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Joey Santiago

The Pixies’ Joey Santiago

A brief chat with Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago
by John Noyd
September 2014

A self-proclaimed quiet thinker, self-taught guitarist and sonic architect, Joey Santiago would much prefer to talk about how producer Roy Thomas Baker brought his unique skills to shape both Queen and the Cars than about himself or his substantial contribution to creating the Pixies’ now classic loud quiet loud dynamic. The third of six sons, Joey remembers his mom calling up to his room asking if everything was alright. Santiago refers to being “stuck in the middle” growing up, but his youthful strategy to fly solo and let his curiosity lead the way brought an early discovery that the public library lets you check out vinyl. With the world at your feet Santiago says, “you’re not afraid to go check out riskier stuff,” and he soon became an avid reader of liner notes educating himself on everything from cool jazz to hot punk; a knowledge that tuned his college roommate Charles Thompson into sounds that eventually prompted them to drop out and form a band.

In preparation for their October 12th concert at Madison’s Orpheum Theater with up and coming rockers ROYAL BLOOD, MAXIMUM INK talked to Joey; which was not all that different from the music he is best known for; elusive then emphatic, he dodged questions with stories as revealing as any answer. Asked about his guitar playing and educating himself on Pro Tools, Santiago begins by saying he embraces his limitations, calling himself a “stress case” when it comes to getting the sounds in his head on to tape or more likely computer file. At the same time Santiago says, “Charles (Frank Black) and Gil (long-time producer Gil Norton) hand it over to me and let me run with it.” Joey admits that no matter what guitar he picks up it always sounds like him. He stumbles at trying to describe his style, referring to it as a “pointy thing,” then recalls former Pixies bassist Kim Deal calling him up after she watched an episode from the first season of Weeds, instinctively recognizing Joey’s sound in the incidental music.

 


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Jordan Lee of Mutual Benefit

Mutual Benefit

An Email Correspondence with Jordan Lee of Mutual Benefit
by John Noyd
August 2014

As the mastermind behind chamber-folk collective MUTUAL BENEFIT, Jordan Lee epitomizes the wandering minstrel, moving from Ohio to Austin, Boston and Brooklyn where he encountered musical scenes and collected a cavalcade of talented colleagues. The songs on the band’s full-length debut, “Love’s Crushing Diamond,” reflect his restless curiosity with scenic side-trips and unexpected twists stringing epic adventures between imaginative art-pop canvases. We caught up with Jordan before he resumed touring to better prepare ourselves for his visit to Wisconsin, September 29th at Madison’s The Frequency.

MAXIMUM INK: Your tunes are full of light yet also very deep. Is this an accurate reflection of you who are?

JORDAN LEE: I suppose you can say that but I don’t know anyone who would be able to describe themselves accurately; our eyes are cracked mirrors after all!

MI: Did you always aspire to write long winding songs or did something happen to change how you write music?

JL: I started out listening to straight forward three and a half minute pop songs and wrote pretty similar music, in fact most of my early songs were really short because I had this internal rule that I’d rather a song end quickly than for someone to get bored of it. I’m not quite sure when the compositions started getting longer. I guess it was when the musical ideas started getting larger over the past couple years.

MI: While not completely surprised to read how much field recordings played a part in your album, my initial impression was that your compositions came from deep inside you. How do field recordings affect the creative process?

JL: I think this was the first album to incorporate field recordings and I’m not sure I’ll do it again since I don’t want for it to become “my thing” but for that span of time it seemed to really make a lot of sense… If I just sit down with a guitar and try to play chords I never get too inspired but little conversations or sounds can trigger the part of my brain that feels compelled to make art.

MI: Your full-length debut, ““Love’s Crushing Diamond,” was pick up by Other Music from another label and reissued due to high demand; why do you think it ended up connecting with so many people?

JL: I have absolutely no idea! It is still so surreal to go to places like Norway or Belgium and meet fans of the band. It is kind of messing with my head as I try and write new songs.

MI: What’s the next thing you’d like to tackle musically?

JL: Because all the other records have come from a position of limitation whether it be time, money, or instruments I’m having trouble conceptualizing what I want to do with more ability to make exactly what I want to. Maybe collab with a whole string section for a couple days?? Brass and woodwind?? Modular synths? I have no idea.

