Festival review: LouFest 2012 Day 2: Lost and found and happy in a flood of rain and music, Sunday, August 26
I am still finding pieces of confetti in my hair and clothes as I type this, remnants of a wet and wild weekend at LouFest 2012 in Forest Park.
“We’re going to have a collective, cosmic orgasm!” promised Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, firing wave after wave of rainbow sprinkles at us during their headlining set. But before this surreal cosmic embrace, there were many others who took the stage, gallantly defying Mother Nature to blast our eardrums with high-powered rock, folk and soul.
The Pernikoff Brothers, a local folk-rock outfit, started things off nice and easy on Day 2 in Forest Park. The ladies of THEESatisfaction, resplendent of Afro and wriggling in all the right places, warned, “Whatever you do, don’t funk with my groove,” amid a snaky little bass line and pulsing, robotic drum beat — the sound would pair nicely with neon sneakers and a boombox hoisted over your shoulder. These college friends know their way around a rollerskate jam and make a kind of futuristic funk, layered over equally space-age raps. A little Q-Tip, a lot Janelle Monáe.
Next up we got more Missouri, this time a representative from the wild (South)west, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. The hometown welcome was extended by proxy to the Springfield quartet, who showed some love for our side of the state (“Cardinal Rules”) and, from the looks of it, coaxed a few fans up Interstate 44 just to see the show (as evidenced by a circle of tireless dancers, who screamed and waved a handmade sign throughout the entire performance).
“I’ll see you at Wild Nothing!” signed off John Robert Cardwell (vocalist/guitarist/occasional drummer), and no sooner had SSLYBY exited Blue Stage left than began a mad dash for the Orange Stage, where the dreamy pop of Wild Nothing cascaded over the crowd like so much misty, twinkling starlight. The creative force behind Wild Nothing, Jack Tatum, is as young and fresh-faced as they come, so it’s almost hard to believe he’s two records into a promising career and already commanding such admiration from a crush of sweaty Fest-ies (and Fest-ettes, especially) — albeit diffident, shoegazing admiration.
As Wild Nothing’s twinkled from the speakers, kids in Spotify ray-bans traipsed back across the field in time for Cults, a band whose star burned bright and early but hasn’t dimmed at all since their major-label debut last summer. Reinforced by a second guitarist, keyboardist and drummer, the film school couple Madeline Folin and Brian Oblivion (surely some of the coolest names you could have, as rock stars!) whipped through favorites like “Oh My God” and “Go Outside,” as well as a Leonard Cohen cover (“One of our favorite artists,” stated Brian, solemnly) in a dazzling set that clocked in shy of 40 minutes. Red and pouty of lip, Madeline thanked us for dancing and demurely sipped water between heartrending slow-dance numbers — the girl has pipes.
They had to rush off to catch a flight — or was it because Wayne Coyne had just been sighted in the press tent next to their stage, and they wanted to catch him? Regardless, the Coyne apparition faded from view in a blur of curly hair and feathered collar, while Dawes, the second band of brothers of the day, took the stage next. Their blend of folk and bluegrass, coupled with shiny guitar work and soaring, hymn-like choruses (“When My Time Comes”) draws comparisons to still other brothers (the Avett) as well as Fleet Foxes. As venues go, a wooded glen in the mountains would have been ideal, but a meadow in beautiful Forest Park, underneath an overcast sky, suited Dawes just fine. I look forward to hearing more from the band in the years to come.
Festival review: LouFest 2012 Day 1: Phantogram stole our hearts, Son Volt drowned us with country-fried guitars and Girl Talk split our skulls in a feverish dance party, Saturday, August 25
Of all the days the weather vane could have picked to end Missouri’s historic drought, August 25, the first day of LouFest, was not the one I would have chosen.
Still, it was impossible to dampen the spirit of revelry in Forest Park in St. Louis while rain pelted us sideways and the cracked, hard earth turned to mush beneath our feet. The afternoon hours, with the notable exceptions of local faves (and babes) Sleepy Kitty and young Brits Little Barrie, were packed with rootsy, interstate-ready Americana.
King Tuff’s gritty take on psychedelia translated surprisingly well from a dimly-lit club to a humid afternoon. “We would like to thank Lou for having us to his Fest,” announced Kyle Thomas, the creative force behind a quartet of guys cinched into tight jeans, before tearing into a set full of fuzzy slacker anthems—the stuff rock ‘n’ roll is made of.
