Five Questions with … White Denim’s James Petralli

September 10th, 2014

House List favorites White Denim (above, performing “Pretty Green” on Late Show with David Letterman) are back in town this week for three shows at Music Hall of Williamsburg. Friday’s is already sold out, but tickets still remain to see the engaging Austin, Texas, four-piece tonight and tomorrow. And last week frontman James Petralli checked in from the road to answer Five Questions.

You guys have played New York City for several years now. Are there certain places you like to revisit when you return? And do you ever feel like you could live here?
There are so many great places in NYC, and we are always so busy when we come to work that I generally hit new places every time I visit. One place I always find myself, though, is La Esquina—great food there. I’ve never done any of the popular tourist destinations or visited any of the multitudes of museums and galleries either. It is kind of a shame really. I need a few days off there someday. I could live in NYC, but I couldn’t see myself settling there. I need to have fast access to the countryside. (Preferably the Texas countryside.)

And do you notice your music being received differently in New York City?
There are so many things to do in the city each night that we feel honored to have developed a loyal audience there. People are pretty similar everywhere you go, in a good way. Except for Lufkin, Texas—terrible, villainous folks in Lufkin. Kidding.

Do you have any crutches when writing a song—are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much?
I am not always great at writing bridges or getting past a first chorus. I always have to force myself to write a third part and sometimes it takes long enough to lose interest in the tune entirely. I have hard drives full of single verses and choruses. I’m also probably either too oblique or too bang on in my lyrical approach. Still looking for balance there.

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
No, but I do believe it helps. I think that actual experience can really help a performer connect with the material and thereby have a more significant impact on an audience. As far as writing goes, though, I think it behooves one to be as imaginative as possible. I’m told research and observation can be nearly as effective as actual experience.

It’s 4 a.m. and last call has come and gone. What’s your next move?
Bust out the flask and keep my eyes out for a cool place to barf. —R. Zizmor



Grow a Pair: Win Free Tickets to See Glass Animals on 7//7

July 1st, 2014


English four-piece Glass Animals recently released their acclaimed debut album, Zaba, and they’re crossing the pond to play The Bowery Ballroom next Monday. The show is already sold out but The House List is giving away two tickets. Want to go? Try to Grow a Pair. It’s easy. Just fill out the form below, making sure to include your full name, e-mail address, which show you’re trying to win tickets to (Glass Animals, 7/7) and a brief message explaining what you like so much about their new LP. Eddie Bruiser, who’s given it several listens, will notify the winner by next Monday. Good luck.

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(Glass Animals also play Music Hall of Williamsburg on 9/15.)


Five Questions with … Xenia Rubinos

February 21st, 2014

Brooklyn’s Xenia Rubinos is a talented singer-songwriter and keyboardist, and she teamed up with drummer Marco Buccelli on Magic Trix, (stream it below), which arrived last year to a fair amount of acclaim, charming even those noted grumps at Pitchfork: “She’s triumphed unambiguously: Magic Trix is a startling lightning bolt of a record.” The big-voiced Rubinos (above, doing “Hair Receding” for KEXP FM) is an energetic, engaging performer, and although she’s currently out on tour, Rubinos returns to New York City to play Mercury Lounge on 3/11. And she checked in from the road to answer Five Questions. (Rubinos also happens to do a pretty cool “Psycho Killers” cover.)

What music or song always makes you dance?
“Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by the Police.

You’ve been on the road since releasing Magic Trix. But do you ever work on new material onstage, or does the new stuff stay private until it’s more polished?
Every once in a while I take something out of the shop and put it onstage to see how it runs and let it stay that way for a while to give it some air. I do often take songs back into the shop (new and old) when they need work. They’re alive and need tune-ups and attention.

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
You are all things. It’s all in there all the time, so if you work toward it you can access what you need when you need it, but the control of all that is the hard part!

Living in Brooklyn, does playing Mercury Lounge have any special significance?
It feels good to go “into the city,” so to speak. Driving across the bridge and seeing Manhattan is never less breathtaking than the time before, and sometimes I remember what I used to see years ago when I was new to the city and felt like I wanted to eat the whole thing in one big bite—well, maybe I still do. Also always excited to be on a Bowery Presents show cause ya’ll have such funky taste!

