Black Helicopter

Today Boston’s post-punk titans, Black Helicopter return with a new limmited run latthe cut 7″ single, Seams Of Geldor b/w Dead Wrong (Bullet Lavolta Cover) on Chunklet Indistries. The single promptly sold-out, but you can still procure the tracks digitally. The release serves as a precursor to a full-length LP due next year and recorded by Elio Deluca at The Soul Shop in Medford. Seems Of Geldor, which we have the honor of sharing today employs the bands trademark brand of brash storytelling set to a hearty stew of layered guitar over rhythmic slabs. In other less joyous news the bands bassist Mike Davis has decided to end his tenure with the band, but will turn in one last performance tonight at O’Brien’s. I recently spoke to Black Helicopter as well as Mike himself to discuss the line up change and tonight’s bittersweet occasion.

Mike provided continuity of Black Helicopter’s soul when we needed it most. He helped us reinvigorate classic BH tunes and with Can Keskin, brought added excitement to creating new material. We are proud to have had him in the band and owe him a debt of gratitude.” – Black Helicopter

I’ve known Matt and Tim for roughly more than 30 years but never really played with them. I was always a big fan of Black Helicopter so when Zack left I jumped at the chance to play. I was excited to play the songs I loved as a fan like Army Pup Tent and Mousemeat but also to write new song with them. Tim is an amazing musician and can come to practice with a new song in the BH style every week. It’s impressive and intimidating. I’ve been doing this for most of my life now with Luca Brasi Blacktail and Windmills by the Ocean and just need a break. I can’t be the bass player BH needs so I’m happy to see they have not missed a step and have added Arnne Victorine to complete the trio. Lots of amazing stuff coming from BH and now I can go back to enjoying it as a fan. I just hope I get a discount on merch.” – Mike Davis

Tonight Black Helicopter celebrate their new 7″ release as part of The Ash Gray Proclamation Presented show at O’Briens along with The Astounds (featuring Dean Wells of Capstan Shafts),Greed Island, and Park Doing. Event Info

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Over the past few months I have had the pleasure of corresponding with Tobin Sprout. The musician, songwriter, illustrator, surrealist painter, and former Guided By Voices member was incredibly generous with his time and was willing to field my questions on his upcoming music and art projects. He shared some thoughts on the now 25 year old Bee Thousand, his former bands 1994 masterpiece and we even chatted a bit about his short lived but superb band, Eyesinweasel.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Last summer marked the 25th Anniversary of the release of Bee Thousand. How do you feel that the album stands up after all these years?

Tobin Sprout: I think it’s as strong as ever. B-1000 could come out today and sound just as relevant as it was in the 90’s. Time makes the masterpiece. I think a lot of the music today draws from this album.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: When is the last time you listened to it?

Tobin Sprout: It’s been awhile. I will have to sit down and listen to it.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: What was the one song on the album that you enjoyed playing Live the most?

Tobin Sprout: I think we played everything on the album at one time or another. Queen of Cans and Jars, love the riff. Tractor Rape Chain has that chord slide that’s hypnotizing. Smothered In Hugs just pounds power chords, its getting louder. I still play Awful Bliss into Mincer Ray in my sets, love playing those too. Mincer Ray I just play a D most of the time, the bass carries the rest. Echos Myron was always a great one to play live. On a lot of the album I used a guitar to play bass, and EQ the 4-track to give it more bottom. That’s how I recorded the end of Echos, it was easier to hit those notes on guitar than a bass. I think we just didn’t have a bass available at the time. I guess the one I liked playing most was I Am A Scientist, I think it was the hit and the one that really got the crowds up, loved the video too.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Over the last year I’ve seen that you’ve been recording new material. What can you tell me about those tracks and plans to release your next album?

Tobin Sprout: I have an EP and an album pretty much finished. Working on getting a label right now. The EP will come out first, it has a remixed version of Supersonic Chairman and 3 other songs. It’s more guitar driven than the LP. The LP will be called Empty Horses or The Return. Its very piano driven, and a bit darker than the EP. It was recorded mostly with my Band at Tommy Schichtel‘s Studio Goon Lagoon in Grand Rapid. Tommy on lead guitar, Gary Vermillion on Drums, and Steve Vermillion on bass. Also did some of the recording at my studio in Leland Mi. A song called Every Sweet Soul was recorded by Ferris Henning. Ferris also did a video for the song. Hope to get the EP out before the end of the year. The Album will come out next year. Then hope to tour it.
More to come!

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Can you tell me a little bit about your current art related projects and/or a follow up to your children books, Tinky Put His Little Moon To Bed and Elliott?

