Category: Conversations

!!!'s Nic Offer says band is testing new songs on the West Coast

  !!!'s Nic Offer says band is testing new songs on the West Coast
The band !!! (a.k.a. "Chk Chk Chk") has plenty of justifiable reasons for being excited about a West Coast tour in the middle of winter. First, unlike their current home base in Brooklyn, we barely even get winter here. Second, their quick stint of club dates up and down the coast is affording the Sacramento-bred band time to test out new material for an album they’ll be recording in March.

Since forming in 1996, the band's crowd-pleasing brand of dance-punk has landed them on just about every major festival stage from Coachella and Bonaroo to Spain’s Primavera Sound. But in the spirit of testing a new crop of unreleased songs, the band has decided to give fans an intimate round of shows for their quick-hitting “Caliiifornia” tour. And despite the perceived difficulty of fitting a spastically energetic six-piece band on a small club stage, front man Nic Offer says !!! is definitely an act that can rock on all terrain.

“People always ask us how we’re able to fit our show on small stages," Offer said. "But through the ups and downs of our careers, and being all the way at the bottom, we’ve been able to play anywhere.”

More important, this four-date outing between Santa Barbara and San Diego from Feb. 28 to March 2 offers their raw, sweat-drenched club music a chance to thrive in its natural habitat. Before Thursday's show at the Echoplex, Offer spoke with Pop & Hiss about their forthcoming record steeped in a mixture of unapologetic electro, rough-and-tumble rock guitars and a newfound work ethic inspired by Prince.

Pop & Hiss: Having played so many huge festival stages in the last few years, what does it feel like to be playing your music in a club where it really seems to be most at home, stylistically?

Nic Offer: We kind of like it all. It’s exciting playing the bigger stages, but when you’re at a club and the people are just right there in your face, the energy is just more compacted. Taking the energy of a huge stage and putting it in a small room makes it all the more explosive. Everyone that was at the show last night who came up to us was like, “Oh, I saw you at Coachella and this was so much better.” I think people are just blown away by something that intimate. It’s more exciting.

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Big Sir talks about creating a new album in the face of illness

Big Sir talks about creating new album in the face of illness

During 12 years of sonic partnership, vocalist Lisa Papineau and bassist Juan Alderete's mesh of meditative lyrics, electro-inflected boom-bap and prog-jazz has combined fury and philosophy in a way that doesn’t have to shout to be heard.

Formed in 1999, their band, Big Sir, brought together the operatic tone of Alderete's fretless bass with Papineau's penchant for soulful restraint. On Feb. 7 the band released "Before Gardens, After Gardens," their first album in six years, via Rodriguez Lopez/Sargent House.

Despite their positive outlook on an album over half a decade in the making, the inspiration it took to make it has taken a serious, very literal toll on their bodies.

Shortly after completing their previous album, "Und Die Scheiße Ändert Sich Immer" in 2006, Papinaeu and Alderete were both diagnosed with life-threatening diseases. Alderete was found to have polycythemia vera, a rare bone marrow disease that makes the body produce too many red blood cells, while Papineau discovered she had multiple sclerosis. And just three weeks before the release of the album, heavily steeped in reflections on life and death, Papineau was also diagnosed with cancer.

Despite their health obstacles, both have been incessantly busy with projects ranging from Alderete’s work as the bassist for The Mars Volta to Papineau’s solo career and collaborations with artists like Air and M83 and ME & LP with Matt Embree of RX Bandits. But even with so many other projects to occupy their time, both admit that their shared sense of humor, affinity for bass and West Coast gangsta rap creates a bond that keeps them together.

Ahead of Big Sir's gig at Harvelle's in Long Beach on Monday, Papineau and Alderete spoke to Pop & Hiss about crafting their new album and facing mortality head-on.

Pop & Hiss: What is special about the chemistry you two have with this project as a bassist and vocalist?