MI: Your itinerant lifestyle suggests you make friends easily and yet much of, “Diamonds,” emanates from a somewhat introspective perspective. Do you ever have trouble balancing your public and private personas?

JL: Yeah, I guess you could say that. I think I can easily connect with people on a surface level but never staying in one place too long can definitely lead to a feeling of deep down isolation and loneliness. This year has felt different since I’ve mostly been traveling with the same band and I have a wonderful partner back home… More than ever we all just feel like a weird little family.


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Pitchfork Festival Chicago 2014

Pitchfork Festival Chicago 2014

Three Days of Great Music and then some
by John Noyd
July 2014

Amazingly free of major technical glitches, obnoxious partiers and garish advertisers there was a lot to like about this year’s Pitchfork Festival in Chicago. The weather was a blessing, the diverse line-up top-rate and the eye-candy ranged from chic bohemian to vintage hipster. Tats, hats and mustache wax, free Tacos and Twinkies dispensed at one end and free flowers and sunscreen on the other, plus cutting-edge indie-rock, electro-pop and hip-hop smack dab in the middle. To call it manageable underscores how hard it is to fed and please 20,000 people, but after years of practice Pitchfork has it down pat.

Several alumni moved up from side stages to stronger standing this year. A lively and upbeat SHARON VAN ETTEN returned with a tightly-knit band after braving the festival a few years ago accompanying herself on guitar; going from mind-blowing loops and a ukulele, the ever-exotic TUNE-YARDS upgraded to a colorful posse of talented singers and a second drummer while the previously rained-on CLOUD NOTHINGS found sunshine and thunderous applause. From how dark sunglasses complimented the all-black attire of the DUM DUM GIRLS to the smarmy, hearty, “good morning,” Chicago’s own TWIN PEAKS gave when they began their pummeling set Saturday afternoon, each act adapted to their open-air surroundings with the quietest tunes heard clearly and only the most bombastic bass occasionally bleeding onto other stages.

Measurable festival success came from unexpected encounters; whether it was the warm fuzzy feeling seeing that two-year old in The Smiths t-shirt, the subtle puzzlement from the awkward, “white people,” comment from SUN KIL MOON or simply the giddy thrill of NENEH CHERRY performing Stateside for only the second time ever.  From the cheesy glee of EARL SWEATSHIRT asking you to sing Journey’s, “Don’t Stop Believin’,” to the waxing nostalgia watching seeing Generation Z dance to the late great Donna Summer via GIORGIO MORODER; there were plenty of reasons to feel the feel-good vibes.

Luck may have placed you in the mosh-pit when TWIN PEAKS suddenly threw the body of a smashed guitar into the crowd, being given MAJICAL CLOUDZ’s microphone to tell a joke while they valiantly tried to fix a midi controller they later destroyed on stage or simply standing in the right spot to catch a rose from GRIMES as her dueling dancers and wind-blown hair animated a absolutely techno-groovy set. Giant video screens allowed people far away to witness ST. VINCENT wriggling on her back shredding guitar, dream weavers HUNDRED WATERS lacing cyber-swollen soul with flute or BECK placing crime scene tape across the stage. Other scenes flew under the camera’s watchful eyes; a stranger fainting, security firmly informing tokers the Blue Stage is hundred feet from a church that houses a school or standing nearby when one dude was compelled to tell everyone to go F themselves. So whether you spent the entire long weekend or just ended up catching parts of the live webcast, Pitchfork Chicago succeeded in furthering the cause to bring musical talent to the yearning masses.


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Chicago Pitchfork Festival 2014

Pitchfork Festival 2014

A Reader's Guide to Chicago's 2014 Pitchfork Festival
by John Noyd
June 2014

A classic salad of new and established acts covering hip-hop, ambient-trance and indie-rock, this year’s Pitchfork Festival hosts rising stars, electronic giants and first generation legends reuniting over blue lakeside skies in a green oasis of metropolitan proportions. As in years past each day of the three day event brings a slew of possible you can’t go wrong strategies as well as the unavoidable conflicts inherent in festival logistics. While three color-coded stages offer an incredible spectacle of diversified styles that allows the participants to chill in one area for a reasonable length, those with eclectic tastes will be scurrying to stitch together the perfect string of musical trophies. Day by day let’s look at the highlights and pitfalls that is Chicago’s 2014 Pitchfork Festival.


