mardi, mars 29, 2005

R.I.P. Paul Hester

Paul Hester's gone forever

by Paul Cashmere

26 March 2005

Former Split Enz/Crowded House drummer Paul Hester has taken his own life.

Peter Green, President of the Split Enz and Crowded House fanclubs broke the news to fans. "Everyone, sitting here in the office trying to figure out what to write, we are a bit messed up at the moment" his letter reads.

"Last night, our mate, and Crowded House drummer Paul Hester took his own life."

"Over the years Paul has swung the extremes of happiness and sadness, but none of us ever thought this would happen. He loved life too much, and it really seems like a bad dream that we hope we'll wake up from tomorrow."

"At the moment we are trying to look after Paul's family, he leaves behind two beautiful girls, so if people could not email us that would be appreciated during this incredibly sad time."

"It doesn't seem real, but (sadly) it is."

"I'll post more on this later on, we are all just getting our heads around this loss of one of our family."

Paul Newell Hester was born in Melbourne on January 8, 1959. His mother Ann was a jazz drummer.

Hester joined Split Enz in 1983 fresh from Deckchairs Overboard. He was recruited into the band with a reference from Midnight Oil's Rob Hirst. His first album with The Enz was 'Conflicting Emotions'. He played on the hits 'Message To My Girl' and 'Strait Old Line.

When Split Enz broke up one album later after 'See Ya Round', Hester stayed with singer/songwriter Neil Finn and together with bass player Nick Seymour, was a founding member of Crowded House.

Crowded House was an international success. 'Don't Dream It's Over' became a major hit in the USA.

Hester recently played with Tarmac Adam, a band featuring his Crowded House band-mate Nick Seymour.

He also hosted The Music Max Sessions for Australia's cable music news channel Music Max.

Crowded House Members To Pay Tribute To Paul Hester

by Paul Cashmere

29 March 2005

Crowded House bass player Nick Seymour will join fellow Crowded House members Neil and Tim Finn at the Royal Albert Hall this week to pay tribute to their late drummer Paul Hester.

In a statement at the Finn Brothers website Neil says "It was with deepest sadness and shock that I learned yesterday of the passing away of one of my closest friends, Paul Hester."

"Nick Seymour will be joining Tim and me here in London today to share our grief. The Finn Brothers shows this week at the Royal Albert Hall will go ahead as we don't know what else to do at this time other than to be with those closest to us and Paul and to play music to remember him by."

"Our hearts go out to Mardi, Sunday, Olive and all of Paul's family."

Paul Hester took his own life in at Elsternwick Park in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton on Saturday. He was 46.

News reports today suggest Hester suffered from depression and had been seeing a therapist for the last 8 years.

In recent times he had split with his long-time girlfriend Mardi Sommerfield, who was the mother of his two daughters Olive (8) and Sunday (10).

In December he had broken up with fiancée Kashan, a singer from New Zealand.

Hester was the host of the Foxtel cable show Music Max Sessions. In November 2004, he compared a program featuring his former bandmates Tim and Neil Finn. The show featured Hester reuniting with the Finn's on drums and performing their Crowded House hit 'Weather With You'. It was the last time they played together.

mercredi, mars 23, 2005

Alanis Learns to Laugh

Jagged little comic.

Morissette takes her backstage antics to TV

With her rockumentary-style sitcom We're With the Band premiering this fall on Comedy Central, Alanis Morissette is shedding her angry-rock-chick label for good. The show, executive-produced by Morissette with Tom Hanks, will follow the pop star's life on and off the stage, chronicling the amusing situations she and her fellow bandmates fall into. Similar to the style of Curb Your Enthusiasm (which Morissette has appeared in), the dialogue will be unscripted, allowing Morissette to relive her teenage years as a member of an improvisation troupe.

Her blockbuster debut Jagged Little Pill (which sold more than 14 million copies in the U.S.) and its jilted-lover anthem "You Oughta Know" cemented her fiery reputation, even prompting SportsCenter announcers to shout over Toronto Maple Leafs highlights, "That was for Alanis Morissette's pain!" The singer-songwriter is embracing the album's tenth anniversary in June, re-recording all the tracks acoustically for a new release and a supporting U.S. tour.

But for now, she's just happy to make people laugh.

How important is it now for you to make fun of yourself?

Well, the older I get, the funnier things get. So I think there is a levity that has come as I grow and hopefully mature.

What is it about improv that you're drawn to?

I think the stream-of-consciousness of it. I love that it's not a crafted piece that I'm contorting into, but rather a story being told that is allowing me to personalize it. I've been in comedy improv troupes since I was fourteen. I love the teammate-ship aspect of it. There's no room for stealing the show.

Can you share some of the fodder for the show?

When I was backstage with my bandmates in '95 or '96, the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish [Darius Rucker] asked to come backstage. He came back, and we were all talking to him, but after he left I turned to my bandmates and said, "That wasn't him. I swear it wasn't him." It turns out that this guy would find his way backstage with all these bands by saying that. We wound up running into the real Darius in Nashville about a week later and we told him. He was . . . slightly amused [laughs].

Another example would be someone pretending to be blind in order to come backstage, and when they get backstage you realize that they're not. There's a humor to what happens behind the scenes that is often overlooked -- I think there's a preconceived notion that people who are in the public eye are very much fawned over, so it's fun and healing to show people that a lot of times the most famous person in the room can feel like the most invisible one.

Have you ever gone out of your way to meet someone you admired?

I'm usually tongue-tied when I meet authors. I'll run into someone who wrote a book that I love, and I can't speak and my cheeks are all flushed and I'm reduced to being an eight-year-old. Those are the people that I admire the most.

How do you feel about Jagged Little Pill a decade later?

I love it. I went back into the studio with [producer/collaborator] Glen Ballard, and I just finished the vocals [for the acoustic version]. It's going to come out ten years to the day it was originally released, which was June 13, 1995.

