Strive To Make It Timeless : A Conversation With Broken Lamps’ Eric Bowr

Eric Bowr makes music under the name Broken Lamps. He works alone in his home studio building musical worlds that encapsulate mystery, dark beauty, and a feeling of being aged to perfection. There’s elements of classic Italian composers, which gives the songs an air of Bava, Leone, Fellini, and Argento. But Bowr is good enough that he doesn’t come across as copying. His “Original library music inspired by cult cinema and rare film soundtracks of the 60s and 70s” tips its hat to the classics while still retaining deft modern touches.

Of course, Eric Bowr started his musical life in a punk band.

But that’s the point of it all, isn’t it? The journey? How did a little kid from rural Pennsylvania who grew up during the height of “Satanic Panic” in the 80s end up touring in a punk band? Then end up comfortably secluded in a home recording studio creating beautifully curated soundscapes fit for a Giallo classic?

I sat down with Eric and we talked about all of this and more. Check it out below, won’t you?


J. Hubner: So tell me about yourself? Where did you grow up?

Eric Bowr: I grew up in a small town called Berwick in Northeastern Pennsylvania, renown for Wise potato chips and high school football. It peaked in the late 40’s to early 50s, due to tank production during World War II. As you can imagine, growing up there in the 80s, there wasn’t a whole lot to do. I gravitated towards music and skateboarding as a kid.

J. Hubner: Were you always interested in music in some form or another?

Eric Bowr: Music has been a large part of my life for as long as I can remember. My mother was the church pianist, so her playing was constantly resonating throughout our household. I believe that’s where I started to develop an ear for it.

J. Hubner: Do you remember the first album you bought with your own money? Is it something you still revisit nowadays?

Eric Bowr: Dare I say Kiss? Well, I was intrigued by Kiss at a very young age, but I think the actual first record I bought was probably Twisted Sister’s ‘Stay Hungry’. Keep in mind, I was 9 years old at the time, but I have always been attracted to music that involved theatrics.

As for listening today, maybe once in a great while for nostalgic reasons.

J. Hubner: Listening to the Broken Lamps’ debut album, it sounds like you’re pretty adept at quite a few instruments. When did you start playing?

Eric Bowr: Yes, I’ve always had a knack for learning different instruments, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a master at all of them. That said, with the exception of picking up some piano from my mother, the first instrument I officially learned to play was saxophone in the 4th grade. Later that year, my dad gave me my first guitar; which he purchased at an auction for probably pennies. It was just this little half sized beginner’s acoustic, but I fell in love with it and still have it to this day. Since then, the guitar has always been my main instrument.

J. Hubner: Given that Broken Lamps is original library music, where did the love for library music come from? Were you a fan of horror and sci fi films growing up? 

Eric Bowr: Absolutely, I’ve always been heavily attracted to horror and sci-fi films for as long as I can remember. To this day, I rarely watch anything else. My brain is forever poisoned!

As far as library music, this is something I’ve really just delved into within the last 5 years. I’ve always been intrigued by it in films, but I’ve never really jumped down the wormhole as a musician until recently. What I find appealing is…the possibilities are endless. There are no set genres or limitations. It’s literally just mood music, specifically recorded for the soul purpose of atmosphere. Being influenced by a variety of different musical forms, I find this to be a very comfortable and creative space.

 

J. Hubner: Who are some artists that have made an impression on you over the years, both artistically and creatively? 

Eric Bowr: I always find this to be the hardest question of any interview, because I have so many different interests. Let’s see if I can sum it up a bit.

As a teenager, I got heavily into punk rock. Naturally, being a horror fan, I was drawn to bands like The Misfits, The Cramps, TSOL, Bauhaus , etc. Later, I fell in love with 60s garage / psych music with bands like The Seeds, The Chocolate Watchband, among others. Roky Erickson and The 13th Floor Elevators had a huge impact on me! I still frequently revisit those records. I’ve also dabbled a lot in jazz, funk, and progressive music. I’m a big fan of the late 60s / early 70s Miles Davis records and a lot of the jazz fusion that was going on at that time. I like a lot of world music and classical. Being half Hungarian, I’m also very fond of Eastern European music. As far as film music, I love Piero Umiliani, Bruno Nicolai, Stelvio Cipriani, and of course, Goblin has been a big influence. Lately, I’ve been exploring a lot of early experimental electronic music, such as, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Italian composer, Daniela Casa.

Other than music, I enjoy art. I’ve always been fond of surrealism in the likes of Salvador Dali and Hieronymus Bosch, even though the latter doesn’t really classify as surrealism.

J. Hubner: Before Broken Lamps, where were you making noise at? What other music projects have you been involved in over the years?

Eric Bowr: When I was 19, in 1996, I moved to Philadelphia and co-founded a punk band called The Strychnine Babies. We played around the US East Coast for a few years and frequented places like Coney Island High in NYC and Upstairs At Nicks in Philadelphia. In the early 2000’s, I played guitar and sang in a few other bands, but eventually decided to move on to pursue a career in audio production and engineering. In 2012, I decided to give it another go with my most recent band, A Brood Of Vipers. We played for a couple years and released 2 EPs, but I eventually grew tired of playing live and went back to the studio. In a way, this led me to the realization of what I really feel comfortable doing. My passion lies more in the creative process and not so much in performing.

