BlackBook Tracks #14: It’s Literally The Last Day Of Summer

Hey y’all, it’s literally the last day of summer! I, for one, am not particularly excited about the changing of the seasons, given that I am from California and believe that anything under 50 degrees is the arctic. I’m already annoyed by having to carry a sweater around, and I will even rebel against that bastion of autumnal culture, the pumpkin spice latte. One thing I have going for me is that I don’t own any white pants to feel sad about not wearing, so that’s something, at least. In mourning, here’s a selection of what comes up when you search for “summer” in my music library.

 

 

Girls Aloud – “Long Hot Summer”

Fact: unabashedly manufactured pop music sounds better during the summertime. British girl group Girls Aloud transcend any idea of there being guilt in their listening pleasure.

 

The Drums – “Let’s Go Surfing”

Has indie rock ever been so fixated on the beach as it has for the past few years? It’s a justifiable obsession, whether you grew up landlocked or not. Here’s one of the definitive tracks of the trend.

 

Eternal Summers – “Millions”

Look at what this band is called. Including them is obligatory.

 

Vacationer – “Summer End”

Lush, smartly produced indie pop with a smack of regret really just hits the spot today.

 

Coconut Records – “The Summer”

You probably didn’t need reminding that Jason Schwartzman is a perfect human, but here you go.

 

Animal Collective – “Summertime Clothes”

If you, like many other people on the internet, were disappointed with Animal Collective’s offerings on Centipede Hz, it’s always a good time to revisit Merriweather Post Pavilion. This song also serves as a reminder of how I’m finding it hard to let go of this aggressively tacky shirt with a pattern of palm trees on it.

 

Belle & Sebastian – “A Summer Wasting”

Granted, it’s also pretty easy to spend an autumn wasting, except now we’ll all be wearing sweaters and chugging pumpkin spice lattes.

 

Summer Camp – “Summer Camp”

I never went to a real summer camp, but maybe you did! Regardless, I think I still like the nostalgic British duo enough to make up for it.

 

Soso – “I Never Thought You’d Come In Summer”

Swedish chanteuse Soso combines hauntingly catchy production with the kind of vocal delivery that just oozes star power.

 

Kreayshawn – “Summertime” (ft. V-Nasty)

This is one of the more bizarre offerings on Kreayshawn’s much-delayed debut album, and I say that as someone who actually sort of enjoyed hearing the constant ads for “Gucci Gucci” on Spotify last year. I’m sorry.

Ten Hot Songs To Kick Off Summer 2012

You may be stuck in the office for a few more hours before the three-day weekend. These are the last few hours before the Summer of 2012 starts. It’s gonna be awesome, dudez! Chances are no one is doing any work. You shouldn’t be, either. Instead, you should be listening to new songs that are about summer or summer-appropriate. We’ve curated just such a list of hot new acts. So sit back, relax and contemplate that soon your back, sticky with sweat, adhere to that vinyl seat cushion.

Electric Guest – "The Head I Hold"
BlackBook favorite Electric Guest’s syncopated single from their new album Mondo, produced by Danger Mouse, combined Asa Taccone’s falestto with a Waiting For Guffman talent competition and hallucinations!

 

Best Coast – "The Only Place"
The first single from Best Coast’s sophomore effort is as summery as it gets: it’s an ode to the sunshine state and all the babes and surf within.

 

Kylie Minogue – "Timebomb"
If you plan on spending your summer doing poppers, may we suggest this track from the agelesss sylph Kylie Minogue. Released today, the track is part of her year-long K25 series, celebrating her quarter of a century in pop music. 

 

Dynasty Electric – "Eye Wide Open"
If you plan on spending your summer in a white loft on Zoloft reading Lacan, a book plucked off your Vitra shelving unit, this track from Brooklyn dup Dynasty Electric is proper sonic accompaniment. 

Eternal Summers – "Millions"
The lead single off Virginia duo-turned-trio’s upcoming album Correct Behavior is a stellar expansion of the hazy sound they perfected on their debut, Silver. Plus, "summer" is in their name. Duh! 

Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang – "Feba"
The new track from the upcoming album En Yah Seh from Sierra Leone master Janka Nabay plus members of Outer Borough favorites Gang Gang Dance, the Skeletens, and Zs drops August 7th on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop

Summer Camp – "Life" 
A downer duo  but a beautiful one, this song comes from the upcoming album Always, out July 10. This is, I suppose, what life is like in the summers of England. 

Saint Motel – "1997"
Every summer needs an anthem and this one, from the album, Voyeur out July 10th, is the perfect slightly epic slightly moving anthem for 2012. 

Pavement – "Summer Babe"
I’d like to close with two gems from the collection. The first needs no introduction. 

The Drums, "Let’s Go Surfing"
Does anyone remember the summer of 2009, when The Drums were kings of the world? I do. It was nice. 

Talking SXSW with Spank Rock, HAIM, The Drums, and Others

In the middle of the madness and mayhem of Austin’s SXSW is the core of what runs this festival: the musicians. Often lost behind free drink lines and giant Dorito Ads these artists travel from all over the globe just to have a chance to perform. The majority of them don’t get paid and some aren’t even booked to play on a stage but the allure of a chance to get seen and heard is enough to warrant long travel and an exhausting week.

It became quickly apparent that within the community of musicians at SXSW there are two camps. The veterans, those who have played the festival more than once and were no longer jaded to the double edged sword that SXSW has become, but still grateful to have a chance to come back. And the newcomers, those who were at the festival for the first time whose excitement and exhilaration still pulsed through them and who were nothing but thrilled just to be there.

The Veterans:
Spank Rock
When we knocked on the door where Naeem Juwan aka MC Spank Rock was staying, it became quickly apparent that everyone in the house including Naeem was sleeping. We felt horrible to have woken everyone up but were told it was fine. Naeem had a long day of interviews and shows ahead of him and we were just the beginning. Naeem came out in his sweatpants and hoodie and laid down on the couch diagonally across from us. This was Spank Rock’s fourth year performing at SXSW. A true veteran, he’s experienced the transformation of both the festival and the feeling of performing:

“The first time no one cares and no one knows who you are and if you do something that grabs someone’s attention it’s very exciting. It’s fun because every experience is new and magical. And the second time around no matter what you do you’re in this world of criticism and competition. The musicians that make the festival the festival, they don’t get much out of it. SXSW looks so good because it’s all based on marketing.”

Despite his qualms with the corporatism of the festival he is grateful to be back. It isn’t all bad he explains “Sometimes you get to see a show that’s magical, like last night Andrew WK, that was magical, so it’s a love hate relationship.”

The Drums
We met The Drums in a parking lot outside of Lustre Pearl, the venue they were about to play. There is no quiet space in downtown Austin during SXSW so much so that even the parking lot deemed too loud to conduct an interview in. We ended up going across the street to sit on the stoop of “The Palm School”, an all white concrete building close to the entrance of interstate I-35. Something about singer Johnny Peirce and synth player Jacob Graham, the two founding members of The Drums, made us instantly comfortable.

Johnny and Jacob have known each other since childhood and are now, not only in a widely successful band together, but live down the street from each other in the East Village. “We’ve lived strangely identical lives” Johnny told us. They both grew up in a strict religious household, their brothers have the same name, they both bought their first synth at the same time, and were both listening to Kraftwerk in a time when everyone else around them was listening to Nirvana. “When you meet someone like that you kind of have to hold on to it.”

Both Johnny and Jacob gave a similar account as Spank Rock did when talking about the festival. “SXSW has outgrown itself and they need to learn how to deal with that. They don’t take care of their artists. Like they literally push you out onto the street as soon as your set is done.” It blew my mind when they told us that, but at the same time made sense to the feeling I had been getting in the last day or so. The truth is each year the festival keeps getting larger but the city that holds it remains the same size creating overflow in the streets and venues that can’t hold the amount of people who come out to see bands play. “You feel like cattle” Johnny stated, and as someone who nearly cried in a bathroom from the overwhelming anxiety of being out on the streets I completely concur.

