Troubadour & Last Call Presents:
"Write the Night 2"
Soko, Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, Jenny O., Robbie Fulks, Vanish Valley
9081 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA, 90069
This event is all ages
"Write the Night 2"
Feat: Soko; Jenny O.; Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion; Vanish Valley; and Robbie Fulks
An eclecticline-up of singer-songwriters and artists who come together for one incredibly dynamic night of music. Curated by Last Call Music Producer Davis Powers, each performance will be filmed and air on an episode of Last Call With Carson Daly.
"When people ask me what kind of music I do," says Soko, "I usually tell them ‐ Punk
secrets". Intimate, lo‐fi, crazy, sexy, funny, tear‐stained, heartbreaking, often all at once, the
explosive young Frenchwoman's songs have already touched people around the world, earning her a
massive global following. At one mega‐gig in Australia, she had 15,000 people singing along with her.
Since her teens, Soko has been on a rollercoaster journey. From a stockpile of over 100 songs, she
has now finally whittled down to a selection of 14, her debut album.
Aptly entitled 'I Thought I Was An Alien', it's full of love and loss and worry – the kind of
fundamental, life‐dictating human feelings, which are so far beyond rational explanation, they really
ought to be kept under lock and key, along with that strange apparition from Roswell. Like one of her
absolute heroes, Daniel Johnston, however, Soko has the rare ability to sing openly about those
feelings, in a way which is utterly compelling, sometimes devastating, but also, completely uplifting.
"Most of what I do is like crying on my guitar," she says.
"Why it took me so long to make my album?" she ponders. "It's because I'm a control freak. I
wanted to feel totally independent in my music. I wouldn't've been able to release anything before I
was sure I could produce myself, and I can play every single instrument, except strings and horns,
and control every part that's on the record, and know that I've chosen everything myself, or I've
played it myself, or I made the arrangement for it." Like innumerable bedsit troubadours of her
generation, Soko started out with just her voice, her acoustic guitar, and GarageBand. After moving
to Paris, her early demoes were picked up by radio stations in Denmark, Belgium and Australia,
making her too much of a new pop thing, without her own consent. In 2007, her music was used in a
Stella McCartney show in Paris. Soko played gigs with Daniel Johnston, MIA, Babyhambles, Adam
Green, Jeffrey Lewis, Seasick Steve and many others.
Feeling under pressure, perhaps, she went from home studio recording to trying to record
her songs in a proper studio, working with producers who would hire session musicians to play the
other instruments. "It made my songs sound way, way too produced," she says with a shudder of
disapproval. "All my friends were telling me, 'It doesn't sound like you, it doesn't feel like you're
telling me a secret anymore, and that it's just to me.' Just to hear that, and acknowledge that,
everything made much more sense. How I was looking at making music after that – I wanted people
to feel like they're in the room with me when I sing, like I'm singing right in their ears."
Soko's acoustic playing, too, has grown up from the punky thrumming of before, often
arriving at the complex, fluid picking of the "old '60s folk dudes" she's been listening to, such as Roy
Harper, Michael Hurley, Davey Graham, Karen Dalton and Jackson C Frank.
In 2008, Soko moved to Los Angeles. Amassing more recorded versions out there, she soon
realised she needed someone to help her sift through it all, and make sense of everything she'd
created. Losing quite a few months to dead‐end offers, in late 2010 she was eventually introduced to
Fritz Michaud, who had her instant admiration, having worked on the late Elliott Smith's final album,
'From A Basement On The Hill', which is one of her favourite albums.
"So I worked with Fritz every day for eight months, just with his laptop and a pair of
speakers, and that's how we finished it. We were basically fucking around with a lot of songs,
speeding them up, slowing them down, changing the key, making sure they were as lo‐fi as they wereoriginally recorded, and as intimate as possible, and that everything that's there is supposed to be
there. Sometimes, we'd use a deck of Brian Eno's 'Oblique Strategies' cards to find our way out of an
issue and move on, to help us remember that, 'Where there's a will, there's a way'. Other times, I'd
be at the studio all day, then go home at night, and record a whole new song on GarageBand, and
the next morning I'd come back and say, 'I just wrote a new song, we're working on this today!'"
