My ears are still ringing almost twenty fours hours after last night’s sold out show at Cafe Du Nord on Market St in San Francisco. The impressive Noise Pop Festival line-up was full of tasty choices all over town but my heart was set on seeing The Black Ryder. Joining them on the bill, Wax Idols, The Soft Moon, and hometown favorites Tamaryn were all excellent. For me though, The Black Ryder represent a rare live music experience where everything else fades away. Having only seen them as support for The Cult in a large room with an expensive sound system, I was anxious to hear if their sonic landscapes would fit into a smaller setting. If anything, the band was even more powerful in the small club. They only played seven songs but even just one made the entire one day trip to San Francisco worth the hassle of navigating the city’s public transit and the unwelcome cold temperatures. The festival itself looks awesome and I’ll be going back in 2012 with a longer stay in mind.
Infectious. That’s the first word I’d use to describe Lindsey Ray’s music. Her debut album Goodbye From California brims with well-crafted songs that don’t skimp on the melodies. Popular music once represented more than just the latest trend and Ray’s voice would sound wonderful on a radio station in 1975 just as it does today. Following the same path as many other indie artists scrambling for a foothold within a fragmented music industry, television provided an avenue of exposure. Songs on Target and Yoplait commercials and placements on several cable shows helped establish Lindsey Ray as a songwriter and performer to watch in the next few years. Last month, her first tour rolled through a small bar in Las Vegas. Going on first, Ray played unaccompanied in front of a handful of drinkers. Despite the surroundings, she poured her heart into each song and played it like she was headlining Madison Square Garden. It worked. I wasn’t the only one smiling and buying her album at the end of the set. As winter melts away for most, Lindsey Ray’s music is a refreshing soundtrack for the coming Spring. Kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule, here’s Lindsey Ray’s chat with Essential Junk….
You spent January touring with Bleu and Taylor Locke & the Roughs on the Menage A Tour 2011. What did you learn on your first tour and how did three distinctly different artists end up together on the road?
Well I already knew Bleu before the tour came about. He and I had written songs together in the past so we already had a relationship and had spoken about touring together at some point. It was really just a matter of timing, and the time was finally right to do it and I’m so glad we did. I had a blast! It was quite an adventure. I’d never been to a lot of the places we went like Portland, OR and Seattle, WA and I love traveling so that made it extra special for me. As far as what I learned goes, I think being on the road and playing night after night in a different city and having to bring it every night no matter how long the travel day was or how tired you are, just solidified my love for what I do. Turns out I LOVE the road and can’t wait to get back out there and do some more touring!
What song on Goodbye From California are you most proud of?
Ooooh tough question! I’m proud of all of the songs but I guess if I have to pick I would say Better Off because it’s a very personal song for me and it also just so happens to be the only song on the album that I wrote on my own. I spend so much time co-writing these days that I often forget how special it can be to sit by myself and write on my own. There was a night where I was home alone sitting at the piano and this song just kind of fell out of me. I was thinking about my father who passed away in July of ’08 and the song just kind of wrote itself. It’s a very specific memory I have of a moment I had alone with my father at the end of his life where I did my best to assure him that he had nothing to be scared of and that he was headed somewhere wonderful where he could rest and let go of it all. It’s a comforting thought for me to think that someday when we leave this world we’ll be in a better place, and that’s really all the song is about. I think it was also my way of comforting myself through the pain of not having him here with me anymore and you know what? It worked! It’s like I wrote myself and anyone else who has ever lost a loved one, a little lullaby and all I can do is hope that they felt it.
Featuring music in commercials and television shows has become a sought after way to reach new audiences. With radio taking fewer chances on emerging talent, is television the new path to exposure as a recording artist?
I certainly think so yes. I myself have discovered several artists that exact way. You hear a commercial with a great song and you want to know who sings it! And if you’re watching a show that you love and there’s a dramatic scene that’s being enhanced by a song you’ve never heard before, chances are you’re going to be curious and look it up. I also think that people enjoy feeling like they discovered something on their own without the media and radio shoving it in their faces. It becomes a much more personal experience when you discover the music and artist yourself and I think it’s a great way for artists like myself to find fans that are really invested in their music and that will follow their careers through the years.
