Sunday, December 30, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

That's What You've Got To Not Worry About

(Burger Records & Tapes)

THE GO: FIESTA! Double album out on Burger Records Dec. 21, 2012

An Interview with Bobby Harlow

You could always say The Go sounded like some thing (or some one).

You could always say that one of the Detroit band’s songs had such-and-such qualities to it, a jangly 60’s-pop thing or a chugging garage-rock swagger… You could, if you wanted to whittle a band, any band of the billions, down to something more tangible, to quicken the deciphering of it, however unique.

“Oh, I get it, it kinda sounds like the Doors…” Or “oh, it’s like he’s blending old-school rap to techno, I get it…” “Oh, it’s like the Mumford & Sons, only better…” “Oh, right, I get it…”

I get it…

“If Paul McCartney, with those 18-year-olds tweeting in confusion about who he is when he performed the Grammys last year, if Paul puts out a new album tomorrow, who, then, should care?”

The Go singer/guitarist co-songwriter and co-producer Bobby Harlow crooks one frayed denim leg over the other, sneakers on shag, taking a break in his basement recording studio, as we discuss the death of the rock star, the haunting grasp of hero-worship and what could be some renaissance-esque spark struck in the exuberance and steady output of labels like Burger Records.

But more on that later…

Stream/Listen: Fiesta's lead single:

“Now, Paul (McCartney)’s just an icon. Or, like Elton John. At some point Elton John did come up with something like ‘The Tumbleweed Connection…’ But now, what is he…? We look at this generation, at the Grammys audience and judge someone for not knowing who John Lennon is…But, similarly, someone could look at me, Bobby, and judge me if I don’t know, say, The Mummies? What’s the difference though? It doesn’t matter.”

Post-Beatles, Post-Led Zeppelin, Post-MTV, Post-Napster, Post-Pitchfork, Post-Everything. Music still matters to the modern listener, but in what ways, if at all, do the creators of new music matter…

How is a band to operate now, in Internet-Music-World? When, all at once, everything and nothing seems to matter the most or not matter at all? Is there any trusty formula to follow any longer?

And so what if you sound like The Doors, or like Paul McCartney? What matters is what you’re saying with your music… (and distinguishing “what” you say with how you’re saying it).

Right? I’m thinking about this too much…

It seems to be the bedevilment of countless bands this past decade, many maddened by the lack of a roadmap, or maybe maddened by that freedom…

“You’re in your own world and it’s important to just be in your world and do what’s going to matter to you…” says Harlow.

This new-normal of Internet Music world, wherein/throughout you can enter and edify your own personal CBGBs, “your own world” erected as some digitized creative commons, a pressure-cooker feeding back inspiration from ever-connected-cliques of bands of the most shrewdly categorized sub-sub-genre. Freeing and over-stimulating all at once.

And sharing their sounds. Led Zeppelin and Elton John and Paul McCartney made millions off of these things, songs, songs that you now make in your living room and put up for free…Your own contribution to that terrific tradition known as rock n’ roll music. Freedom.

The Go, Harlow, with rhythm-guitarist/singer Jon Krautner, and drummer Mark Fellis) are not some new bandcamp-buzzer blipped across your latest blog. They’re coming on fifteen years together now, seemingly inspired-as-ever, but also wary and wise after a whirl through the Music Biz as it crumbled ten years ago under the tidal rise of the Internet.   

“There has always been ‘those few bands that stick,’” Harlow says, thinking of the perennial harkening to “icons.”

“But those big bands in the past, like Zeppelin, they had a number of circumstances that assured they rose above…”

Indeed, Robert Plant or Elton John never needed a kickstarter.  

But, Harlow says, sometimes there’s just “that thing…”

“There’s just some magic going on there, like with Jack White or Kurt Cobain.” Something in their voice or in their fresh, raw, visceral songwriting. “Everybody jumps on ‘that thing.’ But then, how did they record it? Does that matter?”

“…Was it really anything special?”

The Go found a way to forge something original for their latest album: Fiesta. Don’t think. Press record. Finish it tonight. And, no pun intended, Go with it.

Fiesta, the band’s 6th album, comes out on Burger Records, December 21st.

As singer/songwriter and producer Robert Harlow admits he can feel “Hyper-conscious of” the creative-act in the moments leading up to it. “But when I’m in the creative moment, at the very moment of creation? (I’m) not conscious, I’m un-conscious! That’s what you’ve got to not worry about…”

Thus, they approached Fiesta akin to an abstract expressionist painter’s caprice, guided entirely by intuition and instinct

Layers were set down through lightly-improvised / lightly-guided jamming; they’d try wandering into funkier, or somewhat psychedelic terrain, but then maybe try a tribal rock twist or flitting off into some heady prog-slogged detachment.

After that, they’d fit lyrics atop their mad mud-pies. They were careful, though, not to strangle-away a song’s potential with over-conceptualization.

