PICKWICK, JON RAUHOUSE, "RHYTHM, ROOTS & WORLD CONCERT SERIES"
203 West Adams St
Phoenix, AZ, 85003
Doors 6:30 PM / Show 7:00 PM
This event is all ages
There’s a special challenge to being an artist in this increasingly fractured cultural
age; a delicate balancing act, between being of your time, and striving for
timelessness. Few contemporary artists even try. Neko Case is an exception.
Case’s last album, 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, brought her to that
nexus where critical acclaim meets commercial success. But Case’s impact can’t
be measured merely in chart placements or press plaudits. It’s her ability to
connect – on an uncommonly deep and meaningful level – with her audience.
She’s one those artists, you see: the kind whose songs linger in your head, your
heart and soul long after the record has stopped spinning.
While Case’s creative evolution has made for an impressive story so far, she’s
about to write the most remarkable chapter in that continuing saga with the
release of her sixth studio album, Middle Cyclone.
The tornado that blows through the title and several songs on Middle Cyclone is
an apt metaphor. Neko has famously taken her own twisted route, lighting for a
time in the South, in the West, in the Northwest, in Canada, flirting with as many
musical styles as homes. She is settled—or unsettled—in Tucson for the
moment, with dreams of moving full-time to the former dairy farm she owns in
Vermont. She recorded the new album in both locations, as well as studios in
Toronto and Brooklyn.
For Case, the beauty of making music, of creating, is that it remains a
mysterious, confounding and, occasionally, contradictory process. “When I
toured for Fox Confessor one of the things I said in interviews about that record
was that I don’t like writing love songs, that I can’t write them,” she recalls. “Of
course, as soon as I said that, I ended up writing a bunch of love songs.”
It should be noted here that Case’s “love songs” are not the typical boy- meetsgirl
variety, as the opening track, "This Tornado Loves You,” dramatically attests.
“What would it be like to be pursued by a force of nature?” asks Case. “That’s a
frightening and exciting prospect.”
Case resists the temptation to see the tornado as metaphor for something more
personal, like a destructive relationship from her past. “Of course, I’m fine if
people want to interpret it that way, but for me, the song is very literal,” she says.
Neko is equally earnest when she sings exultantly about the revenge of caged
animals on their keepers, in the polemic “People Got A Lotta Nerve.” The lyrics
we’re tempted to read as ambiguous and layered (“But you seemed surprised
when it pinned you down/ to the bottom of the tank… I’m a man-eater, and still
you’re surprised when I eat you”) are in reality the plainest. Neko’s killer whales
and elephants really are killer whales and elephants. But with a magician’s gift for
misdirection, she keeps us off balance, questing and questioning.
Like the old tale of the scorpion and the frog, Case’s message here seems to be
that instinct is immutable. It’s an idea she explores further on the anthemic “I’m
“I feel like one of the real tragedies is that, as a species, human beings are
constantly trying to deny or sublimate our natural instincts,” says Case. “And I’ve
made a conscious effort not to do that, but to trust myself, both in my life and in
Instinct runs through Middle Cyclone as a theme and a goal, most often and most
forcefully as the instinct for love. “But,” notes Case, “only in the sense that the
songs are about the need for love -- no matter how cool you think you are. What
other people might call ‘love songs’ I think of as homages. They can be to a
person, a region, a feeling, even sad feelings.”
That notion is captured vividly on “Pharaohs” – a kind of cousin to Fox
Confessor’s “That Teenage Feeling” – as Case’s character pines wistfully for an
idealized romance that seems to exist only in the imagination: “You kept me
wanting…like the wanting in the movies and the hymns,” she sings, “I want the
Pharoahs, but there’s only men.”
As you listen to the album, Case’s evolution as a writer is, at times, almost
overwhelming. The modest lyrical aims of her debut LP - - released just over a
decade ago - - have been continually outstripped with each successive effort,
and Middle Cyclone continues that trend in spectacular fashion.