Elizabeth and The Catapult
This was Elizabeth Ziman’s third year playing SXSW. Her story was one of the success stories you hear about that keep bands coming back to Austin every March. Her first year performing at the festival she was discovered by Verve records and signed soon after (she is no longer signed to Verve). “Two years ago I got signed, Last year I had the whole, ‘get interviewed and get free shit thing’, and this year I’m playing this one really nice show and then am just hanging around and going to all of my friends shows.” Elizabeth was more content and happy to just be able to be in Austin and have a chance to see her friends play than be affected by the insanity that is SXSW. She did however inform us of the lack of sound checks "I’ve been at SXSW for a couple of years now and I’ve played gigs where I can’t hear myself at all. I’m playing in this church this year so I think it will be really nice though.But you just show up knowing what you’re in for, wear a ridiculous outfit, and have fun."

New Comers:
HAIM
HAIM is a sister trio consisting of three hilarious and talented ladies Alana, Danielle, and Este Haim from Los Angeles plus a drummer Dash Hutton. We were lucky enough to be able to go thrifting with the girls at this awesome vintage boutique located across the river away from the Downtown crowd called Feathers. It couldn’t have been a more perfect place to get to know the three of them.

"So many bands have come out of New York and we really feel that there is finally this great community of people who are coming out of LA” Alana, the youngest of the three sisters, told us. “All of our bros are out here; Harriet, White Arrows, Milo Green, Superhumanoids. We all want to get to the same point, and when we get to that point then we can tour together.” Este, the eldest, exclaimed and then added, “We need more girl bands though. We love our dudes, but we need more ladies.”

Radiation City
Radiation City was formed by Lizzy Ellison and Cameron Spies after meeting about four years ago while Cameron, a Portland native, was living in San Francisco. He was about to move back to Portland in order to start a band with Lizzy, when at a show in West Oakland he ran into a childhood friend who was coincidentally playing the same show with Radiation City’s now drummer Randy Bemrose the duo quickly became a trio. The rest of the band, which includes bassist Matt Rafferty and singer/keyboardist Patti King, came together organically over the next year or so. “We have the luxury of getting along really well” Lizzy stated. “It’s been like the best relationship ever. No break ups or anything.”

Despite being Radiation City’s first time performing at SXSW the band came to the festival fully prepared for the craziness they were about to face. “It’s kind of everything I’ve anticipated just from stories I’ve heard. It’s pretty similar to CMJ which we had just performed at last October, except ten times bigger and ten times more insane.” Lizzy told us. “But I really enjoy playing and really enjoy meeting the people who are throwing the events, because I think behind all the drunkeness and ridiculousness there are really good people throwing really great shows and supporting really amazing bands.”

Illustrate
A week before the festival Josh Board aka Illustrate set up a fundraising show/event at Franklin Park in Brooklyn in order to help him make it to Austin.

When he finally got to Austin alongside his friend and hype man Nick Spinale, he had no idea what he was in for. The initial reaction was a whole lot of excitement and just as equal shock. “Everything I see out here is really amazing!” he exclaimed, “I feel like a small ass fish in an overpopulated pond. I feel so lucky to be here, Just the fact that I have an artists badge, I’m like Yeahhh Motherfucker! The most love I got was on the street and that shit was beautiful.” he told us. The harsh reality of an overcrowded festival hit smaller showcases hard. People tended to show up more for the drink specials and free swag than for the acts that were playing, which lended to lukewarm audiences. But for Josh it provided a much needed push forward. “Maybe we weren’t quite ready this year, but I’m so glad we did it because next year we’re going hard."

