Soul Asylum, Fountains of Wayne
Special Guest: Evan Dando
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
It's been six years since Soul Asylum has issued a new album. But as evidenced by the arrival of 'Delayed Reaction' (the group's first release for 429 Records), the wait was most certainly worth it. Fans will be happy to discover the group's trademark ragged-but-right sound is still very much intact, and that they've turned back the clock to the good old days when full albums actually mattered - rather than just a smattering of singles padded with filler. And the proof is in the pudding - such tunes as "Gravity," "The Streets" and "By the Way" prove that Soul Asylum has created an incredibly consistent album from front to back.
"It feels like approaching it as an album and a thing that has a sequence, and a thing that is a piece of work in itself is almost an archaic process," explains the band's singer/guitarist, Dave Pirner. "It's almost like there's no venue for it. Today, I was trying to find a CD player, and I can't tell you how frustrating that is, when you're making what you think is a CD, and there's no stores that sell them, and there's no players that play them! So be it, if that's the way you've got to stay in the game, that's the way you've got to stay in the game. I can't be a crotchety old man about it - it's how people are putting music out, and everyone can come to their own conclusions about what's the best way to get music to people. It's just different for people that are born in a different environment."
'Delayed Reaction' (which was produced by the band, with additional input by John Fields) also marks the first Soul Asylum studio album to not feature original bassist Karl Mueller, who passed away from cancer in 2005. Ex-Replacements/current Guns N' Roses bassist Tommy Stinson played on the record, as well as former Prince drummer Michael Bland. One half of Soul Asylum's rhythm section, drummer Bland, sees the difference between being a hired hand with Prince, and a more integral part of the songwriting process with Soul Asylum. "This is definitely a situation where people come up with their own ideas and try to make them work with the other ideas that are coming up at the same time. Prince is definitely more in control of the entire picture while it's happening. Not that he doesn’t have an interest in what your ideas might be, it's just the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship, really. But both have their advantages and disadvantages. When you have Prince decide what's going to happen, then it's easier to follow instruction. Prince is not going to compromise his vision, whereas Pirner really wants you to feel involved, like your statement is actually being made."
But with a solid line-up and label in place, why did it take so long for a new Soul Asylum studio effort to appear? "I think we can't agree on anything like we used to be able to," jokes Pirner. "And we sort of have a wider variety of tastes going on in the band. It was difficult to find the label, and I was making the record on no budget. So Michael had called me, and said, 'You should come out to LA and work with John Fields.' I spent about a week out there, and that was when it got started. At that point, I was just getting the ball rolling, and not really entirely sure what I was doing as far as if I was recording a solo record, or if I was demoing things. In fact, a few of those things wound up on the record."
Interestingly, although 'Delayed Reaction' harkens back to the days of "album rock," it was not recorded the old fashioned way. "It was made in a more modern way," continues Pirner. "It was made in a way that so many more people are working today, where quite a bit of it comes out of my home studio. It was going in and out of the studio quite a bit, to save money. Honestly, it's more organic. Even though you're using some of this newer technology, the fact that you're doing it yourself is what made it take so long and the process unique, this time." Whatever it took to record 'Delayed Reaction,' it certainly worked, Pirner and Bland each have specific tracks that are their favorites.
Pirner: "It's cornball, but each one is like my kid. I think 'Cruel Intentions' was nice, because it was spontaneous and was a song that I wanted to record for a long time. I think 'Take Manhattan' was nice, because it started off with different lyrics, and I sort of wrote this story into it, and we used the original tracking. It had a long and concentrated development period, which is true for a lot of the material. It went from New Orleans to LA to Minneapolis back to LA to Minneapolis, until it was done. Believe it or not, it gives it a multi-cultural thing, where it's passing through the headspace of me and my engineer from New Orleans, and then John Fields in Los Angeles, and then the whole gang up in Minneapolis. You get that influence of whatever's going on around you."
Bland: "'Let's All Kill Each Other' is awesome. It's pretty defiant. The track was started out of thin air - it was just an idea Pirner had. We were both paling around in Minneapolis, everybody else was out of town, and we ended up going into the studio and started to work on it, and it fell together immediately. It's a simple song, the message is pretty direct - it's an anti-war song. It pretends only lyrically to be about some urge that people have within them and why they should ignore it - maybe. But I'm pretty sure when people hear those kids singing along, they're going to get disturbed."
