Monday, April 21, 2008
Teenage Kicks: Is there a democratic process that takes place for guys in the band to say “yea” or “nay” to the bonus material or are you selecting the bonus tracks?
Peter Jesperson: I select the bonus material and I put it all on the table and then I pass it to Tommy and he listens to it. Once he’s listened to it and I get a sense of what he thinks, then he’ll pass it on to Paul and I’ll pass it on to Chris.
TK: Has the process been easy or difficult?
PJ: It’s been very easy. I think the only problem is that it doesn’t always happen as quickly as I’d like it to, and partly that’s because I take such a long time and put so much thought into selecting the tracks, and maybe I take weeks doing it, then I hand it over to Tommy and I want to hear back the next day. Just because I’m impatient and partly because I’m always pushing the deadlines that Rhino is setting. I feel bad and I’m trying to speed it up because I feel I’m responsible for slowing it down in the first place.
TK: With the abundance of recorded material you’re reviewing, will there be more or will this be the end of cleaning out the vaults from this period?
PJ: Before we ever got involved in getting serious about this, we all agreed it would happen someday but we didn’t know when that would be. Westerberg said something like “I already feel like I don’t want to be scraping the bottom of the barrel to put out sub-standard stuff. I’m going to be really critical of what we pick.” And I think that knowing that in advance and also wanting to preserve and uphold the legacy as best I can, I selected the things I thought were truly great, worthwhile tracks. There’s only been a couple of things that have been axed, so I think I’ve made pretty good choices hopefully. I think there’s a lot of other interesting stuff, but I don’t think there’s necessarily whole tracks that are interesting. It’s like wow, this is a brilliant chorus, or this performance is ¾ great but then it’s fucked up and it’s nothing you’d want to share with the public. It wouldn’t be fair to the band. So essentially we’re picking the very best of what wasn’t on these records and you’ll see from the track listings that there was tons of extra stuff for Sorry Ma, not very much from Stink (that was a one day recording) and there’s a little more for Hootenanny and then again there’s a very finite amount for Let It Be. Then when you get later in the game, with the Sire records, there was tons of extra songs for Pleased To Meet Me, but the other ones don’t have lots of extra material. Part of that was because later in their career, Westerberg started to get a little more paranoid and erased a lot of things as well. Basically, I think that this will be it for the studio stuff for the most part, but I think there will be a live collection, we’re talking about down the road maybe a live box of some kind. And, of course, that is a lot less finite, because they played so many shows and so many of them were bootlegged.
TK: Will there ever be a wide release of The Shit Hits the Fans?
PJ: We’ve talked about it. I think that Rhino wanted to do that as a stand-alone CD and our feeling, me and the band, felt like it was sort of a for-fun thing and we didn’t feel like it stood up to being [a standard release]. I think we did 10,000 cassettes and that was more than we intended. That got manufactured during the time we were traveling so much. I remember being on the road, calling back to Twin/Tone just to check in and Westerberg saying, “Hey, ask them how many of The Shit Hits the Fans have sold.” Dave Ayers might have answered the phone and said “We’ve made 10,000 now.” And I said to Westerberg “10,000” and he said “Oh my god, stop! I thought it was gonna be 500. We can’t make any more.” So I think we stopped at 10,000 and it was really supposed to be a limited edition, a final thing on the Twin Tone label as the band was signing to Sire. Our feeling is, maybe we do, like a 3 CD live box set, and the first 10,000 have a bonus disc of The Shit Hits The Fans. I think that’s the way we want to do it. It’s something that would be an adjunct to a live box set. If you want it now though, you can find it. It’s been heavily bootlegged.
TK: I’m down to my last $15, and it’s April 22. Which one of the Replacements’ Twin/Tone reissues do I get?
PJ: Put the four titles on a wall, put a blindfold on and throw a dart. They’re all good and for totally different reasons. I mean, for the bang for your buck, I was most astonished at how Sorry Ma turned out. I mean, we’ve got thirteen extra songs so there’s 31 tracks on it now and it runs 64 minutes and 30 seconds. It’s pretty good value for the money, I think. The liner notes, the whole package is especially great on that one.
TK: What surprises are in store for Replacements’ fans with the Sire reissues?
PJ: For the Sire stuff, the Holy Grail part II is where we get to release the acoustic version of “Can’t Hardly Wait.” We were just listening to that yesterday and to me, that’s one of the most stunning performances I’ve ever heard in my life.Of course it’s been bootlegged too, but we’re going off the master tape and it sounds beautiful. After “You’re Getting Married” from the first set, the Holy Grail part II is “Can’t Hardly Wait” acoustic which will be the first bonus track on Tim.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Teenage Kicks: The Replacements seemed to want to be Rod Stewart and The Faces. The drinking, the attitude, the haircuts, the rock star outfits, the vocal style, the incredible songwriting. Did you sense that? Even though they marched to their own drummer, they certainly seemed like they wanted to conquer the world.
