By the Numbers
Rarely, if ever, do we get jealous of Chicago — save for its big pizza and its 4 a.m. bars, which means that the city’s still partying while we’re driving through Taco Bell. But there’s one thing St. Louis can’t claim: The 1900s. And now we’re officially stamping our feet and whining, “No fair!”
Each exuberant element of the band’s sound calls to mind different comparisons: the boundless organ favored by the Zombies; John Denver’s tranquil simplicity; the honeyed vocal interplay of Fleetwood Mac or the Mamas & the Papas; and the omnipresent tension of the Velvet Underground. But even with these various influences, the 1900s aren’t close to being a rip-off; it’s like the band took only the best parts from these classic groups and combined them to design and birth a pretty little pop baby. In fact, the band was born so perfect that it signed to the Urbana, Illinois, label Parasol after its very first public show, in May 2006.
Now seven members strong, the 1900s’ first full-length for Parasol, Cold & Kind, is an indie-pop masterpiece. Main songwriter/vocalist Edward Anderson says the band wanted to make a “big, epic record,” and though the process was grueling (all band members still have day jobs) he modestly admits that “[Kind] seemed to come out all right.” Credit this satisfaction to his creative approach to music: Although Anderson writes lyrics the old-fashioned way — “I’ll just sit and smoke a lot of cigarettes and drink, like, a bottle of wine and try to figure it out” — recording music is another story.
“Like, the first run-through will be maybe on my phone while I have an idea,” he says. “And then I’ll do it on GarageBand for a couple weeks or months or whatever it takes, kinda iron it out. Then I’ll do a ProTools demo, then I’ll give a CD to the band. [The songs] usually change quite a bit [when] they all add their parts.”
For being barely two years old, the 1900s have received a ridiculous amount of good press. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to find a negative printed word. When questioned about this phenomenon, Anderson laughs and seems embarrassed. “Kind of miraculously, for the most part [the press] has been pretty good,” he says. “In Chicago a lot of people have the perception that we’re this band that made it and everything, because we do really well [there] and all the papers write about us and stuff. But then we go on tour and no one knows who we are.
“For us the main goal is to try to get a little more known outside of the city. It’s kind of exciting, though. You get people on MySpace or all over the world writing and stuff and someone will be like ‘Oh, there’s some teenagers in Paris listening to the record,’ and it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s strange.'”
— Jaime Lees
9 p.m. Saturday, March 29. The Billiken Club, 20 North Grand Boulevard. Free. 314-977-2020.
These snaps were just too hot not to post.
photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: Dead Confederate
WHEN: Wednesday, March 12, 11p.m.
WHERE: Stubb’s BBQ, big outside stage
NOTE: This band opened for R.E.M. (Athens represent) and might have been the best surprise of the festival. Read our coverage here.
photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: AA Bondy
WHEN: Thursday, March 13, about 9:30p.m.
WHERE: The gorgeous poolside rooftop stage of a heavily sponsored free party.
NOTE: This was one of 12 AA Bondy shows in a 3 day time span in Austin.
photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: downtown Austin, TX, view from the AA Bondy rooftop show
WHEN: Thursday, March 13, late night
WHERE: at 3rd Street and Guadalupe looking East
NOTE: There should be more rooftop shows. Always.
photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: Autolux’s Eugene Goreshter
WHEN: Friday, March 14, afternoon
WHERE: Red Eyed Fly backyard venue
NOTE: Goreshter’s amazing vocals on Autolux albums? Not studio magic. Dude actually sings like that.
photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr, solo show
WHEN: Saturday, March 15, mid-afternoon
WHERE: Garden Party (read: gorgeous yard), the French Legation Museum
NOTE: J Mascis is a God among men (who just happens to use a baby pink Razr as his preferred cellular device.)
photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: Thurston Moore and the New Wave Bandits
WHEN: Saturday, March 15, afternoon, slot after J Mascis
WHERE: East Austin, French Legation Museum
NOTE: Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore stole the show with his expansive talent and boyish charm. Read our coverage here.
photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: The Breeders
WHEN: Saturday, March 15, about 9p.m.