And then there are the songs she didn’t write. Having covered everyone from
Bob Dylan to Aretha Franklin, Case’s ability to re-make the material of others has
long been celebrated. On Middle Cyclone she again flexes her interpretive
muscles re-imagining a pair of early-‘70s gems: Sparks’ “Never Turn Your Back
on Mother Earth” and Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me.”
Sparks’ 1974 song was an obvious choice, fitting perfectly into the foreboding
nature-oriented theme of the album. “Plus, I just love Ron Mael’s lyrics,” says
Case. “Sometimes I go to the Sparks website and just read their songs as poetry.
‘Cause they’re bizarre and really controversial, and tongue-in-cheek and funny –
all at once.”
With the Nilsson tune – an emotional farewell to his ex-wife originally included on
his 1974 party album Pussycats – Case felt a deep tug in funny-sad couplets like:
“I’ll miss you when I’m lonely, I’ll miss the alimony too/Don’t forget me…just for a
“The song has a Roger Miller and Ray Davies quality to it,” says Case. “That
heartbreaking comedy line that punches you in the gut and makes you cry that
Case decided the only way to record ”Don’t Forget Me” was to turn the original’s
grand orchestral arrangement on its head. She began answering ads on
Craigslist advertising free pianos, gathered half a dozen of them up in her
disused Vermont barn, and invited a group of friends and fellow musicians to
form a ragtag “piano orchestra” to play on the song.
Middle Cyclone is awash in similar moments of sonic inspiration and homespun
creativity. In one magical interlude we hear the sound of birds chirping, just as
Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin begins a midi sax solo. “Which I think is so hilarious,”
says Case of the charmed collision. “We’ve got natural robins and unnatural midi
sax. But somehow they work perfectly together.”
With Neko’s indefatigable touring band (guitarist Paul Rigby, bassist Tom V. Ray,
vocalist Kelly Hogan, multi-instrumentalist Jon Rauhouse and drummer Barry
Mirochnick) building the bedrock of the tracks, Case was able to bring in a
collection of friends and fellow travelers including M. Ward, Garth Hudson, Sarah
Harmer, and members of The New Pornographers, Los Lobos, Calexico, The
Sadies, Visqueen, The Lilys, and Giant Sand, among others. “Everyone who
worked on the record had their input and sculpted things,” says Case.
Ultimately, for Case, the songs and themes on Middle Cyclone express a long
internal struggle, a pitched battle between nature and nurture. “Things like
animals and nature, they’re located in the tender receptor of my brain. And I’m
just now trying to come to terms with the notion of loving people as much as I
love those other things - because I grew up in a way that made me love the one
but not the other.’
“So, I guess I’ve been working that out for myself, and these songs are my way
of reconciling those feelings.”
To hear Pickwick tell it, their popular Myths 7-inch series was merely a group of rough sketches they'd been developing over the previous two years put to wax. That a CD collection of those "demos" held their hometown Seattle's Sonic Boom Records #1 sales spot for a period of weeks in 2011 shows those six songs amounted to something more than tossed off basement recordings. With a successful year of festival invites and an ever larger string of hometown sell-outs behind them in 2012 the band refocused on recording and have a year later emerged with Can't Talk Medicine. Upgrading from the basement used for Myths and setting up shop in their living room, the band's own multi-instrumentalist Kory Kruckenberg served as engineer. The 13 finished tracks include three re-recorded and fully realized Myths cuts and a collaboration with Sharon Van Etten on lead single "Lady Luck."
"A cool thing about this record," says Kruckenberg, "this house has made its way onto the record. We've tried to include the quirks of living here." Guitarist Michael Parker wryly spins the situation differently saying "our record doesn't sound like a lot of other records because it was recorded in this living room." The choice of a carpeted location may have been a double-edged sword, but the use of this unconventional space was fully compatible with the band's own grittier leanings and desire to establish a unique musical aesthetic. By recording to 1/2 inch tape on an 8 track and incorporating found sounds, Kruckenberg was additionally using a canvas that provided for an intentionally different dynamic than a modern digital effort. Why tape? "It's about dirtiness," Kruckenberg explains referring to the distortion that the taping process itself can imbue on a recorded sound. He reports his final results with a grin, "It's raw."