As a touring musician, do you ever notice that your music is received differently on the road than it is at home?
For sure every place has its own energy and the people there have their -isms. New Yorkers can be generally quite hard to impress, and sometimes I really like that. —R. Zizmor


Five Questions with … Jonathan Wilson

February 11th, 2014

Jonathan Wilson is a talented guy. He’s done production work for musicians like Father John Misty, Dawes and Chris Robinson. Plus he’s put out his own excellent albums filled with a unique mix of folk, psychedelic rock and R&B, including last year’s Fanfare (stream it below). Wilson has also performed with big-time names like Robbie Robertson, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and Jackson Browne—while he and his band have won over audiences across the globe, touring on their own and alongside Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Jonathan Wilson (above, performing “Trials of Jonathan”) plays The Bowery Ballroom tomorrow night with Laraaji and Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday with the Blank Tapes. And ahead of those shows, he answered Five Questions for The House List.

Which New York City musician—past or present—would you most like to play with?
Laraaji, and on February 12th we will be doing just that. It’s a dream come true, as I listen to his music almost every day.

Where do you like to hang out in NYC? And do you ever feel like you could live here?
I always like the East Village and the Lower East Side. I like going up to midtown for the nostalgic experience of when I used to visit NYC as a kid. I’ll try to catch a jazz show when I’m there. It’s the last place on earth with any jazz scene. I’d like to live in NYC again some day, sure.

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
I’m not sure if a song is better if it really happened to the writer. Certain songs are. Like today in the world of rustic Americana banjo totin’, there seems to be a lot of hobo-centric songs about jumping trains to ol’ Virginny and the like. I doubt many young banjo frailers have ever done that, but they still can convince many a listener they have … or maybe it just inspires someone to dream or to ponder a yonder time. Nothing wrong with that. Music many times is fantastical and complete fiction, but everyone loves great fiction, right?

Behind Gentle Spirit, you played the early show at Mercury Lounge a couple of years ago. But following the release of Fanfare, this time you’re playing two shows in much bigger rooms. Is that just a local thing, or have you found you and your music are getting more recognition across the country?
Indeed, we are very excited to play these wonderful rooms. It is quite a jump since the last shows in NYC, but we have been touring pretty much nonstop since then, and the band has gained some great fans and support along the way. We are getting much more recognition across the globe, which is such an amazing feeling. The records are getting bigger, more complex, and the live show is as well. These are good times for us.

What goes into choosing a song to cover, like “Isn’t It a Pity,” “One More Cup of Coffee” or even “La Isla Bonita”? Does it have to do with liking those songs as a kid—or is it just about what moves you now?
In the case of “La Isla,” yes, there is certainly an affinity from childhood. Most of the others are just songs that have spoken to me, that I find a kinship with—songs I want to honor. Songs I want to bring back into someone’s day. —R. Zizmor



Five Questions with … Adrian Perry of Dead Boots

July 16th, 2013

Adrian Perry (vocals and bass), Tony Perry (guitar) and Ben Tileston (drums) formed TAB the Band seven years ago in Duxbury, Mass. Eventually, Lou Jannetty (rhythm guitar) joined them to round out their cool, classic-rock sound—which Rolling Stone labels “bluesy, sleazy, guitar raunch.” The quartet just released their fourth album, Verónica (stream it below), and along with it comes a name change: Dead Boots (above, their video for “Saturdays,” directed by comedian Dave Hill). Adrian checked in with The House List to answer Five Questions ahead of their show, alongside Midnight Spin, tomorrow night at Mercury Lounge. “It’s a great room and we always look forward to playing there.”

After several years as TAB the Band, you guys have changed your name to Dead Boots. What was the reasoning behind that? And has it been easy to get out the word to fans about the name change?
Our old name was based on the names of the three founding members, but ever since Lou started playing in the band we’d thought about making a switch. This new album is the first record where Lou was fully involved in the writing, recording and production, so we felt like this was the right time to make the change. It actually has been a lot easier than expected to get the word out about the change, mainly because we could keep our social media accounts and just change the name info (as opposed to starting new accounts and getting people to switch over).

