Posts Tagged ‘alternative music’

Best Songs of 2014

Posted: December 22, 2014 by Sean Flinn in Music
Tags: , , , ,

After a full year of absolutely NO music writing whatsoever (WEEP!), I’m crawling out of semi-retirement as a music journalist/blogger to uphold an annual tradition: posting my list of favorite songs from the past year.

This year’s mix is a slow burner. It starts off with a triple header of neo-shoegaze anthems before diving into the sublime (Spoon, in an uncharacteristic turn, and Angel Olsen’s subtle update of old country torch songs). It sort of reaches its nadir with Sharon Van Etten’s instant breakup classic (which may double as a lament for the addicted) before starting to pick up and get a little more positive with Beck’s ode to morning time and Temples’ impeccable reconstruction of Mark Bolan-era British glam and psychedelia. Ty Segall’s remarkable “Feel” marks the crest of the hill (imagine Aladdin Sane-era Bowie covering early Sabbath), and you’ll feel the wind in your hair the rest of the way down until the whole things glides gracefully to a stop via the back-half trifecta of Hamilton Leithauser (RIP: The Walkmen), Real Estate, and Sweden’s First Aid Kit.

You can listen along with this free Spotify playlist, or watch some of the performances and incredible music videos for most of these songs via the YouTube playlist below.

Some notes:

  • I decided to use the official video for Warpaint’s “Keep It Healthy,” which is actually a double-header with “Disco/Very” (also from the same album); I thought the entire video was so interesting, and such a distinct snapshot of that band, its aesthetic, and LA, that the whole thing was worth viewing. “Disco/Very” is a great song too, so everyone’s the richer, I suppose.
  • Defying all sense and reason (or maybe just reflecting the artist’s desire to get paid an adequate royalty), the Ty Segall song “Feel” is unavailable on Spotify, so I’ve substituted with Swans’ brain-burning “A Little God in My Hands,” maybe the most uncharacteristic song in that band’s 30-year catalog and one of the most subtly incendiary songs of the year. You’re well rewarded for listening in either case.
  • I’ve also had to swap slimkid3 & DJ Nu-Mark’s “No Pity Party” for “I Know, Didn’t I” from the same album on YouTube for similar reasons, and with similarly excellent results.
  • I could have plugged a YouTube recording of the BADBADGOOD remix of Future Islands’ “Seasons” into that mix, but the band is so incredibly compelling in live performance that I decided it deserved a showcase for those talents. You should absolutely NOT skip that remix, though.

Videos

Songs:

  1. Warpaint: Keep It Healthy
  2. Honeyblood: (I’d Rather Be) Anywhere But Here
  3. Dum Dum Girls: Lost Boys and Girls Club
  4. London Grammar: Hey Now
  5. Spoon: Inside Out
  6. Angel Olsen: Lights Out
  7. Sharon Van Etten: Your Love Is Killing Me
  8. Beck: Waiting Light
  9. Temples: Colours To Life
  10. The War on Drugs: An Ocean In Between The Waves
  11. Ty Segall: Feel / Swans: A Little God In My Hands
  12. The Budos Band: The Sticks
  13. Benjamin Booker: Violent Shiver
  14. Eagulls: Yellow Eyes
  15. The Horrors: So Now You Know
  16. Zero 7: Simple Science
  17. The Juan Maclean: A Simple Design
  18. Aphex Twin: minipops 67 [120.2] (source field edit)
  19. Sylvan Esso: Coffee
  20. Slimkid3 & DJ Nu-Mark: No Pity Party / I Know, Didn’t I
  21. Cibo Matto: MFN
  22. Future Islands: Seasons (Waiting On You) [BADBADNOTGOOD Reinterpretation]
  23. Hamilton Leithauser: 11 O’Clock Friday Night
  24. Real Estate: Had To Hear
  25. First Aid Kit: Silver Lining

Best Songs of 2013

Posted: December 20, 2013 by Sean Flinn in Music, Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Here it is … my picks for the 25 best songs of 2013. I’ve included an embedded YouTube playlist below for those who want some visual stimulation; or, you can listen to this Spotify playlist. Either way, enjoy! Note that this list is not in “best to worst” order, but has been custom mixed for flow. Oddly, the song at the very end, King Krule’s “Easy Easy,” would be my pick for song of the year.

Videos

Songs:

  1. Johnny Marr: Upstarts
  2. Diarrhea Planet: Separations
  3. The Men: Half Angel, Half Light
  4. Bleached: Searching Through The Past
  5. Thee Oh Sees: I Come From The Mountain
  6. Queens of the Stone Age: My God is the Sun
  7. Savages: City’s Full
  8. Yo La Tengo: Ohm
  9. Vampire Weekend: Unbelievers
  10. Glass Candy: Warm in the Winter
  11. Smith Westerns: Varsity
  12. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Jubilee Street
  13. Kurt Vile: Walking on a Pretty Day
  14. Phosphorescent: The Quotidian Beasts
  15. Neko Case: Night Still Comes
  16. Local Natives: Ceilings
  17. The Socialites feat. Tesla Boy: Only This Moment
  18. CHVRCHES: Gun
  19. David Bowie: Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix by James Murphy for the DFA)
  20. Nine Inch Nails: Copy of a
  21. Disclosure feat. AlunaGeorge: White Noise
  22. The Juan Maclean: Feel Like Movin’
  23. Daft Punk: Get Lucky
  24. Franz Ferdinand: Right Action
  25. King Krule: Easy, Easy

After a considerable break — and with the Coachella Festival now just about a week away — we’re back with more reasons to get psyched about this year’s lineup.

Before I dig into this week’s picks, however, I want to call out that I’ve been curating these posts into one giant YouTube “Coachella 2012” playlist for your viewing / listening pleasure. You can tune in here. I’ll be adding more clips on a near daily basis as the actual festival approaches, so keep checking back.

Seeing as we’re getting down to the wire and all, I figure I’ll start focusing on bands that I’m particularly excited to see, personally (rather than the tack I’ve been pursuing, which has been to mix up stuff I love with stuff I’m interested in and think everyone should know more about).

The Black Keys: Sinister Kid

Shocking nearly everyone and pissing off quite a few holier-than-thou hipster types, The Black Keys nabbed a headlining slot on the first day of the festival this year. This really shouldn’t have come as much of a shock, though, for at least three reasons: 1) the Keys have already played the main stage at Coachella at least twice, and delivered the goods both times; 2) the band’s last two albums have been critical darlings and best-sellers; 3) they just plain fucking rock. Yeah, I know there’s this weird contingent of folks who ironically equate success with sucking, and hate it when their favorite indie bands hit the big time, with commercials licensing their music and what-not … but Jesus. Get over it. The Keys can play, they write great songs, and they put on an uncompromisingly sharp live show. That should be the end and the beginning. It is for me at least.

