Not All Who Wander Are Lost at WAN*DER*LUST

The mission statement of WAN*DER*LUST—a collaborative exhibition featuring the talents of New York artists Jody Levy, Yarrow Mazzetti, Artem Mirolevich, Reka Nyari, Peter Ruprecht and Dara Young—called to those clustered by the crowded doorway before they even set foot inside 72 Wooster Street. Scrawled in black paint on a wall just beneath the vaulted ceiling of the filling gallery, the objective of the exhibition introduced itself:

"Wanderlust is about the primal impulse for exploration. The work assembled expresses a freedom pulsing through the body blood.

The collective narrative in this exhibition is informed by the journeys unknown; inspired by the surprise of every given moment. The work is meant to inspire a state of constant flow and transformation. Through these works on paper, canvas, photography, sculpture and furniture we express the human craving for discovery.

Welcome to Wanderlust. We invite you to suspend in your reality."

Though I’ll be hard-pressed to make a connection between a portrait of a naked woman tonguing a flaccid chicken, an intricate illustration of a boat in the middle of a city that looks like it was ripped from one of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s plotlines and a hand-hewn table of Southern Heart Pine and stainless steel, I can see how under the umbrella of “exploration” any and all of these thought-provoking works could somehow wind up in the same room.

With a number of mixed media collages, furniture pieces, photos and installations scattered throughout the gallery, each artist’s contribution and their redefinition of “journeys unknown” was only made stronger when juxtaposed against the work of one of their colleagues. The best example of this could be found on any given wall, with one of the brightest featuring a vibrant, Technicolor portrait of an ornately clad woman sitting in the middle of a smoldering desert scene by Ruprecht (Ascension), a series of monochromatic canvases (Levy) and a number of blackened steel shelves by Mazzetti that showcased these smaller-scale paintings. Steps away, Young’s Diamondback pieces—tables and bookshelves which seemingly bear the skin of a serpent—flanked Nyari’s provocative photography, with the curves of nudes in varying degrees of exposure serving up a sharp contrast to the clean lines of the wooden structures before them.

The works of Mirolevich (the aforementioned magic realist illustrations) and Ruprecht may have adhered to Wan*der*lust’s articulated themes most obviously, in that both put forth vibrant, engaging pieces that clearly played with place and time, but taken into consideration with the drastically different missions and styles present in its collection, it’s clear to see that every artist (and visitor) will walk into Wan*der*lust with a different destination in mind—and an unpredictable journey through these paradoxical artistic pairings as a result.

A Sound-Check Chat With Eternal Summers

Though they’ve been favoring the road for the past year in support of Correct Behavior, that ballet of beautifully choreographed noise of a sophomore record they put out in the middle of 2012, Eternal Summers are looking forward to keeping that up for the foreseeable future—and it’s because they’ve got a brand new record that they haven’t even named yet and that they’re dying to share with you live and in the flesh.

Currently on tour with The Presidents of the United States of America (of “Lump” and “Peaches” fame) and previous show mates to Nada Surf, Eternal Summers have been perfecting the art of the uplifting rock song in good company as they hit some major milestones in between records. With Correct Behavior, Nicole Yun and Daniel Cundiff expanded their endeavor to include bassist Jonathan Woods, and they enlisted the help of Sune Rose Wagner of The Raveonettes when it came to mixing the final product. Now, they’re putting the final touches on its to-be-titled follow-up with Doug Gillard of Guided by Voices, making this the first time they’ve ever worked with a producer.

I feel like Correct Behavior hadn’t been out too long when we were like, let’s start thinking about our next record,” says Yun. “Honestly, we waited nine months for Correct Behavior to come out. It was like a literal baby; there was a gestation period. There was some overlap time there. It’s not that soon for us to put out another album, even though release date-wise it looks like that. I feel like we’re always thinking about the next record.” Before taking the stage at Irving Plaza last night, Eternal Summers brought us up to speed on big changes afoot for the Roanoke, Virginia-based indie power trio—and bigger, bolder moves we’ll get to hear long before this album’s got a title.

Welcome back to New York, guys! You’re no strangers to the road. When you’re opening for someone like this with such an established fan base, how is that for you? Does this feel like rock school every night?
Nicole Yun:
With The Presidents of the United States of America, they play their self-titled album front-to-back, which has “Lump” and “Peaches” on it. The second the first chord drops, people just go insane and jump around. Late 30-year-old people moshing … it’s awesome. (laughs)
Daniel Cundiff: No matter who you’re playing with, hopefully you’ll learn something from them that you can benefit from and understand how to perform. They’re definitely a different band than us—and at the same time, they’re great performers and great musicians, too. We did a tour with Nada Surf not long ago, and it was the same thing where we were with a band that’s been around for twenty years. It’s really inspiring that they’re not just doing the same set every night. They’re all great, and great musicians.

NY: I think also, it’s clear that these are both bands—Nada Surf and The Presidents of the United States of America—that are so involved with the fans. It’s like, they’re always doing special stuff to meet their fans and do something above and beyond. There’s so much energy! They don’t just play a show and that’s it; they do meet-and-greets and play special acoustic songs after the show is over for whoever’s left. It’s definitely inspiring to see people who work so hard in every aspect. It’s definitely like going to rock school, for sure.

