Edward Snowden Speaks at SXSW

One of the big acts headlining SXSW this year is Edward Snowden. This is the equivalent of having the security-leaker Beatles on the bill; Snowden is the rock star of disclosing NSA documents on spying.

Snowden was part of the Interactive Festival in a panel with Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, and his legal adviser, the ACLU’s Ben Wizner.

In true Snowden fashion, he didn’t appear live but was beamed in for the rare public talk via teleconference from Russia. The infamous/fugitive NSA leaker urged the tech conference crowd to help “fix” the U.S. government’s surveillance of its citizens. South by Southwest was the first time Snowden directly addressed people in the United States since he fled the country with thousands of secret documents last June that showed the extent of the intelligence agency’s monitoring of American phones and Internet.

He appeared on video screens with a copy of the U.S. Constitution as a backdrop. The live stream was slow, repeatedly freezing Snowden’s image onscreen. (Was it because the NSA was watching too?)

“Would I do it again? Absolutely,” said Snowden in response to questions about any regrets in deciding to leak the NSA documents. “Regardless of what happens to me, this is something we had a right to,” he said.

More Quotes From Snowden:

“I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. And I saw the Constitution was being violated on a massive scale. South by Southwest and the tech community, the people in the room in Austin, they’re the folks who can fix this,” Snowden said. “There’s a political response that needs to occur, but there’s also a tech response that needs to occur.”

Watch the video here:

What DJ Lily Vanilli Is Doing This Thursday

I have the pleasure of working with DJ Lily Vanilli on Thursdays at Hotel Chantelle. I spin for the dinner crowd on the enclosed roof before I go downstairs to rock the rockers. Lily spells me up there. I never know what she is going to spin but it always seems to be perfect. I spend a lot of time asking "why didn’t I think of that?" when she spins. I don’t worry too much because I learn as I go, and Lily Vanilli is the best kind of teacher. With CMJ looming, she is producing an event this Thursday that will shock and awe. I’m being bumped to 12:30pm to make way for Luc Carl who will surely wow them. I’ll oreo Sam Valentine, who’s going from 1:30am till 2:30am. You can keep up with all her events by following her on Twitter.

I asked Lily to tell me all about the event and her DJ philosophy.

Tell me about what’s happening this Thursday.
I’m turning Hotel Chantelle into a place of worship – our religion: live music. On two floors, all night long.  A total of 10 acts hailing from as close to home as Brooklyn, New York and as far away as Oslo, Norway will be performing, including rockin’ bands, soulful singers, beatmakers, hip hop emcees, and two very talented DJs: Mike Swing from Austin, Texas and Manuvers from Miami, Florida.  It’s going to be a glorious night for music. All the details are on the flyer, and here. Show starts at 7pm, and there is complimentary Balls Vodka from 6:30pm to 7:30pm, so get there early!

How did this come together?
It all came together in about four days. A band I love asked me if I knew of a place where they could play after they were finished with their official CMJ showcase, and Hotel Chantelle was my first thought.  My second thought:  why not more bands?

You’re one of the resident DJs at Hotel Chantelle. How did you become a DJ?
I have always had an ever-growing knowledge and curiosity of music, and I think that’s the foundation.  But honestly, I’ve always been a party girl in the most positive sense, and I think that’s how I really learned how to get a party poppin’. Before nightlife was my office, it was my playground, but I didn’t realize until later that it would also be my classroom, an education. Dancing all night with my girls, the adrenaline that pumps through you when you catch the first few bars of your favorite song on a sweaty, crowded, and lively dancefloor – that was where I learned about what makes an amazing night out. And the DJs were my professors. My closest friends were, and still are, some of the most talented DJs in the world.  

Several years ago, a friend invited me to a mixtape exchange event where DJs and producers swapped music and mixes, etc. I planned to go just to pass out my friend DJ Sober’s CDs.  Just for fun, I also put a mix together that morning and uploaded it to the Internet.The tracklist was a marriage of various tracks rotating on my iPod:  Eric B & Rakim, a Beatnick & K-Salaam remix, Mark Ronson, Fitz & The Tantrums, a David Rubato remix, The Private, MC Hammer and a nod to my Texas roots, Mista Madd, Big Moe, Slim Thug.  I went person-to-person at the event with my Blackberry emailing the link to everyone. The next day, my inbox was full of feedback, and the general consensus was “You should do this, you just need to learn how to spin.”  So, I learned. I was blessed because some of the most revered DJs in the game became my mentors. They taught me to respect the craft.  And never stop digging – in every sense of the word.

