Monday, June 29, 2009

RIP Michael Jackson (1958-2009)


My fuzzy memory dictates a late evening on the couch in 1983 my parents were out. Our babysitter, (probably now in hind sight wanted to see it herself) allowing us to stay up to see the MTV world premiere of “Thriller.” An instance although short, it was very memorable. Whether he was bitten by one of the zombies on the set or part of his logic was burned away with his hair, everyone can agree Michael Jackson the man, changed many years ago. With all that said, I cannot deny the many childhood memories Michael Jackson, the musician, the artist, the creative innovator produced for me. His fashion senses were always a little awry but replicated; his dancing skills had every adolescent thinking they knew the proper way to emulate his steps. Not to mention the endless catalogues of songs on repeat, lyrics sung through infinite amount of school halls. Whatever resulted of the man, everyone will always question but no one can ever argue Michael Jackson, the artist will always hold a dear memory in all of our hearts.


Thriller

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Interview: Brent Knopf (Ramona Falls & Menomena)


 

Prior to Menomena’s weekend stint in Chicago, I had the pleasure of getting to know 1/3 of the band, Brent Knopf. I sat down on a video chat with him and we discussed the onset of Menomena’s next LP, his influences, and of course, Ramona Falls, his side project which has an album, Intuit releasing on August 18 on Barsuk . We sat on Brent’s porch, on a sunny 70º day in Oregon, I could almost feel it through my laptop monitor.

 DrawingfromMusic: I know its been a while, but you graduated from Dartmouth. Did you study music? How did living on the East coast influence your music making process?

Brent Knopf: Originally I was pursuing a degree in computer programming. I thought that was the “responsible thing in life” to do not thinking that making music was a realistic career goal (laughing) As school progressed, I was getting some really strong feedback from some professors. This vote of confidence encouraged me to switch majors to Theatre/Modified music. This switch allowed me a number of independent classes. With this freedom, I was able to study electro-acoustics, Max/MSP, and cycling 74. It was during these classes that I developed a mini version of the DLR (Digital Looping Recorder).

DFM:Was music something you always knew you wanted to do?  Who were some of your favorite musicians growing up?

 BK: In the quiet moments I think I did in some capacity, like it was something that was always a thought in my head. Growing up, I had a bit of a different onset in my introductions to music. I couldn’t listen to anything that was explicit. So early influences were my mom (whose a musician) and stylistically, Weird Al Yankovich. In middle school, I started listening to a lot of new age and instrumental music. By the time I hit eight grade though, I was moving onto Depeche Mode  then of course, Smashing Pumpkins and PJ Harvey in high school.

DFM: Ramona Falls, I understand was a favorite childhood hiking trail, is there anymore significance that deemed it worthy enough for a band name?

BK: I think Ramona Falls has always been this enchanted place, it was somewhere that in my mind was were I could create this magical space for myself( DFM: Similar to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude) (Laughing) I’d never heard of it like that but yeah..I am  a fan of ambiguity and contradiction so the name was perfect and it ties in with the album title. I just didn’t want it to be a “clever” name.

DFM: Is the material for Intuit, overflow from previous sessions with Menomena, or is your creative approach completely different from what you make with them?

BK: Yes, there are some songs that are direct results of DLR sessions that other band mates vetoed as Menomena tracks. (we basically got off subject and spoke more about his eager to get back into the studio with the rest of Menomena)

 DFM: Which brings up the dreaded question, what sort of subject matter do you like to address or sing about in your music? (something I learned wasn’t too dreaded for Brent..I always flashback to art school critiques when I hear the question.)

BK: Not really dreaded, I’d say mostly I like to write about puzzles and things that confuse me. Water seems to be a reoccurring theme. I like the idea of being on both sides of a dynamic i.e perpetrator and the recipient.

DFM: Do you let current news related issues affect your creative/writing process with your music? 

BK:Unfortunately Im addicted to reading the newspaper so I’m always aware of whats going on, but I do try to keep my music on more of a personal plain. You aren’t going to hear some Anti-Iraq war song out of me. I’m not one of those musicians who have a delusion of grandeur that I’m bigger than world issue. Sadly, we all can’t be Bono, he has no illusion, he is just grand,(laughing) it’s true though, he’s amazing who doesn’t want to be Bono right? (Now typing, this may be more funny in context, but I promise it had us both laughing  with watery eyes)

DFM: What are some of the bands you’re listening to right now? Any tour mates or other shows you’re excited to see this summer?

