Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Miniskirt: An interview with Edgar Franz

Miniskirt might be the only German-Japanese indiepop band in existence. 
German singer/songwriter/guitarist Edgar Franz moved to Japan to study and formed Miniskirt with mostly Japanese bandmates. 

Miniskirt's sound is heavily influenced by '80s British guitar pop, but Franz's lyrics are filled with unexpected detours. For example, in the song "Be Here with Me," I always laugh when he interrupts his narrative with a list of all the possible beverages that can be shared during a visit:

The band's first—and, so far, only—album, Woody Allen Likes Guitar Pop, came out on the German label Marsh-Marigold in 2003. It was reissued in Taiwan on White Wabbit Records with a bonus track in 2005. The band has also contributed a number of songs to compilations. (Their website has a complete discography).

For a long time, it seemed as if Miniskirt would be another one of those bands that releases one great record and then disappears. For years, the Miniskirt and Marsh-Marigold websites said that a follow-up album, titled Audrey Hepburn Kiss Me Kiss Me, was "coming soon," but time passed and it never appeared. 

I contacted Franz to find out what happened to the second album and what Miniskirt is up to today. The interview is from May 21, 2014. 

Marsh-Marigold said for years that Audrey Hepburn Kiss Me Kiss Me was "coming soon."

Yes, it took a while! But now it’s definite. The album will be out in September, and it will be released along with new albums by Alaska and Knabenkraut! Hooray!

Did you write all of the songs for the first album in Japan, or did you start working on it when you were still in Germany? 

I started to write the songs for the first album when I was in Japan.

What's the current lineup of Miniskirt?

There are seven members:

Mai: synthesizer. Sachiko: flute, accordion, vocals. Makiko: bass. Kenmi: drums. Fujihira-san: guitar. Taisuke: guitar. And
Edgar: vocals, guitar. 

Mai, Makiko, and Taisuke were not on the first album. 


Has Miniskirt been playing live lately?

The latest show we played was on 2 November 2013 in Tokyo, together with Sloppy Joe and Poster Boy [Firestation Records] from Hungary. On that day we played with six band members. 

What kind of reception do you get in Japan? 

In Japan we get a friendly reception from the indiepop community. We were always lucky to perform at good events together with bands that we liked. Our next show is on August 2nd in Saitama, and again in October in Kyoto. 

Has J-Pop had any influence on Miniskirt? 

On the first album, there was no influence of J-Pop, as we were just listening to British guitar-pop bands at that time. 
After, I started to listen to Japanese Future Pop bands like Aprils and EeL, with whom we also played some shows together, Mai joined the band to add some synthesizer to our sound. Therefore, the inclusion of a synthesizer is the only J-Pop influence, although Mai herself prefers to listen to Stereolab. 

When Sachiko is singing on some songs, her Japanese accent makes them sound as much Japanese as German because of my voice. 

Do you think you'll ever write a song in Japanese?

Never say never. Yes, I plan to write lyrics in Japanese.

Can you tell us more about the new album and when it will be out? 

No further delays. It will be out in September. It’s a great album. Everyone on planet Earth should own a copy. It’s pure guitar pop. Two songs are in German, the other 10 songs in English. The lyrics are full of references to personalities that we cherish, like John Wayne, Tintin, and the Smiths. The cover design is by the legendary Jad Fair. 

Are any of the members of Miniskirt active in other bands? 

At the moment everyone is just playing with Miniskirt! 

What else are you doing these days? You wrote a book on Philipp Franz von Siebold—are you working on another book? 

In the last few years I have continued my research on the history of German-Japanese relations and published several essays in Japanese university journals. 

In cooperation with a Japanese colleague, I have translated two books on German history from German to Japanese. Currently, I am working on a film script. In summer I will attend a workshop in high-def filmmaking given by the New York Film Academy. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

What are the lyrics to "Hallelujah Anyhow"?

I've noticed that people sometimes come to this website when searching for the lyrics to the hymn "Hallelujah Anyhow." Finding the lyrics to this particular song is a challenge, but the mysteries surrounding the hymn are deeper than that. For me, the story of this hymn has local interest as well, because it starts in Indiana, where I live. 

If you search for the lyrics of "Hallelujah Anyhow," you'll get too many results and too much contradictory information. Why? For two reasons:

  1. "Hallelujah anyhow" has become a common expression that people say to express abiding faith when things go wrong. 
  2. Many songs use the title "Hallelujah Anyhow," and all of the songs have different lyrics. 
That's right, there's not a hymn called "Hallelujah Anyhow"—there are many hymns called "Hallelujah Anyhow." I searched the databases of three major song publishers—BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC—and found 22 songs with that title. That number doesn't include songs that include "hallelujah anyhow" as only a part of the title. 

