Tuesday, 31 January 2012

To Tweet, Or Not To

In January this year, I created a Twitter account. In the grand scheme of things this is hardly noteworthy, but for someone like myself, despite my relatively young age, it’s a tentative step into the future, into the unknown, away from the analogue and toward the digital.  Weird.

I’m not a fan of social media.  Perhaps because I don’t know much about it.  I know it can raise the profile of a business or individual beyond comprehension, I know it’s a form of ‘staying in touch’, I know it’s Rampant and The Norm and the Way Of The Future, which is fair enough.  I’ve not embraced it before now though because of a connotation I have that it’s frivolous, a waste of time, and because why the hell would I want people, strangers, to know what I’m doing?  Paranoid perhaps.  Lazy too.

As such, I have no Facebook account, I have no MySpace account (I did at one point, but that went nowhere), I do have a blog but that’s more an archive of my published work – hardly a social media tool.  Perhaps I’m behind the times and am now languishing in The Past, too proud to get on board with these trends, too dedicated to the old way of doing things.  In the interest of pushing my writing profile however, I created this Twitter account.  I took my first tentative steps, as I mentioned, and I am now waist deep.  I don’t know where to turn next, what to do or why, but fuck it, it’s all about pushing forward, right?  So they tell me.

I did some reading first, most notably a study conducted by American company Pear Analytics in 2009.  To be quite honest, I didn’t read too much, I skimmed and looked at pie charts and the like – to that end, I am indeed a member of this social media, short attention spanned generation.  Anyway, this study postulated firstly that Twitter was used mainly as a form of self-promotion.  After exhaustive research (I imagine), it was determined that this was not the case, that the vast majority of Twitter’s over 300 million users (as of June 2011) use the service for “pointless babble”.  40% of them in fact.  Self promotion uses up just six percent.  The rest is made up of “news”, “spam”, “conversational” and “pass along value”.  Basically, Twitter is mainly people talking shit. 

Regardless, I decided to get on board, promising myself I’d be one of the six percent – I’d use the service to tweet (ugh) about what I was doing in a professional sense.  For example, my first ever tweet was, “Interviewed Justin Townes Earle this morning, great chat about new record, see new song here: justintowneseale.com”.  Since then, I’ve stuck to my promise.  It’s true, all five of my tweets thus far have been professionally based.  I’m pretty happy with that – suck on it, 94%.

So who knows where this will end up.  Perhaps I’ll get hooked, a Twitter junkie, hankering after his next fix, tweets evolving from poignant professional prose into pointless psychobabble, the likes of which should not be read by anyone, ever.  “Put on my shoes this morning”.  Good lord, I don’t even wear shoes.  Imagine – I shudder to think, and so I’ll stay strong and use this for the Good of my career or my profile or whatever I’m doing this for and despite the fact I’m an old man in a young man’s body, I’ll forge ahead like Robert F. Scott, into the cold, forbidding unknown.  Or something to that end, anyway.  To tweet, or not to, that is the question.  The answer, no doubt, is somewhere on Twitter.  Ugh.

Samuel J. Fell

SJF is indeed on Twitter, and can be found at @SamuelJFell

Monday, 23 January 2012

Cosmic, Man

Published in February issue of Rhythms magazine (Excerpt below)

Rodrigo y Gabriela

Growing up in Melbourne in the ‘90s, I became consumed with heavy metal. Thrash metal mainly, courtesy of a friend of mine in year eight, who lent me – on my third day at a new school – a tape of Metallica’s 1989 album …And Justice For All. I’d never heard anything like it. I had never even vaguely dreamed that music like that was possible.

What drew me in then – and it consumed me, I spent the next four or five or six years listening to metal and metal only – was the pure power, the blatant aggression, that writhing groove and the sheer terror of hurtling towards a riffed-out breakdown at triple speed, riding the back of Kirk Hammett’s blistering guitar work, holding on for all I was worth. I was instantly hooked, and it’s fair to say that day changed my life forever.

Though I’ve broadened my musical horizons dramatically since then in my never-ending quest to find sounds to slake my musical thirst, there’s always that little ‘something’ in the back of my mind that equates ‘What I’m Going To Like’ with ‘Those Metal Sounds Of Old’. And not necessarily the sound per se, but the aforementioned power, the aggression (to an extent), the galloping grooves, the things that got me so hooked back in year eight.  Being a big blues fan too, there’s not been much (aside from a slew of stoner rock) that’s brought that and the love of metal together, yielding something different and as (if not more) exciting – until I found Rodrigo y Gabriela. The power, the precision, the aggression, the groove – in spades.  And they’re about as far from metal as you can get, to the naked eye, anyway.

Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero did actually begin their musical careers playing metal. They met in the ‘90s in Mexico, playing in a thrash band called Tierra Acida before teaming up and heading to Europe where they began to forge the style and sound they’re now globally recognised for. For those who don’t know this dynamic duo, to see their guitars mesh so forcefully (for they are virtuosic players), Latin-tinged, acoustic guitar juggernaught, their strings soaked for weeks in lighter fluid, scorched and flaming high by the end of only the first song. They draw heavily from their Mexican heritage, they lean on Latin fire and rhythm, they drink from the well of metal, or at least the spring from which that well feeds – it’s something that sets them apart, that makes them so good.

As a duo, Rodrigo y Gabriela, as they are known, released their debut, Foc, in 2001, but it wasn’t until their self-titled 2006 record, that they began to garner the recognition they now have. Indeed, as Sanchez says, the records before Rodrigo y Gabriela hardly even count. “Yeah, I don’t really count them as official albums,” he muses on Foc and ReFoc (’02). “But certainly before then, we were a touring band, so those albums were for us to only sell at gigs.”

Regardless, the success of the self-titled effort propelled the duo into the musical stratosphere and subsequent records – Live In Japan (’08), 11:11 (’09) and Live In France (’11), not to mention their extensive work on the fourth Pirates Of The Caribbean film soundtrack last year – did nothing to deflate that rising balloon.  Today though, sees the duo in a reasonably different spot. They’re about to release a new record, Area 52, and it’s not really as you’ve seen these two before. Well, to an extent it is, but largely, it isn’t.

Samuel J. Fell

Area 52 is available now through Rubyworks / Warner Music.

Bibb's Back

Published in February issue of Rhythms magazine.

Eric Bibb

On Eric Bibb’s website, in preparing for this interview, I watched the film clip for new track, ‘Bayou Belle’.  It’s the first track to be released from Bibb’s upcoming new album, Deeper In The Well, what will be the 15th record under his own name.  It’s a track steeped in swampy grooves, it nods its head to the blues and courtesy of a quick little banjo shuffle, gives off more than a whiff of bluegrass – it’s a finger-snappin’ tail shaker, and it more than whets the appetite for what’s soon to come.

“Yeah, it does have that swampy feel to it, and other tracks on the album have that too, and other ones sound even more old timey, kinda like country music, and there’s some blues tunes on there that are played in that Louisiana style,” Bibb smiles, regaling me with what to expect once Deeper In The Well is released in March, just in time for what will be his seventh tour of Australia.

And it’s an album which is somewhat of a departure for Bibb too.  Not so much in sound – he’s always been known as a world-class purveyor of blues-soaked folk tunes – but in the way it came together, Bibb teaming up with friends old and new to bring an “acoustic band” feel to the whole thing.  “Well, it was amazing to be down in Louisiana first of all,” he tells, having made the album down in the Bayou State late last year.  “And it was doubly amazing to be able to make some music with some great players.

“So originally I thought it was time to make an acoustic band album,” he goes on, getting into the nitty gritty.  “I’ve been doing a lot of projects [recently]… I’d done a solo acoustic record (Blues, Ballads & Work Songs, ’11) and I’d done quite a lot of studio work involving larger productions with my friend Glen Scott, and so I thought a group, acoustic band record with mostly newer songs – along with traditional songs, because I always like to combine the two – [would be good].  And I wanted to reconnect with harmonica player Grant Dermody, who played on Booker’s Guitar (’10).”

From this idea, Deeper In The Well began to take shape – and you only have to watch the clip for ‘Bayou Belle’ to see why Bibb wanted to work with Dermody again – the man can wail.  From there then, it was a matter of finding the right musicians – can’t be too hard in Louisiana, right?  “My American agent suggested Dirk Powell, who I’d heard about but never played with,” Bibb relates.  “He plays fiddle, accordion, mandolin, guitar, bass, piano, he’s whiz kid.  In fact, he’s been on tour with Joan Baez for the past few years, he’s her accompanist.

