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    Photo Galleries: Pitchfork SXSW Parties 2015

    Photographers Daniel Cavazos, Katrina Barber, and Erez Avissar captured moments with Speedy Ortiz, Courtney Barnett, Shamir, Rae Sremmurd, Natalie Prass, Vince Staples, and more at this year's Pitchfork SXSW day parties at the House of Vans.


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    Articles: Into the Black: Johnny Jewel's Dark Disco Empire

    How the mastermind behind Chromatics and Glass Candy perfected his distinctly mysterious brand of cool while cultivating a model of modern independence


    Chromatics: “I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around” (via SoundCloud)

    Johnny Jewel is fiddling with a brunch of steak and scotch on a Sunday afternoon at the Tam O’Shanter, a dimly lit Scottish pub in his adopted home of Los Angeles. The place is mostly empty save for a few weekend warriors who are either trying to kill a hangover or keep their buzz going. The 40-year-old producer is somewhere in between, having spent the previous night wide awake, working on new songs. His shrugging affect does not change in the slightest whether we’re discussing his self-made empire of twilit dance music, his young daughter’s French-speaking school, or his vegetable-averse new diet—or even that one time he was kidnapped and held at gunpoint for 36 hours when he was 17. Maybe he’s repressing some serious emotional trauma. Maybe he’s just tired.

    As Jewel tells it, the harrowing teenage ordeal began when a Pentecostal van started circling him as he was skateboarding in an abandoned Houston mall in the middle of the night. It was the same type of vehicle he’d seen many times in the parking lot of Lakewood Church, the megacomplex he attended three times a week as a youth (televangelist conglomerate Joel Osteen is the head pastor there now; Jewel, who was born John Padgett, was named after Osteen’s father). But it became clear that this particular van was not spreading the Good News when its occupants opened the doors and pulled Jewel in.

    “They chained me up, drove me out into the woods, and then asked me all these questions for a couple of days,” he recalls. “They were really concerned with my exact weight and height, and then they started asking me about skateboard ramp injuries.” Jewel suspected there was some kind of elaborate scam in the works, having seen a “60 Minutes” report on people swapping out bodies in house fires for life insurance payments. “So I started talking about how I had all these surgeries,” he says, “pins in my body, dental work, all this crazy shit.” At no point did it become clear whether the kidnappers were planning to kill him, or whether they even had a plan at all. “They didn't hit me or rape me,” Jewel says. “They just threatened often and kept telling me to be quiet. They had a rifle and a revolver.” 

    Eventually, Jewel was let go when his kidnappers realized there wasn’t going to be a quick or particularly big payday. “They dropped me off and said it was a college initiation prank,” he says. “They gave me a bullet as a souvenir.” He attributes his decision not to alert the authorities for about six months to a minor case of Stockholm Syndrome, but even to this day, he has a strange appreciation for his captors. He now says the entire experience was “the best thing that ever happened to me.”

    While clearly a formative moment in his life, there has to be some kind of hyperbole to his account, because many, many great things have since happened to Johnny Jewel that did not involve the threat of a bullet to his brain. Over the past 12 years as a songwriter, businessman, and producer, Jewel has been the visionary guiding the Italians Do It Better label, a successful and massively influential trendsetter that’s dictated the slinky, synth-laden sound, style, and financial structure of independent music while remaining a paragon of effortless cool. He’s done so without even being the frontman for the vast number of projects in which he’s involved, which includes the dark-pop disco band Chromatics, no-wave subversives Glass Candy, cinematic electronic project Symmetry, deadpan synth trio Desire, and robo-funk act Mirage.

    Glass Candy: "Digital Versicolor" (via SoundCloud)

    Perfectionism is a distinguishing characteristic of everything under the Italians flag. This means that records might take years to finish, but the end products are often epic in scope, from Chromatics’ 2007 breakthrough Night Drive and its expansive successor Kill for Love, to Glass Candy’s glamorous synth-punk hybrid B/E/A/T/B/O/X, along with both of the imprint’s showcase After Dark compilations. And now, the latest long-awaited deluge is imminent, with Jewel’s instrumental score for Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut Lost River due out next week, followed closely by Chromatics’ forthcoming opus, Dear Tommy. (Glass Candy’s long-awaited Body Work album and the second Symmetry LP could come out soon after, though Jewel wants to make sure they arrive in the season that suits each one best.)

    Chromatics: "Kill for Love" (via SoundCloud)

    And yet with all of these projects in the works, the odd thing is that if Jewel is actually famous for anything, it’s for something he didn’t even do: The soundtrack for neon gangster-car-chase flick Drive. The confusion is understandable. He actually was director Nicolas Winding Refn and star Ryan Gosling’s first pick to do the score. “I felt a bit like Chazz Palminteri at the end of The Usual Suspects, and that Johnny was my Keyser Söze,” Gosling notes, describing his early admiration of Jewel. “I had been a fan of Glass Candy, Desire, Chromatics, and Mirage independently of one another, but I had no idea that Johnny was behind all of them.”

    Over the span of a year, Jewel made music intended for the movie, though a more experienced composer, Cliff Martinez, was eventually brought in. (Jewel ended up using one track from his Drive material on the Symmetry album Themes for an Imaginary Film, made with Chromatics drummer Nat Walker.) "I know it's not a nice thing to say, but my score was superior,” Jewel told The Guardian in 2012. “It was the director's choice, Ryan's choice… but in movie production, there's a money side and a creative side, and they don't always meet in the middle." Even so, there’s no mistaking Jewel’s influence on Drive’s seductive noir mood, an aural eeriness that has since inspired everyone from synth-pop breakthroughs Chvrches, to UK pretty boys the 1975, to R&B upstart Banks.

    Symmetry: "City of Dreams" (via SoundCloud)

    But as it happens, I am at Jewel’s house in the summer of 2014 because of a soundtrack he did complete. We’re in his home studio, a dark basement chilled at least 15 degrees below normal room temperature to protect all of the gear. He cues up a rough edit of Lost River on his iMac—the only non-analog device in the room. The movie is one of the most confusing things I’ve ever seen. Granted, it’s not the final version; some of the colors are off, not all of the special effects are put to tape, and it’s split into six files of approximately 15 minutes each. But still. It is extremely confusing. The actors all seem to have indeterminate Southern accents even though it’s set in Detroit; co-stars Christina Hendricks and Eva Mendes work in some post-apocalyptic upscale pleasuredome where feigned bodily mutilation is the new striptease; and there’s a threatening dude who rides around sorta dressed like RiFF RAFF. I have absolutely no recollection of how it ends. I’m not alone. When Lost River premiered at Cannes last spring it was followed by a spate of gleefully harsh reviews, and after a few delays, it will finally hit theaters in April.

    Chromatics: "Yes (Love Theme From Lost River)" (via SoundCloud)

    Jewel wants me to watch this movie twice, but I don’t think he’s interested in ensuring I catch the nuances of its plot, which he describes as “dark Goonies.” Perhaps he just wants me to get to the point where I can pay attention solely to his score, an often subtle and ghostly work that bears little resemblance to Drive. But while Lost River represents one of the biggest opportunities of his career, Jewel mostly thinks of it as “cross-training” for future endeavors. “It's pretty low on the chain,” he says, “the pop albums are the highest thing.” In a way, though, Lost River unintentionally proves Jewel’s mettle as an artist—this sort of self-indulgent art piece is what happens when Gosling gets free rein just once; Jewel does whatever he wants all the time and has yet to slip up.

    Describing his life philosophy, Jewel once told me, “I just prefer to make my little castle in the gutter.” And besides being pithy, the mission statement is backed up by a resolute rejection of typical music-biz ladder climbing: Though Chromatics have been asked to play Coachella, they turned it down because the festival insisted on streaming the performance; music industry titan Jimmy Iovine once called Jewel to discuss a buyout of the Italians catalog, but the negotiation turned out to be a non-starter; talking about the prospect of contributing to a recent project featuring artists making new songs inspired by the music of Drive, Jewel says, “I just think it's tacky, and I can say whatever I want because I'm fully independent and I have no allegiances.”

    In spite of this fierce independence, in reality, his “little castle in the gutter” is more like a big house on the hill—I seriously doubt any actual indie rock musician in Los Angeles has a nicer place than Jewel’s. As with so many things in his life, he has it both ways: He’s within the artsier enclave of Los Feliz, but in a spot that has the physical inaccessibility of the Hollywood Hills. Once you get within the vicinity of the house, Google Maps is of no help; it will make you drive over a grass embankment. The ceilings are high, the rooms are spacious, and there are barely any decorations other than his daughter’s Lite-Brite box illuminating the foyer.

    Chromatics: "Just Like You" (via SoundCloud)

    Though Jewel will not allow any sneak previews of forthcoming Italians releases, the works-in-progress around his house are fair game. The producer is a sizable dude—not hulking or chiseled, but substantial in a way that high school football coaches may refer to as “Texas big”—and he’s quick to show how he can work with his hands outside the studio. My awareness of his new backyard seems of paramount importance to him, even though it’s pitch black outside and the backyard itself is apparently painted black. He tells me how he dug out the rock underneath his daughter's bedroom and then built his studio in the excavated space, eliminating the nasty, time-sucking business of actually leaving the house for just about any reason. “I don't go out to eat, really,” he shrugs. “I barely drive.” 

    Cutting out the commute between home and studio is about the only way he could find the necessary time to spend with his daughter and girlfriend. Jewel puts it bluntly: “I have to work in order to be a good person.”

    “An ‘independent record label’ is an oxymoron. You sign an artist, and they're no longer independent: Their rights are compromised, they don't have control over their budgets, and the label is forcing them to pay for remixes they don't like.”


    —Johnny Jewel

    A couple of weeks later, Jewel and I meet for brunch at Pacific Dining Car, which is noir in a touristy kind of way, a place you’d take a visitor if they insisted on recreating an L.A. Confidential bar crawl (and I’m not just saying that because L.A. Confidential author James Ellroy is actually here this afternoon). The place does everything in its power to distract from the fact that it’s 1 p.m. on a Sunday and downtown L.A. feels like a dry-roast oven.

    While discussing his youth in Texas, I ask him about director Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, which chronicles the life of an adolescent boy, Mason, who also grew up in Houston. “The mood of all of Linklater's movies that are in Texas [capture] exactly what it's like,” says Jewel. “In the movie, when the kid is photographing the lantern wearing brown corduroys and he's got the awkward skin—that was me in '94.”

    Jewel may have identified with Mason’s disillusion, mistrust of authority, and artistic temperament, but his actual biography is less wholesome. He did not get along with his father, who he claims was tone-deaf and unable to hear music; in all likelihood, he was just partially deaf. Either way, the handicap required Jewel to learn sign language and use a teletype machine—a kind of primitive text-messaging device—to talk with his dad on the phone. In hindsight, Jewel figures that he gravitated towards music as some kind of psychological ploy against his father.

    Despite showing little interest in academic achievement, Jewel claims his impressive test scores got the attention of nearby Rice University, but he preferred to freak out the squares. His high-school teachers saw enough potential to have him join a bunch of college-bound kids in submitting poems for a public demonstration at a local exhibit, where Jewel contributed dioramas made from hollowed-out books, with dead animals and scrawled missives about his parents stuffed inside. “My mom went and she just was weeping,” he recalls.

    Jewel’s artistic self-actualization coincided with his father’s death and his subsequent move to Austin when he was 18. Though the actual name would come later, the development of Johnny Jewel as a persona begins here. At the time, he seemed more intent to follow the lead of artists like Bill Callahan and Jandek, admiring their capability to avoid the demands of the music press while making abstract music with an audience. He took on his first pseudonym: John David V, inspired by George Scott III of Lydia Lunch’s no wave band 8 Eyed Spy. “We looked the same and both played bass,” he explains. “I always loved the Roman numeral V, and my nickname in Texas was Johnny Five from Short Circuit.” Even now, Jewel still credits himself as "V" on his records.

    While still dabbling in photography and painting, his early recordings ran the gamut between pop and experimental, and were abetted by Todd Ledford, who would later start the Olde English Spelling Bee label, specializing in oddball outsider sounds. “[Todd] gave me my first 24-hour recording space,” says Jewel. “He lived above a print shop, so my bed was this mattress on top of a bunch of Xerox machines.”

    After living a “hand-to-mouth existence” in Austin for roughly two years, Jewel made a pilgrimage to Olympia, Washington in the mid-‘90s to see K Records bands like Lync, Versus, Unwound, and Dub Narcotic at the Yo-Yo a Go-Go Festival. He soon realized he wasn’t coming back: En route to Olympia, he had an epiphany inside Portland’s Greyhound station. “There was just this electricity in the air,” he says. “Something clicked.”

    The timeline gets a little murky here, but that’s how things go with Jewel—there isn’t much distinction between days and months and years. Only the longview remains. But in the decade between his move to Portland and the founding of Italians Do It Better, Jewel and his co-conspirators somehow morphed from aimless noisemakers into post-punk professionals.

    Glass Candy: "Warm in the Winter" (via SoundCloud)

    Jewel met his first collaborator, Glass Candy singer Ida No, while working at a grocery store in Portland. “He looked really intriguing,” No recalls in a hand-written letter. She would hover around the store despite living on the other side of town, snooping in on conversations he was having with another employee. “It was pretty creepy, but I wanted to know everything about him,” she continues. “Finally I got desperate and went and introduced myself, which is crazy because I have social anxiety—I never do that.”

    At the time, Jewel was going through a breakup that resulted in him being thrown out of his apartment. As Jewel remembers it: “I had a suitcase with clothes and five Moogs, and it was horrible. So the second time I hung out with [Ida], I called her and was like, ‘Can I move in with you?’ And she's like, ‘Uh, sure.’” Jewel describes No as his only friend in the city at the time and, soon enough, they started dating. “John said he wanted to be my robot,” remembers No, commenting on their musical partnership early on. “That was better than winning the lottery as far as I was concerned.” Eventually, their romantic relationship ended, but Glass Candy continued on.

    Chromatics: "I'm on Fire" (Bruce Springsteen cover) (via SoundCloud)

    A similar pattern emerged with Chromatics frontwoman Ruth Radelet, but with an important part inverted:Johnny and I had been living together for five years before we ever worked together musically,” Radelet notes. Chromatics had existed in numerous forms before Jewel joined, and founding member Adam Miller recalls starting Chromatics solo as a minimalist, noisy pop act after seeing Glass Candy perform in Portland in 1999.

    “We ran into Johnny downtown, and he was on a date and dressed in drag,” remembers Miller. “We had nowhere to stay that night, and he offered his apartment to us. He asked me if I had ever heard Here Come the Warm Jets and then returned to the room five minutes later with a blue Samsonite suitcase full of immaculately organized cassettes and then just dumped them from above his head onto the hardwood floor. We thought he was a total freak. The singer of our band wouldn't even stay in Johnny's house—he slept in the van instead.” By the time the band’s breakthrough, Night Drive, was released in 2007, Chromatics traded in punk slash for a moody synth haze with Jewel taking on the roles of producer, director, spokesperson, and label boss.

    Get into Italians Do It Better’s business plan, and Jewel becomes something more akin to independent music’s ultimate patron saint, Ian MacKaye. He’s amassed a sizable fanbase and an impressive money flow without sacrificing any control; both Chromatics’ Kill for Love and Glass Candy’s B/E/A/T/B/O/X have sold around 150,000 each, an impressive number for an indie release in the 21st century. “An ‘independent record label’ is an oxymoron,” Jewel tells me. “You sign an artist, and they're no longer independent: Their rights are compromised, they don't have control over their budgets, and the label is forcing them to pay for remixes they don't like.”

    His financial advice is downright practical: Make money to spend it, not the other way around. “I don't believe in tour support; I don't believe in credit,” he says, referring to the label-fronted money that allows new bands to hit the road and endure an album cycle without guaranteed income. “We've never gone in the red—there is no red because there's no credit.”

    That’s great for Jewel, considering he has his hands in every single project on the label, but do the other Italians artists ever fight his decisions to turn down potentially lucrative opportunities? Radelet, No, Walker, and Miller all agree: Never. They also agree that Jewel doesn’t have any friends who are separate from his artistic life, while Miller calls him “the most private person I’ve ever met in my life.” The man himself bolsters that reputation, bragging about how he’s celebrated New Year’s Eve the exact same way since 1999: “I have a ritual of making a fire at home and listening to Air Supply slowed down.”

    It all bleeds into this idea of Jewel as a man of certainty, stripping back any and all excess, leaving nothing to chance. It makes me think back to his kidnapping, how it may have heightened his obsession with completion, time, and death, and how everything can be taken in an instant—especially if you’re at the mercy of someone else. When we last speak at the beginning of this year, he admits to wondering if the upcoming Dear Tommy could be the final Chromatics album, because he may not be able to top himself. “I've been writing music since I was a teenager and I always think, ‘Does it ever stop, or is there a point that's a peak?’” Jewel ponders, considering what’s at stake for him in the year to come. A second later, he fires back: “I mean, I haven't reached a peak yet, so I don't know.”


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    Show No Mercy: Death Becomes Them: Bell Witch's Doomed Ghost Stories

    Show No Mercy explores the realms of metal, hard rock, and other extreme styles.


    Bell Witch: "Judgement, In Fire: I – Garden (Of Blooming Ash)"

    Bell Witch offer a beautifully spare take on funeral doom—the Seattle duo's music is melancholic, heavy, slow, beyond minimal. It evokes burial. If someone close to you has died, you know that mourning can be a lonely and suffocating experience: Bell Witch, who named themselves after a poltergeist from Southern folklore, evoke these sorts of feelings.

    Balancing extreme dynamic shifts from hushed whispers to punishingly loud crashes, they leave space for outside sounds to creep in and aren't afraid to incorporate silence. The band’s setup itself is unique: both bassist Dylan Desmond and drummer Adrian Guerra also sing—and when I say "sing," imagine ghosts howling and growling against the wind.

    The band’s first album, Longing, was an elegantly spacious 64-minute trek into dark, fragile lamenting. As Andy O'Connor put it in his Pitchfork review: "[It's] like Om learning of a terminal illness diagnosis." Bell Witch's new record, Four Phantoms, was produced by Billy Anderson (Pallbearer, Sleep, Melvins, High on Fire, Red House Painters), and it's bigger and sturdier: The record is gut-wrenching and cathartic in the way the saddest things can be.

    Of all the bands mentioned in that parenthetical after Anderson's name, the most useful here might be Mark Kozelek’s ‘90s slowcore group Red House Painters. Bell Witch’s music is much heavier and darker, but both have an endless isolation to them—a crystalline look at solitude and quiet suffering. All of it can be heard on the new track "Judgement, In Fire: I – Garden (Of Blooming Ash)", which I'm premiering above; at 10 minutes, it's Four Phantoms' shortest track.

    I reached out to Desmond to learn more about the new album, one of my favorites of 2015 thus far. We ended up talking a lot about ghosts.

    Pitchfork: There are four songs on Four Phantoms, along with the four elements in the titles: water, fire, air, earth. Are the songs themselves the Four Phantoms?

    Dylan Desmond: You are correct. As with all our songs, the idea is that it's from the perspective of a ghost. Each "phantom" on this record is meant to represent a ghost in connection with an element. The songs, musically and lyrically, are stories from each particular ghost suffering a continuous death from the respected element of the song. At times they ask for mercy, other times they ask for it to continue in a sort of self-hating, masochistic frenzy. We're approaching the concept of ghosts with the idea that "hauntings" are a surfacing of some type of subconscious, metaphorical expression of trauma.

    Pitchfork: How does the cover art tie into the concept?

    DD: Paolo Girardi painted the cover to match the four elements associated with the four phantoms in the songs, and the river running through all of them is a connecting theme to make them flow together. The first song, "Suffocation, A Burial - I. Awoken (Breathing Teeth)", is a story of being buried underground in a coffin. The ghost is trapped forever, banging its face and body against the roof, trying to escape. This is the upper left corner of the painting. The second track, "Judgement, in Fire I. Garden (Of Blooming Ash)", is about being burnt alive forever in front of an audience, which is represented in the upper right corner of the painting. The third track, "Suffocation, A Drowning - II. Somlioquy (The Distance of Forever)", is about drowning, which is represented by the river full of coffins in the lower left corner of the painting. The fourth track, "Judgement, In Air: II – Felled (In Howling Wind)", is falling. It's meant to explain being wrapped in so much moving air that it replaces skin and envelops the ghost, who will never hit the ground.


    "It's not music that everyone is going to like. Sometimes the lyrics are about being skinned or burned alive, which isn't the most appetizing thing to some palates."


    Pitchfork: When did your interest in ghosts begin?

    DD: Neither of us ever gave any more thought to ghosts than the average person before the band started, but now we talk about it all the time. When we started focusing on song structure more and dissecting how things were arranged, the idea of the songs being ghost stories came right out. The music and lyrics are intended to be directly from the ghost telling the story. Any and every time we're working on a new song we give a lot of attention to what the implied story line is—sometimes band practice is just us talking and making mental outlines.

    Pitchfork: Are you into haunted houses?

    DD: I'm not sure I'm a believer. While the idea of terrible things happening in a specific location has an eeriness to it, the logic is a bit thin; I'd argue there are few places on this earth that haven't been the setting of numerous horrific things. I'm more of the mindset that the "hauntings" people place on a location is more a reflection of something they're uneasy with or unable to understand in themselves.

    Pitchfork: There have been a number of doom bands crossing over in recent years. Even though you guys are doing something especially stark and sad, can you imagine breaking with a larger audience?

    DD: It's definitely not music that everyone is going to like. Sometimes the lyrics are about being skinned or burned alive, which isn't the most appetizing thing to some palates. Other times we aren't playing to any real tempo, or trying to instill feelings of discomfort, fear, or grief. So while we're not at all shy of new ears hearing it, there's definitely no hurt feelings between Adrian and I when new ears dislike what they hear. 

    One time we played a show with a bill of technical death metal bands. We weren't really interested, but the promoter kept asking us and eventually even offered us money, so we felt stupid turning them down at that point. And we cleared most of the crowded room. A few of the people that didn't leave were doing the "YOU SUCK" and "FUCK YOU" things during the quiet parts. One guy stood at the front of the stage for everyone else to see and directed his two middle fingers at me; Adrian caught it and slowed the tempo down considerably for effect. To be honest, I thought we were playing great. Eventually, the sound guy cut us off, but he handed me every dollar promised, and we laughed all the way to the bar down the street.


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    Update: Perennially Contentious: The Return of Faith No More

    Faith No More: "Motherfucker" (via SoundCloud)

    Faith No More’s Facebook page was recently updated with the sort of photo that touring bands at music festivals are fond of sharing: A shot of a band member posing for a quick backstage snap with a musical hero also on the bill. In this case, it was one of Faith No More keyboardist Roddy Bottum and Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford—both of whom happen to be among the few openly gay musicians in the realm of hard rock. And, sadly, several commenters were all too eager to remind us of this fact through hateful, homophobic remarks. Bottum eventually removed and then re-posted the photo to an overwhelmingly supportive reception, but the unfortunate incident served as a timely reminder of Faith No More’s perennially contentious relationship with rock orthodoxy. 

    While “alternative rock” was a nebulous descriptor even during the genre’s late-‘80s/early-‘90s heyday, Faith No More were the rare band to truly exemplify both halves of the term. On the surface, the San Francisco quintet resembled the sort of long-haired, ripped-denim hellraisers filling up the dance card on “Headbangers Ball”, but their absurdist take on rock owed as much to Zappa as Zeppelin. And their ubiquitous 1990 breakout hit “Epic” both defined rap-metal and defied it, gilding its atomic funk with progged-out synth fanfares and classical-piano flourishes, like a mosh pit choreographed by Cecil B. DeMille

    Those arty accents were pushed to the fore on 1992’s cult classic Angel Dust, whose bizarro fusion of death metal, gothic electronica, Asian melodies, cheerleader chants, and John Barry themes effectively signalled the end of Faith No More’s run as chart contenders, but cemented the band’s legacy as consummate non-conformists. It’s a reputation that only intensified in the wake of their 1998 dissolution thanks to their wildly diverse offshoots, from Bottum’s playfully queer indie-pop outfit Imperial Teen, to bassist Billy Gould’s globally scavenged Koolarrow label, to the infinite array of avant-rock, Italian-crooner, and soundtrack projects frontman Mike Patton has pursued through his notorious Ipecac imprint.

    Faith No More: "Superhero" (via SoundCloud)

    It wasn’t a huge surprise that a band of Faith No More’s vintage would reunite to play the oldies, as they dutifully did through a 2009-2012 campaign of mostly international dates. But given all their seemingly incompatible interim interests, it’s amazing that the band’s first new album in 18 years, Sol Invictus, comes out sounding so distinctly, holistically Faith No More—with all the operatic bombast, marble-slab heaviosity, and demonic Pattonian patter you could hope for. But while the forthcoming record matches the (ahem) epic sound of Faith No More’s early-’90s work, this was a guerrilla operation all the way: The band worked on the album for over a year in Oakland in total secrecy, and its release comes courtesy of their newly launched Reclamation Records label. And where most former major-label players would be humbled going the self-release route, for a band as free-ranging as Faith No More, the anarchic post-Internet musical landscape feels like natural habitat.

    Pitchfork: You worked on the new album in isolation for a year without telling anyone—were you hedging your bets in case it didn’t work out?

    Billy Gould: Actually no. I just hate getting that stupid hype machine going when there’s nothing to talk about. I hate the gossip and the bullshit. We didn’t want to get into expectations and speculation. I didn’t even play any of the songs for my wife. So it became a complete band experience—it was just us with nobody else in the middle. It gave us a lot of confidence. We broke up 17 years ago and we were burned out, so it was great to work like this, where we had each other to rely on.

    Mike Patton: Unbeknownst to me, these guys had been working on a bunch of music, and I didn’t even think it was for Faith No More. They played it for me, and I was like, “Oh my god.” It really set me aback. First of all, this music is really, really fucking great. Number two, I was like, “Am I involved?” I asked Billy, and he said, “Yeah, I think you should sing on this.” I thought about the other shit I had going at the time and was like, “Wow, I’ve already reconnected with these guys and we’ve done this reunion tour—we can right a lot of wrongs by doing a record like this.” All of us feel that way; none of us were really happy with the way our previous records were recorded or looked. So, in essence, becoming a DIY band was super-enticing, especially to me, because I had been doing that shit for 10 years. It’s a liberating place to be.

    Pitchfork: Will this album cycle consume your lives for the next year?

    MP: Yeah, maybe, if we want to. That’s the point: if we want to. In the past, it was like: You make a record and then you’ve got to tour it for a year or two. Which we did. This time, we do what we want. You know why? Because the label’s us! There’s no pressure.

    BG: We were such a weird band [in the ‘90s] that we had to tour to survive, and that hasn’t changed! We never really had the record sales. We had that one hit song in the States with “Epic” but that was it. [America] never got anything else we did. So we’re looking at it from the same perspective as we always did. 

    Pitchfork: You’ve played a great deal of overseas festivals since reuniting in 2009, but you’re only embarking on a proper North American tour now. Why did that take so long?

    BG: The honest answer is promoters weren’t that interested in us. I think the perception of us in North America has traditionally been as this VH1 one-hit-wonder type thing from the ‘90s. When we were together as a group, we had some success, but, especially in the States, it was always hard-won.

    MP: A lot of people think that when bands tour, they can decide where they want to go. But unless you’re Justin Bieber or Justin Timberlake—or any of the Justins—you can’t do that. So we did what was available to us. A lot of fans thought we had some prejudice against the States, and that’s not true. And at that point, it was more about rediscovering ourselves and getting to know each other again. So it was really good, but you can only play 30-year-old tunes for so long.

    Pitchfork: One of Faith No More’s great legacies is stripping the bullshit machismo out of heavy music and replacing it with unlikely influences. But as we saw in the reaction to that photo of Roddy and Rob Halford, that meathead element unfortunately persists after all these years.

    BG: There’s a lot of stupid things that happen in the world that you can’t control. It’s funny, but it’s not funny. It’s there. But it’s great to have enough of a connection with that mentality where you can interact with it and poke your finger in it a little. 

    MP: We’ve lived in the metal world for a long time, but we’ve never been a metal band. When I first joined the band, our contemporaries were bands like Poison and Def Leppard. And we laughed at it. It was comedic to us, but it wasn’t to the rest of the world—we were thought of as one of those bands. So I hope that making a record like this, on our own terms, would alter that perception. But if it doesn’t, I don’t think we care. It would be nice to be thought of as elder statesmen. [laughs] But we were never some cheese-rock band—and we’re not now.