BK: There aren’t really any shows that I’m dying to see. I had the recent pleasure of bearing witness to the Dark Was The Night show @ Radio City Music Hall it was pure heaven. I am listening a lot to Bon Iver and The Homosexuals  an English band from 1979, along with a French composer, Erik Satie.

DFM: What do you feel are the biggest differences between Ramona Falls and Menomena?

BK: {pause} I think without the involvement of the other two, its more of like Bent’s world. I’m always over thinking things, and the music kind of stays on the surreal plain

DFM: Not sure, if this is a repeat question but I’ve always read a lot of Menomena’s music lyrically to be very introspective…conceptually, do you think that is a constant in your approach to whatever music you make?

BK: Yes it definitely is always present, aside from any outside projects, the music for both Menomena/Ramona Falls pertains to whatever I’m grappling with in my mind, anything puzzling or strange. The music is almost always in some sort of social dynamic, or confusion with other people.

DFM: Since the notoriety and success that has come with Friend and Foe, how do think Menomena has evolved? What are some of these growths that we should expect to hear in this new album?

BK: I think mostly a lot of what both Danny and I investigated in our personal projects will probably be continued a bit in this new record. There will probably be more working with music on the computer. Apparently Danny has been getting into Reggae, so probably some Reggae beats.

DFM: In returning to the studio this summer, do you guys have a clear idea of a track listing…or does it basically start out with each of you bringing your own “deck of cards” to the table and then determine the direction of the album from there?

BK:No and Yes, there is one rough track that we’ve been playing live but for the most part we wont really know whats gonna happen until we get in the studio.

DFM: Im excited for this weekend, two shows…do you guys hold a special place in your hearts for Chicago? How come at this point, we’re your only stop?

BK: Yes we do, we are trying to not play too many places so we can really focus our time in the studio. But this opportunity in Chicago seemed too fun not to pass up. We love playing the Empty Bottle. (During Monday’s show Danny eluded to the start of their madness took place there 5 years prior)

DFM: This weekend will be the first time Im getting to see you guys live, what sort of work goes into a live show in order to emulate that same sort of musical quilt result that we hear in the albums?

BK: We try to recreate live what the DLR does in the studio. We want to keep the songs’ authenticity, so we distill the music into capability. The result is usually higher tempo and of course more distilled

DFM: Finally, aside from music, what would you say is a personal outlet for you?

BK: Chocolate, of course. I have an endless curiosity my brain is addicted to knowledge so I’m constantly trying to feed it. Lately I have been going to TED, a site all about meta ideas. I enjoy being outdoors as well.

 

Brent was kind enough to answer any follow up questions, since our time talking was so brief. Thanks Brent. After hearing the two tracks available online, I cannot wait to hear the rest of his solo venture. Ramona Falls, Intuit again drops on August 18 with Barsuk. Check out links below to get excited as well.

Ramona Falls | Facebook

Ramona Falls / Barsuk Records

 

Sunday, June 21, 2009

[Live Review] Menomena Chicago,Do Division Fest/Empty Bottle, 5.31-6.1.09


Inspired by a photo from matthew avignone

Sometime in the twilight of the night two years ago in my studio, bleary eyed and into probably my fourth pot of coffee on the day I took a break from an ongoing painting. During that break while scavenging on the Internet I stumbled upon a band that’s name seemed familiar to me from my childhood. Muppets danced in my head as I uttered the band’s name, Menomena. To my surprise a band with such name, actually was pretty rocking. Apparently at the time, Friend or Foe had just released. Their music had such a different sound to me and at the same time the lyrics had something that I could hold onto visually which is a huge plus for me. By far it was instant love and that album turned out on my best for that year. Fast-forward to 2009, an update comes through my email announcing the release of Ramona Falls in August, a side project of one of Menomena’s band members Brent Knopf. Along with this exciting, I learned Menomena would be playing two shows in Chicago. Only being able to enjoy the band from the confines of my Ipod, I was ecstatic to get to finally see them live. With all this said, the following is an intimate recounting of the last weekend in May seeing Menomena at Do Division Fest 2009 and the following evening at the sold out show at the Empty Bottle.

