New York City
The respective works of composer Lesley Flanigan and indie group People Get Ready each approach music as a fundamentally physical act.
Flanigan’s ghostly, undulating electronic compositions are played on her own handcrafted instruments — comprised of minimal electronics, microphones, speakers and tons of feedback — whose bellowing reverberations rely on the clear physicality of human interaction. People Get Ready — a band lead by choreographer Steven Reker — delicately blur the line between pop show and performance piece, with a cleverly constructed hybrid of music and movement. 

Lesley and Steven came together a couple of weeks ago at Ace Hotel New York to participate in our 36BY24 residency project — more on that soon — to prepare for an incredible collaborative show that’s happening tomorrow, February 19 at Kaufman Music Center as part of the Ecstatic Music Festival.

New York City

The respective works of composer Lesley Flanigan and indie group People Get Ready each approach music as a fundamentally physical act.

Flanigan’s ghostly, undulating electronic compositions are played on her own handcrafted instruments — comprised of minimal electronics, microphones, speakers and tons of feedback — whose bellowing reverberations rely on the clear physicality of human interaction. People Get Ready — a band lead by choreographer Steven Reker — delicately blur the line between pop show and performance piece, with a cleverly constructed hybrid of music and movement. 

Lesley and Steven came together a couple of weeks ago at Ace Hotel New York to participate in our 36BY24 residency project — more on that soon — to prepare for an incredible collaborative show that’s happening tomorrow, February 19 at Kaufman Music Center as part of the Ecstatic Music Festival.


Portland, Oregon
INTERVIEW: NICOLAS JAAR & DAVE HARRINGTON, DARKSIDE
Darkside is the collaborative project of electronic musician Nicolas Jaar and guitarist Dave Harrington. Based out of New York City, the duo just hit the road in support of their first full-length record, Psychic, released a few months ago on Jaar’s own record label Other People. Despite their different and eclectic backgrounds, they managed to create a compelling sound unto themselves — a unique mix of psychedelic rock, electro, and jazz founded on a shared vocabulary of improvisation. While they are now just reaching the West Coast — they play at the Doug Fir in Portland tonight, making their way South — right before leaving, Nicolas and Dave were kind enough to enlighten us on their creative process, the organic birth of a project and the need for space in artistic expression.
In a few days, you are going to embark on a world tour. How are you feeling about it, how are you preparing for it? I’m sure you have been rehearsing technically — practicing — and it’s all good. What about mentally?
Dave: Our friend Will Epstein, who is opening for us on the American leg of the tour — his project is called High Water — started referring to it as The Great Journey, and I think it has really opened my mind. Touring and playing shows is the best thing, it is what I love doing and what I want to be good at. So, I’m always excited and a little bit nervous but Will has been calling it The Great Journey and I really like that way of thinking about it. Great in terms of important but, maybe there is something cosmic around the edges if we set off that way.
Nicolas: I wasn’t aware of that, but it’s funny. So it’s The Great Journey. How am I getting prepared for that? I’m not getting ready for it. I’m not ready for it. I’ll be ready for it when we pop the champagne bottle in front of our tour bus in Greenpoint and everyone waves goodbye as if we are leaving on a boat in the 1920s. I’m leaving for five months, because I’m also playing [solo shows] in between the Darkside tour, so I’m leaving for a long time.
Maybe that implies suffering as well. At least to me, “The Great Journey” sounds like going through rough times.
Dave: Well I think there always is some of that in any kind of travel, and certainly touring. You get into modes of problem solving, you always encounter a little bit of anger and challenges and going through that can be exciting. If it was all easy, it would be considerably less interesting.
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It would definitely not be exciting anymore after five months, that is true. Besides Darkside, you both have your own projects and you also tour with them. Do you think this first tour experience with Darkside is going to impact your own work or is it something completely detached?  
Nicolas: Yes, it always has. Playing with Dave influences me a lot because of his way of thinking. To me, the most exciting thing is to explore and continue to explore. That’s what Darkside is all about: see what things we can come up with.
Dave: These songs are going to sound different from night to night, and from the beginning of the tour to the end of the tour, they’re going to evolve, because that’s how we play live. We improvise. 