An audiophile's full attention to every detail shows in the final mix: voices and instruments have the space to assert their full identity and tones shimmer in lengthy decay. The percussive clang of the piano hammers in lead track "Halls of Columbia" are incorporated instead of hidden away. The organ drone in "Window Sill" is elevated from dissonant psych clutter to an eerie foundational element. The harmonies of Parker, keyboardist Cassady Lillstrom, and guest Kaylee Cole are at turns sweet, unsettling and epiphanic. It's all orchestrated to support frontman Galen Disston's gospel growl and build on the mood of his words.
"There is a layer to our songs that I don't think very many people have picked up on," says Disston, who prefers listeners delve into their own imagination with his words over providing a literal history of every lyric. What he will relate is that Can't Talk Medicine mines themes of mental illness. "It's about art making you go crazy," he reveals. "We idolize and value that insanity when it's in the name of art." But as his lyrics also imagine it, life in creative overdrive can be nervous, desperate and grotesque. The refrain in "Window Sill" speaks of planning a defiant suicide and Myths crowd favorite "Hacienda Motel" recounts a risque homicide.
Many of the deeper answers about influences and a preference for mystery can be traced to the band's own voracious interest in music that's mired in obscurity. Reissues from Designer Records, the seminal output of the Black Ark. Robert Pete Williams, Alan Lomax, the Walkmen, The Sonics, and Abner Jay are among the diverse list of names referred to with reverence in the living room. 'Famous L. Renfroe as The Flying Sweet Angel of Joy' is a current well of inspiration for Disston who, like his idol Bob Dylan, has through his own deep exploration of American roots music developed a signature vocal delivery.
Pickwick's DIY history of making & distributing their own records continues into 2013 with the Spring self-release Can't Talk Medicine, initially available digitally via iTunes and on CD at your local CIMS-affiliated independent record shop. The Cold War Kids' Matt Maust is guilty of the album's cover design. The band travels to SXSW in March before embarking on a headlining tour of the continental U.S. in April.
Raised on Easter Island in the Southern Pacific, his destiny as the next tribal chief was derailed when he was struck on his ample head by an eleven-pound coconut. His three weeks of recovery were characterized by feverish rantings about Santo & Johnny and Speedy & Jimmy and cross-dressing. When fully recovered, Jon was uncontrollably lured to the rusty pedal steel guitar that laid for years in the hold of a World War II cargo plane that had crashed on the wrong side of the island many decades before. His playing was flawless; technically proficient, yet totally swashbuckling and swoony. The rest of the islanders quickly grew tired of his noodling and persistent good nature and threw him and his instrument into a hastily constructed out rigger canoe, and cast him from the island. Eventually, Jon found his way to the brown air that shrouds Phoenix and started his career as a stand in for Alice Cooper's snake.
The 70's saw Jon being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. It was his soothing and tropical guitar wizardry that helped set an amicable tone during the negotiations between Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho to end the Vietnam War. Henry, being the 20th Century's biggest jackass refused, however, to share the award three ways. (Just one more reason to hate the man). His ego bruised, Jon spent the remainder of the decade defending his enthusiasm for the trend of "streaking."
Currently, he spends his free time justifying the six acres of lush, green lawn he maintains at his Phoenix hacienda.
The keepers at the Bloodshot asylum first noticed him playing with the Grievous Angels. A steel guitar player in a rock band?? Hell YES!!!! His hunched over demeanor and the madman gleam in his eye told us that we had found a kindred spirit.
Since then, Jon has lent his considerable talents to tours and recordings by Neko Case, Sally Timms, Kelly Hogan, Calexico, the Waco Brothers, and Giant Sand. Let's not forget that the steel guitar and Hawaiian guitar are HARD to play, and he makes it look so easy.
He is also revered in Nottingham, England. Seriously.