Tobin Sprout: My Wife Laura is also an artist, she does 2D and 3D mixed medium. Uses old magazines and found objects. She calls it Life In A Box. She just had her 4th show at the Old Art Building here in Leland. We also do collaborations, where she gives me a box and some found pieces and I Paint something on the box and give it back to her to add something. It’s interesting to see how the original Idea changes into something different.She also has written a follow up to Tinky that I am going to illustrate. Elliott is out of print, but I plan to re edit it and make it available on Kindle, along with another book I wrote before Elliott called April and Elliott. Still painting and might release a booklet with the EP of my paintings.

Tobin

The AGP: What was the creative process like behind the new releases?

Tobin: I worked with the band as much as possible. Mostly at Tommy’s studio in Grand Rapids. I would send demos to Gary and Steve so when we meet at Tommy’s they would have ideas and had worked out the structures. Tommy would be placing mics and running the tape machine so would add his parts later. It also gave him time to think about his guitar parts. Once we have the basic tracks, I would add vocals and overdubs. By the next session Tommy would have his parts recorded, so we would spend time adding whatever we felt was needed then mix. At one point we also brought in Drew Howard to play pedal Steel on Breaking Down and All In My Sleep.

The AGP: As you mentioned the album is more piano driven than the EP, so I’m wondering if you had a vision going into the studio and how does the recording match up with that?

Tobin: I don’t think I had a vision but the album just grew into two different albums. About two thirds of the album worked really well together which stayed on the final album. And the others were put on the EP. Not that one was better than the other. The album is more darker piano along with a few simple acoustic pieces. Where the EP is straight up two guitars, bass and drums.

The AGP: I was in attendance for The Cambridge, MA Eyesinwesel show that ended up being captured and released as Live In The Middle East on that tour and to me there was something very special about that line up that night performance. What comes to mind when you look back at that creative period, those two releases, and the subsequent tour?

Tobin: Gary and Steve (Vermillion) were in the band then, might have been the first tour with them. Don’t remember it being one of our better shows but it seems to be a favorite of a lot of people. It was recorded by the CBC from a mobile recording studio. It was recorded digitally to tape.

*Live Photo of Tobin Courtesy Of Mike White

Thanks again to Tobin for the time and for the follow up to our 2010 interview.

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Boston’s purveyors of intelligent fist pumping anthemic indie rock, Hallelujah The Hills are set to return sometime this fall with their 7th LP, I Am You. The band has yet to announce the specifics of their release plans, but I’ve been assured those details will be shared soon. In the meantime HTH has shared the forthcoming albums first single, Folk Music Is Insane on various streaming platforms. Founder and chief songwriter, Ryan H. Walsh has shared some thoughts and a little bit about the motivation
behind the bands ode to music genres.

Music genres can help you understand what you’re about to hear, but they also carry a lot of baggage with them. If I tell you I’m about to play you a country song, you might even start to guess at some of the lyrics (“lost my truck, lost my car, got fired” etc). I like when expectations are subverted, so I started thinking about true but unlikely statements to make about music genres. Best one I came up with was ‘Folk Music Is Insane.’ I truly believe that. And singing that phrase on top of a deep, distorted rock n roll riff? Well that’s just the kinda thing this band was born to do.” – RHW

The band has also deemed their new song t-shirt worthy and I tend to agree. You can obtain and support HTH as well their forthcoming release efforts by obtaining and sporting the Folk Music Is Insane T-Shirt around town.

FJRChicago’s slacker pop concern, FCKR JR. will issue their full length debut, I’m Sorry Mom and Dad on August 2nd. The quartet formed in 2017 and as last year came to a close they issued an impressive debut single Fog b/w Nine Inch Cakes. Helmed by Ben Grigg (Geronimo!, Future BiffWhelpwisher) FCKR JR. specialize in razor sharp melodies, substantial pop hooks, and liberal doses of guitar fuzz with intricate and engaging rhythms. Which are all on full display on I’m Sorry Mom and Dad’s opening track Frogs which we have the privileged of sharing today. In addition we recently caught up with Ben Grigg to discuss FCKR JR.’s forthcoming LP, his ongoing solo project, Whelpwisher and we even got him to share some of his favorite records of the year, so far.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: When writing how do you decide which songs will be released under the Whelpwisher moniker vs. FCKR JR.?

Ben Grigg: Well, I don’t really decide at that stage. I just like to write and record at home, those decisions don’t come into play until later. If a song turns out well and I’m feeling like doing a Whelpwisher release, then it’s a Whelpwisher song. However, I see anything Whelpwisher as fair game for FCKR JR. About half of FCKR JR’s songs started as something recorded under Whelpwisher. Since there really isn’t a live version of Whelpwisher, getting adopted by FCKR JR is the only way for a Whelpwisher song to be played Live.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Speaking of FCKR JR. can you tell me a little bit about the new album you’re planning on releasing next month? 

