And a couple of months ago, I wrote a post on a song called "Flatland" by Red Leaf Black Bird that sort of represents a lot of what I'm trying to do these days with SYF. I was attempting to not only explain how I interpreted the song but also to evoke its mood and rhythms and stark sense of space. And, of course, I'm always pleased when I can toss in a film reference!
NL: Do you ever go back and edit old posts? I find myself doing that to a ridiculous degree.
SYF: I edit when something’s a few hours old, occasionally when it's a few days old. After that, I really can't bear to reread.
NL: That's kind of surprising. I think you're probably the best music blog writer. Writer in terms of actual writing.
SYF: That's very sweet of you. I'm very hard on myself. People who know me know this and they learn to ignore it.
NL: You referred to the Clientele's guitar lines as “inky.” I loved that and was also jealous.
SYF: Yes, but they are.
NL: What is your background in writing? And does poetry have much to do with it? Because there's definitely a very present poetic quality in there.
SYF: Well, I've always written. It came to me very naturally from the time I learned to put pen to paper. I used to do more creative writing—short stories, poetry—in school and college. I've worked as a financial writer/editor for the past ten years. It's not exactly creative, but it pays better than poetry! The blog is my outlet for more challenging, imaginative stuff. I love language and as SYF has progressed, it's gone from more standard blog writing to more, I don’t know, sound-oriented writing. If that makes sense. I often sacrifice sense for sound. If choosing between two words where one is more “right” and the other mellifluous, I'll take the pretty one every time.
NL: It's like you're writing music instead of words.
SYF: Aw, thanks! That's a great compliment. I hope so.
NL: How long does it take you to assemble an average post?
SYF: I've written posts in as little as fifteen minutes. That's the exception. Most take at least a couple if not many hours. I usually have five or six going in the queue and then generally scrap at least half of them before they make it to the page.
NL: Let's talk a little about albums. What's the last album you've been obsessed with?
SYF: My fave album so far this year is Frightened Rabbit's Sing the Greys—catchy, charming, ambitious. I can't get away from it. Oh, Pantha Du Prince’s This Bliss is astonishingly beautiful. Can't get away from it either. All weekend I've been listening to the latest (hopefully the last!) Elliott Smith collection. What about you?
NL: Well I’ve been writing pretty intensively so I finally went ahead and got Endtroducing… on MP3 and my iPod. I'd been missing that album like a runaway dog since I’m never home and I never listen to CDs anymore. What about an album that you’re surprised you like?
SYF: One that I find so unlikely is Miranda Lambert's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. I'm not exactly a commercial country girl. I may even post a song and write about it if I dare tempt a cease-and-desist from Sony.
NL: Yeah, that album is getting lots of love everywhere I look.
SYF: Because it's good!
NL: I believe it but I'm still just not sure I enjoy the genre even when it’s good. I will give it a try though. We both picked Ys as our top album of 2006. How has that album settled with you nine months later?
SYF: I still love it, of course. But it's not the kind of thing you can listen to every day. If you had told me a year ago that I would choose an album by Joanna Newsom as my favorite of 2006, I would’ve thought you were smoking crack. So I'm still kind of worried about overdosing on her. Like maybe I’ll break the spell? What about you?
NL: I've actually been listening to it through this interview. It's a strange creature, because I did literally listen to it every day when I lived in San Francisco. I'd wander the woods and the parks, and it made everything seem magical and fantastic. In New York, I need to find these pockets of quietude to listen to it. I can't listen to it unless I'm only listening to it and not traffic and subways shuddering and people yelling. But yeah, when I can find those little pockets, I find myself loving it more than ever. It's the closest thing to a portal I have to some other planet. Indie Narnia. How is it living in Chicago vis-à-vis being a music blogger? Or even a music listener?
SYF: Place is so important to how I listen to music. And I think it's because I hear things so differently when there's traffic in the background than when there are birds chirping. Even the quality of the air makes a difference in how things sound. Chicago comes though my posts in subtle ways, I think. For some reason, I talk about geography a lot (still not sure what's behind that). I don't talk a lot about Chicago bands, though, because frankly I don't hear a lot I like. But the city informs my moods and sensitivity to certain types of sounds. I never really liked alt-country/Americana before I lived in the Midwest. But it sort of makes sense here.
NL: Did you grow up there?
