The artist known for convenience's sake as MBAR...

The artist known for convenience's sake as MBAR...

MOST musicians are thrilled and excited to talk about the release of their debut album, but for the prolific Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson, the situation is a source of befuddlement.

His as-yet unreleased ‘second’ album was actually meant to come out before his eponymous ‘first’ record – which was released this month.

“I’ve recorded the second album. That was done in December of 2007. I thought it was going to be my debut album,” says a bemused Robinson.

“The album I wanted to release as my debut has now been around for 16 months, while another one has snuck out of the gates and caused me all sorts of dizziness.”

Meanwhile, a third record is already written, too…

“The third one’s all written, but now I feel strange, because people are gong to look at the second album as a follow-up to the first one – whereas it really wasn’t,” protests Robinson.

Confused yet?

Chaos seems to have stuck to this 26-year old Brooklyn resident ever since he arrived in New York City with a desire to make music, but a college scholarship to make movies.

“I was a film major [at the prestigious NYU art school], but after three months I had no interest in making films,” he explains.

“They had a music recording studio that no one ever used, so I stayed around for that.  I recorded seven albums while I was there – really, my life was an incredible privilege to be able to do that.”

Of course, this rarefied lifestyle came at a premium.

“I’m in just the absolute depths of debt. Last I checked it was $80,000, but God knows what’s happened over the last couple of years… if there was a debtor’s prison, I would be in it”, Robinson admits, ruefully.

Not that such an eye-watering personal deficit bothers this singular songwriter too much.

“I doubt they’d come chasing me – I don’t own anything, so you know, there’s nothing to take. It’s like, ‘fine, take everything I have.  Would you like my used records? Cigarette butts?’”

This ‘let it happen’ approach to life is written all over Robinson’s debut album.

Nice album.  Produced by Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear, in MBAR's front room.

Nice album. Produced by Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear, in MBAR's front room.

It’s a sprawling affair, with touches of the acutely personal Elliott Smith brand of songcraft and echoes of the raw, scrappy sonic beauty of Neil Young & Crazy Horse.

And it was recorded in a suitably unconventional style by a man seemingly incapable of doing anything by the book.

Nice tats... And not a bad mate to have pop round your house to produce your album, either (Chris Taylor, of the awesome Grizzly Bear)

Nice tats... And not a bad mate to have pop round your house to produce your album, either (Chris Taylor, of the awesome Grizzly Bear, superbly photographed by Samantha West - http://www.samanthawest.net)

“With the first album, I paid my housemate’s rent for a month. We turned his bedroom into a control room and set up the drums and everything in my living room; we basically recorded the album in my living room.”

Not that Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson was likely to sound ramshackle, when the studious and highly-talented Chris Taylor – of world-class New York indie quartet Grizzly Bear – was on hand to produce the album.

“We had been playing shows together all the time, becoming great friends in the process,” explains Robinson.

“I hoped that [Grizzly Bear drummer] Chris Bear and Chris Taylor could lend their talents to some songs I was writing. I was about to ask Chris Taylor, when he said, ‘I really feel like you should do a solo record, I feel like that’s your strength. I’d love to produce’. So I gave him a bunch of demos.”

So you never intended to be a solo artist, it just, sort of, happened?

“My last band broke up because everyone started having infidelities with the other people in the band. I decided to quit bands forever,” reveals Robinson.

“The touring band I have at the moment are fantastic; if they didn’t already have obligations, I would love to call them my band forever, but I’ve learned my lesson with that. Everyone always leaves. We all die alone…”

A slightly spooked, bruised and emotional worldview comes across in Robinson’s lyrics.

Doozies like ‘I’m not sure that I want to stay alive / It’s so expensive…’ (from the suitably-titled ‘The Debtor’) rub shoulders with stark tales of drug addiction and its attendant malaise (“Met a girl who said ‘hey boy, you’re a death-head / I bet you’d be alright in bed / still, I’ll take sleep instead’”, from the excellent, stomping ‘Woodfriend’).

