The Pains of Being Pure at Heart’s Kip Berman on His Band’s Rising Profile

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The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have one of those band names that screams of being self-conscious, bursting with emotion and adolescent melancholy. And while their music is definitely all of those things, who ever said that was so bad? On March 29, the Brooklyn quartet will release Belong, the follow-up to their 2009 self-titled debut. Produced and mixed by industry legends Flood and Alan Moulder respectively (My Bloody Valentine, U2, Smashing Pumpkins), the album represents a giant leap forward for the group. Here’s lead singer Kip Berman on coping with their mind-boggling success.

You grew up in the suburbs of Philadelpia and went to college in Portland, Oregon. How did that experience shape you as an artist? I lived in Portland for a long time. I was exposed to a lot of music from the Pacific Northwest. Bands like The Gossip would play at our school like every other week. That was before they got huge. It was more of a garage punk scene out there than a twee indie pop scene.

Where do you live now? Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I’ve been there around five years.

Do you consider yourselves a New York band? We’re a New York band, but we’re actually kids from the suburbs. We don’t have a gritty, downtown edge. We’re just normal American boys and girls.

Is that how you think you’re seen? They think we’re a bunch of effete, literary bookworms in cardigans, but I love the Packers. Occasionally, at shows, I like to talk about football on stage. I don’t think people expect it.

They might also be surprised that your new album was produced by superstar producer Flood and mixed by Alan Moulder, leading to both a bigger sound and bigger advance buzz. We feel weirdly out of place. Even in our new song “Belong” the chorus goes “We don’t belong in their eyes.” You know, we’re this tiny band from Brooklyn. Do we really belong on tour with Kings of Leon?

Why not? I’m not a Bono. I can barely sing two notes in tune. I don’t have this larger-than-life identity.

Is it possible to go for more of an arena-rock sound without becoming bloated stadium rockers? We don’t feel like stadium rockers. I’m not one of those dudes who says, “Are you ready to rock tonight?!” I’m not even charismatic. I’m boring. I stand there and play songs I wrote in my bedroom.

So you don’t feel like you need to be a more outgoing, dynamic performer? I love the Rolling Stones, but I’d love them regardless if Mick Jagger was this outgoing dynamic performer or not. Listening to the record, you don’t know what he looks like. He could be this shy, overweight guy. But he’d still sing these great rock and roll songs. Pavement had a very introverted front person, but they’re good songs and at the end of the day, songs are what matter.

You say that now. Our band is not really good at anything but writing songs. We’re not even that good at playing songs. It’s not like people are calling us up to put us in fashion shows. We’re just dorky kids from the suburbs who like playing pop music because it’s our favorite thing to do.

How do you handle knowing the big time could be quickly approaching? We know it’s not going to be good forever. There’s going to be weird challenges and changes. What you do might become so unpopular, that nobody will want to come see your show forever. These moments are rare and fleeting, and you do your best and try to stay focused on why you play music in the first place.

You may not feel like self-assured rockers, but your album has a very self-assured quality. You may not be Bono but your sound is moving closer to U2. It’s still a ways off. But we love big rock and roll. We grew up in America. We grew up with bands like Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. Even Sonic Youth and the Pixies. It all had this fantastic visceral sound. It was expansive and it had volume in it.

The music was ambitious in scope. The bands themselves, less so. Nobody thinks of us like Weezer, but their first couple of albums had all the trappings of big arena rock. But they weren’t rock stars. They were dorky and diminutive in a good way. They weren’t like, ‘We’re the greatest, coolest guys ever.’ They were writing these big rock songs about how they were dorky kids who liked to hang out in a garage.

Don’t you think you could say that about a lot of the alternative bands of that era? Sure. I think that ambivalence towards success, and what that means, was a consistent theme in the ‘90s. Kurt Cobain could never really wrap his mind around selling 6 million records. He used his attention to get people to listen to other bands like The Vaselines and Beat Happenings. Which is cool because that’s how I discovered a lot of music. Sonic Youth was another band that were respected and never seemed like fame whores. The Pixies broke up before they got famous. They were the opening band for U2, they were going to be the next big band, but for whatever reason, they didn’t continue on. Even today, a band like The Decemberists might have the number one record in the country when their album comes out but nobody thinks of them as self-aggrandizing rock stars. As for us, I don’t know. It will be fun to see what happens.

I’m guessing that as a teenager you listened to albums that Flood or Alan Moulder had a hand in making. I totally remember getting Siamese Dream and listening to “Cherub Rock” in my friend’s bedroom for the first time. My friend also has some weird VHS tape of Nine Inch Nails’ “March of the Pigs.” Now the dude who made Pretty Hate Machine and Downward Spiral is in the room with us. It’s something to think about when you have beers with your friends. We just made a record with Flood and Alan Moulder. Holy shit. It kind of makes you believe in the power of America. There are still these weird opportunities in this country if you work harder, or get lucky.

What was the most powerful idea that Flood offered you during the recording of the album? He told us we were good. That was the most powerful idea that he gave us. He said, ‘Just be confident in yourselves.’ We are all, ‘Oh we suck/’ Whatever. But you can’t say that to Flood because he wouldn’t be there if we really sucked. And he made that clear to us.

Was it ever intimidating working with industry giants? They’re there to help you realize your vision. Just like they were there to help realize The Edge and Bono’s vision, or Depeche Mode’s vision, or the Smashing Pumpkins’ vision. It’s not like they wrote their songs. They just helped make their songs sound awesome. They offer feedback, like, I’m bored with this part of the song. And you think, Well, if he’s bored and he’s Flood then guess what? Probably everybody else is going to be bored, too. It’s very important to be making your own record and not trying to make Achtung Baby. They don’t want to make Achtung Baby, again. They already made it. For them, it’s not a fun thing to tell a new band how to sound like some album they worked on 15 years ago. It’s more fun to make that band the best band they can be. We learned early on in the process that the most important thing is to communicate what you want the record to be.

Any surreal moments? There was a megaphone sitting there in the recording studio with tape on it that said BONO’S. Then we found their Grammy. The four clicks at the beginning of “Too Tough.” That’s actually Peggy playing drums on U2’s Grammy.

So you’re taking it all with a grain of salt? It’s a funny, comical situation we find ourselves in. Hopefully, I don’t become too much of a douchebag and I don’t become one of those clichés of rock and roll excess. But I’m old. I’m 31. I don’t think I’ll be, like, what’s this magical white powder? Where does it go? Oh, the nose! Oh, that’s a great idea!

Can’t wait for the Behind The Music on The Pains of Being Pure At Heart. Yeah, we don’t want to end up one of those rock bands that took it too far and fame destroyed the bonds of friendship. It’s not about the music man. You’ve turned into a monster. Yeah, I hope we won’t be having that conversation. But even if we do all that Behind the Music stuff, there’s always a redemptive moral. So even if things do go bad, we’ll be able to right our ship and look each other in the eye and, say, you know what? I still remember the first day of band practice when were just jamming out. There were no models, there were no private jets. Let’s get back to what it’s all about – the music.

Joan Wasser on Her New Album, Jeff Buckley, & Feminism

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Since her acclaimed 2006 album Real Life, Joan Wasser has drawn comparisons to ethereal soul singers like Nina Simone, Dusty Springfield, and Beth Gibbons. Her voice cuts through layers, and taps into raw emotion. But on her new album, The Deep Field, Wasser, who also plays under Joan as Police Woman, changes the vibe completely. Gone for the most part are the heavy, sad ballads that defined her sound, replaced here with an upbeat, sonic lushness that harkens back to Al Green’s “Jesus Is Waiting” or Stevie Wonder’s “Heaven is 10 Zillion Light years Away.” We recently sat down with the singer/songwriter at Mission Dolores in Brooklyn, to discuss feminism, her relationship with Jeff Buckley, and why she’ll never shave her armpits again.

