Five Questions with Kamasi Washington

November 17th, 2017

Back in 2015, saxophonist extraordinaire Kamasi Washington (above, performing “Re Run” live in studio for KEXP FM) put out the aptly named triple album The Epic (stream it below) to universal acclaim—becoming one of the hottest jazz musicians on earth in the process. He’s since toured the world and then returned this past September with the impressive EP Harmony of Difference (stream it below). Now out on the road, crisscrossing America’s highways and byways, Washington, with pedal-steel virtuoso Robert Randolph as a special guest, plays Terminal 5 next Wednesday, the night before Thanksgiving. (Local favorites—and feisty live performers—Break Science open the show.) Last weekend, Washington (below, doing “The Next Step” live for Paste Studios) rang up The House List from Cleveland to answer Five Questions.

As a touring musician do you notice if your music is received any differently in New York city than it is elsewhere? I feel like the response has been pretty universal for me, but I’ve always gotten a lot of love in New York, which is a huge honor because you see everything there. And it humbles me every time. New York has an energy that’s unlike any place in the world. There’s just so much going on that you get supercharged.

Once material is recorded, does it stay that way permanently? Or as you play songs live do they continue to stretch and grow? They stretch and grow and change every night, basically. The recording is the version I heard in my head. It’s the definitive version, but live we do it different every time.

As a jazz musician, you appear at nontraditional venues and you’ve played huge festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo. Was this part of your plan all along to cross over? Or has it just been a natural progression of where your music’s taken you? It’s where my music naturally wants to live. It’s definitely rooted in jazz. It’s my foundation. But there’s lots of other kinds of music in there. And it doesn’t really fit into one box very well. We definitely still play jazz clubs, but it’s natural to jump to different kinds of clubs and audiences—different experiences, sitting down in one place and standing in another. It’s options: Every day do something different.

You’ve appeared on albums by Kendrick Lamar, Run the Jewels and, back in the day, Ryan Adams. Is that something you’re still looking to do? And now that you’ve made such a name for yourself is there any chance you’d look for some of them to appear on your albums? Yeah, man. I’m always open to adding people to my music and I still love working with other artists. But I’m enjoying focusing on my own music and collaborating with my friends. I always leave it up to the music. The music dictates to me what to do with it. If it feels like it needs this or that, I’ll try to get it. But I never try to force it.

For someone who’s never seen you perform before, how would you describe a live Kamasi Washington show? It’s different every time. I try to connect to the room and the vibe, a journey we all go on together. I hope what it feels like is very inclusive. The music connects us and we all push the night in the same direction. And by the end we’re all together in one place. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog


Five Questions with Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison

May 26th, 2017

For more than a decade, Frightened RabbitScott Hutchison (vocals and guitar), brother Grant Hutchison (drums), Billy Kennedy (guitar and bass), Andy Monaghan (guitar and keys) and Simon Liddell (guitar)—have been making global noise on the strength of soaring, melancholic arena rock with resonant lyrics that stay with you. Since then, the Scottish rockers (above, doing “I Wish That I Was Sober” live for KTBG FM) have become as equally well known for their fiery live performances as for their recorded output. The band’s fifth LP, Painting of a Panic Attack (stream it below), which came out last spring, was produced by the National’s Aaron Dessner. “Though Hutchison’s talent for crafting beautifully dark stories hasn’t changed much, Frightened Rabbit’s sound most definitely has, thanks in part to Dessner behind the mixing desk,” said the Line of Best Fit. “The usual aching melancholy that has the capability to flip to captivating exuberance at a moment’s notice is ever present but Dessner’s experience with the National gives a whole new, often gloomy, depth to their sound.” Frightened Rabbit play Brooklyn Steel next Tuesday. And ahead of the band’s North American tour, The House List contacted the frontman to answer Five Questions.

Painting of a Panic Attack features electronics more than your other albums. Was that a conscious choice ahead of time or is that just the way things went as you wrote? I think we all wanted to move in that direction a little more with this album, but it wasn’t forced. Through necessity, I was figuring out how to use music software for the first time and exploring the raft of sounds held in Logic. Andy has always been interested in electronic music, so for him it was a natural place to go.

So many Frightened Rabbit songs are anthemic, somehow sounding like upbeat tales even when they’re about downer topics—not many bands could get crowds to lustily belt out lyrics about loneliness or “It takes more than fucking someone you don’t know to keep warm.” Is that something you set out to do? I’ve always been looking for that contrast within the songs. From very early on I knew I wanted the melodic qualities of the music to act like an open door, warm and welcoming, sometimes anthemic. Then once you’re in the room, you hear all these dark lines and it might be a little jarring, but we’ve already shut the door behind you. Ha!

