Mass Gothic is set to release its self-titled debut on CD / LP / CT / DL worldwide February 5th via Sub Pop. The album, featuring highlights “Nice Night”, ‘Every Night You’ve Got To Save Me”, “Mind Is Probably and “Want To, Bad”, was produced by Mass Gothic and mixed Chris Coady (Beach House, TV on the Radio) and mastered by Greg Calbi (Father John Misty, Tame Impala) at Sterling Sound.
Mass Gothic has scheduled a 2016 headlining tour in support of the album, which begins February 4th in Philadelphia at Johnny Brenda’s and currently ends March 19th in Austin at SXSW. (details below)
Vuture says of “Nice Night”, the first offering from Mass Gothic:
”In attempt to get back to his four-track days, Heroux made an album of weird synth-rock largely on his own, under the moniker Mass Gothic. It’s a surprising album, mostly in its ability to sound buoyant and tense simultaneously… “Nice Night,” is the apex of the latter. This “meditation on severe depression and the cycle of giving in” is at first a heavy sludge before becoming a determined power-pop catharsis that sounds a little like Pinkerton-era Weezer (see track premiere November 17th).
1. Mind is Probably 2. Own the Road 3. Want to, Bad 4. Pier Pressure 5. Nice Night 6. Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me 7. Money Counter 8. Territory 9. Soul 10. Subway Phone
Mass Gothic’s Noel Heroux was also recently interviewed by the Village Voice in advance of his recent CMJ performance (see feature October 15th).
[Photo Credit: Shawn Brackbill]
More about Mass Gothic:
This year marks the release of Mass Gothic, the Massachusetts-bred, New York-based singer/songwriter’s self-titled Sub Pop debut. Written and recorded at home over four months during the winter of 2014-2015, it’s a stunning reminder of not just Heroux’s own remarkable talents as singer and songwriter, but how unbridled creativity can both sound and feel as well: Before Hooray For Earth had quickly become a fully-functioning band, it began as a solo project. No pressure or compromises—just Heroux, a four-track, and an irrepressible urge to “jot down all of the noise and music floating around in my head” and make it available to other people. “All I wanted to do was whatever I do when I’m alone and I’m unconcerned with what anyone else wants or expects,” he says. “I did my best to let go, and what came out was pure, uncut. It reminded me of the first few times I made music, when I was a young kid. I didn’t set any rules and I had zero expectations.”
The result is an expansive, often exhilarating set of guitar-driven pop that required very little editing when it was done (read more via Sub Pop).
Feb. 04 - Philadelphia, PA - Johnny Brenda’s* Feb. 05 - Cleveland, OH - Grog Shop* Feb. 06 - Chicago, IL - Schuba’s Tavern* Feb. 08 - Minneapolis, MN - 7th Street Entry* Feb. 11 - Boise, ID – Neurolux* Feb. 12 - Seattle, WA - Columbia City Theatre* Feb. 13 - Portland, OR - Bunk Bar* Feb. 14- San Francisco, CA - Rickshaw Stop* Feb. 16 - Los Angeles, CA – Bootleg* Feb. 18 - Denver, CO - Lost Lake* Feb. 19 - Kansas City, MO - Riot Room* Feb. 21 - Louisville, KY – Zanzabar* Feb. 22 - Cincinnati, OH - MOTR Pub* Feb. 23 - Pittsburgh, PA - Club Café* Feb. 25 - Allston, MA - Great Scott* Feb. 26 - Providence, RI - Columbus Theatre* Feb. 27 - Brooklyn, NY – Palisades* Mar. 10 - Washington, DC - Black Cat Mar. 12 - Savannah, GA - Savannah Stopover Mar. 16 - Austin, TX - SXSW Mar. 17 - Austin, TX - SXSW Mar. 18 - Austin, TX - SXSW Mar. 19 - Austin, TX – SXSW *w/ Mazed
No Fly List: Notes From Sub Pop’s Airport Store (November 2015)
Unthanksgiving at the Airport
Welcome to another dispatch from the Sub Pop store. The months of October and early November bring a relative downtime at the airport, in-between the busier summer vacation and holiday travel seasons. One might assume that we would use this opportunity to re-group, develop plans for improving the store, and/or stockpile winter-wear goods. Instead, I’ve used the lull to stew about all the regrets and perceived slights I’ve experienced this year. In honor of Thanksgiving, I decided to type out some things that I am particularly ‘unthankful’ for, because sometimes it’s necessary and cathartic to express your gripes, in order to see how petty/inconsequential/ridiculous they might be. I also strong-armed a few of my co-workers to join me in giving ‘unthanks’ this year. Enjoy!