Lisa Papineau: Musically for me, the thing I responded to as a singer was the tone of the fretless bass and how much like a voice it sounded and being able to kind of sing along with it, not like you’re a solo singer. And with this project, all the comments about my voice are "it's whispery sounding." Well, it’s not whispery and it took a lot to find an organic tone that’s playing along with the bassline and I don’t want to disrespect the space that bassline creates. I’m going to try to slip under it.

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Tim Kasher of Cursive explains the concept behind 'I Am Gemini'

Tim Kasher of Cursive talks the unveiling of new concept album "I Am Gemini"
Cursive fans are used to hearing frontman Tim Kasher scream tales of torture and crushing self-doubt, all while attempting to offer sobering life lessons. But when his band decided to go the concept album route for its latest release, the destructive love affairs and carnival metaphors of earlier albums such as "Domestica" and "The Ugly Organ" were replaced with a look at the darker side of a sibling rivalry.

The core of new album "I Am Gemini," released today via Saddle Creek, tells a surreal and psychoanalytic tale of twin brothers separated at birth, Cassius and Pollock. One is good and the other is evil, and their unexpected reunion in a creepy house ignites nothing short of a struggle for the soul, played out with a cast of supporting characters that includes a chorus of angels and devils, as well as twin sisters conjoined at the head.

Even for a band that has reveled in a mix of post-punk rage and esoteric prose, "I Am Gemini" elevated the group's songwriting to dramatic extremes, Kasher joked in a recent phone coversation.

"We’ve always recognized ourselves as a very pretentious band, as far as our presentation, and this is probably the most excessive it’s gotten," Kasher said. "So I was approaching it much more as a musical than a rock opera."

Those who missed out on tickets to the band's sold-out Troubadour show Friday can catch Cursive at an Amoeba in-store Thursday at 7 p.m. Below, Kasher discusses the album's concept and how he embraced his inner playwright.

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Björk performs 'Cosmogony' on 'The Colbert Report'

Björk and her giant ball-o-yarn hairdo dropped by "The Colbert Report" on Tuesday  night in advance of her month-long New York residency to talk about her groundbreaking app album "Biophilia" and perform her celestial tune "Cosmogony."

In the interview with host Steven Colbert, Björk explained why she'd decided to write an album using a touch-screen format. "I can't really play the guitar and sing at the same time and I couldn't play the piano and sing at the same time, like those troubadour people. So I was like, 'Finally, I can be a troubadour.' "

Though she seemed ready for Colbert's usual onslaught of smarminess, their conversation about the album and its interactive iPad components was for the most part rather informative. Still, he asked whether the touch-screen format, which allows listeners to play along with songs on "Biophilia,"  would allow him to lick the album.

The record is widely considered the world's  first major app album, and in keeping with the theme of the project, a planned three-year tour visits science centers around the world, in addition to traditional venues, with the goal of teaching children about music, science and technology.

Check out Björk's performance with an all-female choir (and her crazy, inflatable space dress) below:

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La Roux talks faking it, the joys of distortion and your name in lights

Laroux250 There are perks to having a single debut atop your home country's pop chart. For Elly Jackson, the young English singer behind the synth-pop duo La Roux and the irresistibly sassy "Bulletproof," these include having your name in lights. Very big lights, immediately behind you, every time you play your hometown.

"In London, the shows are massive, so for our last three shows there we had this big wall of red bulbs and floodlights that spell out 'La Roux' on stage," Jackson said during a phone call from backstage at a German festival. "It really helps; I have to fill a lot of space on the stage when we play."

The light rig won't be with her when she plays the Troubadour tonight, but she will have a number of other options for realizing her practically flawless self-titled debut, full of meticulously chintzy keyboards, joint-snapping beats and regally soulful vocals. The last time she came to L.A., the band performed as a two-piece, with Jackson prowling the Roxy stage while producer Ben Langmaid manned the electronics. Tonight, La Roux will sport an additional keyboardist and a live drummer. "La Roux," out Sept. 29, is a busy, hissing little pop record that rewards both close listening and top-down singalongs. 