I think the timeless nature of Correct Behavior—especially considering it’s barreling chord progressions in 4/4 time and the hooks that go along with them—makes a lot of sense on a bill with The Presidents of the United States of America and Nada Surf. Y’all love guitars! (laughs) How has this leg of the tour in particular breathed new life into these songs?
For me, it’s about being as tight with it as we can be. We’re playing so many new songs off of what will be our third album on this tour.
NY: It’s a bit of a transitional tour for us. We’re trying to play what we consider the most memorable songs on Correct Behavior, but we’re trying out new material. I think it’s uncomfortable to do that on this tour, as opposed to a small tour by ourselves. I think it’s really fun to test it out on random people. As far as the older stuff, it changes because it’s definitely more dynamic. When you play a song so much, the nuances come out, as far as how to make it more gentle or driving at certain parts. It’s definitely more fun to play now because we know it so well, so we can just let the chemistry of the three of us take control and read each other and just play it how we want.

What’s an aspect of Correct Behavior that you’re looking to embrace or replicate on future releases?
I don’t think we ever think about direction; it just kind of happens organically. What happened on Correct Behavior, the songs that are rock songs, we’re still doing those rock songs but they’re even more defined as rock songs. The really pretty, soft delicate songs are even more soft and delicate. Everything is just becoming more defined I guess. It’s dreamier; it’s more rocking.
Jonathan Woods: I think we were more confident in doing those things than we were on that record. Some of the new songs, there’s one called “Windows” that’s been really good live—that and “Never Enough.”
NY: The last record was the scariest jump. We went from a two-piece to a three-piece, and we went from a homespun production to having outsiders involved. This next record, I’m excited to be like, “Okay, we’ve made all the jumps we’ve wanted to make. Let’s feel comfortable enough to express what we want and not feel like anything’s holding us back.” I think this next record is going to rock.

Do you have a name for the new record yet?
We’ll unleash the beast soon, I guess. Unleash the Beast! There’s a name!
JW: What was the one we came up with the other day? Savage? Savage? But in French?
NY: We met up with the guy who was going to mix our album, and he was like, “What are the themes of the album?” and I said, “Well, savageness, but, like, struggle that’s … good?” “Say all that in French and you’ve got a record.” I was like, “I don’t know man! I don’t know if we’re that band.”

I know that you worked with Sune Rose from The Raveonettes on Correct Behavior, and you mentioned the transition you made between working on your music entirely on your own and bringing other people into your creative process. What did you take away from that experience? What was it like, bringing people in on your creative endeavor? 
As hard as it is to give up control, you just have to trust yourself. No matter what, this is a record that I know we did a good job on. I’m not going to let this album come out if I’m not proud of it. Therefore, when we work with other people, we can be like, “Cool! They’ve got talents and the cumulative product is going to be awesome!” it’s just using everyone’s talents in the best way. I felt like we were a lot more open with this next record. 

‘It’s Important to Be Brutal’: Frightened Rabbit’s Self-Discovery

Since the beginning of February, Frightened Rabbit have been selling out venues across the pond and here in the States as they continue to tour behind Pedestrian Verse, the fourth full-length album from the Scottish bastion of indie rock. This wouldn’t be the biggest deal for the band—who are used to playing for packed rooms in cities big and small, both international and domestic—except the record in question marks a major creative departure for the five-piece, in that it’s the first body of work they’ve truly collaborated on in their history as a band. They also hit the road four days after Pedestrian Verse’s debut on February 1, which means that Frightened Rabbit got to know the anthemic grandiosity of their latest in a live setting along with everybody else, despite the hours they clocked in the studio and in practice before departing Glasgow on their latest trek.

“It took us a couple of weeks before we were particularly great at playing the songs,” says Scott Hutchison, Frightened Rabbit’s frontman and lead vocalist, hanging out before his (again, sold-out) show at Terminal 5 last night.

“We rehearsed like hell, but until you get out and play the new songs live, you might as well be in the rehearsal room for a day. We noticed it at the start of the tour that the songs are settling in. I think one of the things we found challenging was that the producer, Leo Abrahams, brought a very important sense of subtlety to this album that was missing on other ones. The details are very much missed if they’re not included, so we spent a lot of time figuring out how to incorporate these details live. We’re totally dead against backing tracks, so we tried to do a raw energy version of some of the songs, and it just sounded like a shitty version of that song. He brought such a subtlety to the arrangements that we had to really look at how we were going to include these details. The United States got the best end of the tour, definitely!”

Though the accolades they’ve raked in indicate otherwise (the tour’s been good since the get-go), Pedestrian Verse has, after months of relentless touring, begun to feel like the songs Frightened Rabbit should’ve been singing all along. Before, Hutchison would “lock [himself] away and not welcome any of the band into that process” when it came to arrangements and lyrics. With Pedestrian Verse, that artistic autonomy ceased, as each of Frightened Rabbit’s members contributed to the fabric of every verse and breakdown.

“This time around, it was an open kind of door,” says Hutchison. “I was like, ‘I’m going to be here in the rehearsal space every day, I’m going to be working on stuff as I always do, and you can come and go as you please.’ That was the start of a new process with us, because we never worked that way before, collaboratively. I just put records together myself. So that process was new—it was brand new—and we felt reinvigorated. The first couple of weeks, we were still finding our feet, not really sure how this was going to work. I’m still getting used to letting go of that kind of control, that kind of thing. When we did hit our stride, it was great. Thereafter, we realized that this is how we want to do it. Perhaps I’d come to a saturation point where I was getting bored with my own way of working and I needed something to refresh it, and that’s what really happened with this record. For me, I can hear it all over it. It’s got more energy. It’s bigger. It’s brighter. It’s just more exciting.”