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    Update: Fix the Future: Holly Herndon's Collective Vision

    Holly Herndon: "Home" (via SoundCloud)

    “Now that experimental music is in the club, what does that mean politically?” Holly Herndon asks herself. “Will we just hear weird sounds and then get drunk and dance, or are we now able to discuss the values that experimental music can conjure up in those scenarios as well?” It’s a heady line of inquiry, but the California-based artist is particularly well-suited for it.

    Herndon has a long history in club culture, both as a participant and a performer; she has also done postgraduate work in electronic music at Mills College, and she is currently a doctoral candidate at Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. It was there that John Chowning came up with the algorithm for FM synthesis in the '60s, paving the way for synthesizers like Yamaha's DX7 and revolutionizing the music industry by making those advancements available far beyond the limits of pricey analog hardware. Herndon's music has a similarly democratizing intent. 

    To begin with, she takes technology, including the Internet, as a starting point rather than a stumbling block. Where some would discount online culture as a distraction—or, worse, false consciousness—for Herndon, it's just a place we all call home. As such, it works its way directly into her music, both as subject and content. Featured on her forthcoming album Platform, the uneasy single "Home", which she calls "a love song for prying eyes," is dedicated to the NSA; "Chorus", meanwhile, utilizes a software program that eavesdrops on her browser and folds its audio into a shuddering percussive thrum.

    Formally, Herndon's music reflects multiple aspects of her upbringing, with whipcracking electro rhythms underpinning complicated choral harmonies and head-spinning bursts of white noise, the provenance of which often defies easy understanding. (One song on the new album derives from the multichannel body recordings of a contact-miked modern dance performance; elsewhere, Herndon whipped a microphone like the tail rotor of a helicopter to create a wild wah-wah effect.) "I'm kind of allergic to the idea of something being more serious than something else," she admits.

    With Platform, she attempts to use electronic music to ask deeper questions about politics, community, and communication. The album's title, borrowed from the theorist and designer Benedict Singleton, refers not to technological environments as much as the attempt to mount a collective effort to define our own future.

    "There are a lot of false narratives that happen in music," she says, "and a lot of that [positions] the artist as this single, solo icon. But in order to make interesting and great work, there's a whole team of people. I’m really serious about not presenting myself as this lone auteur, and part of the hope for Platform is that we might all be able to acknowledge each other without somehow breaking an illusion or taking away from the work of individuals." 

    When we speak via Skype in late March, she reels off a list of names of the contributors, collaborators, and influences behind the album:Metahaven, the Dutch design studio that created videos for "Interference" and "Home";Suhail Malik, the critical theorist whose concept of a transformative exit, rather than mere escape, inspired the song "An Exit"; Berlin-based producers Amnesia Scanner; vocalists Colin Self, Amanda DeBoer, and Stef Caers; her partner, Mat Dryhurst, who contributed ideas and code to many tracks; and the artist Spencer Longo (aka@chinesewifi), who added "word sculptures" to a disorienting track called "Locker Leak", which applies crackling electronic processing to beatific choral passages and tongue-twisting spoken-word phrases ("Who lasts? Glass lasts. Who lasts longest? Grass lasts longest").

    For all the album's high-concept ideas, though, it's also frequently flat-out gorgeous, suffused in gossamer choral melodies reminiscent of Arvo Pärt. "I'm an American from the South, so I can't help my optimism," says the Tennessee native. "I try not to be blindly optimistic, but I do feel hopeful. The ideas around Platform are so much about coming together with people whose work that I really respect and love. Instead of being like, ‘Ugh, everything sucks, let me just escape into myself,’ it's like, ‘How can we support each other instead of ignoring or tearing each other down?’ Let's figure out how we would like things to be together.”

    Pitchfork: The twin poles of your work seem to be technology and the human voice. Was it a conscious decision to make vocals so central to your music?

    Holly Herndon: That just goes back to the beginning. As a kid, I was in all kinds of choirs, and that was what I was most comfortable with. So when I was developing my sound at Mills and trying to find the fleshy side of technology, the voice seemed like a really approachable point for that.

    In terms of performance, when you have a laptop, one criticism has been that the audience doesn't understand what you're doing and can't really empathize. But when you interject a voice, people can automatically relate to that. And at this point, for me, performance and music is about communication. I was deeply involved in noise scenes for a while, and a lot of that felt like, “How can I put up this huge barrier between what I'm doing and the audience?” and sometimes that can be effective. But I'm actually interested in creating entry points for people, so then I can introduce more abrasive or out-there ideas, and the voice is the most effective way I can do that.

    Pitchfork: The song "Lonely at the Top" features lots of small clicking sounds and the whispering voice of Claire Tolan, who is known for her work with a phenomenon called autonomous sensory meridian response—can you walk me through the concept there?

    HH: ASMR is a tingling sensation some people get that's caused by really mundane or domestic personal sounds, like opening a package or tapping on an iPhone. They have these samplers online that will run you through all the different kinds of ASMR to see what you're sensitive to. I actually have physical responses, especially for acrylic nails on smart phones—it's really weird. When I hear that I'm like, [blissful sigh].

    So what got me into ASMR was how these hyper-domestic sounds that people are sharing over the Internet are physically impacting and touching strangers. I find that really beautiful. Often people say, “The Internet is separating us all and there's no real friendships anymore.” But ASMR shows that the Internet can actually help soothe people.

    Pitchfork: A few songs on the album, like "Unequal" and "New Ways to Love", sound almost like liturgical music.

    HH: That makes total sense, because my dad's a preacher and I started playing guitar and making music in the church. I have a hard time talking about it because it’s a very personal thing for me, but despite the fact that it is no longer part of my belief system, I keep coming back to aesthetics of communion and the optimism and power of choral music. But in a way, I'm most interested in using this power as motivation towards new modes of collectivity—which perhaps describes why trance music, which has such an ecstatic power to it, played such a role in this record. It is this anomalous universal sound of protest and collectivity.

    Pitchfork: You recently taught a class at Stanford, what was that like?

    HH: Up until now I was a teacher's assistant, but for this class I actually developed the curriculum with a fellow student and musicologist. The title of the class was Aesthetics of Experimental Electronic Music, 1980 to Today—it's kind of a mouthful. CCRMA [Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics] is this amazing nerd castle on the hill, full of smart, interesting people; for such a rigorous place, it has such a nice feeling to it. People are really open and no one is snotty at all.

    But one thing I noticed is they didn't have a class on aesthetics; they didn't have anything where they were discussing work after 1980. A lot of academic programs kind of stop in the '70s. There's this golden period for electronic music—everybody wants to cover Stockhausen, but then they kind of stop there. We really wanted to talk about music that students were listening to when they're not in class and give them the tools to be able to analyze that and see where those sounds were coming from. The student body there is so awake and hungry. It was just really fun to listen to and talk about music with them and learn from them.

    Pitchfork: You have said that you took up the contrabass when you were studying at Mills. Do you still play?

    HH: Oh God no. [laughs] I was terrible. That was a mistake.

    Pitchfork: You must have learned something from it, though.

    HH: I learned that I hated playing the contrabass—and that I didn't have to do that in order to be a serious musician/composer. 


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    Articles: Pull the Thread and Unravel Me: Waxahatchee's Katie Crutchfield

    Waxahatchee: "Air" (via SoundCloud)

    Not so long ago, a teenage boy tried to kiss Katie Crutchfield in the middle of a Waxahatchee show. The fan was dancing wildly, making other members of the audience uncomfortable, and then he shouted at the stage: “You’re soooo hot.” Crutchfield could not allow this. She bent down to speak to him one-on-one, but he cluelessly got way too close to her face, assuming something else was happening.

    “No, I'm not trying to kiss you—no one is ever trying to kiss someone in this situation,” she recalls telling him, laughing now, many months later. “You need to calm down. You don't need to yell things at me. And you need to stop dancing all over everybody right now.”

    The guy bolted toward the exit.

    “The thing about white cisgendered men is that they don't want to listen to me,” Crutchfield says. “But I'm learning the best ways to approach situations like that with the most sustainable result. I want to yell at this kid over the mic, but if I do he’s not going to take anything away from it except for ‘Waxahatchee is an evil bitch.’ And that's going to be on the Internet tomorrow, which is fine—I don't care if people call me an evil bitch. But I want the kid to walk away and be like, ‘That made her and all these people feel bad, and I shouldn't do that.’”

    This is peak Katie: strong but kind, hyper-aware of the Internet, and more emotionally intelligent than any 26-year-old has any right to be. 

    In feminist punk circles, a no-tolerance policy toward these sorts of exchanges is the norm. But Crutchfield understands that, in the real world, clashes can exist in a gray space, and their solutions require empathy. Both in her musical style and her growing fanbase, she straddles the line between DIY punk and more commercial indie rock. And she’s continuing to figure out how to handle sexism in a way that, instead of creating silos, promotes understanding.

    “Waxahatchee having more visibility is exciting, because I'm not one to shy away from talking about things,” she says as we pick at croissants and berries from opposite sides of my kitchen table. “When I see something fucked-up happening, I will always say something. That's the only way that you can be, because [fame] is like a soapbox, and people should use it for good.”

    With her subtle Alabama lilt, it would be easy to call Katie Crutchfield “sweet” by default. But she really is. When she turns up at my Brooklyn apartment one February afternoon, she hands me a large coffee and apologizes for not knowing how I take it. (A half hour earlier, she had asked if she should bring anything over. I said no. She texted back a row of crystal-ball emojis.) In the weeks that follow, I learn that Crutchfield is just this kind of person—the kind who makes an effort. She finds photoshoots exasperating at times, but she will still climb out onto a rusty fire escape in single-digit temperatures wearing little more than a vintage trench coat, a lace t-shirt, and slacks when a photographer asks her to.

    When I hear her give friendly advice to a peer—Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves—later that day, I start to get the sense that she’s like the mom of her social circle, which is largely comprised of bands from her adopted home of Philadelphia and its thriving DIY scene; she stays silent for a long time, then offers up practical strategies.

    For those who’ve spent any amount of time listening to Crutchfield’s music, it can be a struggle to remember that you do not actually know her. Over the course of three Waxahatchee albums, along with two LPs and two EPs from her old pop-punk band P.S. Eliot and a handful of teenage recordings as the Ackleys (alongside twin sister Allison, currently of the band Swearin’), Crutchfield has spent a decade setting diary entries to punkish melodies. She speaks with the kind of emotional and situational specificity that it makes it difficult not to think she’s spilling her own secrets and shining a light on her most crippling anxieties at all times. 

    Waxahatchee: "Under a Rock" (via SoundCloud)

    To see your own flawed experiences reflected back in Waxahatchee songs is to mend, like a bone ultimately strengthened by a break. So it’s heartening to find out that, in many ways, Crutchfield’s creative life mirrors this juxtaposition of strength and weakness. That insecure, vulnerable person on record is just one side; the other half, which will be as important to her musical career in the long run, isn’t even a little frail. As Sam Cook-Parrott, Crutchfield’s former bandmate and current leader of Philadelphia band Radiator Hospital, puts it: “She is next level, dude—a strong and determined woman who knows what she wants. It's her world and we are just living in it.”

    Gradually, in certain circles, this has come to be true. Starting with the 2012 release of American Weekend, each Waxahatchee album has bolstered Crutchfield’s notoriety, but never to a point where she saw the need to make drastic changes in how she operates: managing herself, recording at home, working with friends. “I've always been the person that does everything in the band,” she says, adjusting the messy ponytail that sits at the highest point on her head. “I just don't think I can not be that person. I've been making music for a long time and I want to keep slow burning and finding my people—and not get chewed up and spit out by the music industry in 10 years.”

    Crutchfield’s catalog of confessions have reached a much wider audience than she ever intended, particularly after her last album, 2013’s Cerulean Salt, ended up on nearly every major music publication’s year-end list. Her new one, Ivy Tripp, sees her transitioning from New Jersey DIY imprint Don Giovanni to storied indie giant Merge—home to Arcade Fire, Caribou, and Ex Hex, to name a few—a move that she says stems from her new label’s artist-run outlook.

    “I could relate to Mac [McCaughan] and Laura [Ballance]’s story,” Crutchfield says, talking about the North Carolina-based Superchunk mainstays who co-founded Merge. “They're from the South and they always did everything super DIY. It reminded me of my own experience, except that I had the Internet—that was my advantage.”

    The self-actualizing respect runs both ways. “Katie is capable of looking at things from the standpoint of, ‘How do I make this happen?’ instead of just saying, ‘I want to do this,’” says McCaughan. “A lot of what goes into whether we work with someone is based on them having a similar outlook on the music business.”

    For a year and a half, Crutchfield rented a small suburban home in Holbrook, Long Island to record what would become Ivy Tripp alongside her producer, bandmate, and then-boyfriend Keith Spencer. The two were together through the album’s recording, but when the non-musical parts of their relationship “started feeling shaky,” they decided to break up. “It seemed like the right thing to do so that we could keep making music together,” says Crutchfield. “At this point, I don't think I could really do this without him.” (Though she later mentions that her next album will likely mark a return to American Weekend­-style solo songs.)

    Waxahatchee: "Bathtub" (via SoundCloud)

    For all the positive developments in Crutchfield’s career throughout the last two years, there have been obstacles—the biggest of which has been playing for people who don’t embrace her music’s intimacy, or perhaps don’t totally get what she’s trying to do. Waxahatchee was on the road for six months at a time following Cerulean Salt’s release, playing rock clubs where people would “woo!” as Crutchfield sang about dying loved ones. Fistfights broke out among fans who craved a quiet experience with these intense songs, and those who were there to party. “The shows started to suffer because I felt tired and overexposed,” she says.

    When I see Crutchfield down at SXSW in March, I’m reminded of her rock-club horror stories. After a Thursday afternoon set in which she and her new touring band (including Allison) transformed the poppiest Ivy Tripp tracks into ripping grunge songs—albeit for an audience that seemed more interested in headliners Migos—Crutchfield tells me that just before she started playing, a guy in the crowd commented on the unshaved armpits visible from her sleeveless sundress. She’s not incensed by this, just a little stunned and annoyed. After all, she’s has seen variations of this kind of behavior before. At least he didn’t try to kiss her.

    Still, there have been breaking points, like when the sexist attitudes in the Crutchfield sisters’ Birmingham, Alabama scene led them to leave the South for good in early 2011. Around that time, after playing house shows in Brooklyn, Katie and Allison would go back home, survey their own scene, and say to themselves, “These people think they’re relatively progressive [about gender politics], and they’re not.”

    Waxahatchee: "Coast to Coast" (via SoundCloud)

    For the last four years, Crutchfield has ping-ponged between Brooklyn, Long Island, and Philadelphia, but she still has a certain fondness for Birmingham, where her introduction to the music world came via the now-defunct DIY space Cave9. “If I had never left there, my life would be kind of depressing,” she says. “But sometimes I think I might buy a house in Birmingham if Waxahatchee becomes the next Arcade Fire—but neither of those things is going to happen.”

    Birmingham has been on her mind lately, however—specifically, the tension of a “normal” existence that’s prevalent where she comes from, versus her own alternative way of life on the East Coast. These concerns are at the heart of Ivy Tripp. While making the album, Crutchfield found herself going through a heavy spell of depression, dogged by existential, quarter-life-crisis anxieties that threatened to devour her brain whole. On one hand, there’s the kind of life trajectory that is not so much suggested as it is expected of children from traditional family units: marriage, house, baby, in a certain order, in a certain timeframe. And then there’s the life of a troubadour: traveling, meeting new people, making art, and, as Crutchfield puts it, “being 30 years old and living with 10 other people.”

    “I feel like both of those parties don't understand each other, and neither of them is necessarily happier than the other,” she says. “And yet those two groups of people feel like they're living the way life is supposed to be lived.”

    Katie’s own parents—an insurance agent who listens to classic country and a homemaker with a great voice and an athletic streak—likely envisioned more conventional lives for their daughters: pledging sororities, graduating college, and being married by 25. “They were just like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’” Crutchfield says of her parents' reaction to her initial punk phase, chuckling now. “They hated it at first.”

    The Crutchfield twins were born January 4, 1989, in Birmingham, and from very early on, the sisters took dance classes including ballet and tap. By their early teens, though, Katie and Allison were more interested in listening to the Ramones and Bikini Kill, dyeing their hair weird colors, and most importantly, playing their own music. Eventually their parents came around, but there were concerns about how Katie spent her time during a short-lived stint at University of Alabama at Birmingham as an English major, where she mapped-out tours instead of going to class. “They were like, ‘You're flunking out of college. You're such a mess!’” she recalls. “But I thought I was being so productive and doing something that I really cared about.”

    “When I see something fucked-up happening, I will always say something. That's the only way that you can be, because [fame] is like a soapbox, and people should use it for good.”


    —Katie Crutchfield

    Crutchfield’s goal with Ivy Tripp, her most sonically diverse album yet, is not to tie up any loose ends. “Sadness is probably the only thing that's going to be consistent in every record I make,” she says, though she worries that her wide-ranging musical interests don’t come across amidst a barrage of comparisons to female artists from the ‘90s like Liz Phair. "Don't put me in a box,” she says, with a twinge of defiance. “You don't know what I can do.” Early in the writing process for the new album, Crutchfield was inspired by ‘80s lo-fi pioneers Tall Dwarfs, whose junk store approach to power-pop can be heard in several songs. And by the time recording had ended, the influence of folk musicians like Joni Mitchell and Cat Stevens also found its way into Crutchfield’s drum-machine and keyboard ballads.

    Still, it’s the album’s aggressive, feedback-heavy tracks that say the most, even when it’s between the lines. One such song, titled simply “<”, repeats the double-edged phrase, “You’re less than me/ I am nothing” atop clunky percussion and a guitar line that fails to find a groove, both sideways on purpose. Like Crutchfield’s best writing, “<” reclaims the power of vulnerability. From a very early age, she knew the sting of being the kind of writer whose emotional honesty can be dismissed as oversharing, and subsequently twisted into a punchline by “boys who would be put-off, or feel insecure or threatened—the way they would deal with their own hang-ups would be to make a joke out of you.”

    “Though I'm at a more confident place now, I feel like I still experience insecurities in different ways,” she says. “And the Internet makes it worse because everyone can be anonymous.” Like most cultural oversharers who find fanbases online, Crutchfield’s warts-and-all approach to personal narrative can be divisive. The Guardian once deemed her “Lena Dunham with a guitar,” and though the comparison is more than a bit reductive, the dismissal of confessional writing from young women—be it on a much-discussed album, a well-watched TV show, or a memoir published before the age of 30—continues to take place, one subtweet at a time. “There is a real post-great-recession need for people to just be real as fuck,” Cook-Parrott counters. “We are wounded and we demand honesty from our artists, and I really think Katie has been a huge part of this thing that is inspiring young people to be open not just in their music, but just in their lives too.”

    For all the success Crutchfield has had in recent years, she’s also prepared for it all to go away while settling in for the long haul. The sense of neurosis that helps drive Waxahatchee’s lyrical introspection peeks through as she speaks of worst-case scenarios, but she also knows that her creative process—recording at home, playing with loved ones—is wholly sustainable. There’s even a certain appeal to it: To see Waxahatchee play on a bill with Philly bands like Swearin’, Radiator Hospital, Girlpool, or Pinkwash is to be initiated into their scene—even their friend group—for a night.

    I’ve made music for no money forever,” she says with confidence. “I still go to punk shows all the time. Those are my people. If I walk away from this or something doesn't work out, I can just go back to doing that. Even with the wide net that I've cast, if those [new fans] don't get it anymore, then that's fine. Someone will.”


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    Interviews: The Proverbial Wisdom of Earl Sweatshirt

    I do not anticipate that Earl Sweatshirt will be glad to talk with me. Before the rapper gets on the phone, I hear his manager tersely emptying a room full of friends and associates, and a palpable amount of joy seems to go away with them. But when the 21-year-old rapper and producer born Thebe Neruda Kgositsile picks up the line, he is lively, engaged, interested—essentially the opposite of the persona he has developed on record thus far.

    That persona—a hermit, a recluse, a guy who grits his teeth through fan photo ops—is a mournful character that both haunts and pleases him. And it is a character: The word Earl uses is “snapshot.” “You get committed with what you put in songs,” he muses. "It made me wary of who and what I include, because that's there forever. That photo doesn't change.”

    Over the last few years, Earl has been reckoning with his own snapshot. He named his new album I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside partly as a joke. “It was so accurate that it was funny,” he says. The record both undercuts and reinforces his prevailing story: That he is a misanthrope, maybe even a sad sack, someone enduring his fame. The title and all-black cover tell one side of that story, but his lyrics and self-produced music chart a squirmier, more humane path that finds a pained soul carefully tending the one precious currency in his life: legitimacy.

    “I’ve read some pretty harsh criticisms of my music, but some of them I agreed with and actually sat with me,” he admits. “Because when it’s legitimate, then I fuck with it, and I’m like that with all aspects of my life. If you didn't fuck with me before I did music and you still don't fuck with me right now, I got love for you, because that's very real.”

    For now, though, Earl seems to have made peace with his allergy to bullshit. After all, tolerating nonsense isn’t just a fact of music-business life, but of life life: Scorn all bullshit, and you might never leave the house; embrace it too eagerly, and you lose your soul.

    Our conversation is full of amiable bullshitting: After he makes a stray remark about the color of a track on the album, I jokingly ask him what the corresponding colors are for the other songs—and it turns out he has a very specific answer for each one. “Grown Ups”?  “That’s warm, like a nice red Persian rug at your homie’s house.” “Faucet” and “Grief” are like a “dark green, bottom-of-the-ocean thing.” “Huey” is the color of Nerds candy.

    Oh, and the album cover was initially supposed to be white, but “Drake fucked that up,” he laughs. “That was gonna be my exact color scheme.” He's happy with how it all turned out, though, and considers I Don’t Like Shit to be his fullest work: “It's a dissertation on me.”

    Pitchfork: You've said that you had the album cover visualized before you had the songs written. What else did you know about it at first? Did you know it would be 10 tracks long?

    Earl Sweatshirt: Oh yeah! First off, you don't get paid over 13 songs, so niggas that be giving y'all more than 13 songs are very generous. Chew on that for a second and then look at a Prince album, or any classic, classic albums like Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, any classic Michael Jackson album. They’re all eight, nine, maybe 10 tracks—‘cause nobody got time for that shit, my nigga!

    Pitchfork: Do you think classic albums say more with less?

    ES: Definitely. I'm obsessed with proverbs because, to me, flexing is being able to say the most with the least amount of words. You know your words mean a lot if you can say something that would be cliche coming out of someone else's mouth, because people know you’re saying it and you're legitimate and you've been through some shit. That's what my whole shit is. And all the old heads that I look up to are like that. André [3000], Jay Elec—these are all niggas that have spent time doing less and less as they get older, and that's what I'm on. It's about exclusivity. You don't get too much. True mastery is being able to come with your own proverbs.

    Pitchfork: It's interesting to hear you say that, because one of the themes I hear in your music is miscommunication.

    ES: Miscommunication is the number one cause of all problems; communication is your bridge to other people. Without it, there's nothing. So when it's damaged, you have to solve all these problems it creates. What you hear on this record is rampant problem-solving.

    There’s a lot of me figuring shit out in the moment. On “Faucet”, for example, I touch on me and my mom, post-Samoa. First there was just this initial bliss of me coming home. But after that went away, the reality that it's still real life set in. A lot of it is about finding balance with both of my parents, going from one extreme to another, holding on too tight after I was pushing them away.

    I looked up one day and I had been touring and I hadn't been with my fucking family at all. On Mother's Day, my mom texted me something about, like, the 12 millionth thing that I missed at her house. I was hella sad, because me and my mom are at the point now that she's not about to call me and fucking yell at me. I convinced her that I'm grown, so she's treating me like I'm grown. If I don't show up, it's just that she's sad and hurt.

    Pitchfork: You talk to her a lot in your music. Did you ever sit her down and play that track for her?

    ES: I haven't even showed her the whole shit. When she comes over, she’s just overhearing stuff that I’m playing from my room, so she'll just catch pieces of it and be like, "Oh, this sounds good." But convincing her that I'm grown—it wasn't music that did that. It was the way I started addressing her and how I started handling my life. It sounds crazy, but you get to a point where, at least on my side of things and with the adults that are around me, there's a human moral truth that they all relate to. So when I got to the point that I was speaking with that, then the relationship with my mom was different.

    Pitchfork: The record isn't all dark, but there are some bleak moments. "Grief", for instance, is all about paranoia, regret, addiction, panic.

    ES: I was fucked up when I made “Grief”. I had been prescribed to be inside because I had fucking medical exhaustion, so I was asleep for, like, three weeks and then I fucking went outside and tore my meniscus and limped around on that for two weeks. My leg atrophied. It got hella small, along with my self-esteem. I wasn't taking any pain pills or nothing, but then I took a Vicodin and went home and that song all just happened at once. There are technically better beats I was making, but the way that “Grief” felt and how everything settled really captured 100% where I was at—everything I wanted to say to the world and the niggas that was close to me and shit.

    “Grief” could've been the last song on the album. What's fucked, though, is that the tracklist got fucked up. There was a song that’s so crucial for the balance of the album called “Mirror” that was supposed to come right after “Faucet”; as far as the mom dynamic thing goes, the juxtaposition of “Mirror” against “Faucet” was so crucial, but the fucking sample didn't get cleared. I’m gonna put it out, though.

    Pitchfork: What is “Mirror” about and how did losing it affect your feeling of the album?

    ES: It's just way more progressive and it's not produced by me. It's just one verse and a hook and I was just snapping on that shit. It's funny: When I was making the album, I was talking about making “mirror raps,” which are fly for you when you're getting ready to go to school. Raps you're trying say in the damn mirror. 

    Also, “Grown Ups” was gonna be a secret track. That's why I didn't want the tracklist out, ‘cause I could've been like oooh. Keeping shit a mystery is impossible, but I’ma figure it out. At this point, though, it’s about just doing the full opposite ‘cause mystery shit is lame. That's why I came out with it so plain and put myself on a fucking platter. If you got mystery, then it just leaves room for people to make shit up about you.


    "I'm doomed to being obsessed with the purpose of a story; I had to read too much when I was younger."


    Pitchfork: Why do you think this is your most complete project so far?

    ES: Historically, even in my writing outside of music, I start so strong, and then I don't care. I can finish. I know how to. It's just getting the willpower to. That was always my mom’s beef with my shit. So I did way too much with this album, just in terms of conceptualizing it. I’m doomed to being obsessed with the meaning and purpose of a story; I had to read too much when I was younger. The album is very much its own thing to me.

    Pitchfork: Does your last record, Doris, feel less like “you” to you?

    ES: What was crazy about Doris is that I would be fully in myself when I was writing a lot of that shit, but then immediately jump out when I was done, so it was almost like me performing someone else's songs. I'll always regret how I recorded “Burgundy” ‘cause it's not how I felt. The words that were coming out of my mouth and how I mean them, it’s so much different.

    Pitchfork: Who are some other rappers who inspire you right now?

    ES: Bro, it took me a second, but Future is going so crazy right now. The 56 Nights shit is cool, but you can still fuck with Monster and Beast Mode because this nigga's one-liners is the craziest shit ever. He just randomly sneaks in such things that be having me stuck. This man said, “I don't know what type of love is this.” I fucking feel you, dawg! I fuck with Future because Future fucks with Future so heavy right now. He's really all the way in it. 

    Other than that, I listen to M.O.P. everyday.


    0 0

    Articles: Sunshine Wishes and Hologram Dreams: Artists on Their Best, Worst, and Weirdest Music Festival Moments

    With Coachella kicking the music festival season into high gear this weekend, we decided to get a few tips and tales from the people who know fests best: the artists. We asked 32 acts about their faves, their hidden gems, and what they would do if given free reign over their own festivals. The responses are globe-spanning, thoughtful, embarrassing, creative, and ridiculous, from Icona Pop’s hopes for an Elvis Presley hologram, to the Roots’ ?uestlove recalling an unlikely mash-up set with New Kids on the Block, to that one time Jessie Ware was forced to punch a drugged-up fan. Check it all out below—and if you’re still putting together your own summer fest plans, make sure to consult our continually updated festival guide, too.

    "At one festival, there was a couple having sex next to me in a ballpen playground. I didn’t move, and neither did they. They were really nice actually."


    —Charli XCX
    Photo by Bella Howard

    Charli XCX

    Charli XCX: "Doing It" [ft. Rita Ora] (via SoundCloud)

    My Favorite Festival

    Glastonbury

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    Justice, when I was like 15. I cried.

