Archive for the ‘interview’ Category

World Party’s Karl Wallinger: He’s the One (Part 2)

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

Continued from Part One

Bill Kopp: I’ve been a fan and follower of World Party ever since the 1986 release of Private Revolution, but the album I return to the most is Egyptology. I saw World Party on that tour. From what I gathered at the time, the entity that supported the release – I don’t even know if it was a record label per se – was The Enclave…

Karl Wallinger: It was a label that was formed out of EMI in New York, by Tom Zutat, the guy who signed Guns N’ Roses. It was his label, but it folded a year, maybe two years, after it started.

BK: Right, and that was very shortly after Egyptology came out, leading to the album getting less of a promotional push, and less distribution, than it otherwise would have. Can you tell me more about that?

KW: It was already starting to unwind, the whole relationship with EMI. A lot of things were going on that I didn’t really know much about; it was between management and the label in England. So we got quietly done in by the stupidity around the place.

That’s what happened. But that’s your life, you know? You have to deal with it; you just get on with it. I was lucky enough to get everything back in the end. And it was mainly because of the way they treated that album. It had some good songs on it; it had “She’s the One” on it. It was a good album, and it shouldn’t have just faded away. But that enabled me to go along and say, “Well, you fucked that up, and I’ve got an album to do, but I don’t want to do it with you. And you haven’t got a say on whether I do it or not, so give me my catalog and scrap the debt. See you later; I’ll walk, and give me control of my catalog.”

I got [the rights to] all my records back after that. Everything that’s bad doesn’t have to have a bad ending. It was actually very fortuitous that they fucked up like that. Because now I own my catalog.

BK: You hold the guitar left-handed – as do I – but you play a guitar that’s strung right-handed…

KW: I play it upside down, but I play it strung right-handed. I didn’t know any difference when I was a kid. I just thought, “I’ll use my right hand to make the shapes, because it’s easier.”

BK: So…you’re right handed?

KW: Yeah. I just flipped it over and started playing it upside down.

BK: Do you think that having the low strings on the bottom affects your overall sound?

KW: Oh, yeah. It’s strange, but I’m sort of into it. And it’s too late now! I can’t just switch over like Jimi Hendrix. I mean, he could play with his feet, couldn’t he? I can’t do anything like that; I just bang out some chords. I’m not really…I just sort of mess about on guitar.

BK: In the cases I’ve read wherein someone suffers a stroke or a similar medical calamity, I’ve often read of the idea that they have to “learn how to do certain things all over again.” After you recovered from your 2001 brain aneurysm, did you find yourself in a situation like that?

KW: Yeah, in some ways. There were things like, where you look when you’re playing the piano. Because I’ve been left with no right-hand vision in both eyes. So it’s a sort of strange, 3-D vision. It’s only from the center to the left.

Looking at the piano, I always used to look at my right hand, and be aware of the shapes it’s making. And it’s weird now because I can’t see it, even though it’s right in front of me. Stuff like that just makes you have to play and play, and get used to it.

The same with guitar: I can’t see my hand on the neck. I can’t see which fret it’s on, so I started playing a lot of jazz! A lot of very, uh, abstract sort of jazz chords. A semitone down. But eventually I got the hang of it, and I don’t really think about it now.

BK: Not counting the Arkeology spiral-bound set in 2012, the last album of new material from World Party was the first issue of Dumbing Up in 2000. What can you tell me about the new album?

KW: Hopefully we’ll be putting a new album out in March [2016]. And it’ll be great to do that. Who knows what it will be like? It’s been fourteen years. So who knows how mad I’m gonna get?

I’m feeling really into being in the studio again; I kind of wanted to wait. After I left Seaview [studio] three or four years ago, I’ve been on the road and playing, or sitting at home playing guitar and not really recording it. So I’m really, really itching to get into the studio again. I’ve got to sort all my stuff out first; I’ve got lots of stuff in storage: [recording] desks and tape recorders and grand pianos and all that stuff.

BK: I saw you in Asheville last year in a trio format: you on guitar and keys, plus a guitarist and fiddle player. [Tour manager] Michael tells me that you’ve recently added back in two players long associated with World Party. How did that come about?

KW: Just on the phone. The idea was to bring Dave Catlin-Birch in on bass, and Chris Sharrock on drums. But then Chris wouldn’t fly, for some unknown reason. His arms were very tired. So he basically bailed.

I called an old friend, Brian McLeod, who’s a very good drummer in L.A. He’s on loads of stuff that you’d have heard; he was in Wire Train. We played together years ago, on the Goodbye Jumbo tour. And it was great.

And then Dave got held up with a visa thing. But we got Brian anyway, and we did a three-piece plus drummer in Napa and San Francisco, and then in San Juan Capistrano we basically did a three-piece gig. Because we weren’t going to do it any more without the bass.

And then I saw a bit of film that a friend of mine shot in San Francisco, with the drummer, and it was really great. And tonight we’re a three-piece again. And then across the middle [of the USA], we’re two pieces. So that’ll be interesting.

BK: By the time you get to Asheville (July 6), what’s it going to be then?

KW: Who knows? We’ll see what happens.

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World Party’s Karl Wallinger: He’s the One (Part 1)

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

For all intents and purposes, World Party is Karl Wallinger. Across five studio albums, a spiral-bound 4CD closet-clearing set, and a few best-of collections, the Welsh-born Wallinger has delivered a consistent set of wonderfully melodic music that draws from the classic era of rock without ever directly referencing it. With a new album slated for release next year, World Party will break what to the uninitiated might look like a “dry spell,” but Wallinger has remained very active with playing, touring, and writing music. He’s currently on tour with (as you’ll read) a World Party of varying size, and that tour will bring him to Asheville, North Carolina’s Altamont Theatre on Monday, July 6. I spoke with Wallinger during a brief break before a show last week. We discussed his early days, his approach to recording, some setbacks over which he’s triumphed, and his plans for the immediate future. Here, in two parts, is our conversation. – bk


Bill Kopp: Way, way back when, you were musical director for the London version of The Rocky Horror Show. I’m interested to know what kind of lessons you feel you learned from that experience; did it affect your approach to songwriting?