J. Hubner: So the realization that you prefer being in the studio, as opposed to the stage, seems like the perfect time to begin a project like Broken Lamps. Is that how it started?

Eric Bowr: I started recording music for this project almost immediately after A Brood of Vipers disbanded in mid 2014. I’ve always felt constrained to keeping up a rock persona that I created for myself at a young age. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just felt that at this point in my life, I had much more to offer and many more interests to convey. Also, the idea of instrumental music was very appealing to me. Sometimes I feel that adding lyrics almost immediately brands a song. Whereas, an instrumental piece allows the listener the freedom of painting their own picture. After all, music is an art-form and I feel it should be perceived that way.

J. Hubner: So this leads to your debut Broken Lamps LP, Turn Signals. How long was the process for making this record? 

Eric Bowr: Well, it’s funny, because Turn Signals was never really meant to be released. These were just songs I was experimenting with. They were recorded over the course of the year, in 2015, and periodically uploaded to Soundcloud. I would make videos for them here and there strictly for fun. It was actually Michael Figucio (aka Vi-Res) that heard the songs and persuaded me to release them as an album. I’m very grateful that he did, because I am genuinely happy with the tracks.

It’s always a good sign when you sit on something for a while, and it still brings you satisfaction in the end. Even though this music is very period focused, I still strive to make it timeless. I feel the wait is starting to become an important part of the process for me.

J. Hubner: Is everything we’re hearing on the album you? Where did you record? It sounds amazing, btw. 

Eric Bowr: Thank you very much! Yes, this album is all me. It was recorded in my home studio using a combination of various vintage gear. I also used a few sample libraries for strings and some other finishing touches. My choice DAW is Logic.

I also freelance as a mixing and mastering engineer, so audio is generally my forte.

J. Hubner: What’s the writing process like for you? Library music is typically recorded with moods and ideas in mind, not necessarily a specific guide or scene to go on. Were you just imagining scenes in your head and trying to recreate them through music? How long does a piece typically take for you to create?

Eric Bowr: It always varies. I went through a period where I was creating graphic artwork first and then writing songs that correspond with it. I also sometimes write in response to certain films that I like. For instance, ‘Anamnesis’ was written to a combination of the mondo documentary film ‘Witchcraft ’70’ and Kenneth Anger’s ‘Lucifer Rising’. Other times, I find a melody on a certain instrument and craft a song from that. Wherever the inspiration comes from, I just try to go with it.

J. Hubner: Has anyone asked to use any of these song for anything, or is ‘Turn Signals’ just for you(and others to enjoy of course.)

Eric Bowr: As a matter of fact, I have been approached by a few people. One being a documentary and a few other short films. Unfortunately, I can’t really disclose any further information at this time, because the projects haven’t been finalized yet.

J. Hubner: Do you ever play these songs live? 

Eric Bowr: I haven’t played anything live yet, but I have thought about it. I think it would be a pretty big production if I decided to do so. I’m a bit of a purest with certain things, so it would probably involve carrying a lot of heavy stuff, haha. If it were to happen, it would most likely only be a few shows, no big tours or anything like that. I do however have the means of putting a band together and have had conversations with people about it.

J. Hubner: I’ve gotta ask, what are some of your cinematic inspirations? What movies have helped mold you?

Eric Bowr: Wow, this one’s almost as hard as the music question!

Let’s see, I was a big fan of Hammer Horror films growing up, along with films directed by Mario Bava. I think some of this can be heard on a track like ‘Gallows’. Rosemary’s Baby has stuck with me for most of my life. I love 70s occult films in general, both low and higher budget. I feel like this influence surfaces a lot in my music. Of course, Dario Argento films were a big influence that encouraged me to explore the giallo genre in more depth. This in turn led me to discover a lot of great music and composers. I’m also a fan of some of the early Jess Franco’s films. Some of the soundtracks for films like Vampyros Lesbos, She Killed in Ecstasy, and even Les Demons were simply amazing. I actually have a song on my next album ‘Kaleidoscope’ that covers that sound quite accurately.

This is really just brushing the surface. Between film and music I can go on forever. Maybe we need to have a different interview dedicated solely to these subjects!

J. Hubner: Hey, I’ll hold you to that other interview! Until then, where would you like to see Broken Lamps in five years?

Eric Bowr: Well, I think the description says it all, “Original library music inspired by cult cinema and rare film soundtracks of the 60s and 70s.”

I would like to build a library of interesting music that celebrates this unique time in music and film. For me, this was a time of great inspiration and experimentation with a bit of an untold story that lies beneath. I would say, my 5 year plan is to record and release as much as possible focusing on a different style each time. Obviously, this music is meant for film placement, so I will be exploring that more as well.


Check out Eric’s project Broken Lamps and the debut album Turn Signals over at Bandcamp. Snag a limited cassette version of the album while they’re still available. And keep up with Broken Lamps at www.brokenlamps.com.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks : Sparkle Hard

I think it’s safe to say that Stephen Malkmus the solo artist has outlived the legend of Stephen Malkmus the dude in Pavement. His output with Pavement, which lasted between 1992 and 1999, was five Pavement records, several singles, and two Silver Jews albums(I’m sure there were one-offs here and there.) From 1999 on Malkmus has released seven albums under his own name and with the Jicks, two Silver Jews albums, a live record covering Can’s Ege Bamyasi, and some tracks on Todd Hayne’s I’m Not There soundtrack.

