GBV Update & A Letter From Your Favorite Uncle

GBVRobert Pollard is keeping his word by only releasing one album this year with Guided By Voices‘exceptional Space Gun LP, but he never said he would stop writing and recording at his usual and uber prolific pace. Today has been a banner day for fans of Robert Pollard, GBV, and even Cash Rivers And The Sinners. First off we have been given a taste of the 2019’s Zeppelin Over China with the premiere of You Own The Night via the A.V. Club. In addition Pollard has also announced the reissue of his second solo album, Waved Out and plans to reissue both Kid Marine and his masterful collaboration with Doug Gillard in 2019. There will be also be 2 6-song EP’s next year, but instead of recapping lets have a look at a letter drafted by Bob himself which details a ton of new releases that will be spaced out over the next 2 years.
Lttr from Bob
Lest, we not forget last years reissue of Not In my Airforce which has just been restocked. We highly recommend heading over to Rockathon peruse the current Pollard offerings as they are as always, plentiful. He’s right we are “greedy little  bastards” when it comes to Pollard releases. Just imagine for a moment waiting 2-3 years between albums from your favorite artist? Well that bar set long ago that would never be the case and I’m thankful for each and every release he delivers.  Keep em’ coming!

Guided By Voices will pay a long awaited visit to our area this fall. Check the full list of upcoming Live dates below.

Guided By Voices Tour Dates:
8/8- Birmingham, AL – Saturn
8/9- Athens, GA – Athens Popfest – Georgia Theater
8/11- Jacksonville, FL – Intuition Ale Works
8/13- Richmond, VA – The Broadberry
8/14- Baltimore, MD – Ottobar
8/16- Brooklyn, NY – The Bell House Outpost at Industry City
8/17- Asbury Park, NJ – Asbury Lanes
8/25- Evanston, IL – Out of Space: Big Evanston Block Party *FREE*
8/26- Evanston, IL – SPACE *SOLD OUT*
9/14- Grand Rapids, MI – The Pyramid Scheme
9/15- Columbus, OH – Skully’s Music Diner
9/17- Detroit, MI – El Club
9/18- Pittsburgh, PA – Spirit
10/19-Washington, D.C. – Black Cat
10/22- Cambridge, MA – The Sinclair
10/23- Holyoke, MA – Gateway City Arts
10/25- Toronto, ON – Lee’s Palace
10/26- Buffalo, NY – Asbury Hall
11/9- Los Angeles, CA – The Teragram Ballroom
11/10- San Francisco, CA – Great American Music Hall
11/13- Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom
11/14- Seattle, WA – The Crocodile

A Conversation With Mike Kenlan of Small (23)

Small coffeeCertain recordings have the ability to stop you in your tracks and freeze time. For example I remember everything about the first time I heard Small 23‘s full length debut LP, True Zero Hook. I was sitting in the music office of my college radio station listening to that weeks new releases feeling a little underwhelmed with the task when the albums opening and title track came barreling out of the speakers. Hearing True Zero Hook was a genuine eureka moment and I was more than a little smitten. It was like I had been waiting for that moment, for that LP and for Small to arrive, but I just didn’t know it until it happened.  I managed to see the band Live in the summer of 1994 and that was all it took, I was sufficiently hooked, pun intended. After the show, along with my brother and some friends we ended up drinking cheap beer around a bonfire with the band. One of those carefree nights that could have only happened in your 20’s. Its a great memory with some lifelong friends and a band I’ve admired for 25 years now. I recently connected with former Small guitarist/singer, Mike Kenlan on social media and couldn’t resist the chance to discuss his former band, the Chapel Hill scene, and a memorable night playing rock songs in the dunes of the Cape.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: After 1995’s Silver Gleaming Death Machine, Small ceased to exist, so tell me what have you been up to musically for the past couple of decades?

Mike Kenlan: Small officially broke up in early 1996. Silver Gleaming Death Machine had come out in the fall of 95, and we had an amazing national tour with J Church, and Garden Variety, followed by a great European tour. We were really proud of that record, but it just seemed like a good place to stop. For the next couple of years, I played with a couple of other local bands, off and on, and played on the Ashley Stove record All Summer Long in 2001. I’ve been writing, on and off the whole time, but slow to actually get any of the material recorded. One of these days.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Pipe seemed to coexist with Small for a time. What do you attribute the bands longevity to?

