BlackBook Tracks #29: Sucks to be Anyone in Music Who’s Not Justin Timberlake or Destiny’s Child

I know you’ve probably been in a Justin Timberlake and Destiny’s Child K-hole for the past day, but if you feel like crawling out, here are some other songs for you to listen to.

We Were Evergreen – “Leeway”

There are plenty of things that can go wrong in life, but We Were Evergreen get twee-pop right. Alongside launching a Kickstarter for their debut album, the London-via-Paris trio has released charming new single “Leeway.”

Drop The Lime – “No Sleep For The Wicked”

The retro/electro wizard’s new video boasts more zombie cheerleaders than an episode of Misfits. His penchant for horror and killer beats serves as a reminder that there are all kinds of things that go bump in the night.

Anna Calvi – “The Devil”

If that last track wasn’t evil enough, remember that Anna Calvi must have made a deal with “the Devil” to become such a skilled guitarist.

Housse de Racket – “Aquarium”

Clocking in at close to seven minutes, Housse de Racket’s latest single is a slow burner that’s worth every second. Those who have seen the Parisian electro-rock duo live know this as the striking closer to their show.

Sharon Van Etten – “People Ain’t No Good”

I’m jealous of people in Australia, because it’s summer there. Also, Brooklyn singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten is on a sojourn down under, where she made a stop at Triple J radio to cover future tourmate Nick Cave.

Caitlin Rose – “I Was Cruel”

Singer-songwriter Caitlin Rose tells a familiar story of love gone sour on this cut from her forthcoming album The Stand-In. Her voice manages to be both vulnerable and matter-of-fact, and there’s the hint of steel guitar that you might expect from a Nashville artist.

Palma Violets – “Step Up For The Cool Cats”

London rockers Palma Violets are on track to be 2013’s It Brits, and this 60s-inflected track hints at what’s to come when they release their debut album in February.

Gold Fields – “Dark Again” (Diamond Rings remix)

Australian up-and-comers Gold Fields are plenty charismatic on their own, but Diamond Rings punches up the original to make it a little more dancefloor-friendly.

Carly Rae Jepsen – “Call Me Maybe” (Dan Deacon remix)

By “remix,” I mean that this is the a capella version layered 147 times. It’s strangely compelling, hearing “Hey, I just met you” repeated ad infinitum.

Crashing Deer Tick’s Newport Folk Festival Party

"I was sober." John McCauley is lying belly-up on top of a picnic table at Fort Adams National Park. The Deer Tick frontman, along with his rest of alt-country quartet, is visibly exhausted, and for good reason: in addition to the hour-long set they plowed through at the Newport Folk Festival earlier that afternoon, McCauley and crew are still recovering from the opening night of their weekend-long engagement at the Newport Blues Café that serves as the festival’s official after-party.

Given Deer Tick’s propensity for cracking Coronas with their teeth onstage and the fact that one of their most popular songs screams, “LET’S ALL GO TO THE BAR!” every other line, to hear that McCauley was this wiped out from a folk fest show and not loaded for the first night of the Newport Blues run is a surprise, to say the least. This is the same guy I watched bash his Fender to smithereens until streams of sticky red ran down from his Koolaid-dyed scalp, back when Deer Tick performed a Nirvana cover set at South By Southwest a year and change ago. This is the man I’ve seen drop to his knees and swill out of a bottle without relieving the guitar from his clutches. This is the guy whose very breathing implies that his blood type is a potent mix of Four Roses and rock ’n’ roll, and yet the first thing he tells me about the show he played the night before is that he was sober for it, and that that was fuckin’ weird.

But, hey. There’s a first time for everything, and the fact that McCauley was uncharacteristically dry didn’t hold him, the rest of Deer Tick, or the superlative lineup at large back from turning the Newport Blues Café into the most impossible club to get into in New England last weekend.

