vendredi, décembre 28, 2007

Oscar Peterson

Oscar Peterson no more.

Canada's legendary jazz pianist, a technical virtuoso who performed with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz and Dizzy Gillespie and inspired generations of jazz musicians, dies aged 82.

John Fordham
Tuesday December 25, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

Oscar Peterson
Oscar Peterson: 'could transform any melody into streams of spontaneous alternatives'. Photograph: AP
After the phenomenal jazz-piano virtuoso Art Tatum died in 1956, Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson - who had already been waiting in the wings for a decade - eased his formidable frame on to the throne. Like Tatum, Peterson had a Liszt-like technique (classical music's star pianists came to marvel at both of them), and could transform any melody into streams of spontaneous alternatives, sustain any tempo, use his left hand as freely as his right, and keep a faultless built-in rhythm section at work in his head. These skills made Peterson, who has died of kidney failure at the age of 82, one of the best-loved stars in the jazz mainstream. The sympathetic but uncharitable among jazz purists might have held that Peterson was the unfortunate victim of his spectacular technique. All his performances would feature the same mix of flooding arpeggios, cascading introductions and codas, ragtime and barrelhouse pastiches, and solos at impossible tempos - and even after a stroke in 1993, the indomitable keyboard giant fought on to rebuild much of his sweeping technical authority. The standard Peterson trio offering would be the uptempo tune (either a standard or an original that sounded like a standard), starting either solo or with minimal accompaniment. It would grow in volume from both piano and drums in the second chorus, and by the third become an unbroken cascade of runs the length of the keyboard, resolving in thumping chords, thumbs-down-the-keys ripples and churning repeated phrases.

With cavalier glee, Peterson would apply this treatment to tunes ideally suited to it - like Anything Goes, or Sweet Georgia Brown - and to those that weren't, since he would often subject ballads to same burnups, bizarrely relapsing them into caresses at the end. Yet there was a true artist in Peterson too. Deliciously liquid arpeggios and arching, yearning phrases would sometimes emerge once he was sure he had given his audiences what they initially expected, and such contrastingly patient and spacious music might then allow the eloquence of his frequently superb accompanists to flower, notably the work of the double-bass giant Ray Brown.

Peterson had received classical piano lessons from the age of six in his native Montreal; the impetus came from his father, a railway porter and self-taught pianist. At 14, Oscar won a local radio talent contest, and worked in his late teens on a weekly Montreal radio show - and he was also a regular member of Canada's Johnny Holmes Orchestra, playing in an elegant swing keyboard style drawn from Teddy Wilson, Tatum and Nat "King" Cole. Though he had studied trumpet too, childhood illness led him to abandon it for the piano, and he practised constantly, an irrepressible enthusiasm mingling with natural gifts to build a fully two-handed technique (some 40s jazz pianists made relatively perfunctory use of the left hand) that rivalled that of classical recitalists. Though Cole was perhaps the artist Peterson felt most in sympathy with stylistically, the speed, orchestral richness and lyrical sweep of his music made the virtuoso Tatum the only fitting comparison once the Canadian's mature style formed.

Peterson resisted offers to come to America at first, but made his US debut at Carnegie Hall with Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic in September 1949. Granz saw in Peterson just his kind of charismatic, communicative performer who reaches out from the subculture of jazz to a much wider audience, and he managed the pianist's career through the 1950s, recorded him, and regularly toured him with Jazz At The Philharmonic. Initially the pianist adopted the Cole trio's methods, frequently playing simply with guitar and double bass and allowing his own unerring rhythmic sense and driving swing to take the place of drums. Through the 1950s, Peterson's bassist was usually Brown, with Herb Ellis on guitar - but from 1958, Ellis was replaced by the subtle drummer Ed Thigpen, one of the few percussionists who could complement the storming Peterson without appearing to compete with him for the maximum number of sounds squeezable into a bar. The group recorded extensively, and Peterson's reworkings of classic standards were so exuberant and upbeat that his recordings found their way into the collections of jazz fans and fascinated non-buffs alike.

In 1960, Peterson founded the Advanced School of Contemporary Music in Toronto - assisted by Brown, Thigpen and composer/clarinettist Phil Nimmons - and he remained there for the next three years, devoting much of his time to running the institution. But he continued to perform and record, and developed another string to his considerable bow by singing on a Cole dedication, With Respect to Nat, in 1965.

In the 1970s, though jazz was in retreat against the swelling popular and commercial pressure of rock'n'roll, Peterson continued to prove that his talents were robust enough to be less affected by the changing climate than most. He took to performing unaccompanied, and delivered astonishingly self-sufficient performances in which he frequently seemed to resemble two or three pianists playing simultaneously. By this time one of the most secure of mainstream international jazz stars, Peterson was now invited to perform in all kinds of contexts, including work with symphony orchestras, and guest appearances on many all-star jazz get-togethers with artists including Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry, and guitarist Joe Pass. In later years Peterson frequently worked in duet with bassist Niels-Henning 0rsted Pedersen, a remarkable virtuoso of complementary gifts to the pianist's. Pared-down accompaniment always suited Peterson best, since his devastating technique frequently meant that the more musicians there were in a Peterson group, the more they would all try to keep up, like a party full of non-stop talkers.

Peterson had a prolific output as a recording artist, in some years releasing as many as half a dozen albums. Affinity (1963) was one of his biggest sellers, but his catalogue includes interpretations of the songbooks of Cole Porter and Duke Ellington, a highly successful single on Jimmy Forrest's compulsive Night Train (perfectly suited to Peterson's churningly machine-like style) and 1964's Canadiana Suite, an extended original nominated as one of the best jazz compositions of 1965 by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Peterson furnished the soundtrack to the movie Play It Again Sam, hosted a TV chat show a 1974 tour of Russia, and influenced musicians as different as Steve Winwood, Dudley Moore and Joe Zawinul. A dedicated spreader of the word, Peterson also published educational works for student jazz pianists.

Though Peterson has sometimes been criticised as a musician in thrall to his own runaway technique, he remained a great virtuoso of piano jazz, and an equally effective populariser of the music among those who might otherwise not have encountered it. He was the kind of jazz musician who invited a sometimes-daunted general public in, and he always performed as if making the music was the most fun it was possible for a human being to have. When he performed to a packed Royal Albert Hall two years ago, Peterson delivered a startlingly ambitious programme for a man who looked as if the journey from the dressing-room to the piano stool had been a considerable effort of the will. That show could have been a wistful tribute to what once was - but with musicality, courage, skill and energy, Peterson made it a performance that stood proud on its own two feet. It was the story of his life.

In that same year of 2005, he became the first living person other than the monarch to feature on a Canadian commemorative stamp, and he saw his name adopted for streets, concert halls and schools. He is survived by his fourth wife, Kelly, their daughter Celine, and six children from previous marriages.

Oscar Emmanuel Peterson, jazz pianist, born August 15 1925; died December 23 2007

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

samedi, décembre 08, 2007

John Lennon

Yoko Honors John On The 27th Anniversary of his Death.

by Paul Cashmere @ Undercover - December 8 2007

Today, December 8th 2007, marks the 27th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon.

To mark the occasion, John's widow Yoko has released the following statement.

John Lennon & Yoko Ono
John Lennon & Yoko Ono

December 8, 2007

I miss you, John. 27 years later, I still wish I could turn back the clock to the Summer of 1980. I remember everything - sharing our morning coffee, walking in the park together on a beautiful day, and seeing your hand stretched to mine - holding it, reassuring me that I shouldn't worry about anything because our life was good.

