THE SMART STUDIOS STORY (CONEY ISLAND STUDIOS, 2016) is documentary about the outwardly unassuming yet highly influential recording studio in MADISON, WISCONSIN, that was founded and run by STEVE MARKER and BUTCH VIG. the creation of the studio was at an interesting inflection point in american culture as there was a definite influx of underground HARDCORE and INDIE ROCK bands that were supported in earnest by college radio and a nationwide network of bars, VFW halls and small clubs not to mention independent promoters and independent record labels and record stores. what connected all these stakeholders in the scene was a sense of self-reliance and DIY ETHIC. maybe its simplistic to say that the puritan ethic of the midwest played a role in this community, but essentially this mindset led to an era of experimentation in music that was free of financial considerations, because none of this was supposed to go commercial. given that VIG was a musician (drummer in local bad SPOONER with future GARBAGE collaborator DOUG ERIKSON) he also had the added benefit of being able to listen and suss out the needs of a band, how to bring out their sound in a fun, experimental atmosphere. he was also able to know firsthand what worked and didn't work from a musician's perspective in "professional" studios. i think his versatility is underrated and part of his work ethic and gets lost in the shuffle when success for his production duties gained global notoriety.
enter NIRVANA and THE SMASHING PUMPKINS, the two bands whose albums NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) and SIAMESE DREAM (VIRGIN, 1993) altered the landscape for VIG and the underground scene seemingly overnight with the inception of a financially viable ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene that was supported by commercial radio, promoters and the commercial infrastructure of corporate AMERICA. this allowed VIG freedom in choosing projects since SMART STUDIOS was now a destination studio and his services a known commodity.
i think given that sea change it is to his credit that VIG along with MARKER and ERIKSON expanded their craft by utilizing technology and incorporating new techniques in their band GARBAGE. for me their incorporation of HIP HOP and ELECTRONICA elements into a new hybrid style are one of the defining sounds of the 1990s. the fusion of such is only that much more impressive given the cultural impact of his celebrated yet sonically more straightforward catalogue of ALTERNATIVE ROCK production work.
its ironic that this embrace of technology is also what brought down the studio, as digital recording software on personal computers made this DIY ETHIC spread to a new prosumer base of musicians. the time had come to move on.
my takeaway from this documentary is that good music can come from anywhere, no matter how far off the beaten path. SEATTLE, MINNEAPOLIS, PORTLAND. in this case WISCONSIN. innovation is a personal pursuit and must be met on its own merits. in many ways BUTCH VIG's career as an established producer was entirely a fluke of circumstance. on the other hand he was talented and was prepared to take advantage of opportunities when presented.
makes me wonder what other crevices of the UNITED STATES or even the golbal scene have i not considered researching. where should i look next? because i'm always searching.
photo manipulations by nacrowe
R.E.M. BY MTV (VIACOM, 2014) is a pretty straightforward documentary cobbled together from, you guessed it, archival interview and performance footage of the band on MTV from throughout their career. the result of which is a surprisingly intimate narrative that for the most part is told in first-person from the band's perspective, as well as a sprinkling of record producers, record executives and the like.
the value of this documentary for me had nothing to do with their biography (of which i will spare you any plot summary), but rather the mysterious alchemy that was their songwriting process and how it was affected over time by external factors. in a sense their process was very pure as their was a communal ethic to their process. each brought in material and as a group they would mold it into shape. importantly this was concept was buttressed by the business decision to split publishing royalties evenly, which might sound like a boring detail but you'd be surprised how many bands have fallen by the wayside due to this important decision. over their career there was a sense of group ownership of their material which only deepened their trust in each other as financial incentives were not an issue.
when i think of guitarist PETER BUCK and his sound it very much reminds me of what JOHNNY MARR termed in his memoir as a "anti-Rockist" approach. like MARR, he tends to have a RICKENBACKER sound that can be at times clean and precise in an almost traditional FOLK sense and then impressionistic with suspended chords drenched in reverb. with R.E.M. there is a definite contrarian streak throughout their career and BUCK's guitar approach reflects such. his use of mandolin on OUT OF TIME (WARNER BROS, 1991) and the incorporation of sounds based in electronic music on later albums in the wake of drummer BILL BERRY's departure being prime examples. fundamentally his work, along with the rhythm section sets the tone that singer MICHAEL STIPE reacts to in his lyrics and vocal approach.