I arrived while the band was still preparing the stage and set up their equipment. Stepping on the pavement, my foot stuck to it instantly making it evident exactly how much beer and alcohol had been consumed in that weekend’s time. The weather was nice and the crowd rowdy, the band had a positive reception given at this point the fest had lasted two full day and I was unsure how many people either A: paid attention to the music or B: were too drunk to realize this wasn’t a Cubs game. The set list only slightly differed on both nights. What lacked on Sunday’s show was not by the band but the slight flaw by the sound board, but all in all an enjoyable evening and a perfect taste of what I could expect the following night. Admittedly this being my first show at the Empty Bottle, I was instantly comfortable in the cavern like venue plastered with upcoming show posters and a Pac Man machine next to the free water. The opening band this evening were the teenage looking Pomegranates, who played a strong set, bringing to mind sounds similar to old school Built to Spill and Modest Mouse. Thax, the old poem man, who seemed to maybe be a mascot for the venue to read us the Menomena inspired poem. Danny arrives on stage announcing Brent’s 32nd Birthday, what happened after that was a heart thumping, head banging set of songs from their two major LPs and a sweet hint of the next chapter of Menomena, with a new tune jokingly titled…Killamall. I am astonished by the amount of energy Justin puts into his drum playing it’s Amazing!!! Brent at times resembled an Schroederesque character hunched over his keyboard of endless sounds. Having to keep an eye on him though if you looked elsewhere for a moment’s time you may find him shredding through notes on his guitar strapped to his back. Danny, the saxophone dancing, mulitinstrumentalist, and comedian completed this trio of controlled sound makers all true composers in their own rights.

The band broke to share a story of a frustrating day (towed car) that was quickly improving. Band and crowd broke into a nice warm and hearty Happy Birthday Brent, which at this point Kelly, Brent’s girlfriend brings out of course a chocolate cake (see Brent interview). Danny then mentions how much Brent wanted this to stay a secret and offers him the consolation of either 32 spanks or 32 hands on his ass whichever were to arrive first. Bands always seem to differ from show to show, it’s never known who likes to converse and who likes to just play music. Danny likes to joke as he mentions his love to spank himself. These guys have such a graceful control of their music and sound, knowing that when recording they use the Brent invented DLR (pronounced deeler) a digital looping recorder that allow the band to record impromptu material that can later be mixed into the tracks we here on the album. But to see the recreation of the digital age in music live with numerous instruments demands for more respect for them (and that’s tough because mine is already high). There are so many subtle nuances from song to song as each bring their own thread into this woven thing of masculinity and beauty in one. Danny admits that The Empty Bottle is their favorite venue in the world and has played a big part in big start 5 years ago. They return for an encore of what was at least a ten-minute rendition of The Monkey’s Back. I am left excited to see what these years have flourished in what they’ll produce as the band returns to the studio this month to begin recording their next LP.

The band broke to share a story of a frustrating day (towed car) that was quickly improving. Band and crowd broke into a nice warm and hearty Happy Birthday Brent, which at this point Kelly, Brent’s girlfriend brings out of course a chocolate cake (see Brent interview). Danny then mentions how much Brent wanted this to stay a secret and offers him the consolation of either 32 spanks or 32 hands on his ass whichever were to arrive first. Bands always seem to differ from show to show, it’s never known who likes to converse and who likes to just play music. Danny likes to joke as he mentions his love to spank himself. These guys have such a graceful control of their music and sound, knowing that when recording they use the Brent invented DLR (pronounced deeler) a digital looping recorder that allow the band to record impromptu material that can later be mixed into the tracks we here on the album. But to see the recreation of the digital age in music live with numerous instruments demands for more respect for them (and that’s tough because mine is already high). There are so many subtle nuances from song to song as each bring their own thread into this woven thing of masculinity and beauty in one. Danny admits that The Empty Bottle is their favorite venue in the world and has played a big part in big start 5 years ago. They return for an encore of what was at least a ten-minute rendition of The Monkey’s Back. I am left excited to see what these years have flourished in what they’ll produce as the band returns to the studio this month to begin recording their next LP.