The Hives: Walk Idiot Walk

I was just beginning to wonder what happened to Sweden’s The Hives when I saw them pop up on this year’s festival lineup. Here’s a band whose records never quite delivered the sales that the group’s record company hoped for, and never quite became the cult icons that everyone just sort of took for granted that they’d become. I mean … look at ’em on paper: impeccable Swedish pop music writing chops; garage rock at just the right time; garish and charismatic front man; synchronized formal wear. They seemed to have it all. It never quite caught on. That’s a damn shame though, because, as this clip demonstrates, The Hives put on one of the deadliest live rock shows on the planet. There’s not a single second that doesn’t deliver maximum, jump-around-like-a-complete-idiot entertainment. The selfish part of me is hoping they play a closing slot at the Outdoor Theater so I can be one of the two hundred folks with sense enough to see them play, and the luxury of enjoying them in front of a small, die-hard crowd.

The Black Lips: Family Tree

I’ve seen The Black Lips live twice now, and can safely evaluate their performances thusly: they are just about the best band in the world to see when you’re drunk. Not, like, falling down ready to pass out drunk. More like, “I’ve had a shot and three or four cheap beers and I’m ready to get rowdy” drunk. Not in a douchebaggy way. Not in a dumb jock way. Just in a loutish, scruffy, miscreant way. Crap. All of those words are really too polite to convey what I mean here. Just imagine, as you listen to this, that you’re pretty buzzed, you’re in a crowded punk rock bar with five or six dozen folks, you’ve all been drinking cheap beer for a couple of hours, and now you’re going to jump and slide around a booze-soaked dance floor while four slightly unhinged garage punkers play intensely loud, intentionally sloppy rock ‘n’ roll for you. At some point, some drunk 22-year-old girl punches you in the stomach, mumbles something incoherent, and you achieve, in the words of Bill Murray channeling the Dalai Lama, “total enlightenment.” The Black Lips will make sure you’ve got that going for you.

Yuck – Get Away

Yuck’s self-titled debut made my end of year top 10 list in 2011. Three months and change into 2012, I’m still really enjoying it. One of my favorite periods of “alternative” music — the late ’80s / early 90s’ (when “alternative music” actually acquired that tag, having evolved from “college” rock, and eventually broke through to mainstream success) — became fodder for heavy duty nostalgia trips last year. Kids a generation younger than me started DJing all 90s setlists at parties, and bands like Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Yuck did an admirable job of not so much mining the past for inspiration as convincing everyone that they’d simply picked up the torch from bands like The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr, My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and REM. Are they breaking new ground? Sonically, no … but think about how they found whatever small degree of fame they’ve acquired.

Twenty years ago, a band like this would have been a hero to the British indie kids reading NME, but would have spent literally years touring America in crappy Dodge Econolines trying to scrape together rent money, gas money, and enough scratch to maybe record the next record. The new wave has Facebook and YouTube to leverage as it builds a fanbase,and can score a record deal with international distribution after just a handful of gigs. In 1986, you were lucky to have a zine, a taping trading network, and an independent label that had pieced together a national distribution deal with Caroline or the like.

It’s weird to think about how far it’s come, and I don’t begrudge bands like Yuck their seemingly instant success. Not when their music is this good, and their live chops this sharp.

fIREHOSE – Brave Captain

Speaking of that Dodge Econoline … Mike Watt, erstwhile bassist for LA hardcore heroes The Minutemen, is perhaps the godfather of touring on a dime and returning home with fifteen cents. fIREHOSE formed in the wake of Minutemen vocalist / guitarist D. Boone’s tragic, accidental death, with Watt and Minutemen drummer George Hurley bringing their unparalleled rhythm section skills into a new power trio. Ed Crawford filled in the vocal and guitars in what may be the most flukey story in all of rock (no, really: legend has it that the members of the band Camper Van Beethoven conned Minutemen superfan Crawford into believing that Watt and Hurley were auditioning a replacement for D. Boone; Crawford’s persistence turned the con job into reality, luring Watt out of mourning and retirement to form a new band). fIREHOSE went on to make five albums between 1986 and 1993, in the process garnering a fan base nearly as maniacally loyal as its predecessor (and presiding as elder statesmen of alternative rock as several burgeoining regional underground movements finally coalesced into something of national — even international — significance). If you believe in something hard enough, kids …

Anyhow, I’m a HUGE Minutemen fan, and Mike Watt is something of an icon to me, having played not only with one of my all time favorite punk bands, but also having served time in Porno for Pyros and the reformed Stooges. He and Hurley are an absolute beast of a rhythm section, as evidenced in this live fIREHOSE clip, and Crawford more than holds his own on the front end. CAN. NOT. WAIT.

This week’s entry in the “GET PSYCHED” series is the first of a two-parter focusing on UK bands playing the Coachella Festival in 2012. Not sure if you noticed, but there’s a sort of mini British Invasion taking place in the desert this spring. And it’s not just reflective of some new trend exploding in England; it’s more like a lesson in the history of modern British pop, starting with the punk era (and its roots) and plowing straight through to the country’s “newest hit makers.”

In this first part of our look at these bands, I’m going eschew lumping bands together by era or style, and instead whip-saw from past to present to give you some sense of the breadth of coverage that the festival will attempt this year. We’ll hit the ’70s, we’ll hit the ’90s, we’ll hit the ’00s, traveling by way of Manchester, West London, and Sheffield. We’ll have our hackles raised as we keep our pinkies up. And, as alternatively inclined Anglophiles, we’ll find a lot to love in this year’s Coachella lineup.

Buzzcocks: Orgasm Addict

It’s so hard for me to pick just ONE Buzzcocks song to represent the Manchester band’s thoroughly awesome, totally essential catalog. I went with “Orgasm Addict” because it was the first song I ever heard by the group (courtesy of legendary Los Angeles DJ Rodney Bigenheimer‘s weekend radio show on KROQ … Jesus, remember when KROQ was worth listening to? What the hell happened there?), and because it so perfectly encapsulates everything that’s great about punk rock.

I was probably 13 or 14 when I first heard this song come blasting out of my boom box speakers, stuck in my bedroom on a Sunday night doing homework to the sounds of whatever Rodney had chosen for his show that week. And by that point — ’88 or ’89 — “Orgasm Addict,” which the Buzzcocks released as its first US single in 1977, was already a “flashback” track. You’d never have known it to listen to it though, then or now. Even by the late ’80s, brash, bratty talk about self-abuse and sex addiction was NOT the stuff of mainstream pop lyricism. And that was the point: confrontation, delivered like a bitch slap via subversive lyrics whose sting was amplified by slashing Telecaster guitar tones and stop-start rhythms cranked way past what was acceptable for rock music in the mid-70s. All of this made the song sound immediate and current a full 12 years after its release. I’ll argue that’s true today as well; “Orgasm Addict” could have been cut last week without sounding anachronistic.