Cotton Mather, back together after a decade-long hiatus, followed on their heels with straight-up, high-powered pop-rock. Three men dressed as Schlafly bottles, apparently there to remind us that we could be drinking Summer Lager as we munched vegan nachos on blankets, weaved in and out of the crowd, their bottle-capped hats bouncing along in time to “40 Watt Solution.” Cotton Mather seemed genuinely happy to be on the road playing together again; light-footed frontman Robert Harrison skipped and grapevined across the stage, in a manner of which the band’s Puritan namesake would have surely disapproved. And the sprinkles began.
Little Barrie took the stage amid thick, gathering storm clouds, charging into a punk-inflected set with a nod to the Strokes here and some nice cyclical riffs there. The London trio was doubtlessly more accustomed to inclement weather than we heat-stroked St. Louisans, most of whom were sent scurrying under merch tents for cover as the rain began in earnest, playing right through the much-needed (but ill-timed!) downpour.
“Drown,” appropriately named and timed, and one of the best-known tunes of Son Volt’s substantial alt-country catalog, coaxed festival-goers out from under their plastic ponchos to toe-tap and two-step. Jay Farrar’s harmonica reached all four corners of the park during several barnhouse rockers, but they also kept it cool with a few quieter folk ballads — classic Son Volt, and perfectly suited for a lazy afternoon slipping into dusk.
The band’s monitors were still buzzing as the youngest and most tattooed chunk of LouFest-ies tripped over to the Blue Stage for a hotly-anticipated appearance by Phantogram. It was only the second time the New York-based indie darlings have been to St. Louis, and they seemed overwhelmed by the size of the crowd and the feverish adoration contained within — “We’re definitely coming back!” promised lead vocalist/keyboardist Sarah Barthel, following a set full of throat-constricting bass and forceful, danceable electronica-rock. (Rocktronica?) The duo (plus a drummer for the road) pairs Euro-pop and bass lines you feel in your stomach with Sarah’s sugary soprano—what Sleigh Bells wants to be when they grow up.
‘Just writing and writing and doing what comes naturally’ A pre-LouFest interview with Josh Carter of Phantogram
In a crowded indie landscape full of electronic pop, it’s unlikely that most bands will ever cut through the noise, and even less likely that they’ll be exceptionally good. Young Phantogram has already defied both odds.
Only one full-length album and three EPs into their career, the duo of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel — with the touring addition of Tim Oakley — has stirred up a bucketful of attention for blending darkly addictive tunes that heavily reference dream pop, hip-hop production and shoegaze.
The band released two EPs in 2009, but heads began to turn en masse with the releases of its debut full-length, “Eyelid Movies,” in early 2010 and its third EP, “Nightlife,” in late 2011. Both garnered enthusiastic responses from fans — for hooky electronic melodies — and critics — for melding a diversity of sounds into something wholly original.
I recently spoke to Josh Carter — the band’s songwriter, guitarist and secondary vocalist — on the phone about the origins of Phantogram’s sound, how to deal with expectations and the band’s first, err, second St. Louis appearance, this Saturday at LouFest.
Chris Bay: What’s your favorite boy-girl duo, past or present?
Josh Carter: Sonny and Cher. Captain and Tennille. Just kidding. Let’s see, I like Beach House a lot. They’re a good band. We just did a show with Sleigh Bells a couple of weeks ago. Those guys are really nice, too.
When “Eyelid Movies” dropped, the thing that I was most impressed by was that it had a very well-formed, original character to it, which is unusual for a band’s first full-length these days. A lot of music sounds derivative when it first comes out of the box. How did that feel from your perspective?
It happened very naturally. Phantogram was basically the product of my solo work. When I was about 18 I started writing songs a lot and played the drums and guitar and synths, and I would write these little ditties. And then a friend of mine who was really into hip hop got me into some more obscure underground hip hop, like Quasimoto and Madlib and stuff like that.
I grew up with an older brother who is really into good indie rock like Sonic Youth and shoegaze music, like Ride and Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine. And I also grew up on the Beatles. So basically, it wasn’t really sought out too much, it was just me blending my favorite elements of music together to create something that’s natural.
