Saturday, July 16, 2011

311 Rocks On with Universal Pulse!

I had mixed expectations for 311's new record, Universal Pulse, after four years anticipation produced Uplifter in 2009, an album with some magnificent moments within a substate of reggae and hard-rocking instrumentals with the poppiest lyrics ever heard from the band. The most confusing factor was Get Down, a widely available bonus track that left me, a longtime fan who needs a second set of hands to count the shows I've seen, unsure as to if they could follow up with an album that would be nearly as good as that song alone. Universal Pulse proves 311 can.

Reuniting with Uplifter producer Bob Rock, 311 brings us their most concise studio effort since the 1992 cassette Hydroponic. Clocking in at 29:01, Universal Pulse wastes no time kicking into high gear. "Time Bomb" opens the record by saluting their "excitable crew" of fans. Following is "Wild Nights", which quickly dispenses a sharp rap attack from vocalist S.A. Martinez. The writing generally takes a more serious, story-telling tone than the predecessor. Bassist P-Nut makes his debut contributing lyrics on the opener and the first single, "Sunset In July", a funky reggae jam describing the joy experienced by the band on their Unity Tour dates every summer. "Rock On", a confrontation against self-destructive behavior reminiscent of the esoteric "Firewater", goes out with the closest thing to a straight heavy metal guitar break heard since Tim Mahoney joined the band.

 The official video visual for "Sunset In July"

One thing 311 has been consistent with since 2003's Evolver is roller-coaster finales. Universal Pulse closes with the imagery rich epic "And a Ways to Go". Nick Hexum and Martinez weave a depiction of the pursuit of higher comprehension with lines like, "they led me at last to a beautiful fire and it deepened in a way that I forgot I admired." Preparing for exit, P-Nut goes off on a wah saturated bass solo before the listener is bid farwell with the singers optimistic offering "come on yeah, it'll be alright and we're gonna take a ride; I don't know if we'll come back."

Digital collage artist Sonny Kay designed the cover, which I must say, is easily the trippiest art yet to grace a 311 disc. Kay has gained notoriety in the post-rock/math-rock scene as a designer for many bands, including The Mars Volta and Red Sparrowes, as well as former head of the now defunct Gold Standard Laboratories label.

The debut release from 311's eponymous label (licensed to ATO Records), Universal Pulse hits stores on CD and vinyl on Tuesday, July 19 but some retailers have already put it on shelves. Select independent stores will offer a lenticular (hologram) print of the cover art backed with a download code for an exclusive remix. Make the most of your summer and pick up Universal Pulse!

311 is currently on the road with their eighth annual Unity Tour, supported by Sublime with Rome. The tour climaxes with the first ever 311 Pow Wow Festival, a three day music festival in Live Oak, Florida where they will play four sets, including the premier live performance of their magnum opus, 1997's Transistor, in its entirety. Below are the remaing dates:

Lifestyles Community Pavilion
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

7/19 OMAHA, NE
Red Sky Festival
TD Ameritrade Park
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

PNC Bank Art Center
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Nikon at Jones Beach Amphitheatre
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

7/23 BOSTON, MA (Mansfield, MA)
Comcast Center
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Farm Bureau Live at VA Beach Amphitheatre
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

7/29 WASHINGTON, DC (Bristow, VA)
Jiffy Lube Live (Nissan Pavilion)
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Time Warner Music Pavilion at Walnut Creek
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak, N. Florida
see festival site for complete information

L’Auberge Du Lac Casino
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

GEXA Energy Pavilion
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

The Backyard
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

8/16 DENVER, CO (Morrison, CO)
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Usana Amphitheatre
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
311, Sublime w/Rome, DJ Soulman & DJ Trichrome

Santa Barbara Bowl
311, Sublime w/Rome, Del Mar
Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View
311, Sublime w/Rome, Del Mar

Cuthbert Amphitheater
311, Sublime w/Rome, Del Mar

Marymoor Amphitheatre
311, Sublime w/Rome, Del Mar

Monday, July 4, 2011

Interview: Outsider Artist/Ex-Weezer Bassist Mikey Welsh

By Tom Faix

"Skim Milk Jollies" by Mikey Welsh
Outsider artist Mikey Welsh’s latest solo exhibition, “Skim Milk Jollies” opened Saturday at the Slingluff Gallery in the Fishtown district of Philadelphia. Entering the gallery one will become immersed by walls clad with abstract scenes and imaginative portraits surrounding. Particularly striking is Welsh’s manic technique and high volume of work which reflect his need to constantly paint.