You’ve just released your fourth LP, Verónica, your first in about three-and-a-half years. Does the band have a new sound to go with the new name?
The album is just the next step in the band’s evolution. The name change doesn’t signal any kind of radical departure. This new record is a bit more textured and mature, for lack of a better description. We have some more sonic experimentation and some different lyrical perspectives. But, ultimately, the band is keeping consistent with the basic idea we had from when we first started, which is to write good, simple rock songs.

And now that album is making its way out into the public, is there some sense of a relief that it’s finished and you can move on to the next thing? Or is there some sense of excitement that the songs are never really finished, and you get to flesh them out live onstage every night?
It’s a little of both. This record took a while. We had to deal with a lot to get it done and out, so there is some relief that it’s finally getting out there. We’ve been eager for people to hear these songs. And it does feel like now we can start to work on new material. That said, each night we go out and play the songs, there is a fresh energy since the songs take on different characteristics live.

Do you have any crutches when writing a song—are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much?
You call them crutches, I call them tools. It’s no use trying to reinvent the wheel every time. You try to build on what you did before to make it a little better. It’s a gradual process in terms of getting better as a writer, so I don’t think it’s bad to start in a familiar place to get the process going.

What’s the last band you paid to see live?
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the Beacon. It was awesome. It was mostly deep cuts and covers. The band had tons of energy. And they sound like one instrument up there. They’re legends for a reason. —R. Zizmor


Five Questions … with Har Mar Superstar

March 29th, 2013

More than a decade ago, Sean Tillmann decided to leave behind indie guitar rock for a more crowd-pleasing, sex-charged version of R&B. And performing, often shirtless, as the dynamic Har Mar Superstar, he found a newer, bigger audience. Since then, he’s moved from Minnesota to New York City and hit the road with bands like the Strokes, Father John Misty and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Har Mar Superstar (above, performing “EZ Pass”) has a new album, Bye Bye 17, out next month, and ahead of his show on Monday at The Bowery Ballroom with the Virgins, he exchanged e-mails with The House List while on a long drive through the Midwest where he revealed himself to be a fan of Deniece Williams“Let’s Hear It for the Boy” (“Footloose, bro”) and Philly rockers Free Energy, plus he answered Five Questions.

What’s the best part of playing New York City?
I love taking a taxi home from the show. It gives me whole new levels of partying possibilities. The show always benefits from that luxury.

Living in NYC, is there any special relevance to playing The Bowery Ballroom?
The Bowery Ballroom is one my favorite places to see shows. It’s a classic. It feels like homecoming playing there mid-tour. People are always impressed when you tell them you’re playing there.

Your fifth Har Mar album, Bye Bye 17, comes out next month. When you release new music is there some sense of relief that it’s done, or is it really just the beginning and you’re excited to play the new tunes live?
This is definitely just the beginning. I love playing live, and new songs make it so much more exciting. Bye Bye 17 is particularly exciting because the response has been huge and immediate. The songs make people pay attention.

After all these years on the road, what have you learned to make touring easier?
Touring with your friends makes everything easier. Stay at hotels with free breakfast.
Get stoned.

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
Love songs are best when they’re sad. Real-life experience helps you channel the emotions. Next time someone tears your heart out, write a love song. It feels good. —R. Zizmor


Five Questions with … Roger Miller of Mission of Burma

January 16th, 2013

All Boston’s Mission of Burma did in their original early-’80s incarnation was put out two albums, Signals, Calls, and Marches and the seminal Vs., and essentially give birth to the post-punk movement. The quartet—Roger Miller (vocals and guitar), Clint Conley (bass), Peter Prescott (drums) and Martin Swope (tape manipulations and sound engineer)— quickly became known for solid songwriting, a unique punk-tinged sound and extremely loud live shows. But after Miller developed tinnitus, Mission of Burma (above, playing “1, 2, 3, Party!!” for KEXP FM) broke up in 1983. However the band’s legacy carried on, influencing the likes of Fugazi, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and Pearl Jam (who even named their second LP Vs.). And that’s where this story would end, but, seemingly out of nowhere, Mission of Burma reunited in 2002—with Bob Weston replacing Swope—and went on to release four more critically acclaimed albums, including last year’s Unsound. Now they’re back in town to play The Bowery Ballroom on Friday, and last week Roger Miller answered Five Questions for The House List.