A further complication is that many of these songs are very similar and yet are copyrighted by different composers. This situation often occurs with songs that are based on a traditional song that is in the public domain. 

The 2007 book "Mek Some Noise": Gospel Music and the Ethics of Style in Trinidad, by Timothy Rommen, talks about a song called "Hallelujah Anyhow" that people sing in Trinidad, the chorus of which is "never, ever let life's troubles get you down. When life troubles pass your way, lift your head up high and say, 'Hallelujah anyhow.'" This reference suggests that the song is traditional.

I don't think it's a traditional song, though. Many of Rommen's field notes are from around 2000, which was many years after this song was first published and recorded. 

The first published version of the song is by Ruth Munsey. An image of the original sheet music appears above. Munsey was the mother of Steve Munsey, the pastor of the Family Christian Center in Munster, Indiana, who can sometimes be seen on TBN, the Trinity Broadcasting Network.

Ruth Munsey published this song in 1970 and it was originally recorded by The Hemphills for their 1970 album Old Brush Arbor Days

The first line of the song is "When you're in the valley dark and low," and the chorus is "Hallelujah anyhow. I'll never let my troubles get me down. Whatever problems life may bring, I'll lift my head up high and sing, 'Hallelujah anyhow.'"

Not only is Munsey's composition the first published version of the song, but it also contains the earliest use of the phrase "hallelujah anyhow" that I've been able to find anywhere. On Google Books, I find no example of this phrase that predates 1970. 

This suggests to me that Munsey wrote an original song and that subsequent composers adapted it, perhaps thinking that it was traditional, and perhaps sometimes coming too close for comfort from a copyright standpoint. 

Another very popular—but very different—version of "Hallelujah Anyhow" is by Minister Thomas A. Whitfield, who wrote a song by that title and included it on his album of the same name. This album charted on Billboard's Top Spiritual Albums chart in 1985. Whitfield's song uses the phrase "hallelujah anyhow" but is otherwise unlike Munsey's song. 

Below is an incomplete survey of songs that are either based on Munsey's "Hallelujah Anyhow" or incorporate the phrase "hallelujah anyhow." Good luck with finding the version that you're looking for. 

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Ruth Munsey

Munsey herself appeared on an album that included this recording. The album, titled An Unfinished Task, was released on the Sounds of Pentecost Recordings label of Hammond, Indiana. The Good, Bad & Ugly Gospel Record Barn blog did a post on it with sound clips from the album, including "Hallelujah Anyhow." 

A tweet by Ruth's son, Phil Munsey, on the anniversary of "Hallelujah Anyhow"

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Minister Thomas A. Whitfield

The lyrics are mostly "hallelujah anyhow" over and over. This album was a hit on the Billboard Top Spiritual Albums chart in 1985. 

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Joe Pace

The chorus is "no matter what comes my way, I'll lift my voice and say 'hallelujah anyhow.'" 

You can find the full lyrics here.

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Jonathan Howard 

The chorus is "Hallelujah anyhow, never let your troubles get you down. When trials come your way, hold your head high and say 'hallelujah anyhow.'"

You can find the full lyrics here. And here is a sample of a recording by the Miami Mass Choir.

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Pastor Ronald Williams

The chorus is "Hallelujah anyhow, never never let life's problems get you down." Hear a sample here.

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Milton Biggham

The chorus is "when Satan blocks your way, stand right up and say 'Hallelujah anyhow.'" Most of the song repeats the chorus over and over. 

Here's a great performance of it by Rev. Clay Evans:

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Herman A. Dade

The chorus is "something about that phrase, 'hallelujah anyhow.'"

You can hear a clip of Kenton Rogers's recording of this song here

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Ronny Hinson

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Rev. Raymond Wise

The chorus is "won't you lift your voice and say 'hallelujah anyhow.'" You can hear a clip here

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Chris Byrd

The chorus is "Hallelujah anyhow, never let your problems get you down, if problems come your way, hold your head up high and say 'hallelujah anyhow." 

Here's a clip of a recording by Steve Middleton.

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Vicki Farrie

The chorus repeats the phrase "hallelujah anyhow." 

"Hallelujah Anyhow" by Gina Taylor

The title track of her 2013 album. The chorus is "I've learned to say 'hallelujah anyhow.'" Hear a clip here

Friday, May 23, 2014

Men in Fur: A retrospective and interview with Jayme Guokas

Men in Fur is one of those one-album wonders that I like to write about, like Sweet Sweet Concorde and Gigi. Its creators considered Men in Fur to be a joke band, but I think that the sole Men in Fur album is a minor twee-pop classic. All of the songs are about animals and feature strummy guitars and cheesy drum machine beats. You can't go wrong with that formula. I especially like "The Deer Song."

