With ‘Metals,’ Feist Lets Go of Everything She Learned from ‘The Reminder’

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I thought I might do this while taking a bubble bath,” says Leslie Feist after inviting me into her room at the Lafayette House, a gas light-era hotel in New York’s East Village. Dressed in a cream-colored skirt and sweater with a braided belt dangling from her hip, the petite musician has apparently changed her mind, instead sitting on a couch next to a set of French doors opening onto a garden. Like her music, Feist appears both crafted and casual. Her pale blue eyes shift mercurially and are capable of registering stillness, shyness, and robust laughter within seconds. “Have you been to Maryam Nassir Zadeh?” she asks of the New York boutique. “She carries crazy, beautiful sweaters that I live in. Getting on a long flight with one of her sweaters is the best.”

Finding comfort in unlikely places is one of Feist’s regular preoccupations; her itinerant lifestyle has seen the 35-year-old Canadian singer move between locales with the kind of frequency usually reserved for dry, wind-borne plants. While she’s finally put down stakes in the Toronto area with “a place in the woods” and “several little apartments in the city” (the response to her call in “Mushaboom” for an idyllic home), she’s about to begin yet another tour in support of her new album, Metals. Her need for “very few things” serves her well. As she avers in the single “How Come You Never Go There,” physical objects don’t enrich her internal life. “The room’s full but hearts are empty,” she sings, “Like the letters never sent me.”

It’s been four years since Feist put out her last studio album, The Reminder, an outstanding effort for which she picked up four Grammy nominations, an iPod commercial, and an appearance on Sesame Street in which she teaches kids to count to four. It took time to quell the urge to respond to The Reminder, especially given its success. “It would have been like bouncing from one trampoline to the next,” says Feist, who started her first band, a punk outfit, at the age of 15. “I took the time off I needed.” After a year and a half, following her last tour, she felt a “healthy void” and a “familiar silence” that let her shed all remaining traces of that album’s success. “It was truly a new chapter.”

Metals bears Feist’s hallmark talent for arrangements, as well as her emotional, ambiguous lyrics. Yet it’s a dark and melancholic departure from The Reminder, the pop hooks of which rendered that album a favorite for remixes by the likes of the Postal Service, Bon Iver, and Chromeo. Luckily for Feist, her longtime collaborators, musicians Chilly Gonzales and Mocky, understood that she’s no one-trick pony, that The Reminder was just a taste of her musical potential. image

“I brought them some new songs that had nothing to do with anything I’d done previously,” she says. Perhaps it was all those long winter evenings sitting in on sessions of shape note singing by local choirs, a tradition Feist says was brought over by Mayflower-era pilgrims. “It’s a bit fire and brimstone,” she says, smiling. Because of their long-standing “musical brotherhood,” Gonzales and Mocky were able to work with Feist’s needs, which, in this case, called for arranging the music beside a wood stove in a cabin, then jetting to the cliffs of Big Sur, where they holed up on a 350-acre heritage farm with the other members of the band, including keyboardist Brian LeBarton and percussionist Dean Stone. The “calm-pound,” as she describes it, also included a friend who worked at Brooklyn diner Marlow & Sons, and who prepared them meals and confections like fresh goat milk and lavender ice cream.

While The Reminder had a lot of “clean lines” and “stacks of vocals” interlaced above its rhythms like a “sonic loom,” in Metals, rhythm acts as a central core around which the melodies spin. “Boom, kaboom boom, kaboom, boom,” Feist interjects, lifting her hand and moving it rhythmically in a characteristically colorful audio and visual demonstration. “That’s the pulse that yanks the melodies down into it. It’s a lot more like a dust storm.” Another unexpected quality that came from recording the album live was catching the odd sounds produced in the room, which Feist was reluctant to clean up. “I loved hearing this sonic pressure,” she says. “It needed to happen. Cleaning up these songs would have been like giving them the wrong haircut.”

In a 2007 article, Gonzales told The New York Times, “I had 100 percent in my mind the idea that we should have as much material as possible that could be played on the radio or resonate with a huge bunch of people.” In retrospect, Feist says it’s funny to hear his comments about The Reminder given its subsequent success, since there was no way they could have planned for what happened.

This time around, if Feist played editor of Metals, Gonzales provided the rigor and drive that structured her creative flowerings. “Gonzo wears an Anthony Robbins set of glasses,” she says, referring to the famed life-coach guru. “He triangulates everything in the world as it relates to ambition. He has a real fascination with human motivation. He speaks of these things in Rocky-like terms.”

Feist fans expect a lot. While her first two albums were well-received, it was The Reminder that had crowds breaking into impromptu chants of “I Feel It All” at a concert in Mexico City, where she played with Broken Social Scene, a band of which she’s a sometime member. Says Gonzales, “On this album, Feist was emboldened by The Reminder’s big reach to jump even further. It’s a less conventional sound, so I admire her for using her bully pulpit to take even bigger musical risks.”

Our coffee arrives and Feist opens a cylindrical pack of sugar and sprinkles it gingerly a few times over her cup. “This is absurd,” she says, “but I like 20 grains of sugar. It just takes that tiny acrid edge off.” She tastes it, judging its edginess, and says, “That might be more like 30 grains.”

FEIST LIKES ABC Carpet & Home

Photography by Mary Rozzi

PopGun Presents John Maus, Geneva Jacuzzi & Puro Instinct

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Last night at Brooklyn’s Glasslands, John Maus, Geneva Jacuzzi (pictured top), and Puro Instinct played to a rollicking house that sold out weeks before. Inside the club, people vied to glimpse Geneva Jacuzzi, the Los Angeles-based musician who was performing for the first time in New York. She’d foregone her female glam powerhouse act for a more understated mime number featuring the archetypal black outfit, white gloves, and white face paint. While her Madonna-like antics were toned down, Jacuzzi still had remarkable stage presence, her tiny frame nearly consumed by the audience after she leaped from the stage.

