[Ben Greenberg performing at the Berkeley Art Museum of UC Berkeley - photo by Betty Nguyen]
By Matt Sullivan
One of the things that stuck out most to me when I first read Michael Azzerad's Our Band Could Be Your Life was how many of the artists, despite being historically lumped together in some way, actually seemed at odds with one other. I don't mean an adversarial position between the artists themselves-- just wildly different takes on artistry, even audiences. Azzerad had gathered the hip, the hardcore, and the hellbent alike into a single, multi-faceted scene.
Ben Greenberg, the very talented guitarist from Zs and Pygmy Shrews, has accomplished a similar feat of musical desegregation with his solo project Hubble. As a New School alumnus and thoroughly trained player in everything from jazz to G3-ready shredding, he is familiar with all the guitar culture stereotypes. Some play from the heart, but can't even read music; some play from the head, but can't even feel purpose; some play 64th notes, but can't even hold a whole note. And all of them think the others are stupid.
When I sat down with Greenberg at Life Cafe in Bushwick a little while back to talk about his upcoming debut full-length for Northern Spy, Hubble Drums, it became clear that he saw the project as being intentionally and blissfully ignorant of those preconceptions, employing every tool at his disposal to create something smart, accessible, and unique.
[photo by Eliot Lee Hazel]
By Matt Sullivan
I'm not usually one for apocalypse theories, but there was a time-- very recently, in fact-- where I felt totally surrounded by signs of our impending doom. Not just metaphorical ones, but literal signs: "The end is coming!" "Are you ready for Jesus' return?". More than anything, the veritable deluge of death knells left me wondering, "What is is the apocalypse going to sound like?"
The opening snarls of Chelsea Wolfe's second LP for Pendu Sound Recordings, Ἀποκάλυψις (Apokalypsis), come pretty close to an answer. It's a ghoulish wall of animalistic noise, a twisted mash-up of a beautiful voice gone crazy just moments before the slithering guitar tones of "Mer" kick in. It's the sort of the thing you'd expect to hear when the Four Horsemen open their mouths, and then it gives way to Wolfe's latest vision, which draws sensuality, fright, and fragility into one dreamy meeting ground.
If there's one thing that I learned from my gchat with the LA singer/songwriter, it's that the concept of apocalypse, like most things in real and mystical life, has many faces. While pain and darkness constitute the conceptual bulk, there is a lighter side to it as well: an opportunity for change, creation, or relief. One could forgive me for being intimidated by a presence like Wolfe's before our chat, but I soon found out that despite tasking herself with uncovering the mystical, she was extremely down to earth.
What punk bands did with three chords, Sonic Boom could do with two. Forming the cult outfit Spacemen 3 in the early 1980s with bandmate Jason Pierce, Sonic Boom (aka Pete Kember) bridged the guitar-based psychedelia of artists like 13th Floor Elevators and Red Krayola with the experimental textures and drones of electronic pioneers like the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Spacemen 3 were reductionist in their ethic and sound, but their ability to drone you into ecstasy with repetition and subtle shifts in dynamic between strings and electronics, all within tight song structures, offered a fresh take on the possibilities of modern psych. With their open drug use, and the occassional 11-minute assault of noise, Spacemen 3 were as hostile as any of their punk contemporaries to the claustrophobic precepts of the old guard.
Peter has worked under the Spectrum moniker since the end of S3, in the early '90s, collaborating with the likes of My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields (in E.A.R.), Galaxie 500's Dean Wareham, and Moon Duo. He mixed and mastered Panda Bear's new album, Tomboy, and is currently finishing up a two-week American tour (destination: the Austin Psych Fest). He's also producing the new Wooden Shjips LP, and has a new Spectrum full-length, On The Wings of Mercury, due out this year. I caught up with Peter in the studio he was working out of in Brooklyn to talk Panda Bear, drugs, and what appeals to him about the minimal/maximal aesthetic.
AZ: You're in New York a bit ahead of your upcoming tour. What are you working on at the moment?
Pete: This is some mastering work for Panda Bear. They’re talking about doing a special edition of Tomboy. I'm not entirely sure if it's been announced, and if they are going to do it what it's going to contain, but I’m doing some stuff that may become part of that.
AZ: How did you wind up mixing and mastering the new Panda Bear album?