What’s your process for recording new material? Is everything written and fleshed out in advance of going into the studio? Or do you just have sketches and ideas of songs ready to go? We’re usually relatively well prepared but recently we’ve enjoyed developing songs from rough sketches in the studio. Being overprepared or too certain of the songs can result in losing those little moments of studio magic. That’s our excuse for not knowing what the fuck we’re doing.

Once a track is recorded and released, does it stay like that in perpetuity, or do songs grow as you play them live? They always grow, they absolutely should. Often it’s just through boredom within the band, but sometimes the audience drives it forward. I never thought “The Loneliness and the Scream” would be a set-closer, but that had nothing to do with us. It was the crowds latching on to a melody and sticking with it. That was a surprise.

Do you have any crutches when writing a song—are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much? Absolutely. It’s a big danger and I’ve caught myself repeating themes again and again. However, I do think it’s important to develop your own world within the songs, and repeated lyrical themes are a big part of that. And the thing is: I am still a bit of a drunken failure. I’m not making it up. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog


Five Questions with Jim James

November 17th, 2016
(Photo: Gregg Greenwood)

(Photo: Gregg Greenwood)

My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James (below, covering Mazzy Star’s “Fade into You” with Twin Limb) released his second solo full-length album, Eternally Even (stream it below), earlier this month to some considerable praise, and now he’s out on the road in support of it. The affable performer’s tour brings him through New York City this weekend to play Terminal 5 on Sunday night with dream-pop outfit Twin Limb opening. And despite feeling let down by the election (“Such a shame to see fear win out over love. But we have to remember this is just one contest and we still must have faith that humanity can win the greater game”), earlier this week, James connected with The House List from “beautiful Boston Commons underneath my favorite tree” to answer Five Questions.

When you’re writing, do you know as you’re doing it what it’s for—solo album, My Morning Jacket, something else—or is it that you just begin writing and see where it takes you? Songs usually speak to me and tell me what they want to be. Usually a song becomes a solo song because it is something I have just enjoyed working on like a puzzle alone in the studio, and then an MMJ song is a song I want a performance of.

Do you have any crutches when writing a song—are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much? Great question. Hmmmm, I feel like my main crutch is that I never have any idea what the fuck I am doing either personally or professionally.

How did My Morning Jacket end up backing Roger Waters at Newport Folk Fest? Did it stem from the Love for Levon show? Yes, we had such a time with Roger at Love for Levon. When we parted ways, we all said let’s do something again, not knowing if it would happen or not, and then it did for Newport, which was so beautiful. And then it did again for Bridge School, which again was unreal. What a thrill to share the stage with one of the greatest composers of the modern era. Roger is humble and friendly and fiercely intelligent and aware of exactly what he wants from each moment. It is incredibly intense working with him but ultimately very rewarding.

You lived in New York City for a while before returning to Louisville. What was your favorite part of living here and what do you most look forward to about coming back here to perform? I love NYC. I mean there is no place on earth like it. I love the rhythm and the flow and the sea of people every color of the rainbow in there together, just flowing trying to get somewhere, trying to get shit done! It’s incredibly inspiring and I carry its energy with me for quite some time after I leave each time.

What can we expect at Terminal 5 on 11/20? And how would you describe a Jim James show to someone who hasn’t seen you live? I’m not sure what to expect. It has been very exciting putting this new live show together and it’s feeling really fresh. I hope the show can be an outlet to get rid of bad energy as well and a place to come feel supported and loved and dance and scream! —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog

(Jim James also plays the Civic Theatre in New Orleans on 12/17.)

Five Questions with Nick Valensi of CRX

November 16th, 2016

For nearly 20 years Nick Valensi has been known as the Strokes’ lead guitarist (in addition to contributing backing vocals and some keys work). But he’s stepped out to do his own thing, fronting CRX, a new band—with an even newer debut album, the aptly named New Skin (stream it below)—playing The Bowery Ballroom on Friday night. And from a hotel room in Toronto, he exchanged e-mails with The House List to answer Five Questions.