SYF: No, I grew up in Salt Lake City mostly (we lived in Europe a bit too). But my parents and endless generations are from here and I visited Chicago every summer growing up. I've lived here now for more than twelve years so I guess it's home. Though I should add, in many ways I still feel like a Westerner.
NL: I don't know what I feel like, other than I think I want to move somewhere else again. Everything in New York feels too familiar and obvious. Although I am probably the only person who says that.
SYF: Yes! That's something that gets me itchy too. I lived in L.A. right out of college and loved it. I think about going back.
NL: I'm tired of New York and you love Los Angeles. We're such iconoclasts. What are you listening to right now? Literally, I mean.
SYF: This is going to shock you, but I'm not listening to music. Just the sound of my typing, random cars, my cat making little sleepy noises.
NL: Same here, except substitute cat for dog, jingles emanating from my roommates’ TV and Ys. What aspects of music blogs do you not like and what would you like to see more music bloggers doing?
SYF: I'm disappointed that more bloggers don't write about the music they post. Really write about it. Try to examine why it has meaning for them and what that meaning is. I think a lot of newer blogs model themselves after some big blogs (we all know which ones) that became big for postings the Hot! New! Thing! and press releases and concert dates and so on. I wish more would try to emulate the more “writerly” blogs (and again, we know which ones these are). I dislike blogs that seem to exist simply to post long MP3 lists that are little more than aggregator bait. I dislike blogs that post full albums (obvs!). I wish more blogs would write not just about new releases but also records that are a couple or a dozen or even thirty years old.
NL: Part of the problem is that of course music bloggers love music, but they don’t consider the need to also be good designers, good writers, good editors, good researchers, good tech guys. There are so many more elements and skills involved than I realized and more than most people can excel at.
SYF: Yes, of course. Most MP3 bloggers are fundamentally fans, not critics, not writers. I fully admit that my expectations are too high and that I come at this from a different angle than a lot of bloggers.
NL: Why do you pair photos or pieces of art with the writeups?
SYF: Sometimes I post album covers, sometimes unrelated art. Depends on my mood. I started hating the look of band promo pics. Most of them are so ugly!
NL: Ha, that's as good an answer as any. What about books? You strike me as a reader. What are you interested in other than the aforementioned Miranda July?
SYF: I can't imagine where you got that from. You want my fave authors or what I'm reading now?
NL: Let's say both.
SYF: Well, I just finished one of Alice Munro's more recent collection, Runaway, and was reminded of why she's probably the greatest living short story writer (unless Grace Paley's still alive and she might be). But I'm not even sure Munro is writing short stories, because her writing is so miraculous and impossible to wedge into a niche. Other favorite writers: Joan Didion (I would kill to write a single sentence like she does on her worst day), Ian McEwan, Dreiser, Fitzgerald, Nancy Mitford, Lydia Davis, Geoff Dyer, a couple of crime writers—Ian Rankin, James Lee Burke—poets like Johns Donne and Milton, Emily Dickinson, Yeats, Rilke, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, historian David Hackett Fischer, Marxist geographer Mike Davis... I could go on and on.
NL: I picked Runaway for my book club last year. It led to a pretty spirited debate.
SYF: Really? How so?
NL: I was called upon to defend my appreciation of it.
SYF: That's insane.
NL: Well, she's a pretty subtle and intimate writer. Also not to a lot of people's tastes I would imagine, especially if you're not interested in women coming of age in Canada.
SYF: I can think of no other living writer capable of saying so much in a single sentence. But what she writes about hardly matters. It's the way she does it. You remind me that I've had such difficulty finding a compatible book club. Most people don't want to read critically. I just discussed Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking with a book club and all anyone wanted to talk about for an hour was all the people they know who died. Gah!
NL: That's like the people who only want to agree with or condemn the decisions of characters in stories rather than engage with the writing itself. If you could trade, what recent album or new artist would you give more attention to and what recent album or new artist would you take attention away from?
SYF: I think Julie Doiron's new album is just wonderful and isn't getting much credit for it. The Pitchfork review anyway was rather lousy. Essie Jain's gorgeous record has also fallen under the radar and deserves some celebration. Overrated? Dan Deacon's okay but some folks seem to take him as the second coming. That seems exaggerated. I don't hate on a lot of new artists though. They're usually just as surprised by the attention as the rest of us. I generally reserve my animosity for bands like, oh, the Decemberists.