How did you get the name Lily Vanilli?
I started off going by Lilypad.  Just a childhood nickname, nothing special.  Lily Vanilli was born from a joke about those vinyl control records with the Louis Vuitton monograms imprinted on them (No, I’ve never owned them). The name stuck with me. People’s reactions when they ask me my DJ name is priceless.  It’s always a big smile.

As a female, do you think it’s harder to get gigs and respect?
Not if you don’t suck.

Where do you currently spin?
Thursday nights on the roof of Hotel Chantelle.  Best damn Thursday party in NYC; all three floors are alive. Every week since January, and still going strong. I’ve held residences all over the LES, including a stint last year at DJ Soul’s famed Big Fun party.  A new party is always in the works so stay tuned.  My events calendar on my website is helpful.

What is your game plan going into each gig?
The game plan: have fun. When you’re bored, so is everyone else. I make it a point to always try something new and grow my overall sound. Especially in the LES, people have discriminating taste. Cookie-cutter is not respected here.

Where do you see music played in clubs heading?
To all new astronomical heights, with intergalactic speed. There are kids producing hot tracks in basements all over the country; some of my favorites are right around the corner in Brooklyn. Their creative output is unparalleled, and pretty soon a lot of traditional producers are going to have a hard time keeping up. In my opinion, they are the future of music. The formats for DJing that we’re used to will soon be obsolete. I can introduce you to some of them on Thursdays.

Aside from your parties, what other projects are you working on that we can look forward to?
I recently became involved with Nine West, and we’re collaborating on a few projects together as the brand moves toward more entertainment and music-integrated content. My events calendar has been so full this past year, but now I’m finally working on a new mix that should be released by the end of the year. In a couple weeks, I’m spinning at Terry Urban’s renowned monthly, I Got 5 On It, in Cleveland. Also, my DJ collective Nana Chill is in the development stages of a big event for SXSW in March.

I read that you opened for Wu Tang Clan at SXSW.  What was that like?
Last year, I did a series of shows with Marz Lovejoy, a hip-hop artist from Los Angeles, in support of her debut EP. We made it onto the bill for the Village Voice/Frank 151 SXSW showcase at Austin Music Hall, which has a capacity close to 5,000 people. And it was packed. Others on the ticket were Erykah Badu, Yelawolf, Trae the Truth. It was really exciting to be a part of that event, but also surreal to be standing in front of thousands of people, not being able to see their faces, but knowing that they’re all staring right at you. Marz and I had practiced a fantastic call-and-response tribute to The Pharcyde for her closing. She had thousands of people singin’ “Passin’ Me By.” DJ JayCeeOh (who I think was touring with Wiz Khalifa at the time) and I took turns doing sets in between acts. I got to spin before Wu Tang took the stage. I think I played Outkast.

The National & Frightened Rabbit Unite For The Ultimate Melancholy-White-Dude Tour

Good news for any sad-sack caucasians out there who enjoy music that tenderly removes your heart and takes it apart like a pocket watch and leaves the pieces scattered on the floor: Scottish quintet Frightened Rabbit, who had a strong showing with Pedestrian Verse in February, and The National, who drop their new album Trouble Will Find Me later this month, will join forces this fall to make you feel your feelings.

And while Frightened Rabbit is certainly capable of devastating you with the recorded version of their scrape and jangle, nothing can compare to the ferocity (or raw vulnerability) of their live shows. Witness this recent half-hour set from SXSW, which veers from blistering squall to stripped-down ballads. “Backyard Skulls,” a new song that comes around the four-minute mark, is a highlight.

Meanwhile, The National – maybe to assuage the pains of having to promote a new album – have been getting fairly conceptual with their old stuff. On May 5th, over at MoMA PS1 in Long Island City, they played the song “Sorrow” from High Violet for six hours straight—105 times in all—with drummer Bryan Devendorf sitting out a single performance. Featuring a soulful, muted trumpet and cello-bowed guitar, it has the otherworldly grace of the band’s best work.