Like many of her songs, though, it was written as a message, to a specific person. "When I
write," she says, "I don't write for the purpose of putting another song on my album, I usually write a
song for someone, like a musical letter, as my way to communicate with them – I'll write it, record it,
and five minutes later send it to that person. It's like making a present that means something. I don't
think I ever wrote a song for no‐one. Maybe I could censor myself more, but I don't think I could do
anything else but something that's raw and purely honest."
So, 'I Just Want To Make It New With You' was actually written for Soko's then boyfriend,
"like the song he might've written for me". She says she writes best and most prolifically, when she
has a muse in her life. Alex Ebert, from Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, was apparently one of
them, and it was he who helped her arrive at the albums's exquisitely muted sound.
Having asserted her control over her music, Soko realised that rules are made to be broken,
and allowed others – close friends, this time – to add their expertise, "When I needed a new take on
something. Stella [Mozgawa] came and added some magic. I said, 'Can you play some weird guitar
solo in a hooky Television style?' She came up with that and we would write the harmony to that, so
it was very collaborative. Likewise, she called in her friend Indiana from Australia to provide string
parts on 'We Might Be Dead By Tomorrow'. "She came over and I knew exactly what I wanted it to
sound like – like crying/singing whales."
The air of mortal tragedy in Soko's songs comes from bitter experience. "I had an awareness
of death so early in my life," she says, "because I lost my Dad when I was five. I lost my Godfather
when I was eight, my grandfather when I was nine, my grandma when I was ten, then my other
grandma and grandpa when I was 16. So, 'We Might Be Dead By Tomorrow' is like an urge to live my
life now, to make sure that I do the right thing, that I'm the best of myself every day, even if most of
the time I'm not – I'm just trying to be. 'I've Been Alone Too Long' – that's definitely a Dad's death
On 'Treat Your Woman', her voice is breathless, as if she's been sobbing for hours
beforehand – maybe she had, such is the heartbreaking sense of betrayal in her words. The listener
never has to suspend disbelief, you never doubt for one instant that Soko's pain is real. She's had a
fan come up to her after a show, saying that they'd come off heroin, after hearing her tortuous, in‐
love‐with‐an‐addict number, 'For Marlon'. Her songs literally change lives.
When she sings of a rootless existence, always sadly moving on with her suitcase and her
guitar, you know that this is her existence – and it really is. "I'm just a homeless gypsy couch‐surfer
citizen of the world, depending on the love and charity of my friends," she giggles. After such a long and soul‐searching evolution, 'I Thought I Was An Alien' finally introduces a
truly singular talent, at her point of fruition. Like any artist in creative overdrive, Soko talks excitedly
about her next album, her newborn songs as if she had already started a new chapter.
Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion
Nearly a decade after folk-rock duo Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion put out their first album together, the husband-and-wife pair feel like they’ve finally hit their stride on Wassaic Way, a collection of 11 new songs to be released August 6th on Rte 8 Records.
Produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Patrick Sansone at the Loft in Chicago, Wassaic Way finds Guthrie and Irion pushing further beyond the folky sound they established on 2005’s Exploration, their first studio LP. After Irion’s solo album Ex Tempore in 2007, the live album Folksong in 2009 and the children’s collection Go Waggaloo in 2009, the pair began expanding their sonic horizons on 2011’s Bright Examples, an album that drew praise from American Songwriter magazine for its “lush, dreamy sound.”
“This record is a departure from a folk duo,” Irion says. “I think this is the best example we’ve been able to present that shows the many facets of what we can do. There’s loud guitars, there’s soundscapes, there’s a lushness to it, there’s a popness, an edge. But that can be difficult sometimes to bring it all together and present it.”
