Tag Archives: Blake Mills

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Jesca Hoop Proves to Be a True Original at Mercury Lounge

March 9th, 2017

Jesca Hoop – Mercury Lounge – March 8, 2017

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Jesca Hoop was once a nanny to Tom Waits’ kids, and she’s worked with everyone from Blake Mills and Stewart Copeland to Sam Beam, with whom the singer-songwriter released a gorgeous duets album in 2016 and subsequently toured. Hoop has signed to Sub Pop, and she’s a touch mystical—a vocalist and soothsayer from some faraway, possibly not terrestrial place—but she can tell a bar joke with the best of ’em. She’s accessible and impenetrable at the same time. An artist like that, you’d think, would be someone more written about than listened to, but listening to Hoop’s music is only the beginning of the larger embrace. Live, she’s quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) devastating. She formed a deep and detailed bond with an audience over the course of a 75-minute set at Mercury Lounge last night, framed by the recently released Memories Are Now, a collection of new Hoop songs that reveal more with each subsequent listen.

What do we call this? Hoop arrived as part of a four-piece band that included drums, bass, harmony vocals and other effects. Her music could sound trance-folkie, as in the opening one-two of “Songs of Old” and “Animal Kingdom Chaotic.” It could sound bittersweet and kind of country, as in “Peacemaker.” It could creep up and then, well, overcome you, as in “The Coming,” which thanks to some spectral-sounding guitar in its intro sounded distant and then was upon you. It’s cinematic—panoramic even—as Hoop created little worlds out of lyrics. “I refuse to think that my best friend’s going to hell anymore” is what might be called a classic Jesca Hoop line. So is “And now you gotta get it with what you’ve got/ With what you’ve been given or not” (from the late-in-set standout “Born To”). And so is “You say it’s impossible/ But your dumb computer says no.”

Hoop’s an artist in whom you can hear what you want to in her forbearers and potential influences. The mind drifts to Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, Björk and plenty of others. When the mind settles, however—and you can really pause to hear and absorb the nuances when in the thrall of Hoop and band in the live setting—you feel like you’re hearing a true original. No one else quite sounds like this, and you’re thirsting for more when an unhurried set still goes by like a finger snap. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson

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Five Questions with Holly Laessig of Lucius

September 21st, 2016

Lucius return to New York City to play SummerStage in Central Park on Friday night, and Holly Laessig, one half of the band’s lead-vocals tandem, rang up The House List, from Oklahoma where she and Jess Wolfe were rehearsing for singing background for Roger Waters at Desert Trip, to answer Five Questions.

Plenty of musicians change their sound from album to album. Was that a clear intention in moving from the folkier Wildewoman to the poppier Good Grief? Or was that just how your sound evolved? It’s funny. People comment on how different the two are. But Wildewoman was recorded over a few years, and we were in no rush at the beginning because we didn’t have anything to be rushing for—we were just starting out. And we took our time and made it right. We came out with Wildewoman and we had kind of put the band together throughout and after making that record. So when we toured on it, things started to change, and the sound started to change. And the show got a lot more energetic, and the audience was reacting a lot more to the show than the record. People commented a lot how the live show and the record sounded so different, and that the live shows were so much more energetic. I think by the time we got to the end of that cycle, it was where Good Grief was picking up naturally, but from just listening from a record standpoint, there does seem to be a bigger difference than it felt like.

How was recording Good Grief different than recording Wildewoman? We took a different approach to it. We got off the road—we had been touring for, like, a year-and-a-half straight. And we were exhausted, and we decided to go to L.A. to kind of decompress and start writing. So Jess and I took a few months to write, just the two of us. And we would send the guys rough demos and then they would do their own versions of the same song—and kind of build arrangements around them. So when we went into the studio, we had at least two versions of everything. And we worked with Shawn Everett—he did the Alabama Shakes record with Blake Mills—he’s like this crazy alien angel person [laughing]. He’s one of our really closest friends, and he’s always got these wild ideas. So we were really excited to get into the studio with him. He had an idea to make communication easier with five very strong personalities in the studio. To kind of smooth things over and to get everyone’s voice heard, he thought it would be helpful to come up with a bunch of reference tracks: “For each track that we’re gonna work on, think of a song that you think could influence this.” So it could be “I like the sound of the tone on this Rolling Stones track.” Or “I like the way these vocals were recorded on this West African tune.” And we would all pick one or two songs and put ’em in a box, and he would pick them out one by one—it was all anonymous. And we would listen to everything, like 10 to 15 songs, and write down on a dry erase board everything we like about each one. It could be very specific, as far as a recording technique, or it could be more vague, like a feeling. And once we had this dry erase board of notes, we would then start working on the song. So it was a really interesting way of going about it, and I think we got a lot of good stuff we would’ve normally not even considered.

How did your appearance on Roadies come about? And any chance you’ll be adding “Willin’” to your set list? I mean, I don’t think we could top singing that with Jackson Browne, so probably not. Fair. Rafe Spall, who is one of the actors on Roadies—so the story goes: Rafe’s friend Rafe, which is hilarious to me. The first Rafe I ever met, and I met two of them in one day. His friend recommended our music to him, and he was playing it one day on set. And Cameron was like, “Who’s this?” And Rafe said, “This band Lucius.” And he said, “Well, let’s get ’em in here. See if they want to do an episode.” So we met him, and he’s the nicest guy ever. And we said, “Yeah, absolutely, we’d love to do this.” It was a really cool experience. It was really inspiring to see Cameron Crowe as a director and a leader. Everybody who was there, from the actors to the makeup people to the crew people to catering—everybody—was like, “Yeah, we work really hard, sometimes we work late hours, but we’re happy to do it because Cameron’s the man.” And he really was. We had some lines, and I was incredibly nervous about it because it’s not what we do normally. So there was this one line, and I was like, “This isn’t how I’d normally phrase this.” And I was trying to get my head inside it so I could say it the right way. And I asked him, and he said, “Let’s go over it.” And he dropped everything and took me aside, and he would’ve gone over this, like, one line with me for as long as I wanted—very, very patient. It was great, and we got to sing with Jackson Browne, and Jim James was on the set. It was cool.

