Kevin Breit & Ian DeSouza (Sisters Euclid) full interview

The only way to really get to know Sisters Euclid is by getting into a very small room – Toronto's Orbit Room - (usually very early) in Toronto on a Monday night and committing one's self to music, totally appropriate to wail and dance to, in a setting more like a less severe jazz club. The classic lineup was until Organist Rob Gusevs recent amicable departure, Kevin Breit (Guitar, stringed things), Ian deSouza (Bass) and Gary Taylor (Drums). The devoted and revolving cadre of attendees are treated to what feels like a fraternal bond reflected in a loose even spastic improvisational context guided by the feverish Kevin Breit. Although the setlist doesn't adequitely reflect what actually happens in the room it's the only document we have to trace out the performance.

Ian DeSouza: We don’t usually work from a set list, much like the music itself…it’s kind of, feel the vibe of the audience combined with what we feel like playing.

 Q: Looking through the discography, being familiar with the live show exclusively, how much of the respective recordings do you still play?

ID: We play material from all our recordings in addition to stuff that hasn’t been recorded…sometimes we play things no one has heard, ourselves included.

Q: To my view I see only "Trouble in Orbit" - if this is "Sisters in Orbit" which it probably isn't or bares little resemblance- from Green Pastors (1998) as still being played.

ID: It is the same tune, the same form…but it changes every time we play it. Kevin may play the head on Mandolin, Mandola, Electric Sitar, Mark Lalama….our new Keyboard player may choose to double the head on accordion or melodica. Gary and I may re-jig the groove to a ska/tango type of thing…we workshop song ideas on the fly. Sometimes the rhythmic idea that Gary and I play is completely contrary to what Kevin and Mark are playing, creating a weird kind of tension.
Some tunes follow a more prescribed path (in terms of feel) like "Tumbleweed Tea" or "Mission Bell Blues" (from All Babies Go To War – 1999), but even then, there are other elements of the performance (like dynamics, tempo or instrumentation) that are tampered with. We play material from Other Folks (2001) quite often, Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Mingus’ Slop, Bill Evan’s Green in Blue and the Beatles/Charlie Rich medley of "Helter Skelter/Behind Closed Doors".

Q: I'm guessing almost everything off of Sisters Never Rust (sic. Run Neil Run) has been played out live.

ID: Actually, Sisters Never Rust is a bootleg name for a record of Neil Young songs (done instrumentally) we recorded in Germany sometime back. We won a Juno for 'Best Instrumental Recording' in 2007 for that record. We seem to play material off that record the least, with the exception of our renditions of "Southern Man", "Helpless", "Ohio" and "Harvest Moon". After that record came out we toured Germany extensively and are releasing a limited edition collection of live recordings from Germany during that time (release date, Feb. 22, 2010). Strangely enough, the new Live in Germany record doesn’t have any Neil Young songs on it. But it does have some previously unrecorded original material and some material from a special Radio Bremen show we did in celebration of the life of Johnny Cash. It’s the Sisters way, I guess.

Q: Bringing us to Faith Cola which perhaps best reflects the evolution of the live show or at least contains a number of songs that have been workshopped over the years, among them "Faith Cola", "Big Al", "Perry Garcia" and "Lowell".

ID: Faith Cola was an important record for us because we all felt like it was the record that summarized the previous 11+ years (at that time) of playing live and recording. While all the other records were about the moment, this record in particular, was about a period longer than ‘the moment’. Even on Faith Cola there was material we had never played together as a band, until we started recording, but it felt like we had.

Q: A fascinating aspect of the Sisters live show as reflected in the most recent recording Faith Cola is your evolving homages to guitarists you presumably greatly admire. "Perry Garcia" is the only obvious tip off title wise but of course a number of other songs are, or began as, I'm presuming your treatment of their voices or using their singularity as an inspiration for a composition. Is this overly presumptuous? How would you describe the 'guitarist' songs and how they've evolved as group improvisations over time?

Kevin Breit: Well, actually, for the longest time, "Perry Garcia", was called the New One. On one Monday at the Orbit Room, we had 3 tables full of deadheads. I've always loved the whole Grateful Dead relationship between band and fan. Anyways, I introduced the song as Jerry Garcia. This was met with hoots and hollers. The title stuck until we went in to record it on Faith Cola. Our pal, Perry White played on it with us and I guess we've always considered him the Jerry Garcia of the saxophone. Ta da...A Song Is Born.

Q: The first of the 'guitarist' songs I became aware of was "Big Al" which as a fan I can safely describe as a showpiece of the live set (in the parlance of a Deadhead it is a not particularly rare 'bustout' but always a huge launchpad for expansive improvisations). First is this a particularly fun song to play live? While on the topic of fun songs to play live off the top of your head what songs do you particularly enjoy (beyond all of them) playing from your set?