Mike Kenlan: Small ran from 1991 until 1996. Pipe formed in the Summer of ‘91, and I played in both bands until 1993. Chuck Garrison, who plays in half a million bands, played with Small from 1992 to the end, and Pipe the whole time. Clif Mann took my place, and played with Pipe until 1997 or 1998, when I rejoined the band. Pipe broke up in 1999, and got back together in 2009, and we’ve been active ever since. We actually have a new record coming out, sometime later this year. As for longevity, I think it boils down to just having fun with it. We still draw good crowds, and they enjoy themselves, so why not keep doing it ? It really is a hell of a lot of fun to play this stuff, and I think the crowd picks up on that energy, and throws it back at us.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Can you tell me a little bit about the forthcoming Pipe release?

Mike Kenlan: The Pipe album, it’s called Ball Don’t Lie We just finished getting it mastered, and we’re still trying to figure out who’s putting it out. It’s been many years since we’ve released anything, and in that time, the music world changed. We started the recording process in early 2014 at our friend Alex Maiolo‘s Seriously Adequate Studio, in Carrboro, NC, and then added some tracks and mixed with Nick Petersen at Track and Field
, in Durham NC last year. We hope to have it out by the fall, but who knows. I suspect that we will do some limited touring to support the record. Probably some long weekend trips, up and down the east coast for starters.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: O.K. I’m chomping at the bit to really dig in to the history of Small 23. Can you provide a little insight of how the band came together, Eric Bachmann‘s early involvement, and your recollections of the bands early recording sessions?

Mike Kenlan: Small grew out of another band, called Cupcake U.K. that formed in 1990. We were essentially the same lineup as the early version of Small, but with a frontman/singer, Kelley Cox. Eric and I felt that the band, and the singer were headed in different musical directions, so we reformed as a four piece, with Matt Walter on bass, and Darren Hall on drums, joining Eric (Bachmann)and myself. Neither Eric or I had much singing experience, so we weren’t sure if it would fly. I think we recorded some fairly rough demos with Caleb Southern, before recording the first single at Duck Kee Studios in Raleigh in 1991. That first single was originally supposed to be Empty Room on one side, and a beautiful song of Eric’s called She. Both tracks were too long to fit on a 45, so we went with Nasty Little Chick, Makes Me High, and Somebody Owes Me Money instead. After the single, we changed drummers, and picked up Chuck, who was playing in Pipe.

Soon after that, Eric came in with a batch of great songs, and we went back to Duck Kee, and recorded the Cakes EP during the summer of 1992. What I remember most from that session, is that we recorded the music first, but neither Eric nor I had much down, as far as lyrics, so we took turns scribbling down words, while the other was doing vocal takes, and most are the lyrics are somewhat nonsensical.Eric left to concentrate on Archers Of Loaf, full time in November of 1992, and Dave Hollinghurst joined in January of 1993.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: How did the signing to Alias some about?

Mike Kenlan: Sometime in early 1993, they approached both us and the Archers. Neither band had much experience with the business side of things, and they seemed like nice folks, so we went for it. I remember talking to Eric about it, and we were pretty clueless, but it felt like if both bands signed, it would somehow be better than if just one of us did. It seems like, as soon as we signed, all of a sudden, all these other labels called us, and made us question our decision.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: To me all three full lengths have held up really well and I still find myself returning to those records frequently.Is there a release that stands above the others for you when look back or revisit those recordings?

Mike Kenlan: I’m my own worst critic, so when I hear that old stuff, I’m always thinking of things I should have done differently, or changed. Caleb Southern, who recorded us and the Archers, was always after me to clean up my guitar sound, and I wish I had listened to him. Every few years, I’ll pull out one of the old records and listen, just to see how it holds up to memory. Each of the records has high and low points for me, but I think True Zero Hook, and Silver Gleaming Death Machine are my favorites. I wish we would have gone in a different direction, production-wise on Chin Music, it sounds tinny and boxy to my ears. I have a soft spot for the Cakes EP too, especially Eric’s songs.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: What was the catalyst the led to the end of Small 23?

Mike Kenlan: The simple answer is burnout. We were three records into a five record contract with folks who were well intentioned, but not really the most savvy in terms of marketing. Our last couple of tours, we were playing to better and better crowds, and frustrated by the lack of support we were seeing. The musical landscape was changing too, as it does. When we started, there was a thriving indie scene, but by 1996 everything was getting more corporate, and the musical world was awash in Alanis Morrisette and The Spin Doctors, and we had no intentions of trying to sound like that, to woo those kind of fans. We had an offer to go out as an opening act for one of those hot, major label bands, which probably would have been a smart move, career-wise, but we didn’t do it, because it felt like selling out. I guess we showed them.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: In the summer of 1994 Small 23 played a day long show on Cape Cod with Blonde Redhead, The Dambuilders, Small Factory and many others. That remains one of my top Live music experiences to this day. What do you remember from that show?