Here at the store, I am unthankful for the following things:
-Not recognizing the following people until immediately after they left the store:
The members of Poison Idea
-Customers who ask, “Will this t-shirt fit my son/daughter/wife/husband/niece/nephew/dog?”
-The sounds that emanate from occupied stalls in the men’s bathroom(s).
-The man wearing shorts who insisted on showing me his recent jellyfish stings on his legs.
-The question, “Now that Sub Pop has a store in the airport, does that mean they have officially sold out?”
-Waking up early to make a lunch and then forgetting it at home.
-The father who talked on his cellphone for 10 minutes about the consistency/texture/color of his new baby’s bowel movements.
In my personal life, I’m unthankful that my favorite baseball player, Juan Uribe, is no longer employed by my favorite baseball team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. And also that this much-needed scientific device has not been released yet.
- No parks to speak of in Parkland (I know right?)
- Traffic (how original)”
“Here we are again, at the eleventh hour, and of course, I show up at your “E” door-step in my sweatpants and curlers, yielding yet another untimely and, probably unusable, contribution to this months monthly news such and such. I am very sorry of course, but I can grant you no guarantee that this will not be the last incident of this sort, most likely all submissions will arrive in your “in” basket around 6pm of the afternoon following day any deadline given.
So you have asked for us to submit a list of some of the things things for which we were not so thankful for this year, leaning in the direction of funny. I am afraid my friend that I cannot grant you the wish that you desire. For, after an exceedingly large quantity of pondering, and a few glasses of Tang drink, I can’t, for the life of me, conjure up even one thing that I am unthankful for. I seem to busting at my pant legs with a sort of humble Gratitude for all, and all of my existence and the universe, and all of the whatnot of this sometimes crazy world we all have to live in. So apologize, I can’t fulfill this months request, at least not with this stupid brain.
I can however list a few of the wonderful things from this year that I, so very graciously, give thanks for. For example, I am overwhelmingly grateful for my family. This time of year you can’t avoid thinking about family. I always remember all of those good times we had while we were growing up, all of the holidays we spent together, and the summers too. How lucky am I to have been born into such a loving and caring group of individuals? I do kind of wish Randy was dead though.
I can no longer submit to useless negative emotions that can overwhelm you and withhold the marvelous wonders and joys that life has to give, such as, cats! What furry, kind and, beautiful beasts, so cute and small but bigger than rats and not as loyal as a dogs. Our cat, Tab, turned 5 this year and although I am deathly allergic to her fur and dander, and I really wish she would use the scratching post instead of the couch. I am really grateful the vet has the means to fight off her cancerous lesions thereby sustaining her life for a mere $500 dollars a session, ensuring that my wife and I will have a furry friend who tracks it’s cat bathroom sand throughout our once odor free home, for many years to come.
The point Is, who am I to complain when there is so much suffering out there and I have so much in my life like, tinnitus, my illiterate mail man who doesn’t really “get” what numbers mean, and what about traffic?
Life is a gift and I have no complaints, only gratitude.
If this is too long just put “White Sauce,” why does everybody put it on everything? What’s the deal with that?
Sub Pop is pleased to announce the signing of Arbor Labor Union, the Athens/Atlanta, Georgia band, who will release its label debut worldwide in the spring of 2016.
The group (who formerly performed under the moniker Pinecones) released their debut record, Sings For You Now (listen here), in May, 2015 on LP format via Athens, GA label Arrowhawk Records. The band, comprised of Brain Atoms (Guitars), Ryan Evers (Bass), Ben Salie (Drums) and Bo Orr (Vox/Guitar) create angular and unapologetic rock and roll.
You can hear various singles from their LP Sings For You Now right over here.
Arbor Labor Union have scheduled a show supporting In The Red recording artists Wand tomorrow night, November 17th in Athens, GA at the 40 Watt. Additional live dates will be announced very soon.
More on Arbor Labor Union: Once upon a time rock n roll music was insane. Several times before you have heard and perhaps proclaimed that “music is the truth.” This band called Arbor Labor Union honors this notion. I’ve been in an audience and seen them sneak their music close to the truth. The atom has reviewed their songs and said “this band speaks to the core” and “on this we are not divided”.