Karl Wallinger: I learned that it was very pleasant to have rehearsals during which you’d have a lady sitting on your lap and wearing only the bottom half of a suspender belt and stockings, and nothing on the top.

I learned that it was great fun being in a theatre. It’s like a mother, with lots of these kids running around in it. It’s a strange thing; you’d think it would be kind of monotonous every night. But every day is a different day, and it’s its own crazy world. It’s a lovely thing to do. Rocky Horror was really one of things I could do; I wasn’t really a person who was going to do that kind of thing, but I was lucky enough that I did do it. I always loved it, even before I worked on it. I had a great time.

I paid to see it years earlier, with my girlfriend at the time and her mother, in London. And I didn’t know I was going to be the Musical Director at the end of that run; pretty funny.

BK: Over the course of your career, you’ve done a lot of your recording at home at Seaview and so forth, and you’ve worked in more conventional studios. I’m sure there are advantages and disadvantages to both work situations. Can you talk a bit about that?

KW: One of the advantages of using someone else’s studio is that you can leave it in a mess, and someone else will clear it up!

I’ve always been somebody who would rather work on their own, in their own space. But when you’re doing something like a film soundtrack, if you’re working on something that’s got a purpose beyond the getting out of ideas — something that’s got to be matched to a picture — then it’s good to be in a place where other people have got the technical worries. Then you can just do the creativity-kind of thing.

Not that I can’t do the [technical tasks]; I’ve probably done that, but it’s nice in those situations to be taken care of by somebody. I find the technical bits quite boring, actually. It’s a drag when things don’t work, or [when] they take a lot of setting up. I’d rather get someone else to blow the paddling pool up, and then I can just add the water.

When I’m doing songs, I prefer to be in a place where I can forget that I exist. Then I just try to let the old brain do the work, really. Rather than the body. It’s a space to be creative in, to do whatever you want to do. And there’s no other considerations; you’re not paying an hourly rate, and there aren’t engineers or producers who are around, people who have also got lives. So you can let it all hang out when you’re working on your own. And I prefer that. As a way of creating what I do as World Party, that’s the way.

I haven’t got a studio at the moment; I haven’t had one for four years now. I’m just about now, hopefully, to have a studio again. I’m in negotiations with a particular place in England. And as soon as I do have, I’m going to lock myself away in it.

BK: When I try to describe your music to those who haven’t heard it – and I do evangelize about World Party a good bit – I describe it as original music that bears the influence of (among other things) three specific artists: Van Morrison, Sly Stone, and The Beatles. Do you think that’s a fair assessment, and are there any artists you’d add to the top of that list?

KW: I don’t really think of it in terms of artists, really. Obviously the Beatles have had a large effect. But it’s just in terms of intake, really. It’s up to experience, what you’ve been around on the planet.

I certainly wouldn’t think that Van Morrison would be, to me, that much of an important influence. I suppose there’s some part of it: that carefree, facing-the-wind, running across the plinth tops kind of aspect. Generally, the sixties; to me, those were the formative years. Anybody’s formative years make them seem like they were the center, the start, the basis of their thought.

So it’s not really a specific thing. It’s as much the soundtrack of Hair, or Cat Stevens. A whole bunch of stuff.

BK: Among hardcore World Party fans – and I suppose I’m one of those – there circulate recordings that you’ve made, cover versions of songs you like. The approach reminds me of Dave Gregory‘s Remoulds project. Some of these include John Lennon‘s “#9 Dream,” Peter and Gordon‘s “World Without Love,” “Nowhere Man,” Mott the Hoople‘s “All the Young Dudes,” and so on. When you were a pre-teenage kid growing up in Wales in the late 1960s, what were your favorite songs? Anything “outside the box” or a bit unusual, like Keith West‘s “Excerpts From a Teenage Opera,” or things like that?

KW: We had quite a middle-of-the-road record collection. Maybe twenty albums and forty singles; that and the radio. That’s what we had. I used to endlessly rotate them through, using the auto-drop arm on the record player. I’d sort of deejay myself into happiness, because I loved all the music. I loved it. I don’t know why; I just gravitated toward it.

I spent most of my time in front of the stereogram that we had, which had a pull-out drawer for the radio, and a drop-down door for the turntable. And two elliptical speakers. And I’ve just now had it done up; I’ve kept it all these years; it’s been in my studio. This eighty-year-old guy came round to the house, and took the radio and deck away, repaired them, and came back with them. He actually put a socket into it so you can put an iPhone through it as well. So if you’ve got Billie Holiday or Aretha Franklin on your iPhone, it sounds really warm and gorgeous through the valve amplifier. It’s great.

And 33[1/3rpm] is actually 33 now. The rubber bands were so rotten that 78s played at 33!

But that used to fascinate me. There was all kinds of stuff there, from Frank Sinatra to Georgie Fame to the Beatles. Just weird bunches of stuff: the Head soundtrack, the Easy Rider soundtrack. Just all those great songs. And some turkeys, things you can’t really explain to other people when you reminisce to yourself. It might mean one thing to them, and you think, well, what’s this crap?

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Girls Rock Asheville: Musical Chairs, Instrument Petting Zoos, and Heavy Metal Yoga

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015

Girls Rock Asheville (girlsrockasheville.org) is a six-day camp for girls ages 8 to 16. With no previous experience required, campers learn about making music, and working as a team. The 2015 camp culminated in a pair of showcase concerts at The Mothlight on Saturday, June 27.

