Noel may have made peace with Blur at last, but he still has plenty of vinegar left for virtually everyone else in music. Like Arcade Fire:
Did you see that Arcade Fire have asked people to wear formal wear or costumes at their shows? [Ed. Note: Arcade Fire has clarified that this dress code is “super not mandatory.”] [Sighs] Well, what’s the point of that? Do you know what the point of that is? That is to take away from the shit disco that’s coming out of the speakers. Because everybody’s dressed as one of the Three Musketeers on acid. “What was the gig like?” “I don’t know, everyone was dressed as a teddy bear in the Seventies.” “Yeah, but what was the gig like?” “Ah, fuck knows, man, I have no idea. I was dressed as a flying saucer.” “Yeah, but what was the gig like?” “Fuck knows. I don’t know. Seen Cheech and Chong, there, though.” Not for me.
There’s been a lot of talk this week about selfies and their role in society. I happened to ask Ezra Koenig about this very subject earlier this week. “I think that anybody who’s anti-selfie is really just a hater,” he said. Also: “You know what? When I die, everybody is invited to come take a selfie at my funeral. Except for my enemies. They’re not invited to the funeral, period.”
It was a sleepy Sunday afternoon at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design when Kanye Westmade his unexpected entrance last weekend. “Nobody knew he was coming,” says Tessa Kaneene, a second-year masters student in urban planning. “People were tired — he was the only thing that would have woken everyone up.”…
I spoke with the co-president of the GSD’s African American Student Union about how they invited Kanye to their school, and what happened when he showed up. Read the rest at RollingStone.com. (Bonus: I scooped my old haunt, The Crimson!)
"When I heard the first Velvet Underground record, I was 13 or 14, and it really struck me intensely. I was listening to anything I could get my hands on; I’d grown up with the Beatles and the Ramones, and I was getting into the Stones and garage rock. But when I heard "Venus in Furs," I’d never heard anything like it. It was like hearing something I’d always wanted to hear. It felt so modern – I had to look at the back of the record to make sure it wasn’t a newer band. The sound was really dirty, much more primal than other bands from that era. The sweetness of the melodies and the songwriting, juxtaposed with this brutal sound, completely turned a light on for me.
"After that, I don’t think I listened to any pop music for another 15 years. The Velvet Underground just eclipsed everything for a long time for me – it became the thing that I measured other music by. I think that’s common for a lot of people my age. Lou Reed and the Velvets were so formative for that whole era of bands that came out in the Eighties and Nineties, bands like the Pixies and Sonic Youth and Jesus and Mary Chain and Pavement and Yo La Tengo. I don’t know what you would call the genre that I’m in, but the Velvet Underground really define it. They’re the blueprint for that entire kind of music. The idea that you could play folk or country or guitar feedback or Brill Building pop, and you didn’t have to be authentic or quote-unquote real, was so liberating…"
I woke up late on Sunday to the news that Lou Reed had died. What a loss. Lou was elemental, essential. But you don’t need me to tell you that.
Since the news broke, I’ve done interviews with CNN International, ABC Radio, and cable news stations in France and Spain – trying to avoid the glib “RIP” that Lou once called “the microwave dinner of posthumous honors.” Today, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. for a live bit on CNN’s morning show. When someone like Lou Reed dies, everyone wants to talk about it.
Lots of people have stories about getting really into the Velvet Underground at a crucial age. They’re that kind of band – old feelings stick to their music. Here’s mine: When I was a freshman in college, a friend introduced me to the third, self-titled VU album. I’d already devoured The Velvet Underground and Nico a few years earlier, and I thought that made me pretty cool. But this one hit me harder. I remember listening to “Candy Says” and thinking it was the saddest song I’d ever heard. I remember so many late nights, turning “Beginning to See the Light” all the way up, singing along and really wondering: “How does it feel to be loved?” I don’t know, you tell me.
I really enjoyed chatting with Alex Kapranos when Franz Ferdinand were in town earlier this week. He gave thoughtful and honest answers about the 10th anniversary of the band’s first U.S. tour, how close they came to breaking up before making their new album, and lots more. Read it at RS.com.
Bonus quote for Tumblr only! Alex told me the real story behind “The Fallen,” which I’ve been wondering about since 2005:
There’s a lot of songs that I haven’t explained what they’re about. Like, “The Fallen” is, for the most part, a narrative about a guy I used to hang out with in Glasgow, mixed in with other things. He used to rob from the Tesco around the corner from us – he used to steal steaks and then sell them round the pubs in Glasgow. So I said, “Who gives a damn about the profits of Tesco?” But then it’s got this sort of religious allegory running through it, so you’ve got “the prophets of Tesco,” blah blah blah. It’s a very long story. [Laughs]
Thomas Mars is always a fun interview. In this chat for RS.com, he compares a Lou Reed song to Proust’s madeleine, declares his deep-seated opposition to covers and identifies what might be the most French song ever.