Then there’s a weirdly affirmative scream of ‘Believe me, I wish that I was dead’ on the grandiose and superficially joyous album opener ‘Buriedfed’.

There are contradictions all the time with Robinson – his music generates genuine vitality despite the constant shadow of depression. A wicked sense of humour emerges from the murky depths, whilst unbearable pangs of dissatisfaction emanate from a situation of genuine privilege.

But then, since when have people been logical?

TV On The Radio's Kyp Malone - he's got MBAR's back, yo.

TV On The Radio's Kyp Malone - he's got MBAR's back, yo.

Fortunately for a clearly volatile and mercurial young talent, a ‘big brother’ figure is on the scene, in the imposing figure of Kyp Malone.

Malone, instantly recognisable by his spectacles, monster Afro and equally impressive beard, sings in one of New York’s most celebrated bands, TV On The Radio.

And after Taylor introduced Malone to Robinson’s music, they struck up a lasting friendship.

“He lent me five CDs the first time I met him. And he’s become one of my best friends – like an older brother taking care of me at weird times in my life,” gushes Robinson.

“Kyp’s not actually related to me, he doesn’t have that obligation – yet he’s taken care of me like family for years. It’s amazing.”

Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson is out now on Transgressive Records.

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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.

Here is a link to some features I wrote yonks ago – Bill Hicks, Pixies, Plans & Apologies, Johnny Domino, James Yorkston…

http://drownedinsound.com/users/owright

There were a lot more.

Tortoise “It’s All Around You”

http://drownedinsound.com/releases/3660/reviews/9476

Television live –
http://drownedinsound.com/events/1046/reviews/9905

I can’t remember what else.

But in the end, I stopped writing for them, for two reasons – 1) I’d formed The Nightjars and saw it as a conflict of interests.. 2) I fell out majorly with a guy named Colin Roberts, who was pimping Busted on the site. He turned out to become the next editor…  so I resigned!

What to say about this enigmatic, soulful young singer? Yet another musical Manchester immigrant, his style is not the easiest to get to know. His lyrics are strikingly strange and his songs awkward, Byzantine structures, prone to willful U-turns; but crucially, there are always moments of ‘well, that was well worth it’ jaw-drop wonder. His pure-tone, ‘it doesn’t matter how many fags I smoke’ voice swoops and trembles.

Syd Barrett is the obvious comparison, as the two share the ability to magic up a psychedelic moment in music and have a similar penchant for ‘it does make sense, just tilt your head slightly’ lyricism. Burrell is most probably directly descended from the royal court minstrels of medieval England. There is nothing remotely topical in his writing, which is one way of creating something that feels timeless.

A resolutely unconventional solo singer/guitarist, his live gigs have often been difficult for him. I felt dreadful for him at one In The City showcase, as twenty of us stood at the front trying to listen to him delicately pick and nervously deliver some of his best material, whilst the clueless ya-ya’s at the bar laughed horsily and droned nasally, with the collective volume of an enormous turbo sinus. Truly, a pearl before swine. He is currently putting together a new group, the Audinary Hearts Band, with fellow songwriter guitarist Phil McDonald (aka Baxter Trappe) and the Former Bullies drummer Tom sitting in until a permanent member can be found.

I caught an recent show at The Royal Oak in Chorlton and was heartened to hear some potentially brilliant material, reminiscent of the early Pavement sound – off key/on key, haphazard, but intriguing. The first Audinary Hearts demo contains at least one Burrell classic, the beautiful, non-stop vocal coda waltz ‘Six Streets Down Love’.

Lazy journalists will probably describe you as sounding like you are ‘on acid’, ‘tripping on mushrooms’, or ’stoned’. Would you like to take this opportunity to tell the readership that you Don’t Do Drugs?

I don’t know about that ?

I understand you’re originally from Cambridge – how did you come to be in Manchester? And did you ever see Syd knocking about?