So, think you’re happy-go-lucky enough to withstand this double bill? Here are the dates you need to know:

9/8 – Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium

9/9 – Atlanta, GA @ Cobb Energy Centre

9/11 – Charlotte, NC @ The Fillmore Charlotte

9/12 – Asheville, NC @ Thomas Wolfe Auditorium

9/13 – Louisville, KY @ Iroquois Amphitheater

9/15 – Madison, WI @ Orpheum Theatre

9/17 – Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre

9/21 – Troutdale, OR @ Edgefield Winery

9/22 – Vancouver, BC @ PNE Amphitheatre 

BlackBook Exclusive: See the Latest Poster for Adam Leon’s ‘Gimme the Loot’

As one of the most beloved films to premiere on the festival circuit last year, Adam Leon’s Gimme the Loot won over audiences with its youthful charm and genuine tale of adventure and intimate friendship. In his feature-length directorial debut, Leon tells a fresh and energetic story of two young graffiti artists from the Bronx who embark on their own plan to tag the New York Mets’ Home Run Apple after being buffed by a rival crew in Queens. 

Using the streets of New York as his playground, Leon showcases the talents of non-professional actors to create a film that’s both authentic and nuanced, feeling right at home among our favorite tales of dynamic teenage life, in a style that’s direct and fun, harkening back to such masters of the territory as Richard Linklater. And after winning the Grand Jury prize at SXSW and becoming an official selection at Cannes, IFC will finally be giving the film its theatrical run starting today. 

And in our interview with Leon, he spoke to what sparked his interest in crafting this story, telling us:

I was very interested in that there were these kids I knew growing up and kids I was working with that are working class kids, they have these vivid lives, they come from tough neighborhoods and have in many ways, difficult challenging lives, but aren’t necessarily miserable people. So that’s the kids, for the most part—there were some others that were going through some deeper, deeper stuff—but there was a lot of kids that I knew that were just like that. So when the kids in Superbad steal booze it’s like, oh kids are kids, and they are and that’s great and that’s fun, or stealing a keg in Dazed and Confused, it’s the same thing. And I was like, why do kids in Dazed and Confused and Superbad get to have all the fun when there are kids in New York that do have tough lives but they still have fun?

And today, we’re pleased to share the latest poster for the film that echoes the spirited aspect of Leon’s film and plays like a welcome breath of fresh air on our screens.

gimme the loot

 You’re not going to want to miss this one—get your tickets now HERE.

The Best of the South By Southwest Bit Torrents, 2013

It seems like everybody crashed the music conference at South by Southwest this year. Iggy Pop played The Mohawk. Prince played La Zona Rosa. 50 Cent and George Clinton partied at The North Door. Justin Timberlake premiered his new album at The Coppertank. A whole host of other top-notch acts that will be headlining festivals over the next few years—from Fitz & The Tantrums to Kendrick Lamar to Alt-J—promoted their newest work on every stage possible.

And then there were all the other bands that we know little to nothing about. More than 1,500 of them, to be exact. Sure, a few may rise to the top a few months or years from now, but the point of South by Southwest—or perhaps what used to be the point—was to hear, promote and support these burgeoning new artists first, before they blew up or extinguished their dreams of becoming professional musicians.

One of the last remaining ways to really dig into the pulse of all the newest artists playing at SxSW is through the annual release of the bit torrents, which has a single track from most of the showcasing artists playing at least one set at the conference. Last year, I made a list for the best of each of the torrents as they were released: part one, which had fifty tracks, and part two, which had thirty-five, totaling a mere 85 out of the nearly 1,600 that were released in total. If you glance at the list from 2012, you will not only find songs you now recognize from your own iTunes library or the radio, but also an eclectic mix of sound from most musical genres present at SXSW.

I tried to replicate that again this year. To be even more thorough, I had some help from friend and music aficionado Aaron Albrecht, aka Active Listener, who has managed a respectable underground podcast covering South by Southwest and a wide variety of musical genres for the past few years now. We attacked the exhaustive task of listening to all this year’s 1,200+ bit torrents in this fashion: listen to each song once, for at least a minute. Pull your favorites, none of which could have made my list last year or are well-established artists (sorry Zion I, we still love you though). Then do the same thing with your favorites until you have narrowed the list down to around 60 or 70 tracks. Then we compare our lists, include the tracks that match and campaign for our other favorites through repeat plays, extended BBQ meals, shots of bourbon, and bouts of yelling.