KB: "Big Al" is a blast to play because you, the improviser, can take it to many places...blues, jazz, twangy, without disrespecting the composition. Every night, different songs are great to play and deconstruct. The audience is a huge factor. We've been mis-booked on a few occasions and trying to make the populace happy can be daunting, to say the least. Not everyone may want to hear, "A Mall Full O Toads", but, being the professionals we are, we forge ahead, blazing trails perhaps fraught with projectile vegetables or glass containers. We haven't had an indifferent audience yet. I think folks like a launching pad regardless if their heart is saying, 'Skynyrd'

Q: Most won't have heard of Big Al Anderson or NRBQ(1), how would you describe the importance of NRBQ as a band, Al Anderson as a guitarist and your kinship with him to a novice?

KB: NRBQ was the best band in the world. They no longer perform, unfortunately, but the influence they've had on so many bands is astounding. I wish more people had heard them. Big Al is beyond, beyond. No nonsense, take no prisoner badass.

Q: I'm not sure chronologically what came next but "Lowell" has appeared in the live show for some time now and is also an homage in this case to Little Feat's Lowell George. Bill Payne once said that of all the things he learned from playing and living with Lowell the lesson he remembers most is phrasing. From your perspective what is lasting about Lowell George's place in music history and can you point to how that is reflected in the composition "Lowell" or it's live expression.

KB: Lowell had an ability to write the most beautiful melodies, utilizing these long tone phrases married with heart wrenching words. He was the best part of the 'California-sound'. The Beach Boys have been credited with this label but I think leaving out The Mothers (of Invention) and Little Feat in all this is just plain sad. Throw Captain Beefheart in there for good measure! We have a lot of fun with "Lowell". It moves around harmonically but I hope it doesn't come off that way. It's just a simple tune.

Q: Again being uncertain of the chronology "Domenic" (after session guitarist Domenic Troiano(2)) - a classic example of a musician's musician - whose biography even a devoted Canadian music fan's ignorance could be excused - appeared likely shortly after his passing. What can you tell us about Domenic as a musician or a person and the importance of his contribution to Canadian music and music in general?

KB: Domenic was so respected. His reputation of being musically monstrous was legendary. Rob Gusevs(3) performed with Dom, on and off for several years. I know he had many incredible journeys with him. Above all, he was a gentle soul who cared deeply for those around him.

Q: I think, in the world of Sisters arcana, I'm correct about this but didn't Domenic in fact develop into "Faith Cola" the title track of the new album? What can you say about this transition from one of the 'guitarist' songs to a distinct composition in it's own right? Am I attributing too much to the notion of Kevin writing these compositions or are they truly collaborative efforts which evolve naturally over time with fairly democratic input?

ID: "Faith Cola" is in fact "Domenic", and yes, Kevin writes 99% of the material (other than the covers). The actual performance of the tunes is the ‘releasing of the hounds’ so to speak. The analogy that comes to mind is, Kevin tables the topic and we discuss it (in a musical sense, that is). And as in all conversations, a particular thought will lead to someone taking the discussion in a different direction, which will lead to discussion in that area for a while until another idea is introduced. This crucible is one of my favourite aspects of this band, because no matter what is brought to the table, we all participate equally, which is also the great thing about how Kevin writes for this band. There is never any question about what is right or wrong, preciousness or ownership, the only thing that is absolutely required is that you come prepared to talk. This is the beautiful thing about a band, beyond the playing part. The respect and trust that your mates will be listening and that they will answer.

Q: Barring understandable omissions the last 'guitarist' song I can think of is of course "Perry Garcia". Unlike the guitarists I've mentioned so far Jerry Garcia's voicing on the guitar is immediately recognizable to perhaps even casual music fans. A single note or incredibly brief run would be unmistakable as anyone other than the late great Jerome Garcia. That said it would take quite a few words to describe what is essentially his tone. How then would you, again to a novice listener, describe the tone or distinctive sound of Jerry Garcia's guitar playing? How is the uniqueness of that voice reflected in the composition "Perry Garcia" and how does, if at all, his questing improvisational spirit manifest itself in the live rendition?

KB: Jerry's tone is truly his own. I know he had some fairly oddball guitars, amps and witchcraft stomp-boxes. People at their concerts would take snapshots of all his 'stuff'. Guitar Player Magazine, went in depth into the Garcia chain of machines once. He probably kept a luthier in business for many years. I find this so funny because Jerry sounded like Jerry on a nondescript flat top. He had 'style' which existed when the lights went out and the generator ran out of gas. "Perry Garcia" is a blues, where the I IV V chords are diminished, not your dominant seventh offerings. It's trippy. Kinda like someone we're talking about.

Q: In some regard your canonization of obscure session guitarists, were it not for your impeccable humility as a person, is unsurprising- they stand in as thinly veiled surrogates for yourself. Is there a question in there?

KB: Everyone needs a mentor. No one said you couldn't have thousands.

Q: Although lauded as a songwriter rather than guitarist Warren Zevon is another musician with whom Kevin, and presumably you all feel a deep kinship. Hunter S. Thompson's theme song "Lawyers, Guns and Money" has appeared in the set over the past year or two. As another fine musician lost fairly recently and known best to other musicians and intense music fans how should he be best remembered?