I had no idea that life was about to teach me the toughest lesson of all. I learned the intense pain of losing a loved one suddenly, without warning, and without having the time for a final hug and the chance to say, "I love you," for the last time. The pain and shock of that sudden loss is with me every moment of every day. When I touched John's side of our bed on the night of December 8th, 1980, I realized that it was still warm. That moment has haunted me for the past 27 years - and will stay with me forever.

Even harder for me is watching what was taken away from our beautiful boy, Sean. He lives in silent anger over not having his Dad, whom he loved so much, around to share his life with. I know we are not alone. Our pain is one shared by many other families who are suffering as the victims of senseless violence. This pain has to stop.

Let's not waste the lives of those we have lost. Let's, together, make the world a place of love and joy and not a place of fear and anger. This day of John's passing has become more and more important for so many people around the world as the day to remember his message of Peace and Love and to do what each of us can to work on healing this planet we cherish. Let's: Think Peace, Act Peace, and Spread Peace. John worked for it all his life. He said, "there's no problem, only solutions." Remember, we are all together. We can do it, we must. I love you!

Yoko Ono Lennon

jeudi, décembre 06, 2007


Radiohead to shut down free download of 'In Rainbows'.

It's 'The End of the Beginning' next week


Radiohead have announced that the free download of their recent album 'In Rainbows' will come to an end next week.

In a posting today (December 5) on the band's Dead Air Space blog titled "The End of the Beginning", the band said that the "download area that is 'In Rainbows' will be shutting its doors on 10 December 2007."

As previously reported on NME.COM
, the band shocked the music industry in October by releasing the album as a download, with fans choosing how much to pay for the album.

In today's posting, the band also announced that they have no intention of creating additional discboxes of the album once the stock at the band's w.a.s.t.e. online store has run out.

They added: "For those of you who wish to buy 'In Rainbows' in the usual way, it will be available on CD/Vinyl and download from traditional outlets from the 31st December 2007. Thanks for everything."

--By our Los Angeles staff.

mercredi, décembre 05, 2007

Cansei de Ser Sexy

CSS live.

**** Brixton Academy, London

Caroline Sullivan
Wednesday December 5, 2007
The Guardian

Cansei de Ser Sexy (as they initially were until they gave in to the English-speaking world's lack of enthusiasm for other tongues) have already grasped a basic fact about how to win over UK audiences. Play party music to a British crowd when their reserve is down - at a summer festival, perhaps, or in the month before Christmas - and you have a career. CSS have exploited this knowledge: in June and July, no outdoor stage went unvisited by their five-female, one-male Brazilian rave-up, and here they are again, headlining 4,000-seaters in time for office-party season.

Their commitment to fun extends to decorating the stage with tinsel and small, bespangled Christmas trees, and the band arrive on stage dressed as gift-wrapped presents. As a tape of Jingle Bells plays and "snow" drifts down from the ceiling, they gambol around with a lack of self-consciousness that would be alien to British bands. "It's the best time of year!" bawls Lovefoxxx, the cat-suited firecracker who acts as mistress of ceremonies and singer.

She is the one band member who might be recognised by those outside CSS's indie-rave world, by virtue of being the loudest component of a loud band. A year of touring their self-titled debut album has not quenched her enthusiasm for being the centre of attention - far from it. More dedicated amateur than conventional singer, she still derives joy from yapping the words to Music Is My Hot Hot Sex and CSS Suxxx. And it is Lovefoxxx's dervish-dancing that keeps the mind from wandering when songs occasionally blur into garage-rock mush, which is the inevitable outcome of six people pounding out tracks that are more pulsing rhythms than "tunes" as such.

There are occasional big-chorus moments, though - Let's Make Love and Listen to Death from Above and the new mock-reggae Jamaica Song stand out here - and when they happen, band and audience frenziedly bond. Brazil may be better at producing footballers and Britain superior at making rock music, but at moments like this, it is one happy bilingual family. "Let's reggae all day!" bleats Lovefoxxx, which makes about as much sense as any of her lyrics - again, though, it is all in the delivery. It is easy to see why these former art students have been embraced by the fashionistas, but don't let that put you off.

· At the Academy, Glasgow, tonight. Box office: 0141-418 3000. Then touring.

Useful links

UK venues

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

lundi, novembre 26, 2007

The Hives interview

'We did a bloody good job, don't you think?'

The Hives are a tribute to the power of self-promotion, 'idiot concepts' and shoes with white soles. Leonie Cooper meets a band that has given up giving up

The Guardian

Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, the extravagantly immodest singer of the Hives, is in agreement with something posted on the band's website by one of his fans. Their fourth album, the fan had suggested, should be called The World's First Perfect Album, since that is what it would be. "It's a rumour we're glad to spread," he says.

"They hadn't even heard it yet," interrupts the band's drummer, Chris Dangerous. "They were just pretty sure it was going to be perfect."

"It's not, though," counters Almqvist. "If it was, we'd have to quit now. If you went and did the perfect record, that wouldn't be all that much fun, would it? Obviously, we have had to hold ourselves back in order to make something unperfect ..."

The Hives are never shy of boasting. When they unveiled their new songs at the 100 Club in London in the summer, Almqvist proclaimed, "You have missed the Hives!" The crowd shouted back, prompting Almqvist to admonish them: he had not been asking a question, he said, he had been making a statement. That was also the show at which the Hives unveiled their newest look, a style they are calling "Ivy League bully". They have always worn stage uniforms, in black and white, and this time it's what Almqvist decribes as "an American misunderstanding of English school uniform" - a school blazer affair with piping modelled on outfits worn by "this band who used to play in smoking jackets, called the Devil Dogs", and a Hives crest. "The crests are our attempt at a classic punk logo, like the Dead Kennedys or Black Flag," he says. "It's supposed to be easy to draw on your leather jacket." Or as a tattoo? "Hell, it'd make a fantastic tattoo!" he says. The effect is finished with white US Navy dress shoes the band bought off the internet. "The good thing about them is that they have white soles, which is really hard to get with white shoes," Almqvist says, with a straight face. "Oh, and they're also rubber, so you can sneak up on people and kill them."

The Hives' whole career has been based on a canny understanding of the power of self-promotion and rock iconography. They have always claimed their songs are all written by a mysterious svengali named Randy Fitzsimmons. Almqvist's brother, Nicholaus Arson (real name Niklas Almqvist), is believed by everyone outside the band to be the true songwriter, but they persist with the story. (Arson says of Fitzsimmons' current role: "He's more of a mentor now - he used to be more involved, but he's been telling us to do so many things that now he's more like an inner voice, and we know what he would think about things.") They have all adopted pseudonyms: in addition to Howlin' Pelle, Dangerous and Arson, the band is completed by guitarist Vigilante Carlstroem and bassist Dr Matt Destruction. And, in a masterstroke, they won over the UK in 2001 by calling their first British release, a best-of compiled from two Swedish albums, Your New Favourite Band.

Your New Favourite Band emerged at a time when garage punk was undergoing one of its periodic bursts of popularity, and the combination of some killer riffs (Hate to Say I Told You So) and outrageous stagecraft (the band freezing their poses, mid-riff, for 30 seconds or more) won them an audience that took them from clubs to big halls and a major-label deal while many of their garage peers failed to get down the drive.

But their ascent, inevitably, brought its own problems. Although their major label debut, Tyrannosaurus Hives, reached No 7 in the UK, it received an underwhelming reception, critics carping that it merely repeated the moves they'd heard on Your New Favourite Band, only not as well. Other musicians, meanwhile, tired of the Hives' unrelenting self-aggrandisement and willingness to accept contrivance. Jon Bon Jovi tore them apart, accusing them of being all style and no substance, and Almqvist, in particular, of simply aping the stage moves of James Brown and Mick Jagger. "I guess it's scary when a new alpha male turns up on the scene and the old alpha male has to scoot off to the side," reasons Almqvist.