Pete: A friend of Rusty Santos played me Person Pitch at a party at the Tribeca Grand and I was blown away. It was just sickeningly good. I bought a copy of it, and he had listed a bunch of influences or nods to people on the sleeve, and Spacemen 3 was on there. My memory is that I said to him, “Hey man, if you ever wanted to do anything collaborative I would be so into it for a 7” or something.” Memories are notoriously unreliable, but I remember him being like, “I haven’t got time to do more Panda Bear stuff because I'm really busy with Animal Collective.” I was just like, “Oh, don’t tell me that, you gotta keep going with this!” But he has a wife, two kids, and a band to feed, so to speak.
At some point, he decided he was going to start his new album, and I guess he did all the singles and wasn’t happy with the final mixes. I think Deakin and Avey were meant to be kind of fleshing it out, but then it was running late and they were unable to do it. Then Noah sent me an email asking Spectrum to play the Animal Collective ATP, and right at the bottom, in his typical style, he wrote, “Oh, by the way, you wouldn’t want to mix my new record would you?” Yeah, like I wouldn’t.
By Jenn Pelly
Sonic Youth’s Hoboken pad, Echo Canyon West, is like Candyland for indie rockers. Past the warehouse’s emerald-colored door-- marked only by an Ecstatic Peace! sticker-- is a dim recording sanctuary, packed with equipment from the mid-'80s. The space has served as their studio, practice space, and storage closet for five years, but on this gray Friday in March, Thurston, Kim, and Lee are nowhere to be found.
Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, however, sits on a couch in the control room, donning tiny specs and a smart sweater over a collared shirt. Behind him, past a glass window, the studio’s live room is crowded with instruments; the walls are flecked with guitars. Shelley taps his foot to a freshly recorded take from Spectre Folk, the 16-year-old project of Magik Markers drummer Pete Nolan. The group has spent the past three hours recording at Echo Canyon, where they also tracked their recent Woodsist EP, The Blackest Medicine II-- a follow-up to Nolan's 2007 Woodsist debut, The Blackest Medicine. The new EP moves between sunny psych-pop and burning guitar solos, taste-testing the Canyon’s offerings with hypnotic gong crashes, Vibraphone drones, and melancholic piano parts.
Nolan, wearing thick black glasses and a denim jacket, speaks of “sculpting,” “clay,” and “paintings” when describing his musical textures and rhythms. He is an experimental music vet in his own right, citing influences as widely varied as Dead C, Turkish psych, free jazz, and outsider folk. Nolan releases “homemade masterpieces of epic psych” on his own label, Arbitrary Signs. And he’s also appeared on the past two Woods records, including-- you guessed it-- “September with Pete,” a nine-minute sprawl on 2009's Songs of Shame.
For the last EP and Spectre Folk's upcoming LP on Shelley’s new Vampire Blues label, Nolan has expanded the line-up to include Shelley on drums, Tall Firs guitarist/vocalist and Sonic Youth sound engineer, Aaron Mullan on bass, and cookbook author Peter Meehan, a former Times restaurant columnist, on guitar. After a listen to a mixdown of the day’s work, the dad talk commences; Nolan recently welcomed his first daughter into the world, and the group spends a few minutes comparing child bedroom decorations. Later, Meehan, Nolan and I drive to Manhattan’s East Village to talk about Spectre Folk’s history, Mark Ibold, and how the Woodsist Festival in Big Sur inspired their recent EP.
I’ve learned many things in my whole twenty-four years on this Earth, and one of the more important things I’ve learned is that nothing brings people together like music.
And Nintendo 64.
Luckily, Nick Ray felt the same.
And of course he did. Ray, better known as Speculator ‘round these parts, has a knack for taking grade school milestones and turning them into music. And I’m not talking about really vibing on some nostalgic lyrics; I’m talking about making carefully composed full-lengths that feature the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, tap the essence of the '80s Top 40, and capture the sentimental haze that grows with age-- without sounding like some dick in a basement. From that description, Ray could very well be some dick in a basement. But he’s not. His music is not a chop job from between college classes; it’s a well-produced piece of our collective minds.
Settling in on the couch with Sapporos and New York-sized slices, we dove into two of everyone’s favorite activities: listening to records and blasting muh’fuckas on GoldenEye 007.