Sep 182008

In their respective solo careers, Stiff Records original Wreckless Eric and singer-songwriter Amy Rigby have mined similar, down-to-earth, ’60s-influenced pop material that’s both open hearted and appropriately self deprecating. A few years ago they met, jammed together, and fell in love. Today they’re married, living in France, on tour together (click here for tour dates), and set for the September 15 release of a joint album, Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby.

A few of us had the fortune of meeting Amy in 2002, as she not only contributed an awesome cover of Jane Aire & the Belvederes‘ “Yankee Wheels” to a Stiff Records tribute album we curated (The Stiff Generation), but introduced us to some other contributors and flew to Hoboken, NJ to play a few Stiff-related songs at the record’s release party. She was as cool and approachable as her music, and she had the foresight and good sense to wear a dress that matched the polyester shirt of our bassist, Townsman Chickenfrank. It’s only fitting that we, once more, turn back to Amy for yet another Stiff-related introduction. The following chat with Amy and Eric was conducted separately, with one of them in an isolation booth, wearing huge headphones and seen only on a video monitor. This is the first time their responses will appear in one place. Enjoy!

NOT Two Virgins…

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby, “Here Comes My Ship”

RTH: This Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby album and tour is some way to celebrate a marriage! You were married earlier this year, right? How long have you been together? Did the two of you actually meet, as I’ve read, during one of Amy’s concerts, as she covered “Whole Wide World”?

ERIC: We met in Hull, in a pub I used to play in when I was an art student back in the early ’70s. It was actually the first place that I ever played “Whole Wide World” in public. Amy sang it and the promoter shoved me on stage to help out. The song went round the world and did the work for me! I don’t think the album is a celebration of our marriage – it’s not Two Virgins or something…

AMY: I’d been playing “Whole Wide World” in my set when I felt I needed a little boost and a promoter in Hull that we’d both worked with had the idea to have Eric DJ for one of my shows. He came in covered in snow with a box of records under his arm and then he got up on stage with me during “Whole Wide World” and said I was playing it in the wrong key.

If you look at the photo collage inside my “anthology,” 18 Again, there’s a picture of it happening.

RTH: Your new album is on a revived Stiff Records! Are any of the founders of the label involved in its revival? Eric, did you have mixed feelings about going back to Stiff? Amy, you were a fan of the label and its artists in its heyday, right? Were you struck by any teenage fangirl feelings at this opportunity, any need to keep your emotions in check? (For instance, I’d have had to keep my self in check to make sure I didn’t agree to sign with Stiff for free.)

ERIC: I had no qualms about going back to Stiff – on the contrary it was my idea. None of the founders or the subsequent employees are involved, which is just as well.

Amy Rigby, “Yankee Wheels”

AMY: To be on the same label that gave us “Yankee Wheels”, Lene Lovich, Nick Lowe & Wreckless Eric? It beats being labelmates with Pokemon, which was the big priority album when I was on Koch.

RTH: On the new album, did you collaborate on the writing of the songs, or did you write separately? Were most of the songs written before or after you’d met?

AMY: All of the above.

ERIC: We wrote most of them separately I think. I started “Here Comes My Ship” and Amy finished it off. We wrote “Round” together – I came up with a guitar chord sequence and we got the lyrics together between us, so that was a true co-write. “Trotters” is a group composition that came out of a jam session – we were playing “God Only Knows” and we changed one of the chords. Apart from that I think we wrote separately, Amy upstairs, me downstairs. But we’d definitely met before we started.

RTH: Did you learn anything about each other during the writing process that you may not have learned had you not mixed business with pleasure? Were there ever times when you’d have to stop working on a lyric and ask your partner, “Why didn’t you tell me you were feeling that way?”

Sep 092008

Since founding Silver Jews with with college friends Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich, songwriter/poet/cartoonist David Berman has rolled stoned, gathered a little moss along with a rotating cast of indie-rock contributors, hit rock bottom, toured the Promised Land, saw the light, and built an accomplished body of earthy, intelligent work. Over the years, as the band’s recordings moved from lo-fi to a matte finish country rock, Berman’s deep, wry, downbeat delivery remained a constant. In 2006, after years of not touring and surviving the lowest point in his personal life, Berman took Silver Jews, including his wife Cassie on bass, on the road for the first time. The tour would take the band as far as Israel. June saw the release of Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City), the title of which refers in part to Berman’s restored eyesight following a cornea transplant. In the liner notes Berman supplies tablature so we can play along with the album and, if we’re not already hip to it, realize that the music is ours, not some complex mystery.