You’re going to travel a lot, you’ve already traveled a lot in the past. Nicolas, you were raised between Chile and New York, the record was recorded between New York and Paris. Do places matter on your creative process or is it more “whatever happens happens?”
Nicolas: I think so. I’m very lucky that I get to travel and that I get to do what I do. I try to take advantage of it as much as possible. We’re going to have a studio in the bus. I was talking about it to a friend and his reaction was “wow you’re going to be driving through all these different energies, and the ghosts of those energies are going to go into your music”. Going through little energy tunnels in the middle of America, without even being aware of it, that would be amazing.
Is that how you both have been composing, without being aware of it? Without forcing things? From an outside perspective, it seems like you have been experimenting a lot and decided to settle down on particular sounds to make the record. What are the rules of improvisation, if there are any?
Dave: The esoteric idea of what the rules of improvisation are is kind of the infinite question of playing improvised music. In terms of how we compose, how we were working on the record and how we work on playing live, I would say that we write through an improvisational mindset, and sometimes that means jamming, in the way that a band jams — the conventional 4-5 persons band jams. I think that improvisation is something that is crucial to both of us. It requires a certain openness and a certain freedom to explore ideas. On our best days, we take that into a studio where it is just the two of us so we can try any idea.
When you are experimenting, when do you stop on an idea, how do you keep on experimenting when something works?
Dave: Well, I think at a certain point, if improvising is about sensing out the moment, and what it needs, contributing to it, sometimes even in a live context, sometimes that means not doing anything and it means that your contribution has to be silence. And at a certain point, the song presents itself or the piece of music presents itself as complete. It sounds very rudimentary but in a way, while it’s very simple to say that part of improvising is knowing when not to play, it is actually incredibly hard.
When listening to the record, one can feel a symbiosis between the both of you. There is a responsive relationship in the songs and I certainly think this comes from improvising and not planning everything in advance. How did you get to that relationship where still improvising, you know how to listen to each other?
Dave: Part of the reason why we do what we do and the way we do it is because we first met improvising in a room. It is literally the first thing we did: I got recommended to Nico to be the guitarist for his live show, we booked a studio, I went with my guitar and pedals and we jammed. And then we played together touring for a year. The first time we did a Darkside thing, it was the same process. We didn’t even know it was called Darkside, we just started by making a song together.
On a more visual side, I was wondering if there are any images that your music makes in your brain? Or if you picture anything when you are playing?
Nicolas: No — I get asked that question a lot, and weirdly, I surprise everyone by saying that for me my music is music. It is sound and that’s the way I see it. I am glad and happy that people see images. All I see is colors, for sure, but there are no shapes, no people, no landscapes. There are only colors.
It’s really interesting to see how you feel about it. When I listen to your music, it is very enchanting and engaging, also on a visual level. Therefore, I started thinking of the Darkside project as its own world, its own concept, very defined. The name Darkside, the title Psychic, the artwork and the sounds evoke magic, mysticism and even religion, in a way. But this world might have not been created on purpose. I was wondering if it was something you had thought about together, or if it was something that had come up naturally, that just happened.
Nicolas: Yes it is. Mysticism and religion, these are things that can be seen as very powerful but also clumsy and very kind of ridiculous at the same time. And I guess that was the most exciting thing for me about Darkside. It was a music that could maybe feel religious but at the same time could completely be lost and seen as something purely musical and purely weak. In New York City, there are a lot of psychic shops where they give you a palm reading. To me, that was what I thought of Darkside as. In our world today, we are going back and forth between things that are very real and things that are very cheap. 
Dave: The concept, what has developed as the idea of Darkside started from us just using the word “darkside” on tour as kind of an adjective or like an adverb. This is a “darkside moment, song, or thing”. It was this feeling that had to do with intensity, noise and mysticism and it has developed gradually. In terms of the visual elements and the lyrics, Nicolas is the lyricist — I have input from now and then but he is singing so he is writing and I think that’s how it should be — but in terms of the visual element  and the way you can paint those pictures, whether it is literal or in people’s minds, I like room. I like music and performances that create room for the spectator to explore on their own, not something that necessarily gives you all the information you need. I like things that have space inside of them. One of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my life I just saw a couple of weeks ago. It was Robert Wilson’s The Life and Death of Marina Abramović that they did at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, with Antony and Willem Dafoe. It was this majestic piece of performance art where there was so much space. Even when Willem Dafoe was down stage, yelling at the audience in a German accent, covered in scary make-up. He was this tiny little speck on a giant black stage. There were these tableaux, where I felt like I needed to engage, to contribute, in order to realize what the piece was. And for the same reasons, I feel something weird when I look at Dan Flavin’s light bulbs, I feel something deeply mystical when I stand in a gallery and I look at those light bulbs. The same light bulbs that you have at a doctor’s office, and that’s very exciting to me. The reason why I bring it up is because it has something to do with the fact that it requires a spectator to become something. And it is different from a classical painting, to me. If you look at a beautiful landscape from the 1800s, it is all right there. And it is not a qualitative difference, it is just a difference of experience. It is right there on a canvas and you can look at it or not look at it. And then there are these other ways of working, and they require the object, whether it is the sound or something else, it needs a force to be activated, a body basically.