Ben Grigg: This FCKR JR record is our first formal release, besides a 2 song EP we recorded in my basement. The songs are really the bulk of what we’ve been playing live for the past year and a half. A lot of them are as old as the band, and we have them pretty polished at this point. Some of them are brand new though. It was exciting to see how the new tracks sounded, fully realized. The tape was recorded at a small studio in Chicago called Burn the Furniture. I’ve not always had great experiences in formal studio environments, but we had a wonderful time at Burn the Furniture. It was really an ideal experience. We’re also super stoked for the record to come out on Born Yesterday Records (Glued, Landowner)! They’re great people and we love the other bands affiliated with the label. 

The AGP: Can you tell me about the plans to support the new album on the road?

Ben: We’re planning a short tour to the East Coast in August. About half the band has never toured before, so it’ll be a fun experience for them. Tour dates should be announced shortly.

The AGP: Last week you released a new Whelpwisher EP, Good Fortune. What was the creative process behind those sessions ?

Ben: I’ve been lucky enough to live at a place with a basement for the past 4 years or so. I’ve set up sort of a makeshift studio down there and had lots of time to learn about recording. Whelpwisher basically started at the end of Geronimo! as a way for me to write and record music on my own. I’ve learned quite a bit in those years. However, I’m moving to a new place at the end of July. I’ll also have a basement space there, so nothing will really change. However, I felt like I needed to record a few more songs here (at Boozy Grin) before moving. Good Fortune is basically a goodbye to Boozy Grin. My process for Good Fortune was the same as my process for almost anything Whelpwisher. More or less, I come home from work, eat something, then go downstairs and don’t come back up until I have a complete song recorded. I start with drums. I’ll just hit record, and play drums until I have something worked out that I think I can write a song over, thinking about where verses, choruses, and bridges should go. Then, I’ll either do bass or guitar next. Very little is thought through beforehand, with the exception of the occasional riff. I might just have a vibe I want to convey, and that’s it. For me, if I have to take longer than an evening on a song, I find that it just doesn’t go together right and it’s best to move on. Either the bones of it are going to work, or they aren’t. Occasionally I find that vocal melodies or lyrics should be revised after some time to reflect, but generally everything else can be done all in a night. For Good Fortune, I followed this routine for a few nights in a row and bingo! Here’s an EP! The only track that was done earlier was Enough. I had recorded that back in March, but didn’t know what to do with it at the time, or whether I even liked it. 

The AGP: My introduction to your music was through the now defunct Geronimo! The band ended in 2015, but you’ve continued to work with your former band mates Kelly Johnson and Matt Schwerin on a few occasions. Do you expect to collaborate on future projects with them?

Ben: Yeah, I’ve certainly been lucky to be able to play music with both Kelly and Matt Schwerin. After Geronimo!, I think we all wanted to branch out and find different people to play with. It wasn’t out of any bad blood post-Geronimo, just out of curiosity I think. We’d been playing together for 8 years or so and maybe just forgot what it was like to play with other people. Kelly went off to start Milked with some friends of ours, and I tried to start up something that later became Future Biff. After a while though, I think we both realized that it was just much better to keep playing together. It was just more fun that way. Plus, we were so used to anticipating each other musically and knew how to work off each other. Everything was easier together. Milked ended up being the same lineup as Geronimo!, as did Future Biff, plus the addition of Ryan Wizniak(Meat Wave). Kelly even came to some FCKR JR practices early on, but his move to Eugene, Oregon was already looming, so he bowed out. I still play with Matt Schwerin in Deathsnack. I’d certainly love to play with Kelly again some day if geography allows, but for now, that’s not really a possibility.

The AGP: At the mid-year point it seems that everyone is sharing there favorite albums of 2019. Would you like to share some of your favorites of the year, so far ?

Ben: Yeah of course! I don’t digest music with the speed I’d like to, so I tend to listen to something over and over once I get it and not branch out too much. It makes it hard to really dive in to a lot or records, but these are the 2019 records I’ve been listening to so far (in no particular order):

Shady BugLemon Lime
GluedCool Evil
LomeldaM for Empathy
PileGreen and Gray

The AGP: Can you tell me a little bit about Frogs and the transformation it took from being a Whelpwisher to a full fledged FCKR JR. composition?
 
