Corey Isenor is a musician who is currently living and creating music out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Isenor, whose last album, Frost, recorded with Shotgun Jimmie and received much radio play throughout Canada, is now back with a new album, The Hunting Party. Recorded with the husband and wife team Dave Trenaman and Colleen Collins of Construction and Destruction, this album demonstrates the newly confident Isenor’s growth. The record includes a rollicking banjo opener “Shiver,” a mid-tempo, folk-rock in “Deja Vu,” and a lovely, stripped-down ballad “Wild Shore” to close. All-in-all, The Hunting Party is front to back with good tunes making it a solid sophomore effort from Isenor.
Archive for September, 2011
One of my favorite albums from last year was the Family Band’s Miller Path. Centered around excellent vocals, their music is dark, has slide guitar, and makes for good “goth prom music.” While it’s still too early to expect a follow-up, the Family Band recently went into the studio with Grizzly Bear’s Daniel Rossen to record one song for Shaking Through, a new music incubation project from Weathervane Music and WXPN. The result is a great video, documenting their song writing process and a free download via the Weathervane Bandcamp page.
Those of you who know me, know that Bryan John Appleby and his new album, Fire on the Vine, are and have been favorites of mine since the summer. Also, some of these questions may look and sound familiar, but they’re questions that have always intrigued me and having this opportunity to ask Bryan John Appleby these particular questions has quenched some of my curiosity about this very compelling artist and album.
CFM: What excites you about making music?
BJA: This is a pretty typical answer but really I’m interested in the potential of a song. What I really like about music is, that it can cater to both reason and emotion. You can do so much with the sounds alone. Bands like Sigur Ros or Bon Iver. They make these sonic landscapes that settle into you. This is all really general but I love that the three simple elements of melody, harmony and rhythm can shake and stir a person so utterly. And then you add lyrics on top of that. It’s the potential to communicate on this really meaningful level. So I’m excited about writing a song that messes me up and hopefully messes up some other folks. Make of that what you will. Everyone knows the feeling, when you hear a lyric or a melody or a chord that feels like it’s bending you. You feel it pushing you. I love that.
So that’s the abstract answer. More tangibly, I like finding sounds. When we recorded Fire on the Vine, we looked for sounds in everything. Dropping light bulbs, dragging chains, rattling pistachios in a leather satchel, breaking pallets with hammers. Anything. Half the time it doesn’t work for the song but it’s really fun. This is my favorite. Finding sounds that no one can figure out.
I guess all of this means that I really, really want to make music that I can feel, that really gets in there. I’m not necessarily trying to make something that’s novel or groundbreaking. Not trying to start a new genre or make a modern masterpiece. There are so many great bands and songwriters that get so close to what I want to hear. But there’s still a frontier. If I can find a little musical plot of land that’s my own, that sounds like something else at all, I’ll be happy with that. That’s what I’m working on. That’s what I want.
CFM: What discourages you?
BJA: I have a lot of friends that are some of the best songwriters I know and their songs may never get further than their own bedroom. Conversely, there are so many flimsy little shitty bands that make predictable, uninspired music and they make a good living because they are good at marketing and networking and creating buzz. It’s an old story but it’s still a bummer to see. I get discouraged knowing how many great songs will never be heard by me or anyone just because that particular artist isn’t polished enough to gain the attention of the corporate folks. There aren’t a lot of labels left that will sign a no name just because they happen to like the sound or because they think the art and music is important and relevant. You have to already be on your way up to get anyone’s attention most the time. On the flip side, I think that there are a lot of great bands that have been fortunate enough to achieve a sustainable music career that are doing a wonderful job championing some of the no names. I love seeing this, bands that get huge but still make a concerted effort to keep a finger on the pulse of their city’s music scene. You can say what you will about Dave Matthews, and everyone has something to say, but he is really good at this sort of thing. He has helped countless bands out for no other reason than he liked what he heard. This is rad.
CFM: There are a couple of things that have always interested me when it comes to an artist and their work — creative process and inspiration. What was your creative process like while creating and recording Fire on the Vine? What inspired the album?
BJA: I take a really long time to write a song. I sort of spiral down into it. A lot of phrases and characters and chords and rhythms. Just chicken scratch and noise. Then I just start trimming it down and hopefully pull out a song. It would be nice to get more efficient at it but it usually takes a couple of months to write one song. “Backseat” was an exception. That one was a couple of days. But that was really unusual. Still nice that it happens once in a while.