‘Goodbye From California’ opens the album and addresses your move from Maine to California. How difficult was the coastal transition and do you plan to stay in Los Angeles?
Well as much as I love Maine and being from Maine, I always knew that eventually I would leave and go to either LA or NY and when the time finally came to do so, it felt 100% like the right move for me. It really wasn’t a difficult transition at all. I had already been traveling back and forth to LA from Maine for about 8 months before my move so I already had friends here. It felt like the natural thing to do. I love it here. I love that I’m surrounded by driven talented people and I’ve been fortunate to have made some really amazing friends here. I’m sure someday it would be nice to settle down somewhere else but for now I’m career-minded and this is the place to be!
‘Monkey And the Tree’ and ‘The Honey And the Bee’ are sort of companion pieces with ‘Monkey’ looking ahead at a wonderful relationship and ‘Bee’ revealing that the person is still a little out of reach. How many of these songs are written from personal experience?
Every song I write is from personal experience. Sometimes it’s looking back and remembering a situation where I was crushing on someone that didn’t even know I existed like in “The Honey and the Bee” and other times it’s imagining a future of growing old with someone you love like “Monkey and the Tree” was. They’re not all necessarily things I’m going through in the moment that I write them, but they are definitely all pulled from my life experiences.
The ‘Spinning Me Out’ single for Facebook revealed a more club influenced side to your music. Was this a one off project or are you interested in exploring new territory on future recordings?
I actually never intended for “Spinning Me Out” to be a song that I released myself as an artist. As much as I’m an artist myself, I also really love the craft of songwriting and I write all kinds of songs spanning all genres. I may write songs that are country, dance, r&b and pop all in the same week. It’s something that I really love to do and I have a lot of different styles that come out of me. When I got together with Swedish producer Kei-One, I loved this particular track that he showed me and I wrote “Spinning Me Out” with the intention of pitching it to a dance artist. It just so happened that the recording we did of me singing the song was very well received and i thought it would be fun to see how my fans reacted to it. There’s a game on Facebook called NightClub City that chose to put the song in the game and the reaction I got from people was incredible. I gained something like 35,000 fans from all over the world in a matter of a few weeks! It was insane and so much fun to watch it happen. I certainly plan to write many more songs like this in the future but I’m not sure if I’ll be releasing them myself or not. I’m always working on evolving my sound so we’ll see…
Growing up with a lot of records around the house, who were the artists that you kept coming back to?
I actually didn’t grow up with the kind of records that most of me peers did. I didn’t hear The Beatles or The Rolling Stones. Instead I grew up with a lot of country music, George Strait, Garth Brooks, Reba McIntyre, etc and a LOT of jazz. Lots and lots of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra and Big Band in my house. I’m more familiar with the old standards like “All of Me”, “Fly Me To The Moon”, etc than I am with classic rock. That usually shocks people but it’s true. Of course I did listen to pop music like everyone else. I was nuts about New Kids On The Block, Janet Jackson, Madonna, Debbie Gibson and Paula Abdul. They were my idols. My father LOVED Patsy Cline so I grew up with her greatest hits album on repeat and “Crazy” was always my song of choice at family gatherings when we sang around the piano. I was also OBSESSED with Natalie Cole’s jazz album Unforgettable when I was 10 years old. I used to want to make that exact album when I grew up and for a while I did sing jazz when I lived in Maine. I had a couple of different jazz trios that I would front for private parties and fancy restaurants. I still think I may make a jazz album someday when I’m a little older. I’d love to do something with a big band behind me like Frank Sinatra used to do. We’ll see. Check in with me in 10 years or so.
What was the first concert you attended where you had a feeling of wanting to do that when you grew up?
Well to be perfectly honest I knew that this was what I wanted to do long before I ever attended my first concert. We have pictures of me singing with a microphone before I was even out of diapers. I honestly can’t remember ever not wanting to do this. The idea of singing on a stage and putting on a show for people has always seemed like the best possible thing I could do with my life. It’s where I’m my happiest and where I feel the most like myself. With that said if you’re curious about what my first concerts were, the very first was a band called Asleep At The Wheel which was a swinging country band and the next was…..wait for it….Tony Bennett. Country and Jazz. What did I tell you?!
