Recycled Rock N Roll

Recycled Rock N Roll

Monday, June 11, 2012

The User's Guide to Skinny Puppy, Part IV - Music

Many years ago I walked into an AT&T store to get my first cell phone. Finally, I was joining the 21st century. At the time I was wearing a black Skinny Puppy t-shirt with a white picture of the cover of the single for "Dig It." It's a Durer illustration of a ghost rising from the grave. Can't get more gothic than that.

An attractive woman was near the entrance when I walked in. She looked at me and said, "Nice shirt."

People who are really into the whole gothic thing always show it just a little, even in a professional environment. Sure, she had really black hair, and a black blouse, and the woman was a little on the pale side, but aside from her really dark violet fingernails there wasn't a band insignia or any sort of horror iconography to express it. I somehow still knew she was into the scene from the whole way she was dressed, though.

I thanked her and bought a cell phone from another person working there. As I was going through the process the woman in black walked by and said, "Don't charge him for the setup charge." That was good news, because it was $20 and I really didn't want to pay that much money.

I thanked her again and left, but the point of the story was listening to Skinny Puppy paid off, that day. Since I paid $12 for the t-shirt, I was basically paid $8 to advertise for the band instead of paying $12 for the honor and then another $20 for a cell phone years later.

When we last left off I was kind of making fun of the Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate album. No, the music on that particular LP does not sound anything like the The Beach Boys. I wasn't kidding when I talked about some music just being so totally strange that only very dedicated fans are into it...the mainstream is left behind.

There are songs on the album that do indeed rock. By rock, though, I don't mean screeching guitar solos, badass lyrics and bass lines humming above pounding, inspirational drum beats.What I do mean is that one of the tracks on the album, "First Aid," whomps and stomps with it's own particular physics, depriving you of the easy, enjoyable moments guitars and generic rock conventions can usually give you, but giving you so much more.

Instead, "First Aid" gives you roaring, apocalyptic vocals ("The evolution of...DECAY!") and powerful beats, so many blasts and distorted drum impacts, overlapping each other like a vast machine stomping across and industrial landscape, overwhelming and unstoppable.

The synth in that track is also a favorite of mine. There's so much going on with that song, with so many dark notes and warped chords, that I get something new out of listening to it every time, although I couldn't possibly tell you what the hell the song is about.

"Addiction" is similar to "First Aid." Blasts and bangs and electronic, distorted, warping tones spiking through scary lyrics. Well, that's the show you bought the tickets to see, right?

There's even some strange sound effects and samples going on, distorted, distant voices calling our with some sort of horrible dissonance underneath the beat, like ghosts screaming softly from hyperspace. It's a great song, though, because the beat has a somewhat rapid punch with enough swings and changes here and there to keep you listening.

In contrast, songs like "Shadow Cast" don't give you much to work with. Sure, there are a lot of juicy, bloody sound effects, courtesy of the film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, but this isn't a song that you could hum while you were painting a fence on a nice spring afternoon.

Then there are songs like "The Mourn." What the fuck is going on in this song? It sounds like the last transmission of the AI of a dying space station, plunging to it's doom on Pluto. No, wait, it's not a song. It's just a nightmarish series of sound effects.

"Anger" is another song that either scares you off or makes you hungry for more, depending on how much you love the 'Puppy. At first it sounds cool, that plinking, horrific beat accompanied by powerful, icy notes detonating across a somewhat progressive backbeat, but as the song goes on and on, you are denied the memorable lyrics, anthem chorus or serious development that other songs would give you. If you were expecting a guitar solo, "Anger" will also deny you. Sorry.

There's also a song called "Draining Faces" that is just straight up so much like something out of a horror flick that I never want to listen to it in a dark room alone at 3 a.m. I mean, fuck that. But what's compelling about that track is how it picks up and takes off, over and over again, like some grooving, terrifying biomechanical creation about halfway through, as if rewarding you for the courage of enduring the first half.

I like "Draining Faces" and I love everything else on this album, but I've learned to never try to win potential new 'Puppy converts over with Cleanse, Fold and Manipulate. It just doesn't happen unless the person had seriously whacked musical tastes to begin with, and if they did they probably already are into Skinny Puppy, anyhow.

Here's a song a lot of people will like, though.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Kate Miller-Heidke - Music

Kate Miller-Heidke toured the United States and Europe with Ben Folds between 2010 and 2011, revealing a talent that was born for the theater, trained for opera and capable of rocking the house from here to Australia, which solidified her position as a rising new indie pop artist gifted with an intuition for honest, emotional songs of love and loss punctuated by gorgeous piano playing and evocative guitar hooks.

Her latest LP, Nightflight, will be released in America on June 19th but has already hit Australia where it debuted at No. 2 on the ARIA Charts. Following a sold-out tour after a performance with the English National Opera in London, Kate Miller-Heidke is looking forward to her playing the US.

IE Weekly got a chance to catch up with the young artist despite an international schedule where power chords, emotional concertos and beautiful fiorituras are the norm.