And so how are you able to do that in your music?
Dave: I didn’t say we did that, because that would make me sound incredibly pretentious. The goal is creating space that let people figure out what they want to do. My favorite records, to bring it back to music, are records that I listen to over and over again. They are the ones that I have integrated into my life, beyond the fact that I just like listening to them. I have this one Tom Waits record that I love. I only want to listen to it, kind of late at night, maybe alone. I never put it on as background music. I want to have one drink and listen to side A of this record. It’s a very specific ritual. It has been integrated into my life. The idea is that in that record there is just enough space for me to walk around it. I made it this thing and it now is this very particular thing to me. I don’t know if that this is what we have been able to make with our record, but I have definitely heard people say that they hear different things when they listen to it. To me that’s very cool. Some people hear it as this, some people hear it as that.
Speaking of leading people to different musical experiences, I believe Nicolas you said that you wanted to take dance music to another level, the chore of it being to create a space where people are happy because outside of that space, people are not as happy. And that was the reason why you wanted to make music initially. What is the thought behind that? Is the real world not a happy place, not satisfying enough to you?
Nicolas: I don’t know. I guess, like everyone, I go through times where I think that the world is a pretty dark place and then sometimes I think there is some hope for us. So when I feel like the world is a dark place, I go inside a club and I try to make a pact with everyone to say “ok guys, let’s try to forget about it, because that’s the best we can do.” But when I am more idealistic, and I feel like the world is a place where we can see progress, then I go into a club and I say “guys, lets try to get to this new place — lets try to progress together.”
So if it wasn’t for music, how do you think you would do that?
Nicolas: I would not do it. I would probably eat all day.
Thats a good solution, eat birthday cake all day.
Full tour schedule.Photo credits: Isolde Woudstra, Pascal Montary and Antony Crook.

Portland, Oregon

INTERVIEW: NICOLAS JAAR & DAVE HARRINGTON, DARKSIDE

Darkside is the collaborative project of electronic musician Nicolas Jaar and guitarist Dave Harrington. Based out of New York City, the duo just hit the road in support of their first full-length record, Psychic, released a few months ago on Jaar’s own record label Other People. Despite their different and eclectic backgrounds, they managed to create a compelling sound unto themselves — a unique mix of psychedelic rock, electro, and jazz founded on a shared vocabulary of improvisation. While they are now just reaching the West Coast — they play at the Doug Fir in Portland tonight, making their way South — right before leaving, Nicolas and Dave were kind enough to enlighten us on their creative process, the organic birth of a project and the need for space in artistic expression.

In a few days, you are going to embark on a world tour. How are you feeling about it, how are you preparing for it? I’m sure you have been rehearsing technically — practicing — and it’s all good. What about mentally?

Dave: Our friend Will Epstein, who is opening for us on the American leg of the tour  his project is called High Water  started referring to it as The Great Journey, and I think it has really opened my mind. Touring and playing shows is the best thing, it is what I love doing and what I want to be good at. So, I’m always excited and a little bit nervous but Will has been calling it The Great Journey and I really like that way of thinking about it. Great in terms of important but, maybe there is something cosmic around the edges if we set off that way.

Nicolas: I wasn’t aware of that, but it’s funny. So it’s The Great Journey. How am I getting prepared for that? I’m not getting ready for it. I’m not ready for it. I’ll be ready for it when we pop the champagne bottle in front of our tour bus in Greenpoint and everyone waves goodbye as if we are leaving on a boat in the 1920s. I’m leaving for five months, because I’m also playing [solo shows] in between the Darkside tour, so I’m leaving for a long time.

Maybe that implies suffering as well. At least to me, “The Great Journey” sounds like going through rough times.

Dave: Well I think there always is some of that in any kind of travel, and certainly touring. You get into modes of problem solving, you always encounter a little bit of anger and challenges and going through that can be exciting. If it was all easy, it would be considerably less interesting.

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"Do not fear mistakes, there are none."
-Miles Davis.

This week we’ll be at the Panama International Jazz Festival letting music wash the dust from our souls. This year’s festival is presented by artistic director Danilo Perez, whose 50-seat jazz club opens in the hotel next month. This week is an exciting preview of what’s to come.


January 10, 1949
The vinyl record was born today. Pick out a good one and play it loud. 

January 10, 1949

The vinyl record was born today. 
Pick out a good one and play it loud. 


Said hi to the sisters Haim in Portland. We just found them like this… 

Said hi to the sisters Haim in Portland. We just found them like this… 


Sustaining the notes of A and E in the lobby at Ace Hotel New York with Pat Noecker aka RAFT for Assemble XI — it was a thing of beauty.