Is it true that Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold As Love was the first album you ever bought? It was. I bought it in a Salvation Army store for 25 cents, because the cover was so amazing. Jimi Hendrix was dead less than two months after I’d been alive, something like 54 days. And that person was an absolute revolutionary. He was unlike anyone who has ever lived since, and before. It was so psychedelic. It was not contained. It’s like jazz in that way, spending time out in the galaxy exploring. It makes you feel hopeful and like, whoa, my world is very small. There’s a whole other world out there. That’s exciting and scary in the best possible way.

How old were you? I would say I was 10, and I had my mind blown. I started working out the guitar solo from “Little Wing” on my classical violin.

Was that your first introduction to rock and roll? No. The AM radio that I listened to every morning would play what was popular at the time. I would hear Donna Summer, Michael Jackson, Motown stuff.

You’re working right now on your fourth full-length album. How’s it going? Great. All the recording is done. Now we’re just assembling it into the crystal palace that it will be.

How’s it different than any of your previous albums? This record has an up feeling. It’s groovy. There’s a lot of grooves on it. If I read that I would be totally repulsed, but it has that ‘feel good’ quality.

What do you attribute this more upbeat sound to? I’m in a good place in my life and the album reflects that. I’ve been revising my behavior to make it flow better with the rest of the world.

What kind of behavior are you talking about? Oh, I had a tough time making the last album. My mother was dying of cancer. I’d been on the road continuously for a number of years. I was exhausted, and just not as in contact with myself as I could be. It wasn’t possible.

And since then? Since then, it’s been a lot of getting back to the garden.

Did you go away to a spa or something? [Laughs] No! That’s about going inside, realizing that my mind is going to places that aren’t serving me. And then changing that behavior over time, and being patient with myself while this is going on.

Patience? Because it’s hard? Yeah, it is hard. It’s the hardest thing human beings do, changing patterns. But I’m not interested in living this life if it’s not to the very fullest.

You were in a band called Black Beetle, formed with the remaining members of your ex-boyfriend Jeff Buckley’s band in 1997, after his accidental drowning? What made you leave the band and go off on your own? Black Beetle is where I learned to write songs. I was writing them with this guy and also separately. I tend to be really attracted to strong personalities. I’m one myself. It can create this incredible chemistry or it can be really difficult. In this situation it turned out to be difficult. We made a record and then the band broke up. I think, in general, it can be hard for a band to have two different people who are the songwriters.

Are you tired of talking about your relationship with Jeff Buckley and the aftermath? It’s not that I don’t want to talk about it. It’s that it’s not my place to be talking about certain people, especially because I’m no longer in contact with them anymore. I have to be very sensitive to them. Because even though we had a really tough time getting along at a certain point, I have tons of love, and hope the best for everyone.

So what was it like playing shows on your own for the first time? It was scary. I had to push myself to feel comfortable singing in public. But I also knew I couldn’t do that again. I knew I had to try it on my own. There was no time.

You studied classical violin in Boston, then supported other artists for over a decade before finally taking center stage. Do you ever feel regret, like, I could have been singing this whole time? Well, I couldn’t have been singing this whole time. It happens when it happens. I played violin for a long time, which was incredible. It was totally fulfilling to me to play violin in a number of bands, and then I did ton of work as a string performer and an arranger. And that was so fun. I wasn’t pining away, wanting to sing. I loved what I was doing.

What changed? It got to a point where it wasn’t enough. I wanted more. I wanted to challenge myself. I came to realize that there was no possible way to write songs on the violin. It took me a while to figure that out. It’s not a chordal instrument, it’s like the voice. So I started playing guitar, and once I started playing the guitar, I started singing a little over it so I had a melody.

Does it bother you to be lumped in to the category female singer-songwriter? I used to be angry about stuff like that. But it’s just a waste of energy. Yeah, dudes aren’t called male singer-songwriters. You mean stuff like that? Why waste the energy when I could be writing a song or reading.

Are you saying that being a feminist is mentally draining? Oh, no. I have no problem with the word feminist. I have no problem calling myself a feminist. I am a feminist. I always have been, I always will be. Being a feminist to me means being an empowered woman, and that’s totally different for each woman. It really means being able to do whatever you want as a woman. You want to have a family and stay home and raise your kids, if that’s what you want to do, then that’s as much feminist as attempting to be a firefighter, or some other kind of job in a male-dominated workplace.

I see that you don’t shave your legs or armpits. Do you feel pressure to shave before a show? For me, body hair is beautiful. When somebody shaves I think it just looks like a shaved area. It doesn’t look more beautiful. I know some people agree with me and some people don’t. I haven’t shaved for years and years. I don’t, and I won’t. I just don’t think it looks attractive and it doesn’t feel right to me and it never has.

But it can’t be easy to deviate from the societal norms. I have been searching to feel comfortable with who I am my whole life. The signals you get as a woman in the media – on television, in magazines – could not be more confusing. It’s crazy, is what it is. It’s on the level of deep insanity.

What’s the most insane part of it? Oh, the sexualization of everything. The mixed messages. Especially for a young woman trying to figure out where she fits. I mean, whoa.

If you could talk to your 23 year-old self, what would you tell them? At 40, I’d love to say some things to my 23-year old self. I would say, you have nothing to feel shame about. You have nothing to feel guilty about, who you are is absolutely right. And also your attempts at controlling anything are futile. So take it easy. I don’t think any of that would have been comprehended by the person I was then. And 20 years from now, I’m hoping I’ll be able to look back and say the person I am now would never have been able to get what I know. I hope to keep growing in the way I have been – because then life never gets boring. It gets better and better. And then your actually psyched about getting older!

The Deep Field is in record stores on April 11th, but check out a sampler here.

Patti Smith, Cyndi Lauper, & More Salute John Lennon

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John Lennon fans filled the Beacon Theater on Friday night to watch over a dozen entertainers – including Jackson Browne, Patti Smith, Cyndi Lauper, Aimee Mann, Keb’ Mo’, Shelby Lynne, and Martin Sexton – take the stage for the 30th annual tribute concert in honor of the late, great Beatle.

During the rousing three-hour celebration, the all-star lineup sang Lennon covers that varied from heartfelt to eclectic to plain absurd. For an example of the last, look no further than the version of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” that featured Joan Osbourne and Maura Kennedy on vocal duties, while Chris Bliss sent yellow glowing balls rapidly into the air in perfect tune with the song (his juggling routine for the Abbey Road finale has been viewed on YouTube over 60 million times).

While the divergent musical lineup gathered to honor the memory of Lennon, they also hoped to raise funds for Playing For Change, which builds music schools for impoverished children around the world. The 6-year-old organization announced that together with Theatre Within, producers of the annual charity show, they’re launching Power to the People, a worldwide “peace through music and activism” campaign. The charity has earned the rare blessing of Yoko Ono, who delivered a video message to kick off the concert, saying: “John would have loved what you are doing.” The endorsement of Lennon’s very private widow is not entirely surprising – one imagines if Lennon was alive today, he would be at the center of this kind of idealistic grassroots cause.

We caught up with the performers backstage and asked them about why they chose to perform the Lennon classics they did. Their responses, along with a photo gallery of the event by guest photographer Jeff Fasano, follows.

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Jackson Browne plays “Revolution” with Mermans Kenkosenki (right) and the rest of the Playing For Change Band, a globe-trekking band of musicians from places as diverse as Senegal, Argentina, New Orleans, Netherlands and New York. Kenkosenki, who grew up in the Congo, has lived in South Africa since 1998. He spoke to us after the show about performing with Browne. “Yaaw! He’s a very good guy,” said the always festive Kenkosenki. “We’re from the Congo so we don’t know much about American music. But he’s a lovely guy.”

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Among the most inspired renditions of the evening was Martin Sexton’s breathtaking acoustic cover of “Working Class Hero.” While too many artists were content to hang in the background along side the house band, singing behind music stands, a solitary Sexton sat on a crate in the front of the stage, guitar in hand, and then with the wry howl of a down-on-his luck troubadour on a Dublin dock, peeled the song to its most angry, defiant and heart-wrenching core. “It was an honor to sing that song, especially in these troubled times we’re living in now,” Sexton told us. “John said that was a song for the revolution, and I think it’s a wonderful song for a revolution because even though it has some cuss words, it means something.”