The Girls Rock concept began as a college thesis project. “It started with a question,” says Girls Rock Asheville’s Executive Director, Erin Kinard. “’Can we do this?’ The answer was yes.” Soon thereafter, the first camp took place in Portland, Oregon. Today, says Kinard, “There are over sixty camps worldwide, including programs in Peru, Iceland, Austria, and twelve in Sweden.” Kinard got involved in the program through a friend. “One of my high school friends became the Executive Director of the organization in Portland.” After volunteering there, Kinard moved to Asheville with plans to start a camp here.

“I had been advised to take an entire year to plan,” says Kinard. “So we were originally thinking about 2015.” But once she put out the word out about her plans, “the momentum was so strong that we asked ourselves, ‘Why can’t we just do it now?’” The first Girls Rock Asheville (GRAVL) camp took place in July of last year. That camp included 34 girls; this year 36 girls will take part in the program.

GRAVL 2015 begins with band formation, an activity that Kinard calls “the craziest part of camp.” After soliciting musical genre ideas from the campers, the entire group takes part in a sort of musical-chairs activity. “When the music stops, you group up with the people around you, and have a little talk about [a specific music genre]. We do that four or five times, and then the last time, we tell them, ‘Now run to the genre you want to play.’ And then from there, groups are formed.” Kinard adds, “Maybe there are some tears, maybe not. Hopefully not. It went perfectly last year.”

Because no prior musical experience is required to participate in GRAVL, the camp features an “instrument petting zoo.” The girls take some time to explore various musical instruments. “Other camps assign the bands and instrument,” notes Kinard. “That might be smoother, but we feel that our way is more about the girls’ personal experiences.”

Each day’s camp experience includes band practice; instrument instruction; two workshops; and a lunchtime concert featuring female or female-fronted bands, followed by a Q&A session. Workshops include self-defense; media literacy; female-focused history; storytelling; performance techniques; and heavy metal yoga. Asked to describe that last item, Kinard laughs and says, “It’s just what it sounds like.”

Kinard emphasizes that GRAVL is “an organization for women and by women. A lot of times, [society teaches] women to compete, and to tear each other down. We feel it’s very important for girls to see women working together, leading, being strong in their roles.” The camp also offers full and partial scholarships to economically disadvantaged girls. “No questions asked,” she adds.

Erin Kinard and her GRAVL colleagues have even more ambitious plans for the future. “We’re hoping to launch a Ladies Rock Camp this fall,” says Kinard. That weekend event raises funds for scholarships. And they hope to expand the program to two sessions beginning in 2016. “The demand is there,” says Kinard. “It’s just a matter of staffing it.” If funds and resources allow, the Girls Rock Asheville organization hopes eventually to offer an after-school camp and an overnight program.

As a not-for-profit venture – Girls Rock Asheville is in the process of applying for 501(c)(3) status – the organization depends on community support. “Right now,” says Kinard, “the most pressing matter is food donations.” The need for donated – or even loaned – musical instruments and audio gear is a close second. There’s an especially urgent need for guitar and bass practice amplifiers.

Yet another way to support the work of Girls Rock Asheville is via purchase of tickets to the showcase at Mothlight. “Capacity is 350 people,” notes Kinard. “Last year, a lot of people were turned away. We definitely [didn't] want that to happen again. So this year, [we did] two shows on Saturday, June 27: one at 2pm, and one at 3:30.”

(An edited version of this feature appeared in Mountain Xpress.)

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Rising Appalachia: Making Music with Intention (Part 3)

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Continued from Part Three

Leah Song relates that Rising Appalachia have many friends around the country who are involved in art and creative projects. “Many of them,” she notes, “end up being codependent on grants. They call it the Nonprofit-Industrial Complex. We wanted to have that feeling of being independent; and if we’re indebted to anybody, it’s to the community that supports us. We don’t want to be indebted to a third party. Because even if it’s a ‘silent donor,’ it’s something that we’re really not interested in. We want our responsibility to be to the fans, to the community, to our peers, and to our collaborators. So we decided we would [crowd fund] again. And we were really able to direct the funding we got into producing the most nuanced and delicate work we’ve ever done.”

As always, Rising Appalachia is about more than the music. “We were able to tie in some amazing nonprofit work. We did the first leg of our [current] tour via rail. At the headwaters of the Mississippi, we did some work with a Native rights organization.” She makes the point that if artists are paid enough, they can put their efforts into becoming spokespeople for the causes in which they believe, and they can do work that supports those values. “Then they’re not just overworked and exhausted and always eating grilled cheese sandwiches,” she says. The goal is to make the efforts “people powered, and involving everyone in the work. And that’s a very important part of it for us.”

The group has learned a great deal through their Kickstarter experiences. “You don’t just ask and then get a bunch of money,” Leah cautions. “It’s a ton of work. We’re still licking stamps and sealing packages. On the back end, I think it’s really wise to make sure you put together offers that you can [deliver on]. And you want to be able to do that right; you don’t want to just make your goal and, ‘Thanks! Bye!!’”

Long based in New Orleans – and closely identified with the varied musical scene there – Leah and Chloe Smith relocated to Asheville NC, a city with its own musical identity. “I don’t really want to be considered an ‘Asheville band,’ says Leah, good-naturedly. “I want us to be thought of as representing the South: the mountain culture, the urban culture, the swamps. We hold this whole region as our home base. And I think our relationship to New Orleans will continue to be cultivated and long-term.”