Peter: Well… yeah. That brings to mind a couple of things. One thing is I have a note on my desk to remind myself of something David Fricke wrote about The Faces in their box set where he referred to them as “happy, roaring imprecision,” and I thought that could really apply to The Replacements. So yeah, The Faces were a major influence, but also, one of those sets of liner notes I was just re-reading for the first batch [of reissues], which I just got finished copies of yesterday. I was on the edge of my chair for a couple of hours waiting for the messenger to arrive, because I was so excited to see them – I felt like a 12 year old. The liner notes for Sorry Ma were written by our old friend Dave Ayers. Dave was a music fan in Minneapolis who wrote about The Replacements early on and I think was the first person to review Sorry Ma for the Minnesota Daily, which was the University of Minnesota paper. He also did the very first in-depth, kind of serious interview with Paul. He was part of the scene in Minneapolis, hung around our record store a lot, and then we eventually hired him to work at Twin/Tone. He’s now at Chrysalis publishing in New York and is just a fantastic guy, one of the truly great people in the record business. He wrote in his liner notes for Sorry Ma that this is a band that wanted as badly to be The Raspberries as Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers. So I think if you mention The Faces, The Raspberries and Johnny Thunder’s Heartbreakers, you really do have the essence of what drove The Replacements, or what The Replacements admired collectively as a group at the beginning. Of course, that doesn’t take into account Bob [Stinson, the band’s founding guitarist, who died in 1995] loving Johnny Winter and Yes. In a very general way that’s what you heard in the root of The Replacements.
Those are important ones, especially The Raspberries [which] points out one thing that a lot of people miss about Westerberg, and that’s that he loved Top 40 radio and he wanted to have hits. He wasn’t a guy that just wanted to be a cool underground rock singer. Riding with him in the van, he was a button pusher. He was always just looking for the song.
TK: That segues nicely into my next question. Westerberg was/is a complex character who rarely gave a straight answer, but he has always been forthright about his affection for fluffy Top 40 fare from the 1960s and 70s. Listed among the bonus material for the Let It Be reissue is a cover of “Heartbeat (It’s a Lovebeat).” First, is that as great as we imagine? And second, is it possible that Paul actually is Tony DeFranco, and that he made a Chilton-esque Box Tops-to-Big Star career move when he formed the ‘Mats?
PJ: Let’s take the second part first – maybe that’s best left a mystery… I don’t know. As for “Heartbeat,” they did it live a lot, but this is a studio recording and yeah it’s great. I think this is one where the recording maybe isn’t as great as some of the live versions that I remember, whereas say “Rock Around The Clock,” which is a bonus track on Stink, they really captured something, a crazy, wild performance. It’s one of those ones that’s got, like eight finales, where they keep ending and coming back in with a different ending. It’s really quite dramatic and funny. So anyway, it’s a great “Heartbeat (It’s A Lovebeat).”
TK: The first record has moments of incredible transcendence and also a lot of calamity, both of which endeared The Replacements to fans. When I first heard the record, I had no idea there was this all-time great band in there waiting to bust out. You seemed to know that. Was that instinct, having faith when others may have not?
PJ: This is sort of a two part question. When one listens to the album, I think there is a lot of calamity, but also, in the middle of it all, there’s “Johnny’s Gonna Die,” which I think is pretty undeniable as something that’s not just a loud, fast teen angst sort of song. For whatever reason, it was instant for me. I guess I’ve said this before, if I’ve ever had a magical moment in music, and I feel like I’ve had many and I have them almost weekly, but one of the great ones in my life was putting that Replacements cassette in for the first time and it was just like being struck by lightning. I was just floored and the first thing I did, after barely finishing the first song, was I got on the phone and called my three best music buddies at the time – a girl I was dating and two other guys. I said you gotta come down here right away, because either I’m nuts or this is the greatest thing since the Rolling Stones, or something like that. I had a very visceral, immediate reaction. I’ve listened carefully for a long time, so maybe I have a little of, I don’t know, without trying to sound like I’m patting myself on the back, I’m a specialist, I’m sort of an expert in these things, it’s what I’ve done all my life. I don’t know much about anything else, but rock and roll’s my thing. I definitely heard something immediately. I think the other thing that was astounding to me was that I felt that all the ingredients were there. This isn’t like, hey, if they work on this and this and this, they’re gonna be really good someday. It was “Oh my god!” it’s all there – the singing, the songs, the playing, the attitude, the sense of humor… I mean it was all there. And of course, some of it was developed and got stronger as time went on, but that’s what was so astounding. I really did feel like - is somebody playing a joke on me? I kept thinking somebody was going to jump out of the bushes and say “ha, ha, ha, just kidding, you can’t work with these guys, they’re already signed to Warner Brothers. We were trying to test you or pull your leg.” It was absolutely astounding to me. I think that anybody who listened closely and was a rock and roll fan would have heard it … Again, it’s in the liner notes of Sorry Ma, I think the first thing that really leapt out at me was in that version of the first song which was “Raised in The City” (it’s the first bonus track on Sorry Ma) and you can hear Paul sing a line that didn’t end up on the final version of the cut on Sorry Ma, but he’s saying “I got a honey with a nice tight rear, she gets rubber in all four gears.” It just flipped me out. I thought “oh my god, this is like a dirty, updated version of Chuck Berry.” And the other funny thing, and I remember this so distinctly, ‘cause I had been listening to a bunch of stuff the day that I played this Replacements tape. I had a box of submissions and at that time, the Twin/Tone label was two years old and I also DJ’d at The Longhorn and I was kind of a quasi booking advisor as well, so I was getting tapes for both. The lines got blurred to what were people giving me tapes for, so I didn’t always know and I remember sitting in the office at the record store that day and popping in tapes – because I had a bunch of stuff pile up on me and I was feeling guilty, I thought I gotta listen to a bunch of stuff while I was doing paperwork for the store. So I was listening to one cassette after another, and most of them you listen to for a couple of minutes, make your decision and move on one way or the other. I have this distinct sensation that there were so many things that sounded like The Stooges and I thought, why is it that in May of 1980 a bunch of people are sounding like The Stooges? Of course, it’s not a bad thing to sound like, but it was very derivative and maybe it could have just been the scene centered around Minneapolis and our store at the time because we were obviously big Stooges/Iggy fans, but anyway, I thought that was kind of funny. The first thing I thought of when I heard The Replacements was Chuck Berry and I think that’s significant. It wasn’t like they sounded like The Sex Pistols or REM or The Soft Boys. It reminded me of Chuck Berry and there’s something very iconic about what The Replacements do that they share with Chuck Berry. It’s primal, it’s basic and it’s universal.