“Late March, Death March” is perhaps one of the best examples of this newly defined collaborative effort, as the song was written and recorded with all five members of the band having a staring contest between them as they battered drums in a circle. “We were very aware that we wanted this to be in every sense a band record,” says Hutchison. “We’ve never performed as a five-piece in the studio before. It’s always been like, ‘Let’s do the drums and work up from there.’ Here, it’s the five of us playing drums round with a microphone in the middle. That just brings something you can’t get from layering, you know? That integral energy on ‘Late March, Death March’ comes from us just making eye contact—and not all of us are great drummers, either. It’s got sort of ragged parts that added to it. That was probably the only song on the album that was written in the traditional me, on my own, in a room kind of thing. The performance itself it very much comes from the five of us together.”

For Hutchison, it’s the final track on the album, “Oil Slick,” that serves as a defining moment for him, in that the song is one where all five members can be heard—even if that’s not so obvious to the listener on the first go around. The telltale traits of a Frightened Rabbit song—insatiable hooks, a rhythm that works for introspective vibing, the grandest love song you’ve ever heard in a live setting simultaneously, a chorus that’ll lift you up into the ether of euphoria or speak to your despair depending on your mood—are there, but this is the song of a new Frightened Rabbit, the one Hutchison is thrilled to continue with through the rest of this tour and onto the next record.

“It’s a song that’s all of us,” he says. “It’s a song that’s got space, and everyone’s characters within it. I guess only we can hear that. It encapsulates what we were trying to do with this record, in that it has both a kind of intimacy and a series of massive, big endings. This album kind of draws you in and out of being close with us, and then it casts you out into the crowd of an arena. This album’s supposed to pull you around. For me, is the jump-off for the next record is ‘Oil Slick.’ We take it from there and see where we go from that.”

Where that is exactly has yet to be seen, as the guys don’t write on the road and their fans haven’t gotten enough of Pedestrian Verse yet. They haven’t, either, and they shouldn’t, as this record is a steadfast, undeniable feat of collaborative prowess that marks a shift in the maturity and depth of a rock band that wants nothing more than to do right by the music they make. This record may have been a revelation for Hutchison, one that paved the way to self-discovery through collaboration, but it’s clear that the level to which he pushed himself creatively won’t be absent from future Frightened Rabbit efforts.

“I looked back on our catalog and tried to be as critical as I could with it, and say what was wrong,” he says. “I realized through touring that I was spending an hour and a half every night singing songs that were entirely about myself. That starts to sound and feel indulgent after a while. Though there are moments on this record that are definitely about my life, I was very much aware that I wanted to try and externalize that and look less inward. There are songs like ‘Acts Of Man’ and ‘State Hospital’ where I was consciously trying to push myself into writing about other peoples’ lives, just to see if I could. That was part of the challenge of that record, trying to consciously move away from some of the traps and easy tricks I’ve learned over the course of the past six or seven years. This time around, everything was up for questioning. Everything was like a forum, and nothing was precious. For that reason, we were much more brutal in the decision making process with this one, rather than me indulging myself completely. It was a process of self-criticism from start to finish… This time around I didn’t censor it. It’s risky, but it’s important to be brutal. You serve the album in a song, and it can’t be a personal argument. It has to be objective. I don’t mind being raw. I think it’s what our audience has come to expect and love.”

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Electronic Pop Duo Javelin Push Their Own Limits

For new fans of Javelin, a quick, comparative listen to the electronic duo’s most recent records may leave them in a dizzying state of sonic confusion. The samples looping throughout 2011’s Canyon Candy were culled from a collection of vintage records that could easily provide the soundtrack for any given Western picture, complete with lap steel licks, jangling guitars, organs, and the cavernous baritone voices of a handful of cowboys. Hi Beams, which drops today, couldn’t be a more drastic foil to the antique static George Langford and Tom Von Buskirk wrestled with and repurposed on Canyon Candy: lead-off track “Light Out” is ready for the dance floor, and “Nnormal,” Hi Beams first single, is a slow jam that rolls with inventive plays on Autotune and hip-hop percussion.

These records sound like they come from two very different bands (let alone two very different epochs), but Canyon Candy and Hi Beams have more in common than one can necessarily glean through their earbuds. “If you listen to the records side by side, it’s so funny,” says Von Buskirk. “Someone tweeted at us, ‘I like the new Javelin single and I’m excited about their new direction, but I’m going to miss the way that you could almost hear the limitations.’” Limitations? “We used to have these arbitrary rules for ourselves,” elaborates Langford. “We set limits for the body of work we could work with and the tools we could use. We sampled records only [on Canyon Candy], and only a certain subgenre of ’40s and ’50s cowboy music—not country, per se. It’s a very specific aesthetic. I guess with Hi Beams, the exercise was to work with the aesthetic of a pop album but not necessarily in the framework of current pop.”

It may not be intentionally poppy, but Hi Beams achieves this of-the-minute modernity effortlessly over the course of its ten tracks. The synth-ed out, built-up breakdowns of “Judgment Night” wouldn’t sound out of place in a DJ set that features Passion Pit and Foster the People (who Langford and Von Buskirk opened for when the “Pumped Up Kicks” chart-toppers spun at a National History Museum’s planetarium party earlier this month) and unlike Canyon Candy’s soundscapes, the new songs give listeners the chance to sing along as their songs include lyrics this time around—and catchy as hell ones at that.

“There were some new areas that we explored with this one, a different approach overall,” says Von Buskirk. “There are more lyrics; there’s more singing. Right when we first made it, we came home from the studio and there was some shock—like, ‘Holy crap, is this what it is?’ That was the biggest surprise with this record for us. It’s similar to if you’ve made a painting, and you’ve made this external thing that you know came from you, but maybe it’s a self-portrait when you look at it, and you’re like, ‘Did I really make that? Is it really me? Am I going to take that out into the world as me?’ We test ourselves in that way sometimes.”