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Patti Smith delivered a subdued, utterly surreal take of “Strawberry Fields” before telling the crowd about the pain of losing her husband Fred Smith in 1994, and how Yoko Ono’s graceful strength and determination after John had been killed served as a model for her. “She taught me how to carry on as a widow,” Smith told the rapt audience before honoring her with a light, zippy “Oh, Yoko.”

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Eighties pop icon Cyndi Lauper, looking great in a black leather outfit, belted out “Across the Universe” over swelling digital strings, so that her distinct voice could be heard, well, across the universe. Lauper emailed us her reason for picking that song. “As a kid, when school or life as I knew it then became unbearable, that song made everything bearable.”

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By injecting his mellow, Delta blues style, Keb’ Mo’ rearranged the melancholy ballad “In My Life” into a joyous piece of remembrance. “John Lennon wrote it, so he’s in there,” Keb’ Mo’ told us after the show. “So what I do is kind of to represent his soul.”

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Joan Osborne lent her gutsy voice to a groovy rendition of Yellow Submarine’s “Hey Bulldog.” “It’s a great rocker,” said Osborne. “I love that aspect of John Lennon, but actually, years ago when I was a film student at NYU, I used it as the soundtrack of a short film of mine. The film I had made wasn’t that good but when I put “Hey Bulldog” to it, it made it ten times better. So I thought, this is all you have to do – put great music to a scene and you’re home free.”

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Among the highlights of the show was Shelby Lynne’s rendition of “Mother.” Hearing her universe-splitting quaver exposes the deep wounds that sent Lennon into “primal scream” therapy around the time he wrote this heartbreaker.

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Jackson Browne gives a faithful rendition of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Way.” We spoke to Browne before the show but he barely spoke above a whisper, and stared at me with such focused intensity whereby he put some kind of mind meld on us, rendering us and our digital recorder useless. After speaking to his road manager, among others, we learned it’s Browne’s m.o. not to look at you, but through you. Funny thing is Browne should have done a bittersweet countrified “Take It Easy”-like rendition of “I’m Looking Through You,” a song he could have connected with better than the one he chose.

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Just before intermission, Chris Bliss delivers a fresh, psychedelic spark with his oddly moving juggling routine to “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”

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Aimee Mann, who writes as good a Beatlesesque ballad as anybody around, delivers a solid if not exceptional version of “Jealous Guy.” We’ll stick with Bryan Ferry’s soulful, spaced-out treatment.

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The headliners valiantly try to perform the majestic epic “A Day in The Life.” To be fair, tough song to pull off without much rehearsal. To create some chemistry between the quirky pair, they might have joined for a sweet, heartfelt “Norwegian Wood.” Oh well, we can imagine.

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The show closed with the all-star lineup gathering on stage to remind concert goers of Lennon’s defining message: “give peace a chance.”

Exclusive: The 28 Best Bands of CMJ, Gallery & Interviews

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Over three days during the musical marathon that is CMJ, photographer Jeff Fasano and reporter Matthew Shepatin lured 28 of the very best acts to private club Norwood for exclusive photo shoots and one-on-ones (“CMJ is a clusterfudge. Your sets are short, they’ re rushing you, the Man is giving you a hard time…But, seriously, it’s been exciting,” says Eric Schwortz of Milagres) before the bands were out the door and running to their next show, roadies in tow. What resulted is a whirlwind snapshot of the most exhilarating, exhaustive, and exhausting musical showcase of the year. Check out the best of CMJ after the jump.

Brahms (Pictured above- Brooklyn, New York) “The highlight of CMJ was the vegan Indian food cart outside the registration building. They’ve got this great crepe-like lentil pancake and don’t get me started about what goes on. When I grabbed that and some mango lassi after I picked up my badge, I knew it’d be a good week.”

image Cyndi Harvell (Bay Area, California) “I was walking up the street and I met some guy who asked me if I knew where to pick up CMJ badges. And then he said, ‘I’m in this band. It’s pop punk. We’re playing tomorrow.’ And I said, ‘Well, maybe I’ll check that out.’ Why not? Jump in and see what happens.” – Cyndi Harvell

image Dan Mangan (Vancouver, BC, Canada) “We played this amazing loft party for BrooklynVegan on Friday night and the vibe was incredible. Lots of wonderful people and great bands. Then on Saturday I told the audience that they had given me an erection. So. Sorry about that. How rude.” — Dan Mangan

image Deadbeat Darling (Brooklyn, New York) “In years past, I think we got caught up in trying to make something happen at CMJ. It’s the same with an event like SXSW. Everything is happening that week, everybody is shooting off fireworks. You’ve got to make a lot of noise to make any noise at all. So this year, we’re more relaxed. We’re going to play some great shows that just happen to be the week of CMJ.” – Joseph King of Deadbeat Darling

image Down With Webster (Toronto, ON, Canada) “As an artist there is something just a little extra special about performing in NY; it has been a dream of ours for such a long time, that we still can’t believe it’s happening.” – Pat Gillett of Down with Webster

image Eliza Blue (Twin Cities, Minnesota) “This is my first CMJ – and I lost my voice. So I’m experiencing it through a veil of silence. Standing in an elevator, hearing all these different accents, people from all over the world, it was neat. Maybe it will be my new thing, not talking.” – Eliza Blue

image Harper Blynn (New York City) “So far as the idea of ‘selling out’ because your song is on a TV show or in a commercial. These days there are so few access points for bands to make money that if you find one of them, congratulations to you. And anybody who thinks that’s selling out doesn’t make art for a living. Because if you did, you would understand that all you’re doing is trying to make a living so you can keep making art.” – Peter Harper of Harper Blynn

image Kaiser Cartel (Brooklyn, New York) “We had been a couple when we made our first album. We’re not in a relationship making this record. So we were on tour for a year and a half – breaking up. All the music we wrote is us dealing with that, and having to be together, stuck together in this little car, constantly in motion. We’d be bickering and then go on stage and the crowd has had no idea. People at the shows would be, like, ‘Man, you guys are going to do it tonight.’ And I’d be thinking, ‘Yeah, right.’” – Courtney Kaiser of Kaiser Cartel

image Lady Danville (Los Angeles, California) “We have three shows at CMJ – the Bowery, Rockwood Music Hall and the Panelist Show in this very room. I’m excited. I see this as a great opportunity, but I don’t feel any pressure to come out of this with a trophy.” – Michael Garner

image Left on Red (New York City) “We were psyched to play our CMJ show at The Bitter End, where our heroes once came to tread. You know who I mean, artist like Stephan Grappeli, Bob Dylan and umm…Lady Gaga” – Liah Alonso of Left on Red

image Loomis & the Lust (Santa Barbara, California) “There isn’t a lot of good Chinese food where we’re from in Santa Barbara. So I’ll probably go to Chinatown this week and grub.” – Will Loomis of Loomis & the Lust

image Men (New York City) “We have a single coming out November 1st called ‘Off Our Backs.’ We talk about it a lot – tops and bottoms.” – JD Samson of Men “But not strictly in a sexual position way.” – Michael O’ Neill of Men “More about how they operate in the world, how they interact with people.” – Ginger Brooks Takahashi of Men “For example, we often call ourselves a bunch of tops.” – JDS “Too many differing opinions.” – GB “Do we wish we had a bottom? Yes.” – JDS “Then there’ s the classification of a ‘bossy bottom.’” – GB “A bossy bottom wants to be on the bottom but have it their way.” – MO “There, like, ‘do it like this, no, do it like this.’” – JDS “Who is topping America, that’ s the question?” – GB “China is totally topping America.” – JDS Wait. America is a bossy bottom? “That’ s true.” – JDS

