Author Archives: Tim Hibbs

TVD Live: The Forecastle Festival, 7/18–7/20

When southern musical meccas are mentioned, Louisville is often overlooked and that’s a shame. The city has a very strong arts community, thriving live venues, and a world-class public radio dedicated to music, WFPK. Where music hubs like Memphis, Nashville, and New Orleans have a certain brash, in-your-face presence, Louisville presents itself in much more genteel manner, which may partially explain why it is not top of mind for many music aficionados. However, with the growth of the city’s Forecastle Festival, ignoring Louisville is destined to become a thing of the past.

The annual festival, located in Waterfront Park along the Ohio River, is extremely user-friendly. The spacious grounds feature large green spaces, great sitelines for all four stages and an extremely polite staff ready to assist you. Their eclectic approach to booking ensures that you will witness a wide variety of music and the 2014 edition was certainly no exception. EDM, bluegrass, indie rock, country, and many other genres were represented, offering the concert goer a rich experience. With four stages going simultaneously, it’s impossible to catch everything, but below are my highlights for each of the three days.

DAY ONE | Friday opened with a drizzle and remained that way for most of the day, in a perpetual “should I put the poncho on?” mode. It never turned into an all-out rain storm, though, so the main result was cooler temps, thankfully. If anyone was feeling sluggish due to the moisture, Against Me! burned through that immediately.

Too much recent press has focused on frontwoman Laura Jane Grace’s gender change and not nearly enough on the band’s music. They are one of the strongest American rock bands currently working and they proved that in spades with their incendiary set on the Boom Stage. It was an auspicious start to our festival experience and one that set bar very high.

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TVD Live: The Replacements at Shaky Knees Festival, 5/10

As legacies go, it’s a beaut. The problem with legacies, though, is that once removed from their protective amber shells, they become extremely volatile. Used to be, a band wouldn’t have to deal with this conundrum. Once you broke up, that was it, and even Lorne Michaels dangling a $3,000 check on live television couldn’t dissuade you. However, the recent flurry of band reunions, led by the resurgent Pixies, has put many long-term reputations in play. Does the money grab overrule concerns about tarnishing past glories? That is the question currently before The Replacements.

What is The Replacements these days, anyway? Bob Stinson is long gone, Slim Dunlap is battling a stroke-related illness and Chris Mars can’t be bothered, apparently. Thus, it’s down to Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson to carry the ‘Mats mantle into the 21st century, at least as far as live performances go. The band was always an erratic entity on stage, but those indiscretions were more easily excused when they were wayward youthful impulses. How well can a middle-aged, relatively sober and professional outfit hold up against the image of their reckless, rule-breaking, hell-raising former selves? As it turns out, pretty damn well.

Prior to their set at Atlanta’s Shaky Knees festival on May 10th, I had last laid eyes on The Replacements during the Dallas, Texas, stop for ‘89’s Don’t Tell a Soul tour. I interviewed Chris Mars for my radio show before the gig and the resignation in his voice foreshadowed the lackluster performance that followed. The band that took the stage that evening was out of steam and almost out of ideas. Mars had already launched a solo career and Westerberg was soon to follow, spending the next two decades releasing alternately brilliant and disappointing material, sometimes within the same song.

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BR-549’s Chuck Mead,
The TVD Interview

As a member of BR-549, Chuck Mead helped revive both hardcore honky-tonk and the Lower Broadway district of Nashville. The band’s performances at clothing-store-turned-venue Robert’s Western World drew people back to an area where Ryman Auditorium was collapsing from disrepair and most of the businesses were either pawn shops or porn emporiums. Lower Broadway’s reinvention as a “hillbilly Bourbon Street,” with rows of packed shops, saloons, and, indeed, Nashville’s new-found reputation as an “it city” owe much to the sweat equity Chuck and the band laid down in the early ‘90s.

Full disclosure: I have known Chuck for several years and I do work for Plowboy Records, his current label home. What follows is a discussion between friends about his new album, Free State Serenade, ‘70s AM radio, and growing up in the strange and wonderful state of Kansas.

I don’t think anyone was expecting a concept record about Kansas from you (laughter). How did this idea come about?