INTERVIEW : WILL OLDHAM aka BONNIE ‘PRINCE’ BILLY
Will Oldham née Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billyhas been making music under various psuedonyms for a couple of decades. His is a voice that entrances and moves us, and his songwriting is that of a warlock. Will Oldham, we just can’t quit you…
Will was generous enough to sit down with us during Larry Crane’s live Jackpot! recording sessions at Ace Portland during MusicFest NW, to talk about the sensorial adventure of singing, about failed meditation attempts, about Robin Williams. In addition to our chat, Will performed and recorded with Larry and also spoke with MyMusicRx about music that makes him feel better.
You can download the four songs Will recorded with Larry, as well as from all other mezzanine performances including Hutch Harris of The Thermals, The Heligoats, Mount Eerie and a ton of other rad artists at Jackpot! Recordings Covers Portland.
Your performance in the mezzanine was really beautiful. It made me nostalgic for being 19.
Is that right? What happened when you were 19?
Well that’s when somebody first played Palace Music for me. And you know, there’s so much angst when you’re young and dumb.
And does the angst go away?
No, I don’t think so. I don’t know. It just made me want to quit everything and go cry in the woods for a month, you know?
Yeah. But it would be great to get paid for that.
I’m sure some people have managed it. Anyhow… So, Bonnie Prince Charlie, one of the influences behind your stage name, was also known as the Young Pretender, and was part of the tradition, if we can call it that, of “pretenders to the throne.” The semantic origins of “pretend” aren’t really about falsehood, but more about the presentation of an as-of-yet unaccepted truth. You’ve said that performing under a stage name gives people a more direct, universal, relatable persona to accept, rather than someone singing their memoirs. Johnny Cash, who covered one of your songs before he passed, seems to have had a very earnest approach to stage identity, a lack of strategy around his persona and how his audience related to his work…
Yeah. But then, Cash also, for example, wore all black and then wrote the song about why he wears black, which is absolutely a persona and is completely about doing something for the audience. So they can imagine that they’re hearing all of the songs from this accepted voice, that the audience and Cash both accept as the voice. Right? And he was born with, you know, a totally salable name.
Yeah he was. He really lucked out. He wasn’t named Sue, for instance. So in my experience as a listener of your music, and in speaking with other people who have a history with your music, it seems people feel that it’s very emotionally sonorous, and it’s, you know, speaking some truth to us. Autobiographical fictionists often get sort of interrogated about what’s “really them” in their stories, and memoirists often get taken to task about what’s “really true” as well. You’ve said that you feel you’re performing even as you write. It’s possible that personal truths get perceived as universal and vice versa when your music reaches someone’s ears. They may feel you’re finally expressing for them a truth they weren’t able to express for themselves. How does this relate to songwriting as a performance?
Well, I guess…it’s an act of witnessing. When I’m performing a song that I know really well, the advantage of knowing it really well allows you to let your guard down and be surprised as the song goes on, in terms of what’s happening in the song and what’s going to happen next or where it could potentially go. It can be new because it’s second nature. But building it in the first place in such a way that, that there are surprises built in to the structure of the song or into the lines of the song. Things that that can be said again and again and each time take on a slightly different significance, I guess.
In terms of anything maybe, it seems like nothing is true. Nothing is true that we can say with words.
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Yeah, it’s almost like the drama of music is a like a fiction that everybody wants to connect to. It’s so much bigger than whatever we think of as concrete in any way.
Yeah, it’s an advantage that song has over speech, that if you’re just saying or reading, it’s pretty subtle or ambiguous, the spaces between words, whereas music fills in the spaces between words with melody and with rhythm. So right away it feels like a more truthful way of using language because it’s showing you that words don’t, can’t exist all by themselves. When we’re just talking to each other we think that the words that we’re using are sufficient, you know. That carries us through to the end of a thought or the end of the paragraph…You think, like, these words are very sufficient and we have enough language to express the things that we want to express, when absolutely that isn’t true, and music sort of says, “There’s not enough in these words. That’s why they’re being sung. That’s why there’s a beat because the words will never be enough to approximate anything that you want to say or want to try to understand. And you can vary the dynamic of something or the harmony of something to imply all the different possible or many different possible meanings of a given line or a given scenario.
I think that’s really a beautiful idea that as you’re writing a song that you intend to play… as you’re writing lyrics that you intend to sing, you realize that the writing that you’re doing is sort of inadequate in and of itself. That you’re going to have to wait to see sort of what you can build around it. That song becomes a container for experiences and surprises that you don’t even know to anticipate when you start singing. And if you know it well enough, then you can just kind of forget about it and experience it…
Yes and try to make it adequate enough that its adequacy should increase, never to complete adequacy but should, you know, gradually increase each time the song is just listened to – someone pushes play on their record player or whatever — or performed, until it is completely anachronistic.
I imagine there are songs that were recorded 90 years ago that have lost almost all adequacy just because everything valuable in it has been coopted and understood and taken for granted so that you listen to something and think, you know, “Why did this ever exist? This seems to have no value whatsoever, I don’t understand. This is a love song, you say? I can’t relate to this at all.” But at one point someone was blown away by the power of these certain love songs or comedy songs or adventure songs. And now they’re so much a part of our brains, you know… Like people have said that the insanity of a hit song by Kanye West will not sound very remarkable eventually.