image Milagres (Brooklyn, New York) “CMJ is a clusterfudge. Your sets are short, they’re rushing you, the Man is giving you a hard time, you can’t get enough keyboard in your monitor, or too much. But, seriously, it’s been exciting for us.” – Eric Schwortz of Milagres

image My Dear Disco (Ann Arbor, Michigan) “The vibe I get with CMJ is that people hope to see something amazing but don’t expect to. When something does cut through it’ s potent because people – especially the New York-based music industry veterans – have written of the experience in their brain” – Robert Lester of My Dear Disco

image Murder Mystery (New York City) “I don’ t think there’ s a direct correlation between the number of CMJ shows a band plays and destiny to become the biggest band on earth. Phoenix is only playing one show, same as us. It’s safe to say that we are just as popular as Phoenix.” – Jeremy Coleman of Murder Mystery image The Narrative (New York City) “CMJ is not the Super Bowl. Opening for Radiohead in Madison Square Garden is the Super Bowl. It’s more like a really good tailgate.” – Suzie Zeldin of The Narrative

image New Collisions (Worcester, Massachusetts) “The panels are worthless for musicians. It may not be worthless for industry professionals or people who value networking. We don’t. I’ve heard stories of these A&R panels when bands rush them at the end with their demo disc. Ah, that’s disgusting. This isn’t how you want to live your life. I’d rather have a job than rush a panel. You want a record deal that badly? What’s wrong with you? Besides, everything is changing so quickly. What if six months from now the idea of being on a label is stupid? We’re constantly reevaluating based on our circumstances. Down the road, we might have to find some third-party financing, whatever that means in 2011.” – Alex Stern of New Collisions

“And that’s all a label is at this point. So little at labels are actually in-house. You hire out for your publicity. You hire out for your artistic development, your branding. Labels have become kind of product managers of all these third-party groups. So as a band you can get in there and start hiring those third-party groups yourself. The problem is, let’s say you hire a publicist, if you’re not on a label, most journalist don’t take you seriously. Bands have this buzz cycle. Surfer Blood is having this buzz cycle. West Coast is having this buzz cycle. They’re both recent signing to major labels which alerts the industry and press that they need to start taking this band seriously. So labels can give you clout but not all labels have the same cache.” – Scott Guild of New Collisions

image New Madrid (Brooklyn, New York) “The highlight of our CMJ was definitely playing on the Big Noyes CMJ Showcase at Parkside Lounge on Saturday night. The turnout was great, and the enthusiasm contagious. We also had a blast this week watching other bands like The Shake and Hank & Cupcakes.” – Erik Barragan of New Madrid

image Pepper Rabbit (Los Angeles, California) “We got a parking ticket here. I put money into that thing that spits out a receipt. I threw it on the dash — but upside down. Besides that, our CMJ experience has been cool. Where else can you see Surfer Blood and Local Natives both in 100-person capacity rooms? That was amazing.” – Luc Laurent of Pepper Rabbit

image The Shake (New York City) “I think bands are conflicted these days. On one hand, it’s popular for bands to say we can do it on our own and we don’ t need labels. We can do it like Arcade Fire. On the other hand, labels can open up doors. Yes, they might demand money from record sales, which could suck. At the same time, they can get you on bills and put you in front of people that you flat out wouldn’t have had the chance to get in front of. So this anti-label movement can be misplaced. If you have too much ego, you can end up playing the same bars for a year without advancing.” – Jon Merkin of The Shake

image Sydney Wayser (Brooklyn, New York) “When I try to write fast songs it doesn’t feel right. Then I slow it down and somehow the tempo of the music ends up the tempo I walk at. And it works.” – Sydney Wayser

image The Traveling Band (Manchester, England) “The second CMJ show we played was upstairs at Pianos, so it had a bit of a house party feel. At the end we did an acoustic number. We got rid of the PA system, went out into the crowd, and stood on some chairs. There was a group of people in the back of the room who were a bit noisy so halfway through the song we just went right over and got in their faces and sang it to them. It seemed to shut them up. They were all blushing.” – Joe Dudderidge of The Traveling Band

image Two Door Cinema Club (Bangor, North Ireland) “It’s the first CMJ we’ve ever been to. It’s always a bit weird when people say you’re a new British indie band. For one, being from Northern Ireland, we’re separate from the UK in that we’re really not part of England. And I’ve never really loved British indie music that much. A lot of our music, TV, and film actually comes from New York and America.” – Sam Halliday of Two Door Cinema Club

“I don’t think the Irish really get BritPop. We were more into American bands like At the Drive-In and Death Cab for Cutie. Bands like that are what really influenced us.” – Kevin Baird of Two Door Cinema Club

image Unicycle Loves You (Chicago, Illinois) “This was by far the best CMJ for us yet. The highlight would have to be meeting and talking with Cory McAbee, mastermind behind The American Astronaut, Stingray Sam, and The Billy Nayer Show. It’s not every day you get to meet a living cult hero, and come to find that he’s a great guy too.” – Jim Carroll of Unicycle Loves You

image Vanaprasta (Los Angeles, California) “On Friday night of CMJ we were walking all our gear about half a mile from one venue to the next and then playing an hour later. You’re constantly moving and shoulder to shoulder with perfect strangers and nothing ever stops, which is perfect for us because that’s exactly how our live show is.” Taylor Brown of Vanaprasta

image The Winterlings (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) “Being two singing fish in the luminescent reef of New York City as the music festival echoed through the dark, starry tide was exhilarating. It was like a chord strummed not only on our guitars but on our lives.” – Wolff Bowden of The Winterlings

image Xylos (Brooklyn, New York) “We played a CMJ showcase on Tuesday night at Spike Hill in Williamsburg. This awesome band Yost also played and we share a bass player with them. So he got twice as many drink tickets as everybody else. That means two.” – Eric Zeiler of Xylos

image Zowie (Auckland, New Zealand) “It’s my first trip to New York. Everybody is so cool. They kind of stick to themselves but they don’ t seem super judgmental, which I’ve noticed in a few other cities. I don’ t want to leave. The whole band doesn’t want to leave. We love it here!” – Zoe Fleury of Zowie

All artists photographed by Jeff Fasano at the Norwood during CMJ.

Justin Townes Earle Explains Why New York Is the Greatest City on Earth

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Lord knows what’s going on with Justin Townes Earle. The singer-songwriter appeared in an Indianapolis court on Tuesday to face charges for battery, public intoxication, and resisting law enforcement. Days after the alleged incident, some kind of blow-up at an Indiana concert in late September, Earle entered a rehab facility and postponed his remaining tour dates. Now, the tour is back on, resuming in his hometown of Nashville in late November and swinging through New York on December 18th at Webster Hall. But the honky-tonk troubadour’s rare gift for writing great songs is rivaled only by his gift for finding creative ways to end up in the proverbial ditch.

As for the larger mystery regarding the current state and future fate of this hell-bent, holy-voiced artist, your guess is as good as mine. Will he destroy himself with drugs like his father, the alt-country legend and notorious hellraiser Steve Earle? Will his reckless ways lead him to the premature death that befell his namesake, the revered songwriter Townes Van Zandt, who died at age 52? Will he face his demons and overcome his addictions, like his father after a stint in prison in 1994? Will he squander his God-given talent, like Jeff Bridges’ “Bad” Blake in Crazy Heart? Or will he sustain a body of work that follows in the proud tradition of his country-folk carpetbagger forebears: Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.

A little over 24 hours before he was arrested, I had the chance to speak with Earle about his new collection of gospel-tinged folk ballads, Harlem River Blues, in which this Southern string-plucker tries to make sense of his adopted home of New York City. Born in Nashville, Earle seems at once awed, repulsed, confused, inspired and ultimately welded heart-and-soul to the grittiest corners of the city.