Leah explains the group’s reason for moving north to Asheville. “We came to the mountains to get some respite. We wanted the quiet relationship with nature, and we’ve been able to get parts of that on our off-time.” She sees Asheville as an ideal place to “get into the local crafts, and study the culture. We’ve spent a lot of time in Latin America and in New Orleans, so we wanted to make sure we were adding fuel to the mountain culture that is also part of our story.” Leah notes that she doesn’t intend for Asheville to be her forever home. “But,” she adds, “I don’t think that we know.”

The move to Asheville has certainly enriched the group. “An amazing team of musicians and leaders and management has stepped into our circle through this community,” Leah says. “It’s very powerful, and it has been very grounding for us.”

Another grounding experience was the group’s Amtrak tour. Train travel affords one a perspective on America that is very different from the one absorbed via airplane or car travel. Train travel was part of a larger goal of Rising Appalachia, the concept Leah calls the “slow music movement. Very loosely, it’s our entire philosophy of music, independence, and self-management. So as we fleshed it out, we asked ourselves, ‘What if it also entailed slower travel?’” The idea came about while traveling through Europe via train, something much easier done there than in the States. “We started looking into routes,” Leah recalls, “and we found that there was a lot we could not do. But there was a lot that we could do, so we built the first leg of our tour around the route itself.”

The trip highlighted both the advantages and limitations of the passenger railway system in the United States. “The resources and infrastructure are there,” insists Leah. “We have this vast country, with a codependency on fuel, on cars. And it’s really isolating. And that leaves out a whole population of people who can’t afford – or don’t choose to prioritize – a personal vehicle.” She poses a rhetorical question: “What would actually happen if we made rail travel a viable option? We feel mostly inspired. The tour involved labor and logistics, and there’s a lot to configure when you have a band and instruments, but it worked. And we went through rural areas that I had never seen in my life. You don’t see billboards and casinos and McDonald’s. You see open spaces, small towns. People sit on their porch and wave. It evoked a wonderful nostalgia and a slow pace, but it also worked. It was functional. You could see a labor force that was proud of their work. There is a beautiful pride in the work that you don’t always see at a gas station.”

There’s a similar pride on display in the music (and extramusical efforts) of Rising Appalachia. Like train travel, one of the benefits is a greater emphasis on interpersonal, community relationships. And like train travel, taking part in Rising Appalachia’s ongoing musical journey is – in and of itself – a big part of what the experience is all about.

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Rising Appalachia: Making Music with Intention (Part 2)

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Continued from Part One

In those years, music as a professional pursuit was never a goal. Leah Song says that even when she and sister Chloe Smith did begin making music, “we were just trying to create a project that paid homage to all of our musical influences. It was only later – three or four years into the project – that we said to ourselves, ‘Okay: we’re really going to take this seriously, crafting and cultivating what we want to be doing. Let’s think about what we want our lyrics to convey.’ And in that sense, all of those [earlier] travel experiences were important. And will be forever.” Rising Appalachia endeavors to tie in world culture. “We want to represent the South,” Leah acknowledges, “but in a context with the rest of the world.”

Rising Appalachia manage and produce themselves. From the beginning of their recording career, they’ve made a conscious decision not to take part in the machine, in the music industry as it used to be known. Based on the current state of that industry, the business choices that the sisters made in 2006 show their prescience in opting to stay outside many of the traditional distribution channels for music.

“We have a really hilarious and wonderful relationship with all of that,” Leah laughs. “We recorded our first album [2006's Leah and Chloe] in a day.” They recorded the album as a gift “for our dad, who was having a hard time. We had both left our home city, and we wanted to do a project that tied in all of our parents’ musical influences. And ours, as well. We recorded it in a basement with some friends, and made several hundred copies. We figured, ‘Cool. That was fun. We’ll be able to sling those albums for the next fifteen, maybe twenty-five years.’”

But that’s not how the story developed. “We were at a music jam. It was a once-a-week thing at a pub in Atlanta, and we were singing with our mom. The director of a Celtic Studies program came in.” He wanted Leah and Chloe to perform at a three-day concert festival that featured musicians from around the world, representing different forms of Appalachian and Celtic folk music. Leah chuckles as she recalls what the man said: “I want you to represent the young face of Appalachia.”

Leah thought the guy was crazy. “We hadn’t ever sung into a microphone at that point. We hung out in Atlanta. We sang folk music with our parents! It was like, ‘this isn’t…we don’t…we can’t.’ But…we did. We sang onstage with Grammy award-winning musicians at this showcase for about 700 people, three nights in a row. I was okay [regarding] stage fright; Chloe had some issues with stage fright. But we sold all of the albums that we had made at that show.”

The performance earned the sisters – at this point about 20 and 24 years old – some attention. They were approached by a record label that had been a big part of the festival, and that played a leading role in the emerging Americana music scene. “We went to Nashville,” Leah says, “and met with this record label. Chloe and I went to a dive bar afterward, and had a beer. We thought about it, and really talked about it. We thought, ‘We could sign this contract, and we would be handed a silver-platter career. We would be billed as those harmony-singing sisters who play folk festivals all around the world. We would be a well-supported project without having to think much further about it.’”

“And,” recalls Leah, “we said no. We decided, ‘if we want to do this, we want to do it on our own terms. We want to learn what we’re doing, and then decide how we want to do it.’ We didn’t really want fame, glitz, glamor. But,” she smiles, “it was nice to be asked.”

Leah reflects on what signing that contract might have meant. “We might have been turned into some sort of pawn. In those early days, we knew that our combining of folk music, Appalachia, hip-hop, blues and jazz was weird. And rare. There weren’t a lot of people who had all of those things in their upbringing since they were two years old. And we knew that there was no genre for that.” The music industry, on the other hand, often likes to put its artists into boxes, to give decisions about musical direction over to marketing people. This is especially true where attractive female artists are concerned.