What’s the last band you paid to see live?
Do DJs count? DJ Jonathan Toubin was spinning amazing unknown soul and R&B in Boston for a dance-party vibe a few days ago. Went dancing there with my gal. As far as non-DJs, Boston’s Callithumpian Consort performing a John Cage piece (and pieces by some of his cohorts) just before New Year’s Eve.

Where do you like to hang out in NYC? And do you ever feel like you could live here?
I hang near the clubs (The Bowery Ballroom; Lincoln Center) I play, or else at friends’ places I stay, in Tribeca, the East Village and Williamsburg. When I first went to NYC with Burma in 1979, I thought I’d live there eventually. Gradually this wore off as I get to visit NYC all the time (mostly playing shows) and hence have no need for the intense compression of NYC life.

Do you have any crutches when writing a song—are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much?
I’ve been told I write about water too much, and that I use the word forget too often. I believe this critique is accurate. If I’m having no inspiration for lyrics, I go to my dream journal. While this is definitely a form of a crutch, it’s not negative in my opinion. It’s always surprising and refreshing.

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
All my songs are, to some degree, first person—even the ones that don’t make sense (or especially those).

After all these years on the road, what have you learned to make touring easier?
In the last five years I started using my laptop (with headphones) for composing scores, and the scoring program plays the scores (rather crassly) to the score I’m writing. This takes me away from my immediate environment, putting me in more of a “head” space than a “van” space. Books are good, too. —R. Zizmor


Five Questions with … Brian Cherchiglia of the Bottom Dollars

September 5th, 2012

(Photo: Ky DiGregorio)


With lush harmonies layered over a booming rhythm section, the Bottom Dollars play the kind of blues- and soul-infused rock that’s best experienced live. The Brooklyn five-piece’s second album, Good News, Everyone!, comes out on 9/18. (Listen to their new single, “Pieces” and its B-side, “Work,” below.) And in support of it, they’re getting ready to launch a cross-country tour, which kicks off on Saturday at Mercury Lounge with the Nuclears and the Naked Heroes. Ahead of the show, we caught up with Brian Cherchiglia (vocals, guitar), who answered Five Questions for The House List.

Which New York City musician—past or present—would you most like to play with?
Wow, that’s a pretty intense question. I’d love to collaborate with the guys from TV on the Radio, a cowrite with Tunde Adebimpe would be a dream come true. And then there’s the whole Bob Dylan thing. David Byrne, Method Man, Eugene Hütz … shit. I’m going Bob Dylan for the win with Tunde as a close second, so long as I can blaze with Method Man and Redman at some point in this fictional scenario.

When it comes to new songs, do you always work them out first in the studio? Or do they sometimes come together live onstage?
You know, we’ve been really fortunate to receive such great praise on our recordings but none of our songs are ever composed in a studio setting. They kind of teleport between my bedroom and our rehearsals. Normally, I’ll write these songs acoustically and just mess with them until I can present them to the band once they’ve evolved into more of a complete thought. That way, we can work on the arrangement as a group and let them take shape into something that’s more “big picture,” and that’s really where Evan [Berg, drums and vocals] shines as a composer. He’ll subconsciously understand where the song needs to go, and within one or two runs through it’s there.

And does new material ever continue to evolve when played live so that it becomes something different than the recorded version?
One of the best things about the Bottom Dollars is that we’re very much a “live band.” Each show is different. Set lists vary. The arrangements are fairly elastic and purposefully so, because when you’re performing, and a great transition or segue presents itself, it’s really important to capitalize on that and put yourself in that zone where it’s up to the collective rather than the individual. Improvisation is really important to accentuate a particular performance of a song (if the arrangement calls for it), and guitar solos are fucking badass. Plain and simple.

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
Wow. Every songwriter is different, so I can really only speak for myself here, but yes and no. I think it’s more important to be cognitive and pay attention to what’s actually happening around you (and to you), absorb what’s truly going down and then remember it in a way that makes you comfortable. I think it’s really important to just let yourself be happy, let yourself be sad and know what that’s actually like so when you write about it, it isn’t too abstract that someone can’t connect to it.