Wassaic Way is also the latest entry in an ongoing creative relationship between the Guthrie family and Wilco. Sarah Lee is the daughter of Arlo Guthrie, and the granddaughter of the iconic folk singer Woody Guthrie, whose unfinished songs Wilco recorded with Billy Bragg on a pair of Mermaid Avenue albums in 1998 and 2000. Wilco also invited Sarah Lee and Johnny to perform at the band’s Solid Sound Festival in 2011, and the duo had toured with the Autumn Defense, Sansone’s project with Wilco bassist John Stirratt.
After recording most of Bright Examples live with a band, the duo credits Tweedy and Sansone in helping them put the new songs together in the studio. They had plenty of material to choose from: Before convening in Chicago last year, Guthrie and Irion sent along nearly 50 demos for Tweedy and Sansone to sort through. Once they got to the Loft, Tweedy pushed them to revise and tighten up the tunes they had decided on.
“We actually ended up rewriting a lot of these songs with Jeff in the studio,” Guthrie says. “We would powwow on a song before we got going on it, sometimes for two hours at the beginning of the day, just me and Johnny and Jeff, making sure it was lyrically sound and there were no musical loopholes.”
You can hear it throughout Wassaic Way, in the buoyant pop of album opener “Chairman Meow,” the wistful melody threading through an enveloping beat on “Not Feeling It” and the moody atmospherics underpinning “Nine Out of Ten Times.” Guthrie and Irion also haven’t abandoned their folky roots, as demonstrated by the harmonica and Dobro on the lilting acoustic number “Hurricane Window.” Tweedy and Sansone played on the album, along with multi-instrumentalist Charlie Rose and drummer Otto Hauser, which they recorded in bursts over a period of a few months.
“It was the first time we’d ever taken our time with a record and really gotten it right,” Irion says. “When I listen to the album, there’s not much I would change, and that’s hard to say with other records we’ve made.”
Although Guthrie and Irion perform as a duo, they rarely write that way. With all the time they spend together on tour, and at home raising their two daughters, writing songs is more of a solitary pursuit for each of them. As studio dates approach, they share what they’ve come up with and offer suggestions and ideas.
“Writing is kind of an escape from the work that we do together as a family and on the road,” Irion says.
“It definitely echoes exactly who we are,” Guthrie chimes in. “Johnny’s full of melodies and really creative chord structures. He’s constantly working on a song that’s better than the last one. I tend to be a lot simpler, and sometimes songs tend to flow through me, rather than me crafting it as much. I’m a lot lazier than him.”
Irion adds, “I end up writing a bunch of songs, and Sarah Lee will write two, and one of them will be the single.”
Any of the songs on Wassaic Way could be a single, which speaks to the strength of the songwriting, and also to Guthrie and Irion’s underlying goal: they wanted an album that moves them one step closer to getting at the heart of who they are as writers and performers.
“Every record has been a huge learning curve, and you get pushed beyond your limits, and then your limits are way bigger,” Guthrie says. “I think we’re still at the beginning of what we can do as recording artists. I think we’re just starting to carve a path that we can walk on.”
Automechanic is the appropriately titled debut full-length by Los Angeles artist Jenny O. A great distance from her Long Island, New York beginnings on the now critically praised EP "Home," Jenny O. has refined her songwriting to a well-oiled machine. With touches of noteworthy Los Angeles mile-markers like Harry Nilsson, Ricky Lee Jones, Randy Newman, and Carol King, her playful attitude towards life shines here in sweepingly poignant songwriting and lyrical delivery. Honest diatribes and insightful glances of life, love and the adventure of Los Angeles radiate in her songs. Automechanic is metaphor for taking the wheel, self sufficiency and the courage of artistic honesty.
Jenny O. weaves through spirited guitar jams a la Neil Young like the album's title track “Automechanic” or the kindred J.J. Cale-styled number "Good Love." She delivers songs like "Sun Moon and Stars" with bravura and clarity; "And when I get to crying instead… over something you said…I'll stand by the blues… I'm gonna use em… I'll make a note not to abuse em."