After Jagged Little Pill, people painted you as angry. Do you feel you were misrepresented?

No, I think it spoke more to the fact that women being rage-filled was not something that was easily accepted or embraced. I had been told that it was OK for me to be happy and friendly and poised, but it was not OK to be enraged or blaming or victim-y. So because I had repressed it in myself for so long, when it came time to write songs from a stream-of-consciousness place, that which had been sitting on the backburner came out with a vengeance.

Why do you think that was the facet of the album everyone picked up on?

If we were as OK with anger as we are with someone smiling in our culture, people wouldn't have even noticed. They would've said, "Oh, there's a lovely record." But because rage is such a taboo emotion -- and often a misunderstood one -- it was understandable that everyone freaked out.

What other projects are you considering?

I think I have a book in me. Having been so freaked out about my bouts of depression and everything that I've experienced, I've actively sought out different ways to turn to my innate joy. There's been many different workshops and books and journaling and artistic expression that I've done that I would love to put into one book and share with people.

Congratulations on your U.S. citizenship. Do you feel it came a few months too late in light of the election?

Yeah, no shit [laughs]! Although one vote wouldn't have made a difference. I actually asked people to vote on my behalf, which probably got a few more votes than had I just done it myself.

Being a twin myself, I have to ask about your connection to your brother.

Inexplicable. It was the bane of many romantic relationships in my life because a lot of times I would compare my boyfriends to him: "Do I have the connection that I have with my twin?" Which is a really tall order [laughs]. That was a companionship that I had throughout all my youth, so it took a minute or two to really get a sense of my own individual identity.

You seem to know who you are.

I don't know if I can fully achieve self-actualization while I'm here in the physical form, but I think I'm on a really great journey toward it.

(Posted Mar 24, 2005)

mercredi, mars 16, 2005

Björk: You Ask The Questions

Do you consider yourself to be eccentric? And how would you like to
change the world ?

16 March 2005

Björk Gudmundsdóttir, 39, was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, and recorded her first album at the age of 11. She made her name internationally as the lead singer of The Sugarcubes and moved to Britain in 1992, recording her first two solo albums, Debut and Post, which sold three million copies each. Hounded by the paparazzi, she moved back to Iceland before settling in New York. In 2000, she won the best actress award at the Cannes film festival for her role as Selma in Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark. She has a son and a daughter.

Many of your songs are very personal and often intimate. Do you mind when another singer covers them?
Edith Pingree, Chichester

No, I'm honoured. I particularly like death metal versions of my songs - they are quite refreshing. I'm not possessive of my songs. I think most musicians would agree with me that once you put a record out, it's in the world and it doesn't belong to you any more.

Given the chance, how would you change the world?
Liz Harold, by e-mail

It's a big question. Getting rid of religion would be a good start, wouldn't it? It seems to be causing a lot of havoc. My next record is to raise money for the tsunami region. I get asked to be part of a lot of charity projects, but I'm not always sure where the money will end up. I'm not very political. Obviously, I hate the mess politicians make, but I would rather call myself a humanitarian than a political animal. I don't vote.

Which artist would you most like to work with?
Michael Archer, St Albans

That's a really tricky one. Most of the people I work with I've known for a while beforehand. I'll have known them for a few years and then I'll end up working with them - I don't really plan it. I never say, "Oh I want to work with this person" and point at someone in a magazine. That would be like a blind date - you would have no idea if there would be any chemistry. I'd rather let relationships with other musicians grow organically like a plant and if some fruits come out of it, great.

Do you believe in magic?
Nicholas E Gough, Swindon

Of course. It's up to the individual. If you want magic to be in your life, you will have magic in your life. It's about faith really. As I get older, I am experiencing a lot more little abstract moments. For example, when you're stuck at a red light in a taxi, you stare into the sky and experience a bit of magic. It's just a little buzz. It's not about red sparkly shoes or Santa Claus. It's more in between the clouds, more invisible.

You won the Palme d'Or for your role in Dancer in the Dark - and swore you'd never act again. How can I persuade you to come out of retirement?
Ben Smith, Manchester

It's a misunderstanding that I don't want to act because of my experience on Dancer in the Dark. I never really wanted to act. I'd just rather make music. I think it's a better use of me. But since I was a child, I've wanted to make one movie and for it to be a musical so I jumped at the chance of doing Dancer in the Dark. I don't think I will do another film. I'm more worried that I won't have time to make all the music I want to make in the 40 or 50 years I've got left to live.

Do you consider yourself eccentric?
Holly Brightman, London

I personally don't. People in Iceland don't think so, either. I went to a birthday party in Manhattan recently where there were only Icelanders. I was talking to a clerk who said he often just jumped into a taxi in the middle of the working day with no money and asked the driver to drive to the ocean now or he'd suffocate. Icelandic people are not like most people.

How closely related are you to the Björk we read about in the press?
Andy Norman, London

I don't know. The person you read about in the press will always be different from me, but that's OK, that's the nature of storytelling. I was 11 when my first record came out so I learnt really early that what other people think of me is not in my control. But I think overall I'm pretty lucky that people are interested in someone as unusual as myself.

I've read that you used to be inspired by the sea. Why? And does it still inspire you?
Nicola Tapp, by e-mail

It does. I've always lived by the sea. When I was a child, I was a short walk away, but once I had a choice, I moved to a house a minute away. I think it's to do with oxygen. I feel claustrophobic if I'm really far away from the ocean - like an animal in a cage. It makes a lot of sense to me that the Irish who went to the United States 200 years ago stayed on the East Coast or went all the way to the West Coast. And that people who emigrated from land-locked countries like Hungary tend to live in the middle of the States. The sea is just in your blood if you grow up with it.