Mike Kenlan: Yes, The Beachcomber in Wellfleet! I remember that show really well, we were really humbled to be included on such an incredible bill. The fans in MA were always so great to us, seemingly anywhere we went, but that was a really memorable night. The crowd was really intense, and all the bands I saw fed off of that energy. I seem to recall a late night bonfire on the beach, that turned into an all nighter, that forced us to cancel our drive home the next day, so we could take a recovery day.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: How much has the Chapel Hill scene changed since it was occupied by bands like Small, Polvo, and Archers? Is there anyone we should be checking out?

Mike Kenlan: I should probably point out that the Chapel Hill scene included a lot of bands from Durham, Raleigh, Greensboro, etc. and each town or city has its own vibe. We also have three major universities, each with really strong college radio stations, that help support the music scene immensely. The scene has definitely evolved and grown, and remains really strong. The Archers, Polvo, Superchunk, etc. all got national attention, but there were dozens more, lesser known bands that really made it a scene. Bicycle Face, Capsize 7, Zen Frisbee, and a bunch more, were equally loved by the locals. Southern Culture on the Skids, and LUD have been putting out great music, continuously since the early 90’s. There was a time where you could go out and hear really amazing local bands five or six nights a week. Since 1990 or so, there have been like two generations of young, up and coming musicians that kept the scene alive, and added their mark to it. Sorry About Dresden, Milemarker, and Jett Rink to name a few. Today, we have bands that are made of of kids of some of the older scene, as well as a bunch of us from back then, who are still making interesting music.Some of my current local faves are Spider Bags, No One Mind, Natural Causes, and Cosmic Punk. We’re really fortunate here, to have a culture which supports original music, and good number of venues for folks to play.

Public Policy – Human Resource [Review]

PublicLast month Providence Post-Punk concern, Public Policy played what was billed as both a party and funeral. The former to mark the release of their recent EP, Human Resource and the latter due to Drummer Dan Moriarty recently relocating to Washington D. C., the band will be inactive for the foreseeable future. Instead of lamenting their goodbye to Providence, I’ve chosen be thankful for their relative brief existence and the shows I got to see them play, not to mention their exceptional new EP.

Human Resource starts off with Trawlers, a frenetic and arresting track reminiscent of Jawbox at the most caustic with more immediate hooks and a commanding vocal performance from Dean Gardner. Throughout Human Resource, Public Policy carve out their own identity by distilling strong melodies beneath a cacophony of angular guitar lines, propulsive rhythms,and sharp witted lyricism. On Ice Age, the band delivers a raucous and pummeling anthem with nods to post-hardcore vets, Quicksand and Rodan on the albums most unsettling and infectious track. Human Resource spends a considerable time in my headphones these days and with each listen it seems reveal its allure and charms little by little which a neat trick and a testament to strength of the songs that occupy this EP.

Riffs & Friendship: An Interview With Greed Island

I first discovered New Hampshire’s Greed Island via a social media post from fellow Seacoast indie outfit, Rick Rude back in January. I immediately tracked down their then just released Nest Egg and proceeded to freak out over the bands marriage of Matador Records heyday guitar bands, pop hooks, and intelligent lyricism. That album has been in constant rotation since last winter and in my estimation one of the years finest. I recently caught up with Greed Island’s guitarist/vocalist, Trevor Butler to discuss the recording of his bands latest release and the burgeoning Seacoast scene. In addition we are thrilled to premiere the video for Tiny Homes that the band recently recorded with Ty Ueda for his Mount Misery Sessions. Thanks to Trevor for allocating the time to answere a few questions and of course the band for making the trek down from the New Hampshire for tonight’s show.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Let’s start at the beginning, when did you realize you wanted to start a band?

Trevor Butler: What kid doesn’t wanna be in a band? It’s rad, you get to play real loud and just get it all out there. Chris Kennedy and I had been playing music together for a while and started writing some stuff we liked so we started playing out. We just found a lot of happiness in being able to share our creative efforts with friends and all the other amazing people out there we get to play with.
The Ash Gray Proclamation: How did Greed Island come together?

Trevor Butler: Greed Island came together with a mindset of writing new music, a lot of which formed by listening to the bands coming out of the New England post punk boom.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Can you tell me a little bit about the creative process that led to recording of your latest Nest Egg?

Trevor Butler: Nest Egg is based a lot on our experiences at a house we lived in on Baker Street in Dover. That year we watched birds lay a nest on our porch and watched their birblets grow, I took in my cat Grandma who showed up on our porch one day, and just made a lot of memories there. Honestly, probably the best home we’ve ever had.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: How often does the band get together to write and record new material ?

