TVD Los Angeles

TVD’s The Idelic Hour with Jon Sidel

Greetings from Laurel Canyon!

Yep, this is it…the last Idelic Hour of 2014. I really have nothing too special to say or play.

For me, this final show is more of a fade out (call it “flake out”) into what happens next. In the mix, some artists I may have overlooked in 2014, a few of my favorite Idelic Hits, and sadly a number of songs by artists—I’ll call them rock ‘n’ roll heroes—who “bought the farm” this past year.

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The TVD Storefront

Jeff Bridges,
The Best of the 2014
TVD Interviews

That Jeff Bridges has mastered multiple artistic disciplines shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. That he’s so good at everything is what’s a little bit… mind-boggling.

The Academy Award-winning actor is also an inordinately gifted photographer, a highly acclaimed painter and a skilled and sensitive musician. His parents, Lloyd and Dorothy Bridges, ensured Jeff was surrounded by Hollywood magic-makers from the very beginning (his first film appearance was as an infant in one of his parents’ movies). Given that film is, arguably, the most holistic art form—involving most of the senses and, when done well, the appropriate emotions—Bridges’ tagalong Hollywood childhood gave him an eye and an ear for what resonates most with the heart. That sensitivity and exuberance informs all his artistic pursuits, not least of which is his music. 

While music has always been part of his life, it wasn’t until 2000 that he committed anything to wax with his acclaimed debut, Be Here Soon. His latest album, the country-tinged Live, is an in-the-moment recording of shows that Bridges and his band, The Abiders, gave this past summer. It includes songs from Be Here Soon and his eponymous follow-up record, along with select covers that have held meaning for him throughout his life. Like the man behind the music, the song choices are both heartfelt and whimsical, and the performances are solid, honest, and even playful. Throughout our conversation, Bridges waxes reverently about his musical collaborators, who are an assortment of long-time friends and music legends, and reflects on the enduring legacy of “The Dude.” And he’s hopeful that Live will make it onto vinyl, too.

I love your website, with your drawings and “hand-written” navigation. It makes it feel somehow more personal, and not like it was created by a publicist. Was that your intent?

Well, when I first started that five or six years ago now, I guess, I was pretty excited about this notion of having another outlet. It’s like another canvas; I like to paint and draw, and [the website] is like a combination of canvas and radio station and movies, all wrapped up in one. It was a lot of fun to do the drawings and stuff. I haven’t been keeping it up with it as much as I might. Websites seem to be more of a thing of the past; now it seems to be more of a Facebook thing. I’ll keep doing the website, though, I think.

It really does help tie together all of your creative endeavors.

Thank you! It’s also a chance for me to talk about No Kid Hungry and the situation we’ve got in America here with our kids not being fed. It’s a chance for me to get that message out, too.

Obviously, you have a lot of different interests and passions—that seems to be a theme throughout your entire life. Do you remember when you felt drawn to create music?

Gee, it might have been going back to my teenage years. My brother Beau, he’s about eight years older than I am… so when I was growing up, the kind of music I heard coming out of Beau’s bedroom was Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, James Brown, the Everly Brothers—all those guys. I fell in love with that music. My brother had a Danelectro electric guitar, and I just started playing and writing songs and stuff.

You had over a decade between your first album (Be Here Soon, 2000) and your second (Jeff Bridges, 2011) album. Now you and your band, The Abiders, have a new album, Live. Did a live album feel like the next logical step for you musically, or is Live more of an anthology project for you?

Describe the anthology project; that sounds kind of interesting. What is that? [Laughs]

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TVD Nashville

TVD Recommends: Hard Working Americans, The First Waltz at Acme Feed & Seed, 12/20

In 2013, tenacious troubadour Todd Snider called some friends to help play some songs he’d been collecting by some of his favorite writers. Answering that call were Dave Schools from Widespread Panic (bass), Neal Casal of Chris Robinson Brotherhood (guitar/vocals), Chad Staehly of Great American Taxi (keyboards), Jesse Aycockand (guitar/vocals), and Duane Trucks, Derek’s younger brother (drums). Alt-country chanteuse Elizabeth Cook helps out on background vocals sometimes as well.