What is the best environment in which to write songs?
Deirdre Jones, Cardiff

For me, it's when I've been alone in nature for a few days, preferably by the ocean. I've been everywhere where there is an ocean and not a lot of people to write my songs. Everywhere. At the end of November, I went to an island called Yakushima in Japan. It's tiny and it's got a rainforest and hot springs. Once I get there, there isn't a recipe for how and when to write. The minute I decide there is a recipe, it won't work. You've got to improvise.

You became famous in Iceland when you were 11 years old. Do you regret entering the spotlight so young?
Pam Lilley, London

I do think sometimes that I might have become a better musician without all the attention. It's bothersome. It wasn't that I particularly wanted to be famous at that age. It was driven a lot by my mum.

The British have always been very fond of you and your music. What do you think of us? How would you describe the British?
Frances James, by e-mail

Top sense of humour. I really like the British character. They're not emotional on the outside, but I don't mind working at getting to know people for a while. I lived in Britain for three years. I lived in Little Venice in London. Back then, it was a granny area and I liked it. But I had to move away because of the tabloids. There were 20 photographers sleeping in my bushes and I didn't like it.

What is your favourite outfit? And your favourite designer?
Paula Connelly, Edinburgh

Most of the time I just wake up and put on whatever I feel like wearing that day. My urge to go shopping comes in chunks. There'll be months when I don't get anything, then I'll get bored of everything I have and go on a search. I tend to buy my clothes from secondhand shops or little shops which stock designers that haven't become well known yet.

Björk is releasing 'Army of Me' remixes in May to raise money for the tsunami region. For more information visit

dimanche, mars 13, 2005

Björk in London

'Maybe I'll be a feminist in my old age'

She quit London for New York after being hounded by the press. Five years later, Björk has a new relationship and a new baby. But, she confesses, she's still homesick for the British sense of humour

Liz Hoggard
Sunday March 13, 2005
The Observer

It's impossible to be neutral about Björk. Her critics certainly have plenty of ammunition. She eats roast puffin. She has a bonkers fashion sense and speaks in a mix of Nordic and Mockney. Spitting Image made a puppet of her. She had a very public fight at Bangkok airport with a photographer who got too close to her son (images of Björk banging the woman's head on the floor went round the world). Director Lars Von Trier even claimed she tried to eat her dress during filming of Dancer in the Dark .

But for many people, her arrival on the late-Eighties British music scene (as part of the Icelandic punk band, the Sugarcubes; then as a solo artist) was a breath of fresh air. We'd not seen such an exotic, counterculture figure - one who wore plaits for heaven's sake - since the days of Lene Lovich. Broadly speaking, women in rock are 'babes' or 'troubled', but the image of Björk sprinting down the street in Spike Jonze's 1995 video, It's So Quiet (performing dance steps from a 1940s MGM musical) made it clear she has no time for sexual stereotypes. Neither model-thin, nor conventionally gorgeous, her stage charm rests on her sheer vitality.

Her only 'weak' spot seemed to be her relationships with men. Her marriage to Sugarcubes bassist Thor Eldon ended when their son was only a baby (she was a single mother at 22). There were broken engagements to bad boys, Goldie and Tricky, but no one seemed to match her intellectually. Then, four years ago, she met the American multi-media artist Matthew Barney (best known for his surreal Cremaster Cycle of films). Today, they live in Noel Coward's old house across the Hudson from Manhattan, with their baby daughter, Isadora. It seems a marriage of true eccentrics. Barney is a master provocateur (in 2003, he filled New York's Guggenheim with tapioca, petroleum jelly and beeswax) and he has worked as an athlete, model and medic - so one senses conversation is never dull.

The couple guard their privacy fiercely, but for the first time they are working together. Björk is writing a soundtrack for Barney's new film, Drawing Restraint 9, to be premiered in June in Japan. 'It's really liberating to do a project that's not just about me,' she enthuses. 'I mean I love being a very personal singer-songwriter, but I also like being a scientist or explorer.'

When I arrive for the interview, she is sprawled on the sofa, shoes off, eating tuna salad (no puffin today). She has flown in unexpectedly to talk about two new projects close to her heart. First she is releasing a DVD of videos filmed for her latest album, Medulla, widely regarded as a return to form. It's full of images of Björk dressed in a 50kg Alexander McQueen dress covered in tiny bells, and also as a hay bale (don't ask). Best of all is a spoof documentary following the making of Jonze's video for her single, Triumph of a Heart, an everyday tale of a woman and her commitment-phobic lover (played by a tabby cat called Nietzsche). The action winds up in a mad Icelandic bar with Björk's artist friends downing vodka and yodelling. It's the equivalent of a pub crawl with Björk.

Of course she was working with Jonze and Michel Gondry long before they became Hollywood stars. We talk about the success of Gondry's film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. 'Michel did a great work there. He gave Kate [Winslet] who's obviously such a huge spirit, such a vivacious lady, so much space. Usually when you see females in movies, they feel like they have these metallic structures around them, they are caged in by male energy. But she could be at her full volume without restrictions.' A contrast, one senses with von Trier, who loves brutalising his actresses.

A true fashion radical, Björk champions designers like Rei Kawakubo and Sophia Kokosalaki (who made the 'curtain' she wore to the 2004 Olympics). She would never wear jeans and a T-shirt, she says, because they are 'a symbol of white American imperialism, like drinking Coca-Cola'. Her most famous fashion faux pas was wearing a swan outfit to the 2000 Oscars (she claims it was a conceptual joke). Does she ever tire of being eccentric? 'It's like music. So long as it's a form of self-expression, I'm quite into it, but not when it becomes about power status. I do try and wear stuff by unknown designers, and I make sure I pay because if nothing else I have money.'

Today she is wearing a vintage yellow garment that is very nearly a dress, accessorised with an orange tracksuit top, silver shoes and gold handbag. A dusting of blue eyeshadow highlights her feathery eyebrows and wonderful flat cheekbones. She looks lovely. But she is also endearingly fidgety: scratching like a small child, twisting in her chair and trying to keep her dress this side of modest.