Does Good News, Everyone! differ from your previous work in tone or content? Or is it just a natural progression from one album to the next?
It’s definitely louder than The Halcyon Days, and I feel like it might be a bit riskier. It’s definitely a bigger sound, because now we have Shappy [Dan Shapiro, lead guitar] and Chris [Urriola, bass] to round out the sound. It’s definitely more intelligent, the production is cooler. So I’d say it’s definitely a natural progression. We’re growing, and Good News, Everyone! definitely shows that. —R. Zizmor


Five Questions with … Devon Church of Exitmusic

June 27th, 2012

Aleksa Palladino and Devon Church originally met as teens on a train making its way across Church’s native Canada. They stayed in touch through mail until he later moved to New York City and in with Palladino (whom you may recognize as Angela Darmody on Boardwalk Empire). The couple began making dreamy, ethereal music together under the name Exitmusic, relocated to L.A., got married, moved back to NYC and recently released their band’s debut LP, Passage, which was recorded in their home studio. They each play several instruments and produce and arrange the songs together. And prior to Exitmusic (above, doing “The Sea” for KEXP FM) playing Mercury Lounge tomorrow night, Church e-mailed The House List to answer Five Questions.

What music or song always makes you dance?
No song has such terrible power over me.

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
As someone who is depressed a good amount of the time, I wouldn’t really know, since chances are I’m going to feel shitty at some point during a song’s composition. I don’t really think you have to be sad to write a sad song (we don’t write love songs as such), but there must be some kind of well of sadness and experience that you draw from, because otherwise, why bother? A song is best when it’s not too premeditated—there is nothing wrong with some careful planning—but it should arise authentically and be composed with a kind of reverence for the things that are most important in the artist’s life. Like money, for example. Or getting Pitchfork to think you’re cool. (That’s what this is all about right?)

Now that you’ve released Passage, is there a sense of relief and you just want to play that music live? Or have these songs been living with you so long that you’re ready to move on to new material and record again?
A bit of both. It is nice to see the songs live a life outside of our little apartment studio and attain much greater dimensions and higher volumes. But we are always ready to write new songs—the creative process is still more exciting to us than performing—but not by much anymore. We’ve started enjoying playing and touring (as opposed to being anxious weirdos all day before a show), and sometimes when the right elements are present, it can be a totally sublime experience.

How has playing live with other musicians fleshed out the music from your album?
We tried playing as a duo, to a drum/synth track, but it didn’t work for us. We have a lot more going on in our songs than, say, Beach House (but even they play with other musicians now), and it works a lot better to have the visual and sonic accompaniment of other musicians. It becomes a lot more propulsive and dynamic, and the responsibilities are shared with more people, so we can focus on performing rather than worry about a laptop crashing or getting off time with a backing track.

Marriage can be tough on its own and so can working intimately with someone, so how do you so successfully manage both?
Therapy helps. —R. Zizmor


Five Questions with … John C. Stubblefield of Lucero

April 19th, 2012

Lucero has been mining the considerable musical territory between country and punk for 14 years. And after releasing the stellar Women & Work last month, they’re back out on the road, doing what they do best: playing raucous live shows and leaving it all onstage every night. The band (above, doing “Like Lightning” at Brooklyn Bowl) plays Webster Hall tomorrow night with the similarly high-energy J. Roddy Walston and the Business. And from the bus on the way to Northampton, Mass., bassist and band founder John C. Stubblefield rang up The House List to answer Five Questions.

Even with a deep catalog of studio albums, Lucero’s long been known for live shows. Is there something to that?
Absolutely. You’re right there in everyone’s face and everyone in the crowd is as important as everyone onstage. When you’re recording you kind of consider the audience. But it makes the moment much more transcendent when everyone in the room is on the same wavelength. We don’t make set lists. And we definitely feed off the crowd. We actually listen to the crowd. They might shout out something we haven’t played in three years. And it’s like, “All right, let’s give it a try.”

Have you found yourself drawn to any new bands, either through touring or just hearing their music?
J. Roddy Walston and the Business for sure. William Elliott Whitmore. A great band that we played with from Alabama, Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires. When they were in the midst of recording, Lee sent me some tracks and I gave him some feedback.

Where do you like to hang out in New York City? And do you ever feel like you could live here?
It’s a place I like to visit. Lucero’s been a band for 14 years and I’ve been on the road for 18. But it definitely is a place I’d have to take in smaller doses.

Do you have any crutches when writing a song—are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much?
It’s pretty different every time, especially with this new record. It was a collaborative effort. On each song we used different styles. We didn’t get bogged down at all. And each song holds its own.