This collective took on the name Hard Working Americans and proceeded to play marathon shows full interactive musicianship and camaraderie. They hoisted their freak flag high, right beside the Stars and Stripes, proclaiming that you don’t have to attend a tea party in order to be patriot. Mostly, though, they just played kick-ass music.

Appropriately enough, they recorded their self-titled debut album at Bob Weir’s studio. The process of putting this group together was captured by filmmaker Justin Kreutzmann in the riveting rockumentary Hard Working Americans: The First Waltz.

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The TVD Storefront

Graded on a Curve:
The Groundhogs,
Thank Christ for the Bomb

Only two things in this world have the capacity to immediately cause my eyes to glaze over; the first is talk about politics, and the second is the phrase “British blues group.” The momentous impact that the introduction of American blues had on British musicians cannot be overestimated; John Lee Hooker and company instantly transformed a generation of skiffle-mad Brits into blues zombies, fanatical acolytes and slavish imitators of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and company. Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, Long John Baldry, Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated, and countless other bands arose to preach the blues, and there was no way to stop their spreading like kudzu.

I’ve never been a blues aficionado, but Mayall, Baldry, and their like have always haunted and taunted me, goading me into giving them a fair chance, always to my disappointment. Their chief function, so far as I can tell, was as finishing schools for a very long laundry list of future rock greats. Why, Baldry alone is responsible for fostering such neophytes as Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Julie Driscoll, Elton John, and others. There is one British blues group, however, that I actually find intriguing, and that’s the Groundhogs. Theirs is a most inauspicious name, and I can’t say I expected much after a friend recommended I give their 1970 LP Thank Christ for the Bomb a listen. But I’ll be damned if the LP isn’t excellent, combining great musicianship with intriguing originals that frequently deviate from your basic blues template.

The Groundhogs were formed in 1963 by titular leader Tony McPhee, the band’s guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, who borrowed the band name from the title of a John Lee Hooker tune. The band’s history gets a bit twisted, so suffice it to say they briefly changed their name to Herbal Mixture (reefer turn-on alert!) before changing it back to the Groundhogs, and that Thank Christ for the Bomb was the band’s third studio LP, and fourth album overall if you count the 1968 LP they recorded with John Lee Hooker. The Groundhogs were playing as a trio at the time Thank Christ for the Bomb was released, with Peter Cruickshank and Ken Pustelnik joining McPhee on drums and bass, respectively.

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TVD Nashville

Nicole Atkins,
The Best of the 2014
TVD Interviews

Nicole Atkins first came to national prominence with the release of her debut album, Neptune City. Since that album on Columbia, she issued Mondo Amore on Razor & Tie and has just released the first album on her own label, Oh’ Mercy! Records titled Slow Phaser.

We chatted with Nicole to talk about the new album, her love of vinyl, and a surprise comeback from a beloved melodic rock band.

The first time I heard about you was when my friend and former colleague Sky Spooner raved about you.

Oh, yes, Sky! He was the A&R scout for Columbia who discovered me.

The title of your new album, Slow Phaser, conjures vivid images for me, but what does it represent for you?

It’s funny how that came about, actually. We were recording the album, testing out different sounds, and I said to my producer Tore Johansen, “Hey turn up the slow phaser, man!,” as a joke. As soon as I said it, I thought, “Slow phaser: that’s a really good album title.”

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense because there’s a shit-ton of slow phaser on the album, soundwise. Also, I equated “slow phaser” with late bloomer and that’s what I feel like I am. I’ve always felt that way, so the title felt very appropriate.

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The TVD Storefront

Skye Steele,
The TVD First Date

“When I was 19 I was a student at the New School and I was living and working at the Marlton Hotel, an old Greenwich Village SRO on 8th Street that was infamous for (among other things) having been the place where Valerie Solanas lived when she shot Warhol. The Village had already changed a lot when I got there, but still we had a few old-timers from the factory days hanging around at the Marlton, mostly decomposing on their feet. I lived on the second floor and had one window with a heavy-duty burglar gate on it that looked out onto a side alley with the next building six feet away. When I moved in, my girlfriend gave me a fern that I hung from the burglar bars. It was dead in a month. As fall wore down into winter and the days got shorter it felt like I was living at the bottom of a stagnant pond silting over from the top down.”