Weren’t you in an alternate version of a Kanye West video with Zack Galifianakis?
Indeed.
Tell me about it. Did he commission this?
No, Galifianakis had made an Anita Baker video where he lip syncs an Anita Baker song, makes it like a legitimate music video but he’s the one singing, and I think he may have done another one for Fiona Apple. And I guess Kanye West saw one or both of those and asked Galifianakis to make a music video for him, and he had extended an invitation to me over a couple of years again and again to come and visit his farm in North Carolina. And at one point, I had tried to go on a Vipassana Meditation retreat, and it was…my mind sort of… uh, it was a collision. It didn’t really work. So I fled that, and this was in rural Illinois. And I just thought, “Now what am I gonna do? Where am I gonna go?” You know, my brain was all set up to be put in order and now it’s even more chaotic than it was four days ago. I thought “Oh, that’s right! I can go to Galifianakis’ farm. I’ll call him.” So I called him. “Are you there?” “Yeah, come on over.” So I drove from Illinois to North Carolina and I’m getting last minute directions: “Okay, I am at the end of this road.” “Where do I go?” “Okay, take this turn, take this turn. By the way, we’re gonna be shooting a Kanye West video while you’re here.”
Amazing contrast.
Just like what my brain — yeah. My brain was like, “Okay, sounds great.”
Escapism!
Yeah, exactly. So I just wandered up to his cabin and I think I sat down in a picnic table, someone brought a beer over and I didn’t move from there for a long time, and then people started to arrive with their cameras and the playback system. And this video — you know, I sat in the same spot for about two hours while the video started to be shot. It was like the Lorax or something.
I like imagining that Zach Galifianakis has a farm. It sounds very calm, with the exception of the Kanye West video production. Is he calm, and well-suited to farm life?
He is still funny, but you know one thing that us lay people think, we think that comedians are… 
Constantly funny?
Yeah, and they’re not. 
Like if you were constantly singing.
Robin Williams is probably you know the a rare example of somebody who is just… He’s his comedic thing all the time. That’s what I’ve heard. But most other ones, they’re not telling jokes and they’re not all that funny in real life, except they have these inflections where if you’re in a room with Galifianakas or Steve Martin, everything they say, you’re waiting for the punch line. But they’re just talking. They’re just like yeah I went to the store.
And you’re doing a drum roll in your head… “Wait for it.” But you’ll wait forever because they’re just going to the store.
Right.
You also made a cartoon theme song about Lance Bang’s life in order to be cast as a gorilla trainer in Jackass 3D….
Oh, yeah.
Will you sing a little bit of it?
For some reason I thought that the cartoon should be called Bance Langs so it went “Bance Langs, Bance Langs…” No, I can’t remember how it goes right now, except for that part. “Bance Langs, Bance Langs…” I was trying imagine a Saturday morning cartoon theme song that would stick in a child’s head and make you look forward every Saturday morning to tuning in and knowing that the commercials were over and the fun was about to begin.
So did he bribe you to make it in order to be in his movie or…
Um, kind of. Well, he was in Louisville, because he’s been working on this interminable documentary about the band Slint, and we were just talking about what was going on in each other’s lives and he said, “Oh we’re working on another Jackass movie.” And I think I then said, “What would I have to do in order to become a part of that?” He said, “Write a theme song.” And I said, “A theme song for what?” And he said, “For my life.” So I wrote the theme song, recorded it, sent it to him and then like three days later my phone rang, and he was like, “Is this Will?” “Yeah.” “This is Knoxville. I hear you want to be in Jackass. What do you want to do? Do you want to just witness? Do you want to, you know, do something to somebody? Do you want to have something done to you?” And I said, “I’m completely in your hands. You know, whatever…”
This is what we ask people when they check into Ace Hotel too.
Is that right?
Yeah. Your choice, choose your own adventure. So, is Lance Bangs the only person that’s ever heard this jingle other than you or has it made the rounds?
I have no idea. 
It was a direct e-mail.
It was directly, I sent it straight to him, yeah.
Well, lucky him. And now I have a reason to watch Jackass 3D. Okay. So going back a bit to what we were talking about with performing. Your voice is so beautiful and also very relaxed. Some singers have a beautiful voice but they really have to kind of push it out, you know. Yours sort of seems to just rest its weight on the song but also has this vibrancy to it. I was thinking that if I could sing like that I would like never want to not be singing.
Right? That’s it. Yeah.
So I was wondering if you would kind of always rather be singing?
Yes. Absolutely.
Okay, good. And also what does it feel like when you’re singing? Where does it happen in your body? Is it different every time? Do you crave it?
Yeah. Crave it. It’s different every time and sometimes that’s very frightening because I know that it is relaxed but it’s more, like, wound up, or it’s ready for anything or ready for, ready for… ready to react. It’s a reactive performance — like reactive to the other energies that are available for the singing. So it can be very frightening because I don’t know what the strongest force acting upon the voice will be.
For example, played this show last night, and the strongest forces that I was aware of prior to walking on the stage were internal forces and they were not positive and they were not reliable. So I was just scared to death, but then the energy from the people in the theater was so strong and so positive that it completely changed everything and it made it possible to sing.
It was to the point where numerous times during the show I felt like I was at a show and hearing a singer and thinking like, “Wow I didn’t know that he could do that”… It means that the bad part about that is that there’s vulnerability.
Right. Exactly.
You know, it’s so nice to sing with other people but I’ve learned that the more the other people bring the more I’m going to be there. Like, I don’t have the power to transform something without the energy from somebody else. Like, there was a dude in the coffee place downstairs just now who brought up this collaborative record that I made with the Chicago group Tortoise. It was all cover songs. And that was, you know: cover songs, put them on the table, start doing them, and then I started realizing that I was capable of entering the ring with these musicians in the way they used improvisation, experimentation and complete solid structure all at once, and that that allowed me to sing using a similar concoction or similar ratio of those things.
Whereas, I made a record ten years ago with some older, very well-established session musicians in Nashville who were part of the country music scene for decades and they had a certain way of playing. And it was not about experimentation but more about finding a traditional emotional flow and a traditional dynamic that’s really great — but all of the sudden, you know, I’m hearing this voice come out that sounds like it’s singing in the same tradition as these other musicians. And just thinking that’s what all the singing is about and that’s what all the listening to records is about: it’s an indefinable training and preparation, it’s trying to be vulnerable and confident at the same time which is — they like completely contradict each other…unless it works.
I was actually just taking this Shambhala Buddhist class for five weeks called “Contentment in Everyday Life,” so I just went to the last session on Wednesday night. We were talking about having like confidence in your life. Not confidence like you have your shoulder pads on and you can defeat the world, but confidence that you’re going to be okay and that everything is okay and everything is workable.
Yeah.
We were talking about that kind of balance between vulnerability and confidence— like how you have to show up and be totally vulnerable in order for the best thing to happen. And so when you’re describing coming out onto stage and how terrifying it is to have to be vulnerable in order to sing, what I’m hearing from you is that you have to be that open satellite for whatever energy is there — yours and other people’s — but if you didn’t you wouldn’t be the performer that you are…
And it wouldn’t be this experience that you were describing or this psychological phenomenon. Like, yeah I wish I was always singing – but I wouldn’t if it was more like, “Now I open the door and go into my Singing Room.” It isn’t like that at all.
Right. “I put on my Singing Outfit.”
“I’m put on my Singing Outfit and here’s how the song begins and I know where I’m going to go” – but it can’t be compartmentalized in that way. So…without those structures or securities – that’s the most rewarding kind of singing.
When you see somebody who finds through doing their work that what they create is a full-on extension of him or herself — I mean, that’s what I have always dreamed of, is having my work be a natural extension… Something like a surfer or a trumpet player or a visual artist. You know Kyle Field? Little Wings. He’s got a music thing called Little Wings. And he’s a compulsive visual artist so that if you just sit in a room with him he’ll be making drawings and when I look at the drawings, you know, it, it feels so good to look at those drawings because you feel like he’s sort of taking the reins and becoming one with, or participating in the passage of time and participating in creation rather than witnessing destruction or negative entropy or something like that. Or if you hear someone play a musical solo, like Richard Thompson, you know. He’ll sit there on stage and he’ll play a song and the song won’t be anything until he starts to play the solo section and then… For that moment — because there’s generosity going on there — for that moment, you are Richard Thompson. 
That’s the gift of that kind of relationship to his ability — that he gives it to you, he’s like taking your brain, and he couldn’t do it without your brain. He’s taking your brain and saying now let’s go whoa, here, here, here. You’re like, Oh my goodness. And when you feel like you’re with the audience and everybody is being carried somewhere by this unique individual…at the end of the day his most crucial tool is your brain. It’s not his talent, it’s your brain.