At your after-party and there’s an endless jukebox, and The House List gives you a buck. Which three songs are you playing?
Firehose, “Brave Captain.” ZZ Top, “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers.” And R.L. Burnside, “Shake ’Em On Down.” —R. Zizmor


Five Questions with … Chuck Ragan

March 29th, 2012

When Gainesville, Fla., punk band Hot Water Music broke up amicably in 2006, singer-songwriter-guitarist Chuck Ragan (above, playing “Nothing Left to Prove” for Cardinal Sessions) chose a different musical path, launching a solo career as a folk musician. Eventually he decided to put together the Revival Tour, which grouped together like-minded musicians traveling the country (and Europe) making and playing music together as they go. “The lineup constantly changes,” said the affable, talented Ragan over the phone from his house in California. “It always stays fresh. It always stays unpredictable and exciting. The energy and the camaraderie is the most special element of the tour.” And in advance of two Revival Tour 2012 shows tomorrow at The Bowery Ballroom (the early show is sold out, but tickets remain for the late one), Chuck Ragan rang up The House List to answer Five Questions.

Which New York City musician—past or present—would you most like to play with?
Jenny Owen Youngs. I really admire her way of playing music. And I admire her songwriting and her ethics and how she treats her fans and tourmates. Just all around. I think she’s absolutely fantastic. She just put out an incredible record called An Unwavering Band of Light.

Where do you like to hang out in NYC? And do you ever feel like you could live here?
For years I really thought, “No way.” I grew up in the South, in a not-so-congested area. But back about a decade ago, I moved from Micanopy, Florida, which was a population of 320 people. At the time, Gainesville was too big for me. And that was like a couple hundred thousand people. But I moved to Los Angeles from Micanopy and fell in love with a California girl and moved out here. It blew my mind. And at the time L.A. was my least-favorite city in the world. It was, like, the last place I ever wanted to be. After moving there, my wife—my girlfriend at the time—was like, “There are some cool little niches and corners and little spots around here you need to see.” And she showed me a side of a big city that I never ever knew it could have. I feel like I really grew, as a person, in a lot of ways, because it really changed my mind about my own way of thinking. But it’s all in your perspective. There are good people everywhere and good energy everywhere. So, now, I think, “Yeah, I probably could.” I don’t know how long….

Do you have any crutches when writing a song—are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much?
That’s often a thought I have in mind, whether I’m repeating myself a lot. I write a lot. And a lot of the times I’ll write about whatever’s moving me at that moment. In doing so, I write very plainly, matter-of-factly. And I’ve often wondered if I constantly repeat myself. And I’m sure I do. For me writing’s always been more of a therapy than anything else. I do enjoy storytelling. And I enjoy writing about different things I’ve seen or done, but there’s always been this underlying theme with all of my music. It’s normally just looking at the bright side, or overcoming obstacles. And that just ties in with the fact that, a long time ago, I learned to use music more as a tool to overcome obstacles and face whatever we’re battling at the moment, and use that to move forward. But sometimes, for me, it could easily be the same solution to a different problem. [Laughs]

You mentioned obstacles. So I’m wondering then, do you feel like you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better if it’s actually happened to you or could it just be straight-up fiction?
I think it could totally be fiction because I do my best to learn from other people’s mistakes. But it seems like for the most part I’m trying to learn from my own mistakes. Lord knows I make plenty of ’em. I definitely believe in tapping the moment in the sense of what you’re talking about. If you’re writing a love song, writing when you’re just completely enthralled and overwhelmed with that love or that passion for someone. And at the same time, if you’re writing something dark, just getting to it when you’re really down in that place. And I’ve done both for years. I’ve written in a lot of different capacities when different subjects like that have affected me, and it’s come out immediately. And then other times I’ve suppressed ’em, avoided feeling that pain or hurt or resentment, and just kind of pushed it aside until one day you just look back on it. Like situations that I was in—or barely got out of. But at the same time, I love writing music to other people’s stories.