Listening to your new album, I couldn’t help but think of that Bob Dylan song “Talkin’ New York.” Was Dylan somebody who inspired you to come to New York City and write old-timey folk songs about urban life? I actually think Woody Guthrie started that, writing hillbilly songs in New York City. But Dylan mastered the art of taking roots music and bringing it up to date.

Wasn’t it in New York in 1940 that Guthrie wrote his iconic song “This Land Is Your Land”? Yeah. It was also around that time he became close friends with a young Pete Seeger, who went onto popularize Woody’s songs (with the group the Weavers.) Woody would leave New York and then come back a number of times over his life, but he loved the city. As a matter of fact, he lived most of his later years on Mermaid Avenue in Coney Island. When he died, his ashes were scattered off the coast there. He had a very deep connection to the city.

Is there a sense that every real folk troubadour has to eventually make his way to New York City? No. I don’t think everybody does. I don’t think everybody has the heart to do it. This city isn’t for everybody. It’s for true believers and true dreamers. You can’t have any want for any form of reality if you want to survive in New York City. It’s a completely alternate reality, unlike anything else on the face of this earth.

How so? There’s no place that speaks like New York City, there’s no place that moves like New York City, there’s no place that fights like New York City, there’s no place that fucks like New York City, there’s no place that drinks like New York City, there’s no place that does anything quite like New York City. I find it to be an incredible place.

So now that you’ve lived here for some time tell me your favorite spots? Café Mogador on St. Marks. It’s one of the old standards of the neighborhood. It’s been there since 1983. I’ve only met one person in my life who didn’t like it, and his taste is questionable, anyway.

What about your favorite watering hole? I like the 11th Street Bar. That’s my spot. I also like to go sometimes to Drop-Off Service. It’s a decent bar. Then there’s the International. That place is fuckin’ great if you have a really bad hangover. It’s dark, dirty and they have a back patio where you can have a cigarette. When I lived in Brooklyn, all my friends lived in the East Village. I lived a block away from Brownsville. So I lived in the murder capital of the Northeast. You didn’t go out. There was nothing in the neighborhood worth going to.

Any favorite places to shop for clothes? I like Uniqlo, a Japanese department store in Soho. It’s like a ten times better American Apparel.

Where else? Billy Reid, which is in the back of the old Bowery Lane Theatre on Bond Street. Reid is an amazing designer from Florence, Alabama. It’s near the historic Muscle Shoals studio. He won GQ’s magazine’s “Best New Designer” award at Fashion Week.

How did you discover him? Billy’s been a friend of mine for a while. It was a natural marriage. I wear suits every night on stage and he likes to dress musicians. But he never had anybody who would wear the complete suit: bow-tie, suspenders and all.

But you were up for it. Yeah. He made me a red-velvet tuxedo for last year’s American Music Awards. (Ed. Note: That night, Justin won AMA’s New & Emerging Artist of the Year.)

So does he always dress you now? I don’t let anybody dress me. I’m way too finicky about that kind of thing. I’m also pretty goddamn good at picking out the right outfit. Everything I wear on stage, we design together.

Where did you pick up your cool sense of style? I started touring when I was fourteen. By the time I was seventeen, I had slept with over 100 women and toured every country in the world. So, I get around. (Ed. Note: Earle was named one of GQ‘s 25 most stylish men in the world.)

Were you traveling around with your dad? I’m not some groupie. I had my own band.

At fourteen? Sam Cooke was fifteen when he joined The Highway G.Q.’s and sang in the hit group The Soul Stirrers before he was twenty. I started playing guitar when I was twelve.

When did you sign your first record contract? I had my first publishing deal when I was seventeen. I got my first record deal when I was eighteen. That’s how this business works. Start young or you never get in there.

Sounds like you did more hard living before you were eighteen than most people do in a lifetime? Well, I was in bands that did lot of drugs and drank a lot.

Did your dad get you into music? My dad had very little role in anything in my life. Period. I barely even knew him until adulthood.

You have a song on Harlem River Blues called “Workin’ for the MTA”. What’s your opinion of the recent fare hikes and service cuts? One of the regulars at my local bar is the head of financing for the MTA and he tells me a lot of strange, strange things. And he says the hikes have to do with them finishing the Second Avenue Subway line.

The recession doesn’t help. The MTA is losing its asshole right now. Less people are using it. I remember coming up here thirteen years ago and it didn’t matter what time a day you got on that fuckin’ train, it would be slammed. Nowadays, you can pretty much always get a seat.

Does New York feel like home yet? Oh, for sure. You move to Nashville from somewhere else, you’ll never be a Nashvillian. That’s just the way it is. Nashville doesn’t work that way. But you stay in New York, you become a New Yorker. That’s what it’s about. It’s about immigrants. It’s about people coming from all over the place to find whatever it is they’re looking for in the greatest city on earth. So I consider myself 100% a New Yorker.

How would you describe what the new songs say about your relationship with New York City? I still run around a lot. I’m still a little bit lost. It’s not really a love letter to the city but for the first time in my life I don’t like to be on the road as much. I want to be home. I’ve never had that feeling in my life.

When did you start feeling like that? Last year. As soon as I moved into Manhattan. That was right before the tour for Midnight at the Movies. When I lived out in Crown Heights, I could give a fuck. I was fine being on the road all the time. But now that I’m the East Village, I just don’t want to leave. As far as I’m concerned, 11th street is the greatest place in the world.

Found any good Southern food in the city? No. Everybody tells me, go here, check this place out, it’s great. You know Mama’s Food Shop down on 3rd Street? Now, Mama’s is good food. But meatloaf is not wrapped in fuckin’ bacon. And green beans don’t have sea salt on them. That ain’t Southern food.

How about their fried chicken? You know what, the best fried chicken I’ve found in the city is The Redhead on East 13th Street. It’s good fried chicken but it still ain’t Southern fried chicken.

What’s your favorite view of the city? Every time I have the horrible experience of flying in or out of fuckin’ JFK, when the car takes me back into the city, right before we get on the Williamsburg Bridge and I see lower Manhattan in all its glory. I just feel better as soon as I see it and as soon as I’m over that bridge I’m at ease.

You had an accident where you badly injured your hand. Yeah, I was moving and there will piles of clothes everywhere and I tripped and landed on some dishes. I had to get nineteen stitches.

Was it hard not to be able to play the guitar for the first time since you were twelve? It was actually kind of relaxing. I didn’t want to cancel any dates but…

Hello? Sorry. We’re stopping for food at a Steak ‘n Shake. Anyway, they were trying to get me to hire a guitar player to go out there with me and I would just stand there on stage and sing. I said, listen, I’m not fuckin’ Bono.

Sleigh Bells’ Alexis Krauss on Her Girl Group Past and Their Relationship With M.I.A.

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By now, the genesis of Sleigh Bells is already the stuff of indie rock legend, but in case you missed it, a short recap: Fourth-grade teacher Alexis Krauss was having dinner with her mother at Brazilian restaurant Miss Favela in Brooklyn. When their waiter, Derek Miller, mentioned he was looking for a female vocalist for a music project, Krauss’ mother volunteered her daughter. Sleigh Bells was formed. Eventually, Spike Jonze stumbled upon their Myspace page (because that’s what people like Spike Jonze do), and sent what he heard to his friend M.I.A. The rest is history. She signed them to her N.E.E.T. imprint, and since then, they’ve enjoyed the attention that being attached to one of music’s most talked-about figures brings. But Sleigh Bells is more than an M.I.A. beneficiary. As their critically-acclaimed debut album Treats proves, they’re propagators of zeitgeist-capturing sound. Here, Ms. Krauss talks about her days in a girl group, her high school sweetheart, and the truth behind her relationship with M.I.A.

Then there’s this almost animalistic creative chemistry between you and Derek. Where does this magic come from? When Derek and I are up there on the stage, all we need is the tracks blasting behind us through awesome speakers, and an audience that’s ready to dance and have fun. It brings both of us to a chaotic, insane headspace.