What does the fox say? Such a profound question, and one that is now lodged in Billboard chart history thanks to two goofballs from Norway. Yes, I interviewed Ylvis in the middle of their U.S. press blitz. They were pretty funny! If I ever find myself in Oslo on a Tuesday and/or Thursday night, I’m totally tuning in for their talk show.
(BTW, shouts to these guys for courteously switching up the details of their go-to jokes from interview to interview. Vegard Ylvisåker, to me: “There’s probably going to be a frog song from Germany next week.” His brother Bard, to Dave Itzkoff: “There might come a song about wolves from Denmark in the next week.”)
"No one’s even expecting us to put out a record this year," says Sleigh Bells guitarist-producer Derek E. Miller with a devilish grin. He’s hanging out with singer Alexis Krauss at his Brooklyn apartment, one week before the shred-pop duo plan to spring news of their third LP, Bitter Rivals (due out October 8th), on the world….
When you’re in a room with 2 Chainz, you really know you’re in a room with 2 Chainz. At the moment, the 36-year-old Atlanta MC is savoring some rare alone time – sprawled out, all six-foot-five of him, on a dressing-room couch, minutes after rocking the Made in America festival in Philadelphia. He’s still in his stage clothes: crisp white Balenciaga sneakers, sleeveless white Raf Simons shirt with a Picasso-looking print, enough gold to bail out a small nation. “Yeah, I’m fresh as hell,” he says. “Everfresh! Balenciagas on my foot, vintage Chanel chain, Céline bracelet with a Versace watch and a Versace pinkie ring.”
Read more at RollingStone.com. 2 Chainz is an extremely entertaining dude, as anyone who’s heard his music knows. He’s also really honest and insightful about his own past. He had some powerful stories to tell about how the prison-industrial complex affected him and his family, and I’m glad some of that made it into this story.
On the 35th floor of a New York skyscraper, John Mayer is talking a mile a minute, as usual. “You know who really blows me away?” asks the singer-guitarist, who’s here to promote his sixth solo album, Paradise Valley. “Jack Johnson. This motherfucker refused to be anybody else than himself. And I’ll be damned if he isn’t winning through the years, just by being himself! That song comes on, man – the ‘I Got You’ song – and it’s real. What a great amount of respect I have for him. I go, ‘That’s who I should have been. I should have done it like that.’”
I spoke with Pat Smear about Nirvana’s 20th-anniversary reissue of In Utero, which is packed with incredible extras. The full concert from December 1993 is something every Nirvana fan should hear. “If you listen to the shows from back then, it’s just so obvious how into it Kurt was,” Pat told me. Even so, he added, “Listening to that stuff, you can get sad. Especially when you hear Kurt talking – like, ‘My friend’s gone, forever.’”
Do you like strange little scenes that stick in your head for days? Read Sarah's latest piece of flash fiction at s-tick!
Sherry ought to have been having a good time at Jessica’s pool party, sashaying around in her caftan and oversized shades, but the dead girl at the bottom of the jacuzzi made it hard. The submerged body, a sleepy odalisque, a greek statue in a string bikini, lay on the bottom step in the fetal position. Every few minutes, while Sherry walked back and forth with margaritas in her hands or crunching on those addictive lime-flavored corn chips, she’d peer over at the hot tub and catch a glimpse of her limbs forming a giant letter “G,” like Gucci. Or Gabbana. Guests congregated at the area where the poolside pebbles met the wooden deck slats, at a respectful distance from the corpse and closer to the grill. Sherry respected their zest for life, but for her it was a downer…
Yes, it’s another McCartney story! The new issue of RS includes my inside look at the making of Macca’s new solo album; that will be online soon. (UPDATE: It’s online now.) In the meantime, here’s my interview with Ethan Johns, who produced several potential tracks for the album. (Other producers include Mark Ronson, Paul Epworth and Giles Martin.) I loved this quote about what it’s like to work with a Beatle at Abbey Road:
"It was revelatory for me, recording Paul in that space having listened to the sound of those Beatles records… He plugged in his bass, I put a microphone in front of it, walked upstairs into the control room, pushed the fader up, and [that sound] came out of the speakers immediately. I didn’t have to do anything! It was a pretty major light bulb for me. People get so fixated on the equipment and the gear, and those things are important – but ultimately, the bass sound on ‘Revolver’ is Paul. Paul could be playing anything and he will get that sound."
There’s also a bit toward the end about Ethan Johns’ next solo project, a concept album to be produced by his old pal Ryan Adams.