The 20 best that we ultimately agreed upon have made the Active Listener / BlackBook podcast that can be streamed or downloaded here, so you can hear them for yourself, immediately—along with some commentary from us as we climbed out of the SXSW bit torrent trenches. These top 20 tracks from the podcast are also listed on the subsequent pages in no particular order, along with another 43 tracks listed alphabetically by artist who didn’t make the podcast, but that were my personal favorites from the bit torrents for 2013. Enjoy the music!

Podcast Listing:

  1. “Try My Love” – Roxy Roca
  2. “Firecracker” – Michael Bernard Fitzgerald
  3. “Runnin’” – Sinkane
  4. “Sunsick” – Fort Lean
  5. “La Marcha” – Campo
  6. “What UP?” – Hector Guerra
  7. “Rhyme O’Clock” – Wordburglar
  8. “No Rest” – DJ Buddha
  9. “Turn Up” – Gent & Jawns
  10.  “My Activator” – 100’s
  11.  “Shake, Shake, Shake” – Bronze Radio Return
  12.  “Did We Ever Really Try?” – Delorentos
  13.  “State Hospital” – Frightened Rabbit
  14.  “Full Circle” – Half Moon Run
  15.  “Wet Summer” – Bondax
  16.  “Sleepless” featuring Jezzabell Doran – Flume
  17.  “Vehl” – Kidnap Kid
  18.  “Holy Moly” – Dame
  19.  “Change” – Churchill
  20.  “Love & War” – Wolfgang Gartner

 

The Other 43 Blackbook Bit Torrent Tracks, Alphabetically Listed

  1. “Steam Dream” – Andy Clockwise
  2. “Oh Honey” – The Audreys
  3. “Slipping Away” – Barcelona
  4. “Touch” – Battleme
  5. “Guttersnipe” – Bhi Bhiman
  6. “Up!” – The Black and White Years
  7. “Unbroken, Unshaven” – Budos Band
  8. “Doses and Mimosas” – Cherub
  9. “Pillars and Pyre” – Christopher Smith
  10.  “Coal” – Curly Castro
  11.  “Lake Charles” – Dana Falconberry
  12.  “By Surprise” – Gemini Sound
  13.  “Dark Again” – Gold Fields
  14.  “Sunrise” – Grandchildren
  15.  “I Can Rejoice” – Greater Voices of Calvary with Warrior Gospel Band
  16.  “Bright Stars” – Hey Marseilles
  17.  “Won’t F Us Over” – The Hood Internet
  18.  “Peaches” – In the Valley Below
  19.  “Don’t Matter to Me” – Kail Baxley
  20.  “L’Amour” – Karim Ouellet
  21.  “Two Times” – Kid Karate
  22.  “Switzerland” – The Last Bison
  23.  “Sarah” – Le Matos
  24.  “Yes He IS G-Mix” – League of Extraordinary G’s
  25.  “Aujourd’hui, ma vie c’est d’la marde” – Lisa LeBlanc
  26.  “When I’m Alone” – Lissie
  27.  “Overdose” – Little Daylight
  28.  “Buried In the Murder” – The Lonely Wild
  29.  “Ghosts” – On and On
  30.  “Inside My Head” – Parkington Sisters
  31.  “Till We Ghosts” – Petite Noir
  32.  “Bassline” – Reverend and the Makers
  33.  “Blue” – Royal Thunder
  34.  “Trouble With Boxes” – Sarah Hickman
  35.  “Beauty” – The Shivers
  36.  “Dick & Jane” – Sidney York
  37.  “Terracur” – Social Studies
  38.  “Ya Never Know” – Terraplane Sun
  39.  “Remembrance Day” – Tory Lanez
  40.  “The Golden Age & The Silver Girl” – Tyler Lyle
  41.  “Gold” – Wake Owl
  42.  “Television” – You Won’t
  43.  “Knot In My Heart” – The Zolas

The Only SXSW Recap You Need

Yeah, right: “need.” But even if we made a point of not attending the sprawling, apparently month-long music/film/TED Talk festival, we’re still a little curious about what went down. No? Okay then: here’s a travelogue written by a small, adorable dog.