“She’s definitely got some dope moves for sure,” said one attendee outside. Replied another, “I don’t know if it’s quite captured what she had going on for years.” Either way, the crowd — which included Todd Brooks of PenduNYC, Light Asylum’s Shannon Funchess, and videographer Zev David Deans — seemed amply pleased by Jacuzzi’s act. Less so by Puro Instinct, who performed to mild confusion: Puro Instinct’s Headbangers in Ecstasy was named one of the Top 20 Albums of 2011 So Far by Stereogum, but no one seemed to know who they were. One attendee commented that a member of the super-young group must be related to Ariel Pink — otherwise, how could they have gotten the gig?

In fact, each of the bands had a connection to Pink. Jacuzzi is a former girlfriend, John Maus has recorded with him, and Pink was featured in Puro Instinct’s video for their song “Stilyagi.” The crowd went wild for John Maus, the night’s last performer, whose act consisted of screaming at a near inaudible pitch, hitting his head with a microphone, running around, and screaming more. I was left lamenting the departure of Jacuzzi.

image John Maus

image Puro Instinct

5 Promoters Who Are Reinventing New York Nightlife

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Promoters are a dime a dozen in this city. But then there are people who look at events the way a painter takes to a blank canvas. For them, an event is a means of expression of a musical, theatrical, and crowd-building kind, one where all the elements including performance, space, and guests, require a curator’s touch. Such is the case with the following individuals. We’re reluctant to call them show promoters, because they’re people who produce unique events that are extensions of their lifestyles. Some produce regular events that demonstrate their interest in fashion, music, or visual art, while others spend the better part of six months researching abandoned warehouses and galleries for the perfect space to house a great new musical act. The one thing they all have in common is that they’re worth checking out.

image Susanne Bartsch For anyone who was around during the club-kid heyday of the ‘90s, Susanne Bartsch’s all-night soirees take you back to that most decadent of decades. Bartsch made her debut on the New York scene with an avant-garde clothing store in Soho in the early eighties, and became a promoter of parties for the city’s most fashion-forward set. At her parties, you were, and are, best off wearing a vintage corset, face paint, a headpiece, a cat suit, anything by ThierryMugler, Alexander McQueen, or Vivienne Westwood, or barely anything at all. At her wedding to gym owner David Barton, at which RuPaul was the best man, Bartsch wore a flesh-colored leather bodysuit with built-in breasts. Bartsch began throwing her exclusive parties in the ‘80s at infamous clubs like Bentley’s, Savage, and Copacabana. And getting an invite wasn’t necessarily easy. If you dressed creatively enough at a club, you might be selected and personally invited to Bartsch’s next event by a member of her ground troops. And while Bartsch disappeared for a while during the nineties, as nightlife had its crack-up and RuPaul went on to become a spokesperson for M.A.C., Bartsch is back at the pinnacle of the circus-set. Watch this video of her New Year’s Eve Party in Miami Beach to get an idea. Since her come-back, the Swiss-born Bartsch has been steadily re-energizing nightlife with events like her weekly parties Vandam at Greenhouse, with Kenny Kenny and Ladyfag, and Bloody Mary at the Hudson Hotel, as well as her one-off events. Now, Bartsch’s carnival of freaks continues at Le Bain, at the Standard Hotel on Tuesday nights with “On Top” making us forget she ever went missing.

image Ladyfag The Susanne Bartsch for the DIY art set, who like to frolic in darker, more lugubrious settings, Ladyfag was first spotted by legendary nightlife promoter Kenny Kenny, while crawling across the floor of a nightclub in a leopard-print catsuit.She was asked to come to a party thrown by Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny at Happy Valley, where she danced in the go-go cage and soon became a fixture on the nightlife scene. She is recognizable by her Freida Khalo eyebrows, her unshaved armpits, and her original outfits, which have inspired designers like Ricardo Tisci of Givenchy, and have supposedly been cribbed by Nicola Formichetti for Lady Gaga. Before moving to New York, Ladyfag ran a vintage store in Toronto. And though “Lady” has hosted events with Susanne Bartsch and has clearly taken cues from her, Bartsch is all about the surreal ball aesthetic, while Lady is totally DIY, booking raw, burgeoning talent, and garnering the attention of the fashion’s young, hip element. “The fashion world element is quite unique and never cheesy,” said one show promoter about Lady. “All of her promo is via Facebook and surprisingly effective.” If you’re looking for that anything goes environment, try Ladyfag’s popular Clubber Down Disco, in the basement of the Chelsea Hotel on Fridays, or her latest event installment, WAHWEE, on Saturdays at Drom.

image Seva Granik While some show promoters exhibit their event work on a weekly basis, there are others like Seva Granik who choose to nurture their eccentric vision over months, and exercise it only occasionally, with a show at a space you’ve probably never been to before. The purveyor of the secret DIY show, Granik, under the aegis of his company ABRACADABRA, which until recently he ran with Rebecca Smeyne, has played host to secret shows for Sleigh Bells on the eve of the release of their debut album, and one for Michigan-based band Salem in a Chinatown gallery that could barely fit forty people. (Liv Tyler and Terence Koh got in though.) Granik also booked shows for MoMA PS1’s Warm Up series last summer. For ABRACADABRA’s last event, Granik turned an empty space next to a parking lot on the Bowery into an “enchanted forest,” an event underwritten by Hendrick’s Gin that featured St. Vincent and Julianna Barwick. On June 17, Granik brought together some original talent from the art and music world’s for an event at Sugarhill Disco, a Bed-Stuy venue “frozen in another era.” The showcase performance was The Crystal Ark, DFA recording artist Gavin Russom’s 9-piece musical ensemble in collaboration with multimedia artist Viva Ruiz. And as with all ABRACADABRA shows,it featured designed lighting and visual effects, this time by artists Bec Stupac (Deitch Projects, Whitney Biennial) and Johnny Woods of Honeygun Labs, and custom sound by Jim Toth (the sound designer for MoMA).