KB: Let's add him to the California soundboard. An excitable boy to the highest degree.

(1) The New Rhythm and Blues Quartet has a 30 year history as a recorded and live entity that developed a fanatical cult following worldwide. ‘Led’ by keyboardist Terry Adams the core lineup was comprised of Adams, guitarist Al Anderson, drummer Tom Ardolino, bassist Joey Spampinato and, after Al quit in 1996, brother Johnny Spampinato played guitar. NRBQ is sometimes referred to as the Simpsons house band because creator Matt Groening is amongst their phalanx of fans (including also Keith Richards, Paul McCartney and Bonnie Raitt). NRBQ appear animated in the eighth episode of the 11th season of the Simpsons (November 28, 1999) in an episode entitled ‘Take My Wife, Sleaze’. Rolling Stone magazine describes their later albums as essentially ‘live souvenirs, the idea being that NRBQ is best caught in concert.’ One of NRBQ’s lesser recorded forays on a major label is entitled Grooves In Orbit.

(2) Domenic Troiano is sometimes described as the best guitarist you never heard of. He is known in the context of music history at large for his earliest work with Robbie Lane and the Disciples, Mandala and Bush. In 1972 he replaced Joe Walsh and joined the James Gang. In 1974 he joined the Guess Who and recorded two albums with them as well. He later recorded with artists including Diana Ross, Joe Cocker and Randy Bachman as well as working with producers including eminent figures like Donald Fagen and Todd Rundgren.

(3) Rob Gusevs became a Sister Euclid on Sept. 20, 1996 and played his last gig as a Sister on Nov. 21, 2009 . He is the signatory Hammond B3 organist that completed the Sisters sound. His fluidity and strong left hand (hell strong right hand) is truly a joy to behold. Perhaps owing to dynamics more related to personality than amplitude Rob proved a wry straight man to Kevin’s child like histrionics. In this way with a single smirk or glance he could ‘cast doubt’ on the entire proceedings not unlike a disapproving uncle. Interestingly Gusevs appears on a recording 2B3: The Toronto Sessions which featured two Hammond B3 organs and 7 North American players including Little Feat’s Bill Payne accompanied by Little Feat’s Richie Hayward.

Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats, Shins, Vetiver) full interview

This in depth interview was conducted with Eric D. Johnson (founder/progenitor Fruit Bats, sideman The Shins and Vetiver). It was originally published on March 23, 201o. http://www.jambands.ca/sanctuary/showtopic.php?tid/256331/

Luke C. Bowden: I guess the first question unfortunately should be do you feel like Pitchfork’s favourably tepid support of Ruminant Band (they’re insight into the recording not overly hasty) has helped or hindered the band? Variously are there any perceptions or misperceptions about the recording or outfit you see being made in the media you would like to point to.

Eric D. Johnson: That review was really the best review (1) Pitchfork has ever given us. I think they’ve become such a journalistic juggernaut that its typically only the really good or incredibly bad reviews that make any sort of difference. They’ve always been relatively indifferent to Fruit Bats and thereby we haven’t really felt any blow back from what they say about us. Plus, I don’t really think the people who truly follow Pitchfork - young kids looking to feed off the zeitgeist of the moment - are really going to be inclined to like us anyway; we’re not that type of band. I enjoy reading Pitchfork for news and such and getting a shout out (however minor) from them feels nice, but I try not to think about how they (and the blogosphere or whatever) applies to what I’m doing.

Q: Perhaps moving chronologically makes the most sense. Could you, for people well outside the Chicago, Seattle and Sub Pop scenes, recount where you first came into contact with someone like Tim Rutili, I believe I read you were working at the Old Town School of Folk Music (with some other by now notable individuals(2)). Who are the cast of characters associated with Red Red Meat and Califone that overlap with Fruit Bats with whom we should be familiar? Perhaps quickly also how would you describe in your own words the sounds of RRM and Califone and if possible how they inform Fruit Bats.

EJ: I always used to say (when we were still getting tons of Califone comparisons) that Tim Rutili likes to take pretty themes and fuÇk them up, I like to take fuÇked-up themes and make them pretty. There’s plenty of RRM and Califone in my early work, but in a lot of ways my embracing of 70’s AM pop and straighter indie rock and classic sounds was a way of distancing myself from those stylistic comparisons. Tim and company were definitely my greatest backers in the early days and really made me what I am today, completely. The earliest Fruit Bats line up was essentially Califone with me singing. Other people from greater Perishable Records family who have been involved at one time or another are Gillian Lisee (formerly of Orso) and Graeme Gibson (who took over Clava Studio from Brian Deck). Plus Deck himself and again, everyone in Califone. Its a pretty extensive family tree.

Q: You’ve said in a previous interview that Ruminant Band ‘isn’t frothing with sex, Marshall stacks, and amphetamine beats’ I wonder if you recall what album you might have been referring to, I’m presuming Mouthful’s sprawling soundscapes as Spelled In Bones is perceived as a stripped down affair. Or is this remark somewhat true of all your albums from Echolocation forwards. How would you describe if not the differences from album to album than the similarities.

