Tuesday, February 5th, 2013 | interviewZ, musiX, pdX | No Comments
I like Portland. I liked the Mint Chicks. I love New Zealand. I dig noisy pop music. But as much as I like these things it doesn’t necessarily mean I’d like Unknown Mortal Orchestra. I’m easy, but I’m not that easy.
But I do like Unknown Mortal Orchestra. That’s because Ruban Nielson writes good songs. The PDX by way of NZ musician surprised a lot of people (including himself) in 2010 when he posted the song “Ffunny Ffriends” on his Bandcamp page. Blogs ate it up before they even knew who or what was behind it, and Nielson–who was just writing songs for his own amusement—soon found himself releasing an entire record for Fat Possum in 2011.
There’s no mystery surrounding the band’s latest LP II, out now on Jagjaguwar. The songs again dip into the nether-regions of Nielson’s psyche, as he pushes garage rock and soul through some sort of futuristic meat grinder. It’s a little hazier than their self-titled debit. Zeus knows there’s been plenty to draw from in Nielson’s life over the past few years: The breakup of his longtime New Zealand band the Mint Chicks (caused by a strained relationship with his brother, Kody); the roller coaster that came with the release of UMO’s debut, which came after deciding he was going to quit music; and a tumultuous year of touring that saw Nielson nearly party himself to death in 2011.
It sounds like the makings of a juicy autobiography; instead we get II. And it’s a good one. Nielson took some time to answer a few questions about living in Portlandia, making music with a clear head and missing his Ffriends in New Zealand.
TDoL: You wrote and performed II yourself, right?
Ruban Nielson: I wrote it, but my brother plays some drums on it. Greg Rogove plays drums on a track and Jake Portrait plays bass on a track. It was still a pretty solitary process overall though.
It’s good stuff. It’s more dynamic than the first record, more live sounding …
Thanks. It has more drum fills and is a little less repetitive I suppose. I put some extra effort into the big picture of the record. The first record was me just trying to make jams to listen to on my iPod on the bus. It wasn’t intended as a real album. On the new record I thought about the little journey it would take you on. I knew people were going to hear it so I stepped up with a bit more conceptual ambition.
What were you going for in that respect?
I was just trying to capture the way I felt about the year and half I’d just had. Every song was coming at that idea from a different angle. I thought if I could make an album that invoked the feelings I’d had it would come out pretty heavy, and it would be good.
I remember hearing the Mint Chicks’ Bad Buzz EP and being really excited about the new music, and then poof they were gone. What happened, and what did you take from that experience?
My brother was just treating me like shit, basically. I needed to get out of the situation of working with him on a daily basis. I was working really hard and putting a lot of effort into it and getting nothing back. I’d just grown out of it. I wanted my life to be more rewarding and fun.
How long was it before you started working on the UMO stuff?
For about six months I think I was just trying to figure out how to pay my bills in Portland and stuff like that so I didn’t think about music much. I had this plan in my head that I was going to do something else with my life that wasn’t music, and that whatever it was it was going to be awesome. Eventually I started making recordings as a hobby. While I was in the Mint Chicks I worked as an artist’s assistant and did visual art as a hobby and music for a living so my plan was to flip that around. I got really excited about making music without arguing with bandmates about whether an idea was good. I got excited about making music without having to send demos to the label and all of that stuff. I got excited about removing the ego bullshit from the process.
Were you surprised by how quickly it caught on?
Of course. I remember working on “Ffunny Ffrends” and specifically thinking, “OK, now I’m just removing myself from the zeitgeist entirely. This is officially the most untrendy music in the world. Nobody is going to want to hear this.” If you’d asked anyone if they wanted to hear overly distorted music in an annoying falsetto about funny friends over old-school breakbeats … and, oh, did I mention the guitar solo?
How did you end up in Portland?
I have an uncle who lives here and I stayed with him and his family for a couple of weeks, and just felt like I wanted to move here. I went back to New Zealand and basically started planning to move. I have dual citizenship but I’d never had the desire to move to the U.S. permanently until I’d hung out in Portland. Of course, it’s changed a lot even in the five years I’ve lived here. There wasn’t a TV show about how ridiculous things are downtown. I still like it a lot though.
Do you miss New Zealand?
Sometimes. I had a great time last time I was there. My good friends I have there are irreplaceable. My immediate family are still there. I get along a lot better with my brother now that we aren’t in the Mint Chicks together.
Were you more influenced by New Zealand bands growing up, or American bands?