It’s your first time taking on singing and songwriting, with CRX and New Skin. Have you been writing all along or is this a more recent thing? I’ve always written music and melodies, but this is my first time out as a lyricist and singer. I worked on it secretly for about a year before telling anyone I was thinking about starting a new band and being the singer. At first, I was way out of my comfort zone, so I had to put some time in and get enough experience to know if it was even something I wanted to pursue. Doing all the guitar stuff that I usually do and then having to sing on top of it continues to be a fun challenge. I feel like I’m using new parts of my brain.

Before becoming one of the defining bands of NYC’s rock scene around the turn of the century, the Strokes were just another group struggling to make it. How is playing smaller venues again? And what’s it like performing with different bandmates? I’m having so much fun playing clubs. I wanna be able to play all kinds of shows. I love doing the huge festivals with the Strokes, and I’m grateful to even have the opportunity to play at that level, but I don’t want that to be the only type of show I play. That’s really why I started CRX, to get a little balance from that. We’re touring clubs all over North America right now, and that’s exactly what I was craving when I had the idea to start the band.

How did the CRX lineup come together? And how did Josh Homme get involved with producing New Skin? I spent about a year writing, demo-ing and working on my singing. I didn’t really tell anyone about it. As someone who’s always been in a band, working alone was kind of a difficult process for me. Eventually, I hit a wall, got stuck and lost perspective on what direction to go. So I reached out to some musician friends who I respect for feedback and insight. I got together with Ralph and we’d jam on the songs so I could get an idea of what they’d sound like in a live setting. Richie and Darian came in and helped me out a lot with lyrics, and we cowrote a bunch on the album. Jon and I wrote a song called “On Edge” together, and he helped me a lot with arrangements.

It ended up being really collaborative. Josh was another one of the friends who I reached out to for help when I was feeling kinda stuck. We’ve known each other a long time, but really became friends when I moved to L.A. He fell in love with the demos and had some great ideas about how the songs should be recorded. Over the course of a conversation, I mentioned how I wished I could get him to produce, and he said he’d love to. So we just took it from there. CRX was a thing that came together so naturally, like the way that Josh came to produce the album. At the onset, I had no preconceptions about what this was gonna be, and I’ve just kinda gone with the flow through the whole process. As a result of that, all these cool things have come about in a natural, unforced way. I’m grateful that I’ve never had to put a band together using casting calls or Craigslist ads.

As a longtime New Yorker, what does it mean to you to be playing The Bowery Ballroom? I’m really excited to be back! It’s always been one of my favorite places to play and see a show. I worked part time at The Bowery Ballroom as a teenager, loading bands’ gear and selling T-shirts. Then, I went on to play there many times with the Strokes, so it’ll be very familiar to me when we pull in with CRX.

And what’s your favorite part of a tour stop in New York City? As a native New Yorker living in L.A., my favorite thing about getting back  is seeing family. My mom, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles all live in the city and will all be at the Bowery ballroom show. It’s a wonder we still have tickets left to sell. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog


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








Five Questions with Savoir Adore’s Paul Hammer

August 10th, 2016

Savoir Adore (above, performing “Giants” for We Found New Music) play The Bowery Ballroom on Friday night, and The House List recently reached out to the band’s leader, Paul Hammer, to discuss a new lineup, a new album, The Love That Remains—which comes out on Friday—and to answer Five Questions.

Your show at The Bowery Ballroom celebrates the release of The Love That Remains. What can we expect that night? Will you play the whole album? We’ll be playing most of it, yes! It’s a strange new (good) problem to have for us—figuring out a set list with three albums is a whole new challenge. This will also be the first time we’re playing most of these songs, so it’s exciting for us on that level too. 

For some bands, touring is like a theater piece in that the set list doesn’t change too much from show to show, but everyone onstage is aware of the different nuances in each performance. But for others, every night has a totally different set list and feel. Where do you land in that spectrum? I think a little bit of both, but definitely leaning toward the theater-piece approach. We have a pretty specific flow and idea for transitions, and our sound is also very electronic and sequenced at times. That’s the tricky part about being an electronic band without the ability to hire a nine-piece traveling group. Would love to have three dedicated synth players in the future, but for now we’ll give a little bit of the work to Mr. Ableton.

How has a change in the band’s lineup changed things? It’s interesting ’cause it’s obviously different with a different group of people, but in some ways it hasn’t changed much at all. We’ve also been a band that’s sort of evolved and changed lineups over the years, so in that sense we’ve become a bit used to it. But I think the biggest change is just that I’m more in a position of being the sole leader now. It’s a pressure that was pretty overwhelming for a long while, but now that I’m used to it, it’s actually really liberating. 