It’s 4 a.m. and last call has come and gone. What’s your next move?
Sounds like pizza time to me. —R. Zizmor


Five Questions with … Lee Fields

March 16th, 2012

Lee Fields has been making music for quite some time. His first album came out in 1969. So it’s safe to say he’s been around. He started out in the funk business, earning favorable comparisons to James Brown throughout the ’70s. And while the ’80s were somewhat quiet for him, he returned strong in the ’90s, making bluesy soul music. But since teaming up with local label Truth & Soul and its house band, the Expressions, his music has been reinvigorated. To witness: the excellent, just released Faithful Man, which marries old-school R&B and soul with modern touches. Tomorrow, Lee Fields and the Expressions (above, doing “Love Comes and Goes”) play Music Hall of Williamsburg, and in advance of the show, he e-mailed The House List to answer Five Questions.

Over the course of your decades in the music business, what are some of the best changes in the industry?
The creation of e-mail, MP3, YouTube, Facebook and all other social media tools that allow artists to be seen and heard throughout the world at the same time.

Who are your inspirations outside of the music world?
My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Beatrice, who instructed me to learned this poem, and to this day I have never forgotten the words, and these words became my motto of life: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. ’Tis the lesson you should heed, try, try again. For then your courage should appear, for you will conquer, never fear. Always keep this rule in view try, try again.”

Do you have any crutches when writing a song—are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much?
No, I try to be open-minded and as vigilant as possible regarding public trends, news and whatever affects people’s mindset, because songs are a reflection of the latter.

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
I don’t think a person has to be depressed to write a sad song, but I think a person has to know how it feels to be sad in order to write one. I think in some cases, songs are better when writing about real-life experiences. It mainly depends on one’s ability to write from emotions as distinguished from reason. But in both cases one needs a special talent or skill to chose compassionate words that others may find descriptive of their situations.

At your after-party and there’s an endless jukebox, and The House List gives you a buck. Which three songs are you playing?
Otis Redding, “Security,” Smokey Robinson, “You Really Got a Hold on Me” and James Brown, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” —R. Zizmor


Five Questions … with Joshua Epstein of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

September 22nd, 2011

Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott were each playing in different Detroit bands when they met. Soon after, they began recording together in Zott’s suburban basement. It’s a Corporate World, their first LP, which deftly combines harmonies and electronics, came out this past spring, but even prior to that the duo, performing as Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., became known for their high-octane performances. And on the heels of playing Austin City Limits last weekend, the band (above, doing “Vocal Chords” live in studio for KEXP FM) comes to The Bowery Ballroom on Saturday. But before that, Epstein exchanged e-mails with The House List in order to answer Five Questions.

You do a killer cover of “God Only Knows.” Are there any other classic-rock covers in your arsenal? And if not yet, do you have anything in mind for the future?
We do an incredible version of “It Wasn’t Me” by Shaggy at Karaoke. Does that count? We may have some surprises in store for the Bowery show.

What’s the last band you paid to see live?
I paid to see Dr. John last year in Detroit. Damn was it ever worth it. And I paid to see Leonard Cohen at the Beacon Theatre in NYC. Also worth it.

Where do you like to hang out in New York City? And do you ever feel like you could live here?
A few of my friends tend bar there, so usually I’ll go wherever they are working. I have lived in New York for brief spurts and loved it. If the rent were at all comparable with Detroit I’d be there now.

What’s the best part—or what excites you the most—about playing NYC?
It’s the most incredible city in the world. Every inch of it feels electric, so it’s always a new and exciting experience.

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
I think that there is no substitute for personal experience, however, songwriting is about channeling experiences so that they become transformative and accessible to a wide variety of people. —R. Zizmor

Five Questions … with Jesse Elliott of These United States

September 7th, 2011

Although These United States formed just five years ago, they’ve already put out four full-length albums. Armed with an increasingly deep catalog, the prolific quintet has toured extensively throughout the US, England and other parts of Europe, gaining a reputation for lively shows that aren’t to be missed. And to make sure you don’t, head to Mercury Lounge tomorrow night to see These United States (above, playing “Pleasure and Pain and Pride and Me” and “Honor Amongst Thieves” in Washington Square Park for Baeble Music) live. In advance of the show frontman Jesse Elliott e-mailed The House List from Fedora to answer Five Questions.

