photo & text by nacrowe
the severe TRAUMA and PAIN involved with sustaining a major LOSS, along with the GRIEVING PROCESS thereafter, can be a seemingly ALL-ENCOMPASSING and an immeasurably TORTUROUS experience. i cant even begin to imagine or empathize with the sheer depths of SORROW that musician ALAIN JOHANNES went through when he lost his wife and CREATIVE collaborator NATASHA SHNEIDER to CANCER in 2008.
if you are unfamiliar with the name JOHANNES, you may be more familiar with his work writing and supporting ALTERNATIVE ROCK juggernaut QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE as well as THEM CROOKED VULTURES, MARK LANEGAN, PJ HARVEY, ARCTIC MONKEYS and CHRIS CORNELL's early solo career among other NOTABLE projects. interestingly, while still in high school in LOS ANGELES he led an INFLUENTIAL group called WHAT IS THIS? that had fellow classmates and future RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS musicians HILLEL SLOVAK, JACK IRONS and FLEA as members. after meeting SHNEIDER, he started a new duo called WALK THE MOON and then later, after the PASSING of SLOVAK from a HEROIN OVERDOSE a few years later, IRONS left the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS and joined JOHANNES and SHNEIDER in a new group called ELEVEN. more so than his high profile gigs, ELEVEN is the DEFINITIVE project of his career as a musician given the deep TELEPATHIC and almost ALCHEMICAL INTIMACY that he shared with his wife on a PERSONAL, EMOTIONAL and MUSICAL LEVEL. that INTENSE RAPPORT is understandably why he felt so severely BEREAVED and spiritually ISOLATED from the world and his formerly whole self.
having lived an extremely PERIPATETIC existence myself as a child moving from hemisphere to hemisphere, there is something about being a THIRD CULTURE KID that makes you extremely ADAPTABLE with the uncanny ability to make HOME anywhere. yet at the same there is a ROOTLESSNESS that takes hold, the idea that you may be a citizen of everywhere but in reality NOWHERE. i implicitly understand that perspective and how finding such a POWERFUL partner intrinsically grounds you on so many levels, many unspoken and unconscious. JOHANNES being a polyglot and having lived in eight countries growing up while not knowing his birth father feels even to me like a heavy BURDEN to bear. it makes sense that he grew to be such an EMPATHETIC songwriter and sought after musical collaborator. its all very in keeping with truly being a THIRD CULTURE KID.
the documentary UNFINISHED PLAN: THE PATH OF ALAIN JOHANNES (GRAVITAS VENTURES, 2016) is very much centered around that AGONY and his road to finding SOLACE and MEANING anew in the world, even after the DEATHS of his partner, his mother and his birth father. participants in this film include close friends and collaborators including every member of SOUNDGARDEN (i.e. CHRIS CORNELL, KIM THAYIL, BEN SHEPHERD and MATT CAMERON) as well as JOSH HOMME (KYUSS, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, THEM CROOKED VULTURES), MARK LANEGAN (SCREAMING TREES), DAVE CATCHING (EARTHLINGS?, RANCHO DE LA LUNA recording studio) and ALEX TURNER (ARCTIC MONKEYS). what i found interesting was that JOHANNES discovering CHILEAN roots and being immediately embraced by their artistic and musical communities was both grounding and a REJUVENATING wellspring of HOPE, OPTIMISM and INSPIRATION in his life during what was undoubtedly a BLEAK PERIOD. that warm embrace of a country he had no connection to outside of being born there and speaking the language provided a sense of CONNECTION when i can only imagine his instinct was to RETREAT and ISOLATE himself. its all very moving and in keeping with what i have experienced about the people having lived in SOUTH AMERICA.
ultimately music is about CREATION and CONNECTION. its such a uniquely human enterprise in that regard. the greater community that supports such endeavors (musicians, recording engineers, concert promoters, independent radio, fans) at least provide a framework for REINTEGRATING oneself not only with a global audience, but with themselves and their own emotions. this film in my opinion is more about that search for CONNECTION and MEANING in spite of tremendous GRIEF and PAIN, rather than the TRAUMA itself.
music can do that. or at least start the conversation.