Marnie is the photogenic pooch of Shirley Braha, the architect of MTV webseries Weird Vibes. She is, naturally, named after guitar goddess Marnie Stern, whom she crashed with in Austin. (By the way, remember when you could win a date with Human Marnie? Well, things took a game show twist and there were three winners, who will have to compete for her affections.)

Anyway, Dog Marnie is just as much a VIP, and has the chance to hang out with some of the coolest artists in town. Small Black! Hannibal Buress! That tears it: if I ever go to another one of these clusterfucks, it’ll be in a Martha Stewart pet carrier bag.  

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter.

Dave Grohl Delivers SXSW’s Keynote Speech

"Having been raised by a former D.C. political speechwriter and a former public speaking teacher, it’s practically written in my DNA zipper that I should feel the insatiable need to stand in front of a room of total strangers and bullshit them."  That’s Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters and Nirvana, keynote speaker of SXSW.

Grohl’s speech delivered on Thursday night on the topic of what he knows about music. He needles Pitchfork, touches upon recording Nevermind and In Utero, why Nirvana found success they did, his love of Gangnam Style and how when your bosses leave you alone to do your thing, it means you are doing something right. (Of course, eventually, "We weren’t Nirvana anymore. We were ‘Nirvana,’" he said. "Now you had to fucking leave us alone.")

But he primarily focuses on his belief that the musician comes first and not arbitrary notions of quality or commercial success. Artistic output should be life’s passion, not a guilty pleasure: "Fuck guilty pleasure. How about just pleasure!"

It’s really fucking amazing. And well worth watching all 49 minutes. 

Email me at Jessica.Wakeman@Gmail.com. Follow me on Twitter.

The Most Exciting Films From This Year’s South By Southwest

This year the film portion of the South by Southwest Conference had thirteen entrees that premiered at Sundance and a number of studio-funded projects destined for wide release, meant primarily to bolster the star power attending the daily and nightly Paramount theater premieres. This is not a bad thing—rather, it’s a testament to how vital the SXSW Film Conference has become to the film scene in general, a diverse conflagration of anything and everything within the strata of a theatrical experience. However, it doesn’t make breaking new, below-the-radar films any easier, especially with a bigger schedule—the much-anticipated premiere of the The East comes on the final night of the conference, after this will be published—and more theaters scattered around town.

That’s where I focused most of my efforts on the film front, catching more than 20 films—in honor of the film conference’s 20th anniversary—most of them produced on very low budgets or premiering for the first time in the United States. I skipped Burt Wonderstone and the Evil Dead reboot, as they’re flicks I’ll see in my local megaplex depending on the Rotten Tomatoes reception. I skipped Before Midnight in favor of a local Austinite’s film, quite regretfully—I’d rather pay to see the final installment of Linklater’s walk-and-talk romance trilogy, anyway. The six films listed here are the ones I found to be the most impressive and important glimpses into the cultural zeitgeist at the 2013 film conference—though there are a number I didn’t get a chance to see due to scheduling conflicts and the fact that the press screening library crammed into the convention center stairwell was so atrociously barren. But with so much paranoia surrounding pirating these days, who’s going to risk turning in a DVD to the media?

Spring Breakers

Unlike anything you’ve ever seen, the charged 1,300 plus audience at the Paramount was—as a Deadline reporter put it—both “joyful and bewildered” when the lights went up after the North American premiere. While some critics may find the surface layers of the film to be a mile wide and an inch deep, or an extended Skrillex music video, this is merely the backdrop Korine wanted to create. The slow-motion montage of barely clothed coeds binge drinking on a Florida Beach in the opening minutes of the film is the ultimate thesis statement—the youthful, primal obsession with self-destruction, beautiful imagery, carefree sexuality and complete sensory overload is all about to come into sharp focus.

With a dreamlike storyline, seedy neon-soaked cinematography, and non-linear editing reminiscent of a Terrence Malick film, Spring Breakers preys on the audience’s senses. You kind of can’t look away, whether you’re enjoying yourself or not. And—without giving up the ending—one could even argue that Korine’s work is a bizarrely magnificent statement about feminism, where the pretty, aggressive blondes in this vapid fantasy world of a St. Petersburg Spring Break are the ones who are the true gangsters.  Regardless of if you agree with any of this analysis, you should see Spring Breakers for James Franco alone, as the corn-rowed, grill-sporting thug who goes by the moniker of Alien—it’s truly a performance for the ages.