BBook x SXSW: The Universe Comes Together in Austin

This is by far the most insane experience of my entire life. I didn’t think it was possible, but this place got even crazier today than it was yesterday. More people are arriving for the music portion of the festival and the streets are overflowing. Last night Lorenna and I decided to just walk around and take in the scenes. We must have looked like we were on drugs because we were literally walking around with our mouths dropped and our eyes wide open, bumping into each other and tripping every five seconds. There is so much to take in, and no matter which direction you go in or how far down you walk, it just keeps going. It’s like Austin has transformed itself into this really weird, diverse night club. I mean there are lasers and smoke machines all over the streets! I am in awe of it all. I don’t know how y’all do this every year Austin — you guys must sleep for the other eleven months just to prepare yourselves.

We started our day by hitting up a performance of our good friend Sam Obey (aka Obey City), who was DJing at the Live For the Funk party at the Soho House. Per usual, he got us both groovin’ on the dance floor. It’s never too early to dance, people! Sam will be DJing for the Flatbush Zombies for the rest of SXSW, so if you get a chance, go check him out and get your groove on.

After grabbing some good eats at El Sol Y La Luna (a Mexican place that has vegan chorizo? Yes please!), we made our first SXSW mistake and decided to chill on a bench and enjoy the mild weather. What we should have been doing was heading to the Under The Radar party. Apparently, whether you are on the list or not, if you show up to a large showcase a half-hour before an act you want to see, you will end up waiting on line for an hour and miss it. But don’t worry, all was not lost because eventually we did get in and were able to see two AMAZING bands: The Love Language and The Drums.

The Love Language contains all things I love in a band. Multiple singers, a chick on a keyboard, and tunes that make me want to be a superfan and know all of the words to every song, so I can sing along with them while dancing my buns off. Then there was The Drums. OMG THE DRUMS! I want to listen to every single song by them in front of a giant video of the lead singer Johnny Pierce swaying his hips and waving his finger all day everyday for the rest of my life. I’m so excited and giddy for the opportunity to sit down with them this Friday.

God I missed live music. Going to shows and discovering new bands used to be such a huge part of my life. Somewhere along the line I just got tired and busy with life and work, and all of my passion for new music was just kind of shelved. I became more interested in discovering old tunes and then eventually just nothing at all. At the very least I will have gained from this SXSW experience a reminder of the importance of music in my life.

After a day full of dancing we were starving. On our first night here, we discovered the most amazing Thai restaurant on San Jacinto Boulevard called Mai Thai. Lorenna and I eat Thai food maybe three times a week on the regs, and this was by far the best Thai we have ever had. When contemplating what we would eat for dinner last night we both looked at each other and at the same time said “Mai Thai?” slightly cautious and both hoping that the other would agree that this would be a place we’d hit up every day this week. Thank God we are forever on the same page because, no joke, this shizz is deelish!

Once we were good and full, we began our night of exploration and walked everywhere. On our journey we bumped into Sam again and headed to the only empty bar on 6th Street where Lorenna complained about the music volume and we discussed how we may have just entered the lamest bar in Austin. Sam’s friend DJ Morris was DJing a show all the way across town, so we left the bar and walked and walked and walked. Never once on our walk did the street party stop. No matter how far we went there was always something crazy going on. When we got to the bar we met up with more friends from home. All of us are here to either perform or report on the festival. Somehow the universe has led us all to the same path and here we are in Texas getting ready to take this shit to the next level. Life, you amaze me.

I can’t believe this is still only the beginning. Check ya tomorrow world!

The Drums’ Jonny Pierce on Their New Album, Rejecting Religion & Being a New York Band

It’s an important moment for The Drums. Coming off the international success of their self-titled debut, these NME darlings have shed their beachy, boyish sound for more honest lyrics and textured melodies, while remaining true to their pop foundation. Now, with the release of their sophomore album, Portamento, the New York-based band is finally getting the homegrown attention it deserves. We recently caught up with Drums frontman Jonny Pierce during their current US tour, to discuss his love for pop music, the strains of touring with his best friend, and the American taboo of rejecting God.

Where are you right now? On tour? Yeah, just woke up in Seattle. We were in Canada last night, in Vancouver, and drove through the night, had a few hours of sleep, and we have a show tonight in Seattle.