I met up with Sarah — we’ve been longtime friends — and I was singing a lot of these songs in my falsetto and I thought it’d be really cool to have a girl sing them. Sarah has a really great voice and she’s really good on piano, so I asked her if she wanted to collaborate and we started Phantogram.
You just leapt ahead of me quite a bit from where I wanted to go with that comment, but this is as good of a time as any to go there. You write a lot of the lyrics, if not all…
Yeah, I write all of the lyrics.
…So what’s it like to have somebody else sing your songs, especially when a lot of them seem to be very personal?
I think it’s because we’re such close friends. I’ll often write lyrics with Sarah present and kind of run them by her. So I think she can really connect emotionally to what I’m writing about even though she’s not writing the lyrics. She definitely has a big emotional connection to them.
You do this because you feel like it makes the music work better with a female vocalist?
Yeah. I sing on some of our songs, but we sort of pick and choose who sings on what songs. But we both have very different sounding voices; there’s very high contrast.
When we first started the band we wanted to do more of a Thurston Moore / Kim Gordon type deal where we both sing, where there’s not a lead singer. But Sarah has more or less taken the lead, obviously because she has a stronger voice than I and she’s a great entertainer as well, and I don’t mind that because I just like to make music. I’m lucky that I have such a great partner to do it with.
‘I want to hear something that’s gonna blow my mind’ A pre-LouFest interview with Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips have been making adventurous, creative and sometimes outright silly rock ‘n’ roll since the early days of the alternative boom. It would be wrong to say they think outside of the box because I’m not sure they ever acknowledged the box to begin with.
Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Steven Drozd — who first joined the Lips as a drummer in 1991 — was doing some press calls from his home, and I was lucky enough to chat with him about the Oklahoma City band’s staying power, its forthcoming album and LouFest, where the band headlines on August 26.
Nick Cowan: There’s a lot of excitement about the Flaming Lips being part of LouFest.
Steven Drozd: My sister-in-law lives there [in St. Louis] so I get up there from time to time. I’m trying to remember the last time we were there. A couple of years ago I think.
I think it was two years ago at a place called the Pageant.
So how many years has LouFest been going? Is it an institution or is this a new thing?
Let’s call it a growing institution. It’s in year three and lots of great bands are and have been part of it in a short time.
All I know is that Dinosaur Jr. is playing! When we play festivals as a headliner we try to pull out all the stops. Not that we play a minimized show otherwise, but this will be the full-on, huge, flaming rock show.
How do you prep for a festival vs. a club show?
We have our video set up at these big festival shows. A full size video wall and these things called Versatubes, if the stage is big enough, that outline the video wall. It looks insane. It gives the impression that we’re a stadium rock band even though we’re not.
I don’t want to make it sound like I’m taking away from hardcore Flaming Lips fans, but whenever we play a big show like this, we try to gear it towards the maximum possible rock. The mellow stuff is kept to a minimum, we try to keep the big songs as the majority of the set. We want it to be a huge party. Even if you’re not enjoying the music that much you can still have a great time with your friends, and it looks insane and you get wrapped up in the show itself.
In smaller shows we’ll do three or four mellow songs and tone it down in the middle of the set before we do more big numbers. Man, I can’t believe I’m calling songs “numbers.” I sound like some old blues guy. But that’s the only difference.
Since you said “numbers” that’s actually a good segue. “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” is being, or has been by this point, turned into an actual stage musical.
True. The rumors are true. I think they’re in the final stages of tweaking it.
How did that come about it? I would never have thought of that in a million years.
Well, Scott Booker, who’s the Flaming Lips manager, is always trying to expand us and get us into different things. And Wayne [Coyne] is just inherently crazy and curious about trying different stuff.
The main guy [Des McAnuff] has done some huge, big-hit Broadway productions. He was really interested in it. And when we first heard about it I thought it was kind of a funny “oh that’d be crazy if they did that” thing. But now here they are. At first I thought they would want or require some additional music, but they’re using songs from “Soft Bulletin,” “Yoshimi” and “At War With the Mystics.” I haven’t really had that much of a hand in it. Wayne has checked on it, Scott is really involved. Anything that can get someone who wouldn’t otherwise be turned onto our music, I think that’s a great thing all the way around. I’m pretty excited about it.
Do you think you guys have some credibility when it comes to this stuff? If a pop star were to do it, I’d let that pass. But you guys come at all your stuff with a lot of creativity that I think brings people in.