Originally formed in 1983 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Soul Asylum has consistently issued heartfelt and passionate rock n' roll, first starting out on indie Twin/Tone, before scoring two major hits on Columbia, 1992's 'Grave Dancers Union' (including the hit single "Runaway Train") and 1995's 'Let Your Dim Light Shine.' And the group is one of the few rock acts that can say that they played a presidential inauguration, when they did so for Bill Clinton in 1993.
The delay is now over, Soul Asylum fans. Dave Pirner and the band are back, and have readied a very potent 'Delayed Reaction.'
Fountains of Wayne
Fountains of Wayne's long-awaited new album, Sky Full of Holes, will be released in the US on August 2 via Yep Roc Records, their first release on the NC-based indie label. This is the acclaimed band's first new release since 2007's Traffic And Weather.
Recorded in New York City, Sky Full of Holes features 13 new songs by Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger, ranging from high-energy power pop to intimate, acoustic-driven ballads. Songs like "The Summer Place" and "Richie And Ruben" showcase the band's renowned storytelling abilities and flair for creating memorable characters; elsewhere, they take a more impressionistic approach, as in the shimmering "Someone's Gonna Break Your Heart" and the elegiac "Cemetery Guns" (a lyric from which provides the album's title). In signature FoW fashion, the album manages to be simultaneously witty and wistful, imaginative and personal.
Formed in New York in 1996, Fountains of Wayne took its name from an iconic garden store in nearby Wayne, NJ (which, sadly, closed recently). The band has received steady critical accolades since its inception; "Dean Of American Rock Critics" Robert Christgau has called them "lyric poets" and "true art heroes." The group's line-up, which also includes guitarist Jody Porter and drummer Brian Young, has remained unchanged since they toured in support of their 1996 self-titled debut album. FoW were nominated for two Grammys, including a slightly belated Best New Artist nod, in 2003, after scoring a hit with their third album, Welcome Interstate Managers.
Special Guest: Evan Dando
Evan Griffith Dando formed The Lemonheads with two high school buddies in late winter '86, in their senior year at Boston's tiny Commonwealth School. A few months later, they spawned what is now one of the most sought-after punk relics of the 80s, the indie EP Laughing All the Way to the Cleaners. Boston-based Taang! Records immediately picked up on The Lemonheads, with three college radio pleasers to follow: the LPs Hate Your Friends (1987), Creator (1988), and Lick (1989). In 1990 Atlantic Records took notice of the massively expanding Lemonheads fanbase in Europe (where they toured in 1989) and America by signing the band and releasing their well-received (in Cambridge, Massachusetts) fourth LP, Lovey.
Even by this time, The Lemonheads lineup had been volatile: more than a dozen different configurations over a period of just five years, all sorts of bit parts and reshuffles, with Dando as the only constant. At one point it got so confusing that an ex-drummer, just a week after getting kicked of the group, answered The Lemonheads' ad to replace himself. By a conservative estimate, the band has had more than ten bass players and at least a dozen drummers over the years.
But out of this primordial chaos came a veritable Golden Age for The Lemonheads. A 1991 tour brought Evan to Australia, where by chance he met songwriter Tom Morgan and future Lemonheads bassist Nic Dalton. Their collaboration made all the difference for the next Atlantic release, It's a Shame About Ray (1992), a concentrated blast of pure pop perfection that clocks in at just under 30 minutes. Thanks to songs such as "Confetti", "My Drug Buddy", "Rudderless", and "Ceiling Fan in My Spoon", Dando hit a whole new audience ("they're getting younger," he confessed to Kathie Lee Gifford at the time).
Mainstream media hype of The Lemonheads shifted into high gear, with lots of wild speculation as to the exact nature of the relationship between Dando and long-time friend Juliana Hatfield (who played bass and sang on Ray). It also didn't hurt when a 1993 People magazine spread devoted a full page to Evan as one of the fifty most beautiful people in the world. That news came to Evan in New Zealand, on his 26th birthday. When a magazine rep called to tell him he was among the "fifty dishiest people", Dando recalled, "I thought she said busiest". And I thought, 'kin right!" With all the traveling, I was busy!"