* MP3: "Be Less Rude" - Frightened Rabbit from Sing The Greys [Buy it]
* MP3: "Asha" - Pantha du Prince from This Bliss [Buy it]
* MP3: "Glory" - Essie Jain from We Made This Ourselves [Buy it]
Video Tuesday #36
Pawa Up First
"Dundas, Ontario" (Remix)
"The Ghost of You Lingers"
"Smells Like Content"
Friday, May 18, 2007
Ambling steps: an interview with Sebastian Krueger, pt. 2
|Part two of my interview with Sebastian Krueger:|
(Part one is here.)
NL: Where does the Inlets name come from?
SK: When I started to write, I wanted an introspective quality in there. Of course, I had to cut out a lot of the tendencies to be very obviously introspective, because I didn’t want to beat people over the head with it. And maybe it is a hammer-like metaphor, but it’s just about finding ways inside. I’m sure that Vestibule sprang out of that idea a little bit too. Also, I like the idea of an inlet as an entrance. I think that’s the most important part of any structure or project. It’s the introduction; it’s the foundation for what you’re going to be seeing.
NL: I thought it was cool too, and wondering if maybe it was intentional, that there are so many good anagrams for the word. You have “listen” and “silent” most relevantly, but also “tinsel” and “intels” and “enlist.” Those five.
SK: Oh wow, I’ve never thought of that.
NL: I kind of automatically anagram everything I see. I’m like the Rain Man of words. Are you looking to get a label?
SK: Yeah. That’d be sweet. Yeah.
NL: What does that process involve?
SK: I actually don’t know yet. It might involve the influence of the friends you have or maybe simply writing to people and waiting for someone to approach me. I haven’t really started thinking about that. Especially for the first album, I didn’t want to waste a lot of time waiting for somebody to pick it up, because nobody knows who the hell I am or why they should care. I actually appreciate it, because people lent their ears who otherwise wouldn’t do it if I asked them to pay money. If I end up releasing the next album on the Internet too, that’d be fine with me in the abstract, but of course, I would love to be able to do this with the means to do it completely. Unfortunately, that has to do with money and support and publicity and booking. That’s the least interesting part of the process for me, but I’m going to have to start thinking about it more.
NL: How do you feel about the touring aspect?
SK: Man, I can be divisive about any issue.
NL: Let me rephrase then. Do you like touring?
SK: I haven’t done it yet.
NL: You didn’t go on tour with My Brightest Diamond?
SK: No, Shara tends to tour so lightly. The group is her, bass and drums. That’s it usually. I play with her whenever possible though. I see that lifestyle of touring to be kind of harsh. I see how hard it is for people to deal with. But right now, I do want to do that. I want to see how it strikes me. I want to meet people and travel and play music. That sounds amazing, but then the day-to-day burdens can be pretty overwhelming so I’m not entirely sure.
"Shara and I found each other
in this musical dream. We were
in an alley... and our faces touched."
NL: You talk a lot about insularity and isolation in making your music and then you have the concept of touring. It’s kind of a clash.
SK: Yeah. Maybe this stuff now will lay a foundation for a better time later, getting the opportunity to play your songs and show them to people. But then I have friends who have gone on tour and they don’t have apartments anywhere. They don’t live anywhere. And it’s not as though you necessarily break even. Sometimes, it costs money to tour. It can be pretty harrowing and you’re away from the people you’re in love with and your friends and you don’t know anyone.
NL: But the groupies…
SK: Oh, right. They’re super-fulfilling.
NL: (Laughs.) You don’t have any groupies yet?
SK: No, no, no. (Laughs.)
NL: What are your least favorite aspects of making music?
SK: Well, the hardest part for me is being a performer. I don’t feel like a natural performer. I really like it and sometimes I get close to feeling that sting that people talk about when they’re playing music and feel good about it. But more often than not, it’s an effort. I feel like more like a thinker than an entertainer right now, but I’ll get better at that. That’s the one thing that’s really under my skin, how I can be a better performer. But man, there are a lot of things that suck about making music.
NL: What else? The business aspect?
SK: There’s a problem about making any art and maybe it’s just me being somewhat neurotic, but I have a tendency to question the merit of anything that I’m doing. Whether something is good or bad and sometimes you end up feeling good or bad based on how other people talk about it. Then I have to think about whether that should be valid. (Laughs.) It’s this never-ending cycle of self-criticism and doubt. That’s hard to deal with, but that can also be really rewarding too, when you’re not sure and you take that leap and something gets a good response. Those are the two things that are under my skin right now. And I’m in the middle of recording and in two days, we’re going to film… you know La Blogothèque?