Looking ahead at the rest of 2011, what projects are on your horizon and will you head out on the road again this year?
Right now I’m writing like crazy and trying to decide what my next batch of songs that I plan to release will be. I’m having a lot of fun experimenting with different styles these days so I’m taking my time figuring out what I want to do next. As far as going out on the road goes, I would love to get back out there! No solid plans for when or where yet but hopefully soon!
For a casino that opened on New Year’s Eve with a concert mashing Coldplay with Jay-Z (and a guest appearance from Kanye), the Cosmopolitan is nothing if not adventurous when booking talent. Turning one of their grand ballrooms into a makeshift concert venue, the Cosmo welcomed The Black Keys to Las Vegas for two sold-out nights. Having recently canceled tour dates due to exhaustion, these Las Vegas dates survived on The Black Keys’ schedule, which hints at the venue’s deep pockets when acquiring talent. Seemingly refreshed after a week in town, The Black Keys showed no signs of exhaustion during their blistering set.
Taking the stage over two full hours after doors opened, Cage The Elephant wasted little time making a mess of their allotted time. Frenetic singer Matt Schultz screamed and shook like Kurt Cobain doing an Iggy Pop impression. The requisite crowd-surfing was not far behind as Schultz repeatedly dove from the stage and did all he could to incite the crowd. His request for crowd-surfing from the audience went ignored though. Apart from a handful of aggressive-minded teens who created a mosh pit near the stage, the crowd was ambivalent to the ear-piercing songs that borrowed heavily from Pixies and Pavement. The promise of ‘Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked’ from the band’s debut album held up well but the new material from Thank You Happy Birthday would have been better left in the garage. One assumes they were chasing the raw power of The Stooges with their set but they came up well short of the target.
The Black Keys came on after a short break and the floor shook beneath the audience as Patrick Carney beat the living shit out of his Ludwig kit. Each cymbal strike was delivered like a madman punching at the devil. Carney’s force behind the kit almost overshadows his ability to slide enough grease on the grooves to give The Black Keys more soul than most rock duos. Dan Auerbach’s fuzzed-out blues guitar jams are the heart of the band’s sound and the early part of the set stuck tightly to the script. Adding a bassist and organ player as an enormous mirror ball ascended above the stage, the band switched gears on ‘Everlasting Light’ as Auerbach’s falsetto replaced the bluesy growls. The band stuck to the expanded lineup for more of the songs from Brothers before getting back to their two-man attack.
Covering The Kinks’ ‘Act Nice And Gentle’, Auerbach sang “Where’d you get those fancy clothes?” to an audience that was overflowing with the high heels and slim-fitting dresses of the Vegas scene. It was unintentional humor at its finest as the crowd swayed under gigantic crystal chandeliers while checking their cell phones. The band’s blues attack returned in full force to close the night, which raises the question: How did an unassuming blues band become darlings of the rock world?
Devoid of all pretension and focused only on the next dose of Delta spirit to infect Auerbach’s riffs, The Black Keys make unlikely rock stars. For a band with seemingly no interest in such attention, the exhaustion that has taken them off the road could be more than just the energy exerted delivering such memorable live performances. With Jack and Meg calling it a day, The Black Keys are now the reigning kings of the two-piece garage scene and based on tonight’s performance, the crown will not be relinquished without a fight.
Seeping with Velvet Underground cool and mixing the droning waves of Jesus & Mary Chain with garage blues, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club proved a formidable live act on Wednesday at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas. Rather than adhere to the venue’s illogical format of a pair of one hour sets with an hour break in between, BRMC launched into ‘War Machine’ from 2010′s Beat The Devil’s Tattoo and tore off two dozen burners. During one of the few times the band spoke to the audience, Robert Levon Been said they were supposed to play two sets but decided to just keep playing music. Good decision. The band hit their groove instantly and there was no reason to slow down.
I’ve already written a bit about this band in 2011 but it bears repeating. The Joy Formidable make music that punches you in the head with a smile. It’s loud, it’s full of hooks, and it kicks ass. They will shake the ground at Coachella in April. Until then, we have twelve new songs.