Atlantic released a smash follow-up, Come on Feel The Lemonheads, in October 1993. The album brought Dando a genuine charting single ("Into your Arms") as well as instant classics such as "Great Big No", "Down About It", "Being Around", and "You Can Take it with You." In winter 1993/1994 Evan Dando was in your living room, thanks to live appearances on the Letterman and Leno late night network TV shows. Inevitably, in Warrington, Pennsylvania, a 20-something named Jeff Fox published the first issue of his backlash 'zine Die Evan Dando, Die.
Two years of brutal touring for The Lemonheads followed, which Evan punctuated with some high-profile personal meltdowns on various continents that caught the imagination of a press ever eager for negative copy. Still The Lemonheads (now with Boston friends John Strohm on guitar and Murph on drums) managed to crank out a defiant 1996 release Car Button Cloth, with some of their best melodic pop/punk to date: "It"s All True", "If I Could Talk I"d Tell You", and "Tenderfoot". After a year promoting the record, Dando announced at the 1997 Reading Festival that he was disbanding The Lemonheads. Atlantic released a Best of The Lemonheads album in 1998, and a lot of geezers surmised that that was that.
"I just decided to duck out for a while", explains Dando of his self-imposed exile from the scene. "I didn't have it in me. It took until I met my wife in 1998 until I got back into making music." That would be Elizabeth Moses, Newcastle-born English supermodel and musician. Once married in 2000, Dando started to come alive again like Frampton, first with a 2001 live album Live at the Brattle Theater/Griffith Sunset, and then in 2003 with a well-received solo LP, Baby I"m Bored.
In 2004 Evan Dando found himself fronting the MC5, the most incendiary rock band of 1960s America, as lead vocalist in a 41-show tour. And it was hard to miss Dando during 2005 and early 2006, as he toured widely in North America and Europe with various bass players (Juliana Hatfield and Josh Lattanzi) and drummers (Bill Stevenson, Chris Brokaw from Come, George Berz of Dinosaur Jr), and occasionally as a one man electrical wrecking crew. Memorably, in September 2005, Dando, Stevenson, and Lattanzi played two instantly sold-out shows in London as part of the Don"t Look Back series, where they rocked through It"s a Shame About Ray from start to finish.
In 2006 came The Lemonheads, released on Vagrant records and recorded with Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez of The Descendents. Stevenson co-produced with Dando, and wrote or co-wrote three of its eleven songs, while long-time collaborator Tom Morgan added another two. There were cameos from bassist Josh Lattanzi ("Poughkeepsie", "Rule of Three", "In Passing"), Garth Hudson (of The Band, who plays keyboards on "Black Gown" and "December"), and some real foot-on-monitor guitar work by Dinosaur Jr's J. Mascis ("No Backbone", "Steve's Boy").
"We started out in Jam and Buzzcocks territory," explained Dando at the time, "We got some psyched-out country on there as well, but all of it is squarely in The Lemonheads tradition."
Following a Rhino reissue of ...Ray in 2008, complete with stripped-down demos, next up for The Lemonheads was a covers LP, Varshons. The idea for the band’s new covers record was inspired by Gibby Haynes, ringmaster of the Butthole Surfers, who for years has made mixes for Dando, a longtime friend. “Making a good mix is an art, and Gibby has it down,” says Dando. “I thought it would be fun to share these songs with other people like he shared them with me. So I picked the ‘greatest hits’ from his mixes and covered them, along with a few other songs I always wanted to play.”
Varshons was produced by Haynes and features Dando along with Vess Ruhtenburg (bass) and Devon Ashley (drums). The collection is filled with strange bedfellows - from G.G. Allin to Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt and garage rockers The Green Fuz. The Lemonheads make each track their own, with help from actress Liv Tyler, singing back up on Leonard Cohen’s “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” and Kate Moss, who sings over the dance groove of Arling & Cameron’s “Dirty Robot,” which also features lead guitar by John Perry on loan from The Only Ones.
Varshons unearths a pair of psychedelic treasures with “Yesterlove” – a song recorded in 1969 by the group Sam Gopal featuring future Motorhead bassist Lemmy Kilmister – and “Dandelion Seeds” from July, record collector’s Registered Landmark Band. For “Layin’ Up With Linda,” the band filters Allin’s cold-blooded tale through the swaggering country-honk of The Stones’ “Dead Flowers.”
Filled with obscure nuggets, the tracks on Varshons cut a wide swath, jumping from early British psychedelic to Dutch electronica and like all good mix tapes, you never know what is coming next.
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