NL: Yeah, definitely. The Concerts à Emporter?
SK: Yeah, we’re going to do one of those. I’m looking forward to it a lot.
NL: Where are they going to film you? Will it be like a bathroom or an elevator shaft?
SK: We’re debating it right now. We’re trying to figure it out… I don’t want to give it away.
NL: I’ll look out for it when it comes out then. What are some of the books you’ve been reading recently?
SK: I’m reading a lot about religion lately.
NL: Are you trying to switch?
SK: No, I don’t have one, which is the way I like it. It’s such a curious phenomenon to me that I’m trying to wrap my head around.
NL: What are you reading about specifically?
SK: I’ve been reading a lot about the history of Islam and I’m reading some atheist philosophy. Clearly, one resonates more with me than the other, but it’s all so fascinating. It’s such an all-consuming thing and I guess I’m just trying to understand it more.
NL: What about your background more generally? Where did you grow up?
SK: I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin.
NL: A nice liberal hub.
SK: Yeah. Hence my job at the civil rights organization.
NL: What brought you to Brooklyn then?
SK: I went to NYU before so I ended up moving to Brooklyn when I got out of school, which was two years ago. I majored in History and minored in Music.
NL: I thought you were going to say English or maybe Creative Writing, because your lyrics are very poetic and studied.
SK: Lyrics are such a weird territory for me, because I don’t have any training in poetry. It’s all just gut-level stuff. I don’t know how to evaluate that. I just know what I like. I spent so many years listening to music and kind of ignoring the lyrical content because I was so much more interested in the mechanics of playing music on instruments. I still feel like lyrics are something I’m finding my way through.
NL: That’s interesting because I was originally drawn into your songs because of the lyrics.
SK: That’s awesome though. I’m glad.
NL: Whereas the music I felt was kind of average to poor. (Laughs.) What is your writing process like? Do you carry around a notebook and jot down lines as they occur?
SK: No. That I don’t do. Lyrics usually come from a harmonic idea. Something I end up finding on the guitar or the piano that I want to put together, something that strikes me in a certain way. Whatever mood that ends up evoking is where I end up going lyrically. Occasionally, I’ll sit down and know what subject I want to write about. More often than not, it just happens with notes and melodies first. It’s really awful when artists talk about “The music found me. I didn’t create it” but if ever that happens, it’s probably because of that.
"[It's] a constant struggle not
to feel like I'm ruining
NL: Right. How did playing with My Brightest Diamond come about?
SK: It’s so awful how nerdy the answer to this question is. Craigslist. You’d love it to be like, Shara and I found each other in this musical dream. We were in an alley and we heard each other playing music and it drew us near each other and our faces touched and we knew it was meant to be. I wish it were something like that.
NL: Can we just claim that’s the answer?
SK: Sure, Shara won’t care, even though she’s married and I just said that stuff about our faces touching.
NL: (Laughs.) I’m sure her husband will know it was a wholesome and platonic face-touching. What is it like to play with her?
SK: I have two answers to that one. There’s one that’s based on me being neurotic and there’s the one that’s the honest truth. The one about me being neurotic is playing with My Brightest Diamond is a constant struggle for me not to feel that I’m ruining something beautiful. The other answer is that it’s amazing. It’s beautiful music. If you know Shara, you just want to have everything to do with Shara. Every time I get to play with her, it’s exciting as hell. I love it. Even though my role is really spare, because there’s got to be room for all of these other nuances in there, it’s still so fulfilling to be a part of that energy. I’m very, very sad that I’m not on the road with them. The flipside of that though is the last thing I want to do is gank a note or have my guitar sound too harsh or get in the way of the vocal. And that takes a lot of effort, because the focus of Shara’s music is her voice and my stuff is just a jamble, jumbling sounds on top of each other. Putting as many notes in a chord as I can is the way I want to go. For her, everything has to leave room for the voice. But it’s learning, it’s education. I don’t play as a sideperson too often, but it’s really good to have that education when it comes around.
NL: So is it difficult to transition from frontman to side project?
SK: There are different problems with each. One is being the focal point and feeling really uncomfortable being the center of everything and telling other people what to do. The other one is being uncomfortable being responsible for other people's music. I don't know if I see more or less difficulty in transitioning between the two. They both can make a guy like me pretty stressed.