The band was a side project of Jayme Guokas and Frank Jordan, who played (and play) in many other bands: Jordan in the Bright Lights, Snow Fairies, and Boyracer, and Guokas in Glitter, Ex Friends, Snow Fairies, Rabbit in Red, etc. 

Guokas took some time out during his current tour with Ex Friends to reminisce about Men in Fur. Music Weird interviewed Guokas on May 20, 2014. 

How did the Men in Fur album come about, and how did it end up being released on Happy Happy Birthday to Me (HHBTM) Records?

Men in Fur was a joke band I started with my friend Frank Jordan of the Bright Lights and then ended up writing a bunch of songs that were actually pretty good. Frank moved, but I spent a winter in my basement making that album. 

It was a dreary winter, and I had a shitty job at Barnes and Noble alphabetizing books, so all my energy went into recording. I was sort of hibernating in my basement, going to work, and then coming home and recording obsessively. 

It got a lot weirder than I imagined. I ended up taking the tape machine to a church with a vaulted stone ceiling to record the 12-string guitar, because of the great reverb there. I had sent a demo tape to Mike HHBTM and he agreed to put out the album based on some demo recordings.

The album had a concept and maybe even a philosophy behind it. Can you describe that?

The original concept behind the band was to write songs about animals. But then time travel got involved, and this story formed about returning to an age of innocence, when people lived closer to nature. So these silly animal songs started to include parables like the Peaceable Kingdom, and raised existential questions about our essential relationship to animals and to the natural world. 

There are these references to a more evolved human being ["The Messenger"] that beckons us from the future to live simpler and more humane lives. I thought of the music as primitive new wave, synthesizing drum machines with more acoustic instruments, with a more organic approach to technology.

What's the cover photo from?

I wanted an evocative black and white photo, and my friend Dan had this vintage 1930s picture of a German dude with his pet rabbit sitting on his mantle. It was perfect: a man petting his rabbit with driving gloves.

Can you talk about writing the songs and recording the album? Who all played on it?

Frank wrote "The Tiger" song and "Rabbits in the Springtime," which was inspired by Watership Down. Eric Van Osten, who is in Glitter with me now, wrote "The Salmon Song" and sang on a few others. I wrote the rest. 

Some of the Snow Fairies sang on various songs: Rose on "The Shepherd Song," Melissa on "The Birds and the Bees." I had a lot of fun making that record.

How many times did you play live as Men in Fur? 

Our first show was at Bryn Mawr College with fur costumes. Then, a half dozen shows in Philadelphia, and one in DC. And, we played at the HHBTM Popfest in Athens.

Have you thought about doing more Men in Fur recordings?

Nah, it was a concept album that stands on its own.



Men in Fur (Happy Happy Birthday to Me HHBTM061, 2004)

  • The Messenger / Elisa / The Birds and the Bees / The Lonely Bear / Sister Moon / The Shepherd Song / Sam the Salmon / The Tiger Song / The Deer Song / The Monkey Song / The Snake Song / Rabbits in the Springtime / The Messenger (Reprise)

Compilation appearances

The Way Things Change Vol. 3 (Red Square RSQ05, 2001)
  • Various artists. Includes "Set Them Free" by Men in Fur.

Invited to Dinner (Red Square RSQ08, 2002)
  • Various artists. Includes "Theme Song" by Men in Fur.

No Parachute: A Compilation of Indie Music Videos Volume 1 (Happy Happy Birthday to Me HHBTM066, 2005)
  • The title music of this video compilation is a Men in Fur instrumental, "Mr. Bear Takes a Walk."

Happy Happy Birthday to Me Vol. 4 (Happy Happy Birthday to Me HHBTM088, 2007)
  • Various artists. Includes "A Rainy Day" by Men in Fur. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

NRC Records: An interview with Johnny Carter

Johnny Carter, the current owner of National Recording Corporation (NRC), says that he became a "collector of all things connected with NRC at age 11." 

NRC was an Atlanta record label that began in 1958 and released records by then-unknown artists who went on to much greater fame: Jerry Reed, Ray Stevens, Joe South, Sonny James, David Houston, Johnny Sea(y), Dave Dudley, etc. 

The label had some hits, most notably Tony Bellus's "Robbin' the Cradle." And it recorded some new music from established artists, most notably the 1959 album Crying in the Chapel by Darrell Glenn. I say "most notably" in the latter case because Crying in the Chapel is one of my all-time favorite albums, so it's notable to me. It's a mixture of inspirational pop songs and traditional spirituals with rich vocal-group arrangements and instrumental accompaniment that sounds like a glockenspiel. The song "Crying in the Chapel" was a big hit for Glenn in 1953, but the NRC album contains a re-recording. 