Ben: Frogs was a song I wrote in the fall of 2017. I just liked the simplicity of the chords and progression. It had a Dinosaur Jr./Ovlov vibe to it. The lyrics are about dealing with mental health issues. I don’t feel that I have been dealt a particularly bad hand in that regard, but I do get pretty down sometimes, to the point where I don’t want to feel better and begin to associate these feelings with “the real me”, which is of course total bullshit. I used frogs living inside my head as a way to separate these negative thoughts and depression from me, e.g. these thoughts aren’t me, it’s just those frogs again. 
 
Another fun story is that I had everything but the solo done on the Whelpwisher version and my friend Kelly Johnson (Geronimo!, Milked) came over. We were on our way to a party or a friends house or something and had about 15 minutes before we had to leave. I asked him, “hey, do you want to rip a guitar solo real quick?” He very kindly agreed and come down to the basement to record the solo on Frogs. It took all of 5 minutes, I really love how that turned out.
 
Frogs was the first song FCKR JR learned and started playing live. I think it was my favorite Whelpwisher song I had at the time, and seemed like an easy one to show everybody. It’s been fun seeing it evolve from my Whelpwisher demo to now. It’s picked up in tempo and Liz Bustamante is a far more creative and competent drummer than me. She’s added a lot of great details. Emily Wrong also added some really cool guitar dives throughout the song that I love, and Emily Bean rewrote the bass part. It’s sweet. I tried not to rip Kelly off too much in the solo, but I probably did, ha ha. I’m no Kelly Johnson. It’s also the first song we ever performed live. We played it at a kooky public access TV show, it was the first thing we ever did live as a band. We had to call ourselves “Effer Jr” for the show though, since it was on TV.
 
 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d8w8KufY3XA Linked: Fckr Jr.| Whelpwisher| Future Biff

First as founding member of slowcore legends Bedhead and then with The New Year, Bubba Kadane along with his brother Matt have been responsible for some of the finest glacially paced pop songs I’ve had the pleasure of digesting over the past 27 years. So, at this point I thought I knew what to expect from a solo endeavor from Bubba Kadane. Even with words like electronic and ambient being used to described the album, I wasn’t quite prepared for the hypnotic and arresting 40 minutes that occupy Injection. According to its creator the creative process behind the LP, dates back to 2015 when Kadane was creating guitar-based ambient instrumentals along with some purely electronic pieces, but found himself drawn to the flexibility of creating from a blank palette while working on a electronic composition. The obvious reference point would be Brian Eno‘s 1978 masterpiece, Music For Airports. Although the music Bubba Kadane creates under the Sigh Of Relief moniker mines similar terrain, he manages to create something exquisite and uniquely beautiful. He displays a gift for creating captivating soundscapes with a knack for conjuring up both darkness and light with sections of tension and release. The piece flows by at a pretty quick clip due to Kadane not lingering in one place for very long. In the past I’ve been guilty of playing ambient music over dinner of even during house chores, but this album captures my full attention and is meant to be heard in full. Injection is stunning piece of ambient bliss that begs repeating.

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A trying year politically delivered an incredibly strong year in music. With  excellent albums by some established favorites like Guided By Voices and Superchunk as well  formidable releases from rising acts such as Twin Foxes, Darklands, Ovlov, and Kal Marks we had plenty of sonic splendeur to keep us chugging along. In our first installment of 2018 in review we take time share some our favorites of the year. Most of these are available on Bandcamp, so if there something here that lands in your wheelhouse please consider supporting these artists in any way you can.

*Photo above taken at AS220 in Providence by Eleanor Dean

dougThere has been many pivotal moments in the life of Guided By Voices. The bands 1993 performance at CBGB’s during CMJ New Music Seminar as well as when Robert Pollard scrapped what is now referred to as the “classic line up” (the first time) in favor of fellow Ohioan’s Cobre Verde on Mag Earwig and more recently Doug Gillard’s return to the line-up in the summer of 2016. Since that point Bob and co. have been on tear releasing a string of exceptional LP’s with GBV as well as with ESP Ohio, a project that features Gillard as well as current bassist Mark Shue and GBV producer and audio engineer Travis Harrison. On Monday GBV will play a sold-out show at The Sinclair in Cambridge for what will be their first Boston area appearance in over two years, a momentous occasion indeed. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of talking with Doug Gillard about the recording process for the forthcoming double LP, Zepplin Over China, the bands current 2.5 hour Live set, and his continued solo and production projects. A huge thank you to Doug for taking the time and fielding our questions.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: What can you tell us about the next Guided By Voices LP, the 32 track Zeppelin Over China?

Doug Gillard: Its a double album (vinyl), and completely diverse. It ranges from heavy songs to songs with strings, to just one electric guitar with Bob singing. We are very proud of this album, and its not really like any Guided By Voices album released to date.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: With the band being spread out geographically, what was the recording process like this time around?