EJ: Did I say that? That’s a good quote! Damn! ‘Frothing with sex...” As far as differences in each record... I was certainly going for something thematic each time. I almost never get it quite right, and that’s part of the beauty of making recordings; that weird thing that comes out of you thats all your own. Echolocation was supposed to be the sprawling psych-folk opus, plus I had NO idea what I was doing; coming from a four-track background and then going in to the studio with a serious pro like Brian Deck. That was very much his record. Mouthfuls was me a bit more confident and obsessed with Nilsson and Newman and pure 60’s songwriter pop, but still letting Deck add his postmodern electronic flourishes. Spelled in Bones was a bit misinformed, a return to trying to do things myself four-track, homemade style, but at the same time make more of an indie rock record filled with pop. I wouldn’t say that record is a failure but its my defacto least favorite thing I’ve done. Ruminant Band is the result of me taking a bunch of time off and getting my rocks off with my groovy jammy side, doing my weird Southern Country rock stuff I’ve always wanted to do but could never find the right people to make happen - still mixing it in with my light rock tendencies which I’m fully just embracing now.

Q: Beyond your affiliations as a sideman and multi-instrumentalist with bands ranging from Califone to the Shins and Vetiver I’m interested to know about the musicians you’re affiliated with personally if not so much through their live or recorded output. By way of a very loose ad hoc grouping it is tempting to slot Fruit Bats into a sub-genre if you like of alt.country purveyed by a younger vanguard of players. In this group one might include bands like Deer Tick, Dr. Dog, The Cave Singers and Vetiver. Beyond the latter whom you have obviously played with do you know any of these other groups or players and would you self-identify with this loose notion of a genre as opposed to some you’ve been saddled with ranging from ‘zoology rock’ to ‘bootgazer’ and ‘pop rustic’. Variously are there current bands that you adore that do not get any or enough play in the media you’d like to bring to people’s attention.

EJ: Vetiver are the only ones on that list that I actually know as people, but I dig those other bands. Alternately, others I always see on that list: Megafaun, Midlake, Blitzen Trapper, Fleet Foxes. I like all of those bands. Someone recently told me, “the times have finally caught up to you.” When we were first trying our hand at going out into the world it was 1999-2000 and it was all about the serious garagey rock. There were a few bands from that time period trying to do similar things - Kingsbury Manx, Grandaddy, Beachwood Sparks... I’m totally cool with there being a collective conscious happening. The more kids inclined to like this kind of stuff, the better for me.

Q: You’ve said in the past that you don’t listen to a lot of current music nor understandably read a lot of music publications. You’ve also said that it would take a novel to describe why this is the case. In novella form then how come you don’t listen to much contemporary music?

EJ: I might have been being slightly hyperbolic in saying that. There are certainly bands (see above) that I like from the present day. There are a lot of songwriters (some of whom are my friends, some who aren’t) that I feel influenced by, challenged by, who make me want to make better songs and keep doing what I’m doing. I simply mean I’m not going to be perusing the internet for the hot sh!t new band and make them my deal. I’m too hip deep into the music world to want to make that my hobby in my spare time.

Q: It's clear that what defines Ruminant Band from your previous recordings is that you did a brief tour prior to recording the songs allowing them to take shape and solicit further collaboration. You have also stressed that as a result of this tour and recording process Ruminant Band is truly a band effort. As it would be difficult to list everyone's recorded contributions perhaps you could introduce us to the band and what they bring to the onstage musical conversation.

EJ: Graeme Gibson(3): He’s a Canadian, first off, from Kelowna BC (the Palm Springs of Canada, some say). He’s a drummer I’ve coveted for years; he’s the only one I’ve ever seen of this generation who can play with that country boogie, that weird kind of twitchy stomp thats funky and twangy at the same time. The fact that we’re four Americans with a Canadian drummer makes us the inverse version of The Band, someone pointed out... Christoper Sherman(4): Sherman is a hidden treasure of bassists from Chicago - a town filled with bassists. He’s super expressive and I’ve never had to tell him a single note or what to do. Plus the dude is a road hog - he’ll never complain for a second if we’re ass-deep into a stressful few road days, he’s quiet and staring out the window. He’s been with me the longest and I always come back to him. Ron Lewis(5): Ron is one of the most prodigious players in Seattle. He’s been in about a million bands and he plays every single rock instrument (and sings, too). He used to be the Fruit Bats drummer and when I found Graeme, there was no way I was going to get rid of Ron; I just moved him over to an auxilary position because I knew he would shred on anything, and he does. Sam Wagster(6): Sam is the person I met most recently in this band, and I feel like Ruminant Band is as much about him as anything. He’s an old soul of a guitar player who reminds me a lot of my two favorites - Mike Campbell and Lindsay Buckingham - tasteful but can let loose. Plus he brings some Texas-ness into the mix.