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Pussy Rock

    The Artists I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Rihanna, Björk, the Donnas, Britney Spears, Bow Wow Wow

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    Shampoo

    Some Other Amazing Details About My Imaginary Festival

    Champagne fountains, roller skating rinks, compulsory dancing, free kittens, and everyone gets a party bag full of fun naughty things

    The Artist I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    Myself, because I would look great as a hologram ;)

    The Craziest Festival Goers I Have Ever Come in Contact With

    A couple having sex next to me in a ballpen playground. I didn’t move, and neither did they. They were really nice actually.

    The Dumbest Decision I've Ever Made at a Festival

    Stealing an ax from a backstage building area and running into the festival with it. After that, I got put in a car with my ex-boyfriend and dropped five miles away in the middle of a field. I was drunk.

    The Best Food I've Ever Eaten at a Festival

    If there’s Taco Bell I’m happy.

    The Artist I Would Pay a Billion Dollars to Never Play a Festival Again (Because It Would Tarnish Their Perfect Legacy)

    The Spice Girls 

    The Most Fucked-Up Thing I've Ever Witnessed at a Festival

    Anyone in a K-hole trying to swim through the air or cling to one of the poles holding up a tent. I love those people.

    The Festival I Would Love to Play (Not to Beg in Public or Anything)

    Coachella, but I heard the guy who books it doesn’t like my music so oh well.

    Charli XCX is currently scheduled to play festivals including Lollapalooza, T in the Park, Bestival, and more.


    iLoveMakonnen

    iLoveMakonnen: "Whip It (Remix)" [ft. Migos and Rich the Kid] (via SoundCloud)

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Love Fest

    The Artists I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Killers, Alice Glass

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    Crystal Castles

    Some Other Amazing Details About My Imaginary Festival

    There would be drones that serve drinks and food directly to consumers.

    The Artist I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    Michael Jackson

    The Festival I Would Love to Play (Not to Beg in Public or Anything)

    Coachella

    A$AP Ferg

    A$AP Ferg

    A$AP Ferg: “Fergsomnia” [ft. Twista] (via SoundCloud)

    My Favorite Festival

    Bonnaroo

    The Best Act I’ve Ever Seen at a Festival

    Skrillex at the Bonnaroo superjam featuring me, the Grateful Dead, Lauryn Hill, Fatman Scoop, Damian Marley, and Janelle Monae

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Trillagain Island 

    The Artists I Would Get to Play My Festival

    A$AP Mob, Marty Baller, Crystal Caines, Meek Mill, Big Sean, Chris Brown, Flatbush Zombies, Tan Boyz , Lil B, Haim, Diplo, DMX, LOX , Lil Kim, Swizz Beatz, Pharrell, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kanye, Missy Elliott, John Legend, Kevin Hart, Woodkid, Drake, Nick Hook, Lauryn Hill, OverDoz

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    Self Scientific 

    Some Other Amazing Details About My Imaginary Festival

    There will be great West Indian food based on my mom’s recipes.

    The Artist I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    None

    The Best Non-Musical Entertainment I've Experienced at a Festival

    Me and Wiz Khalifa talking for hours about life.

    The Weird Little Festival That Nobody Knows About But Is Really Cool

    The Hungry Ham Block Party on my block, 143rd St., in Harlem

    The Best Food I've Ever Eaten at a Festival

    Chicken tacos for free because I'm A$AP Ferg 

    The Most Fucked-Up Thing I've Ever Witnessed at a Festival

    Me coming onstage and the sound system going out completely in front of a massive amount of people.

    A$AP Ferg is currently scheduled to play the Full Flex Express Train Tour as well as festivals including Pemberton, Quebec City Summer Fest, and more. 


    Perfume Genius
    Photo by Luke Gilford

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    Jimmy Eat World

    The Artists I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis

    The Best Non-Musical Entertainment I've Experienced at a Festival

    Families of wild peacocks roaming around End of the Road Festival

    The Craziest Festival Goer I Have Ever Come in Contact With

    People trying to do blow outside at Primavera—very precarious and inefficient. 

    The Thing I Would Change About Festivals to Make Them Better

    Add women, subtract men 

    Perfume Genius is currently scheduled to play festivals including Coachella, Primavera Sound, Pitchfork, and more.

    Speedy Ortiz. Photo by Shervin Lainez.

    Speedy Ortiz

    Speedy Ortiz: "Raising The Skate" (via SoundCloud)

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Sadie Dupuis: After seeing images of the empty posters that are left when all-male acts are redacted from festival lineups, I've been preoccupied with the idea of a Ladyfest USA. Ladyfest festivals are non-profit, volunteer-run, community oriented showcases that highlight female-identified performers and offer feminist lectures and workshops in everything from pedal design to live sound engineering to self defense. I've played Ladyfests in several bands, but only ever in small towns, which means the audience is limited. It would be amazing for the many feminist-identified musicians who've been so outspoken about their political beliefs in the past few years—from mainstream pop to rap to indie—to band together to create a Ladyfest on a larger scale to compete with the likes of the Coachellas and the Bonnaroos. This is currently my #1 pipe dream! Beyoncé, call me.

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    Darl Ferm: Kool Keith with Ice-T as a hype man at All Points West. Ice-T was turning his towels into large phallic objects while shouting, "Afternoon rap show for the white kids!" Kool Keith also had two other hype men who were wearing tie dyed Superman shirts, so I have to give them props, too.

    The Artist I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    Mike Falcone: Wesley Willis. I think the absurdity of the concept matches a personality like Wesley's pretty nicely. And it's not like his movements would be that tough to emulate. He mostly just sat at a keyboard screaming "SAY ROCK! SAY RAWL!" Who wouldn't wanna see that?

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    Devin McKnight: Chavez. I'm sure they'd love the billion dollars. Plus, they're my favorite band. I don't care if no one else knows them. It's my imaginary billion dollars.

    The Dumbest Decision I’ve Ever Made at a Festival

    Sadie Dupuis: I hugged Earl Sweatshirt at Primavera but somehow we're still not friends. IDGI.

    The Artists I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Mike Falcone: Sly and the Family Stone, Hum, D'Angelo, Slayer, Nelly, Ke$ha, System of a Down, Lil B, Andrew WK, and Rebecca Black as the MC

    The Strangest Non-Musical Entertainment I’ve Experienced at a Festival

    Sadie Dupuis: One time I was hanging out at some kind of festival at the old [Brooklyn venue] Silent Barn, and there was a woman making liquid nitrogen peanut butter and jelly ice cream while dressed up as the Apprentice from The Cremaster Cycle, bloody rag in mouth and everything. Other festivals should take note and hire her.

    Speedy Ortiz are currently scheduled to play festivals including Shaky Legs, Forecastle, Outside Lands, and more.


    Vince Staples
    Photo by Jim Vondruska

    Vince Staples: "Limos" [ft. Teyana Taylor]

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    Justin Timberlake 

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Poppy Street Phonk

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    The Temptations

    The Artists I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    Mausberg and Nate Dogg

    The Craziest Festival Goers I Have Ever Come in Contact With

    Every white woman I've ever met with dirty bare feet

    The Thing I Would Change About Festivals to Make Them Better

    No barefoot white women

    My Most Embarrassing Drunk Festival Story

    I don't drink.

    My Story About That Time I Almost Died at a Festival

    Asthma attack at Coachella during a dust storm

    Artist I Would Pay a Billion Dollars to Never Play a Festival Again (Because It Would Tarnish Their Perfect Legacy)

    I would pay myself ‘cause I'm about billions.

    Vince Staples is scheduled to play festivals including NXNE, Pitchfork, and more.

    "I ran into David Lee Roth at a festival once and he was the most unlikely admirer of our music ever."


    —?uestlove
    Photo by Ben Watts

    The Roots?uestlove

    The Roots: "When the People Cheer" (via SoundCloud)

    The Best Acts I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    It’s a two-way tie between Wu-Tang at the Oya Festival in Norway two years ago and the reunited Police in 2007 at Bonnaroo.

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    A proper Sly and the Family Stone reunion, or Average White Band. However, the obvious answer of course is Prince and the Revolution.

    Best Backstage Perk I've Ever Experienced at a Festival

    One year at Lollapalooza, the proprietors of the Chicago restaurant Next were the backstage chefs, and that was amazing. Eminem was headlining that year, and they served him his first lobster, which was a big deal to those guys.

    The Scariest Encounter I've Ever Had With a Musical Hero at a Festival

    It wasn’t scary, but I ran into David Lee Roth at a festival once and he was the most unlikely admirer of our music ever. First off, he knew all of the Roots by our actual names and then went on, like, “D’Angelo’s Voodoo—love it! Erykah Badu’s Mama’s Gun—love it! Things Fall Apart—love it!” Even now, he hits up our guitarist Kirk, like, “I’m in New York, are there any jam sessions that I could go to up in Harlem?”

    The Strangest Set I Ever Played at a Festival

    For the first few years of the Roots Picnic, we we would open and close the show, and one year the first 300 fans who showed up were treated to a weird Roots/New Kids on the Block mashup set. New Kids had just reunited and they were staying close by and they happened to be there super early, so we just brought them onstage—we did the craziest version of “Hanging Tough”. It was like the show that never happened—but it actually did happen.

    The Artist I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    I’m certain that they will perfect the technology in three years and I know that the Jacksons are going to take advantage of Michael’s hologram—it would be funny if, as a hologram, he outperformed them. I’ve seen the Jacksons’ Vegas show and it’s actually kinda dope. A lot of us had the folded-arms thing going when we saw that, but they were going for blood, in a good way.

    The Dumbest Decision I've Ever Made at a Festival

    My bad decision was not making sure that the inebriated members of my band got out of a particular festival in time. Instead, they totally trashed the headliners’ dressing room, stuffing T-shirts in the toilets and everything. It took us about five years to get invited back to that particular festival. And I don’t want to name the band because I still don’t think they know that we were the ones that trashed their room.

    The Roots will once again bring their Roots Picnic to Philadelphia this year, featuring the Weeknd, Erykah Badu, and more.


    Clark
    Photo by Alma Haser

    Clark: "Unfurla" (via SoundCloud)

    Best Backstage Perk I've Ever Experienced at a Festival

    Someone gave me a shit load of magic mushrooms at Glastonbury once—the guy was well fucked, talking about triangles whilst simultaneously trying to flirt with my girlfriend. He got a bit pukey and left the bag with us, and we went into the countryside; I’d never do mushrooms at the actual festival, that would be a nightmare.

    The Artists I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    I would like to see Debussy rip through something devastating. Or Thelonious Monk. Maybe Frank Sinatra, but I’d only do it if you could put pitchshifters on his vocals. Would definitely improve it.

    My Least Favorite Festival (That Will Now Never Book Me Again)

    I played at this weird festival in Bristol once that was meant to be techno and it ended up being psy trance, which scares me. The music is far too ordered and made by people who I thought were annoying juggling hippies; it’s almost like the dreams you imagine a bland sociopath with a violent mind would have after the meds kicked in and they are stabilized. So I just ended up recording insults on a dictaphone, slowed it down, and played it over heavy UK doof style techno. It sounded awesome, but I definitely lost a few “friends.” They will never have me back.

    The Things I Would Change About Festivals to Make Them Better 

    Good salad, good psychedelic drugs, more of a range of dry snacks, and more ice cubes as well. I’m an ice snob. I love everything about ice. Sometimes I’ll think of all the different kinds of ice cubes as a way of calming my brain down before I sleep.

    Artist I Would Pay a Billion Dollars to Never Play a Festival Again (Because It Would Tarnish Their Perfect Legacy) 

    Probably Burial. He plays too many festivals and he’s so arrogant onstage as well, always calling people from the audience if they aren’t dancing enough, doing too many rewinds, wearing Burial T-shirts, shoes, socks, etc. He’s in danger of overexposing himself.

    Facetiousness aside, I love his tunes, and I reckon the idea of him playing live would be pretty weird. His legacy is almost better because he doesn’t do it. Pure headphone music.

    The Most Fucked-Up Thing I've Ever Witnessed at a Festival

    I’ve never been, but my friend went to Burning Man and said there was this Shaman who would walk around with a bag of frozen turds he had collected and was using them in some bizarre hex/induction type scenario.

    Clark is currently scheduled to play festivals including Roskilde, Field Day, and more.

    "Perfect weather, free mushrooms, meditation tents, exquisite fruit tent, sad party tent, staff are all mimes."


    —Details of Lower Dens frontwoman Jana Hunter's dream festival
    Photo by Frank Hamilton

    Lower Dens’ Jana Hunter

    Lower Dens: "To Die in L.A." (via SoundCloud)

    My Favorite Festival

    Big Ears

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    Björk

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Pony Cyclone

    The Artists I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    King Chip, Cass McCombs, Björk, Beach House, Tink, SOPHIE

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    If I had a billion dollars I’d give it to an anti-human-trafficking NGO; if I was God I’d reunite the Smiths.

    Some Other Amazing Details About My Imaginary Festival

    Perfect weather, free mushrooms, meditation tents, exquisite fruit tent, sad party tent, staff are all mimes

    The Scariest Encounter I've Ever Had With a Musical Hero at a Festival

    I ain’t scared.

    The Artist I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    I’m only into flesh-based performers, but if we’re gonna keep with the holograms I want Warhol.

    The Craziest Festival Goer I Have Ever Come in Contact With

    I was stuck behind a big skinhead going real nuts with his arms, spinning around with those tree trunks knocking people over, so I backed up a little and ran at him, pushing him into a barrier against the stage. He turned around to get me, but bouncers descended on him.

    The Weird Little Festival That Nobody Knows About But Is Really Cool

    Fields Fest in Baltimore

    My Least Favorite Festival (That Will Now Never Book Me Again)

    I have yet to attend a truly shit festival, but I hope to have the opportunity soon (wink wink, $$).

    The Thing I Would Change About Festivals to Make Them Better 

    No alcohol

    Lower Dens are currently scheduled to play festivals including the Capitol Hill Block Party, NXNE, and more.


    Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Ruban Nielson
    Photo by Dusdin Condren

    Unknown Mortal Orchestra: "Multi-Love" (via SoundCloud)

    My Favorite Festival

    Meredith Music Festival in Australia

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    The Stooges

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    No Cops

    The Artist I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Prince with the Time and Sheila E.

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    David Bowie with Carlos Alomar, Dennis Davis, George Murray, and Roy Bittan

    Some Other Amazing Details About My Imaginary Festival

    It will take place in zero gravity.

    Best Backstage Perk I've Ever Experienced at a Festival

    I’m a grateful person when it comes to this stuff and I’m not fond of corny luxury. If there’s a hot tub or massage backstage, I’m not doing it. I’m usually just trying to find WiFi, tequila, and a little bit of “leave me the fuck alone.”

    The Artist I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    I want to see someone living—like Kanye—do a hologram tour.

    The Strangest Non-Musical Entertainment I've Experienced at a Festival

    There was this crazy festival in Australia where you walked through this really tall transexual woman’s legs into this weird sex club. It must have cost a fortune. There were dancers and people on drugs everywhere. That festival went out of business. I salute them though.

    The Weird Little Festival That Nobody Knows About But Is Really Cool

    Desert Daze in California

    The Dumbest Decision I've Ever Made at a Festival

    I ate a bunch of edibles I’d been given the night before a festival in Texas and woke up not even stoned but lobotomized. It was like I had lost 70 IQ points and couldn’t form any abstract thoughts. I had to be guided to the stage. It was so strange. What happened to weed?

    My Most Embarrassing Drunk Festival Story

    There’s a video on the Internet of me literally prancing around in half a bear costume backstage in Wales. Prancing, bruh. 

    The Most Fucked-Up Thing I've Ever Witnessed at a Festival

    The thing I get most annoyed about at festivals has to do with male dominant behavior—either police treating festival patrons like criminals or guys dominating the enjoyment of a band/DJ. Turn down, males.

    Unknown Mortal Orchestra are currently scheduled to play festivals including Primavera Sound, Latitude, Dour, and more.


    Next: Festival tales from Icona Pop, Jessie Ware, Carl Craig, and many more.

    Icona Pop
    Photo by Fredrik Etoall

    Icona Pop: "My Party" [ft. Zebra Katz] (via SoundCloud)

    My Favorite Festival

    Roskilde in Denmark

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    Chemical Brothers at Glastonbury

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Music Kills

    The Artists I Would Get to Play My Festival

    The Slits, Elvis Presley, the Chemical Brothers, Billy Holliday, Mark Dunn, Beyoncé, Tina Turner, A$AP Ferg, Kendrick Lamar, Young Thug, and then us, of course. Something for everyone.

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    Joy Division… if they were all alive

    Some Other Amazing Details About My Imaginary Festival

    It would be a week long and music would be playing 24/7 that whole week. All food and drink would be free. It would be all-ages, and all kinds of different people would be there to enjoy the music and not just party. The whole week would be remembered like happy chaos. 

    The Artist I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    Elvis Presley

    The Craziest Festival Goer I Have Ever Come in Contact With

    There is a man in Sweden who is about 100 years old, and I’ve seen him at many festivals over the last 12 years. Nothing else matters in his life. His whole year is all about planning Swedish summer festivals, and everyone loves and invites him to their camp. He is just one of those festival spirits that you pray that you see every year and if you don’t you actually cry a little inside your soul. 

    The Weird Little Festival That Nobody Knows About But Is Really Cool

    We’re actually planning to do a super-intimate festival in a barn in a place called Gotland in Sweden. We would cook the food and people would sleep in tents outside; no money, just exchanging things. It’s coming soon!

    The Thing I Would Change About Festivals to Make Them Better 

    Tickets wouldn’t be so damn expensive.

    The Worst Food I’ve Ever Eaten at a Festival

    Why did we try to order sushi at a festival in Germany? We ask ourselves everyday but still don’t know.

    Protomartyr. Photo by Angel Ceballos.

    Protomartyr

    Protomartyr: "Come & See" (via SoundCloud)

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Joe Casey: ConAgra and Halliburton Presents: The General Mills/Unilever/Lady Speed Stick Ultimate Punk Fest & Lifestyle Seminar. Hey, a guy's gotta eat.

    The Artists I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Joe Casey: If I'm getting anybody for the CHPTGMULSS Ultimate Punk Fest & Lifestyle Seminar, they are gonna need a stunning lack of scruples.

    Some Other Amazing Details About My Imaginary Festival

    Joe Casey: No restrooms of any kind and packs of wild roaming dogs

    The Scariest Encounter I've Ever Had With a Musical Hero at a Festival

    Alex Leonard: At Hopscotch in Raleigh, North Carolina, the show had us, Thurston Moore, and Pere Ubu. During Pere Ubu's soundcheck, I heard someone banging on our door to get in. I opened it up and it was Thurston Moore. He said something like, "I'm playing tonight." I mumbled "yah, yah." In my imagination, though, I had the encounter going like this: Me: “Sorry, bands only.” TM: “I'm playing tonight.” Me: [opening door] “Just kidding Mr. Bowie, right this way.”

    So meeting Thurston Moore caused me to hallucinate an encounter where I embarrass myself, which is pretty scary. 

    The Artist I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    Greg Ahee: Protomartyr

    The Craziest Festival Goer I Have Ever Come in Contact With

    Greg Ahee: There was a guy watching Wolf Eyes play at OFF Festival in Poland that handed us the raw olives that he was holding so that he could try to play drums for them. We assumed that they knew him, but they didn't. 

    The Dumbest Decision I've Ever Made at a Festival

    Greg Ahee: I ate some raw olives provided by a Polish Wolf Eyes fan. 

    The Most Fucked-Up Thing I've Ever Witnessed at a Festival

    Joe Casey: Greg eating whatever a drugged-up Polish guy gave him at OFF Festival.

    The Weird Little Festival That Nobody Knows About But Is Really Cool

    Greg Ahee: Urinefested in Detroit

    My Least Favorite Festival (That Will Now Never Book Me Again)

    Greg Ahee: SXSW. Something tells me they would still book us to play free shows for them though.

    Artist I Would Pay a Billion Dollars to Never Play a Festival Again (Because It Would Tarnish Their Perfect Legacy)

    Joe Casey: If I had a billion dollars I wouldn't use it to embarrass some shitty band. I'd give it to charity or buy a bunch of expensive sports cars, you know?


    Julio Bashmore

    Julio Bashmore: "Peppermint" [ft. Jessie Ware] (via SoundCloud)

    My Favorite Festival:

    Glastonbury. There really is nothing else like it.

    My Least Favorite Festival (That Will Now Never Book Me Again)

    Probably Glastonbury! I enjoy it now, but it’s taken years to get to that point. I’ve had to call my dad to pick me up three times because of flooding and being in a really shite mood. And all those bitching about Kanye really wound me up; I guess Glastonbury attracts some very close-minded people too.

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    Prince at Hop Farm in 2011. He played every hit and even brought out Sly Stone. I’ll never forget his sparkling gold boots dazzling the audience during a 10-minute improvised dance solo.

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Knights of the Round Mirrored Table. It would be a hedonistic, sexually charged LARPing festival.

    The Artists I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    King Arthur, Anne Boleyn, and Joy Orbison

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    Squirrel Piss, my first ever band. I’m pretty sure we’d get bottled off stage, but we’d be really rich so it’s fine.

    Best Backstage Perk I've Ever Experienced at a Festival

    The Loch Ness Lake at RockNess—pretty mind-blowing loch.

    The Scariest Encounter I've Ever Had With a Musical Hero at a Festival

    I was checking into a hotel at the same time as Peter Hook and I literally froze and couldn’t talk to anyone for a good while. This prompted some puzzled looks from the reception staff. And from Peter Hook.

    The Artists I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    A hologram supergroup made up of J.S. Bach and Tupac Shakur called Backpacker in which they’ll play all of their hits combined. Also I’d like to see an Elton John hologram—I know he isn’t dead, but I would like to see him playing the hits as his younger self.

    The Strangest Non-Musical Entertainment I've Experienced at a Festival

    Muse

    The Weird Little Festival That Nobody Knows About But Is Really Cool

    Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Festival in Sete, France

    The Worst and/or Best Food I've Ever Eaten at a Festival

    Paella, both best and worst. Actually just don’t do it.

    Artist I Would Pay a Billion Dollars to Never Play a Festival Again (Because It Would Tarnish Their Perfect Legacy)

    Pretty much any aging rock band. They can’t pull it off like an old jazz band, or even an old country singer. Exceptions to this are Black Sabbath, who I saw last year and absolutely killed it.

    The Festival I Would Really Love to Play (Not to Beg in Public or Anything)

    Cruise to the Edge. The premise is essentially the same as Holy Ship!, except for the fact that it only books aging prog rock bands. I’d play it so me and my dad could go and watch Rainbow and Yes.

    Jessie Ware. Photo by Tim Zaragonza.

    Jessie Ware

    Jessie Ware: "Kind Of... Sometimes... Maybe" (Remix) [ft. J. Cole] (via SoundCloud)

    My Favorite Festivals

    Glastonbury. Us Brits, I have to say, do a festival well. But I had the best time ever at Laneway Festival all around Australia and New Zealand—shame I never go back because I sell no bloody records there.

    The Best Acts I’ve Ever Seen at a Festival

    Björk and Nas

    The Artists I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    D’Angelo, Sade, and Fleetwood Mac

    The Artist I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    Billie Holiday

    The Strangest Non-Musical Entertainment I've Experienced at a Festival

    The Rabbit Hole at Glastonbury

    The Craziest Festival Goer I Have Ever Come in Contact With

    There's this wicked guy at Glastonbury who stays for a week after and rounds up all the people that lost their minds at the festival and makes sure they get home all right.

    The Weird Little Festival That Nobody Knows About But Is Really Cool

    Brixton Splash is right on my doorstep and is a perfect precursor for Notting Hill Carnival: jerk and jungle and reggae.

    The Thing I Would Change About Festivals to Make Them Better

    Have the most incredible air freshener for the toilets. And sometimes less people is a little better (sorry for sounding antisocial).

    The Dumbest Decision I've Ever Made at a Festival

    I was in Croatia at Unknown Festival, and it started raining during my set. I was like, “Oh man, I feel bad for you, let me get in the rain with you!” So I went to the front of the barriers and stood up and started singing and dancing, and then someone who was high on MDMA just pulled my top down (I had no bra on)—so I punched them. It was a reflex reaction. You can take the girl out of South London, but you can't take the South London out of the girl.

    The Worst and/or Best Food I've Ever Eaten at a Festival

    Osheaga in Montreal was the best: oysters and BBQ and anything you could dream of. Somewhere in Finland was the worst.

    Jessie Ware is currently scheduled to play festivals including Isle of Wight, V, Electric Picnic, and more.


    Viet Cong’s Monty Munroe and Matt Flegel

    Viet Cong: "Silhouettes" (via SoundCloud)

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Fuckfest

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite So They Could Play My Festival

    The original lineup of Guns N’ Roses—on the condition that they play nothing off Chinese Democracy and only the songs I pick off Use Your Illusion. And Axl would be subject to a charity dunk tank during the day. 

    The Artist I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    Young Rolling Stones

    The Strangest Non-Musical Entertainment I've Experienced at a Festival

    We played this hippie fest just north of Berlin when we were in Chad VanGaalen's band, and there were hundreds of naked Germans everywhere!

    The Weird Little Festival That Nobody Knows About But Is Really Cool

    SappyFest in Sackville, New Brunswick and Obey Convention in Halifax, Nova Scotia

    My Least Favorite Festival (That Will Now Never Book Me)

    Edgefest

    The Things I Would Change About Festivals to Make Them Better

    Free hot air balloon rides. Or maybe an area that’s just full of puppies that you could hang out with.  

    Artist I Would Pay a Billion Dollars to Never Play a Festival Again (Because It Would Tarnish Their Perfect Legacy)

    Everyone with the potential to tarnish their legacy has already done so, and the people who haven't wouldn't take the money anyways.

    The Festival I Would Love to Play (Not to Beg in Public or Anything)

    The Gathering of the Juggalos

    Viet Cong are currently scheduled to play festivals including Northside, Mo Pop, Green Man, and more.

    Ty Dolla $ign. Photo by Jordy Lee Cordy.

    Ty Dolla $ign

    Ty Dolla $ign: "Rachet in my Benz" [ft. Juicy J]

    My Favorite Festival

    Coachella

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    Zedd

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Dolla $ign World 

    The Artist I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Prince

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    The Grateful Dead

    Some Other Amazing Details About My Imaginary Festival

    It would be topless!

    The Artists I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram 

    Jim Morrison and Rick James

    The Thing I Would Change About Festivals to Make Them Better

    Invite more black people

    The Dumbest Decision I've Ever Made at a Festival

    I did mushrooms and as soon as it kicked in Puff came around to me trying talk business. It wasn't good. I should've stayed in the audience and tripped out with the other fans instead of going backstage.

    The Worst and Best Food I've Ever Eaten at a Festival

    Best thing would be a bacon maple donut. The worst thing was one of those hot dogs that make you shit. 

    The Festival I Would Love to Play (Not to Beg in Public or Anything)

    Woodstock, but they don't have that shit no more. So I'm going with Lollapalooza. 

    Ty Dolla $ign is currently scheduled to play festivals including Summer Jam, Pukklepop, and more.


    The Soft Moon’s Luis Vasquez
    Photo by Dennis Shoenberg

    The Soft Moon: "Black" (via SoundCloud)

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    Einstürzende Neubauten at Primavera Sound in 2011

    The Dumbest Decision I've Ever Made at a Festival

    I let a random person spray an unknown drug into my eyes. When it kicked in it led me into a crazy blacked-out rage and I broke some of my equipment, punched walls, and shouted. I woke up the next day realizing I had missed my flight home by seven hours.

    The Artist I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    GG Allin

    The Weird Little Festival That Nobody Knows About But Is Really Cool

    Vasto Siren Festival located on the coast of the Adriatic Sea in Italy. We performed there during the sunset in an ancient castle situated on a cliff with a view of the sea behind us.

    My Most Embarrassing/Endearing Drunk Festival Story

    After performing during a heavy storm at a festival in Pordenone, Italy we ended up so drunk that the festival promoter told us we had to leave. We brought the party back to our hotel for a few hours, and then I walked everyone out the front door of the lobby to say my goodbyes. But when I walked back to the lobby door I realized I had left my keys inside. Desperate to go to sleep after ringing the the buzzer for about 30 minutes, I frustratingly picked up a large trash can and threw it through the front window. I woke up the next morning and had completely forgotten what happened until checking out and seeing all the glass on the floor. My bandmates didn’t know I did it, and I kept it to myself and never said a word. After a few days, I thought I had gotten away with it, but the hotel called the promoter and said they had the whole thing on camera. The first thing that came to mind was that I wanted the footage to use in a music video.