Guitar player Brain Atoms always wears green and taps his foot to the stage in hopes it turns into a porch. Bass player Ryan Evers pumps the tonal artery and stirs the cosmic dirt with his welcome grin. Singer and Guitar player Bo Orr sings the wisdom of unknowing and kicks through blind dimensions. Drummer Ben Salie invokes the shaman beat and whips layers of lava lamp cymbal vibrations. All of these men have agreed and that is beautiful. If you pay attention, you might notice all of their songs are about their songs, and that is beautiful. They believe in handshakes, repetition, and friendship. They are lifelong friends, and they play that sound.
What people are saying about Arbor Labor Union (fka Pinecones):
“Listening to the interplay between physical, spiritual, and musical existence hammered out across these 11 tracks is one of the most challenging, intriguing tasks I’ve undertaken this year. Few albums demand your attention and interaction the way Sings For You Now does.” - Stereogum
“It’s not so much a sounds, there’s no twang or drawl, but an attitude. Their dooming riffs and impassioned rambles carry smolder like the heat of the southern sun.” - Consequence of Sound
“I’m not sure how to describe the group’s raspy, repetitious rock and roll other than to say it is no goddamn joke. It’s also tremendously exciting. The songs on Play Cosmic Hits cull from bands like Lungfish, Wire and The Ex but feel exhilaratingly fresh” [Pinecones Play Cosmic Hits] – Flagpole Magazine
Seattle punk trio So Pitted are our newest signees! And we at Sub Pop are proud to release neo - their label debut - throughout the known universe on February 19th, 2016.
The album, featuring highlights “rot in hell”, “holding the void”, and “feed me”, was co-produced & mixed by So Pitted & Dylan Wall and recorded at The Old Fire House, Media Lab, Spruce Haus, the band’s practice space and Tastefully Loud in Seattle. neo was also engineered by Wall at Tastefully Loud and mastered by Eric Boulanger at The Bakery in Los Angeles.
COOL THING ALERT: There will also be a time-limited edition T-shirt, hand-bleached by So Pitted, that will be available only during pre-order. Shirts can be ordered alone or with LP and CD bundles (might we stress again: during pre-order only).
Impose Magazine premiered the visual for “rot in hell” (directed by Zoë Sauer) and had this to say about it:
“Ragged, nonlinear, a little dangerous, “rot in hell” was one of the first tracks So Pitted wrote together, and the video is funny and surreal, featuring a friend of the band playing various band members. It feels like being at home at a basement show, ready to hit your head on a low ceiling bringing your amp down the stairs, buzzing with a little bit of nausea and excitement. It burns with the urgency of the music you need to make or you’ll crumple, music you’d be making whether other people heard it or not” (see Nov. 12th news story).
[Photo Credit: Sarah Cass]
So Pitted will tour extensively in 2015-16 to support neo, beginning with a short US west coast trek November 14th in Oakland at LoBot Gallery and ending November 19th in San Francisco at the Hemlock Tavern. (see tour details below) The band will then resume touring in early January, with a series of support and headlining dates, which span January 8th in Brooklyn at Palisades through January 12th in Philadelphia at First Unitarian Church. Highlights along the way include November 18th in Los Angeles at the Echo opening for No Age and a few dates with label mates METZ and Startime International recording artists Bully (January 9; 11-12).
More about So Pitted: So Pitted is every bit as much an experiment in social partnerships as it is a noise outfit. They bonded over a shared love of alternative music (Rage Against the Machine, Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails, The Mars Volta), and only after eons of hanging out did it occur to them to play music together. Rodriguez is a self-taught quick study who learned music theory on Wikipedia; Downey is a new wave fanatic who sticks pipe cleaners in his brain to speak to extraterrestrials; Koewler is a longtime ballet dancer whose love of aesthetes and bands like Cocteau Twins is a strong influence on her bandmates. Together, the trio just fits, a perfect balance for one another’s quirks, strengths, and shortcomings.
Roles and positions have never been important to So Pitted; Rodriguez and Downey often switch instruments and both sing, while Koewler plays her guitar through a bass amp. “It’s everyone’s band,” says Rodriguez, “and we have the same role of support and voice for each other.”
Identity, freedom, location…yeah, yeah, yeah, but what the hell do they sound like? “One of my friends says we’re ‘louder than Nirvana,’” says Downey. “And we are subjected to grunge by default but it’s not that bad. Mudhoney is cool but Tad is rad. I see us as another spinoff of new wave music. I love Devo. I don’t think any of us are into one style, we all have our conventions, we’re all really snobby artists but at the same time we’re normal people who listen to Backstreet Boys because it’s what we heard growing up. We just want to be genuine and admit what we like and don’t like. The band is the people, and we’re always changing so much.” In other words, their zeal makes it almost impossible to pin them down.
