lundi, septembre 19, 2005

Indie..? well...

NEW YORK - As the CMJ Music Marathon - the Sundance of rock 'n' roll - descends on New York this weekend, hundreds of unknown indie bands are getting their shot at fame.

Lately, their odds are a little better. With the success of groups like Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse and Bright Eyes, indie rock is seeping into the mainstream - a mixed blessing for a genre that prides itself on being underground.

"There's been a real zeitgeist in the last couple years with kids and shy, quiet indie rock bands who are connecting with people en masse," says Death Cab guitarist Chris Walla.

Stephen Malkmus, who fronted the quintessential '90s indie band Pavement, is now a solo artist. "I started when it was still college rock," he says. "It seems to have become more institutionalized in big cities ... I'm glad to be a part of it."

"It" is blended into TV shows like "The O.C.," movie soundtracks like the upcoming "Elizabethtown" and a healthy amount of commercials. Unlike sellout-conscious Kurt Cobain wannabes, today's indie fans are mostly rooting for the success of the music - and often exasperated at the relative anonymity of their favorite band.

Like Natalie Portman says of the Shins in "Garden State": "They'll change your life."

"The entire independent scene has come to the fore," says Bobby Haber, founder and CEO of CMJ, or College Media Journal. "I think it's a watershed moment."

Death Cab's fifth album, "Plans," has sold 128,000 copies in two weeks after debuting at No. 4. Modest Mouse's "Good News for People Who Love Bad News" has gone platinum. Last November, singer-songwriter Connor Oberst's band, Bright Eyes, had two songs top the Billboard singles chart - knocking out a duet by Usher and Alicia Keys and sending the indie rock world into a tailspin.

"Universe reveals plan to self-destruct," wrote Ryan Schreiber of, arguably the critical epicenter of indie music.

Indie rock, like alternative music in the early '90s, is a vague term meant to characterize progressive, underground rock 'n' roll.

"It used to mean, especially in the late '80s, early '90s, that you were on an indie label like Matador or Sub Pop," says Sia Michel, editor-in-chief of Spin magazine. Now, she says, the term defines a specific sound, "this kind of smart, but tuneful and passionate kind of rock music."

Unlike alt-rock, which was focused on grunge and anti-corporate anger, indie rock is a much broader sound that can incorporate forms of folk, country and electronica - but is mostly in the tradition of groups like Velvet Underground and Talking Heads.

Current indie bands also rarely have the desire for cultural change like alternative acts did. "There is NOTHING about what we're doing that screams cultural revolution," Walla says.

There's also more acceptance of the corporate world. Though they still carry the indie flag, Death Cab, Modest Mouse and semi-indies like Franz Ferdinand and the Killers are all signed to major labels.

"Ten years ago, an indie rock band wouldn't have been caught dead being signed to a major," says Nic Harcourt, host of the influential radio show "Morning Becomes Eclectic" on Los Angeles' KCRW. Today, "the sensibility is more of an aesthetic than it is a manifesto."

Michel agrees: "It's almost seen as kind of cool to score an iPod commercial."

Speaking of which, iTunes and Internet downloads have made it easier for music fans to connect with underground artists. For Postal Service (a collaboration of Death Cab's Ben Gibbard and Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello) Sub Pop received more than 4 million downloads of "Such Great Heights" through The album, "Give Up," has now
sold over 650,000 copies, the label's biggest seller since Nirvana's "Bleach."

Then there are TV and movies, which are often being created by young people who like indie bands. The long-haired, reverb-heavy My Morning Jacket are featured in Cameron Crowe's upcoming film "Elizabethtown," and Aqueduct's quirky lo-fi can currently be heard behind pictures of plush Jaguars.

If there's one band iconic of the scene, it's Arcade Fire. Hailing from Montreal, a bastion of indiedom, their debut, "Funeral," blew away critics and has sold over 200,000 discs.

"I think they're like the best band, period," says Carl Newman, frontman of the New Pornographers, echoing the feelings of many indie rockers.

Some point to Arcade Fire as the obvious candidate to sell like Modest Mouse.

"It's not that (indie rock) is strange, it's not that bizarre - it's simply a little ahead of its time," says Haber. "In late 1978, the Police sounded pretty strange ... but six months later, it was on Top 40 radio with `Roxanne.'"

Walla credits Death Cab's switch to Atlantic (from indie Barsuk) in part to the creative contract they were offered. He says some majors are starting to rethink their role, turning away from "producing" bands in favor of simply distributing them.

So are majors now trying to sign "the next Death Cab"?

"If all of a sudden, that becomes the flavor of the month and all the labels want to sign a band like Death Cab for Cutie, then we're onto the next cycle of alternative rock and it's dead as soon as they start it," says radio host Harcourt. "So I hope not."

dimanche, septembre 18, 2005

Dead Can Dance


- J. Poet, Sunday, September 18, 2005

You may not know the music, but you'll never forget the name of the band or the ghoulish images that skitter through your brain the first time you hear Dead Can Dance.

