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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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Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts

An Interview with Parquet Courts Lead Singer Andrew Savage
by John Noyd
May 2013

Rising indie stars Parquet Courts combine scrawny garage-rock blues with tight-fisted riffs, savvy post-punk taffy and brawny honesty. In preparation for their highly-anticipated visit to Madison’s High Noon Saloon June 22nd, we cornered lead singer Andrew Savage for some background on the band.

Maximum Ink: Where does the name Parquet Courts come from?
Andrew Savage: Well, Parquet is a type of geometric arrangement of wood pieces; surely you’ve seen them on the basketball court at the Boston Gardens (home of the Boston Celtics). Sean is from Boston, so it’s kinda an homage to him, since everybody assumes he is from Texas, by association. 

MI: You’re a New York band, but have roots in Texas; what prompted the move to Brooklyn?
AS: Three of us are from Texas.  Max left Texas to go to college.  For Austin and I, it was just getting out of a college town (the town I was born in, I should mention).  Also, nothing wrong with college towns. 
 
MI: What sort of day jobs did the band have before they decided to make the band their full-time focus?
AS: Actually, we still have day jobs.  I work as a bike delivery boy, Max is a private tutor, and Sean is a freelance writer.


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Black Moth Super Rainbow

An Interview with BMSR mastermind Tom Fec
by John Noyd
April 2013

As enigmatic in email as on record, Tom Fec, who is better known as Tobacco, prefers to let his music do the talking, but what it says can be hard to interpret. His current incarnation, Black Moth Super Rainbow, confounds conventions reassembling rock, pop and dance elements into a cybernetic confection roasted over a sprawling cauldron of chain-sawed hydraulics, glistening gear-shifting petitions and barb-wired rainbows. Whether vocoder Overlords slinging Delta blues slide-guitar or disco sludge caked in apocalyptic electronics and groove-fueled subterfuge where ever Tobacco takes you, the journey there will surely astonish. In preparation for their May 12th visit to Madison’s Majestic Theater promoting last year’s mind-bending, “Cobra Juicy,” MAXIMUM INK tried to pry a few guiding principles from BMSR’s mysterious maestro.

Maximum Ink: Where do BMSR songs begin? A title, an idea, a riff, a synth setting? How do you know when it’s all done?
Tom Fec: Haha, you answered it for me - all of those things. I don’t have a set way of doing things, so something could come from any of that. Sometimes I finish the whole thing in one sitting, and sometimes I work on something on and off for years. For me, it’s finished when it’s too late to change anything (in manufacturing).

MI: From the band name to your song titles, the disparate juxtaposition of ideas implies a surrealistic attitude. Is there a BMSR manifesto outlining your outlook?
TF: I just do what I do and try not to make too much of it. I’m only trying to entertain myself most of the time.


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Altered Five

Altered Five

An Interview with Milwaukee's Altered Five
by John Noyd
November 2012

A staple of the Milwaukee blues scene, Altered Five arrived as a cover band, “bluesifying,” the Rolling Stones, Prince, Sting and the Pretenders. Drawing from an incredible stretch of influences ranging from Stax to Clapton, Motown, Deep Purple and Bootsy Collins, the band began concocting an intoxicating cocktail of original blues-rock fusions.. Currently touring Southern Wisconsin to promote their jaw-dropping sophomore effort, “Gotta Earn It,” they live by the words they play, earning it the hard way, on the road. Communicating through email, it soon became apparent this versatile band operated as a tight-knit unit, sharing the spotlight and dividing the credit for their gutsy soulful sound.

Maximum Ink: How did you come up with the band’s name?
Jeff S: We wanted something that signified our music is a team effort. JT is clearly our frontman, but our sound is a blend of all five of us. The “altered” part fit because we wanted to be different in some way—originality was and still is important. And, of course, the name is also a play on words with the musical term for altering the fifth of a chord. Early on, we arranged a lot of well-known songs in a bluesy style so I guess you could say the name worked as a double entendre.