Trevor Butler: Chris and I write the songs and a lot of times it happens in waves, we’re really busy so it just happens out of the blue. So far, it’s just been a yearly thing with recording, but we’re actually recording in early June to put out a split with our buds Idling.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: You are involved in the Dover scene as well as Sue’s Space in Rollinsford NH. What can you tell me about that space and your current role within that organization?

Trevor Butler: Sue’s and Wrong brain have given so much to the seacoast scene it’s honestly been amazing to be a part of it. Both organizations are at the heart of the true weirdo art collective and keep the area exciting. My focus at Sue’s has been a fundraiser coordinator. We are a member based art collective with a wonderful spot in the Rollinsford Mills with a stage, PA, lights, projector, and anything else you could ever need to have fun. My latest effort has been trying to raise money for bleachers. We’ve been throwing bigger events recently like the Rock Water Film Festival and Take Down wrestling and we want everyone to have a good view of the action.

The AGP: Which Seacoast bands should we be checking out ?

Trevor: Woah! So many. Pretty much all of them, but off the top of my head, Charles, Notches, Rick Rude, Idling, Heavy Pockets, Sunchoke, Gash, People Skills, and Peacham. Also, a couple of Manchester based bands, Baby Lawns and Bad Fellows.

: On Thursday you return to Rhode Island for a show at Machines With Magnets, what can the Greed Island uninitiated expect from your performance?

Trevor: Riffs and friendship.

Greed Island will perform at Machines With Magnets tonight along with The Chris Brokaw Rock Band, Gold Muse, and Lightsleeper. Event Info
MWM best

Photo credits: B/W band shot,courtesy of Robert Fitzsimmons
Flyer courtesy of Alex Keown

Darklands – Hate It Here [Review]

Hate It Here Providence, R.I. post-punk concern, Darklands first arrived on our radar in 2014 with their appearance on the And Flowers, And Bees Mix Tape issued by estimable Boston indie Disposable America. The band formed a year earlier sparked by a mutual affinity for hardcore and 90’s indie touchstones, Archers Of Loaf, Built To Spill, and Sonic Youth. Over the course of a few EP’s the trio of Sam Patrick (Guitar/Vocals), David Marcotte(Bass), and Jeff Novak (Drums)have pushed and refined their sound into something that feels familiar and yet completely unique. On their first full length LP, Hate It Here Darklands deliver a debut that deals with the grim reality of being alone and exorcising loss which gives the album considerable weight, at least to my ears.

Control kicks off the album with muffled guitar chords and Sam Patrick’s plaintive and sad as fuck lyrics “repeat your words alone all day, make me hate them more, …he’s in ground” before a sea of crackling distortion, drums and buoyant bass lines come crashing in. See You Soon is a charging anthem with gigantic hooks propelled by intricate rhythms and earnest vocals. On the albums centerpiece and arguably strongest track is The Hill I Choose To Die On, Patrick states his bad intentions, “I’m here for the wrong reasons” the song sways and teeters back and forth threatening to collapse while being held together by a thick coat of guitar fuzz, a beautifully ramshackle track. Northern Ignorance is pure cacophony which displays the bands punk leanings, for a blissful two and half minute post hardcore romp. The album comes to a close with the Like A House On Fire, a slow building track the begins with chiming guitar chords, reminiscent of Siamese Dream era Smashing Pumpkins, but moments later Darklands’ own sonic identity shines through as fuzz pedals are stomped upon and subtle pop hooks are tossed about for an exhilarating close.

Throughout, Hate It Here, Darklands offers up an accomplished and varied full length debut that not only addresses the grim circumstances of finding your way after loss, but it gives us eight reasons to keep going with equal parts guitar squall, infectious pop hooks, and punk catharsis.

Hate It Here is out now on Atomic Action Records

Premiere: Infinite Room – Serpent

InfiniteBack in September of 2016 we were bummed to have to say goodbye to one of Boston’s most enduring and consistently great acts, Guillermo Sexo. After an impressive 12 years and 6 LP’s of accomplished psych-garage pop, the band decided to call it a day. With chief songwriter and founding member, Reuben Bettsak relocating his family to Atlanta shortly after Guillermo Sexo’s final performance it was unclear when we would hear new material from Reuben. Save for few songs shared via his Soundcloud account and released under his solo project, Emerald Comets he’s been relatively quiet since moving south, until now. On May 11th Reuben will release his debut EP with his new project Infinite Room and today we are thrilled to premiere Serpent. The track displays a lot of what drew us Guillermo Sexo over a decade ago, angular guitar lines, exquisite melodies and hooks submerged in dense fuzz. Infinite Room’s debut track, finds Bettsak pushing his song craft and sonics into exciting new terrain. We recently caught up with Reuben to chat about his new recording vehicle, Infinite Room and the forthcoming debut EP.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Can you tell me how your new project, Infinite Room came about?