“I think now, from this experience, I realize that everything shouldn’t be kept so precious,” said Harlow.

“Or at least …not looked-at as precious. Just make music.”

For those who need catching-up at this point:
Some of the Go’s formative moments came a dozen years ago during that fleeting love affair Detroit’s “garage” rock scenesters enjoyed with fickle (feckless?) national music journalists (during which they caught the ears of major labels such SubPop).

Call them savvy veterans but don’t call them jaded yet – Indeed, still quite down to earth, (and still continuing to work in basements).

“We may try different things,” Harlow said of their approach to songwriting and recording. “And, because we try maybe too many things that might mean that, if we do have a sound, then, well, I don’t know what it is…”

“Which,” he adds self-depreciatingly, “may be a fatal flaw. I probably still live in the same bubble-world that I always have when it comes to new music…”

That “bubble” sense is flourished by our basement setting, nestled away from the bustle of the city and assured that our phones are switched-off. The meditative peace of sound-proof walls emanates. Harlow’s recording set-up glows behind him on the table as he faces me, swiveled on his desk chair.

He remembers his early perspectives of the music “biz” – back in the late 90’s when The Go “broke-out” (or “got signed”). Back in those days he’d seen bands selling-off their principals and self-consciously modeling for appeal, for radio-friendly fare.

Compare that to now, (particularly with Harlow’s experience collaborating in a producing role with a grassroots cassette-centric Anaheim-based label Burger Records), and he now realizes that maybe the “fidelity” of recordings doesn’t matter as much anymore, as long as there’s “good vibes,” and as long as what’s captured is truly the voice of the songwriters.

Toward the end of 2012’s summer, the trio wrote and worked in their metro-Detroit recording space, aspiring to record: “whatever” …or “anything.”

“Let’s just show up and come up with it, together, on the spot,” says Harlow, succinctly summing up the goal of Fiesta. Not that they even had a goal, per se. Thirty-two demos cut together in a little more than a month’s time, spanning long weeknights of experimental sonic sculpting, with none of the tunes having been written in advance.

Speaking specifically as one molded by his recent experiences with Burger, operating from an encouraging, improvisational, if-it-works-it-works ethos, Harlow says it “…makes perfect sense to be putting this album out right now.”

Right now, this intrinsically open album that sounds seemingly to lift from everywhere, coming out now, during this time of a Internet-Music-world’s jolting kaleidoscopic wring, where the answer of how the music biz works or how to make it seems ever more futile or unsolvable…

“Think of the absurdity of just being a human being,” Harlow astonishingly scoffs. “The absurdity of being a light-being, in space, is so crazy that whatever we think we ought to be doing…we probably should just stop thinking and just do it.”

Unsolvable? Need a solution? Need a rhyme or reason or whatever to write a song and put it out? The only answer is a response. The only answer is action.

Just make music.

Now, the Go, said Harlow, starting up in the mid-late 90’s, the days known loosely as “post-grunge,” instilled them with a bit of a rebellious urge to kick back against all these brands, all these dressed-up delusions on the radio, to clear out white-noise confusion and reach back to more of a roots-rock style, dashed with a bit of obnoxious, unhinged punk leanings and hewn with a subdued screw-you-if-you-don’t-dig-this lo-fi fuzz.

“That was a feeling of: ‘We’re doing something that doesn’t give a shit against any of this…”

Scruffy fidelity and roots-reaching swagger aside, the band has consistently tried (again, without trying too hard) not to concern itself with how it sounded or what they sounded like. “It was good enough for us, so why wouldn’t it be good enough for everyone else? It sounded good. It was about sounding-good and about the atmosphere.”

And maybe that didn’t fit so well back then… (Particularly in the early 00’s, when the Garage Explosion extinguished discouragingly swiftly and the band would go on to have two of their records rejected or scrapped-into-muddled-Frankenstines, navigating zealous label-heads and dubious publicists). 

But still, that sense of everything-goes seems the norm, now.

“I love what’s going on out there,” Harlow subtly gestures a hand upward, implying the stupefying grandness of new-music’s-frontiers. “I feel like it really doesn’t matter as much what the quality of your recordings are…” (And we can name-drop a bit here, Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, Ariel Pink, or Metz…or King Tuff or Iceage…)

“…as long as there’s good vibes on there. Which, is exciting and fun.”

Because who knows now? And what’s the difference, anyway? If Paul McCartney puts out an album, what’s the difference? What does that really mean to you, in your own world?

“If it sounds good to you, who knows, then, put it out.”

So you can try to say that Fiesta sounds like something… “You can,” Harlow nods, “you can try. We wear our influences on our sleeve. But for the first time, on this record, for both (Krautner) and I, we were ourselves. Our voices, the identities, were firmly in place. On (2007’s) Howl On The Haunted Beat You Ride, I felt singing as though I had something in my head, a style to suit a song, like an actor.”