TK: Yet it’s so hard to be good at that simplicity and if anyone can ever figure out that equation they’ll make a million dollars.
PJ: It’s like that great John Lennon quote where they asked “To what do you attribute your enormous success?” and he said “Well if I knew I’d form another group and be a manager.”
TK: It was certainly different, looking backwards and forwards at the same time.
PJ: I’m not saying that they just sounded like Chuck Berry, but there was that element that was the first thing that got its hooks in me. There was also all kinds of very contemporary elements, because in some ways they wanted to play the game a little bit. Or not play the game, but ‘OK how do we fit in.?’ And you fit in by sort of being punk or hardcore at that time.
TK: Talk about playing the game… it seemed like The Replacements didn’t care about anything, yet cared about everything. It was the thing that made them great, but also what may have prevented them from reaching the Tom Petty fans and the folks that didn’t hear a lot of underground music.
PJ: And that right there might be why they weren’t able to reach the Tom Petty fans because they were uncompromising and I think that they frequently shot themselves in the foot. There’s something that was written once that I can’t ever articulate, that I would just refer you to, and I imagine you have that Warner compilation from 1997 called All For Nothing, Nothing For All. In the liner notes in the booklet, the second to last of the notes is written by Gina Arnold and she wrote about how The Replacements were a perfect model of integrity, but how is it that somebody could be filled with integrity when they had a guitar player playing in a diaper and they were frequently falling down drunk? She explains it there better than I can and I’d just refer you to that. So you can read that and that says something that I can’t quite articulate about how they refused to play the game and yet they wanted to have big hits.
TK: As the guy running the label trying to sell these guys, how did you feel about that?
PJ: It went with the territory and also, I’ve learned some great lessons, going from Twin/Tone to New West. I think I’ve been fortunate to have those two experiences, because at Twin/Tone, I was the third owner and my two partners pretty much gave me carte blanche as far as what artists to bring in, and so I was allowed to follow my heart, and because of it nearly put the company out of business 15 or 20 times. Whereas now, at New West, we have an actual business to mind and it’s part of my job to find artists that are artistically strong but also function as a real business which involves trying to make money for the artist and the label. But, yeah, when I was at Twin/Tone with The Replacements, there was a lot of stuff that would be frustrating for a minute but then I would stand back and look at it and laugh and say “But this is so utterly Replacements-esque.” If they didn’t do some of this dumbass shit… it was just the whole package that was so fascinating.
TK: The Replacements went through a remarkable progression, from “Dope Smoking Moron” (from Stink) to “Within Your Reach” (Hootenanny) in a span of just twelve months. What was the song where you knew the band was something special?
PJ: I think it happened several times, but the song where I really knew this was a monumental situation was when Paul handed me the tape of “You’re Getting Married.” It cemented everything I thought and hoped was true about this band and this artist. I thought these guys are so amazing, and then he gave me that song, and my brain couldn’t even comprehend how great that song was. And we get to put that on the Stink reissue. When I put the tracks out there, I practically held my breath for a couple of weeks waiting to find out if Paul was gonna allow that one to see the light of day. It’s one of those things that’s very personal, very raw and yet it’s one of the greatest things he ever did both in terms of composition and in terms of performance. When he green-lighted that, I might have screamed out loud. That was the one. To me, it’s the holy grail of unreleased Paul Westerberg songs.
TK: Was “Answering Machine” always intended to be Paul alone or a killer demo that you couldn’t improve on?
PJ: He always saw that as a solo song. And, in fact, it was one of those things that the band didn’t perform for a long time. [At first, it] was a solo Paul thing, then little by little they attempted it at soundchecks and then they threw it out there at a show where there wasn’t a lot of people in the audience, and finally it ended up being a live favorite later on. Initially it was a very private solo song and I think that Paul thought that it just might be that way forever. It ended being something they started playing live because so many loved the song.
TK: What’s the story behind “Black Diamond”? It seems like a brilliant but unlikely cover.
PJ: There’s a couple things about that – I remember very clearly driving in the van to play a show at a place called The Cabooze in Minneapolis, which had been sort of a biker bar to some extent on the West Bank of the Mississippi. We were driving over there one night and I remember Tommy kind of tittering in the back as I was driving the van saying “We learned a new song at practice and you don’t know what it is.” He was sort of taunting me with “I know something you don’t know,” and he was clearly very excited about it. And then they performed the song, and I knew their material inside and out, so when they did something I hadn’t heard, it really stuck out. So I went “Oh here’s the song Tommy’s talking about” and I listened to the whole song but I didn’t know what it was. I just didn’t know Kiss that well, but it was fantastic. It was bombastic, kind of a huge arena rock type of song and I loved it, but afterwards I had to say “So that was really cool – what was it?” And Paul or Tommy said that was a song by Kiss and I just laughed and said “Well you sure did make it your own.” And then, when we went into the studio to record what became Let It Be, we threw down a lot of ideas and then you work on what sounds best when you play it back. They had thrown down a number of covers – there was “Heartbeat (It’s A Love Beat),” there was “Temptation Eyes,” there was “20th Century Boy” and there was “Black Diamond” – there might have been one or two more that I’m forgetting or some that were erased. I remember when we were starting to select the songs for the album, the two strongest things were “20th Century Boy” and “Black Diamond” and I remember suggesting to the band that “20th Century Boy” is great but it’s hip and it’s expected, while “Black Diamond” is great and it’s completely unhip and totally unexpected and I think this is the one that should go on the album and everybody agreed. At the time, it hadn’t come around to where it was cool to play Kiss songs. I remember around that same time, being in New York and playing Irving Plaza and being up in the VIP section and there was some super hipsters up there. I remember the band walking on stage and I was always thinking “OK, are they gonna come on and flip the audience the bird or are they gonna come on and knock their socks off?” And they walked on stage, and of course I didn’t know what they were going to start with, and they opened with “Rock and Roll All Nite” and it was a fucking amazing ballbuster of a version and I remember looking at people’s faces and everybody knew what it was, it took a few seconds to register, people figured out what it was and then it was sort of like, “wait, this is Kiss, is this cool to like?” Then they just got caught up in how spirited and wonderful a version it was, and everybody just got into it, big grins across the VIP section and everybody dug it.