RIP NATASHA SCHNEIDER, HILLEL SLOVAL, MARK LANEGAN & CHRIS CORNELL
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
i discovered the JUSTIN HAWKINS RIDES AGAIN channel a few months ago on YOUTUBE and was really taken aback by how INFORMATIVE it all was. if you are unfamiliar with JUSTIN HAWKINS, he is the frontman and main songwriter for BRITISH ALTERNATIVE glam metal band THE DARKNESS who first came to fame in the 2000s along with the wave of other INDIE ROCK REVIVAL groups. whereas other ENGLISH and SCOTTISH groups from the period (including BLOC PARTY, FRANZ FERDINAND, THE LIBERTINES, THE FUTUREHEADS and THE CRIBS) seemed heavily influenced by both the POST PUNK and INDIE ROCK movements, THE DARKNESS felt like a breath of fresh air with their stadium-sized AMBITION to be more in the vein AC/DC, MOTLEY CRUE, AEROSMITH, THE CULT or especially QUEEN. they definitely stood apart and where not afraid to look absolutely RIDICULOUS (which i appreciate)! personally i still rock DARKNESS singles like "GROWING ON ME," "OPEN FIRE," "NOTHIN'S GONNA STOP US," "BARBARIANS," "ROCK AND ROLL DESERVES TO DIE" and "LAST OF OUR KIND" on regular rotation while driving to work, i just have to watch my speed in the process.
the JUSTIN HAWKINS RIDES AGAIN channel is reminiscent of RICK BEATO's channel in that HAWKINS also dives into and EXPLAINS music theory and recording / production techniques on popular songs. what differentiates it though is his sense of self-effacing HUMOR that knowingly showcases the ABSURDITY of his life's work as well as his unbridled capacity to call out musicians and industry participants. and he does such from a place of EMPATHY. in other words, he has actual first-hard EXPERIENCE being a ROCK N ROLL star and its that kind of insider KNOWLEDGE that makes his YOUTUBE channel FASCINATING. HAWKINS' channel appears to be a way of BYPASSING a BRITISH press that has long abandoned and even mocked his musical efforts. its rather BEAUTIFUL that an artist in today's DIGITAL ecosystem has the ability to CULTIVATE and COMMUNICATE directly with an audience sans middlemen and gatekeepers.
i feel its also great that he has used this new platform to promote artists he's discovered (sometimes even through his audience). it was through him that i became aware of two INCREDIBLE modern AUSTRALIAN PUNK bands, THE CHATS and AMYL & THE SNIFFERS. if anything, i tend to rely on HAWKINS through his channel as a vehicle for DISCOVERING new bands, which is always a fun thing. my hope is that HAWKINS continues to be PROLIFIC with his channel and further PROMOTE an INCLUSIVE community that follows his lead as a highly IDIOSYNCRATIC, but musically KNOWLEDGEABLE and stylistically OPEN-MINDED guide to new cultural ideas and sonic terrains.
i look forward to seeing where HAWKINS takes this.
photo & text by nacrowe
the majority of my teenage years in the 1990s were spent abroad during a pre-internet age that was cultural well out of context with what was going down stateside. so there was not a prayer of me being able to learn about bands just below the mainstream at the time like PALM DESERT STONER ROCK legends KYUSS, or for that matter other influential bands like FAILURE, HELMET, SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE, QUICKSAND or THE JESUS LIZARD. that would come much later and largely in retrospect. such is my relationship with KYUSS and their much-acclaimed second album BLUES FOR THE RED SUN (DALI, 1992).
what i love about tracks like "GREEN MACHINE," "THUMB" and "50 MILLION YEAR TRIP (DOWNSIDE UP)" is how UNRELENTINGLY HEAVY it all is. they establish a down-tuned slow-prodding riff and just sit on it. the effect is mantra-like and all further MELODIC shifts come off as undeniably earth-shattering. its music built on the idea of SPACE, which makes sense as the band was known for being part of a scene that played out in the desert at night at makeshift parties run on a borrowed generator. being out in that landscape at night is quite the venue and knowing such it is difficult to not listen to these tracks and imagine yourself out late at night looking up at the stars and infinite chasm of SPACE. its an absolutely UNIQUE sound and take on aggressive ROCK N ROLL.