"Muscle‘n Flo" is the opening track from Friend or Foe, it is sung in the first person and describes from what I interpret as man’s uneasiness and lack of stimulation in his present life. The theme is presented in a very ambiguous way so that any listener male or female are able to relate to the situation. Sometimes in our lives we create goals that were never ours but those who raised us, this song reminds me of many of the messages that Chuck Palahniuk spoke about in Fight Club. What happens when we wake up one morning and have realized we chose the wrong path?















Inspired by a photo from Gregory Crewdson

Muscle'N Flo

Thursday, June 18, 2009

[Live Review] Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Chicago, Aragon Ballroom, 5.26.09

If anything I can now proudly say that I have seen the Yeah Yeah Yeahs live. I did not know what to expect from them, as their new album exhibits a change in the direction of their music making. I would say any nay Sayers or concerned fans afraid of this sound have nothing to fear as their live performance is nothing but a reminder of the mature artists they have grown into. Hairs stood up on my arms as Karen O’s voice screeched CHHIIICAGOOO!!! Assuming a pose donned in a white and patterned Kimono…what has become her signature garb as of late…Beginning the night’s show with “Runaway” off of Its Blitz, she stood and dance in a very Hiawatha/geisha style. As if she were a sultry Pocahontas banished from the tribe and took new residence in LA. Between songs spraying water into the air like a dragon, Brian beating the drums in a tribal manner and Nick pushing the guitar to a harder and louder level as they broke into Black Tongue, Karen disrobed from her Kimono to show off her matching leotard and tiger print tights. Very rarely can a grown woman make the fashion sense of a 4 year old work, I have no complaints though…heh what’s that say about my psyche? Everybody’s attention was not lost, as all eyes never left the stage.

The set list was a varied mix of all 3 LPs and even their debut EP. We also were privileged to see the much Youtubed cover the Misfit’s “Human Fly.” I think if it is at all possible the YYYs have a more significant punch live then the albums blasting out of my speakers in the studio. This group has grown up so much with their music evolving from the loud art stars we were all introduced to in 2001. Golden spotlights from the stage shot up at the Aragon’s roof as the band transitioned in “Gold Lion.” I stand back in awe; Karen O is a living, breathing orgasm. The YYYs are definite performers, songs are just the vehicles for them to channel their inner spirits through these stage personas they embody in performance. The eyeball rolled back at the onset of “Skeletons”, as though we the audience just entered a state of R.E.M. When the first single, for this new album began, Karen disappeared off stage returning in the now much talked about leather/spiked KO jacket. They powered through most of the show with little to speak about. When Karen did she made sure it was sincere as she spoke of their love of Chicago, twittering around like a flirty girl. She gives us a big Thank You for our turnout, which resulted in the switching of venues from the Riv to the larger Aragon. Nick began strumming his acoustic guitar as she dedicated what she says is their one love song, “Maps” to all the lovers in the house. Last song of the official set is “Y Control”, with the crowd jumping, guitars screeching and synthesizers popping, Nick breaks from playing to photograph what seems like the front row of the crowd. Ending with Karen genuflecting towards stage and gracefully thanking the audience. It’s very obvious that we will see them return to stage, curiosity is peeking to what they’ll choose to complete this terrific outing in my opinion.

At this point, I’d be interested in hearing maybe something from Show Your Bones or Is Is. Foot stomping begins. The crowd’s breath is held as we see both Brian and Nick return, everyone wondering what trick is left in Karen’s bag. She doesn’t disappoint as she comes back on with a fluorescent pink lucha libre’s mask, as she demands the crowd to dance til we’re dead. Seemed like a very suitable choice of songs to get everyone’s blood pumping. She unmasks herself and cloaks her head with a white silk scarf taking the audience down memory lane showing the strength of her vocal chords in the chorus of Art Star from their first EP. At times she was literally swallowing the microphone, alternating from that into a prance similar to that of a teenage pixie while she sang the verses. They finish this blood pumping, adrenaline rushing evening with “Date with a Night “ as Karen straddled the microphone chord like it was old boyfriend that she still holds a flame for. I have to admit; I’m left with a stronger admiration for the band and a stronger crush on their leading lady. There are some art exhibits you get to view that leave you with this sort of sensation that anything is possible if you keep working at it.

www.yeahyeahyeahs.com/

www.myspace.com/yeahyeahyeahs