In Monday’s third and final installment, Peter and Teenage Kicks talk about The Replacements’ reissues, which will hit stores this Tuesday.
Hopefully all of you went out yesterday and visited your favorite independent cd/record store in celebration of National Record Store Day. Here in the Philadelphia area, we're fortunate to have several thriving indie cd stores, including (but not limited to) Positively Records in Levittown, Shady Dog in Berwyn, a.k.a, music in Old City, Repo on South Street, Siren in Doylestown, Tunes in South Jersey and of course, my favorite haunt, Main Street Music in Manayunk. For many years, I worked there every Sunday and during the fall and winter could be heard yelling at customers "PleasedonttellmetheEaglesscore!! I'mtapingthegame!" Yeah, I was real popular.
Yesterday's event was a much needed boost to raise awareness of the mom and pop stores that continue to exist, and even thrive, despite the proliferation of legal and illegal downloading (even though the term "illegal downloading" sounds quaint in 2008), big box stores and the overwhelming availability of on-line sources such as amazon, ebay, half.com and countless others. But none of those provide the personalized service, human interaction and sense of community and fun that your local cd store provides. Anyone who's ever flipped through racks and racks of vinyl and cds looking for that one great find (for me on Saturday it was a used copy of guitar pop kids Good Shoes' debut, Think Before You Speak), well, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
So a plea... Think Indie! And don't let any more of these stores go the way of Petrella's (a true mom and pop operation located on Havertown's Darby Road in the early 70's), Record Museum (down the street from the famed Tower Theatre), Jerry's in Clifton Height's in Bazaar of all Nations, 3rd Street Jazz in Old City, Mad's in Ardmore, Plastic Fantastic, the Record Cellar in the Great Northeast or any place that opened your ears to new music. Get off the computer and get out of the house... and get the to Main Street Music. Or call them at 215-487-7732 - if it can be found, they will find it and order it for you... they even do mail order!
In celebration of National Record Store Day, Main Street Music hosted a free in-store performance by foul mouthed, sweet singing British sesnation Kate Nash. For those only familiar with "Foundations", her fed up tale of a deteriorating relationship, Saturday's 4 song mini set provided a glimpse there may be more than one catchy put-down song to this not-yet-21 year old singer-songwriter. Her audience at this show was mostly giggly teen-aged girls (and boys) who sang every word and were rewarded with incredible warmth and good humor as Kate signed cds, posters, wristbands and arms, each signature personalized with a soothing comment and a big, wide smile. Who says youth is wasted on the young?
All photos suppled by Charlie ("Let's take it outside") Wellock
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Peter Jesperson is an indie rock superhero. As manager of the legendary Oar Folkjokeopus record store in Minneapolis, he was a noted tastemaker and all-round rock and roll good guy. Then, as co-owner of Twin Tone records, he stumbled across four guys who called themselves The Replacements. Immediately blown away, he signed the band and managed them for the next several years. Now Sr. VP/A&R at New West Records in Los Angeles, Jesperson oversees a stable of artists including Buddy Miller, Ben Lee and Old 97s, among others.
In addition to his work at New West, lately Jesperson has been preparing The Replacements’ four Twin Tone albums – Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash; Stink; Hootenanny; and Let it Be – for expanded reissue on Rhino Records, consulting with the band’s three surviving founding members, Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson and Chris Mars. These spiffed-up indie rock classics come out on Tuesday, April 22, and Jesperson is also at work on forthcoming reissues of the albums the band made for Sire Records. Teenage Kicks’ Trip McClatchy bumped into Peter recently at the South-By-Southwest music extravaganza, and later talked to him by phone (on 4/5) for this three-part interview. Today, Jesperson talks about New West, his lifelong love of music, and the current state of the business.
Teenage Kicks: Did you have a good time at SXSW?
Peter Jesperson: You know, I did have a good time. I would say it was the first year where I was not psyched about going ahead of time, but, yet when I got there I had a ball. To be honest, this Replacements project has been sort of all-encompassing, as it should be. It’s really like having two full time jobs at once. The New West job is nothing to sneeze at. We’re a wholly independent label, very proudly so, but we don’t have assistants and I have 20 artists that I look after. The owner, Cameron Strang, and I handle the A&R but I do most of the day to day stuff. It has gotten sort of nail-biting since I started really working in earnest on these Replacements things last August. It’s a labor of love and so far I’m maintaining sanity. I just submitted my tracks for the Sire albums yesterday and Tommy is coming over to pick up CDs with the material on them. He’s been the filter for this, in a way, because he and I are so much closer. He lives here, for one thing. I don’t talk to Paul that often and I talk to Chris twice a year or something. Paul’s manger, Darren Hill, is also involved; he coordinates things with Paul. And Paul… sometimes he wants to talk and sometimes he doesn’t, and I respect that.