The band have since made some efforts to move their sound on from sturdy garage rock, working with producers such as hip-hop's Pharrell Williams and Jacknife Lee, the current choice of rock bands seeking a stadium-ready sound. They met Williams backstage at a festival in Japan in 2004, says Dangerous. "We high-fived and he said, 'I love you guys, I wanna work with you someday - something big is gonna happen.'" They only worked together for two weeks last winter, but wrote eight songs. "He's a very busy man, so the way he makes music is very fast," says Almqvist. "It was really good for us to make music that way, because we can be very anal - that's why we only put out a record every three or four years."

Oddly, though, the tracks produced by Williams bear fewer traces of hip-hop than does the one they produced themselves, Giddy Up, on which, Arson claims, "you can hear the proper hip-hop beats". ("We did a bloody good job, don't you think?" says Almqvist.)

They're not concerned about the idea that the music they make is, well, silly; they say silliness is at the heart of great rock'n'roll. "We always loved songs that were borderline novelty songs, like Wooly Bully or Ça Plane Pour Moi - they're such idiot concepts that they're glorious," Almqvist says. "It's nonsense, but it's amazing nonsense! We're not trying to write Born to Run, here, we're trying to write Wooly Bully!"

What they have learned from the world of hip-hop is, astonishingly, to be even more aggressive in their self-promotion. They approve of 50 Cent's threat to stop making music if Kanye West outsold him: "It's good, you've got to put pressure on yourself", argues Arson. "Yeah, if we don't sell more records than Elvis, then we'll quit," says Almqvist. "But he's been selling records for such a long time, so we have a few years to catch up."

The Hives have now been together for 16 years, by their reckoning, and they see no reason to stop yet. "We kind of gave up the idea of giving up," Almqvist says. "Either you do the one really great debut album and then you quit, then you're in the history books forever - see the Sex Pistols - or you do three records. Other than that, you have to keep on going forever and be AC/DC or the Rolling Stones."

"It's gonna be harder to do this shit when we get older," adds Dangerous, "but we're gonna try as hard as we possibly can to play punk rock when we're 70." And if they are aiming for an AC/DC-esque career, they refuse to countenance AC/DC's stage effects. "Pyrotechnics are for bands who don't do anything on stage and need other stuff to do stuff for them," says Almqvist. "I am a human pyrotechnic."

But, for all their bravado about their incredible talents and amazing performances, there is a chink in the Hives' tailored armour. Back home in the small town of Fagersta, they own a large house that acts as band HQ - "sort of like the Monkees' house," according to Almqvist - and in its grounds is an orchard. "It's got some really, really tasty apple trees," says Almqvist. "It's a shame that when we're on tour, we don't get to eat those apples."

·The Black and White Album was released on October 15 on Polydor.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

lundi, novembre 19, 2007

Baby Animals news

Baby Animals Announce Album and Tour.

by Tim Cashmere @ Undercover - November 19 2007

Baby Animals

Baby Animals

We're giving you an early warning (yes, that's the best I could come up with) on a new album from the newly reformed Baby Animals, and a national tour to go with it.

The early 90s Aussie rockers are back with their first album since their split in 1992 – 'Il Grande Silenzio' – which is due to hit stores on January 19.

The album will be released through Liberation Blue and will be made up of acoustic recordings of their hits including 'Rush You' and 'Early Warning'.

Singer Suzi DeMarchi said of the record, "It means The Great Silence, for those who don't speak spaghetti western. It seemed appropriate. It's a soft, quiet, dreamy kind of record. And it's been a long time."

The tour will be a mixture of acoustic and classic rockin' Animals.

Check them out at:


18 – Metro City, Perth
20 – Prince of Wales, Melbourne
23 – South Sydney Juniors, Sydney
24 – Rooty Hill RSL, Rooty Hill
26 – A Day On The Green – Bimbadgen (with Himmy Barnes, Diesel, Mahalia Barnes, Tim Rogers and Archie Roach)
27 – Doyalson RSL, Doyalson

mercredi, novembre 14, 2007

Goldfrapp news

Goldfrapp get back to nature.

Francesca Martin

Wednesday November 14, 2007

The Guardian

Out are the tassled disco dancers and glitter balls, in are a 17th-century steel-string harp and a toy organ. For their fourth album, Seventh Tree - a follow-up to the 2005 album Supernature, and due to be released next February - the band Goldfrapp have gone folk. Singer Alison Goldfrapp and her writing partner Will Gregory used the harp and the organ to record the album in a 1960s bungalow in Bath, creating what they call a "slightly psychedelic, almost delirious sound. It's a combination of naive English folkiness with a bit of horror and Californian sunshine thrown in."

Goldfrapp, known for her unusual costumes, is working on a number of different looks for her stage performances, including an owl costume that recalls the album's "back to nature" feel. "For the tour," she says, "I'm imagining scantily clad Morris dancers in ribbons and flowers with pole dancing round maypoles."

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

mercredi, novembre 07, 2007

Nick Cave

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds Dig Lazarus.

by Andrew Tijs - November 7 2007

Nick Cave at the Forum Theatre in Melbourne
Nick Cave at the Forum Theatre in Melbourne

photo by Ros O'Gorman

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have announced their fourteenth studio album 'Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!'

After his recent induction into the ARIA Hall of Fame (and his own induction of the Bad Seeds), Nick Cave and band provide the follow-up to the ambitious double album 'Abattoir Blues/ The Lyre Of Orpheus'.

'Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!' was co-produced by the band and 'Abattoir/ Orpheus'-producer Nick Launay in Richmond, England. Post-YBA British artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster will provide the artwork for the upcoming album. The album will be released by Anti- in the UK and the US next March.

Cave and Dirty Three violinist Warren Ellis have just released the soundtrack they made for the new Andrew Dominic Western opus 'The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford'.

vendredi, octobre 26, 2007

Arcade Fire

The bitter taste of success.

They've crashed into the mainstream and Hollywood adores them, but Arcade Fire aren't happy. Alexis Petridis meets a band trying to make sense of their ascent to stardom

Friday October 26, 2007

The Guardian

Randall's Island sits in the middle of New York's East River, a vast, characterless, landfill-augmented field, surrounded by straits given the kind of alluring names that New York's outer boroughs seem to specialise in: to the east there's Hell Gate and to the north, Bronx Kill. If it's not quite as ghastly as the waters around it suggest, Randall's Island certainly doesn't exude much in the way of charm, even in the sunshine of an unseasonably hot autumn afternoon. It is, concedes Richard Reed Parry - Arcade Fire's affable red-headed multi-instrumentalist sometimes known to play a crash helmet with a drumstick onstage - a far cry from the venues at which the band are renowned for performing: the churches that seem to echo the quasi-religious fervour in their music, the "aesthetically inspiring" spaces in which Parry has claimed they play their best. "We wanted the whole place hung with carnival lights," he sighs sadly, "but the city wouldn't let us do it." Instead, for the event they are headlining, Arcade Fire have attempted to stamp some quirky personality on the field by erecting a small stage to its rear on which a mariachi band play unamplified. Alas, the mariachi leader ends up singing his heart out and talking about how grateful they are to be here to a scattering of nonplussed punters, pausing only momentarily on their way between the hot dog stands and the Portaloos.