More than the work, though, Stephen Malkmus has become this singular character in the world. The dude that so doesn’t care whether he’s cool or not that not caring has made him cool. If he feels like going thru a scarf-wearing phase then by God he’ll wear scarfs. And he’ll do it with zero irony. He’s a doting dad and a devoted husband and has no problems taking his kids to school and buying groceries while his wife works. He has no qualms discussing his Pavement glory years but doesn’t long for those indie rock beginnings, nor does he find them precious. He’s a go with the flow kind of guy and that’s what makes Malkmus so damn endearing.

Well, that and the music.

For me it’s been a journey to find my in with Stephen Malkmus. While I appreciated the work he did with Pavement, Brighten The Corners was the only album I truly dug. It wasn’t until Real Emotional Trash, his 2008 album with the Jicks, that I locked in with Malkmus. I don’t think the guy gets enough credit for his guitar work. He’s actually a pretty brilliant player, and Real Emotional Trash is a prime example of that. He’s also a hell of a songwriter, too, but I’d lock into that later.

On Sparkle Hard, his seventh album post-Pavement, Stephen Malkmus does what he does best: he writes catchy(and quirky) pop songs. To my ears, this is his best album in ten years. This record is a near-perfect amalgamation(or a-malkmus-mation? sorry) of everything that’s come before, but with a newfound focus and deft sonic touches that brings the Jicks into the now. Not all of those touches work for me, but for the most part this is a brilliant album.

Album opener “Cast Off” begins beautifully with acoustic piano and Malkmus singing in earnest before his guitar rolls in like a storm-a-brewin’ out at sea. That guitar tone is legendary, and thru the years he’s honed it in to laser precision. This de-tuned and crushing sludgy riff that emanates from a variety of Fender guitars is really what pulled me in. “Cast Off” is classic Malkmus and the Jicks. “Future Suite” is all wonky rhythms and tasteful melodies. The guitars almost have an Allman Brothers tone to them. Very Pig Lib-era Jicks. “Solid Silk” is a big and bold, with a dreamy quality in the strings layered over top.

There’s a couple tracks Malkmus breaks out the auto tune, and while it doesn’t completely ruin the songs for me it’s not really something I’d want to hear more of. “Rattler” is a good track that’s held back by modern tricks for the tone deaf singer(you can sing, Stephen.)

There’s plenty of future classics on here, too. “Shiggy” is all buzzing riffs and summertime feels, while “Middle America” might be one of Malkmus’ best songs since “Vanessa From Queens”. It’s the breezy, sentimental track we need from Stephen Malkmus right now. “Kite” and “Difficulties-Let Them Eat Vowels” are the big epic tracks that show Malkmus’ love for letting songs work themselves out, regardless of how long it takes. There’s also an amazing country-tinged, whiskey-burnt track called “Refute” that he duets with Kim Gordon on that is essential listening. It sounds like A.M.-era Wilco, but with Malkmus’ deft touches.

I still may not completely get Stephen Malkmus, Pavement, and all the historied weight that comes with the early 90s indie rock they helped to define, but that’s okay. I have fully come to realize and appreciate the gangly genius of Stephen Malkmus. I see his place in the rock canon, and Sparkle Hard stands as one of his best albums yet. There’s growing old gracefully, and then there’s growing old graciously.

Malkmus is definitely the latter.

8.1 out of 10

 

Shine A Light : A Conversation With Fort Wayne’s Lightlow

Feature Photo by Jen. CoPhoto(used with permission)

I think we all hope that we can be satisfied with our career path. Or at the very least, we can go to work everyday and find a couple people we have something in common with. Folks we can have similar tastes with that can make that coffee break a little more enjoyable. Am I right? Well, Fort Wayne’s newest music collective is the greatest example of that.

Lightlow is a group of work friends that just so happen make epic music together. Lightlow came out of a collaboration between Sweetwater employees that were looking to start a band in the vein of Radiohead, Deftones, Circa Survive and a few other notable names that dabble in vast, open musical spaces where the roof is removed and ambitions are aimed straight for the stars.

Lightlow consists of Miles Patterson, Casey Gerlach, Dave McCall, Paige Smith, and Nick Hammer. The band recently released their excellent debut EP called Begin Again and have begun the promoting process by lining up gigs. I recently sat down with the band to discuss how they came together, their writing process, and what the rest of 2018 holds for Lightlow.


J. Hubner: So tell me how Lightlow came together? What other bands had everyone come from prior to getting together?

Miles Patterson: Lightlow started with an internal classifieds post looking for some folks to jam with and everyone who responded was so freaking talented. We came together so quickly and just really vibed. Previously I’d played in an indie pop band called Red Blue Shift, as well as playing in heavy blues projects SmokeStack Lightning and The Worn Winter.