TK: You grew up in Minnesota. Dylan, Prince, The Replacements and The Hold Steady – all from the same general area. Is there something in the water out there?
P: It’s hard to say – I think there’s great stuff happening all over the place, all the time, and sometimes we hear it and sometimes we don’t. A great example in my past was when we had another writer who worked at Oarfolk (our record store) who got a test pressing of The Ramones’ first album. We put it on the turntable and we all went “Wow! Cool! Someone else is doing what the Suicide Commandos are doing”. The Commandos were Minneapolis' first real punk band. The quick description to me would be comic book rock. There was something powerful yet with a great sense of humor as well. I think that maybe there was a Prince or a Replacements in St. Louis and their paths didn’t lead them to Trip McClatchy’s ears. Another funny thing about New West is Cameron Strang is also a great music fan, but he thinks there’s like 50 classic rock albums of all time. And I think there are thousands. It’s just a different perspective. I hear this all the time from people who used to be into music and now they’re grown up and have families and they say, I just don’t hear records that are as cool as when I was growing up. I don’t want to insult those people or anything, but I don't think that's true. There’s always something great happening and if you can’t find it than you’re just not looking hard enough. And for god’s sakes, if you can’t find something contemporary that knocks your socks off, there’s gotta be thousands and thousands of old things that you missed. There’s no reason – that’s like saying there aren’t any good books around to read. That's just an impossibility, a physical impossibility.
TK: You have to be diligent to find new stuff… it’s hard work to keep up. My theory is that most folks actively listen to music from age 13 to 22 and they carry those songs with them the rest of their life.
P: My parents were not music people at all but yet they have two boys that are both music fanatics. My brother is a bluegrass musician and aficionado and I do the rock thing. I remember my dad talking about some song and I don’t remember what it was exactly and I wish I could and I’ve thought about it 1,000 times, I wish I could actually name the title for you, but there was some song at some point in my childhood where my dad said “Oh my god, I love this song,” or “what a beautiful song” or something like that and I could see it in his eyes and maybe he put his hand to his heart. And I thought, that’s the one thing that hit him that way and if it made you feel that way, why wouldn’t you seek it out more. Why wouldn’t you want that feeling to happen all the time? I know what you’re saying about the age group or demographic of people that listen to music and then they pass it up. I guess this is a general thing about art – art is enriching, it improves your life so much that I don’t understand why more people don’t have it in their lives. I’m not particularly a sports guy, but I love to play baseball, I’m looking forward to going to my boy’s practice here in an hour, but it wasn’t a big deal to me. One of those things I feel about the world and maybe why I’ve always felt a little bit out of step, or a little bit of a misfit, is just something as common as when you flip on the TV at 10:00 or 11:00, depending on your time zone, it’s news, weather and sports, and I thought, since I was a kid, why is it news, weather and sports – why isn’t news, weather and the arts? Because as great as sports is, and it’s obviously a good thing for exercise and all that. To me, art is so much more important and I think if there’s three essential things that one would need to know and experience on a daily basis, it would be to keep up with the news, to know what the weather’s going to be, and to have some artistic experience on a daily basis. To me, I just don’t understand it and I guess that’s just the way it is. For some people bug collecting is a thrill, skiing is a thrill… to each his own. I’m not knocking any of it, whatever makes you feel good, whatever you find challenging and interesting is great.
TK: Was it a hard decision for The Replacements to sign with Sire? For you personally?
P: Heavens no! It wasn’t a hard decision for anybody. Everybody wanted what was best for the band – Twin Tone, me, the band, everybody. In fact, I was surprised it took so long for a major label to come along. And I think that’s the difference now between working with New West and working with Twin Tone back in the day, because at Twin Tone we were absolutely content with the fact that we were a farm team for the majors. And at New West I think we can actually do a better job than the majors in many, many cases. When we sign artists at New West, my ideal situation is to find great artists and make records with them for the rest of their careers, if we could.
TK: It seems like New West is almost following the old Warner Brothers model.
P: Well, to some extent, but we don’t sign a lot of new baby bands or developing artists. We’re generally working with people who have some traction, and in some cases, they’re veterans.
TK: Are there new artists coming soon on New West that you can tell us about?
P: Sure, Benji Hughes, from Charlotte, North Carolina. I guess the nutshell synopsis would be… he falls somewhere between a Leonard Cohen and a Jonathan Richman.
TK: When does that record come out?
P: We’re putting out a 6-song EP first, then a 2-CD set on July 22nd. He’s basically made a double album – it’s 25 songs.
TK: Jack Logan!?
P: Yeah right… I’ve done this before. But anyway, it was his desire to make it a 2 CD set and we think it’s a good idea, too. He’s going to be doing dates opening for Rilo Kiley starting June 2nd.
TK: They’ll be in Philly June 5th – Rilo Kiley is one of my favorite bands.
P: I love them too. I’m not such a big fan of the newest record, but I love their first three.
TK: You managed a very successful, independent record store – what do you see now as the future for brick and mortar record stores – can stores like Oar Folkjokeopus still exist, or has their time passed? Is it Pitchfork or Amazon… how do people get that experience which seems to be dying out with downloads, big box stores and on-line shopping?
