Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Homeland Security

Brightblack Morning Light Loves Life In The Slow Lane

Story by Chad Radford
Photos by Thomas Campbell

Easing down the road, passing through Jamestown, ND, birthplace of Wild West author Louis Lamour and watching herds of buffalo shrink in the rearview mirror; Brightblack Morning Light is well in its element. Of these fading American icons it’s the open road that best symbolizes the nomadic duo Nathan Shineywater (Naybob) and Rachael Hughes’ (Raybob) musical spirit. With fellow travelers in tow, Elias Reitz (percussion), Ben McConnell (drums) and Mariee Sioux (vocals), alongside Naybob (guitar, vocals) and Raybob (Rhodes), Brightblack is touring in support of its self-titled second full-length, and Matador Records debut. It’s a sprawling and slow motion mantra that’s as sparse and haunting as the Badlands from which the group has just emerged. Amidst this desolate landscape, heading east on I-94, Raybob’s cell phone is cutting out.

It’s apropos that a device of such modern convenience doesn’t jive with Brightblack’s wayfaring lifestyle, willfully disengaged from most creature comforts. Raybob and Naybob lived in tents in rural Northern California while putting together this latest recording, despite the prospects of real record label backing. “I don’t see myself ever getting much out of living in a city,” Raybob declares as her distant though undeniable Southern accent clips out before disappearing into the cell phone void. Minutes pass before she’s back on the line without missing a beat. “Security is a façade and we’re not doing this for security or for what would be considered success. I don’t think I’ve ever really known what that word means and I don’t really care to.”

It’s the group’s drop-out pace and ideological ways that propel Brightblack across the country, inviting anyone within earshot to join Raybob and Naybob in their own back-to-the-basics headspace.

The group’s website ( reveals even more of the hippie ethos by which the group lives. Icons of teepees and hawks in flight open up to reveal direct action sites for organizations such as “EarthFirst,” “Free Leonard Peltier” and the “Rainforest Action Network."

Although these politically and environmentally conscious leanings are never made apparent in Brightblack’s songs, they are indelible parts of the group’s personality. “You can talk with people and have these intense connections about what needs to happen in terms of the administration or the environment but it ends when the conversation ends,” she explains. “We’re in the van and going to play our music but we’re not into play protest songs or anything like that. The least I can do is talk about these kinds of things in interviews or post them on the website just to make people think.”

The growth that has occurred between Brightblack’s 2004 debut, Ala. Cali. Tucky (Galaxia) and the more recent self-titled release is tremendous. “It was a big step for us,” Raybob adds. “Everything was so new with Ala. Cali Tucky. It was our first try and we only had a certain amount of time and a certain amount of money. With this record we had more time and a little bit more money, and we learned a lot from the recording process. It’s all about knowing what you want.”

With the onset of “Everybody Daylight,” Brightblack Morning Lights' opening groove-laden number, it becomes apparent that these songs require much more than a casual listen. Brightblack’s songs reveal a scenic byway leading far away from the maddening crowd.

Songs like “Friend of Time” and “Fry Bread” quietly rumble with the natural tones emanating from the instruments at hand. Vast space separates each note so that every crackle of the needle on the record and every subtle nuance sprinkled into the songs shimmer with dreamlike majesty. “We Share Our Blanket with the Owl” congeals around a psychic hiss that’s embodied by a long, drawn-out snare clash that echoes into infinity.

With two drummers rattling on various percussive instruments, a strong sense of rhythm drives each song, but never overpowers the subtleties. These elements form a dark and ghostly drone that feels as though it were lifted from the pages of a William Faulkner novel, which makes a much more appropriate comparison. After all, Brightblack’s earliest musical pairings happened in rural Alabama, somewhere between Montgomery and Birmingham, where they first performed under the name Rainywood. “We’re definitely still part of the Southern bloodline, we just can’t live there right now,” Raybob laughs, citing a list of traumas, ranging from arguing with family members over politics to not being able to find organically grown foods in the South. “We don’t feel like we can really live anywhere. That’s why being on the road and touring is right for us right now; because that’s all we really want to be doing.” And so the open road beckons.

(Originally published by Flagpole Magazine, Athens, GA.)