Q: Ruminant Band also represents a return to Clava Studios in Chicago the site of Echolocation's genesis. What can you say about your collaboration in this specific studio in this specific neighborhood with Graeme Gibson and the other members of the band.

EJ: There didn’t seem to be any ghosts of Echolocation in there. I thought it would be kind of like a homecoming, but its changed so much (and so have I) in ten years that it was a whole different deal. Clava is in Bridgeport on the South Side (the baddest part of town as Jim Croce once said). Its a working class Irish/Italian neighborhood (Clava is on the Italian side). It’s gentrified so much in a decade that it was barely recognizable upon my return. Clava is a studio that’s a dying breed. In the new wave of home recording on computers, so many people are doing records at home leaving the multi-million dollar studios the only pro joints left. Clava is part of the old middle class of studios with great analog gear and a dusty homespun vibe. Kinda perfect.

Q: I’m sure you’d like to talk about the songs themselves as much as time provides. The album opens as portentously instrumentally as lyrically with the words ‘oh the time that you woke up and told me that one dream’. Can you tell me why the first chapter of Ruminant Band had to be Primitive Man.

EJ: I think it was more of a sonic choice, really... It has that build to it that feels like the appropriate needle drop. That song was kind of written for myself in the third person, I think - I had been having these horrible nightmares and I wrote that from the perspective of a person comforting his or her lover as they sat up in bed screaming... The part about the Primitive Man came from a dream I had about a murderous caveman...

Q: Following the Primitive Man is a song (like many in the Fruit Bats repertoire) populated by odd characters -in this case Little Sad Tad, Old Zen Ben and Sweet Sweet Pete – as in a fable. Also the lyric ‘he had a blue eyed merle’ seems to have been taken or mistaken as a reference to a specific Merle likely Haggard(7). Each verse like many of the albums hooks in fact contains a little moral aphorism or truism such as the last verse: ‘you won’t lose the beat if you just keep clapping your hands like Sweet Sweet Pete who clapped for the Ruminant Band’. Is there anything you’d like to say about the albums moral compass in light of this song? Or is there perhaps a shared moral condition, affecting everyone including your songs characters, ‘under moon and the sun’.

EJ: A blue eyed merl is a kind of dog, actually. I cribbed that line from Robert Plant, “ain’t no companion like a blue eyed merl.” This is a song based on my dreams as well, sort of a lyrical companion piece to Primitive Man. I was spending a lot of time (still do) riding my bike along the Willamette River in Portland and coming across various hobos and drifters. They started to infiltrate my dreams and I came up with back stories for some of them. These are the guys in the song ‘Ruminant Band’ - guys with hopes and dreams and pasts that are bigger than where they are now; definitely a little fable about old fashioned road warriors, with some metaphysical zen wisdom thrown in there for good measure. Mainly ripped off the top of my head with the hopes that there’s some truth in there; I’d like to think that a lot of good lyrics start that way.

Q: You freely admit to being a 'grass is greener' sort of guy pining for smoky Chicago that you left behind for leafy Seattle and vice versa. One of the most rewarding of the album's songs is Tegucigalpa and it addresses this leaning directly. "My family moved us northward up to the terra borealis along the crooked pikes of the ruminants and voyageurs but my heart belongs to the smoke of Hamilton and Monangahela and all the dirty cities along the way" I'm sure our readers would like to know first of all if you're referring to our very smoky Hamilton, Ontario. Less specifically could you speak to how the psychogeography of Seattle, Chicago and the road in between plays out in the Ruminant Band.

EJ: I am indeed referring to Hamilton, Ontario with that line. That song is pretty cut and dry - it comes from two sources of inspiration: My friend who was born in Miami on the only day it ever snowed there and the notion of people bringing inclement weather somehow, and me missing the Rust Belt. Monongahela is my more poetic way of referring to Pittsburgh, a town I like a lot.

Q: While different fans have different favourites from Ruminant Band it seems self evident that Singing Joy To The World is a cherished part of both the album and live show. I’d like to approach this song – seemingly about a short failed courtship that was nonetheless ‘worth it just to know a little warmth below the snow’- from the perspective of the two song references it contains. The first is the title which I have cautiously reasoned is largely relevant because 3 Dog Night is the sort of band that would be playing at a fairground and everyone would howl along. Nestled a little further in though is the line ‘cause he’d loved her at the ball when he saw her dancing to ‘I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man’’. Lacing songs with legendary song titles, while they can rub off a talismanic quality, seems to be a high risk/high gain sort of thing which is to say hard to pull off. Were you at all self-conscious about these specific references, were you intending for some of their magic to rub off or are these just the sorts of songs the characters in your songs listen to? It is telling that Singing Joy To The World is about a doomed but damn likely romance that favours the man’s perspective about a ‘woman who never loved him back’. While I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man favours if you like the woman’s perspective, with the man clarifying that he ‘may be qualified 4 a one night stand, but I could never take the place of your man’.