For some bands, live shows are like a theater piece in that the set doesn’t change much, but the performers are aware of the subtle nuances each night. And for others, every night’s show is different than the one before. Where do you land on that spectrum? Like as far as each night being different? Yeah, I mean, a band like U2, they play pretty much the same set most nights, but it’s not the same show obviously. But someone like Bruce Springsteen or Pearl Jam, they change their set every night. I guess for each leg of a tour, we tend to stick generally to the same set. Some songs we change a little bit, but it’s nice once you get into a groove to stick with it, the transitions go more easily. But every show’s different regardless, especially because of the audience—not to put it all on the audience—but the vibe and the venue and the city, everything can really make a break a show for the performer. If your audience is really giving back to you, and you’re bouncing off of that, sometimes we have funny banter or things can change, or we’ll decide let’s do this song instead because they’re liking the up-tempo ones. So occasionally, it’s just, like, fly by the seat of your pants. But it’s definitely nice to get into a groove.

What new music have you been listening to? We’ve been listening to the new Angel Olsen record a lot. It only came out a couple weeks ago, I think. We’re excited to be playing with Big Thief in Central Park. And I’m stoked to see them ’cause I love that record. I love Alabama Shakes. We went to see that show at the Greek, and it was so good. That’s a good one to groove to, for sure. Was that with Kurt Vile? Yeah, and I love that record too. And Kurt Vile’s on the bill for One Big Holiday in February. Oh, yeah. That’s gonna be so fun! —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Miss Blake Mills Tomorrow Night at Music Hall of Williamsburg

July 29th, 2015

A musician’s musician, California native Blake Mills is a talented dude, ably working as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer and composer. And even if you don’t know his name (yet), plenty of big names in music do. “Eric Clapton recently called him ‘the last guitarist I heard that I thought was phenomenal.’ The producer Don Was says he is ‘one of those rare musicians who come along once in a generation,’” according to the New York Times. Mills founded his first band, the Dawes precursor Simon Dawes, with high school friend Taylor Goldsmith. When the group broke up, Mills went on to play in Jenny Lewis’s band and to tour with Band of Horses, Fiona Apple and Lucinda Williams, while managing to find time to do session work with the likes of the Avett Brothers, Norah Jones, Kid Rock, Neil Diamond and Lana Del Rey. As a means to drum up more session work, Mills (above, performing “Don’t Tell Our Friends About Me” for Public Radio International) put out his debut solo album, Break Mirrors (stream it below), in 2010, which led to him scoring producing work with acts like Conor Oberst, Alabama Shakes and Sky Ferreira. His sophomore effort, Heigh Ho (stream it below), arrived last year to some impressive reviews: “It moves through musical eras and genres without ever sounding out of place, too clever, or at all clumsy. Mills is as centered as a songwriter as he is a player and producer. There is nothing extra here and that’s as it should be. Heigh Ho puts on offer much of what he’s learned these past four years, and displays it all with acumen and openness,” per AllMusic. Currently winding down an East Coast swing, Blake Mills plays Music Hall of Williamsburg tomorrow night. Local jazz guitarist Julian Lage opens the show.

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An Alluring Apple

October 18th, 2012

Fiona Apple – Terminal 5 – October 17, 2012


I can remember as a kid, waiting to record Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” off a radio broadcast. As much as it was already being played on the radio, MTV and everywhere else back in 1997, the strange allure of that song demanded that I have a copy of it for myself to play over and over again. I couldn’t get enough of it. Turns out, it wasn’t just this one song that had this strange allure—it was everything Fiona Apple did. And I wasn’t the only one that felt this way either. Fast forward a few albums and several years later, and Fiona Apple is no longer just a radio hitmaker but a full-on Artist with a capital A, selling out two nights at Terminal 5, mesmerizing fans of all ages that she’s hooked over the years.

Apple is a vocal contortionist of sorts, bending and twisting her vocal chords to get whatever sound she needs to back her beautiful songwriting with some emotional heft. On “Shadowboxer” her voice broke at the perfect moments, like the meanings behind her lyrics were doing their best to hold her back from singing them out. “Anything We Want” was sung with a voice so heavy in vibrato that it was like the butterflies-in-stomach feeling had gotten hold of her vocal chords. “Extraordinary Machine” came out in such a raspy Janis Joplin-esque low voice that when Apple sang, “I’ll make the most of it, I’m an extraordinary machine,” it sounded incredibly human, but then a verse later she lifted off into an insanely high pitch that sounded practically impossible for a human to create.

And while Apple was performing all these vocal gymnastics, she squirmed around the stage in a wonderfully spastic way. Sometimes she was in front of a microphone stand, leaning on it like she needed its support, and at others she just pounded away at her piano. Of course, some credit is also due to her backing band, which did a perfect job following her every step. Drummer Amy Wood led the way, playing through the songs’ rhythmic twists and turns, and guitarist Blake Mills, who opened the show, added a huge array of sounds that a couple of times became a song’s main event. But the night as a whole belonged to Apple. And all anyone else in Terminal 5 could do was sing along to her every word, hoping to capture for themselves just a fleeting second of that strange allure that is Fiona Apple. —Dan Rickershauser

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com