I’m pretty excited about this interview. Damian is the man behind the Mostly Harmless Podcast with Dammit Damian (if you love a drunk presenter, you’ll love this). Damian is another one of those fantastic people I met in Little Rock last September and is one of my favourite podcasters (not that I listen to many), interviewing musicians I’m a huge fan of like Micah Schnabel of Two Cow Garage and Frank Turner. On top of that, he’s introduced me to the wonderful Laura Stevenson and the Cans and Cheap Girls. I was inspired to start this blog after Damian posted the Chuck Ragan episode last year. We are both huge music fans (with a largely overlapping taste), someone I look up to and was the first person to properly like what I was doing with this back when I posted the Franz Nicolay interview. I knew Damian would give me good answers which is why I kind of bugged to do this.
Craig Finn’s music has been a huge part of my life since I was 16 ( I will write a piece on that no doubt). A constant through everything thats gone on since then. And it came to no surprise last year when Craig turned up at Minneapolis Public Radio’s event Wits featuring Chuck Klosterman and played a few songs that he described as “not Hold Steady songs” that a solo effort would be announced. And thats exactly what happened as last year drew to a close with the entire effort being streamed by NPR early this year. I won’t go into why and where Craig made the record because thats not really within the remit of this piece plus a quick Google search will come back with enough info on that.
So, to the show. I missed the openers, We Three Death And The Death Rattle because I was in the pub with Craig, Guardian writer Michael Hann (ooh get me with the name dropping) and the entire Unified Scene contingency braving London’s trendy but equally twatish Hoxton area. The Hoxton Bar and kitchen is quite a nice but dark place with a 450 capacity venue in the back (as you do). No idea what the bar range was like because I was being handed Craig’s signature beer “Clear Heart”. A nice dive bar beer thats pretty gassy, not something to be sinking all night.
Craig and Some Guns were on fire even though this was the last date on a tour thats seen them trek the States, UK and parts of lowland Europe. Its also nice to see Craig in a small venue as The Hold Steady have been playing places at least double the size for last 4 years or so. Getting up on stage, Craig takes the audience on a run through of all the dates he and Some Guns have played in the past few months before launching into “No Future” followed in rapid succession by tracks off “Clear Hearts, Full Eyes” that could almost be a soundtrack to the regulars of a dive bar (some of them not far off that idea either). Full of betrayal, betraying, attempted suicide, contemplation about how one ended up where they are. Whilst these songs are nowhere near as jumpy or even as positive as THS’s previous work, the crowd still seemed to be fairly into it. I don’t recall Craig really talking about his divorce in press or live till this album either. In that respect, “Rented Room” is a semi-autobiographical song about that time.
When No One is Watching
Sarah, I’m Surrounded
The Dudes from St. Paul
Going to a Show
New Friend Jesus
Not Much Left of Us
Save Me Jesus (Bobby Charles cover)
Here at YHN towers, we love music. So much so that we are putting on a gig. Basically keep April 28th free and appear at the Wee Red Bar. On the bill are Shambles Miller (who we like), Casino Queen (who we also like) and Sebastian Dangerfield (you get the idea). Doors are 7pm, tickets £3. More details here: http://www.facebook.com/events/337523966287243/
We so excited!!!
As a precursor, I should note until this album , I’ve never been huge into Twilight Sad. Perhaps I’m too cheery or I was put off when I saw them open for Idlewild back in 2007 with the far jumpier Baillie and The Fault as the first act and the atmosphere sucked straight out of the venue. Whatever. That was in the past, this is the present. Its been a turbulent couple of years for Twilight Sad. Bassist Craig Orzel left back in February of 2010. Touring bassists have filled this hole and continue to. For their third full album, they’ve shaken things up musically.
“No One Can Ever Know” sees them explore a more krautrock and sythny sound that recalls Joy Division (may be a lazy comparison but hey, it fits). James Graham’s broad Glaswegian baritone is still present. So are rumbly bass guitars. Andy McFarlane’s guitar plays more of a second fiddle along side the keys but are more prominent on “Sink”. The drums themselves haven’t escaped completely organically, being largely programmed sound cold and sparse. That actually might be a perfect way to sum up the album. You know that feeling just after a breakup of suspended disbelief? Bang, thats feeling I get from this album. Not that this a bad thing, re-invention in the face of tragedy is always a good thing.