Enter neo, So Pitted’s debut album some years in the making. These eleven tracks are lean and snarling rebukes, torch songs not in the traditional, unrequited-love sense, but songs that will torch your fucking house down. Screams and howls overtake chants and muttering, equal parts dejection, rejection, and convection, the hot, muggy air circling continuously. It’s fuzzy, angular, throbbing, and pounding, and still, ingrained in the songs by their makers, breathes that catchy quality present in so much of the music they love. Songs like “holding the void,” “rot in hell,” and “woe” crash over and over, turning under themselves like waves, but as the measures tick off, the dog-eared melodies and familiar themes begin to reveal (read more about the band here).
What people have said about So Pitted, so far: What’s special and unique about So Pitted is that they not only clench to the demonic punk downpour and logger-heavy rock of the Northwest, but also to the nihilistic musical cannibalism of San Francisco weirdos Chrome and late-’90s San Diego artcore groups like the VSS and the Gravity Records camp. There’s a caustic demo quality to their sound that’s alien and distorted, liquidated to move units at the Gross Out. It’s not only thorny, horny, and repulsive, but angular, tangled and mangled. - The Stranger
“[A] Seattle trio who are basically unmatched in terms of sheer gonzo ingenuity. Live, the band combines anarchic heaps of guitar and childish melodies with plodding, sludgy rhythms. They understand just how powerful their live show is, too” - Portland Mercury
Tour Dates Nov. 14 - Oakland, CA - LoBot Gallery Nov. 17 - Fullerton, CA - Continental Room Nov. 18 - Los Angeles, CA - Echo * Nov. 19 - San Francisco, CA - Hemlock Tavern Nov. 27 - Seattle, WA - Cairo Gallery Jan. 08 - Brooklyn, NY - Palisades Jan. 09 - Boston - The Sinclair ** Jan. 11 - Washington, D.C. - Rock & Roll Hotel ** Jan. 12 - Philadelphia, PA - First Unitarian Church ** * w/ No Age ** w/ METZ + Bully
What’s this news from Low, you ask? Well, the band have resumed their headlining US tour in support of Ones and Sixes, the group’s acclaimed new album. The trek continues tonight, Wednesday, November 11th at Minneapolis’ First Avenue, and goes through to Saturday, November 21st at Seattle’s Crocodile. Then in 2016, the group have scheduled a series of dates that begin January 15th in Anchorage, AK at Taproot and end February 13th in St. Louis at the Pageant. There are also two international festival dates to mention at this time: March 12th in Mexico City, MX at Festival NRML and June 11th in Kværndrup, DK at Heartland Festival. (see details below)
ICYMI: Low recently premiered an official video for “Lies,” from Ones and Sixes, which was directed by Manuel Aragon (watch it here). The band also made its second appearance on Later with Jools Holland, performing Ones and Sixes highlights “What Part of Me” and “The Innocents.”
And there’s more (particularly good) news of the charting kind: Ones and Sixes earned Low the group’s first-ever U.K. Top 40 album, coming in at #35 on the official albums chart. The album also entered at #68 here in the U.S. on SoundScan’s Top Current Albums charts.
At Radio, Ones and Sixes peaked at #7 on the CMJ Top 200 chart. In news of the on-air variety, the band have confirmed studio sessions at KCRW’s “Morning Becomes Eclectic” (November 16th), and have visited to WXPN’s “World Cafe” (“What Part of Me” & “No Comprende”), KCMP (view here), and more.
Ones and Sixes is also one of the best-reviewed albums of Low’s career with international acclaim from the likes of NPR Music, Paste, Rolling Stone, SPIN, Boston Globe, Pitchfork, Under the Radar, The Guardian, The Observer, DIY, Q, MOJO, Uncut, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Chicago Tribune, CLASH, The Sunday Times, Dusted, NOW, and more. And the band are the current cover stars of MAGNET’s September issue, interviewed by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon (view cover / read an excerpt of the story here).