Carter was an NRC superfan before the word "superfan" had been coined. When Carter released some recordings of his own under the name Johnny Jay in the mid '60s, the singles came out on the Cherokeeland Record Company label, the logo of which imitated the design of the NRC logo. Carter even had the singles pressed at the original NRC pressing plant. (The blog Artyfacts in Wax has a great post on Carter's Johnny Jay recordings.) 

Johnny Carter, AKA Johnny Jay

The NRC label went bankrupt in the early '60s, but the NRC pressing plant continued to operate until 1970. In 2004, Carter managed to acquire the label that had fascinated him so much as a kid. He not only reissued much of the original NRC catalog but also released new music under the NRC imprint, including new recordings by NRC stalwart Tony Bellus.

Music Weird talked to Johnny Carter about NRC and his other activities on May 20, 2014.

You have an entertainment empire going with your studio and record labels. Can you give us an overview of everything you do? 

National Recording Corporation is a full-service audio/visual company. We do custom production as well as in-house production in a number of genres. We have in-house graphic design, CD and DVD duplication, assembly, and packaging. 

Our studio is approximately 1,200 square feet, not counting the control room or isolation booth. A separate room houses audio mastering and digital video editing. NRC licenses masters to a number of companies, who release the NRC and affiliated labels: Judd, Wonder, Sho-Biz, Jax, and Scottie. And our music is available on compact disc as well as iTunes and streaming.

You went to some lengths to acquire the NRC catalog. What happened to the NRC master tapes, and have any turned up since you acquired the label?

When the original president, Bill Lowery, knew the original 1958 company was going bankrupt [April 27, 1961], he offered a number of NRC artists their master tapes in return for signing a release freeing NRC from any responsibility for future royalties. 
Some of those artists have placed those masters in my hands. A fire supposedly destroyed many of the original masters, but the fact was that many of the masters were in the hands of the artists. 

The company was bought out of receivership in 1962 by Frederick Storey, who had convinced the bankruptcy court to allow him to loan NRC $38,000. The fire destroyed the studio, and the company moved and operated as a record pressing plant until about 1970, when it was closed. 

Storey's daughters, his only heirs, inherited their father's intellectual property rights, which were purchased by myself in 2004. There had been some lease deals from NRC to budget-album labels. One of those those, Crown, was later bought by a British firm, who acknowledged my ownership of the library, and furnished their masters for my use.

What experiences have you had with reissuing the NRC catalog?

The help I received from worldwide collectors in re-creating the library was the biggest surprise. 

When it became known that I owned the library, a number of collectors from all over the world lent their mint-condition records, which we digitized, and began to make the music available again after a forty-year absence. Collectors from France and Germany visit from time to time.

Bibletone is another old label that you acquired. What is the story with that, and are you still releasing music on Bibletone?

Bibletone is the oldest [1942] gospel-music label name. The original Bibletone company closed as a result of an accident at their pressing plant. I acquired the name in the '60s and started acquiring rights from the individual artists, since most of the artists had furnished Bibletone with their masters. One of gospel music's enduring groups, the Rebels, made their first Bibletone recordings in 1950 and their latest in 2012.

You did a new single with Tony Bellus in 2008. Can you talk about that?

NRC has released two singles on Tony Bellus, who is still writing and singing great songs. 

The 2008 release was a CD single called "Won't You Hang Up 'n' Drive?

And in 2013, Tony did a Christmas CD single called "I Want Florida for Christmas." He still has many fans who remember "Robbin' The Cradle."

What are your plans for NRC? 

We still sell our products in CD and DVD at www.narecorp.com, and people get our music from iTunes, YouTube, and streaming. We will continue to record new music in our studio, and have plans to do more licensing as we acquire the rights to other labels.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The music of Terry Lester: An interview with Danny Pelfrey

Did you know that actor Terry Lester, the popular heartthrob of 1980s and '90s daytime soap operas, moonlighted as a composer? 

I was familiar with Lester from his starring role in the 1970s post-apocalyptic children's show Ark II, which was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid. In the photo above, Lester is the tall blond guy wearing the jetpack. 

Ark II was about a band of scientists and a talking chimp who drive around the post-apocalyptic wasteland in a futuristic RV and have weird experiences, kind of like an earthbound version of the original Star Trek. The show incorporated an actual, working jetpack.  

I wasn't plugged in to the world of daytime television back then (or ever), so I didn't know that Lester went on to much greater fame in soap operas. In the 1980s he played the womanizing Jack Abbott in The Young and the Restless and Mason Capwell on Santa Barbara, and in the 1990s he played Royce Keller in As the World Turns

Lester was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, about an hour away from me. He died from a heart attack in 2003. 

Terry Lester

Lester was not only a successful actor but also an accomplished musician. His bio on Internet Movie Database says that he first found work in Hollywood with his singing and piano playing, but his musical endeavors aren't well known, apart from his appearance in the notorious KISS television movie KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.