It’s really amazing, considering the two of you met randomly at a Brazilian restaurant. Absolutely. When I met Derek, I didn’t have any intention of returning to music. So our meeting was incredibly fateful. And random. But there’s something about the power of our connection. We do work well together. We haven’t known each other very long. But we share a commitment — an excitement — for the music we make. I think that’s important because often time bands stay together even when the excitement isn’t there. It ends up feeling forced. They’re faking it for the crowd.

You joined a pop girl group when you were sixteen. Do you look back and cringe? Cringe is a strong word. It was a huge learning experience. If I hadn’t been involved in the music business in that way, I wouldn’t know what I wanted at this point. It became very clear after that project that if I was ever going to be involved in music again it was going to be on completely different terms. And that I’d be working with somebody who shared my creative vision. Going into Sleigh Bells, Derek and I had experience in the business and we’ve seen what not to do and we’ve learned from mistakes. I would have been a lot more naïve going into all this stuff with Sleigh Bells had I not been in Ruby Blue.

Can you tell me what it was like being in that band? I was twelve, turning thirteen, when I joined the band. I was a kid. I was working. I was working as a child. It was amazing. I was incredibly excited. But then you grow up a bit and you start to feel incredibly disconnected from the music you’re being told to make. It’s not the same music that I was coming home and listening to. I felt like I was acting. I was playing a character in a teen band that had no connection to me. We were put together. How genuine can that be?

How hard did it become to keep playing that role? I remember some of my friends coming over my house and hanging out, and they’re, like, “Let’s listen to your album.” And me being, like, no. We’d just got back from some seeing some hardcore band. I was seeing shows all the time. Ruby Blue became kind of like a day job. And then I’d come home and want to do anything but what I’d been working on during the day.

What kind of guy did you date in high school and is it different then the kind of guy you date now? It’s actually the same guy. His name Tyler.

How is he reacting to your success? He’s actually sitting right next to me. He’s on the road with me, selling merch and stage managing. He’s been there for Ruby Blue and now this so he’s seen the changes.

Is he cool with you being seen as a sultry rocker? Absolutely. There could easily be a lot of jealousy and weirdness. But he’s handled everything tremendously well. For that, I have tremendous respect for him. I’m very different in real life than I am on stage. People are initially taken aback by that. But I try to explain, would you really want to hang out with me if I was that person 24/7? It would be a little overbearing. When I’m up there I’m occupying a head space that is much different than my daily head space. So he knows that.

When he saw you perform your first Sleigh Bells show, how did he react? I think he was a little surprised. It’s funny. I cite him as my inspiration as a performer because I grew up watching him play in hardcore bands and be this complete maniac, and then get off stage and be the nicest, most down-to-earth guy you’ve ever met. So it’s nothing radical or strange for him to see that switch in me.

You grew up in a small beach town on the Jersey Shore called Madesquan. Are you and Snooki BFFs? It’s funny, when you grow up in a certain place and you know it and you love it and you know the truth about it. That show—whatever. It’s a shame that the Jersey Shore now carries those associations around the world. But it’s funny to see the show because it’s true. When summer rolls around we get invaded by guidos.

If Derek hadn’t waited on you that day, what do you think you would be doing now? I’d still be in the classroom, teaching.

What’s your reaction to those who say your “sonic fingerprints” are all over M.I.A.’s new album? Well, “Meds and Feds” was produced by Derek. The riff is from the last song on our album. Obviously, that’s Sleigh Bells’ influence. It’s not like she’s taking our ideas or anything like that. She and Derek collaborated on that track. I think sonically Maya is going in a different direction. And I think that was the direction she was planning on going for awhile. Many of her tracks were in existence before we even met. So maybe that explains why she was into our sound to begin with. I think it’s easy to make those conclusions. They’re on her label. They work together. But I think the connection is blown out of proportion. She’s fucking great. She has her own sound. I think it’s more coincidence than anything else.

Had I not read that you were on M.I.A.’s label before I saw you perform I wouldn’t have necessarily linked you musically. Do you think it was a mistake for your label to have aligned you as closely as they have to M.I.A.? Our label hasn’t been the one putting that out there. It’s been other people saying things. There’s been a lot of misinformation. I’ve read things like Maya produced the Sleigh Bells record. But other than being really good friends and seeing each other socially and playing shows together, I wouldn’t say we’re aligning ourselves too closely. We have different aesthetics. We have different music. We have different goals.

So you’re aware of the misinformation that floats around the blogosphere? As amazing as the internet is—and obviously blogs have done a huge service too our band—that being said, because information is traveling so quickly, there’s so much misinformation. People don’t take the time to check their sources and fact-check. It’s easy to propagate rumors and lies. She’s a friend. We’re on her label along with Mom + Pop. That’s pretty much the relationship. She has her own shit going on, we have our own shit going on. And we meet up occasionally. Up to this date, Derek has played on one track on her album and we’ve played one show together. That’s our relationship. The friend aspect is huge. She’s great. We’re honored that she has take an interest in our music.

Yes, we’re signed to N.E.E.T. and they’re amazing. But Derek and I are a new band and unfortunately when you do align yourself very closely to somebody who has as much influence as Maya does, it’s the kind of thing where all your success is attributed to that person and all your failure is attributed to you. Maya didn’t do any production work on our record. And that was intentional. That’s not to say that we don’t love her. Her music is incredible. I don’t want to make it sound like there’s any tension there. But we’re a new band and we needed to make our first record as us with nobody else. That’s the way it should be.

Back when you were in Ruby Blue being a pop star meant Britney and Christina. Today, it also means Lady Gaga and Sleigh Bells. I think for a long time mainstream Top 40 pop was boring. I think a lot of it still is pretty vapid and uninteresting. I hope people continue to open their minds to something that has more going on than the traditional pop song.

You proudly call your music pop. Absolutely.

A lot of indie bands shy away from that label. Derek and I are not trying to make music that’s precious. Or that’s for a certain group of people, or in a certain scene, or from a certain time. I think we play pop in the true sense that it’s popular. You don’t need to listen to it and think about it. It’s not cerebral. It sounds best over loud speakers when you’re out with your friends, dancing and having fun. It’s a very social record. We’re not embarrassed by that.

Photo by Phil Knott.

8 Great Bands Emerging Outside of Williamsburg and the LES

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At this moment, Williamsburg might reign supreme as the current indie-rock capital of America, spouting a torrent of nicotine-stained bands into the big time while cornering the market on broken-arm tattoos and art-nerd superiority, but contrary to popular belief, the nabe does not lay claim to every exciting indie band in New York. Dear David Byrne: if you want to discover the next big alternative act, you might try skipping the Bedford Avenue stop. Outside the usual music hotbeds of New York an outcropping of talent is taking root in places like Astoria, Queens, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn and the West Village. What explains this growing diaspora of creativity? We asked eight bands and artists who create vibrant, unconventional music in spite of living outside the center of the cool New York.

image Band Name: Freelance Whales Hood: Astoria, Queens Who you are: We’re a group of strangers-turned-musical companions that like to use an absurd number of instruments to create unique rhythms. Our music—like our selves –is serious and cerebral while still maintaining the important childhood memories of playfulness and experimentation. What drew you to Astoria? What initially brought us there—to be wholly unglamorous—was the fact that Doris had a practice space all set up and ready to go when we began playing together. But over time, we realized that everything we do together now as a band embodies Queens’ classically “New York” gritty intensity.

image Band Name: Buke and Gass (pronounced “byook” and “gace”) Hood: Bed-Stuy and Columbia Heights, respectively. Who you are: We’re a duo that makes as much sound as possible live, on instruments that we built—a Buke (a modified 6 string baritone Ukelele) and a Gass (a hybrid between an electric bass and guitar). What drew you to Bed-Stuy and Columbia Heights? I, Buke, can afford Bed-Stuy, and Gass found his place about 10 years ago. Neither of us really factored in any inspirational values to either neighborhood besides that they’re just great places.