image Todd Pendu One of New York’s hardest working DIY promoters is Todd Brooks, aka Todd Pendu, who spearheaded the dark music trend of 2010. Pendu is often looked to by other promoters for discovering the “next big thing.” He introduced the New York music scene to the relatively unknown band Salem in early 2010 via his weekly party Pendu Disco. He recently signed rising musician Chelsea Wolfe to his label, Pendu Sound, and has also recorded the debut album of former pornstar Sasha Grey. Artist Richard Phillips recently joined Pendu Sound’s brightest acts in a short film for the Venice BIenniale, starring Sasha Grey with a soundtrack by Chelsea Wolfe. He has presented an art exhibit by underground punk film legend Nick Zedd, has conducted a black mass at the Convent of St. Cecilia, and has been photographed by Andres Serrano and David Sims. On June 24, you can experience Pendu Disco, featuring Jokers of the Scene and Follower. But if you want to experience something a little more esoteric, check out Licker License on July 2, a touring one-night event with all-female video and performance artists, featuring video by the legendary Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, and performance by No Bra, an electronic pop band based in England who join industrial grooves with macabre Germanic folk.

image Photo by Piotr Redlinski for the New York Times

Kenny Scharf Psychedelic painter Kenny Scharf threw his first dance party in 1981, in the closet of an apartment he lived in with Keith Haring. He took a black light to some trash he found there and created an environment he named the Cosmic Closet. He then threw the party at PS1, and changed its name to the Cosmic Cavern. Later, it moved to the Whitney Museum. At that time, Scharf was known for walking along Broadway with a silver-painted vacuum cleaner. Though Scharf took a break from New York for about twenty years, moving between Miami and Los Angeles, his Cosmic Cavern returned to New York in 2009, combining the DIY vibe of his closet party with the grandness of a museum installation. The Cosmic Cavern A Go-Go is housed in the basement of a Bushwick warehouse where he lives and works. Later this month, step into the Scharf dimension, a magical grotto of junk painted in day-glo, suspended from the ceiling, and affixed to walls through which the oddballs of the world can saunter. Scharf awaits you at the door, ready to paint your face and grant you entry to his dreamscape. Dress for blacklight.

Photograph of Seva Granik by Matthew Salacuse

An Unconventional Reading of Blake Butler’s ‘There Is No Year’

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“Decision,” yelled Justin Taylor, from where he was standing at the bar in Brooklyn’s Franklin Park. People were startled, turning to see who was reading, and where. “That night on their mattress, lying spines entwined and sleeping…” Taylor was one of many readers lined up by Harper Perennial to read from Blake Butler’s new novel, There is No Year, out April 5. But rather than read at the podium, he read from an area in the bar with banquettes and tables covered with drinks and baskets of thin fries.

The reading, held two nights ago and the first in a four-night marathon that visits a new venue each night, was a mix of readers and styles that, taken together, was as unexpected and unconventional as the book around which the event was organized. And while the reading lasted an hour, the frequent changes in readers, the variety of personalities reading, and the writing itself—other-worldly and humorous—kept the audience alert and curious.

“It’s very rare, so rare, to come across a piece of writing that’s as fresh and challenging and unlike anything else that you’ve ever read, as Blake’s writing was for me,” said Cal Morgan, Editorial Director at Harper Perennial. Blake Butler is a new phenomenon of literature in the age of the Internet. In 2008, he started HTMLGiant with Gene Morgan, a blog that serves as a high-brow-meets-low-brow club for sharp literary musings and news, and a hub of dialogue amongst writers in the online community. The site recently had a record number of unique visitors, some 40,000 within a couple of hours, and has garnered attention from more traditional publishing houses like Harper Collins, who are angling to maintain purchase in a quickly shifting publishing world. Today, writers are looking to online communities to publish and discuss their work, communities which also fostered the development of the small presses who are taking risks on unconventional writing, like that of Blake Butler.

Cal Morgan runs his own site for Harper Perennial called Fifty-Two Stories, that publishes anything from a short, unforgettable paragraph to a 35-page traditional story. And while the site mimics online literary publications by small independent presses like Everyday Genius (by Publishing Genius Press) and The Collagist (by Dzanc), it’s a gateway to success in the more traditional sense. It was through Fifty-Two Stories that Blake Butler submitted the work that was the beginning of There is No Year. Big publishers might be angling to get in on smaller, homegrown communities – impossible to foment through marketing campaigns and viral videos. “There is a sense of community, and a sense of opportunity to be heard, that’s fomenting far more great writing than there was, say twenty years ago, when I got into publishing. It’s just flat-out true.”

“We have been really interested in this generation of writers for a couple of years,” said Cal Morgan. “And the truth is, it’s less risky for us than it is for the small presses. We adore [small presses] because they’re the ones taking the risk.”

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Thurston Moore Played a Surprise Show at Academy Records

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Who wants to see a candid picture of a rockstar? Regular BlackBook contributor Rozalia Jovanovic snapped this picture of a performance by Kurt Vile at Academy Records in Manhattan, which Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore was kind enough to join. Rozalia wrote, “This is the only performance of Vile’s three free shows today at which Thurston Moore performed.”

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Latin American Art at the New York Armory Show

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The 13th-annual New York Armory Show opens today. Descending the stairs that connect the two piers housing the art spectacle, one of the first things you’ll find under the pitched roof of Pier 94 is “Armory Focus: Latin America,” a section featuring nearly 20 galleries from Latin America, many from Brazil and Mexico. Exploring the booths, you’ll see a black, white, and red kinetic sculpture by Abraham Palatnik, like a delicate cousin to a work of Alexander Calder; you’ll see the image of a bronze Buddha on a mountaintop that will soon rival the Christ sculpture in Rio de Janeiro; and you’ll learn about what can happen when a human ingests cerulean blue paint. And while these booths at one of the foremost art fairs in the world represent a bid by Latin American artists for an international audience, when you see a live ballerina pirouetting in endless rotation, you’ll see that international audiences are also bidding for these artists.

“I wouldn’t say there is a very big distinction between Latin American artists and other artists,” said Alexandre Roesler, the Director of Nara Roesler gallery. We looked at black and white photographs taped against the wall of a naked man buried up to his waist in a sand dune and surrounded by what looked like a bird’s nest. “Antonio Manuel and Antonio Diaz, they’re very important Brazilian artists but have also these political works. This characterizes a lot of Latin American art, this political way. This was during the dictatorial period in Brazil and he was doing those performances naked in a museum. That was like breaking lots of rules. At the time this was not allowed.”