RTH: What are five songs that might ease the suffering of your local jukebox?

“Long Hot Summer” – The Style Council
“A Few Things Different” – Kenny Chesney (trust me on this one)
“Borrowed Angel” – Mel Street
“Rainy Day Woman” – Waylon Jennings
“Moments in Love” – Art of Noise

RTH: You’ve worked with a shifting cast of musicians. Do you have your next set of recording musicians in mind while writing? How much do you expect the musicians to execute your visions for a song vs how much you expect them to shape the song?

DAVID BERMAN: Some songs find me specifically coaching, but in those 5 to 10 days of practicing the songs in a circle, the band even criticizes itself or I’ll ask them what they think if x does y. There is some negotiation among the players and then there is the amount of figurative talk I’m feeding them about the song. I’ll try to explain the setting and mood with comparisons or correlations in the leadup to the first practices or as we go along. Until the basic tracks are down nothing is finalized, and so I never have to be stuck with a player’s part I don’t like. Not to mention they are all very smart and fluid, and one way or another “get me”, so a lot of this just happens silently and invisibly.

RTH: You include the chord progressions for the songs on your new album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea. What secrets will be unlocked when I start playing along with the album?
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Sep 042008

East Coast fans of The Flamin’ Groovies take note: Magic Christian, a band featuring the Groovies’ Cyril Jordan along with Blondie drummer extraordinaire Clem Burke and Plimsouls’ lead guitarist (on bass!) Eddie Munoz, may be coming to a small club your way (click here for tour dates). The secret weapon in this super-duper rock-action combo is stealth vocalist Paul Kopf. Outside the San Francisco area, where Paul has long been a dedicated scene-maker, readers may be going, Huh? But this guy’s the real deal, complete with a rocking voice, great hair, cool slacks, and percussion-shaking chops. Most importantly, the guy’s got balls, which is key to fronting the band’s energetic, riff-heavy, mid-’60s mix of tunes, which are just what you’d hope to hear from a band of this pedigree.

Paul recently answered some questions for Rock Town Hall before the band launches its East Coast tour on Friday, September 5, at Johnny Brenda’s (Girard and Frankford), with The Donuts, Beretta76, and Parallax Project. The Donuts feature Townsman cdm, who’s asking local Townspeople to come out early and catch his band’s set, at 9:00 pm. Judging by the enthusiasm of Paul in our chat and what I know about the spirited set of local openers, this should be a show worth catching from bottom to top of the bill.

Rock Town Hall, Paul Kopf. Paul Kopf, Rock Town Hall.

RTH: Can you tell our readers a little about your background, Paul? You’ve got a history organizing San Francisco music festivals and the like, right? Have you played in other bands, I’m sure. Are you from the Bay area?

Paul Kopf: Was in a couple of band’s growing up in SF, none of particular note, though one band, The Heebee Jeebeez, seem to have made some sort of impression on a few people. A few times on the road this year I’ve been approached by people who say they liked that band. Why? I can’t figure out… Left that band when one of the guys went nuts and wouldn’t show up for a showcase in LA for some labels, who we were interested in us, and decided, after a few SF scenesters recommended I do so, to get into putting on shows with bands that I like and who I felt didn’t have a forum anymore to play their music. Also this was in the late 1990s, when ALL festivals seemed to be geared to alternative music audiences. I felt like there were no festivals left, at least in the SF Bay Area, that appealed to Power Pop-, Beatles-, Stones-based music fans. So I did the Baypop Festival for a few years and got a chance to meet some of my musical idols, including my good buddy and partner in crime, Cyril Jordan. I was right in that Baypop was somewhat successful and had some AMAZING shows, but in the end I lost a lot of money and I really missed performing. But Magic Christian did come out of it as I met Alec Palao, MC’s original bass player, and I as said earlier, Cyril.