Lou Barlow: Bringing It All Back Emoh

The unlikely reformation of the original line-up of Dinosaur Jr. for a U.S. tour brings Lou Barlow's career full-circle.
Sunday, April 17, 2005.
Originally published by Stop Smiling Magazine)

By Chad Radford

After being relieved of his duties as bassist for Dinosaur Jr. circa 1989, Lou Barlow led the way for a home recording revolution that changed the face of independent rock in the ‘90s. The infighting that led to his ousting from Dinosaur Jr. is the stuff of legends. Tensions between Barlow, vocalist/guitarist J. Mascis, and drummer Patrick “Murph” Murphy crystallized in a rift between Mascis and Barlow that resulted in Barlow’s departure. For a decade afterward his post-Dinosaur outfit Sebadoh became the poster child for indie rock’s homespun rattle. The frazzled tape loop and feedback experimentations that took root in such dividing Dinosaur songs as “Lose” and “Poledo” from You’re Living All Over Me, blossomed into a ramshackle DIY pop guiding light.

Inspiring a generation of shut-ins to spend their alone time hunched over 4-Track recorders, working out their social and sexual demons, Barlow’s influence continually stretched, changing shape as recording technology allowed. Taking Sebadoh from the bedroom to the studio carried the band through much less jagged terrain while other projects Sentridoh and the Folk Implosion polarized at opposite ends of his output. Sentridoh dwelled on the brash and laconic side, harnessing bits and pieces of home recordings while the Folk Implosion moved into the realms of increasingly polished production.

Over time internal strife and waning public interest suggested that Barlow’s bands had run their course. Now after relocating from his home in Massachusetts to Los Angeles Barlow has bounced back with Emoh (Merge), a solo acoustic debut that breaths new life into the indie rock luminary’s legacy.

Bound by folkish strumming and crooning, Emoh balances wistful and reflective sentiments that bring closure to various chapters of Barlow’s career while opening doors for entirely new ones. As he gets a foothold on his next step forward, the unlikely reformation of the original line-up of Dinosaur Jr. for a US tour brings his career full-circle. As the subtleties of settling into his new home explored throughout Emoh take shape, the title is bestowed with an entirely new significance as he looks backward to where it all started.

Stop Smiling: What prompted you to release a solo record?

Lou Barlow: The audience for my music has fractured because I haven't made it easy for them. There's no direct line between each project I've done. When I did the New Folk Implosion it was radically different from the original Folk Implosion. I was collaborating with new people and it wasn't my vision, it was something that came out of collaboration. Sebadoh, too. The records have a lot of different songwriters and they jump around a lot stylistically. Over the years it's fractured my audience and made me feel that people had lost faith in me, which was reflected in record sales. It was time for a new approach.

SS: Did you have an aversion to putting out a record under your name?

LB: Yes. A lot of people were telling me I should put my name on this record, but I didn't want to. I was holding out on these grounds of integrity or something totally ridiculous. I thought it was tacky. The real problem I had with it was that it seemed like an admissions of getting old. But now that I've done it I think it was a pretty good move. If I had done it under another name or made it a Folk Implosion record it probably would have been much more difficult to gain interest in the record and get people to listen to it.

SS: Why is that?

LB: With The Sebadoh and One part Lullaby, two records I was really proud of and thought were very strong, there was a lot of ambivalence amongst fans. They both got awful reviews and were unfavorably compared to each other and sold dramatically less than the records that came before them.

SS: How did you approach this record differently from any of your previous endeavors?

LB: I didn't pay anybody. The big difference between this and the last few records I've done is that there was no money involved. I just called people and said, “Hey, do you want to show up and do this?' It was a lot cooler that way. I did most of the record without having signed a deal for it. I funded it and began the process of putting it together on my own. It wasn't that I didn't have a label, but I didn't approach the people I had been working with before and say, “I'm making a record, give me money.” I wanted to really get everything totally underway and be almost finished before I started looking for handouts.

SS: How long did you work on it?

LB: “Caterpillar Girl” was recorded before I did the New Folk Implosion record, so since 2001. I didn't kick into the bulk of the record until the beginning of 2003. I did the Sebadoh “Turbo Acoustic” tour, which really inspired me, gave me money and a nice kick in the ass to do it.

SS: Do you think of Emoh as a concept album?

LB: I didn't while I was making it. After I was almost finished I listened to all of the songs together I realized they were all addressing events that have occurred since I moved to L.A., or the process of making my house here my home.