I was born by the sea, all the way at the bottom of the island, then I lived with the concrete cows and sometime before I reached double figures, we moved again near enough to Cambridge. So I’m not from any one place. That’s sorta what I’m searching for. My friends would say they’d seen Syd about listening to music, you know bobbing his head, except he was never wearing headphones.

When did you write you first song? Were your folks musical?

I was thinking about this the other day, it was in New Cross in London with my friend in his basement flat. It was hot summer and that night we ate chicken soup cooked by his girlfriend’s dad who’s from Chile. I remember the soup being good but I cant remember the song, only that it hooked me onto something that nothing had before. My folks never really listened to music!

What can we expect from the forthcoming album? You must be really excited to have a full-length LP out.

It’ll be something good, something you’ve never heard before and you will have heard it a thousand times too. It’s taken three years to put it all together. It’s odd, I don’t remember recording it much, that might be for other reasons though. It’s my best album yet, heh heh.

It’s very difficult to compare you to anybody else, even though yr vocal style seems instantly familiar. Can you give the readers an idea of where you’re coming from musically? One or two core influences, perhaps?

I’m sorta coming from everywhere looking for somewhere and not knowing the way. Influences … like any kind of roots in there I like, you know, regardless of the sound, im into that in the music. Today, I was listening to M.I.A and Orange Juice

Do you ever feel like writing a straight narrative lyric? I’ll give you a quick example – 1,2,3,4, ‘felt so good today / baby’s here to stay / she’s the queen of my heart / yeah, yeah, yeah’, or maybe ‘Today, I feel quite sad / everything seems bad / don’t know what to say / cos I feel so bad today’ … As opposed to your more cryptic words – ‘drift by on a passing eyelash’ (from the wonderful ‘Stick Out Your Tongue’), for example.

Mmm, I don’t really think about what kind of thing it is, it just comes the way it comes. It mostly means anything at all. If I could simplify everything I wanted to say into four lines, I would arrive. That’s what I’m after.

What I’m driving at is that there is a certain mystery to your lyrics and indeed your persona. In these post-Arctic Monkeys days, we seem to be deluged with aggressively normal young singers who outline their problem – a serious English small-town malaise – without having any solutions or clues for a better future. Your stuff, meanwhile, totally bypasses the modern age, would you say?

I don’t know, it sounds like you described me there. Will normality look different depending on where it is? Maybe my music’s just out of touch! I guess I don’t really pay any attention to time, because I think where is the start and where is the end. I get fast and slow.

Are you enjoying playing live more now that you have some company on stage (Phil McDonald)? Phil is no mean songwriter in his own right – have you enjoyed working on his songs?

He’s got some great songs, lyrically he gets a lot closer than many to simplifying and connecting with you. Playing live, I love or hate, it’s a lot better when we’re playing together now though, to get that fuller sound. At the moment we’re still trying to control it, because it gets wild and then we’re fighting with it to calm it, it’s volatile and can change in a flash.

Ooompa Zoompa/Evelyn 7inch out 27th AUGUST

http://www.myspace.com/neilburrell

-Ollie Wright

A difficult one to write about, Blitzen Trapper. All I know is that they are from Portland, Oregon and that their new album, Wild Mountain Nation, has some superb moments.

Check the thoroughbred Americana title track, with its sleazy motif riff, or ‘The Green King Sings’, which comes on like the Super Furry Animals if they weren’t such bloomin’ stoners – slicker, quicker, leaner, fitter, more direct. Brilliant. There’s a gorgeous acoustic ballad in there – ‘Summer Town’, with affecting lyrics and a sweetly delivered chorus – to name a few of the many pop zeniths scaled, via various unique and thoughtfully mapped-out paths, on this terrific LP.

Words about musicians are nothing but a distraction, sometimes, or at least Blitzen Trapper clearly feel that way. Their press release does everything it can to keep the band’s identity a secret. No individual glory seekers, these musical brothers; it’s all about the sound. Not about the music, maaan, these are not preening musos. The sound is too busy and joyful for that.

