Kingtree & The Roots

May 30, 2009

A new band is born.

band

The Roots live at the Tiger Lounge, Manchester (L-R Phil Arnold, Tom Mills, me, Trevor Pattinson - Seamus O'Kane (drums) out of shot

Kingtree (Trev and me) live at Upperspace, Manchester.  We usually play a couple together before the rest of the band come on.  This was a duo set, though.

Kingtree (Trev and me) live at Upperspace, Manchester. We usually play a couple together before the rest of the band come on. This was a duo set, though.

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It’s really nice.

“I never realised how young you were…” – Bob Dylan

12644-the-pains-of-being-pure-at-heart

I was offered the chance to interview The Pains of Being Pure at Heart ahead of this show, but on first listen, I was totally underwhelmed with them.  This album is just derivative, I thought.   It’s just early My Bloody Valentine (‘Come Saturday’), for God’s sake.  With a dash of The Smiths (‘The Tenure Itch’).  And The Cure (‘This Love is Fucking Right!’).  Oh and there’s that one that sounds a lot like ‘Vapour Trail’ by Ride (‘Stay Alive’).

The songs were catchy, there was no denying that.  It’s just that the band were so nakedly in thrall to their eighties British indie influences.  It’s cynical, I decided.  These must be ageing, jaded New Yorkers trying to make money out of nostalgia.

They’ll get nothing from me, I decided, with a huff and a crossing of my arms.

Then a friend persuaded me it would be interesting to speak to them, seeing as they are one of the more hyped bands to come out of NYC this year.  I gritted my teeth and started to come up with some questions.

Here are the first three that came to mind:-

  1. Is it easy to get away with ripping off ’80s UK indie in the States?
  2. Are you surprised at the success of your new album, given that it is so derivative?
  3. Will your next record be less derivative?

I decided not to go ahead with the interview.

A couple of weeks passed and once I’d quite finished with Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, I felt an unexpected urge to go back to The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.  Those jangling hooks had barbs.  That winsome, pure pop instinct wouldn’t leave me alone.   To my shock and surprise, when I put the album on again, I realised that over the past couple of weeks, without realising it or particularly listening to them, I had totally accepted them for what they were.  I started to like them.

I awarded the song ‘Young Adult Friction’ five stars on my iTunes rating.  But by this time, it was too late to sort out the interview.

The day of the Irish Club show came around. I was playing a set myself, in the snug room downstairs, before the Pains went on upstairs.  So I did my gig, then grabbed a couple of beers and went upstairs to see what all the fuss was about.

First of all, God, it was hot up there…  So many bodies, so little ventilation.  Sweat was pouring from everywhere before the headliners had even taken the stage.

Then, up they popped… and boy, did I feel like an idiot straight away.  They’re so young…

X - fashion inspiration for Pains' bass player

X - fashion inspiration for Pains' bass player

Bassist Alex Naidus’ killer Malcolm X glasses can’t disguise the fact that he can’t be a day over 23.  Keyboardist Peggy Wang is a classic indie poppet.  The second guitarist is so patently into it that his demeanour quite disarms you.  Singer Kip Berman is smiling fit to burst as soon as they burst into ‘Come Saturday’ and the crowd instantly goes for it.

By the time they get to ‘Young Adult Friction’, there is a bona fide moshpit and Berman just gazes across his crowd, with genuine delight in his eyes.  He is touched, you can see it. Wang half tries to retreat behind her hair, bashful, as the front few rows sing her vocal parts for her, but she can’t hide her smile.

They didn’t expect this; they are in no way blasé about the pleasure they have given to these strangers from the island that sired their music.

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart have touched a nerve.  Their unashamedly nostalgic music is (fucking) right for this crowd, right for this room.  It’s just like it must have been the first time around – the romantic introverts, bedroom poets and literate loners are brought back together by sugar-edged guitars, untutored boy-girl harmonies and dreamy, shimmery clouds of languor.
It really doesn’t matter that it’s nothing new.  People don’t care that it’s all happened before.  It doesn’t even matter that these American kids are bringing our own musical heritage back to us.  This crowd do not care who the band are, where they’re from, what year it is, or who they’ve ripped off.  They just like the songs.

The moshpit swells as more and more adults (some young, some not so young) are convinced to dive in and accept The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.