Mr. Roesler showed me a sculpture that had little metal plates affixed to fine wire arms which moved with the grace of a clock. It was by Abraham Palatnik, a conceptual artist prominent in the 60s. “Palatnik is one of the precursors of kinetic art in the world,” said Roesler. “He was using light and movement. MoMA has one of his pieces in their collection. Not only kinetic sculptures but also his paintings have this kinetic idea of movement.” I walked over to what looked like a fishing pole that had a gold thimble dangling from its end. I looked inside and saw a picture of a bronze Buddha on a mountain. “Marcos Chaves,” he said.“In Rio de Janeiro, one of the most recognizable figures is that Christ. So he plans to do a big Buddha over ‘Gavea’ rock. Another big rock that is in Rio. It’s not close, but in the landscape it’s very close.”

At Casa Triangulo, a premier gallery in Brazil that opened in 1988, Rodrigo Editore showed me an installation that involved the projection of light onto a sculpture made of crystal animals, which cast a scene of shadows and snow flakes of light around the booth.“For the MoMA, we brought what we have best like starting here with an installation by Albano Alfonso, work shown at the 29th Sao Paolo Biennial…. I don’t think you can look at it straight away and say it’s Latin American.” He claimed there was something “vibrant” about Latin American art, but could not specify what that entailed. He brought me to a painting that was a collage of bright floral-patterned fabrics blended with a background of tiles and stained glass.“She’s very successful,” he said of the young artist Mariana Palma. “Almost 30 people on the waiting list to buy her work. This I would say is more vibrant.” He showed me the work of Sandra Cinto, whose pen and acrylic drawings are also represented by Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York (which also represents Olafur Eliasson).

“He’s been working with the element of risk,” said Patricia Bessudo of Caja Blanca about the artist Gustavo Artigas. I looked at a small rectangular colored tablet painted blue. On it was written in white “Cerulean Blue: Skin contact causes specific skin allergies and irritation. Chronic ingestion may cause vomiting.”“This is part of his color risk sample book,” said Bessudo gesturing at the cluster of brightly colored canvases bearing these warnings, “and it’s the 25 most popular pigments used by artists.”

image Palatnik’s sculpture image Jen Denike’s “Another Circle” (courtesy Mendes Wood)

“We have a polar axis of Mexicans,” said Graham Steel of London’s White Cube referring to the Diego Orozco painting behind us and the Damian Ortega sculpture at the other end of the gallery of a bicycle loaded with a tall column of personal possessions, like an armoire, a large kitchen appliance, bedding, and some chairs, all strapped down with string. White Cube, which holds the plum location on the floor of the Armory Show, is one of the world’s most prestigious galleries, and is known for housing a large collection of Young British Artists, among them Jake and Dinos Chapman, Gary Hume, Damien Hirst, and Tracy Emin. Even they were pulling out their Latin American art. “We wanted to do something a little different this year. You know White Cube has a very prominent position as the YBA gallery, as much as the focus is on amazing international programs, so often it sort of ‘oh the Damien, the Tracy, the Marc Quinns’ so we wanted to show very different works, really highlight fantastic pieces because we have them, because we have these phenomenal artists….To help people see the depth of our program.” When asked if the Gabriel Orozco and Damián Ortega were brought out in response to the Armory Show’s expressed Latin American focus, Steele said he had forgotten about this year’s theme. It was more about upping the international dialogue generally as opposed to anything specific to one region. “It was much more about a personal looking in and wanting to show Sergej Jensen who is Danish, Beirut born Mona Hatoum. There were still works by Antony Gormley, Darren Almond, Tracy Emin but you know Christian Marclay just had a fantastic show in New York so it’s those kinds of dialogues we were really interested in promoting.”

At Mendez/Wood, American artist Jen Denike prepared for the arrival of a ballerina who would perform her work. “We just fell in together and had a dialogue,” Denike said about her Sao Paolo gallerists. “This piece came out of a performance ballet at MoMA last year that was a 13-minute balletballet with 3 acts, and I hired a choreographer, a pretty well known very young woman who danced with City Ballet…. The beginning of that ballet and the end has a ballerina pirouetting. One of my goals was to take this formal vocabulary and slow it down and distill it. And this was the piece that came out of that. And she’s just pirouetting endlessly. The top piece,” Denike said looking at two monitors which displayed a dancing ballerina,“is a 16mm straight shot, unedited of one of the ballerinas who performed at MoMA, and a video version of it…. The idea of the piece is the ballerina is the iconic ballerina, and the performance aspect can be reenacted any time.”

Denike, who shows with Smith Stewart in New York and The Company in L.A.,was brought to Mendes/Woods by an artist who had curated a group show she was in.“We just fell in together and had a dialogue.”She travels to Sao Paolo in Aprilto do a solo show based on a work by Gordon Matta Clark that involves teenagers tying strings to gravestones to create communication between the dead. About conventions of Latin American art Denikesays “I have no idea….I do know that what [Mendes/Woods] are doing is really exciting.”

Pictured top: Ortega’s sculpture at White Cube.

Cruising with the Bruisers: Nine Bands & 400 Hipsters Head for Open Water

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A girl called Mary was smiling on a chaise long. She had bruises all up and down her legs. She had gotten them during the Black Lips Concert at the Miami pre-party for the Bruise Cruise, the first-ever indie rock cruise, when she was pushed repeatedly against the stage. Dave, the bassist for the band Turbo Fruits, who was seated next to her, smiled, unbuttoned his shirt, pulled down the shoulder, and exposed a tender greenish/blue plum-sized spot. Another member of Turbo Fruits, he said, was inadvertently punched at the concert and woke up with a shiner. The frontman for Surfer Blood landed badly and bit through his lip after crowd-surfing at the Vivian Girls concert. Perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but these stories were as ubiquitous on the Bruise Cruise as sleeve tattoos, cigarettes, and Ray Bans.

With 400 indie rock fans and 9 bands all sharing the same mirrored and carpeted quarters for three days [February 25-28], it’s no surprise that by the end, the chosen mediums of expression became broken glass, homemade tattoos, and hyperchlorinated water. The event, which was organized by Michelle Cable and Jonas Stein (whose father runs the Motley Cruise) was surprisingly intimate. Here’s a first-hand account of some of the goings on of the inaugural Bruise Cruise.

