Friday, May 21, 2004

More questions, more answers:

Julianne Shepherd:

I can't think of a single instance I've liked an envelope filter, or a flange, in music recently (at least when they were employed obviously enough for me to identify). Can you give some examples of envelopes/flangers you like, and what you like about them?

Kylie Minogue’s “Love at First Sight,” which the filter makes. It’s right on the intro, on the bassline, and then applied sparingly to the lead guitar line, which is basically nicked from Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better with You”; it gives the whole thing a starry, floating feel--it’s there to tell us we’re in fantasyland now. Then the second verse is filtered to fuck, dublike (it all submerges into the middle), and when Kylie reappears over it, the contrast between her clear-as-day vocal and the kindly-black-hole whoosh going on behind it is fucking delicious. Armand Van Helden’s “Flowerz,” maybe my favorite house record ever; the climax occurs over a filtered-and-flanged version of the track, when Roland Clark starts doing the spoken-word bit and the background flattens out only to spring back louder than ever (I’m convinced AVH boosted the EQ a dB or two to achieve the effect) after an a cappella pause. Go Home Productions, “Rock with Addiction (Awww)”: mash-up producers use filters all the time to effect transitions or cover up bad cuts, and when he swamps the backing track (by Jane’s Addiction) under the second verse and Ashanti just shouts over it (slightly echoed), it’s testifyin’.

When I read this question to Rod Smith over the phone just now, by the way, he coined the term “filter fairy.” He’s one, too.

Pretend there are no CDs, tapes or records; pretend there are only iPods. What has happened to album art?

I wouldn’t be surprised if in the near future cover art becomes uploadable along w/the music, and iPods will be upgraded to accommodate it---full color screens, etc., to show it, the way you can see the tracklist et al. Ditto liner notes.


Kate Silver:
-So I hear you (cough cough) like sex. Is that true?

It is true.

-So I hear you (cough cough) like Prince. Is that true?

That is also true.

-I think you (cough cough) gave me your cold. Some Aleve Cold & Sinus? It's better than disco.

Nothing is better than disco.


Tim Finney:

1. Could you please summarise the article you wish(ed) to write on the first two Basement Jaxx albums, Vocalcity and Since I Left You?

I think at the time it was something along the lines of how techno had reached its late-’60s rock-album phase, where every new album (Daft Punk were also going to be part of it) kept upping the ante for all the others. I’m not sure I think so anymore--the idea is pretty rockist in retrospect, though my point wasn’t so much that this album era was THE golden age as it is A golden age following other, singles-based ones--but at the time (2001 or so) it really was overwhelming how every few months the post-techno diaspora was coughing up classic albums, one after the other. 2003 did feel very much like an end-of-line year for me that way, though I fully accept it’s probably the fact that the Weekly job forced a re-prioritization in my listening, and that I therefore missed a lot of stuff that might have made me rethink that position.

2. Is there a critical concept or idea about music or a specific style/piece of music/musician that you didn't invent but always wish you had?

I’d kill to have written Sasha Frere-Jones’s Rooty review in the Voice, and I know damn well I couldn’t have, because that piece brought to bear so much experience that I never had and never could have--I didn’t grow up in New York in the ’70s and ’80s. But the array of ideas in that piece, and the way he intertwined things in it, are what I’m reaching for every time I write about something I care deeply about.


Nate Patrin:

1) What is the single most incongruous-yet-workable song-to-song transition you've ever snuck onto a mixtape or CD?

I’m still pretty proud of following the Cranberries’ “Dreams” with a Huun-Huur-Tu track on a tape in 1999.

2) Have there ever been any songs that you initially loved or hated upon first hearing, then completely turned around on once you saw the music video?

Can’t think of any.

3) A two-parter: How susceptible are you to downgrading or disliking a music act or album more than you would normally if you've had numerous negative experiences -- personally, secondhand, or otherwise -- with its fans? And do you feel that dismissing a group in part due to its following is a workable or tenable approach to criticism?