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Dead Rider

Dead Rider

An Interview with Dead Rider's guitar guru Todd Rittmann
by John Noyd
April 2014

Never content to do the same thing twice, Chicago’s daredevil experimentalists DEAD RIDER, offer a dazzling degree of forward-thinking adventures whose restless quests invest discordant morsels of jazz-rock logic into funky electro-polished grooves. Comprised of Matthew Espy (drums, conga, percussion), Andrea Faught (synth, piano, trumpet, trombone, vocals), Thymme Jones (synth, trumpet, vocals) and Todd Rittmann (vocals, guitar, drums), the imaginative foursome blaze new trails thinking outside the box, bashing pre-conceived beliefs by conjuring jarring carnage buffered in teeth-gnashing acrobatics and gut-busting bluster. In anticipation of their performance May 8th at Madison’s The Frequency,” MAXIMUM INK asked front-man and founder Todd Rittman to guide us through the band’s insatiable appetite for complex maneuvers and esoteric minutiae

MAXIMUM INK: As a band committed to unexpected twists and challenging their audience, do your live shows attempt to play songs from your records, use them as launch pads for further sonic explorations or something in between?

TODD RITTMANN: Well, a little of both I guess. It’s funny; the songs on our records that sound loose and more improvised are the ones that are actually hyper composed. They are the ones we are the most dedicated to replicating in a fairly precise way. The songs that have more of a traditional (for us anyway) pop structure end up being the ones we corrupt when performed.

MI: No one seems to be doing quite what you do, as innovators who fuse so many divergent styles together, who do you see as your contemporaries?

TR: I love any artist that creates their own language and musical world. I love Deerhoof, Battles, Cody Chesnutt, Buke and Gase, and I’ve been really digging this local kid Vic Mensa lately. The hardest and most important thing to do as an artist is be yourself, anyone who can get there is automatically inspiring and worth checking out.

MI: What influenced or inspired this album? Was there a premeditative theme or concept behind Chills on Glass to focus your creative impulses?

TR: We work in a very organic and flowing way. There is never a premeditated theme but one always seems to emerge at some point. When it does we try to surf that wave a little without it turning into some kind of concept-rock-opera kind of thing.

MI: How should your fans interpret the title beyond a vivid description of your subversive mirth?

TR: The title connects the dots between drug imagery and how we interact with technology. Both things have their ups and downs and both seem to work in a similar way with our brains. Chills is my slang for children but also alludes to a numbness… Glass is the ubiquitous screen or display and also the easiest surface on which to serve drugs in powdered form.


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Jillette Johnson

Jillette Johnson

An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Jillette Johnson
by John Noyd
March 2014

Singer-songwriter Jillette Johnson began performing at the tender age of twelve, but years in the business have done nothing to harden her outlook on making music. Balancing piano-driven intimacy with an urgent openness, her songs are both quietly inviting and boldly direct, building into a floodgate of swirling emotions that sweep in unexpected leaps while holding fast to rock-solid beliefs; traversing romantic semantics and sexual politics with daring diplomacy wrapped around vampish fantasy. Still only in her early twenties, Jillette’s dramatic pathos reveal a tenacious optimist skillfully capturing life’s passionate battles in surging orchestrations, lyrical twists and boundless bravado; gracefully capturing love’s inevitable turbulence with a sure hand and a steady heart. In anticipation of her forthcoming visit to Madison, we sat down and asked her a few questions. 

MAXIMUM INK: When did you first feel you had something to offer the world?

JILLETTE JOHNSON: I was four and I told my dad I wanted to be a rock star.

MI: Were you musically precocious, unnaturally imaginative or prematurely literate?

JJ: Yes, yes, and yes. I was quite a little hurricane.

MI: What other outlets does your creative energy express itself?

JJ: I have an affinity for vintage coats.

MI: What aspect of your personality might be construed as a blessing and a curse?

JJ: I’m unabashedly wide-eyed.

MI: If you could change one thing about yourself what would that be?

JJ: I wish I had more control over my lust for vintage coats… and my anxiety.

MI: What do you find to be the most difficult idea to capture in song?

JJ: Whatever it is I’m going through right that moment. I’m a nostalgically emotional writer. In other words I usually need some time to process before I can write a song about it.

MI: What songwriters have inspired you and in what ways might you try to emulate them?

JJ: Carole King in her simplicity and sincerity; Paul Simon in his wit, lyrical rhythm and sense of pop; Joni Mitchell in her whimsy and her everything; Randy Newman in his ironic sadness.