Reuben Bettsak: I met Tom Bruno (Drums) through a mutual friend and we started playing music together. He brought in Mike Walden, and we started working on song ideas. Tom was getting into recording, around that time, and was recording all of our song ideas. It was a good way for us to listen to what we were doing, and develop a sound we were happy with. It took months of messing around, but it finally came together. We have not operated like many bands where you write songs, and play shows before recording. We focused our energy on creating, and developing songs with the mission of recording an EP before playing shows.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: What was the recording process for these songs?

Reuben Bettsak: For the EP I wrote, and recorded vocals, and guitars for the songs and put them on a dropbox folder. Tom took those songs, added drums, bass, and keyboards, and then Mike tracked additional keyboard parts. Tom then mixed everything together, and really shaped the way things sound. There are so many layers, and it’s dense..but there is a method to the madness, and for me the songs sound refreshing, and unique. It’s definitely a headphones music experience. I have to give Tom a lot of credit for putting many many hours shaping everything together.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Will the band be touring in support of the new EP?

Reuben Bettsak: The last few months were focused on getting the EP written, and recorded.. We are finally figuring out how the hell we are going to play these songs live, and maybe adding another member to the band. Mike is playing bass for the live band, so we are looking for a keyboard player. I think we will be ready to play live in a couple of months, and will start playing shows around Atlanta. We will hopefully expand to shows in other states. I am playing these songs solo on May 12th at Kavarna in Decatur, GA.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: Can we expect more recordings or a full length in the future?

Reuben Bettsak: I’ve recorded a bunch of songs ideas, and Tom is already starting to go through them. We will likely release another EP this year, and work our way to doing a full length. I’m definitely excited about this band. I think the sound we are creating is really interesting, and I really like creating music with these guys.

Pine Away: Superdrag’s Headtrip In Every Key Turns 20

Superdrag Infrared On March 24th, 1998 Knoxville, TN’s power pop stalwarts, Superdrag released Head Trip In Every Key their 2nd and final album for Elektra Records. A stunning and captivating LP that sounds just as good today as it did the day it was released and my personal favorite in the Superdrag canon. The album is a logical next step from their debut, Regretfully Yours and finds the band pushing their sound to exciting new heights, producing an album overflowing with hooks and superb instrumentation. An album as good as Head Trip is should’ve have been met with wide open arms by the label, but shamefully that’s not what happened. We recently had the pleasure of speaking with former Superdrag chief songwriter and co-founder, John Davis to discuss the albums 20th anniversary. Over a couple of days of e-mails John shared a good deal about the writing and recording process the led to the release of Head Trip In Every Key, his recent recording project, The Lees of Memory and we even touched on his long term sobriety.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: March 24th marked 20 years since the release of Head Trip In Every Key, what are your initial thoughts on the albums platinum anniversary?

John Davis: Ah man, wow… my thoughts are all over the place. ha ha On a day to day basis, I don’t think about Superdrag all that much. As somebody who tries to stay in a constant state of creating, I find that too much of the nostalgia tends to muddy the waters a bit going forward. But I take a lot of pride in the work we did on that album. We definitely swung for the fences creatively. I immediately think of our producer, Jerry Finn. He died almost 10 years ago. He was taken way too soon. On that level, there’s a sadness surrounding Head Trip in my thoughts now. Jerry should’ve been a Jim Dickinson or a Jerry Wexler. he should’ve been one of those guys that makes records for 50 years that they write all the books about. He was that good. Of course, that album cycle sort of ended up being the beginning of the end of our tenure at Elektra Records, so inevitably I end up thinking about all the things they could’ve or should’ve done about it, which is completely pointless now. ha ha Still, if they hadn’t been so risk-averse in their choice of singles and if they hadn’t withdrawn our video budget for no good reason, who knows what might’ve happened? The Art Of Dying should’ve been the single. Something that emphasized what made the record unique & special. It definitely stood apart from the Commercial Alternative field of the day. Nobody else was cutting songs like that in 1997. I have to give a shout-out to our old friend Mr. Jim Cortez, the one person at the company that wholeheartedly believed in Head Trip In Every Key. He had 14 stations in his territory, and he got both the Head Trip singles added to 13 of them. We must’ve done something that really pissed off #14. His success proved that it wasn’t impossible. I mean, the perception is that the record came completely out of left field, but it wasn’t that weird. It was just different. That should’ve been celebrated rather than feared. Meanwhile, over at Warner Bros., they were manufacturing and distributing Zaireeka for The Flaming Lips, for God’s sake! But Pine Away was too adventurous to be a single. What people don’t realize is that so many of these decisions are driven by people’s ego games. If you think the artists have big egos, you should meet the A&R guys. They’re not even creating anything, but they’re the key players because they have the ears of the people who ultimately control your destiny, the ones that control the money. So in our case, because this guy once sat on a piano bench and meddled with one of our songs for 15 minutes, of course that had to be the obvious choice for the single! That’s how it works. They don’t tell you that. Well, Steve Albini tried to tell you, but nobody listened. One other thought on Head Trip though, right off the bat, is that I’m really glad somebody finally put it on vinyl, SideOneDummy Records did it up right. The entire project was conceived for vinyl from day one. I didn’t even own a CD player when we made that album! That’s the truth. It’s to Elektra’s shame that they couldn’t be bothered to put it on vinyl. Believe me, we tried hard to get it done. They flatly refused. So getting to see that happen definitely felt like a small victory and a wrong being reversed.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: What was the writing and recording process for the album?

