BlackBook Tracks #13: High School Called, It Wants Its Music Back

Maxïmo Park played in New York last night? The Killers are putting out an album next week? It’s time to reflect on the recent past. It seems like just yesterday that Brandon Flowers was perfecting his glossy pout, but that was 2005, or 16 blog years ago! Here are some other memories from my time as an entry-level alt teen, putting posters from imported copies of the NME on my bedroom wall.

Maxïmo Park – “Graffiti”

Back in the day, Maxïmo Park’s Paul Smith was probably the smartest guy in British rock music. He might still be!

Hot Chip – “Over and Over”

Hot Chip had already released debut album Coming On Strong in 2004, but “Over And Over” was their breakout single in 2006, and for good reason. It’s got all the wit and tension that has led to their success since then.

The Lovemakers – “Prepare For The Fight”

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the sexed-up Oakland duo was always on heavy rotation on the alt-rock station LIVE 105. To this day, I’m not really sure how far outside the region they made it, but they had a good run while they lasted.

The Kills – “Love Is A Deserter”

The Kills have been going strong for ten years now, and “Love Is A Deserter” was the first song I remember hearing from them. They’ve mellowed out a little with age, but this cut from 2004’s No Wow shoots to kill.

Arctic Monkeys – “Who The Fuck Are Arctic Monkeys?”

Remember the halcyon days of Myspace, when bands like Arctic Monkeys could suddenly rise to international stardom? Well, now it’s 2012, and high school girls are cyberbullying each other on Tumblr instead.

The Rakes – “22 Grand Job”

The now-defunct favorites of Hedi Slimane were angular and anxious, loaded with sharp everyman observations.

Beck – “Girl”

Do you want to feel old? Guero was the Beck album that came out when I was the right age to get into his work.

The Killers – “Mr. Brightside”

Remember when Brandon Flowers wanted to be Morrissey instead of Bruce Springsteen?

The Futureheads – “Hounds Of Love”

When the Kate Bush classic got this barbershop-inspired treatment, it was a big deal, or so I read on the internet.

Franz Ferdinand – “Take Me Out”

I’d be amiss if I didn’t include the song that completely changed my ideas about what music could be. While it hasn’t quite been canonized the way, say, Modest Mouse’s “Float On” has, there’s still plenty to look back on and love.

Listen to The Futureheads Cover The Black Eyed Peas’ ‘Meet Me Halfway’

The Futureheads had their moment of indie rock stardom more than half a decade ago, but their newest project is kind of intriguing. Entitled Rant, it’s an album composed of a cappella versions of their own songs ("Meantime, Man Ray") and covers of acts like Sparks and the Black Eyed Peas. They’ve released the first single from the project: a cover of the BEP’s "Meet Me Halfway." It’s an unconventional choice for a group of British indie rock boys, but one that’s rendered somewhat lovely by their monk-like harmonies. You can listen to it after the click, as well as brush up on the original if you don’t remember.

It’s always hard to enjoy a cappella music after four years of college groups butchering songs from Wicked to the Wu-Tang Clan, but this isn’t too bad. Rant is out on April 2 via the band’s own Nul Records.

The Futureheads Guitarist Ross Millard Talks ‘The Chaos,’ Maturity, and his Favorite NYC Moment

On a humid night last week, U.K. garage rockers The Futureheads, who hit the Bowery Ballroom tomorrow, kicked off their U.S tour with a show in Brooklyn, playing like a bunch of scrappy, cocksure youngsters brimming with promise. Actually, they didn’t so much play as rupture forth, sending herky-jerky streams of electricity out into the audience. They turned the Music Hall of Williamsburg into a scene out of 300, the outnumbered quartet staging a strike against too-cool-for school posing, with hard-driving riffs, killer choruses, and heart-pounding drums.

The Futureheads were smart to avoid their artier tunes, instead playing songs that mirrored their 2004 self-titled debut album—razor-sharp punk synchronized with brilliant, at times baroque British school-boy harmonies. After an hour or so of impaling the crowd with their pumping, sweat-inducing tunes, they returned for a three-song encore, but not before unveiling their new song, “Jupiter,” a “Bohemian Rhapsody” meets Gang of Four epic. When they hit the crescendo, I could have sworn I saw a hand burst up through the ground, sending cemetery dirt and shards of casket flying in all directions. Ross Millard—the band’s lead guitarist—took some time after the triumphant show to tell us about their new album, The Chaos, why nobody compares them to Lady Gaga, and the impetus to write a song about vampire sex.