Dave McCall: We all work at Sweetwater in Fort Wayne. We have a pretty active employee classifieds on our intranet (SO MUCH music gear flying around that place all the time). One day I saw a post from some new employee I’d never met (Miles) saying he’d like to start a band with a Radiohead influence, but all originals. I was immediately interested. That’s when I first met Miles. The rest of us responded to Miles’s ad and we hit it off musically right away. I grew up in Warsaw and in that vibrant music scene there in the ’90s. It seems like there was always some show going on at someones’ barn, the Center Lake Pavillion, a church, or at the firemen’s building. My first notable band was a trip-hop band called Moriarty. We played all over the state. The highlight of that band was opening for Anathallo in Bloomington. I loved every minute of that. From there I was in a butt-rock band, a folksy singer-songwriter band, and most recently a very Death Cab for Cutie fashioned band called Plaxton and the Void.

Nick Hammer: Casey and i had been friends for a long while and he mentioned that somebody at work was looking for a drummer and he said we should try it out together. First practice was a blaze of talent. I had never played with such a cohesive but we’ll blended group of people. Songs and ideas came together faster than I thought possible.

Casey Gerlach: Lightlow was like flicking a switch. There was a call to form a band, from who would eventually become our frontman Miles. It started as a post on the classifieds and I think, with the exception of Paige who joined a little while after, we were all on board within a few hours. We’ve all played in other bands, but I don’t think any of us were really pursuing any bands at the current time.

Paige Smith: So I didn’t really join Lightlow till about a month into the band’s existence. I remember Miles coming home and saying “Oh hey I have some guys coming over one night, we might be starting a band” and I sat in on their practices and just listened. And I remember thinking after every practice “Man, these guys really are something else”. After about a month or so of practices, Miles finally approached me and asked about the possibility of me playing synth and helping with vocals. I’d never been in a band before, so the biggest thing I did before was busking on my college campus back in school. Being asked to be a part of Lightlow was scary, and amazing, and it’s one of the best things that’s happened to me.

photo (c) Jen.CoPhoto (used with permission)

J. Hubner: What is the inspiration behind Lightlow’s sound? Your EP has a very modern rock feel. A bit post-rock, a bit progressive, but still with very much pop-oriented. Who are some musical influences going in to help mold the feel? There’s even moments that bring Deftones to mind. 

Miles P: We take a lot of inspiration from a lot of places. Some are obvious, some aren’t. We take a lot from that modern post-rock scene; Deftones, Circa Survive, and the like. But we also draw a lot of influence from classic artists like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and more modern acts like Radiohead and Death Cab for Cutie, who are some of my favorites of all time.

Casey G: Easily my favorite thing about this group is that we come from such diverse musical backgrounds. We have musicians with absolutely no musical training to classically trained, and we make that work really well. We definitely have a lot of overlapping influences, but every time we sit down to write or we’re jamming, we’re all sort of tugging at different directions and it makes for a very sexy blend of everything. Metaphorically speaking, Miles often picks the meal, while the rest of us mutually agree to flavor and season as we please. Dave brings the Beer.

J. Hubner: What’s the story behind the name “Lightlow”?

Miles P: Lightlow is originally derived from a lyric – “There’s a light, low, at the end of the tunnel” in the song “Black Hole” by O’Brother. It has a symbolism to it, light in darkness, the feeling of perpetuity in life, that we can hold out if we keep pushing.

Casey G: Lightlow. The name was actually our second band name we agreed on. Originally we considered “Before the Score” but we all eventually found that Lightlow, spoken aloud, has a great representation of the overall feel.

J. Hubner: Let’s talk about your new EP ‘Begin Again’. The album sounds great, btw. Where was the album recorded? Did the band self-produce or did you have someone coming in helping with the production?

Miles P: Thank you so much! We recorded with Brook Floyd, in his magnificent home studio. He also produced, mixed, and mastered the EP. He is fantastic to work with, and we imagine we will again.

Dave M: Brook moved to Fort Wayne from Hawaii to work at Sweetwater, too. He’s had studios his whole adult life; he has built up studios in Washington, Arizona, and Maui. Luckily, his desk is right next to mine, so we talk a lot and we quickly became friends. When he moved here, he bought a house with high basement ceilings that he could build a new studio in. I helped him put up a wall or two, solder a bunch of XLR jacks, and documented the whole process on video. This guy knows what he’s doing… in designing, constructing, equipping, and operating a studio. Brook doesn’t compromise in the tools he uses or in the quality of his productions. He’s also exceptionally good at getting the best performances out of people. I think that aspect is overlooked a lot. He’s as much a psychologist and a coach as an audio engineer. Brook is a very unassuming guy, so it is fun to see people walk into this impressive studio in his basement and see the Grammy nominations hanging on the wall. The songs are ours and the arrangements didn’t really change much, but we definitely owe a lot to Brook’s expertise and amazing talents in the studio and in the mix.

Casey G: We’re so blown away at the level of production that our friend and engineer Brook was able to pull out for us. We all agreed that we didn’t want to cut corners anywhere. So we went full scale production for our material that was going to hit peoples ears for the first time. Working with Brook was a treat, he was able to take our mash of instruments and ideas and really deliver the sound we were going for. Fortunately, we’re all pretty tech-y and have a good understanding of recording and production, so that definitely helped a lot for me.