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Harmonious Wail

An Interview with Harmonious Wail bandleader Sims Delaney-Potthoff
by John Noyd
July 2012

Ambassadors of gypsy jazz, purveyors of grooves and jive-inspired swing, Harmonious Wail celebrates an incredible twenty-five years as a group this July. Currently clocked in as a trio with a half dozen records, constant tours and several generations of fans, the string-driven vocal locomotive confounds exact description, leaping from jazzy flapper flamencos to smoldering Norah Jones blues, kicking singular licks, wicked struts and tender melancholy, wrenching tears from grievous dreams and laughter from hard-won luxuries.

In a small unit responsibility falls heavily on everyone’s shoulders; while mandolinist, ukulele-man and tenor guitarist Sims Delaney-Potthoff speaks for the band, Maggie Delaney-Potthoff carves its soul’s identity as lead vocalist and frequent percussionist. Welded together by bassist Jeff Weiss, the Wail is an elastic time capsule, filtering ideas from Django Reinhardt to Joni Mitchell, movin’ and groovin’ with body and soul. A packed anniversary month, the trio plays thirteen in-state shows in a month and half including the festival they spearheaded, the Midwest Gypsy Jazz Festival, held this year on July 14th in Fitchburg. Prepping for the marathon, Sims kindly answered a few questions about the band.

MAXIMUM INK: What would you consider to be the band’s significant events in the past 25 years?
SIMS DELANEY-POTTHOFF: Playing for Stephane Grappelli sure ranks right up there on top.  We were at The Zelt Music Festival in Frieburg Germany.  Getting to know and play with Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, touring in Taiwan, being able to travel to Europe and all over the US playing music for great music lovers.  One night in Taiwan after a gig a woman approached us, kept gently tapping her heart and saying, “I am so very, very…”  ‘nuff said.  I think the most significant is that we are able to continue to tour, record and perform for music lovers and Wail fans, really it almost brings us to tears, the support and love.  And then there is The Midwest Gypsy Swing Fest - bringing such incredible talent to the best music fans in the world - and it is still going on and on.

MI: How did the name Harmonious Wail originate?

SD-P: We had a note book with pages of ideas and suggestions.  We really liked the 30’s hep-jive jargon of guys like Lester Young and thought that Harmonious Wail was just vociferous enough and that the sentiment was right on target - it’s almost a mission statement.  Actually after all the back and forth’s Maggie just said, hey how about Harmonious Wail.

MI: How deep do the band’s Wisconsin roots go?

SD-P: cheese-deep—Maggie is a Heartford girl from the heart of the Kettle Morraine and I am a Racine guy - Jeffo is an original native Madisonian.  Mg and I lived in Boston (Berklee School of Music) and had planned on Copenhagen or Amsterdam or Nashville but after all was said and done it felt best to simply come home and we have never ever thought twice about it - we totally love Madison.
MI: Your eclectic sets span decades of music and beg the question what do you look for in a song?
SD-P: This is a toughie—it’s like asking why you love something - cuz I love it, that’s why.  Top of the list has to be either a groove or flow…  the chord progression needs to be cool and not forced or artificial - maybe natural is a good word here.  When the chords, groove and melody and lyrics all work together in a natural flowing way it feels like the music plays itself or better yet it feels like the music plays you.  That’s what we are seeking is to have the music move and play us
MI: Twenty-five years is several life-times for bands – what’s the secret to your longevity?
SD-P: We just had a band chat about that this morning—we have always felt that more than being musicians we are travel agents (Thanks Mickey Hart).  That our job is to move people and transport them to a better place thru the music.  In order for that to happen the music has to move and transport us and then we simply relay that to an audience.


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Brittany Shane

An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Brttany Shane
by John Noyd
June 2012

Eighteen year old Baraboo native Brittany Safranek moved to San Francisco with plans to stay a year before hitting L.A. She established herself as a folk-singer, recording three well-received CDs and rubbing elbows with celebrities from Peter Frampton to Chris Isaak, but ten years, a name change and a half a dozen day jobs later Brittany Shane decided to pull up stakes again and make Austin her new home. Part of her reason was how much it reminded her of Madison. Two years and already an established fixture with weekly gigs, Brittany revisits Wisconsin this July with a sparkling new CD, “Loud Nights on a Short String,” and many warm memories. 

“I miss so many things about Madison, “ Brittany recently wrote, “going to the Terrace and watching music by the lake during a warm summer night or grabbing a coffee at Michelangelo’s in the morning and walking down State Street.” “I’ve had the opportunity to travel around the U.S. four times on tour, and I’ve gotta say, Madison is still one of my favorite cities.”