I fight my way out of the hall, walk into the gents’ and look at myself in the mirror.  My shirt is doused in beer and sweat.   They’ve just played ‘Stay Alive’ and Berman has dedicated it to Manchester, ‘because we stole your drumbeat.’  Well, that one came from Oxford, actually, I thought to myself.

It doesn’t really matter.

the pains of being pure at heart

I liked it. Click here to see the article on citylife.co.uk,

There’s something very special about Veckatimest.

In this era of illegal downloads and plummeting CD sales, it’s becoming increasingly rare for an album to arrive with a real sense of occasion, but Grizzly Bear’s breakthrough LP will rightly draw critical praise right across the spectrum and catapult this New York quartet to a new level of fame.

Named after an uninhabited island in Massachusetts, Veckatimest exudes quality.  Every note seems to have been closely studied and considered, before being painstakingly stitched into its proper place within a richly textured backdrop to the flawless vocal harmonies.

Acoustic guitars and swoonsome backing vocals breathe a wistful, time-out-of-mind atmosphere into opener ‘Southern Point’, before a series of powerful electric crescendos – best exemplified by the staggering, rollercoaster-drop chorus of ‘While You Wait for the
Others’ and the controlled, almost Godspeed! You Black Emperor-style noise classicism of ‘Fine For Now’ – force their way into the forefront of your consciousness.

The general sense of Veckatimest as a serious (important, even) record carries through into its lyrics.  Poignant, perceptive one-liners abound – “We’re all faltering / How can I help with that?” is a personal favourite, best heard in the context of its complex, soul-stirring ‘Fine For Now’.

Picking fault, their undeniable musical flair can lead them into some overly showy moments.  The falsetto backing vocals on ‘Two Weeks’ are perhaps a touch too theatrical – and there’s a hint of Arcade Fire at their more bombastic in ‘I Live With You’, for example; but measure that against the fact that the same song features gorgeous, sinuous horns reminiscent of the lunar, ebb-tide grace of ‘Art Decade’ from David Bowie’s Low.  The occasional ostentatious moment has to be forgiven.

Congratulations, Grizzly Bear.  Now, get yourselves to Manchester and take a bow….

veckatimest

http://www.strandedinstereo.com/interview_thenightjars.shtml

Nightjars cover art by Sam Garrett

Nightjars cover art by Sam Garrett - click to view our discography

deerh_micro_pr2_300d_020908

I feel like I’ve said enough about Deerhunter for now, but if anyone’s burning to read more, the piece I wrote after interviewing Lockett for City Life is here….

The full transcript of our exchange follows.

OLLIE: How does the Deerhunter songwriting process work, as a rule?  I heard Bradford giving you credit for writing ‘Agoraphobia’, for example.  Is there a main songwriter, or do ideas come from all corners, then get worked up collaboratively?

LOCKETT: The songwriting process varies from song to song. Some are very collaborative and ideas are worked out in a studio, or discussed in advance. Others might be a demo that Brad, Josh, or I will introduce and the song will remain exactly as is, or it could be completely changed into a collaborative effort. It all depends on what the song calls for. There isn’t a consistent process really.

OW: Are you guys able to make a living through music now, or do you have to work day jobs?

LP: Yea, we do OK now. Some time within the last year and a half it was possible to make a living doing what we do. I think I am the only one who still works a day job though. Just a few hours a week really. Otherwise I get lazy.

OW: What can we expect from the Lotus Plaza album?

LP: Well, most of the stuff I did for that album was recorded shortly after Cryptograms came out, so it follows a bit in that vein. It’s ten songs, a few of which were given away on the blog. I recorded myself in my room and played all the instruments on it. Brad plays another drum track on it in a song called ‘Different Mirrors’. It comes out officially on March 23rd.

Lotus Plaza

Lotus Plaza

OW: I’m still pissed off that I missed your last Manchester gig, which was at Café Saki, I believe.  How was that tour?  Looking at the venues for the upcoming British tour, it looks as though you’ve moved up a notch.

LP: That was our first tour of England, really. We had played shows there before but it was the first time we had gone to more than just the few cities we had been to previously. Things went really well on that tour. We did a TV show there in Manchester with Liars, hosted by a guy named Frank Sidebottom. Was pretty fun. I had no idea what to expect going into that. He recreated the likeness of the Tiananmen Square protest on a miniature soccer field. with plastic soldiers and tanks while interviewing the bands.

