Minor Alps (Matthew Caws of Nada Surf and Juliana Hatfield)

Minor Alps (Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Caws of Nada Surf)

Over the last two decades, both Juliana Hatfield and Matthew Caws have carved out long-lasting – and strikingly independent – careers within a dependably fickle music business, Caws with his now 20-year-old New York City group Nada Surf, and Hatfield with the Boston-reared Blake Babies, the Juliana Hatfield Three, Some Girls, as well as a number of releases under her own name. They first worked together in 2008 when he added vocals to the song ‘Such a Beautiful Girl’ from her album How to
Walk Away. She quickly returned the favor, singing on the Nada Surf bside ‘I Wanna Take You Home’. It was clear from these brief encounters that their voices and sensibilities are almost preternaturally harmonious – or, more accurately (as illustrated
throughout their new album Get There, recorded under the name Minor Alps), it can be difficult at times to distinguish between their voices, or to know where one’s ideas might end and the other’s begin. As Hatfield declares, “In certain ranges, the tones of our voices are so similar I can’t tell which is which. I haven’t experienced that with any other singer.” It’s as if they were always meant to perform together, and the pair has, luckily for us, finally realized it.

Hatfield and Caws not only share lead vocals and co-writing credit on each of the eleven songs that comprise Get There; aside from some drumming and programming by Parker Kindred (Jeff Buckley, Antony and the Johnsons) and Chris Egan (Solange, Computer Magic), the pair plays every instrument and conjures every sound – from primitive electronic dub pulse
(‘Buried Plans’)-- to straight-up rock hook (‘I Don’t Know What To Do With My Hands’) to stripped-down electric guitar punch (‘Mixed Feelings’) to eerie trance-allure (‘Radio Static’) to hypnotic guitar drone (‘Waiting For You’). It’s not just the timbre of the voices and the shared vision of their musical explorations, but the emotional tone of their songs and lyrics that blends so seamlessly. Their attraction to themes of restless solitude and constant longing have always been a compelling part of their individual repertoires,
and Minor Alps expresses an ageless existential yearning tempered by hardfought wisdom, maturity, or maybe just acceptance of certain eternal truths. As they ruefully admit in ‘If I Wanted Trouble,’ “This growing up never ends/ The same mistakes come back again…”

In the year before they recorded these songs (mostly with Caws’ old friend Tom Beaujour at his studio in Hoboken, NJ) Hatfield and Caws wrote together in brief but intense bursts at his studio in Brooklyn, at her place in Cambridge, MA, and at Caws’ current home in Cambridge, England. Those sessions themselves inspired one of the songs, as Matthew explains: “We were hanging out and working on ideas for a few days in England and
it was such a positive thing that I really missed it when it was over. We spent most of the time working together, but sometimes we’d go to separate rooms to write. ‘Wish You Were Upstairs’ is about energy by proxy—how collaborating with someone, or just being industrious at the same time, can be comforting and inspiring, particularly if they’re just fifteen feet away.”

“That’s exactly what it’s like,” Juliana interjects. “I wanted us to have a mind meld, a musical one, because I know there are these barriers between people and it takes a long time to get close to someone. We were just getting to know each other while we were trying to write songs together. When we first got together writing, I felt very vulnerable because I usually do it alone. It’s a delicate balance to go to that vulnerable place yet do it in front of another person. That was the challenge, but the more we did it, the more it felt natural.”

Choosing a name for their self-sufficient combo became one of those long mulled-over decisions that ultimately get resolved in an instant. Decades ago, Matthew’s family had purchased a cheap mountainside cottage in France, with no running water or electricity, where he spent several summers as a child. The mountain overlooking the region, the Mont Ventoux, while technically part of the Alps, isn’t referred to as such because there are no other mountains nearby. Matthew described it as a “minor alp” to his friend, photographer Autumn de Wilde, years ago, who immediately said “great band name, write that down.” So, as Matthew puts it, “in the tradition of Iron Butterfly or Led Zeppelin, band names that contain contradictions, we chose Minor Alps—humble mountains.”

On a more metaphorical level, Hatfield believes, the moniker suits them:“Maybe the whole world doesn’t know who we are, but the people who do really appreciate us” – making Minor Alps nothing less than a major event.