You can look up the band’s history elsewhere online — but it’s worthwhile to note here that the Buzzcocks’ appearance at Coachella seems like it will feature the full, “classic” lineup of the group (including co-founders Steve Shelley and Howard Devoto) that recorded singles like this and other seminal tracks (check out “Ever Fallen in Love,” “What Do I Get?,” “Harmony In My Head” and “Why Can’t I Touch It” for starters).

Arctic Monkeys: Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair

I’m not really sure that Arctic Monkeys have sustained the justification for the hype surrounding its first album (or their second … both of which hit #1 in the UK pretty much the minute they were released), but I am sure that front man Alex Turner has evolved into one of the finest lyricists in all of rock. His wordplay has been at the center of each of the band’s four albums, and it just gets better — more intricate, more epic — with each turn.

What makes the Monkeys appealing as an act to see at Coachella, however, is just how effing good the band is live. It played the main stage during the mid-afternoon in 2007, right as its second album was being released, and absolutely floored me (and everyone else, if I remember correctly). It doesn’t quite come through on record, but the band more than matches Turner’s dextrous lyrics with its playing. This clip offers a more recent taste of what it brings to the stage, something a bit more muscular that what fans of the group bouncier early work might expect. Recent albums have been inconsistent but listenable; I still expect the live show to be incendiary.

The Vaccines: Post Break-Up Sex

The Vaccines debuted last year with just about as much buzz as Arctic Monkeys, all of it justified. Heck, I even put one of its songs (“Wetsuit”) on my “Favorite Songs of 2011” list, and slapped its album, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines?, on my “Best Albums of 2011” list. So, I’m clearly impressed. I really just love everything about this band, and I can’t wait to see them play live.

The Vaccines have sort of inherited the “hot new thing” torch from the Arctic Monkeys, for whom they once opened — so, if the Monkeys are Coachella’s representatives of British rock in the ’00s, The Vaccines represent where it’s at in the ’10s. It seems like every decade, a new band makes a grand unifying statement that rolls up everything that’s great about independent British rock, aand waves the flag for a new batch of bands to rally around. This decade, that batch of bands is led by The Vaccines. You’ve got front man Justin Young’s smart, sensitive, smirking lyrics (see: the clip above), the driving guitar rock aimed at the cheap seats (check “Wolf Pack”), and the soaring, sing-along choruses (“If You Wanna”) — all of it wrapped up in a package that’s undeniably influenced by punk and post-punk.

If you want to witness this year’s “State of the Union” for this particular genre of music, don’t miss The Vaccines’s set.

Pulp: Common People

You know what’s really awesome about this clip? That Richard Hawley — who played guitar for Pulp back in the 90s, without much fanfare, before going on to become on of Britain’s most acclaimed songwriters / performers — is right there with the band, ripping out power chords for this 2011 reunion appearance. Slim chance he’ll show up at Pulp’s Coachella gigs (despite also having ties to Arctic Monkeys) … but damn. I’m a HUGE Richard Hawley fan, so I’ll hold out a music nerd’s outsized hope for a surprise appearance.

ANYHOW … I’m going to go out on a limb and label “Common People” the “How Soon Is Now?” of the mid-90s. Every BritPop fan I knew (and I include myself in there) regarded this song as an anthem and unanimously went ape shit on dance floors and at living room parties whenever it hit the decks. In England, I totally get its massive, enduring popularity (listen to the lyrics; though deftly written, it’s not hard to score big by taking a swing at the posh class). In the US, however, where we live in perpetual denial of our own entrenched class system and regularly invite the wealthy to piss all over the middle and lower classes, its popularity seems … less likely.

What you quickly figure out when you just let go and listen, however, is that “Common People’s” success — both in the US and the UK — came down to its strengths as a song, pure and simple. The mounting tempo (which builds to a furor by song’s end), the built-for-dance floor rhythms, and the not-so-vague sense that it was an angry underdog’s anthem (albeit, written for the slightly twee set) comprise the DNA of a classic. There’s actually something Springsteen-esque about it, when you really listen.

So yeah … I’m looking forward to going completely mad when the band rips into this in Indio, and re-living all those sleepless Thursday nights dancing with my friends at PopScene in San Francisco.

Radiohead: Good Morning Mr. Magpie

Does anyone still think of Radiohead as a “British band” anymore? While its first two albums sat strong alongside mid-90s releases from Pulp, Blur, Oasis, etc. as solid representatives of a nation’s popular musical output at that time, each album it’s put out since then has been a more singular statement’s of the band’s own evolving aesthetics. Radiohead have become, as QuestLove of The Roots recently commented to Spin Magazine, the Remain In Light era Talking Heads of the 21st Century.

I’ll confess that my affection for Radiohead tracks inversely alongside its core fanbase’s; The King of Limbs, the group’s most recent, is my favorite album of its catalog. I like the band better and better as its sound drifts further and further away from the pre-millennial angst of its biggest hit, OK Computer. I especially like that Thom Yorke seems to have stopped crawling up his own asshole, lyrically (there’s something about his tone now that reminds me of documentary filmmaker Errol Morris; it’s more journalistic than accusatory, despite the fact that he hasn’t stopped confronting the great bogeymen of modernity). And I really dig the band’s exploration of poly-rhythms, glitchy electronic music, and ambient beauty. Radiohead is a much strong band — maybe the most interesting band working in popular music, at present — now that it’s learned to stop worrying and love the dystopia.

How all of this will translate to a headlining spot on the main stage at Coachella, I have no idea. The last time Radiohead played this spot, several years ago, it totally let me down by failing to bring sufficient enough rock to really drop the festival to its knees. It’s an even quieter, weirder band now — but also, one whose members’ musicianship has increased severalfold. I’ll be watching not just because I love the new material, but also to see what happens. Radiohead have made it impossible not to be curious.

This week’s “GET PSYCHED” post spotlights some of the unconventional but brilliant songwriters performing at the Coachella Festival in 2012. All five of them hail from a long tradition of great North American singer-songwriters (your Bob Dylans, your Leonard Cohens, your Victoria Williamses) — but all have put a distinctively modern twist on the craft. These aren’t your mama’s folkies. Instead, they’re just as likely to provoke discomfort, catharsis, and rage alongside the standard songwriter emotional palate of lovelorn longing, nostalgia, and wry observation. Starry-eyed innocents hitting the local coffee shop with acoustic guitars and big dreams, these artists are not. What they are, however, are five artists who will absolutely stand the test of time, destined to join the American songwriting canon even as their unconventional approaches to performance and subject matter aggressively redefine what that canon stands for. Think of them more as the progeny of Tom Waits and Neil Young than of Joni Mitchell or James Taylor.