OW: I understand that you and Bradford have been friends since you were kids.  What was the situation with you joining the band?  At what point did you get involved – were Kranky already on the scene at that time?

LP: I had been away at college for a few years and when I returned back home, Brad asked me to join. This was probably a year or so before Cryptograms came out. They had toured before i joined the band, but things were still at a much different level. Kranky expressed some interest and came to one of our shows in St. Louis, where we played this small arts space. They were into our show and we signed with them.

OW: I haven’t heard too much Lotus Plaza, but the majority of Deerhunter / Atlas Sound material prior to Microcastle leans towards the ambient and experimental – yet there’s never a total junking of melody.  Is Microcastle an indication that we can expect future Deerhunter releases to continue in the pop vein, whilst you guys work out your more esoteric urges through the side projects?  Or will you keep pursuing the ‘twin track’ approach – i.e. packaging the lo-fi with the hi-fi (Microcastle / Weird Era Continued)

LP: Microcastle is just something different, but not necessarily an indication of what’s to come. We still use a lot of the more ambient stuff during our live sets, but didn’t want to make another Cryptograms on record. It’s more fun to kind of expand your horizons musically from record to record.

Microcastle

Microcastle

LP: The Microcastle/Weird Era combination was sort of impulsive; since the album had already leaked, and gotten out so early before the release, we wanted to make it so that the people who still wanted to buy it would get a surprise along with it. We recorded most of the songs on Weird Era ourselves, with a few in the studio. We kind of wanted it to have an old and haunted vibe in regards to the production of the songs. Probably not something that we would do again.

OW: One of my musical obsessions is this idea of ‘formality’, which I can’t really define without relating it to specific songs.  I think ‘Agoraphobia’ is a good example of a ‘formal’ song… Does that make any sense, in relation to how you guys write?  I suppose I mean that I consider it to have been intelligently structured and played with discipline – specifically conceived as a pop song and performed as such, without ego.

LP: Yea, that makes sense. It is a pretty straightforward song. It’s fun to try and deliberately write a song like that. It’s also difficult at times. Most of the writing I do, as well as Brad, is a more stream of consciousness sort. Then you kind of go back and piece it together into something better or maybe not. Sometimes it works how it is.

When writing a song and trying to make it “formal” from the beginning, it can become a lot harder to get through. There are a lot more filters going through my head before I even start a song or at any stage during it, instead of just picking up an instrument and starting something to make sense of afterwards.

Cryptograms-by-Deerhunter_A4R9rCQuB_Ex_full

Cryptograms


OW: I understand that Cryptograms was quite difficult to put together, being split over different sessions and remixed. Was it easier to make Microcastle and how closely involved with the mixing process was the band?

LP: Microcastle was a lot easier from the beginning. There wasn’t as much grey area or indecision going into the making of it. We had more direction and experience with the songs before we went into the studio. We were all in a different state of mind during Cryptograms and I think  Microcastle sort of caught us at a better and more prepared time. We also had a lot more time in the studio to make it happen than we had with any previous album.

The mixing was done with everyone sitting in a room with Nicolas, the engineer, playing and tweaking the song. He would do his thing and we would respond or we would tell him how we wanted it to sound. Mixing on pretty much everything we have recorded thus far has been a collaborative effort.

OW: Just a personal one, this – ‘Dot Gain’ (from Weird Era Continued).  That chorus guitar break is euphoric, absolutely brilliant.  Were you not tempted to do a hi-fi ‘proper pop’ production on the song?

LP: No, not at all. I actually like it the way it is. I think it would lose the energy it has if it were to be recorded better. I guess I’m used to how it sounds as it is. I couldn’t really imagine it taking on a more hi-fi form. Some things just sound better kind of dirty.

OW: As I might be taking this piece to the Manchester Evening News, I’ll ask a Manchester-related question.  Are there any Manchester groups that influenced you guys? I heard Bradford reference Martin Hannett, in relation to the production style of Cryptograms – and The Fall, with relation to the first album.

LP: Yea, I think we all had a few of those bands in mind like The Fall, Magazine and New Order. They definitely kind of fell in the mental climate we occupied during the writing and recording of Cryptograms. Definitely some of the bands that we can all agree on.

OW: I’m sure the ‘major labels’ must be sniffing around you guys.   Would you consider signing to one of them, if offered?

LP: Kranky rules.