Yellow

Heather Wahlquist has appeared in relatively minor supporting roles in her husband Nick Cassavetes’s films over the past decade, which makes her leading performance in Yellow all the more impressive. In it, she plays one of those artificially gorgeous yet vividly delusional California women named Mary Holmes, who is barely holding it together. She teaches elementary school children and chases pills with vodka nips throughout the day, regularly drifting into her own alternate realities, which are equally colorful, musical, hilarious, and horrifying. As her antics get worse, she is forced to return home to her family, where Wahlquist takes us inside the core of her character, revealing the origins of her mania. The entire film, which Wahlquist also co-wrote, is a quiet yet remarkable achievement.

Good Ol’ Freda

The Beatles have been covered from just about every angle possible by now—except the one director Ryan White found for Good Ol’ Freda, when he interviewed Freda Kelly, the head of the band’s fan club for much of the ’60s and perhaps the only Beatles employee who had never broken her silence about the band. It’s a sweet film and a fascinating look at an incredibly respectful and moral person who was tasked with protecting and representing some of the most famous people in the world. White’s storytelling does reveal a few new insights into who the Beatles were behind the scenes, but the film focuses primarily on Freda, examining how someone so close to those who were literally changing the world could remain so true to who they really are as a person.

Scenic Route

Bleak tales about the insignificance of man and the brutality of the world are tough to pull off without fine acting and crackling dialogue, which is why Scenic Route works so well. Two friends, played by the diametrical opposed Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler, are stranded off the incredibly photogenic highway through Death Valley and forced to reexamine their friendship after drifting apart. The situation quickly goes from bad to worse, however, due in part to both men’s egos and stupidity, as well as a bit of bad luck—which, when you get all philosophical about it, is something that life often serves most of us in the end.

Drinking Buddies

There’s a incredibly unique tone to Drinking Buddies, thanks in part to director Joe Swanberg’s technique of having his actors tightly improv every scene in the film. It’s also probably because his core cast consists of seasoned professionals like Anna Kendrick, Jake Johnson, Ron Livingston, and—most impressively—Olivia Wilde, who really shows off her dynamic acting chops while also looking crazy hot. The result is a romantic dramedy—if that’s even a thing—that qualifies as one of the more realistic unrequited love stories that has worked in a while.

Cheap Thrills

The first film purchased at South by Southwest this year—by none other then Drafthouse Films, who held the world premiere in one of their theaters—this fine dark comedy is ultimately a real-world fable about what desperate men will do for money. Made on a shoestring budget with a quality cast (Pat Healey, Sara Paxton, David Koechner, and, by far the most impressive transformation, Ethan Embry as a tough guy) Cheap Thrills is a testament to true independents of the past that deserve to break through to a wider audience. It manages to break new ground and entertain, while keeping its message hidden until the very last frame.   

Musician John Murry Talks Addiction, Artistic Integrity, and His New Album ‘The Graceless Age’

It takes a selflessness and a courage to bare your soul as an artist. And for musician John Murry, his songs cut straight to into the heart of man steeped in emotion, with the psychological undercurrent of soul in distress. Born from the pain of loneliness and a desire for expression, Murry’s solo debut The Graceless Age is a raw and emotional collection of autobiographical stories. Sonically exercising his demons, his voice croons through a record that amalgamates the bleak and the beautiful, the desolate and the serene, and the questions of existence that plague us all. 

After first emerging on the scene with 2006’s death-country album Word Without End alongside Bob Frank, Murry’s solo effort is as candid as it is poetic. Co-produced with the late Tim Mooney, The Graceless Age takes us through the harrowing experience of drug addiction and the isolation that comes from losing that which you love in the process. With an arresting sense of honesty and human insight, Murry is man that you should certainly get to know.

So with his SXSW set coming up this Friday, I took some time to speak with Murry about his obsession with death, how this album came to be, working with his hero, Tim Mooney.

So can you talk a little bit about The Graceless Age and why it took so long for you to complete it?
My wife and I separated in January of 2007 and in February I started working on the first stuff that we recorded for the record. And in the late spring of that year I started to use heroin and around the same time I became seriously addicted to it to the point that I was using it all day everyday. It’s almost like I had to use the drug to have the courage to do it, and I think a lot of my fear in creating the record with my name on it and doing songs alone in that way was fear of judgment. The truth is, my wife and I separated and I love her intensely and always have and I became obsessed with mortality and death and so obsessed with the creation of where would I end, that I lost perspective and forgot that before I’m a musician I’m a daddy and a husband. And because I became so afraid of death and creating that record, I wanted to exercise the fear and I started using narcotics.