But if you wanted an indication of the magnitude of Arcade Fire's rise since the March release of their second album, Neon Bible, then Randall's Island and the nonplussed punters would do nicely. A couple of years ago, Arcade Fire were a critically acclaimed seven-piece, alt-rock act, albeit one noted for the intensity of their live shows, their frenzied, evangelical cult following, their penchant for dressing like 19th-century American farmers and for the fact that their two central members were a married couple, Win Butler and Regine Chassagne: the former the son of a wealthy Texan oilman who had moved to Montreal to form a band, the latter the daughter of Haitian refugees who had landed in Quebec in flight from "Baby Doc" Duvalier's dictatorship. They played the kind of venues that critically acclaimed alt-rock acts perform in: when asked by U2 to support them on a handful of Canadian stadium dates, the band viewed the shows, Parry says, with the bemused detachment of people who weren't really supposed to be there, dumbfounded by what he calls the "huge, ginormo machine of a production". "It was," he recalls, "like, whoah."

And yet, here they are, barely two years later, performing to 22,000 people, a crowd, Parry notes, that is "as big as one of those U2 shows". They are at the end of a vast American tour during which they were feted not by the kind of rock aristocrats who have queued up to garland the band with praise since the release of their debut album, Funeral, (David Bowie and David Byrne have both performed with them, while earlier this year a journalist at a New York show reported, aghast, that he had seen Lou Reed actually smile at the conclusion of their performance), but by a rather different kind of celebrity: Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore and James Spader all turned up to see them in Hollywood, as did Rod Stewart, an artist whose love for apocalyptically inclined, anthemic baroque art-rock had previously gone strangely unnoticed.

The audience thronging Randall's Island, meanwhile, is conspicuously light on the kind of whey-faced indie-kid blogger whose early support earned Arcade Fire that most noughties of labels, the Internet Phenomenon. Instead, there are baseball caps and shorts and Gap casual wear in profusion: this is very much a mainstream American rock crowd.

It is all evidence of success of a kind that should, theoretically, cause headaches and hand-wringing in Arcade Fire's ranks. This is, after all, a band who zealously guard their independence and rigorously shun the celebrity that seems an inescapable by-product of your second album reaching the Top 10 around the world. "The song is independent of my face and what I look like," says Chassagne. "I know in pop music people are really used to, like, relating it to the person who made it and what they eat and what they do every day, but to me it's just independent." Nor could you accuse them of rapaciously pursuing global domination: earlier this year, Butler was heard to bemoan,"bands who think in terms of, 'I'm going to be the biggest band in the world, fuck all those bands who've got no ambition,'" as "a total crock of shit". Then there's the fact that Arcade Fire thrive, according to Parry, on "playing small rooms where you can really get in people's faces and connect with them and wrestle with them".

In an air-conditioned dressing room backstage, however, Butler is inclined to disagree. Slumping his 6ft 5in frame into an armchair - somehow he looks even bigger in mufti than in his onstage costume - he protests that there has been little hand-wringing about Arcade Fire's burgeoning mainstream success: for one thing, he says, success means it's easier to refuse to do things you don't want to do. Nor is he particularly sorry to see the back of playing small venues: indeed, he prefers playing Randall's Island or the Hollywood Bowl to the euphoric, wildly acclaimed performances they gave at London's St John's Church and Porchester Hall in January. "This tour is the opposite of the sell-it-out hype thing. It's more about letting people who want to see us, see us. That feels really good. A lot of these shows have been more intimate than the warm-up shows we did in the churches because they were so overwhelming and press-centered."

Perhaps Butler's contrariness should come as little surprise. He is famously no great fan of the media, claiming never to read anything written about the band which means that this year he'll have missed both the appearance of a blog called Arcade Fire Stole My Basketball, on which an outraged fellow user of the Cal Berkeley gym baldly accused him of the theft alluded to in the title, and Arcade Fire being called the Greatest Band in the World by at least three different British periodicals.

You get the impression that being interviewed seldom constitutes the highlight of his day. Today, he's scrupulously polite and thoughtful in his answers, but you would never confuse him with a boundless font of easygoing bonhomie. "I don't like the process of having to promote an album and talk about it," he says, flatly, "and I learnt pretty early on that the artist always seems like the asshole in the situation, no matter what you do. Even if, like, someone was poking you in the face and you went 'fucking stop that!', when the article comes out, it'll be like that happened in slow motion." He mimes giving someone the finger in slow motion, then sighs. "You can't win "

Both he and Parry think Arcade Fire's aversion to celebrity may have something to do with their roots in Montreal. For one thing, there are arts grants available to bands that instil a certain anti-commercial sensibility in the city's musicians: "They encourage people to think that being an artist is a viable way of life, that doing something that won't necessarily make money is a worthwhile thing to do."

For another, there is the shadow of the French Quebec pop scene, packed with artists unknown outside of its confines, but who apparently "sell as many records as Arcade Fire do worldwide, just in Quebec". "In Montreal, we're not celebrities at all, those people are celebrities," says Butler. Parry nods. "Occasionally, we've noticed that people are kind of surprised, like, wow, you've done really well, you're nearly as big as Jean LeClerc."

But whatever the reason, Butler has gained the reputation of a prickly and rather difficult customer. His understandable desire to avoid what he calls "the hoops" of the music industry - "all the things that have nothing to do with playing your instrument or playing together that take up a lot more energy than actually playing music and connecting with people"- has occasionally shown a tendency to look more like unappealing petulance.

It was Butler who smashed a camera with his mandolin and stormed off stage during Arcade Fire's appearance on Friday Night With Jonathan Ross, apparently piqued because the band had to sit in the green room with the other guests while he wanted to visit a friend instead.

In fact, the ill-humoured appearance on Jonathan Ross was indicative of what was, by all accounts, a difficult summer for Arcade Fire. Despite the critical plaudits and commercial success, says Butler, "there have definitely been points in this year when we've been pretty down". Oddly, given their obsession with turning a live show into a communal experience in which the music invites a transcendent mass singalong, Parry came to the conclusion during a gruelling round of festival appearances that Arcade Fire were simply "not a festival band".

Certainly, their performance at Glastonbury, anticipated by many as the event's highlight, fell noticeably short of expectation: while no disaster, they didn't quite set the sodden environs of Worthy Farm alight in the way that their forebears Radiohead did a decade before.

For their part, Arcade Fire seem to have been faintly horrified by the Glastonbury experience. "There's something charming about how disorganised and hippy it is even though it's on that level," says Butler, his Texas drawl modulating into a tone that suggests he didn't think there was anything charming about it whatsoever, "but it was a fucking nightmare. It was like a mudpit. You have to drive your truck through the middle of the crowd of -" he pauses, as if grasping for the words to describe the ghastliness "- of shit," he finally decides.

"People are like, throwing up and hitting the doors and things like that. I get the appeal of wanting to get high for the first time and wanting to run round the fields, you know, but that's not necessarily the most engaging experience to me." Parry nods: "We were just, like, what in God's name is this?" "Why would I be here if I wasn't playing?"

They have toured almost consistently since January, a schedule that proved so punishing Butler and Parry alight on the singer contracting an acute sinus infection in March as an unlikely highlight: "Even though I was recovering from surgery, it was great, we had a month with nothing to do." They talk with a contagious wistfulness about the pleasure of being in the studio - at one point, Butler offers a description of recording a track off their debut album called Haiti that's so detailed it borders on fetishism - of returning to the converted church where they recorded Neon Bible, of finding a way to break out of the album-tour-album-tour treadmill. "We're going to find a way," says Butler. "That's the next great challenge. It's not the best system for creativity, because that's not the way it works: be creative for two years, don't be creative for two years."