“We were very aware that we were marketable,” Leah admits, “in our story, and our…aesthetic,” she laughs. “But we were not marketable in our genre. For the first several years that we worked, it drove the places we’d play crazy: ‘We don’t know where to put you.’ And we wanted to figure that out.” In the end, she says that “it took years for people to write about our music correctly, to not write ‘Girls with banjos! Playing bluegrass! And then they throw in this crazy, wonky, weird beat!’” Bemoaning the pandering aspect of some genre-fusion music (“It’s so piecemeal and awkward!”), Leah says that Rising Appalachia strives to “give air to what we hear, which is a very strange and wonderful conglomeration of influences.”

Continuing to embody the DIY ethos, Rising Appalachia has been at the forefront of self-funding and crowd funding. Recorded at Asheville’s Echo Mountain Studios, Wider Circles is being crowd funded to the tune of $30,000. “This will be our second Kickstarter project,” says Leah. “Our first one was a really amazing honor, and very exciting. When we got to a place where we were ready to record this album, we thought long and hard about [whether or not to do] a Kickstarter. Because we’re not really interested in taxing our fan base. We don’t like to always be asking; we’ve been taught to be self-sufficient. And we did have some funding opportunities; we did have some donors who were interested. So we round-tabled it: Chloe and I will sit and have a glass of wine, and philosophize until we we get to how we want to move forward.”

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Rising Appalachia: Making Music with Intention (Part 1)

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

Sisters Leah Song and Chloe Smith lead Rising Appalachia, a renowned folk/world music group whose music is as intriguing as it is hard to classify. Their eighth album, Wider Circles, has just been released, and the group (also featuring percussionist Biko Cassini and bassist/guitarist David Brown) appeared onstage in their current hometown at Asheville, North Carolina’s New Mountain Theatre (Amphitheatre Stage) on June 13.

To the uninitiated, the group’s name suggests Americana. But even a quick listen to one of their songs reveals that such a term would be far too limiting. “We actually – years and years ago – wanted to change the name,” says Leah. “Because we did want to be exploring roots music and folk music from all around the world. We even put in some effort to change [our name].” 2008′s Evolutions in Sound: Live re-branded the group as R.I.S.E. “But our collective fan base sort of put their foot down and said, ‘No. You should stick with it; there’s a legacy that’s important for you to hold onto. You’re redefining what Appalachia[n music] means to the mountain culture.’ They really didn’t want us to let go of that. It was part of our initial identity; we had folk traditions in our upbringing.”

She elaborates. “Several generations [of our family] have studied and played Appalachian fiddle. We were also brought up in this wonderful, urban metropolis of Atlanta, with all that that includes. So we had the idea that we could rise out of the traditions, and see how they mixed. The name Rising Appalachia was an attempt to redefine that tradition, and to figure out all the other ways in which we have a folk tradition. So we have found the name limiting, but we have also found it a really, really valuable part of our pursuits.”

The sisters’ parents both have strong roots in the arts. The idioms in which they work differ somewhat from what Rising Appalachia does, but there is a common thread running through all of it. “We have one of those family dynamics that is really treasured,” observes Leah. “And it’s pretty rare. We were raised in a very modest, lower-middle-class, hard working family. We went to public school, and we played on all of the community sports teams.” But she says that there was always a strong foundation in art and culture. Leah characterizes her parents as “big jazz record-playing, NPR-listening people.” That common thread of the family’s everyday life was part of shared meals, discussions and debates. “Holidays weren’t necessarily built around ‘stuff.’” The focus was, she says, more about sharing the product of some or other creative expression.

“Our mom is a folk fiddler; our father is as well,” Leah notes. “And they both have been playing in contra dance bands and old time jam circles since we were babies. There was music in our house five days a week. And then on weekends, we’d attend a lot of old time folk studies; we’d go to fiddle camps; contra dances. We were very, very much musical. My mom started a sort of gospel/Appalachian/jazz singing group, a 12-woman project. They rehearsed at our house.” So in many ways, Rising Appalachia was predestined, an extension of the family tradition. Leah and Chloe were going to do something. They certainly weren’t going to grow up and go off to law school, now, were they?

“Well,” laughs Leah, “you never know! My sister actually thought she would go into entertainment law. And I think I was going toward [becoming a] college professor or some sort of social justice activism. Music was just a permanent part of our expression; I don’t think we ever thought it would be a career choice. It would always have been a [life] soundtrack, a front porch project. But we didn’t go into this at any point saying, ‘Yeah! Let’s make a band!’”

Leah does see Rising Appalachia’s raison d’être as very connected to her family tradition. She connects it to “how we were raised, and the stories we were given.” And the way they were raised does reflect itself in the group’s music and overall outlook. The sisters attended Atlanta’s inner city Henry W. Grady High School, a multicultural institution in which they were the minority. “It informed both of our approaches to music and to social justice,” Leah says, noting that local events, activities and gathering places all reflected the influence and character of many cultures. “The local farmer’s market represents 250 countries, and many, many languages. So we grew up with this incredibly vibrant relationship with diversity, in an urban community that represented so many cultures. Atlanta has strong black leadership, and incredibly powerful international business owners. Where we grew up was wonderful to be part of a community that had that many different perspectives: religious, educational, economic.”

She doesn’t view that community through rose-colored glasses, however. “It wasn’t perfect,” she stresses. “It wasn’t without strife. But there’s a really strong collective mentality. And in hindsight, I realize now what an unusual upbringing that was. And it’s something that we’re always trying to bring into our social and musical awareness. And we encourage our audiences to really think about what justice and equality look like.”

