Full Circle with The Flaming Lips: 2012 In Review

Flaming Lips at LouFest. Photo by Khoolod Eid.
Flaming Lips at LouFest. Photo by Khoolod Eid.

Full Circle with The Flaming Lips: 2012 In Review
By Jaime Lees
Thu., Dec. 20 2012 at 11:54 AM

Editor’s Note: The end of 2012 is upon us (also the end of the world, if you believe in that sort of thing), so we thought we’d put a cap on things by sharing some of our personal favorite shows, albums, events and general shenanigans. Join us as we indulge in some navel-gazing!

When I write articles for RFT Music, I’m not just reporting on music happenings — I’m writing about my life. One day my priorities might change, but for now what matters the most to me is music. Maybe that’s wrong or unhealthy or something, but it’s true, and luckily most of my favorite music moments of 2012 have been documented in some way on these pages.

I’m lucky in that I have a lot of freedom in this space. It’s curated not only by people who give a crap, but by people who value what I have to offer. After seven years of writing for this publication, I’m still grateful and excited for the opportunity. I absolutely adore my job here at RFT Music. My life is my work and my work is my life, and I’m honored to share it with you.

That said, here was my life in 2012:

I rang in the New Year in Oklahoma City. My sweet old dog, Ruby, had just passed and I was in the middle of some serious grief. I ran away for the weekend to hang out with old friends and see two shows with the Flaming Lips and my spirit animal, Yoko Ono. At the stroke of midnight, I was tipsy on pink lemonade moonshine, bathed in kisses and standing inside a massive sonic blast fortified by a fog of rainbow confetti, flashing lights, jumping lasers, hundreds of bright balloons and the twinkling reflections off of a giant disco ball. The Lips played Beatles covers with Yoko and Sean Lennon and Nels Cline; it was absolute bliss and served as a strong reminder of the healing power of live music.

Flaming Lips and Yoko Ono - JAIMEVILLE.COM

I’ve been saved again and again by amazing music — most of it local. I’m a huge fan of so many of our local bands. Many people wait years for their favorite bands to tour, but for me, my favorite bands play all the time. As an extra treat, I get the opportunity to write about these St. Louis music makers: Lion’s Daughter, Prince Ea, Jimmy Griffin, Jans Project, Demonlover, Roland Johnson, Fred Friction, Nelly and the list goes on and on. I know that a lot of what I write reads as love letters to St. Louis, but I just can’t help myself — St. Louis just makes it too easy. Stop being so awesome and I’ll stop writing about you. Until then, the locals have my heart. (Extra double shout-out to people that I’m proud to call my friends, the hard-working folks at Big Muddy Records, Tower Groove Records and the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra.)

I’m not sure why, but this year I felt particularly productive. I was given space to write about music-minded locals who inspire me creatively (Dana Smith), about St. Louis music history (STL 2000) and I got to hype the touring bands that I was the most excited about (Future of the Left, R. Ring). I’m still not quite over the fact that I actually get paid to get drunk and watch Guided by Voices, to eat pizza and listen to Taylor Swift, to try to convince readers that Heart is badass, to watch classic bands like Kiss and Mötley Crüe, to review Madonna from the second row, to jump into the world of Juggalos, to get Sinead O’Connor‘s take on St. Louis (and Chuck Berry) and to praise my personal heroes like Bonnie Raitt and Henry Rollins. If you can find a girl that is luckier than me, I’d sure like to meet her.

Under the advice of my very favorite punk rock couple, I attended a show with a band I’d never heard before: I saw Useless Eaters at CBGB and it was the best damn show I saw all year. These kinds of happy accidents only occur when you actually listen to the suggestions of others, so try keep some cooler-than-you friends around.