Fan-hate is unavoidable in this line of work because it’s unavoidable in life; I can’t tell you how many otherwise intelligent, reasonable people hate good music in any number of realms (the Grateful Dead, techno, hip-hop) because they hate the people who like it. And working in nightclubs and/or record stores, as I have, make it even more difficult. I do try to avoid blanket dismissals of any kind, but sometimes it’s so much fun to rile people up about a sacred cow that’s plainly missing something that I can’t resist doing it. A good example for me would be Guided by Voices, whose have the most loyal audience imaginable and whom I loathed in theory long before I heard them in fact. (Turns out I loathe them in fact as well, what a shock.) But I’d never write a GBV review based on that. Another, better example is that when I worked at First Avenue, I gained a deep, deep loathing of Jayhawks fans, because I would be barbacking---carting cases of beer (and all Jayhawks fans drink is beer---Heineken, to be exact, with a little Rolling Rock on the side) and bottles of liquor through a room with 1,500 people in it--and NONE OF THEM WOULD FUCKING MOVE OUT OF THE WAY. Me: “Excuse me, I need to get through.” Dude with MBA wearing gas-station attendant button-down w/tag w/someone else’s name on it, standing in front of entrance to main bar: “[looks up from floor with sour expression because I have interrupted his little Walker Evans red-clay-of-the-scorched-earth moment].” As Rod Smith put it, “If you locked Gary Louris in a room with 200 of his fans for two hours, within a week he’d end up sounding like Coil.”


Gwenda Bond:

1. What is the most wrong you've ever been about something (personal, musical, criminal, etc.)?

That would have to be the time I let this kid named Chris that I went to high school with stay in my apartment for a few days. On the third day, I came home from work and everything in it was gone.

2. If you had to play Michaelangelo Matos in an eponymous show modeled on Ally McBeal what would your personal theme song be and why?

I’ve never seen Ally McBeal so it’s difficult to put myself in that scenario. But just for kicks I’ll say Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

3. Who is the biggest asshole you've ever had to interview?

He’s probably not an asshole per se, but the worst interview experience I’ve had in person was with Grandmaster Flash, who had just come back from appearing on Terry Gross’ NPR show. He walked in, grabbed a copy of his new mix-CD, which was all ’80s tracks, and thrust it in my face, yelling, “Are you going to ask me about this?! Or are you going to ask me about the past?” Apparently Gross had asked him almost exclusively about the early ’80s, and despite the fact that the interview we were doing centered on a mix-CD containing nothing but songs from that era, he was livid about her line of questioning. The thing was that it wasn’t a straight interview---it was a Call & Response (a.k.a. Jukebox Jury) that was running in Stereo-Type, which entailed me playing him records and him giving his impressions. Apparently no one had informed him what we were going to be doing, and after about two or three songs he just clammed up, smirking, “I dunno, man, I can’t imagine you’re gonna get any good quotes out of this.” I wanted to punch him, and after 20 minutes, I slunk out of the room.


Charles Bromley:

I absolutely love your Prince book. You've said that when you heard Prince you realized here was a current artist making music every bit as good as any of the people in the rock "canon." I absolutely agree, but I also wonder . . . Prince is great in a very "classic rock star" way: he makes great music, he has an interesting persona, and he has hits. Are there any artists who aren't popular (in the Billboard sense of the word) who you think are up there? Or do you think popularity is part of it? Who would fill out your pantheon?

The person who jumped to mind immediately is Jon Langford, who exudes charisma and wit and writes great songs and is a pretty top-looking bloke to boot. But he’s also a flinty socialist who’s extremely smart and seems comfortable enough where he is, and he might be too much a regular guy (the above descriptions aside; he’s a very approachable person from what I’ve heard and seen, though I’ve never met him myself) to fit the bill entirely. I used to think Moby qualified as well, but then he became a rock star and (I am speaking strictly chronologically, even though I know more people who’ll disagree with this than won’t) lost a lot of his inspiration, musically, at least to go by 18 and that new Voodoo Child album, so he doesn’t count anymore. I’m sure there are dozens of others as well.