John Davis: Well, it happened over time. I had several of the songs demo’d up in 4-Track form before our first album came out. I write a lot, always have. Annetichrist, Sold You An Alibi, I’m Expanding My Mind, I wrote all of those in ’95. Don Coffey Jr. used to keep a kit set up in our kitchen, we’d set the 4-Track on the stovetop and go to town. We’d get on a hot streak and record a song every day for a week or something. Those songs came from one of those hot streaks as I recall. The intro and verse riffs on The Art Of Dying came out of a period of intense personal discovery. ha ha with a few enhancements. Pine Away I wrote when I was about 17 years old. My Mamaw lived in the house with us, and she had a key to our church because she served down there a lot. It was about 50 yards from our back door. She let me in to record the drums on the first demo version of Pine Away. The piano I learned to play on (and still have and use in my home studio today) was hers, also. Thank you, Mamaw. We toured for about 11 months behind Regretfully Yours, we were completely mentally and physically zorched after that. So, we went home and took a month off, then we set up shop in Bearsville, NY for the entire month of February 1997 to finish writing the album. We rented out the Utopia Rehearsal facility owned by Bearsville Studios. At one point in time it was Todd Rundgren‘s practice space. Nick Raskulinecz flew in from L.A. with his 8-Track cassette recorder and the necessary outboard stuff and we spent a whole month writing and recording in there. That’s all we did, to be honest, there wasn’t much else to do! I think that was probably the point to get us isolated someplace where we could focus on nothing but new music. That month in Bearsville might be the most fun I ever had playing in the band, it was super-productive, too. We got to hang out with Sally Grossman while we were there, that was pretty cool. She’s the lady sitting in the chair on the cover of Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home! She also took me to see Big Pink. We also met Jerry for the first time while we were up there. It was a hell of a good time.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: How did Jerry Finn come to produce the album?

John Davis: Well, we had a couple of ideas for producers we wanted to talk to initially, most of those were vetoed. I wanted to talk to Don Fleming, that was vetoed. Jerry Harrison came to Knoxville to talk to us, but we really didn’t hit it off. He was a nice dude, and he’s obviously a legend and a Hall Of Famer and everything, but had some non-negotiables that didn’t jive with our ideas, namely recording to ProTools and tape at the same time. That was a line in the sand we were unwilling to budge on: no Pro Tools. We wanted to make a 100% analog recording. The one digital concession was manufacturing CDs. Jerry Finn was the only guy on the short list who was willing to come all the way up to Bearsville to talk to us. He already had some huge successes under his belt by that time, but I think he was drawn to the idea of making a completely different kind of record than the ones he was best known for. I’m pretty sure he had already listened to some of the demos beforehand. We just knew almost immediately that Jerry could help us realize what we wanted to do with the record. He was a beautiful guy man, always fun to be around. He had a wicked sense of humor and loved to laugh. He had a heavy reputation as being one of the best engineers and mixers in the world, even according to our know-nothing A&R. Homeboy was right about that much. We started out at Ardent Studios in Memphis, but after the first day of loading in and starting to build our world Jerry could see that the room just wasn’t big enough for his recording scheme, particularly in terms of mic’ing the room for drums. You’ve heard Head Trip, so you already know the benefits of his drum methods, especially in the room we ended up in at Sound City. You won’t see us in the movie, but we were definitely there! It doesn’t matter. We made our own fuckin’ movie at Sound City.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: I read once that you feel that Headtrip is the best sounding Superdrag LP, could you elaborate on that statement?