NL: It's admirable though that you put this much thought into what you do and that you hold yourself to such high standards. There are plenty of people who’ll just say anything that comes to mind, like, say, pretty much anyone who posts on a message board or even runs a blog.
SK: (Laughs.) Yeah, I hope so. But I’m sure the people who don’t like my music wouldn’t say that.
NL: I don’t think so. They might say they don’t like your music, but they couldn’t claim that it’s thoughtless or one-offed.
SK: Good. Thank you. I made a lot of conscious choices with it. Like you can hear someone washing dishes in the background in certain parts of my song. I didn’t want to spend forever trying to get a perfectly clean feel. Some people may define that as careless, but really, I just ended up not caring.
NL: (Laughs.) I think that’s pretty much the definition of careless.
SK: Oh right, I see. That was a poor rebuttal on my part.
NL: How long does it take you to write a song?
SK: Forever. But sometimes, they come out real quickly.
NL: Are you talking about music or lyrics now or both?
SK: Again, it’s variable. For some reason, when I did the song “You Are An Effigy,” that came out really fast. I knew what I wanted to write about. That made it very easy to come up with something quickly. Right now, I have twenty fragments of songs and I need to pick one and hunker down and really finish. That can be really terrible in some ways too, because I can be happy with that sketch but if I’m not finding the way forward, I don’t want to kill it. And I don’t want to, just for the sake of being productive, destroy what’s possible with it. So right now, I feel like it’s taking forever. But I’m having too much of an existential crisis about what kind of sound I’m going to have and all that stuff. This is the most neurotic interview I’m hopefully ever going to give.
NL: My interview with Woody Allen was way more neurotic. You’re in second place though. What did you listen to in high school?
SK: I listened to a ton of Beatles, which I’m so proud of, but I know everybody says that. And I think I had typical high school fare, which was Beatles and Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Would it be weird if I admit that in middle school, I was really into Alice in Chains? And I still think that guy is one of the most amazing singers. I don’t know that I still love their music though.
NL: Layne Staley.
SK: Right. He had something going on.
NL: Yeah. Heroin.
SK: (Laughs.) Angst and heroin. Actually, I was trying to think about that, because at some point, I knew someone would ask me about my influences—
"Ultimately, this is the time in
your life when you're supposed
to do stupid stuff"
NL: Not me.
SK: I know. But that question is so hard, because I admire so many people. But the minute I think about it, I forget all their names, who they are and why I cared. Now I can’t even think of any that occurred to me on the way over here. Like, I love Tom Waits. Tom Waits is incredible… I don’t know…
NL: Relax, you’re agonizing over a hypothetical question. And if it makes you feel any better, I listened to Jewel in high school.
SK: Jewel! Oh no! I never went that way.
NL: It was a dark chapter.
SK: I checked out “Who Will Save Your Soul?” recently, and I was astonished at the amount of tongue that she’s swallowing when she sings. It’s crazy! I don’t even remember the song sounding like (imitates Jewel singing badly).
NL: Well, she was never in boys’ choir.
SK: Oh my God, that would help… Now I’m thinking about how dirty that thing I just said about Jewel could come off. Swallowing a lot of tongue.
NL: I think that’s pretty tame for my blog actually.
SK: Well, I just hope that it’s clear I meant her own tongue.
NL: (Laughs.) That’s going to be a pull quote right there.
SK: Feel free to use that as a pull quote.
NL: I noticed that a lot of your press materials note your Brooklyn residence. Do you think that it factors into the songs?
SK: Sometimes, I feel like there’s Brooklyn architecture in the music. I don’t know what that means entirely, but I know there were many summer days of watching weird, washed-up Brooklyn buildings on the way home to go back to my room and record stuff. I feel some of that aesthetic when I listen to the CD. And I’m not trying to crap on Brooklyn at all, but there’s something rundown about this place.
NL: Absolutely, it’s artistic for better or worse. And so my last question is what’s coming up next for you? Do you’ll think quit the job and hit the road?
SK: Ultimately, this is the time of your life when you’re supposed to do stupid stuff. And maybe it’s stupid to quit your day job and go on tour and be financially insecure, but I am looking forward to doing all of that. Hopefully.
Check out Inlets playing at Prince George Ballroom on June 15th. Details here.
Download the entire Vestibule EP here.
* MP3: "Roots on Sidewalks" - Inlets from Vestibule EP
* MP3: "Threads" - Inlets from Vestibule EP
* MP3: "Sunfed Shapes" - Inlets from Vestibule EP
* MP3: "You Are An Effigy" - Inlets from Vestibule EP
* Artist MySpace: Inlets
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Ambling steps: an interview with Sebastian Krueger, pt. 1
NL: All right, so what is a typical day in your life like?