In part two of my interview with Paul McCartney, he talks about how much fun he’s been having on tour this year. He also sets the record straight on how “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” was written:
"Mr. Kite" is such a crazy, oddball song that I thought it would freshen up the set…And I have great memories of writing it with John. I read, occasionally, people say, "Oh, John wrote that one." I say, "Wait a minute, what was that afternoon I spent with him, then, looking at this poster?" He happened to have a poster in his living room at home. I was out at his house, and we just got this idea, because the poster said "Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite" – and then we put in, you know, "there will be a show tonight," and then it was like, "of course," then it had "Henry the Horse dances the waltz." You know, whatever. "The Hendersons, Pablo Fanques, somersets…" We said, "What was ‘somersets’? It must have been an old-fashioned way of saying somersaults." The song just wrote itself. So, yeah, I was happy to kind of reclaim it as partially mine.
There are no words to describe how incredibly cool it was to talk to a Beatle about how they wrote and recorded one of my favorite Sgt. Pepper songs. I love my job.
I can’t believe this interview actually happened. The day after Paul McCartney played Seattle and brought out Nirvana’s surviving members for a surprise encore – an awesome sight which I just happened to be in town in time to see – he called me up. Paul McCartney, calling me, to talk about music and stuff! He was incredibly funny, chatty and all-around cool. (I mean, of course he was.) I am still pinching myself.
The first part of our interview, about performing with Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, is up now at RS.com. But there’s more to come. Watch this space…
You want to know the truth? I hate writing negative reviews. I got into this game because I love music. Even so, sometimes it has to be done. MCHG is one of those cases. Jay-Z is obviously an all-time great talent, and it will never not be a little exhilarating to hear him rapping new words over fresh beats. But this album doesn’t live up to the standards he’s set for himself. He can do so much better. (Read my Rolling Stone review for more.)
Yesterday afternoon, a few hours after my review went live, a funny thing happened: I went down to a Chelsea art gallery and watched Jay lip-sync “Picasso Baby” about three feet away from where I was standing. I had to leave after a while, but he kept going for six hours, interacting with lucky fans and Marina Abramovic and Wale and Adam Driver from Girls. The video shoot, or performance art, or whatever it was, was clever and unexpected. It made me think; it was incredibly fun. I wish I could say the same about this album.
The new issue of Rolling Stone includes a mini-profile I wrote on Queens of the Stone Age. Their new album, …Like Clockwork, is my favorite guitar rock LP of the year to date* – partly because there just aren’t that many bands doing what they do anymore. If you’re looking for big, brash rock & roll that doesn’t feel hopelessly cliché, with real emotion behind the heaviness, this might be your best bet in 2013. Make sure to play it loud.
I got to hang out with the Queens a couple weeks back while they rolled through NYC and played a memorably furious show at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple on a rainy evening. This was a very entertaining couple of nights, needless to say, and now you can read all about (some of) it! Enjoy.
*(second favorite if mbv counts in this category, which I don’t think it does)
Light in the Attic just reissued Digable Planets’ great Blowout Comb on vinyl. I took this opportunity to catch up with Ishmael Butler, who reminisced on New York in ‘94 and gave me a characteristically cryptic preview of the next Shabazz Palaces album. Enjoy!
The Roots were one of my favorite bands from an early age – I wish I could find the Roots Come Alive t-shirt I made in my ninth-grade graphic design class – so yeah, you could say I’m in the target demo for Questlove’s new memoir. Anyway, I love it. Read my short take for RS.
Sweet Yeezus! I’m pretty sure I love this weird, ugly record, and maybe I’ll write something longer about why soon. Right now, I’m thinking about the undeniable misogyny that runs through the album, and why (apart from my own male privilege) it doesn’t ruin the listening experience for me. The short answer: I think there’s something to be said for how Kanye foregrounds and owns his own worst qualities. Roxane Gay is right that “I’d rather be a dick than a swallower” is a head-shakingly dumb sentiment. But at least he admits he’s a dick, you know? I felt the same way about “Runaway.” Kanye’s eagerness to air out his own assholedom doesn’t exactly excuse it. But I prefer it to the countless rock stars and rappers who hide their lack of respect for women behind flimsy nice-guy masks. Am I wrong?
Such a great record, all these years later. I was surprised/amazed to learn that he made the entire thing by collaging samples on a clunky old desktop PC. My other favorite revelation:
"Rodney Jerkins actually was the most influential for me," he says, citing the producer’s work on Whitney Houston’s "It’s Not Right, But It’s Okay" and Brandy and Monica’s "The Boy Is Mine." "The fact that one was led by a thumb piano and one was led by a harp, and he combined those things with very crisp electronic rhythms – at the time, I thought of him alongside Aphex Twin as being on the cutting edge of electronic music."
I know the Internet loves Thom Yorke, but even so I was pleasantly surprised by how much pickup my interview with him and Nigel Godrich got yesterday. Thanks to everyone who linked to it! A few of my favorites are after the jump.