So, it took me about a year and a half to write all the songs for Fire on the Vine. Then it was pretty much just Kevin Matley, the producer, and me hashing out arrangements and instrumentation. We had access to a warehouse recording studio in Ballard with no hourly charge. It gave us the chance to be a lot more explorative. The album would have been a lot sparser without that space to work in. We took advantage of it too. One week we spent over 100 hours in five days. I lost some portion of my soul after that week. My brain is still trying to put itself back together a little bit.
For inspiration, the usual stuff. Books, songs, pictures, and residual experiences from my youth, everything that’s been packed inside me since my birth; childhood experiences, familial dynamics, the Bible.
I try to mix up a lot of things. It’s always at least a tiny bit true but usually mostly fiction. “Sprout” is the other way. That one is mostly true with a few flubbed facts. But yeah books. During the most recent writing period, I was reading Annie Dillard, David James Duncan, Flannery O’Conner, Marylyn Robinson.
CFM: Where did the title “Fire on the Vine” come from? What does it mean to you?
BJA: Geeze. Ok, this is the best way I can describe it. In the song “Words of the Revelator,” I created a conversation between an old craggy hermit scholar type and a young man. This relationship is analogous to the inner struggle that a thinking, reasoning person encounters when she or he is confronted by irreconcilable ways of thinking. This is my experience in the past three years and the characters represent two depictions of myself; the former self and the current self. I hate to make it sound so complex. I guess in a nutshell, the record, for me, was a casting off a former self. The vine might be a biblical allusion.
CFM: There are a lot of religious/Biblical references on the album. What influenced the allusions?
BJA: I guess we kind of hit this already. To elaborate, my worldview has always been shaped by this book. I read it fervently in high school. I was raised on it. My worldview has shifted but the images still linger, some of them beautiful, some of them terrifying, and a lot of them heartbreaking, troubling, provocative. I reflect on these images constantly. The story of Noah’s Ark, of Abraham and Isaac, of the deeds of the Minor Prophets. It’s really horrifying and I just started getting that in the last few years.
CFM: Are there any songs on the album that have more personal meaning than others?
BJA: Yes. “Sprout” and “The Road.” They are the bookends on my experience with this album. I was in Thailand two years ago when I wrote “Sprout,” the first of the songs. And “The Road” was the last one I wrote. The other songs are further explorations built on the questions I raise in “Sprout.” And “The Road” was written as an attempt at tying the whole thing off, to leave the album with at least a degree of resolution. I don’t think the lyrics are that clever or poetically satisfying in “The Road,” but it had a lot of personal resonance.
CFM: I know you will be touring the west coast this summer, but will there be any shows on the east coast?
BJA: Eventually. I’m still paying for everything myself as an independent artist, so we’ll have to see what record sales look like. I’m sure I’ll be out there by 2012. I’ll be playing in Chicago over the holidays this year. I played in New York City last year. I forget the name of the place. It was a pretty forgettable show but I love that city. I can’t wait to hit the whole coast.
After reading Terry O’Hara’s bio on bandcamp, I was compelled to delve into his second album, Bewildered. O’Hara who’s moniker, Summer-Winter, is apropos after surviving a deadly report from an ER physician. Once living with the certainty of life then given only a month to live, he healed and moved to rural Pennsylvania where he became “bewildered” by his life and life in general as well as the seasons which Bewildered nicely reflects. Some tracks have a light, ethereal feel of summer while others maintain a dark, despairing and haunting vibe of winter and the prospect of death.
Maryland’s Garrett Anderson is one to watch and listen for as an up-and-coming singer-songwriter. The healing power of his smooth voice can ease the spirit and soothe away the stresses of the day. His laid-back quality gives off a familiar vibe similar to a conversation with a friend translating into intimate and personal songs. Garrett Anderson’s third album will be released in November and will feature “Texas Honeysuckle,” which he is offering as a free download on bandcamp.
Grayson Capps’ employs the help of a new band, The Lost Cause Minstrels, on his fifth studio album of the same name. Consisting mainly of former members of the dissolved Kung Fu Mama, the band isn’t exactly a “lost cause” nor is the album for that matter. A rugged compilation of the sounds of the South, Capps gives us some gritty roots rock in “Highway 42,” a prohibition New Orleans jazz club sound reminiscent of Cab Calloway in “Coconut Moonshine” and a Dixieland, Mardi Gras party jam in “Ol’ Slac.”