Inlets is the whiskers of steam rising up from a mug of tea, curling up into your nostrils and circulating through your system. It's the driftwood of city nights and the ephemera of love pinned down and preserved like scrapbook wildflowers. It's the yellowed margins of a poet's notebook set to miniature symphonies and one-man orchestras. Inlets is also Sebastian Krueger, a bedroom architect of songs that are uniformly gifted, intimate, restorative and gentle. Since releasing the enchanting Vestibule for free last year, he's gained a good deal of much-warranted attention for his work. As he prepares his follow-up album, he's certain to gain yet more, because Inlets is also the sound of great potential and even greater talent.
Here's part one of my conversation with Krueger:
SK: It depends. On a weekday, I’ll go to my day job at a civil rights organization. The day job is a source of tons of internal conflict because I would love to have more time to do music. But in terms of finding a way to survive, I really appreciate working there because I value the work that we’re doing. So my weekdays are pretty much taken up with that. And then in the evenings, if I can find some time to write or record or screw around or practice, I will. But my weekends are now the prime musical time, because right now I’m trying to write and record as much as possible, so weekends are pretty much in my bedroom. Feeling isolated and lonely and crazed in the warm glow of the computer is not a comfort, but you know—
NL: It’s amazing how much like a blogger you sound like.
SK: Oh no, really?
NL: Yeah, it’s essentially the same. Write in your bed, absorb some laptop radiation, hopefully go to work, write some more.
SK: But that’s not to suggest that there’s an absence of getting out of the house. I’m sure you have the same conundrum because when you describe things that way, people start to think you hate it.
NL: No, I mean, obviously it’s a passion. You’re there because it’s something you feel compelled to do.
SK: Exactly, exactly. You’re laying a foundation for things to come. It’s always terrible to record things—it can make you crazy—but you forget about that when the song is done. Especially if you’re in your own room, you don’t even feel like you went anywhere to divide up the day. It’s not as though you went to the studio and you’re recording. You’re working in the same place that you woke up.
NL: It’s cheaper though.
SK: Oh yeah, totally, I love it. But sometimes it can feel like you didn’t do anything with your day no matter how productive you are.
NL: What do you do for the civil rights organization?
SK: My job is kind of unsexy. I work in the membership department, so I end up communicating with a lot of crazy people. Once you start getting into the realm of politics, people are crazy and they will call you and freak out. Or they’ll write you and freak out and you have to address all those issues. It’s a lot of nuts-and-bolts administrative stuff and correspondence and things like that, but those crazy people can make it a little more interesting. At least you’re not punching in numbers the whole time.
"I wanted to get back to
singing and saying something
and actually feeling vulnerable."
NL: There is that. What does your new music sound like?
SK: I think it sounds a little bit more aggressive. I don’t know why. I’m interested in exploring that a little more.
NL: Do you think the crazy people are having their effect?
SK: Yes! There’s also a lot of frustration in living in Brooklyn and working all the time, things like that. No, I don’t know. Of course, you don’t want to write something that sounds the same as this thing you finished. I enjoy a lot of the innate qualities of the other thing and that will certainly be in the new stuff. But at least the stuff that I’m experimenting with right now, I want to be able to test the limits of what I can do in my bedroom.
NL: Right. The stuff that you’re recording now, is it just you or are you bringing other people in?
SK: I will bring other people in. Right now, it’s just me. I’ll probably use some strings, so I’ll probably use some of the string players from My Brightest Diamond. I haven’t officially asked any of them yet…(Laughs.)
NL: No worries. They’ll find out when they read this.
SK: But I’ll use them and I’ll probably try to put some horns on it. It might also include a variety of brass instruments. I don’t know where I’ll get those. It’s usually whatever strikes me later on. I would love to include as many of the people who help me play live as I can too, but sometimes it’s a little redundant if they’re just playing things that I’m already tracking myself. We’ll see. Also, I have friends who work in the electronic music field and I’d love to include a little—I’m bad with the terminology—maybe some glitch percussion stuff. I’d be curious to experiment with digital percussion and noise and error and things like that.
NL: How did your band come about?