John Davis: I mentioned Sound City already, but there’s a list as long as your arm of classic recordings that were made there. The big room was just a magical space for sound. So, you put us in there, I guess I’m boasting but we definitely had our shit together by that point, we’re in there with Jerry, who’s a boss, Mike Fasano, the best drum tech in the business, Bobby Schneck, the best guitar tech in the business, Nick Raskulinecz assisting, who is the total “5th Beatle” with Superdrag and now has a resume of his own that shows how incredibly gifted he is, we’ve got 5 different drum kits that can be mixed and matched to cater specifically to each song, about 25 different guitars, each one being the best-case example of its make and model, a room full of vintage, Custom Shop & boutique tube amps, the capability of renting a Mellotron or a sitar or anything that came to mind, one of the world’s greatest Neve consoles, a closet full of Beatle mics and a 2″ tape machine. You really couldn’t invent a better scenario for recording music.

The Ash Gray Proclamation: How do you feel that album has stood up over the past two decades?

John Davis: I think it speaks for itself.

The Lees Of Mem
The Lees Of Memory

The AGP: How did the your new project The Lees of Memory come about?

John: It was really Brandon Fisher‘s fault, I blame him. ha ha Seriously, besides my wife I’d have to say that Brandon is my best friend in life. We’ve been friends since 1988. When I started playing music seriously, I wanted to play it with him. He quit Superdrag in ’99, he played on In The Valley Of Dying Stars, but he didn’t want to tour behind it. It was a major bummer at the time, but I understood why he had to do what he did. That’s the thing, it’s just a band or a record or an ego game for some, but when you’re in it it’s also real life and people want different things out of it at different times. Same with Tom Pappas, it was a bummer when he left, but I understood why and I respected the decision. We were struggling at that point to keep it going, and I always figured if he was gonna have to struggle he preferred to do it under his own banner. I get it. Fast-forward a few years and we ended up doing the Superdrag reunion tours, and eventually working on new music together, but I’ve always stayed in contact with Brandon. He’s a member of the family. What happened was, the Fishers came to visit us in Nashville for the weekend in August of 2012, and Brandon had a new song he wanted to record on 4-Track called Deliquesce so, we recorded it and we were super-stoked on the way it turned out. The recording is out there online, on the High Bias!!! A Cassette-Based OperationTM Bandcamp page. So I had been writing a bunch of stuff, semi-aimlessly, with no real concept for what I wanted to do with it, but Brandon’s song lit a fire under me and I kept writing more and so did he, sort of on parallel tracks for a while, but the 2 batches of material were very sympathetic to the point where we were like, “dude, let’s just work together on these.” Enter Nick Raskulinecz and Nick Slack, and that’s how Sisyphus Says happened. We had already been working with SideOneDummy on the Superdrag vinyl reissues, so I sent them the finished record on a whim just to see what they’d say about it. They hit me back the same day wanting to do something.

The AGP: Will you tour behind the latest LP, The Blinding White Of Nothing at All?

John: No, our lives are such now that any kind of an extended absence would kind of turn everything upside down. But, we do have some shows on the books. I can’t say more than that for the time being but shows are happening.

The AGP: What does the rest of 2018 have in-store for you and your latest songwriting vehicle?

John: I’m working on a full-length project with my friend Mike Armstrong we’re calling ourselves The Rectangle Shades. It’ll be 6 songs from him and 6 songs from me. If people follow the Lees on social media we’ll make it known when and where to get the record. A couple of the tracks are up on the High Bias!!! Bandcamp already. I’m really excited about everything we’ve got so far. Mike owns Lost And Found Records in Knoxville. I worked there from 1993 until Superdrag signed. Best job I ever had!

The AGP: You’ve been sober since the early aughts, would you mind sharing what brought you to the point where you decided to stop drinking?

John: It was what I recognized to be the Holy Spirit. People have different names for it. But, it was the light of truth shining into an impenetrable darkness. People have tried at times to convince me otherwise, like it was some inner strength or power I had within me. No, I had no power. I had my senses and emotions effectively turned off. It was the living God, who I didn’t even think I believed in at the time. It was the kind of experience that makes you believe. I was changed in an instant and I’ve not been the same since. It sounds crazy but I could keep a straight face and call it miraculous. It was a miracle. I’m almost 17 years in and I still get off on the clarity.

New Track: Connections – Isle Insane

connections-by-seth-moses-millerOn May 11th Columbus OH’s lo-fi power pop concern, Connections will return with their 4th LP, Foreign Affairs on Trouble In Mind Records. Which follows 2016 nearly flawless Midnight Run album. For those unfamiliar, Connections have been churning out high caliber and fuzz covered indie pop for the better part of the last six years and the brand new track Isle Insane is no exception. If anything the new track shows the Ohio quintet refining their sound with even bigger hooks and razor sharp melodies with former 84 Nash members Andy Hampel and Kevin Elliott leading the charge.