obviously STIPE is an iconic and celebrated singer who both popularized the COLLEGE ROCK / INDIE ROCK of the 1980s as well as helped usher in and very much participated in the ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion of the 1990s. but to consider what it was he actually contributed is much harder to discern. its almost like the HEISENBERG UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE in that the closer you look, the more you are missing the point. taking his cue from the impressionistic sound of his band, there is an intuitiveness to his lyrics and voice. he almost seems to revel in ambiguity, especially early in his career. songs were more about presenting an emotion rather than delivering an idea. the fact that songs are gender neutral only adds to this ambiguity. only after their initial run of albums did he alter slightly his approach to address the bigger crowds at their shows.
what interests me about STIPE's career is how his writing and stage persona tackled this problem while maintaining his credibility. given his greater platform and the vapidness and skullduggery of dealing with the press, he consciously addressed issues he was passionate about including AIDS awareness, animal rights, gun legislation, LGBTQIA issues, etc. maybe this was influenced by his allies in PATTI SMITH, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, ADAM YAUCH, EDDIE VEDDER and KURT COBAIN, all who similarly fearlessly addressed such matters without fear of blowback, almost inviting it. some find this kind of outspokenness pretentious. some find STIPE's opaque lyrics in general pompous as well. as immortally stated in SPINAL TAP, "its a fine line between stupid... and uh, clever." luckily despite such external pressures, STIPE is the type that of artist that has a strong sense of self and follows his own trajectory.
and for me that sense of purpose is the legacy of R.E.M. even years now after their breakup. they are a great example of not compromising artistically and being commercially viable. and that art vs. commerce balance is quite the tight-rope act.
just the idea of listening to yourself is empowering. thats what i take from R.E.M.
ACID DAD was one of the standout bands the we came across during the filming of our live performance series OFF THE M at NYC independent venues MARKET HOTEL and TRANS-PECOS back in late 2018/early 2019.
their is a sense of deja-vu when listening to modern ROCK N ROLL bands in general, where you can identify immediately what era or vibe they are going after, which only contributes to the sense that you've heard all before probably better.
not with ACID DAD. when i listen songs like "Child," "2ci" and "Marine" i am transported. not really sure where, but it feels like when i first discovered films by DEREK JARMAN, GREGG ARAKI or PIER PAOLO PASOLINI in high school. its a world i want to return to as soon as i can.
they are an INDIE ROCK group with a definite sense of melody and song-craft while maintaining an edge. like the first time i heard NIRVANA, i wasn't sure what the lyrics were about per se, but i knew they were genuine and authentic. ACID DAD's 2018 self-titled release on GREENWAY RECORDS is one of my favorite records in recent years.
definitely can't wait to see what they produce next.
witnessing RITUAL TALK perform at TRANS-PECOS back on a frigid winter night in 2018 was one of the highlights since being involved with DEER GOD. to my ears they conjure up the best experimental aspects of bands like JANE'S ADDICTION, FRIENDLY FIRES and even THE POLICE, the drums locked into an ambient groove going while shifting thumping bass lines and arpeggiated guitars swirl abound.
i loved that show. if it was up to me, we would have done an OFF THE M episode of their entire set.
parodies by nacrowe
depending on your persuasion regarding DEER GOD RADIO, this episode is either the best one we ever did by far, or it was a complete disaster. i like to think its the former as THE SMITHS are one of my three favorite bands of all-time (the other two in my holy trinity are DEVO and JANE'S ADDICTION).
i was basically raised on the work of MORRISSEY and JOHNNY MARR by my parents and have been a fan since early childhood. TOM FERRIE of THE NOWHERE FAST SHOW and a co-founder of MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC is a certifiable super-fan of the band and upon seeing the "bat signal" of my social media promotions, swung by for the show. basically we talked the entire time about THE SMITHS, just none of it on air. so this is a playlist of THE SMITHS, the solo work of MORRISSEY and MARR, as well as collaborative projects (all MARR) with the likes of THE THE, MODEST MOUSE, BRIAN FERRY, THE CRIBS and ELECTRONIC making it arguably one of the strongest ones to date.
just no commentary. at all. just the playlist unbroken pure and simple.
maybe i should redo this show in the future? nah, no reason to ruin a perfect thing.
i havent attempted to hide my contempt on this platform for all things SACRAMENTO. having lived in that area for my senior year of high school i was convinced that nothing relevant ever came out of there with one exception: DEFTONES. that changed over the years to include both CHELSEA WOLFE and DEATH GRIPS.