5:00 – 5:30pm – XANADU: Ty Segall I couldn’t see Ty Segall’s face when he was performing at the Xanadu because his hair was long that it fell around his face when his head hung down. He let a young man come on stage and sing one song. The man said the song he wrote was for his girlfriend. He sang about being in love. The guy got off stage and Ty Segall came back and said, “The next song is called ‘fiancé.'”

Having a drink by the bar when a man walked up. He had this black hair that was longer on one side than on the other. He was with a blonde woman. I asked where they were from. He said he was from Atlanta. He had a grill on his bottom set of teeth that glimmered when he opened his mouth. I asked who he was here to see. He said his name was Cole and he was in the band The Black Lips and pointed to a glass-enclosed conference room where interviews were taking place.

5:50 – 6:30 XANADU: Thee Oh Sees Lead singer John Dwyer almost put the microphone in his mouth several times. The night before, I had seen him put the guitar in his mouth and hold it up with his mouth alone. But it must not have looked that great from the front since he kept his back to the audience. At the Xanadu, he held the guitar high up on his chest and pulled his shoulders in. Petey Dammit, the drummer, had a solo. The boat listed. “This boat is weird. No?” John Dwyer said to the crowd. “How many Gilligans? How many Gingers?”

“We’re in your picture,” said a man with blond curly hair and a hat as I walked by. He lifted his hand and gave me a high five. A couple of the men with him had film cameras. I asked if he was shooting a documentary. “A high five documentary.” Something about high-fiving attractive women. He was not shooting a documentary. But the men next to him were shooting a video for Vice. image

10:30 – 11:30pm – CONFERENCE ROOM: Ian Svenonius Lecture Ian Svenonius of the group Chain and the Gang and formerly of eighties punk band Nation of Ulysses was our Cruise Director and the cruise ship’s elder statesman of rock. He would be giving a lecture. The conference room was mobbed. Svenonius was in a blue sharkskin suit standing in front of a screen that had a projection of a star-filled sky. He has a full head of jet black hair. He said he wouldn’t be giving a lecture that night, but would present a couple of slide shows and have people act them out with a script he had written. Svenonius has also written a collection of essays called “The Psychic Soviet” and has expressed thoughts on the death of “America’s so-called freedom.” He presented as a subject the need to revive the “carcass” of rock n roll. Jenna Thornhil-DeWitt, the saxophonist from the Strange Boys played the part of “Alien A” aboard the spacecraft Ariana, on which aliens compared and contrasted the styles of imperialist cultures on planet earth. “Why are the English the best at oppressing people?” One said. “Because they use a combination of etiquette and violence.” In another film, a group of music enthusiasts play records by Queen and Led Zeppelin backward to hear embedded secret messages. But it was a record of the Choir Masters of the USSR that contained as its message a long tirade on advanced capitalism and imperialism.

Later that night, the hot-tub was so crowded with “Bruisers” there was no room to get in. A woman submerged herself in the center and took a picture of the ring of people around her. At midnight we were kicked out and went to the Lido deck to continue drinking and then back to XANADU for 1:30am performance by Quintron and Miss Pussycat.

SATURDAY MORNING 2/26, LIDO DECK: “This is my first cruise,” said John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees. He was sitting on a tiled ledge of the pool. “I think this may be the last.” He resembled Crispin Glover. “After I saw the little old lady cleaning up vomit off the fake marble floors, that was it. [Laughs]. She just walks around with a bag of sawdust.”

“Maybe if they had a better system,” said a friend of his standing nearby with shaggy hair.

“Like if the stairs just flipped over and there was a new set underneath. Like shmmmp,” he said and made a flipping motion with his hands. The cruise ship had just arrived on the island of Nassau and he and his friends were getting off the boat to go to the beach.

Alec, a surfer from Florida, had on a white bathrobe and was drinking a tropical drink from a coconut shell. On his chest was a gold sticker that had been taken off an ATM machine and red lipstick marks on his torso.“Give me a happy trail,” Alec said to a tall brunette in a gauzy shirt with an American flag print who came over. She was smiling. She shook her head and laughed. Then she bent her head down and kissed his chest. She got on her knees and kissed his stomach below his belly button. She got up. “America,” Alec said loudly, stuck his chest out and pointed to the fresh lip marks. “America.”

In the cafeteria, I talked to a Dutch woman living in the Cayman islands who came on the cruise for culture. She had heard about it from friends. There were no good concerts on the Cayman islands, where she had been living for four years, and she wanted to see some bands. On Nassau that day, her friends were going swimming with sharks. image

3 – 6:00pm – BEACH ON NASSAU: The Black Lips We took two white vans from the hotel to a beach. Vice were shooting a video for songs from their upcoming album, which they’re producing with the help of Mark Ronson. We got off at a rocky beach. They jumped down. It was decided it was too rocky. We drove past the more distant but renowned Cable Beach on Goodman Bay and drove another five minutes. At the beach Suroosh Alvi of VICE said he had just flown in to Nassau that morning, and got on the boat there. “Every time they have a new album out, we do something. We’ve done Black Lips Syria, Black Lips Chennai, Black Lips Berlin.” He talked about the VICE Guide to Everything. The next one, he said would be in the former Yugoslavia. They were thinking maybe “Muslim Nazis in Bosnia.”

Cole took off his clothes and had on a nineteen-twenties bathing suit that his mom had bought him on eBay. He caught up with the others who were standing with their ankles in the water. The filmmaker put a shirt over his head and walked backwards filming them as they walked and sang. Andy Capper, filmmaker and VICE World Editor, jogged next to them holding up small iPod speakers playing one of their new songs as they sang it and gestured with their hands. Their shadows were five times as long as they were. “Now, in the water, in the water. Swim, swim, swim,” said the filmmaker. They all dived in. Later, they stood waist deep in water. At the filmmaker’s cue they jumped up and splashed water in the air.