I was influenced by everything. Flying Nun, East Coast hip hop, alternative rock, punk, post-punk, jazz, jazz fusion, avante garde music, dub, drum and bass, noise music, classical. My family are all musicians on both sides so my poor brain was under siege from music. That’s why I didn’t want to be a musician growing up. I got into it accidentally, almost.
If you could go back to a certain era of music, what would it be?
2010, man. Things were so good then.
It sounds like 2012 was a hectic year for you. What are your goals for a smoother 2013?
I think 2012 was a great year—not that hectic, just busy and successful. 2011 was the hectic one. Just touring and touring and touring. This year I’m going to be busy again. There’s never telling what’s going to happen. I don’t know if smooth is what I want.
“Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)” – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
“So Good at Being in Trouble” – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
These days—more precisely, the past five years—it’s taken rock music of a certain disposition to give me that little tickle in my belly. I’m more interested in what music can do for my body than what it can do for my brain … OK, I’ve reverted back to my 23-year-old self. But until I get the urge to trade in my wife for a Sk8ter Grrrl and nix the idea of kids for having an entire room dedicated to KISS and ’80s horror flicks, I refuse to believe this is a midlife crisis.
Parquet Courts play rock music that’ll make you feel young. If you’re young, they’ll make you feel smart. The Brooklyn four-piece brings together the high-voltage rawk of jeans-clad punkers with the high times of couch-ridden slackers. Needless to say it’s goddamn fantastic. The band released their first proper LP Light Up Gold last summer, a record that was largely slept on, but caught enough ears to get a re-release this month on What’s Your Rupture? (the vinyl is still available on the band’s own Dull Tools label). It’s jangly, fast and smart rock music, filled with lyrics that are unwieldy, poetic and poker-faced … even when they’re singing about being stoned and starving. And there’s not a single dud.
Parquet Courts’ recent performance here in Portland was just as good. The band—guitarists-co-barkers Austin Brown and Andrew Savage (who also did time in Texas band Teenage Cool Kids and Fergus & Geronimo), bassist Sean Yeaton and drummer Max Savage—plowed through a fast and furious set like they’d been doing it for a decade. It can be inexplicably non-descript when a band does everything right. There’s nothing easy to latch on to. Parquet Courts are simply doing. There’s no schtick, no acting; and it shows in the band’s music and in their performance.
I ran into Austin Brown and Sean Yeaton outside of Bunk Bar after their packed show on Friday—nice gents who were cool without trying to be. Not surprisingly it sounds like 2013 is going to be a big year for Parquet Courts, which includes heaps of touring, including SXSW and Musicfest NW (sssshhhhh) in September. If in the off-chance you haven’t heard this band, you will. The night of their Portland show they sold out of the vinyl copies of Light Up Gold. I’ve been playing mine nonstop all weekend, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. And why should it? Here’s to feeling good all the time.
Stoned and Starving - Parquet Courts
Friday, January 18th, 2013 | musiX | No Comments
I like Ty Segall. I like glammy Satanic makeup. I like flesh. I like tongues. And I like blood. But I don’t like feet … disgusting things. Do with that what you will while you watch Segall’s vid for “Thank God For Sinners” from last year’s Twins album (his third LP of 2012).
Thursday, January 10th, 2013 | interviewZ, musiX, vinylZ | 1 Comment
I begin 2013 by going back to the year 2012. It was a simpler time, filled with hope and promise … OK, it was a great year for rock music, filled with some terrific records from The Men, King Tuff, Ty Segall, Ty Segall … Ty Segall, and a lesser-known band out of Saint Louie (Go Cards!) called Tilts, whose self-titled debut made numero uno on TDoL’s Best of 2012 list.
I bring them up again in these early days of 2013 because a) their album is pure rock and roll fun, and b) it was criminally overlooked last year. I discovered Tilts over at cranky pants Everett True’s Collapse Board blog, and immediately bought it on vinyl (which you, too, can order here). The record rocks in the spirit of Van Halen, Sabbath and Zep—big, dumb and fun, harkening back to the glory days when riffs were painstakingly forged in fire and could slice through your gray matter like a hot knife through gray matter (the song “Hot For Pizza” has more in common with Van Halen than just its title). The record was pulled together from a string of 7-inches, and finally released with the help of a Kickstarted campaign on Robotic Empire.
