Stooges Guitarist Previews LP on Record Store Day EP Review: Beth Thornley - Septagon An Interview with Scott H. Biram British Vocalist Barb Jungr Talks Interpreting Dylan, Cohen on New LP Review: Priscilla Ahn - This is Where We Are

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Guitarist James Williamson Previews “Re-Licked” Stooges LP with Record Store Day Exclusive

Iggy and the Stooges achieved a sense of having come full circle with last year’s Ready to Die, their first album of new material since 1973’s Raw Power. For guitarist James Williamson, however, some unfinished business remained, namely with music he'd composed with Iggy Pop in the mid-seventies—songs that were intended to comprise the follow-up to Raw Power—which was neither properly produced nor officially released. 

“I think that body of work is very, very strong,” says Williamson, “and the only thing people have ever been able to hear are the bootlegs of us performing it live back in the day, but a lot of the songs were only partially developed.”

In a Record Store Day exclusive 7” vinyl release of “Open Up and Bleed”/“Gimme Some Skin,” Williamson teams up with Texas blues troubadour Carolyn Wonderland to preview Re-Licked (due this fall), which features a batch of lost Stooges classics (including “I Got a Right,” “She Creatures Of The Hollywood Hills,” and “Wild Love”) interpreted by a roster of vocalists that also includes Ariel Pink and Mark Lanegan, among others.

One artist not on the roster? Iggy Pop. “If we had done them with Iggy singing them there would be the comparison between the early Stooges and current Stooges,” says Williamson, “and we decided that was not a good idea.”

Recalling his ambition for “Open Up and Bleed,” Williamson says that he sought a vocalist in the vein of Janis Joplin. An old friend tipped him off to Wonderland by way of a YouTube video, which was incentive enough for Williamson to hop on a plane bound for Austin, Texas to behold the singer in the flesh. “I was just floored,” he says. “This girl has got the voice that Janis Joplin wished that she’d had. She’s phenomenal.”

“Oh hell, I can’t live up to that,” says Wonderland with an unassuming chuckle, adding that she appreciated the opportunity to stray beyond her blues-drenched stomping grounds. “It’s neat to challenge [yourself] to do somebody else’s stuff, especially something so groovy.” 

Of course, like the rest of the songs on Re-Licked both “Open Up and Bleed” and “Gimme Some Skin” were written for Iggy Pop to perform in his inimitably virile way, a realization that Williamson suggests became all too apparent in working with Wonderland.

Thinking back to the “Gimme Some Skin” session in particular, Williamson says, “That lyric is like a total Iggy-throwaway lyric—‘Typhoid Mary, she’s got soul/Fucks all night on an old asshole...’—and here’s Carolyn Wonderland, and I’m asking her to sing this song. I told her right up front, ‘Hey, look, I don’t want to offend you with these lyrics,’ because I didn’t know her at all. 

“But shit,” adds Williamson, “she’s a Texas blues singer; she doesn’t care. It’s actually kind of a fun song. Anyway, she got on it—she brings it alive.”

Related reading:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

An Interview with Scott H. Biram

Scott H. Biram didn’t set out to achieve any radical breakthroughs (musically speaking, at least) with his latest studio LP, Nothin’ But Blood, but creative stability seems to suit him just fine. “Part of that has to do with how much I’m on the road these days,” says Biram. “I don’t really get a chance to sit down and just play guitar for hours and hours and hours on my porch anymore.”

Fair enough. Actually, such a hectic touring schedule likely serves the self-proclaimed “Dirty Old One Man Band” better than being cooped up in a recording studio for months on end would, what with the various people and places that inform his songwriting. Still, as Biram suggests, the characters and circumstances he writes about in his music ultimately reveal more about himself than anyone else. “I guess they’re kind of a way for me to work through inner pains and anxieties and stuff,” he says, “and they’re not necessarily metaphors. They’re vessels for emotional release.”

What’s songwriting like for you? Is it something you’re in tune with all the time?

I think some of my best songs that I’ve ever written are the ones that come to me at five o’clock in the morning and I write them down in five minutes. Those are some of the best ones I’ve ever written. The ones I sit down and really work on for a long time, sometimes those are just really frustrating and they don’t do for me what I want them to. Occasionally I get those ones where I work on them for a long time and they do end up being pretty good; stuff like “Slow and Easy” on this new record, I struggled with that song a lot and I really didn’t like to play it on stage or anything. I had to figure out a new way to play it on stage because I can’t really pull it off the same way as the record.

You draw from different influences in your music—gospel and punk and country and blues—and you have songs of every stripe on the same album. Like, on this latest one you have “Amazing Grace” but you also have a song called “Alcohol Blues.”

Yeah that’s part of what I call the human condition. I think that’s what brings a really good human element to my music is that I cover the good, the bad, and the ugly … It’s just that struggle in my heart every day of my life with rejoicing and being depressed, or trying to be a good person and at the same time getting sloshed.

It’s the difference between Saturday night and Sunday morning.