Whether or not they can put a name to these self-portraits in MP3 form or categorize them according to genre isn’t of the utmost importance to Javelin, either. The variety present in their set list—which does include selections from Canyon Candy, despite how foreign “Estevez” and “Colorado Trail” seem when shuffled in with Hi Beams—speaks to this, especially considering the fact that Langford and Von Buskirk perform with little more than an electronic drum kit, a bass, a kazoo and a couple of microphones.

“It’s interesting that genre is still a constant topic, because I feel like people are so much more open to a wider range of music than ever before,” replies Langford, when asked about what genre Javelin identifies with. “I think the internet has a lot to do with that. I also feel like there’s a whole world of electronic live music and performers where it’s totally accepted to just have a table and some stuff and just be a dude standing there. That’s an artist performing live, but there isn’t a lot of energy onstage, and when you bring that to more of a rock audience, that does not fly. When we open for a lot of different kind of bands, we see crowds that understand what we’re doing. You need to find your niche audience that understands both worlds.”

Western soundtracks, EDM, experimental ambient, whatever: as demonstrated by their new record and the album that came before it, it’s clear to see that one can’t expect a forthcoming release from Javelin to sound a certain way. The good news is that it’ll introduce you to sounds you never saw coming—and that, though unclassifiable, their beat will keep you moving. 

Check out Javelin’s upcoming record release show on Friday, March 8 at Glasslands. Doors at 10pm and Hard Nips and Chances with Wolves are opening. $12 adv/$14 doors.

Photo by Tim Griffin.

Follow Hilary Hughes on Twitter.

Brooklyn Duo Tanlines Close Out A Successful And Buzzy Year

For Tanlines, 2012 will go down as a monumental year that opened and closed with equally epic New York shows. Back in April, the euphoric rhythms of the Brooklyn-based alt-indie duo—who had just released Mixed Emotions on True Panther Sounds a couple of weeks prior—may as well have served as invisible puppet strings. Each chorus and bridge conducted the fluid movements and raised hands in the room, while “All Of Me,” “Yes Way,” and “Green Grass” united one happy, hustling crowd underneath the fractured light of the Bowery Ballroom’s disco ball.           

“We started off the year with that tour in April, and that show at the Bowery Ballroom was a big moment for us,” recalls Jesse Cohen. “There was a lot of love. It started the whole year on a good foot that really propelled us.” Since then, Tanlines have gone on to play a handful of festivals and put their passports to good use, meandering through the country while playing for small rooms or thousands of people depending on the day. Sometimes people danced, sometimes people didn’t, and most of the time (as we’ll get into below), Cohen and his cohort, Eric Emm, disagreed about whether or not any given set was a great one or a bust.

One thing the pair will likely concede is that their upcoming engagement at Webster Hall is set to match the Bowery show for its energy and encouraging vibe. Before taking the stage on 11th Street, we asked Cohen to take us through the past year in order to get an unfiltered look at what 2013 may have in store for Tanlines.

What’s your relationship like with Mixed Emotions as a pivotal body of work for you guys? Have your feelings towards your debut record changed?
I think all of the songs have grown since the album came out. It feels like its just getting better and better, you know? It feels like every time we play somewhere there are more people who know the music. I think the more we play the more confident we are, and I think we’re getting better. We’ve done some festival shows now which was a new thing. I think playing live has been a huge part of this project, and I’m really happy with that.

What’s a concrete set list choice for you, a no-brainer pick to kick off a show with?
We open some shows with an almost acoustic version of “Rain Delay” which is totally different than the album version. It’s kind of a quiet and intimate way to start the show. I’ve been happy with that. We stretch some things out and make them longer than they are on the album. Playing live was kind of a big surprise for us, actually—before this album we were just kind of making songs and putting them on the Internet. It’s only when we started playing live and people liked us that it really pushed us forward. I think we were better live than we expected to be. On paper, we’re just two guys making live electronic music—that can be pretty boring. One way or another, I think we’ve stumbled onto something that works, and I’m really happy about that.

As far as electronic music is concerned, do you ever feel like you’re subscribing to a genre that you don’t fully identify with? How do conversations about genre go between you two?
I think that most musicians wouldn’t want to give themselves a genre—you want to feel free to make whatever kind of music you think is interesting. We’ve really tried to put our personalities at the front of the project so that people really get to know us and trust us when we make the music that we want to make. When we did this album, “Green Grass” was a rock song, and there are songs on Mixed Emotions that are upbeat and songs that are kind of downers. It’s important to us to have all of those on there. I don’t know what genre it is. I just let people who write about music decide. I think that one thing that comes through is the mix of stuff that’s on there. There’ll be a song that’s got a 4/4 electronic drumbeat with a country guitar line. The mix of stuff is what I think is important to the music, a mix of happy and sad and different styles. The mix is what I’m interested in doing, and that’s definitely part of who we are. We listen to a lot of different kind of music, and I think there’s a sense of humor and sadness to it.

What’s the anatomy of a great dance song for Tanlines?
One thing I believe in is that the worst vibe you can present to an audience is “Why aren’t you guys dancing more?!” How many times have you been somewhere where someone’s like, “Why aren’t you dancing?!” and you’re like, “I just don’t feel like it and dancing is only fun if I feel like doing it!”, right? We’re not really thinking about it that much. If a song works because it has an up-tempo beat, then that’s what that song becomes. If it works without us dropping beats, that’s what that becomes. We don’t talk about writing dance music; we just try to write interesting pop music. No part of the goal of the band is to make people dance—it’s to write good songs that people like listening to for as long as possible. We don’t think of ourselves as a dance act; we think of ourselves as alternative indie songwriters who use a lot of the same instruments that people who make dance music use. I don’t even like the genre name “dance” because I think there’s an expectation for how you should listen to it—if you’re not dancing to it, it means that something is wrong. Like I said, I don’t want to do that. We play great shows where no one is dancing, and great shows where everyone is, so you’ll always feel something. That’s really the goal: you make something to help people feel something, and that can be a lot of different things that are all equal.