Don’t miss any of them.

M. Ward: The First Time I Ran Away

Secret shredder Alert #1: M. Ward’s record do not at all reflect his skills as a guitar player. Forget about the mellow ballads that pepper his records, or his time served in cutesy alterna-pop duo She & Him. M. Ward can and will absolutely melt your face during his live shows. I’ve seen it happen, whether playing with a full band, playing solo (and using a delay pedal to loop his riffs, providing his own accompaniment), or as part of alternative songwriting supergroup, Monsters of Folk. I half expected him to start riffing with his teeth.

Of course, this absolutely gorgeous video — which accompanies and equally gorgeous song — shows off none of that. No shame, though. “The First Time I Ran Away” is the lead-off single from Ward’s forthcoming solo album, and if it doesn’t just melt your heart, well, perhaps you didn’t have a heart to begin with.

I should note too that M. Ward plays a special role in my life — my wife and I danced our traditional “first dance” together at our wedding to his excellent cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” which — when he performs it live with a full band, assumes a Lynchian dimension (all Duane Eddy-esque guitars and a slow, waltzy tempo) that Bowie probably never saw coming.

Girls: Vomit

Yep, this song starts off with a bit of hipster whining — but there’s a good reason for that. Front man Christopher Owens’s heavily autobiographical lyrics describe exactly what was going on his life at the time he wrote the song: he was literally wandering around San Francisco looking for his girlfriend, who was cheating on him. Pathetic? Absolutely. The payoff? The 1:12 mark, when the full band comes crashing in on a wave of pure gospel-influenced rock power.

The rest of the band’s catalog is, despite its brevity (it has two albums and an EP under its belt so far), unfairly and unflinchingly great, and ranges from feedback drenched post-punk ragers to ’50s inspired rockers, with a few sweet ballads thrown in for good measure. Everything the group has done in its short career has met with near-universal critical acclaim, and it’s managed to live up to that hype with devastatingly sharp live shows.

The mythology here is also important — Owens grew up in the Children of God religious cult, the restrictiveness of which he credits with informing the expressive explosion you hear on Girls’ records.

Jeff Mangum: In The Aeroplane Over The Sea

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment and admit that Jeff Mangum’s adenoidal voice and sing-songy cadence take more than a little getting used to. But then, so did Dylan’s. And Mangum will probably be remembered as his generation’s Dylan, despite only having (really, now) two albums that anyone has bought in earnest, both of which came out 15+ years ago. Once that voice DOES hook you, and you can start paying attention to the words, you realize very quickly that Mangum has a direct line to some part of your psyche.

The front man behind storied indie rock band Neutral Milk Hotel and the co-founder of the Elephant 6 collective of bands (all of which shared a similar aesthetic sensibility, equal parts Sonic Youth, The Zombies, and Captain Beefheart), Mangum is one of those rare artists who knew how to stoke the fire of his reputation by simply letting it burn out of control. Reportedly troubled by the level of fame and success that NMH achieved in the wake of its instant classic albums, In the Aeroplane Over The Sea and On Avery Island, Mangum simply walked away from his career. He spent the next several years largely avoiding the public eye, only turning up sporadically to play solo acoustic shows at small venues like Jittery Joe’s Coffee in Athens, GA (you can find video of those on YouTube as well). The lack of availability only magnified his popularity; take a good thing, make it artificially scarce, and sometimes demand goes through the roof.

He’s been turning up more frequently of late, most infamously playing a spontaneous unannounced set in Zuccotti Park in NYC for Occupy Wall Street. No idea what he’s going to play at Coachella, but you can bet the crowd will know every word.

Feist: The Bad In Each Other

Leslie Feist is a Canadian, but I probably won’t hold that against her — so far she’s kept her in-born politeness in check enough to still be pretty rock ‘n’ roll. I’m also willing to forgive the over-saturation we all endured as the result of her song, “1,2,3,4” getting used in one of the original commercials for Apple’s iPod. The reason for that forgiveness being songs like this, which show her to not be something other than what the Apple marketing machine would have you believe. That is to say: she has some quiet power, a relentless, building thing that you can watch overtake her as her performances unfold. She also has some serious sharp edges, and she (like fellow Canadian songwriter Neil Young) makes them cut hard by throwing some fuzz behind those guitar lines. Unlike Young, and more like Tom Waits, she propels her songs forward on big, lurching rhythm parts. And that horn section? That’s big brassy muscle right there. And we haven’t even started talking about her voice yet. Like Neko Case’s, that voice is a 12-cylinder engine in a 4-cylinder body; when she floors it, hold on.

Did I mention she cut a split 7″ with Mastodon? That’s right. MASTODON. It gave the title of her new, thoroughly excellent album, Metals, a whole new context.

Anyhow, I figured Feist would end up consigned to one of the texts at Coachella, where she could play quietly and politely to an audience seeking refuge from all the bang-bang-bang in the Sahara and the stadium rock reaching on the main stage. Watching this performance from “Later … with Jools Holland,” I’m beginning to re-think that. It’s totally conceivable that she could command a bigger stage. And so the Canadian invasion begins in earnest.

St. Vincent: Cruel

Secret Shredder Alert #2: Annie Clark cut her musical teeth playing guitar in one-hot weirdos The Polyphonic Spree, and then in Sufjan Stevens‘s touring band, long before she broke off to lead her own band. Like M. Ward, it’s not obvious when you listen to her records, but all that experience gave her some serious axe chops, which she purportedly busts out during her live sets. She doesn’t go too crazy with it in this clip of her performing “Cruel,” a standout cut from her much-fawned over new album, Strange Mercy, but look at the way she holds the instrument … there’s an absolute sense of comfort and ease with it that speaks to her complete mastery over it.

Speaking of said critical fawning … Strange Mercy scores a “universally acclaimed” rating of 85 over on Metacritic and picked up a very rare “9 / 10” from the infamously tough-to-please folks at Pitchfork. That said, the album title has the “Strange” part correct — it’s one of the weirdest records to ever break the Billboard Top 20 — not so strange, though, if you go back and listen to some more recent Sufjan Stevens records and understand a bit where she’s coming from. Records like this are awesome, not just because of the music they contain and the talent that produces them, but because they’re such great stereotype busters. “Female singer-songwriter” used to signify a very specific type of sound and demeanor to me; not pejorative, but definitely a type. Think Beth Orton or Leona Naess for modern examples. That St. Vincent sounds nothing like them, and made this big, angular, oft-times experimental rock / pop record probably means the “female” modifier is finally, as it should be, an anachronism. Her music is the sound of preconceptions being shattered, hopefully for good.