image Name: The Prigs Hood: Ditmas Park (Flatbush/Midwood area) Who you are: We’re a runaway delivery truck blasting through a monkey cage. We are what happens when Huey Lewis and The Who eat a plate of Irish bangers and a drink a case of Baltika on a space ship to R. Kelly’s house. You’ll find tight harmonies, hot horn lines, slick dance grooves, and sweet makeout jams. The Prigs’ foundation was built with members of St. Vincent, Kaki King’s band, The Spring Standards, Via Audio, and Tigercity. What drew you to Ditmas Park? Ditmas is a very ethnically diverse neighborhood, and there are many children, trees, homes and driveways. We can stop into any of our favorite local spots—Fisherman’s Cove restaurant, Gyro King, Club 773 Lounge—and feel this lovely sense of community, and a deep connection to the history of Brooklyn. There are also, however, plenty of places to go wild and plenty of thrills lurking in the shadows.

image Name/band name: Chris Thile/Punch Brothers Hood: Prospect Heights Who you are: I’m the mandolinist from Punch Brothers, a progressive acoustic band. What drew you to Prospect Heights? The food (Franny’s, James, Chavella’s), the drinks (Weather Up for cocktails, Milk Bar for coffee), Prospect Park (practicing in the park is heaven), and the diversity that gentrification has graciously refrained from destroying so far. There is no better place to think and work in New York.

image Name: Clare Burson Hood: Cobble Hill Who you are: When people ask who I sound like, I usually say a cross between Lucinda Williams and Feist. What drew you to Cobble Hill?: I spent 4 years living as a musician in Nashville before moving here. In Nashville, I was totally immersed in “the scene,” which was both wonderful and, in the end, fairly oppressive. So part of my decision to move to Park Slope and then eventually Cobble Hill—as opposed to Williamsburg or the LES—was a desire to live outside of a scene for a while. More specifically, being in Cobble Hill alleviates a little bit of the pressure I tend to feel when surrounded by the hustle of other musicians who, like me, are trying advance their work. I don’t know if it’s inspiring musically per se—I tend to turn inward for that—but the space and the quiet facilitates creativity.

image Artist/Band Name: Hooray For Earth Hood: West Village, Manhattan Who you are: We make fantasy pop. We like noise and electronic, but we mostly make pop songs or occasionally drone out on something. What drew you to the West Village? Rent controlled apartments drew me to the neighborhood. I get to hang out around the same places as indie film stars and awesome old gays. Honestly, the best thing about that area, from a musical standpoint, is that I feel secluded.

image Artist/Band Name: William Brittelle Hood: Red Hook Who you are: Composer at the crossroads of modern classical and adventurous pop/rock. Sounds like Beach Boys mixed with Basquiat mixed with Prince mixed with Ravel. What drew you to Red Hook?: Unlike Williamsburg and the LES, there are actually people over 35 that live here. My studio is in North Red Hook, across the BQE, and the area reminds me of Alphabet City around the turn of the last century, before it was totally invaded by hipsters. Because of the lack of subway service, it seems to retain a hometown feel and a rawness that much of the city lacks, though remaining relatively safe and fun.

image Artist/Band Name: Michael Roi Hood: Park Slope Who you are: I’m a singer/songwriter from Jupiter, Fla., influenced by Neil Diamond, Neil Young, Nick Cave, Tom Waits, and George Jones. What drew you to Park Slope?: I never thought of Park Slope as a musical hotbed. I was drawn more to the culture, the artist community, the lack of noisy tourists and especially the tap water. While I live in Park Slope, I enjoy crashing on couches all over Brooklyn. Some friends asked me to write a parody Beatles tune that paid tribute to Sheepshead Bay. While it’s probably as far from the epicenter of the indie music scene as you can get, it’s one of my favorite places to hang and play music. I guess inspiration is where you find it.

The Futureheads Guitarist Ross Millard Talks ‘The Chaos,’ Maturity, and his Favorite NYC Moment

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On a humid night last week, U.K. garage rockers The Futureheads, who hit the Bowery Ballroom tomorrow, kicked off their U.S tour with a show in Brooklyn, playing like a bunch of scrappy, cocksure youngsters brimming with promise. Actually, they didn’t so much play as rupture forth, sending herky-jerky streams of electricity out into the audience. They turned the Music Hall of Williamsburg into a scene out of 300, the outnumbered quartet staging a strike against too-cool-for school posing, with hard-driving riffs, killer choruses, and heart-pounding drums.

The Futureheads were smart to avoid their artier tunes, instead playing songs that mirrored their 2004 self-titled debut album—razor-sharp punk synchronized with brilliant, at times baroque British school-boy harmonies. After an hour or so of impaling the crowd with their pumping, sweat-inducing tunes, they returned for a three-song encore, but not before unveiling their new song, “Jupiter,” a “Bohemian Rhapsody” meets Gang of Four epic. When they hit the crescendo, I could have sworn I saw a hand burst up through the ground, sending cemetery dirt and shards of casket flying in all directions. Ross Millard—the band’s lead guitarist—took some time after the triumphant show to tell us about their new album, The Chaos, why nobody compares them to Lady Gaga, and the impetus to write a song about vampire sex.

What was the one incident that had the biggest impact on shaping this bold, ambitious collection of songs? I think being at home in the Northeast of England shaped this record more than anything, because it’s the first opportunity since our debut album to write an observational record. The middle two records were both written whilst we were touring, so as a result, you have to write songs about things that aren’t right in front of your face. You know, those songs came from news stories, fiction, whatever. Whereas now that we’ve been home for long enough to take in what’s going on in our region, in our country, and with our families, we can write a record that is based more on the real world.

What albums/bands/artists were you listening to during the making of The Chaos? Did they have an influence on the sound you arrived at? During the making of this album I fell in love with the vinyl format again, because the state of downloading and the concept of ownership really hit home for me. I want a record to sit in a collection at home. I fell in love with the L.A. girl group Warpaint. For more raucous pleasure, I really enjoyed the last Fight Amp record. They’re a great punk-rock band from New Jersey. But the Young Lovers, New Bomb Turks, and Rocket From The Crypt are never far from my player. Vampire Weekend are a band that have become huge in Britain and I love both of their records.

You formed your own independent record label after getting unfairly dropped by your major label. Is the old business model a thing of the past? Well, at the moment, the music business seems like the Wild West. Everyone is putting records out in different ways. I think it’s great that the old blueprint is coming to an end because music is fundamentally a folk tradition so why should big business dominate such an artistic pursuit? I love the fact that young bands are starting out and are no longer looking to the major-label deals as the golden fleece.

What was your goal with this record? We wanted to make The Chaos as bold and full-on as possible. This new album is an uplifting, positive, punk-rock record. We’ve stirred up so much motivation in ourselves over the past five years to get the label together, to get the confidence back in our performance that our dispute with Warner Bros. took away.

What is your relationship with music bloggers and how immersed are you in the online community and social media? The internet is free media, but the opinions expressed are all as valid as hardened critics’, provided the write-ups are as well-researched and informed. I think the good stuff is always found on the net, so the popular blog sites are usually the best-written or the most often updated, and I like that, because you get out of it what you put into it. We’re not big readers of reviews, but stuff like Twitter we’re big fans of because it’s a direct link to our fans. Keeping the dialogue going is important, whether it be about b-sides or tours or immaterial shit like going to see movies or sports. I think it’s fun, for sure.

What was the most wild, unexplainable thing to happen while making this album? That the song we wrote in the studio in the least-considered and most throwaway style, all in about 60 minutes from start to finish, “Heartbeat Song,” would become the lead-off single and one of our biggest hits to date. Funny how these things work.

What do you think of the sudden reemergence of a theatrical style of music, fashion, and performance, like, for example, Lady Gaga or Muse? I love the big-time stage theatricals of those acts. I think your stage show has to represent the band properly, but Muse are clearly illuminati-intrigued, alien-obsessed, righteously hard-rockin prog-rock bastards, so their stage show fits amazingly well. Gaga is the best pop star the world has seen in at least ten years. She is strong, motivated, artsy, and fucking sexy, so she has something incredible to contribute to the pop world. But you don’t need lasers, LEDs, or multi-million dollar props to truly perform. The minute you get on stage there is an element of a persona that kicks in, no matter who you are.