Low’s Ones and Sixes is available for purchase from the Sub Pop Mega Mart, iTunes, Amazon, and Bandcamp. Now completely sold-out through megamart.subpop.com, the limited “Loser Edition” of the double-LP on yellow vinyl and packaged in a variant slipcase cover is only available from select independent stores and from the band themselves at upcoming tour dates (while supplies last). Has it been a while since you visited the Mega Mart? Well, there are also two new T-shirt designs available both as individual items and as part of CD/LP bundles.
Nov. 11 - Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue*
Nov. 12 – Omaha, NE – Reverb Lounge*
Nov. 13 - Denver, CO - Larimer Lounge*
Nov. 14 - Salt Lake City, UT - The Complex*
Nov. 16 - Los Angeles, CA - The Troubadour*
Nov. 18 - San Francisco, CA - Great American Music Hall*
Recently, Michael Azerrad (editor-in-chief of The Talkhouse and author of Our Band Could Be Your Life) spoke with Shearwater’s Jonathan Meiburg to discuss forthcoming album Jet Plane and Oxbow. We think the ensuing conversation is pretty special, and so might you:
Michael Azerrad vs. Jonathan Meiburg on Jet Plane and Oxbow
MICHAEL AZERRAD: Hello?
JONATHAN MEIBURG: Hi, Michael.
MA: You know, I have to admit I miss not knowing who was calling when the phone rang. I like clinging to the fiction that I don’t know who it is.
JM: It’s true. “Hello” really used to be a question. It’s strange to remember that time so clearly, since it already seems so far away! The other day, I saw a list of New Year’s resolutions David Bowie published in 1980—one, by the way, was his intention to be 67 years old by 1990.
MA: I happen to be pretty good at arithmetic and I could have told him that wasn’t going to happen.
JM:—but the one that really struck me was “to own a print of Eraserhead.” Not so much because it’s Eraserhead, but because the idea of owning a personal copy of a cult film, that you could watch anytime you wanted, still seemed extravagant then. Even for someone who liked being ahead of his time.
MA: He was on Broadway back then, wasn’t he, playing the Elephant Man? That would have been about the time Scary Monsters came out, I guess.
JM: You were living in New York then?
MA: Yes. It was a hairier place then, but it was also a great time for New York music. I’m not saying that out of nostalgia, by the way—I think now’s a great time for New York music too. But it was just different then. Now there’s this idea that punk was the only ‘real’ thing happening then, the CBGB thing, or No Wave—and that was exciting, it was great—but there were all kinds of other musical avenues opening up too, around then. I’m thinking about how in the summers there were these great, sort of viral hits you’d hear all over the place, booming out of cars and boomboxes and bodegas, and some of them were really rough and ready, homemade things. Like Frankie Smith’s “Double Dutch Bus”—you ever hear that one?
JM: “Gimme a HOOOO if you got your funky bus fare!”
MA: Yeah! There was a wonderfully oddball, slapdash feeling to a lot of it, even some big records. I think I still have one of the straw hillbilly hats they used in the video for Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals” buried in my closet. I wore it home on the subway and I heard this one older gentleman say to his friend, “Now that’s a real homeboy hat.”
JM: Speaking of “Buffalo Gals” and double dutch—I was listening to McLaren’s “Double Dutch” the other day and was blown away by what a wild mashup that song is. The Mahotella Queens, the disco strings, the handclaps, the rope-whooshing sounds, and Malcolm sort of awkwardly sing-talking his way over the top of it with total, oblivious confidence.
MA: Confidence will get you everywhere.
JM: It’s got a great video, too. I like it better than Graceland.
MA: Me too. Hey, aren’t we supposed to be talking about your record?
JM: Ha, yes! But I think the early 1980s are a good place to start from, in a way. When I was writing the songs I was listening to a lot of records from around that time—like Scary Monsters, which you mentioned, or My Life In the Bush of Ghosts, or Big Science, or Peter Gabriel’s Melt record, or PiL’s Metal Box.
MA: I definitely heard all those in this record—also Remain in Light and Talk Talk’s The Colour of Spring. But no offense, I don’t actually hear any Metal Box.
JM: Danny wasn’t going to let me go there, which is probably a good thing. That’s such a mesmerizing album though. I snuck in a lyrical nod to it in one of the songs.
MA: Maybe that’s part of what I like about your record. It’s certainly not a period re-creation, but it has a resonance, for me, with that time. It looks back, but it also looks forward.
JM: You ever see that performance PiL did on American Bandstand? Where they barely even pretended to play “Poptones” and started running around the studio, and Dick Clark was like, “who’s this asshole?”