P: I think there’s a lot of ways to do it. In the first place, yeah, I think there’s still a place for a great record store, and hopefully Main Street Music [in Philadelphia] is one of those ones that will live on, hopefully Treehouse Records (which is what Oar Folkjokeopus became), and here in LA, of course, we’ve got Amoeba, which is just an unbelievably great record store. There’s an Amoeba in San Francisco, there’s Sonic Boom in Seattle, and I think if you’re very careful and you do it right, you can still have a record store, but you’d have to sort of diversify. You have to offer more than just albums and what-not for sale. You’d have to figure out a way to, as we say at New West, there’s got to be a way to harness this in a good way. I don’t think that suddenly that people with the expertise that we have are not of value anymore. I think we have to figure out how to present ourselves and our music. When I was a kid, I always loved the idea, back when radio was not programmed, the nation was not programmed by some guy sitting in New York City or Atlanta. I had this picture in my mind of the guy in the tiny office with teetering stacks of records going floor to ceiling, going through and picking the things that he thought was best every week and putting them on the radio. I think there is still some kind of pulse going on in 2008. It’s impossible when people say there’s nothing out now that knocks me out like it did when I was 20, I think that’s nonsense. Another great thing I remember somebody said – Andy Schwartz who worked at our record store – to me, or maybe it was in a story he wrote, since rock and roll began (whenever you think it began – whether it was 1950 with Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters or it’s 1954 with Elvis Presley), there’s been a steady pulse, and sometimes it’s on the radio, and sometimes it’s in front of your face and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you have to look for it harder than others. In general, I think there is a forum, or a clubhouse that is a place where people come to talk about music. Whether it’s on the internet, or whether it’s a physical building, or whatever – Pitchfork is certainly a great place, MOJO is a great place, Main Street Music is a great place where people exchange ideas, and argue about music, and tell like-minded people about their favorite new thing.
TK: Do you see any standard bearers of The Replacements’ legacy today?
P: For one thing, there might be some bands that I just don’t know about and I’ve got my favorites that aren’t necessarily bands that are actively touring and doing shows like The Replacements did. My favorite record right now is an Australian duo Angus and Julia Stone. I’m just obsessed with this record called A Book Like This, and it’s very melodic, intelligent folk rock. I’m not so concerned with who’s coming to the clubs and who are the road dogs of the day that are out there selling their wares. Certainly The Hold Steady are a great example and I may not feel as passionately about them as some, or as you do, but I think Craig Finn is a great guy, I know him somewhat personally, and I think they’re doing a great thing. There’s a band from Orange County called the coco b’s that I think are absolutely brilliant that have a little bit of The Replacements and a little bit of The Velvets/Lou/Big Star kind of thing.
TK: Is that a band you would consider for New West?
P: Absolutely. Although through the history of time, there’s a whole lot of people who make great records, but maybe don't have the live thing down. Now I have to mind the store a little better and so, you have to not only be able to make great records but be able to do it live on a consistent basis. I don’t mean consistent, like you gotta put on your suit and tie every night; I mean you gotta be out there working it on a regular basis. The Coco B’s are not touring yet so they’re not really a band we could look at. If you’re not going to work full time at being a band then it’s very difficult for New West to work with you. There’s a band called Lifters out of Fort Worth, and they’ve got a six song EP out that’s great from top to bottom. There’s a lot of groups that I think have great potential, but as far as ones that are really out on the road – there’s probably a bunch that I’m just forgetting.
TK : One of my latest faves are The Felice Brothers – have you heard them?
P: Sure I have. I like their recordings but I’m not blown away. But everybody tells me I gotta see them live. I tried to see them in Austin at SXSW and I actually went to a place where they were supposed to play one of the nights and they weren’t there and I don’t know why. I actually got the time and the date from somebody at Bug Music (their publisher) and the band wasn’t there and there was nobody there who could tell me why the band wasn’t there. Related to that, and something I wanted to mention, are there actual brothers in that band?
P: Well, one of their sisters is married to AA Bondy, whose American Hearts is one of my absolute favorites of 2007. Or my favorite band on the planet right now is Eisley, which was my # 1 record of last year. I would say, to demonstrate how much I like that record, I don’t know if you know this about me, but I’m a McCartney guy, he’s my favorite thing and really kinda the reason I do what I do to some extent. The McCartney album, which I though was a great album, a great McCartney album, Memory Almost Full, was # 2 and Eisley was # 1. I’m doing two road trips in the next month where I’m going to Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Des Moines to see them and then San Francisco, LA and San Diego and Pomona. I think the two girls who sing for that band are among the greatest singers I have ever heard. At a glance, it may seem like kid stuff, but I’m telling you there is so much substance there, and since ’05 there is no artist I’ve listened to more than Eisley. I just absolutely think they’re astonishing. The hook for me, the first thing that got me was a song off their first album called “My Lovely” and I went “God, this has some element of Mary Hopkin in it somewhere.” She’s never been a huge favorite of mine but she made these really cool records for Apple, her husband was Tony Visconti. They were these kind of folk records with these beautiful, ornate string arrangements. That was the first thing that I heard in the root of Eisley that sounded like an old fashioned, U.K. kind of folk music and now that I’ve listened to them so much I almost have a hard time going back and remembering why I thought that. And, while it’s not overt in the way they behave, they come from a Christian background, and I think that there’s a lot of church-y elements in what they do, in their enunciation and maybe in the tunes. They grew up singing in churches and maybe that’s what it is that connects to this Mary Hopkin thing. I can not even put into words how much that band means to me, and it really is the singing. When I first got into them, it was a few months after the first album had come out and they’d already done the cycle where they’d come through LA and played their dates and then I saw they were coming back through California opening for Hot Hot Heat and I drove up to Ventura (about an hour north of here) to see them in this theater and I specifically thought “they can’t possibly sing this good on stage, so I’m going up to bust them!” Plus, when you look at the first record there’s like five producers, so I’m thinking this is a studio concoction and they could never pull this off. Then they came on stage and sang and I got weak in the knees about twenty times during the 45 minutes they were on stage. It is quite extraordinary. They have two records, plus some other EPs and in fact, there’s an EP called Like The Actors that came out after this new album and the title song might be the best song I heard in 2007. They’re so young, when they got signed to Reprise, the youngest of the two singers was 13, and the other one was 18. Now they’re 18 and 23. The whole band are great players, they’re very natural, gifted players at the root of it and the singers just have the voices that are to die for. The thing that is so exciting about them is that they’re still very young and so the songwriting, to me, if they hang with it, will do nothing but develop. The writing from the first album to the second album improved greatly and I think if they continue to do it that five, six albums down the line they’re just gonna be frightening.