The band is the partnership of Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry, composer-songwriters whose sound spans continents and centuries to bring forth moody music that echoes cultural influences from Ireland to the Middle East, from the 12th century to the present day. DCD makes music that could belong to any or all cultures.

In 1996, after a decade of cult-artist status, DCD had a No. 1 hit on Billboard's world music chart with the album "Spiritchaser." Gerrard and Perry completed a world tour to ecstatic notices from fans and critics, then went on an extended hiatus that many feared was the end of the road. Perry retreated to his castle in the Irish countryside and Gerrard went back to Australia to tend to her family and write music for motion pictures, including "Gladiator," "Whale Rider," "Ali" and "Layer Cake."

"(Performing live) invigorates you, but life on the road wears you down," Gerrard says by phone from Seattle, where she was rehearsing with the rest of the DCD ensemble for their current American tour. "The frequencies hitting your ears and the volume can tire you, but you're so elated onstage you don't notice it. The next morning you implode. You do five gigs in a row, have a day off, then seven in a row, day off -- it's a strange kind of torture. You love it, but it destroys you."

That said, Gerrard goes on to explain the reasoning behind the band's reunion.

"It may sound pretentious or self-important, but the things happening on the planet today are making people suffer," she says. "I understand culture and spirituality, but I don't like nationalism or religion. Nationalism is a political device and religious people quickly forget the basic tenets (of Christianity), which include thou shalt not kill, for one. We offer our music as a gift to provoke a deeper sensibility in the consciousness of people; we hope to bring people to a state that's not just entertaining. We ask the audience and ourselves: What is spirituality? What is it to be an artist? What is it to be human?

"Those are questions that must be answered from the inside out, not from the outside in. Brendan and I have a difficult relationship, there's no doubt about it, but (the songs) we've created are like our children. If we can overcome the things that separate us and offer the music as an olive branch, perhaps we can create some positive energy and open the pathway of the heart to a deeper understanding of the spirit. We can remind ourselves that we're all multidimensional creatures."

Gerrard and Perry will be playing many new compositions Wednesday and Thursday at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, songs that have been road tested during the European leg of their tour.

"About half the set is new stuff. We save the older pieces for the encores, if we get them," Gerrard says archly. "We haven't written together in a while, but we've both brought in things we've written on our own. We don't know if there will be a new album yet; we'll have to wait and see how Brendan is feeling at the end of all this."

Gerrard will be singing in her newly discovered lower register, a gruff almost other-worldly tone she discovered while recording "Immortal Memory," her 2004 collaboration with Patrick Cassidy.

"Years ago I sang on a track using that voice and someone asked, 'Who is that terribly depressed man?' " Gerrard says. "But Patrick loved it. He said, 'You sound like a young boy, like a child, like an old woman, like an old man,' and really, we all have all of those things inside of us. I don't do any vocal gymnastics to make the voice better as I age. If it comes out rougher, then it's true to what's happening. Singing is who I am. I didn't train for it, any more than I trained for anything else I did. I probably should take better care of myself physically, but it goes against the grain."

At the end of the current tour, Gerrard will be putting the finishing touches on her next solo album.

"I'm working with Michael Edwards, a keyboard player and programmer, and Patrick Cassidy, but it's not like anything I've ever done before," she says. "All the compositions are mine, so it's a real solo album. Still, I'll be showcasing their input because they're both brilliant." (Both Edwards and Cassidy are part of the current DCD touring ensemble, along with John Bonnar, keys; Lance Hogan, guitar; and percussionists Simeon Smith and Niall Gregory.)

If a new Dead Can Dance album isn't in the cards, Gerrard has plenty to keep her busy. In addition to her solo project, there are soundtracks to compose and, back home in Australia, a family to raise.

"At the end of the day, success has nothing to do with money," Gerrard says. "In a perfect world, I wouldn't have to play my music to anyone outside my radius because everyone would be playing their own music. But we don't live in a perfect world, so I share as widely as I can and try to maintain some sense of sanity. The money lets me stay at home to be a good parent, but it has nothing to do with making music.

"I have a friend who is an opera singer and she never sang publicly in her life. She sang in hospitals to people who were sick. I was interviewing her for a documentary film I was making, and she could have become the most important opera singer in Australia, but at 88 she was merely a wonderful old eccentric.

"She told me: 'I have achieved what I've wanted to achieve, one to one. I hold a person's hand as I sing to them, and I can see the intimacy between us written in their eyes. I'd never change that for a stage.' " •

mardi, septembre 13, 2005

Weirdo Tori

Weird Tori interview from The Village Voice

Updated Tue, Aug 16, 2005 - 10:38pm ET


I'm not a bees-nessman, I'm a bees-ness, mannnn

Riff Raff Interviews TORI AMOS--Believe it!

This past February singer-songwriter Tori Amos released The Beekeeper, her eighth studio album and most apicultural effort to date. Bees this, bees that--except it's not really about bees. In conjunction with the record, Amos's autobiography Piece by Piece hit shelves around the same time. The book was co-written by ex-Village Voice music editor Ann Powers, who helped Amos explore the intricacies of her songwriting process. Only some of the book is about bees, but enough that it warrants mention. Amos performs Wednesday August 17 at Jones Beach and Friday August 19 at the PNC Center, but you know Riff Raff--we gets the pre-concert scoop. Exclusive.