Personally, I’m really hoping she busts out her wicked cover of Big Black’s “Kerosene,” which she performed late last year at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom as part of a tribute to that seminal band. Every time I listen to it, I want to march out my front door and set shit on fire. I absolutely love that I never would have expected an artist like St. Vincent to inspire that in me. I expect she’ll have a few surprises like that up her sleeve for Coachella.

Dresden Dolls

American gothic: Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione; photo by Kyle Cassidy

Choler catches up with Dresden Dolls frontwoman / piano torturer Amanda Palmer to ponder the band’s imminent voyage from play time to big time.

Let’s face it: if you’re a rock band based in Beantown, you’ve got more than one pair of skin-tight leather trousers to fill. If the bar band-turned-stadium-filling paleontology exhibit on wheels known as Aerosmith isn’t enough of an intimidator, meditate on this lineage: The Modern Lovers. The Cars. The Pixies. You can hear snippets of all 3 in just about every song on modern rock radio today (in addition to several albums worth of enduring classics by all 3 of the groups themselves). And they, obviously, weren’t even necessary to put the town on the map. Maybe it’s something hot-wired into the city’s DNA. You walk down the street and pass Paul Revere’s house. Turn a corner and stand at the square where the Declaration of Independence was first read. Go for a waterside stroll and pass by the site of the Boston Tea Party. The dirt under your feet is daring you to create something earth-shattering. What’s your first move, then? If you’re songwriter / vocalist / pianist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione, it’s simply to meet one another, and let the chain reaction take care of itself.

The world is slowly catching on to the twisted cabaret acrobatics of the Dresden Dolls. A video in rotation on MTV2’s “Subterranean” here, a slot on the Lollapalooza 2004 second stage there, and pretty soon, you’re courting real success. Los Angeles tastemaker KCRW has come calling for a “Morning Becomes Eclectic” spotlight, which usually portends Very Important Things, and the duo — which kicks out a live show heavy on the china doll makeup and cross dressing, but surprisingly light on the gothic histrionics — now has national distribution for its first album, courtesy of a deal with Roadrunner Records. Palmer has earned overexcited accolades as “the next savior of females in rock,” and the All Music Guide has already gushingly aligned the duo’s stripped down Kurt-Cobain-meets-Kurt-Weill sound with John Coltrane, the Beatles and Charlie Parker. (Consider the comparison horse officially flogged well past expiration.) A more realistic Palmer told us during our interview that the Dolls’ success — while every bit deserved — is building gradually, helped along tremendously by their tireless local touring, a little help from their friends, and the phenomenal, home-grown video for “Girl Anachronism,” the group’s lead-off single.

A blistering blend of piano-driven confessional, Wiemar burlesque aesthetics and land speed record post-punk, “Girl …” is that rare and beautiful thing that occasionally reminds people why Boston has such a bullish musical legacy: a frighteningly original, uncomfortably personal saga that threatens to burn your block down on its way to changing the world. Or maybe it’s nothing more than the explosive sound of two musicians enjoying one another to the point of obsession. Epic history can be written on an intimate scale — and that’s pretty much how Palmer laid out the Dolls’ past and present when she spoke to us by phone from her Boston arts collective home.

Sean Flinn: So, for those folks out there who haven’t visited the group’s Website yet, or some across any of your other press, can you give us the Reader’s Digest version of how the Dolls came together?

Amanda Palmer: I was being, pretty much, a slacker and trying to put together my own band — I knew I wanted to. Brian, concurrently, was playing bass, of all things, in local Boston band. He was utterly miserable that he wasn’t able to find a way to get out on the drums, because that’s really what he was interested in doing. And we met at a party at my house. I used to throw sort of salon / performance art parties, at which I would perform and I would get friends, performance artists, dancers and bands to perform as well (because I live in a rather large house). And Brian got towed along with a mutual friend of ours, and it was Halloween night, 2000. He saw me playing a set of solo songs – just on acoustic piano, no fancy set up or anything — and he knew before I did that we were completely destined for each other. He approached me at the end of the night and asked me if I’d like to get together and play and the minute we started playing with each other, we both … it was hilarious. I wish we’d had a video camera. The day we started playing together, within the first half hour, we were sort of screaming and jumping up and down and acting like really excited six-year-olds.

Sean Flinn: I know on the Website you described it as “falling in total rock love with one another.”

That’s exactly what it was. We were both completely convinced that we had found the missing link in our lives. And we were right. The way we played together was so perfectly complimentary, that it was like fate had plucked us both out and thrown us together. We still feel that way. We can’t believe how lucky were, of all people, to find each other because there’s just so much chemistry, it’s unbelievable.

Does the chemistry have something to do with the fact that you have limited the group to just two people? You’re a two-person band, just piano and drums, and most people would tend to think that that’s 3/5 of a group, not a full group. Did you fear that you might not find that chemistry with any other people to round out the group?

I never had designs on being a duo. I always figured I would find a band. But, you know, we experimented with different lineups. We added guitarists. We added bassists. We tried working with all sorts of different configurations, and we played out as a band quite a bit a few years ago. And the response was overwhelmingly weighted in favor of the duo. People really wanted the distilled version. We would play sets where it would be just half drums and piano, and half drums, piano, bass and guitar. And while some people were a little more turned on by the sound of the full band because it was more familiar, most people just wanted the nitty gritty Brian and Amanda duking it out on stage – which is what generally turns people on about the show; that it’s this really intense connection between two people. And I’ve thought a lot about why that is, but it’s just … I think the more you add to it, the more you kind of dilute it.

Yeah, I can see that.

I thought of a really good analogy for this recently. It’s the same way that, if you’re watching a play, watching two people have an intense argument on stage is a lot more effective and engaging than watching an entire cocktail party of people, where you don’t really understand what’s going on.

The other people tend to draw focus away from the main crux of what’s supposed to be happening on stage.

Yeah. In addition to that, I think both Brian and I would start feeling a little guilty if there were other musicians on stage and we’re just focused on each other, it’s not very musical. It not really fair to the other guys.

Getting into the style of music that you guys play: I played some of the first album for a friend of mine who immediately described it as “Brechtian punk.” I don’t know if I’d ever heard that phrase before. Is that, to your mind, an apt description of the group? I know a lot of critics have tied in the word “Dresden” in the band’s name and the fact that you wear makeup on stage into this sort of Wiemar Republic cabaret type music. Is that something you were shooting for or was it something that sprang out organically from what you were doing?