The man behind Tilts is guitarist-vocalist Andrew Elstner, who in 2012 also began slinging ax for Torche and contributed to the Miami metal quartet’s good-timin’ Harmonicraft album. Needless to say it was an eventful year for Elstner, even more so if you count that little situation when a bat pissed directly into his eye. But that’s sooo 2012. This year looks to be even bigger, even better. Torche will tour and start writing material for the follow-up to Harmonicraft, and Elstner says there’s a new Tilts album already in the works.
After a busy and blurry holiday season, The Days of Lore finally caught up with Elstner to discuss rock and roll, defunct metal magazines and why David Lee Roth is hot for pizza.
TDoL: 2012 turned out to be a pretty good year for you: You joined Torche, Tilts released their first full-length and got No. 1 on The Days of Lore Best of list … I mean, come on!
Andrew Elstner: Dude, you said it. 2012 has been a blast! Really and truly, I have no complaints. This year’s been a dream. I mean, it’s not like I’m doing anything I haven’t done before, it’s just that I’m doing it better and more often.
How long has Tilts been kicking around?
Unofficially, I’d like to say since I was about 18 when I first met Ken [McCray] and Shawn [Hart]; we hadn’t written any Tilts music of course, but the friendships started there. I met Andy White around 2001 if I remember correctly. We officially started jamming, I think, around spring or summer of 2009 and began recording EPs a while after.
I hear loads of great rock influences—ZZ Top, Sabbath, Van Halen. Was your upbringing with classic rock radio?
Absolutely. I began at the same place most kids did at that time. The first song I learned was “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith, then “Black Dog” by Zeppelin followed by a blizzard of Ozzy and Sabbath. Van Halen was everywhere as well.
Tell me more about the song “Hot For Pizza” …
Oh dude, it’s such a long story, but all true. Ultra quick breakdown: A good friend of mine befriended David Lee Roth within the last decade or so. During their initial encounter, the two of them were partying and Dave wanted a slice. On the walk to the neighborhood pizza joint Diamond Dave allegedly sang the line, “I’ve got it bad, got it bad, got it baaad, I’m hot for pizzaaa!” Now, if this story came from anyone else I wouldn’t believe it, but the shit is real. The song is very obviously a deep nod to Van Halen style wise, so the title couldn’t have been anything else really. It’s a good time.
What I love about the Tilts album is that it’s a fun party record, but I also get the feeling you take rock and roll dead serious.
Tilts set out to be that kind of a band on purpose. I mean, the band is Tits with an “L.” For real. You can’t take yourself too seriously. On the other hand, yeah, we wanna write solid tunes. We honestly don’t think about it too hard. Spinal Tap’s Viv Savage said it best, “Have a good time, all the time.”
I’ve read that you were an avid Circus magazine reader. I used to love that mag. Were you a metalhead growing up?
Yeah man—Circus, Rip, Hit Parader, all the usual pharmacy titles. Pretty hilarious to look at them now. It’s like poodles with guitars. Metalhead for sure, though, maybe not as intense as some. Some stuff was definitely lost on me at the time. I was all Anthrax, Metallica, Ozzy, Megadeth and whatever was playing on Headbanger’s Ball at the time. Between that and our local rock station’s “Monday Night Metal,” there were no other avenues to discover different bands. It wasn’t until high school that I finally branched out when a buddy would drive me home and we’d listen to Fugazi, Shellac, Drive Like Jehu. Blew my mind.
You are a riff machine, too. Who are your guitar heroes?
Aww man, I hold my own I suppose. Heroes aplenty. The usual—Eddie Van Halen, Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page, Angus/Malcolm Young, Andy Summers; and some slightly unusual—Billy Dolan, Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch. But really as a guitar player you end up picking up so much you aren’t consciously aware of. Somewhere in there is probably the Manhattan Transfer album my parents used to play when I was a kid.
OK, it’s 1974. KISS, Zeppelin and Sabbath are playing separate shows on the same night: KISS in a small club, Sabbath in a theater, and Zep in an arena. Who do you go see?
Oh, Zeppelin. Easy. Well, don’t get me wrong, I had to think about it and though I love KISS, I’m a bit of a tourist there. Black Sabbath, yeah, that’s tough to pass up, and such a killer year for those bands. I’d buy tickets to Sabbath and Zeppelin, go to Sabbath first, then see the latter half of Zeppelin’s set.
Has the fact that you’re now in Torche brought more attention to Tilts?
Without a doubt. We’ve been awfully lucky there as the Torche connection has greatly extended our reach.
The bat piss incident probably didn’t hurt …
Man, yeah, the story’s been told a jillion times now, but for sure the press helped. So crazy.
You moved to Atlanta from St. Louis. Was that to be closer to the Torche guys without actually having to live in Florida?