 “So then I happened to meet [Dirk] in Scotland [not long before we started] and we got a chance to play, and the idea had been proposed to him before I met him,” Bibb tells.  “And he was up for it because he has a great studio in Lafayette… so we knew it would work.  So we went ahead with it, Dirk brought in another player, Cedric Watson, who’s a great Creole fiddler and accordion player… and together with a local drummer named Danny Devillier, basically the four of us put together this record in Dirk’s studio.”

Deeper In The Well will be the culmination of some fine chemistry between all players concerned, and seems to be, for Bibb, a bit of a chance to relax a bit after the solo acoustic Blues, Ballads & Work Songs from last year.  This also shows how busy Bibb has been – two records within the space of a little over a year – but there’s more – when I speak to Bibb, he’s only just back from Mali where he’s been working with Malian musician, Habib Koite, on a project he’s more than a bit excited about.

“That was an amazing, wonderful experience,” Bibb beams on his recent musical trip.  “The story goes back a while, it took a while to come to fruition.  10 years ago, a song of mine was featured on a compilation called Mali To Memphis, and on that compilation was also Habib Koite.  We happened to be in the States on tour at he same time, and so [they] put together a little promo tour, which was the first time I met him to play music together.

“Anyway, so we had the chance on this little tour, in the dressing rooms, to play together and there was a real compatibility there,” he goes on.  “So we continued to bump into each other until finally my French agent said to me, ‘Listen, I think it’d be really good if you did something with Habib’… and I said sure.
“What we discovered… was that we’re both basically acoustic finger-style players,” Bibb tells on what the collaboration turned up sonically.  “His Malian traditions are unique, but they are definitely connected to and related to the country blues finger-styling Piedmont style of my playing.  So I’d be able to play a traditional tune or something, and Habib would be able to jump in and play around that in a beautiful way that was not strictly the American perspective.”

Well, that makes two Eric Bibb records I need to get my hands on now (once the latter is released), but as has always been the case, that’s not something I’m complaining about.

Samuel J. Fell

Deeper In The Well will be available in March through Stony Plain Records.  See Gig Guide for tour dates.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Boogie

Published, as a news item, in March issue of Rolling Stone.

Endless Boogie

In 1997, somewhere within the labyrinthine expanse of New York City, four guys with a love of rock ‘n’ roll started a band.  There was no agenda, just a need and want to piece together toweringly heavy grooves, recreating those sounds of old, just for their own ears, in a jam space on a Tuesday evening – a bit of fun for four guys with a collective age of 169.

Four years later, Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus invited them to open for him and his then band, The Jicks, at the Bowery Ballroom – quite the first gig – and the world was, finally, introduced to Endless Boogie.  “Well that’s how it started… we never pictured, at first, Endless Boogie being a band, except for jamming and making up riffs,” explains guitarist Paul ‘Top Dollar’ Major.  “But people started twisting our arms saying, ‘You’ve gotta play, you’ve gotta play’, and so eventually we said yeah.”

Part of the Boogie’s appeal then, is that they only play gigs when invited – an Endless Boogie show isn’t something you’ll see every day.  “We figured that rather than calculate or pursue what we’re doing… we’d just go with whatever connection we’d make with people.”  This seems like the antithesis of the modern day band, to actively not pursue fame and fortune.  “Yeah, absolutely, and you can tell when watching a band whether they’re there in the moment, living it, or just putting on a presentation,” notes Major.

The Boogie will make their first foray to Australia in March, riding high on the back of 2010’s epic Full House Head (their second full-length release).  “Yeah, I’m looking forward to it, and being on the same festival bill as Roky Erickson, one of my childhood heroes, that’s exciting for me,” Major smiles, referencing the band’s upcoming appearance at Golden Plains, before revealing that the plan, the Endless Boogie plan, remains unchanged.

“We’ll be doing some familiar songs, but they’ll jam out into places spontaneously,” he promises.  “We use the songs as a diving board to leap off… we’ll keep it pure and just rock.”

Samuel J. Fell

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Out Of The Shadow

Published in January issue of Rhythms magazine.  (Alternate version to be published in Inpress).


Expectation can be a cruel mistress, and she can take many forms.  Whether it be expectation to carry off a nigh-on impossible task, the expectation that something you do this time will be better than last time, the expectation that you’ll live up to, perhaps, the Family Name.  None more so than the latter then, has defined a large period of the life of Adam Cohen.  For what could be crueller, what could possibly be more demanding (and indeed, almost futile) than the expectation that your musical career will in any way live up to that of your father, the one and only Leonard Cohen?