-- Michael Hill

Dan Wilson is renowned in music circles for the elegance of his melodies, the intelligence of his lyrics and the purity of his voice. The onetime member of storied cult band Trip Shakespeare and the critically acclaimed Semisonic is now debuting as a solo artist, working with a collective of musicians from the Twin Cities and elsewhere. This new phase follows an intense period of songwriting collaborations—in the past few years Wilson has written songs with the Dixie Chicks, Mike Doughty, Rachael Yamagata, Jewel, Jason Mraz and others. Wilson’s recent co- writing work with the Dixie Chicks earned him a “Song of the Year” Grammy® in 2007 for “Not Ready To Make Nice” from the album Taking the Long Way. He co-wrote six songs on the album, which won the Dixie Chicks a total of 5 Grammy® Awards, including “Album Of The Year” and “Country Album Of The Year.”

Wilson is now ready to unveil his first solo work, Free Life on American Recordings. The collection of songs began as a self-produced project in Minneapolis, and was finished in Los Angeles by Wilson and executive producer and label chief Rick Rubin. Free Life features contributions from Sheryl Crow, who provides the harmony vocal on “Sugar”; Sean Watkins (Nickel Creek), who plays the finger picked acoustic guitar on “Free Life” and “Baby Doll;” and Gary Louris (the Jayhawks), who contributes a guitar solos on “Cry” and “Come Home Angel.” Eric Fawcett (N.E.R.D.) plays drums on many of the tracks, and Benmont Tench (Heartbreakers), provides piano on “Against History” and several others.

“The best thing about my album, in my opinion, is the incredibly intimate feeling it evokes,” says Wilson. “These songs sound like they already existed, but at the same time, they project the feeling that they’re about somebody’s life.”

While he was writing the songs for what would become Free Life, Wilson was living in a house built in 1903, and the place served both as a subtle influence on the writing and a perfect setting for the recording. “I found a few books of sheet music from that era at antique stores and spent lots of time singing the songs at the piano: chords and melodies the house probably hadn’t heard for a hundred years,” he says. “‘Sugar’ and ‘Honey Please’ both seem to have that spirit, as though they were written by the house as much as by me. When the batch became big enough, I hatched a plan to borrow a recording studio and set it up in the living room and ballroom of the place.

“I’d learned a lot about digital recording over the couple of previous years, but I was determined to use very little of what I’d learned,” Wilson explains. “I had just finished reading the book Shakey, a biography of Neil Young, and his insistence on live recording, capturing the moment, starting with the vocal, avoiding overdubs…all these things inspired the hell out of me.”

“For the sessions, I called about 10 musicians whose playing and personalities I love,” Wilson, recalls. “We ended up playing about 20 songs live, vocals were all cut live with the band, and most of the songs on the album stayed that way. I had met with the musicians separately over the weeks before the sessions—taught them the songs, ran through them one-on-one, but never brought the band together until the first day of recording. This made for a great vibe, because the songs were very familiar, but the musicians’ ideas were new to each other. And I think that led to a certain sound of the album—the songs are really about an experience of a bunch of people together in a room. I think that communicates on a more soulful level.”

After hearing what Wilson had done on his own, Rick Rubin enthusiastically agreed to help him complete the project, saying of Wilson, “Dan’s music touches my soul. He is/has the perfect combination of inspiration and songcraft. He is a timeless artist whose music will feel as good in 50 years as it does today.”

“When Rick and I started working together, eight of the songs were already recorded, and several of them needed only a little thing here or there,” Wilson recalls. “Some of his prescriptions were really subtle and helpful. On the other hand, several songs that had puzzled me—’Cry,’ ‘Free Life,’ ‘Come Home Angel’ and a few others—I either re-recorded with Rick or completely revamped with his help.”

When asked about his favorite songs on Free Life, Wilson immediately names “Sugar.” “Writing ‘Sugar’ was everything I love about songwriting—making something profound and emotionally affecting out of almost nothing,” he explains. “That song was the starting point, the song that told me I had to let go of all my assumptions and methods from my bands and do something completely unfamiliar.” Opening with mournful and wide-open chords from Wilson’s piano and guitarist Bleu’s rolling acoustic, the recorded version of the song slowly rises to a glorious bridge. The performance defines a loose, intuitively American sound that is somehow not Americana. It’s a far cry from the tightly structured pop rock that Wilson has been known for in the past.