EJ: Quick lyrical correction - it’s “a little warmth before the snow,” and “loved her at the bar.” This song has had a really strong reaction from people. I wrote it in one sitting at 2AM which is rare for me, and I was really pleased with how it turned out. I try to throw in one Prince reference(8) on every Fruit Bats album (incidentally, we share a birthday). I’ve honestly never thought about the actual perspective connection between this and “I Could Never...” I more liked the image of this sad sack watching this young beauty dance to this song at a bar. Its really just about that time in the midwest (and I’m sure eastern Canada) when winter is setting in and you’re getting ready for the depressing cold long haul - and the old simple unrequited love story.

Q: By way of closing any good Canadian boy would be remiss not to ask you about the enduring mythos, legacy and influence of The Band. The Old, Weird America is a term that Greil Marcus came up with to describe the cast of characters, preachers, conmen, tricksters, snake oil salesmen, miners and tillers of soil that populate Dylan and The Band’s songs from The Basement Tapes era. New Weird America is a term coined by David Keenan now used to describe bands ranging from Brits like The Incredible String Band whom you acknowledge a hearty allegiance to, up to contemporary artists such as Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart and Animal Collective. Fruit Bats then seem to occupy a special ground toiling and tilling over old and new American soil. By way of the most concrete reference possible Ruminant Band closes very curiously with a song Flamingos that seems to drop out of the contemporary sonic identity of the rest of the album and throws back literally to almost exactly that Basement Tapes era (the organ riff is instantly recognizable as something Garth Hudson might play, although anything with a calliope sound will be forever accused of that). Even more curious is that the audible tape hiss and grainy quality may actually have been something achieved in post-production(9) begging the question is it harder to make old sounding music on new equipment or vice versa (a quandary Fruit Bats seems to be closely engaged with). The question then is why did Flamingos have to first sound the way it did and then why did it have to be the last chapter of Ruminant Band?

EJ: The tune “Flamingo” was mainly played on an Optigan, an ancient record-loop organ that reads vinyl records with an optical laser and allows you to manipulate them. So that scratchiness you hear is not post production, but real dust and grit happening in real time. I’d like to make more songs like that - it might be the last chapter of Ruminant Band because it could be the first chapter of the next, who knows?

(1) Pitchfork ranked Ruminant Band a promising (by their standards 7.4) with the backhanded compliment that the record was "'just fine.' That's not damnation via faint praise-- the record is "fine," as in an indication of precision and elegance. As always, Johnson's gift for grab is subtle but effective."
(2) During the same time period Andrew Bird was employed as a violin instructor at the Old Town School of Folk Music.
(3) Gibson is a drummer, bass player, recording and mixing engineer whose credits range from Canadian hip hop group The Rascalz to more prominent American groups including Isotope 217 owing to his introduction to Tortoise' John McEntire.
(4) Sherman is the longest standing member of the Fruit Bats.
(5) Lewis is a multi-instrumentalist and member of Grand Archive. On May 6, 2009 James Mercer announced that Lewis had joined The Shins, on January 18, 2010 Mercer announced that The Shins are on hiatus until at least 2011 (with Mercer presumably focusing on his Broken Bells side project with Danger Mouse)
(6) Wagster has played in or is a current member of bands ranging from Azita, Hotel Brotherhood and the Chicago improv/drone collective DRMWPN. Wagster also composes music for film, video, theatre and commercial projects.
(7) Pitchfork's review of Ruminant Band erroneously references the "namedropping (of) a 'blue-eyed Merle'".
(8) The most notable Prince reference in the Fruit Bats repertoire comes from the song Earthquake of '73 in which the female character lost her 'voice singing along to Raspberry Beret' (9) From Pitchfork's review of Ruminant Band: "'Flamingo' is post-tweaked with crackle and echo to sound like a Sun Records