Based in Burlington VT, Welsh is a self-taught painter who had considerable success in the music world as Weezer’s second bassist, as well as playing with Juliana Hatfield and the short-lived Boston outfit Kickovers before trading his bass in for paintbrushes. In April, he was featured as part of PBS’ Art Month. Welsh has contributed to action-sports culture by creating murals at skate-parks, as well as painting skate decks, and designing a line of snowboard equipment for Burton.

I caught up with Welsh at opening night to discuss accessibility in art collecting, as well as his recent nods back to the music business.

Square Cotton Candy: You offer your works of art for a lot lower of a price than many fine artists and I’m wondering is that in response to how prolific you are or is it in response to the economy, or is it just what you feel like doing?

Mikey Welsh: That’s a great question actually. I’m glad you asked that. I think it’s a couple of things. I think one of them that definitely plays into it is the prolific nature of how I work. I do a lot of painting every day, every week; I just crank ‘em out. I think that’s probably why you see so much energy, because they’re painted in a pretty manic fashion. Another really important component of what we’re talking about is I’m trying to take some of the exclusiveness of art collecting for people. Particularly, I particularly have a lot of younger fans from my music days with Weezer. They don’t have 2000, 3000 dollars to spend on a, you know, 22” by 15” painting so I sell it for 200 dollars, and I mean I’m not attached to these things like they’re my lifeline. I make them, I crank them out. That’s not to say that they’re not important to me, they don’t mean a lot to me. What is important to me and what I was just trying to say is making them accessible to people, like that’s important to me. I don’t like the snobbishness and exclusive nature of art buying and art collecting. That’s a really good question.

SCC: I appreciate that cause I mean a lot of artists out there themselves can’t afford to buy the art that’s influenced them themselves and it’s kinda strange how something even before it got to that point, something that might’ve been, even with Fluxus in the 60’s, some of the books they would make, art books they would make, maybe would be like three dollars, six dollars when they first sold them, and now they’re thousands of dollars and that’s never what they intended.

Welsh: Yeah, well I think that, um…I don’t know how to say it any clearer. I’ll just like reiterate what I said a second ago. Its’ just, you know, I want people to have my work. I think people either love my work or they hate it and, I don’t really…If they love it that’s great, if they hate it that doesn’t faze me at all. I don’t care, I’m not gonna stop making it. It’s important to me that people have it, if they want something that they really love that they can own it, you know, and take all of that snobbishness out, you know. That’s the fucking thing, you know, life’s too short man.

SCC: Another thing that I came upon recently was your artwork for the Twin Berlin.

Welsh: Yep.

SCC: It’s been a while since you left the music industry and I saw a little nod back to it. How did you become involved with making their cover for their debut album?

Welsh: You know in the last ten years since I left Weezer that I’ve been painting full-time, for one reason or another, you know, for the energy of my art or for my obvious connection to the music business through my bands, I’ve had a lot of bands ask me to their cover art for albums and I always have…When I have these emails come in I always have them send me the music to hear it, or send me a link so I can download it. I gotta know; I gotta know what it sounds like.

SCC: You gotta know what you’re representing.

Welsh: I‘ve had dozens of bands ask me to do their artwork for covers and stuff. I never heard anything that really floored me and Twin Berlin was another band that sent me an email, can you do our cover art, and sent it to me and I was like, you know what, they’re young, they’re good looking, they remind me of the Strokes a little bit, which is a good thing and they got good songs! But they’re reminiscent of things that are familiar to me but they craft really good songs, you know, and I was like, I can get behind this so I was just like yeah, and I just did it for them.

SCC: In the past few years a lot of archival Weezer recordings have started to surface of official releases, particularly revised arrangements of “Trampoline” and “Everyone” on Death to False Metal.

Welsh: Everyone is on an album?

SCC: Yeah.

Welsh: (Laughs)

Revised early Welsh era tracks appear on this divisive disc.
SCC: I was going to ask if you felt like the released versions were faithful representations of what you were a part of.