Though officially hosted by the Newport Festival Foundation and their label, Partisan Records, Deer Tick serves as both the emcee and main attraction of these after-parties, sitting in whenever they’re invited and leaping onstage to pound a keyboard over somebody’s shoulder when they’re not. This in turn transforms the Newport Blues Café into a fertile breeding ground for collaboration, one without the limits begrudgingly imposed by the Newport Folk Festival, with its all-ages audience and national media attention. In 2011, the after-party wasn’t officially sanctioned and members of the Newport Folk lineup—the Felice Brothers, Trampled By Turtles, Dawes, Delta Spirit—all convened at the bar to get shithoused with their friends and play a set should they feel so inclined. This year, after the Newport Blues shows sold out in minutes and Newport Folk followed suit shortly thereafter, the band, the label and the festival figured it’d be wise to capitalize on a good thing by actually booking a lineup—including one of the festival’s headliners, Jackson Browne—and announcing it, catching lightning in a bottle and bringing an air of formality to an otherwise unruly endeavor.

Deer Tick is cool with this formal approach, though: they may kick a hole through an amp or knock over a drum kit from time to time, but when it comes down to it, they’ve got a show to put on and they want to do it well. “We have a pretty tight schedule,” says Ian O’Neill, Deer Tick’s lead guitarist, when I catch up with the band before their show Saturday night. “These shows can be a little looser than our festival sets, which we always keep pretty structured—they’re different beasts. As far as backstage stuff is concerned, people could just wander back there. We confirmed people beforehand this year, whereas last year we didn’t really know who was gonna show up.”

The after-parties also provide an opportunity for Newport Folk artists to go from a day job demeanor to the perks and pitfalls of an after-hours scenario, which works in their favor while bringing them back down to reality. Jackson Browne, whose presence at Newport Folk kept festival-goers captivated despite the downpour that lasted for the majority of his time onstage, had no problem belting out a few covers (namely Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita,” where he was joined by Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith on vocals) and good-naturedly sang over the slurred rumbles elevating from the crowd. Sharon Van Etten sounded just as effortlessly, hauntingly gorgeous as she did during her Newport Folk performance earlier that day, the only difference being that she had changed into jeans and had no problems calling out the hammered asshole who kept flailing around and making a scene at her feet. Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and Jim James of My Morning Jacket were among the patrons present for Saturday night’s show, though they opted to remain incognito and take in the show as opposed to sitting in for it.

And Deer Tick, who stuck to their catalog and kept their language clean for the crowd they played for at the Fort, enjoyed their goofy cover of Badfinger’s “Without You” in the vein of Mariah Carey as much as the girls hanging over the bar waiting for an aluminum bottle of Bud Light did. If Newport Folk was the main event that introduced these musicians as meteoric talents, some whose lyrics and notes resonate with those of Woody Guthrie, Dylan and the rest of the festival’s storied legacy, Deer Tick’s after-party did a service by showing fans that folk music’s an amorphous genre that includes all kinds of fuck-ups, weirdos and nerds who take a the punchline of a joke as seriously as they do the crux of a brilliant ballad.

“Jay Sweet [producer of the Newport Folk Festival] said that our set and the after-parties are what Newport used to be about, and what Newport needs to be again,” says O’Neill. “There’s louder bands, and bands that play quiet and loud music. If anything, it’s drifting more towards us than what it used to be, you know?”

Deer Tick may corral the bros with bar anthems better than anyone else, and their music may be met with a kind of consternation that’s not unlike what Bob Dylan faced when he plugged in at Newport Folk himself years ago. The fact that one of the oldest music festivals in the country wants to be as much a part of their raucous dive bar adventures shows that they’re a unique force that can give old school rock and roll and up-and-coming indie talents the same platform to perform on, even if the place is covered in a boozy film from the get-go, and even if John McCauley hasn’t had a single drop to drink. 

Photography by Mike Basu

BlackBook Tracks #3: 2012 First Half Report

Looking sharp, 2012. In our first two installments, we’ve already highlighted some of the best songs of the year so far, like Tanlines’ “All of Me” and “I Love It” by Icona Pop. Here’s a sampling of some other great singles from the past six months.

Django Django – “Default”

This relentlessly catchy cut from the London-based psych-rock quartet demands to be put on repeat.