Andrew Barr interview on Land of Talk, 04.10.10

This interview was conducted on the busy steps of the Church of the Redeemer at a corner where secular, religious and anthropological interests intersect. Having sadly missed the triumphant return of Lizzie Powell's Land of Talk (after a harrowing throat injury that forced a period of rest and repositioning) despite being ticketed (it's a long story) I wanted to piece together the setlist at least.
In the end our conversation ranged from the night's specific repertoire, Lizzie's ordeal, their meeting and relationsip, the band's recorded output, lineup changes and direction for the future.
LB: Do you remember what the setlist was the other night (Lee's Palace, 04.08.10)?
AB: Land of Talk? I could probably recall the whole setlist.
LB:Yeah, dish it out.
AB: It was bits and pieces of scattered records, we played Cornerphone which I think it’s the last song off of Some Are Lakes, which is one that we just started playing it’s been around for about 3 years and we never really played it. It’s kind of the fiercest, it’s probably the fiercest song in the repertoire, we opened with that. Then some older tunes, Magnetic Hill and Summer Special off of Applause, Cheer, Boo, Hiss. Then Some Are Lakes off Some Are Lakes. Lots of songs off all the records May You Never off of the EP (Fun and Laughter).
LB: What about Breaxxbaxx, No Breaxbaxx?
AB: We didn’t play Breaxxbaxx, we played uhm, Speak To Me Bones.
LB: I would expect the fans really want to hear Magnetic Hill, Breaxxbaxx, Some Are Lakes, Speak To Me Bones.
AB: Yeah those are the anthems. Speak To Me Bones was nice because we took a break from that one for about a year because that was the one that kind of – we kind of pinpointed that was the one that pushed Lizzie over the top.
LB: Really.
AB: Yeah there’s like a, she really screams at the end of that one she really found a new place in her voice, she healed her throat, they told her maybe she needed surgery but she just really did her own form of therapy and really healed herself which is great.
LB: So did we get through the set there?
AB: There was also Trouble.
LB: Newer or older?
AB: Older it’s off of Some Are Lakes, and It’s Okay off of Some Are Lakes which there’s a killer video for right now it’s up for a Juno- it’s really nice. For the encore, we did also the uhm, there’s a few more in there, one of the nice ones was Thirteen by Big Star.
LB: Because of Chilton passing.
AB: Because Chilton passed away and that was real nice, we just played it acoustically around a mic, it was nice because the crowd was raging but when we played that they were all silent and Lizzie really sang that one great.
LB: And when did you meet Lizzie?
AB: I met Lizzie when I moved to Montreal, I moved in with my girlfriend...
LB: ...which you still say like Mon-tree-all
AB: Montreal
LB: Yeah, it’ll never leave don’t worry...
AB: I moved in with my girlfriend and uh...
LB: What was the circumstance of your meeting her?
AB: My girlfriend?
LB: No Lizzie.
AB: It was through Michael Felber as all great connections in Montreal.
LB: Who is he to you?
AB: Michael is a magical lad, he did the last tour that Land of Talk did he was playing bass.
LB: Oh, he’s your merch guy who’s playing some supplemental playing.
AB: Exactly. We formed a little band me and Brad and Felber and Lizzie called Sister Brother.
LB: Yeah I remember you were playing the covers and shit.
AB: And so that’s how I met Lizzie. So Bucky decided to leave the band and he was a good friend of mine and we were all friends so they asked me if I’d make the record Some Are Lakes and then I joined the band.
LB: This is kind of an embarrassing thing to ask you personally, given everything that Lizzie went through and knowing you personally I was less concerned than some because I knew if I were to have to go through something like that I would be happy to have someone like you in my corner. I don’t know how that...
AB: You mean the vocal thing?
LB: Yeah I mean the vocal thing, yeah but I mean, you know as well as I do that the best bands are like fellow sojourners- you happen to be in a couple of bands with your own brother (Barr Bros.) and an honorary brother in the form of Friedman (The Slip).
AB: Yeah
LB: I would think you have a kind of voyaging together mentality with Lizzie and that you helped her navigate those waters, which was probably tricky.
AB: It was great man it was a great time, because when her voice went you know we finished doing some touring and then we just took time to write, like she wrote alot of stuff we worked out alot of songs together we ended up basically making two records we made the EP and we just finished a new full length which will come out in the fall. So really it was downtime but we were all seeing each other alot and she was writing alot, she didn’t let it stop her from being a super-creative musician and there, nobody lost any faith.
LB: I didn’t mean loss of faith, I just mean you’re a human first and a musician second and I could just see you being a good person to have in her corner, again.
AB: That’s nice to hear, yeah everybody was really supportive. It was a good break actually, sometimes you go so strong and every time you kinda wanna take a break there’s a new opportunity that comes up...
LB: ...And you feel like you can’t turn any of those opportunities down...
AB: ...Yeah you feel like you can’t turn it down, you can’t say no, you know. But it was a nice thing where we had to turn it down we had to say no. We had to take time to reflect on where we were at and where we wanted to be, it was a good six months really of reflecting and writing some new direction and kind of taking some new direction.
LB: Okay so let me not take more than 30 seconds of your time, just tell me a bit about Yarmush and where that partnership, the trio, the trinity falls into place.
AB: Well, you know Chris McCarron he left to go play guitar in The Dears and I think it was a pretty quick decision to have Joe on board, we all knew him he was a great photographer we knew him from that but he also plays in Kill The Lights. He’s a really supportive musician, he’s pure support up there and he really was an obvious choice has a good energy to have on stage and it worked out just like we thought.
LB: And now you’re pushing a little bit past the classic trio and getting Felber to play occasionally to fill out some of the sound that’s gonna be on the newer record?
AB: Yeah on the newer record and even some of the stuff of the EP and even some of the stuff that maybe it had two guitar parts.
LB: But she was a little weary at first about breaking the power trinity but now you feel like it’s a good thing.
AB: Yeah it’s a good thing that trinity is strong enough that it’s nice to have those extra pads and extra sounds.

Brad Barr interview (Church of the Redeemer 04.10.10)

This interview was conducted after a truly religious performance by fellow Rhode Island natives The Low Anthem which held the audience in a quiet thrall. Brad and I had caught up a bit, loaded out their gear and stopped to chat in the cloister of the church behind the pulpit beneath a giant stained glass figuring the long Road to Emmaus.