It’s more the second. It sort of appeared after the fact. When we started playing originally, we didn’t wear costumes on stage. We were playing in jeans and t-shirts. And one night, we were on a bill with a burlesque stripper troupe – they had a residency, and they invited us in as a guest band – and just for kicks, I threw on some really trashy lingerie and painted my face white, a la Cabaret. And it worked so well. It just sort of clicked, and from that day on, we kept doing it because it worked.

And eventually, Brian, who’s a complete closeted drag queen … well, not so closeted anymore … he’s been dressing up in his mother’s lingerie since he was seven years old. But he and I both love costumes and make-up and doing it up. We love dressing up. It’s another miracle of chemistry. We share most of our clothes on the road.

You can just take one suitcase then — it’s very convenient.

Yeah, exactly. We played an acoustic show the other night, and he wore my standard costume, and I just wore my regular dress. But he got all dolled up in the white stripes and the black dress, and he looked very cute.

Hope you got pictures. So, given the make up and the theatrical bent of the shows, what are you ambitions for the Dolls’ stage shows going forward? I know you guys are a two-man gig right now playing somewhat small shows, but in the future that’s going to start getting bigger. What would you like to do with the stage show?

I would really love to expand the stage show. It’s going to be a question of what’s practical, obviously. But, all of my life, I’ve struggled with the marriage of rock music and theater. And I’ve actually directed a lot of theater that was half concert and half music video half play. That’s one-and-a-half things altogether, but you know what I mean.

The things that really turned me on artistically when I was younger — The Wall was one of my obsessive favorites, and Rocky Horror — I’m generally not turned on by most musical theater or opera, but some people manage to do it and hit on it just right, where you can take rock and you can take elements of theater and sometimes put them together to come up with this brilliant mix. That’s something that I hope to shoot for. I would love to do really magical and theatrical — and probably dark and twisted — stage shows. That will be a really fun matter of finding designers and lighting people and working on scripted elements of the show and working with what we’ve got — which is sort of the way we tend to do it. We’re doing Lollapalooza this summer and it’s going to be as stripped down as it gets. We’re going to be on a bare stage and it’s going to be the drums and the piano and that’s it.

… and about a billion degrees outside as well.

Right. And when we travel around in clubs … when you’ve got 40 minutes to say something and 10 minutes to set up, you basically keep it simple. Which is what we’ve been doing and it’s been really effective. But when we get to the point where we’ve got time to set up and money to throw around and stuff to play with, there’s going to be some really beautiful theatrical stuff that emerges from that.

That’s cool. Well, you’ve given me a lot of jumping off points there. I’m going to start with you mentioning the theatricality of the music and your fondness for that, which, in one sense leads me to wonder about your songwriting style, and how autobiographical your songs are versus how much they’re reflecting a persona that you’ve adopted in order to tell the story of the song. What mix is going on there? How deeply personal are these songs versus how much of them are stories that you’re telling?

They’re mostly autobiographical. I think that the ones that are sort of more caricatures of myself or completely adopted characters that I wouldn’t want to lay claim to at all are usually pretty obvious. But then again, everything is borne from experience. A song like “Missed Me” is pretty obviously spoken from the character of this evil, manipulative little girl, and I’ve been close enough to that evil manipulative little girl — or accused of being that evil manipulative little girl — to feel like I can tell the story appropriately.

It’s always an interesting question, and it’s something that gets really sticky, because once you stop being a completely autobiographical songwriter – which a lot of songwriters are, surprisingly. A lot of songwriters don’t ever depart from what they believe is true, and you wouldn’t hear anything coming out of their mouths that they wouldn’t defend in cocktail party conversations. Then it gets very dangerous because then you find yourself perhaps having to defend point that you don’t agree with because it’s your character. Songwriting is especially dangerous that way. A novelist can do that and it’s pretty much acceptable. And certainly a filmmaker, or a painter can paint a pretty gruesome scene and it all seems pretty detached. But when you’re getting up there and you’re speaking somebody else’s story as if it’s your own, with [nothing to indicate that you’re not] being yourself, it’s a little frightening sometimes.

I can imagine. And I imagine too that you get the whole David Bowie school of songwriting, where he practically lives in these characters that he creates, and then puts them away and pulls out something else – you’re never quite sure if what you’re getting is actually him or the character that he’s created. Even when he’s not wearing the make-up or doing the big fancy stage show.

But that’s almost the beautiful thing about it. That’s the whole mystique. Who the person actually is become really fuzzy, even in the mid of the person themselves. But it does work both ways. I often find that through writing, I’m forced to define myself which is just fascinating.

Do you ever find that writing music gives you license to let things out that you otherwise might keep not public — keep more private?

Oh yeah. Constantly.

Are there ever any consequences to that? Do you think, “OK, I’ve written this song, and now I’m going out and performing and — whoa! I’m really putting out some stuff that normally I wouldn’t reveal to people!”

Yeah. You know, the real danger of that – and I’ve been thinking and coping with this a lot lately – is that, often, the most fertile material is directly about people you really care for and care about, but the conflict in the relationship is so inspirational that you don’t want to toss it. And thing that gets really sticky is when it’s something like your family, where everyone has these really complex relationships with their mothers and their fathers and they’re endlessly fertile ground for conflicted songwriting and conflicted emotions.

But your parents are going to hear these songs, and your mother is going to hear this song that you wrote about her or your father is going to hear this song that you wrote about him and they might not want to know the deep dark terrible emotions. And that really gets you into a bind. And, in fact, I heard Ani DiFranco, who’s an interesting songwriter in her own right – she’s one of those pretty much confessional songwriters – but I heard an interview with her which was really interesting. She was talking about how her private life becomes very invaded by her fans, and every word gets examined and over examined and applied to, you know, “Was this song about that relationship or that relationship?!” And she said she very deliberately doesn’t write about her family, just to protect the relationship itself. I’ve already not done that. I’ve already had to deal with the wrath of my mother for bringing her up in a couple of songs. Well, I wouldn’t say wrath. It’s more painful that wrath. It’s not that she’s angry. It’s that it’s actually painful to hear me dredging up these old emotions – but it’s such great material that it’s hard to avoid.

Does she have a problem, too, I mean … not only are you bringing this stuff up, but you’re doing it in front of — especially as the band gets more and more popular — potentially of hundreds of thousands of people.

Yeah. That’s the tough call. And that’s also where the inspiration for the writing often comes in, in that you’re forced to be a little bit more poetic, a little bit more subtle, or a little bit more vague – not use the word directly, and on and on like that.

Do you find, knowing that these songs, especially as you acquire a wider audience and you’re sitting down to write new material, that your self-censor is getting any stronger because you know there’s going to be a wider audience for them and the impact on people you know could potentially be greater? Is that a conflict that every songwriter runs into?