I’m just afraid to turn off people by doing it. But then maybe we turn off the people that aren’t hard core fans. I don’t know, we’re always trying different stuff whether we’re recording a 24-hours song or recording tracks with Ke$ha or a Broadway musical. I think it perfectly suits us to do that. If it’s a failure it will be an interesting side note on a Wikipedia page. If it’s a big success, who knows?
I’d rather bands I like do something interesting and fail, rather than tow middle ground and rehash.
And how many bands do that these day? They make a couple of classic records, and then do it over and over again, to diminishing returns usually. I think the things the Flaming Lips are doing now add on to what we’ve done.
‘It’s hard for artists who have not broken through to believe in what they do’ A pre-LouFest interview with Robert Harrison of Cotton Mather
Power-pop bands come and go like fuses on a Vox amp turned to 11. They get hot, they get a single, they get a footnote in “Shake Some Action.”
And then there’s a band like Cotton Mather, who flared up in the least-likely land of Austin, Texas in the mid-’90s, released three excellent albums including one enduring masterpiece called “Kontiki,” and then, just when the world took notice, they were gone.
Or not completely gone. Founder Robert Harrison, a native son of Alabama who moved to Austin in his early 20s, has continued to release records under the Future Clouds and Radar moniker, spiking heady guitar pop with psychedelic tang and “Rubber Soul”-esque sweetness. Last March, at SXSW 2012, he reformed Cotton Mather for a show that coincided with the reissue of “Kontiki,” one of the most exciting and essential rock albums, not just of the ’90s, but of any era.
This weekend, St. Louisians have two chances to catch Cotton Mather on stage: Friday, August 24 at Off Broadway for a LouFest pre-party and Saturday, August 25 at LouFest proper. The reunited Cotton Mather will feature the classic “Kontiki” touring lineup of Harrison, Whit Williams on guitar and vocals, Dana Myzer on drums and Josh Gravelin on bass.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Harrison via phone from his home in the hills outside Austin.
Roy Kasten: Take us back to the beginning of the band.
Robert Harrison: Cotton Mather had many permutations. It started out as a duo, with myself and a cello player. At that point, I was new to Austin and rather new to music. My first impulses were to do something a bit in the vein of the SST bands at the time, pretty aggressive and angular. The cellist was a very arty, very capable player. I was more rhythmic and propulsive in my playing. The songs had odd time signatures, though I don’t know what they really were. It was a kind of jagged, aggressive band. I thought it was cool.
Then my writing began to shift over time. I discovered I had a knack for a different kind of writing, more melodic, with more harmonically familiar phrasings and strains. I could contain my sense of the oddball within that. It was an interesting evolution. Over time my friend Nat [Shelton] the cellist left and we became something that had never been heard on the planet before: two guitars, bass and drums.
That became Cotton Mather in the mid ’90s. We made our first record ["Cotton Is King," 1994] Whit Williams was in that version of the band, he stayed with me, and our friendship musically, especially, grew pretty close. We began woodshedding on material that would become “Kontiki.” The album was a reaction to the pressures of chasing the brass ring, the music industry, all the trappings that we were exposed to and found disappointing. It was a record we made for ourselves, to reclaim some passion and levity and enjoyment from the experience. We even joked that we would never put it out. But we listened and realized it was pretty good, and that maybe we didn’t need to record in big studios.
So you began recording in Los Angeles?
Not in LA, in Austin, with a producer from LA. He was a friend of ours, Dave McNair. We did tracks with him and they sounded great, but I don’t think we believed in it. It’s hard for artists who have not broken through to believe in what they do. They’re chasing shadows. I say that also about artists that I’ve worked with, who I’ve produced. They’re not really sure what they’re looking for, they haven’t found it yet, so that puts them in a distrustful place. They don’t know what’s missing.
I knew what we did with Dave was good, but it didn’t move me. These demos I was making out in this house in the country had some kind of spark. As I became more certain about that we dropped the formal studio recordings and put our efforts into the four-track and ADAT recordings. That became “Kontiki.” I took some time. We didn’t own the equipment and we didn’t own the house. We had to work after midnight when the house was empty. I think we found a voice quite quickly, a voice that we were able to continue to develop.
What was it like working with Brad Jones on mixing the record?