As a Brooklyn band, what does it mean to do an album-release show at home in NYC? And is there any personal significance to playing The Bowery Ballroom? Big time. It means a lot. Honestly, most of my favorite shows in New York have been at The Bowery Ballroom, and I often call my happy place the upstairs bar looking out at the arched window. As soon as I started writing this record I knew I wanted to have the release show here, and this being our first time headlining makes it even more special. 

Friday’s show has ended, and at the after-party we give you a buck for the jukebox. Which three songs do you choose? Talking Heads, “Once in a Lifetime,” Tom Petty, “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and Fleetwood Mac, “Gypsy.” Then again, if this was a party of some kind, I might pick different songs. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog

Five Questions with … Robert Ellis

June 17th, 2016

Singer-songwriter Robert Ellis is known for a terrific voice, for fiery live performances and for expertly mining country and folk on his recorded work. His fourth studio full-length, a self-titled album (stream it below), came out last week to rave reviews. And touring behind it, Ellis (above, doing “Sad Songs and Waltzes” for Live at Paste Studios) lands in New York next week for a pair of shows, on Monday at Garcia’s and on Wednesday at The Bowery Ballroom. (“When we booked this tour, and I saw the Bowery was on there, I was like, fuck yeah. It’s a step in the right direction.”) Out on the road, he rang up The House List from a van somewhere between Cleveland and Pittsburgh to answer Five Questions.

So your new album came out last Friday and is getting some rave reviews. Does that mean anything to you? Do you pay attention to reviews? No. It’s great. I’m glad people like it, but, no, I don’t read that shit. There’s some stuff that I see, stuff on my Facebook, because I post on my Facebook. The nasty stuff that people say is definitely irritating and hurtful, but sometimes I think the good stuff is just as bad.

While you’re known predominantly as a country artist, your music obviously has a wider range of influences. Which non-country musicians do you find yourself listening to these days? I don’t even listen to country music, so that’s a really long answer. We listen to everything from jazz to electronic music to—I love pop, ’70s pop music, like Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon and shit like that, I really love. But, really, everything. I mean, I really like music in a really big way. And I love to listen to it, and I don’t have any aesthetic requirements for what that is. It’s not like a fashion thing to me. And I think for a lot of people music is about fashion. It’s about whatever clothes they want to wear. So to answer your question: God, we listen to everything, as long as it’s interesting.

For some performers, life on the road is like working on a traveling theater piece—the set list stays primarily the same but the musicians are aware of the different nuances every night. While for others, each night has a different set list and every show is a wholly different experience. Where do you land in that spectrum? I would say every night’s completely different. A big part of what we do is improvisation. And that ranges from more collective improvisation, like a solo section, to completely free improv, just listening and making noise with one another. And the set list is kind of the same way. I think about a year ago, there was one show when I tried to write a set list out before the gig. And we got offstage and I was just like, “That felt wrong.” And since then, we never use a set list. I just call tunes as we go.

The new album, from a listener’s standpoint, seems to be based on you. So my Almost Famous question is: 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, I don’t think so. I mean, I think that you have to have experienced love to write a love song. And I don’t think that if you have no empathy for your characters that you can effectively write something that moves people. But I think to the contrary actually: Good writing is about being able to step away from it, in a way. Use your experiences, but then also use your craft to create something bigger than what’s happening to you. So, no, I don’t think you have to be depressed. And I don’t want to live my life like that. Sounds awful.

When you write songs, like “Perfect Strangers” or “How I Love You,” do they ever take on any new life when you perform them live? Or is it like the recorded version is how it remains? No, we don’t play stuff like the record really. I mean, some stuff we do. We try to communicate the emotional information and the melodic information but we don’t necessarily do that with the same instruments all the time. Last night, we were in Cleveland, and I played the song “Couples Skate” on piano, and I’d never once played it on piano. I wasn’t even certain I knew how to play it all the way through. But I just counted it off and we played it. I like to keep myself on my toes and improvising. And I like for everyone to be listening to one another. I just never want to feel like we’re going up there and pressing a button. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog

Five Questions with … Anders Osborne

February 25th, 2016

With a new album, Spacedust & Oceanviews, due to arrive this spring, Anders Osborne (above, performing “Mind of a Junkie” for Jam in the Van) has embarked on a two-month North American tour, which brings him to the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y., on Friday night—a pretty great way to kick off the weekend. And ahead of his arrival, the New Orleans guitar hero answered Five Questions for The House List.