The van-driver bought beers. The Black Lips opened them and sprayed them all over. Suroosh threw a beer to Ian. Ian smiled and looked up at the beer as it flew toward him. He caught the beer. They looked at the shot. Suroosh threw another beer. Ian looked at the shot and nodded. Ian took a beer and shook it rhythmically in his right hand. “It looks like you’re jacking off,” said Suroosh. “Yeah,” said Ian. “I know.” The cameraman kneeled in front of him his head in a white shirt. He drank the beer and spit it up in the air. Cole got a beer and both he and Ian shook their beers vigorously in their right hands smiling into the camera. “Don’t show the beer label,” said Suroosh. “What kind of beer is it?” someone said. “It’s Bahamian.”

On the car ride back, Ian said they would be going on the David Letterman show soon but said he heard Letterman was cold. He reminisced about performing on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and was touched when Conan O’Brien said to them, “Thank you. Thank you for still playing rock n roll.”

9:10pm – Doors Open at SENOR FROGS: Island Concert on Nassau Senor Frogs on the island of Nassau smelled like it must have had years of fermented beer and vomit worked into the floorboards, continually rehabilitated by the sea air that wafts in from the dock. People carried very tall margaritas and a man made balloon hats.During the Strange Boys set, a man not in the band jumped on stage and jammed with a balloon guitar.Vivian Girls, who are touring with the Black Lips performed as did Turbo Fruits. While Black Lips are known for their live antics –Cole once peed into his own mouth and spit it onto the crowd, they performed a Senor Frogs with little drama. IanSt. Pé’s grill flashed from his lower teeth on the stage. “I used to have it on the top and the bottom,” he said later of the grill. “But I got rid of it. I looked like Jaws [from Moonraker].”

“Me and Jay Reatard, we were friends,” said IanSt. Pé.“I lived in Memphis and he lived in Memphis. We used to work at a bar, but we sold cigarettes and took ‘To Go” orders. In 2003 and 2004. I was playing music, he was too, but we had “real” jobs. October 2, 2004 was the last time I’ve ever worked in my life…. The last time Jay Reatard and I…washed dishes. [The Black Lips] opened for one of my favorite bands of all time, The Seeds. We opened up for them and I said “Fuck school. (Laughs). Fuck the job. I’m going to do this. Because if you don’t give it 110%, someone else will. And you know who that is? Me. I will do it.”

“I don’t even know what a soul clap is,” said Alec, about the Soul Clap Dance Off, a dance contest he was selected to help judge that night at Senor Frogs. “But I’m going to judge the f**king hell out of it.”

I walked outside where two men were waiting on a drug purchase. One had given $100 to a stranger to bring back cocaine. I said he probably had to go “over the hill,” which is what I had been told at dinner.As we waited, a white car turned the corner, revved its engine and partly spun out and crashed into a parked van nearly hitting a man who was walking in the street. Someone said the police were coming. But no one showed up.

We were eating grilled cheese sandwiches back in a cabin on the cruise ship –free room service was one of the boons of the cruise—when someone knocked on the door. “The Black Lips are in the Jacuzzi,” she said. The room emptied out. image

SUNDAYMORNING 2/27/11: Lido Deck John Dwyer had on a grey tanktop and had tattoos al up and down his upper arms. Hummingbirds. In a hawaian motif, with large platnt fronds and red ray bans and cutoff corduroys and black keds. He tilted his head to the right and looked to the right and sipped his coffee. A small box of raisin bran was open on the table. He had toast and butter on his plate. He put one arm over the the back rest of his chair and then sneezed three times into a napkin and rested his hand around his neck. He sipped his coffee. He scratched his head and ran his fingers through his hair. He tilted his head to the left and watched people walk onto the deck. A guy came over in grey cutoff jean shorts and blue Ray Bans.

A woman in a one-piece Budweiser bathing suit and her hair half-done in corn-rows walked in. She tapped him lightly on the shoulder and smiled. He nodded and waved. He looked to his left in the direction she went. From the middle platform played a steel-drum version of Lionel Richie’s “Hello” next to a large chess set with pawns the size of small children. When he played Fools Rush In John Dwyer shot up his hand got up briskly and walked up to a waiter. When he sat down an older woman had pulled up a chair and was sitting next to him. He talked to her. Then he tilted his body toward the right and talked to his friend with short shaggy hair. They both looked in the distance across the pool. They turned and smiled at each other. A woman in a cowboy hat put lipstick on. A young girl in black two-piece hauled herslf out of the watler on the silver ladder. A young woman in a green bikini walked by from right to left. He watched her as she walked from right to left. She walked around the pool. A woman iwht her hair blow-dryed forward in large smokey-lensed glasses had on a fifties-ish one-piece with polka-dots. She listened to her iPod with her legs crossed and nodded her head rhythmically. Sweet Caroline came on. “Sweeeet Ca-ro-line,” John Dwyer sang to his friend. He tapped his fingers on the table “dun, dun, dun.”

Many people expressed a sense of intimacy about the bruise cruise. Petey Dammit, the drummer from Thee Oh Sees said “We’re playing a show with Quintron in New Orleans. We’re playing with some other people that are on the cruise like in SXSW. We know a lot of people on the cruise from all over the country. People that come to our shows. From other bands. Our European booker is on the cruise. There are some people from Australia. A girl from Australia who we stayed with her parents in Newcastle Australia. She actually lives in London but we stayed with her parents palatial mansion literally six weeks ago. Quite a hodge-podge of people we know from all over the world from doing shows.”

11:30 – 12:30pm – SHANGRI-LA: Puppets and Pancakes One of the most anticipated events of the Bruise Cruise was Miss Pussycat’s puppet show. Miss Pussycat had on a multicolored dress and an orange pom-pom on her head. We all crowded in to the room Sunday afternoon for her show The Legend of the Sea Monster all done with hand-made puppets. She then screened a couple of her films, one which was an ode to New Orleanscalled the Electric Swamp, which featured kitschy termites, tinsel and soul music.

8:15pm – Pride Dining Room: Fine Dining On line for the restaurant, Christa Lopez and Ryan Morjon, college students from Florida International University who run the college radio station had DJ’d at the pre-party in Miami. They had been excited to see the Jacuzzi boys. “This is the first time we can see them on a platform with bands that are really well-received,” said Christa. “We saw them at the pre-party. But then Ryan started puking in cups. There’s a lot of things that we’ve seen this weekend that we can’t repeat.” Ryan was holding an empty plastic cup, a “potential puke cup.”