Hot Chip – “Night And Day”

Hot Chip have always been pretty sexy, and they reach their full potential in that department with “Night and Day.” With a nasty bass line and characteristic humor, the song simultaneously fulfills their established R&B-inflected electro sound and pushes it further.

Grimes – “Oblivion”

Claire Boucher’s ethereal vocals and looping production make this song both expansive and intensely intimate.

Kindness – “House”

An earnest, quietly anthemic love song from the British up-and-comer. Kindess’s debut album World, You Need A Change Of Mind was produced by French studio wizard Philippe Zdar (Phoenix, Chromeo).

Chairlift – “Met Before”

On sophomore album Something, Chairlift moved swiftly past the previous success of “Bruises” and went in a dreamier direction, while remaining just as charming.

Sharon Van Etten – “Leonard”

Sharon Van Etten’s been around for a while, but she’s earned some new fans from third LP Tramp. This highlight from the album lets the singer-songwriter’s voice soar.

Perfume Genius – “Dark Parts”

Seattle’s Perfume Genius, aka Mike Hadreas, is known for his stark, minimalist style. “Dark Parts” shows off his ability to distill imagery and make you cry.

Bear In Heaven – “Sinful Nature”

Bear In Heaven’s shimmering electro-pop sounds perfect right about now. With lines like “Let’s get loaded and make some strange things come true,” this song puts romance in a weird place.

New Build – “Do You Not Feel Loved?”

There’s a bit of overlap here, as New Build is a side project of Hot Chip’s Al Doyle and Felix Martin. This track from their excellent album “Yesterday Was Lived And Lost” is gently delivered, but urgent all the same.

Santigold – “Big Mouth”

It took four years for Santigold to make her return, and tracks like the rattling, blistering “Big Mouth” make sophomore LP Master of My Make-Believe worth the wait.

Greg Dulli-Curated ATP Festival Adds Sharon Van Etten, Louis C.K., The Roots, More Awesomeness

The very talented folk singer and recent BlackBook feature subject Sharon Van Etten is one of many ecstatic squeal-inducing additions to the ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror Festival this September. This morning, the festival, this time around curated by Afghan Whigs frontman Greg Dulli, announced a hefty chunk of its lineup, and the people saw it, and it was good.

In addition to Van Etten and Dulli’s own celebrated group, he’s chosen some crazy exciting acts to share the stage: Louis C.K., The Roots (plus a DJ set from ?uestlove!), fellow rock ‘n’ soul ensemble the Dirtbombs (performing Ultraglide in Black, which you should probably listen to right now, because better Friday morning music you will not find), riot grrrl icons Scrawl, The Mark Lanegan Band, The Antlers, José Gonzalez, Dirty Three, Emeralds, Vetiver, Quintron & Miss Pussycat, Charles Bradley & The Extraordinaires and Reigning Sound.

The ATP team round out the lineup announcements with The Make-Up (who will be getting back together JUST FOR YOU GUYS at I’ll Be Your Mirror), Hot Snakes, The Magic Band, Autolux, Thee Oh Sees, Factory Floor, Death Grips and I Break Horses, with many more likely to be announced.

Tickets for I’ll Be Your Mirror go on sale on Monday, and there are still tickets left for the Mogwai-curated, Gen-X-nostalgia-packed IBYM London show in May, which features the Melvins, Archers of Loaf, Mudhoney and Slayer performing Reign In Blood. Rock on. 

Sharon Van Etten Shares Her Intimate Nature Through a Dark Sonic Lens

Tucked inside Sharon Van Etten’s small, slender frame is a powerful, evocative voice, one that delivers dirge-like folk ballads and aggressive provocations with equal command. On her third album, Tramp (out this week on Jagjaguar), Van Etten embraces a rich sound, one that is more brash and full compared to her previous efforts. While her intimate debut Because I Was in Love and its follow-up Epic were stand-outs in their own right, it’s Tramp that proves her sonic power.