J. Hubner: What is the songwriting process like in Lightlow?

Miles P: Lightlow is a collaborative effort, we all bring ideas to the table, and songs frequently build from nearly nothing, a single note reverberated, a simple beat, we start there and shape into something beautiful. It’s equal parts love and technicality.

Dave M: We’re like 5 painters each adding our own colors to the palette, then each laying down some paint on the canvas, from our own, or even from each others’ colors. I especially love it when one of us picks up some musical concept from one of the others and creates something new with that. I think that’s where the really interesting ideas come from… like, “Oh, that’s an outstanding color! I like what it is doing here, but I wonder what it could do over in this other spot applied in a different way.”

Casey G: When we started writing material was when I realized this band was going to do well. We could take 2 or 3 chords, or a single melody that someone brought to the table and then have 80% of a song conceptualized within a few jam sessions The last 20% took a lot of scrutiny and refinement, but the rate we were able to push out content was amazing. Miles has done nearly all the heavy lifting lyrically, and a lot of the seeds that become songs are a noodle he has come up with. But all the layers and parts are spread out across everyone for sure.

photo (c) Jen.CoPhoto (used with permission)

J. Hubner: What are two records that you could point to as blueprints to what Lightlow set out to build?

Miles P: Radiohead’s OK Computer, that album is a fucking masterpiece. The songs swim up and down through each other, and the raw emotional content from Thom is enough to make your skin crawl. It’s a huge influence. Obrother’s Endless Light, another masterpiece, 10 tracks about light and dark, life and death, love and loss, told with soaring reverberated guitar and crushing orchestration. That’s what I think of when Lightlow is writing.

Casey G: Shout out to the dudes from Circa Survive, cause I’m going to list 2 from them, haha. Blue Sky Noise is an album that has the most influence on myself to date. So honestly, anything I write will subconsciously have some small tribute to that record. The other album would be Descensus, more so for the production level. Everything sonically just sounds so good, and some of the grooves are just killer.

J. Hubner: Last month Lightlow had their live debut alongside March On, Comrade at the Brass Rail. How did the show go? 

Miles P:  Playing our first show with March On was an enlightening experience. I’d like to think we tore the roof of of that place, but the whole thing happened so fast I couldn’t really say. It felt good, we didn’t fuck up, and all of the reactions were positive, so I’d say it was a success.

Dave M: After the show I went around to the musicians that I know that were there and asked each of them, “What is one thing we could do to perform a better show next time?”. “Add pyrotechnics”, was about the only answer I got. Everyone really seemed to love it. Of all the bands I’ve been in, this was definitely the most confident I’ve felt in a first show situation. We really buckled down and practiced intently for several weeks building up to the show. The hard work seems to have paid off. What put the icing on the cake for me was doing it while opening for my personal favorite Fort Wayne band, March On, Comrade.

Paige S: The show went well! At least from what I remember; time seemed to pass in a blur. The show at the Brass Rail was the first live show I’ve ever played as a part of a band, so I was especially nervous and anxious. But once we were on the stage, and I could see people nodding their head and getting into our music, it all just fell into place and felt so natural. We all meld well together and I think that really translated on the stage. The weeks of practice definitely paid off!

Casey G: I think everyone knows March On, Comrade in this area, because they’re amazing at what they do, and the level they do it at. So it was really an honor to share the stage and I was excited because I think we paired well with them. We had a great turnout, and huge thank you again to everyone who came out to see us, Stuyedeyed, and March On.

J. Hubner: For those that didn’t make the Brass Rail show, what can folks expect from a Lightlow show?

Miles P: Live performance for us seems to turn into a sort of possession. It’s so raw and ripping compared to our writing and recording, it’s the most fun part of existing as a band, and we love it.

Dave M: Possession is a pretty good way to describe it. All the conscious effort went into the preparations so that in the performance we can kind of turn off the analytical parts of our brains and just FEEL it without even thinking. The music takes over and runs over us and flows into the entire venue.

Casey G: Sweet and sweaty! We have songs in our setlist that you can grab a beer and have an easy listen to, and we have songs that are going to make you wanna headbang and dance.

J. Hubner: Does Lightlow have any other upcoming shows lined up?

Casey G: You can catch us again at the Brass Rail, June 16th. We’ll happily put a smile on your face, then melt it off for you. More to come!

J. Hubner: What’s the rest of 2018 hold for Lightlow? Is there a full-length LP in the band’s future?

Miles P: We think 2018 is going to be a huge year for us. We’re already working on that full length debut, and we’re excited to start tracking it. Again, we’ve got some awesome things coming soon, and we’re incredibly excited. Thank you so much!

Paige S: 2018 has already been a whirlwind; from putting out the EP to playing our first show, we just sort of hit the ground running and we haven’t stopped yet. Working on the full album definitely seems like the goal for the latter half of the year, as well as getting out there and playing more live shows. It’s going to be a busy year, but so worth it! Thank you so much for your time!


Make sure to check out Lightlow at the Brass Rail on June 16th, and head over to Lightlow’s Bandcamp page to grab a copy of Begin Again. Or take a listen below.

I’m no manly man. Just a man, man.

