music

Back (sort of)

I’ll be returning to posting more regularly in the next little while. But in the meantime, here’s updates on two earlier posts. (more…)

Atlas Shrugged: On Musicians, Content, and Technology

A very thoughtful post from Canadian musician Moe Berg on the huge imbalance of power between musicians and online music distribution services, and how that balance might be made more equitable.

 

Before we start, Objectivists will find this blog irrelevant.
At this years Canadian Music Week, I attended a panel that featured a speech by my friend Graham Henderson, a well respected member of the music community. He started out as a entertainment attorney, spent some time at Universal Music and has been the head of…

via Atlas Shrugged — Moe Berg

20 Years of ‘Heavy’: An Interview with Eric Matthews

In 1995, there was an “adult alternative” radio station in Bellingham, Washington – just south of the Canadian border – that played pretty much everything and anything. One day when I was listening to this station on my car radio, I heard a song called ‘Fanfare’. The song was so distinctive and powerful that I knew I had to get the record – but I missed the name of the artist.

I went to the largest record store in downtown Vancouver and asked one of the staff, “Do you know a song called ‘Fanfare’?” His face absolutely lit up, and he said, “Do we ever. We love that song!” And he handed me a copy of It’s Heavy In Here by someone named Eric Matthews. The album was on Seattle’s Sub Pop label, but the cover photo showed a neatly groomed and stylishly dressed young man – the complete opposite of the beard-and-dirty-flannel grunge that Sub Pop was famous for. It was then that I knew I had found something very different and very special.

After writing about music for nearly 30 years, I can’t really clearly articulate why I love It’s Heavy in Here and ‘Fanfare’ so much. It’s Heavy in Here is an unconventional album in many ways, with its non-linear lyrics and ornate instrumentation. But instead of coming off as self-indulgent, it’s a grandly confident and fully realized individual vision. ‘Fanfare’ is both intimate and epic at the same time, and its emotional vulnerability and honesty are profoundly moving.

Matthews released one other album on Sub Pop, and then seemed to pop up every few years with a new project, in addition to guesting with other artists such as the Dandy Warhols – that’s him playing the trumpet on ‘Godless’ – and Pugwash. A couple of months ago, on a whim, I searched Matthews’ name on Google to see what he was up to. Much to my delight, I found that It’s Heavy in Here was being re-released for its 20th anniversary, and that Matthews had joined a band named SheLoom that was just releasing a new record. And not only did Matthews have a Facebook account, but he also responded to messages through that account. I was thrilled when he agreed to be interviewed about the process of creating the It’s Heavy in Here re-release. (more…)

“Follow Your Heart”: An Interview with Jim Pons

The start of a new year, along with all the “New Year, New You” encouragement, usually leads people into thinking about making changes. One kind of change that’s often considered is a new job or a new occupation – but that can be a pretty scary leap into the unknown, especially when there’s cutbacks and downsizing going on at many formerly prosperous companies.

I thought that it would be interesting to interview someone who made that big leap and had it work out for them. After some asking around, my friend John Cody offered to connect me to Jim Pons, who is a wonderful example of this kind of career transition. Jim is a bass player and vocalist, and was part of three major bands in the 1960s and early 1970s – the Leaves, the Turtles,  and the Mothers of Invention. But he quit the music industry in 1973, and embarked on a career in video production with the National Football League, first with the New York Jets team and then with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jim has recently written his autobiography, and generously agreed to be interviewed via email about his experiences in changing careers. (more…)

I Say It’s Love

I first noticed the country duo Sugarland not from hearing their music, but from reading about them. Whenever I came across interviews with Jennifer Nettles or Kristian Bush, I was really impressed with how they spoke about music. When they described whatever they were currently listening to, they had very intriguing choices, especially for performers in a genre that has a reputation of being restrictive and conservative. And I could tell that they weren’t just namedropping trendy acts to build their own credibility – they were talking about music that truly inspired or challenged them.

A few years ago I was on a very long airplane trip, and Sugarland’s album Live on the Inside was one of the choices on the inflight entertainment. I remember looking at the track listing and thinking to myself: (more…)

Songwriters on Success

As much as I love music, the process of songwriting has always been a complete and utter mystery to me. I understand how to put words together, I understand how melodies and chords work, but combining all of those into something listenable is a skill I just don’t have. And I think that’s why I’m so interested in interviews with songwriters talking about their work.