That night, as they take the Randall's Island stage, he announces with barely concealed relish that this is the last time Arcade Fire will play New York "for a couple of years". The audience hoot their derision. "Yeah," says Butler, heavily. "Boo. Hiss."

Road-weary or not, they are magnificent on the stage. By the encore, Butler's brother Will is hanging perilously from the lighting rig and Arcade Fire have genuinely succeeded in transforming Randall's Island into something magical: a sea of swaying hands, a vast choir of voices singing along to Wake Up's wordless chorus. At the show's conclusion, the band rush into the crowd where they perform a frantic cover of the Violent Femmes' Kiss Off, to the delight of fans within earshot and the visible horror of security. It is, as Parry would say, like, whoah.

Backstage, I see Butler and Chassagne talking with fans, still holding an acoustic guitar and an accordion respectively, distractedly picking out a tune as they chat. Then they slip away into the dressing room, still playing their instruments.

· Arcade Fire play SECC, Glasgow, tonight. Then tour.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

lundi, octobre 22, 2007


Nine tracks from Soulwax.

Alongside his brother Stephen, David Dewaele revolutionised dance music as Soulwax. Their work splicing together songs from unlikely sources (like Salt-n-Pepa with Iggy Pop) helped to give rise to the phenomenon of the mash-up, while their remixes continue to be the industry standard. Here David tells us about some songs that have influenced him

Monday October 22, 2007

Guardian Unlimited

David Dewaele
David Dewaele eats with Soulwax. Photograph: Alex Salinas

Rollin' and Scratchin', Daft Punk

This track came out in 1996, when I was 21, and at the time I was mainly into the Beatles and American west-coast rock. This track changed all that. It was the first techno song I ever liked because it was such a consciously stupid track, but so funky and soulful with its stupidness. I'm aware that Daft Punk didn't invent that style of dance music but the sound of this track is very extreme. I remember wondering "How did they make it so melodic?" And also, "How are they going to get royalties for that?"
Buy the track on iTunes.
Firecracker, Yellow Magic Orchestra

Simple yet melodic music by people who are obsessed with analogue synths - the Japanese Kraftwerk, if you will. At the time this record was made, electronic music was still something for high-grade, skilled musicians, rather than the sort of populist stuff you get now, and it was a better quality, too. I find that when something first arrives, in this case the electronica of Devo, Kraftwerk and the Yellow Magic Orchestra, it's at its best. That's when you feel like boundaries are being pushed.

In that way, I feel Soulwax or Richard X or Erol Alkan have all stood the test of time in a way that many of the current mash-ups and bootlegs will not. We always wanted to combine technical proficiency with melody, but now the technical aspects seem to be more important. Plus, the style of music is a lot more familiar to people; you can walk into a supermarket and hear Jay-Z mixing it up with Linkin Park. (Not available on iTunes.)

I Believe in You, Talk Talk

I continue to love and admire Talk Talk. Their album 1988 Spirit of Eden, from which this single is taken, was considered a flop commercially and critically, but in time it's become apparent that it is the influential basis for a lot of bands today, bands who make atmospheric, beautiful music like Radiohead or Sigur Ros. This track gives me chills every time I hear it.
Buy this track on iTunes.

Soft Machine, Les Rhythmes Digitales

It's an incredible tune, if not the most popular. Stuart Price (Les Rhythmes Digitales) was on the same label as us, so we were friends before I'd even heard the album Darkdancer. It is what I'd describe as an offbeat IDN (intelligent dance music) version of 80s dance music. There are fucked-up drumbeats with vocals over the top, which is difficult to pull off, but here it sounds fantastic. We've told him on several occasions he should do more of that stuff.
Buy this track on iTunes.

The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel. Grandmaster Flash

When I was about 12, I saw a TV show about hip-hop in New York. I remember the producers visited LL Cool J's mum's house and things like that. Anyway, they get to Grandmaster Flash's house and he starts explaining how he DJs. He says that all he does is take the best bits of the records he loves and repeats them so people can dance. Which is a simple display of genius. The idea stuck with me and years later we adopted that approach ourselves for 2 Many DJs.
Buy this track on iTunes.

Afraid Himself to Be, Jason Falkner

Grammatically, incorrect; musically, very correct. Falkner is the sort of guy that pops up on the liner notes of all these great albums by bands like the Grays and Fabulon, but he releases a solo album and it more or less gets ignored. I'm OK...You're OK is an album of intelligent pop music with intricate melodies, in the vein of the Beatles or the Kinks. This guy is incredible and deserves popular acclaim.
Buy this track on iTunes.

Hard Times, The League Unlimited Orchestra

Human League released the album Dare in 1981 and a year afterwards they released an album of remixes of it called Modern Dancing. It featured extended minimal dance versions of their pop tracks and became the blueprint of everything we did on Night Versions. Modern Dancing was mainly the work of Martin Rushent - the band were touring at the time - and he used lots echo effects and repetitive basslines. We've made no secret of paying homage to his style.
Buy this track on iTunes.

Lord Grunge, The Frogs

The Frogs are two guys from Chicago, the Flemion brothers, who are renowned for their very funny, very dark albums. I guess they're not dissimilar to Queen in that respect, where you have brilliant music but funny Zappa-esque lyrics. The track Lord Grunge really stood out from the rest of their music and a bit of investigation showed it has been produced by Billy Corgan. Incredible pop music meets fucked-up lyrics about a band getting eaten up and raped by the music industry. If you find an MP3, well lucky you. It's great. (This track is not available on iTunes.)

Loose, The Stooges

When it comes to garage rock, no one equals this band. We've played with them at festivals - trust me when I say that they're phenomenal. The whole band are innovators. However good a band like, say, the Datsuns are, there's no way they can imitate them. When the Stooges are on stage you believe it and having seen them on the reunion tour it gave me hope for the future. Many reunions can disappoint you but this was inspiration.
This track is not available on iTunes.

As told to Paul MacInnes.

· Most Of The Remixes, a two-CD compilation featuring most of Soulwax's remixes, is out today. For tour dates, visit their MySpace page.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

dimanche, octobre 21, 2007

Girl Power

If you wanna be a pop star, you better get with the girls.

'Girl Power', once just a slogan, now dominates the pop charts. So what happened to the boys?

Kitty Empire
Sunday October 21, 2007
The Observer

As pop manifestos go, the one touted by the nascent Spice Girls in long-ago 1996 was more suspect than most. Girl Power was a cheeky, hen-night vision of feminism riddled with body dysmorphia and worse. It was all catchphrase and little artistic control, as Spice memoirs have laid bare. But a decade on, with the Girls reunited and retailing their forthcoming album in lingerie chain Victoria's Secret, it turns out that Girl Power was no eye-rolling matter after all, at least commercially.

As 2007 sashays to a close, pop has rarely been more female. A glance at the albums being released up until Christmas reveals a coven of pop high priestesses handbagging each other in pursuit of pop buyers' cash. Britney's comeback has been rushed forward to stave off internet leaks; Kylie's big, sparkly two fingers to cancer arrives next month. In pop, as in life, women seem to outlive men. Deathless disco mama Madonna has a new £60m deal and another pop confection due next year. British pop's most confounding triad, Sugababes, continue to have hits despite having their DNA frequently rearranged; they are the perfect example of a brand, rather than a band.

After a year cooking up her debut in the US, X Factor winner Leona Lewis's imminent album will try to establish her as an enduring pop force. Rihanna's 'Umbrella' was a rain dance so effective it changed the climate and stayed at No 1 for 10 weeks. And the most entertaining girl group of all, Girls Aloud, defy rumours of their demise with a new set, also out next month. We need no reminder that the biggest pop news this year was Kate Nash. Meanwhile, the wellbeing (or not) of Amy Winehouse (though her retro sound is outside the realm of pure pop) remains a national obsession, and her arrest last Thursday in Norway ensures the prurience will continue.