Yeah. That’s really beautiful. So is it different when you’re singing alone?
Yeah, it’s different, and as the years go on I’m afraid of one day the voice… you know, it’s something that will eventually wear out, like the body wears out. I’m afraid of what might happen but as the years go on I have more at my disposal. Playing with other people, it’s like you walk onto the stage less afraid of what the energy in the room is going to be because you’re confident about the energy that you’re on stage with, these other people, and you know that they can throw you curve balls but you can feel good about it, excited about and even anticipating what curve balls they’re going to throw you. Whereas with the audience it’s not always exciting to think about what curve balls they could throw you.
Kind of reminds me of Venus and Serena Williams. You know? Venus’s health gave out and now she can only really do doubles with her sister — but together they’re even more powerful, together they’re like this crazy power team kicking everyone’s ass.
Right, yeah.
Yeah, there’s something in there… Downstairs just now, recording with Larry, it seemed so trusting. He’s such a sweet and awesome guy.
Yeah, being able to perform with him as the crucial audience — I was totally just using his energy to do that performance just then, because I knew I could trust his energy. Totally trust his energy.
And he was like right there with you interacting and just — full contact.
Yeah, and he was hearing my relationship to the microphone which was… That was an exciting thing because I knew like I could do things with the microphone with a certain dynamic and he was the only person who could hear it.
Have you ever heard of a silent disco? I’m going to one this weekend and I’m pretty excited because I’ve always heard of them, and wanted to just go and pull my hood over my face and dance in public silence with people. It would be so amazing if there was a silent disco but for a show where it’s like very quiet and you get that right in your ear buds, that kind of interaction, hearing breath and it’s just very intimate.
Yes, right.
Do you have any synesthesia when you’re singing or writing or performing? Any association between, for instance, notes and colors? Or when you’re really spacing out and you’re in that zone even if you are in front of people, what’s going on in your brain? For me when I play music it’s like going to this area of my brain that’s loyal to an entirely different logic. What your associations are with sound?
Mine are all related to tamber and power of delivery of any given word. It’s mostly torso and throat but I’ve got all these words that come with the songs so in the song you’ve got all these lyrics and then it’s more…so instead of color it’s melodic and harmonic and tonal and energy.
Right. And kind of physical?
And physical but it’s a full landscape or it’s a full world, it’s a full universe of places to explore.
So does it feel like that when you’re singing? Does it feel spatially like everything just becomes a different kind of dimension?
Yes, it’s as if you know, as if it turns from solid and air and these things to where everything is translated into melody and tamber and intensity and harmony and rhythm. So there isn’t anything else. There isn’t any color. There isn’t any gravity, things like that.
And it’s free to do. Isn’t that insane? And it doesn’t give you a hangover.
No it makes you feel better. But it’s not entirely free.
Right, not energetically. It takes and it returns.
Yeah, I mean one of the great redeeming factors of singing is that it’s like free jazz — it’s being able to experiment fully within very solid boundaries. So, then if you can take some of that magic from that Oz back to this Kansas and say like well you know so I did have to walk through that door so I do have to do these things, but in every movement and every tiny little decision there is pretty huge amount of flexibility and surprise. Just turning the doorknob is full of potential. And that’s what the singing is like, teaching those lessons, because it’s the same, it’s a word that has five letters, two syllables but after that you know you’re going to get to the end of the world and a second and a quarter, but all the different ways you can get through that word makes it and then you can apply those to everything. It makes the days super long.
Well, it seems also like a way of really showing up, just fully, fully showing up for, like you said: for what’s going to happen. It’s pretty amazing.
Yeah, yeah, yes.
Okay so the last thing. You don’t have to do this… What’s one of the first songs you remember remembering. The first memorable song of your life. Interviewers are always asking what songs had the strongest influence on someone as an artist. I guess I’m thinking more like something really foundational. Like was there a little lullaby that you heard a lot as a kid – or what was one of your parents favorite songs? If something springs to mind will you sing it?
Trying to … First? Earliest? That’s really tough.
It doesn’t have to be first or earliest. There’s no science to this question. Like maybe your parents were cleaning the house and it was morning and there was like a song they always listened to that you remember, you learned every breath of it. You just know it.
Yeah, there’s a lot of those. There are weird ones like a song called Robin by Carly Simon. Do you know that? It’s like, “Friends are more than fond of Robin.” Uh…she’s like, “There’s no one living in our lane, oh yes. There’s still folks still living in our lane, but they’re not like Robin. Robin I never told you that I’ll be yours until we’re old. Please learn to call me in your dreams.” And then she sings a line that I’ve never… It’s one of those things that I don’t know what she says. It’s like, “The way ayayayayahmmmm…. is just as it seems.”