However, Lester also collaborated on some television and film music with Danny Pelfrey, the Emmy-nominated composer and musician. If you ever watch television or movies, then you've heard Pelfrey's music. (Check out Pelfrey's website to read about his many credits, awards, and other achievements.)

Pelfrey, Lester, and Rick Rhodes worked together on 25 or so instrumental compositions. I asked Danny to remember what he could about working with Lester and about the music they co-wrote, and he kindly obliged. 

Music Weird interviewed Danny Pelfrey on May 8, 2014. 

Do you know anything about any musical experience Terry had before you worked with him? 

No, sorry. I don't have any information on this at at all.

How did you end up collaborating with him?

Through Rick Rhodes. Rick and I were partners for quite a while, and I think Rick knew him from the soap opera world somehow, but I'm not sure about the details. Rick wanted to bring him in on some stuff we were doing at the time.

Rick Rhodes

What was it like to work with Lester? What was his contribution? And how did he rate as a musician?

On the pieces he contributed, he basically wrote tunes and Rick and I finished them, as I don't think Terry had the technology for production. 

I didn't know him at all, so when Rick said he had an actor friend that he wanted to bring in on something, I was skeptical, to say the least. However, his contribution indicated he was a fine musician, and he gave us excellent material. I wish I could have gotten to know him better, but our paths did not cross that much on a personal level.

Where did you compose? What was your process?

He wrote his part at his place, then gave it to us. We did our parts and final production at my studio, and I mixed and engineered. I can't remember how he got it to us. It could have been a MIDI sketch.

You said that Rick and Terry knew each other from working on soap operas?

I think Rick and Terry knew each other from soaps, yes. Likely Santa Barbara.

A number of the pieces you wrote together, like "Bahamian Party" and "Caribbean," have an island theme. They're included on an album called Caribbean–Volume 1 on killertracks.com, but was this a commercially released album?

The music was for a Caribbean-themed release for Killer Tracks, intended for use in TV and film. It was not a commercial release in the traditional sense.

Did you work with Terry on any music that wasn't for television or film?

No. Only on the material I did with him and Rick Rhodes, which was for Killer Tracks, and maybe FirstCom.

Of the music that you composed with Terry, what was the most successful, artistically or commercially?

Well, I liked them all! I can't say which ones did the best without some research, but I would say they all did well.

Do you know if any of this music is being used or has been used recently?

No, I would have to investigate that. However, I can say that all of my music from that period continues to get used and does well.

What are you working on now?

I have my own production music catalog called Amusicom. We are in distribution in several territories around the world as well as domestically. I am actively writing and producing for that. Also, I am working on an independent animated film as well as a concert piece for 2015. And I'm also playing music locally in the central coast area in California were I live now. 

Danny Pelfrey

Terry Lester's compositions

From the BMI website. You can listen to some of these compositions here.

  • "4 Stories" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Another World" – Background cues (Lester/Chieli Minucci/Rhodes)
  • "As the World Turns" – Background cues (Lester)
  • "Bahamian Party" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Breeze" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Caribbean" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Csonka Outdoors" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Dr. G Medical Examiner" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Farming from the Heart" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Ghosts" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Government Secrets" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rick Rothstein)
  • "Heavenly" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Historic Homes of" – Background cues (Lester)
  • "Homes of Frank Lloyd W" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Hot Nights" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Incurable Collector" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Jamaica Celebrity Sports" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Kingston Bound" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "KTHV News at 10:00 PM" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Lesson in Life" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Life and Style" – Background cues (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Montego Mai Tai" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Nealy" (Lester)
  • "Outer Regions" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Proud Prado" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Soft Kisses" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Soleil" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "Starlight in Brazil" (Lester/Pelfrey/Rhodes)
  • "When Nothing Matters" (Lester)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Music Weird interviews Colin Clary, part 2

This is part 2 of my interview with Colin Clary, which continues from here. The video above is for the song "I Didn't Know You Were a Wizard" from Colin's album Twee Blues Vol. 1, which drops on Tuesday, May 13, as they say in the industry.

In this part of the interview, Colin talks his label Sudden Shame and the state of indiepop today, among other things. The interview was conducted in the first week of May 2014. 

You used to run the record label Sudden Shame. What was your experience with that? Was it a money pit? 

I started Sudden Shame records when I was in college at Notre Dame and loved doing it. Running a record label can be one of the most fun things ever, especially in the dreaming and planning phase. Making lists of what you want to put out, putting together release schedules and comps and stuff is a blast. Having the opportunity to encourage someone whose art you believe in and to help them see how awesome they are is a total treat.