I would never consider myself a manly man. From outward appearances I think it seemed as if maybe I might’ve become one. I was always a big guy, even when I was a little guy. “Stocky” was used to describe me as a kid. “Big-boned” was another. Because of this it was assumed I’d be a coveted player on the football team. Relatives would say “Say, you planning on going out for the football team? You’d be great as a defensive linemen or running back, John.” I didn’t know what either of those meant. I knew the rebel forces tried to defend their base on Hoth against the Imperial attack. And I saw The Running Man. Was that the same as a running back?

I grew up amongst manly men. My dad’s dad was a boxer in Chicago back in the 30s. My mom’s dad liberated concentration camps at the end of World War II. Two of my uncles fought in Vietnam(one was a gunner on a chopper, even.) My dad excelled at three different sports in high school and joined the reserves. He worked on cars and built actual working model engines for fun. My brother was a top notch baseball pitcher, partied like a God on Asgard, and has been a lifelong fan of Manchester United.

Me? I had an extensive toy gun collection and set up elaborate battles between the GI Joe forces and the Cobra army in the basement. There would be elaborate lip syncing sessions with a tennis racket in place of a Fender Strat where various Van Halen and hair metal-affiliated songs were performed for an audience of one(a miniature schnauzer named Klaus.) I loved sports. Well, Van Damme’s Bloodsport, anyways. And sports movies were great. The Bad News Bears, Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump,  North Dallas Forty, and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue was always a good workout.

Guns seem to be a big part of my family(immediate and extended.) While I have nothing personal against a gun as a tool, I’m not too sure about the idea of owning an arsenal. In the early 90s when the Clinton Thought Police were going door-to-door forcibly taking American citizens’ personal weapons(wait, that never happened) my uncle and cousin began buying up Chinese assault rifles before they were completely banned. You know, because it should be every guy’s right to own semi-automatic weapons made by a Communist country that armed a Communist regime. I even went to a gun show with my cousin once. If there ever was a time to realize I’m NOT a manly man, it was at that sh*t show.

There’s also lots of hunters in my family. Both my cousins owned shotguns and would often head out at the crack of dawn hunting things small and furry. I was invited to go along but declined the offer. My uncle hunted deer with a bow and arrow(just like Oliver Queen.) My dad owned a .22 rifle and pistol, and even bought my mom a small .25 caliber pistol for protection(against what, I don’t know.) My dad’s hunting experience extended to just noisy crows that would wake him up at 4:30am and squirrels that would destroy his bird feeder(he once ran a dead squirrel through our chain link fence as a warning to other squirrels looking to snag Mr. Bluebird’s seeds.) My brother has recently gotten the Dirty Harry itch and currently owns 5 firearms. 5. Firearms.

Me? I’ve got a couple pocket knives and a boot knife I bought with lunch money when I was 14. I’ve also got a vintage Return Of The Jedi Han Solo laser pistol(batteries not included.) There’s a 3 inch diameter dowel rod that’s been cut down to a 2ft length that could leave some nasty welts if needed for home protection.

I can’t fix much, whereas my dad’s dad built an extra room on his house with nothing but a “How-To” book and lots of swearing. My dad built two rooms in their basement, and helped me finish off our basement as well. I’m what you’d call “helpless help”. I stand there and wait for instruction and/or emergency, with 911 at the ready. I can build things like album cabinets and simple boxes that my kids can store books and display action figures in. I built an entertainment center where my stereo equipment and turntable live. I can do a reasonably good job with yard work, but nothing fancy. You want lines mowed straight in the yard? I can do it. You want pretty flowers and a garden? Ehh, I’m not sure about that. I can get by as a homeowner. I’m slightly above functional. The local handyman and/or heating and plumbing guys and gals love me. I’ve got no problem asking for help(definitely not a manly man.)

Wanna talk arthouse films? Frank Miller vs Jeph Loeb vs Scott Snyder Batman? Would you like a thesis on why Electric Miles is better than Hard Bop Miles? Maybe we could discuss John Irving or Kurt Vonnegut? Hard science fiction or soft science fiction? I’m happy to sit and listen to you while you tell me what’s bugging you. Maybe I can help you work through it? I’m a good listener, or so I’m told. I’m totally down for watching Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven or Tarkovsky’s Solaris and sit and discuss them all over a couple pints. My son and I will be hitting Chimp’s Comix later, you’re welcome to come and browse with us. Let’s go album diving at the local brick ‘n mortar then grab some sandwiches. I know a great place. I’m not terrible at painting, if you need some help. I can detail a car halfway decent, too(thanks dad.) And if you prefer to eat in, I’m pretty decent in the kitchen. I keep a clean house as well(thanks mom.) We could go downstairs to the studio(that my dad helped me build) and we could just plug in to some amps and see what happens. We could jam or improvise, whatever you prefer to call it.

So yeah, I’m no manly man. I don’t hunt or play sports or work on cars or put roofs on houses or build rooms with my own two hands or fight behind enemy lines or ride a motorcycle or know the score to last night’s game. I can’t fix the toilet or the kitchen sink, and hooking up the water heater is out of my wheelhouse. I can set the timer on the VCR(do people still have those?), or set up your home stereo system. I can tell you which Wilco or Coltrane album to start with. Or the best record shop in a 40 mile radius. That’s the kind of man I am. I’ll cop to my feelings and maybe we can talk it out or something.