A few years back, I wrote a song about my wife for her birthday, “Reno County Girl.” After I wrote that, a couple of other songs cropped up that seemed to be about my past in Kansas. During this time I got involved with the “theater thing” [Ed. note: Mead is the musical director for the musical Million Dollar Quartet] which made me think about things more conceptually. I thought, “Yeah, it would be a good idea to do an album of short stories about things I thought I about when I was a kid, growing up in Kansas, including legends that loomed large in my psyche.” Once I made that decision, I started writing toward that goal. I did it in spite of people thinking that Kansas is not interesting, but it is. A lot of creepy things have happened there.

While there are some sweet and happy-go-lucky moments on the album, some very sinister things are also chronicled. On “Evil Wind,” for example, a rollicking, high-spirited beat conveys what is, essentially, a demented murder ballad.

Dick Hickock & Perry Smith were the boogeymen when I was growing up. [Ed. note: Hickock and Perry murdered the Clutter Family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959, which became the subject of Truman Capote's first book, In Cold Blood.]

If you grew up in Kansas, people my age and older clearly remembered that happening. When they filmed the movie version of In Cold Blood in 1966, they went to Holcomb to film it and Robert Blake looked so much like Perry Smith that it really freaked people out all over again. It’s something that happened in a place you’d least expect it. Since it happened in the late ‘50s, I thought it should have a rockabilly feel, so I took it there. The only way I could figure to get the whole story across was to tell it through the eyes of Perry Smith, the guy who supposedly pulled the trigger on everybody.

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Robbie Fulks,
The TVD interview

Robbie Fulks’ 1996 debut album may have been titled Country Love Songs but the type of country music he was creating was miles away from contemporary genre fare. With songs about a drug overdose, the Pennsylvania pork mush known as scrapple and a forgotten 45 RPM record, it was a perfect country album for those listeners who felt alienated by the boot scootin’, bland pop that commercial country radio was offering (and still does, for the most part).

In the intervening decade and a half, Fulks has continued to write and record songs that challenge the listener as much as they entertain. Stylistically, he has explored rock, Bakersfield twang, smooth countrypolitan, and bluegrass all while keeping his unique songwriting voice intact.

Blessed with a high, lonesome tenor and razor-sharp fretboard skills, Fulks is a masterful entertainer who can hold an audience in rapt, pin-drop attention or make them convulse with laughter over an acerbic aside. His new album, Gone Away Backward, finds him in a quieter, more contemplative mood with sparse, mostly acoustic arrangements framing his songs. We spoke with Fulks prior to his recent set at storied Nashville bluegrass club The Station Inn, a room he hadn’t played in over twenty-five years.

I’ve been reading your blog and frequently laughing out loud. What made me chortle recently was your description of rock clubs, those “shoals of silliness,” particularly the venue where your son entered a battle of the bands. I would imagine such clubs are an occupational hazard for you.

Really, I don’t play them much anymore. I don’t know how many of them I do every year, but I would guess it’s no more than four. The rooms I tend to play are places with seats: community centers, “folk nazi” rooms, listening rooms, and places like that. Over the years, I winnowed it down and I know where I like to play. I don’t play a ton of new rooms, in other words.

Good rooms like The Station Inn?

Yes. I haven’t played there since the ‘80s but I have attended several shows there in the interim.

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Nicole Atkins,
The TVD Interview

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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Rosanne Cash,
The TVD Interview

To find her voice as a musician, Rosanne Cash had to work diligently to move beyond the long shadow cast by her iconic father. In that journey, she felt compelled to move away from her native South and become a New Yorker, reveling in the creative chaos of Manhattan.

However, a series of life-changing events drove her to get in a car and drive across the South, visiting historic sites and touchstones of her early life. As she did, songs began to flow and she and her husband John Leventhal began writing what would become her new album, The River and the Thread, a concept album chronicling her recent travels.

Did moving away from the South help draw it into sharper focus for you?

Oh, yes. I think I pushed it away for a long time, it felt a little suffocating to me. In my mind, I was a New Yorker and I had to get away from it. I thought the South was in my past except for the people I love who are still there and I’m connected to. Two of my daughters live in Nashville, my sister lives in Nashville, my cousins live in Memphis, so I have family scattered throughout Tennessee in particular. But having a perfect storm of events happen in my life between 2011-2013 gave rise to a lot of songs.

Could you have written this record if you still lived in Nashville?