Music made by egotistical males can be the most pompous, boring and futile exercise on the planet; Blitzen Trapper, even at their most willful, never sound pompous, boring, or pointless. For me, an album which stripped out the silly (the country hoe-down ‘Wild Mountain Jam’ and the bizarre (‘Woof & Warp of the Quiet Giant’s Hem’) and replaced these more self-indulgent elements with more pop-rock belters a la ‘Sci-Fi Kid’ would be a treasure and could quite easily put the group up there, in commercial terms, with the Shins of this world. But maybe they’re a bit too rough-hewn and rugged to go that far into the mainstream and maybe, in reality, if I didn’t see the flaws, the gems wouldn’t shine quite so bright.

Contrast is important.

E. Earley of the band was good enough to field a few questions, which constituted me doing little more than groping in the dark for a light switch.

>>>OK E, HERE GOES NOTHING! THANKS A LOT, OLLIE

>>>HAS THE BAND CONSISTED OF THE SAME MUSICIANS ALL THE WAY THROUGH, OR HAS THE LINE-UP CHOPPED AND CHANGED AROUND A CONSISTENT CORE?

The line up has remained the same.

>>>WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHEN YOU LISTEN TO ‘WOOF & WARP OF THE QUIET GIANT’S HEM’?

A robust menagerie of birds and carnival mixed with alligator wrestling and girls chewing bubble gum.

>>>WHERE IS THE LINE BETWEEN SELF-INDULGENCE AND SELF-ASSERTION? IF YOU REPRESS TOO MANY ELEMENTS OF YOUR OWN IMPULSES, DO YOU RENDER YOURSELF POINTLESS? WHAT I MEAN TO ASK IS, WHY DO YOU FIND THAT THE MORE ESOTERIC ELEMENTS OF THIS RECORD ARE NECESSARY?

None of it is necessary, but I hesitate to give answer to a question so heady; as a songwriter I work purely on instinct, like a bear burrowing for grubs.

>>>THE RECORD COVERS A LOT OF GROUND, FROM PURE-BREED ACOUSTIC POP TO INBRED MONGREL NOISE. HAVE YOU EVER, OR DO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT EVER, RELEASE A RECORD THAT WAS ONE WAY OR THE OTHER, SO TO SPEAK – I.E. SET OUT TO MAKE A POP ALBUM, OR SET OUT TO MAKE A TOTALLY GONZO EXPERIMENTAL LP? EXCUSE MY IGNORANCE OF YOUR BACK CAT, I’M NEW TO YOU.

We’ve recorded pop records but never released them; also loads of pure noise recordings which never come out either, we choose carefully what we decide to push at any given time.

>>>THE PRESS RELEASE IS KIND OF GNOMIC, SO I MIGHT JUST HAVE TO BE BLUNT AND ASK YOU FOR SOME CORE MUSICAL INFLUENCES. I’M GUESSING (AND PROBABLY SHOWING MYSELF UP) PAVEMENT, CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL, THE BAND, ERM, ZAPPA… HELP A POOR ENGLISH SCRIBE!

Fela Kuti, King Tubby, Dylan, Augustus Pablo, Neil Young, Doc Watson and Clarence Ashley, Merle Haggard, Sonic Youth, etc.

>>>DO YOU FEEL THAT MAINTAINING A PERSONAL MYSTIQUE HELPS TO FOCUS ATTENTION ON THE ACTUAL MUSIC? YOU SEEM HELL-BENT ON KEEPING YOURSELVES RIGHT OUT OF IT AND LETTING THE SONGS JUST BE.

Yes.

>>>WHERE CAN WE PICK UP THE STUFF YOU RELEASE ON THE WEB?

I’m not exactly sure, i never really look for music on the web, I guess free stuff on myspace and pay stuff on iTunes.

>>>WILL YOU BE PLAYING THE UK ANY TIME SOON?

Perhaps.

e.earley

http://www.myspace.com/blitzentrapper

-Ollie Wright