And though I was stoked on the lineup this year at our big summer festival, LouFest, I had originally declined to do any LouFest coverage. I wanted a weekend of fun, without having to spend all night writing reviews. But there was a last-minute rescheduling and Kiernan came and found me right before Dinosaur Jr played. He needed someone to write about Dino’s set. I said sure, knowing that it would actually be easy– on some level I’d been prepared to review a Dino show for at least half of my life. Kiernan hunted down an empty beer box for me to write on and then he went back out into the crowd, off on his next mission. I found a pen, ducked under a friend’s umbrella and wrote my notes out on the cardboard. Improvising ain’t just for musicians, you know, and the Dino review turned out to be one of my favorite things that I wrote all year.

The second night of LouFest, I again found myself at the emotional mercy of the Flaming Lips live show, but this time as a participant. I danced onstage with some of my favorite people, and I absolutely rocked that slutty Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz costume, if I do say so myself. It was one of the best days of my life and it’s far too personal to write about here, but trust me, it was a good time and I felt absolutely smothered in love.

Since then my life and routines have gotten back on schedule, and this fall has been one great event after the last, and with the upcoming holiday season is bringing tons of shows that I’m excited about– I predict that I won’t get much sleep through the end of the year.

As for the future, who knows? I’m excited about the new crop of weirdness on the South Side. Magic City, Black James, Syna So Pro, Demonlover, Bug Chaser and Horsey Drawers have my interest right now, but nobody can predict what insanity will come in 2013. I, for one, can’t wait. Bring on the New Year. I’ll be lurking in the many venues, festivals, dark basements, loud practice spaces and fancy recording studios around town. See you at the barricades.

link: Riverfront Times

Best St. Louis Shows of 2011: Rats & People present Go West

Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra present Go West at El Leñador, September 26, 2011
by Jaime Lees

The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra is consistently among the most interesting and talented groups in St. Louis. This tiny orchestra (comprised of former members of the Baysayboos, Whole Sick Crew, etc.) takes old silent films and writes a score to accompany them. Then the group plays the score live as audiences watch the film.

Aside from providing quality entertainment, the Orchestra also forces an education on younger film fans. The mostly-forgotten silent films of yesteryear are now vital and alive in the minds of anyone who has seen a Rats & People show. The group has done Go West, Die Bergkatze, Nosferatu, Strike and others. As accidental historians and educators, it has brought a bit of classic cinema to all of us fans, and we are thankful. Rats & People Motion Picture Orchetsra performances are beautiful and get a huge positive response from audiences. (Each show I’ve seen has ended with a standing ovation.)

But the group does have one problem: too much talent and not enough money. It’s a common complaint here in town, but in this case it seems especially unfair. The members of R&P MPO are hard-working, ambitious and sweet. They take each task very seriously and wish to do the best job possible. They are diligent to the point of obsession when studying, scoring, editing, practicing and playing a new project. It is their attention to detail and love of their work that makes their performances so special for audiences. They work to the point of exhaustion, and it shows.

The group was very interested in touring (especially after being so well-received among the film community in neighboring Columbia, MO), but the tour van needed work. In order to raise money to go on tour, Rats & People set up a residency at El Leñador (an El Leñadency, as it’s called) and performed a different piece every week, usually presenting one full film with a short or two included.

The last week of the El Leñadency was to feature Go West, but the performance was protested by the copyright holders of the Buster Keaton classic. They wanted $250 for the screening of the film. Already having promised free shows and Go West, in particular, the Orchestra decided that they wouldn’t back out on its fans. The group would, however, accept donations to pay for the Go West screening so that they wouldn’t have to borrow from the van fund just to have the show.

The band set up a website to take donations on a Sunday night, and they had all the money they needed before noon the next day. Donations were made not only by locals, but by fans and friends out of state — ones that wouldn’t even be able to see the performance — just because they wanted to contribute. Upon reaching their goal, the band took down the donation link and sent out a polite update which read: “We’re gonna Go West on the 26th! Thank you so much. We’re… speechless, humbled, so very grateful for your help and support.” And because they are so damn classy, they even mailed hand-written thank you notes to each of the donors.