DEATH GRIPS when they came out roughly 10 years ago had that whole HARDCORE, DIY ethic and a sound that split the difference between grating INDUSTRIAL production with dissonant layered distorted guitars and an almost post-modern, unpredictably kinetic HIP HOP sense of production.
to my ears it seemed like they took the most abrasive sounds out of all those traditions and cooked them up into an uncomfortable, unfolding concoction that was absolutely abrasive yet, strangely, entirely listenable.
probably the most revolutionary rock(?) band in terms of sonics of the last ten years. like next level RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE.
definitely check them out. but stay please stay away from SACRAMENTO. redneck country.
LOS ANGELES-based INDIE ROCK musician ARIEL PINK is a hard one to pin down as his work is highly experimental, often utilizing odd instrumentation (electronic, field recordings, woodwind) with dissonant results. that being said, his music has a distinct classic pop sensibility. this keeps him in tradition with THE BEACH BOYS and THE CARPENTERS as if channeled through CAPTAIN BEEFHEART and R STEVIE MOORE.
super interesting, multi-textured music that is definitely worth checking out.
when people consider the PUNK ROCK movement that swelled up on both sides of the ATLANTIC in the late 1970s, the bands that usually come to mind are iconic acts like THE RAMONES, SEX PISTOLS, THE CLASH and THE DAMNED. whats interesting about those bands is that in many ways they are rather conservative in their approach, basically recycling CHUCK BERRY riffs and taking back ROCK AND ROLL in essence back to its core 1950s origins with ROCKABILLY legacy acts like ELVIS PRESLEY, EDDIE COCHRAN, GENE VINCENT, CARL PERKINS and the like. i find it one of the great ironies that a cultural movement so celebrated for being transgressive was actually quite traditionalist in a sonic sense, at worst even nostalgic.
such was not the case with two bands of that period, X-RAY SPEX and especially THE SLITS. the documentary HERE TO BE HEARD: THE STORY OF THE SLITS (HEAD GEAR FILMS, 2017) interview surviving members (and former members) TESSA POLLITT, VIV ALBERTINE, PALMOLIVE and NENA CHERRY about their experience during that period. the recently deceased ARI UP (R.I.P.) appears in archival interview and performance footage.
my big takeaway from that film was how truly revolutionary THE SLITS were in context, both musically and socially. musically they blazed the way forward towards POST-PUNK by incorporating WEST INDIAN and AFRICAN rhythms into an aggressive yet sophisticated sound which sonically reinforced confrontational lyrics dealing with the VICTORIAN ideals of womanhood. and if you thought these famous male PUNK bands were supportive of their female brethren you'd be surprised. apparently while on tour with THE CLASH on their WHITE RIOT TOUR in 1977 across BRITAIN, the bus driver needed to be bribed in order to allow THE SLITS on the bus. such was the stigma against female musicians in this effective boys' club. this resulted in THE SLITS developing a sense that other bands and their manager's became extensions of the establishment.
think about that. THE SLITS were outcasts within a subculture defined by their outcast status. its quite remarkable and really puts those other bands in proper focus, since the revolution advocated at least initially had no place for women outside of traditional roles. it is almost absurd how truly conventional those bands were and how authentically subversive THE SLITS were during their prime.
and it doesn't stop there either. founding member and powerhouse drummer PALMOLIVE (later of THE RAINCOATS) was dismissed because the PUNK ROCK ethos of the band couldn't square itself with her CATHOLICISM. so even within the internal realm of a band that was the outcast within a scene of outcasts, a CHRISTIAN found herself to be the most isolated of all. if anything, her example is to follow your convictions despite societal or peer group pressure, which is by definition the essence of PUNK ROCK. funny how life works sometimes.