Do you approach your collaborations and remixes the same way?
When you listen to our remixes, most of them aren’t danceable at all—they’re just sort of, like, songs. The Au Revoir Simone remix that we did, we slowed it down and did a half-tempo thing that turned out to be a cool song by a, like, fictional band. Our approach there was to write new music that would stand on its own. year.

If you could single out one hallmark moment from all of the shows you’ve played this year, which one would it be?
We did the F Yeah Festival in Los Angeles, and it was one of the best shows we’ve ever played. Something just happened: everything lined up right, it was the right time of day, we were in the right mood … I’m not sure what it was. Usually, when we finish playing a show, we walk off the stage, and I’ll say to Eric, “Hey, that was great!” and he’ll say “THAT WAS TERRIBLE!” Or he’ll say “That was pretty good!” and I’ll say “No, it was terrible.” We walked off the stage at that show and we were both like, “That was incredible.” It felt great. was when we felt that we can do this, that we can walk up without much preparation and play for thousands of people and everything will sound great, and people can walk away from us going, “That’s a really good live band.” That day felt like a turning point for us.

What are you looking forward to the most in this homecoming show?
I really hope that it feels like a bookend to the Bowery show, going into Christmas and the New Year. We’re slowing down with touring and stuff, so I hope it feels that way—I hope it feels like a bookend to something that started a long time ago. I hope that it propels Eric and me to the next stage, which we’re going to start writing soon.

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Getting Cozy With The Joy Formidable

Every once in awhile, a song comes along that stops everyone dead in their tracks with its greatness, and in 2011, that song was “Whirring” by The Joy Formidable. Aspiring DJs at college radio stations across the country lapped it up and threw it on a regular rotation. Any given twenty-something’s earbuds were blasting it at some point over the course of a morning commute to the office. Both veteran rock critics and the self-appointed tastemakers of the blogosphere heralded “Whirring” for its addictive hooks and that inspirational tsunami of a chorus, and for the reality show producers who needed that perfect song to round out the soundtrack to somebody else’s scripted feelings? Game over.

“Whirring” was the perfect pop rock storm of a track from the start, and it’s the track that’s led them to gigs opening for Muse at London’s O2 Arena and an indisputable international rock god reputation. Because of their meteoric success and the rooms—sorry, stadiums—they’ve grown accustomed to playing, it’s a bit of a shock that The Joy Formidable have chosen to introduce Wolf’s Law, their sophomore album slated for a January release, to the States with a slew of intimate, small-scale shows. Before kicking off this run of dates at the Bowery Hotel tonight, we caught up with The Joy Formidable via email to talk about their set list, a shift in creative process in between records and how Wolf’s Law represents the collective, perpetual strength of an unstoppable band with an unforgettable song to sing.

You’re kicking off the US touring efforts behind Wolf’s Law with some incredibly intimate shows at smaller venues. Why did you choose to go this route?
These shows are a special precursor to the touring that will celebrate Wolf’s Law in 2013. They’re a chance to debut the newer tracks in intimate surroundings and in less traditional venues. We thought it’d be a unique way to end the year, a chance to get close and cozy with our audience before the happy mayhem of next year begins.

What’s the most exciting aspect of taking on a tour like this?
We love the interaction, the energy and the vibe of smaller shows. Technically speaking, some quirky venues can be challenging: loading in and out can be interesting, us squeezing on stage can be a pickle, but it makes it memorable. It makes it real.

Going from the O2 Arena with Muse to a 100-person room is quite a jump. Are you changing up the setlist at all to reflect the change in scenery?
The setlist will change, not because of the size of the venue. It has more to do with the audience and giving our vested audience a taste of the new album, as well as tracks from the EP and The Big Roar. The approach never changes. Our intent and the energy is the same whether we play an arena or a tiny basement.

Which songs from Wolf’s Law do you think will soar in this cozy setting?
The new tracks are sounding great live. We’re keen to share them all, and we’ve made sure that all the venues have a PA to cope with either the bombast of “Cholla” or the delicacy of “Silent Treatment.”

Of the twelve songs on Wolf’s Law, which of them almost didn’t make it to the record? Were there any songs that wound up on the cutting room floor, so to speak, that you wish you could’ve included?
There are tracks that aren’t on the album that were written in Maine, but none of them will stay on the cutting room floor. We’ll be sharing them all at various points throughout the year.

What were the changes in approach or style between The Big Roar and Wolf’s Law?
The approach to the songwriting was different. Many of the tracks on Wolf’s Law were conceived with voice and one accompaniment, piano or guitar, which brings a lot of melodic and lyrical focus to the writing. The breadth of instrumentation is different, too—there’s harp, piano, orchestral sections, a lot of texture and color. It’s very direct and bold in its composition. There’s more clarity rather than being part of a mesh.

What was the biggest challenge you saw as a band in making Wolf’s Law happen?
It was compositionally ambitious at times. Tracks like “The Turnaround” definitely stretched our scoring skills. It heightened our appreciation of orchestral instruments, their versatility, their range and their relationship together.

In the two years between The Big Roar and Wolf’s Law, you’ve toured extensively, played a handful of high profile TV performances and become regular fixtures on the major festival circuit. How has touring affected your output and your performance as a band?
If you already have good chemistry and a strong band dynamic, then touring is bound to enhance that and bring another level of intuition. We’re a strong unit. We’ve spent a lot of time together, so there’s a drive in the writing and in the evolution of this band that anything is possible. And that shows on the new album—the creative push, the sense that you can turn your hand to different things and not feel restricted. We want to be artistically brave at every new juncture, but we don’t want to discuss it—we want to be on the same page from the start.