And yet one senses a new seriousness. Björk's other project is a charity album, with all proceeds going to Unicef. It is a collection of cover versions and mixes of her 1995 song, Army of Me (the most covered Björk track ever). She posted a message on her website giving fans a week to submit tracks, then whittled 600 down to 20. With its defiant lyrics ('And if you complain once more, you'll meet an army of me'), the song is classic Björk: brutal yet tender. And it has inspired an extraordinary mix of interpretations - from Canadian extreme metal to country.

She says it humbled her: 'I was on the 12th floor in Manhattan listening to all the versions, and I could see into all these windows. I suddenly realised that in all the bedrooms all around the world, there are people so busy doing so many things. After that, I stopped walking past houses thinking, "Oh this is just a place where people are couch potatoes and lead mundane lives".'

She'd been planning the charity album for several years, but the devastation of the tsunami in South East Asia proved the catalyst. Why does she think we responded so strongly when other humanitarian disasters are ignored? 'I think because it happened just a month after the Bush election, it made people think they really had a say in rebuilding things, that they could make a difference. For the first time since the Vietnam War there seems a universal feeling among common people that they don't agree with the people who are ruling the world.'

A self-confessed 'punk anarchist', she found herself politicised by the Iraq war. 'People like me who don't follow the news that much, suddenly I was looking online every day, just to see what was going on. I don't know about you, but whatever I was doing, having dinner with music people or plumbers (a lot of my family are electricians and carpenters), everyone was talking about the war and how they disagreed with it - or agreed with it, but everyone had a position. So although it has been destructive and disastrous, the good thing is that people actually want to have a say.

'A lot of the time I get obsessed by little nerdy things in my corner that no one else is interested in. I have that nerd factor in my character. So for once I was interested in something everyone else was interested in. I'm not going to talk like I know about politics, because I'm a total amateur, but maybe I can be a spokesperson for people who aren't normally interested in politics.'

Her last album Medulla was certainly her most political - but in a unique way. She came up with an a capella album featuring only human voices: yodelling, beatbox, Icelandic choral music. It was, she says, a way to counter 'stupid American racism and patriotism' after 9/11. 'I was saying, "What about the human soul? What happened before we got involved in problematic things like civilisation and religion and nationhood?"'

The other major influence on Medulla (Latin for 'marrow') was Björk's pregnancy with Isadora: the album is full of touching, visceral songs about birth. 'I became really aware of my muscles and bones. Your body just takes over and does incredible things.' Now 39, Björk is an example of a modern gap mother, with a three-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son (Sindri now lives with his father in Reykjavik, where Björk also spends part of the year).

'It's interesting for me to bring up a girl. You go to the toy store and the female characters there - Cinderella, the lady in Beauty and the Beast - their major task is to find Prince Charming. And I'm like, wait a minute - it's 2005! We've fought so hard to have a say, and not just live through our partners, and yet you're still seeing two-year-old girls with this message pushed at them that the only important thing is to find this amazing dress so that the guy will want you. It's something my mum pointed out to me when I was little - so much that I almost threw up - but she's right.'

She's open about the problems of balancing family and work. 'It's incredible how nature sets females up to take care of people, and yet it is tricky for them to take care of themselves.' Slightly to her astonishment she is becoming interested in women's rights. Because of her mother's own militancy - 'she wouldn't enter the kitchen, I mean come on' - she reacted the other way, adoring housework, knitting and sewing.

But recently, 'I have been noticing how much harder it is for me and my girlfriends to juggle things than it is for men. In the 1990s, there was a lot of optimism: we thought we'd finally sorted out equal rights for men and women ... and then suddenly it just crashed. I think this is my first time in all the hundreds of interviews I've done, that I've actually jumped on the feminist bandwagon. In the past I always wanted to change the subject. But I think now it's time to bring up all these issues. I wish it wasn't, but I'll do it, I'm up for doing the dirty work!'

Will it inspire new songs? 'It's definitely brewing inside me. Maybe if Medulla was my personal, idiosyncratic statement about politics, whatever I do next is going to be my eccentric view of feminism. It's like any major upheaval, whether it's the revolution in France or punk for me in the 1970s, you break up all the corruption and fuck up all the bad things, so you can start really fresh. But it's the law of nature that it all settles again, so you have to keep checking yourself. You can't ever say, "OK, we sorted out corruption and everyone is equal." So I might become a feminist in my old age!'

Born Björk Gudmundsdottir in Reykjavik in 1965, she grew up in a hippy commune with her mother and stepfather, a blues musician. 'I was brought up feeling that my mother had sacrificed herself for me. Fortunately she's now got a little business doing homeopathy from home, but she's almost 60. I'm still desperate to get over that sense of guilt. I don't want my baby to feel that.'

An infant prodigy, she released her first album aged 11 and was touring the world by 18, when the Sugarcubes' first single Birthday went global. She spent years living in London, but decamped to New York in 2000, driven out by British tabloids and a terrible incident where a 21-year-old 'fan' videotaped his own suicide after mailing an acid bomb to her record company.

Like fellow emigré David Bowie, she prefers the anonymity of New York, 'where they only have one tabloid, not four all competing against each other'. She says that she resolutely avoids celebrity parties but one day might like to run a music school for children. 'Part of me is probably more conservative than people realise. I like my old string quartets, I don't like music that's trippy for trippy's sake.' I say she seems slightly wistful about being back in London. Does she miss us? 'I love England. It's no coincidence it's the first place I moved to for a more cosmopolitan life, which is the only thing Iceland lacks. You can be a very critical, unforgiving people, you knock people down when you should be cheering. But criticism can be good. And this is a country that loves comedy. I saw a poll this week of top BBC moments, and the first five were all from comedies like The Office and Monty Python. You are very good at skimming corruption off the top and revealing the integrity inside. In Britain things have to be pure,' she grins, 'You just don't get away with bullshitting.'