    Artist I Would Pay a Billion Dollars to Never Play a Festival Again (Because It Would Tarnish Their Perfect Legacy)

    Guns N' Roses with the original line-up mainly because Axl Rose is so hard to watch perform these days.

    The Festival I Would Love to Play (Not to Beg in Public or Anything)

    Coachella

    The Soft Moon are currently scheduled to play festivals including Primavera Sound, Way Back When, and more.

    Natalie Prass. Photo by Ryan Patterson.

    Natalie Prass

    Natalie Prass: "My Baby Don’t Understand Me" (via SoundCloud)

    My Favorite Festival

    I'm not much of a festival person because large crowds make me super nervous, but I really dig the Newport Folk Festival. It's small, sounds good on and off stage, and has the best scenery.

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    Charles Bradley at Grand Point North Festival

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Nothing But Sunshine Fest

    The Artists I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Weird Al, Anita Baker, and Ciara

    The Bands I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    I'd get everyone who recorded the Space Jam soundtrack to come and play that album in it's entirety. 

    Best Backstage Perk I've Ever Experienced at a Festival

    Haircuts—always need an emergency bang trim

    The Scariest Encounter I've Ever Had With a Musical Hero at a Festival

    Robert Plant

    The Artists I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram 

    Nina Simone or Ella Fitzgerald

    Natalie Prass is currently scheduled to play festivals including Sasquatch!, Outside Lands, Way Out West, and more.


    Son Lux

    Son Lux [ft. Lorde]: "Easy (Switch Screens)" (via Bandcamp)

    My Favorite Festival

    Melt

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    Portishead

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Meek and Eager Spirit Fest

    The Artists I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Hologram Edgard Varèse and Wu-Tang

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    A billion dollars would be much better spent on more worthy causes, like pyrotechnics. Let the sleeping dogs lie. 

    Some Other Amazing Details About My Imaginary Festival

    The Monsanto tent

    The Scariest Encounter I've Ever Had With a Musical Hero at a Festival

    When Lee “Scratch” Perry “borrowed” our pen

    The Weird Little Festival That Nobody Knows About But Is Really Cool

    Bad Bonn Kilbi in Switzerland

    The Thing I Would Change About Festivals to Make Them Better

    Every festival should be on the edge of a volcano in Iceland.

    The Festival I Would Love to Play (Not to Beg in Public or Anything)

    The Gathering of the Juggalos

    Son Lux are currently scheduled to play festivals including Off, Pukklepop, and more.

    Mikal Cronin. Photo by Myles Pettengill.

    Mikal Cronin

    Mikal Cronin: "ii) Gold" (via SoundCloud)

    My Favorite Festival

    Pickathon outside of Portland

    The Best Acts I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    Nine Inch Nails and Slayer

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Hellmania (shout out to Tim Hellman currently of Thee Oh Sees)

    The Scariest Encounter I've Ever Had With a Musical Hero at a Festival

    I was pretty nervous and awkward when I met Henry Rollins. Later that same night I drunkenly had a pretty long conversation with Stephen Malkmus about french horns. Sorry Steve!

    The Artist I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram 

    Tiny Tim? 

    The Strangest Non-Musical Entertainment I've Experienced at a Festival

    I played a festival outside of Mexico City and there was a Doritos drone—a drone that just picked up bag after bag of Doritos, flew up above a crowd, and dropped those Doritos.

    The Craziest Festival Goers I Have Ever Come in Contact With

    A few days ago at Burgerama I was playing with Ty Segall and I started to smell smoke—then I looked out and right in the middle of a crowd of thousands there’s an eight-foot diameter open circle of people with their faces all glowing orange. Someone had started a fire in the middle of the audience, which is ridiculous. After the set I was talking to some old friends and said, “Hey did you see that fire?” to which one of them responded, “Oh yeah! There was a sombrero on the ground so I lit it on fire!” So my friend lit a sombrero on fire in the middle of a crowd. He’s a hero and a madman. 

    The Weird Little Festival That Nobody Knows About But Is Really Cool

    B-Sides Festival in Switzerland, which is on the top of a huge hill overlooking a small town by a big lake at the base of the alps.

    My Least Favorite Festival (That Will Now Never Book Me Again)

    Coachella is pretty overwhelming and I missed Fatboy Slim because the dust storms don’t agree with my contact lenses.

    Mikal Cronin is currently scheduled to play festivals including Primavera Sound, Beaches Brew, Plissken, and more.


    Carl Craig

    Caribou: "Your Love Will Set You Free" (Carl Craig Remix) (via SoundCloud)

    The Artists I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Prince, Herbie Hancock, and Stevie Wonder all playing synthesizer in a band together 

    Other Details About My Imaginary Festival

    It would only have Turkish and Lebanese food. The sound system would rival any IMAX theater. In fact, it would be in a complex of outdoor IMAX theaters. And there would be these special pills that whenever you talk, fluorescent light comes out.

    Artists I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    Alive: Genesis P-Orridge. Dead: Black leather Elvis from 1968.

    Carl Craig is currently scheduled to play festivals including Coachella, Movement, Ostrov, and more.


    Next: Festival tales from Franz Ferdinand, Tinashe, Metz, and more.

    Flume

    Arcade Fire: "Afterlife" (Flume Remix) (via SoundCloud)

    My Favorite Festival

    Osheaga

    The Scariest Encounter I've Ever Had With a Musical Hero at a Festival

    Meeting Flylo and not even being able to speak

    The Weird Little Festival That Nobody Knows About But Is Really Cool

    Golden Plains Festival in Australia

    The Festival I Would Really Love to Play (Not to Beg in Public or Anything)

    Fuji Rock in Japan

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Flumefest 

    Some Other Amazing Details About My Imaginary Festival

    Segway roller derby with a DJ who exclusively plays dark, heavy techno. 

    Flume is currently scheduled to play Bonnaroo, Open’er, Governors Ball, and more.

    Franz Ferdinand. Photo by Andy Knowles.

    Franz Ferdinand’s Paul Thompson

    Franz Ferdinand: "Take Me Out (Daft Punk Remix)" (via SoundCloud)

    My Favorite Festival

    The East End Social in Glasgow 

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    De Kift and Rats on Rafts together at Where the Wild Things Are last year

    The Artists I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson, Blowfly and the Love Unlimited Orchestra, Les Rallizes Dénudés, Brainiac, Cutty Ranks, Country Teasers 

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    Dog Faced Hermans 

    Some Other Amazing Details About My Imaginary Festival

    No phone signal and all the food and drink gets dropped in by a fleet of planes

    Best Backstage Perk I've Ever Experienced at a Festival

    Best Kept Secret in Holland take their artists on an actual safari with giraffes and everything.

    The Scariest Encounter I've Ever Had With a Musical Hero at a Festival

    At a Polish festival, [Franz Ferdinand guitarist] Nick [McCarthy] once got a team talk in the toilets from Flavor Flav and he also drank absinthe with Al Jourgensen, which he swears was laced with LSD.

    The Artist I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    Kanye West

    The Strangest Non-Musical Entertainment I've Experienced at a Festival

    A line of men all pissing through a fence as we were driving into T in the Park. We were on the other side, and it was like a 50-man glory hole.

    My Least Favorite Festival (That Will Now Never Book Me Again)

    V Festival 

    The Dumbest Decision I've Ever Made at a Festival

    Going to see Dizzee Rascal at Roskilde when we were due onstage straight after, at the other side of the site. I waded through three feet of mud and about a thousand Danish hippies who were watching Santana. I barely made it.

    The Worst Food I've Ever Eaten at a Festival

    Currywurst, which is just a fucking sausage with curry sauce on it. Get over it, Germany. 

    My Story About That Time I Almost Died at a Festival

    We played a festival in Murcia, Spain after a pretty gruelling South American tour, and I had contracted what was later diagnosed as reactive arthritis—my ankles were so swollen I couldn’t get my shoes on or walk upstairs. I also had a rather natty facial cyst to go with it. After that, the band took a year off (and I took a year off drinking). 

    The Most Fucked-Up Thing I've Ever Witnessed at a Festival

    Probably the band Fucked Up at a festival

    Franz Ferdinand are currently scheduled to play festivals including Lollapalooza Berlin, Goa Boa, and more as part of their upcoming project with Sparks, FSS.


    Rudimental’s DJ Locksmith
    Photo by Danny North

    Rudimental: "Feel the Love" [ft. John Newman] (via SoundCloud)

    My Favorite Festival

    Glastonbury

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    Stevie Wonder 

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Wildlife. There would be animals running wild, people on trapeze doing somersaults—it would be crazy.

    The Artist I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Wu-Tang Clan

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    The Fugees

    Best Backstage Perk I've Ever Experienced at a Festival

    Full-body massage

    The Scariest Encounter I've Ever Had With a Musical Hero at a Festival

    Kanye West—he pulled up in four blacked-out Mercedes and had 20 big body guards around him walking to the dressing room.

    The Artist I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    Marvin Gaye

    The Strangest Non-Musical Entertainment I've Experienced at a Festival

    Dwarf dance-off

    My Most Embarrassing Drunk Festival Story

    It was dark one night and I didn’t really know where I was going and I tripped over four half-naked females going to the toilet.

    Artist I Would Pay a Billion Dollars to Never Play a Festival Again (Because It Would Tarnish Their Perfect Legacy)

    Tina Turner

    The Festival I Would Really Love to Play (Not to Beg in Public or Anything)

    Ultra Music Festival in Miami

    Rudimental are currently scheduled to play festivals including Governors Ball, Bonnaroo, Lovebox, and more.

    Tinashe. Photo by Michael Schwartz.

    Tinashe

    Tinashe: "Worth It" [ft. Iamsu!]

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    OutKast at Coachella last year

    The Artists I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Me, Janet Jackson, and Metric

    The Artist I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    I have to go with MJ—and then they could do “Scream” with Janet!

    The Worst Food I've Ever Eaten at a Festival

    Probably some stale-ass churros that had been sitting out for like 13 hours.

    The Festival I Would Really Love to Play (Not to Beg in Public or Anything)

    Definitely Coachella, but I don't wanna play the stupid stages so I'll just wait until I'm main stage. 

    Tinashe is currently scheduled to open for Nicki Minaj on her upcoming tour as well as play festivals including Wireless.


    Ride’s Mark Gardener
    Photo by Piper Ferguson

    Ride: "Moonlight Medicine" (Portishead remix)

    My Favorite Festival

    Glastonbury in the ‘90s

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    The Prodigy

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Space March (Leave Your Phones at Home Festival)

    The Artist I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Ennio Morricone with full orchestra and choir 

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite So They Could Play My Festival

    Bob Marley and the Wailers

    The Artists I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    Orbital and Elvis   

    The Craziest Festival Goer I Have Ever Come in Contact With

    Myself in a backstage Glastonbury Portaloo mirror

    The Most Fucked-Up Things I've Ever Witnessed at a Festival

    A funeral procession and people turning into lions

    The Festival I Would Love to Play (Not to Beg in Public or Anything)

    Glastonbury again one day maybe?!

    Ride are currently scheduled to play festivals including Coachella, Field Day, Best Kept Secret, and more.

    Torres. Photo by Shawn Brackbill.

    Torres

    Torres: "Strange Hellos" (via SoundCloud)

    My Favorite Festival

    Latitude Festival in Suffolk, England

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    St. Vincent at SXSW last year

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Near-Cosmic Struggle! Festival

    The Artists I Would Get to Play My Festival

    Funkadelic, Fleetwood Mac, Taylor Swift, Sharon Van Etten, St. Vincent, Warpaint, Natalie Prass, Sufjan Stevens, David Bazan, Run the Jewels, Marnie Stern, the National, Diarrhea Planet

    The Scariest Encounter I've Ever Had With a Musical Hero at a Festival

    I opened for Brandi Carlile at SXSW recently, and we made brief eye contact near the green room, and my hands got immediately clammy. I was so nervous I couldn’t even say hello. 

    My Most Embarrassing Drunk Festival Story

    Early on in college, I went to a festival called the Big Nashty at an abandoned schoolhouse in Gallatin, just outside of Nashville. It was my first encounter with bottomless keg beer, and at one point I’m pretty sure there was some whiskey. I have splotchy memories of Natalie Prass holding my hair back while I hugged a bucket somewhere inside the schoolhouse. I was so embarrassed that I baked her cookies the next day.


    Joanna Gruesome’s Owen Williams
    Photo by Pat Graham

    Joanna Gruesome: "Last Year" (via SoundCloud)

    The Artist I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Ravioli Me Away

    The Scariest Encounter I've Ever Had With a Musical Hero at a Festival

    We met someone from Bratmobile once and silently looked at our feet the whole time.

    The Strangest Non-Musical Entertainment I've Experienced at a Festival

    This dude with a hula hoop

    The Weird Little Festival That Nobody Knows About But Is Really Cool

    Supernormal near Oxford 

    Artist I Would Pay a Billion Dollars to Never Play a Festival Again (Because It Would Tarnish Their Perfect Legacy)

    Joanna Gruesome

    GoldLink. Photo by VSCO.

    GoldLink

    GoldLink: "Sober Thoughts" (via SoundCloud)

    The Best Acts I’ve Ever Seen at a Festival

    Hudson Mohawke and Aluna George

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    Chipotle Presents Taxation with Weponsentation

    The Artists I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Lil Romeo, Kanye West, Vampire Weekend, Outcast, Beyoncé, Clams Casino, Clipse reunion, Diddy Dirty Money, Esta, Skee-lo, James Blake, John Legend (for my mom), C-Murder, Max B, OJ da Juiceman, Ray J, Kaytranda

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    Prince and the Revolution 

    Some Other Amazing Details About My Imaginary Festival

    Free Chipotle for everyone, served by strippers from King of Diamonds and Fuegos. A panel with J-Kwon, Mr. Collipark, Jibbs, and Hurricane Chris about the successes and downfalls of being a one-hit wonder (Rick Astley would moderate). Action Bronson would also host between acts and do the catering for the festival.

    The Artists I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    Rick James and Big L

    The Weird Little Festival That Nobody Knows About But Is Really Cool

    Lost Paradise Festival in Sydney, Australia. It’s in the middle of nowhere and people camp out in tee-pees.

    Artist I Would Pay a Billion Dollars to Never Play a Festival Again (Because It Would Tarnish Their Perfect Legacy)

    Jay Z

    The Festival I Would Love to Play (Not to Beg in Public or Anything)

    Bonnaroo

    GoldLink is currently scheduled to play festivals including Electric Forest, Northern Lights, and more.


    Makthaverskan
    Photo by Jessica Lund

    Makthaverskan: "Witness" (via SoundCloud)

    My Favorite Festival

    Irma Pussila Krook: Way Out West 

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    Irma Pussila Krook: Slowdive

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival:

    Gustav Data Andersson: Broder Daniel 

    Some Other Amazing Details About My Imaginary Festival

    Gustav Data Andersson: There would be a pool bar 100 meters from the stage and you could listen to all the acts from there without needing to be in a crowd of a million other people who you don't want to get crowded with.

    The Thing I Would Change About Festivals to Make Them Better

    Hugo Randulv: At least in Sweden, all the festivals book extremely lousy bands. So I guess I would change that.

    Metz. Photo by David Waldman.

    Metz

    Metz: "Spit You Out" (via SoundCloud)

    The Dumbest Decision I’ve Ever Made at a Festival

    Hayden Menzies: I gorged myself in the catering tent about 20 minutes before our set once, and I felt like I was playing in slow motion onstage. 

    Best Backstage Perk I’ve Ever Experienced at a Festival

    Hayden Menzies: Hammocks

    The Thing I Would Change About Festivals to Make Them Better

    Hayden Menzies: I would prefer if they consulted me about set times for all the bands that I want to see. I’m very selfish so I'd like them to be on the same day as us and with enough time in between that I could casually walk from one stage to another without rushing.

    My Most Embarrassing Drunk Festival Story

    Hayden Menzies: It was at a festival in Europe where I was quite gitty with beer and decided to run into the bushes and remove my undergarments so I could throw them onto the stage; I was watching one of my favorite bands and my alcohol-inspired logic was that they would find it hilarious. Luckily, the underwear didn't make the mark and any further embarrassment was avoided.

    My Least Favorite Festival (That Will Now Never Book Me Again)

    Chris Slorach: We were mistakenly booked on an electronic festival in Scandinavia just before our first album came out, and the crowd and crew were all amazed to see a drum kit, guitar, and bass amp get loaded onto the stage. We cleared the room by the end of our first song.

    The Weird Little Festival That Nobody Knows About But Is Really Cool

    Chris Slorach: Moon Block Party in Pomona

    The Most Fucked-Up Thing I've Ever Witnessed at a Festival

    Chris Slorach: We played a festival where someone was murdered in the camp grounds—I didn’t witness it but it fueled a healthy fear of camping out at big musical festivals.

    Metz are currently scheduled to play festivals including Best Kept Secret, Hurricane, End of the Road, and more.


    Mick Jenkins
    Photo by Lawrence Agyei

    Mick Jenkins: "Healer" [ft. Jean Deaux] (via SoundCloud)

    The Best Act I've Ever Seen at a Festival

    OutKast at Lollapalooza. Nuff said.

    If I Had My Own Festival It Would Be Called

    The Drafting of Free Nation Rebel Soldiers

    The Artists I Would Get to Headline My Festival

    Frank Ocean, Jill Scott, the Roots, OutKast, James Blake

    The Band I Would Give a Billion Dollars to Reunite for My Festival

    The Fugees

    The Artists I Would Love to See Play a Festival as a Hologram

    Bob Marley, Biggie, Michael Jackson

    The Festival I Would Love to Play (Not to Beg in Public or Anything)

    Afropunk

    Mick Jenkins is scheduled to play Lollapalooza and other fests this summer.


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    Overtones: Evolve With the Flow: How Drake and Kendrick Found Their Voices

    Overtones examines how certain sounds linger in our minds and lives.


    Your voice is the entirety of your instrument as a rapper, and you have to make everything happen with it. This fact has always acted as a sneaky equalizer. At the upper reaches of the industry, you can buy a lot of skills that rapping requires: You can pay someone, or many people, to supply you with hot lines; you can enlist producers to wireframe song structures, hum ideas, or even record nearly-complete songs before you arrive. But the time must come when it's just you and your voice in that booth.

    Drake's If You're Reading This It’s Too Late and Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly are vastly different hip-hop artifacts, made by artists who use their voices in vastly different ways. And yet, in the gulf between them, something does emerge, something invisible but real. With both records, you hear two artists honing in on their message by exploring the outer reaches of the most elemental tool available to them.

    Drake has had voice issues for years, at least as an MC; for someone with such a preternatural sense of his own star power, he has often sounded curiously uncomfortable or unnatural when rapping. On his earliest releases and up through his debut album Thank Me Later, his default mode was more transmission than flow. To take one example, “The Resistance” had him repeatedly picking up with a new thought at the end of each line:

    Livin inside a moment, not taking pictures to save it, I mean
    How could I forget? My memory’s never faded, I
    Can’t relate to these haters, my enemies never made it, I
    Am... still here with who I started with

    This is a great way to sound conversational, to make listeners forget that there is a ticking meter pushing along your thoughts, but it only works if you can sound casual. Drake's delivery, meanwhile, was a barrage of eighth notes, each syllable exactly the length of the one before it.  The style prioritized legibility over spontaneity and ended up sounding about as natural as a “Degrassi” script. In his early career, the downbeat was an appointment Drake could not afford to miss, which occasionally gave his rapping a teeth-setting edge, like an assistant following you around a little too eagerly. The way his voice was mixed—high and clear, far above the muted music—served as an acknowledgment of his slightly formal, arms-length relationship with the beat.

    Things started shifting with “Worst Behavior”, from 2013's Nothing Was the Same. The beat, produced by DJ Dahi, was a seething hive of conflicting rhythms, and Drake, suddenly emboldened, played tag with it, rapping in irregular bursts of exclamations and interruptions. He sounded confident for the first time that if the downbeat strayed a millisecond from his reach, he could catch it. It was the first real hint of rhythmic play in his rapping.

    On If You’re Reading This, he doubles down on this approach with gusto. It’s the most alive he's ever sounded. He's no longer a careful reciter, but a gleeful bender of words: “Sold a couple Bentleeeeeeys laaaaaaaast weeeeeek—them were my OLD toys,” he stutters on “6 God”, stretching out the boast with abandon. His somersaulting delivery on “6 Man” flips his stiff old flow from “The Resistance” so that the stresses fall on different beats, loosening up all the spaces in between and filling them up with darting shapes.

    Irregularity is how we mark life in our environment—a moving shadow in the corner of your eye alerts you to a mouse scurrying across your floorboards; leaves rustling in the “wrong” direction might tell you that a golden retriever is about to crash through the trees. So as Drake learns to break up his own cadence, the “lonely king” vibe that he's been working to project since Take Care starts to come into focus anew. He sounds triumphant; he sounds desolate; he sounds like a rapper competing only with himself and saddened by that fact. He sounds like the only person left alive on the planet.

    Kendrick Lamar often sounds desolate on To Pimp a Butterfly, but he never sounds alone. His records are swarming with squabbling voices that have somethingusually indignant or deflatingto tell him. Lamar, of course, is responsible for them all: On “u”, he's a sobbing family member, excoriating Lamar for neglect; on "You Ain't Gotta Lie", he plays his own mother, admonishing him for preening. Listening to the album sometimes feels like standing in the middle, unnoticed, of a large quarrelsome crowd—a rally, perhaps, or someone's family reunion. Through all these spaces, Lamar is always visible, but he is often not at center stage. 

    As the cast of characters proliferates, so do Lamar's flows: He sometimes seems to be rapping in three voices at once, an internal monologue mixed up with an external one and dipped in the ambient chatter he absorbs through every room he steps in. He has almost destroyed the beat in his music, as if to acknowledge that the most important stories we tell are usually the messiest, the ones that don't arrive in straight lines. The music he's chosencramped, hectic jazzpacks more sonic information into a small space than any other popular form, and Lamar crams every available space with his words. 

    He's always been a wordy rapper, one more drawn to long chains of unfolding thought than tight, pithy quotables, and on Butterfly he is purposefully offering us more than we can absorb. In hard technical termsbreath control, complexity of rhyme schemes, variation of flow—Lamar is the best rapper working, but how he deploys that skill on Butterfly is far more interesting than the skill itself. He seems to be aiming for the point where all knowledge has been interrogated, all corners of an idea exhausted. On the outro to "Momma", he brings the fader down on himself while still rapping furiously, his voice doubled up. On "For Free?", he leaps off of piano sforzandos until there is no legible forward motion anymoretry nodding your head to it and see what happens to your neck.

    Lamar's flow tells us that there is more information out thereconflicting viewpoints, sides to a story, ways of looking at a single incidentthan we can ever imagine. His lyrics are almost impossible to quote neatly, because to drop a line on either end of the quote is to snip off something vital. The most exhilarating moments on Butterfly have him following this holistic impulse, like when he explores the tug of resentment toward a panhandler on "How Much a Dollar Cost" over three increasingly bitter verses that link into one long crescendo; to pick out just one evocative bit from the song"Sour emotions got me lookin’ at the universe different/ I should distance myself, I should keep it relentless"—can’t help but remove a crucial part of the thought process. Lamar wants us to try to see everything at once, to be confused and exhausted, just like he is, so we might experience some of his truth.

    Drake and Kendrick’s different approaches teach us a lot about the men behind them. They have fundamentally different goals: Drake wants to tell you his story; Lamar wants to tell everyone's story at the same time. The little soap opera of backbiting between the two rappers might stem as much from philosophical difference as it does competitive drive. When Elliott Wilson interviewed Drake in 2013, the subject of Lamar’s incendiary “Control” verse came up, and Drake's dismissive response was: “How does that verse start?” It was an incisive point, but more than anything it served to highlight the separation between their ambitions. In both cases, you can hear two artists hammering out their master plan in the details. There are many ways to break a style down into component parts, but they are all subsumed into flow. The flow is who they are, and as they make the millions of tiny agonizing decisions that smooth it out, they get closer to the purest versions of themselves.


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    The Out Door: The Abstract Math of Experimental Duos

    In this edition of The Out Door, we delve into the chemical reactions inside some great recent records by duos, chart the long-in-the-making return to recording of two veteran acts: instrumental dub/metal trio Blind Idiot God and experimental sound artist Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson, and explore the fragmented jazz and metal of Dutch duo Dead Neanderthals. (Follow us on Twitter and Tumblr for more experimental music news and info.)


    I: You + Me: The Intangible Math of the Duo

    Rhys Chatham and Charlemagne Palestine, photo by Udo Siegfriedt

    Jon Abbey, who runs the stellar experimental label Erstwhile, likes duos. On the majority of his releases, he partners two experienced artists and waits to see what happens. When we interviewed him last July, he explained his approach this way: “I’ve found that if you put together people with roughly equal strengths of artistic personality, you don’t have to worry about how compatible they seem. They’ll figure it out and push each other to where they need to be.”

    I’ve been thinking about Abbey’s idea a lot lately, because so many good recent records have come from duos—specifically duos whose members have well-established styles and histories. It’s such a potent scenario: there are natural expectations for what the collaboration might sound like given each participant’s track record, yet their unfamiliarity with each other wipes some of that slate clean, and creates the opportunity to surprise.

    It’s tough to imagine two more monumental track records than those carved out by Rhys Chatham and Charlemagne Palestine. Both began erecting their own vital, idiosyncratic versions of American minimalism in New York in the 1970s, and each have since made a number of massive works that seem bent on reaching infinity (take, for example, Chatham’s mid-'00s piece for 400 guitars). 

    Their first-ever collaboration, YOUUU + MEE = WEEE(Sub Rosa), offers the kind of length and space you might expect given their larger-than-life creative personae. It’s three pieces spread across three CDs, totaling over two-and-a-half hours of music. The basic sounds are pretty expected too: Palestine’s tremulous piano and mesmerizing vocal meditations, Chatham’s mantra-like guitar and looping trumpet.

    And yet, during the majority of this joyful set, the pair finds a shade of entrancement and hypnosis that’s distinct from their respective solo works. It’s not necessarily a higher level—something hard to imagine for either artist—but simply one they would likely not have discovered on their own. Perhaps it’s just alchemy, but somehow their individual sounds rhyme at every turn, such that you can always tell them apart but you can never really separate them.

    Mike Shiflet and John Kolodij (aka High Aura’d) may not have the lengthy histories that Palestine and Chatham do, but in their best moments their music can feel as huge and impactful as anyone’s. Which means their first ever collaboration, Awake(Type), had the potential to sound so big it could be too much—a heavy-handed blur where their own individual work is usually subtle and precise.

    Luckily both men are too artistically-disciplined to let anything like that happen, and as a result Awake’s strongest trait is precision. All the waves of sound and clouds of static generated by the relentless dual guitar work has a tactile, present feel; there’s no vague attempts to hide behind reverberation or coast on a drone. That concrete feeling in turn serves a more abstract one: emotion, which much of the mesmerizing Awake triggers like a dream.

    Samara Lubelski and Marcia Bassett

    There’s also an emotional resonance to 110 Livingston, the second collaborative full-length by Marcia Bassett and Samara Lubelski. But it can be hard to locate at first; some of the sounds here are forbidding, in a way that can seem cold, even distant (one track is titled, not inaccurately, "A Vast, Malicious Calm"). That’s a surprise for this pair; while their respective solo work is capable of a wide range of moods, aloofness is not usually one of them.

    Dig just a little deeper, though, and 110 Livingston turns out to be the opposite of aloof. It’s actually a quite intimate dialogue between two masters of the wordless phrase—a dialogue that just happens to use a vocabulary that in other hands could easily sound blank. But the way Bassett channels her guitar and Lubelski weaves her violin creates something that fills to the point of bursting. Every moment sparks with thought and, more importantly, action.

    David Maranha and Helena Espvall, photo by Derek Moench

    Somewhere between the deceptively-cold soundscapes of Bassett and Lubelski and the tactile concoctions of Mike Shiflet and High Aura’d lies Sombras Incendiadas(Three:Four), the first collaboration between David Maranha (violin, organ) and Helena Espvall (cello). The two aren’t exactly strangers; Espvall played on Maranha’s excellent 2007 album Marches of the New World. But where that was distinctly a Maranha project, this is much more an equal meeting of minds, and its four pieces are unimaginable as anything but the work of a duo.