No. I do not think so. You have to get perspective. To try and write these songs there, it would have been too close. I had to let my heart expand and let down my defenses. That was crucial and my heart did expand when Marshall Grant died, when my friend Natalie Chanin taught me to sew, when I took my son to Sun Records in Memphis and to the place where I was born…those things were powerful.

What is it about the South that makes it such fertile ground for music, literature, and art?

I wish I had the answer. A huge part of this record is the mystery of that situation. As we say in “Money Road,” “we left but never went away”– that haunted quality stays with you. Why did Faulkner come from right down the road from where Emmett Till was killed and the Civil Rights movement began? Which is just down the road from where B.B. King, Charley Patton, Howlin’ Wolf, and Pops Staples started, which is next to where Eudora Welty grew up…you can’t help but be flabbergasted! My husband John and I kept saying, “What is it about the Delta? What is it?”

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The Best of the
TVD Interview 2013:
Wayne Coyne

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON AUGUST 9, 2013 | “There you go, yeah!” That exclamation, spoken frequently by The Flaming Lips’ leader Wayne Coyne, encapsulates his exuberant approach to life. Since forming the band in Norman, Oklahoma in 1983, Coyne has followed his muse down many, sometimes challenging paths, never taking the one most traveled. Along the way, he has become an accidental pop star, heir to the music of psychedelic forbears like Thirteenth Floor Elevators and Syd Barrett, and one of the most engaging frontmen in rock. That he does it all with a zeal akin to a teenager hearing his first life-changing album is not only exciting, it’s inspiring.

We spoke with Coyne prior to the band’s appearance at Louisville, Kentucky’s Forecastle Festival. In the freewheeling conversation that followed, Coyne spoke about the band’s current album, how images inspire their writing process, and their early days playing in Oklahoma, Dallas, and other regional venues. Oh, and he talked about blood. Yes, there will be blood. Read on.

When I look at the cover of your latest album The Terror, I get a real 1971 vibe.

Well, that’s because you were alive in 1971! (laughs) I liked John Lennon’s first album with the Plastic Ono Band, the one where they’re sitting under the tree. When you listen to it, it’s not a peaceful record; it has considerable inner turmoil. When you know the music and then look at the cover, it’s quite a juxtaposition. If you didn’t know the music, you’d think, “Oh, look at them, they’re getting stoned under a tree.” But it never hit me like that.

That element stuck with me. One day, I was walking through the park and I saw a kid sitting there (as pictured on cover of The Terror), and I thought it was a cool image. The more I looked at it, I realized, “Yeah, there’s something about it…” At the same time, we had already written one of the album’s tracks, “You Are Alone,” which is probably the most devastating track on there. The idea of this kid sitting there, alone, came together with the song for me. Once we decided that would be the album cover, I think we kept creating music that would make that idea happen. Like, if you saw that and heard this, it would take you into another dimension.

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The Best of the TVD Interview 2013: Marc Maron

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON MAY 24, 2013 | The former Air America host and journeyman stand-up started podcasting from his garage in 2009 at a time when he felt his career was at a dead-end. That dead-end quickly turned into an expressway for Maron’s multi-tiered intellect with the podcast giving him, for the first time in his career, an unencumbered, uncensored media outlet. His frank, in-depth interviews with his comedic peers quickly gained a loyal following which keeps WTF with Marc Maron in the Top Ten iTunes chart week after week.

WTF’s success led to the current IFC Television series Maron, based on his life and starring Marc in the title role. He also recently published his second book, Attempting Normal, and did an exhaustive media blitz to promote it, including inaugural visits to The Howard Stern Show and Fresh Air with Terry Gross. As second acts go, it’s a doozy.

Okay, that’s cool and all, but why is Marc talking to The Vinyl District? As he has noted many times on WTF, Marc is an enthusiastic vinyl fan which he illustrates with accounts of his listening sessions that brim with an almost evangelical zeal. Growing up in New Mexico, Marc’s first exposure to music came courtesy of his parent’s record and tape collection.

About two years ago, after noticing new record stores opening in and around his Highland Park neighborhood, he dipped his toe back into the vinyl stream and is now thoroughly immersed. Of course, being Marc Maron, his neurotic side frets over becoming an obsessive collector and possible future episode subject of Hoarders. But for now, the joy of listening to music on a quality turntable and music system is keeping those fears at bay.

What was the first album that really grabbed you when you were a kid?