That was fantastic. I didn’t know Brad. We were on this tiny label. It was one guy, he put out a Badfinger tribute record, that we had contributed a track to, in 1996. His name was Darrell Clingman — who I’m not in touch with now; maybe he’ll read this and give me a holler — he offered to put out anything we would do. It seemed so absurd, but we were in such a reaction to doing everything we were told, we thought this is perfect. We would put it out on this little label called Copper Records. How more fitting could it get? He was a sharp guy, had good ears, but he had no resources. He recommended Brad Jones, and after Brad heard the rough mixes he was really enthusiastic, so I went with my grocery bags of tapes and ADATs to his doorstep in Nashville.
Only after that did he realize what a Herculean task it was going to be to assemble this into a record. I made this stuff under the assumption that I could put all these tapes back together. This is pre-ProTools. It took some magic. As Brad was doing that his production instincts showed themselves. He made little suggestions here and there. We were likeminded in our approach to music, at least enough that I trusted what he had to say. On tracks like “Vegetable Row,” “Camp Hill Operator” and “My Before and After,” what you hear is exactly what I brought him. He just pushed up the faders and mixed it as best as he could. Then there were songs like “Homefront Cameo” and “Spin My Wheels” where he made suggestions, and we moved the arrangement around and did some overdubs. I thought his contributions were terrific. We became good friends in the process.
I’ve read that you were going through a pretty hard time when you were working on the songs for “Kontiki.”
That comes up, but it tends to get over emphasized. It was a tricky time, but it was also a great time, a time of discovery. I think what you’re referring to is at that time I had just been through a death in the family. That’s hard for anyone. But it was also a difficult time for Cotton Mather. The first record deal, the first wave of Cotton Mather, had ended with a whimper. It was a flat time, a difficult time to tap the well of inspiration, but once I did, it really flowed.
Do you know how Noel Gallagher got a copy of the record?
I think so. My understanding is that maybe it was Gem Archer, his guitar player, or maybe one of the new guys in Oasis, Andy Bell, had read about it in Mojo. Jim McGarry, who was with the Rainbow Quartz label, called me. The record had come out in the states and did pretty well on college radio, but there were no records to sell, there was no retail presence, and it was pre-Internet so there was no chance of word of mouth to do anything. “Kontiki” disappeared rather quickly.
So, somehow Jim McGarry got a copy of it, loved it and reached out to me. He was so full of bluster that I initially dismissed him. I’m a retiring Southern guy and here’s this gung-ho New York dude. It tripped all the wrong switches. But after a while I thought, what the hell, it couldn’t hurt. I got back in touch with him, and getting to know him, and seeing that his passion was substantial and genuine, I thought, well yeah, let’s see what he can do. With limited resources, he ended up putting together a very professional campaign in England. “Kontiki” got crazy good write ups, people responded to it, and one of the fellas in Oasis picked it up. I’m told by a mutual friend who was there, I’m told it was a Boxing Day party, maybe at Ronnie Wood’s house, or some kind of crazy rock star thing, some place I’ll never be. As lore has it, they gathered around and decided it was great, and wheels began to turn. Noel, and Liam in particular, became vocal champions of the record.
Do you feel that was a blessing or a curse?
Not a curse in anyway. Here’s a band who had sold maybe 400 records in the United States, had toured, had put out a record I thought was pretty damn good. Even though we went with the most obscure label we could find, I thought it would do more than that. Here was one of the biggest rock stars in the world using his megaphone to bring attention to it. It was all a blessing. That became the springboard for Cotton Mather to catch on.
Unfortunately — and this is the only part you could suggest might be a curse — at that point things began to move quickly. We didn’t have a team or a structure or any money to handle that. We weren’t equipped for what came next. People thought we were a new band, but we’d been together since the early ’90s. We were tired. Whit and I had done it for a long time with little payback, and that takes a toll on your life. I think the Oasis thing, it allowed the band to sustain itself for another couple of years and put out a third record, whereas I don’t think we would have been able to.
You guys went your separate ways in 2002.
In 2002, Whit decided to step aside. From the start it was the chemistry and the sound of our voices and guitars together — that became the signature sound of the group. He decided in 2002 that touring wasn’t for him. At that point we gave some thought to finding a guitar player, but my heart wasn’t in it. I thought it was a good time to step away.
Cotton Mather has released some new recordings on the Euclid Records label. Are you working on a full-length album?