But the night of the performance wasn’t all smiles and victory at first. The news was bleak that day: St. Louis visionary and rogue developer Bob Cassilly had been found dead that morning at the construction site of his newest project, Cementland. The mood out on the crowded sidewalk pre-show was gloomy. This particular audience seemed to be comprised of tons of young artists — many living in the neighborhood on Cherokee Street — and everybody seemed to be just a little upset. There were whispers, rumors, a few tears.

We were all kind of lost that night until the R&P brought us back together — both as an audience and as humans. The visuals co-mingling with the beautiful strings is, at times, too much for a wee heart to take. Go West can produce quite a swing of emotions in the viewer, and it’s interesting to go from crying to laughing in the span of just a few minutes.

Sitting there watching Go West that night (for the 5th time, I believe), I had one repeating thought: It’s silly that we’re watching this at El Leñador. This should be in a museum. This should be at the Sheldon. This should be at the Fox. I mean, I’m glad that we get to watch it there for free, sipping on cheap drinks at our favorite place, but R&P deserve the grandest of stages. And it deserves more money.

Its members did raise enough money that night to get their van fixed and they went on to play Milwaukee, Madison, Chicago and Farmington, before coming home to begin work on yet another project. Thankfully, Cassilly’s fearless, inventive spirit lives on.

Oh Shit Moment: When Friendless straps deer antlers on Brown Eyes so that she can defend herself against the Bull. (If that reads like code, you’re missing out.) Audiences always gasp. That scene gets us every time, we’re not sure if we’re going to laugh or cry and we end up doing both. ‘Bittersweet’ is a hell of an emotion.

Highlight of the Night: Watching all of the smiling, tear-stained faces after the show. Everyone was just a little lighter and more loving as they left the venue. People who had been closed off and numb earlier were hugging and kissing after the performance. Everyone seemed to have that sort-of magical post It’s a Wonderful Life glow.

Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra

Rats and People Silent Movie Show
Date/Time:Fri., December 5, 9:00pm
Jaime Lees

The recent break-up of local favorites Rats and People was a major blow to the soul of the St. Louis music scene. Known for its strong storytelling and spirited instrumentation, the Rats filled a niche we didn’t even know existed. But this dissolution has a big, fat silver lining: It leaves more time for the Rats and People Motion Picture Orchestra — which has the same players, but is a different project altogether. Ever the multitalented multiinstrumentalists, the Orchestra has both scored movies and played live accompaniment to silent films. The latter performances are where the tiny orchestra shines, because the custom music so perfectly captures the mood and matches the film that you forget it’s even playing. (And that’s the highest compliment.) Come see the Orchestra work its magic on Buster Keaton’s Go West on Friday night.

RFT Music Awards Nominees

RFT Music Awards Nominees: St. Louis’ Best and Brightest
Published on May 28, 2008

Please follow this link to read about the nominees listed below.

Best Americana/Folk – Rum Drum Ramblers
Best Untraditional Americana/Folk – Rats & People
Best Funk/Soul/R&B – Kim Massie
Best Hard Rock/Metal – Head On Collision
Best Local Release (self-released) –
Rats & People’s The City of Passersby
Best New Artist – The Livers + Wooden Kites
Best Pop Band – Sex Robots
Best Punk/Hardcore – The Humanoids

2007: My Favorites

2007: The Year in Movies and Music
By Jaime Lees
Published: December 19, 2007

LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled 2005 release stands as the album that made me finally, truly believe in new electronic music. But Sound of Silver was a huge step up — and my ultimate album of 2007. It had everything I wanted: fun, super-fresh style, beauty and plenty of beats. “All My Friends” is elegant and touching, “Someone Great” is bloop-bloop perfection and the hand claps and joyous shouts of “a-woohoo!” in “Watch The Tapes” are majorly addictive.

Still, my favorite part of the music year was when an android stork dropped down from outer space and delivered us Radiohead’s In Rainbows. The media hullabaloo surrounding the surprise release sucked me in whole (because I’m a dork and I love shit like that). And while I remain fascinated by the band’s alien marketing techniques, the album had the chops to back up the hype. It’s pretty, glitchy, bittersweet and epic — in short, everything you would expect from a Radiohead album. However, In Rainbows is instantly more accessible than Amnesiac, Kid A or even Hail to the Thief. Around the same time as the album’s release, the band started leaking performances on its Web site, including live versions of album tracks and my new favorite cover ever: Radiohead playing New Order’s “Ceremony.”