“We broke up that winter. I was in love with this girl–we’d known each other since high school and we both moved from California to NYC at the same time–but I fucked it up bad. She was uptown having an IVY league experience at Barnard while I was living very, very downtown. She was a genius scholar, a good writer, and MTV-gorgeous. I was new in town, zealous, looking for beatnik adventures. This 30-year-old Argentine fashion designer who lived across the hall took an interest in me and I got all wrapped up. I cheated on my hometown girl. I was just mannish enough to come clean, but in the most pitiful whimpering way you can imagine. That was the end of all that.

So a bad fall moldered into a bad winter, and I was digging way down into a self-flagellating depression that was amplified by everything about my living situation. The room was so small I put my mattress underneath the bed-frame and laid cardboard over the springs so I would have a space to work, prepare food, and for the beat-to-shit thrift-store turntable I dragged with me across the country. The only place to sit was a ramshackle leather office chair I found on the street that I leaned up in a corner beside the window cause it was missing a wheel and would tip over anywhere else. I would just sit there all night listening to Leonard Cohen Isle of Wight, smoking out the window in my dirty salvation-army coat, pretending to read, but really just staring.

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The TVD Storefront

Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2014’s New
Releases, Part Two

It bears repeating that this list is in no way based on a comprehensive assessment of the 2014’s deluge of new music, but rather personal highs in a year’s worth of listening. A whole lot of listening; all said it was a great 12 months, and after consideration these final five offered the most pleasure.

5. Mary Halverson, Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara, Thumbscrew

Three improvisers in a leaderless trio (Thumbscrew effectively serves as the name of the group) with energies focused on composition; the result will certainly appeal to fans of all three players and those into adventurous jazz and rock in general (it’s fittingly released by the Cuneiform label of Silver Spring, MD).

Bluntly, these are heavyweight players. My first exposure to guitarist Halvorson came via Trevor Dunn’s Trio-Convulsant, and once I discovered she’d studied and performed with Anthony Braxton, I began seeking out the work of her trio; ‘08’s Dragon’s Head remains a favorite. Bassist Formanek has a bunch of impressive “inside” credits and a ton of avant-garde session work, and along with his own high-quality quintet he was in Tim Berne’s Bloodcount. Drummer Fujiwara has worked at length with Halvorson, in a duo with cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum and as leader of Tomas Fujiwara & The Hook Up.

Thumbscrew is not a guitar trio, though Halvorson does shred early and often. As said Thumbscrew is a unit of equality and their communicative sparks can be startling; Formanek and Fujiwara are constantly throwing ideas into the fray with nary a rhythm section trope in the duration. And a few of the track titles make me smile, particularly “Goddess Sparkle,” which could be about either Aurora of the dawn or drag shows, and “Still…Doesn’t Swing,” a nutshell encapsulation of the resistance creative musicians of this caliber routinely contend with, malarkey that doesn’t seem to be keeping them down.

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TVD Memphis

My Big Star Story
by John Fry

Word has made its way to our office today that legendary Ardent Studios founder and producer John Fry has passed away in Memphis. “The 69 year-old Fry died on Thursday afternoon at Methodist East hospital, where he was taken after suffering a cardiac arrest at his Germantown home,” the Commercial Appeal has reported.

Mr. Fry was an early and vigorous proponent of the website you’re reading at present and it’s with heavy hearts we remember him with his own recollections today, as published here on March 29, 2010.
—Ed.

One day in 1968, I walked into my office to find a young man still in his teens, seated in my chair, with his boots propped up on my desktop, smoking a cigarette. Once I relocated him, I learned that he was Chris Bell. I would soon meet Andy Hummel, as the two, along with Steve Rhea, were starting to join the after-hours recording crew at Ardent. I already knew Alex Chilton from his visits to Ardent for Box Tops overdub and mixing sessions. A bit later I would meet Jody Stephens as he joined Chris and Andy on drums when Steve left for college.

Of course, there would be no Big Star band until a few years later, but this day is as good as any to mark the start of a journey that Alex, Andy, Chris, Jody, and I would wind up taking together. That journey has been well described in several different formats. The life stories of the individuals involved would progress in ways that none of us could have envisioned.

For me, the experiences included getting to participate in the recording and release of music I loved then and still love now, the bitter feeling of total commercial failure in the Memphis ashes of 1975, an early morning phone call in 1978 with bad news, and the ultimate acceptance of the music by generations of fans and musicians, many unborn at the time it was recorded.