WHERE: Waterloo Park, north of downtown, 2nd stage
NOTE: Two Deals are always better than one. Read our coverage here.
photo by Jaime Lees
PHOTO: Kid Sister at the Fool’s Gold Showcase
WHEN: Saturday, March 15, 1a.m. (after Flosstradamus, before Chromeo)
WHERE: Volume nightclub, next to the told Emo’s on 6th Street
NOTE: Kid Sister claimed she was crunk but she still held down her raps with a little help from brother Josh “J2K” Young (of super-fly duo Flosstradamus) as back up.Category: Music, Reviews, SXSW, Snapshots
The Breeders played an unofficial South By Southwest show in Waterloo Park last night and gave the audience a small preview of its upcoming tour. The band dished out a long set of classics from its albums, plus selections from the Amps (Kim Deal’s other, other project). Instead of serving as a nostalgia act, the Breeders seemed fresh, well rehearsed and enthusiastic about the show. Surprisingly, even songs off of the forthcoming Mountain Battles went over well. As usual, Kim and Kelley Deal were gracious, dorky, sweet, smiling and sang in perfect angelic harmony. Kelley, especially, seemed into the performance. On stage wearing her “Dayton, Ohio” t-shirt, she picked up the bass and joked “I wish I knew a Korn song.” Their parents really should have had more kids.
Setlist (from picture):
Overglazed / Bang On / Tipp City / No Aloha / Huffer / Walk It Off / We’re Gonna Rise / Pacer / Shocker in / Gloomtown / Night of Joy / Divine Hammer / Cannonball / Happiness in a Warm Gun / Iris / Saints / Safari / Here No More Encore: Fortunately Gone / German Studies / Regalme
Note: pictured setlist isn’t entirely accurate, “Regalme Esta Noche” wasn’t played and I remember rocking out to quite a few songs that weren’t listed (“Doe,” “Hellbound,” “It’s the Love,” etc.)
AA Bondy reinvents himself as an indie-folk artist
By Jaime Lees
Published: February 6, 2008
Though few outside of the indie circuit recognized Verbena, critics and fans hailed the group as the second coming of Nirvana. The comparison was easy to see — and not just because former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl produced the band’s 1999 major-label debut, Into the Pink. When Verbena emerged from Birmingham, Alabama, in the late ’90s, its sound was dark, powerful and based on a foundation of big pop hooks. Lead singer Scott Bondy in particular came across as very Kurt Cobain-esque, with his lazy, marble-mouthed singing style, snarky attitude and bleached-blond hair. These days, Bondy is all grown up and no longer playing the role of snotty rock kid. Performing solo under his birth name of AA Bondy (the initials stand for August Arthur), he composes enchanting, elegantly sparse indie-folk music. The songs often feature just his voice and an expertly strummed guitar, with the occasional hint of mournful harmonica and handclaps used as percussion.
When he tries to explain the difference between the louder Verbena and his current stripped-back project, Bondy confesses via phone, “I don’t really know what I was doing before.”
He’s certainly figured out what to do on his solo debut, American Hearts (which will be re-released on Fat Possum Records in April). Hearts is a bewitchingly beautiful album that’s been embraced as an impressive contribution to the world of nü-folk — largely because the songs don’t sound like the “unplugged” indulgences of a former rock guy. They’re not stripped down; they’re just not decorated with unnecessary wrapping. The songs overflow with unflinching sincerity, and the tiniest details — like the delicate noise of fingers sliding across guitar strings — stand out and seem purposeful.
The way Bondy constructed Hearts reflects this simplistic style: He recorded it in a rickety old barn next to his house in New York. (“It’s a really good-sounding barn,” he says with a chuckle.) Perhaps as a result, Hearts‘ lyrics are also unadorned and straightforward, relying heavily on the polarities of good vs. evil, apathy vs. love and God vs. the devil. Still, Bondy finds plenty of room for shrewd statements (“Love, it don’t die/It just goes from girl to girl”) and optimistic observations (“The barroom is filled with the joy/Of making old friends.”)
Many of Hearts‘ songs also carry a twinge of the ’60s protest vibe — meaning that the Bob Dylan comparisons are inevitable. It’s no surprise that Bondy has absorbed a penchant for clever lyrics; he cites Tom Waits, Nina Simone and Tom Petty as classic favorites. But of these influences, he fondly explains, “You can’t really speak to the nature of what makes things special. But whatever does make things special doesn’t really matter. I guess for a listener you just know it is special to you — and that’s all that matters.”During live shows, Bondy is frequently accompanied by his wife, Clare Felice, who plays the organ. She’s from the same family that produced the up-and-coming Americana band the Felice Brothers — a group Bondy lovingly refers to as his brothers and source of inspiration.
Jaime Lees: The stuff you’re recording seems very… like, if someone walked into your house, you could be sitting there playing it.
AA Bondy: Yeah, I could.
It seems very intimate — like you’re not putting on a kind of show.
Yeah, those songs could exist without any other accompaniment. And they were written that way. Which is one of the main differences between this stuff and anything that happened before it. Those other songs weren’t brought to the light of day in that fashion. They were always pieced together. They were… like, a guitar part always came first. They never started with, like, basically a finished song. Which all of these songs did. They were finished songs that things got added to — or didn’t.
Is it scary for you to stand up there alone?