Doug Gillard: We recorded about a third of the album’s music together as a group to 2-inch tape, then others we individually played or sent in parts for at different times. When the music was completed, our producer/engineer Travis Harrison traveled to Dayton from NYC to capture Bob’s vocals for the album. I did some string, horn and piano arrangements for the album as well.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Is there track or perhaps tracks on the new album that stands out for you or one that you are eager to play Live?

Doug Gillard: We are already playing You Own The Night and Rally Boys live in our set, soon to put in My Future In Barcelona, which I think will be in by the time we hit Boston. I can’t wait to play Holy Rhythm live.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Before the release of the next GBV full length, there are plans to release two EP’s this November, Winecork Stonehenge and 100 Dougs. What was the creative process behind those EP’s?

Doug Gillard: There are 2 more EPs being released after those as well to complete the cycle, namely Umlaut Over The Ozone and 1901 Acid Rock. They all have songs hovering around 2 minutes or less, 6 songs per vinyl EP, and play at 33 rpm. Bob wrote the songs for each one fairly quickly, and we actually recorded a lot of the guitar/bass tracks while in the van on our tours. Travis is along with us, brings some gear, and we monitor through the rented van’s stereo speakers. Kevin did his drums at our friend Ray Ketchem‘s Magic Door studio in Montclair, NJ to kick it all off. Later next year after these vinyl EPs are released, all songs from the EPs will then appear collectively as an album imagined and re-sequenced by Bob entitled Warp And Woof.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: In terms of gear, your trusty black Les Paul has been your go to guitar for years. What is it about that guitar that keeps you reaching for it?

Doug Gillard: Its just dependable. Really durable (don’t jinx this, Doug), and the bridge pickup is a mid 70s DiMarzio Super 2 that just has a unique bite to it. Its a ’76 Custom I bought from someone in Akron when I was 19 and I keep it maintained a bit, but I don’t have to do much. Its heavy as shit, too, which I hate these days, but hey, you gotta sacrifice your sacroiliac for your life’s work every now & then.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: What is your current gear set up on this tour?

Doug Gillard: Currently its the Les Paul, a G&L Tele as backup, an old Mesa Dual Rectifier Solo head, Marshall 4×12 cabinet and a bunch of pedals. Pedalboard is ever-evolving. Not so much evolving, as that implies some kind of goal or an end, but it will always change as our set changes, and as I discover new pedals & sounds.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: How do you come to work with Eternal Summers over the years?

Doug Gillard: I met them when they opened for Nada Surf in 2012, and we exchanged music. They were gearing up to record a new LP, and asked if I would produce them. That became The Drop Beneath LP. They made 2 subsequent albums and keep getting better. Nicole Yun from Eternal Summers just completed a solo album and I play on a few of the songs. Its a really great record.

The AGP: What do you look for in a projects or bands you work with, weather producing or supplying instrumentation?

DG:I don’t know exactly. I have to like the songs and the vision or direction of the band. That’s a really subjective thing I know, so its just a vibe, generally.

The AGP: Since re-joining Guided By Voices in the summer of 2016 the pace of recording and Live performances has been unparalleled. Is that something you were prepared for going back in as full time member of GBV?

DG: I was to a degree! At that point, I think he felt rejuvenated a bit and started writing more frequently and knew that the band was now complete with no need to source outside people to do more experimental or prog colored side projects. Its all in-house.

The AGP: You recently played a set with Travis Harrison and Mark Shue in support of The Moles in New York City. Do you have any plans to record with that line-up or perhaps revisit ESP Ohio with Bob?

DG: I’m working on solo things, and have finished a couple here and there. I’d love to play more shows with Mark & Travis for sure. Bob hasn’t mentioned another ESP Ohio but we’re ready to do one if he calls one day and says he wrote that album. It was so much fun to do.

The AGP: Has your busy schedule afforded you the time to work on solo recordings for a future release?

DG: Yes, here and there. We have breaks, and when we’re not recording Guided By Voices records or overseeing a session for (Bob’s discovery) Cash Rivers & The Sinners (2 albums out now and available through Rockathon Records and Midheaven) there is some time to write and record.

The AGP: It’s been a little over two years since GBV played Boston, what can the sold-out crowd at the Sinclair expect from the bands anticipated return?

DG: We’ll be playing material from the upcoming 6-song EPs, at least 3 songs from Zeppelin Over China, several from Space Gun, and some ol’ fave chestnuts for a 2.5+ hour show. Wear your Depends™.

*Photo Credit: Ana Morales– Long Island City, Queens, NY