It actually wasn’t a money pit at all in the beginning; putting out small-run cassettes and selling them around campus was good fun. But then you start making more and more plans, putting out more releases, and the next thing you know, you have moved up to vinyl seven-inches and CDs, and eventually you might end up with a house full of boxes of CDs and records and not much money. I felt like I knew quite a bit about putting together good records and finding awesome bands, but I was pretty lacking when it came down to business sense.

I am extremely proud of all the records I helped folks put out, though. And for the most part, a lot of those folks are still making music and I feel like, aesthetically, we totally rocked it.

I was totally bitten by the DIY bug, and we had a good run. Most of my label work was all pre-internet and on a pretty small scale. I definitely had to pay for a lot of things out of my own pocket, and if it wasn’t truly a labor of love, it wouldn’t have lasted nearly as long as it did. Most of the folks who I worked with who became more successful did so when they moved on to other labels, but I pretty much loved everything I released. I have a lot of lasting friendships that came about through the work I did back then. I should say that we did back then—me and the bands.

What were the low points?

The low points are when you don’t get paid by distributors, or when the workload becomes more like work. It takes a lot of work to run a successful label. At a certain point, I suppose I just wanted to go back to making records and not being the one doing all the other work. Also, I lot of friends in the bands I was in or working with migrated out of town, and it got a little lonely being the label.

What were your favorite releases?

My favorite releases from back then would be the Guppyboy LP/CD Jeffersonville; and the Essex Green/Sixth Great Lake seven inch; the Chisel/Brian, Colin and Vince split seven inch; the Van Pelt/Radio to Saturn seven inch; the Missy Bly EP; and the Storm of the Century comp. And the Trendinista 5000 tape, too! 

Many of the other releases were bands that I was in—Brian, Colin & Vince; Madelines; the Four Color Manual—or bands that I was good friends with. Huffy was pretty awesome. I remember screen-printing covers for the Six Cents & Natalie/huffy split seven inch on my parents’ dining room table. And we put on a fest for a few years called Burlingtonitus, co-organized by Brad Searles, which was pretty amazing. And I loved the Smiles seven-inch EP! "City Rabbit"! Totally awesome. James Kochalka’s Carrot Boy rock opera! Snowi Springs’ Snowi Springs/Yam Soap cassette! 

I don’t know if it’s fair to play favorites, though, since I was really into everything Sudden Shame released. I keep making this list longer as I remember more of the things we put out. It was a good label and a good family for a little while.

A lot of the early work for the label was 'zines and penpals. When it got to dealing with actual distributors, it got less fun. I should also say that some bands funded their own releases. Some of the bands I was in used money from shows to make our cassettes in the early days.

I don’t regret it at all. If I had a ton of money, I would still be doing it. The most fun is deciding what to put out. The least fun is realizing how much work it takes to really do it super well.

The people who run labels and put out records on a small scale are my heroes. I know that it takes a lot more effort than people end up seeing. We should be nice to all those people.

What do you think about the state of indiepop today? 

I feel like indiepop today is in pretty good shape—nice and de-centralized like it seemingly always has been, which seems to keep it a bit hard to pin down or co-opt, which is just fine by me! 

I think it will always be the case with many things that might tend to be more a labor of love than a profitable enterprise that the folks who care a lot and work hard and put their hearts—and wallets—into it can get burned out. I have seen a lot of labels come and go over the years and many of them started and ended by their own choice. I am really impressed by how much effort Camila at WeePOP! is putting into making sure that the end of the label is conducted with every bit as much love and care and dignity as the beginning and all the parts between.

Sometimes these things just peter out, and sometimes it is a shock to the bands on labels that suddenly disappear or implode. I’m sure it differs for every situation.

I do think that there are often as many label startings are there are endings in any given year. And maybe this is a reason why a lot of indiepop labels and bands stay small: because it is the beginning of a band or a label or a first release or first show that get folks the most excited. Trying to keep it up for the long haul sometimes takes you to a place where you realize it, whatever it is that you are doing, has become more like an obligation than a fun thing you are just going for.

We are super lucky as a community to have things like Indietracks and some of the other wonderful alldayers and popfests here in the states and overseas to give us an opportunity to meet up and see lots of the bands that we might otherwise only be experiencing from a distance. It has made a world of difference in my life to be able to attend and perform at some of these things. The ability to gather and feel a part of a larger community is a beautiful thing. And the fact that these festivals feel more like friend- and fan-fests than big corporate rockstar showoff shindigs is why, I think, most folks who go to them love them. They are very non-icky! It is clearly not all rainbows and unicorns, but it never really has been.

So yeah, I get a little sad anytime a label I love calls it a day, but at the same time, I am thankful for whatever they managed to do and don’t really expect anyone to keep at the same thing forever anyhow.