At eighteen, Leah left home to travel the world, most notably in Latin America. There she found herself “on the periphery” of the Zapatista movement. The sisters’ worldly, real-life experience gives their work a degree of authenticity that is sometimes missing in musical acts who merely suit themselves in the Americana identikit of vintage suits and the like. “I did want those experiences to serve as fertile ground for the rest of my life,” she says. But she wasn’t going about collecting life experiences as fodder for songs she might write in the distant future. The traveling was a World Studies project of sorts. “I was given really strong direction by my family: ‘If you want to travel, do it with intention.’ And Chloe – she’s my younger sister – would do the same.” Eventually the two “met up again, and started doing some traveling together. And music was a very different wellspring that we tapped into later.”

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Wes Montgomery’s ‘In the Beginning’ from Resonance Records (Part 2)

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Continued from Part One

At right: Recording rehearsal. David Baker, David Young, Dr. Larry Ridley, Wes Montgomery. Photograph by Duncan Schiedt.

And still there’s more: shortly before his 2014 passing, famed Indianapolis photojournalist Duncan Schiedt contacted Resonance’s Zev Feldman to share news that he had a 1959 recording of Wes Montgomery with the Eddie Higgins Trio. That recording dates from “just before Wes was signed to Riverside,” Feldman says, clearly excited at the prospect of yet more rare and vintage Montgomery. Plans are in development to release those sessions later this year. “and there’s other stuff out there, too,” beams Feldman. “Resonance Records is turning into ‘the house that Montgomery built,’ and we’re really grateful to the family; they’ve been very kind and supportive. Especially Robert Montgomery, Wes’ son.”

The In the Beginning set features more than just those seventeen tracks. “Based on a tip, we discovered a recording session that was in the Sony music archives; Sony didn’t even know about it.” That 1955 session featured five tracks produced by Quincy Jones, likely for use as a demo.

The Montgomery-Johnson Quintet at The Turf Club, Indianapolis. L to R: Sonny Johnson, Monk Montgomery (hidden), Pookie Johnson, Wes Montgomery, Buddy Montgomery. The Turf Club, Indianapolis, circa mid-1950s. Photograph by Philip Kahl. Courtesy of the Buddy Montgomery estate.

The album offers up even more rarities. A 1957 recording from the C&C Music Lounge in Chicago documents an extended workout of Jerome Kern‘s “All The Things You Are,” and features fiery fretwork from the guitarist. “I communicate with a lot of jazz fans,” Feldman says. “Sometimes those people are tape collectors. I had told this gentleman that I know about the Wes Montgomery project I was working on. And he said to me, ‘Hey, I’ve got a tape. It’s only one track, and it’s from a long time ago.’ He made me swear up and down – and his attorney, too, for that matter! – that I would never reveal his name. And I’ve respect that, because we knew this was an important recording.” Feldman gives great credit to Resonance owner George Klabin for providing the resources for Feldman to go on the hunt for these rare recordings.

“This project started as the Philip Kahl recordings,” observes Feldman.” But it evolved into this early years anthology.” Whenever he thought he’d unearthed all there was to find, he says he’d ask, “What else is there!?”

At left: “King Trotter,” Original 78 RPM Record. Courtesy of Jacques Morgantini.

That approach yielded yet another set of rare Montgomery recordings to round out the 2CD set. Three tracks cut in 1949 at Spire Records in Fresno CA display Montgomery and band seething with musical energy. “King Trotter” may be the earliest recording of Montgomery taking a solo. Another highlight of those tapes is “Smooth Evening,” during which Montgomery duplicates Sonny Parker‘s scat vocal. The original records are so rare that United States Library of Congress doesn’t even have copies.

As important and wonderful as the music is, a big part of what makes In the Beginning such a special package is the treasure trove of images, essays and interviews. Feldman even managed to get Montgomery fan Pete Townshend to pen an essay for the booklet. “I grew up listening to rock music like The Who,” Feldman recalls. “My parents played jazz in the house. It was really about musicianship, and soloing, and the expression of ideas. And I had always been in awe of Pete Townshend’s guitar style; he reminds me of a jazz musician.” Feldman enjoyed a Townshend collection released back in 1983, a 2LP set called Scoop. That record included a jazzy instrumental titled “For Barney Kessel.” “So,” recalls Feldman, “I thought, ‘I don’t know for sure, but I’ll bet Pete is a fan of Wes Montgomery, too.” He reached out to Townshend, who was glad to write the essay for In the Beginning in which he relates the story of listening with his dad to an early Montgomery stereo pressing.

Resonance has quite a few upcoming projects of note, including previously unheard recordings featuring organist Larry Young. “Jimmy Smith may have taken the organ out of the church,” Feldman says, “but Larry Young was the one who took it out of this world.” That set of tapes from a French radio archive will be released in late 2015 or early 2016. The label also has plans for release of an series of unheard collaborations between Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto; a set of Thad Jones/Mel Lewis recordings; and some previously-unreleased live recordings of Jaco Pastorius, Sarah Vaughan and others that Feldman isn’t quite ready yet to reveal.

With projects such as these and In the Beginning, Feldman, Klabin and everyone at Resonance are clearly on a mission. “We’re very lucky,” says Feldman. “At the end of the day, we do the best job possible. But we operate differently: our whole function is trying to preserve this music. And I’ve gotta tell you: I’m having fun doing it.”

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Wes Montgomery’s ‘In the Beginning’ from Resonance Records (Part 1)

Monday, June 8th, 2015

Resonance Records is not your typical record label. While they do release a steady stream of solid new music from today’s jazz artists, that’s not what makes them truly special. Their tireless and thorough efforts behind the scenes to bring previously-unheard music to modern-day listeners is their most important mission, and it’s one of historic proportions. And what’s more, they truly do it for the love of the music first, with return on investment put in its place as a lesser priority. In fact, Resonance is part of the Rising Jazz Stars Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.