I would guess so. And it’s something I’ve feared. It’s actually something I’ve been trying to cope with in the past couple of weeks because I’ve had a couple of weeks off from touring, and I’ve been trying to write and piece together the new record. I have to admit: your self censors really do come into play once you know, not even who your audience is, but that you have an audience period. [That] changes everything, because, I would say that, probably 80% of the material on this record that we just put out was written before I had any audience at all. I didn’t even have an audience of one. I had an audience of none. I mean, I had an audience of thousands in my narcissistically bloated fantasy. But there was no real place that these songs were ever going to be. It was all theoretical. And that really does, on the one hand – on the flip side — give this kind of immediacy when you’re writing because there’s that [feeling of], “Oh my god, this minute this word come out of my mouth, I can take it right into the studio. I can take it right into the club, and a bunch of people will hear it.”

There’s something really amazing and fantastic about that. On the other hand, that also gives an incredible weight — and unwanted heaviness – to the writing. So it’s another kind of unlearning. It’s like have to train myself to be really disciplined, in a way that I haven’t before, to forget about all that, and forget about what may be heard and may not be heard, and just write. I’m sure – I can’t imagine that any successful musician or writer or artist doesn’t go through this once they have an audience.

We’ve talked a little bit about the acquisition of an audience for the Dresden Dolls and for your songs, so I really wanted to start talking about the video for your song, “Girl Anachronism,” which is really where you guys started reaching beyond a New England audience or a cult audience to serious, serious exposure across the country. How and when in the group’s history did that video get made? Was it before or after you signed to Roadrunner?

It was before.

OK, so, where did you get the resources for it and where did the concept spring from? Give me the story of the video?

Well, it’s a great story and it involved a lot of luck and fortune. One of my dearest friends, and one of the most incredible artists I personally know, is Michael Pope — he’s the guy that directed it. He and I met right around the time that Brian and I met actually, or maybe a few months before. He’s always lived a kind of rag-tag Bohemian existence, couch surfing from New York to Boston. He was working on his own film, at the time – a future film – and he moved into my house, which is kind of an arts collective. He started taping our shows, and we knew that, the minute we had resources to make a video, we would do it. It was always something we had talked about. And as soon as the band started getting really serious, and the minute the record was done and we had a single – we had a finished product of music that we knew was going to be released, that’s one of the first things we looked into doing.

We had no money. We were unsigned. So we hit up a friend of ours for $5,000. We said, “We’re going to make this. We’re going to pay you back within a couple of years.” And that was it. We took the $5,000, we stretched it about as far as humanly possible, and we made the video in about 2 days. And it’s incredible, because it really does look totally legit — and it is. It’s real film — but it’s the product of a lot of effort and a lot of underpaid people and a lot of free time and labor and a lot of winking a nudging and friends at film stores hooking us up. Basically, what you see is probably closer to a $10 — 15,000 video, and we got a lot of breaks. We pulled a lot of strings, just because we didn’t have any money. But with that video in our pocket, that’s definitely a huge part of what helped us get singed and get the attention of the people that we were trying to get.

It’s more than a little astonishing to me that you could make a video … not astonishing to me that you could make something that good with that kind of budget — but astonishing to me that something that good, made with that kind of budget by an independent group – something that’s truly independent — would actually get picked up by MTV and really gain a wider audience. How did you guys actually get that out in front of people to the point where it was actually being seen?

Well, when we first finished it, we did all the editing here in the kitchen on a Macintosh. Then we just started burning DVDs – we got a DVD burner and started burning them. We made Xerox copied artwork and we started taking it around with us. I would play it for people in New York that I would get connected to. I’ve sent it out to everyone I could possibly think of who was even remotely important. And right around then is when an A&R guy from Roadrunner hit me up for publishing, actually. I sent him a copy of the video, and he brought it to an A&R meeting and everyone there just lost their shit.

I can imagine. I pretty much lost my shit when I saw it on TV, so … it sounds like, beyond just having it seen by A&R people, when it was actually aired on TV, was there a noticeable or dramatic impact from having it on their air? Did you guys wake up the next day and notice it?

No, not at all, actually. I mean, we always get fan mail. We always get a lot of e-mail. And there was a trickle of e-mail from people who were like, “Hey, I saw you on MTV, I checked out your site, this is great!” But not a ton. I think … our record had just gone on sale, nationally, about a month ago, and we’re only just starting to get a sense of what’s happening out there and who’s finding out about us. It’s still pretty much under wraps. There a station here that’s playing it, and there’s a station there, and there’s a little group of fans in San Francisco, and no one has ever heard of us in Omaha. It still has really yet to happen.

Still a lot of building left to be done.

Yeah. But it’s actually exciting. I kind of like that.

Well, better to have a chance to build something like that than to have it dumped on you all at once. I imagine even the level of success that you guys have hit right now can be kind of a challenge to grapple with.

Yeah. Well, having management is the key, and we finally did find a fantastic manager. That was the beginning of a new era for us.

I read somewhere in an interview that the point you said you wanted to get to was where someone was actually sending out the press kits for you as opposed to you having to send them out yourself.

And it’s finally happened!

You’re living the dream!

Yep!

Psychedelic Furs

They came from the '80s: The Psychedelic Furs, from left: Tim Butler, Richard Butler and John Ashton

“God, it sounds like a venereal disease when you say it like that!” Richard Butler, vocalist and chief songwriter for ’80s mainstays the Psychedelic Furs is cracking wise in response to my poorly phrased question, “Has Love Spit Love (Butler’s post-Furs project) gone away?”

“Yes. It’s gone into remission,” he continues, laughing.

It’s a pop-culture miracle that Butler can laugh about the collapse of his sole musical outlet throughout the ’90s. He formed Love Spit Love shortly after dissolving the Psychedelic Furs in 1991, following the tour to promote what would become their final album, World Outside. Thanks to an apparently unstoppable demand for all things ’80s, though, Butler has been able to take the Furs out of mothballs and make them fashionable again. The band is currently touring alongside fellow ’80s stalwarts the Go-Gos and the B-52s, and running through the same routine that led to their temporary breakup.

“When you’ve been in a band for 10 years or so and had a number of albums out, the audience, rightfully, expects you to play certain songs,” Butler, speaking from a Baltimore hotel room, explains of the Furs’ fragmentation. “And that list gets longer and longer so that, by the end of it, you have very little time that you can actually play new songs or all the songs from your catalog that you would like to play. And I didn’t want to go out there and be bored of playing the songs and pretending to be enjoying it when, really, I wasn’t. So I needed to take a break.”