· Medulla: DVD and Army of Me are released in May on One Little Indian Records.

vendredi, mars 11, 2005

Arcade Fire

Four funerals and a wedding

Arcade Fire's debut LP is all about death. Why does it sound quite so happy, wonders Dave Simpson

Friday March 11, 2005
The Guardian

Win Butler and Regine Chassagne look nonplussed. Their band, Arcade Fire, is winning praise from every corner. David Bowie has already seen them play three times, and has declared their debut album, Funeral, his favourite record of the past 12 months. David Byrne joined them on stage after hearing that they did a cover of his Talking Heads song This Must Be the Place. In Britain, critics have declared Funeral "a masterpiece". Now Butler and Chassagne are fending off offers of up to $1m from record companies - even though they managed to make Funeral for just $10,000.

"I'm pretty sure we'd make a terrible record for $1m," says Butler. He'd much rather downplay all the attention. "This is our first record, so it's a bit weird. It makes me suspicious. A lot of the stuff we like gets panned." He raises a sliver of a smile. "So maybe we're doing something wrong."

There may not be anything wrong, but there is definitely something very odd about Arcade Fire. The name comes from a story a friend told Butler and Chassagne about an inferno that claimed the lives of several children. (Butler insists that it probably wasn't true: "I've no evidence it happened, although things like that do, everywhere.") More strangely, they have made a giddy, atmospheric, curiously uplifting album about death. Real death. At least three family members died while the album was being recorded; some articles on the band have placed the body count as high as nine.

Sitting in a cafe in London, Butler and Chassagne betray little of the euphoria of their music. She is tiny, almost silent but prone to eruptions of excitement. He is a giant, and has the dry, quiet manner of an undertaker. Perhaps this is what happens when you make an album about private affairs and emotions and then are faced with the task of repeatedly talking about it in public.

"The songs were written before [the deaths], so there's not a one-to-one correlation," says Butler. Bowie told the pair that the album contained a mysterious "something else", but when I remind them of this it prompts one of Chassagne's eruptions. She'd hate it, she says, if people thought the band were freaky: "We're not the Addams family."

Chassagne's parents are from Haiti, but fled the country and "Baby Doc" Duvalier's murderous regime for the safety of Montreal before she was born. She met Houston-born Butler in 2000. At the time, she was playing medieval music in a band with recorders ("We played weddings, but not funerals") and he was studying Genesis - the first book of the Bible, not the Phil Collins band. "It wasn't the most popular major," Butler deadpans, "but it is the basis of western civilisation so I thought it'd be kinda interesting."

Butler had seen Chassagne singing at an art exhibition and made it clear he was, as he slyly puts it, "interested in collaborating". The relationship blossomed at the same time as the music. Butler was into Dylan, Leonard Cohen and New Order and had already been in a band called the Sleep; for Arcade Fire, the pair also called on Butler's brother Will and multi-instrumentalists Richard Parry and Tim Kingsbury. From the start they were raising eyebrows in Montreal, not only for the music on their demo tape, but because they performed alongside an electrified Christmas reindeer that they bought from K-Mart. Everything was going swimmingly - and then people started dying.

The first was Chassagne's grandmother, in June 2003. "She'd been sick for a long time," she says. "She had Parkinson's. She was mentally there but not physically. She'd say 'Come on, why don't you take me?' So it was kind of refreshing when she died." Butler and Chassagne married two months later, went to Trinidad and Tobago for their honeymoon and began recording. Then Butler's grandfather, Alvino Rey, died at the age of 95. In his life a famous bandleader, Rey is still with the band in a sense: My Buddy, a track he recorded in the 1940s, appears on the B-side of Arcade Fire's first UK single. "It was kind of a tribute," says Butler. "He'd grown up with Duke Ellington and when rock'n'roll came out in the 50s he felt the world was ending. But towards the end of his life I heard him say: 'Bruce Springsteen's music's bad but he's a great performer.' So he would have appreciated us ... a bit."

A month later, Parry's aunt Betsy died. By this point, the band were flitting between the recording studio and the funeral parlour. Nor is this likely to be the last death: Butler's other grandfather - also 95 - is currently in hospital. "He was playing tennis until a year ago and he wanted something for the back pain. The doctor explained that they could give him cortisone but that there'd be long-term effects. He said: 'I'm 95! I'm not worried about long-term effects!'" Butler bursts into laughter at the thought.

It would have been easy for the album to wallow in depression, but instead the music has something of Butler senior's defiance of death and lust for remaining life. "If people find it uplifting that's great," he says. "That's better than saying it's sad bastard music. I listened to my share of early Cure." He plays down the effects the deaths have had on their sound, pointing out that deaths happen around everyone. But not, surely, with this level of frequency? "One of the first short stories I wrote in school was just after my grandma died and I went to her funeral," he finally admits. "I guess being exposed to death at that age has an effect."

A permanent sense of loss may explain the eerie vibe of lyrics such as "ice has covered my parents' eyes". Chassagne explains that the line "if all the stillborns formed an army" in Une Année Sans Lumière refers to "all the babies killed and generations lost, compliments of Duvalier". The character in The Backseat is her mother, another dearly departed. However, some lines must remain shrouded in mystery, such as: "Alexander, our older brother, set out for adventure, got bit by a vampire, we caught his tears in a cup." "Some things are best left unknown," says Chassagne. "It's like if you look at a gem or a mirror. If you turn it around you'll see different things, different flashes."

Butler cheerily asserts his belief in some form of afterlife, pointing out that people are such specific personalities that it's hard to imagine it all going to nothing. One thing we won't see again, however, is the electric reindeer. "We had to leave it somewhere," he says with a sigh. "It died."

