If you’d told us 20 years ago that The Jesus Lizard would someday put out a coffee table book, we would’ve had a hard time believing you. The explosive '90s alternative punk rock band was known for its aggressive onstage presence, virtuosic musicianship -- and a frontman, David Yow, who often spent more time crawling on top of his audience than standing on stage.
However, the band members went their separate ways in 1999 -- reuniting briefly for a tour a decade later -- and now they've chronicled the band's story in a photo and essay-filled tome, simply titled Book.
In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow, shares parts of that story firsthand. He fills us in on how the band got its start, where his commanding, often intimidating stage presence came from and why tight pants are better than loose ones when you're planning to light them on fire.
Few jazz musicians have put together as varied a career as Roy Nathanson. The New York post-bop and avant garde saxophonist co-founded the Jazz Passengers with trombonist Curtis Fowlkes in 1987, and served as its primary composer. But there's much more: He's scored for TV and film and acted in several projects, including a film by Jim Jarmusch; several works were featured in Karole Armitage's adaptation of Sheherazade at the Florence Opera House; and written poetry. He's played and studied with jazz great Jimmy Heath, was a member of the Lounge Lizards and with the Passengers, he's performed or recorded many big name artists -- Blondie's Deborah Harry, Elvis Costello, Jeff Buckley, and Mavis Staples.
Nathanson's most recent project has been Sotto Voce, an idiosyncratic free-jazz based band featuring Fowlkes, Tim Kiah (bass), Jerome Harris (guitar, banjolin), Napoleon Maddox (beatbox), Sam Bardfeld (violin), and everyone contributing vocals. Following 2009's Subway Moon, Nathanson returns to the Soundcheck studio to peform selections of the band's latest, Complicated Day. Showcasing more sonically interesting compositions and spoken word poetry, and even his son, Gabriel Nathanson on vocals and trumpet on the Johnny Nash cover "I Can See Clearly Now," it's yet another genre-defying, all-star record that reflects Nathanson's myriad skills and interests.
As The Hold Steady staggers into its second decade year together, its sixth album, Teeth Dreams, does more than trade on the tropes that made them famous with 2004 debut Almost Killed Me. The Hold Steady is all roaring guitars and spitfire vocals now, and it's riding that massive wave of sound toward something probably larger than your local auditorium. But in a year where Daft Punk has reigned supreme, timing might seem questionable for an ascendant, guitar-heavy band like Hold Steady. While its straightforward yet exuberant bar rock may not be the currency of glitchy indie clubs, frontman Craig Finn, founding guitarist Tad Kubler and company have made a stage-eating monster with Teeth Dreams.
Four years in the waiting, the album was recorded over two years in Brooklyn and Franklin, Tenn., and involved some fiddling with the band’s core DNA. Multi-instrumentalist Franz Nicolay left the band in 2010 prior to the recordings that would become their last album, Heaven Is Whenever. During the tour that followed, ex-Lucero guitarist Steve Selvidge joined the group, giving them an additional guitar, and “a shot in the arm,” according to Finn. The dual guitar drive that Selvidge and Kubler developed on stage now characterizes Teeth Dreams’ more exhilarating moments.
ARTIST: Regina Carter
GIG: Wednesday night at Birdland ($40)
Like many great musicians, jazz violinist Regina Carter is something of an anthropologist: peeling back the layers of history that accrue around time-worn melodies. She sat with old Southern folk recordings at the Library of Congress to create the songs on her new album Southern Comfort. Here’s one called “Trampin’.” You can catch Regina Carter tonight through Saturday at Birdland.
BONUS: Watch the behind-the-scenes making of Southern Comfort:
In this episode: The Hold Steady became an indie rock favorite because of the slice-of-life storytelling of lead singer/speaker Craig Finn and a kick-ass band. Now they've doubled down on the electric guitars for their first new album in four years, Teeth Dreams. Hear the band perform songs from the record live in the Soundcheck studio.
Then: David Yow, the indestructible frontman of Chicago alternative-rock band The Jesus Lizard, talks about the group’s (NSFW!) new coffee table book. As with all of the Jesus Lizard albums, this one has a title that’s a four-letter word: Book.
It's not surprising that Blue Swede's "Hooked On A Feeling" was a huge hit; after all, it's a great song. But, according to Chris Molanphy -- pop chart analyst and contributor to NPR Music, Pitchfork, Slate, and elsewhere -- the song's long-winding, evolving journey to the top of the charts in 1974 was so improbable, we made it the latest subject Soundcheck's ongoing series, That Was a Hit?!?
The first thing you’ll hear in NØMADS’ songs is the distortion. Slapped on thick like a coating of lead paint that envelopes everything in the room, this is heavy music built for getting lost in, and exorcising aggression. But listen more closely, beyond the scorched earth noise, the cathartic, growling vocals, and the drums’ mighty wallop, and you’ll hear a dynamic interplay at work.
