Category Archives: 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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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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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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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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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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Graded on a Curve:
The Best of 2014’s New Releases, Part One

Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the general quality of fortune cookies, specifically the fortune part of the package, has deteriorated considerably, shifting from the old-fashioned vague predictions to advice reeking of platitudes cribbed out of hackneyed self-help books. I mention this because while noshing out the other day I happened to crack open a wild one.

It read as follows: “Those who take year-end best lists too seriously are destined to die miserable and alone.” And hey, on each side of this portent was a smiley face. Yeah, I’ll admit it freaked me out a little.

10. Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Blue

Placing a record I’m not likely to play a dozen more times in my life in the No. 10 spot? Why yes indeed. Not a tribute to Joni Mitchell’s fourth album, nor is it to my knowledge related in any way to the final film of the late Derek Jarman (the cover might lead one to this conclusion), Blue is a “note-for-note copy” of Miles Davis’ ’59 masterpiece made by an interesting and divisive group (and with this release, increasingly so).

Quotations are used in the sentence above for a fairly obvious reason; a note-for-note reproduction of such a complex work is an absurdity if not an impossibility, though MOPDTK get so close (I mean at times they get REALLY close) that accusations of plagiarism have been lobbed against Blue. Those charges are off base; but then what exactly is on target?

It’s less an elaborate prank, but as the inclusion of the typically amazing Jorge Luis Borges story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” makes clear (well, kind of), humor is part of the strategy; namely, satire concerning worship of the masters, but also a postmodern playfulness that’s proven to be like sandpaper rubbing on scores of folks’ nerves. They needn’t get so upset. Kind of Blue is indestructible and its essence will never be replaced or replicated; but of course, that’s not really the intention of the sticky can of worms that is Mostly Other People Do the Killing’s Blue.

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David Gray,
The Best of the 2014
TVD Interviews

Nobody expected White Ladder to be as big as it was. Its most iconic track, “Babylon,” became bigger even than David Gray himself. Overcoming that kind of success is nearly impossible, but Gray hasn’t relented. It’s been four years since his last album, Foundling, and nearly fifteen years since White Ladder spent over two years on the UK charts (and a year on the US charts), sold over seven million copies, and took the English singer-songwriter from obscurity to staggering fame. His tenth studio album, Mutineers, looks to bridge the gap for Gray between his popular successes and that which compelled him to write songs in the first place.

Mutineers contains Gray’s strongest songwriting of recent years, taken to another level by producer Andy Barlow (most recently of indie group Lamb), who wrenched Gray out of his comfort zone. At Gray’s explicit direction, Barlow deconstructed his songs, dismantling anything that sounded overwrought, and condensed Gray’s thoughts into powerful, driving, and spacious tracks. The result is that Mutineers is fresh-sounding, fascinating in its scope, and big in its sound. If you’ve been pining for substance in popular music, Mutineers is exactly that.

We spoke with David on the eve of his North American tour, hours before he appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman debuting the aptly titled, “Back in the World.” He was candid and eloquent in our interview, talking about the process of making the new record and what it’s like to be an independent artist again. “I feel like I’m entering a rich period of making music,” he said, “as fresh as any I’ve ever made.”

The title track really leapt out at me. There’s something very powerful about your chorus, and it made me think of it as a sort of “grown-up” adventure song. What is the significance of the lyrics in “Mutineers?”

I have no idea if that’s what it means. [Laughs] It was born in a strange way. My producer tore up an existing song I had called “Sugar Rush.” What I was left with was a small chord sequence, which is what you hear now. He looped that—he said, “Stick with this, Dave,” and I was looking rather vexed. There was no verse, no chords no melody—all I was left with were these fucking lyrics and a small chord sequence. [Laughs] I thought, “there’s something good about it… let’s see what we can do.”

So, what I did is I found the chorus/melody first. [Sings] “Babe… sure feels good…” That bit. And once I realized that, I thought… this really works! I found the guitar part that goes with it—that really high guitar part; that brought that to life. And that’s a very heartfelt little bit of singing there.

But then, the verses are more ambiguous. It’s enigmatic; the meaning of the song is unclear. The tendency to explain there—there’s no narrative structure because it has an irresistible energy. It’s sort of mantric with its constant repetition. It has a sort of… inevitability and an unstoppable feeling. I love that track, and playing it live… it’s obviously infectious, because the whole band get really into it and the audience [does], too. I don’t know if I’d describe it as an “adventure” song, but I’m glad you found it to be an adventure. I do get what you’re saying, but I’m sorry I can’t explain the song on those terms. It’s a mystery to me. I respond to its energy and I respond to its imagery. As far as a definitive explanation of it… I’m so sorry I can’t help explain it better.