Fiesta then, is less a revue of recognizable rock styles and more of a ricochet. A true blender.

“These are definitely our own voices. This record was entirely different from anything we’ve done.”

The group would get in a room and record, free of intent and relying upon instinct. Get the takes done and then pick a random tape. A random tape from a random day, a random session of their 32 experiments and only then determine how to approach. This meant, A.) that they were actually surprised to hear back what they’d pieced together, and B.) they’d then be refreshingly challenged to properly and purely complete the song, bring it to life.

“We’d get an idea…and then we’d commit to it.”

Talk about “roots.” They sang all the harmonies together into one mic, working with only four tracks and using pitch-pipes to tune their instruments. Guest musicians came in to flesh it out. Joey Mazzolla, another iconic Detroit rocker, added guitars with Justin Walker, himself more of the new-school of indie-psyche mutations. Then, the adaptable brass journeyman Rod Jones, brought in a funk-flaring saxophone.

“If I did anything, I would just encourage,” Harlow said of his producing-role. “There was no second-guessing anybody. We played whatever we wanted to play and we did that until we had 32 songs…Just being able to let-go… that was the exercise.”

“This album sounds…”

There’s this pregnant pause and it seems to last at least a minute even though I know it’s only nine seconds. But inside that pause I hear a roar of drums, a wail of guitars, a blinding whirl of bass – it is the sound of a wavy wobbly question mark.

“…I don’t know,” he says.

Better that way, right? To not be so conscious of it, of one’s sound? It goes back to over-thinking all this music nonsense. That can be unnerving. Just make music.

This one sounds like: I-don’t-know…

Let it be, then.

What Harlow does know, when it comes to Fiesta: “This one’s exciting.”

“The other ones were unnerving,” Harlow admits. And, by comparison to Fiesta, the other ones were contrived. “And when you do that, you know what you’re listening to. I know what I’m listening to…”

Just like everyone could always try to say that The Go sounded like such-and-such.

What it came down to, what it’s always been about in anarchic Internet Music world, was “Freedom.”

“Freedom,” Harlow breaths a hallowed sigh. “Everybody’s got their influences and their heroes. I’ve hero-worshipped rock stars since I was a kid.” He counts off:  Prince, Michael Jackson, Joe Strummer, Captain Beefheart. Such personalities. “Everybody’s got their heroes, but I think the harder you work at it and the more that you do, the more life experience you accumulate…”

“But, then, also having a conscious realization that you need to be doing something abstract, that it’s somehow gotta be abstract or that it’s gotta be the unconscious mind, uncensored emotions, conjured into music. And into writing and into whatever. And then, at that point, maybe there’s transformation.”

Intuition. Instinct. Unconscious creation. Transformation. Freeness…Freedom. Fiesta.

“…This one’s exciting.” 


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Friday, December 7, 2012

12 for 12: Dozen faves from 2012

I'm Tom Matich and here are some of my favorite albums/songs I liked this year.
For a Spotify playlist: Click here

Schoolboy Q  
Habits & Contradictions

If you like Kendrick Lamar, check out Schoolboy Q. Guest spots from Lamar plus A.S.A.P. Rocky. Killer beats. Sort of a Too $hort meets Eazy E vibe. Gangster pimp trick all the way. 

Information Retrieved

First new album from Rob Crow and Zach Smith since 2007. Beautifully composed, perhaps their most harmonic and focused offering yet.

Bombay Bicycyle Club  
A Different Kind of Fix

Mellow indie pop from across the pond. A pleasant surprise discovery I owe to Anne Delisi.

Kanye West featuring Big Sean, Pusha T & 2Chainz

For pretending like your economic sedan is an exotic Italian sports car this past summer.

Cat Power

Bitch on the edge. Or the bitch is back. Either way, stellar. Meow.

Matthew Dear

At times, this reminds me of Violator era Depeche Mode or the Detroit Techno Fest.
 "Temptation" is a masterpiece.

Twin Shadow
 "Five Seconds"

Cinematic soundtrack to hipster summer love or heartache.

George Michael
"Freedom! '90"

This song is not from 2012. But, it's brilliant and I was hooked on it this year. George Michael's voice is so versatile, the lyrics are completely open-ended. It's epic. Plus, you can dance to it.

Hot Chip
In Our Heads

Another solid album from Hot Chip, more straightforward and back to their roots, with emphasis on
songwriting meant to reach the masses (i.e. "Don't Deny your Heart").

Rufus Wainwright
"Out of the Game"

The best song Rufus has ever done. Thank you, Mark Ronson for maximizing this guy's potential. This song should've made Rufus as popular as Elton John was in the '70's. Alas.

 Bear In Heaven
 I Love You, It's Cool

My favorite fuzzy synthesizers and guitars record. Romantic sorta.

 Kendrick Lamar featuring Dr. Dre
"The Recipe"

The 2012 version of "California Love," I guess.