My heart swelled with pride when the Arcade Fire released Neon Bible, and then both fans and critics welcomed the album’s lush, bountiful orchestration. Arcade Fire fans have formed a near-cultish church surrounding the band, but their worship might be justified. “Intervention,” “Ocean of Noise,” “(Antichrist Television Blues)” and “My Body Is a Cage” are nothing short of magical and could easily be mistaken for the rapturous hymns of a new religion. Everyone was primed for a backlash against the indie darlings, but you can’t argue with songs this beautiful.

As far as independent releases, at the beginning of the year I was gifted with an advanced copy of AA Bondy’s recently released American Hearts, and it’s been in heavy rotation ever since. The solo singer-songwriter put aside his former life as the lead singer of scorching glam-grungers Verbena in favor of a more earthy, exposed adventure. Bondy composes lonely tales of complicated redemption, teetering between the delicate confusion of Dylan and the hopeful pride of Springsteen. His soulful voice is soothing and softly Southern, making American Hearts a perfect Sunday-morning album.

I also happened upon tons of great local releases this year. The Humanoids’ Are Born is my favorite; the songs are pure punk and the band straight-up shames most other locals with its energy and authenticity. Rats and People’s The City of Passersby is dense and enchanting, and quite a few songs on the Bureau’s We Make Plans In Secret deserve repeated spins. Finally, Riddle of Steel’s 1985 wasn’t released until the end of this year, but I can safely predict that it will rock me through 2008. (click to read all)
— Jaime Lees

Rats and People

Read It In Books
Rats and People hide in a basement, can’t take a compliment, secretly dig proper literature.
By Jaime Lees
Published: August 22, 2007

Weeks before I sit down with Brien Seyle and Matt Pace of Rats and People, they predict that they will give a bad interview. We make plans to discuss the band’s new album, The City Of Passersby, but they are filled with apprehension. Reluctant to explain City‘s songs, the pair doesn’t wish to be quizzed. They’re not trying to be difficult; they’re just not sure what they will have to say.

Seyle and Pace don’t seem to understand that they’re in one of the most interesting and original bands in St. Louis. Born from the ashes of punk-pirate legends the Whole Sick Crew, Rats and People easily blends genres and invents a style of its own: post-punk folklore.

Lead vocalist Seyle maintains his nasally, Dead Milkmen-esque manner of singing, but the Rats leave behind the Irish-beer-soaked swagger of Whole Sick Crew. Genres such as folk, blues, rock and bluegrass are distorted with non-traditional instruments, such as Jeremy Quinn’s glockenspiel and accordion and Pace’s trumpet and piano. The latter — who came from local pop favorites the Baysayboos — also tackles the formidable job of arranging Rats and People’s music.

Recorded by Rats and People bassist Garry Moore (a former professional sound engineer) in what Seyle describes as “the closet of a closet,” there is nothing amateur about the sound of The City of Passersby. Despite lush orchestration, the songs have a considerable delicacy, never once sounding cacophonous or over-produced. With the exception of the gorgeous, Pace-penned “Ohio,” Seyle wrote most of City‘s lyrics, which unfold in a story-telling style of prose.

In the early days of the band, Seyle and drummer Rob Laptad and Jason Matthews (of the Monads) toiled night after night in a basement practice space. After a year of heavy frustration attempting to solidify its songs, Rats and People added Pace and the group finally coalesced. Since those first shaky months, there have been a few other lineup changes (including the departure of the busy and beloved Matthews and, more recently, fiddle player Beth Dill), but the core of the band remains strong.