One of the label’s earliest releases was 2012′s superb Echoes of Indiana Avenue, a collection of previously unreleased recordings documenting the early years of jazz guitar great Wes Montgomery. Not long after that, they released an equally remarkable Bill Evans Trio live set, and more recently their John Coltrane album, Offering: Live at Temple University, earned liner notes essayist Ashley Kahn a Grammy award.

But it seems that with all of those projects, Resonance was just warming up. The latest historical album from the label is another Wes Montgomery collection, In the Beginning: Early Recordings from 1948 – 1958. Compiling recordings from a wide array of sources, the 2CD set documents a period of the guitarist’s history that has been largely unheard until now.

The Turf Club, Indianapolis, circa mid-1950s. Photograph by Philip Kahl. Courtesy of the Buddy Montgomery estate.

The Wes Montgomery recordings that make up the first 17 tracks on In the Beginning were originally recorded by a 22-year-old Butler University student named Philip Kahl. The Montgomery family had copies of these, which they first played back for Resonance producer Zev Feldman during the early stages of the Echoes of Indiana Avenue project. Montgomery’s son Robert, who heads the family’s estate, introduced Feldman to pianist Buddy Montgomery‘s widow Ann; she had something she wanted Feldman to hear. “She had tapes from Philip Kahl,” recalls Feldman. He says that many years earlier, “Kahl had apparently circulated copies of his tape among friends, and they had had copies. For years!” Those tapes included audio from three different Indianapolis venues: The Turf Club (a segregated music lounge), The Missile Lounge (“where Cannonball Adderley discovered Wes,” notes Feldman), and a jam session recorded at the home of Montgomery’s sister Ervina.

At left: The Turf Club ad for The Montgomery-Johnson Quintet, circa mid-1950s. Courtesy of Duncan Schiedt.

“We listened to it,” says Feldman. “And I knew right away, and I said, ‘this has got to be the Holy Grail for Wes Montgomery fans!’ Because you could have only dreamed about stuff from that era. Of course we knew he had played during those years, but no one had any documentation.” The family asked if Resonance would want to release it. But to get the best possible sound quality, Feldman really wanted to locate the original tapes, not merely dubs of unknown generation. “It’s detective work,” Feldman observes. “Sometimes, all you have is a name and Google.” Feldman found the family, and learned that Kahl had passed away recently. But they had the tape reels, and an arrangement was made to allow the release of those sessions. “I made a day trip and drove to Arizona, got the reels, and brought them back to L.A. Then we did a 96/24 transfer from the tapes.”

The recordings were in surprisingly good shape. “You can only do so much,” says Feldman. “These were amateur recordings made on Nagra or Wollensak tape machines. What you hear is what you get. And not only did [Kahl] make recordings, but he took photographs!” Several of those are featured in In the Beginning‘s 56-page booklet.

Feldman notes that “When Wes passed in 1968, Creed Taylor put out that [posthumous Montgomery] album on Verve, Willow Weep for Me. And that was all table scraps.” And when Montgomery’s albums were reissued on CD, the vaults were raided for whatever remaining outtakes existed. So the discovery and of these tapes is a significant event. “And here we are in 2015,” Feldman teases, “and we’re working on releasing even more!” As it turns out, Feldman’s detective work has unearthed the source tapes of the Echoes of Indiana Avenue release, and he says that the tapes contain “another two CDs worth of releasable music.”

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McQueen’s Pop Culture Mix of Music, Comedy and Multimedia

Friday, June 5th, 2015

“Is it comedy?” asks McQueen rhetorically. “Is it music? Is it the weird hybrid cousin of both who is 32 and still sits at the kids’ table during holidays?” The answer to all of those questions is most likely yes. Live dates in cities across the eastern USA in May and June will give audiences the opportunity to decide for themselves (McQueen played Asheville NC on May 21).

Performances by McQueen (Adams) draw deeply on today’s pop culture, and as a result, his humor resonates best with those who have at least a working knowledge of what’s currently popular; put another way, he probably wouldn’t play well in front of an Amish crowd in Lancaster PA. “When I was in the UK workshopping the show I had some ups and downs the first week,” he admits, with a hint of frustration. “Who doesn’t know who Conan O’Brien is? So you run into things going over someone’s head.” But such incidents are the exception, not the rule. “With the constant information we have access to,” McQueen says, “audiences are well-versed” in the pop culture references at the core of his show.

That show incorporates projected visuals, live music performance, and vocal impressions. In both concept and execution, a McQueen performance is consistent with the ethos of sampling. He takes content from a variety of disparate sources, and reprocesses them through his own sensibility, creating something new and unique yet oddly familiar in the process. McQueen describes what he does as combining “parts of movies, songs, and moments [into] a soundtrack for scenarios that didn’t exist and giving them life. He explains, “This show is a culmination of finding a balance of my love of music and my offbeat humor.” And the friends with whom he collaborates in developing the material are “musicians, not comics,” he points out.

Even though it’s more or less a solo performance (“I have a lot of interaction with the fox,” says McQueen cryptically), the show is interactive, involving the audience. “Trial and error is this show’s best friend,” he admits. “Technology is a testy bitch; sometimes you are going to have mishaps, and sometimes it’s spotless.” Further, he notes that the audience is transfixed on the screen, “so I can definitely hide out during the show” if needed. The show’s elements of the unknown are an asset, not a liability. “I think the ability to improvise and move on the fly is what makes this show what it is,” he says.

The limited amount of traditional storyboarding and choreography means that there is plenty of space in a McQueen show for spontaneity. “It’s a constant evolution,” he says. “It’s a lot like songwriting. I work on a piece and I always want to add to it.” He admits that while parts of the show are loosely scripted, it’s “also is heavy on improvisation.” He laughs, “Like a guitar solo that goes ten minutes too long.”