· Funeral is out now on Rough Trade. The single Neighbourhood 2 (Laika) is released on March 28.

Useful links : Arcade Fire official site ==> Arcade Fire

lundi, mars 07, 2005


Oasis Christen Album

by Eve Jenkin

7 March 2005

The ever-quarrelling Gallagher brothers have set aside their differences momentarily to release the follow-up to 2002's "Heathen Chemistry", "Don't Believe the Truth" - which is set to be released on May 30th.

Debut single off the album, "Lyla" (to be released on May 16th) is one of 66 tracks the band wrote in preparation for their sixth studio album, although obviously not all of them made the final cut. "It's The Who," says Noel of the single "'Lyla' was specifically designed for pogoing…I'm happy with every track on the album."

Following the new album's release, Oasis will tour the UK and Europe and have already sold-out all the shows including seven stadium concerts in the UK.

They will then head to the US for the first time since 2002 to play yet another sold-out show for 14,000 people at Madison Square Gardens alongside Jet.

vendredi, mars 04, 2005

Stereophonics: Adventures in stereo

Stereophonics sell millions, even though critics pan their derivative style.

Clare Dwyer Hogg meets the pride of Wales

Published : 04 March 2005

Two figures are enveloped in the large white sofas of a London hotel lobby on a Saturday afternoon. They are two thirds of the Stereophonics: the singer, Kelly Jones, and the new drummer, Javier Weyler. The bassist, Richard Jones, recently a father, is attending to a "family crisis".

"Not a serious one," says Jones, who, at 30, is looking altogether neat and tidy, with his short hair waxed into place and not a trace of anything as dissolute as a hangover. "There was something he couldn't get out of and he only knew this morning." Jones is used to the interview circuit. He's been dealing with questions since 1997, when the Stereophonics first album Word Gets Around came out.

Weyler, his Argentine companion, is less up with the scene. Up until July last year, he was the assistant engineer at a recording studio in Fulham where, two years ago, he'd worked on the Stereophonics' last album, You Gotta Go There To Come Back. Little did he know that when the original drummer, Stuart Cable, left, he'd step into his shoes. "He was making us tea and drumming at the same time," supplies Jones. They both laugh, but Cable's departure wasn't quite such a relaxed affair.

Jones is polite about the circumstances in which Cable left. Official statements cited his dwindling commitment to the band he helped found: there were rumours of tension within the group, and he eventually left a month after the domestic release of their last album. "It's relationships, you know," Jones says. "In any relationship you always get a weird period for a while - it's just the way it is." He shrugs.

Jones is closing the door on that avenue of conversation, but it's like pretending not to see the elephant standing in the middle of the room. Jones hasn't seen or spoken to his old friend since he left. For a band that grew up in the same small town in Wales, had a covers band in their teens, were one of the first signed to Richard Branson's V2 label in 1996, and made four albums together, two years without any contact is a big deal. "The Stuart thing was nearly two years ago, " Jones says casually. "We kind of left that where it was and just tried to think about the future rather than the past." It's the nice way of saying "no comment".

Thinking of the future meant using Steve Gorman, the former drummer of the Black Crowes, on tour, and then inviting Weyler to join the band on a permanent basis. Weyler speaks passionately about the band, explaining that his involvement was happy coincidence, but a natural progression in what he'd been doing anyway. He is no Pop Idol wannabe. "It is weird, but it feels right so I don't question it too much," he says. He wasn't altogether prepared for the media circus surrounding a successful band, however. "If you're thinking about that at the beginning then you're in it for the wrong reasons," he says."

Jones encourages this view. "Great press is always as dangerous as bad press, because you start believing it," he says. "And if you're getting slagged all the time, it keeps you hungry, keeps you wanting to fight for something." And the Stereophonics have certainly had enough to keep them hungry: British music critics have given them a hard time almost from the word go.

They were Best Newcomers at the Brits after their second album and hailed as the next big thing but - as is its wont - the NME jumped off the bandwagon almost immediately, slating them for being too much like The Faces, and the backlash began.

The slight Jones, sitting placidly in the white denim jacket he bought in Japan, is apparently impervious to negativity. "I've been reviewed by a British journalist for a gig in New York that I haven't even played," he says. "So I won't take anything that seriously." The pain must also be somewhat eased by album sales. Their last three albums have reached number one, and they have sold more than seven million records. "I just do the songs, do the gigs, and have a great time. I judge things literally from what I see in front of me," Jones says.

He especially likes playing for an audience who don't know the band, as he did for five weeks last year when the Stereophonics supported David Bowie on his American tour. "We wanted to do it because we have played major US cities, but we hadn't toured middle America before," Jones explains. "You'd walk on stage and no-one would give a toss, but at the end of the set there'd be a standing ovation. You can actually feel that you're winning people. I started to get a buzz out of that," he grins.

They have high praise for Bowie. "I don't know what he's been like in the past but to us he was amazing," Jones says. "He watched our soundchecks and dedicated 'Life on Mars' to us one night. He was top. And we played a five-a-side football match with him. He presented the trophy."

Their glee at this story is palpable. "We lost," Jones says. "Well, it was a 'you need to lose kind of thing,'" Weyler laughs. "We beat U2 though," Jones reminds him.

Playing footie with David Bowie and U2 is a far cry from his roots in Cwmaman, South Wales, but Jones maintains that he doesn't feel that he's a long way from who he was. "Wales is where I was born and that's who I am and where I got my morals. But I live in London because that allows me to do this kind of job and be creative. And it's close to the airport."

He feels no inclination to say where he stands on Welsh devolution, or on politics generally. "We do care about things but we don't take a particular action," says Weyler, stepping in quickly to generalise the conversation. This level of diplomacy is maybe part of the reason they haven't endeared themselves to the critics: the line between public and private is firmly drawn.