You’ve obviously been living in New Orleans for quite some time now, but how did a kid from Southern Sweden originally get interested in the blues?
I was introduced to music by my mother and father—mostly classical and jazz. I discovered Robert Johnson, Snooks Eaglin, Earl King, Hound Dog Taylor and stuff like that in my teens growing up in New Orleans.

You’re currently in the midst of a big tour, but does performing in New York have any significance for you? And specifically playing the Capitol Theatre?
New York rocks! Some of my all time favorite shows have been in New York. I have a lot of friends from that area that I love seeing when I play there. It’s also one of the first places that gave me gigs as a touring artist back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Places like Manny’s Car Wash, Tramps, Wetlands. Love it.

What’s different about this tour compared to others that have brought you up here?
This band kicks ass. We will also explore my entire catalog, playing previously not performed tunes. And we have great support artists on the whole tour! Amy Helm [opening on Friday at the Capitol Theatre], American Babies [also opening on Friday], Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds. They are all amazing.

What music or song always makes you dance?
“Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” with Robert Palmer backed by the Meters, produced by Allen Toussaint. Or anything by Allen Toussaint and Bob Marley.

At your after-party and there’s an endless jukebox, and we give you a buck. Which three songs are you playing?
“20 Million Things” by Lowell George, “These Days” by Jackson Browne and “So What” by Miles Davis. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog

Five Questions with … Mail the Horse

February 18th, 2016

The folk- and classic rock–loving group Mail the Horse (above, performing “Flowers, Keys & Gasoline”)—Donny Amidon, Michael Hesslein, Chris May and Brendan Smith—first laid roots in coastal New Hampshire before making the move to Brooklyn. They’ve become known locally as a DIY band not to miss. They open for the Cactus Blossoms tonight at Mercury Lounge, and the guys answered Five Questions for The House List.

As a touring band, what’s the best part of staying local to play Mercury Lounge? And do you ever notice if your music is received differently at home versus on the road?
Mercury Lounge has been good to us, and it’s still one of the best places to see music in the city. They pride themselves in establishing solid artist relations, which is something we appreciate. It’s great to see familiar faces but also nice to not know anyone in the crowd and let go a little more. Bottom line is that we like to play and we like to make people feel as many different emotions as possible during our sets. That’s what we pride ourselves on.

Planet Gates came out about a year ago. Are you guys working on anything new? And do you ever fine-tune music live before recording it?
We’ve been writing and are about to start recording in the spring. We performed about half of the tunes on Planet Gates before we recorded them. Studio is always different than a live performance so there are always adjustments to be made. We look forward to seeing where the next set of sessions take us.

What bands have influenced your music?
We all spent a real decent chunk of our formative years listening to way too much of the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan obviously, the Band, Flying Burrito Brothers, the Byrds and other “cosmic” American bands from the ’60s and early ’70s, but we also dig in deep with the Stones—all eras—and on tour our playlists and our tastes tend to be very, very eclectic. We listen to straight up Journey and then we listen to Pharoah Sanders and then we listen to Ryan Adams, then we listen to Gene Clark demos from the late ’70s on YouTube. But we also all listen to a ton of contemporary stuff. There’s an album coming out this week by this band Murals that we’ve been looking forward to for months.

Do you have any crutches when writing a song—are there certain words or styles you feel you lean on too much?
It’s OK to have something to lean on because it gives you confidence in your abilities,= and you can make it your thing. But it’s very important to step outside the box and challenge yourself musically—or in life in general. Most of the time when you find yourself leaning on something, it means you’re honing in on something. And then once you get closer to it, maybe you catch it, and then move onto something else. Sometimes you never catch it, or sometimes it morphs into something new. It’s like chasing something that you can’t see but can feel. Also, we wrote a few songs over the years with recurring lines about dead dogs. I think all the songs are great, but maybe it’s something else’s time to die!

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?
Some of the best songs ever written are stories that don’t relate to the songwriter. It always helps to feel a certain way, but it’s fun putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Singing/ playing with conviction is the most important aspect or no one is going to believe you either way. Two of us had a fiction professor tell us a quote: “Write about what you know, whether it happened to you or not.” If your goal is expressing emotional truth, the facts can become irrelevant. Bruce Springsteen didn’t drag race all those cars himself, right? But “Racing in the Street” sure rings true. Big time.—R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog


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 | @Hand_Dog



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