MONDAY MORNING – Mirage Piano Bar: VIP Piano Performance by Joe Bradley of the Black Lips “Another Glenfidditch neat, single,” said Joe Bradley to the waiter. He was in a tuxedo.“And a Pilsner Urquel. If there’s no Pilsner Urquel, just bring me a Budweiser.” He sat at the piano and looked very seriously at the keys and played jazz songs from the ‘30s. The piano was black and mirrored. A merengue tufts of smoke floated through the air.

When the bar had emptied out, and people headed to the Illuminations Club, a man climbed on the piano breaking glasses and kicking glasses off the bar as he went up. He looked over at Joe Bradley who was still playing. Then he edged back and rolled over onto his side and took off his shirt his torso bearing a large tattoo.

Emily showed me a bruise she got on her thigh sliding down the gargantuan yellow waterslide. She wanted to do it after she saw her friend Dave the diplomat do it in a full dress suit. Even he seemed to have hit his head a little coming down, said a graphic designer who saw it. This was a going away trip for Dave whowas leaving soon for Madagascar. A young man from Montreal sat down. “Take a picture of me with two smokes,” he said and put two lit cigarettes in his mouth and tilted his head back. He and his friend were from Canada. His friend had left school, quit his job and ditched his lease to come to the Bruise Cruise. Earlier, he had been giving people home-made tattoos in his room on Level U. One girl slipped off her blue suede bootie. On her ankle was a simple outline of a little blue anchor.

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Prince Rama Creates a Cult at Issue Project Room

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Members of pseudo Utopian cult THE NOW AGE were in child’s pose, spread around Brooklyn’s ISSUE Project Room‘s floor. In glittering gold belts and headbands, founders of THE NOW AGE Taraka and Nimai Larson, also of the musical group Prince Rama, walked among the cultists ringing bells and misting the air with fragrant water. They looked like aerobics wood sprites in leotards and leg warmers. Chants rung through the air. Swaths of Mylar hung from the walls; plants hung from beams. Two altars displayed sparkly skulls, tinsel, and beads surrounding a monitor on which images of Taraka and Nimai were broadcast. “Now open your eyes,” Taraka said, cutting through the soporific vibe. “Close ‘em. Open. Close. Open. Close. Head to the right,” she said, as the image of her face doubled and separated from itself like a ghostly kaleidesopic apparition leaving her body.

It was 6:20pm on a February evening, and this was the third “exorcise” Prince Rama had done thus far. The group was doing 15-minute sessions every hour on the hour from 4:00pm to midnight. After midnight, the cult would disperse until the next session.

Taraka and Nimai Larson were staging UTOPIA = NO PERSON, the first part of a three-part series they’re presenting at ISSUE Project Room as part of their Artist in Residence appointment. Prince Rama, the pscych band known for creating ritualistic immersive environments at their shows with tribal drums, bells, and Sanskrit chants, used the opportunity to take ritual one step further. They’ve created a pseudo-apocalyptic cult called The Now Age, and with three shows at ISSUE, they will be taking the cult to the end of the world – using the medium of American exercise.

“There’s this weird utopian concept of coming into this gym on a regular basis and going into this usual, ritual space with these other strangers,” said Taraka after the performance.“You’re all forming this bond together. Forming this pact to get this new body. Or get out your anger.” Taraka is interested in how the concept of “eliminating person” can be achieved through music. According to Prince Rama’s proposal, UTOPIA=NO PERSON focuses on the body “as a vehicle for utopian experimentation, encouraging willing participants to undergo a confrontation with personal demons and shedding of individual identity through the physical exhaustion of the body.” Taraka said she was inspired by films on voodoo, particularly those of Maya Deren, and how those mystical elements “sift their way through kitsch and banal activities…. Again, I’m not usually that into exercising. I recently got interested in just the music aspect, and was listening to the background music in a lot of videos. It’s really hypnotic…. but there’s this beat and the whole point of it is to sync your bodies up,” she said remembering the moment she first thought in a deeper way about workout tunes, “exercise music is really weird.”

“Exhaling and clapping hands over head…five, six, seven, eight…we’re all going to make it hotter,” said Taraka half-way through the first performance. People jogged in place, put their arms over their heads, clapped their hands and danced ecstatically. The music was stygian and the room was awash in orange light. “We’re all going to become the flame. Hah! Hah!” It sounded like Taraka and Nimai were in a fire. “Arms up over your head. You are the flame…. Good. Withstand the fire. Five, six, seven, eight…. You’re losing your body…. Burn. Burn. Burn.” image

Through the creation of THE NOW AGE, whose name is a conflation of “new age” and “the now generation,” the band explores music as ritual and the connection between music and utopia. And while the band (their last album was put out by Paw Tracks, the label of Avey Tare of Animal Collective), originally included a third member, keyboardist Michael Collins, Collins moved down to Florida. The Larson sisters are heading for utopia on their own.

“Prince Rama performed at ISSUE in early 2010 and we were very impressed with their music and their creative vision,” said Zach Layton, Chief Curator at ISSUE Project Room about selecting Prince Rama for the Artist in Residence program. The program, which is offered in three-month stints, with some flexibility, provides recipients with access to ISSUE’s facilities, its space, equipment and staff, and spiritual and financial nurturing.“After discussion with members of the staff and other curators,” Layton said,“they were invited to send us a proposal which described their vision for the residency and we were extremely impressed with their creativity, the openness of their imagination, the participatory nature of their events and their ideas about new ways to activate the space….I actually took a yoga class with them this last spring where they played live and loved the experience.”

For Prince Rama’s second installment at ISSUE this June, they’ll present UTOPIA = NO PLACE, a 24-hour jam session inspired by 70s Kraut rockers Amon Duul and the power structures of their communal living. Taraka was curious about how the #1 hits relate to their idea of the apocalypse. “With Heaven’s Gate cult,” said Taraka referring to the cult, which in 1997 had 39 suicides, “the #1 song was Hanson’s mmmbop.” Prince Rama will present Karaoke as another “possession ritual.” “I have a version of mmm-bop that’s 24-minutes,” Taraka said. “Chopped and screwed.”