    Perhaps you could imagine each individual’s contribution here as a solo work, and that would be good too. But what makes Sombras Incendiadas so fascinating is the overlaps and gaps between the two players—the way their sawing and grinding coalesces and diverges, creating a lopsided latticework of fired-up sound. And yet, for something with this much burn to it, all four tracks here also have a calmness—a kind of serenity in the face of uncertainty that makes them intoxicating.

    Mind Over Mirrors, photo by Paul Spanbauer

    Calm serenity is one of Jamie Fennelly’s basic tools, at least in his solo work under the name Mind Over Mirrors. That continues on his latest release, The Voice Calling (released by Immune on cassette in January, and on LP soon), but this time his Indian pedal harmonium is enhanced not only by tape delays and processors, but by the vocal contributions of Haley Fohr (aka Circuit Des Yeux). Adding such a heavy presence—Fohr’s dramatic, sonorous voice is as distinct as they come—is an intriguing gambit for Fennelly; one wonders before hearing if perhaps he would’ve been safer to call this a new duo.

    It turns out he was right to maintain this as Mind Over Mirrors, because Fohr’s participation fully complements Fennelly’s approach without fundamentally altering it. Her singing—much of it wordless—folds into his rolling tides of sound like foam melting into a wave. Fennelly’s Terry Riley-esque ripples are still the star of the Mind Over Mirrors show, but the way they open up to envelop Fohr’s musings—and the way she in turn molds her echoes to his undulations—highlights new aspects of his approach, and adds a new layer of complexity to his oeuvre.

    Fenelly holding onto the Mind Over Mirrors name brings up an interesting conundrum for duos: does calling the collaboration something other than the members’ names obligate some kind of permanence? Certainly using a band name suggests an ongoing proposition, as if each record should be seen as a step in a journey rather than an isolated moment in time.

    Two of the best duo records in 2015 are like that, made by pairs who seem ready to stick together for a while. 75 Dollar Bill, the project of guitarist Che Chen and drummer Rick Brown, has only been around a couple years, but Wooden Bag(Other Music) is already their third release. The pair’s m.o.—Chen’s snake-wrangling guitar cycling around Brown’s box-top pounding—is pretty primal, but it creates a sound that seems to grow geometrically.

    What I like most about Wooden Bag is how committed Chen and Brown are to their very specific cause. Both men have worked in a variety of settings, especially Brown, who was in some pioneering (if underappreciated) No Wave-era groups and later did important duty in Fish and Roses and Run On. Together they channel years of playing and listening into single riffs and loops that seem to contain so much more.

    Caught on Tape, photo by PJ Sykes

    Caught on Tape, a blistering free-rock partnership between guitarist Thurston Moore and drummer John Moloney, has an even more solid background to build on. They’ve been playing together a lot lately in various guises (including the underrated Chelsea Light Moving). Their new album, Full Bleed(Northern Spy), extends the language the they’ve built together, and is easily the best thing they’ve done so far.

    Throughout these nine short-ish tracks, the duo’s main mode is fifth gear, but within that head-down kick lies a lot of sonic variety and tonal diversity. Some of the eerie chiming Moore trademarked in Sonic Youth shows up quite effectively here, but mostly he’s just happy to rip away, shored by Moloney’s hole-less rattling.

    There was a time not so long ago when improvised rock, informed by the ecstasy of free jazz and the visceral abandon of punk, sounded both challenging and open—both pushing and honoring boundaries. Hopefully Caught on Tape signifies a resurgence of that approach—if not for others, at least for themselves.

    – Marc Masters

    Next: Blind Idiot God's first new album in 23 years.

    II: Blind Idiot God: Repetitive Suggestions


    Andy Hawkins laughs when I explain that Before Ever After, the new album from his band Blind Idiot God, is my favorite Blind Idiot God album.

    But Hawkins doesn’t chuckle because he disagrees, or because he thinks the long, winding 13-song peregrination through doom metal and dub reggae, post-bop jazz and psychedelic abstraction is substandard. He likes it, too. It’s just that, more than 30 years since forming the band in St. Louis, Mo., Hawkins is still flummoxed that the record exists not just at last but at all.

    Blind Idiot God have not released a new album since 1992’s Cyclotron, their third LP of willful and polarizing stylistic hybridization. At the time, they were an exception to most indie rock rules. They not only functioned as an instrumental band (Henry Rollins guested for one rather awkward song) but pushed together forms that existed only on the nebulous genre’s periphery, if at all. They were, alternately, a punchline or an inspiration.

    Though Before Ever After is the first Blind Idiot God album in more than 20 years, it’s not the result of some fly-by-night, cash-grab reunion run. In fact, without original drummer Ted Epstein, the band have been at work again since 2001, bolstered by Khanate’s Tim Wyskida.

    But a litany of errors and missteps—in particular, the health woes of bassist and cofounder Gabe Katz—prevented songs from coalescing into extended sessions and an album until now. Released on Hawkins’ own Indivisible imprint, Before Ever After runs for nearly 80 minutes, a swollen bank of ideas at last released into an avalanche. Produced in part by Bill Laswell,Before Ever After sounds enormous and intricate, every track of Hawkins’ guitar speaking in a distinct voice.

    Blind Idiot God’s stylistic perversions remain as alien, idiosyncratic and wonderfully indulgent as they’ve ever been. The circular rhythm and prismatic guitar echoes of "Night Driver" suggests Ennio Morricone handing a set of masters to Lee Perry, while opening wonder "Twenty Four Hour Dawn" suggests the cinematic post-metal of bands like Isis reimagined with a textural simplicity and clarity. "Ramshackle" practically sparkles. Its immediate successor, "Voice of the Structure", lurks through a morass of quixotic guitar noise and extended, interwoven tones.

    But when moving between genres is as easy as a mouse click (or easier, of course, thanks to artists willfully slashing at stylistic borders), Before Ever After feels like the timely, urgent new work of a prescient band. Blind Idiot God seems to have, decades ago, started to ask questions about intersections and hybrids that many younger acts are now answering.

    I spoke to Hawkins about that idea and the starts and stops it took to make and issue the masterful Before Ever After.    

    Pitchfork: Blind Idiot God hasn’t released a record in a quarter-century. During that time, genre boundaries have obviously crumbled, and your mix of dub and metal—or of any forms that don’t seem like instant fits—is a lot less outlandish. How does it feel to reemerge at a time when what you do isn’t so crazy?

    Andy Hawkins: Being an all-instrumental band in 1987, when the record first came out—never mind the part before that when we were still in high school—was odd. Other than surf music, there really wasn’t a precedent for it in rock. It was wide-open territory, which caused me to think about it very broadly and consider the kinds of music I liked and I wanted to make and figuring out connections between them. It was a very open-ended thing.

    In the year 2015, all bets are off. The subcultures have grown exponentially. It’s now no big deal for people to cross stylistic barriers. That’s mostly a good thing. But it was a pretty lonely place in the beginning to be an instrumental rock band. I’m glad I decided to persevere and make another record. It’s a very nice feeling to be understood better as you get older. Dub seems to have seeped into the culture very slowly, very gradually. People were actually listening and focusing on more demanding kinds of rock music, too. All these things just broadened people’s horizons.

    Pitchfork: Speaking of getting older, how did the membership turnover impact the writing process?

    AH: Gabe Katz, the bassist, was still in the band when we wrote these songs. The only real difference in terms of writing them is we had a new person in the mix—Tim Wyskida, the drummer. Tim requires a lot less editing than Ted Epstein did, and I gave him more of a free rein. It was clear that he would like to keep parts looser, and he had a really good innate sense of how much to play. Things naturally became a bit looser and more improvisatory. 

    Pitchfork: What editing did Ted require?

    AH: Ted would come up with the most crazy, awesome stuff. Every once in a while, though, we’d have to go and have this whole big thing: "Don’t hit the cymbal here. Try this or that." It would always work out, but drumming for Ted was almost like a math problem. There was a lot less I had to say to Tim. That ultimately is the best possible scenario.

    Pitchfork: How much do you have to tell someone like Tim about what Blind Idiot God does? It’s a bit of a counterintuitive blend, what you have always done.

    AH: Just listening to it should be enough. When I first met Tim, he had a pretty good understanding of where we were coming from. He’s probably more interested in improvisational music, and he’s a person who relates very easily to flowing drumming, like a jazz drummer. With things that are very static and repetitive, he’s completely capable of moving between two worlds. He had an innate ability to do that. I didn’t realize how good he actually was, because I had never heard him play in anything other than Khanate.

    Pitchfork: Did it ever occur to you that Before Ever After might not happen and that Blind Idiot God’s legacy would be only three records?

    AH: I’ve never stopped playing guitar, and I’ve never stopped being in the band. There was only a brief moment where there was nobody to play with. For me, it was a question of how do we make this happen? How we get a record out? Do I have enough material? Is everything going in the right direction? Am I happy with this? As soon as we got Tim, I knew we could keep going.

    The toughest thing was being in a band with my childhood friend, who is my bass player and who was having all these problems. They just kept coming. Gabe had really bad tinnitus that would come and go. And then he started having problems with his hands—to some degree, from playing fretless, which always takes more effort than it seems like it ought to. The tinnitus receded, and we could cope with it to a point. He was wearing headphones on top of earplugs. That reduced the problem, but it was hard for him to play because he had to learn to hear and feel things differently. Once he got that together, his hands were bothering him.

    Pitchfork:How did the band cope with that, especially in trying to finish a record that had taken so long?

    AH: We were sidelined for months and, cumulatively, more than two years. Gabe is my old friend, and I didn’t want to tell him we were looking for somebody else. We just had to take it very slowly in terms of how we rehearsed. We couldn’t rehearse with as much intensity in terms of schedule as we had before. Once we got the songs under control, though, it wasn’t so bad. Gabe probably had to do a few more overdubs in the studio than I did. Every time we reversed, as long as we were making progress, I was still motivated to keep everything moving forward. Playing is its own reward.

    photo by Jeremy Darbeau

    Pitchfork: What’s the conceptual prerequisite to join Blind Idiot God? What do you need from your musicians?

    AH: There’s a high value placed on ideas. A lot of times they’re not discussed a lot, and it’s usually reference points. If we really like the Miles electric period, that means we’re on some same page. We like a certain amount of improvisation and repetition and aggression. The main thing is being aware of all the different kinds of music and how they sit or do not sit together.

    It’s really about reference points and seeing how things relate. What is the relationship between dub and metal? Is it natural to you as it is to me that it is repetitive and that there is a certain kind of extremity to the frequency range, depending on which genre you’re in? If it’s Black Sabbath, it’s a more mid-range. If it’s dub, it’s heavy, low-end bass. It’s another way of expressing a similar idea about repetition. The rhythm section is focused on understanding where the intersections are between all those musics. 

    Pitchfork: What’s become clearer about those intersections to you over time?

    AH: It has everything to do with layering. The function of the rhythm section is as an engine, the thing that moves things forward at whatever pace you want. How the rhythm section and the guitar interact to create space and time—in a way, that becomes the idea. There’s a lot of open territory there. I hope we can keep finding it.

    Pitchfork: When you write, how soon does it become clear to you in which compartment of Blind Idiot God an idea or a riff belongs—dub, metal, jazz, so on. Do you think about the band that way at all?

    AH: I used to play my guitar without the amp quite a lot. But once I started living in my rehearsal spaces, in the last 15–20 years, I play with amps more. I pick up a certain guitar, and that determines somewhat how it’s going to turn out. It’s more about the moments spent in front of the amp—whether it’s the loud, overdriven sound or the clean, dub guitar stuff. The dub stuff has a tendency to be generated by the basslines and the drum parts and their interaction. 

    Pitchfork: Before Ever After is the first Blind Idiot God in more than two decades, but you actually released new music in 2013 through a film about downloading. Why, especially since you sat out the start of the downloading era?

    AH: The director and writer of Downloaded, Alex Winter, is a childhood friend of mine. We had known each other since first grade. He wanted to use some of the music in it, for those moments where he was taking about intellectual property. The focus was on more commercial music, but the whole thing had to do with intellectual property. For him, it was a question of trying to put in music that reflected the full weight of somebody’s ability not just to be in the commercial side of the music business. He’s a also filmmaker, and the music we make has a cinematic quality.

    Pitchfork:When you were making the record, did you consider how much the industry you’d ben re-entering had changed? Did that impact the result?

    AH: I don’t think we were thinking about it while we were making the record at all, but afterward, it was a reality that had to be contended with. Putting out records now, doing your own label and starting things from scratch is a completely normal and logical progression in this age. Everybody I talked to in terms of labels was so small that it didn’t make any sense to trust everything to them. When people have limited resources, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.

    In 1986, if you had put out your own record, you would have been looked down upon. There weren’t that many bands. There were a few labels, and you either got on those labels, or no one would ever hear of you. But now things are different. People can get access to your music much easier, so it’s logical to do this stuff and to have it on your own label and to try and reach people more directly. The real problem is it’s almost impossible to make money selling a copy of your record or CD or download. People ultimately don’t want to pay. It’s a very modern thing to be able to get to your fans directly, but it’s also right back to the old days in a way, where musicians could only make money from playing live.

    – Grayson Haver Currin

    Next: The multi-pronged art attack of Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson

    III: The Long Return of Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson

    photo by Tine Gunther

    The title of Sigtryggur Berg Sigmarsson’s new album suggests it’s a farewell. But So Longis actually a return, the sound artist’s first solo release since the early 2000s. The name refers to the time it took Sigmarsson to make the record, and the creative limbo he experienced after his first two albums, 1999’s Ship and 2000’s This One Comes Highly Recommended.

    "Those were two completely different records, and I felt that was it—I couldn’t come up with new stuff," he recalls, talking via Skype from his home in Belgium. "I was wallowing in self pity and lack of confidence, just hanging out in bars a lot. Sounds maybe a bit depressing, but I had my share of good times, and I don’t regret those years because I learned a lot. The last few years I’ve been doing much more, and I think that this energy comes from those years when I was being unproductive and lazy."

    For Sigmarsson to call his last 15 years unproductive is a humble exaggeration. Though he couldn’t muster a new solo release until now, he’s been busy with performance, visual art, musical collaboration, and his longtime membership in the veteran Icelandic experimental outfit Stillupsteypa.

    He’s also been working on So Long since 2008, and it shows. The attention he gave it makes the music resonate with personality; as he explains, "I like to make abstract sound personal, so you can hear that it’s made by a human being." All three lengthy pieces are patient, rich, and layered. Their gradual development reflects Sigmarsson’s long-view approach to art. "I have high respect for writers; I wanted to become a writer when I was young," he says. "So putting together a story or building an atmosphere with sound is something I try to do. Everything I work on I think of as some kind of narrative."

    Sigmarsson’s own narrative begins in Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, where he grew up. He was attracted to music early, devouring his parents’ records and finding particular fascination in the soundtracks to Spaghetti Western movies he watched with his father. At age 14, he joined a grindcore band and discovered that, as he puts it, "standing on stage screaming my head off came as quite natural thing for me for some reason."

    By his late teens, Sigmarsson’s passion for music, movies, and books was so overwhelming he lost interest in other subjects, and dropped out of school. "At first I felt that I was doomed; it all felt like it was going to be impossible," he remembers. "But reading William Burroughs and watching John Waters movies gave me gave me the inspiration to go on with it."

    photo by Jukka Kostet

    Sigmarsson tried school again in 1997, when he and Stilluppsteypa (which he joined in 1993) moved to the Netherlands to study at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. But he found the experience a bit too academic. "They were more interested in how the sounds are made than how it sounds," he says of his teachers there. "I use whatever sounds good to me, however it was made. It doesn’t make a difference to me." He had a better experience at Hochschule fur Bildende Kunst in Germany, where his way of approaching sound as a visual artist was more welcome; he earned a master's degree in sound art there in 2003.

    A less formal but just as important education for Sigmarsson has come through Stillupsteypa. Early on, the group was heavily influenced by Dadaism and Surrealism; Sigmarsson remembers obsessing over a book on the life and art of Marcel Duchamp. "I really liked the looseness, the sort of fooling around (of Dadaism); it was so connected with punk rock," he says. "Just showing that you don’t have to be a landscape painter to call yourself an artist—that pretty much saved my life in those days."

    Building a wide oeuvre over the past two decades, Stillupsteypa has lived up to the legacy of their artistic forefathers. Their approach to sound has been persistently unpredictable and unclassifiable, so much so that Sigmarsson remains happily baffled by their music. "We’ve been doing it for so long now, but it still feels like we are just amateurs fooling around with sound," he says. "With a lot of bands things just come to an end—they figure it out and can’t take it any further. But with Stillupsteypa, I can still feel that freshness."

    Though Sigmarsson lost touch with that freshness in his own solo music for a while, he filled the void with two more pursuits: live performance and visual art. The former offers a wide-open outlet for his ideas. His shows often veer away from music into spoken-word, spontaneous outburst, and absurdist comedy. "It’s my problem with taking life serious—I can’t do it!" he insists. "I always see the humorous side of everything. I can’t get over it. I just have to."

    But the catharsis Sigmarsson finds in performance sounds pretty serious. "I get totally lost—it’s just like I become a different person, I become totally blank," he says. "In some ways I have demons that haunt me—I’m not lying. There was a year when I stopped drinking, and during that year the demons didn’t get any play, so I developed a playground for them in these performances. They got their kicks there."

    Sigmarsson's current exhibit at M HKA in Antwerp, Belgium

    As for his visual art, Sigmarsson mostly paints and draws, but to him the medium is defined by the idea, not vice versa. "I just see myself as an artist—it’s like an import/export," he says. "I get inspired by something, and I find a medium that’s appropriate. Sometimes I have no clue what I’m doing, and those are the best moments. In the visual art world, sometimes people have problems with that—if you’re working in different mediums they don’t know how to pinpoint you."

    Making art that doesn’t hew to categories has been less of a problem for Sigmarsson in the music world. As a result he’s connected with scores of like-minded sound artists from around the globe, many of whom he’s also collaborated with. One of his most fruitful partnerships has been with BJ Nilsen, with whom Stilluppsteypa has made 10 records. Recently, Ultra Eczema released Sigmarsson and Nilsen’s first record as a duo, Avantgardegasse.

    Contrasting the longer, more minimal pieces on So Long, the 12 tracks the pair create bubble and crackle with odd melody, weird samples, harsh noises, and cloudy tones, in a kind of wordless dialogue. "Working with Benny is telepathic," he says. "We don’t discuss anything and there’s no disagreements; it’s always spot on. I’m not saying it’s easy for us to make the music, because we spend a lot of time creating it. But when I come to a dead end or don’t know where to take something, he always finds a solution."

    photo by Jóhanna Kristbjörg Sigurðardóttir

    Finding creative solutions to artistic problems is basically what Sigmarsson does too. But it seems that for him questions are even more important than answers, and curiosity keeps him motivated. "I don’t know if I decided any of this; maybe it was all decided for me by some higher power," he admits with a laugh. "But I really like when the music is a few steps ahead of me, as if it’s being made by somebody else. I like not quite grasping it right away and not knowing where it’s leading me."

    – Marc Masters

    Next: Escalating the extreme with Dead Neanderthals

    IV: Dead Neanderthals: Volume dealers

    photo by James Welburn

    The first time drummer René Aquarius and saxophonist Otto Kokke made music together, they had no plans for how the result might sound—or any ambition that their would be a result at all.

    The Dutch rock musicians had known each other for two years when Aquarius suggested they collaborate, a proposition Kokke found suspect simply because they had so little experience improvising and no experience in such an unorthodox duo configuration. Aquarius had been playing drums for less than five years, working mostly in a dead-ahead black metal act. Kokke, meanwhile, was a veteran saxophonist, but his roots were in wayward and weird rock music, not two-piece jazz paroxysms. Still, he agreed to try.

    "I was like, ‘OK? That would be drums and saxophone, right?’" he says, laughing nervously at the memory. "But René made some drum tracks, sent them and I thought, ‘Damn, this is short.’ Most of them were under a minute, and I was used to playing tracks that lasted five or six minutes: ‘Oh my god, what am I going to do with this?’"

    Soon enough, though, Kokke determined the best approach for matching Aquarius’s roiling drums. He routed his saxophone through a litany of guitar pedals and created sheets of what he calls "an awful noise." Big horn blasts and agile, aggressive themes sliced through or battled with the percussion, suggesting a not entirely original but certainly enthusiastic continuation of John Zorn’s orbit.

    Dead Neanderthals: "The Pit" on Bandcamp

    Intrigued by the result, they took the name Dead Neanderthals and pursued that formula of free jazz and fragmented metal. They rented a rehearsal space and wrote more songs with less sax layers—that is, numbers that could be offered live. Only a year later, they realized that, in short order, they’d exhausted their ability to explore such short songs. Though they’d already written a third album of such outbursts, they discarded it—and maybe the band, too.

    "We got bored of the short tracks," remembers Kokke. "We either needed to change something, or otherwise, the band is dead."

    But Dead Neanderthals is not dead. Instead, the duo’s compulsive restlessness has inspired a catalog that offers a steady escalation of the extreme. In only five years, they’ve gone from sax-and-drum explosions to long-form and immersive improvisations, pieces that draw you into the pair’s self-made world. That’s epitomized by last year’s 40-minute blunderbuss Prime and the forthcoming 82-minute, large-ensemble improvisation Endless Voids. Talking to Kokke and Aquarius, it’s easy to get the sense they’re only now discovering their gumption.

    The pair salvaged themselves with Jazzhammer/Stormannsgalskap, a set of two tantric tracks that rose into waves of sax and drums and stayed there for 10 minutes at the time. The sound suggested that one chunk of a ferocious jazz band had been cut off from its accompaniment and turned into a broken record—repeating endlessly but seeming somehow to change in the process. It was an accomplished and confident shift, one that proved Kokke and Aquarius could do more than ricochet off one another.

    Once again, however, Dead Neanderthals got restless and found that writing more material in the same vein stripped excitement from the original idea, producing an adulterated result. They tried for months to create a proper follow-up until they realized they needed to shift directions again.

    photo by Ana Luisa Moura

    "We were both getting into old free jazz. At one point during rehearsal, we both realized that this wasn’t going anywhere: ‘Let’s just improvise something. Let’s do a Coltrane thing,’" remembers Kokke. "We did, and that was the next CD."

    "It was cool because we were so fed up with trying to write, trying to rehearse, trying to get songs done. It wasn’t going to work this way," Aquarius continues. "We started improvising, and it was a revelation to us. We didn’t even know we could do that stuff."

    In school, when Kokke was learning to play saxophone, he’d been taught the "proper" way to improvise in the grand jazz tradition. But free playing was an entirely new endeavor for both members. They enjoyed exploring the new space. Because the band had started in such an offhand and unplanned way, they weren’t embarrassed to take risks and make mistakes in front of one another, to learn in real time. What’s more potentially revealing, after all, than the few unrehearsed drum spasms that had been the basis for Dead Neanderthals at all?

    "It wasn’t awkward. We said, ‘I have no idea what I’m doing, but it sounds OK. Let’s do another one,’" Aquarius says.

    So they did for an entire evening, recording the set of extemporaneous jams that became Polarisin just one night. It was a breakthrough, a process that allowed them to reinvent themselves by design and to reinvigorate the way they approached live sets. Suddenly, they could focus on evolution rather than treating it as a potential stumbling block. That conceptual shift helped launch a golden period for Dead Neanderthals, with two years of increasingly daunting and delightful output. They began to fold guests into the mix: for DNMF, sound artist Rutger Zuydervelt, or Machinefabriek; for … and it ended badly, powerful British saxophonist Colin Webster.

    That last relationship proved pivotal. Webster had organized a show for the pair in London. When Webster was in the Netherlands on tour, he had a day off when Kokke and Aquarius were recording new material. It was less than a month after they’d cut Polaris. Why not add a new member during that time of transition?

    "We had absolutely no idea what we were doing. We had the idea that Colin absolutely did have an idea what he was doing," says Kokke. "The motto was to just to do it and see what comes out. We only threw one or two bits away."

    Dead Neanderthals: "Prime" on Bandcamp

    Webster became an essential force in their most absurd and ecstatic endeavor to date: the one-track blaze of glory Prime, released last year by Gaffer Records and now being reissued on CD. Prime is the culmination of every previous phase of Dead Neanderthals’ existence. It’s as heavy as those early grindcore-like freak-outs and an exercise in sonic consistency much like Jazzhammer. But its premise—making a musical theme bleed for 40 minutes—depends on extreme improvisation. The idea was to start at full volume and velocity and to maintain it for as long as possible. It’s less like a marathon than a sustained sprint that ends in a glorious, fitful collapse.

    "We wondered, ‘How long do you keep on going?’ We played a 20-mimute set, and that worked. And 25 wasn’t that different. So I suggested we try 40," says Kokke. "It really adds something to have that time. It gives you a chance as a player and an audience to get caught up and lose track of all time."

    photo by Maria Do Carmo Louceiro

    The result is a forceful listen that’s equal parts off-putting and alluring; Webster, Kokke and Aquarius all test their respective endurance, with horns and drums locked in a three-part battle to control more space for more time. Playing Prime, they agree, requires an incredible amount of acquired endurance.

    "We did a show with Colin in Germany and drove back to the studio the next day and did the recording for Prime in one take," says Aquarius. "We knew we only had one take, because the second take will suck. The intensity will not be there. We actually haven’t tried it, but you need some time to recuperate after playing a set like this."

    For two musicians who had never really improvised as of late 2012, they’ve fully embraced the idea. Recorded last September at the Incubate festival in the Netherlands, the upcoming EndlessVoids is a mesmeric jam built by eight players—Kokke, Aquarius, Webster and a team of guitarists and electronic musicians. It’s the most mellow but engrossing recording they’ve ever issued, a sign of just how far they can take this.

    "We didn’t set out to accomplish anything," Kokke says of the moment Dead Neanderthals realized improvisation was their way forward. "We just set out to have fun and, on the off chance it worked, we said, ‘Let’s have the tape rolling.’"

    – Grayson Haver Currin


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    Update: This (and This... and That Too) Is a Hudson Mohawke Production

    Why the Kanye-approved producer largely put the festival bangers and big-name features on the back burner for his pointedly eclectic new album


    Hudson Mohawke: "Very First Breath" [ft. Irfane] (via SoundCloud)

    Hudson Mohawke looks like someone dumped a bucket of water over his head. The producer born Ross Birchard was up until 6 a.m. last night, and while he’s eager to talk about his second album, Lantern, it’s clear that he’d feel better sitting in bed, greasy sandwich in hand. Maybe that’s why he’s having a hard time articulating himself when we meet one afternoon at Manhattan’s Soho Grand Hotel. “I want to introduce people to the fact that I'm not just a…” he begins, before trailing off. After a moment, he finds his train of thought. “I’m not even gonna say the word, but I’m not a such-and-such producer. I've produced a lot of different stuff over the years.”

    Rap, EDM, Warp, young—a lot of constrictive terms could stand in for “such-and-such.” But what the 29-year-old Glasgow native has accomplished since the release of his debut LP Butter in 2009 has allowed him to do away with modifiers and leave the job description by itself: producer, no gimmicks required. He rubs elbows with the world’s hottest rappers and then retreats to his London studio to work on his own weirdo compositions. He records with avant saint Antony Hegarty in the same room where he worked on Kanye West’s “All Day”. One of the highlights on Lantern is “Ryderz”, which lays an intricate weave of synthesizers over ‘70s soul singer/songwriter D.J. Rogers’ “Watch Out for the Riders” until it explodes in neon euphoria. Another highlight, “Kettles”, is the opposite: a dreamy instrumental whose wind chimes and swelling strings wouldn’t sound out of place in a Disney sequence.

    In some ways, Lantern is an off-speed pitch—a reminder that Birchard isn’t limited to his outsized work with TNGHT, the partnership with Canadian producer Lunice that launched a thousand festival mosh pits and catapulted him to global recognition. TNGHT began as an afterthought, and instead, became his life. “We wanted to make sure that [TNGHT] didn’t become bigger than our solo careers,” he says, “and then it almost did.” Without TNGHT, he would not have worked with Kanye on Yeezus or become an in-house producer for G.O.O.D. Music. But those commitments pushed back Lantern, which was originally due in 2013 and had Birchard whittling down about 40 songs to end up with the 14-track album.