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The three moments you need to know about in the Beck-Tom Waits conversation [UPDATE]


What do you get when two incredibly creative musical minds sit down to simply talk with no agenda and nothing to hawk? Two guys mostly talking about where they grew up, the lost works of Euripides, and performing live without proper amplification.

Silver Lake's own Beck Hansen has just launched a series on his website "featuring conversations between musicians, artists, writers, etc. on various subjects, without promotional pretext or editorial direction."

Beck's fatal move was choosing Tom Waits as his first guest. Not because Waits isn't much of a conversationalist  --  just the opposite. Once you document a free spirit like Waits riffing without a net, how is Beck going to top that?

In Part 1 of their conversation together, Hansen and Waits provide so many good moments that you're doing yourself a disservice by not reading the whole thing. Beck swears in the conversation that people today are obsessed with "Best Of" lists, and we're not going to argue.

After the jump are the three best moments of their exchange.

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Extra Golden on African music, obstacles and Obama


While Vampire Weekend and the Dirty Projectors have replaced Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel as chief American ambassadors of African music, the reality of pop-savvy transliterators often overshadowing their source material hasn't shifted in the last 25 years. So while Ezra Koenig and Dave Longstreth are celebrated from Cape Cod to the Cape of Good Hope, the half-Kenyan, half-American quartet Extra Golden have yet to have their faces plastered on the cover of Spin, despite a story ripe for an episode of PBS’ "Frontline/World."

Formed in Nairobi while guitarist Ian Eagleson, formerly of the band Golden, was conducting research for a PhD dissertation on Kenyan Benga music, Extra Golden have endured a litany of challenges in their five-year existence, including co-founder Otieno Jagwasi’s death at 34 due to liver disease, a Sisyphean struggle to obtain passports during the dog days of the Bush administration, and most recently, the riots that broke out in the wake of Kenya’s disputed election, trapping singer Onyango Jagwasi in closed quarters for a week, and impeding his ability to earn a living.

In spite of this, Extra Golden has thrived with their Thrill Jockey-released third album, ”Thank You Very Quickly,” a gorgeous blend of East African guitars, polyrhythmic drums and vocals sung in both English and Luo.

Download: Extra Golden "Anyango"

In town to play Dub Club on Wednesday night at the Echo alongside legendary reggae band the Meditations, guitarist Alex Minoff spoke to Pop & Hiss about African music, overcoming obstacles and President Obama.

Two American musicians forming a band with Nairobi natives still living in Africa isn’t the most common arrangement. How did you guys meet and decide to form a group?

Ian [Eagleson] was studying for his PhD in musicology and had visited Kenya four or five times over an eight-year period. In 2004, he visited for a full year and I went out there to visit him. We’d been in Golden for the previous 10 years, but we’d stopped playing. However, Ian and I continued writing songs together, even though we had no way to present them.

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Sunday show preview: The timelessness of Arthur Verocai

Authur Ask your average music fan about Arthur Verocai, and you’ll probably be met with a blank stare. Even among those well-versed in Tropicalia, Verocai lacks the name recognition of Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes or Jorge Ben. And in the ultimate sign of contemporary anonymity, Verocai has no Wikipedia page. But while unsung in his prime, the songs of the Rio de Janeiro-raised composer-crooner have been recently rediscovered, and cited as a touchstone for younger generations of musicians — making him akin to the Tropicalia version of Shuggie Otis, Vashti Bunyan or Son House.

In particular, the former civil engineer’s self-titled masterpiece has rightfully received lavish acclaim, with DJ/production maestro Madlib, MF Doom and Ludacris all sampling his samba and sunshine-soaked soul. Recorded partially in response to the repressive military junta then running Brazil, “Arthur Verocai” synthesizes soul, classical, funk, folk, samba, rock and jazz, occupying a psychedelic middle ground between Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” and Frank Zappa’s “Hot Rats.”