KYUSS' sound was also influential in that it was the antithesis of the "typewriter" style of riffage (as coined by MASTERS OF REALITY frontman CHRIS GOSS) popularized in THRASH METAL (SLAYER, MEGADETH, METALLICA, ANTHRAX, TESTAMENT). along with the MELVINS and SAINT VITUS it is arguable that KYUSS (and especially guitarist JOSH HOMME's post-breakup band QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE) paved the way for what is now known as STONER ROCK and SLUDGE METAL. its a different breed of heavy music that puts an emphasis on GROOVE and WEIGHT as opposed to TECHNICAL DEXTERITY. listening to BLUES FOR THE RED SUN now, remembering that it came out in the early 1990s, it is startling how of-the-moment it feels. it fits right in on a mixtape including DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979, BARONESS, FU MANCHU, TORCHE, MASTODON, CLUTCH, BORIS, HIGH ON FIRE and ELECTRIC WIZARD. its pretty amazing.
BLUES FOR THE RED SUN is required listening in my opinion. its a criminally UNDER-APPRECIATED album that punches well above its weight and makes you do a double-take on all those celebrated ALTERNATIVE ROCK bands from the same period in the 1990s. makes you question why you didnt hear this sooner, like, back in the day. man i was clueless.
at the very least it is a record most definitely worth checking out.
parodies by nacrowe
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO celebrating the ROCK N ROLL juggernaut that is the QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
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!
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
there is an arc to INSULAR art and music scenes as they become discovered and heralded by forces outside the COMMUNITY, especially in the pre-internet age. such was famously seen in SEATTLE in the early 1990s whereby a geographically secluded region ironically provided the necessary INSULATION for a cultural evolution to take place with the advent of what became marketed as ALTERNATIVE ROCK. what is very interesting is there was very much a concurrent scene taking place in the COACHELLA VALLEY more than 100 miles east of LOS ANGELES.
DESERT AGE (BACKWOODS, 2016) is a documentary the celebrates that COMMUNITY of artists and musicians associated with the desert scene of the 1980s and early 1990s that initiated and supported that cultural movement up until its collapse as it was discovered and ultimately infiltrated by outsiders. notable interview participants include musicians such as SEAN WHEELER (MUTUAL HATRED / ZEZO ZECE ZADFRACK / THROW RAG), MARIO "BOOMER" LALLI (DEAD ISSUE / ACROSS THE RIVER / YAWNING MAN), BRANT BJORK (KYUSS), BRIAN MALONEY (UNSOUND), PAUL MITCHELL (TARGET 13), IAN TAYLOR (UNSOUND), SCOTT REEDER (DEAD ISSUE / ACROSS THE RIVER / KYUSS), JESSE HUGHES (EAGLES OF DEATH METAL), DAVE GROHL (FOO FIGHTERS / NIRVANA) and JOSH HOMME (KYUSS) among many others.
what seemed to mark this scene was its DIY PUNK ROCK ethic and internal celebration of EXPERIMENTATION and INDIVIDUALITY. there was no arms race of sorts, as in the nearby LOS ANGELES PUNK ROCK scene, to be the hardest and most HARDCORE band in the area. instead bands were mutually encouraged to seek out their own sound. part of this was just the nature of being in a small closed COMMUNITY with limited resources. famously LALLI had a generator that allowed for concerts to take place beyond the city limits in the vast space of the open desert. that unique venue alone spurred INNOVATION with the upcoming musicians of the area, who had to tackle the concept of playing in such an open venue. at these "generator shows" it would not be odd to have a PROGRESSIVE band play next to a PUNK band and so forth. the ETHOS really was EXPERIMENTATION and seeking out ones own sonic signature. having shows outside the city limits, although LIBERATING in one sense, also allowed for certain local lawless, violent elements (biker gangs, meth dealers) to take advantage of the situation.
i was happy to say that this film did not devolve into an unofficial KYUSS hagiography, as they are the most famous direct export of the scene by far (as the antecedent root for the globally successful QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE). this was my fear and i was glad to see that such an an itch was not scratched. instead the majority of the film outlines how the efforts of key scene initiators like the older SEAN WHEELER and MARIO "BOOMER" LALLI laid the groundwork for the cultural revolution that followed. this film is largely a celebration of their efforts to promote art and music in a barren cultural island whose true identity was the very meth-addled inversion of the popular iconography associated with celebrity playgrounds like nearby PALM SPRINGS.