How did your music career first begin? 

I studied opera at University in Brisbane, Australia. I was headed down that career path but I always loved writing music, playing guitar and piano. I began playing in bands while studying opera and eventually sent an EP to the National Broadcast Network in Australia. I still do both, so I guess I’m a bit of a musical schizophrenic but I’m finding my balance.

You performed with the English National Opera in London in “The Death of Klinghoffer.” Do you feel that you have a theatrical side and a musical side, or is it that when you are onstage there’s no difference?

Well, there is a difference in opera with inhabiting a character and being part of a cast. When I’m playing music I have to take everything on my own shoulders, but with opera there’s a thrill with being a cog in a machine. But my own music has been my main focus. It is lovely being onstage…it’s just like taking a holiday from being myself.

Your career is already quite successful, and you just got started. How does that feel?

When I was touring with Ben Folds I told him that I sometimes felt like a fraud, and he told me that the feeling never goes away, no matter how successful you are.

There’s an personal, intimate philosophy throughout Nightflight. It’s also hauntingly sad in a lot of places, but in a good way.

This record is much more honest. It’s more exposed. Being that honest wasn’t really a conscious choice, it just something that my collaborator and I were tapping into. We were living in his grandparent’s house. They had recently passed away so the house had been dormant for months.

I could see how the environment would make you feel introspective.

I wouldn’t describe making the album as being entirely fun. It was miserable, but the record is a lot richer for that.

Some of the best lines in your songs come across not as poetry, but as sentences taken from your personal diary. Does it scare you a little to have to expose that much of whom you are to the world when you are making music?

It’s funny, when you first write them it’s deeply personal. But after a dozen times you lose that connection and it’s not yours any more. It becomes no one’s and everyone’s at the same time. After a while you push the songs out into the open sea and if they float you feel lucky.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Paul Rodriguez - Comedy

Interviewing Paul Rodriguez was a big deal to me. I grew up watching a generation of comics that really influenced my writing, philosophy and style. Sam Kinison, Chris Rock, Richard Pryor, Paul Rodriguez, Mitch Hedberg, Eddie Murphy...growing up, these were my heroes, so to talk to one of them was a tremendous honor.

Of course, when I'm interviewing anyone I tend to keep it cool and not honey them up too much. I have to maintain a professional attitude and all that. That way, the person I'm talking to doesn't panic and think they are talking to a drooling fanboy.

Still, I told Rodriguez that D.C. Cab is one of my favorite films and I love his comedy. When he found out I did stand up, he invited me to perform in L.A. at one of the comedy clubs he owns. From a stand up perspective, that's one hell of a career move, so I'm grateful.

César Estrada Chávez was a Mexican-American civil rights activist and union organizer whose quiet integrity and selfless dedication to the American labor movement improved the lives of workers in California and across the country.

Every year on March 31, we celebrate César Chávez Day to honor a great leader who is still an inspiration and benefit not only to the people he fought for but to anyone who collects a paycheck in the United States of America.

As part of an event to raise funds to commemorate Chávez with a bronze statue in downtown Riverside, actor and comedian Paul Rodriguez (D.C. Cab, Born in East L.A., Tortilla Soup and Ali) will be performing live stand up comedy at the Fox Performing Arts Center on Saturday, Dec. 3. Rodriguez spoke with the IE Weekly about César Chávez, his latest comedy special “Just For the Record” and the importance of honoring a community leader who truly was a man of the people.

For the last four years Rodriguez has been working up in San Joaquin, where he’s the chairman for the California Latino Water Coalition. “I dedicated a lot of that time talking to politicians about a water bond to secure farmland for migrant workers,” he says.

He’s also getting back into comedy with a one hour special, “Just For the Record.” “I talk about how my family got here and my mom and dad,” says Rodriguez. “It’s heading for cable television, probably HBO.”

In addition to his community service, Rodriguez still works in the entertainment business. “I have some commercials going on right now and I own a piece of the Laugh Factory in Chicago, so that keeps me busy.” The comedian likes to work. “You gotta stay busy, or else you get old,” he adds.

He got involved in the charity to erect a statue of César Chávez in downtown Riverside in part because he had known the man since he was a child. “I knew him since I was 12 years old. He taught us how to protest, how to march. He was more than just a union organizer; he was a man who wasn’t trying to be a politician.”

The comedian is honored to promote such a worthy cause. “Chávez was more than just a union leader. He was an honest, humble man. He didn’t have a great fortune. He was a civil rights leader who stood up for people who are the least in our community,” Rodriguez says.

“A lot of those migrant farm workers had to hide and be quiet, like Anne Frank, but he spoke up for them and showed the entire Latino nation that they could change their lives with non-violent protests.”

In Just For the Record, Rodriguez covers a wide range of topics that will appeal to everyone although he doesn’t get too political. “There’s another part where I talk about relationships, and about being in the military.”

Rodriguez admits that for him, comedy is more than just entertaining an audience. “It’s very painful stuff. I more or less did the special because I’m too Latino to go get therapy.”