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Graded on a Curve:
Foo Fighters, (s/t)

Dave Grohl is the Phil Collins of alt-rock. I don’t know how else to put it. Just as Collins took over the post-Peter Gabriel Genesis and continued to play a watered down version of their best music, Grohl inherited the Nirvana formula from the late Kurt Cobain and has been playing diluted variations on it since.

Grohl and the Foo Fighters can rock out like nobody’s business, but his sound has always struck me as generic, bland even. His songs strike me as genre exercises, and his reuse of Nirvana’s patented quiet-loud-quiet-loud shtick wears thin. Worst of all, Grohl’s screamed choruses and expressions of rage sound false—imitations of Cobain’s very real expressions of angst—rather than earned. Grohl isn’t tortured and he’s not enraged—he’s just a nice, normal American guy. He’s certainly not angry or self-hating enough to blow his brains out, and by pretending he is he has never done himself any favors.

In short, Dave Grohl lacks the capacity to move me. At all. Perhaps it lies in the fact that—as not one but several people put it to me—he lacks soul. Kurt Cobain had soul to spare, so much soul in fact it killed him, but Dave Grohl is just a well-adjusted boy from Washington, D.C. When I listen to him rage away I feel like Bob Dylan, who after being branded a traitor in England responded, “I don’t believe you. You’re a liar.” Not that I think Grohl is prevaricating. Rather, I think his skill set and time with Cobain have doomed him to forever play a kind of Nirvana Mark II, which unlike the Mark I version lacks the explosive emotional power supplied by Cobain’s nausea, disgust, and self-hatred. Grohl is the Man Who Would Be Cobain, but in reality is but a shadow successor, someone who can produce the requisite noises but can’t infuse them with the pain that Cobain—who wore his nerves outside his skin and truly had a hellhound on his trail—could evoke at will.

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

Box sets are by their very nature a time intensive undertaking; as other year-end lists have made plain, there are quite a few from 2014 waiting to be investigated, and if the reader discovers a suggestion below leading to personal satisfaction, than all this fussing over hierarchy has been worth it.

5. Native North America (Vol. 1): Aboriginal Folk, Rock and Country 1966-1985 and When I Reach That Heavenly Shore: Unearthly Black Gospel 1926-1936

Light in the Attic’s illuminating spotlight focuses almost entirely on artists hailing from Canada, a geographical factor making its sustained level of quality all the more impressive.

Consisting of previously released but long unavailable recordings, the three genres listed in the title frequently overlap, with country-rock well represented. The enriching presentation, including comprehensive notes, is the result of diligent, respectful research, and again, it’s consistently listenable from start to finish.

Also a reliably gripping if not necessarily breezy experience, Tompkins Square’s latest gospel collection uncovers a wealth of fervent and sometimes bluesy material, places it onto three discs (the vinyl will arrive in spring of 2015) and adds Bible verses thematically selected for each track by compiler Christopher King. Then it leaves the listener to draw their own conclusions, or at least scurry to the nearest internet connection or appropriate reference books for assistance.

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Peter Frampton,
The Best of the 2014
TVD Interviews

When you say the phrase “live rock album,” one of the first albums on the lips of many a music fan is always Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive! From his early days with Humble Pie, to recording one of the best-selling live albums of all time, Frampton has established himself as in influential icon to many guitarists around the world. Now in the third act of his career, which involves everything from writing music for ballet to a traveling jam session with other guitar luminaries, Frampton is showing no sign of slowing down.

As he gears up to make 2014 a busy year, Peter took some time to talk to us about the past and the present, and even got surprised by an old review that he had never heard. What struck me most is the fact that Frampton, while fully embracing his past, has greeted the present with open arms, always looking to try something new and finding inspiration from artists of yesterday and today. If time had permitted we could have gone on for another hour.

You’re bringing Frampton’s Guitar Circus back this summer, along with a solo tour and a tour with the Doobie Brothers. You’re definitely making this an interesting year!

Yeah, it’s a three-pronged attack. It’s a solo tour, solo dates, Doobies date, co-headlining with them, which is an honor. Then the Guitar Circus, which will be in California only, I believe, in August-September.

Your new album, Hummingbird in a Box, is described as “Inspired by the Cincinnati Ballet.” That’s not your typical inspiration for a rock guitarist.

No. It came from writing some pieces of new music to be part of this performance we did in April of past year. In Cincinnati, three performances, we did older music in the first act, and the third act, but the second act, I wrote these seven pieces of music with Gordon Kennedy, my writing partner for many years now. They wanted to do just old music, and when I suggested that I actually write a half an hour of new music, they went berserk.

That’s where this came from, that’s why it’s inspired by them, and that’s why it’s a little different. It’s not like my normal type of stuff. It’s still me, it’s still got my flavor, but it’s definitely something that was very freeing to write, because there was no format to follow, as far as songs or instrumentals.

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