LB: Tell me about your new member?

BB: Andy (Andres Riel) is an amazing guy.

LB: Where did you meet him?

BB: I met him about 3 or 4 years ago at a jam session at Barfly he was playing bebop... we were just talking about you...

LB: ...Bad shit...

BB: ...He was playing wicked piano in the bar he was playing bebop almost like Count Basie style comping, I loved how he accompanied everyone who was soloing, his solos were good, but he’d really accompany everyone really well that was what really got me.

LB: And you have an ear for that obviously.

BB: Almost a year went by and I needed to record a piano piece so he has a studio, I used his studio, he came to a show that night and he told me if I ever needed someone to play in the band he would love to, so I took him on it.

LB: You finally went with Barr Bros. I think that makes a lot of sense. These guys the Avett Brothers are doing quite well with the brother thing. And these guys the Felice Brothers who I thought were underground New York subway musicians until they popped up on the fucking undercard of Dave Matthews tour.

BB: No shit?

LB: Yeah seriously so just stick with the brothers thing it seems to be some sort of trend in modern music.

BB: Haha, It seemed like you know we were trying to come up with names for what we do (superlittle, Berithen Berio) and there’s alot of different situations we play in.

LB: There’s fraternalism too, it’s at the core of what you do.

BB: And it was too lonely to just be ‘Brad Barr’ cause I’m writing all the songs but Andrew’s been with me every step.

LB: It’s clearly a group.

BB: He’s been making his, he’s been making decisions about how the music comes out- more he actually called The Low Anthem to see if they had a spot on this tour.

LB: And I guess you guys are back next week opening for someone at the Horseshoe.

BB: Plants and Animals

LB: Okay well why don’t we wrap this up here and we’ll catch up there.

Barr Bros. opening for Plants & Animals, Horseshoe Tavern 4.20

I: Beggar In The Morning Ooh Belle Lord Just Can't Keep From Cryin' Deacon's Son Sarah Through The Walls More to come on this essentially the setlist from their opening gig a couple weeks back with fellow Rhode, Island natives The Low Anthem (where they made quite a handful of new fans/devotees and pushed a bunch of merch). The crowd gathered for a free show through 102.1 was filling up during their set and they the rapt attention of the audience and not surprisingly affable Brad with his 'aww shucks' I went to boarding school manner wowed (particularly the female members of) the crowd by at one point threading likely dental floss at a point it would resonate well, picking up the wringing of the wire through the electric pickups in his nylon acoustic guitar and likely tapping on a basic delay or reverb effect while forming chords and voicings with the unplucked but resonated instrument. Harpist Sarah Page (e apostrophe) who is a incredibly elegant Montreal native who is incredibly easy going and accepting despite her not-inconsiderate beauty which might seem imposing to some. Of course the group is backed by Brad's brother in arms, the lion on a rock himself Mr. Andrew Barr (The Slip, Land of Talk, Surprise Me Mr. Davis). Recently added was organist/bassist named Andres Vial who has a soft heart and impeccable technique. Some crowd members had returned having been duly impressed at the Low Anthem show at Church of the Redeemer.


Bonfire Ball Revue (Jason Collett w. Zeus), Grad Club, Kingston - 04.17.10

I: Honey I Don’t Know (Jason) Love Song To Canada Winnipeg Winds (Jason w. Zeus) Almost Summer Bitch City Kindergarten (Zeus) I Know How does it feel? Daemons Greater Times/River By The Garden Permanent Storm Mother Heavy On Me Marching Through Your Head Cornerstones You Gotta Teller II: Fire> (Collett w. Zeus) Hangover Days Cold Blue Halo High Summer The Slowest Dance Rainy Day Rain We All Lose Charlyn, Angel of Kensington Out Of Time Brownie Hawkeye Lake Superior Love Is A Dirty Word Love Is A Chain It Won't Be Long I'll Bring The Sun enc.: That’s All (Genesis), Rave On Sad Songs, Jive Talkin’ (Bee Gees)


Bonfire Ball Revue 04.17.10

As one of the most ballsy and tuneful Canadian tours of the year prepares to wrap up, our man in the field caught the first night at CMW and now the last night in Kingston, ON before the bands head out to the Junos. Here's a teaser from an interview I conducted recently with Afie Jurvanen (Bahamas), former member of Paso Mino and chief guitar slinger for Feist.  

Q: If you had to pick a number how many songs would you say you have in your own songbook that is to say originals or covers that you could play and sing at a moment's notice. How many songs would you say then are in the Bonfire Ball Revue songbook and do you see that level of musicianship (artists having large repertoires they can vary from evening to evening) lacking amongst contemporary musicians.  

A:There aren't many songs that I don't play. Of course there are staples, but it's refreshing to change it up and to be able to roll with the crowd. If it's a friday night in Regina and the folks are ready to party and girls are doing Jager bombs at the front of the stage, I usually skip the slow sentimental numbers and try and keep 'em dancing. We're doing around 45 songs every night, so pacing is very important. People need a break to get another beer and visit the rest room...