"You don't have to show everything you do to everybody," pipes up Jones in defence of his band, who, unlike their Britpop rough contemporaries have never courted the media much. "Being slated or praised for your music is one thing, but being slated or praised for being you when they don't really know who you are is a different issue."

"I mean," he continues, "you come out of a club and your girlfriend's 50 yards in front of you, so obviously you've broken up. She could be going to get the car!" He shakes his head. He did split up with his girlfriend of 12 years around the time that he was writing You Gotta Go There To Come Back, but aside from the obvious emotion in the album, that was done very much in private, too. He's adamant that it's the best way. "Some people go out on the town if they've a record coming out, and have a lot of pictures taken," he says. "We've never really sold records that way."

But he has much to say about the forthcoming album, Language. Sex. Violence. Other? The first single, "Dakota", has been getting a lot of radio-play, and the general consensus is that it doesn't sound like the Stereophonics, which is why many people seem to like it.

"I think it's cool that people say that," says Jones. "I've had the best reaction for a long time: I quite like the uncomfortableness of it. I played it to friends who didn't know what on Earth it was, and even I didn't know if I liked it." He stops. "In the past I always tried to make records to please my older mates and then I realised I never did that in the first place, so why should I do it now?" There wasn't, he says, a plan to do something "different" with this one - it just happened. "It was a very natural process," Jones says. He co-produced the album with Jim Lowe, and wrote all the songs. "While I'm on tour I record songs on a Dictaphone whenever they come. I didn't realise that I had so many until I listened to them one day." They finished touring on 8 July and by 23 July were in the studio - with Weyler on drums - whittling down the 18 potential songs to the 10 that are on the album.

Language. Sex. Violence. Other? eschews the blues and soul influences of the last album, veering instead into rock'n'roll with electronic beats. The band say they wanted it to be more upbeat, which it generally is, although the snaking thread of cynicism throughout doesn't fit easily with the reality of these two unimposing band members.

The rather unwieldy title comes from Jones's fascination with classification. "Every movie in every language covering every subject is broken down into those three categories," he says. " It offers a question mark. Is that all we're interested in, or is there something else, you know?" He stops to think, then reels off a list: "Body language, foreign language, bad language. And sex could mean gender or just sex. I love having a title where you can interpret it and make up what you want."

The ownership of language is something the band have struggled with before - they wanted to call Just Enough Education to Perform by its acronym JEEP, but they were foiled by Daimler-Chrysler, who claimed the word as their intellectual property. There's a defiance in this new collection of songs which ties in with this: something about a reclaiming of ownership and direction. Critics can criticise, but fans are still following them around and buying their records. And for this band, that seems to be enough.

'Language. Sex. Violence. Other?' is released on 14 March on V2

© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.

jeudi, mars 03, 2005

Pam Bricker RIP

Thievery Corporation Singer Commits Suicide

by Paul Cashmere

3 March 2005

Thievery Corporation's Pam Bricker has taken her life. A message at the Thievery Corporation website announced the news.

"On Sunday, February 20th we lost our long time friend and collaborator Pam Bricker. Pam has been a Thievery Corporation mainstay, (both on tour and in the studio) contributing vocals on the first three Thievery Corporation albums, most notably on the epic Thievery track "Lebanese Blonde." Her class, easy-going nature, professionalism, and her distinct, beautiful voice will be eternally missed. Music fans from DC to Istanbul and everywhere in between mourn her loss, and we mourn with you. In lieu of flowers, please make donations in Pam's name to Heifer International an organization that she supported".

Thievery Corporation is the brainchild of producers Rob Garza and Eric Hilton.

Pam appeared on the two Thievery Corporation albums 'Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi' (1997) and 'Richest Man In Babylon' (2002).

She also released her solo albums 'Looking Good' (1996) and 'U-Topia' (2000).

She died on February 20.

mercredi, mars 02, 2005

Dave Rowntree

Empire-building for drummers

Dave Rowntree is more animated than your average sticksman. When not playing with Blur, he's directing a cartoon series. Chris Mugan meets him

02 March 2005

They are the butt of many a muso joke. What do you call a drummer without a van? Homeless. The Rolling Stones' sticksman Charlie Watts put it another way. He said he had been in the band 25 years; 20 of them spent sitting around.

It is a quote often repeated by his counterpart in Blur, who has said he has no desire to waste his down time. Now, Dave Rowntree seems to have cracked it, as he hurries into his office foyer several minutes late, deli sandwich and bottle of water under his arms. Both remain untouched for the next hour, as Rowntree hurriedly explains his passage from quiet member of one of rock's most outspoken outfits to director of his own animation series. While Damon Albarn hides behind Jamie Hewlett's animation in his Gorillaz side-project, Rowntree has been doing it for himself.

Empire Square, which is airing weekly as part of Channel 4's late-night 4Music strand, documents the adventures of three youngsters making their way in a sick, loveless urban environment. There is Richie, who would have been a Pop Idol winner if not for Tourette's syndrome, the innocent techie, Rabbit, and the sassy go-getter, Hooks. The flavour of the series can be summed up by quoting the précis to episode eight, "Boob Jobs, Live!".

"Influenced by the Surgery Channel, the kids go into business giving back-street boob-jobs. Things look rosy, but what is that moving inside the crack-whore's new tit?"

Rowntree explains himself thus: "We wanted to poke fun at the things that make us angry and get people to gasp in amazement at what we get away with. I don't find things like South Park offensive. What offends me is that arbitrary attitude and enforced morality. The idea that bare breasts are evil, that is deeply offensive."

He is surprisingly eloquent for a skin-beater, but then, he has managed to carve out a niche for himself before. The computer-science graduate gained his high profile as an evangelist of the ill-fated Beagle 2. Full of scientific curiosity and national pride, Blur's bassist, Alex James, and Rowntree had already cajoled their band into writing the music that the Mars lander would broadcast when it touched ground. It was Rowntree, though, that spent Christmas 2003 at the mission's press centre in Camden.