(Without hesitation) The Beatles Second Album. It sounded so great! I remember playing “Roll Over Beethoven” over and over. I was obsessed with that song. I even went out and bought a Mountain album (Twin Peaks) because it had that song on it. It took me a while before I found the Chuck Berry original. My parents had a lot of cassettes: Janis Joplin’s Greatest Hits, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison and stuff like that. I also had an aunt who gave me some some records. My musical education really started with a store called Budget Records and Tapes in Albuquerque. There was a guy named Jim there who turned me on to so many wild things.

While you were getting this musical education, did you share it with you friends at school?

Not really. At that time, Van Halen, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin were really popular. One of my buddies was a huge Journey fan. A lot of it was influenced by the concerts that came through. I listened to all that. What I was getting from the record store guys was probably far beyond the comprehension of my high school crowd. Later, I got into jazz and new music by artists like Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello.

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Elvis at Stax: The King’s Last Great Crusade

For Elvis Aaron Presley, 1973 was a crossroads. He was in the midst of a career resurgence kick-started by the television special Singer Presents Elvis (aka, the ’68 Comeback Special), fortified by a string of hits recorded at Memphis studio American Sound (“In The Ghetto,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Kentucky Rain”) and kicked into the stratosphere by a return to live performance after a decade mired in formulaic, unsatisfying films.

Indeed, 1973 was the year of Aloha From Hawaii via Satellite, a live concert television special broadcast in over 40 countries which later became a best-selling double LP. In the show, Elvis offered undeniable proof of his performing prowess, backed by a crack band including Telecaster master James Burton, heavenly vocalists The Sweet Inspirations, and driven by indomitable drummer Ronnie Tutt. He was also basking in the glow of two hit documentaries, Elvis: That’s The Way It Is (1970) and Elvis On Tour (1972), which offered indisputable proof that The King was in command.

However, despite outward appearances, all was not well for Presley in 1973. He was deeply depressed over his divorce to Priscilla Ann Presley, which was in its final stages. Friends and colleagues commented on his weight gain, which would ebb and flow until his death four years later. Also, it was alleged that his prescription drug dependency, which began during his Army tour of duty in Germany, had become increasingly problematic. Finally, he was at odds with his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, who seemed to care more about his prodigious gambling debts than he did about developing his client’s career.

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JD McPherson:
The TVD Interview

“You’ve gotta hear this record!” That was the emphatic statement uttered by roots music legend Chuck Mead at an informal vinyl listening party in Nashville a couple of years ago. The album in Chuck’s hand was Signs & Signifiers by JD McPherson on Hi-Style Records from Chicago.

As he cued up the album’s first cut, “North Side Gal,” any skepticism held by the assembled vinyl hounds vanished instantly. JD’s voice, combined with a red-hot backing band, poured from the speakers in delicious analog splendor, combining the past and present in an intoxicating mix. We listened to several other cuts from the LP, and our initial impression was confirmed song after song. Driving home, I was left wondering, “Who is this guy?”

I didn’t have to wait long for an answer. Rounder Records re-released Signs & Signifiers to universal acclaim, and suddenly, JD was everywhere, on tour, on late-night television, and in heavy rotation on the BBC and other radio outlets. Raised in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, JD was first captivated by punk/alternative rock and came to vintage recordings courtesy of a free Buddy Holly double-LP collection given to him by a record store clerk.

When JD and I sat down in the offices of Florence, Alabama-based designer Billy Reid, prior to JD’s performance as part of Reid’s annual “Shindig” celebration, the conversation naturally revolved around records.

(After relating the Chuck Mead story) Wow, that blows my mind! I used to go see BR-549 at Cain’s Ballroom…jeez Louise, that’s crazy.

Signs & Signifiers has been out for a while now and I imagine you’re ready to start working on the follow-up. Do you have plans to record again soon?

Yes, we go back in the studio in two weeks.

Your debut album has a timeless sound, so much so that some people might imagine you grew up listening to a stack of blues and country 78s. Is that an accurate assessment?

No, among the first records I bought was Dinosaur, Jr.’s Fossils, which I remember was pressed on red vinyl. Actually, to hurt my feelings, a girl broke that album over her knee in front of me! She knew that was the worst thing she could do. [ED: Vinyl lovers everywhere shed a tear in sympathy.]

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