Part 2 of this interview (Peter talks about the Replacements's heyday) will be up this weekend.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
FOTK (Friends of Teenage Kicks) Mike Cregan and Vince Spiziri both attended the Bruce Springsteen show in Houston this past Monday. Each of them sent me raves, especially noting encore special guests Joe Ely ("All Just To Get to You) and Alejandro Escovedo, who dueted with Springsteen on "Always A Friend" from Alejandro's new album Real Animal, due June 10.
Here's the video clip, and according to backstreets.com, Escovedo said of the jam "It was my best musical experince, ever. It also appears to be one of his best songs ever.
Cregs - I almost forgive you for shining me in Austin.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Trip and I were talking about X, the great L.A. punk/rock band, when I confessed that my holdings were limited to the epic Los Angeles/Wild Gift twofer disc that came out years ago. The band had always seemed a little alien to me, somehow beyond any experience that I understood. When Exene Cervenka and John Doe harmonized, their voices didn’t blend, they collided, leaving shards of jagged debris in their wake. And their songs glowed with a dissonance that was miles from the Ramones’ hardcore bubblegum. It wasn’t that I didn’t like those first two albums – on the contrary, I think they’re brilliant in their own singular way – I just always thought that they’d tide me over until I got around to delving deeper into the catalog.
Trip’s reaction: You’re a dumbass. He didn’t use those words exactly, but the point came through clearly enough. He did cut me some slack. After all, I was just 14 and 15 years old, culturally isolated and musically underdeveloped, when X’s next two records came out. But he explained that I’m a man now, and there’s really no excuse for not owning Under the Big Black Sun and More Fun in the New World.
So I ordered them, and they arrived a few days ago. After listening nonstop since then, let me confirm Trip’s diagnosis. I am, in fact, a dumbass.
These records are a revelation, the logical progression of American punk rock (and this is undoubtedly American music, with echoes of Sun Studios if you listen just right) with a tripwire band ready to detonate. Even tighter than before, the sound is as lean as Iggy Pop’s torso, as Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake (who play guitar and drums just like their names suggest) riff and thrash with a desperation and discipline to match John and Exene’s words, a heady combination of direct hits and clever feints that indict both the politics of the day (“The New World”) and their own personal failings (“Drunk in My Past”).
It’s hard to listen to these songs that were largely ignored in their day (a fact the band laments on “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts”) and not laugh at the bloated rot that dominated the airwaves at the time (I’m looking at you, Asia). In fact, and this is completely unfair, but I’ve been listening to Mission Control, the fine new disc by The Whigs, a band that comes out of the same tradition as X, and I feel a little bad for them. Someone covered this territory before, fellas, and they set the bar impossibly high.
Listening to the 1-2 punch of “Devil Doll” and “Paint the Town Blue” (or 8-9 punch if you check New World’s track listing) is like driving a freight train through a tornado, six-and-a-half minutes of fury and heat that threatens to blow apart but only gains strength as it goes. And the bone-dry production defies time. These songs could have been recorded twenty-five years ago. They could have been recorded this morning. They could have been recorded in some future where they have time machines that transport albums back to now for the explicit purpose of blowing our fucking minds.
I’ve made my confession. Do you have these discs? If not, you’ve got some explaining to do.
Monday, April 14, 2008
In addition to providing this tribute, my friend and co-pilot Trip sent a package designed to plug some egregious holes in the record collection (yes, it’s true that I had never owned Guitar Town; there is no excuse). Some highlights from that bounty are featured in the videos below.
Trip has been doing the heavy lifting here of late, from the five-star SXSW reports to an upcoming feature that’s a real coup for us (details to follow). I’ve not been all that inspired lately, but mostly I’ve been up to my hips in non-profit fundraising. If anyone wants to sponsor a program that boosts the achievement of economically disadvantaged elementary school students, or if you have five, six or (even) seven figures to contribute to a sensational arts and technology education center for at-risk urban youth, let me know. And if you could toss a few bucks in United Way’s direction, that would be nice, too.
Fear not, though, as I am working to retrieve my rock and roll mojo. I recently saw Mick Jones (the punk rock Paul McCartney) with Carbon/Silicon, and I’m slated to catch the ever-sublime Spoon this weekend. I’m awash in high-quality new releases (thumbs up for She & Him, Jason Collett, The Whigs and Los Campesinos!), and I’m looking forward to the ridiculous next few months that will bring new platters from The Hold Steady, Sloan, Alejandro Escovedo, The Roots, T Bone Burnett, Death Cab for Cutie, Elvis Costello, My Morning Jacket and Dr. Dog, among many, many others. Plus, I just finished this very funny book about spending eighteen months on the corporate rock hamster wheel. It is highly recommended summer reading.
Rock on, indeed.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
He's written the definitive book on Missouri basketball, he's helped a man wrongly accused of murder earn his freedom, he's been a big time lawyer and he's traded clothes with Sammy Hagar.