Last month, I spent an hour chatting with Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich. How wild is that? I met them at a downtown hotel, the day before they played Le Poisson Rouge. It was one of the most fun interviews I’ve ever done – the kind where I barely even had to ask questions, because they were both in such chatty moods. Radiohead was my absolute favorite band throughout my formative years as a music nerd, so, yeah, to say I was psyched about this experience would be an understatement.
My looooong Q&A with Yorke and Godrich is online now. (Another piece of the interview ran online last month, and there’s also a short item in the new issue of RS.) If you’re like me, you’ve probably already clicked through to devour all 3,000 words, but just in case you’re still on this page, here are some of my favorite tidbits:
Thom Yorke on being beaten on the Billboard charts by Bruno Mars: “Who the fuck is Bruno Mars?”
Thom Yorke on Top 40 EDM stars like David Guetta and Calvin Harris: “They wash the surface off and they’ve cleaned it up and Auto-Tuned it. It’s like, ‘Fuck you!’”
Thom Yorke on DJ culture: “If I’m brutally honest, 90 percent of that whole culture, I don’t get on with. I find it really bonkers when, you know, like, a promoter in Ibiza is emailing us, saying, ‘Do you want to go?’ And I’m like, ‘No!’”
Thom Yorke on when Radiohead will make another record: “I don’t know. I really haven’t got a clue, which I quite like.”
Thom Yorke on the name of his new Tumblr: “It’s a quote from The Simpsons.”
Thom Yorke on the Oscars: “I watch a shitload of movies. Lincoln was all right. I didn’t really understand [Argo]. Better things than that.”
UNCOOL #1: Guiltless Pleasures is a 43-page .pdf about the ways music makes us feel bad — and sometimes, proud. It was designed by Traci Larson. Sam Alden did the cover art. Here’s what you’ll find inside:
* Punk Rock Princesses: A Case for Something Corporate by Devon Maloney * Dangerously in Love: My Decade with Beyonce by Jamieson Cox * Repeat Offenders: Pressing Play, Over and Over Again by Harley Brown * Guiltless Pleasures: Imagining a Post-Snob World by David Greenwald, Simon Vozick-Levinson and Lindsay Zoladz * Miss You Like Crazy: Canada’s Lost Boy Bands by Melody Lau * He Ain’t Even Know It: On Rick Ross, Rap, and Responsibility by Henry Adaso * I Don’t Wanna Come Back Down From This (Sound)Cloud by Taleen Kalenderian * Why Bother? Talking To Myself About Weezer by Jillian Mapes
With the help of its readers, UNCOOL is a publication that pays its contributors. Thanks in advance for your support.
Participating in the “Guiltless Pleasures” panel with Dave and Lindsay was one of the most fun things I did at SXSW. I’m proud to see that conversation continue in this awesome zine, alongside some of my favorite young writers. For $3.99, you can buy this or, like, a tall frappuccino. Choose this!
Like Willie Nelson before him, Snoop Dogg finally got so high he made a reggae album. Go ahead, laugh. It really is hilarious to hear him preaching Rastafarian gospel in a fake patois. But here’s the thing: For all the easy jokes, Reincarnated is Snoop’s most consistently enjoyable record in years…
Something slightly crazy and awesome happened to me at lunch today: The friendly woman who runs my favorite Indian food truck insisted on giving me my kati roll for free because she had seen me on Good Morning America. I thanked her repeatedly. Anyway, here is that clip, in which I give Jay-Z his due as “one of the great poets of our age,” along with a few more recent media appearances after the jump. Click through if you enjoy seeing me talk about stuff!
Hi, I am an aspiring music journalist, and I am wondering what kind of schooling and experience led you to be able to make a career out of music journalism. I would really appreciate your response! Thank you, Carly
Hi Carly! My school didn’t offer a journalism major, but I wrote for my college newspaper, which taught me a lot about how a daily publication works. I wrote about lots of things at first, but after a while I realized that writing about music was by far the most fun. In my junior year, I worked up the courage to start pitching an editor at my local alt-weekly, the Boston Phoenix. In time I convinced him to start giving me assignments – short concert and album reviews at first, longer interviews and features later on. By the time I graduated, I had enough clips to land a summer internship at Entertainment Weekly, which eventually turned into my first real job. That internship was when it first occurred to me that I might actually be able to make a career out of this, and I haven’t looked back since.
Good luck with your work, wherever it takes you. My biggest advice is to listen to as much music as you can and write constantly about what it makes you think and how it makes you feel – on Tumblr, in emails to your friends, in a notebook, wherever. The more you do it, the better you’ll get.
P.S. Thanks for reading this blog and writing in! I love getting reader email.