    With greater power comes additional responsibility, which Birchard is slowly learning about. There are future projects floating on the fray: an album he’s producing for Antony, a film score he’s been approached to create. While the music geek in him would like to dish about these potential endeavors, there are legal and contractual obligations to abide by now.

    Instead, he talks about his current home of London, and how he finds it cluttered and hectic. Then, a new possibility reveals itself. “I might even rather live out here, to be honest,” he says, referring to New York City. “That's a consideration for later in the year.” It’s a quick aside, a tossed-off thought from someone with the freedom to instantly live out what he wants. You work with Kanye West, and then you move to New York. Why not? Here, he brightens, last night’s hangover resolving into clarity.

    Pitchfork: There aren't any rap features on Lantern, which is surprising.

    Hudson Mohawke: People are expecting it to be a rap record—and it would be so easy to make a record of 10 rap songs—but I don't necessarily want to hear that. I wanted to go back and put the focus on myself for this record.

    Hudson Mohawke: "Chimes RMX" [ft. Pusha T, Future, Travi$ Scott and French Montana] (via SoundCloud)

    Pitchfork: Is it natural for you to navigate between the worlds of Warp and G.O.O.D Music?

    HM: I always wanted to be able to be a rap producer while also being able to work with people like Antony or Björk. I never really thought it was possible, but thankfully I was just about able to manage it. There were moments over the last couple of years where I've been like, “This is too good of an opportunity to turn down. This is never going to come to me again. I have to do this.” I've spread myself too thin. Now, I'm more willing to be just like, “I need to take some time to do my own project.” It actually works out better that way, because I’m still involved in the major projects with G.O.O.D. but not expected to be on call 24/7.


    “We felt like the TNGHT record spawned kind of a parody genre. We just wanted to make some instrumental beats and put them out, we weren't expecting it to be this crazy EDM festival shit.”


    Pitchfork: When the TNGHT record was released, it was praised for being ahead of its time. Now that a few years have gone by, do you think about how to stay on the cutting edge?

    HM: No. It's not something I think about at all. It wasn't something I thought about when doing the TNGHT stuff, either. When myself and Lunice did the TNGHT project, it was not even intended for release. That's basically why we decided to put it on hiatus for a while, because we felt like—without wanting to sound too arrogant—what that record spawned became kind of a parody genre. We just wanted to make some instrumental beats and put them out, we weren't expecting it to be this crazy EDM festival shit.

    So while the crowds and fees and festival stages are getting bigger, in some sense the open-mindedness of the audiences that are attending those shows is becoming slightly narrower. I could never had played something like "Kettles" at a show like that. That's why we wanted to refocus on our own projects. So we haven't quit the project, but there won't be anymore TNGHT music until both of our solo records are released.

    TNGHT: "Acrylics" (via SoundCloud)

    Pitchfork: You’ve talked about how you’re more of an “executive producer” on this album. Is that a new approach?

    HM: It's something I've learned from Kanye: You have a core idea, and someone else might have an opinion or input that you would never necessarily think of yourself. To have people's opinions who I really respect—such as Mark Ronson or Zane Lowe—involved in the process is a totally different way of working compared to my last solo record, which was entirely done in my mom's basement with me hunched over my computer—which harkened back to my turntablist days where I'd be home from school and hunched over turntables for like 10 hours. So this album marks a totally different way for producing for me, because it's more like conducting a project rather than it being just myself doing stuff and sending files over the Internet.

    I've never been the best collaborator with people that I don't know; A&R and managers tend to just send a new artist to you and tell you to make a song together even though you've never met each other and you don't know what the fuck each other's music sounds like. But luckily the people that are involved on this record were people that I was already familiar with.

    Pitchfork: Did anything fall through on the record?

    HM: We really wanted to get André 3000. He said he wanted to do it but he was working on a movie at the time. But even that would have been more in a singing capacity rather than a rap capacity.


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    Photo Galleries: Coachella 2015: Photos


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    Festival Report: Coachella 2015

    Check out a photo gallery of portraits from this year's Coachella by Pooneh Ghana as well as a review of the festival by Ian Cohen.

    Coachella is getting better at presenting hip-hop and punk. Even if Vic Mensa’s unsteady mix of EDM-friendly hip-hop, R&B, and Kanye West affiliations doesn’t quite come off, he’s still pretty close to the current ideal for a 1:20 PM slot at Coachella—three years ago, the same would probably be said of an artist that sounds like Local Natives. Beyond Mensa, there was this year an inversion of what had typically been viewed as "festival-appropriate" afternoon acts. Action Bronson and Azealia Banks have a few things in common—two of the foulest mouths in hip-hop, discomfort within a major-label system and the suspicion that they think of hip-hop as a loss leader for other pursuits ("Fuck, That’s Delicious" was given more burn in Action Bronson’s stage banter than Mr. Wonderful). And they are also two of hip-hop’s most commanding stage presences and were perfectly suited for the main stage in the afternoon: their voices are loud, they understand crowd interaction and how to establish an arc.

    Unfortunately, the indie rock acts were more likely to confirm the perception that guitars are responsible for the least exciting music of the moment. Eagulls exhibited blasé brattiness and not much else, while Cloud Nothings have evolved into a gristly, brutal trio with a sound more increasingly suited for basement shows or a meat locker than a festival stage. Meanwhile, the likes of Parquet CourtsToro Y MoiMac DeMarco, and even Panda Bear (stuck with a bizarrely early set time) challenged the idea that indie rock is meant to be an alternative to the mainstream rather than something to be passively absorbed or flat-out ignored. 

    Towards the end of their incendiary early set, Jeremy Bolm of Touché Amoré shouted out Joyce Manor, Desaparecidos, Circa Survive, and Brand New as proof that "festivals are starting to pay attention to our world." All of the aforementioned played Sunday, all have been called emo, all have been called punk, none have been considered "indie." They are only now starting to garner attention within this realm and each tore through tight and triumphant sets—the difference between bands that had to win over kids instead of critics over the years instead of vice versa was abundantly clear.

    No more so than during Brand New’s set. Maybe you’ve lost track of how meaningful this band is to a very, very significant number of people, maybe you still associate them with the Used and Taking Back Sunday. Well, using "are you excited to see Brand New?" in stage banter was the rock equivalent of rappers name-dropping Kendrick Lamar, the easiest way to get an ecstatic cheer from the crowd. Brand New’s tent was the most volatile of the weekend, not in a sense where violence was imminent, more in how the audience arrived hoping certain songs would allow them license to lose their goddamn minds.

    Maybe there was a subtle humor at play when the most emo day of the weekend was headlined by Drake. Headliner status tends to be a lifetime achievement award for rap acts—OutKast, Snoop and Dr. Dre, Jay Z, Kanye West. Drake, on the other hand, is still new and very much pop—he’s confounded perceptions of what "real hip-hop" is throughout his relatively short career, and he’s never seemed as concerned with critical credibility as Kendrick or Kanye are. The sheer number of "hits" he has accumulated over the years is staggering; "This ain’t nothin’ for the radio/ But they’ll still play it though" rang true over and over again as he ran through minute-long snippets of songs like "Legend" and "Trophies" that have bypassed traditional means of radio dominance to pervade the mainstream. But, y’know, Drake…the guy can’t not be goofy and awkward, so maybe that’s the only reasonable explanation for Madonna’s guest appearance. There was welcome instability during Drake’s performance, the lingering question of whether he could pull this off. There were stakes.

    I can’t quite say the same for the War on Drugs and Tame Impala. They’re the two bands to emerge in the 2010s as "festival-ready"—expansive, melodic, not-quite-overtly psychedelic guitar music that makes heavy use of phaser pedals and songs that often go over five minutes. And yet, they’re not really bands, but rather the projects of two professed introverts who forgo space travel for convalescence within a broken heart or the impenetrable walls of their mind. War on Drugs were put on this earth to play sundown sets at major music festivals until they decide to call it a day, and as wonderful as it is to hear them in that particular setting, they don’t appear interested or capable of transcending it. Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker seems genuinely surprised that he’s fronting the best new rock band of the decade. He apologized numerous times for being nervous and the flow was interrupted by"“this one’s called…" banter. Tame Impala’s limitless musical capabilities are obvious when they just play and are freed from the obligations of acting like a major festival band.

    Both of these bands provided sharp contrast to AC/DC. Adam Granofsky and Kevin Parker are amongst the few people who can identify their bandmates by name; you know Angus Young and Brian Johnson by their hats alone. "I hope you like rock music, because that’s all we do," Johnson croaked and AC/DC are so single-minded, it’s actually innovative. Their latest title track "Rock or Bust" fit snugly within their living jukebox of a set and you don’t realize it’s actually "Rock or Bust" until the chorus—it’s also amazing that AC/DC did not use the phrases "in rock we trust" and "it’s rock or bust" for two separate songs.

    But after the welcome, relative strangeness of Friday (Lil BTodd Terje and Reverend Horton Heat? Sure!), most of Saturday reverted back to the stereotypes of "Coachella music." You know these bands because they’re typically described by using "kinda" as a qualifier—they’re kinda folky, kinda electronic, kinda pop, kinda EDM. At times, you get HAERTS and Ryn Weaver and Lights and Bad Suns, some combination of Beyoncé, Chvrches, Passion Pit and the 1975—their calculation makes their popularity seem depressingly preordained. Other times, it’s the more folky blandishments of Vance Joy and Milky Chance. Either way, they’re all the sonic equivalent of the third-most expensive shirt you own. 

    The more natural crossover acts appeared to be almost entirely persona-driven singer-songwriters—appealing to music fans who know better than to agree with those "It Took This Many People To Write a Beyoncé Song" memes, but at least they’ll entertain the argument. Ryan Adams and Jenny Lewis—we know them after all these years. Hozier, not so much. Better still were the ones that act like pop stars. Showmanship is a major component of Father John Misty’s entire enterprise and it’s totally unfair how he’s even more wickedly charming in person: the targets of scorched-earth L.A. stories "Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Thirsty Crow" and "The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment" are right there in front of him by the thousands, singing "she says like literally, music is the air she breathes" and overlooking the fact that the joke’s on them. 

    Lykke Li’s most recent album I Never Learn was defined by its loneliness, but the spacious production and booming drums left a foundation for an arena rock monster. Li responded in kind, not just for I Never Learn’s songs, but her earlier, more coy work. Her sparkly black suit and painstakingly streaked mascara served as a visual metaphor for I Never Learn’s emotional core—"my sadness is fucking fabulous," a sentiment that was confirmed by a seemingly endless rain of black confetti during the closing "Get Some". 

    The strength of the "singer-songwriter" ideal is most apparent in how it allows for even more unconventional artists to thrive on a mass level. St. Vincent often gets accused of being too mannered and cerebral on record, likely because her explosive, theatrical live show is nothing of the sort. Likewise, Florence and the Machine would never be called overblown or bombastic if they made nothing but live albums. It’s not unthinkable that Perfume Genius could ascend to their level at some point, though his crowd in 2015 was one of the most worrisomely sparse I saw all weekend. And yeah, one would think this wasn’t the best way to engage with his music: there Hadreas stood, in all-black fishnets and heels, playing at an outdoor amphitheater in 90-degree heat, pounding out harrowing confessionals like "Mr. Petersen" and "Dark Parts" while planes flying banner ads for Big Kickin’ Hot Sauce and McDonald’s dollar menu passed by. Thing is, the more extreme and physical Hadreas got, the more the audience responded—there was one person in the entire crowd psyched at the mention of an upcoming Mary Margaret O’Hara cover, but everyone knew to applaud when Hadreas punctuated "Body’s In Trouble" with cathartic howls.

    Whether it was Perfume Genius or Drake or Touché Amoré, the most exciting acts of the weekend were ones whose mere presence subverted ideas of what’s supposed to "work" at Coachella—all performed like they had to prove they belonged. There’s an undeniable streak of patronage to Coachella that should take this into account—I mean, they didn’t have to give Drive Like Jehu and Swans and Ride the chance to play to a few hundred diehards in a giant tent when any number of Alesso affiliates could’ve filled it to capacity and then some. And since Coachella has basically a captive audience that sells out both weekends even before the lineup is announced, if an act can command a stage and a crowd, why not forgo the retreads and get weird? 

    What about Migos or Future rather than seeing some variation of Raekwon and/or Ghostface for the sixth time? I dunno, why not Jodeci or a pop country act? A crowd that lost their shit when Run the Jewels brought out Gangsta Boo would probably do the same for Juicy J. People watched Lil B freestyle for nearly 45 fucking minutes, Soulja Boy would at least play the hits. At what point is Coachella is going to book a female pop act as a headliner, be it Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna or Taylor Swift? Then again, whenever you think Brand New or FKA twigs or anyone else getting huge spillover in their tent is a major pop force, you see Kaskade play the main stage to a mass of humanity larger than damn near every act I’ve mentioned combined. If you think rock and hip-hop are the main draw, you’re already the weirdo at Coachella.


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    Rising: Never Scared: The Fearless Footwork of Jlin

    Jlin: "Expand" [ft. Holly Herndon] (via SoundCloud)

    While only 30 miles separate them, Chicago and Gary, Indiana, are worlds away culturally. Both locales dot the shore of Lake Michigan, but one is a bustling metropolis and center of industry, the other is one of America’s terminal cities. U.S. Census estimates Gary’s population plunged from 175,000 in 1970 down to 80,000 in 2010. And while Chicago boasts hundreds of musical legends—electric blues forefathers like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, rappers like Common and Chief Keef, as well as footwork legend DJ Rashad—one would struggle to name a musical act beyond Gary’s favorite sons, the Jackson 5.

    So it makes sense that there would be a different perspective on the Chicago-sourced footwork tracks coming from Gary native Jerilynn Patton, who is proud of her beleaguered hometown—and quick to set herself apart from its downtrodden stereotypes. "When most people think of Gary, they think of either crime or an industrial wasteland," she says. "I'm here, but that's not my thing." In 2011, Patton garnered attention thanks to her breakout track on Planet Mu’s Bangs and Works Vol. 2, "Erotic Heat", which later soundtracked a 2014 Rick Owens fashion show. Last month saw the release of her debut album as Jlin, Dark Energy, but as the current steel mill employee said recently: "This album took my entire life to make."

    To simply slot Dark Energy’s 11 dizzying tracks as footwork is to do them a disservice. If anything, Patton's productions act as a speed ball of footwork and trap, as speedy as they are drugged. Extremes coexist within her music, as when the high-art samples of the orchestral and the operatic get low on "Black Ballet". Dark Energy veers from frenzied to poised, anxious to emboldened, sounding spontaneous and considered at once. Patton does whimsy as well as menace, and a track can feel both gritty and polished from bar to bar.

    When talking with Patton about her music, the idea of balance between light and dark crops up frequently. It’s fitting, then, that her outgoing message on Skype reads: "Balance they say?"

    Pitchfork: What kind of music you were first drawn to?

    Jerilynn Patton: My mom and dad would always play records around the house. My mom was into Frankie Beverly and Maze, Barry White. My dad likes jazz: Grover Washington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane. The three artists that really stuck to me growing up were Sade, Rachelle Ferrell, and Anita Baker. Those are my favorite artists. I have more of an intense sound, while they are very calming—and I need that because I am already intense; I don't need somebody else who is intense, too. It gives me another perspective versus always being rugged and edgy. The balance is there.

    Pitchfork: When did you first hear footwork?

    JP: When I was 4 years old, around 1991. I was down the street at a neighbor's house, and their cousin had her headphones on, and I could hear it. I was like, "What is she listening to?" I asked her if I could listen. I never forgot that sound. I got reintroduced to it when I was in high school. We were doing a talent show and one of my classmates wanted to do a footwork routine. I got into the creative part at the end of 2008. Once I had familiarized myself with artists like DJ Rashad and Remix Rroy, I reached out to them on MySpace.

    Pitchfork: Do you ever feel restricted by the idea of footwork? 

    JP: I used to, but now it’s about whether I'm satisfied with it. Everything you make is a risk. It’s like a message in a bottle, it’s out of your hands, it ends up where it ends up. I definitely jumped off the cliff with my music, like, "Well, I hope I make it!" That's the way I operate.

    Jlin: "Erotic Heat" (via SoundCloud)

    Pitchfork: You have described your 2011 track "Erotic Heat" as the first instance of you being "vulnerable musically and deciding to share it with the world." What about that track emboldened you?

    JP: It was a sound I had never heard from myself. One day I asked my mom to listen to a track where I sampled Teena Marie's "Portuguese Love", and she said, "That's cool, but what do you sound like?" Ever since then, I was like, "That's a good question. What do I sound like?" It changed everything.

    I played "Erotic Heat" for my mom and she was in shock. My dad liked it, too. The only thing was, this technically wasn’t how a footwork track should sound, so I was scared to put it out. The response shocked me. People were really open to it, like, "This is crazy, I never heard something like this."

    Pitchfork: The art for Dark Energy features this smoldering black metal monolith that references your day job at a steel mill. Is the music reactive to what goes on at work? 

    JP: My schedule at the mill is four days on, four days off, which is cool. Ninety percent of my tracks were started on a Sunday, and then I'll tweak it later in the week until I get something that I like. 

    Pitchfork: Do you approach music like a job in that way?

    JP: Absolutely not. I couldn't do it if I approached it that way. This is something I love, something that's a part of me—it’s who I am, so that's how I approach it.

    Pitchfork: The last track on the album, "Abnormal Restriction", samples the famous scene from 1981 cult classic Mommie Dearest—why did you draw from that film specifically?

    JP: I saw it as a kid and it petrified me. It did me in pretty bad. I was done. But my mom has this theory and I've been operating on it: If you are afraid to do something, that is all the more reason to do it. So that’s what I did. I decided, "I'm going to take this thing I'm scared of and incorporate it into what I love, and whatever emotion and fear and feeling—and however crazy it sounds—that's the way it comes out." And I had to include the classic line: "No more wire hangers." It wouldn't be right if that wasn't in there.


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    Articles: How Much Is Music Really Worth?

    After more than a century of cultural flux, music is now priceless. Or is that worthless?


    The intricacies of the music industry recently stumped a Nobel Prize-winning economist. The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, sharing a panel with members of Arcade Fire at this year’s South by Southwest music conference, told attendees that successful musicians continue to make most of their money the centuries-old way: live performance. As with the rest of society, though, the lion’s share of that income is increasingly going to only a tiny elite. “I actually don't quite understand how the bands I like are even surviving,” Krugman said. He was being self-effacing, sure—but probably not entirely.

    So: What is music worth? As Krugman’s improbable-enough SXSW presence shows, the question has gained renewed prominence as of late, from celebrity-stirred discussions about online streaming to last month’s $7.4 million “Blurred Lines” jury verdict. The answer, however, is a moving—if not almost invisible—target. Putting the debates about artists’ income from Spotify, Pandora, and their ilk in a broader historical context, it becomes clear that the money made from a song or an album has clearly decreased over the last several decades. What’s equally clear, though, is that the value of music is almost as subjective financially as it is aesthetically; the economics of music, it turns out, is more dark art than dismal science.

    No single statistic captures the health of the entire music business. While record sales have plummeted, concert revenues have soared (at least for the industry’s 1%), and corporate partnerships of one kind or another have become more common. Plus, the industry figures you see in articles like this one hardly ever factor in expenses, which—including anything from production, marketing, and artist fees, to venue costs and road crew wages—can add up to huge sums.

    The lack of clarity around whether a particular work of music might be worth more or less than before has led to intensely divided opinions. Indie-rock stalwart Damon Krukowskiwrote on this site that pressing 1,000 vinyl singles in 1988 gave the earning potential of more than 13 million streams in 2012. Steve Albini, the legendary recording engineer (and nearly as legendary curmudgeon), argued in a speech last year that the Internet essentially burned out the inefficiencies and exploitation of the old system, leaving behind a smaller industry that’s vastly better for artists and listeners.

    Louder voices than veterans of the ‘80s and ‘90s underground have also weighed in on the value of music lately. Taylor Swift wrote an op-ed proclaiming “music should not be free” before pulling her music from Spotify. Bono, following U2’s famed free iTunes album giveaway, clarified his support for moving listeners away from expecting free music. “The challenge is to get everyone to respect music again, to recognize its value,” Jay Z said recently, discussing his new Tidal streaming service. “Water is free. Music is $6, but no one wants to pay for music.” Setting aside the water bills many non-moguls pay each month, is music $6? Without a public breakdown of the numbers, those of us who pay for songs and albums find ourselves in a position similar to that of the earliest American consumers of bottled water: There’s always some wag who’ll remind you “Evian” spelled backward is “naïve.”

    The shrinking of the record industry, at least, is beyond dispute. Global revenues from recorded music slipped to about $15 billion in 2014, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry; that’s down from an inflation-adjusted worldwide peak of $60 billion in 1996. The United States, the world’s biggest market, took in 2014 revenues of just under $7 billion, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, down from an inflation-adjusted $20.6 billion at the 1999 peak. In other words, using 2015 dollars, the American record industry is slightly more than one-third its size before the bubble burst. That massive drop in revenues has come despite the advent of the iTunes download store, Spotify, and other potential industry saviors. And the decline hasn’t started reversing itself yet—revenues were relatively flat the last several years, according to the RIAA.

    So yes, the record industry has had a rough 21st century thus far. Less clear is the economic value of an individual song or album, though details slip out occasionally. During the copyright infringement trial for Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s “Blurred Lines”, for example, lawyers for both sides agreed that 2013’s top-selling digital single worldwide had earned profits—that is, net income after expenses—of nearly $17 million. 

    In late 2013, Spotify disclosed an average per-stream payout to rights holders of “between $0.006 and $0.0084,” or less than a penny per play. Spotify has called per-stream averages a “highly flawed” way of looking at its value, saying that as more and more people subscribe to the service, everyone will benefit. And to be sure, artists have always received, at best, only a fraction of revenues from their records. In 1983, about 8% of the price of an $8.98 vinyl album went to artists, according to Steve Knopper’s book Appetite for Self-Destruction. When the CD arrived that same year, artists got less than 5% of the $16.95 price. By 2002, when CD prices hit $18.99, 10% went to artists, according to Greg Kot’s Ripped. Download sales cut out the cost of packaging, but artists got only a slightly bigger share of revenues: just 14% of the $9.99 iTunes album download price, according to a David Byrne essay in 2007, or 17% for an artist on one indie label cited by Kot.

    Indeed, if measuring the financial ramifications of a track or stream in contemporary times is tricky, figuring out how that compares to records, CDs, or downloads in years past is harder still.

    “When we first started selling records, it cracked us up to use the word ‘unit.’ You can’t even define a unit anymore.”
    Merge Records’ Laura Ballance

    As the bassist for Superchunk and co-founder of Merge Records, Laura Ballance has actively participated in the music industry for more than 25 years. In the book Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, she’s consistently the one figuring out budgets and keeping track of accounting at the North Carolina indie label that has been home to Arcade Fire, Neutral Milk Hotel, and the Magnetic Fields. So I thought if anyone could tell me how much a recording is worth to independent artists today compared with 10 or 20 years ago, she would be the one.

    Ballance was prepared for my call; she’d been looking through old documents. But from CD sales to downloads, and then from downloads to streams, she found, each leap in technology defied exact monetary comparisons. “It’s hard to break it down per song or even per album,” Ballance told me. “For each stream, is that a unit? What’s a unit? When we first started selling records, it cracked us up to use the word ‘unit.’ You can’t even define a unit anymore.”

    As it turned out, this problem—comparing the price of vinyl apples to CD oranges, download kumquats to streaming (I don’t know) pomegranates—was a constant one across the history of recorded music. Finding a way around, I decided, it would require some accounting as creative as more than a few songs I’ve heard.

    As long as the record industry has had units to shift, what might constitute a “unit” has always been shifting.

    In 1889, when the first “phonograph parlor” opened in San Francisco, saloon patrons could listen to a song through a tube for a nickel. When Thomas Edison began manufacturing wax cylinders of recorded music for home entertainment in the late 1890s, they cost 50 cents each, played at 120 RPM, and could hold only two minutes of music. Loosely speaking, what cost a nickel in 1889 would cost $1.29 today, and what cost 50 cents in 1900 would go for $13.89 today. (Then as now, how much money ever ended up in the hands of musicians remains murky.)

    Over the same period, German inventor Emile Berliner was working on his own “gramophone,” which used discs rather than cylinders. He started the Berliner Gramophone Company in 1895, initially selling 7” records, made out of hard rubber, for 50 cents ($13.89 today). By 1906 or 1907, the standard Berliner disc was 10 inches and held up to four minutes of music. This began recorded music’s first format war, between the cylinder-based phonograph and the disc-based gramophone.

    Though U.S. listeners still sometimes refer to vinyl record players as phonographs, the gramophone won. A variation on Berliner’s flat discs, developed by inventor Eldridge Johnson’s Victor Talking Machine Company, soon dominated the market. Johnson cultivated a higher-end brand, an appeal that, as the success of expensive Beats headphones has highlighted, can be paradoxically mainstream. Victor’s “Red Seal” series, launched in 1903 in the U.S., found a perfect marriage of marketing and musician. Italian opera singer Enrico Caruso, Red Seal’s signature artist, signified European refinement in middle American homes, while both his tenor vocal range and patient recording style were among the best-suited yet for the era’s technology.

    Caruso’s Victor recording of Pagliacci’s “Vesti la giubba” is generally considered the first million-selling record in history. Upon its 1904 release, the Red Seal line’s standard $2 price tag would have been worth $51.46 in 2015 dollars; humbler Victor records sold for 25 cents ($6.43) to 50 cents ($12.84). No less a populist than the oral historian Studs Terkel once recalled how, his father had “brought home a Victor record and ever so gingerly placed it on the phonograph.” His mother, Terkel wrote, “was furious” at the cost. “My father wasn’t much for words. He simply said, ‘Caruso.’”

    If Internet radio affects the record industry today, in the 1920s the threat was simply radio. In the face of this technological challenge, Johnson sold control of Victor in 1929—to the Radio Corporation of America, or RCA, which today is owned by Sony. Outside of the latest updates in gadgetry, a bigger peril for record makers was the Great Depression; though it may be tempting to imagine that art is somehow above such concerns, music is as dependent on outside economic forces as anything else. Adjusted to today’s dollars, estimated U.S. record sales tumbled from a high of almost $1.4 billion in 1921 to less than $100 million in 1933. In historical context, then, the past 15 years may have been rough, but they’re not the worst faced by the industry.

    After that nadir, the vehicles for recorded music kept evolving. So did the prices. In the late 1940s, as the post-World War II boom lifted the music industry out of its Depression-era crash, Columbia launched the 12” 33 RPM microgroove LP while RCA rolled out the rival 45 microgroove RPM 7”. Both were comparatively high-fidelity products, both were made out of vinyl, and unlike in most format battles, both have managed to share space on record players sold to this day. By 1951, prices for 45s and LPs ranged from 99 cents ($8.94) to $6.45 ($58.23), a situation that Billboard at the time—on the same page as an article titled “Disk Pirates Now Dare Service DJ’s”—deemed “muddled.” Evidently, the problem was not just different price tags for different formats, such as a 45 single versus a double- or even quadruple-album, but also slight variations in what each record label might charge for a recording of, say, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Billboard noted, “Many dealers are beginning to wonder whether they are record dealers or bookkeepers.”

    As the record industry got to work really moving units, what constituted a unit of music started moving like excited atoms in a quantum state.

    By 1977, when the U.S. industry shipped its most vinyl albums ever—a total of 344 million LPs/EPs—it also moved 36.9 million cassette albums and 127.3 million 8-track albums. Three years later, cassettes would overtake 8-tracks, and by 1983 they’d surpass vinyl, following a period of declines that sparked concerns about home taping. Total units wouldn’t regain their Saturday Night Fever-era levels until 1988, not coincidentally the year compact discs moved ahead of vinyl. By 1992, CDs would overtake tapes. Despite steep declines, total annual units of the shiny plastic discs have never fallen behind album downloads; with the rise of streaming as an alternative, they may never.

    Other types of units since the late ‘80s include cassette singles, CD singles, download singles, music videos, download music videos, DVD Audio, Super Audio CDs, and ringtones. An RIAA database shows the industry’s more recent revenue streams—such as sync licensing, ad-supported on-demand streaming, and distributions from SoundExchange, a nonprofit that parses digital royalties—aren’t broken down into units at all. Recorded music, according to the RIAA at least, has gone beyond measurable units: becoming, almost literally, priceless. Or is that worthless?