But where are the boys? Genders used to be evenly matched in the pop game. For every female artist, there was a winsome romantic beau, sexually unthreatening to pre-teens but just lush enough to inspire filthy home-made banners from fans on the way to the sold-out arena. In pop's heyday, the Eighties, the Whams and Spands and Frankies defined the age more indelibly and with more make-up than the girls, who have faded from memory (although it is nice when Kim Wilde crops up on a TV gardening show). In the Nineties, clots of chaps - Bros, New Kids on the Block, Take That, East 17, Boyzone, Westlife - ruled the arenas, a status quo that the Spice Girls overturned.

The demise of the boy band has been widely mulled over during the past few years. Even those notional saviours of the genre, McFly, have lost their lustre. True, the Take That reunion and the continued existence of Westlife mean that there will never be a national shortage of swollen multi-part ballads. The odd trouser turn-up does occasionally breach the frilly cordon sanitaire in place around pop - this year Mika was the exception that proved the rule that boys in pop are missing, presumed dead. And Robbie? His most heartfelt and breezy album tanked, making you feel almost sorry for him. Almost.

If boys in pop are all but dead, we know the execution date and the executioners. It was 2002, when two Pop Stars: The Rivals teams squared up. In the red corner, Girls Aloud with their strange, twanging single, 'Sound of the Underground'. In the blue corner, slushy boy band One True Voice, Svengali'd by pop puppeteer Pete Waterman. The smart money was on the fellas, but Girls Aloud staged a historic pop upset when they trounced the hapless, derivative guys and went on to be the most successful British talent show act ever.

What did the boys do in the wake of this symbolic defeat? They stropped. Busted earned the boy band a brief, riffy reprieve from obsolescence. Many more of them felt sorry for themselves, and learned how to play acoustic guitar. Where once a young man could prance under a hundredweight of hair gel and get rich, in the mid-Noughties it was essential to become a sensitive singer-songwriter to impress. What is Paolo Nutini but a lost boy band member trying to cut it as a troubadour? It would take a stylist half a second and some bicycle shorts to shear James Morrison of all his hard-conjured credibility.

Perhaps pop's gendercide is better explained as a diaspora: the cute boys and their ballads moved sideways, out of dance routines and on to guitar stools - or into R&B. In the US, male pop is a one-man show. Justin Timberlake presides over the most impressive post-boy band career ever. Like us, the Americans also have plenty of pouting male singer-songwriters who might once have been pressed into pop shapes; John Mayer sees himself as a serious blues guitarist but has he looked in the mirror? Jack Johnson - a buff surfer with an acoustic guitar - is one of the US's biggest draws.

But if you are looking for the love of a soft-hearted stripling, you will find it has become almost exclusively an urban thing. While our own Craig David is now a figure of fun, in the US, the loverman brigade - Omarion, Joe, Ne-Yo, Akon and Mario - are potent chart players. They take the schmaltz of pop and dress it up in the more attitudinal garb of hip hop. At heart, though, these are ladies' men. Antecedents aren't hard to find here. American music is stuffed with old soul lovermen, and the new breed draw deeply from the well dug by priapic teddy bears Luther Vandross, Alexander O'Neal and R Kelly. But rarely have soppy men appeared in such numbers, so consistently high in the Billboard charts. Usher remains the undisputed champion of this eye-wateringly tedious strand of R&B.

Why has the XY factor gone out of pop? It's not an easy question to answer. Gay men are the pivotal early adopters of all puissant pop outfits. Groups like Take That spent their early months touring gay clubs as well as schools. Have gay men given up on smooth-cheeked wannabes? They may well have ploughed all their cash into supporting needy divas like Madonna and Barbra Streisand instead. According to a tabloid, London's Soho is to erect a statue of Kylie, thanks to lobbying by fans: Soho's denizens are hardly campaigning for Gareth Gates on a plinth.

But the real culprits are probably youngsters. The rosy-cheeked masses who loved pop are fractured now. They are forming aesthetic judgments earlier than previous generations. Instead of being told what to like by Smash Hits and record companies, they are roaming the web, favouring outfits like the Kooks over cute boys with no guitars.

It is also the fault of the acts themselves. With every generation of British boy band, the output became more saccharine. Take That were feisty; Boyzone far duller. By the time the boy band franchise trickled down to Westlife, it was all ballads, all the time. They appealed to grandmothers.

Some of the blame can be ascribed, too, to the lack of imagination of producers and record companies. In R&B, as in pop, it is usually the female-fronted records that take the most musical risks. Producers have done immensely cool, creepy, daft and marvellous things with Britney, Amerie, Aaliyah, Christina Aguilera; Gwen Stefani's records do nothing but monkey about with pop convention.

The sexiness of these female stars - the crux of pop transactions - is a given. As long as they gyrate and smoulder, and some sort of hook is present, the rest of the record can sound like an accident in an electronics factory, and no one will bat an eyelid. Pop's men are more limited, crooning sweet nothings to a swell of synthesised strings. They lack topspin, winks, daring. You can count the men who have fronted avant-garde pop records on two fingers: Timberlake and Usher, whose icy crunk hit of 2004 'Yeah' was the torso-toting dullard's finest moment. Until the records get more exciting, male pop stars are doomed. (We await the new Duran Duran album - laced with collaborations with Justin Timberlake and producer Timbaland - with great interest.) And the new breed? Up 'n' coming foursome Palladium are making a valiant attempt at rekindling the male pop band. Their single, 'High Five', contains such charmingly pre-sexual pop sentiments as 'three kisses for me, and I know she's the marrying kind'. But rather than just dancing giddily, Palladium have had to resort to playing instruments to get attention. They sound like the Feeling with a few added riffs. If they are the best the industry can cook up, pop's men are going to be missing in action for some time yet.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

jeudi, octobre 18, 2007

Subways news

The Subways preview new material at Club NME LA.

The trio thrill the packed house.

The Subways
The Subways

The Subways previewed new material during their sold-out show at Club NME Los Angeles with Fred Perry Subculture last night (October 17).

The English trio breezed through crowd-pleasing favourites including 'Young For Eternity' and 'Rock And Roll Queen' in addition to new tracks 'Kalifornia', 'Girls & Boys' and 'I Won't Let You Down'.

"This is only the tenth show we've done this year, which is weird for us because we're used to playing a lot of shows, but we've been busy making our new record," frontman Billy Lunn told the crowd before launching into a new song.

The packed house, which included Art Brut's Eddie Argos, sang along to several tracks from The Subways' debut album and pumped their fists in the air.

"Thank you guys--you've been the best club we've ever been to -- ever!" gushed Linn at the end of their 45-minute set.

The band have been in Los Angeles for the past few weeks recording the follow-up to 'Young For Eternity'.

"It's nerve-wracking to play the new material for the first time, and I really didn't know what to expect from LA gigs," Linn told NME.COM after their set. "But it's been amazing and humbling to see so many people who know the words to our songs."

The Subways played:

'Turn Around'
'With You'
'Young For Eternity'
'Girls & Boys'
'Oh Yeah'
'I Want To Hear What You Have Got To Say'
'I Won't Let You Down'
'Rock & Roll Queen'

Club NME with Fred Perry Subculture takes place at Spaceland in the Silver Lake neighbourhood of Los Angeles every Wednesday night.

Next Wednesday (October 24), Air Traffic are set to headline Club NME LA with Fred Perry Subculture.