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Swedish DJs take SoCal: John Dahlbäck makes L.A. debut Saturday, other Swedes follow on the 21st

Sweden might be best known in America as the place where stylish and deceptively easy-to-assemble furniture is manufactured. But a handful of DJs from the Scandinavian country are attempting to change the perception -- among music fans, anyway -- about what their country has been producing better than anyone else. (Hint: It's house music.)

Last year, Swedish DJ and producer Axwell turned in one of the most energetic live sets I've seen in years at the Avalon as his countrymen (and women) swarmed the dance floor, where oversized Swedish flags waved  among the house-heads.

This month, the same club on Vine Street hosts no fewer than three spinners from Sweden, including the Swedish House Mafia's Steve Angello & Sebastian Ingrosso. And before the House Mafia hits Hollywood on the 21st, up-and-comer John Dahlbäck twists and tweaks beats at the Avalon this Saturday night in his Los Angeles debut.

Though Sweden's long had a history in the pop world of producing big hits with commanding synth-based hooks, over the last five years or so, a new generation of house-music DJs has left its mark all over Europe and South America (mainstream American music fans, naturally, are the last to get hip to the trend). Eric Prydz, a former member of the Swedish House Mafia, scored a massive club smash (and crossover pop hit, with the tune going to the top of the charts in countries such as England and Germany) in 2004 with "Call on Me." The track still receives play in clubs from Miami to Munich nightly and is based on, of all things, a sample of Steve Winwood's 1982 hit "Valerie." Call it perhaps the most unlikely house hit of the decade -- but it never fails to get bodies on the dance floor every time it's played. 

As we ease into a new decade, it looks as if ascendant DJ and house music producer John Dahlbäck might be the next breakout star out of Stockholm. Tracks such as "Blink" (seen in the video above) and, in particular, "Hustle Up" exemplify the producer's knack for locking down tight grooves and adding just enough unexpected twists to keep fans of intelligent electro-house on their toes. See how Swedish House Mafia members support one another in this clip, which features Ingrosso and Axwell dropping "Hustle Up" during a 2007 appearance.

We fired off a few questions to Dahlbäck by e-mail earlier this week in anticipation of his opening set for Sander Kleinenberg on Saturday at the Avalon. His answers after the jump.

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Five Questions with Thursday's Geoff Rickly


The New Jersey post-hardcore band Thursday is a case study in the difficulty of navigating the lines between punk and pop. In the early aughts, when every major label was scrambling for new rock saviors, Thursday took the occasion to make an acrimonious split with indie Victory Records for Island Records, who hoped the band would usher in a golden age of arena-ready emo. But Thursday's byzantine riffing and singer Geoff Rickly's feral yelps on the 2003 album "War All the Time" and its 2006 follow-up proved a touch obtuse for mainstream rock tastes, and now the band is set to release its newest and possibly densest album yet, "Common Existence," next week on Epitaph Records. We talked with Rickly about dizzying label politics, how growing older changes your taste in hard music and imagining a Thursday tribute to avant-garde jazz saxophonist John Zorn. The band plays the Hollywood Palladium on Saturday as part of the Taste of Chaos tour.

Your band has been through a lot of career cycles in recent years: buzzing underground act, the big rock hope of a major label, a later return to an indie label. Has it been difficult to keep your bearings on songwriting given these big swings in label politics and expectations on Thursday?

It's a funny thing. We've always maintained a very strict stance of, "It's our music.  No label politics or business pressures should have any influence on how we write." This seems to be a pretty common ethic that most "punk" bands live by. The thing that you never hear about, though, is the way your writing naturally changes when you even acknowledge pressure from outside sources. You become self-conscious. You start to write from a reactionary position in which you lose a lot of your own drives and concentrate on not becoming what other people want you to.

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