With a little prodding, Seyle and Pace talked for an hour and a half straight, spilling out hilarious stories and heartwarming hopes. Gracious, quick to compliment each other and completely humble (if not self-deprecating), they conclude nearly every answer with a self-conscious roll of the eyes and an apology similar to “God, that sounds so pretentious.” They are also fond of passing praise on to current (and former) band members. While they seem to actually enjoy explaining their creative process, they are still cautious when delving into specifics, citing a mutual love for misunderstood lyrics. But the fact is, once the duo gets going, its love for the band and City won’t allow them to contain themselves.

Jaime Lees: First of all, please explain how Rats and People got started.

Brien Seyle: Robby [Laptad] and I were in the Bureau of Sabotage together, that later grew up to be the Bureau. Then we quit that band to found the Whole Sick Crew, which was a band that I dreamed of starting since I was, like, sixteen — ’cause I wanted to rip off the Pogues and sing songs about pirates. We eventually had to break up to lose the shtick factor.

Well, I liked that band.

Matt Pace: I liked that band, too!

Seyle: A lot of people liked that band, but the Whole Sick Crew were more publicly consumable because of the shtick. But more important than that is the Baysayboos, man.

Pace: [Bashfully] I don’t know if it’s more important…

Seyle: We loved the Baysayboos.

Pace: And we loved the Whole Sick Crew. We loved each other. The Baysayboos played with the Bureau of Sabotage, too. Brien looked like he was imported from somewhere. The rest of the band was, like, grooving, and Brien was doing his little spastic thing.

This seems like a very St. Louis album: There’s a fleur-de-lis in the CD packaging, a song called “Filthy Little River,” lyrics that mention red brick, a map included of what appears to be the city with neighborhoods labeled with song titles…

Seyle: The City Of Passersby is kind of St. Louis in another dimension. It’s totally sci-fi, unfortunately. I’m totally reaching for profound. I always stop right short of profound — and then it’s just sci-fi, you know? I try really hard to make lyrics that reflect different things in our lives, but since I’m so story-driven, it always ends up being totally fucking D&D [Dungeons & Dragons]. I really don’t want to be pretentious, but I also wanna try really hard and make something awesome, but that’s a fucking hard line to walk.

The feelings in the lyrics are modern, but the stories seem kind of…

Seyle: Ye oldie timey?

Yeah, are the stories related?

Seyle: I’m vehemently opposed to the idea of this album as a concept album, but together it’s easy to imagine them all happening in the same place. But all of the characters in each of the songs are all so focused on their own dilemmas that they don’t even know that one step to the right there is a completely different, just as grave, dilemma going on.

The more I listened to it, the more the stories kind of fit together, as a collection. I kept thinking of (Geoffrey Chaucer’s) The Canterbury Tales.

Seyle: It’s a catalogue of stories, yeah, but God! A Canterbury Tales album? [Laughs] Maybe we should have written the whole album in Middle English!

Well, you all seem very talented, individually. Are you all multi-instrumental?

Pace: We all jump in here and there. I play a lot of different things within the band, but if the Devil challenged us to a duel, I’d pick up the guitar.

I understand you do all of the arrangements and orchestration? You take all the pieces and make them work? You’re like the Timbaland of the Rats and People.

Pace: [Laughs] Ha! I am! [Thinks, pauses, gets serious] The cool thing about [the band] is that it’s everyone playing honestly on an instrument. You could write the coolest shit in the world, but it’s not going to sound as cool as six people playing the instrument they play, live. I don’t mean to sound pretentious, but I think that’s one of the charms of our band.

What band do you feel closest to in town? Who are your contemporaries?

Pace and Seyle: [simultaneously] Bad Folk.

Seyle: Actually, we’re going to do a split seven-inch with Bad Folk, their song is “Saw a Circus” and ours is “I Sang to Heather Nethereye.” It’s about a prostitute.

Uh..”Nether… eye”? Like “down there”?

Seyle: Yeah. [Stops, looks freaked out] Holy shit! The word “nethereye” [sic] is from Chaucer! Dude, you had my number! There’s no Chaucer on this album, specifically, but Chaucer definitely plays a part… apparently.