For more information, visit

--By our Los Angeles staff.

jeudi, octobre 11, 2007

Bat For Lashes live

Bat For Lashes preview new material at sold-out LA show.

Brighton band also cover Tom Waits.

Bat For Lashes
Bat For Lashes
Picture: Guy Eppel

Bat For Lashes previewed new material and covered Tom Waits during their sold-out show at the Troubadour in Los Angeles last night (October 9).

Brighton's Natasha Khan was backed by an all-female three-piece band who traded instruments throughout the night including violin, harpsichord, xylophone, flute, drums, guitars and keyboards.

The band created a mystical atmosphere with dark stage lighting and renaissance-style costumes replete with glittering headbands, which was mimicked by several girls in the audience.

"We're two weeks into our American tour and we just went to the Grand Canyon, which was amazing," Khan told the crowd, adding that she picked up a giant walking stick there, which she used as percussion on some songs.

Bat For Lashes
previewed an atmospheric untitled new song, which featured haunting harmonies and a heavy bassline.

"This is our second time in LA in two months and it's great to be back," Khan told the crowd, who cheered loudly in response.

The recent Mercury Prize nominee played every track from the debut album 'Fur & Gold', as well as a cover of Waits' 'Lonely' during their 75-minute set.

--By our Los Angeles staff.

vendredi, octobre 05, 2007


Sugababes, Robots in disguise

*** (Island)

Alexis Petridis
Friday October 5, 2007
The Guardian

The arrival of the Sugababes' fifth album is heralded with a set of gawp-inducing statistics. The trio are the most successful female act of the century. They have had more Top 10 singles with original songs than any girl group since the Supremes. They are the first girl group in 20 years to release more than three hit albums: stitch that, Destiny's Child and the Spice Girls.

But more gawp-inducing still is the fact that the Sugababes are still here. Normally, when a pop act releases a greatest hits album, it's a signal that the jig is up and the record company are filling out their contract with one last release. But a year on from Overloaded, their hits compilation, their single About You Now has just entered the charts at No 1. Normally, when a member of a pop band decides to quit, that's it: solemn press conferences are called, tearful announcements are made thanking the fans, distraught tweenage girls and gay men have to be talked down off high ledges. But the Sugababes shed members without denting their success. In early photographs, latest recruit Amelle Berrabah wore a weird, rigid, glazed expression that suggested solitary original member Keisha Buchanan might have finally opted to cut out the middleman and start replacing her departing band mates with shop-window dummies. But it seems Berrabah is very much alive: last month the tabloids were rife with rumours that she was for the chop as well.

The Sugababes' refusal to quit is starting to rankle in some quarters. Bands like them were supposed to have been bulldozed from the landscape long ago, to create more room for earnest singer-songwriters and mortgage indie, yet they cling on, like a doughty pensioner who refuses to vacate her home despite the fact that it's now encircled by motorways and there's a DFS where her back garden used to be. Radio 1 has offered few more delicious sounds this year than that of Jo Whiley huffily premiering About You Now, muttering darkly about not being a huge fan, before cueing up something really worthwhile from the Pigeon Detectives or the Hoosiers. If you didn't like About You Now before - perhaps your enjoyment of its fat-free construction and skyward-bound chorus was tempered by the fact that producer Lukasz Gottwald was essentially repeating the trick he minted three years ago on Kelly Clarkson's Since U Been Gone, that of turning out a zippy pop take on the Strokes' Barely Legal - here was reason enough to love it wholeheartedly.

Those baffled by the Sugababes' longevity might note their pragmatic willingness to shift with the times. They exploited the vogue for bootleg mash-up remixes by re-recording Richard X's We Don't Give a Damn About Our Friends as Freak Like Me. While R&B held sway among the nation's youth, they nearly did themselves a mischief trying to establish their gangsta credentials, knocking out songs called things called Nasty Ghetto and Buster. These days, with ersatz indie the basic currency of the charts, they've made an ersatz indie single. Change finds them still on the move, with their most celebrated collaborators relegated to the subs' bench. Xenomania, the team behind hits Round Round and Hole in the Head, get two songs - both Never Gonna Dance Again, with its lyrical nods to George Michael's Careless Whisper, and the propulsive My Love Is Pink are classy examples of their trademark clever, referential pop - and R&B producer Dallas Austin gets only one: understandably so, if the dreary AOR of Back When is the best he can muster.

One of their replacement collaborators is credited as Novel, thus raising the interesting prospect that Change may be the first pop album in history to be partly produced by a paperback book. In fact, Novel is one of the producers that Austin, in his legendarily chivalrous YouTube outburst, accused Joss Stone of "fucking for tracks". Regardless of his chequered past, Back Down is a pleasingly odd conjunction of reggae skank and synthesised squelch. But the rest of Change is indisputably a mixed bag: between beautifully-crafted bulletproof pop songs such as Denial, there are longueurs, during which one track after another seems to evaporate as it comes out of the speakers. The longueurs drag because they're characterless, but then so are the Sugababes themselves. They're famed for a certain reserved chippiness, but the rest is a bit of a blank, in sharp contrast to their great rivals, Girls Aloud. The latter's cartoonish personas seem to fuel their producers' creative spark, giving them something to play with, inspiring them to risky heights of inventive daring. That may be why they can do the one thing that the Sugababes, despite the impressive statistics and achievements, cannot: make a consistent album. In the greater scheme of things, perhaps it doesn't matter. After all, who needs character when you seem to be immortal?

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

vendredi, septembre 28, 2007

PJ Harvey interview

Songs of innocence and experience.

PJ Harvey sings like a child on her new, stripped-down album, but it's full of grim subject matter. John Harris hears how the elusive singer-songwriter was just trying to get the soul back in her music.

Friday September 28, 2007
The Guardian

Polly Harvey's latest single is called When Under Ether. You may have heard it, perhaps on the occasions when Radio 1 DJs - usually, it has to be said, after dark - have decided to treat their listeners to the unbelievably sparse, gorgeously unsettling sound of a solitary voice and the barest of piano accompaniments. Its chorus, if such a word is appropriate, amounts to the occasional recitation of the words "human kindness", and it concludes in just over two minutes. If the prevailing sound of 2007 - chumbling indie-rock, of the kind associated with, say, thePigeon Detectives, or the faux-yobbery purveyed by the ubiquitous Hard-Fi - has an antidote, this is surely it.

"The funny thing was," she says, "the other day, I knew that Zane Lowe was going to play it. I'd been told: Radio 1, seven o'clock - so I was out in the garden listening. I never listen to Radio 1. So I put it on, and there was all this kind of noise happening, and all of a sudden he played When Under Ether, and there was something absolutely shocking about it. And that's great, isn't it?"

I meet Harvey in the garden of a pub in the Dorset village of Abbotsbury, close to her home, and only a short drive from the farm where she grew up. The last time I briefly interviewed her - in the autumn of 2000 - she was in New York and sporting the sleek, manicured look that went with the Mercury Prize-winning album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. By comparison, she now looks nigh-on unrecognisable - her hair has grown out into a tangle of curls, and she is dressed in functional attire that's uniformly black, a colour scheme that carries over into her chosen means of transport: a gleaming, jet-black utility vehicle that looks rather like a souped-up Land Rover.

In the context of her eighth album, the location is pretty much perfect. From its title onwards, White Chalk seems to be an evocation of the surroundings in which she was raised, and the mess of memory, love and loss that goes with them. As has long been the case, to ask her what particular songs are about is to invite a display of Olympic-standard evasiveness, and any attempted forays into her personal life will be politely stonewalled. Whether any given song is the stuff of fact, fiction or something in between is thus left unresolved, and her music - as she seems to see it, anyway - thereby retains a closel guarded integrity. That said, from the recurrently bucolic imagery to a pointed reference in the title track to a place where "Dorset cliffs meet the sea", it's obvious where the new album is set.