Welsh: To be perfectly honest, I haven’t heard, I didn’t know, god, what did Trampoline sound like? That’s, you’re going way back man. You’re going back like 12 years.

SCC: “Never seen you before but I know what you’re thinking” [hums the riff].

Welsh: (Laughs) I haven’t heard them but, you know what, I don’t, I, you know, the weezer boys played up in my neck of the woods up in Vermont last year and I ended up playing Hash Pipe with them, which was the opening song and they did songs that were early demos when I was in the band, like Dope Nose, which ended up on a record and my buddy Scott [Shriner] did all the vocals, Scott the bass player that replaced me, and it was fantastic. It sounded like the original so I’m sure, you know, knowing Rivers I’m sure he kept it true to its roots. I think with the situation where he’s taking old songs off of old demos and re-recording them or re-releasing them or whatever, he wants to sort of capture that moment in time you know, I don’t think he would fuck with it too much. And I’m sure he’s busy writing new stuff so I don’t know why he would bother, you know. It’s like me pulling out a painting from two years ago and re-painting it or re-working it or something. It’s like, you know what, that’s what I was feeling two years ago. Leave it alone, you know what I mean?

SCC: I find it that way as a musician myself. There are songs that I wrote a few years ago that never got realized as a full-band recording and I could go back and do that nowadays but the energy’s just not into it and I would want it to sound like I thought it back then but I’m not gonna go and change it up so much. I tried that and it didn’t work out too well, didn’t go too far with that.

Welsh: Right. I think, um, it’s sort of a random guess, but I would kind of assume he would want to keep old…those are old songs you’re talking about. It’s from ’99 probably? ’98? He would probably want to keep them pretty true to the original form cause it’s just a moment in time.

Skim Milk Jollies will be on display through the end of July at the Slingluff Gallery.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bill Doss Talks New Olivia Tremor Control Recordings, Stephen Colbert, and File-Sharing

By Tom Faix.

Bill Doss and the gravity-modifying effects of the new music.
Photo by Bill Doss

2011 is turning out to be quite the eventful year for Bill Doss. In February he journeyed with fellow Elephant Six-ers on the Holiday Surprise tour, performing material from a wide array of projects, including The Olivia Tremor Control and Sunshine Fix. Come December he will be in England playing at a Jeff Mangum Curated All Tomorrow's Parties festival with OTC and The Apples In Stereo. Between now and then the focus will tune to the highly anticipated new OTC recordings. With 11 years passed since their last album and increased live activity, curiosity for the new music is growing rapidly in the fan community. To gain some clarity on what's to come, I had Doss answer a few questions about his recorded output, ranging from the new recordings to the early E6 cassettes.

Square Cotton Candy:  A few months ago North Term Reality came out on the AUX comp. Prior to that, it had been reported that there were at least two complete songs from the new OTC sessions.  At this point, what would a CD-R of session progress sound like?
Bill Doss: At this point, we have approximately 2 hours of music that we have been working on.  Some mixes are close to being finished and some are just begun while others are merely rough ideas that will be worked into something.  Beginning next week, we are going into Derek Almstead’s studio to begin the process of bouncing tracks to tape.  He has a ½ in tape machine and because we began a lot of these tracks on Protools, we’re gonna bounce the drums, bass, etc to that tape machine to warm them up/fuzz them out a bit.  It’s a tedious process but I’m actually quite excited about it as that will be when sounds start to take shape.  The sculpting will begin! 

SCC: Is there prospect of a seven-inch or something being ready around the time you go to England for All Tomorrow’s Parties later this year?

BD:  We do hope to have recordings out by the time we go to England later this year.  Whether that will be a 7” EP or a full length LP is anyone’s guess at this point.  We just have to keep adding ingredients into the sound stew and stir, stir, stir until it tastes like something that we’d want to hear, if we were listening to an album.  The outcome is unpredictable which is what makes recording fun.  You can go into the process with all sorts of ideas as to how you want a song to turn out, but with any luck, given that there are others in the band who will add their own textures and ideas, you’ll end up with something completely unexpected.  In the past, we have released preludes to our LPs (California Demise, Giant Day) and that may happen again  but with the way the music world is at this point in time, we’re looking at many different possibilities for releasing music.  What with the digital realm, the possibilities seem endless.