The break turned into a nearly permanent hiatus. Butler formed Love Spit Love, which scored a modicum of ’90s alt-radio success with its two albums, a self-titled debut released in 1994, and 1997’s Trysome Eatone. His brother, Furs bassist Tim Butler, joined him, while guitarist John Ashton went on to pursue other projects. Critical and commercial indifference proved a cure for Love Spit Love, as Butler so candidly points out. The Furs, still popular after a decade in hibernation, have reconvened for the current tour and a new album.

Butler isn’t flaunting his ego when he says the band had — and still has — a lot of expectations to fulfill whenever it tours. The Furs have a long set-list of standards without which any concert would seem incomplete.

“Love My Way,” “Heaven” and “The Ghost in You” define the Furs, and over the last decade, these songs have grown into alternative rock anthems. They embody a version of post-punk and New Wave that, through its ironic blend of media friendliness and rigid integrity, serve collectively as a touchstone for the alternative pop soundscape.

The band truly vaulted into the pop culture consciousness in 1986 when they re-recorded “Pretty in Pink,” (originally released on 1981’s Talk Talk Talk) for John Hughes’s teen film classic of the same name. The performance, and the enduring popularity of the film, virtually ensured that, once the inevitable longing for ’80s memorabilia hit full steam — just as it did for the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s — the Furs would find themselves called back into action. The best they or any of their loyal fans could hope for would be fair treatment from pop historians. No associations with their spandex and hair spray abusing peers, please.

And, to be accurate, the Furs hit the mousse hard for only one album, 1987’s Midnight Moves, which, despite yielding them one of their bigger hits (the vacuous “Heartbreak Beat”), the band has disavowed in every interview they’ve given since releasing it. The rest of the releases remain sterling examples of timeless pop. Butler is one of those very rare pop stars who helps define an era without being “of” it. Surely, songs like 1982’s “President Gas,” which poked fun at Ronald Reagan without ever naming him, contain some key to Bulter’s unique status. Rather than immerse himself in the trappings of the ’80s, he and the rest of the Furs focused purely on making music with lasting appeal.

So it’s without a trace of irony that Butler can claim that he doesn’t mind being associated with the ’80s — despite occupying the opening slot of a summer tour that features two other bands that hit their peaks in the Reagan era.

“I’m not worried about that at all,” he chuffs. ” I mean, I think you can’t avoid that. For a lot of people who grew up in the ’80s or who came of age in the ’80s, the Psychedelic Furs will always be a part of their lives then, as Bob Dylan was for me in the late ’60s, I suppose. As Led Zeppelin was in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and David Bowie in the ’70s. You kind of associate certain people with certain decades. And although David Bowie still brings out good records that I like, and I think he remains modern and abreast of things, he will always, for me, have a real special part in my life from when I was growing up in the ’70s. And for me to play that part in someone else’s life I find quite flattering.”

Butler and the rest of the Furs may have a chance to play that role for a new generation of music fans, given that they’ve not only reunited (bringing the Butler brothers back together with Ashton for the first time in nine years), but are writing songs for a new album.

“I was doing some writing with Tim about two months ago,” Butler recounts of the Furs reunion. “And he said, ‘How many songs have you got?’ I said, ‘Oh, about 25 or something like that.’ And he said, ‘Well, why don’t you do whatever you’re going to do with them for your solo record, and then make a Psychedelic Furs album as well? Because you’ve got enough material.’ And I thought, Yeah, why not? That’s not a bad idea at all. So that’s how what happened, happened. That’s how we got back together.”

The reunion was further spurred by an invitation to the Furs to join the Go-Gos / B-52s tour.

“About two weeks after Tim suggested making a news Furs record, our agent called and said, ‘Hey guys, would you like to go out and do a tour? If you think about putting the Furs back together at all, Richard, give me a call. There’s a lot of interest out there.’ And I called him back and said, ‘It’s funny, but Tim just mentioned making an album at some point. So yeah, I guess we are interested.’ And then he called back and said, ‘Look, I’ve got this tour going out. It’s the B-52s and the Go-Gos. You would have the opening slot, which means you would play for about 40 minutes, so there would be no pressure and it would be a great way for you guys to find out if you like playing together again.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that sounds like a perfectly good reason for doing it.’ And it was. In rehearsal, actually, we found out that we did like playing together again,” he laughs. “But the tour has been a lot of fun.”

It’ll be a while, however, before anyone will hear most of the material that the reunited band is working on. The group is only playing one new song while on tour, and Butler expects that a new album won’t hit store shelves until the summer or fall of 2001. One gets the feeling that the work has yet to take on a firm form. Butler agrees.

“You know, we haven’t decided on a direction yet, because the thing about direction, normally, for me, it’s always happened when it comes to actually recording. I mean, basically a song is a song. I can write a song with Tim on bass guitar or John on acoustic guitar or Richard Fortis on acoustic guitar, and at that point, they’re just pretty rough songs. Before, when we worked with Todd Rundgren [on 1982’s Forever Now], we decided, ‘Yeah, we want to have cellos on it, and we’d like horns on it and we’d like marimbas on it,’ and so we chose Todd as a producer because he knew how to do all those things. But before we made that choice, we didn’t know quite what it was going to sound like. We’d try some cello on stuff and we’d tried a marimba sound, but we hadn’t tried backing vocals or horn section or anything.”

Another thing the band lacks a direction on, at least for now, is an Internet strategy.

“Well,” Butler explains, “the Internet has only come to the fore since the Furs have been gone. And we’ve only been together for a couple of months, so we’ll have to get a Webmaster to do it or learn it all myself.” Fair enough. And it’s not like they’ve frozen themselves out of the online music revolution — Butler admits to having kept abreast of the recent furor over Napster and other lawsuit-inviting technologies. “I personally tend to take Metallica’s side over it. I don’t see how artists are going to make money if they can’t sell their product. It’s like, if you open a bakery shop and somebody is around the corner giving away loaves of bread, you’ve got to find another business.”

When, in response, I ask him what he thinks of Freenet developer Ian Clarke‘s maxim that “If your business model is selling water in the desert and it starts to rain, you’d better find a new business model,” Butler laughs, but remains unshaken. “Well, if it comes that musicians can’t make a living from making music, then they won’t make music. So they won’t have anything to sell. It’s always going to rain. There’s not always going to be someone making bread.”

Butler makes it clear, however, that, in the end, he takes more joy in making the bread than in selling it (which, if you’re fond of metaphors, really doesn’t sound like much of a difference). After 20 years as a Fur, he finds that the most rewarding aspect of his job is still “sitting down and writing songs, and then going into a studio and going, ‘God, that sounds great!’ And sitting down, and the feelings that you wanted it to convey, you feel again for yourself. That’s the greatest feeling about it.”

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