A charming and dynamic performer, Ms.. Johnson visits Madison’s The Frequency April 2nd opening for indie-pop rocker WAKEY! WAKEY! and performing songs from her Wind-up Records debut, “Water In A Whale.”


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Alex Schaaf of Yellow Ostrich

Yellow Ostrich

Interview with Yellow Ostrich Mastermind Alex Schaaf
by John Noyd
February 2014

Starting in Prairie DuChien before landing in Brooklyn NY by way of Appleton, singer-songwriter Alex Schaff has gone from recording in his bedroom with a drum machine to fronting the indie-rock band YELLOW OSTRICH. With a bold new album and a tour that takes him back to Wisconsin, MAXIMUM INK took the opportunity to ask Alex a few questions.

MAXIMUM INK: With an album titled, “Cosmos,” and song titles, “Terror,” “In the Dark,” and, “Don’t Be Afraid,” it seems like you were tackling some deep issues.

ALEX SCHAAF: A lot of the album was inspired by astronomy. I really got into Carl Sagan; read all of his books and watched his TV series (which the album gets its name from). I quickly came to realize that “science” wasn’t as boring as I thought, that the way the universe works is amazing and awe-inspiring and that the real explanation for things is way more magical and incredible than any of the alternate explanations that are out there. Those kinds of things were running through my head when I was writing a lot of the lyrics. I took those ideas and adapted them to a smaller, more down-to-earth perspective. The songs aren’t really about space or astronomy; they’re about regular people and day-to-day life, with the added perspective and knowledge that studying the way the universe works brings to you. I love that in a normal day we can both think, “the sun’s going to die someday, we’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do next,” and, “Do I have enough room on my DVR to record the new Mad Men episode.” I got really interested in the way those two perspectives co-exist.


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Jim Wilbur of Superchunk

Superchunk

An Interview with Superchunk Guitarist Jim Wilbur
by John Noyd
January 2014

Formed in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1989, Superchunk has maintained the same line-up since 1991, releasing heartfelt high-velocity indie-rock over the course of eight albums before taking a hiatus in 2001. Returning from their various side-projects in 2010, the band currently finds itself promoting their tenth full-length, “I Hate Music,” without their original bassist Laura Ballance, whose hearing issues has made her participation in their volcanic live shows untenable. In anticipation of playing Madison’s 2014 FRZN Fest January 19th, Superchunk’s Jim Wilbur was kind enough to answer a few questions via email.

MAXIMUM INK: Superchunk’s guitar sound has been an influential force for years, what guitarists do you admire and are there any guitarists/bands playing today you find particularly interesting?

Jim Wilbur: Thanks for the compliment. Let me say first of all that I am a completely un-trained guitarist, never had a lesson. I bought my first guitar (a crappy off-brand acoustic) when I was a senior in high school after listening to the Minutemen’s “Double Nickels on the Dime”. I had a little pamphlet with some basic chord diagrams and that was that. I usually tell people I perform with a guitar - rather than say I play a guitar. So… basically I admire anyone who can ACTUALLY play the damn things, especially people who seem to play intuitively.

MI: After so many years together Superchunk seems more like a family than a band, how would you describe the group dynamics and what do you feel are your responsibilities in the band?

JW: You’re right. I think we are more like a family at this point, that, or maybe a gang. We all know how to deal with one another, where each other’s toes are and ways to avoid stepping on them. As far as my responsibilities go, hmmm… back in the 90’s I did most of the driving, but I don’t suppose that is what you mean. I think the most important thing for each of us is to be respectful of one another and allow each other the space to live inside the group. That may sound a little New Agey. When we are arranging/writing songs we all have to figure out how to complement one another and not step on each other’s parts. I’m talking musically here - but the same goes for the personal relationships we share with one another.

MI: The band seems happy to tour, I’ve always wondered, how does it get decided who gets to choose the music in the van?

JW: Back in the day the rule was “Driver picks the tape”. Since I drove about 90% of the time, that meant the band had to sit through my homemade mix-tapes of Def Leppard, Squeeze, The Verlaines and various hardcore punk bands. These days everyone is plugged into their own little worlds. Everyone but me, that is. I don’t really like listening to music in moving vehicles. Mostly I just sit there and ask questions of my band mates that go unanswered because they can’t hear me. Ha.