Based in Brooklyn, NØMADS is a lean-and-mean bass and drums duo -- the latest project from Nathan Lithgow and Garth Macaleavey. Both members have performed together in the band Inlets, but have also been banging around separately: Lithgow has played bass for My Brightest Diamond; Macaleavey has served as sound engineer for the Philip Glass Ensemble, as well as at esteemed New York venues like Joe’s Pub and (le) Poisson Rouge. But with NØMADS, these longtime friends and collaborators have put together something raw and perhaps liberating.
Produced, recorded and mixed entirely by Lithgow and Macaleavey, NØMAD’s debut full-length album, Free My Animal, is the by product of months of rigorous woodshedding, and what they have described as a “happy accident.” The band self-tracked its meticulously rehearsed songs during a rehearsal session in a Bushwick practice space equipped with ProTools. Playing through each song in real time, the duo unleashed something in between punk, metal and prog rock, ultimately making the backbone that would later become this new record. And as you might expect, these songs -- from the smoldering opener “In The Mend” and ‘90s alt rock-leaning “Blood In The Water” to the lively title track -- capture the sound of a live band, in sync on a primal level, executed with precision.
Throughout its career, Los Lonely Boys has won over a whole community of fans and a Grammy Award in 2005 (for its single "Heaven") with its unique Tex Mex rock 'n' roll and radio-friendly pop hooks. But last year, the band's status was up in the air, after guitarist Henry Garza suffered a scary spinal injury when he fell off-stage during a concert, and the power trio -- brothers Henry Jojo, and Ringo Garza -- spent a good chunk of 2013 on hiatus.
Luckily, Henry Garza has recovered, the band has regrouped, and sounds revitalized on its latest album, Revelation, released back in January. While the hard-touring band has always played in a variety of genres and styles (often in the same song), this new collection finds Los Lonely Boys playing with Santana-esque Latin blues jams, traditional conjunto, '70s soul and even, yes, soft 80's-styled yacht rock. Ten years after its 2004 breakout, Revelation, feels like another very fine entry in the "Texican"'s discography.
ARTIST: Ben Watt
GIG: Tuesday night at 9:30pm at Joe's Pub ($25)
Ben Watt is best known as half of the British jazz-pop duo Everything But The Girl. But his new solo record Hendra shows him in prime singer-songwriter mode. The track “Nathaniel” is a great example -- and features a well-placed cameo from Bernard Butler, the lead guitarist of Brit-rock band Suede. Ben Watt is at Joe’s Pub tonight, and at Rough Trade tomorrow night.
BONUS: Here's the video for the title track off of Ben Watt's new album Hendra:
In this episode: Power trio Los Lonely Boys plays a distinctive brand of what they call “Texican rock ‘n’ roll.” Hear the three Garza brothers perform songs from their new album, Revelation, in a stripped-down acoustic session in the Soundcheck studio.
Then: Chris Molanphy tells the story of Blue Swede's song "Hooked On A Feeling" and its long-winding journey to No. 1, as part of Soundcheck's series, That Was a Hit?!?:
And: Simone Dinnerstein stunned the classical music world with her hit recording of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations back in 2007. Since then she's played with the NY Philharmonic, made a record with songwriter Tift Merritt, and signed with a major record label. Hear the Brooklyn pianist perform works from her latest Bach-centric album in the Soundcheck studio.
John Doe has always seemed like an artist more likely to push forward to the next thing than to look back. But lately, he says he's found pleasure in seeing how far he's come since his days as the founding member of L.A. punk band X, and the country-rock band The Knitters.
"You gotta keep going forward," he says in a press release, "But... I've begun to realize some of the advantages of reflection."
That reflection is now manifesting itself in a new collection, The Best Of John Doe: This Far. Compiling nearly 25 years of material, Doe includes some of his favorite concert moments, collaborations, and a few unreleased, or reworked songs. The record also features fantastic guest spots from Neko Case, Aimee Mann, Kathleen Edwards and Grant-Lee Phillips.
Still, as the title implies, Doe considers this "greatest hits" album not so much a culmination, but a record of songs he's made thus far. "This is not 'I'm done, I'm over, this is the best I'm ever gonna do,'" he explains. For new listeners, a Best of is the perfect place to jump in, and for longtime fans, it's the perfect excuse to a savvy songwriter like John Doe with fresh ears. In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Doe talks about looking back at his past work, the new songs he has coming up, and even a pair of films he's set to appear in coming up this Spring.
According to the streaming music service Spotify, nearly 20 percent of its catalogue -- close to four million songs -- have never been played. But now, a new service called Forgotify aims to get you listening to those songs.
Case in point: Hans Edler, a Swedish pop star who had a No. 1 single in his native country in 2010, but whose song "Every Night and Day" had received exactly zero plays on Spotify until PopMatters columnist Ben Rubenstein discovered the tune via Forgotify.
Brooklyn indie rock outfit The National is a band of brothers -- literally. The group consists of two pairs of brothers -- there's Bryce and Aaron Dessner, and Scott and Bryan Devendorf, plus frontman Matt Berninger. But Berninger does, in fact, have a brother who is nine years his junior.