We had a big show in town in Austin over the summer. The guys were flown in to play Antone’s. We decided to lock ourselves in at my place in the country for about 10 days after that and see what we came up with. I’m in the process of sorting through that right now. I don’t know what the plans are. I’m still sifting through, but it sounds like some pretty good stuff. The band may have a lot more to say. If this record is good, we’ll put it out. If it’s not, I promise we won’t bother you.
‘It’s just turned into a super loud sludgy sound, which is awesome’ A pre-LouFest interview with Murph of Dinosaur Jr.
Known as much for tumultuous internal band strife as for their “ear-bleeding country” tunes, the original lineup of Dinosaur Jr — J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph — bitterly split in 1989. All members pursued various projects throughout the ’90s and early 2000s. The trio reunited in 2005 and has since released two albums, and plans to release a new album, “I Bet on Sky,” due out September 18. Recently the band has played a blur of festivals from Chicago to Belgium.
I had the tremendous pleasure to chat for a good half hour with drummer Murph. We spoke about the new album, how the band rehearses these days, the early origins of Dinosaur — and I finally figured out who that girl was in all the early videos.
Joe Roberts: I know Dinosaur has a new album “I Bet on Sky” coming out this month. Can you tell us a little about the new album?
Murph: Yeah. The main difference on this album is that J really spent a while [working on the vocals]. He spent a good two weeks, which is a long time for him to get the vocals right. There are some really great harmonies, and I was just really impressed. He’s really starting to invest a little more time and effort than before.
How about the drums on the new album? Is it the process of J Mascis mapping it all out or did you find yourself coming up with more of the drum patterns?
Um…I mean it is, but now we interpret stuff. He’s a little more open to interpretation for Lou and me. Again, another big difference is normally we would track drums first, like those guys would play along and would not be recorded, just the drums would be recorded, whereas this time actually Lou was recorded first. So the original bass tracks that he was coming up with and playing along with were kept as the basic tracks, and J layered stuff over that. So, again, that’s pretty huge because a lot of that stuff was a lot more spontaneous and was us just coming up with stuff as we went along. So that was kind of cool.
Is there significance to the title of the album, “I Bet on Sky”?
No. That’s a weird J thing. You’d have to ask him because he didn’t even tell anybody — even us — the name of the record until right before. And unless you specifically ask him why that name he won’t talk about it. You’d literally have to ask him because we don’t know.
On a similar note, do you ever hear J or Lou’s song lyrics and wonder what the hell the song is about?
I know one of the songs has that in the lyrics…. In my own mind I ask questions, but J’s one of those people — you know, I’ve noticed that a good lyricist or a good songwriter has the ability to write a song and write lyrics where you feel like, “Oh, it’s about my life,” or “He’s talking to me!” or about my situation. And I found that’s a pretty good mark that someone’s on the right track and they’re a good songwriter and lyricist. J’s songs always seem to have that effect on everybody. You’re just able to apply it to yourself. That’s just part of his strong point.
How does Dinosaur Jr. prepare for the road?
Well, I’ve actually been living on and off in LA at Lou’s house. He’s got a house with a spare bedroom in Silver Lake. And one of the reasons is that bass and drums are the first thing to come together, and since J is more familiar with the songs he’s able to step in later. So, Lou and I usually put in a pretty good amount of time. Like a good week or more and really get the bass and drums super tight and solid. That’s how we practice. And, you know, we’ll get together with J maybe once or something and have a full band practice. But it’s always been me and Lou getting it together, and I think that’s why I’ve kind of been living out here. But for a tour we’ll try to get together a week or 10 days before, and for about three hours a day we’re in there everyday. We’ll just go through it like we’re playing a show. And we’ll just power through the set.
How has the rehearsing changed since the early days?
Well, there was a little more jamming in the early days, I guess. Whereas now, it’s more specific, we know exactly what we need to do and there’s not as much guess work. It’s more about getting down to work and making things super tight and super solid. Whereas, in the early days it was a little more experimentation because you’re not as sure. But we’ve been doing this long enough that we know how it’ll translate live, so we know what to work on and what will work and what won’t work.
‘We give each other a lot of space and leeway to be ourselves’ A pre-LouFest interview with Catherine Harris-White of THEESatisfaction
Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons are soaring with THEESatisfaction. Well known among fans of the Seattle hip-hop scene, the duo has taken off with a European tour and buzz both abroad and at home following the release of their debut album, “awE naturalE.”