So how will this album translate live? Videos that are circulating Youtube of the songs before their release suggest just fine and as they become more comfortable with the set-up, the songs will flourish no doubt.
Personal favourites are “Sick”, “Nil” and “Another Bed”
According to the NY Times, sales of vinyl in America during 2011 have risen a whopping 36% to 3.9million sales which translates as 1.1million sales. Here in the UK, there has been an equally large growth hitting 340,000 by year end (well up from 234,000). All things considered, the UK and USA aren’t in brilliant financial times with large numbers of people out of work and the charts being filled with largely disposable artists. On top of this, downloads are gripping tighter but with a 5% drop in physical sales. Looking at both sides of the Atlantic,Adele’s “21” comes pretty high. I didn’t even know it was released on vinyl. Now this is the part where I come up with some hypotheses on the matter.
Hypotheses after the jump.
The Physical Connection.
Whereas an MP3 is ones and zeros, the vinyl record is something you can touch and open up. Something you are involved with the playing of (flipping sides and dropping the needle). Within the sleeve there’s words and (usually) pictures of some sort. When I look at the double albums in my collection, they are huge lap covering pieces. One of them is just paintings of alien craft but in itself is a work of art. I was once told the humble 12” sleeve was overlooked by religious fundamentalists as the perfect item to roll a joint on. There’s something of a romanticism to the whole process of sitting down with a record and just listening, as mentioned in High Fidelity.
We are in an incredibly advanced age where nearly everything is available at your fingertips in seconds. Vinyl is of a simpler times when you could change a car engine yourself, had to wire your own plugs and computer bugs were, well bugs. That’s not to say vinyl is simple, the production process is fraught with potential problems. I am curious about the record buying demographics as I would bet good money that a large chunk are under 30. Speaking of which…..
When I go into record stores, the majority of people there are under 30. Rock and Roll is considered a young man’s game but record collecting isn’t ageist. Growing up, I was at the tail end of cassette’s days. Vinyl was something that my dad had boxes of in the attic and mum had a handful of crappy singles. But as time went on and started listening to the music I do now and reading the blogs I read, vinyl seemed to be something bands and labels are doing.
A trend I started to notice at the time is the inclusion of download codes/ cds. Not only does one have a physical copy to hold, but also a quick way to get the album on their computers and personal listening devices. Genius. Then there’s the advancement in capturing software from the days of Audacity which was a long winded process and a half.
Of course there’s probably something I’ve overlooked so feel free to use the comment section.
Its not often I find myself in a dark corridor speaking to musicians surrounded by medieval torture paraphernalia with Italian tourists milling around. But thats exactly what happened as 2011 came to a close in Banshees Labyrinth part way through a UK tour with Brighton’s Chris T-T.
For those that don’t know, Franz Nicolay was the moustached keyboardist in The Hold Steady from 2005 - 2010. I first met Franz in a karaoke bar in Manchester in 2008 and at the time if you told me I’d be interviewing him a few years later, I would probably have laughed. Before that Franz was a member of Anarcho-punks World/ Inferno Friendship Society and founded NYC based collective Anti-Social Music. In 2009, Franz released his first album, “Major General” which was largely a collection of songs written over the space of a few years. The autumn brought us “St. Sebastian of the Short Stage”, a 10” with the opening track being a Johnathan Richman cover done with Dresden Dolls. “Luck and Courage” dropped in early winter 2010. A soft beauty of a record with a small backing band providing a solid base for Franz’s talents on the banjo and accordion (which appear on most of the songs).
In between all this, Franz has hardly been off the road taking up live keyboard duty with Florida punks Against Me! through summer 2010 alongside his own solo tours.
This year will see the release of his third LP “Do the Struggle” which was funded entirely through Kickstarter. Naturally there will be more touring, some of which will be following the Trans-Siberian railroad and on through China before returning to the West.
Interview after the jump