What are your greatest vices? Well all of the lads in my band call me the art-punk monk because I’m the vegetarian, but vice is an unusual concept anyway. It doesn’t come down to drugs and booze—we’re not that sort of band. But we can throw down in our own way, for sure. My biggest vice when we’re in the US is root beer. I love that shit.

What’s the difference between British girls and American girls? Other than a sexier accent, I don’t honestly think I’m in much of a position to generalize about the women of the world. Women in the U.S. go for tattoos more than in Britain, I think, and that’s sexy, but fuck it, who am I to judge?

What’s your most memorable night in New York and what happened? The best night out in New York I’ve had was at the Lenox Lounge, the jazz cub in Harlem. Great music played by great musicians, ultra-strong cocktails for the drinkers amongst us, and a genuine taste of something authentically American.

New York. Describe what the city means to you in a sentence. For me, New York spells great vegetarian food, a big-ass map, and a whole lot of walking. Slant magazine recently said: “As a rule, ‘maturity’ hasn’t set well with the legion of post-punk bands that made their debuts in the mid naughts. Acts like Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, and Arctic Monkeys have all struggled to various degrees with matters of voice and direction once they made it a couple of albums into their respective careers.” How would you respond to this statement? Maturity has to be one of the most boring words in the English language. What a piss-poor concept. Ask Motorhead or AC/DC what they think of maturity. I’m comfortable with my voice, and there’s only one direction we’re headed in, so it’s all good.

What inspired you to write a song about vampire sex? Truthfully? Billy Idol.

The Top 10 Summer Movie Season Requirements

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Based on the same sound science found in your typical summer blockbuster, these are Hollywood’s 10 requirements for a complete and successful summer movie season.

1. Tom Cruise Hangs On To Some Form of Speeding Transportation You know the feeling: something is missing but you’ll be damned if you can put your finger on it. That’s how I feel about the last few summer movie seasons. But then I watched the trailer for Knight & Day and knew exactly what it was: Tom Cruise clinging to fast-moving transportation. It could be a bullet train a la Mission Impossible, or, in this case, a town car barreling down interstate 93 (watch out, Youklis!), but no summer is complete without this fundamental scene. Check it out at 1:28 of the trailer, below.

2. Hapless Adult in kids movie suffers poop-related incident. Summer films and poop jokes go together like like tequila and bad life choices. Thankfully, we have Brendan Fraser to carry on the fine tradition of shit gags in Furry Vengeance, which features a scene where he gets trapped in a port-a-potty that gets tipped over, sending gallons of schplunk on him. Somewhere, a dung-covered Eddie Murphy salutes you.

3. Female gets her groove back on exotic overseas trip. Living in New York, I come across lots of successful career women and most appear to have a life outside work, maintain a few meaningful relationships, enjoy a great sex life, and, for the most part, like who they are. Who knew that down deep they were all self-absorbed, dead-inside, men-repellents who haven’t experienced a single satisfying orgasm in their whole adult lives. Hollywood, that’s who. Not to worry, ladies. There is a solution to your miserable, lonely and uptight existence. Take a holiday! Once there, you will meet the hunk-of-your dreams and he will help you to reconnect with your fun and adventurous side. Need proof? Look no further than Sex and the City 2, which has Carrie & the Girls going away to Dubai, or Eat, Pray, Love, in which Julia Roberts travels the world after a failed marriage. It’s just a hunch, but I bet you somebody is coming back with a new lease on life and a new-found wisdom that there’s only one person that can give you the love you’ve been missing.

4. Family goes on summer vacation, what could go wrong? What would the long hot months be without a movie about a well-meaning family man taking his wife and kids on a summer vacation which turns into a series of screwy mishaps in which dad gets repeatedly nailed in the groin? This year’s entry is Grown Ups, which features multiple dads—Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock—spending 4th of a July weekend at a lake house, embarrassing their wives and kids. If you’re a grown male watching this movie, you will also be embarrassed, or at least should be.

5. Hero unleashes slow-motion primal scream before righteous ass-kicking. You can beat down an army of bad guys, dispense of hundreds of thousands of henchman, and blow away a multitude of faceless goons, but everybody knows that you cannot win the climactic battle against the uber-villain in a summer blockbuster until you’re so consumed with rage that the scene goes slow-motion and you let out a primal scream. Russell Crowe makes a run at the masters—Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone and Mel Gibson—emerging from the water at the end of Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood with the slow-mo scream emanating from the deepest part of his soul, so powerful it echoes through the existence of time. Check it out at 2:22.

6. Counter-programming options for female-audiences that are in no way condescending to them. Men are easy. Give them lots of things exploding, going really fast or stripping off their clothes. But how do we get women into movie theaters during the summer months? If only they liked all the cool stuff that guys like instead of all the lame girly stuff they like instead. Clearly, this is true. Why else would Hollywood invent a term like “counter-programming” if women didn’t need special kinds of movies that appeal to their action-hating, raunchy humor-averse, sexually-ambiguous-vampire lusting, shoe-crazy tastes. Joining these not-at-all-insulting-to-females-intelligence films of summers past (Mamma Mia!, for one), studios have delivered a Louis Vuitton handbag full of “female-oriented” fare: Sex and the City 2, Step Up 3D, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Letters To Juliet, Eat, Pray, Love, Going The Distance, and The Switch.

7. Bruckheimer. That’s it. Watching an over-the-top, undemanding spectacle by super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer has become as much a staple of summer as cookouts and fireworks, and twice as American. This year’s entry is Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time. It’s based on a video game and stars a beefed-up shirtless Jake Gyllenhaal, so expect to be sitting in movie theater comprised of dorks and gay men.

8. Distinguished dramatic actor slums it in dumb action movie. You might ask yourself, what in God’s name is Sir Ben Kingsley doing in Prince of Persia? Or why is Liam Neeson armed to the teeth in the A-Team? Is that the legendary Max Von Sydow hamming it up in Robin Hood? That can’t be Richard Dreyfuss, in Piranha 3D, can it?. Summer is the time for acclaimed actors to turn it on auto-pilot and collect a big paycheck. Before them, there was Anthony Hopkins sleepwalking through Joel Schumacher’s Bad Company, Robert De Niro in Rocky & Bullwinkle, and my personal favorite, Michael Caine in Jaws 4: the Revenge.

9. Suddenly-empowered female instantly becomes a weapons expert. I’m sure somebody will correct me on this, but it certainly feels like once timid, uptight female discovers her inner ass-kicking self — hmm, about halfway through the movie — she almost instantly knows how to use a multitude of firearms and assertive fight moves that should take years of disciplined karate training to acquire. In Robin Hood, Cate Blanchett miraculously goes from a cow-milking maiden to highly-skilled warrior who can hold herself against the French army just in time for the climactic battle. In the trailer for Knight & Day, Cameron Diaz starts out a terrified and innocent bystander but a short time later she’s riding on a speeding motorcycle backwards while blasting away at bad guys with two guns at the same time. And in the action-comedy Killers, Katherine Heigl goes from devoted, straight-laced wife to gun-wielding heroine presumably by putting on a body-hugging dress, giving herself a short sexy haircut, and telling herself, “You go, girl!”

10. Remake that appeals to younger generation who didn’t see the superior original version. The last and perhaps most important summer movie requirement is the remake that doesn’t hold a candle to the original. That’s not to say that it won’t still be a good time. The remake of Karate Kid doesn’t look too awful. It might even be entertaining. But in a fight between the two versions, we can’t help but root for the 1984 classic. As for that little hotshot Jaden Smith… put him in a body bag, Macchio! And to all of you reading this, have a great summer! And remember. You’re the best around. Nothing is ever going to keep you down.