The debut album is The Big Roar and my review is published here.
Over the years, I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of incredible concerts (and Britney Spears twice) but it wasn’t until I went to see the Cult on a whim last October that a band drove its music through my heart and left me for dead. Opening for The Cult and wrapped in mystery, The Black Ryder delivered such a powerful set that I remember very little about the rest of the night. They only played for about 45 minutes, partially hidden in smoke and darkness. Between songs, there was no talking as pedals were adjusted and glances exchanged between the two guitars. Then, the next rush of noise soaked the crowd. From the shadows, two voices took turns riding above the dizzying wave of droning fuzz.
The Black Ryder’s debut album Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride became the highpoint of new music in 2010, a year that witnessed some fantastic releases. The meticulous production work on the album places it alongside landmark albums such as My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. For a debut album, the band’s creative identity and mission arrives fully realized. Having worked together in the Morning After Girls, Aimee Nash and Scott Von Ryper launched The Black Ryder with all systems firing. Listening to Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride, the songs slowly attach themselves to each other like stars falling into a black hole until you find yourself floating in an ethereal universe where time has lost meaning. Fifty-two minutes later, you are gently deposited back on earth.
Venturing into the visual arts, the band’s video for “Sweet Come Down” tells a dusty tale of betrayal and violence (reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men) in two minutes. On an album built using a rich sonic palette, the song, seemingly transmitted from an abandoned bar deep in the unforgiving backcountry of their Australian homeland, slows down the trip only briefly. Having caught your breath, the final two tracks on Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride are epic supernovas that run over six minutes and pull the listener through a world of droning reverb, acoustic guitar, and swirling vocals. Neither song ends as much as it fades away, the noises slowly drifting into the ether until there is only silence. At the end of the album, silence seems the only appropriate response to such a mind-blowing trip.
The band has a show coming up in San Francisco on February 25th as part of the 2011 Noise Pop Festival, sharing a bill with the exquisite shoegaze outfit Tamaryn. I have a plane ticket and a couch to sleep on. See you there.
Having come off the road, Aimee Nash was kind enough to spend a little time answering questions for Essential Junk…..
The Black Ryder spent a lot of 2010 opening shows for The Cult. What did The Black Ryder learn supporting such an established, sonically focused artist that you grew up fans of?
I saw The Cult in my early teens and it was a show that definitely stayed with me. Pretty amazing to think we’d be touring with them at some point… Ian Astbury is an incredible performer; always entertaining to see him work a crowd… no two shows the same. The Cult knows how to put on a show, and they’ve been doing it for a long time now, so you could learn all sorts of things from that.
Having seen your show in Las Vegas, it was quickly obvious that The Cult’s fans were embracing your sound even though it explores different tones and moods than a lot of The Cult’s work. Was that typical of the entire tour and were you a little surprised by the positive reaction?
We were really surprised by how well we were received. We weren’t sure what to expect really…although The Cult do have a very broad audience, which is a great thing. Thankfully for us they reacted in an incredibly positive way. We sold out of our albums a few times during the tour & had to get more sent, so that’s not a bad thing.
Your U.S. label Mexican Summer is also home to Tamaryn and several other artists with an artistic vision similar to The Black Ryder. Did that influence your decision to sign with them?
Most certainly. Mexican Summer had sent us a bunch of vinyl when we first started talking along with some recordings of Tamaryn, which we were instantly impressed by. We really liked what we heard and felt that a label that ‘gets’ the sound and has a vision for that style of music, well, it seemed like a perfect fit.
In interviews, it sounds like the end of your time in The Morning After Girls was a difficult experience for you and Scott. Did that period help strengthen the artistic relationship between the two of you as you embarked on this project?
Scott and I have a long history together. There were many parts of our time with that band that strengthened us individually and as partners. We’re birds of a feather…we have a shared vision for how we want to express ourselves personally and musically. We learned a lot about what we wanted and what we didn’t want. I think going through the process of writing and recording the album has made us even stronger, and I can’t wait to see what develops now that we’ve started writing again.