You're an open admirer of Christgau. What do you think of the other first generation of rock critics biggies: Marcus, Bangs and Meltzer? (I know you ended Meltzer's column, but that was a mercy killing.)

Nobody ever notices this, but I probably ape Marcus as much as I do Christgau---Greil’s deep-listening style, crossfaded with Simon Reynolds’ descriptive acumen, are all over my writing, and so is the way he connects records to larger events, though I’m not as prone to doing that. Bangs is equally important to me; I tried very hard to write like that early on, and I sucked at it, as do most people (including Bangs half the time, as that new collection demonstrates). But Marcus said something in an interview about being inspired by Bangs’ honesty and his willingness to make a fool of himself, to go too far and not hedge his bets, and I get some of the same thing from his writing. If anything, I’m way too careful to ever completely go that way. Meltzer is a sticky issue, for obvious reasons---I’m not proud of the way I handled his dismissal at the Weekly, though I’m not sorry I let him go. But I’ve never been all that big a fan, and what Simon Reynolds said about his being a far more interesting/entertaining writer about the subject of rock criticism---specifically about other rock critics---than about music itself is completely on the money.


Rod Smith:

1. Have you ever encountered a piece of music (song, track, sonata--formal considerations are irrelevant--as are live/recorded distinctions) that you considered rhythmically perfect from beginning to end? What is/was it?

If you mean something along the lines of the kind of record I wanted to set my pulse to and leave it there forever, the answer is Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, the original ECM recording from 1978---that Nonesuch one from the late ’90s is a bit slower and not as inviting for me.

2. Do you avail yourself of the bleu cheese dressing that usually accompanies wings? Why or why not?

I slather the fuckers with the bleu, in part because I’m getting my licks in before the inevitable---my mother and her dad both have diabetes, and I’m sure I’ll be diagnosed with it soon enough---and in part because I really like the taste.

3. What's the absolute best thing that a woman in whom you were interested has ever said to you? How did you respond?

Easy--it was a woman named Melaine, from England, an art student, 25 to my 20 (impossibly daunting at the time). She was going to school in northern Minnesota and came to Minneapolis on weekends; the second weekend she and I met, I offered her my couch after the party we were at. She was noncommittal, but at party’s end she said, “Well, I’ll take you up on your offer.” She came over, it was 5 a.m., I offered her my bed and I’d take the couch, she tut-tutted me and said, “Don’t be silly. We’ll both sleep on the bed.” We lay down, and she said, “Now, I don’t want to get off or anything, but I’m really glad you asked me to come over. Now let’s cuddle.” That’s the second-best thing a woman I was interested in ever said to me. The best came the next morning, as we woke up. I lay there, my head completely empty, wondering where to go for breakfast, and she poked my shoulder and said, “All right, go ahead and have your way with me.”


Amy H. Phillips:

1. why has minneapolis produced so many great rock writers?

It’s in the middle of the tundra and you can’t do anything six months out of the year except stay in. That’s why there are so many great musicians from there---they practice. And it’s why there are so many good critics---they study records, read, and think. Minneapolis is also the music-distribution capital of the U.S., and the home of a lot of great independent record stores (Let It Be, Treehouse---formerly Oarfolkjokeopus---and the Electric Fetus, among others), as well as the corporate home of Sam Goody and Best Buy, which during the alt-bubble in the early-mid ’90s was discounting CDs like crazy and had ridiculously good selection on everything from catalogues to indies. Even before you bring journalists and critics into the picture, the biz aspect of the city makes it a haven for promo copies, many of which turn up used, usually at Cheapo, which has something like a dozen locations in Mpls/St. Paul and does business as Everyday Music up here in the PNW. So having cheap music around helps a lot, too, because people like me can/could stock up for very little money. It’s also a cheap place to live (the most I ever paid for rent there was $330, when I was 18; after doing that for a year, I paid less before moving away for real at 24). The presence of First Avenue, specifically its now-defunct all-ages dance nights on Sundays, is also critical, because they played a little of everything--punk, ska, hip-hop, techno, house, alt-rock, whatever---which sort of indoctrinated you into liking, or at least hearing, a lot of things, and non-specialization has always been a hallmark of Mpls rockcrit. On top of that, City Pages has been the best alt-weekly in the country for over a decade now, and a lot of that is due to their arts writing; the standard of competence has always been really high there.