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Striking a Balance With Bat For Lashes

With a quick glance at the artwork of her two latest albums, it’s easy to see that Natasha Khan—aka Bat for Lashes—doesn’t pick favorites between high drama and minimalism, and that she doesn’t scrimp on either in her creative pursuits. Clutching a gilt orb in each hand, affixed with a halo of rosebuds and stars and brandishing an embroidered sacred heart on a filthy camisole, Khan took on the role of a fallen icon in the middle of the indigo landscape donning 2009’s Two Suns. For the cover of The Haunted Man, Khan stands stark naked with a man as bare as she is hoisted over her shoulders, his dangling limbs providing just enough coverage to keep the censoring sheets of cardboard away on the record store shelves.

Side by side, Two Suns and The Haunted Man couldn’t look more different: one album cover sets an elaborate scene with terrestrial touches and jewel tones, while the other consists solely of a black and white photograph, its composition as simple as the subjects in it. And when it comes to the songs of Two Suns and The Haunted Man, this paradoxical balance of choreographed complication and stripping to the bare bones of the concept carries over. Both albums embrace Khan’s ability to float between delicate, minimal ballads (The Haunted Man’s “Laura,” Two Suns’ “Moon and Moon”) and elaborate compositions that employ everything from a men’s choir (“Oh Yeah,” The Haunted Man) to the unexpected company of violins, harps, and drum machines (“Daniel,” her first chart-topping single).

But it’s The Haunted Man that Khan dubs as the catalyst to a “new era” for her, and after hearing the marked differences in tone, weight and instrumentation in each track, it’s easy to see why.

“I think there’s more playfulness and experimentation on this record, perhaps more positivity and a bit more joyous, lush romantic sound than before,” she says, calling just before a show in Norwich while on the road in England. “Recording the male choir for ‘Oh Yeah’ was really exciting. I think vocally stripping away a lot of the reverb and having the vocals up-front and really loud was quite expansive for me, and definitely a choice I haven’t made in the past. I look at this record more than ever before as a balanced body of work. There are extremes—you’ve got ‘Laura’ which is dark and minimal, and you’ve got ‘The Haunted Man’ or ‘Lilies’ which have loads of orchestrations—but each of them have sounds tucked into them so that they’ve all got the same bloodline. Even when they’re very minimal they still speak to each other. I was just hoping to create a well-rounded album as opposed to a couple of singles and some fillers, which I hate. It’s like a novel or a book of short stories: they all have to be of the same universe; they can’t all just be random.”

Though she took the alter-ego route with Two Suns, hightailing it to Joshua Tree before writing the album from the perspective of the hyper-feminine, painted Pearl, who was born in the desert, Khan wrote The Haunted Man at home in Brighton, and its songs reflect the comfort and personal connection to her surroundings. The first two singles from The Haunted Man, “Laura” and “All Your Gold,” are rife with universal themes—falling prey to lofty expectations, mending a broken heart and learning to love again—and though Khan’s singing directly to a forgotten superstar in “Laura,” the sense of abandonment it conjures isn’t lost on those listening.

“I only wrote one of the songs on the road, ‘Horses of the Sun’—which is about coming home off the road,” she laughs. “All songs of mine are written in my little music room in my home, where I have a little studio. That’s basically where the whole thing was written.

“I think, for me, this is a very autobiographical record,” she continues. “In the past, I might have used storytelling and metaphors more to talk about my emotions in a kind of mythical way. ‘Lilies’ is perhaps a personal favorite, but I think all of them are very personal for me—more than the two albums before, anyway.”

With the dramatic grandeur and personal summits breached over the course of its 50 minutes, the touring efforts behind The Haunted Man reflect Khan’s dedication to the record, resulting in a production she emphatically (and repeatedly) describes as “theatrical.”

“This album is much more challenging vocally,” she says. “In terms of performing live, this has been quite a step up for me. It’s equal parts scary and quite exciting, the new show. I think the show perhaps is more epic and electric sounding. The old songs have been reworked and rearranged. There’s a whole new level it’s on that people seem to like. ‘All Your Gold’ has become an unlikely, epic favorite, and I think because everyone’s dancing to that one and it’s quite sexy.”

Whether she’s serenading the crowd with the woeful refrains of “Laura” or dancing along with them to the driving pulse of “Daniel” for any given encore, Khan continues to capitalize on her sense of balance and the marriage of extremes. Playing between light and dark, hard and soft, loud and low, and blown out and stripped down, she’s arrived at a creative place entirely her own—“theatrical” or not, The Haunted Man is proof that too much or too little of anything can be a good thing.

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Redefining the Culture of Collection at Museum

Sculpture, sex, dinosaurs, dance, trolley cars, the Bronx, concert halls, the NYPD: New York is home to a plethora of museums devoted to a multitude of subjects, but there’s only one that aims to reshape our expectations of a museum as an institution.

Located in a re-purposed freight elevator in an alleyway just south of Canal Street, Museum hosts a painstakingly curated collection of found objects from that very block and a selection of donated pieces, which include a cluster of “homemade weapons” (or baseball bats studded with rusty saw blades and nails) and the very shoe President Bush almost got beaned with. A series of performance pieces make use of Museum’s space as well, featuring poetry readings, acoustic sets and art creation in the flesh, as demonstrated by artist Van Neistat’s upcoming presentation, “The Golden Word,” in which he transforms Museum into a pop-up studio to engrave SwissChamp knives for interested visitors to give to as gifts.