Who is doing the driving? We have a driver! Named Jeremy. He’s an older man with a long grey beard.

How has this tour been? It’s pretty exotic for us, actually. With our first album, we toured America and played really small bars, except for maybe New York and LA, where we played bigger shows, but it was that first US tour: very small in scope, and sometimes frustrating. But it was that sort of thing where I guess we had to pay our dues. And with this tour, and Portamento, it’s just been night and day. So we’re really pleasantly surprised. We didn’t expect much. The tour seems to be selling out every night, and it’s really kind of shocking to us. It’s nice to be able to play new songs as well.

How has the feedback been for the new album, especially on tour, considering how different it is from the rest of the music that you’ve put out? One thing I was saying to Jacob the other day was we were both commenting on how surprised we were that people are singing along to all these new songs, even more so than the older songs, and we thought that it would be the opposite. And people are shouting out and requesting songs off the new album, and rarely do we hear any requests of anything older. I feel like Portamento has really gone over in a great way in America. We sort of had America in mind when we wrote the album. Not in the front of our minds, but subconsciously. Our last album barely came out in America, and a lot of people never heard it, so we weren’t really sure what to expect, but when we made Portamento, I think we did want to make an album that represented the fact that we are an American band. We wanted to channel that sort of thing. And I can’t help but think that that’s maybe why people are responding in that kind of way.

Do you see yourselves as definitively a Brooklyn band? Is there such thing as that? I don’t think so. I like the fact that we’re from New York. But we’ve never really felt like we were part of any scene, really. Strictly from a geographic standpoint, yes, we are a New York band, but I don’t think we ever really fit into the Brooklyn scene so much, especially when we first started. We put out our Summertime! EP three years ago, at sort of the height of bands like Animal Collective and bands that are much more experimental. Even a band like Grizzly Bear, there’s something multilayered and textural about what they do. And we came along, and we were releasing two-and-a-half minute straight up girl-groupie weird pop songs. And I think the directness and the bluntness of what we were doing kind of isolated us from that kind of Brooklyn scene. We found ourselves on our own, and I think we kind of like that. It wasn’t that ‘If you cant beat em join em’ thing,’ but more like a ‘who cares’ sort of thing. We had a very specific idea of what we wanted to do, and a very specific thing that we were in love with, and that was pop music. We’re proud to be from New York. It has such an incredible history of putting out amazing music, so I can’t say that I don’t have a sense of pride in that.

And of course, you’ve had so much success internationally. It’s funny to see different places in the world, and to see what we do in very different ways. Sometimes it’s like black and white. In Europe, Japan, and the UK, people went really insane for what we were doing, and in the US I think people were a little more apprehensive. But that’s coming around, and you see more and more bands who are straight up pop, like Twin Shadow. I was so excited when he put that album out, because to me it was the type of thing that we’re trying to do. I see more and more bands dropping the whole experimental thing and just writing interesting pop, and that’s always the music that I’ve loved, so it’s nice to have new music like that, rather than having to go back to the same old albums that I’ve been listening to all the time.

I want to talk about the themes on Portamento, specifically the rejection of god and the constant revisiting of death. Can you speak a bit about those themes? When we started Portamento, we decided that it would be a very personal album. We were at a point where the dust had sort of settled. We were very hyped at the beginning, and things felt very surreal, and there wasn’t that much that felt tangible to us. We made Portamento to put an end to that. We wanted to write an album that was nothing but exactly how we felt. So there is some bluntness there. In America, I think saying you are an atheist is a pretty taboo thing, and being an atheist is kind of a lonely place to be. Even with my closest friends, they’ll sort of tolerate it, but I can kind of see in their eyes that they think I’m crazy. But I guess at the risk of looking like a lunatic, I’d rather just put something out there. I think we’ve always been a band that kind of likes to push buttons. Life is truly boring, so it’s nice to kind of poke a little bit. Even our management asked us, “Are you sure you want to open the album with a song that says that you don’t believe in God? Because that could be very polarizing.” And the fact that that concerned them made me all the more excited to put it at the beginning of the album. I grew up in a really religious household, and my mother and father are both pastors of the church, and I had a pretty extreme upbringing. They sort of enforced these ideas that I never really agreed with, and never really owned them myself, so now that I’ve grown up and have moved away, I’ve really been able to come to terms with how I actually feel. And in writing an honest album I didn’t want to leave that out.