SS: How has living in L.A. affected your songwriting?

LB: It was catastrophic. When I first got here I was putting together two records in a year and everything just sort of fell apart. I found myself living here with no direction. I was trying to put together a new Folk Implosion record in the style of One-Part Lullaby - cut and paste samples and build the songs in the computer, which I thought worked out great. But when we started the project, my partner John Davis completely disappeared. I was left holding the bag. I was also still on Interscope, so there was money involved and I was going to meetings there and I just got a fucking face full of Hollywood record label stuff. There are thousands of bands here all trying to sell the same thing, and there's so much pressure to do it. There's not just a feeling of “Okay, we're all friends, let's get a practice space and do it.” People here are like, “There's a showcase coming up over here, and a residency over there!” And that's from the ground up: from indie bands to the big fucking dumb bands. As far as any change in my songwriting goes, to me it's all still the same. Coping with changes and loss in my life is what I've always written about.

SS: Now that the dust has settled from releasing Emoh, Dinosaur has coming knocking on your door for a reunion tour. When you parted ways with that group, did you ever think you'd go back?

LB: No! They kicked me out and I held a grudge against J. for years. It was horrible. I didn't even think I'd play on stage again after that. Fate had other plans for me.

SS: But over the years the two of you have been able to patch things up?

LB: I was the one who carried the grudge. J. at least made an effort. He came out to shows. One time, about five years ago. he came to a show and I just yelled at him, calling him a fucking dick, and he didn't do anything. A few years later I apologized for it and he just said, “It's okay.”

SS: It sounds like it was a very loud and traumatic experience for you.

LB: We were good, but our shows were way too loud. Jay didn't give a fuck about the audience. He wore ear protection all the time. We would be practicing and he would put earplugs in and the blast cups over the top of them - like a construction worker - and he would have both of his amps pointed directly at us. His whole thing was he wanted to feel the music. We were just so myopic, not able to see outside ourselves and our little gnarled energy.

SS: Will there be another Dinosaur Jr. record with J., Lou and Murph?

LB: I don't see how there could be. I don't think we could make anything as majestic as we did when we were in our early-20s.

SS: What's the best thing that could possibly come from this reunion?

LB: Enjoying playing the music and giving Dinosaur Jr. a sense of closure. Every group I've been in ever since, from Sebadoh to the Folk Implosion, and even with Emoh, it's all a celebration of the music, and we never had that with Dinosaur. It was such a tense and emotional time that we never got to enjoy the music.



John Kaada and Mike Patton’s Romances is a spooky and thrilling collaboration that possesses all the qualities of a deranged and fantastic foreign film. Patton, the former Faith No More vocalist and Ipecac label owner, is no stranger to film music. His 2001 offering with Fantômas The Director’s Cut, is a wicked romp through the soundtracks of some of the grizzliest horror films to grace the silver screen. When teamed up with Norwegian sound artiste Kaada, the two unleash a sonic panorama of a twinkling and surreal snow-dusted landscape.

“Invocation” jolts to life with a jarring jump cut, as the music tunes in to a program that’s already in progress.

There’s an ebb and flow to Romances that builds around variations of fugue-like rhythms and textures. Accordion drones, booming voices, washes of organs and looming, operatic crescendos plod along, punctuated by whispers and some legitimately heartrending crooning. “Pitie Pour Mes Larmes” and “Seule” illustrate that Patton does indeed know the rules before he breaks them. This juxtaposed with Kaada’s vivid and conceptual leanings produces an unsettling effect that doesn’t let up until the credits roll.

At the heart of it all, “Crépuscule,” takes shape as an undulating and machine-age masterpiece. A crystalline glaze glides over mechanical voodoo beats, painting a picture that’s not unlike viewing the cast of characters from A Nightmare Before Christmas trapped in the gears of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis without hope or desire for insurrection.

For those looking for a rock record, “The Real Thing” Romances is not. Nor does the music bear anything in common with any of those other other scary Mike Patton bands. Here, Patton sinks continually into his role as the working man’s avantgardian, and just as birds of a feather flock together, Kaada and Patton are complimentary characters in this eerie invisible soundtrack.

--Chad Radford

(Published by Creative Loafing 2/17/05.)