That record was made to just deal—literally in real time while I was also using—to kill the pain of being alone and being away from the one person in my life who has accepted me for who I am. I think my inability to feel any sort of vanity about what I do and what I’ve created is what allows it to be honest and at least human and real and have a soul. And at times I can hear that soul sonically in the record too as well as lyrically and understand that there’s something worthwhile about what I do. The Graceless Age took so goddamn long to do and to come up with, I just felt like everything had to be right and if I was going to create a record that it needed to underscore how Tim Mooney and I worked together in the studio and how we collaborated. And then also what it was that I, for years, have heard for years as possibilities for something I could do in rock and roll that didn’t sound like anything else. I don’t see the point in not taking all the great shit that I’ve heard and making something that sounds like nothing in particular and I think that’s what rock and roll is about.

And so why was this the album you chose to make, what did this mean for you?
This is not an album I chose to make, this is the only album I knew how to make. It’s the only thing I could have honestly created because of the things I chose to do as a human being at the time—but that’s the truth. Anyone who calls them self an artist and is doing the same at any given time is a fraud.

From what sources do you draw your inspiration? As someone immersed in the world of literature, is that mainly where it originates? What other mediums are you drawn to?
Yeah, I mean literature effects me intensely. I read a lot. I remember one time giving an interview with Bob Frank and he started talking about books that he thought about when he thought about Where Would That End and I realized that we had, at the same age, the same obsession with a lot of the same writers. I don’t know what kind of reader I’ve grown into being but I’ve I’m reading this trilogy called Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr, it has this Graham Greene quality to it. I’m deeply obsessed with Greene’s work and his philosophy. After Tim’s death I was reading a lot of Schopenhauer and yeah, I see philosophy as art a lot.

I hate that I am unable to create visual art but I can see it. I love William Eggelston’s photographs—turning the object into the human and turning the human into the object, but doing it with a beauty that traps the person looking. If you found a band that was capable of doing the same thing it would be like Radiohead, like at their best, or Modest Mouse when he was at his best. These records that have a viciousness and a bitterness to them that capture an audience with their ability to have a feel and a sincerity that is both an attack and an embrace. I think that I can see that in Eggleston, in Goya, in a lot of the modern art that my wife has turned me onto. I really rebelled against modern art as a concept then I really thought about it, like I’m an untrained musician, who the fuck am I to decide whether or not Marcel Duchamp signing a urinal is art or not? The anger, the idiocy that that draws out of me sort of proves that its absurdly artistic because anything that makes anyone that emotional, even if its anger because you think its not art, that makes it kind of art out of fault. My daughter is also an incredible inspiration.

Everyone’s perception of them self is different than what others see and especially wiht something as sensitive and emotional as music, how would you descirbe your sound?
I think there’s still an element of me both trying to please and to hide in The Graceless Age. I really didn’t expect any of this attention and I don’t know that I wanted it. I can tolerate being called an asshole, I can’t tolerate being compared to other musicians. I’m just trying to tell the truth. I play emotion and I try to play the truth and I try to sing emotion and I try to sing the truth and I try to find in whatever I create answers. I kind of feel like some kind of archeologist or something, digging around in the unconscious, seeing what pops out and trying to create the sounds that go with it and making a singularity.

How have your personal struggles with addiction changed you as an musician? Do you look back on your career and see something that speaks to something different in this album?
I think all day long about what the hell is going on with the world and what went wrong with my life and what’s going wrong with everyone’s life and why are things the way they are and why they could be different. I don’t know why, I get pissed off that I’m so obsessed with thinking about that bullshit and dark crap. I want to take all of those cracks in society and in the individual broken heart and just shine a light on it and show there’s a darkness and a light and that there’s a balance and it’s all about moderation—especially moderation. Substances don’t help me create and they don’t disallow me from creating. Heroin certainly allowed me enough freedom to just do what I wanted to do on some level but I figured out how to do that without heroin. I don’t create for an audience, I create for myself, that’s how you do it. I’m not trying to out do anybody or myself.