Jenny O. taps fearlessly into a bevy of styles here. The 70's R&B-inspired "Lazy Jane" is a tale of relationship dissolution leaving one immobile with heartbreak and regret. "Get Lost" rolls with a modern folk and country throwback: arpeggiated chords under a slow-burned melody that offers the safety in letting go. "Come Get Me" may be Jenny O.'s most adventurous tune of all, delving into far-out guitar tones, unabashed drum fills, and joyous background harmonies.
Produced by Jonathan Wilson (Father John Misty, Dawes, Will Oldham), and recorded to 2" analog tape, Automechanic hosts a cast of musicians aside from Jenny O.'s brilliant guitar and piano duties. The album features Jonathan Wilson, James Gadson (Bill Withers), Jake Blanton (The Killers) and Benji Lysaght (Father John Misty). This eclectic mixture of musicians brings a well-honed yet rag-tag ramble feel to her masterful and charged assembly of songs.
Jenny O.'s wistful spirit has kept her constantly writing, recording and touring, and with the release of Automechanic on Holy Trinity / Thirty Tigers on February 5, 2013 there are no plans to slow down, only speed up.
"Mr. Fulks is more than a songwriter. He's a gifted guitarist who has taught for years at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago, he's a soulful singer with an expressive honky-tonk tenor, and he's a natural performer. It rings true when he says he's only truly comfortable when he's onstage or when he's totally alone. But what really sets him apart is his songwriting, which is one part artful country, one part artful sendup of country and one part a little of everything else." - New York Times
"A collection of stories detailing battles for hope and companionship. Women from the perspectives of lone travelers, felons and family men-their execution sways from folk-ish, Townes Van Zandt-like ballads to fuller Flying Burrito Brothers-inspired, laid-back country rock." Andrew McAllister sings with a voice characterized by Three Imaginary Girls as "…a country-esque Damien Jurado" and by Seattle's Stranger as "…a younger more innocent Jeff Tweedy". These are just a few of many descriptions of Andrew McAllister's music.
After releasing two records with the sleepy-country outfit Conrad Ford, Andrew McAllister, with the help of a gray Seattle winter, decided on a change. The winter of 2008 brought him to sunny Los Angeles where he nestled into a hillside bungalow to write and record, collecting makeshift and thrift store instruments to aid his task. Six months later he emerged with a series of songs that were soon whittled down to a proper full-length record, entitled Vanish Valley.
After college McAllister moved to Austin TX to pursuer a career in film work. It was there that he began frequenting the popular roots bar, The Continental Club, and fell in love with Western Swing and Honky Tonk. Digging further into the local music scene he discovered a love for Dale Watson, Daniel Johnston and Townes Van Zandt. When his career in film wasn't taking off as he had hoped, McAllister returned to Seattle. Back in Seattle, he began recording his own lonesome country songs under the name "Conrad Ford". He assembled a band with Jordan Walton (record engineer for Damien Jurado and Denison Witmer) and over the course of four years made two albums with Phil Ek (The Shins/Band of Horses/Fleet Foxes) and Tucker Martine (The Decemberists) that were released on Tarnished Records. Conrad Ford mounted several tours, opening for Holly Golightly, Jason Isbell, Eef Barzelay and Firewater.
Now in Los Angeles (where he works as a film editor), McAllister has assembled a group of musicians for Vanish Valley - Henry Derek Bonner/bass, Cara Batema/keys, and Julio Javier Trejo/drums. "I guess I would say this is the first project that just sort of rolled with the heart of the song", says McAllister. "I was recording while I was writing so the nuances didn't get muddy. And it was freeing to grab whatever instrument was lying around, find the personality of the song and not over think it."
Blending elements of folk, country and psychedelic rock, the songs on Vanish Valley ramble their way through hushed landscapes and into roll-your-window-down backcountry cruises. Listen to Vanish Valley and you'll feel it too.
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"Write the Night 2" with Soko, Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, Jenny O., Robbie Fulks, Vanish Valley
Tuesday, November 12 · 7:00 PM at Troubadour