I recently finished reading Jake Brown’s book Nashville Songwriter: The Inside Stories Behind Country Music’s Greatest Hits. I have to admit that I mostly stopped listening to country music around 2005 or so. I just got tired of artists that were pushed because of their looks rather than the quality of their music. And I was fed up with too many formulaic songs about trucks, beer and girls (or guys), and “country” songs that were substandard pop songs dressed up with a fiddle or lap steel guitar. So my choices for “country music’s greatest hits” would probably be quite different from Brown’s; here’s one that would definitely be on my list.

Because I don’t pay a lot of attention to country music any more, I don’t know all of the songs and artists that are mentioned in Brown’s interviews with 20 different songwriters. But nevertheless, the book was a fascinating read – and I found it particularly interesting that (more…)

Business and Creativity: Cautionary Tales

When I worked as a music writer, one of the most fascinating things about the job was getting to see the business side of the music industry. While I met many people who genuinely believed in their company’s artists and did all they could to support them, I also regularly saw musicians and creative people get exploited. Even as a lifelong music fan, the scope and extent of this exploitation was a shock to me. Many artists’ contracts were astoundingly one-sided – and not in the artist’s favour –  and it was very easy for artists to quickly get into financial trouble, even if they were successful and smart.

Those experiences left a lasting impression on me. During the contract negotiations for the first edition of my textbook, I asked questions that my publisher’s representative later told me he had never had an author ask before. I had to explain to him that after seeing things like all the “recoupable expenses” that record companies routinely deducted from artists’ earnings, I wanted to be absolutely sure of what kind of contract I was getting into. And I also wanted to have at least some chance to make money from my work.

I don’t hold any illusions that things have gotten any better for artists in the years since I wrote about music. Taylor Swift recently got a lot of attention for boycotting Apple’s new music streaming service when she found out it wasn’t going to pay artists during its first three months of operation. Good for her for speaking up  – but there’s many, many other creative people who get ripped off and who don’t have the public profile or commercial power to demand fair treatment. Here’s two examples I recently encountered. (more…)

Musical Gifts and Kindred Spirits

In the movie Almost Famous, one of the characters gives this advice about life on the road: “If you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” To me, that quote encapsulates two of the great things about being a music fan – that music itself is your friend, and that music can connect you to fascinating people all over the world. Serious music fans can be quirky and prickly, but if they recognize a kindred spirit, they can share some incredible discoveries.

I’m currently reading Respect, David Ritz’s new biography of Aretha Franklin. The book is remarkable not only for its blunt portrayal of Franklin’s life, but also for its thorough depiction of the many musical styles that influenced Franklin’s work. And what made me think about the wonderful community among music fans is the book’s description of Franklin’s early career. There are two references in there that would mean nothing to me without (more…)

Bigger than We Ever Dreamed: Some Covers of “Royals”

I first heard Lorde‘s song “Royals” the same way I hear a lot of music for the first time – at the skating rink, on a CD made by one of the younger skaters. I remember being struck by the unusual lead vocal, and by how the song was so stark and sparse – with only drumbeats and snapping fingers as instrumentation – but also so rich, with the chiming backing vocals.  However, as with many CDs at the rink, that particular CD had no label, so I couldn’t find out who did the song. I tried to describe it to one of my friends, and she said, “Oh! That’s Lorde! Her record is phenomenal, you really have to get it.” So I bought Pure Heroine, and my friend was right – it is phenomenal. And “Royals” has since won Song of the Year at the Grammy Awards, and has charted all over the world.

One of the signs of a great song is (more…)

Seeing Kate Bush

On the morning of March 21, I looked at my email and saw a message from katebush.com with the title “Pre-Sale Code”. That’s weird, I thought, an obsessed fangirl like myself would know if Kate Bush had a new record coming out, and I haven’t heard anything. What could possibly be going on sale? So I opened the message – and I screamed.

Kate Bush was going to play live.

To understand why this was such momentous news, you need to know that (more…)