Fresh off a flight landed in Seattle, Harris-White discusses the group’s new album and its first-ever St. Louis appearance at LouFest 2012.
Francisco Fisher: You guys have been recording and making music since 2008. I’m talking about ThEESatisfaction, but you were also on the Shabazz Palaces’ [a Seattle-based collective] album. How does it feel to have this album come out, an album of your own?
Catherine Harris-White: It’s really nice, you know. This is the first project we’ve had that’s been advertised and distributed around the world. In the past, we’ve just come out with projects like mixtapes and sold them basically by hand and at shows and put them online. So it’s kind of cool because this has been put out there in such a big way.
What is it like working with Stasia [Irons]? Do you prefer working in a duo or larger groups?
I really love working with Stas’. She’s got a great style and a really great ear for music. It’s a joy to work with her. I’ve worked with a couple of other bands before, but I like working with Stas’ and the two-person dynamic and how we can build off that.
Would you say you guys complement each other?
We definitely complement each other, rhythmically and vocally. We harmonize a lot when we’re on stage. We just have a solid idea of what the other person is doing or might do, and if we don’t know what’s going to happen, we can work it out. It’s not like any problems, like, “What the hell is she doing?” or “Why would she do that?” We work through everything, so it’s cool.
In the studio, onstage or both?
Everywhere. Definitely onstage, too, because since it’s live, things can always change. But we give each other a lot of space and leeway to be ourselves.
Do you enjoy live performance or are you more comfortable in the studio?
Recording and working on stuff at home is a totally different process, because you have hours, days and weeks to work on things sometimes, so you can get into a different vibe and chill out on it. When it’s live, it’s a different kind of high, because you have to do everything within an hour and people are watching it. There’s a lot of editing and mixing down and different things you can do in the studio — which is another kind of science, or another kind of game you can play — but you can’t do that same stuff onstage.
Complete with brotherly harmonies and warm drum arrangements, the Pernikoff Brothers’ first record, “On My Way,” garnered praise in the Americana and rock world and netted the band gigs opening for Willie Nelson, G. Love and Tim Reynolds. I recently interviewed the trio, brothers Rick and Tom and drummer Dan Germain, about their musical evolution, upcoming record, touring and future plans.
Will Kyle: What have you been pursuing lately?
Tom Pernikoff: We just got out of the studio a couple weeks ago. We recorded an album with producer Brian Deck. He’s produced Iron and Wine, Counting Crows, Modest Mouse, Gomez and a host of others.
Dan Germain: July 19th was the last day.
How’d that go?
Tom: Awesome. We were there about a month. Now he’s mixing the record.
Is Brian Deck responsible for those crisp handclaps on [Iron and Wine's] “Boy With a Coin?”
Tom: That’s him doing the claps.
Sounds like you’re in good hands, so to speak. So you cut the whole record with Brian?
Dan: Yeah, 14 tracks.
Tom: We’re gonna have people listen to some before we release it. We are not sure about the release point yet, though. We may release it independently or may go with an indie label. We’re going to take our time.
Compared to your previous record, “On My Way,” where is the sound of the new record sitting emotionally?
Dan: There is more of a personal aspect to this record, especially lyrically. I think the stories are truly compelling and honest. This comes out in the instrumentation as well, sounding more like a reflection of our work as a trio. Overall, it has a little bit more of a raw characteristic.
Tom: I’d say our first record is more singer-songwriter rock, whereas this is more straight up rock. There are some psychedelic elements, some hard rock elements, but overall, anything that compositionally should have rocked harder on the previous record, now rocks harder.
How has the evolution of your sound and style been organic?
Tom: I think it’s all been organic. When we recorded the first record, Rick and I were in San Francisco, performing as an acoustic duo. After we got Dan onboard, we recorded before ever even touring. It was the first thing we really did together. I feel like we became a band after we made that record, so we didn’t entirely know ourselves while recording it. What we just recently recorded is more honest. We sound like a band, whereas before it felt like a trio of musicians playing a collection of songs. The evolution came from being on the road together and writing the songs with each other.
Dan: Yeah, like three musicians coming together.
Tom: You’ll hear it. We sound much more like a band.
Rick Pernikoff: We also grew into more of a rock sound, which is what we were originally trying to find on “On My Way,” using organ over dubs and percussion.