It’s beautiful.
It’s beautiful. She had some good melodies, but that’s an incredible melody.
I’ve never asked him about it but my older brother made a record a decade ago where he said a bunch of poems by the French poet François Villon who was some sort of Baudelaireian, Bukowskian kind of writer who wrote 100s of years ago and I first heard about him in — have you ever read Klaus Kinski’s autobiography?
Not yet, but now I will.
It’s so good. And he, early in his career, would perform Villon poems before a live audience… But my older brother made a record where he set a bunch of these poems to music and one of them has some melodic lines that are similar to that Carly Simon song and I wonder if he was aware of that or not because we both would hear that song in the house just playing. Playing, playing, playing. Yeah. Or like The First Time Whenever I Saw Your Face, Roberta Flack. You know?
Yeah. Hit it. I’m just kidding. You don’t have to.
Good.
You’re not a jukebox.
Yeah.
Um, thank you.
That’s kind of the dream though to be a jukebox.
Sure, but you know: “Go to this room and do this and then go to this room and do this and now dance around with a little drum and…” It’s a bit much. Thank you, Will. It was so great talking with you.
Back at you.

INTERVIEW : WILL OLDHAM aka BONNIE ‘PRINCE’ BILLY

Will Oldham née Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billyhas been making music under various psuedonyms for a couple of decades. His is a voice that entrances and moves us, and his songwriting is that of a warlock. Will Oldham, we just can’t quit you…

Will was generous enough to sit down with us during Larry Crane’s live Jackpot! recording sessions at Ace Portland during MusicFest NW, to talk about the sensorial adventure of singing, about failed meditation attempts, about Robin Williams. In addition to our chat, Will performed and recorded with Larry and also spoke with MyMusicRx about music that makes him feel better.