 

 

As the distant cousin of William Faulkner, you have a unqiue southern family lineage, do you think that affects you as an artist?
Yeah, William Faulkner. I think our family sees me a lot like him and I think in Mississippi, a lot of the folks I grew up with, a lot of the folks see me in some kind of weird little way like him. He wasn’t recognized, he was still called shit like up until his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Philosophically, what Faulkner says in that is like in totality what I think and I just understand; I understand Faulkner’s relationship with the south. I don’t know that the relation would really matter but I do wonder if there isn’t some kind of weird family thing, even though I’m adopted. I told my grandmother, whose in her 90s now, that the only thing I regret about being adopted was that I really wish I had his blood in me. And she said, honey if anybody in this family is related to William Faulkner it’s you. Mississippi as a place isn’t that terribly accepting of artists; the oppression in Mississippi is what’s led Mississippians to create great art, one of the horrible truths of it. And Faulkner, I see him creating for the same reason.

You have a sound that’s rooted in an American landscape and American psyche but a huge part of your fan base is overseas. Do you think that sense of being foreign to something attracts you to it that much more?
I don’t know, I think it’s interesting that the more antiquated elements are the ones that tend to be noticed most readily in Europe. I think that here the most readily recognized stuff or not readily but the most readily noticed part is what separates the records from other records and I think that’s actually a really good thing. I dig that in the US its like called an Americana record less because it’s not a damn Americana record, it’s a rock and roll record you know? Like I almost sort of found that shit to be insulting. I think there are a lot of references to British space rock and hip hop and a lot of like 70s psych rock stuff. I intentionally set limitations for myself in writing and things for myself to force myself to work and really lyrically and sonically getting across the emotion of that thing that’s in existence. And when the song becomes more than the lyrics and sonics, it’s a song.

Can you tell me about the song "Little Colored Balloons"?
I wrote it one night at the studio, I couldn’t sleep and I just stayed there and wrote that on the piano. In Memphis I wanted to change a couple lines and it’s kind of funny, I don’t know that I really made it any better. One line I added that I do like is, “Every word under review, the jury is guilty to who,” it’s kind of like an insurance policy, you know, when it comes to critics. I even see a greater meaning to that. That song is just…that really happened. I overdosed and I was dead for several minutes andwhen I woke up, the pain was the most painful sickening feeling I ever felt—btu that didn’t stop me from using. That’s what’s horrifying. I wonder about that a lot too. They really did say I should have died. I wonder why I didn’t and I wonder what the fuck I was thinking because I had been clean for a few days and shooting that amount of dope when you haven’t used In 3 or 4 days, anybody would overdose. But I don’t know, I wasn’t consciously thinking, life was just painful in a way that I can’t explain. I mean, it was just dark. And sometimes creating music is the only thing that allows there to be any light.

There’s a balance between the bleak and hopeful that resonate throughout your music, does that reflect what you found in yourself?
Yeah, I’ll make this a really succinct answer for you, this is absolutely how I feel and what I think: Pete Seeger once said, “I have no hope but I could be wrong." Well, I have no hope and I pray that I’m wrong. That’s what I’m trying to get across in the record but it’s really true. You look around this world and it’s a wonder how the hell we all are still here, everyone is out to get you. It all went to hell in a damn hand basket and I’m just looking around trying to make the apocalypse look a little bit more kodachrome. I’m trying to give the death rattle a dance beat. That’s it.

Can you tell me about working with Tim Mooney and your relationship with him?
I learned what art is from Tim and the only way to create is being honest about what you are and what you create. And in Tim and Chuck Prophet, I had like the two best mentors. Tim was my best friend, I’ll forever be grateful for what he gave me. He produced for me in a time when I was losing my mind and I was lost my family and I’d become someone I didn’t recognize. He saw an ability in me that most of the time I don’t see in myself and the encouragement he gave me and what he demanded from me. Tim Mooney and Chuck Prophet, you get those two mentors and that’s all you need. When Tim died, my wife looked at me and said, you’ve lost your hero. I did lose my hero. My heroes dead, I’m going to walk the rest of my life off in his shoes though.

John Murry will be playing the Daily Havoc Day Party on 3/15 at Hole in the Wall at SXSW.

Photo by Amoreena Berg