You’ve been putting out an album a year since 2008. Are you guys working on anything new for later this year or in 2012?
Yeah, we’ve been heading back to Lexington[, Ky.,] every few weeks all year long, experimenting more than working this time around, taking our time, maybe realizing finally that most of the best things come fast but a few do come slow. Should have a new litter of beautiful, feral pups to sick on the world by next year. I mean, if not by 2012, then when, post-apocalypse?

What’s the toughest part about playing New York City?
Having to leave the next morning.

What music or song always makes you dance?
LCD Soundsystem. Genius.

Do you have any crutches when writing a song—are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much?
If you’ve leaned on a certain set of crutches for a very long time, you can start to develop your very own rhythm on them, you know. You start to hear more subtleties in each click. It starts to be more about the surface you’re traveling on rather than the crutches themselves. You start to travel down different types of surfaces just so you can hear the same set of crutches on them. Your ears get more sensitive to that kind of change. Maybe you get better at what you make or maybe you’re just more sensitive and that’s all.

Do you have to be depressed to write a sad song? Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Is a song better when it really happened to you?
I have to be really depressed to write any kind of song—sad one, happy one, bittersweet, melancholy, exuberant. I don’t get depressed very often, because the world is a beautiful place even when bad things are happening to you. So when I do find myself in that blessed depressed place, I gotta move very, very quick. I gotta go down to the corner cafe with Miguel, fast as we possibly can, throwing shoes and shirts on fast, order two jalapeños from Annie—again, fast— move through it all like a fast angry bulldozer, merciless, pointed right straight at that song, no regard for life or limb, fantasy or feeling, whether anything at all ever really happens to you alone or whether it happens to everyone all at once. Hopefully the latter. Let’s pray the latter. —R. Zizmor

Five Questions … with Syd Butler of Les Savy Fav

September 2nd, 2011

Syd Butler is a man of many hats. He’s a devoted father, the bassist for Les Savy Fav, the founder of Frenchkiss Records and last, but definitely not least, a fervent Washington Capitals fan. The band (above, doing “Let’s Get Out of Here” for KEXP FM) played one of the very first shows at Music Hall of Williamsburg, and Les Savy Fav returns, with Oberhofer and Chron Turbine, for the venue’s fourth-anniversary show on 9/6. (It’s worth mentioning drinks will be just $4 each.) Butler, taking time out of his busy schedule, rang up The House List from the back of a cab to answer Five Questions.

I know you came out with Root for Ruin last year, and I was wondering if you’re working on anything new—a full album, an EP, new songs or anything like that?
We actually just dedicated this year to touring as much as possible. And this will be the final cycle of that. We went to Europe twice, maybe three times. We went to Australia and New Zealand. So we’ve been pretty active. Actually, not so much in the US, weirdly enough. But pretty active outside of the US since the record came out. But, no, members of the band have kids and newborn babies, and Harrison, the drummer, wants to finish his grad program. He took a year off for this tour. But that’s what our plans are at the moment.

Which do you think is more difficult, to make it as a band or as a record label in New York City? Or in your case, does one go hand-in-hand with the other?
For us, for a long time, it definitely went hand in hand because Les Savy Fav was out there on tour. So we could say, “Frenchkiss, Frenchkiss, Frenchkiss.” But with the success of Local Natives and the success of the Antlers and the Dodos, I think Frenchkiss has hopefully carved out its own little nook in this business. But the two are very, very different. I always thought they were a lot closer, but they’re actually a completely different left-brain, right-brain kind of thing.

Which band have you seen play the most, not counting any you’ve toured with?
I’ve seen Modest Mouse probably a bajillion times. Oh, you know what it is? I have an answer for you: It’s probably a tie between Built to Spill—they’re sort of like my Grateful Dead band—and Arcade Fire as well.

Which NYC musician, past or present, would you most want to play with?
I would love to play with David Bowie, but that doesn’t really count. A born-and-bred musician?
Well, he’s been here for decades.

I would love to play with David Bowie or to introduce myself. I met David Byrne a couple times, which has been awesome, and I’m sure I’d love to play with David Byrne if he hopped up onstage at a Les Savy Fav show.

Do you have any crutches when writing a song? Are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much?
I definitely hang on to certain patterns on my bass way too often. It drives me crazy when that happens, because every song I write or am a part of writing, I try to branch out and change my style a little bit. But when I’m feeling insecure I come back to a comfort zone. —R. Zizmor