2. ok, let's say you're dating someone who's in a band. you can't write about that band, because that's unprofessional. likewise, if a musician is your best friend/roommate/sibling, you can't write about his/her work, right? my question is, where do you think that line gets drawn? how friendly/intimate do you have to be with an artist before it becomes frowned upon for you to write about them?

For me, it’s a matter of degrees. I’m socially friendly with people I’ve written about---Slug is an example---but I’m not especially close to them and I don’t think it clouds my judgment; if it did, I wouldn’t write about them. The exception is Party of One, a band on Fatcat that’s gotten some really good press; their leader, Eric, is my oldest friend in the world, and when I received the promo, I called the publicist and told her upfront that I couldn’t write about it, because I’m too close to the source.

It impacts me as an editor, too. One writer pitched a feature on a band whose leader, I happened to know, they had briefly dated a few years ago. Even with the passage of time I had to say no. In the other direction, one of my coworkers dates a band member, and not only will that coworker not write about that band, for obvious reasons, the band member won’t talk to anyone at the paper at all. It sucks for me---they’re a really good band---but it’s that couple’s decision and I respect it.

Anyway, it could be far worse--you could be reviewing books full-time.

3. another question relating to the ethics of rock criticism. i noticed that you reviewed the new streets album for both the village voice and red flag media. is that kosher, to review the same album for two different publications? i've struggled with this question, because sometimes two places will ask me to write about something, and while i don't want to turn down the $$, i can't shake the sense that people will think i'm "cheating" by doing it. am i just being stupid?

I think it’s kosher as long as you make different points, or at least try to, in different publications, and certainly word them differently. I don’t have a problem w/people doubling up---I do it a fair amount, obviously---but there’ve been instances where I’ll get a review from someone who’s also written about it elsewhere and there will be entire sentences or paragraphs lifted whole from the other review. That pisses me off. The other rule I follow is to make sure you’re not writing for competing publications; if I write about something for the Voice I won’t write about it for Time Out New York, or if I’m writing about it for Spin I won’t write about it for Rolling Stone. (Not that I write for either of the latter very often, but you see my point.)


Matthew Perpetua:

1) Who is an artist/group that you do not particularly enjoy but see great potential in, and if you could, what you change about them to make them more to your liking?

I tend not to “see great potential” in artists because I’m generally too busy trying to suss the wares in front of me, and I’m nobody’s idea of a good prognosticator. The answer is probably tied among a dozen or a hundred bands, with the advice being, “Get rid of that fucking singer.”

2) If you had the power to select a non-mainstream (ie, no significant press coverage or radio/tv airplay in the US) artist and make them as hugely popular as Eminem/Outkast/Beyonce/Timberlake/etc, who would you choose, and why?

I’m not sure I’d choose anyone, simply because that mainstream world is something you enter at your peril, psychically and every other way. But to go along w/the spirit of your question, the Junior Boys and United State of Electronica should be far more popular than they are now, and I’m willing to bet they will be by the end of the year.

3) Who is your least favorite indie rock artist/band to gain prominence in the past three or four years, and why?

Bright Eyes. His lyrics are excruciating, his singing worse, and while he’s obviously got a knack for tune and arrangement his entire “I’m the only one in this world with any soul and it’s ALL YOUR FAULT, you heartless bitch” shtick makes me want to throw cans of soup at him. I saw him perform in early 2001 and it’s the one time I ever felt violently angry at a musical performance; after three songs I had to get up and pace the lobby.