You worked with Ann Powers on your book--she used to edit the music section here.

I approached Ann, and we began to decide, wow, a conversation between two women that have very different perspectives in the music business--[that] could give people a backstage pass into this world which would cover creativity, being a mom, the issues that women have to face when they're working and then want to be moms, and then when you become a mom, the responsibility and still trying to be 100% committed to your creativity, and then how do you survive the music business. She came out and hung out on the road with me for about three weeks, on Scarlet's Walk, and this is where we'd sit in the bus and talk.

Did Ann ever get sorta annoying?

Well the thing about Ann is that she's vicious but fair. And when I say that, when I say vicious, I mean with her pen. There is an elegance and a grace also with Ann that you also must have in the same statement, if you're gonna say 'vicious but fair.'


I wanted somebody who I felt could be tough and yet coming from the compassionate heart. Ann says to me, "Listen, you're writing this work, this album"--I hadn't entitled it yet--"How poignant if we could document the creative process to see an inception of a project and see the different stages and levels that it goes through to finally become what it will become."

Did Ann write any of the songs on your record?

Oh no, of course not. Oh no no no no no. As a songwriter, I'm sort of a seahorse. Don't they mate with themselves?

No I think they kill their mates.

Seahorses don't kill their mates! Do they? The men have babies.

The men have the babies, but the women always kill the men.

The men don't kill--the women don't kill the men!

I'm sorry, you're right. I get all these animals mixed up anymore.

Wait a minute. Seahorses I don't think--

It's a praying mantis.

It's a praying mantis. I'm a minister's daughter. I'm staying away from praying. As a songwriter, I join with the creative force. But I'm the sole songwriter.

Have you thought of doing a record called The Praying Mantis-keeper?

It's scary, because as a woman, number one, I don't see myself killing my mate, or chopping his head off after sex. You follow me?

I think so. You're basically saying you would never really kill anyone unless you sorta had to, as a songwriter.

As a lioness force. As a lioness who's protecting her cubs.

I'm glad we cleared that up.

But bees, we have to be clear. The drones do get pushed out of the hive. But it is a matriarchal society. But The Beekeeper wasn't about us being like bees in every aspect. It is about that the bee represented in the ancient feminine mysteries sacred sexuality. Because the worker bee, which is female, goes and joins with the organ of the flower, then of course takes the nectar, pollinates, goes back to the hive, they create honey by regurgitating.

I believe you.

To me, the creativity that comes out of the worker bee and the sexuality aspect in Christianity, as you know, sexuality became associated with Magdalene, who was thought of as the prostitute, not as a prophet, because it was not profitable. And I've been trying to corollate those three words--prostitute, prophet, profitable--from the early Fathers of the Church.

Have you heard about that mystery book The DaVinci Code?

Oh yeah yeah, I've read that.

When you were reading it, did you know what was going to happen at the end?


Personally I thought the ending was quite surprising.

I'd be curious to see what Ann would have to say about this. We had a chuckle about The DaVinci Code just because this information has been out there for a while. And yet it seems to not be able to penetrate to the masses. You have kinds of genealogists and historians who have been writing about this stuff for a long time. Dan Brown was able to collect these nuggets of information and put it into a story form that the masses could ingest.

Which is brilliant.

You have to commend that. You have to give Dan Brown his due.

Do you think your record is better than The DaVinci Code?

Well I would never get into that. That's like saying one piece of artwork from one artist is better than another. You're saying that a Matisse is better than a Chagall.

Really though your record is better than The DaVinci Code, right?

But they're such different works, you know what I mean?

Well you'll at least admit that your record is better than Angels & Demons, right?

I didn't read Angels & Demons, because I can't get into this. We should get into shoes. That's like saying that Louboutin is better than Sergio Rossi.

That's true though.

No I like Sergio Rossi shoes! Also I have both of them.

Either way, I think it's really fascinating how all this information was out there, and then it finally made its way into public consciousness via The DaVinci Code, and then ultimately better via The Beekeeper.

You're being very kind about it, but he doesn't write music, and I don't write these kinds of book narratives. I'm not a book writer, I'm a musician. This is my form. But I will say, if people were inspired by The DaVinci Code, they need to go read the Gnostic Gospels, they need to go read some of this information that inspired that book.

Would you consider doing some sort of collaboration with Dan Brown?

I know you seem very focused on the Dan Brown thing, but the point is he helped pave the way for the masses to be open to more artists that have been singing this tune for a long time.

I'm just saying his books would be better if you helped him write his books.

I can't do--that's not my job. You know what, maybe you should collaborate with Dan Brown.

Only under the condition that we always work while The Beekeeper, which is superior to The DaVinci Code, play in the background.

You know, Dan Brown has sent me a very warm message. He has sent messages through the publisher that he acknowledges and honors the music, and I received that with a smile.

It makes sense that he would respect your work--the work of a superior.

I can't go through with this anymore.

Posted by: Mikewhy