What was the one incident that had the biggest impact on shaping this bold, ambitious collection of songs? I think being at home in the Northeast of England shaped this record more than anything, because it’s the first opportunity since our debut album to write an observational record. The middle two records were both written whilst we were touring, so as a result, you have to write songs about things that aren’t right in front of your face. You know, those songs came from news stories, fiction, whatever. Whereas now that we’ve been home for long enough to take in what’s going on in our region, in our country, and with our families, we can write a record that is based more on the real world.

What albums/bands/artists were you listening to during the making of The Chaos? Did they have an influence on the sound you arrived at? During the making of this album I fell in love with the vinyl format again, because the state of downloading and the concept of ownership really hit home for me. I want a record to sit in a collection at home. I fell in love with the L.A. girl group Warpaint. For more raucous pleasure, I really enjoyed the last Fight Amp record. They’re a great punk-rock band from New Jersey. But the Young Lovers, New Bomb Turks, and Rocket From The Crypt are never far from my player. Vampire Weekend are a band that have become huge in Britain and I love both of their records.

You formed your own independent record label after getting unfairly dropped by your major label. Is the old business model a thing of the past? Well, at the moment, the music business seems like the Wild West. Everyone is putting records out in different ways. I think it’s great that the old blueprint is coming to an end because music is fundamentally a folk tradition so why should big business dominate such an artistic pursuit? I love the fact that young bands are starting out and are no longer looking to the major-label deals as the golden fleece.

What was your goal with this record? We wanted to make The Chaos as bold and full-on as possible. This new album is an uplifting, positive, punk-rock record. We’ve stirred up so much motivation in ourselves over the past five years to get the label together, to get the confidence back in our performance that our dispute with Warner Bros. took away.

What is your relationship with music bloggers and how immersed are you in the online community and social media? The internet is free media, but the opinions expressed are all as valid as hardened critics’, provided the write-ups are as well-researched and informed. I think the good stuff is always found on the net, so the popular blog sites are usually the best-written or the most often updated, and I like that, because you get out of it what you put into it. We’re not big readers of reviews, but stuff like Twitter we’re big fans of because it’s a direct link to our fans. Keeping the dialogue going is important, whether it be about b-sides or tours or immaterial shit like going to see movies or sports. I think it’s fun, for sure.

What was the most wild, unexplainable thing to happen while making this album? That the song we wrote in the studio in the least-considered and most throwaway style, all in about 60 minutes from start to finish, “Heartbeat Song,” would become the lead-off single and one of our biggest hits to date. Funny how these things work.

What do you think of the sudden reemergence of a theatrical style of music, fashion, and performance, like, for example, Lady Gaga or Muse? I love the big-time stage theatricals of those acts. I think your stage show has to represent the band properly, but Muse are clearly illuminati-intrigued, alien-obsessed, righteously hard-rockin prog-rock bastards, so their stage show fits amazingly well. Gaga is the best pop star the world has seen in at least ten years. She is strong, motivated, artsy, and fucking sexy, so she has something incredible to contribute to the pop world. But you don’t need lasers, LEDs, or multi-million dollar props to truly perform. The minute you get on stage there is an element of a persona that kicks in, no matter who you are.

What are your greatest vices? Well all of the lads in my band call me the art-punk monk because I’m the vegetarian, but vice is an unusual concept anyway. It doesn’t come down to drugs and booze—we’re not that sort of band. But we can throw down in our own way, for sure. My biggest vice when we’re in the US is root beer. I love that shit.

What’s the difference between British girls and American girls? Other than a sexier accent, I don’t honestly think I’m in much of a position to generalize about the women of the world. Women in the U.S. go for tattoos more than in Britain, I think, and that’s sexy, but fuck it, who am I to judge?

What’s your most memorable night in New York and what happened? The best night out in New York I’ve had was at the Lenox Lounge, the jazz cub in Harlem. Great music played by great musicians, ultra-strong cocktails for the drinkers amongst us, and a genuine taste of something authentically American.

New York. Describe what the city means to you in a sentence. For me, New York spells great vegetarian food, a big-ass map, and a whole lot of walking. Slant magazine recently said: “As a rule, ‘maturity’ hasn’t set well with the legion of post-punk bands that made their debuts in the mid naughts. Acts like Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, and Arctic Monkeys have all struggled to various degrees with matters of voice and direction once they made it a couple of albums into their respective careers.” How would you respond to this statement? Maturity has to be one of the most boring words in the English language. What a piss-poor concept. Ask Motorhead or AC/DC what they think of maturity. I’m comfortable with my voice, and there’s only one direction we’re headed in, so it’s all good.

What inspired you to write a song about vampire sex? Truthfully? Billy Idol.