Some lyrics are very literal, but there are also a lot of songs with really ambiguous lyrics, which have led to extreme interpretations. How do you feel about that ambiguity? I think ambiguity is a really powerful thing. I’ve always been drawn to it. It adds a nice texture to a band. It’s really funny because there’s been allegations that all of us in the band sleep with each other. To us it’s really exciting when people say something like that, because just from being a fan of bands, you kind of have those same rumors going around. I always just find it so fascinating. I’m not afraid to use a gender-specific term in a song, but I do like the fact that people can sort of take it however they want. At the end of the day, people really want an answer.

Is that why you released a track-by-track commentary to Portamento? What was the motivation behind that? I was just asked to do it. I had never heard of doing something like that before, and I thought it would be interesting. You know, when we record an album, we record a song and then put it away and start the next song. Before we knew it, we had this album of songs, and we released it as Portamento. But I hadn’t really gone back and re-examined the songs until I was asked to do a commentary on them, and I found them to be really exciting and nostalgic. When you’re dealing with something that’s right in your face, you look at it in a specific way, and then a month could go by, and when you return to it, you examine what it was and why it exists and you kind of view it in a totally different light. So that was really interesting to me. So much had changed since I wrote a lot of those songs. In a way, it’s kind of like looking through an old scrapbook or something.

Speaking of scrapbooks, can you tell me a bit about the photo on the cover? That’s a photo I found. We weren’t sure what we wanted to do for the album cover. And I thought it really needed to be a photo of my childhood, because so much of it is weaved throughout Portamento. And because it’s an autobiographical album, I thought the cover should also be autobiographical. So I was looking through old photos that I took with me to New York, and I found that one, and I showed it to Jake and Connor, and they both instantly said ‘this is it’. We painted my eyes red, and the reason behind that is, because growing up I didn’t really buy into what my parents wanted me to buy into.

Who’s the woman in the photo? Oh, I don’t know.

Given that the album is so much of your childhood, I was wondering how it is making music with your childhood friend, having grown up in the same world and now exploring those themes in your music. Can you tell me a bit about your friendship with Jacob? It’s really nice, and there are parts that are really difficult. It’s really weird when you start a band. All you have in your mind is, We’re making these songs and we love them, let’s start playing live. We certainly didn’t expect what happened to happen. When we started, we thought we’d write a handful of songs and play a few shows here and there, and keep our day jobs, and that that would be our lives. But things went a really different way, and you don’t think about the fact that you’re going to spend every living second with somebody, or a group of people. It’s essentially almost like a marriage. It’s kind of worse than a marriage, because typically two people who are married go off and do separate things during the day, and then at night they’ll spend time together to relax. Being in a band is worse, because you’re with the same people 24 hours a day, and you’re sharing hotel rooms with those people, and you’re crammed in a van or a bus or a plane. You’re always seeing the same faces non-stop, for three or four months straight. It’s funny because I learned so much more about Jacob than I ever thought I would. I thought I knew everything. It’s a lot of learning and growing that you have to do, and thankfully we made it through this hard period. It’s just funny because we always said we wanted to start a band together, and make music together. It’s a weird life.

Does he share your views on the themes on the album? I don’t think so. I don’t really know how he feels. He doesn’t agree with everything, but he does support the things I say. I never really run lyrics by him, I just say, Here’s the song, and he’s always been cool with that. But I have asked him before if he agrees with what I’m saying, specifically the religious aspect of the album, and he doesn’t quite agree. But I don’t know if that just means he doesn’t want to let go of something from his past. I think he sort of views religion in a very nostalgic way. I don’t think he had a tough childhood like I did. He looks back and it’s sweet, whereas I look back with a lot of disdain.