interesting film worth your time if you have any interest in the desert scene or ALTERNATIVE and STONER ROCK in general.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
gotta hand it to NOISEY on this one, GUITAR MOVES along with PREMIER GUITAR's RIG RUNDOWN series are arguably the two earliest (and most consistent in terms of quality) guitar-centric YOUTUBE series i was made aware of a few years ago. while RIG RUNDOWN follows guitar nerds asking gear questions to touring musicians and their guitar techs, GUITAR MOVES follows INDIE ROCK guitarist / producer / super-fan MATT SWEENEY of SKUNK & CHAVEZ as he interviews notable guitarists about specific "moves" they do that are unique to them.
as a guitarist myself (a very poor one at that), it is often the little recognizable quirks and idiosyncrasies of musicians you admire that make them stand out. its a very cool concept for a series and for the most part SWEENEY's contagious unbridled enthusiasm and knowledge of their catalogue disarms them into opening up about their approach and philosophy regarding creating music on guitar.
highlights include the JAMES WILLIAMSON and ACE FREHLEY episodes where SWEENEY is beside himself and you can see him returning to his 12 year-old self in awe of his idols as they teach and play classics like "SEARCH AND DESTROY" and "SHOCK ME" with him. for their sake, many of these songs have been incorrectly transcribed, so this allows them to educate the masses on how to play their songs correctly.
i'd also have to point out the JOSH HOMME episode as being notable as he talks about how childhood POLKA lessons influenced his approach to the guitar and how a well chosen sharp note on a scale can transform the feel and tone of a solo. just super practical stuff.
all in all there is mention of techniques such NASHVILLE TUNING (JAMES WILLIAMSON), OPEN G TUNING (KEITH RICHARDS), TAPPING (JOSH HOMME) among others.
if you play guitar, this series (which sadly has been discontinued) is well worth exploring. for his part, SWEENEY has gone on to interview musicians for other video series with bigger brands, but essentially this is the one that is worth (repeatedly) checking out.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
the documentary AMERICAN VALHALLA (EAGLE ROCK, 2017) takes its name from a song off of IGGY POP's late-career album POST POP DEPRESSION (LOMA VISTA, 2016), which was a collaboration between the iconic STOOGES frontman and musician JOSH HOMME of QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE/KYUSS fame. this documentary follows their collaboration throughout the songwriting and recording process with interviews of both conducted by ANTHONY BOURDAIN (RIP).
i guess it should be stated that while IGGY and HOMME come from celebrated bands, both are actually quite unconventional musicians. lots of bands pay lip service to expanding their sound on subsequent releases, but if you track the career trajectory of both you will see that is actually the case. when IGGY reached out to HOMME, both took it as an opportunity to experiment and see what new creations could be manifested from their respective provided elements. it was interesting that in navigating this new relationship they based much on instinct and cooked the songs quickly in short order to not overthink it. just move forward.
i think this film at its core is about the nature of collaboration, especially when you have a history or legacy. it is about dismantling those expectations, both external and, more importantly, internal.
i remember when i was teaching i never slept particularly well because i was constantly questioning my plans. its not that they were inferior, i knew they were sound, but the opportunity cost of it all drove me nuts. there were so many options and how could i choose the right course of action that would best serve my students. i think that drive in part is what broke my heart about the profession, the fact that so many of my peers phoned it in. taught the same thing in the same order as years before, altering nothing. i saw the classroom as a dynamic venue for exploring ideas and challenging them against new technologies and world events. opening up the curriculum to show how these classroom concepts affect our understanding of both the world and ourselves. the fact that i did this in foreign countries, never on my home court made it that much more invigorating and scary at the same time. more colors to play with. i was willing to fail and being unable to settle down completely at night was the price i was willing to pay. risk nothing you get nothing.
what i am trying to say is that im well aware of this fear HOMME had in the film. how do i collaborate with an icon? make it worth his time and my time? and most frightening of all: the opportunity cost of all the other possible music i could write, that i could present to him. how do you conquer that fear?
you just do it by doing it. being truly in the moment. their collaboration was all instinct, mutually respecting and sharing that creative moment. in the moment. right now.
i loved that tightrope dance. i miss it.
note: but i wouldnt return to teaching. dealing with administrations that didn't have the students interests at front of mind cut my heart out. repeatedly. a bad one-sided collaboration rooted in politics.
great film. intriguing documentary on the nature of collaboration and cost required to make it a fruitful and meaningful endeavor.