Recounting some recent events may express my feelings better than talking about the distant past. Fast forward to 2008. Jody Stephens shouts from his office across the hall from mine “Hey, we’ve got a show in London on August 28.” My response is, “I’m going.”

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TVD San Francisco

TVD Live Shots: Smashing Pumpkins at the Warfield, 12/11

Let’s stop with the silly comments such as, “It’s not really Smashing Pumpkins with only one original member.” Yes it is, because Billy Corgan IS Smashing Pumpkins. And while were on the subject—were his remarks regarding the Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam really off that much?

I mean I love the Foo Fighters, but Corgan’s right in the fact that they really haven’t “evolved” as a band. And that’s OK because they have perfected their formula for kick ass rock ‘n’ roll. As for Pearl Jam, again, I’m a fan, but can their new songs hold up to anything from their first three epic masterpieces? It’s certainly up for debate, and Mr. Corgan has made two very valid points that the media have spun out of control into an attack on his rock ‘n’ roll peers.

With that being said, this is a show review so let me get to it. I was able to score a last-minute ticket to see one of a series of intimate shows that have been taking place in London, New York, and Paris that all sold out instantly. The band is touring to promote their new album Monuments to an Elegy, which was released on December 9. When the band added San Francisco to the short tour, I was ecstatic.

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The TVD Storefront

The Joy Formidable’s
Ritzy Bryan, The Best of the 2014 TVD Interviews

One of the worst things you can do to a band on the rise is call them the “second coming” of anything, or to compare them to what’s come before. The offense is especially egregious when it’s an ambitious band that does everything in their power to exceed expectations—a band like The Joy Formidable

We have been big fans of TJF for a while now. One of the things we love best about the Welsh band is not their guitar-driven, genre-defying big pop sound, but their big hearts and their complete willingness to share in their success. It’s that sentiment is what makes the band’s latest singles project so compelling.

When I asked if there was anything else she would like to talk about, singer Ritzy Bryan immediately said, “It would be great if you could talk about the bands on our B-sides.” After countless months on the road, and prodigious songwriting for a brand new album, her primary concern was that we talk about the other great Welsh bands who took part in their new project, the Welsh Singles Club

The Welsh Singles Club features a new mash-up of The Joy Formidable’s grungy pop-rock sound with traditional instrumentations and all-Welsh lyrics on limited-edition 7″ vinyl. In the spirit of collaboration, these unique singles are split with a different Welsh band on the B-sides. The Singles Club kicked off in June with Aruthrol (which means “Formidable” in Welsh) backed with a B-side from psychedelic rockers Colorama. The series continues today with the release of Aruthrol B, featuring a hypnotic new TJF song, “Tynnu Sylw,” backed with B-side from drone-rockers, White Noise Sound.

The Welsh Singles Club is only the beginning of the end of the beginning for The Joy Formidable. Ritzy clued us in on a new album they’re finishing at their rural North Wales studio/retreat, the challenges of and passion for writing in her native tongue, and how The Joy Formidable is bringing it all back home in more ways than one. 

You’ve been described as having taken up the cause that Britpop and grunge abandoned over a decade ago. At the risk of over-simplifying for those who are just learning about you, do you feel like that’s true at all?

I don’t know. I always find it quite difficult when people feel that way about what we do. I think that there’s certainly the conviction of those sorts of eras running through the music…

But you don’t like being pigeon-holed, of course.

Well, yeah, we’re certainly unapologetic about being a guitar band. But in the same breath, I suppose we’re lots of things. We don’t like to feel the restrictions of being purely a guitar band, too. And definitely, I think there’s so much scope for guitar-driven music. There’s so much originality you can find in that genre. I think we still feel like we’re bringing something fresh. There’s a lot of “retrofication” these days, you know what I mean? [Laughs]

The one reason [guitar bands] have kind of been struggling has been is because of the sense of what people expect of us as a guitar band and what a guitar band can do. There’s obviously been so many great decades of great guitar music, and yeah we love those two genres you mentioned. But I think it’s really important that you push it to something new—something you find yourself—you make something original in your own voice as a band.

That’s why we dip in to lots of genres—lots of different sounds and inspirations. We like to push what it means to be in a guitar band, but keeping the aesthetic of that conviction and the unapologetic-ness of those eras as well.

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