I’m no manly man. I’m just a man, man.

 

 

Beach House : 7

It took me a bit before I truly could appreciate the magic of Beach House’s music. The Baltimore band’s appeal eluded me their first couple records. What I’d heard off of Teen Dream and then Bloom was nice in a passerby sort of way, but I didn’t know what all the accolades were about. What I heard was sort of a slow motion version of Cocteau Twins, but maybe a little sadder.

Then on a whim I bought Devotion at my local record store and things  began to make sense. It was a slow motion melancholy hidden under programmed drums and droning keys. Victoria Legrand’s vocals were a little raspy, but contained in them a wisdom of the soul beyond her years. The more you listened the more you felt you were hearing someone’s true essence being relayed through song. Alex Scally built these musical mazes for Legrand to get lost in and ruminate on life and the sadness that sometimes comes along with it.

What I’ve eventually discovered is that Beach House’s music is something that comes across simple at first, but reveals many more depths and layers with repeated listens. Teen Dream and Bloom proved to be little masterpieces, but for my ears Depression Cherry is one of their best. It dials down from their previous records and settles into a slow motion melancholy that comes to a beautiful and crushing finale with “Days of Candy”.

So as not to fall into a rut of sorts, Scally and Legrand went into their new album 7 with louder ambitions. They brought in producer Sonic Boom(aka Spacemen 3’s Peter Kember) to add some weight to the band’s bottom end. The result is a harder Beach House, but one that still retains the dream quality of their sound that they established over ten years ago with their debut. As with each of their previous records, every spin of 7 reveals a deeper beauty and a more complex emotional weight than before.

The first thing you notice with Beach House’s excellent new LP is it’s louder. They’ve taken their sleepy sound and have added a metallic sheen, a byproduct of Sonic Boom’s deft sonic touches. Album opener “Dark Spring” jumps from the speakers like My Bloody Valentine, but smoother and with less blunt force. I never thought Beach House needed to be louder and more gruff in their delivery, but “Dark Spring” makes me second guess that. There’s a vitality here that wasn’t there before. Those songs from the ether have been woken into a fever dream. “Pay No Mind” lulls back into Legrand and Scally’s usual dreamy state, but with more emphasis on the low end. “Lemon Glow” pops and flows like some lost 80s radio hit; a song you know you know but you’re not sure why. This is the proto-Beach House sound. It’s familiar and inviting, but with a noisier vibe. It’s Beach House, but with an industrial lean.

Beach House, for my money, never have to veer from the sonic world they’ve created. It’s a familiar place that I want to go to because I know what to expect and that I understand it’s place in my head. It’s nostalgic, but for something that never existed. Except for in the heads and hearts of Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally. Lucky for me it’s an imagined world that I often long to be in. “L’inconnue” is one such imagined world. It opens like the petals of some exotic flower, inviting you in to exist within its colors and aromas. Legrand sings palates of hues; blues, pinks, whites, and deep reds. The simplicity of the beat lulls you into a place of near transcendence.

Beach House are transcendent.

Elsewhere, “Drunk in LA” captures some of that Cocteau Twins/This Mortal Coil magic. This is a near perfect track thanks to a mournful mood with an unexpected uplift hidden just under the surface. “Lose Your Smile” lives within the past and present. It has the sound of an old 60s European pop track, a Cowboy Junkies b-side, and something very current and vital. “Girl of the Year” is awash in dense, lovely keys. It’s regal sound and Legrand nearly whispering “You slide out on Sunset, Head west on Marest” takes you from your surroundings and drops you into her world. “Last Ride” spans over 7 minutes and ends the album quietly, in contrast to it’s noisier beginnings. It ends in a wall of subtle guitar squall that disappears into the ether.

Sonic Boom succeeds in expanding Beach House’s carefully-curated musical world without shaking things up too much. His touch is felt in the denser low end and noisier aspects of some of these songs, but this is still very much a Beach House album. It nods to Phil Spector-like sonics, 4AD melancholy, and an otherworldly feel that Beach House have perfected. 7 is an absolute stunning record of dark beauty and melancholy mood, and one of their best albums yet.

8.7 out of 10

Sing

When my oldest was 2 years old we used to get in the car – my wife, daughter, and myself- and we would drive. No real destiny other than a bit of sanity. My wife at the time was pregnant with our second child and we were more than ready for her to get that baby out of her. In order to calm down a bit we’d take our 2-year old, load her up in our 1994 Nissan Maxima, and hit the road for the Kosciusko County royal tour. Country roads, local lakes, parks, thru town, and long passages on various highways was a means of setting the timer back to zero. As good a toddler as our Claire was, she was indeed a 2-year old. Only so many games of Hi-Ho Cherry-O, Baby Einstein videos, and daddy’s old Star Wars action figures would suffice. Claire wasn’t much of a napper, either.

The car ride was a moment of zen for all of us.