With its programming and carefully constructed shelves, recessed lighting, and a dial-in audio guide that details the origins of each oddity in its 150-strong hodge-podge, Museum isn’t just another art installation or pop-up gallery for accidental tourists to stumble upon and scratch their heads over. It’s a surprising, fastidiously planned detour for those intrigued by reinvention and how we define everyday objects, and an intimate look at collections that wouldn’t have a home anywhere else.

Below, Neistat, along with Alex Kalman and Josh Safdie, two of Museum’s three co-founders, elaborate as to what exactly goes into the curation of Museum and why “The Golden Word” fits in so well with its rediscovered surroundings.

Van, let’s start with your connection to Museum and why the project’s taking place here, of all places. Can you take me through the conception and realiztion of “The Golden Word”?
Van Neistat: 
Have you ever seen that movie Rushmore? There’s this scene where Dirk Calloway is making up with Max Fischer, and he goes and visits Max at his dad’s barbershop. As he’s leaving, he gives Max his Christmas present, and he opens it up, and it’s a SwissChamp. He opens it up, and on it, engraved by a machine, is “Max Fischer: Rushmore Yankee 1985-1997” or something like that. I had tried to duplicate that, and I went all over New York to find someone to do that service, and they didn’t do it. So, I started using a wood burner to imitate that. For people’s birthdays, I started to give SwissChamps with their names and little comments on them. Eventually, I’d find these “golden words” when I’d give my friends’ girlfriends knives. I’d start with a word that resonated with them, or a word that made them feel good. I really enjoyed the actual task of doing it, and the best art I make is gifts—or rather, the art I enjoy making most is gifts—and they usually come out the best. I don’t know what the exact moment was when I decided, “Why don’t I just do this? Why don’t I just set up a little booth?” I think it was when I went to Museum for the first time and I was totally blown away. It was the perfect size and scale to do a little activity like this. My work is mostly making movies for the Internet, and it’s very solitary—the camera work is pretty solitary, I shoot it myself, and the editing is very solitary. I spend most of my waking hours doing this, so I wanted to do something that was more involved with a person. I thought that this process, in that it’s based on a making gift to give to someone else, was a beautiful thing. I would think about the person it was for when I was engraving the knife, and that’s when the “golden word” would come to me, usually. That moment of forgetting and just doing, when you let your mind disappear and you’re just focused on carving this little thing. We’ll see how it goes. I’m really looking forward to hearing these stories from people and hearing what they have to say about this stranger maybe I’ll never meet.
Josh Safdie: Van actually has a piece in Museum, and we don’t consider any piece to be a piece by an artist. This was a face to an air conditioner that he was throwing away. It’s still kind of a found object, and on the face of the air conditioner, it says the date and location, and “I BELIEVE A DIRTY AC FILTER IS GROUNDS FOR A FIRING AND A CLEAN AC FILTER IS GROUNDS FOR A BONUS.” We just took the face off and put it there, and it comes across as, “Wow, someone had a crazy boss!” or it could be read as “You know what? We should all live our lives with the meticulousness of every moment. There’s no reason why things should be left undone, things should be thought out all the time.” 

When it comes to the collaboration between Museum and artists like Van, is this a one-time thing, or will we see more performances of this nature in the space?
Alex Kalman: 
We’re doing late-night programming and midnight performances. Last month we had Lawn Waters (formerly of The Beats) perform this beautiful 30-minute Uruguayan song in the space with a microphone, amp and guitar as a crowd stood in the alley. It was really magical and very big and small at the same time. We’re going to have the poet Roger van Voorhees curate an evening of poetry. Musical performances and performance art, readings and collectors giving lectures on the act of collecting and their collections are things we’re going to be doing over the next couple of months.
JS: The guy whose weapons those are is going to be doing a performance piece called “The Cleansing,” and he’s going to power-wash and brush and clean the entire alley.

When I checked out Museum for the first time, I was a little distracted by those “homemade weapons” you had on display. Those were intense.
Yeah, that’s from the collection of Lance de los Reyes, who’s a painter. He has them hidden in his studio. I found them underneath some blankets. I said, “What are these?!” and he said, “Don’t worry about those.”

If someone said “Don’t worry about those” referring to a bunch of baseball bats covered in spikes and saw blades I had just uncovered, I would be worried. You guys are brave.
They’re beautiful, though! (laughs) They’re not meant to be used; they’re meant to intimidate.

What are you looking for in an artist, musician, collector or collaborator when it comes to inviting someone to contribute to the Museum experience?
We’re an institution. I’d say forty percent of an institution is the hands that run it and sixty percent is the life of the institution, the people who come and see it, the people who donate to it and literally just the space itself. We can’t keep the space or institution alive if we don’t have performances and a livelihood being brought constantly. Van will be bringing life into the space during his residency. When we were building the space out with our designer, Michael Caputo, we would hang out in the space for hours and hours at a time, telling stories and doing work. It’s going to be very unique for the four or more people who come in for their “golden word,” for them to have that experience of sitting and talking with this man and giving a “golden word” to a loved one. It’s going to create a very personal experience within Museum, and that’s really our goal.

Van, what is it about Museum that either inspires “The Golden Word” or works so well with this particular project? Is there anything about the contents of Museum that speak to you?
One of the things I love about it is its scale. New Yorkers are really excellent at maximizing tiny little spaces, and I feel like Museum is a testament to that. I live in a 144-square-foot apartment in Manhattan, so I have a lot of respect for people who can take a small space and have space within a space. There’s space in there—there’s a beautiful floor and you can kind of almost walk around in it! I liked that there was a kind of institutional hallmark that was testament to New Yorkers and their tiny little spaces.
JS: I think it speaks to New York culture, this lifestyle of finding a calm within the chaos and understanding how to be in the moment. That’s very New York.