SK: I had ignored that part of myself for a while. I was practicing a lot of jazz and I had a weird jazz group going on. I really liked it but it wasn’t—maybe this is a fault of my rearing—as direct as I wanted it to be. Clearly, there’s something more direct about saying something in lyrics. And I had sung when I was a kid. Part of it is that it’s easier to not feel embarrassed or vulnerable if you’re just playing something on the guitar. If it’s obscure music where you feel people who don’t like it just don’t get it. Eventually, I got around to deciding that I wanted to get back to singing and saying something and actually feeling vulnerable. It just started with experimenting with some newly acquired recording gear in my bedroom and I liked it so much that I haven’t really done much with my other group in a while. I’m not even sure if they’re alive anymore.
NL: (Laughs.) Where did you sing when you were young?
SK: I was in boys’ choir. (Laughs.) Boys’ choir. I don’t know why that’s funny to me. There’s something a little dorkish about it, I guess, but it was amazing. We traveled around and sang and went to Japan and England among other places.
NL: Sounds like a good time. Going back to what you were saying before about how your new music sounds more aggressive than Vestibule, do you think part of that’s an effect of the live performances? When I saw Inlets live, you were louder and fuller-sounding that I expected you to be.
SK: I remember reading that, but I don’t know if that was by virtue of just playing all this plugged-in stuff and the fact that the drummer I play with now is kind of a loud guy. But I have been thinking more about playing live. It’s weird because I don’t think you can actually play some of those songs the way that I recorded them, with the same interpretation. Like the band Grizzly Bear, their album Yellow House is this beautiful acoustic, for the most part, exercise and it’s incredible. But when you see them live, their show is so different. And I’m learning the benefits of that every time I play. At the show that you saw, there’s so much I want to do differently from that even live, because it’s a very different medium. You have to do some things to be readable, and I mean that rhythmically too. I’m not sure all the finger-picking elements that happened on the recording translated well live. I want to expand on things like that and it’s just naturally evolving that way. So maybe some of the louder stuff was a result of that, wanting to have a presence onstage and not be super-inward.
"I was sitting with it...
wondering whether anybody
would give a crap."
NL: What are you listening to you now?
SK: Right now, I’m obsessed with this band called Department of Eagles.
NL: [Grizzly Bear guitarist] Dan Rossen’s other band.
SK: Yeah. He and my friend Fred [Nicolaus] are that band. It’s weird because Fred gave me the album that they’re working on now months and months ago and I can’t stop listening to it. It’s so good. I feel very similar in a lot of ways to some of the stuff that they’re doing. Not to say that my stuff sounds like it either, but, I mean, I get it. I know what they’re doing. That’s on my iPod all the time. That and I’ve been really into Erik Satie lately.
NL: What about when you listen to Vestibule now? Are you still happy with everything on there?
SK: I don’t think I’ve ever been really happy with it, only because I’m kind of crazy. You make yourself crazy evaluating it over and over again. One of the reasons I put it up for free—
NL: Wait. That question’s still on deck!
SK: I thought this was my freshman effort and I’m totally proud of it but I also don’t want to overhype what it is compared to what I want it to be. So I’m totally happy with what it is and what it’s doing, but at a certain point, I was sitting with it, listening to it a lot and wondering whether anyone would give a crap or whether it was good enough or whether I should keep working on it. Those voices will just end up censoring any output that people have if they listen to them too hard. So I try just to like it now. Or I do like it. That’s the short answer. (Laughs.)
NL: What are some of your favorite songs on there?
NL: Or most successful songs, let’s say.
SK: Oh, I don’t know. (Laughs.) I don’t know why that question is embarrassing. It shouldn’t be. Maybe I’m easily embarrassed.
NL: Wait till you hear some of the other questions.
SK: (Laughs.) I don’t know why you’re asking me. I’m weird.
NL: You can pass…
SK: No, I don’t want to. I’m trying to think… It’s weird because they all sound like different styles to me. Each track sounds like a different style of music, and they’re all useful exercises for me. In every way. Not to sound too corny, but emotionally and artistically and technically and sonically. They’re all different exercises so it’s hard for me to pick one. That’s a terrible answer, because everybody’s going to say that.
NL: No, people usually pick.
SK: For me, maybe it’s because I’m not in a democratic band so I do feel like I own everything. Maybe in other bands, people feel like one song strikes them more because it’s more of them. I don’t know what it is. I’m going to have to think about that.
NL: Okay. My roommate Jason told me to tell you that his favorite is “See Her, Seer.” I’ve been listening to the EP around the apartment all week and that’s the one that he always mentions when it comes on.