For those who still wonder what a McQueen show is like – it’s definitely not traditional brick wall and bar stool stand-up, and it’s not exactly a concert – he offers a pop culture point of reference. “It’s been compared to watching Adult Swim Live.” He says that reviews of his shows in England sometimes likened him to The Mighty Boosh, “but I think that was out of how different the show is.” McQueen has an ace in the hole for making sure that his audiences don’t get too lost among the media culture references. “That’s why I have a cat in my show: everyone knows what a cat is.”

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David Torn: The Audience is Here (Part 2)

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

Continued from Part One

“So,” continues guitarist-composer David Torn, “I don’t intend to recreate any of the pieces on only sky in live performance. However, I can accurately recreate the process. Because,” he laughs, “I’m really good at over-intellectualizing anything I do, after the fact. But inside the fact, all I’m really doing…is playing.”

“When I talk, sometimes people expect that they’re going to get this huge intellectual stew out of me,” he says. “But it’s not [the case]. This is what I say, and that is what I play. And they’re very different things. For me it’s all about finding the feeling that needs to be expressed, and following the fairly curvy lines to get there.”

Torn’s method of creating only sky was somewhat unconventional. “It was made in a 1500-seat theatre,” he says. “It was done that way on purpose. I was trying to expand the idea of playing like I play at home. But I love the sound of a big room, so we went to the most incredible theatre that I know of [the EMPA Concert Hall in Troy, NY], turned the lights down, set up all my stuff, and just recorded for two and a half to three days. No studio, no multitracking. None of the professionalism that goes along with being locked in a small room with headphones on. I had no headphones on for this.”

David Torn’s upcoming “house concert” at Streamside provides an interactive experience that differs from the one audiences would find in a traditional concert hall. “On this tour,” he says, “because I haven’t toured in so long, I wanted that. I probably should have looked for even more house concerts. If there are sixty to a hundred people in a room, it’s a much easier way for me to feel what they feel, for them to feel what I feel. And there’s something really appealing about knowing that people are there to engage. It doesn’t feel so much like a show.” Though he’s a fan of the house concert format, his enthusiasm has its limits. “I did one in my own house several years ago,” he laughs. “I’ll never do that again. But I love the idea.”

The guitarist/composer allows that trying to recreate that ambience in a house concert setting is “strange, but it actually fits together. What I was trying to get out of the space of the big room was a space in which I felt free to move around musically. Because that is precisely what I feel when I’m in my little studio at home. I wanted the sound to be able to accommodate that.”

Thinking beyond his solo work, is there anyone new with whom Torn would really like to collaborate? “There are a few, yeah,” he says. “There are a few regrets. I had an opportunity to work with Joni Mitchell in the late 80s or early 90s. But it was impossible to work out schedules. The same thing happened to me with Sting in the early-to-middle 2000s. And,” he grimaces, “I missed working with Ani Difranco because I was an idiot.”

“In terms of the future,” Torn says, “there are a few people that I would certainly like to work with. And they’re not people whom everybody would expect me to say. And…I don’t know if I should even say it, but I’d love to do something – even if it were live – with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. I also have an idea for a duet project with–” he pauses,  “somebody whom I’m not going to mention.”

But for now, Torn’s immediate focus is on the tour nominally in support of only sky. His website lists early June dates in Washington DC, Baltimore, Carrboro NC, Asheville (June 6) and Atlanta, with others – says the site – “TBA.” Musing on the difference between American and European audiences, Torn sums it up in one word: familiarity. “The audience has always been here in America,” he says. “The problems in the past were amplified by the nature of the business and the size of the country. In one way, it’s easier to advertise in America to everyone. In another way, if you want to experience real live music, it has been very difficult if not impossible for, say, jazz musicians to make a living, not work a day job, and go out and tour the United States. I can easily put a little thing together around my hometown, but these are compounding problems: if I can’t spend a lot of money on recording and distribution and packaging – the look of the thing – then I’m not going to be able to necessarily steadily build a career.

“On top of which, yes, it’s true that we have very little funding for the arts in the United States. Very, very, very little funding. Whereas in European countries – and in South America now – there is governmental assistance and patronage to the arts via people’s taxes. And it’s not – as many Americans seem to believe – useless drivel. It’s something that feeds culture and civilization. And [without that] America suffers in a grand way.”

“However,” Torn adds, striking an optimistic tone, “that doesn’t mean the audience isn’t here. I believe the audience is here. My own tour of the last three weeks show me that my audience is here. There are other things I could do: I could put together a group and play Lars and the Real Girl; that wasn’t just in the film; it was played at the Olympics. I could play Madonna songs. There are lots of thing that I could do that are more commercially attractive – and easier – than what I’m doing now. And yet, people are here. These are some of the best audiences I’ve ever experienced in America. They’re sitting. They’re listening. André [Cholmondeley, tour manager] said to me, “No one’s on their cell phone. There’s no texting going on. No one’s leaving!’ I’m not avant-garde – never have been, never will be – but this isn’t pop music. It isn’t Taylor Swift.” and his working friends – artists like Torn’s best friend Tim Byrne – report similar experiences. “Tim told me, ‘I can’t believe it. The audiences are there!’ People want to hear music that isn’t simply meant only to be sold. I feel very encouraged. It gives me the freedom to explore more; I am going to continue reaching for something to express. And we can all benefit by that.”

David Torn will appear in a solo performance at Streamside Concerts on Saturday, June 6 near Asheville NC. Tickets for the intimate event (a strongly suggested $25 donation) are available here until they run out; at press time, nearly all spaces were filled, so hurry. The event includes a communal covered dish meal (BYOB and a dish to share) before the performance.

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