SCC: How did the Apples In Stereo song “Stephen, Stephen” come about?

BD: Well, you’d really have to ask Robert [Schneider] about that one but from what I understand, he and Max were playing croquet out in the back yard, when his dog, Simeon, got distracted and started barking at something off in the tree line.  Upon investigation, they saw a faint blue glow coming from deep within the forest.  They carefully made their way through the bramble and came upon some sort of egg/pod/capsule type object which bore some strange markings on it’s casing in the middle of which was a dial.  Before Robert could warn him away, Max, in a very excited and incautious way of a child, grabbed the dial and randomly turned it.  At this point, a strange and not very pleasing sound emanated from the pod as it opened to reveal what appeared to be a set of headphones with a note attached that simply read:  “Listen”.  So, Robert put on the headphones and what was coming through them was a tune, the likes of which Robert claims to have never heard.  He and Max immediately made tracks back to their house where Robert grabbed a guitar and tried to recall what he’d heard.  The result was “Stephen, Stephen”.   

At least, that’s the story I heard.

SCC:  I found it a bit unusual for a major TV personality to announce the musical guest with the preface “to celebrate the release of the Japanese picture-disc”. Do you think it is ironic that something as obscure as an import single was promoted at that level of exposure?

BD: I do find that a bit odd, but given Stephen’s overly-developed ego, I think it makes sense that he would want to promote anything that gives him praise.  Plus, that disc had just come out so it was perfect timing.

Synthetic Flying Machine's self-released 1993 cassette "Heaven Is For Kids"

is among the most sought after releases in the Elephant Six canon.

Cover by Synthetic Flying Machine.

SCC: There are a lot of sought after recordings and more esoteric releases under your belts. A few years ago Jeff [Mangum] told me that it was a complicated question as to whether they would ever be properly reissued. After recording more music and becoming further distanced from some of my old tapes I began to see more of his point. There must be a respectable amount of people out there who would buy, for example, a Synthetic Flying Machine record if it was pressed, but I can see a few reasons why it wouldn’t be done. Between the constant creation of new material distancing you from older recordings and the freedom of file-sharing, how do you feel about preparing reissues?

BD: You kinda answered your own question there.  It’s a bit tedious to go back to old recordings and immerse yourself in them long enough to create a proper release.  You have to make new mixes or masters and deal with artwork, etc.  It’s difficult when you wanna stay in the now and continue working on whatever is exciting you at the moment.  Those are things that excited you years ago.  And, as you mentioned, with file sharing what it is today, as soon as someone takes it upon themselves to upload your recordings to the internet, there is almost no reason to worry about releasing them anymore.  They are available and free to anyone with a computer. 

SCC: The series of OTC photos in which your faces are all painted different colors reminds me of the Miracle Legion album Surprise Surprise Surprise’s back cover.  Were those photos a nod to their influence?

BD: As I have never heard of this band, I looked them up when I read this question.  While I see that they also painted their faces, it seems to me that their intent was different than ours.  Their overall motif seems to be more zoological and we were more simply working with color and light to see what effect we could achieve.

SCC: Can you further describe Francisco from Major Organ and the Adding Machine beyond the character development of the lyric?

BD: This coming from the creator of the character himself:   ”Francisco is a well-intentioned but bumbling swashbuckler, a noble buffoon.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

News Brief: D-Town Native "Saunters" For Office

Downingtown, Pa. native Timothy Sadler yesterday announced that he will saunter for a position on the city council in Asheville, N.C.. He stands on a platform emphasizing boosting the local economy, providing healthier options for school meal programs, and improved recycling. Sadler's eschewing of the rat-race mentality so inherent in politics is summed up in his campaign motto, "politics as unusual." The political attitude adjustment manifest in the choice to saunter, as opposed to running, is to the best of this writer's knowledge, unprecedented.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Elephant Six Collective Brings Spring to Philly!