That’s exactly right, and I think this record is a lot like Saturday night and Sunday morning and anywhere in between.

So basically you see all of those different elements and influences as tapping into the same vein.

Yeah, tapping into my heart and my liver. [Laughs]

Are there subjects or ideas that are too personal or too compromising to share in a song?

I don’t feel like I have too many walls as far as subject matter goes. I feel like I could pretty much write about whatever I need to and get as personal as I want. I don’t have too much to hide. One of the things I have a little trouble writing—that I don’t really go into too much—is the straight-up love songs. When I play them I feel kind of cheesier; it’s just a little too white. [Laughs] It’s leaning too much into that Kingston Trio kind of things. I feel like there’s more for both me and the listeners in the struggles and the trying-to-get-through-things subject matter … With the love songs and all that, there are so many great love songs written already I tend—if I’m gonna do those—to play the ones that somebody else already wrote. 

The “one-man band” thing, is there some fundamental reason you do that? Obviously it allows you the freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want to do it, but is there something that appeals to you about that beyond not having to pay a band?

Yeah, beyond not having to pay a band it’s definitely… I’ve got a kind of control-freak nature when it comes to music. I’m kind of a visionary as far as that goes. I’ve got a way I want it to sound. I don’t really want to stray from the way that I picture it in my head, but also as much as I’m on the road these days for the last ten or fifteen years I don’t have the time that it takes to really put together a great band and do all the practicing that it’s gonna take and rehearsing to get up to show-quality performances. 

I would like to put a band together and I’ve got some ideas about that, but I also feel like it’s one of those things that’s gonna have to fall into place naturally and not something that needs to be forced—kind of like those songs I was telling you about, how the ones that come to me really fast are the best ones; the ones that you have to force seem a little contrived. I’m really not a fan of contrived things.

When you’
re writing a song do you feel any obligation for it to reflect what your audience may expect of you?

No. Some people want to keep their finger on the pulse of trends and culture, but I keep my pinkie on it. I try to keep a little bit of a mind of what people want out of me and what they want to hear, because you have to in order to keep your fans a little bit, but at the same time I’m really true to myself with all of this. That’s always gonna be the main drive behind it is what I feel. Honestly I don’t put that much thought into all of this. I don’t think that it’s shallow or thoughtless, but I feel like my subconscious is what guides my efforts more than really trying to analyze it so much. The most analyzing I do to any of this is when I’m doing these interviews.

Nothin’ But Blood is available now on Bloodshot Records. For more information on Scott H. Biram, please visit his official website.

EP Review: Beth Thornley - Septagon

Beth Thornley has a knack for composing deceptively simple, soulful pop songs that cut to the quick with heartrending command. Maybe it’s a skill she’s honed over the years, having written for both television and film where the music often needs to encapsulate a specific scene; maybe she’s just innately gifted. Either way, Thornley illustrates this proficiency throughout the four-track EP Septagon (Stiff Hips Music). 

As a follow-up of sorts to her eclectic 2010 LP Wash U Clean, which was at turns wistful and rambunctious, this latest effort is more subdued by comparison, with subtler melodies and rich, immersive synth-pop textures betraying an unshakable sense of gravity in some moments and, in others, regret. From start to finish, though, it packs quite an emotional punch. 

Related Reading:


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Review: Priscilla Ahn - This is Where We Are

Priscilla Ahn sings with such gorgeous, unaffected grace that any extravagant or otherwise cluttered production would only undermine one of the loveliest voices to emerge in the past decade. That said, with her third and latest album, This is Where We Are (SQE Music), the winsome singer/songwriter builds upon the acoustic-rich distinctions of her prior LPs, A Good Day (2008) and When You Grow Up (2011), to incorporate judicious amounts of electronica. In moments like “Diana” and “In a Closet in the Middle of the Night,” for instance, Ahn conjures intoxicating, spectral soundscapes that actually reinforce her voice as well as her often contemplative lyrics. She doesn’t abandon her acoustic tendencies completely, as ballads “Remember When I Broke Your Heart” and “I Can't Fall Asleep” illustrate in enchanting, tender ways. Even on the most sonically progressive songs, the experimental embellishments are neither distracting nor obtrusive. On the whole, Ahn has stepped forward as an artist with this work, forging rich new musical perspectives with her talent and imagination.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

An Interview with Nathan East

Lately it seems like everything is going Nathan East’s way. Already this year the renowned and ever-in-demand bassist has picked up five GRAMMY® awards for holding down the groove on Daft Punk’s smash hit single, “Get Lucky,” resumed his long-held station in Eric Clapton’s touring band, and just this week released his long-awaited self-titled solo debut. 

Then again, such touchstones also seem like par for the course for a musician whose credentials include studio sessions with myriad legends and A-listers—George Harrison, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, B.B. King, Anita Baker, and Lionel Richie, just to name a handful—as well as performances at some of popular music’s most storied events and stages, from mammoth all-star benefits like Live Aid and Knebworth to such fabled venues as the Budokan and the Royal Albert Hall. 