You can download the four songs Will recorded with Larry, as well as from all other mezzanine performances including Hutch Harris of The Thermals, The Heligoats, Mount Eerie and a ton of other rad artists at Jackpot! Recordings Covers Portland.

Your performance in the mezzanine was really beautiful. It made me nostalgic for being 19.

Is that right? What happened when you were 19?

Well that’s when somebody first played Palace Music for me. And you know, there’s so much angst when you’re young and dumb.

And does the angst go away?

No, I don’t think so. I don’t know. It just made me want to quit everything and go cry in the woods for a month, you know?

Yeah. But it would be great to get paid for that.

I’m sure some people have managed it. Anyhow… So, Bonnie Prince Charlie, one of the influences behind your stage name, was also known as the Young Pretender, and was part of the tradition, if we can call it that, of “pretenders to the throne.” The semantic origins of “pretend” aren’t really about falsehood, but more about the presentation of an as-of-yet unaccepted truth. You’ve said that performing under a stage name gives people a more direct, universal, relatable persona to accept, rather than someone singing their memoirs. Johnny Cash, who covered one of your songs before he passed, seems to have had a very earnest approach to stage identity, a lack of strategy around his persona and how his audience related to his work…

Yeah. But then, Cash also, for example, wore all black and then wrote the song about why he wears black, which is absolutely a persona and is completely about doing something for the audience. So they can imagine that they’re hearing all of the songs from this accepted voice, that the audience and Cash both accept as the voice. Right? And he was born with, you know, a totally salable name.

Yeah he was. He really lucked out. He wasn’t named Sue, for instance. So in my experience as a listener of your music, and in speaking with other people who have a history with your music, it seems people feel that it’s very emotionally sonorous, and it’s, you know, speaking some truth to us. Autobiographical fictionists often get sort of interrogated about what’s “really them” in their stories, and memoirists often get taken to task about what’s “really true” as well. You’ve said that you feel you’re performing even as you write. It’s possible that personal truths get perceived as universal and vice versa when your music reaches someone’s ears. They may feel you’re finally expressing for them a truth they weren’t able to express for themselves. How does this relate to songwriting as a performance?

Well, I guess…it’s an act of witnessing. When I’m performing a song that I know really well, the advantage of knowing it really well allows you to let your guard down and be surprised as the song goes on, in terms of what’s happening in the song and what’s going to happen next or where it could potentially go. It can be new because it’s second nature. But building it in the first place in such a way that, that there are surprises built in to the structure of the song or into the lines of the song. Things that that can be said again and again and each time take on a slightly different significance, I guess.

In terms of anything maybe, it seems like nothing is true. Nothing is true that we can say with words.

Read More


To close out Notes from the Underground this evening, eleven musicians — including Brian Chase (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), JG Thirlwell (Foetus), and curator/maestro Pat Noecker aka RAFT (Liars, These Are Powers) — will spread themselves throughout the lobby at Ace New York, charged with the deceptively simple task of “working to sustain the notes of A and E.” Your job is to wander, letting your feet and ears create your own unique piece of music. If it’s anything like Noecker’s other happenings, this hourlong performance will be immersive, brainy, and dark around the edges. Read about all the performers and learn more on our calendar. We’ll see, and hear, you tonight.


The Long Winters are Skyping in to the Ace NY lobby today at 2pm for CMJoyful with MyMusicRx. Be there or be square. Woop!

The Long Winters are Skyping in to the Ace NY lobby today at 2pm for CMJoyful with MyMusicRx. Be there or be square. Woop!


MyMusicRx’s CMJoyful in the New York lobby yesterday evoked tears of joy due to Justin of Menomena's bass saxual healing, Jesca Hoop's hook-line-and-sinker vocals and all the other spacious, generous tunes that were spun throughout the afternoon. We've still got a few hours left in today's line-up, and PIAS DJs in the evening. See the full line-up here — bring a friend and try out the Breslin's brand new cocktail roster, too. CMJoyful, record label DJs and Notes from the Underground continues through Saturday, culminating in a collaborative performance piece with RAFT, Assemble XI.




Photos by Chris la Putt for Brooklyn Vegan

MyMusicRx’s CMJoyful in the New York lobby yesterday evoked tears of joy due to Justin of Menomena's bass saxual healing, Jesca Hoop's hook-line-and-sinker vocals and all the other spacious, generous tunes that were spun throughout the afternoon. We've still got a few hours left in today's line-up, and PIAS DJs in the evening. See the full line-up here — bring a friend and try out the Breslin's brand new cocktail roster, too. CMJoyful, record label DJs and Notes from the Underground continues through Saturday, culminating in a collaborative performance piece with RAFT, Assemble XI.

Photos by Chris la Putt for Brooklyn Vegan


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