    Streaming aside, it’s possible to get a rough measurement of how much the value of an album or single has declined across time. Along with units shipped, the RIAA database tracks annual inflation-adjusted revenues going back to 1973. To get an average for each year, then, you could divide revenue by units. Joshua P. Friedlander, the RIAA’s VP of research and strategic analysis, told me the best way to do that would be to crunch the aggregate numbers for albums across all formats (vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD, and digital download) and then do the same for singles; if this isn’t exactly apples to apples, at least it’s staying within the same food group. 

    So: The U.S. record industry’s decline has been steep enough when measured by its total revenue. Broken down by average units, it’s worse.

    For albums, the descent was gradual but deep. In 1977, per-unit sales of all albums—vinyl, cassettes, and 8-tracks—averaged $24.81 in 2015 dollars. In 2000, per-unit sales of CDs, cassettes, and vinyl averaged $18.52. By 2014, measuring CDs, vinyl, and downloads, that number fell to $11.97. So an album, as tracked by the RIAA, brings in 52% less in constant dollars than it did in the disco era, and 35% less than it did at the height of the Internet boom.

    For singles, the pattern has been more jagged, but ultimately more negative. In 1977, per-unit vinyl single sales averaged $5 in today’s dollars. In 2000, when U.S. singles were scarce and served a niche market, the format—whether on CD, cassette, or vinyl—averaged $5.87. In 2014, per-unit single sales—downloads, CDs, and vinyl—dropped to $1.17. So a single now brings in 80% less than it did at the turn of the century.

    Setting aside the particular format, then, albums gross less than half as much, on average, as they once did, and singles bring in roughly one-fifth of their past glories. For comparison, remember that overall revenues in constant dollars are roughly one-third what they were at the U.S. industry’s millennial peak. Units have shifted, all right: into insignificance.

    No, this approach doesn’t include streaming, which last year had revenues that topped CD sales for the first time. And there are pretty obvious differences between the formats. Still, as the Times’ Krugman noted at SXSW, even an imperfect metric is better than none. However you try to measure a unit of music across time, you’ll have to use a bit of artistic license.

    One more quick point about the data: Adjusting revenues for inflation can also shed light on individual formats, such as the growing vinyl niche. Vinyl albums (including EPs), at $23.86 per unit in 2014, certainly are expensive compared with CDs, which averaged $12.87, or download albums, which averaged $9.79, especially considering the alternative of free, on-demand streams. That’s up from only an inflation-adjusted $15.45 per vinyl album in 1999, compared with $19.23 for CDs. Still, vinyl is actually cheaper than it was in 1977, its biggest year-ever by units shipped and by inflation-adjusted revenue, when the average unit cost $24.81 accounting for inflation. In 2015, even when recorded music’s expensive, it’s cheap.

    Live performance has been one way for the music industry to make up the staggering decline in recording revenues. Live shows make up anywhere from 56% of a musician’s income, according to consulting firm Midia Research, to 28%, according to musicians’ advocacy group the Future of Music Coalition. Sales for major concerts in North America totaled $6.2 billion in 2014, according to Pollstar. That’s up from $5.1 billion in 2013, $1.7 billion in 2000, and $1.1 billion ($2 billion after inflation) in 1990. The average ticket price for the top 100 tours in North America was $71.44, up from $25.81 ($38.94) in 1996. One Direction led the way, with $127.2 million gross and an $84.06 average ticket price, followed by Beyoncé and Jay Z with $96 million on an average $115.31 ticket, and Katy Perry with $94.3 million on an average $104.39 ticket.

    Performers generally receive far less than these totals, after promoters’ fees and various costs, which can be high. Still, the level of inequality between live music’s biggest moneymakers and everyone else has become vast that it drew notice from an Obama administration economist: In a 2013 speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Princeton professor Alan Krueger, chairman of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, said the share of concert revenue going to the top 1% of performers had more than doubled since 1982. “The music industry is a microcosm of what is happening in the U.S. economy at large,” Krueger explained. Don’t hold your breath for an Occupy Madison Square Garden movement.

    In late February, I went to see sardonic Canadian punks Single Mothers, whose lyrics are full of mordant references to worth and music: The title of an early single was “Hell (Is My Backup Plan)”, while their 2014 album Negative Qualities includes one song that declares “rock’n’roll’s a sacrifice,” plus another, provocatively titled “Crooks”, that seethes, “If this is living the dream/ Just kill me.” The show itself was a delirious blur, with 29-year-old frontman Drew Thomson hamming it up for his girlfriend cheering him on from the edge of the stage, and I felt privileged to see it at a modest-sized local venue in Des Moines, Iowa. But it was a Monday night in the dead of the Midwest winter. Only 19 audience members paid the $10 admission fee.

    When I met with the affably gap-toothed Thomson in the no-frills backstage area, he offered a realistic but relatively upbeat view. He’d left a financially rewarding job in gold prospecting, in a far-flung town with the unlikely name of Swastika, to concentrate on Single Mothers. “It’s definitely still a big game of catchup for us,” he told me, despite being signed to a proper label—Hot Charity, distributed by indie giant XL Recordings—and other trappings of putative success. “Being on the road, we don’t really make any money at all.”

    “When I gave up my place at the family business, they looked at me like, ‘You’re making the biggest mistake of your life,’” he continued. “Maybe I am.”

    Then again, if Thomson had pursued that line of work, he reasons, he would never have been able to travel so many places or meet so many people. “It all depends on how you look at value,” he said. “I get more of out of the band than I would out of money, anyway. I’m still surprised anybody shows up.”

    Our conversation closed on notes of caution. If royalties started coming, Thomson said, Single Mothers wouldn’t know the avenue to access them (“We’re not good with money”). The whole seat-of-the-pants operation could tear apart at the seams any moment (“If our van breaks down, we’re fucked”). Then there’s the reality of the touring lifestyle. This was the band’s fifth show of sobriety after years of the opposite, Thomson told me—a way of saving money, yes, but also a slightly health-conscious means of self-preservation.

    Two opening acts and more than two hours later, after midnight, Single Mothers finally took the stage. Not all of us were observing sobriety. I didn’t have the heart to ask where they were spending the night.

    “Everybody thinks that bands licensing their music is such a bad thing, but if it’s done with care it doesn’t have to suck.”
    Adult Swim’s Jason DeMarco

    But wait: Recordings and concerts aren’t the only ways for musicians to make money.

    Publishing—that is, the rights to a song’s sheet-music composition, rather than the finished track—brought in revenues of  $2.2 billion in 2013, according to the latest trade group report. That’s relatively flat from an inflation-adjusted $1.9 billion in 2001, the last year for which numbers were available. But treading water is still significant given the precipitous decline in the record industry over a similar period. ASCAP, which licenses composition rights, posted a record-high $1 billion in revenue for 2014, buoyed by streaming. The royalty rates ASCAP and rival BMI collect from online providers such as Pandora have recently become a focus in the courtroom and in Congress. Publishing rights were also at issue in the “Blurred Lines” trial, and they’re what Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne gained when they received after-the-fact songwriting credit for Sam Smith’s Grammy-festooned 2014 song “Stay With Me”.

    The history of publishing rights suggests musicians would be unwise to count on those as steady income, though. Music wasn’t included in the first modern copyright law, England’s 1709 Statute of Anne; Johann Christian Bach, who sued successfully in 1773 to remedy that situation, died so deep in debt that his lenders tried to sell his body to medical schools. (They failed.) Though the U.S. Congress started allowing music to be copyrighted in 1831, professional songwriters still found it difficult to scrape by on royalties alone, with one mid-19th-century composer likening the idea to “simple starvation.” Technology complicated the situation once again with the rise of player pianos, eloquently criticized as a “substitute for human skill, intelligence, and soul” by composer John Philip Sousa. After a 1908 Supreme Court ruling that player piano rolls didn’t fall under copyright law because they were mechanical, Congress created the right to what are still known as “mechanical” royalties a year later.

    To this day, the rate for publishing sheet music is up for negotiation between songwriters and publishers, with a commonly reported figure in the handfuls of cents per page. That hasn’t improved with inflation. Mechanical royalty rates are based around a rate set by the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board, which adjusts its numbers periodically. In 1976, the rate was 2.75 cents (about 11 cents today). For physical formats and digital downloads, that rose to 9.1 cents for songs five minutes or less in 2009 (about 9.9 cents adjusted for inflation). Streaming rates differ, and ASCAP has been facing off against Pandora in particular for a higher share of revenues. On February 5, the U.S. Copyright Office released a 245-page report calling for a radical overhaul of the music copyright system, with sweeping implications for musical compositions and sound recordings alike.

    Another way of cashing in on music is by cashing in on everything but music. Krugman predicted this “celebrity economy” in a 1996 essay. The critic Simon Frith has written that “star-making, rather than record selling,” is the record labels’ primary purpose. Madonna, ever the pioneer, signed the first “360 deal” in 2008, where she and Live Nation would share in the promotion and the earnings from all revenue streams, not just records.

    But these opportunities are not limited to platinum-sellers. Starbucks may have stopped selling physical CDs, but as far back as 2012 it commissioned a Christmas album featuring Sharon Van Etten, Calexico, and the Shins alongside Paul McCartney. Flying Lotus has his own radio station on Grand Theft Auto V. Last year’s Adult Swim Singles series spanned from Giorgio Moroder to Tim Hecker, Mastodon to Diarrhea Planet, Speedy Ortiz to Deafheaven, Run the Jewels to Future.

    Artists’ fees from such brand partnerships will vary based on a range of factors, but these arrangements show no signs of fading away, particularly as the payout from records keeps dwindling. “Everybody thinks that bands licensing their music is such a bad thing,” Jason DeMarco, VP and creative director of Adult Swim, told me. “But if it’s done with care it can be a good thing for the band and for the brand. It doesn’t have to suck.”

    Enigmatic rapper Lil B recently detailed his first-ever brand partnership, with the vegan food company Follow Your Heart for a new emoji app. The radical optimist, who gives away his music for free online, announced the team-up during a lecture at MIT late last year. “I’m not putting ads on my videos,” he said. “The only stream of income I'm making is live engagements with you guys and the companies that support me. I'm beautiful with that.”

    Still, artists’ advocacy group the Future of Music Coalition told The Huffington Post a few years ago that only 2% of U.S. musicians’ total income came from “brand-related revenue.” And artist revenues from licensing their music in films, TV, video games, and commercials has actually fallen 22% over the past six years, from an inflation-adjusted $242.9 million in 2009 to $188.1 million last year.

    Lil B: "Fuck Ya Money" (via SoundCloud)

    The famous quote that “information wants to be free” is frequently taken out of context. “Information also wants to be expensive,” continued Whole Earth founder Stewart Brand in the very next sentence from his 1987 book The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT. “That tension will not go away.”

    In 2012, Jana Hunter of Baltimore dream-pop explorers Lower Dens wrote on her Tumblr: “Music shouldn’t be free. It shouldn’t even be cheap.” When I spoke with her earlier this year, she was a bit sheepish about what she called the “capitalist” presentation of those remarks. She told me, “What I meant to say is we are living in a society where everything is valued, and, within that context, why is music a thing that we have decided we shouldn’t be paying for?” Still, she continued to have pointed views about the music economy.

    “What makes it so frustrating for musicians is that if you really try to center your life around making something creatively, then this becomes a huge distraction and it comes into direct conflict with what you’re trying to do,” she said, referring to the complexity of the business side in the time of streaming. “It derails you creatively.”

    She expressed a concern that music, which prior to Edison was practically inseparable from rituals and other social functions, takes on a more fleeting value in a streaming setting. “We are living in a time where the things that are presented to us are presented as very transient, very temporary,” she told me. “Streaming is definitely a way of reinforcing that. You have a temporary context with music, and then another piece of music, and then another piece of music, and you don’t have a tangible, long-term relationship with that.”

    Temporariness of some sort has been a norm across the history of recorded music. The business has always been messy. But as someone who buys records—and still hoards a massive iTunes collection—I could see her point.

    I had originally thought to contact Merge’s Laura Ballance partly because of a few lyrics from Superchunk’s most recent album, I Hate Music, where label co-founder Mac McCaughan sings, “I hate music/ What is it worth?” The next lines are, “Can’t bring anyone/ Back to this earth.”

    Which is true enough. But while we’re still above ground, music can help us understand others, it can help us locate ourselves, it can help us mourn in those moments when we want to breathe life into someone once again. Pioneering electronic composer Pauline Oliveros has created a number of pieces that work well for gatherings such as memorials, “where people need to relate to one another without words,” she told me.

    But how does it work? How does music achieve that healing effect?

    “Well, I don’t know,” Oliveros admitted, with a long, warm chuckle. “And I don’t know if it does. People have to say so.” As with my attempts to define music’s economic cost, I’d spoken with an expert and been left to come up with my own answers.

    We create the value of music through a sort of community consensus, whether in terms of its emotional impact or its monetary worth. As units of music have become difficult to price, they’ve also lost their economic value—so I agree with a recent Future of Music Coalition op-ed arguing that “the music business has a transparency problem.” Would more detail about dollars and cents restore the music economy’s spirit? Maybe. The industry has recovered before, and there are reasons for optimism, but ultimately music and business, though inextricable from each other, aren’t the same.

    Music could be worthless and, for some of us, it would still be priceless. That’s why it’s worth so much.


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    Interviews: Coming of Age on the Flipside: Mikal Cronin’s Fantastically Relatable Sort of Concept Album

    Mikal Cronin: "ii) Gold" (via SoundCloud)

    About a decade ago, Mikal Cronin slipped a disc in his spine. He had just moved away from his home in Laguna Beach, California, to attend Lewis & Clark College in Portland, and he was struggling with the transition emotionally and socially. The back injury forced him to drop out of school, move back home, and get surgery. “Life was really hazy and I was having a hard time with depression and anxiety for the first time,” he recalls. “I was on all these pain medications, and everything was happening at once. It was a harsh wake-up call for me.”

    With the aid of hindsight, though, the 29-year-old now sees the experience as a coming-of-age moment. As he recovered at home, he realized the importance of making music, started writing songs, and put together his first real band. Soon enough, he was playing with Ty Segall en route to his current rep as a formidable solo artist and power pop virtuoso. “In retrospect, I realize that it was a big life switch that set me on the path of where I'm at now, where I should be in life, and how to be happy,” he says.

    On his forthcoming third album, MCIII, the Los Angeles-based Cronin pays tribute to that turning point with a conceptual six-song suite called Circle that makes up the record’s entire second side. “I was really interested in making a concept record, but about a story that’s personal to me and not based in fantasy,” he says, aware of the prog fantasias that often come to mind when artists drop the “concept” tag. “I've always wanted to be honest with the music I've made under my own name—not necessarily confessional, but finding the universal aspects of my own experiences. That's why I thought it would be interesting to base that whole side off of a true story that’s not the craziest story in the world; it's relatable in the fact that it's not fantastical.”

    Mikal Cronin: "Made My Mind Up" (via SoundCloud)

    Musically, MCIII has a lot in common with MCII. It’s fuzz pop made huge with string sections and orchestral arrangements. The main difference: His sound has gotten even bigger. Where there was only one string player on MCII, there’s a whole quartet (along with two horn players) on MCIII. That’s not counting Cronin himself, who plays guitar, bass, drums, other percussion, piano, organ, saxophone, and a Greek stringed instrument called a tzouras. Structurally, though, the album’s blueprint was cribbed wholesale from Kate Bush’s 1985 classic Hounds of Love—an LP split in two distinct parts. “The A-side of that album is just self-contained hits and the B-side is this crazy, dark weird concept record,” Cronin says. “I straight up stole that idea—not to say my A-sides are hits, though.”

    Pitchfork: Did you always plan to make the B-side of MCIII a concept piece or did it gradually develop into one?

    Mikal Cronin: I had been playing around with trying to write a large piece of music that thematically goes together for a long time. I love thinking of an album as an album rather than just a collection of songs, so it was an interesting challenge. The theme of the new album is pretty similar to a lot of the themes I've written about before—growing up and figuring stuff out. The reason I decided to call it MCIII was that I felt like the three records I've done so far have that in common; I could see this as a prequel to the first two. They’re all about change, transition, dealing with the anxiety, and the fear of moving through the early parts of life.

    Pitchfork: Do you think your next album will be called MCIV?

    MC: I'm thinking no. I want the project to evolve. 

    “I feel really fulfilled from the records I’m doing now, but it would be fun to make a hardcore punk record and just blast it.”

    Pitchfork: Do you think you’ll ever want to make an album that's aesthetically removed from the self-titled albums?

    MC: Definitely. Growing up, I always played in different bands with different styles and I also recorded my own weird little instrumental records that sound nothing like the music I'm doing now. I feel really fulfilled from the records I’m doing now because I feel like I'm throwing my different musical identities into one pot and stirring them up. That being said, it would be fun to make a hardcore punk record and just blast it. I wouldn't be surprised if I did something like that, fuck it. Everyone has different aspects of their personality and I'm showing a certain side in my records so far, but I still listen to Minor Threat and Black Flag.

    Pitchfork: In the liner notes to this album, you thank “Rumi Fuzz Muffin Cronin-Wisdom and Stephen Meowkmus.” Are those your cats?

    MC: Yup, Stephen Meowkmus—Steve for short—is a girl, but I just love the name Steve.

    Pitchfork: Have you met the real Stephen Malkmus?

    MC: Yeah, we did a West Coast tour with the Jicks a couple years ago, and we felt like shithead little kids getting thrown into big shows. We'd just run around like maniacs and yell "Steve!" from the side of the stage. He's a really nice guy. He was very patient with us.


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    Interviews: Game Over: HEALTH Finish First Album in Six Years

    Both fans and social critics of the gleefully violent minds behind Rockstar Games agree that the company’s titles can be extremely immersive. So if it’s true that anyone who engages with the likes of Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, and L.A. Noire runs the risk of losing touch with reality and developing antisocial tendencies, then HEALTH might be this phenomenon’s most high-profile cautionary tale. Thanks to their soundtrack work on 2012 shooter Max Payne 3, the electro-punk band essentially lost a sizable chunk of their artistic prime; six long years after their last record, Get Color, the Los Angeles quartet is finally ready to release its follow-up.

    Though they were originally asked to only compose music for particularly frenetic moments of Max Payne 3, they ended up scoring the entirety of the game, which has sold over 4 million copies to date—a mindblowing amount of exposure for a noise band previously expected to top out at “opening for Nine Inch Nails.” But resident HEALTH gamer and bassist John Famiglietti was well aware of the trade off: “When we did Max Payne, [the band] was like, ‘This is gonna reach so many people.’ And I was like, ‘Man, indie music people don't really play video games.’” Maybe that’s overstating the case considering Grand Theft Auto V has an “indie rock station” (to which HEALTH contributed a song), but Famiglietti fears turned out to be based in some truth. “When the game came out, most of our fans were just like, ‘When are you guys gonna do anything?’” he shrugs. “They didn't really put it together.” Even though HEALTH have toured relentlessly in the time since, Famiglietti puts a fine point on things: “Our fans have been aggressively pissed at us for the last three or four years.”

    HEALTH: "Tears" [Max Payne 3 soundtrack] (via SoundCloud)

    While guitarist/vocalist Jake Duzsik admits that their partnership with Rockstar allowed them the financial wherewithal to work at their own pace and avoid the burnout of one-time L.A. punk contemporaries like Abe Vigoda and the Mae Shi, he also figures they were scene misfits to begin with due to their relatively expansive style. That open-mindedness continues on the new album—their most melodic and lyrically legible to date—which finds the band meshing with a number of studio masterminds including nightmarish sub bass architect the Haxan Cloak, Mars Volta engineer Lars Stalfors, and longtime Kanye West engineer Andrew Dawson. And if you triangulate those coordinates—experimental electronic, pop-prog, and hip-hop—that’s more or less where HEALTH end up with the new record. (There are times where it doesn’t not sound a little like Linkin Park.) 

    But since these guys are not obsessive recluses or famous enough to just sit on their asses, as they get ready to release their first since 2009, I can’t help but wonder: What the hell does a band like HEALTH do all day if they’re not making an album?

    As we sit at hallowed Silver Lake beer garden/piano bar The Red Lion for lunch, the band’s personalities emerge when answering this particular question. Multi-instrumentalist Jupiter Keyes remains quiet and nurses a beer, as he does throughout our time together. The striking and gaunt Famiglietti, who seems viscerally repulsed by his boiled ham shank, quotes a Diddy parody from “Chappelle’s Show”: “A typical day, I wake up around noon, watch Scarface about five times, and have sex all day!" As he picks from a plate of sausage and two kinds of cabbage, Duzsik is the spokesperson and the voice of reason. “I wish it was like I went crazy and they had to put me in electroshock therapy,” he says, “but the reality is that we made the record like four times.” He paraphrases Trent Reznor’s description of making Nine Inch Nails’ labored, overblown double-LP The Fragile, saying, “There was an incredible amount of energy expended in an incredibly inefficient way.”

    HEALTH: "High Pressure Dave" (via SoundCloud)

    HEALTH will admit that outside help certainly influenced the direction of the record, whether it was a result of their studio partners or their new label bosses at Loma Vista, home of St. Vincent, Spoon, and Little Dragon. The quartet had been a self-operated entity since their self-titled debut in 2007, and the process subjected them to the scrutiny and feedback they lacked when making records themselves. They also attribute their refreshed outlook on developing relationships with newer artists like Gold Panda and recent L.A. transplants Purity Ring. As Famiglietti puts it, “When you're a dirtbag and you stay in this lifestyle forever, you just make new younger friends.”

    "No matter what you're doing, you gotta win the lottery with anything in art: underground, mainstream, whatever."

    Pitchfork: Are there any particular trends that came and went since 2009 that truly drive home how long it’s been since Get Color?

    John Famiglietti: Witch house came and went.

    Jake Duzsik: We played with Iceage when they brought us over to Copenhagen for a DIY show in 2011, and now they have three albums—and we don't even have three albums.

    JF: When you take that long, you keep absorbing, and new shit is changing around you, and you're like, “Hey man, we gotta update.” You hear that about movies that take forever to be made or—this sounds really nerdy—the Duke Nukem Forever video game. The dude [George Broussard] lost his mind because he wanted to have the most next-level shooter. He was supposed to make it in '98 and it came out in 2011. Every year he would freak out and keep updating it because he had the hottest new mechanics. And then it came out and it was fuckin' terrible. That was always in the back of my mind, like, “Oh no, there's this new genre out! We need to have the hottest shit!” Obviously we're always responding to new trends, but we have our own sound aesthetic, so we're not so much like, "Can't wait until this moombahton jam is the hot genre of the second.”

    HEALTH: "Die Slow" (via SoundCloud)

    Pitchfork: Considering the more melodic direction of this record, are you hoping to reach a bigger audience than before?

    Jupiter Keyes: Who wouldn't want that? We're making music because we love making music, but you want people to like it.

    JD: We all started making music because it was the most important thing to us. You know what it feels like to hear a song and have an emotional response and want to listen to that song all day? Somehow communicating that to someone else is the greatest hope. It’s not from a cynical standpoint of making more money, but it's like, that happens.

    Pitchfork: Who are your role models for melodic songwriting?

    JF: We saw Depeche Mode because Crystal Castles were opening for them, and that was a rediscovery—they’re touchstones of combining melodic and electronic [elements] in rock song contexts.

    JD: Not to say we’re going to try to write songs that sound like them, but the connection is [like] with industrial and Nine Inch Nails; you had really fucking crazy bands like Throbbing Gristle and Skinny Puppy, and then [Nine Inch Nails] introduced melody to it. 

    JF: Also, a lot of regular-ass pop music. I love all the Rihanna hits. We love [Katy Perry’s] "Teenage Dream".

    JK: I love the technology of music, these think tanks of people, these formulaic things going on. There’s this arms race of how pop music is written these days, and it's really interesting to get deep with that kind of stuff. You can't help the fact that these people are all working together to make really gratifying shit.

    JD: You can be cynical about it, but you still have to hit upon that good idea.

    JF: No matter what you're doing, you gotta win the lottery with anything in art: underground, mainstream, whatever.

    JK: But with engineered pop music, it's not the lottery. It's like professional poker gambling. They know exactly what they need to do to create the situation where they are most likely to create a hit, and they're doing really good with it. If you have the money, you can hire all the right people and you just make hit after hit after hit for a time period.

    JF: It's more like a Magic deck because you can buy the cards and put them in your deck and increase your odds with money, but you still have to build that deck and exploit that part of the system to win.

    JD: Or maybe it's like a drug cartel where you gotta figure all these different ways to smuggle shit through the border, and some people's lives might get destroyed, but that one truck gets through and it's like, "That's all we needed. Fuck those other guys."


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    Show No Mercy: Feeling of Horror: The Dark Aura of Sweden’s Tribulation

    Tribulation: "The Motherhood of God"

    Tribulation’s second album, The Formulas of Death, made it to #16 on my Top 40 Metal Albums of 2013 list—in hindsight, it should have placed higher. The 76-minute collection infused progressive rock, clean guitars, and black metal into the group’s trashing Swedish death metal, and featured piano interludes and flanged Eastern elements. At the time, I called its mix of Mercyful Fate and Morbid Angel “‘death metal’ for stadiums,” but it was honestly too expansive and weird for that—but the same description works perfectly for the group’s taut, brilliant third album, The Children of the Night.

    The new album focuses on a vintage heavy rock feel—at this point they really do feel like King Diamond’s minions with a gnarlier vocalist. You might also think of a version of their recently departed fellow countrymen In Solitude, but Tribulation still know how to stretch their wings and nod to experimental moments on Formulas of Death without losing steam. By and large, they’ve reigned things in, delivering a tighter collection with fewer excursions and more hooks. It’s a record that should please the old fans and find more ears. It’s also one of my favorite albums of the year so far, in any genre.

    In a way, they bring what their more hyped pals Ghost B.C. promised last year, but didn’t quite deliver. I spoke with guitarist Adam Zaars about the allure of Kiss, maintaining a mood, and, yes, those other Swedes.

    Pitchfork: People debate about whether or not Tribulation is still a death metal band. Is that tag important to you? Do you guys still think of yourselves in those terms?

    Adam Zaars: It's not important to us, and I would say that we’re not playing death metal anymore. It's obviously something else; we were on tour with Cannibal Corpse, and they play death metal, and we play something very far from what they are doing. People are now calling us "black metal," or even "doom," or "thrash"—we're apparently playing a lot of different types of music. [laughs] It's got a lot to do with the kind of music we grew up with. I've listened to Kiss and Judas Priest more than any extreme metal band.

    Tribulation: "In the Dreams of the Dead"

    Pitchfork: Are you returning to the metal of your youth with this album?

    AZ: Not really. A lot of people I grew up with started listening to heavy metal or rock‘n'roll or whatever, and then they discovered Slayer, and then Morbid Angel, and then they stopped listening to the heavy metal bands. But we never stopped. We just added the extreme metal bands. So it's not going back to our youth, it's just embracing what we like the most.

    Pitchfork: The one thing that connects your three records is this overall sense of darkness, and it seems like maintaining that atmosphere is more important to you than necessarily sticking to a specific approach within the genre of heavy metal.

    AZ: Yeah, it is. We started out writing lyrics and music that were inspired by the aura of horror movies, and that remains. The lyrics aren't about horror anymore, but that's still what I hear in the music. And even though my music might step into the light for a second nowadays, I think it's darker than it's ever been, and I don't see that going away. That's more important to us than sticking to a certain drumbeat or whatever.

    Pitchfork: Around this time last year, there was a big push in the U.S. for the Swedish band Ghost B.C., though I don’t think they made as big a splash as their label and management hoped. I think what you guys are doing now is what most people wanted from them, but you have the songs. Have you thought about Ghost at all as you approach the release of this album?

    AZ: We've thought about it, of course. We know them. It's difficult not to think about. We're doing similar things in different forms. What we have in common is our appreciation for the theatrical part of music. That's always been important to us, even from the very beginning. In the earlier days, we were happier when someone said, "great show!" than "great gig!" because we thought that we were doing a show. Every aspect of the band is important to us—when we're playing live, we want to give the audience something more than just music.

    When I was doing interviews for our second album, I sort of got sick of everything shallow. I thought, “The next album will be completely black or white and blank. No cover, no nothing, just the music.” I wanted to give the listeners a blank canvas, so they could really make up their own minds about what the music sounded like, and what the music looked like to them. But I eventually got back to the idea that being a band is more than the music. I really hope we can make the show bigger—of course, you have to get bigger to do that, because it's all about money, in the end, unfortunately. 

    Pitchfork: In the early days of Norwegian black metal, part of what made it work was that not many people saw these bands in person. They only saw the photos, and that was their image of the group—this guy in a shadowy cave. Today, it's more challenging to maintain that atmosphere because there are cell phones snapping photos at every show.