But all that pales compared to the gentleman, father, husband, brother, son and great friend that has emerged after 40 years on this planet. I am reminded of this quote by Ben Franklin that best describes my friend:
"I will speak ill of no man, and speak all the good I know of everybody".
When I grow up, I want to be just like Michael.
Happy 40th Birthday, pal.
Saturday, April 05, 2008
Jeremy is out on the road supporting Scottish pop-rockers The Proclaimers in mid size venues across the U.S. and Canada.
The kind of folks at Cornerstone Promotion have given us five Jeremy Fisher gift packs (an autographed copy of his latest cd, Goodbye Blue Monday and a totally cool Jeremy Fisher t shirt). All you have to do is answer the following question:
Jeremy Fisher is nominated in two categories for the Canadian equivalent of the Grammies. What are these Canadian music awards called?
Send an email to me (email@example.com) with "Jeremy Fisher" in the subject line and the first five to answer will receive a free gift pack. Pretty easy, huh?
By the way, Jeremy is nominated for New Artist of The Year. The other nominess: Belly, Justin Nozuka, Serena Ryder, Suzie McNeil and Jill Barber. Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Exactly... he better win!
The Jeremy Fisher / Proclaimers itinerary is as follows:
4/6 - The Jack Singer Concert Hall - Calgary,AB
4/11 - The Marquee Club - Halifax,NS
4/12 - Club One - St. John's,NF
4/13 - Imperial Theatre - St. John's,NB
4/16 - Jackhammer's Night Club - Brantford,ON
4/17 - The Mod Club Theatre - Toronto, ON
4/19 - Hamilton Convention Center - Hamilton,ON
4/20 - The Tralf - Buffalo, NY
4/22 - The Middle East - Cambridge, MA
4/24 - B.B. Kings - New York, NY
4/25 - World Café Live - Philadelphia, PA
4/27 - Birchmere - Alexandria, VA
4/29 - Cambridge Room HOB - Cleveland, OH
4/30 - The Ark Ann - Arbor, MI
5/1 - Double Door - Chicago, IL
5/3 - Fine Line Music Café - Minneapolis, MN
5/4 – Pyramid Cabaret - Winnipeg, MB
5/5 - Casino Regina - Regina,SK
5/7 - Century Casino - Edmonton,AB
5/8 - Deerfoot Casino - Calgary,AB
5/10 - Commodore Ballroom - Vancouver,BC
5/12 - Tractor Tavern - Seattle, WA
5/13 - Aladdin Theatre - Portland, OR
5/15 - Slim's - San Francisco, CA
5/16 - El Ray Theater - Los Angeles, CA
5/17 - The Canyon Club - Las Vegas, NV
5/18 - Coach House - San Juan, CA
Friday, April 04, 2008
I opened my hand and said “you can have these pretzels.”
“No,” he replied, “I want my own bowl.”
“But these are magic pretzels,” I said. “Don’t you want to try one?”
He gave me a narrow, suspicious gaze. Cautiously, he asked “how are they magic?”
“If you eat one,” I replied, “you’ll turn into a giant bear.”
He doubted the claim.
“Do you want to try one?”
He shook his head.
“Do you want me to try one?”
He gave a slow nod.
I popped a pretzel into my mouth and abruptly leapt up growling. He flinched hard, his terrified eyes saying “holy &%*#, they are magic!”
I sat back down. He paused for a moment, grinned widely, and let out a belly laugh that was part joy and part relief that this was not the day he would be eaten in his kitchen by a man-bear.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
The day starts in a tiny corner outside the bar with a nervous, yet charming, Liz Green and a short set of compelling acoustic and a cappella gospel folk. You can’t help but be captivated by this tiny Brit making her stateside debut in such a perfect setting. We later find Ms. Green strolling around the poll table taking in all the Johnny Cash ephemera, mesmerized by her journey. Charming indeed.
Then it’s a quick shot to the small stage under the beat up tin roof for NY state’s favorite sons, The Felice Brothers. Not as agitated and uptight as they appeared at their Wednesday showcase, the Mean Eyed Cat seems to be a home away from home. This show is looser and more soulful as the three Felice Brothers take center stage to perform an a cappella ballad that provides goosebumps. The set list is otherwise similar to Wednesday’s but the energy level is much higher and this spirited show has us both convinced – these guys are for real.
There are other acts but we’re busy chatting up T-Bird (drummer for British psychobilly rave-up outfit Swampmeat - thanks for the disc!), The Felice Brothers and Phil Alexander, our genial host and MC as well as Mojo’s editor-in-chief, and we thank him for a perfect afternoon. He takes my ebullient, if slightly tongue-in-cheek, endorsement of the Mean Eyed Cat to heart here.
On the way back to the hotel we hit Amy’s Ice Cream next to Waterloo Records and boy does their milkshake hit the spot. After a quick stop it’s off to John Doe’s solo gig at the Free Yr Radio Stage on Red River. He’s in full troubadour mode for a dusty four song set including "A Little More Time", "Mama Don't and "Forever For You" and a spirited reading of “The Golden State”, one of last year’s best songs. There’s only about 50 or 60 folks but it’s a nice tune-up for tonight’s show at Emo’s.
"I think it would have been easier for both of us if I’d told her I was trying to imagine what she looked like naked."
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
For those of us (read: me) lamenting the fact that it was Trip (and not me) who got the Teenage Kicks credential at SXSW, here's a pick-me-up, one minute and forty-eight seconds of pure pop bliss from Cardiff's Los Campesinos! (they put the ! there, not me). It's called "My Year in Lists." And it's great.