When a band writes a tropical sounding song — complete with Hawaiian slack key guitar — and the locale they choose to sing about is Kansas, you should probably just assume they’re from Canada. The Crooked Brothers, a trio out of Winnipeg, Manitoba is a group of fine musicians with gravel in their guts and dreams of warmer, if not necessarily more exotic, places.
Lawrence, Where’s Your Knife? is the Crooked Brothers’ sophomore album, following their 2009 debut, Deathbed Pillowtalk. It gets off to a hell of a start with the Tom Waitsy “17 Horses,” and then pulls in the reins for the aforementioned “Kansas.” The lament, “Cold As You,” is gentle but biting with its great line, “As long as I can remember, there was no December that was as cold as you.” Near the end of the album, they pick up the cold theme again on “Winter’s Come.”
With all three members sharing songwriting duties and instruments, it’s not surprising that the album covers a lot of musical ground: foot stompers, gentle heartbreakers, and blue collar ballads all fit together here. Lawrence, Where’s Your Knife? comes out on September 23 on Transistor 66 Records.
Light For Fire’s debut self-titled album is yet another album to rise from the ashes of a broken heart. Led by J. Nicholas Allard, who also wrote the songs on the plane ride back from Brooklyn to Portland, Oregon after a not-so-great visit with an old friend. So, as the story goes, Allard sequestered himself in the basement with a four-track cassette player, some Irish whiskey, and a song for “Christine” (whoever she is). The result is a record about isolation, alcoholism, and unrequited love.
After a falling-out of sorts with former bandmate, Jeremy Sherrer, from The Village Green, Allard and Sherrer reconciled and began discussing collaborating again. After Sherrer heard Allard’s demos, they began to make an album that is more honest than anything The Village Green has put out.
Light For Fire is an indie-rock creation shaded with hints of folk and Americana. It opens on an alt-country/Americana note with “The Huckster” while the second track “NY (By the Hand)” is a slight rocker with a subdued riotousness while telling an exciting tale of lessons learned in NYC with a little help from “Christine.” In the third track, “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” an Americana influence can be heard through the lap steel and strummed guitar. “Spurned By Lovers” is a soft, dreamy ballad with a delicately finger-picked guitar. Then, the album closes with the acoustic, folk-inspired ”4th of July” and the subdued acoustic turned sonorous ”St. Stephen’s Day.”
This definitely isn’t the best album I’ve heard, but it is good. Basically, it’s a strong debut effort for a new indie rock band.
Best new artist maybe a bit of an understatement when talking about Nebraska native and singer-songwriter, Max Holmquist, who also goes by the stage name South of Lincoln. For me, not only is he one of the best, he’s lo-fi crack. When I’m not listening to his most recent full-length album, Homes, or his new EP, The Monsters/Bathroom Session, I’m actually jonesing till the next time I’m able to hit the “Play” button.
Homes is an eleven-song collection of slow, acoustic folk songs based on his concept of home and where that place might be and what it means. Just Holmquist and his guitar which is sometimes strummed and sometimes picked, but never wrong and always beautifully sparse with the occasional piano or organ to add sonic texture. Though dubbed a singer-songwriter, Holmquist’s songs don’t exactly fall into the first-person, self-centered sadness most in the genre write about. That’s not to say there isn’t a confessional song or two on the album, but most are fictional stories, observant tracks that loosely draw on the experiences of people he knows, or stories others have told him. Despite not exactly fitting into the singer-songwriter format, each song on Homes is just as heartbreaking, emotional and honest.
Every track on the album is simple yet extraordinary making it exceptionally hard for me to focus on just a few, so I’m not even going to try. The only thing I can focus on is this addiction. People, this is not an addiction that can be conquered by an intervention or eased by joining a twelve-step program, and, quite frankly, it’s an addiction I don’t want to kick. I guess if there was an addiction worth having, South of Lincoln is it.
Stream & Download Homes (Pay what you want)
Stream & Download The Monsters/Bathroom Session (Pay what you want)
South of Lincoln Facebook
South of Lincoln Myspace
Read South of Lincoln interview with Slowcoustic
Will Oldham is one of the busiest men in folk music with constant and consistent collaborations and projects. His most recent collab with multi-instrumentalist Dominic Cipolla of Phantom Family Halo has resulted in a four-song EP, The Mindeater. An amalgam of slow, psychedelic, folksy music and ethereal vocals from Billy, the EP is both interesting and intoxicating. Among the EP’s selection is a cover of The Everly Brothers’ “I Wonder If I Care As Much,” which features a guest vocal from the SLINT’s Todd Brashear.