What sets Museum apart from the other installations, galleries and performances happening any given night in New York City? Besides its size, what benefit does it have over other museums?
Museum is smaller than most museum elevators. No museum elevator offers over 150 objects to look at, all unique in their own way, each with an accompanying story, an audio guide, an accompanying pamphlet and a video screen with two video works on it that could, if you want to, take up to 45 minutes of your time.
AK: I think that in most museums and galleries, you put things that are already culturally considered valuable, or art, on display. Museum is more about noticing the things that often go overlooked, and giving them value by putting them in Museum, and surprising people by what they kind of expect to see when they go to an institution such as Museum. There’s also the seeming randomness of things, the seemingly random alley that it’s on and the space that it’s in and the random neighborhood that it’s a part of. Part of the experience is the surprise and refreshing-ness of saying, we want to create this institution, Museum, and kind of flip upside-down all the classic rules that usually go into an institution.

“The Golden Word” begins at Museum on September 19, 2012. For more information and to schedule a seating with Van Neistat, visit

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It’s Not So “Hard To Be Close” With Here We Go Magic

Since A Different Ship came out on Secretly Canadian in May, Brooklyn’s own Here We Go Magic have toured with Andrew Bird, shared a stage with Florence & the Machine, lapped an impressive array of European and Australian stages, run the festival gauntlet, and shrunk in size over the span of a single season. As they gear up for tonight’s Brooklyn Bowl show that’ll kick off their latest run of tour dates, drummer Peter Hale takes a breather in between practices to wax poetic on new beginnings, collaborative efforts, and the contents of the Here We Go Magic on-the-road survival kit.  

Here We Go Magic has gone through plenty of changes—lineups and otherwise—since you came out with your self-titled debut in 2009. What are the most dramatic changes you’ve noticed between the Here We Go Magic of then and now?
There’s so much that’s different about it. We’re always different at any moment in our growth, and we’re always going to be that way. I think all of us, spearheaded by [lead singer Luke Temple], generally, want to keep going back to the drawing board, so every effort is going to reflect that. The main difference is that we worked with a producer for the first time, and the way that we were able to do that was by touring a lot. We were playing a lot of shows that Nigel Godrich came to see. We wound up becoming friends with him through that, and he ended up producing the record. Very literally, spending a lot of time on the road and playing festivals was what exposed us to him, and because he produced the record, A Different Ship feels different and is differently inspired record than the last one.

Are there any standout moments or songs on A Different Ship that you’re particularly proud of?
Every time I have a new favorite. I think that first side start to finish has a really great arc to it. That run of “Hard to be Close,” “Make Up Your Mind,” “Alone But Moving,” and “Over the Ocean;” those are just bangers for my buck and they reflect where I come from. “Make Up Your Mind” has that dense guitar stuff over a straight-ahead rhythm that coalesces in a way that we hadn’t tried before. “Over the Ocean,” then, provides a complete departure from that stuff; I think that’s my favorite song on the whole record, actually. It’s really mellow and down-tempo, almost a little funky in a weird way, and I think that’s an apex of musicianship for us on some level. That one’s a real winner for me.

You’re about to head off on an epic, international jaunt. Your touring schedule looks exhausting. How do you keep it together on the road?
I think having breaks is important. I don’t think anyone can go more than a month straight without taking at least a week off apart and to rest. When you’re on the road, you just try to conserve your energy physically and emotionally for the show you’re playing every night. I think when we’re good about keeping in mind that that’s why we’re out on the road in the first place, to play these shows, our morale stays a little better and we deal with each other better. As long as you have that bright side at the end of the day when you play a show and you know that it’s all going to be okay when you get onstage, then you’ll be fine, because that’s the regenerative thing. Playing a show can be exhausting, but it can be regenerative.

What are you looking forward to the most about this particular tour? Any cities you’re hitting for the first time?
Yeah! It’s funny; the majority of the U.S. cities are ones we haven’t played, or have only played once. The routing is really interesting. There are three shows in Florida, which is really unheard of. You never hear of small-budget rock music playing Florida, you know? (Laughs) It’s sort of a coup. There are a lot of dates in the South, and I think as far as Europe is concerned, we actually wound up having to cancel several dates this August. I’m looking forward to making up some of those and getting back to where we left off.

Why did you have to cut those European dates?
We shrank in size by one member, so we had to deal with that schedule a little differently. We didn’t want to scrap together a replacement and then go bounding through the rest of the summer. We decided to come back and rework the show so that we could put our best foot forward in the fall.

What’s the most memorable moment from your last year of touring?
To be honest, the last four months has been the most jam-packed stretch we’ve ever done. That’s surreal. This run was pretty boring as far as that’s concerned, because it was nonstop for four months—normally there’s some sort of adventure, but there wasn’t time to get into trouble or whatever. I wish I had a juicier anecdote! (Laughs) In a lot of ways it was the best tour we’ve ever done, because it was the most well attended tour we’ve ever done in the States. We sold out places for the first time, and we had a lot of people come out who had been there before and hadn’t seen us live. In general, it was a better feeling than in the past. It really wore us out at the same time. It wasn’t the height of adventure that we can sometimes be inspired to have.

What would be in your tour survival kit?
Twice as many shirts as pants, twice as many underwear as shirts, and Wellies.

Rubber boots for English festivals. They’re essential.

Way to pull a Kate Moss, man.
They look ridiculous, but anybody who wears them is much happier.