When asked about her experiences forging a musical career and what she learned from integrating herself into three cities’ scenes Brittany confessed she has five big lessons she learned along the way

1. Never turn down an invitation. If someone invites you to a show or a party, go.. You never know who you might meet or what might happen from there. Things happen and start to move when you meet new people.
2.  Just ask, you never know, that person might just say…yes! I have been told many times that a producer or well-known guitar player might be too busy for me, but I went up and asked anyway. The majority of the time, they actually said yes or it led to a project later.
3. Its ok to put the guitar down. It’s very important to know when to take a break. The world won’t pass you up if stop playing because you are tired. Try another creative project for a bit, relax or better yet, go out and see some great live music. Be the audience for awhile and get inspired again. Then get back out there with the energy to put on a good show. 
4. Be nice, talk to everyone from the person doing your lights to the next band. The music world is actually quite small and you’ll probably bump into them again.
5. Don’t take things too seriously. Have fun, be yourself and most importantly, laugh!

Co-produced by Austin’s talented George Reiff (Court Yard Hounds) and Scrappy Jud Newcomb (Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan & The Bump Band), “Short String,” also enlists Dony Wynn (Robert Palmer) and Johnny Goudie (Skyrocket) to support Brittany’s rockin’ and boppin’ Southwestern alt-pop potions. Showcasing her batter-dipped ballads at Madison’s Frequency July 13th along with The Deadbeat Club, the prodigal daughter will surely shine. A candid sample of impromptu Brittany can be heard when she visits WORT’s, “In Her Infinite Variety,” noon, July 8th.


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Bela Fleck and the Flecktones on the cover of Feb 2012 Maximum Ink

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

An Interview with Banjo Banshee Bela Fleck
by John Noyd
February 2012

You have not heard the banjo until you’ve heard BELA FLECK play the banjo. Not just because of his jaw-dropping talent for lightning-fast runs and twisted knuckle-busting riffs but because he places the instrument in unusual settings and manages to make it sound perfectly natural. For decades, the FLECKTONES have found new ways to present musical conundrums that are easy to love. A Madison favorite, the band recently reunited their original line-up to produce last year’s awesome, “Rocket Science.” As the quartet prepares to swing by Madison’s Union Theater March 1st, MAXIMUM INK managed to snare Bela for some questions about the reunion, the new album and this year’s tour.

MAXIMUM INK: It’s great to hear the original line-up back together.  With everyone’s extremely busy schedule was it difficult for everyone to drop their other projects and concentrate on an album and tour?
BELA FLECK: There was a lot of enthusiasm for the idea of going back to the old sound. Victor, Future Man and I were ready to have a musical adventure again. When we contacted Howard Levy about filling the Jeff Coffin slot (which was Howard’s 17 years ago) he could see the potential for an interesting reunion as well. We decided on giving it a full year’s commitment, and doing new music together, and that combination of parameters gave it some heft. Having a planned ending has made every gig special.


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Sam Llanas

Sam Llanas

"An Interview with founding BoDean singer Sam Llanas"
by John Noyd
October 2011

Born in Waukesha WI fifty years ago, Sam Llanas spent nearly half his life as co-founder of the BoDeans, working with Grammy-winning producers, recording at world-class studios and skyrocketing to public awareness when the BoDean’s, “Closer to Free,” was picked as the theme for the television show, “Party of Five.” Sam’s first solo venture, under the band name Absinthe, came when the BoDeans took a brief hiatus in the late nineties. His second solo outing, “4 A.M.,” was released the end of last month, a few short months after he announced his departure from the BoDeans. A powerfully quiet affair marked by a low-key tenderness that highlights Sam’s emotion-laden voice, “4 A.M.,” beautifully captures the late night mood where love, truth, loneliness and sympathy walk hand in hand. Sam was kind enough to answer some questions via email and shed light on the process behind such a personal undertaking.

MAX: “4 a.m. here we are again,” a great line for a very nocturnal album and for your second solo outing. Were there any insights in your second time around?

SAM: The only thought I had in my head when I started this project was that I wanted it to be very different from both, “A Good Day to Die,” and any BoDeans record. The obvious thing was to make a record that was almost entirely based on acoustic instruments. 


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