The record sounds as if it's populated by ghosts, full of strange, discomfiting music that often seems rooted in the distant past without ever succumbing to sepia-tinted pastiche - as she puts it, stuff that could be "from 100 years ago, or 100 years in the future". It all coheres into arguably the most perfectly realised album she has made. The prospect of a new PJ Harvey record is always bound up with reinvention - the charged-up, polished rock of Stories from the City ..., for example, was succeeded by the stripped-down grit that defined 2004's Uh Huh Her - but this album is pitched in virgin territory. Notably, there is barely a guitar to be heard, which serves to underline the fact that its 37-year-old author remains among the most restless, inventive and mysteriously underrated talents around.

White Chalk's genesis dates back to the tail-end of 2004, and a brief period during which Harvey told at least one journalist that she was considering enrolling as a mature student and studying English literature - something she claims to have been "seriously considering" (though at similarly loose-ended points in her career, she also admits to having entertained thoughts of dropping music in favour of nursing or becoming a vet). This time, however, something was definitely eating at her: the sense that since 1998's Is This Desire?, she had strayed some distance from being creatively satisfied. "I wasn't feeling like I'd done good work for quite a few years," she says. "I think that's quite natural; that people go through phases of great creativity and not-so-great creativity. But I felt like I'd been on the lower end of the curve for a while."

It's strange to hear her say that, because Stories from the City sounded like a very bold, peak-form, all-guns-blazing kind of record.

"It definitely did what I was trying to do - which was to make an album full of great pop songs. But that's not really where my heart is. It was more of an experiment with the craft rather than the heart, if that makes any sense. This album - and, I think, Is This Desire and To Bring You My Love - were times when I felt the craft and the heart married well. Other times, I just go through phases where it's more of an exercise in exploring something, and not really where I want to be in my soul."

For the most part, the new album was written in Dorset, on an instrument that served to propel her somewhere new: the piano, chosen because she felt she had to be "out of my depth" to find exactly where she ought to be heading. "It's entirely different from the guitar. It's like arriving at a giant beast. I had a piano sitting in my house for about three months before I even dared touch it. It's like a giant body - it's got a ribcage, teeth, tongues. It almost feels like it does you rather than you doing it.

"I wouldn't call myself a piano player," she says. "I think of what I do as quite hamfisted. I pretend that I'm a piano player: I go to the piano and I act like a virtuoso giving a concert."

She rolls back her sleeves, theatrically throws head back, and crashes her fingers down on pub table. "Ba-bammm! I do all the movements. You may laugh, but that's how the record came about. I'd improvise with myself, pretending I was a piano player, record it, find good bits, and elaborate on them. That's a completely different way of writing for me."

Though her piano technique was still in its infancy, she eventually resolved to play some of her new songs in front of an audience. When she performed solo at the Hay festival in May 2006, she confessed that she had never played a piano in public before, and that she felt nervous beyond words. "Every time I play a duff note," she told her audience, "I'm going to pull a face like Les Dawson."

"It was absolutely terrifying," she says. "I can't think of anything more terrifying than standing up on stage in front of a thousand people, on your own, not feeling like a musician."

Did the fear go?

"No. I've done five or six solo shows now, and I just spend the entire time in utter terror. It doesn't get any easier."

Then why do it?

"I just have to. I've got an overwhelming desire to sing and play music, particularly to people. I don't feel like I'd even be living out my role on earth if I didn't do it. I'd probably get ill quite quickly, just because I wasn't doing what I'm supposed to do."

But to do it on your own, without the safety net of a band ...

"Mmmm. But it feels very right at the moment. This feels absolutely like what I should be doing."

Perhaps the single most fascinating aspect of the new album is Harvey's voice. Whereas her vocals were once full of the nuances she imbibed from the soundtrack to her childhood (her father was a close friend of the Rolling Stones' de facto sixth member, their long-standing aide and piano player Ian Stewart; her parents, she once recalled, "played rock'n'roll and blues constantly - every day"), she has discovered a new voice: pure, intimate and uncharacteristically English.

"It took a long time to find out how I wanted to sing," she says. "It was trial and error, really, and quite a lot of thought about the aspects of my voice that I didn't find rewarding. And out of knowing what I didn't want to do came this new way of singing.

"I feel more English these days," she says, with an air of slight surprise. "I've become more and more aware that I'm an English woman, and I wanted to sing as an English woman. I grew up listening to blues music, and every record I ever heard was sung by Americans. You can't help but have that in your blood when it's all you hear, and I almost had to get back to who I am, and how I speak, and where I come from.

"Stylisation - that was what I didn't want to do. I didn't want to have caricatures going on in my voice. I wanted to sing in a very pure way, and not do, 'Here's the spooky voice,' and 'Here's the high Minny Mouse voice.' I'm so tired of that. So as a reminder to myself of how to sing, I'd put up Post-It notes around me, that said things like, 'Childlike' and 'Five years old'. I was trying to remember the purity of childhood - but childhood imagination, too, and the way that it can go absolutely anywhere. You can create an invisible friend, you can live in a castle - you can make anything out of nothing. Where does that go? I became really interested in trying to regain it, and at the same time, the voice took on this childlike, naive quality."

On a few occasions, the mixture of that affected innocence and the songs' subject matter takes the new album's unsettling quality to almost unbearable heights - as with the aforementioned When Under Ether, an apparent glimpse of the termination of a pregnancy whose most striking lyric runs as follows: "I lay on the bed/ Waist down undressed/ Look up at the ceiling/ Feeling happiness." It goes on: "Something's inside me/ Unborn and unblessed/ Disappears in the ether/ One world to the next."

I find that song very difficult to listen to, I tell her.

"Mmmm. [Pause] I don't. I find, erm ... [Pause] I can listen to it quite objectively. What are you laughing at?"

The idea that you can listen to it objectively. Because it's so visceral. It's raw.

"Yeah," she says. "So I can hear it as ... [Pause] Well, I don't feel attached to it in any way. But that's a process that seems to happen with every record and every song. I don't feel attached to them. They kind of do themselves, and they're nothing to do with me any more."

That sounds like one of Harvey's trademark evasions, but I make one last attempt at divining the song's source. I've just not heard anyone evoke the termination of a pregnancy as bluntly as that song does, I suggest. Certainly not in pop music.

"That's obviously what you hear, but for me it's not actually tied to anything specific, like an abortion." She pauses. "These aren't just words," she insists. "They're songs. They inhabit themselves, really."

Our time is almost up. In the car park, Harvey points out the remains of Abbotsbury's 11th-century abbey and a chapel dedicated to St Catherine - the patron saint of spinsters, she tells me - and then goes on her way. On my long journey home, I tune into Radio 1, and hear Zane Lowe once again playing When Under Ether, which sounds every bit as singular as Harvey had suggested. By comparison, the music that follows it seems hollow and generic, which rather puts me in mind of something she had said earlier on - an outburst, by her standards, in which she said her sense was that the quality of music, literature and film seems to be going "down and down and down, and I struggle so hard to get excited about anything".

Characteristically, she wouldn't be drawn on exactly who or what she was railing against, but lurking in what she said, there was a kind of mission statement. "There's too much of everything in the world, but particularly too much of everything that's not all that good. The world doesn't need any more art that's just all right. It only needs mind-blowing, inspirational, life-changing stuff." White Chalk is out now on Island.

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