Like any musician garnering buzz these days, Van Etten has an oft-repeated origin story. Living in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, with an emotionally abusive boyfriend, Van Etten channeled her insecurities and frustration into her music. Once she broke free from the stifling relationship, she gained confidence in her songwriting and performing and eventually moved back east to Brooklyn. That’s where she entered a scene of young musicians who pop up on Tramp in various places: Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner provides back-up vocals, and Beirut’s Zach Condon duets on "We Are Fine." While her sound has evolved with each of her albums, her lyrics have remained personal and introspective. On Tramp‘s first single, "Serpents," Van Etten sings, "You enjoy sucking on dreams / so I will fall asleep with someone other than you." Later, in the lovely and stark "Ask," she declares, "I need more than the flowers and letters, man / It’s not that I won’t try, it’s that you won’t again."  

Tramp is a collection of dichotomies, much like Van Etten herself. We spoke with Van Etten over the phone, finding her to be slightly guarded and contained with her responses. But on her record (and on stage), she is open and candid, and hers is an candor that’s a throwback to the women of the ’90s who picked up their electric guitars and embraced their fears and hopes through fuzzy instruments and frank lyrics. She is a woman who finds empowerment by laying bare her wounds, and gains assurance from sharing those emotions on stage. She shared with us her insight into the songwriting process, why she and Kanye West aren’t so different, and how she managed to get The National’s Aaron Dessner to produce her new album.

As a singer/songwriter and one who is a woman, it’s impossible not to be labeled as confessional. Would you say that that’s sort of an accurate label in your case?
I think that I write from a really personal place, but it’s not always about me. It could be about my friends or a story I heard, but it always ends up sounding like it happened to me. I say “I” and “you” a lot more than maybe I should. But one of the things I think is really important is to feel like it’s a conversation with myself and the listener, because I think that’s how people connect right away. I get annoyed sometimes about that being considered a female thing, but I also think women talk about their emotions more than men do, so I don’t necessarily feel like it’s an unfair generalization.

When you talk about that kind of annoying thing, I notice that a lot or critics, particularly male ones, respond to music of that genre with that attitude — as if a woman’s introspection affects their response to her music. Do you feel that’s more rampant in music criticism? Do you have a mixed genre among your fan base?
It’s mixed-gender for sure. When they’re fans, they’re not going to be like that critical. With critics, I feel they see it as a negative thing, and they want to fault you immediately because you can’t go beyond your personal experience. And I do write about some of my personal experience, but I don’t see why that’s a bad thing when someone can learn from it and when it’s not in a selfish or a whining way. I would like to get out of it at some point, but that’s just where I feel like my strength is right now.

At the same time, I feel like the term “singer-songwriter” as a genre has gotten to the point where it’s used as a negative thing. Do you kind of dislike that label?
I mean, I think everyone is a singer-songwriter. Kanye West is a singer/songwriter: he sings and he writes songs, if you’re going to be that general. I’ve been pushed into this folk corner and it’s such a general thing. But I don’t know. It’s a fair description, I guess, but it’s general — it’s not very specific.

Let’s talk about your writing process. You’ve said in interviews that you take stuff from journaling when it comes to the lyrics. But when it comes to writing the actual music, do you collaborate with anyone or is it just you on your own and, in the same vein, do you imagine what you’re writing as played by a group of people backing you up?
My way of writing is constantly changing. I started just writing guitar and vocals myself and then learned how to articulate how I wanted basic instrumentation. This is the first time I’ve worked directly with someone to expand my ideas. The songs always just start as guitar and vocal. Sometimes I go into my GarageBand and add minimal layers just to create a vibe before I share it with somebody. This last year as been an exercise in me learning how to communicate what I want, not having to do everything, and opening myself up to someone else’s ideas and expand what I know I can sound like. Aaron Dessner played a big role in that this year; never did I think I could have a horn section or just more intense orchestration that would really change the direction of the song. Because when it’s just guitar and vocals it could go anywhere.