The fact that it is super easy to start a label, or invent a fest, or start a band kinda insures that there will always (I hope) be more indiepop on the way. So I feel pretty good about it. I am not implying that these things don’t take a lot of work to pull off, but really, the initial enthusiasm that kicks in when you decide to go for it usually guarantees a successful beginning and after that you can pretty much go on until it isn’t working anymore. Then you can rip it up and start again.

CMJ New Music Monthly, 1997

It's certainly a lot easier to find new bands now. 

When I first got into indiepop, there were so many more names of bands I wanted to hear than I was ever able to actually come across, so nowadays I am very thankful for how much easier it is to hear new music and old music and to share music. 

There definitely was some fun to be had wondering what bands sounded like in the days of snail mail and paper zines, so maybe a little of the wonder is lost here and there, but I also love how I can discover new bands just but putting in an interesting tag on last.fm. I used to put on the Smittens station to see what kind of company we would be in. Or even the Indietracks tag station to get a sense of which bands I needed to see.

I wish folks could earn a living doing indiepop, but I suppose the fact that nobody really makes any serious money is also a plus. It keeps the creeps out! Also, I’m not really an expert on the state of indiepop today, so there’s that.

One other thing that I notice a lot is that for many people who love indiepop, it is not so much about only loving indiepop or loving every indiepop band either. Most of them love lots of different kinds of music and have particular threads of indiepop they love best. It is definitely not a one-sound genre. I have a soft spot for the scrappiest bands with the most ramshackle live shows and best songs. Kind of like the first few indiepop bands I fell for years ago.

What haven't you done yet, musically, that you'd still like to do?

That would be a long list! I hope someday to know how to read music and also have an easier time playing piano. 

Most of my musical goals involve collaborations or recording or touring. I would be psyched someday to record some songs with Emma from Standard Fare. I would love to play in Japan. I have a dream of doing a split 12-inch record with one side being a cover of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” and the other side being a cover of the Allman Brothers’ “Mountain Jam.” I’m still a slide guitar learner, though, so that would be a ways off still. 

I feel really lucky to have been able to find the people that I’ve made music with and to have played in front of as many people as I already have. Everything else is bonus. I am happy that anyone likes anything I’ve ever done. So I basically plan to just keep on doing more of that. I am totally psyched for whatever the next song I write will be. Yow!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Music Weird interviews Colin Clary, part 1

Colin Clary is a household name in twee-pop households like mine. He has contributed to a huge discography of indiepop recordings as a solo artist, as a member of the Smittens and Let's Whisper, and as the sole proprietor of the Sudden Shame label, just to name a few. 

He also doesn't shy away from the word "twee." His forthcoming solo album, in fact, is called Twee Blues Vol. 1. It will be one of the final three releases on the beloved WeePOP! label, which is closing up shop after seven years of being one of the world's foremost sources of cool twee and indiepop records. It will be released on May 13. 

Camila at WeePOP! was kind enough to let me preview Twee Blues Vol. 1, and it's really nice. The songs are classic Colin, and the music is well recorded with a lot of mid-tempo acoustic-guitar strumming and even a little banjo and mandolin. It's an album that I can easily imagine being profiled on NPR. My favorite track is probably the album's closer, "Half a Cookie," which you can hear on the WeePOP! website. 

Music Weird talked to Colin Clary the first week of May, and the interview is so long that I'm splitting it into two parts. Here's the first part, in which he talks about the new album, the word "twee," and the latest news from his many bands:

You have a new solo album coming out soon. What can you tell us about it? 

Well, Twee Blues Vol. 1 comes out on May 13th via WeePOP! Records and it has a few titles, though—to keep it simple—we have taken to referring to it as Twee Blues Vol. 1. So there will probably be a volume 2 at some point, but this installment goes by We Are Cool Just Rolling and also An Awesome Weekend and a Sunday Morning in Gary’s Basement with Brad and Brad and Gary and Bill. I don’t know why it ended up with so many titles, other than that is how I liked it. 

Where did you get all of these titles? 

I took the "we are cool just rolling" part from a William Burroughs book that I was trying to read (Nova Express) on Smittens tour a couple weeks after the first session for the record. It just seemed to fit with our process of making the album. We had a couple rehearsals before we headed into Marlborough Farms to record with Gary Olson [of Ladybug Transistor], and we did most of the basic tracks on Saturday afternoon and the last three the next morning. 

The other title is more fun for me. I find it amusing that there are two Brads on the record— (Brad Searles [Essex Green] on drums and Brad San Martin [One Happy Island] on bass and a few other things—and I liked the idea of putting everybody’s names on the cover. “Twee Blues” is taken from an old thread on the IndiePages board. It was, like, the thread that went on forever and wouldn’t die.

This is going to be one of WeePOP!'s last releases? 