RTH: How did Magic Christian came about? Some of the original participants turned over, but their replacements are even cooler.

Paul Kopf: As I said band came out of Baypop Fest. What happened was, I hired Cyril and Alec to put together a band and back the original Beau Brummels for a Baypop show I did. After that Baypop was over I decided I missed singing and performing and wanted to do my own CD. So I hired Cyril to produce it, Got Alec and Prairie Prince, who’s good friend’s with my buddy, Roger, to play on it. We found out that recording together was such a blast and we sounded so good together that it just turned from my record to Magic Christian, which Cyril christened us. As time went by and after we played a few times live and we were getting a lot of offers to tour and play, Alec and Prairie couldn’t commit to the opportunities coming our way. You see Prairie plays with Todd Rundgren, The Starship, The New Cars, and of course The Tubes, among others, and Alec is always busy with putting out all those wonderful reissues he does for Rhino and Big Beat and such. So we had to make the hard decision of replacing them or else we could never play live and tour, which is what Cyril and I really dig doing. Frankly we like to ROCK OUT LIVE, and it’s a big part of why the two of us are musicians in the first place. So we had to get some new guys like us. Luckily I called up my good friend, Eddie Munoz of The Plimsouls, who we did a few gigs with in the past and asked him if he could recommend anybody to play bass for us, and he said “Yeah..Me!!!” which just blew our heads!! I mean Eddie’s a GREAT guitar player, man. The Plimsouls ROCK!! Cyril and I never thought of him being a bass guy!! But he did, as it turns, have an extensive background playing bass for Adam Ant and Dave Vanian‘s (The Damned) solo tours. So we got together and it worked. We then were lucky enough to have this old friend of Cyril’s offer us a gig to play his 50th birhday party. We told him we’d love to but no skins, man. He said he has this friend named Clem who might do it with us if he liked he tunes. We sent him a CD. He liked it. Him and Eddie were, as it turns out good friends, and in fact were in The Plimsouls together. It just fell right into place and we haven’t looked back.

May 012008

I first met Tom Kitts at a meeting of the Popular Culture Association. Tom and the late, great Mike Kraus used to host sessions where people presented papers on The Kinks, and I attended five of these sessions over the years, presenting and also listening to papers by Tom, Mike, and a rotating group of Kinks scholars. It’s more fun than it sounds like, and it’s always great to be around other music fanatics.

Tom has now published his magnum opus, a critical biography, Ray Davies: Not Like Everybody Else (Routledge, 2008). Tom is a professor of English at St. John’s University in New York City, and he took time out of his busy schedule for an interview about the book and more generally Ray Davies and the Kinks. If interested, click on this Amazon link to get your copy of the book. I’m sure any Kinks fan will find it a great read.

In general how has the feedback on the book been?

While formal reviews are just now starting to appear, the feedback has been very positive. Kinks fans seem to appreciate the focus on Davies’ work — even if they don’t always agree with me. I have done a series of readings and discussions and I have to say that I have been very pleasantly surprised by the positive response I have heard not only at the readings but also in emails from readers across the country and in Europe.

Any reaction from anyone connected with Ray or the Kinks?

I did hear from Grenville Collins and Peter Quaife, who both liked it very much. Both liked the emphasis on the art, which both were a part of and which both are very proud of. I spoke to Ray briefly after his recent show in New York and he seems pleased by the publication. We joked about how long it took for me to get it out. He has a copy, but he said that he hadn’t had a chance to read it yet.

Apr 042008

You may recall that, during the buzz that surrounded Rock Town Hall’s First Annual Rock and Roll Foyer of Fame Partial Lifetime Achievement Award ceremonies, we also touched on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum‘s annual induction ceremony. At the time, we had hoped to hear back from an old friend, Howard Kramer, who’s been a curator there almost since the Hall’s inception. Howard’s a busy man but a man of his word. I knew Howard through his years working with the Dead Milkmen. He was always a hard-working, friendly, straight-up guy, and the years that have passed since we last met face to face have not seemed to change him. We hope you enjoy this behind-the-scenes look at a rock job probably any one of us would love to try on for size! When Howard asks if our definition of cool is as geeky as his, you too may think to yourself, Damn straight! Without further ado…Howard Kramer!