For the new album, East assembled an eclectic roster including Clapton, singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles, and fellow co-founder of jazz supergroup Fourplay, keyboardist Bob James. “It was pretty seamless,” says East, adding that the musicians sought to reflect the spirit of a live performance. The camaraderie among them no doubt facilitated that pursuit and, in doing so, all the more enlivened moments like the retro, coyly titled first single, “Daft Funk,” and a solemn rendition of The Beatles’ “Yesterday,” the latter featuring his 13-year-old son, Noah East, on piano.  

Considering you work from such a broad palette—playing jazz, rock, R&B, soul—did you have any sort of guiding objective about how you wanted this album to sound? Did you want it to reflect you in any certain way especially since it’s your first statement as a solo artist?

Yeah, I was careful about making sure that although it wouldn’t be too much of a diverse statement that it would reflect a celebration of my musical tastes and friends. 

Are there many improvisational moments on the album?

Absolutely. A lot of what happens in the studio is pretty much intuitive and instinctive of what happens on the day whether it’s before or after the record button’s pressed, but the bottom line is by having a band and doing everything live you definitely have more room for improvisation and just whatever spontaneous magic that’s going to take place. 

You’ve got two Stevie Wonder songs on the album [“Sir Duke” and “Overjoyed”]. Beyond just being a fan, what is it about his music or his songwriting that attracts you to his work? 

Honestly I’ve probably been a fan of Stevie’s music for 40 years where it’s always had a special place in my heart. His compositions and his music in general is just a fertile garden of just everything … The soil is good. The fruit is good. Everything’s good about it! 

The amazing thing about Stevie is every song that he writes is different. Like, it sounds like Stevie, but it’s not like the same chord changes or sound. Some writers have a particular key or a particular set of chord changes that they use, but Stevie’s just a fountain. 

That’s him playing harmonica on your version of “Overjoyed,” right? 

Yes it is. We were doing that at a soundcheck at Carnegie Hall one day and I was kind of working that arrangement out and he jumped in there and started playing harmonica. When we finished he said, “If you ever record that let me know. I’d love to play on it.” 

A lot of the people you’ve worked with—Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton, Quincy Jones, Phil Collins—are known for having strong creative instincts. It must take a certain kind of discipline on your part to be able to work with those different types of people.

I’ve definitely learned a lot from working with these kinds of artists. People like Quincy and Phil Collins, these are some work ethics like you’ve never seen before, literally where you can put 14, 16, 18 hours a day into being in a studio and just working hard. I’ve learned that there are no shortcuts and people that are successful in general are hard workers.

Your disposition and personality must factor in as well, knowing when you can contribute something and knowing also when it’s not a good time to do so. Does that just take experience to learn?

Well, those are things that you hopefully learn early on. Music is one of those situations where nobody’s forcing you to be there, so if you can get along with folks and if you come with an attitude of contribution and an uplifting spirit people generally like being around that rather than the opposite. The more I work and the longer I’m in this business the more I realize that that’s a big part of everything as well.

Have you found it useful to have learned to read music when you were a college student?A lot of musicians don’t know how to read music, and I just wonder if it’s been beneficial in your career.

Absolutely. I couldn’t be more grateful for having pursued an education in music and learning how to read music. In those situations where you’re relying strictly on your sight-reading chops for an orchestral date when you’re doing a movie session and 60 pieces are in there and the notes are flying by it feels good to know that you can kind of hang tough with the rest of the gang. 

Does the bass still challenge you?

Very much so. On a daily basis I’m challenged to come up with something that’s interesting and not boring but not overbearing. For me it’s like every song is a chance to say, “Okay, I have another chance to really get it right,” and, “What is the best thing to play for this song?” It’s a constant challenge. 

Do you have any sort of philosophy for playing the bass? Like, Clapton has said he approaches playing the guitar much like a samurai. He steps into the spotlight only when necessary, he uses discretion about when to take a solo, and he tries generally not to overdo anything. Do you have any comparable approach to how you play?

That similar philosophy is one that I approach music with as well. I look at it as a big picture, and not just me. So lots of time I’ll take myself out of the equation and see what the big picture is trying to say and then try to determine what it is that I’m going to bring that’s going to complete that picture. 

You’re serving the song.

Absolutely. That’s the number-one priority is serve the song, and serve the dialog and the communication and the camaraderie.

After all these years how do you maintain your enthusiasm for playing music? You’ve always radiated such warmth and such love for what you do, and I just wonder how you manage to keep that going for all these years and through so many different incarnations of your career.

That’s a great question. The first very obvious answer is that I’ve just been blessed with a very enjoyable cross-section of music that I have the privilege and opportunity to play. There’s not a day that I don’t wake up that I’m not thankful for the privilege of playing music. At the same time, none of the gigs that I’ve had have been gigs where I’m thinking, “I’m just doing this for the money.” Most of them I just absolutely loved the music, the people. I mean, what’s not to love? What’s not to be enthusiastic about?

Nathan East is available now from Yamaha Entertainment Group. For more information, visit NathanEast.com

Share This Article