When I first started playing by myself, I’d played tons and tons of shows with a band. I didn’t even understand how freaked out I was. If you’re getting up on stage with a band, it’s like you’re part of a team. But once you get up there by yourself, it’s totally different. ‘Cause you’re responsible for it all. I like it better. It’s more thrilling, at least. I don’t get too freaked out anymore, but I used to. When you’re by yourself, it’s so much easier.
How is your writing different as you’ve gotten older?
I actually write songs now. [Laughs] You know, I don’t just, like, play a guitar part and put some stuff over it. I just know that it feels completely different than it used to. It feels like there’s something contained inside of it, as opposed to being like a shell.
The topics seem pretty grown-up — relationships, war. Do you feel like you’re getting something out? Does it make you feel better?
Maybe it makes me feel better only in the way something gets completed that I’m somehow satisfied with. Not in the way that I’m saying something, you know. Like, it could be a song about a pile of leaves that I lit on fire and I could feel just as good about that as if it was, like, a so-called song that had something to say.
8 p.m. Wednesday, February 13. Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue. $8 advance, $10 day of show. 314-773-3363.
>> EXTENDED INTERVIEW HERE <<
Original Misfit Jerry Only has the unenviable task of filling the slot left by former lead singer Danzig, that superstar sausage. While Only’s attempts are appreciated, it’s true that the band just isn’t the same. The word I heard thrown around a bunch last night was “depressing.” Only at least looked like he was having a good time. He frequently flashed a handsome smile and made sure to high-five every single kid that got up on stage to stage dive. His signature devil lock hair style now protrudes from a receding hairline, but he did his best to act the part and keep the crowd amped. He gave typical banter (“St. Louis! Since you’re such a small crowd you’re going have to be THAT. MUCH. LOUDER!” or something like that) and basically let us know he knew where his bread was buttered. Keeping this audience happy required playing few new songs and tons of old Misfits classics (“Halloween,” “Die Die My Darling,” etc.), and the band obliged. As a nod to current guitarist Dez Cadena’s former band, the Misfits also ripped through a few Black Flag treasures (“Six Pack,” “Rise Above”). Sadly, this was my favorite part of the show.
Ian MacKaye takes on new venues.
8:30 p.m. Monday, November 5. White Flag Projects, 4568 Manchester Avenue. $5. 314-531-3442.
By Jaime Lees
Published: October 31, 2007
On an Even(s) Keel
As the frontman of the legendary punk bands Fugazi and Minor Threat and co-founder of Dischord Records, Ian MacKaye has proven himself to be both a prolific songwriter and a keen businessman. He birthed the highly respected independent label nearly three decades ago and it has since grown to be the very nucleus of do-it-yourself punk-rock culture. MacKaye’s unwavering integrity and sincerity in the face of the shady corporate music business reveal his career path to be nothing short of inspirational. Viewed as the moral and dignified godfather of the hardcore and straight-edge scenes, MacKaye seems to start accidental revolutions by simply speaking his mind and doing his work.
With the much-missed Fugazi on indefinite hiatus, MacKaye has plenty of other projects to cultivate. In addition to speaking engagements, running the label and giving interviews, MacKaye is busy scheduling tour dates for his newest band, the Evens, a lo-fi (yet still intense) duo with Amy Farina, formerly of Washington D.C.’s the Warmers. Though the Evens could easily cash in their punk-royalty status in exchange for the best gigs in town, the band schedules the dates by itself and prefers to play small, non-traditional venues including art galleries, libraries and community centers.
Calling from Dischord House, the headquarters of his label, MacKaye is instantly likable. He seems smart, affable and warm. In conversation he’s quick, but not rude. Funny, though not sarcastic. In this and every other forum, it is clear that MacKaye takes what he does very seriously.
“I work really hard,” he says. “[Other] people, they punch out for the day and they go home. I never punch out. I’m never off the clock, in a way. The fact that I haven’t separated my work from myself — it has its pluses and it also has its negatives.” The lure, however, is clear. “I wake up every morning having something to do and wanting to do it.”
Aside from the advantage of keeping costs down for fans, MacKaye reveals another purpose in booking alternative venues: “So we can be liberated from the rock world, which is pretty constricting when you get right down to it. I mean, you think about the kind of venues or the kind of establishments where music can be presented, and ultimately it’s pretty limited and largely dictated by one of two industries, you know — and that’s the rock industry and the alcohol industry. And since we don’t feel beholden to either, then why not break free?”
When MacKaye is questioned about his constant work and touring, he pushes off any concern. “I like places, I like people! I like going somewhere. I like that fact that music is a point of gathering that can effectively work anywhere.” Here he further clarifies: “I guess I don’t feel ever burned out at all. I just feel fortunate to be able to go play music.” — Jaime Lees
[FOR EXTENDED INTERVIEW CLICK HERE]
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.