the larger aim of this documentary is to present THE SLITS and ARI UP (in fact, this film fulfills part of her final will) to a new generation of music fans that may be unaware of them and their influence not only on the experimental POST-PUNK scene but also perhaps on the RIOT GRRRL scene that flourished 20 years after. THE SLITS due to the misogyny of rock critics from major BRITISH and AMERICAN publications alike have been dismissed from the greater narrative of PUNK ROCK as nothing being a footnote or curiosity. this documentary helps shed light on their proper place as an equal (and perhaps maybe a little more equal than other bands) creative force in a storied, influential scene.
i came across DEATH VALLEY GIRLS while reading HOLE drummer PATTY SCHEMEL's recent 2017 memoir HIT SO HARD (DA CAPO, 2017). the band consists of her brother LARRY on guitar.
anyway, its droning psychedelic garage rock that splits the different between STONER ROCK and 70s CLASSIC ROCK. so obviously it kicks ass. check them out.
photo manupulation by nacrowe
WEEZER gets a lot of love and deservedly so. RIVERS CUOMO is a talented (if trouble and inconsistent) songwriter and a generational talent.
but i always felt that MATT SHARP got overlooked. he was WEEZER's founding bassist whose falsetto was as much a part of the sound of those iconic first two records as CUOMO's nervous croon and his idiosyncratic lyrics celebrating KISS, SURFING and DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.
THE RENTALS was SHARP's side project that later turned into his main creative vehicle after later leaving WEEZER during their extended hiatus following PINKERTON (DGC, 1996).
their debut album, RETURN OF THE RENTALS (MAVERICK RECORDS, 1995) plays on the POWER POP-indebted sound that WEEZER mined to great effect, yet has a decidedly more droll, assured tone and demeanor. fun fact: MAYA RUDOLPH was a touring member for this album's tour cycle.
regardless, THE RENTALS are definitely worth checking out.
parody by nacrowe
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO focused on the influential BRITISH independent record label DOMINO RECORDS and their expansive and eclectic roster of artists.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
all photo manipulations by nacrowe
happy to announce that our friends and frequent collaborators ACE & THE MIGHTY GAN have released their SWEET TIME EP recently which you can access HERE via SPOTIFY.
ACE & THE MIGHTY GAN members LOGAN and DENNIS have long been associated with DEER GOD going back to the former [the end] recording studio in BROOKLYN that predated the company. they both are talented recording engineers that have have worked with top level talent in the area and ACE & THE MIGHTY GAN is a passion project that showcases their song-craft and falsettos equally.
definitely check them out and enjoy the "AFTA PARTY" video embedded below, which was shot at KREISCHER MANSION back when our DEER GOD recording studio was located there.
definitely check them out and enjoy the "AFTA PARTY" video embedded below, which was shot at KREISCHER MANSION back when our DEER GOD recording studio was located there.
"AFTA PARTY" VIDEO CAMEOS
one night when i was living in JAPAN i came across a live performance series on YouTube that showcased current 4AD artists including ST. VINCENT, MARK LANEGAN, GANG GANG DANCE, BLONDE REDHEAD, SPACEGHOSTPURRP, THE BIG PINK and an artist i wasn't familiar with called TWIN SHADOW.
for me the song of LOS ANGELES-based musician/producer GEORGE LEWIS JR can be summed in one word: seduction. check out his work below.
cover by nacrowe
GUADELAJARA-based GARAGE PUNK band LE BUTCHERETTES is basically the brainchild of enigmatic front-woman TERI GENDER BENDER and has gained over the years quite the formidable live reputation and a rabid following in the MEXICAN and INDIE ROCK communities of SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA. on past releases they have worked with OMAR RODRIGUEZ-LOPEZ of AT THE DRIVE-IN / THE MARS VOLTA / ANTEMASQUE fame as a producer and tourmate as well as collaborated on original material with the likes of IGGY POP and JOHN FRUSCIANTE.
its definitely worth check them out.
photos by nacrowe
our friends in CHARMING DISASTER are returning to STATEN ISLAND to perform this evening at a SECRET-ISH HOUSE CONCERT put on by MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC. not sure if tickets are still available but you can definitely check the EVENT PAGE on FACEBOOK for more details.
check out this past performance from last spring (livestream embedded below). they are a great live band worth checking out.