We recently spoke with Connections’ bassist, Phillip Kim to gain some insight into the bands creative process and their recent signing to Trouble in Mind Records.

“The creative process is pretty much the same as the other albums. Andy (Hampel) brought new songs to practice directly after we finished Midnight Run. For whatever reason, we labored over them much longer this time. We went back to the legendary Musicol recording studios with this one and worked with Keith Hanlon. Great place, great vibe, good time. We were lucky to have Sharon Udoh from Counterfeit Madison contribute some piano/organ, and it was an absolute thrill to have the great Marcy Mays of Scrawl sing on a couple of the songs.”

“We’re not even sure how the signing with Trouble In Mind happened, Kevin has been in correspondence with Trouble In Mind’s, Bill Roe for years. He always sends Kevin nice care packages of new releases. Somewhere along the way he realized Kevin was in Connections, or Kevin solicited the last album to Bill. Either/or, Bill and Lisa were excited to hear that we had another record on the way and offered to put it out.”
Philip Kim – Connections

Connections will be out on the road in support of Foreign Affairs which will include some dates with Kurt Vile and The Violators with a road trip worthy show at College Street Music Hall in New Haven, CT on June 15th.

Embrace the dual guitar jangle and literal hookfest of Isle Insane below.

Photo Credit: Seth Moses Miller

Guided By Voices – Space Gun [Review]

space gunHow does a writer stay objective when tackling the latest recording from an artist that he’s been passionately following for over 20 years? It’s arduous task no doubt, especially with the singular work ethic and output of Robert Pollard, but one I’ll happily embrace. Whether you are an obsessive that collects original pressings of Acid Ranch, Nightwalker, and Cash Rivers or merely a fan of the mid-90’s trifecta of Bee Thousand, Alien Lanes, and Under The Bushes, Under The Stars this latest collection requires your immediate and uninterrupted attention. The material found on Space Gun equates to one of Pollard’s best outings in recent memory and one that can sit proudly next to the band most revered recordings. A logical and exhilarating next step to last year’s How Do You Spell Heaven? and August By Cake.

With the news of Space Gun, also came the caveat that this would be the only Guided By Voices album released in 2018, a newsworthy event unto itself. Over past month or so, I have had the opportunity to really dig in to this LP and that decision seems warranted and necessary. It’s fair to assume that Bob has another album in the can but it’s telling that instead of rolling into his next side project or another GBV release he is exhibiting restraint to give the songs that occupy Space Gun their due. I recall reading that Matador had tried and failed to temper Bob’s release schedule during GBV’s 90’s stint with the label, I guess that goes to show us all, that only Bob can hold back the flood.

Normally on first exposure to a Pollard related release there are those tracks that jump out immediately and then there are the growers that slowly unveil themselves over repeated listening. With Space Gun nearly every song has immediate charms and considerable hooks. The album opens with the sound of an automatic hand towel dispenser before chiming guitars and strong rhythms take hold while Pollard delivers a commanding vocal on the title track and drives the four minute song headlong to a glorious conclusion with the refrain “ all day long…”. From there the album is off and running at a brisk pace before slowing slightly at the blissfully melodic and hook laden Ark Technician. The current lineup of Guided By Voices is a formidable one to say the least and they provide varied and charging instrumentation to accompany one of Pollard’s finest songs cycles. On Liar’s Box Pollard delivers in my estimation a standout on album full of standouts. A song that wouldn’t have seemed out of place on Universal Truths and Cycles or Earthquake Glue. The track begins with angular guitar lines, throbbing bass, and pounding drums before Pollard steals the show with a soaring chorus that proves to be the LP’s most euphoric moment, only to be heightened by a sensational closing guitar coda from Doug Gillard and Bobby Bare Jr. On Sport Component National GBV delivers a 3 part rock opera that distills Bob’s prog, psych and pop leanings beautifully into a 3 minute fist pumping anthem. Then comes That’s Good, a track that first came to light on GBV’s Suitcase 3 in its skeletal form, but on Space Gun the track is given the full band treatment complete with strings and the results are staggering. To my ears, the melancholy drenched track is a distant cousin to the GBV classic If We Wait with immaculate production, courtesy of Travis Harrison. Throughout this LP, Pollard leads this incarnation of GBV through a varied and exhilarating 15 songs in 39 minutes, but not a second is wasted. Space Gun is a herculean rock record that is equal parts power and beauty from the unparalleled creative force of Robert Pollard.

Order Space Gun from Rockathon