During these rides I might occasionally get to slip in some music that I liked, but for the most part it was various children’s song collections. But as a bit of compromise we had a few collections that were artists covering kid’s songs. One of those collections was called For The Kids. I think out of all of the CDs we had for Claire this was my favorite. It had Sarah McLachlan covering “The Rainbow Connection”, Cake covering “Mahna Mahna”, Barenaked Ladies’ covering “La La La La Lemon”, and even Tom Waits singing “Bend Down The Branches”.

As far as compromises go, this was a pretty decent one.

But the song that still stands out to me is the Sesame Street song “Sing”. Not because of the artist that covered it(Ivy), or the connection that I had with it when I was a little kid, but because it was the one song on that whole CD that my oldest would sing along to in the backseat as we put miles on that Maxima. Just as the song instructs, “Sing, Sing a song, Make it simple,To last your whole life long, Don’t worry that it’s not good enough, For anyone else to hear, Sing,
Sing a song” Claire would sit in her car seat and sing this ancient song as if her life depended on it. Not a care in the world. It was shower singing. You know, the kind of singing one does when for that bit of time there’s not a care in the world. She wouldn’t get all the words right, but that didn’t matter. I mean, she was 2. What does one expect from a 2-year old? But in those little moments in the car, with her tangled head of red hair and light up slip-on shoes, Claire had zero cares in the world. And in turn neither did we.

Yesterday Claire turned 18 years old. In less than two weeks she will be graduating high school and in August she’ll be moving 3 hours away to attend a very prestigious liberal arts college. Her mom and I are proud of her beyond words. And we’re proud of ourselves for raising such a kind, thoughtful, and smart young woman. I’m honestly not sure how we did  it. I mean, we went from two desperate adults in their late 20s driving around aimlessly on a Saturday night attempting to find some semblance of normalcy with a 2-year old in the backseat singing her heart out, to sending invitations out to that 2-year old’s high school graduation in the blink of any eye.

Blink.

Of.

An.

Eye.

We somehow went from 0 to 18 just like that(insert finger snap.) Scrapes and bruises along the way, for sure. Missteps and mistakes strewn throughout, yes. But despite some bush league moments, we got that little red head with the big smile that loved to sing in the car(as well as occasionally along with the munchkins in The Wizard Of Oz) to a point in her life where the skies the limit, the world is her oyster, and the bull is firmly grabbed by the horns.

You do the best you can, you try to make the right choices for your kids, and you just pray to Jebus that they remember all those happy times over the stupid ones. Like the time you took them to the zoo, or the first time you saw a movie at the cinema, or that trip you took to the shores of Lake Michigan; as opposed to you drinking too much and acting like a dolt, or getting stupidly mad over something ridiculous, or not making good on that promise to go to Disney World(sorry.)

18 years in and I’m still the doting proud dad that I was at 26-years old. And with the gift of hindsight I’d say I wouldn’t change a thing. Despite by insecurities and imperfections as a parent Claire still turned out quite alright. Even when she’s out of the house, out of college, and with a life of her own we’ll always still have those car rides. And maybe when she’s needing a break from her own daily grind, I’ll gift her a CD that might help.

Let’s Go To The Black Hole Party

When you hear the name Thousand Foot Whale Claw, what comes to mind? Maybe some historical anthropological find? A lost Troma release from the late 80s? Maybe some mythical deep sea creature with razored digits to grab its prey? Well you’d be wrong on all accounts, but I’d give you an ‘A’ for effort.

Actually, Thousand Foot Whale Claw is an electronic/heavy synth band out of Austin, TX(of course it’s Austin.) Within that musical world TFWC is a supergroup of sorts, with members of S U R V I V E, Troller, Future Museums, Single Lash, and Ugly Kid Joe making up the band(you got me, there is nobody from Ugly Kid Joe in this band.) They release music via the excellent Holodeck Records and what these guys do is heady, deep space electronic jams. Imagine S U R V I V E and Future Museums completely freaking out on peyote inside the Adler Planetarium just off of Lake Michigan in Chicago with the ceiling screen in full end of the world display, as heavy doses of Zeit and Cluster & Eno are running thru a stack of PA speakers.

The results of that is what comes to mind when listening to Thousand Foot Whale Claw.

So the music might be a little more coherent than peyote-induced flashbacks, but TFWC do go for intellectual vibes with a healthy dose of zone out drones. The exciting news is that they have a new album coming out next month called Black Hole Party, and from the title track/lead single I’d say we’re in for a treat.

It’s not often you can recommend a video, as videos these days just don’t have the same quality as they used to. Not enough thought goes into the process. So it makes me very happy to say that the video for “Black Hole Party” is pretty damn cool. Bonus points for the fact that the song is amazing. It sits more into a groove than a drone. This is the kind of song that will get the heavily-bearded dude wearing Buddy Holly glasses, their dad’s flannel shirt, and $250 lumberjack boots to set their plastic cup of warm PBR on the table and maybe get up for an attempt at dancing. Or at least cajoling with his date on a dance floor of some making.

The song brings to mind Cliff Martinez’ incidental work on the Drive S/T at times, before it breaks into a more driving beat. It’s like OMD scored a Michael Mann flick with directions to occasionally sound like Cluster imitating Depeche Mode.

Or something like that.

Either way, watch the video below and preorder the record here. It’s available June 29, 2018 via Holodeck Records.