Last year, he was one of the staunchest critics of the British Phonographic Industry's policy to sue downloaders of illegal music. But what has been kept out of view is that Rowntree has run a computer animation company for several years. It grew out of a childhood interest in cartoons. "I never had the patience to learn to draw," he says. "Like many kids, I assumed that you were artistic or you weren't; you could draw straight out of the womb or you couldn't. It was never explained to me it was something you could just learn to do."

As Blur became successful, they spent more time on the road and Rowntree found he had a lot of time on his hands. "[Watt's quote] has real truth about what it's like to be on tour, and to be a drummer in the studio. You do your stuff, then for three weeks you sit around playing video games. I decided early on I wasn't going to waste my 20 years."

Just before Toy Story introduced us to a new wave of sophisticated, hi-tech animation, Rowntree invested in a laptop and learnt how to do it himself. What started as a hobby became more serious as contacts asked him to do little jobs, until in 1999 he set up his company, Nanomation. Clients included advertising agencies and The 11 O'Clock Show, the Channel 4 comedy series that launched the careers of Ricky Gervais, Iain Lee and Mackenzie Crook. His most high-profile job, though, was technical animation for Beagle 2, creating computer-generated images of how the Milton Keynes-made craft was to float down.

Rowntree bounced back from that disappointment by taking on an even bigger challenge - devising his own cartoon show. In conjunction with colleagues at online marketing company Outside Line, where he helps to run a management company, he hit upon the idea of adult animation. Rowntree acknowledges that his baby owes a huge debt to The Simpsons, which created the genre of adult-oriented television animation, though Empire Square's scatological humour and lo-fi techniques betray the fact he is a bigger fan of South Park.

"It makes me a bit unwelcome in animation circles, where The Simpsons is taken to be the God of animation, but it is a very traditionally American, moral programme. It is subversive, but only slightly so. And it has that kind of slapstick American humour that comes across as sickly when smug actors do it, but it works when you transpose it on to cartoons, because you can't take the characters seriously."

What is different with Empire Square is that Rowntree wants each episode to tell a story. You will even find one narrative stretching over two shows. "I'd much rather tell a story than anything else, even to the extent of sacrificing some of the laughs. A lot of people, when we started the project, said, 'Oh, it's a cartoon. You can do anything', but we want to do more than make kids laugh."

Rowntree stops and marvels at the novel situation he finds himself in. "It doesn't sound very rock'n'roll, does it?" he says. "I should have shagged someone on the way over here. We did break things at one point, if I remember rightly."

True, his role as director of a television series leaves little room for debauchery, while animation remains the geeky member of the creative family. Having said that, though, Empire Square is groundbreaking in some respects, and deserves its place alongside the shaky-handed rock docs and cutting-edge promos on 4Music.

With a pilot of a children's cartoon series, Rowntree had already done the round of television companies. Soon, the fêted drummer found he was starting afresh at the bottom of a ladder similar to one he had already climbed. "We saw straight away that it was a soul-destroying way to live your life, and you kept bumping into the same sad people on the circuit," he says. "It was like the music industry, in that people you meet are not high up enough to actually make decisions. I suppose the people with the chequebooks need to be protected from all that."

Rowntree's team decided to circumvent the television industry and set out on their own. The reason Empire Square's animation is so basic is that the three-minute episodes were designed to be shown on mobile phones and computer screens. Now its director believes the series' retro style could be an important part of its appeal. "When we started, screens were so fuzzy that unless you had a really sharp outline, you couldn't see what the hell was going on, and you had a low frame rate, so you couldn't do complex movements. But the more we compensated for those, the more unique it looked on the TV screen."

Rowntree found the mobile-phone medium to beunregulated, which allowed them to introduce child-molesters and necrophiliac morticians into their little world. "We were struck by parallels between the mobile-phone industry and the video-recorder industry 20 years ago. It was completely unregulated, and it was the outrageous content that sold VCR, not anything else. Now, it's porn that sells internet connections. We thought, the more safe it was, the less people would give a shit. The only point in doing it was because (a) it was funny and (b) people couldn't believe what we'd done."

Now he is working on turning the basic, short animations into 30-minute episodes - a leap that he is struggling to get his head round. "It's all about the scripts in a half-hour series," he says. "The whole thing lives or dies by that. To some extent, in a three-minute show you can be less funny somewhere to make the story work; you can beef it up somewhere else. But over a half-hour the whole script has to work." In fact, Rowntree will need a team bigger than his current four-man outfit of himself, designer, animator and scriptwriter.

That should not be a problem, as the man who speaks of himself as the diplomat in Blur is managing to impose himself on his current project. "I have to be a bit less concerned about getting on with everyone and more concerned about getting on with the job. It's very important I get my own way here, because you can't have this thing made by committee. Everybody has their own idea of what it should look like, and if you allow them to impose their views, it would end up a mishmash."

Rowntree is keen to not let his other concerns dilute coverage of Empire Square. He avoids questions on his part in the management venture Transistor Project, which looks after the Italian crooner Zucchero. Last year, he inadvertently revealed that his band had convened to run though some new songs. That rehearsal, he admits, was at his insistence. "Making an album takes three years, and for us, finding the time to do it gets harder and harder," he says. "Last time, it was me, surprisingly enough. We've passed the stage in our career where we've got that much to prove, so there has to be a good reason to do it."

While Albarn works on a Gorillaz album, due out this year, and James embraces fatherhood, the band are in no rush to release a new album. A good thing, really, because their quietest member has found how to articulate his own ambitions. With help from three foul-mouthed street urchins, drummer jokes have left the building for good.

'Empire Square' is on Fridays at 12.10am on Channel 4

©2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.