How did you go about working with Aaron?
I saw him cover a version of “Love More” [from Epic] with [Bon Iver’s] Justin Vernon and Aaron’s twin brother Bryce in Cincinnati. A friend of mine sent me a video when I was on tour. It was a really beautiful version of it, and it kind of blew my mind because watching two bands that you really admire covering a song of yours so you get a little bit of encouragement. When I got off tour, a couple of my friends encouraged me to write them and see if they wanted to record on this new album. I was getting ready to record Epic after that tour and “Love More” was only released as a single at that time. I was getting people together to see who was going to be around to help me with the record — to see if they wanted to play on it. Aaron wrote me back and said, “Sorry I can’t do it this round, but when you’re ready to demo new songs let me know. I have a studio in my garage and would love to help you flush them out.” So time passed. I had toured the record a little bit and finished Epic, and at the end of the summer I wrote Aaron and said I had some demos if he’d like to hear them. I think they added up to like 30 or something, and he just laughed at me and said, “You already have a record. Let’s just record your album. You don’t need a demo or anything, you have too much.” We started working on-and-off towards the end of the summer of 2010 in between my tour.

Are you that prolific? Do you just sit there and write a lot and churn stuff out?
Well, I had a lot of old songs that I was working on, and then I had new ones. They stand a long time and I was still writing when we were recording this record. I do keep a lot of demos when I’m working on them even if I think they’re garbage. It could be one idea that ends up turning into something later — a part of the melody that I want to keep [while killing] the rest of the song. If I like one part, it’s enough to save a demo. I have a lot of stuff on the back burner. When it all starts making sense together, I can look at the songs as a whole together and see if they make sense as opposed to by themselves.

So are you currently touring now? Have you started yet?
I start next week.

Have you always enjoyed performing in front of people? Is that what motivated you to write music?
I feel like it will always be a bit of struggle, but it’s cathartic. It means a lot when you know you’re connecting with people. I feel like I’m still working on my live show, but I think I’m getting better. Being solo to having a band are two very different things. I think this year will be really good. I’m really happy with where we’re at right now.

Do you get a lot of confidence from having a band supporting you on stage?
Yeah, I get more confidence, and it also feels a lot more freeing because it’s not all on me. Having a team of people there supporting you and kind of coaching you – just to look to each side of you and see people that are really here to help you and make the songs sound better is really, really helpful.

The people that were touring with you — were they people you knew or did you have to audition people?
I auditioned drummers, but my bass player right now is a friend of a friend named Doug Keith, and my new singer, Heather Woods Broderick who is a songwriter who I liked already… the timing was just perfect. Aaron actually introduced us, and she was thinking about moving to New York anyway, so the timing was perfect. She’s amazing. She’s a multi-instrumentalist and a really great singer. Since she’s a songwriter, she really understands what I’m going through and what I’m looking for more than most people would. The drummer turned out to be a friend of a friend, but I tried to see different people because I didn’t know what I was looking for. But I think I have the perfect band right now.

How did you recruit some of the guests on your album? Were they people you were already friends with?
Most of the people I knew. It was the combination of Aaron’s friends and my friends talking about what we wanted and also the reality of our friends’ schedules, because most of our friends who are musicians tour like crazy. It’s a good thing [the recording process] was scattered because it helped people know when they could come in. I had toured with Julianna Barwick, Jenn Wasner, and Zach Condon before, and most of the strings and horn players were friends of The National, so we kind of combined our resources.

Looking back at some of your older music, especially your first album, which is smaller in scope and scale. Do you ever look back at them as journal entries and gain some perspective as the person who wrote them? Do you approach them differently to perform them again?
I definitely feel like each record I have is a moment in time; I know exactly what I was going through when I wrote each one. And so I do look at those as journal entries in a lot of ways, and I gain more and more perspective on them the more I distance myself. It’s like, “I’m not really that way anymore!” I’m a lot further away from [the first album] than I was, which is a good thing. As far as performing them, some of the songs change, for sure, especially when I’ve taken the solo songs and put them in a band format. And with the vibe of every show, I feel differently: I never play the same speed, sometimes I go back-and-forth between electric and acoustic, and there’s so many factors that go into playing a song like the energy you’re getting from the audience. It’s constantly changing, so I think it’s good to keep switching it up.

Beyond songwriting, are there people you idolize as performers and want to emulate?
I hate to be predictable, but I’d say PJ Harvey, who I think is incredible. She can go from being stoic to being super venomous, or from a story-teller to vindictive. She has such a wide range. Like a badass mom, or something!

Photo by Dusdin Condren