Tom Berninger joined The National as a roadie for a portion of its recent world tour, and he brought a camera along. And what he documented along the way has now been released as Mistaken For Strangers, a chronicle of Tom's relationship with his big brother and his conflicted feelings about Matt's rock star status.
In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, the Berningers talk about how Tom's almost incidental inclusion in the band's tour support roster lead to a film equal parts painful character study and warm, funny portrait of family... with guitars.
Dan Wilson is one of the most successful songwriters in pop music, but his name may not pop out to most people. Yet, even a cursory glance of his credentials and you absolutely know his work. Wilson is best known for fronting Semisonic, the 1990's band that brought us “Closing Time,” the ubiquitous Grammy-nominated hit quoted at practically every bar around 2 a.m.: "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here."
Since Semisonic, Wilson has become one of the most sought-after songwriters in the industry, collaborating with pop's biggest names: Dixie Chicks, Nas, Carole King, John Legend, Dierks Bentley, My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Pink, Josh Groban, Weezer, and Taylor Swift. Whew. And of course, he contributed three songs on Adele's smash album 21, including “Someone Like You” -- a song he also produced and subsequently earned an Album of the Year Grammy.
Somehow, Dan Wilson still manages to find time to write songs for his solo albums, the latest, Love Without Fear, due out later this spring. A collection of Americana and Beatles-tinged pop, the record features a lot of Wilson's collaborators and friends, including Blake Mills, Sara Bareilles, Natalie Maines, Missy Higgins, and Lissie.
The lineup of artists covered -- Xiu Xiu, Folk Implosion, Sharon Van Etten, St. Vincent, Wye Oak -- reads like a who's who of like-minded bands all capable of the same sort of moody and deeply melodic songs that Shearwater does so well. It's always a fascinating exercise to hear a band get into the head of another musician's songs -- and when delivered by Meiburg's distinctive operatic voice, songs like "I Luv The Valley OH!!" and even Coldplay's "Hurts Like Heaven" soar to new heights. Meiburg has said that doing this covers record serves as something of a transition, a bridge between it's previous album and whatever Shearwater has in store next. For a band this talented and unique, that is an enticing prospect.
Hear Meiburg and his latest iteration of Shearwater, featuring singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop on vocals, perform a set of recent favorite originals in the Soundcheck studio. Plus, Mieburg reveals the title of the next Shearwater album, The Jet Plane And The Ox-Bow, and explains its meaning.
Connecticut-based band Ovlov plays massive waves of shoegaze guitar that evokes care-free living. The commenter on their website probably describes it best, when he says: “I wish it was the 90s. I wish it was summer. I wish I was in this band.” Listen to “Where’s My Dini?” to see if you can hear the summer of 1994. Catch Ovlov at Cake Shop tonight.
In this episode: Lead singer of The National Matt Berninger and his brother Tom talk about Tom’s new film Mistaken for Strangers. It started as a documentary about the band, but became a funny, unsparing look at living in the shadow of a rock-star brother.
Then: The indie-rock band Shearwater built its reputation on a series of albums with a naturalist or environmentalist bent -- and on the distinctive voice of its lead songwriter (and ornithologist) Jonathan Meiburg. He talks about Shearwater’s recent covers project, reveals the title of the band's upcoming album, and performs live in the Soundcheck studio.
And: Forgotify is a new gizmo that finds all the songs that have never been played on the music-streaming service Spotify. PopMatters columnist Ben Rubenstein samples a few of the four million tracks with zero plays.
"But disassociation, I guess, is just a modern disease." So sings Erika M. Anderson in the closing moments of "3Jane," a pretty, yet disquieting ballad that freely references William Gibson's
All this week on Soundcheck, we've been taking getting nostalgic for New York music in collaboration with New York magazine, which presented its annual "yesteryear" issue focused on New York City music. So far, we've had Jody Rosen on the songwriters of the 1920's, and Lane Brown on the '60s and Jennifer Vineyard on the 1970's.
Today we wrap up with New York magazine's Mark Jacobson, who shares his love for a particularly important transitional era of New York music, the jazz of the 1940's. In a conversation with Soundcheck host John Schaefer, Jacobson says he believes the iconic pianist Thelonious Monk is not only one of greatest American composers and the greatest jazz composer, but his ideal musician.
"There's something about the way he rearranges sonic geometry every time he puts his fingers on the keyboard that I just can never get enough of," explains Jacobson. "He's the best."
Jacobson points to Monk's song "Episotrophy" as the epitome of jazz's emerging modernism -- because it sits on the edge between two eras, swing and bop.
In this episode: Soundcheck wraps up our week of New York nostalgia with a look back at the music of the 1940's with New York magazine's Mark Jacobson.
Then, we try to answer the question: Why do we get nostalgic in the first place? We ask ask an expert.
And: Hear Sabina -- the provocative frontwoman of Brazilian Girls -- perform songs from her new solo album, Toujours, in the Soundcheck studio.