The album manages to create a mood that is spellbinding from beginning to end. Every texture and tone exists with a purpose to create a sonic collage. But what strikes me most is how the two of you manage the pacing of the music. A song like “The Greatest Fall” would unravel if played any faster and the acoustically grounded “All That We See” immediately follows the swirling noise on “What’s Forsaken”. How much time was spent on the sequencing of the album to capture the overall mood?
Endless hours, countless days. We were literally driving ourselves crazy with recording / mixing / fine tuning…every thought went into every part of every song… and ultimately how they would sound..
I’ve read that the band’s name was taken from the William S. Burroughs play. The name of the album could be interpreted as a reference to a line in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. And it works. Was that an intentional reference or just a coincidence?
Both were pertinent to the sentiment of where we were at the time. Both references remain relevant to where we are today…we’d recently been to see the stage production of the Black Rider…a musical fable based on a deal with the devil, madness, ultimately addiction (as it correlates to Burroughs own life).
When the email came telling us we weren’t in the Morning After Girls anymore, Scott and I posted some songs up online that we’d worked on throughout that time. It was a way of moving forward when you find yourself no longer apart of something you’ve just spent the last 3 years working on. When the need for a name came along, The Black Ryder seemed to fit where we were…and the album reference was also fitting…once you’ve signed up for something you’ve got to see it through.
The video for “Sweet Come Down” was a brilliant marriage of film and music and its obvious that the band has an artistic vision that extends beyond the music. Do you enjoy working on such projects and are there any others in the works?
We were ridiculously lucky that Michael Spiccia presented himself when he did. He’d heard the music through his work with another artist (Michael is an Australian director). He contacted us and said he would love to work with us. We worked together on every aspect of the visual element to accompany the music, including the album artwork and the film. We’re kindred spirits & have said he’s certainly a silent member. We’re in discussion right now about the next collaboration so it’ll be exciting to see where that leads us.
Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride was my favorite new album of 2010 (though you released it in 2009 in Australia so I’m a bit late). What were some of the favorites that you and Scott listened to while driving around North America on tour?
Tamaryn – Waves, the new album from Australian band Cloud Control, The Black Angels, plus lots of Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, Lightnin’ Hopkins etc. I don’t know that we all collectively listened to music in the van so much…but those definitely made the playlist.
Were you able to collaborate on new songs while touring and is there a timeline for the next album?
Not at all…driving and touring all across America doesn’t leave too much time to play and write…although we do have some ideas up our sleeve that we’re ready to start working on.
Published a review of Over the Rhine’s newest album at Sun On the Sand today. Read it here.
Even better than I expected. The new Joy Formidable album (technically speaking, this is their debut) is aptly titled The Big Roar. By the time it reaches the U.S. in March, the band will have conquered all of Europe with an album that refuses to go quietly. In looking at the Coachella line-up, this is THE band that is going to create a buzz. If you’re missing out on Coachella (like me), catch one of these tour dates…
3/22 Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
3/24 Durham, NC @ Coffeehouse @ Duke Univ.
3/25 Washington DC @ Black Cat
3/26 Albany, NY @ Valentines
3/28 Providence, RI @ The Met
3/29 Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall
3/30 Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s
3/31 Princton, NJ @ Terrace Club @ Princeton Univ.
4/1 Harrisburg, PA @ The Abbey
4/2 Toronto, ON @ Horseshoe Tavern
4/4 Columbus, OH @ The Basement
4/5 Chicago , IL @ Lincoln Hall
4/6 Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
4/8 Denver, CO @ Larimier Lounge
4/9 Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court
4/11 Portland, OR @ Mississippi Studio
4/12 Seattle, WA @ Crocodile
4/14 San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill
4/16 Indio, CA @ Coachella
4/19 Phoenix, AZ @ Rhythm Room
4/20 Albuquerque, NM @ Launchpad
4/22 St Louis, MO @ Luminary Arts Center
4/23 Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room
4/26 Cleveland, OH @ Grog Shop
4/27 Pittsburgh, PA @ The Smiling Moose
4/29 New York, NY @ Webster Hall
Last October, I did a Q&A with Ritzy Bryan, lead guitarist and vocalist. You can read it here.
Rolling Stone recently featured them as a band to watch so if you don’t trust me, you can at least trust the mass media. Right?