SK: Oh really? Did he say why?
NL: No. I’ll have to get back to you.
SK: Okay. But that’s cool.
NL: You sound surprised.
SK: No… No, it’s just cool that people are even posing that question to themselves. If I were to propose a theory as to why he likes that song more, maybe it’s because that song has a narrative to it and a lot of the other ones are more impressionistic lyrically. That song actually (sort of) has a beginning, middle and an end and it’s about a specific character, whereas some of the others are just really ambiguous brushstrokes.
NL: I’ll check if that’s it. But I know that he also really likes the vocals in the chorus. What kind of response have you gotten from releasing the EP and what is your response to the response?
SK: I think it’s gotten a really good response. I’m sure it’s a cliché answer for people who are starting out a project like me, but it feels weird and awesome that anybody is listening. Of course, I would love for it to land me something concrete. Like because of this effort, I can quit my day job. But no, it did exactly what I wanted it to do, which is lay the foundation for what kind of style I am and what I want to be saying and spread my name. And in the future if I have more polished output, there might be a home for it somewhere.
"The last thing I want is to
be the Rolling Stones."
NL: Do you know when your new record will be done?
SK: Hopefully, I’d like to be done with it by the end of June. I’m going to try to travel a little bit this summer and play some shows and it’d be great to have that with me and play that material more.
NL: Does it have a name yet?
SK: No, no, it’s super-early. I just have tens of sketches and I’m trying to assemble them and put them in some order.
NL: I just felt bad continually calling it “the new record” if it has a name already.
SK: Right. I’m thinking of calling it Vestibule II. Maybe I’ll call it The Foyer.
NL: And your greatest hits could be The Attic.
SK: So awful. But yeah, I just want to have something that sounds big. I want to be able to draw from a huge spectrum of styles. One of the reasons that I like Vestibule and I think it sounds characteristic of something—someone called it “wobbly chamber music” once and I thought that was kind of appropriate—is because it’s me doing this really imperfect thing on imperfect instruments with imperfect mic placement. Maybe I haven’t changed my guitar strings in a year. All those things I’m not really concerned with as much. Somehow, they give it its shape. But with the new thing, I’d like to have a wider sound. I want the element there, I want it to sound like me screwing around on a toy piano in my bedroom, but I also would love moments on there that are totally surprising and big.
NL: From the vestibule to the whole house.
SK: (Laughs.) Yeah. It’s going to be a skyscraper.
NL: Are there any musicians or artists whose career trajectories you’d like to emulate?
SK: A lot of my friends, not to say that it’s been easy for them. But Shara [Worden] from My Brightest Diamond, she put a lot of time and thought into her album and that album said exactly what she wanted it to. That’s really admirable. I’m sure I sound kind of hasty from my descriptions about not caring about excellence when I’m recording, but that’s super-admirable. I think her plan for it, just to play and enjoy it, and her spirit are really positive. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been hard. Being on the road all the time is taxing, but she did it really wonderfully. If you’re going to talk about someone bigger and more long-term, Tom Waits is amazing. He’s been around forever and he’s still producing incredible music. I guess he’s got a sound, but he keeps stretching the definition of what Tom Waits music sounds like. I love it; it’s incredible. And I think the dude has a family and he lives in California…
NL: Yeah, his son Casey plays the drums with him.
SK: That’d be great. The last thing I want is to be the Rolling Stones. I’d hate to be this giant tour machine, where you’re still playing the same song you wrote thirty years ago. It just doesn’t interest me. And I know some people who are trying to go this very commercial route with their music and want to be around for a long time, because they’re going to find a niche and ram a knife into that niche and hang on for dear life. I don’t think they really care about their art that much and I’m not sure what their goal is, to play music like that. I’m sure they’d be happy to have a gigantic Stones-like career in fifty years. That sounds gross to me. I’d prefer to play a small coffeehouse for five people and my music isn’t bland. That’d be cool.
Part two of the interview coming tomorrow...
Check out Inlets playing at Prince George Ballroom on June 15th. Details here.
Download the entire Vestibule EP here.
* MP3: "Pictures of Trees" - Inlets from Vestibule EP
* MP3: "Decks, Up and Above" - Inlets from Vestibule EP
* MP3: "Straphanger" - Inlets from Vestibule EP
* MP3: "See Her, Seer" - Inlets from Vestibule EP
* Artist MySpace: Inlets