The third installment, UTOPIA = NO TIME, will take place on November 11, 2011, the date that some people are predicting will be, based on interpretations of ancient Mayan texts, the end of the world. “11/11/11 is a date we chose because there is already some hype about it being a sort of ‘end time’ of sorts. So we decided to go with it.” Larson believes in the Apocalypse – “I believe in the Apocalypse as much as she believes in Utopia. You cannot have one without the other.” But her interpretation is a little more positive than those predicting some cinematic natural cataclysms.“In the most literal interpretation of the word… Apocalypse is a Greek word meaning “lifting the veil” or “revelation.” So in this sense, because I believe utopia is a “no-place” embedded in the folds of physical space, I believe the apocalypse is that which has the power to lift these folds, or ‘lift these veils’ to reveal the ‘no-place-ness’ or ‘nothingness’ of the world we are in. This is not a negative thing. Apocalypse gets a bad rep by many as some doom and gloom ‘end time.’ But I see this abolition of time to be a good thing as well…and a cyclical thing. Where there is ‘no-time’ and ‘no-place,’ a new metaphysical meta-chronological space makes itself felt, and this is the closest I can come to comprehending what a mystical experience must be like.”

The Sketchbook Project: A Roving Art Book Exhibition

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“You probably do sketchbooks and you stick ‘em in your closet and you never look at them again,” said Steven Peterman about The Sketchbook Project, an exhibit that opened Saturday in Williamsburg, and which showcases tens of thousands of art notebooks sent in by participants all over the world. “Why can’t we be your closet?” The idea behind the Sketchbook Project is simple. Sign up online, pick a theme, and a notebook is sent to you within 48 hours. Fill its pages with drawings, designs, doodles, watercolors, or anything you want, as long as it doesn’t change the size and shape of the original notebook when closed and as long as you send it in by the deadline.

Peterman, a co-founder of the Sketchbook Project, was speaking from the Art House Coop offices, a spacious loft in South Williamsburg where he works with his partner, Shane Zucker. Art House Coop runs several global arts initiatives, and The Sketchbook Project is its crown jewel. The notebooks have been packed and delivered to the Art Library in Williamsburg, where they make their first stop on the tour. After that, they move to galleries and bookshops in Washington, D.C., Austin, Chicago, and Seattle, among other cities.

The Sketchbook project started five years ago in Atlanta—the idea was an offshoot of Peterman and Zucker’s first collaboration, A Million Little Pictures (for that project, participants were sent cameras and then sent in the pictures they took). “The Sketchbook Project came pretty quickly after that,” said Peterman. Initially, the duo were capping submissions at 500, but they’ve since decided to forgo an upward limit; last year, they had 3700 participants. This year, even as they were feeling the weight of their popularity with a whopping 28,838 returned notebooks, the pair had already started making their system more workable. “It happens over 6 months, so we had time to figure it out as we went along, and we hired people pretty quickly. A lot of them are still here.”

“It was really like chaos,” Peterman said about the initial tours. “We really had no barcode system. We had nothing. We had their names on [the notebooks].” Peterman and the sketchbook team has sought to remedy the “chaos” in two ways. Last November, they opened the Art Library, a large tony storefront space on North 3rd Street in Williamsburg sandwiched between Mast Brothers Chocolate (an artisanal chocolate shop) and Modca, a new café by the owners of El Beit. Its purpose is to house the journals and have them on permanent display. Peterman and Zucker also began implementing a library system complete with bar codes to track individual books and their readers, who sign up for a library card to view the books. The artist can opt to get a text message or email every time someone reads their book.

Of the 47 themes to choose from this year, the most popular was “In 5 Minutes” (selected by 1172 people), “Coffee and Cigarettes” (1000 people), “Happy Thoughts” (734), and “Mystery Maps” (255). It’s not just working artists who are turning in books but a range of people, from practicing artists and 2-year-old artists-in-the-making, to stay-at-home moms who haven’t made artwork in twenty years.

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The Sketchbook Project grew from the desire to provide people with an alternative to exhibiting their artwork separate and apart from the “elitist world of galleries.” “It’s so intimidating to try and go to a gallery and show your work,” said Peterman. “We’re the complete opposite. No matter who you are or where you come from you can show with us.” The idea might not sit well with those who prefer to have filters between themselves and all the world’s artfully inclined, but with submissions “from 6 out of 7 continents” (most still come from New York), they’re tapping into a desire to share that’s pretty much everywhere. “We’ve had people from Cambodia, places that. While they might not get mail to their house, they signed up for the Sketchbook Project. It’s crazy.”

And while the publishing industry is struggling to find a workable system for digital publishing, people are still enthusiastic that the Art House Coop is supporting paper-borne creative expressions. “I think there are still tons of people out there who want to draw on paper and not into illustrator,” said Peterman, who went to school for printmaking. Zucker brings the digital interests to the fore: “Shane, the graphic designer and web developer is obsessed with new technology. And I’m the print maker who went to school for using old presses…. I’m always concerned with making the physical side better and he’s always worried about how we can make the technological side better.” But if people want their sketchbooks digitized, they’ll do it, for an extra fee. “We bought a real book digitizing machine. It’s the real deal. It’s what libraries will buy to digitize their books.”

“We never try to promise anything that is not going to happen,” said Peterman addressing a common misperception that they’re promising something like fame to those who apply. The Sketchbook Project doesn’t promise anything but visibility and accessibility, a national tour, and a permanent home at the Art Library “You’re not going to become a famous artist from doing this. But people will see your book. It’s a great place to send someone who’s like ‘I want to see your artwork.’ Go to the Brooklyn Art Library. We can pull out every book that this person has.”

Their next goal? For one, making their notebooks in-house rather than buying Moleskines. And being that so many of its participants live abroad, going international, of course. “There are just so many logistics we have to figure out before we can do it,” said Peterman. “It’s so expensive for us to go places in the US. I can’t imagine what it would cost us to go international. It will happen. If not this year. It will happen in 2013.” image Cryatif Ferrol of Montreal, QC, Canada (written by Tiffany Moore and Illustrated by Carl Roloff)

First Image: Natalie from Markham, Ontario, Canada