Julian Koster of Music Tapes and Neutral Milk Hotel magic crafting.
By Tom Faix

The internationally renowned Elephant Six Collective treated a sold-out Philadelphia crowd to some two and a half hours of material spanning their vast musical family tree last night at the First Unitarian Church on their Holiday Surprise Tour. From college kids who drove all the way from Baltimore to those who were just barely old enough to get into the shows when they first started playing, the audience acted as a testament to the diversity reflected in the music itself. The tour’s repertoire draws about 50 songs from the E6 catalog, averaging about 35 per night. Throughout the show ensemble members shuffled to and from the stage to created arrangements varying from a several-guitar based wall-of-sound to the sparse presence of a lone bowed banjo.

Things got rolling with a rendition of Major Organ and the Adding Machine’s “When Father Was Away on Business” that started at the sound-booth; Will Cullen Hart, Bryan Poole, and Andrew Reiger serenaded their way to the darkened stage to meet with a brightening punch of horn and drum from Laura Carter, Scott Spillane, and Derek Almstead, among others. In addition to favorites, such as the Olivia Tremor Control’s “Hideaway” and the Gerbils’ “Glue”, a few cover versions slipped into the mix. Notably, OTC’s Will Cullen Hart dedicated their take on The Minutemen’s “Party with Me Punker” to the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. During an intermission, multi-instrumentalist John Fernandes added value to fans’ admission by performing a highly textural violin solo at a moment’s decision.

Set two started in a similar fashion as the first with Poole (a.k.a. The Late B.P. Helium) making his way into the center of the audience with a large, paper wrapped hoop (acting as the moon). Music Tapes’ Julian Koster then took to the mic and conducted an audience participation game in which a large snowman he fabricated himself would “bring Spring to Philadelphia this year”. This translated to a lucky fan shooting a “snowball” through the “moon” and winning a pick at any non-original song in the world for the collective to perform (even if they didn’t know it). The winner selected “Bad Brain Attitude” by Bad Brains, which came in crash-course punk style, Hart acting as H.R.

During a Gerbils block, Scott Spillane paid tribute to late band-member Will Westbrook. To start the song “Lucky Girl” a sample of Westbrook’s playing from the album version’s intro came on loud and clear and transitioned to a spirited run through of what Spillane called a “pale resemblance” to what it used to be like[with Westbrook]. Peter Erchick highlighted his project Pipes You See, Pipes You Don’t toward the end of the show with a series of inspired songs drawn from his new, hand-made disc, including “Nothing for Sunday” and the soulful “Days Remain”.

E6 sent fans off with an epic cover of Sun Ra’s “Enlighten". The players brewed instrumentally on stage for several minutes, then breaking into a call and response with the audience as the perpetually barefoot Hart stood at the back of the crowd shouting a lead while other players made their way back with horns, saws, and drums alike; the high emphasis on audience interaction serving as a realization of the enigmatic, creative ethos of the troupe.

Elf Power's Laura Carter "Enlightening" the crowd.
After a night like this there’s not much more a music lover could ask for. Still, shouts of “where’s Jeff [Mangum]” pervaded the assembly. To this, Koster responded on stage, “[he’s] in New York”, effectively resting rumors that Mangum would once again turn up as the Holiday Surprise on this tour as he had on several dates in 2008. Even more, fans have been speculating as to whether the concurrent performance of Mangum with A Hawk and a Hacksaw (featuring former Neutral Milk Hotel drummer Jeremy Barnes) at this year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Minehead, UK will culminate in a proper reunion of the now legendary group. Though it cannot be completely ruled out, Spillane (who played horn in NMH and co-composed the classic piece “The Fool”) is by no means certain that he will attend or perform at the festival. What ATP-goers will get, however, is a peek of what’s ahead for Olivia Tremor Control.

Almstead, who is helping with engineering and percussion on the forthcoming record, confirmed that new Olivia material will be performed later this year. At this point it is unclear as to whether the new record will be a full-length album or an EP, signs point to something being ready by then. OTC’s Fernandes also released a solo disc on this tour and while copies allotted for sale on tour have already sold out, he assures that further copies will become available through his Cloud Recordings shortly.

On a related note, Orange Twin, the label and conservancy founded and operated by E6 members, recently purchased a low-frequency FM radio license. Currently they are seeking funding and personnel with a background in radio engineering to assist them with this project. All interested persons in the Athens, GA area are advised to contact Laura Carter via Orange Twin about this.

Follow this link to my recording of the Elephant Six live in Phoenix, AZ from March 3, 2011 at the Duce!