Before we made the record, I had gotten word from Camila that WeePOP! was winding down but that she was still up for putting out another release from me before she was all done. She pretty much said she would put out anything I wanted her to, and I told her I wanted to do a full-length album on vinyl. So we pretty much just went for it.

Camila is one of the most supportive label folks ever, and I wanted to make her proud and give her the awesomest record I could make. I hope people love it as much as I do, but I’m not too worried about it. 

What was your vision for the record?

The general rule of thumb I had in terms of decision making for the whole project was that I wanted to make whatever record I wanted to make and that I was the only person who had to like it. By reminding myself of this plan, I found I was able to stay away from second guessing what other people would like and really went with whatever I wanted to hear. 

The Brads agreed to support me in this plan, and we worked together to make the songs sound good, and they really helped me carry out my vision and were super easy to work with. They were open to trying whatever I asked them to and are, in general, both easygoing and super talented, and we did everything in one or two takes.

What are the songs like? 

The songs themselves are near and dear to my heart and don’t strike me as particularly “twee,” and none of them sound like blues songs, either. 

For the most part they do have fairly simple chord structures, and I played slide guitar on some of the songs, even though I was just learning how to play slide. So it still has a bit of the energy and excitement that you can get when you are trying to do something that you are still learning to do and when people record songs before they know them too well.

It pretty much sounds like a Colin Clary record. And we should all feel lucky that it wasn’t called Crazy Uncle Colin Fun Time.

You're one of the few people, like me, who seems to like the word "twee." What does twee mean to you? 

Beat Happening, Cub, Six Cents and Natalie, the Softies. That is the wavelength I’m most on in my heart when I think of when I first heard the term. 

So, my first encounter that word was totally positive. I thought it just meant small-scale bands that were awesome and who made personal songs that made you feel like it was something so accessible. And undeniably good songs. And like something you, too, could do. 

The thing I hate about "twee" is having to explain it, because—kinda like religion—everyone has a different take on what it means or what it refers to. It can be a pretty big umbrella. It’s not worth it to me to get too worked up about, because I don’t see it as an insult when I say it and I don’t even know what it means either. I certainly don’t think "twee" means trying to be cute. I don’t actually like intentionally cute music. I wouldn’t call Belle & Sebastian twee, either. Watching people or listening to people try to be cute can be painful.

It makes me think of bands with good songs that sound easy to make up and play.

I suppose with being called "twee," wrongly tagged or not, you at least find yourself in a smaller corner of the indiepop neighborhood where folks who might like what you do can find you.

It’s not a word I use very often. As I mentioned, "Twee Blues" was one of the longest threads on the IndiePages board back in the day. I always wanted to do something with that phrase, and then one day I realized it suited what I was doing. I was a little hesitant to use it at first, but then I decided to not worry about what other people might think.

Why do you think the word elicits such strong negative reactions? 

There are a lot of ways to be dismissive of things you don’t like, and I think that the folks who would write off something as "twee" or for being called "twee" are not necessarily part of my target audience anyhow. To use it as a pejorative is just a shortcut, using what I feel can be too broad of a term. When I hear people use it negatively, I generally take it to mean that they think something is overly cute or forced cute or playing at childishness or annoyingly limp or poorly played. I find all of those things to be not that awesome, as well. I like to think of the twee spirit that I do like as something optimistic in the face of overwhelming odds, or imbued with radical gentleness. That’s more where I’m at.

In addition to your solo recordings, you're in a ton of other bands. What's the latest news with all of these groups that you're in? 

This year we’ve all been working on making new recordings, and there will be new things out from the Smittens and Let’s Whisper in the not-too-distant future. Let’s Whisper has a 10-inch titled As Close As We Are coming out on WeePOP! next month on June 24th, and we’ve lately been rehearsing for some live shows, including a release party show that will have us hosting Heathers, Sleepyhead, and the Spook School. Our drummer, Brad Searles, masterminded that lineup and we are looking forward to it. Ours will be the last release ever from WeePOP! It will help to close out the label on a sweet note.

The Smittens have also been doing a lot of recording lately. We currently don’t all live in the same town, so at some point we decided that we would be more effective just putting live shows on hold until we could get some new material recorded. We kept setting up recording weekends and then trying to squeeze in shows, which then also required rehearsals, and it really slowed down the recording process. So now we are coming to the end of that phase.

We’ve only got a few songs left to get recorded for our next album, and we are releasing a 10-inch six-song record as the single for the album. We are finalizing the mixes right now, and the plan is for that to be released in time for our summer touring plans. And then we should have the full album out some time after that. Fika Recordings is putting that stuff out, and Tom at Fika is great to work with. As far as touring goes, we are still sorting out the details of where we are going.

(Go to part 2.)