RTH: You’re the main curator of the Hall of Fame, right? What’s your exact title? How did you land there? Have you been there since the beginning?

HK: I’m not the “main” curator. My boss, Jim Henke, is the Chief Curator. My title is Curatorial Director. I’ve been here since December of 1996, about 15 months after the museum opened.

RTH: Do you want to share a bit of your background in rock prior to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

HK: In general, my background was working with musicians. I’ve been an artists manager, a booking agent, and a tour manager. I also was a radio DJ at various points. I’m very proud of having worked with the Dead Milkmen. We had a lot of fun back in the day.

RTH: How do you acquire pieces for the Hall? Are there key criteria you follow? Roughly, how much of the collection is pieces you seek out vs pieces that are offered?

HK: We mostly acquire things by going directly to the source. If an artists doesn’t have stuff, invariably someone within their organization does. Occasionally, I’ll go to collectors, but the best stuff is usually still in the hands of the performer. The criteria are pretty simple; How well does this illustrate an element of someone’s career?
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Mar 102008

They’ve got Madonna

We don’t want to overlook the significance of tonight’s competing celebration of lifetime achievements in rock, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum‘s induction of Madonna, Leonard Cohen, Gamble and Huff, Dave Clark 5, and Little Walter into its sacred halls. Months ago, we contacted an old friend, who’s long been the curator of the Hall in Cleveland for a behind-the-scenes look at this museum. Our friend is a humble, self-effacing man who was very busy back then and continues to be very busy today. To our mutual regret, he was unable to find the time to answer our questions in time for tonight’s ceremony, but there’s no reason why the questions should go to waste. As a tribute to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, I will invite our very own Townspeople to answer these questions in our friend’s stead. Perhaps when our friend has the time, he’ll jump in and provide his own answers.

Let’s get to the questions!
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Feb 192008

No dogder, this Roger!

May I begin by sharing with our Townspeople what a thrill it was for me to chat with producer/engineer Roger Bechirian! As a teenager, while intently studying the liner notes of the records that first made me feel as if I’d finally hit on “my” music, music made for me and my bandmate friends, his name kept cropping up. My friends and I never saw a picture of him, and we still don’t know exactly how his surname is pronounced, but this Roger Bechirian fellow was held in very high regard among our band of nobodies.

If I may, I’ll continue in the first person plural, because that’s how strong my love is over this guy’s work – and beside, my old friends and fellow Townsmen, Andyr and Chickenfrank, contributed to this interview. Our introduction to Bechirian was as the engineer on all those great Nick Lowe productions for Elvis Costello and The Attractions. Shortly thereafter, we saw he had his own thing going as producer of The Undertones, the band in our wildest, humble dreams we thought we could emulate.

With Costello, Bechirian produced the one Squeeze album we all agreed sounded great and steered clear of the stiff, awkward moments on their earlier albums. Then we noted his name on the credits for what we thought was The dBs‘ last great single, “Judy”. This guy not only engineered my all-time favorite album, Costello’s Get Happy!!, but he produced one of my favorite overlooked gems for listening to in my bedroom with the shades drawn, The Undertones’ Positive Touch. As Elvis would eventually have an album produced by George Martin engineer Geoff Emerick, we fantasized having an album produced by Nick’s right-hand man. Considering the likely disappointment (for him!) resulting from this fantasized collaboration, his taking the time to answer the tough questions from Rock Town Hall is more than enough wish fulfillment for anyone to bear… But enough of this ass-kissing, no matter how sincere it is! Let’s get on with the questions.

RTH: I’ve read that you were born in India and moved to England when you were a boy. When did you get into music and how did you get into recording?

RB: There was always music on in the house. My father was a big Jazz fan, and my sister would get all the latest hits from the UK and the States. I also played piano, and would spend hours making up my own tunes. We had a tape recorder at home, and I soon started making up my own sound montages by editing various recordings… I did the same thing as you, scouring album credits, looking for the engineering and studio credits. I got my first job training as a mastering engineer, cutting vinyl!

I was so opinionated, and couldn’t stop myself from telling people what I thought they should be doing!


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