MI: Obviously there has to be a difference not having Laura touring with you on bass for this tour, what’s the band’s history with her stand-in Jason?

JW: We’ve know Jason for years. Jon has played with him in Bob Pollard’s band as well as Bob Mould’s trio. He’s a smashing fellow and a quick study. I’m reminded of our first practice with him. We ran through “Slack Motherfucker” and after the chorus we stopped because the bass sounded weird. Mac, Jon and I were sure he was playing the wrong notes. So we sent a quick email to Laura who was at her desk in the Merge office asking what she played at that point in the song. While waiting for a reply we listened to the song on YouTube and sure enough, Jason was right. I think we never heard the song properly since we usually play it at the end of a set when some of us might have had a little too much beer!


MI: The energy your guitar provides is enormous. Is there a warm-up routine you employ before a show or do you just plug and play?

JW: Mac and I just plug in and play.. Mac will do vocal warm-ups that sound like he’s making farting noises with his lips. Jon will warm up by playing paradiddles on sofa arms or chair-backs. If I’m sitting too close to him he’ll use my calves and feet


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Thomas Dolby - The Invisible Lighthouse Tour

Thomas Dolby

Dolby Illuminates Wisconsin with The Invisible Lighthouse Tour
by John Noyd
October 2013

For someone who is likes being on the cusp of things, Thomas Dolby certainly has a strong passion for the past; particularly when it comes to his current tour, a multimedia event that incorporates both the latest in music technology and an old-fashioned Foley artist providing sound effects. “It’s a film with a live soundtrack, which is very different from a concert,” Dolby says, “We do everything live onstage. It’s a very dreamy, atmospheric piece.” Focused on his personal efforts to preserve coastal lighthouses long since outdated by radar and suborbital satellites, but a cherished part of growing up on the north coast of England, Dolby’s Invisible Lighthouse tour is cutting-edge nostalgia. Ever the Renaissance man, Dolby shot the short film himself using remote control drones and high-tech spy cameras when the British government refused to give him permission to document these maritime relics; turning the film from a documentary into a clandestine adventure. “It’s a little bit tongue in cheek,” he explains. “It’s really an exploration of my childhood memories and how they adapted over time. The underlying theme of the film is an examination of our memories and how unreliable they are.”

Beyond his own memories, Dolby also sees his preservationist campaign as a cultural crusade. Citing a Doomsday list that details 46 American lighthouses threatened by erosion or lack of upkeep; Dolby felt obliged to carry his message to America. “Some of these marvelous lighthouses have stood watch over our coasts for centuries, through devastating hurricanes, epic sea battles, daring rescues and thwarted invasions,” Dolby explains. “The U.S. public has a perpetual love affair with the lighthouse, but is probably unaware that many are on the verge of being lost forever. It is so sad to see them crumble. America is still a young country and we should be doing all we can to preserve our historic landmarks for future generations to enjoy.”

Long an advocate of imaginative applications of technology, it should come as no surprise that the man who built a recording studio inside a 1930’s lifeboat that is powered entirely by renewable energy should employ advanced media tools to celebrate abandoned maritime icons. “I think as you get into middle age you tend to look back on your achievements and try and make sense out of all of them,” says Dolby, who at age 55 has achievements ranging from radio hits to videogame designs and Silicone Valley patents. A visionary whose insatiable curiosity creates alternative worlds, Thomas Dolby brings his transmedia event to Madison’s Majestic on November 6th and Milwaukee’s Shank Hall November 7th. For more information check out his website www.thomasdolby.com or find The Invisible Lighthouse Tour trailer on YouTube. Seeing is believing.


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Lost City Music Festival

Lost City Music Festival

Mine All Mine Record's Second Annual Festival of Regional Music
by John Noyd
July 2013

Returning for a second round highlighting the region’s incredible array of musical talent, the Lost City Music Festival presents twenty-eight acts over four days and three venues. Sponsored by Mine All Mine Records and hosted by Madison’s High Noon Saloon, Dragonfly Lounge and Bright Red Studios from August 8th to the 11th, the festival’s focus on the regional bands reaps an eclectic mix of musical styles. A bargain at $7 per show with an option of full-pass wristbands for only $12, LCMF sweetens the pot by donating a portion of the proceeds to the Madison Area Music Association, supporting MAMA’s commitment to local school music programs to insure there will be future generations of bands for years to come.


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