    AZ: Exactly. People are gonna see it on YouTube the day after—it is more difficult. I still think the mystery concerning rock bands is appealing. We aren't trying to be mysterious—we're not Ghost, we're not hiding behind our band persona—but people do question us about that quite a lot, like, "Why don't you answer comments on Facebook?" It's got a lot to do with, again, our background. It's not like we have a meeting about not commenting on Facebook. It's just like, "Why would we do that?" It's a natural thing.

    Mystique is a good thing—you can play along or not, but I think you miss out if you're not playing along. That's one of the beautiful things about Ghost. Their music is great, but the image has done a lot for them. I still see that as an important thing, and maybe it's because we grew up listening to big theatrical bands like Kiss, Alice Cooper, and Iron Maiden. At the same time, if you look at a band like Cannibal Corpse, they obviously manage without it. That was one of the cool things I thought about the tour we did with Behemoth—we had two opposites, the very, very scaled down Cannibal Corpse, and then the big show with Behemoth. And they both worked.


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    Rising: Adrenaline Addict: Inside Soko’s Manic Pop Dreamworld

    Soko: "Who Wears the Pants?" (via SoundCloud)

    "I used to be terrified of talking to people," admits the Bordeaux-born, L.A.-based singer Soko. It’s a problem she’s clearly overcome—the admission comes 30 minutes deep into a free-flowing conversation in which I’ve managed to ask maybe three questions. But the way Soko speaks is a reflection of how she’s lived her globe-trotting life and pursued her various crafts: breathlessly and relentlessly, never staying in one place for very long, and so pent up with emotion that she seems on the verge of either breaking into tears or exploding with joy at any given moment—even when she’s supposed to be enjoying some downtime.

    "When I have a day off, I can’t stand it—I go insane, I get sick right away, I get depressed, I want to kill myself, I have nothing to fight for today!" the 28-year-old starts. "I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs, so I drink pots of coffee before I go onstage and I’m so wired and I get into a trance for an hour and a half, and I’m sweating and shaking and I feel like Ian Curtis, like my life is on the line each time I play a show. You get addicted to the adrenaline because it’s so full-on, and then you get off tour and you’re in withdrawal, like a drug addict. I just have too much energy!"

    Fortunately, she’s found lots of creative outlets through which she can expend it. A César Award–nominated actor in her native France, as well as a DIY filmmaker and seasoned musician, Soko is the sort of artist you’ve likely seen or heard without necessarily realizing it. Perhaps you remember her cheekily twee 2006 MySpace trifle "I’ll Kill Her", a minor hit in Europe that she’d rather you forget. That’s her singing on "Something Makes You Feel Like", the winsome 2010 single from UK art-rock vets Cornershop. There she is making out with another woman in last year’s ubiquitous "First Kiss" viral video, as her song "We Might Be Dead by Tomorrow" plays in the background. She was the voice of Isabella, the sex surrogate for Joaquin Phoenix’s sad-sack OS fetishist in Spike Jonze’s Her. She sang backup for Daniel Johnston on a live cover of the Beatles’ "Revolution" once. And she’s all over Pom Pom, the 2014 solo release from Ariel Pink, with whom a failed attempt at dating many years ago has yielded a fruitful (if occasionally fraught) Gainsbourg/Birkin-like mutual-muse dynamic; let’s just say Soko’s outrageous, bugged-out performance as Pink in the video for their recent collaborative single "Lovetrap" isn’t entirely rooted in good-natured play-acting.

    "Lovetrap" is one of a pair of Pink cameos featured on Soko’s recently released My Dreams Dictate My Reality. (The other, the brooding goth ballad "Monster Love", first surfaced in a Soko-directed short film two years ago.) It’s her second full-length album, however, in light of the unflinchingly intimate, demo-like rawness of 2012’s I Thought I Was an Alien, the new record—brimming with nervy, post-punk verve, defiant swagger, and the blackest of humor—feels like her proper coming-out party. Recorded with L.A. nu metal architect Ross Robinson, the album keys in on both the wiry and widescreen extremes of his most atypical past clients, the Cure, while asserting Soko as spiritual kin to brash, force-of-nature femmes from the B-52’s to Elastica to Savages. But if the sound of the album feels instantly familiar, its sensibility—touching on everything from the sudden death of her father when she was a kid, to power dynamics in same-sex relationships, to manic depression—is unmistakably her own. As Soko explains, the album’s '80s alt-rock aesthetic isn’t rooted in a nostalgia for her childhood—it’s the sound of her forcefully reclaiming a past that she was denied.

    Pitchfork: Your last record had a very fragile quality, whereas this one is full of attitude and intensity. How do you account for that change?

    Soko: Do you know about [astrological phenomenon] Saturn’s Return? I had a huge version of that happening to me when I was around 27, because I grew up way too soon and had an adult life with way too much responsibility way too early on. Losing my dad at 5 years old confiscated my childhood and put the weight and guilt of mortality on me; I would have nightmares about death where people around me would die—so, when I was a kid, I thought I was responsible for killing them. Then I read about indigo children [who are believed to possess special abilities] and it made perfect sense that I was clairvoyant, or just so sensitive to the point that I could feel people being sick and dying around me. 

    I felt like such a grown up that, when I was 10, I was like, "I want to live by myself," and my mom was like, "yeah right," and then I did it at 16—I left the house and started working and acting and making my own money and being completely independent. I wanted to be an adult. But then around 27 I was like, "Fuck being an adult! I can’t be in the same place for more than two weeks, I’m completely terrified of commitment and responsibilities—all I want to do is be carefree and create and not worry about real-life problems!" I had a moment when I saw Inception—I was really depressed, but it made a lot of sense that if I can control my dreams, then I can also bring that strength back into reality instead of being the victim of what’s happening to me. 

    So my first album was from the perspective of being a victim of all my emotions, and this second album is like, "I want to take control!" This album helped me through transforming what was very painful and heavy in my life—having death throughout childhood, and mortality issues, and fear of abandonment—and shining a light on it, instead of hiding in a closet forever. 

    Pitchfork: Was Ariel Pink a part of that process of tapping into a more confident, carefree spirit?

    S: Not really. I had written everything and did all the production on the record before I even thought of having Ariel on it. But we’re friends and we’ve been in each other’s worlds for a while now. On his record [Mature Themes], there were three songs that he wrote for me, and on his new record, Pom Pom, I sang on five songs and wrote a lot of lyrics on "Negativ Ed".

    But "Monster Love" was already written and produced [before he added his vocals]. And then "Lovetrap" was like, "Oh, let’s write a song together!" I wrote him one called "The Little Mermaid Man", and he wrote me a song where the first line was "Kinski assassin blew a hole in my chest," so we wanted to collide both of those songs into one. I came up with the line "a mermaid man, not half a man, he dilapidates my soul," which was reflecting our relationship, that is doomed to never happen—we can never be romantic ever again! But then he was like, "OK, that’s my verse—it’s better than what I wrote." It was really weird because he was reversing the point of view, and then I had to sing his verse from his point of view. 

    Pitchfork: It sounds like you were having a custody battle over the lyrics.

    S: Yeah, but it was so much fun, because it’s so easy for us to write together. The hard part is getting him to commit to show up in the studio—he bailed on mixing my record. He had me waiting for him for three months, being like, "Nobody else can mix your record, don’t pick anyone else," and then the first day of mixing, he didn’t show up! Another letdown by Ariel. It’s awful, the number of people he lets down. Luckily, Kenny [Gilmore], who’s in his band and is awesome, saved my life by mixing the record with me.

    But with Ariel, it’s like 90% stress and being let down and him bailing, but then when you get the 10% of him showing up and actually making things together, it’s so magical that it’s worth all the battles.

    Pitchfork: Do you foresee your creative relationship continuing? 

    S: I don’t know. "Lovetrap" didn’t make it on his record, because we didn’t finish it on time, but we still wanted it to exist. And I wanted to direct a video for it so I wrote the whole treatment and paid for everything by myself, rented cameras and lights, secured locations, and had like seven people working for me that day in the crew. I had my hairdresser make mine and Ariel’s hair the same color so we’d look more twin-like in the video and everything.

    But then on the day of the shoot, after an hour, he had a complete druggy freakout on me and was like, "I can’t do it! I can’t do it! I don’t want to be in this music video! I hate music videos! I’m not an actor!" And he bailed on me! That freakout cost me $5,000 of my own money—and I’m fucking poor! I was so bummed! He was like, "Pick somebody else to play my part!" And I was like, “OK, fine—I’m going to play you and I’m going to show you how awful you’ve been to me!" So when I did the video for "Lovetrap", I put a wig on and played Ariel. Since that, he probably hates me. But at some point, he’s probably going to realize how shitty he’s been to me.

    It’s fine because what we’ve made is so awesome that it doesn’t matter how many times he’s bailed on me. Artistically, we really do create magic together. Whenever he wants to be friends and create things, I’m always here to do it, because I love him. But it’s really hard.


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    Interviews: Boss Status: Speedy Ortiz Make Power Moves

    Speedy Ortiz: "Raising The Skate" (via SoundCloud)

    Sadie Dupuis is sipping tea in the corner of a Greenwich Village hotel café, clad in a thrifted XL men's jersey with a picture of Rihanna stitched to the front, telling me about the lyricist who has moved her most in the past year: Nicki Minaj. For a songwriter from a grassroots scene whose breakthrough record, 2013's Major Arcana, was compared mostly to 1990s alt-rock giants like Liz Phair, Pavement, and Helium, Dupuis’ primary obsession with contemporary rap may seem slightly surprising. It shouldn’t be; several of the hallmarks of hip-hop—wordplay and wit and unflinching linear movement—have always been paramount in the Speedy Ortiz discography. And though the 26-year-old poetry MFA holder grew up enamored of the songwriting of Elliott Smith and Fiona Apple, her psychic compass can’t help but pull towards the resilient, outspoken, and autonomous attitude of rap at this point.

    The influence of popular culture on the Massachusetts band's new album, Foil Deer, is audible less than a minute into the record's kiss-off first single, "Raising the Skate", which directly references Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's somewhat polarizing Ban Bossy campaign, an initiative to promote female leadership and abolish the stigma of that B-word. "I'm not bossy/ I'm the boss," Dupuis hollers (you can hear Beyoncé utter those words verbatim in one of Ban Bossy’s video PSAs). The mantra helped Dupuis after a taxing period of disrespect from two seemingly shitty men who were plaguing her band and life—Speedy Ortiz's now-former guitarist, and an ex-boyfriend—both of whom she cut out of the picture. Despite Speedy’s toying with mainstream motifs and a growing spotlight—they’ve recently toured with heroes like Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, the Breeders, and Mary Timony’s Ex Hex—the band’s music has never been so adventurous in its sound and radical in its ethic.

    Dupuis wrote Foil Deer during a month-long retreat last summer at her mother's home in the woods of Connecticut, driving around with her guitar in the back of her car, pulling over to write when inspiration struck. For the first time, Dupuis experienced the life of a full-time musician, though she is the rare artist to defend a more traditional path: "It's nice to have a day job,” she says. “Working feels good." Dupuis calls FoilDeer a more textured and calculated record than its volcanic predecessor, the writing more measured and less reactionary. Owing to her taste for complexity and DIY instinct—which has been audible from the first Speedy release in 2011, a crackly solo noise-pop tape—Dupuis spent four sleepless days building a terrarium for the album’s cover art, Krazy-Gluing her hands many times.

    While writing, Dupuis often went swimming at Puffer's Pond in Amherst, and on the drives over, her "summer pump-up" soundtrack was the discography of R&B rebel Kelis (who sang of bossiness onher own 2006 single, one of Dupuis’ favorites). She would swim to the tempo of Kelis' songs, humming melodic ideas in her head, and ultimately wrote a song, "Puffer", in which she was directly trying to emulate her. "When I played the demo for my bandmates, they sort of made fun of me," she says. "It had this high West Coast whistle part, and they were like, 'OK, Dr. Dre, we'll play your song.'" Dupuis says R&B has always been on Speedy’s collective mind, though she admits the song “came out a little more like krautrock” than Kelis.

    Wordy as ever, Dupuis' poetic temperament still makes the band's densely-packed and often explicitly feminist lyrics worth reading close, putting her in a school of new lyricists that also includes Courtney Barnett, Parquet Courts’ Andrew Savage, and Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield, among others. Her words are abstract on the surface, but full of purpose. "Puffer", for example, is about assessing one's own privilege, she says, "specifically with regard to societally-imposed expectations of female presentation and working against rape culture—a rallying cry against this harmful stuff that people should always be working against." A chapbook accompanies Foil Deer with illustrations and lyrics, and though Dupuis wanted to handwrite the words, she found that there were too many and it would be impossible. She made the drawings, though, influenced by historical images of women in mythology, symbols of female power that often implicated the significance of menstrual blood—women worshipping it, men's fear of it.

    Strength is the sound of Foil Deer—asserting oneself, taking power, having agency as a woman—and immediately following the completion of the record, Dupuis was forced to put that strength into practice in her real life, when she learned that her father, Bill Kornreich, had cancer; when we met one snowy March afternoon, she was in Manhattan for his funeral. Kornreich had an inspired career in music himself, as Dupuis wrote in a tribute, from working at punk-era NYC imprint ZE, to running sound at famed venue Max's Kansas City, to helping found the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Dupius said his favorite Speedy song was a lucid extended metaphor from Foil Deer called “The Graduates”, an impressionistic ode to the underdogs, a classic tale of us against them, a disarming anthem for those who are able to will second place into its own triumph.

    Pitchfork: “Raising the Skate” directly references the Ban Bossy campaign. Have you been called “bossy” often in your life?

    Sadie Dupius: It's been an issue, even within our band for a little bit; I sometimes wind up complacent in things I don't necessarily agree with because I don't want to be accused of being overbearing. At some point I realized that all of these criticisms and stresses that were making me internally self-flagellate really didn't have a whole lot to do with my behavior. It seemed more related to my gender. So that was a frustration for a while, and we shifted things around in the band, and now it’s not an issue anymore.

    That song was written about treating yourself better, and by extension not letting others treat you poorly. I saw the Ban Bossy videos and thought, "Why is this a thing women put up with?" Talking to other women in bands, it seems like it’s not an isolated situation. It’s epidemic misogyny. We all hear the same shit, and I wanted to broach that in the song. The impetus was whatever strife we had with the band, but I wanted to talk about a larger trend: not putting up with bigoted bullshit. All the time you get people telling you that they know better than you, or taking credit for things that really aren't theirs, or trying to diminish your voice. I'll see it walking into a venue, when someone who works there will defer to my male bandmates. These things chip away at your personhood. It's nice when you feel like you can fight back a bit. Before, I was a little more trusting or forgiving. But when you're on the road so often, people want different things of you than you want for yourself. You have to be protective and conscious of how people are treating you.

    Pitchfork: Touring can make certain types of people lose perspective.

    SD: We opened for Guided by Voices last year and got to see their actual dynamic—fighting on stage and off, getting wasted. That's how they cope with stress, which has never been a way I can function. Generally, I'm hesitant to even talk about how I'm feeling, which is why I write songs. I've never liked to fight. I like to write a song and then put it away and compartmentalize.

    Pitchfork: When you say that you're the boss on that song, are you asserting that you're the boss of Speedy Ortiz, or just in general?

    SD: It’s a nice way to pump yourself up. I don't think I'm especially bossy, but maybe if I tell myself I am, I'll expect more and better things from the people around me. Sometimes we're unnecessarily democratic in Speedy Ortiz with how we make decisions—email chains with all of us going back and forth 16 times. It can be tedious, but it's nice to build a band where everyone's weighing in equally. At the end of the day, I'm the person writing the songs. To some extent, I end up with a final say in the decisions we make.

    "So many words that are used to degrade women—like ‘cunt’—have derivations that come from, like, honoring a high priestess. They are words of power that have been mutated into insults."

    Pitchfork: Ann Friedman's criticism of the Ban Bossy campaign stood out to me; she wrote about how rather than rejecting these words, we should own them, like Kathleen Hanna writing "SLUT" on her stomach.

    SD: It seems like if a man is domineering in that way, then he's cool and working hard. He's a boss. It shouldn't be a problem to own your bossy traits when your career depends on them. I wanna be a boss, too. I read Cunt by Inga Muscio not too long ago. It's pretty funny and informative and encompasses a lot—sexuality and self-defense and sex work and taking back control of your body—and it talks about the etymological histories of these different words that are used to degrade women. So many of them—“cunt,” for instance—have derivations that come from, like, honoring a high priestess. These were words of power that have been turned around and mutated into insults. So I don't see anything wrong with reappropriating those words and applying them to honor ourselves, and not slinging them as an insult. That kind of action can be great and empowering.

    Pitchfork: When I think of the idea of owning your position as a boss, it immediately makes me think of Nicki Minaj.

    SD: Nicki Minaj is my favorite songwriter right now. I listen to a lot of women in rap, and they are bringing it way harder than the dudes right now—it's the most exciting thing. I really like Mykki Blanco and Dutch ReBelle, and I'm obsessed with Lizzo. But I listen to Nicki Minaj more than anything, especially in recent months when I’ve been feeling pretty low. When The Pinkprint came out, I listened to it over and over and tried to memorize all of the words. I haven’t done that since I was a kid. She’s just so smart. She's talking about real pain. I loved how many women she collaborated with on the record. The use of Beyoncé on “Feeling Myself” is really fucking cool.

    Pitchfork: What was your headspace like while writing this album? 

    SD: It was a huge self-improvement kick. Like, "I'm not gonna take bullshit anymore! I'm gonna get really strong and I'm gonna carry everybody's amps!" I was trying to protect myself, to be a good person, a good friend, and get into physical shape because I do think that headspace can be influenced by bodily health. It bums me out that our first record was this sad breakup record. A lot of the songs are like, "Oh, you jerk, you put me in this horrible situation."

    For this record, I didn't want to give anybody who was bad to me the pleasure of being the subject of a song that other people care about. A little over a year ago, I went through a breakup with an awful person who was emotionally abusive, just the worst to me in every way. I thought, "I'm not going to write any songs about this person because they're a piece of crap who doesn't deserve my mental energy." These were all coming from a place of wanting to be good and stronger and write songs that might inspire other people to do the same for themselves.

    Pitchfork: So can you carry everyone's amps now?

    SD: I can carry my shit, but I'm sweating after. I want to get into boxing and martial arts. I wanna be a real badass.

    “I never thought I'd be able to be in a band as a platform to bring awareness to anything, but more and more, over the past year, that's seemed important to me.”

    Pitchfork: You've said that you tend to put more emphasis on musicianship and guitar playing because it seems like the less expected route for a female musician to take. Did similar thinking go into your desire to make this record more layered and complicated?

    SD: It's unfortunate that people seem to have lower expectations for female musicians. They're used to seeing a frontwoman who is a singer only. It's always been important to me to not just strum a guitar while I'm singing, but also to be playing something that's a bit of a challenge for myself. That makes it harder for me to relax while playing live—I have to focus really hard to play these parts that are often running counter to whatever I'm singing. I've always been interested in the ways melodies can intersect since I was young and singing in choirs, so that's just part of my writing style at this point.

    Pitchfork: Can you tell me about the sculpture that inspired the record's title and cover art?

    SD: I was walking through the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and taking a lot of notes. I saw the sculpture "Le Cerf" by Ossip Zadkine, and I wrote down "foil deer" and circled it. I liked the way it sounded as soon as I wrote it down.

    My mom’s house is in the middle of the woods, and bears and coyotes are in her backyard all the time, with deer just hanging out, eating flowers. It's a place I've spent a lot of time off-tour to reset myself. Talking to people all the time is sort of a necessary aspect of being a touring musician, and it can be straining. I'm more of a stay-at-home talking-to-no one kind of person. I'll develop these stupid tricks to convince myself that it's OK to talk to people—"If I put on this headband, I'm going to be socially graceful," or I'll wear a certain type of makeup to psych myself into wanting to be social. It turns out this job is a little different than being an adjunct at a college. So I identified with the image of this gilded, shiny deer, which is naturally sort of a skittish, reclusive animal.

    Pitchfork: Your lyrics can be interpreted, but many of them are abstract. How do you want them to function for people?

    SD: Everyone knows I'm into Pavement, but they’re a good example of a band whose lyrics probably each have some specific meaning, but the excitement is in the combinations of words and how they sound. There's not always a totally prescribed meaning. I've never been super drawn to the literal or anthemic. Ever since I was a little kid, I've been psyched if I could say something in a weird or unexpected way.

    It's almost like creating a little puzzle. For any particular line, I know the personal meaning, but it's more fun for me to present it as a cool sentence for someone to reflect about and unpack, rather than something that's totally obvious. My bandmates have joked that I should jump into rapping because there are a lot of words in my songs.

    Pitchfork: The song title "My Dead Girl" is extremely evocative. What's the story behind that one?

    SD: It was the Fourth of July, and I was waiting to meet my friend Cindy—earlier, we'd been swimming and writing songs all day—and we were going to this weird party at a sculpture garden in the middle of the woods in Connecticut. I was sitting in the back of my car, playing guitar and thinking about this all-American grrrl power Independence Day we'd had; I was writing a song about having agency as a woman, about not letting other people control you. While I was writing, these bros pulled up and were outside of my car knocking on the window. It was terrifying. I was like, "Oh my god, I'm actually going to get raped." It was in this fairly small town, and I was across from an abandoned field, and this group of bros were harassing me. I called [Speedy drummer] Mike [Falcone] and was like, "You have to come here now." He pulled up behind me and flashed his lights, and the dudes got back in their car and left. They were just jocky-looking college kids wasted on the Fourth of July. But I was thinking, "Why are they knocking on the door? What horror is going to happen to me here?" I wound up writing these lyrics while they were outside: "If these are my last words, guess you found me." That was literally what I thought might happen.

    So the song became about this trope that men fall in love with—of the damaged woman ready to be saved. The title is a jab at that cultural fantasy of the victimized woman.

    Pitchfork: A line that stuck out to me was on "Mister Difficult", where you sing, "Boys be sensitive/ And girls be, be aggressive."

    SD: That's the song I care about the most—I can't imagine there are too many songs where, while recording, someone said, "OK, the vocals should sound like Aaliyah, but this part should sound like Unwound." I was thinking about music—in rap and indie rock, there's been this emo resurgence, a return to sensitivity and lyrics that are almost deferential to women. And a lot of the most proud, self-confident and outspoken voices I've listened to lately have been from women. I was like, "Yeah, me too. I don't wanna be a sad sack. I wanna be tough. I wanna be direct and not hide behind myself."

    Pitchfork: On "Dot X", you sing, "Don't ever touch my blade, you fool/ You'll be cursed for a lifetime," like you're going to cast a spell, and the title Major Arcana sounds mystical too. Are you into the idea of magic?

    SD: I've always liked witchy stuff. At Primavera last year, Dylan [Baldi, of Cloud Nothings, her boyfriend] and I went to see Juana Molina, who I love, and Dylan said, "She's kind of a witch. I could see you becoming a witch one day." I was like, "That is the highest compliment."

    When I was a kid, my mom would say, "You come from a family of witches. We all have powers. If you put your mind to anything, you can make it happen!" I was kind of a dweeb, and she was basically telling me about positive thinking. I read too much Roald Dahl and Sailor Moon manga, and believed I could cast spells. My mom would even buy me spell books. I had a bit of OCD, too, and those things go hand-in-hand; counting things has an incantatory quality. You need to chant your desires for a set number of repetitions. Maybe that's why my songs always have specific arrangements that are tied with counting—it stems from some obsessive tendencies.

    Pitchfork: Do you have any fun stories from touring with the Jicks and the Breeders and Ex Hex? Do you feel like you learned anything?

    SD: All these people who've made really long careers out of writing songs—they don't party like crazy. That's one thing that was straining our band dynamic, discrepancies over how much the members of our band liked to drink. It's not sustainable to be wasted all the time, and why would you be? If you're touring with fucking Stephen Malkmus, you want to be coherent and listen. But every time I asked any questions, they were super nerdy. I asked Kim Deal about the Brainiac 7" she produced. I asked Steve about touring with U.S. Maple. I asked [Jicks bassist] Joanna Bolme about working with the Spinanes and Elliott Smith. I wanted to know about the histories of these small music scenes. I will say that Mike and I went bowling with the Jicks on his birthday, which was amazing, and they are all very good bowlers.

    Pitchfork: Who won?

    SD: I think Steve won. Joanna's also really good and was getting on me about my technique because I'm really klutzy. I wouldn't bend my knees. I would just go up to the line and let go of the ball and hope for the best.

    Pitchfork: On the last night of your tour with the Jicks, you sang the Pavement song “In the Mouth a Desert” on stage next to Stephen Malkmus. What was that like?

    SD: People always blow this out of proportion, but I played two shows with Babement, which was an all-female Pavement cover band. The whole time Speedy Ortiz was on tour with the Jicks, I was like, "I don't want Steve to know about Babement. I hope it doesn't come up." I'm such a huge Jicks fan, too—I didn't want them to think I was all about Pavement. I was like, "How about these Jicks deep cuts?" and came up with a list of like 30 Jicks songs that they were shocked and maybe even creeped out that I knew. 

    But on the last night, Steve was like, "So, uh, Babement reunion?" He knew about it all along. And he asked me to sing on "In the Mouth a Desert". It was very surreal. While it was happening it was cool, like, "This is a nice way to end the tour." And then the next day it was like, "Holy shit. We just played a Pavement song with Stephen Malkmus."

    Pitchfork: On the other side of the spectrum—you're now writing an advice column for She Shreds magazine. Do you feel inclined to help younger musicians?

    SD: Basically, I'm a huge Dan Savage fan and wish I could write "Savage Love", but I'm demisexual and totally unqualified to give sex advice. She Shreds is a magazine I love, and when they offered me the column it seemed like my best entry into the world of advice-giving. I don't feel a responsibility to help young people more than any other kind of person. As a teacher, I often learned as much from my students as I taught them.

    “A lot of bands believe that the paths you have to take toward success are paved with sponsorship money, but there are plenty of ways to work outside of those prescribed routes.”

    Pitchfork: Speedy Ortiz sold albums on Bandcamp last year and donated proceeds to the Ferguson Public Library. And you have songs that are explicitly feminist. Are there any other specific ways in which you feel Speedy Ortiz is an inherently politicized band?

    SD: We've all got different interests that are important to us, and certainly mine lean more towards the politicized. Philosophically, we're all on the same page. We're not really brand-minded—we are just ourselves all the time. We don't have an official Twitter account, what's the point? We'd just retweet ticket links. It's kind of goony.

    We're very careful about the companies and brands we align ourselves with. There's a reason you've never seen us play a Converse show. When we learned Urban Outfitters was carrying our record, we asked our distributor to pull their stock. A lot of bands believe there are certain paths you have to take towards success, and in the #branding era, a lot of those paths are paved with sponsorship money. But there are plenty of ways to work outside of those prescribed routes and we try to take those paths. Especially since we live in a country where lawmakers and law enforcers are constantly infringing upon the rights of women, of queer people, of people of color. All three of those marginalized groups are represented within our band, so it would seem disingenuous and frankly horrifying to work with companies that work against basic human rights, like Urban Outfitters, who like to support indie bands but have donated lots of money to evil, bigoted, anti-gay politicians. On some level I feel a responsibility to call these things out; maybe we have fans who don't want to support a company that is LGBT-unfriendly, or employs sweatshop labor, and are just unaware of the practices.

    I never thought I'd be able to be in a band as a platform to bring awareness to anything. But more and more, over the past year, that's seemed important to me. It's bizarre to have a job that's based around talking about yourself, and it's not a super comfortable thing for me to do. I'd rather bring the conversation to something that actually needs to be talked about. Not vignettes about how needlessly shitty dudes are to women, but rather songs about how to turn that around.

    Pitchfork: Is it important to you to continue playing all-ages shows?

    SD: It's important to us to do all-ages stuff, and shows that are cheap. At our shows we really like talking to young kids who are starting bands of their own, and are engaged and inquisitive. Often our favorite bands to play with are punk girls who are in their first band and have a feminist zine that rules; they wouldn't be able to get into club shows. There's a bit of a struggle in navigating that—making sure we can play spaces that are safe and accessible while also dealing with the reality of the band growing. We're still fighting the powers that be all the time, like, "We want to play house shows on this tour. This show is not accessible to as many people as we'd like it to be. I don't want anything to be more than $10!" We've got that mentality still, and hopefully always.


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