The recording of the song “All Kinds” exemplified the change to an open and unpredictable recording process. “That track happened so fast, I didn’t know what hit me. One night, after a long day in the ballroom, I told the remaining three musicians that tomorrow first thing we’d record ‘All Kinds,’ and I sang them the song. Bleu, who’d played guitar that day, got a wild-eyed look and announced that we were going to record the song right now. It was late, but we ran back upstairs and put on our headphones. Ken Chastain, our percussionist, picked up a Fender bass.

We did three takes of the song, everyone ran out to their cars and the day was done. I didn’t know that anything special had happened until the next morning when I listened back and discovered we’d nailed the perfect version. And we’d done it with the spontaneous, free methods I’d read about in Shakey.”

While Free Life is in some ways a departure from Wilson’s previous work, it also perpetuates certain of his tendencies—the elevated, chill-inducing melodies, the thoughtful yet straightforward lyrics, the striving for honesty of expression. “I’ve always loved songwriting that sounded like truth,” says Wilson, “like first-person confessions, like confidences whispered in your ear. Even if I’m willing to tinker with reality and my own history, I want the song to feel true.”

More than ever before, Wilson has achieved this goal on Free Life, which serves to culminate one stage of his career and initiate the next, as if he were living out the memorable payoff of his song “Closing Time” – “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” There’s no doubting the truth of that.

Freedom Fry

Freedom Fry is the LA based duo of Parisian born, Marie Seyrat, and Michigan native, Bruce Driscoll. Seyrat, who had been singing since before she could talk, initially pursued a career in fashion and styling where she did PR for Gucci and even dressed the likes of Sharon Stone. Driscoll, meanwhile, cut his teeth in the music industry as a producer and touring musician from a very young age. He toured extensively, playing live with the likes of James Iha and Ivy and sharing bills with bands like Stars, Cake, Tahiti 80 and the Trashcan Sinatras.

Fate brought them together when Marie worked as a stylist on a video for Bruce's other band, Blondfire. "She played me a song with her singing in French while we were on the set. I loved her voice and thought it would be cool to try to write some songs together with somewhat of a French melodic sensibility. That was April. That following August we wrote and recorded our first EP and the following single, Earthquake, in about five days in my apartment in New York." Bruce recalled.

Earthquake, inspired by an actual New York earthquake they experienced, was released on Valentine's Day of 2012 and received a great critical response to both the song and the self-directed video. It even garnered a single-of-the-week from French music magazine, Les Inrockuptibles.
Soon after the release of their first EP Bruce relocated to California and the twosome did a road trip from NY to LA. Along the way they made a detour and stopped in Fort Sumner, New Mexico at the grave of Billy The Kid. This visit would inspire their following wild west themed EP, Outlaws. The EP featured a reinvented, banjo-driven cover of Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot's Bonnie and Clyde as well as songs about legends Billy The Kid and Jesse James. "Jesse James", the single from the EP, was accompanied by a video directed by French director Mark Maggiori (French music fans know his work for the bands Lilly Wood and the Prick and Brigitte) and Petecia Le Fawnhawk.

Their follow up single, "Summer In The City", reached #13 on the Commercial Specialty radio charts and was a #20 album. It was also in rotation at over 50 US college stations, including tastemaker station KCRW.

Freedom Fry strive for one main thing, "To create our own musical universe." Seyrat remarks with her soft-whispery voice with just a hint of a French accent. "We love doing every aspect of the band, from writing & recording to directing and conceptualizing the videos and artwork. We are very much out to do something we haven't seen yet, even if sometimes that can be difficult. We're out to prove that there are one or two new things under the sun." You can see this put into action by the fact that their first EP packaging was in the shape of a French Fry box and their trademark look has become sunglasses accompanied by red, wax lips. Even their name, an ironic FU to US & French relations at the time of the Iraq war, sums up the unique universe that the band has strived to create.
Their latest offering, the Friends And Enemies EP, highlights their recent experimentation with writing Bass-line driven, dark, minimal, organic, danceable songs. The single, "Friends And Enemies", is about the beauty and danger involved in friendship and how vulnerable you can become once you open yourself up and fully trust another person. 

Freedom Fry's Friends And Enemies EP was released digitally on April 2nd, 2013.

$20.00 - $22.00

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Minor Alps (Matthew Caws of Nada Surf and Juliana Hatfield) with Dan Wilson, Freedom Fry

Tuesday, November 12 · 8:00 PM at Echoplex