Yeah, I moved here just about two years ago to join Torche. Steve [Brooks] lives here as well as does our sound engineer Rob. Jon [Nuñez] and Rick [Smith] are still down in Miami and Gainesville respectively. And, yes, no Florida for me please and thank you. Atlanta is really an amazing city—vastly underrated and comfortably under the radar for the moment.
Are you a Redbirds fan?
It’s hard to live in or be from St. Louis and not be a Cardinals fan, though there again, I could barely tell you a single player’s name from last season, to my father’s sincere disappointment.
I assume Torche is going to keep you plenty busy this year. What’s in store for 2013, and how does Tilts factor into the plans?
Torche has gobs more touring to do this year, as well as write a new album—so yes, we’ll be busy for sure. Us Tilts dudes are currently chipping away at a new full-length. Still in the demo stages, but the songs, instrumentally at least, are pretty much written. Likely a few tweaks here and there, but we’re pleased so far. We’ll be recording this one ourselves again, fitting in recording time where we can among our thoroughly wily schedules. Fingers crossed we can finally do a small bit of touring. Zeus knows we’ve had plenty of requests.
“Mexiqo” – Tilts
Photo by Todd Morgan
Monday, January 7th, 2013 | musiX, pdX, vinylZ | 2 Comments
It’s been a long while since I’ve written anything substantial on The Days of Lore. Keeping up with it is difficult when you don’t have an editor breathing down your neck to make deadlines. You sort of have to breathe down your own neck. Is it hot in here?
For the 17 of you with impeccable taste who’ve followed TDoL over the past four years, I have heaps of reasons (excuses?) for the draught—most of them good. A quick rundown: The site got hacked (fixed it), I got hitched (and planned it), and somewhere in there I was working 12-hour days driving a 15,000-pound refrigerated truck (hated it). After that I began freelancing full-time, and the paid work took precedence over keeping up with a blog. Besides, who reads blogs anymore?
I did know that when I fired this thing up again, I wanted to come into it refreshed and excited. And I wanted to reassess why the hell I do it. I came to the conclusion that this is a space where I can satisfy my own tawdry needs. It’s really that simple. I can write about music or interview rock bands I love regardless of whether or not it coincides with an album release or the short shelf life of [insert hot buzz music news trend here]. I can talk about that great Ike & Tina record I picked up (or am in search of). [Cred-killer alert] And I can dedicate an entire week to KISS if I want to. This is also my personal Petri dish for dissecting my own thoughts on music, and those who write about it and consume it. Above all else, The Days of Lore is to have a good time. Because this is music we’re talking about here … we’re not curing fucking cancer. That’s essentially what TDoL has always been about; it’s just nice to give myself a reminder.
So here I am. Staring at this familiar space at 2 a.m. on a Monday. I envisioned this entry as sort of a mission statement. Actually more like a manifesto, because that sounds cooler and more mysterious. At the same time, I didn’t want to overthink it … which I tend to do. Like the previous sentence. Is it complete? Is “overthink” one or two words? WordPress is telling me two. Should I have used a comma in place of ellipses? What would you do?
Well, I guess that sort of sums up what’s happening here. I promise to breathe down my own neck. And I promise to redesign this old heap this year, too. Please hold me to it. On that note, I leave you with Ike & Tina’s “Nutbush City Limits,” from the 1973 album of the same name (I really am on the hunt for this record). It’s been rumored that T. Rex’s Marc Bolan played guitar on the single. I’d like to think so.
Saturday, December 22nd, 2012 | musiX | No Comments
1. Tilts – Tilts (Robotic Empire)
2. Swans – The Seer (Young God)
3. Lisabö – Animalia Lotsatuen Putzua (Bidehuts)
4. King Tuff – King Tuff (Sub Pop)
5. Ozarks – Ozarks (Wil-Ru Records)
6. Sic Alps – Sic Alps (Drag City)
7. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Mature Themes (4AD)
8. The Men – Open Your Heart (Sacred Bones)
9. Thee Oh Sees – Putrifiers II (In The Red)
10. Gaytheist – Stealth Beats (Good to Die Records)
Thursday, December 20th, 2012 | musiX | No Comments
11. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘Alleluja! Don’t Bend! Ascend! (Constellation)
12. Titus Andronicus - Local Business (XL Recordings)
13. Ty Segall & White Fence – Hair (Drag City)
14. Plankton Wat – Spirits (Thrill Jockey)
15. Cloud Nothings – Attack On Memory (Carpark Records)