Cohen junior however, has come to a realisation.  The realisation that whilst expectation will always flirt with you (sometimes from afar, sometimes right in front of your wife and children), there’s a way out, a way to tell her to stop – there’s a way to operate where expectation means nothing.  “That’s very much true,” muses Cohen, sleepily, for it’s early morning in Prague where he’s currently located, five weeks into a two month European tour.  “There were three [moments where I came to this realisation], ingredients to change.

“The first was disillusionment with my own career.  The second was my father’s triumphant return to the stage.  And the third one was fatherhood, my own, becoming a father myself, that feeling and connection,” he goes on slowly.  “[Now] I walk to work with a sense of pride and a hop in my step, as they say.  I used to have a lower ranking position in the family business, and now my office is on the upper floors.  And if my music is in dialogue with my father’s, then I have something noteworthy and interesting to say, finally.”

Cohen’s musical career has been varied.  He released a couple of solo records a number of years ago (Adam Cohen in 1998 and Melancolista in 2004), as well as Ex-Girlfriends (also in 2004) with rock band Low Millions, with whom he had moderate success.  Since then however, despite the fact he’s “been busy”, he effectively withdrew from the music world, citing disillusionment as he mentioned earlier.  We talk briefly about how it is to have Leonard Cohen as a father, and he’s sage about it, accepting it (you certainly can’t change these things), and calls it more of a help than a hindrance.  But there was always that expectation.  Until now.

I mentioned earlier that Cohen junior had come to a realisation.  He outlined the reasons why and how.  But the main booster?  The recent release of his third solo record, Like A Man.  This is a record, one that’s been a long time coming, that lowers that expectation (almost kills it stone dead in fact) because it’s the album he’s been ‘expected’ to make, for years now.  Like A Man sees Adam Cohen come to the realisation, it sees him gather himself up, and it sees him walk out of the shadow, into the light of his own making.  It sees him as a musician in his own right, not just the son of a legend.

“I’m not sure I can answer that without reiterating the word ‘pride’,” he says simply when I ask why he’s called it his “proudest artistic achievement yet”.  “I’m proud of it because it’s work that dignifies and honours a tradition from which I come.  It’s a record that has the honesty and a signature that is altogether my own at the same time.  It’s very much celebrating my father’s work, which has had a deep influence on me, and it’s also my proudest work because it’s so unexpected to me, that I would have ever made this record, and ever made it so well.”

I ask how long this record has been germinating, how old are these songs?  “This is an old collection of songs, dating back… some of the songs are really old, the first song on the record is 20 years old,” he reveals.  “What links all the songs together, is that one after the other, they were discarded or hidden away when I found them to bare to close a resemblance to my father’s work.”  This is interesting then – do they no longer feel similar to Cohen senior’s work?  Or does that not matter?

“Like I was saying earlier, they pay homage to a tradition from which I come in a way that I’m very satisfied with,” is the simple answer, and perhaps that’s the key.  The reason why Adam Cohen no longer feels the heavy weight of expectation to be like his father, is because he’s (finally, perhaps) released an album that is similar to his father’s work.  Not the same, but similar.  It’s something that he feels has set him free, it’s something fans and media are agreeing with.  It’s interesting – in order to get out of the shadow, Adam Cohen has gone back to it.

At the end of the day though, Like A Man, as Cohen junior mentioned, has his own signature, and that’s important.  It’s almost like a fresh start for him, a springboard, one that could hurl him in any direction he chooses.  Far away, it would seem, from that cruel mistress that is expectation.  “At this point I’m happy to say the record is being released in Australia and Canada and dozens of countries in Europe and the US, and so it’s taking me on a… giant sized adventure,” he sums up, and at this point, that’s all that matters.

Samuel J. Fell

Like A Man is available now through Cooking Vinyl / Shock.

Record Review - Ani Difranco

Published in January issue of Rolling Stone.

Ani Difranco
¿Which Side Are You On?
Righteous Babe / Shock

More than three years after last record Red Letter Year, acclaimed songstress Ani Difranco returns with another in Which Side Are You On?, a rootsy, full-figured crusader of a record tackling rabid consumerism, flaccid government and a crumbling planet, not to mention getting older and “being totally OK with the process”, as Difranco herself obviously is.

The Pete Seeger-penned titled track, on which he appears here, is the cornerstone, a funky finger-snapper, bookended by a mixture of folkish whisps and rootsy grooves, all showing you don’t have to be Rage Against The Machine to get a poignant point across, as Difranco has always done.

Samuel J. Fell