MA: When it was broadcast! Back then you had to be paying attention or you missed everything. But why that time? Why those records? It’s not like nostalgia for your teenage years. More like nostalgia for my teenage years.
JM: Well—I like thinking about what the sounds of that time must have meant in context. They definitely give me the sense of being at a crossroads, of a revolution brewing just offstage, and I think that’s at least in part because digital recording gear was just starting to hit its stride: Eventide harmonizers, Linn drums, early samplers and delays—stuff that must have seemed like the coastline of an exciting new world, inhabited by new species of music. But MIDI hadn’t reared its head yet, or some of the other gadgets that started to make everything so crispy and mechanical-sounding a few years later. You still needed to have musicians who could play, and listen. Is any of this actually true, by the way, or am I just projecting?
MA: It’s funny, because I was just thinking that at the time lots of people were saying that the stuff you’re talking about meant that musicians didn’t have to listen or know how to play. Now they say that about laptop music. Plus ça change… but I take it that the technology you’re talking about played an important role in Jet Plane and Oxbow?
JM: Danny, who I mentioned, Danny Reisch, produced and engineered the record. We’ve worked together for the past couple of years—he also played drums on our tours—and we’ve gotten really dialed in to each other’s strengths and flaws, so there’s a lot we don’t need to explain to each other. But we started this record by setting some ground rules, and one of them was to lean as much as we could on instruments and gear from that era, as long we didn’t veer off into pastiche.
MA: Such as?
MA: Oh, God. Possibly the most maligned percussion instrument in musical history. Although they were somewhat redeemed by their appearance on Wazmo Nariz’s classic 1979 single “Checking Out the Checkout Girl.”
JM: Believe me, I was skeptical, too—but it turns out they can be great with the right drummer, especially if you put fiber-skin heads on them and not those plastic ones they come with. I also mostly played a strat this time instead of the older hollow-body I used on the last few albums, and I fell in love with a beautiful little synth called a Korg Lambda; it’s the first sound you hear on the record. We also spent some time doing overdubs and treatments with Brian Reitzell in LA. He mostly does film scores, but also he used to play drums for Air and Redd Kross.
MA: Now, that’s what I call a versatile drummer.
JM: I think he enjoyed working on something that wasn’t tracked to picture. But he reveres that era of recording we’re talking about, and a bit further back, too; he got me into Takemitsu and that mind-bending Tangerine Dream record Zeit. With Brian, we were trying to nudge the record toward that world, toward that kind of beauty, and menace.
MA: ‘Menace’ is an apt word. There was certainly a lot of it in the air in 1980. Carter reinstated the draft, Reagan got elected, John Lennon got shot, and New York City was a pretty scary place. Everybody thought Reagan was going to start World War III. Did you know where the fallout shelter was in your school?
JM: I did. And thinking back, I guess Baltimore would have been vaporized along with DC if the Soviets nuked us, so the end would have been quick for my first-grade class, no matter where we cowered in the building! But I also think of it as a time—I mean, these are really early memories, but they’re deeply embedded—I remember a feeling that technology was about to change everything about life as we knew it. Voyager was sending back pictures of Jupiter and Saturn. The Empire Strikes Back was in the theaters, and then E.T. made all my friends want a Speak and Spell. We were fascinated by computers, but we didn’t really know what they were, so they seemed capable of anything. Remember Superman III, where Richard Pryor builds an evil computer that wants to destroy the world?
MA: In retrospect, that’s a visionary film about cyber-terrorism. Now computers actually are capable of anything.
JM: Yeah—Bowie could stick a few hi-res copies of Eraserhead on a thumb drive and toss it in his sock drawer. But maybe what appeals to me most about looking back to that era is that I feel like we’re in a parallel time now. Technology seems magical again in the way it did when I was a little kid, but it’s also scarier than ever. People can tinker with the actual DNA of living things. The NSA can watch drone feeds of your house on their lunch breaks. Soldiers in the Nevada desert can kill people on the other side of the world by pressing a button. It’s hard to tell where legitimate concern ends and paranoia begins.
MA: And legitimate concerns are routinely denounced as paranoia. You’re right about the parallels with this time—for instance, the Russians are making an encore performance as international heavies. And as far as technology goes—have you seen the promos for that Soylent stuff?
JM: “What if you never had to worry about food again”?
MA: I see things like that and I think: we are doomed.
JM: Me too. And I’d be lying if I said that feeling wasn’t there in the record. But I was also trying to look beyond it, because in the end all that dread and anxiety only gets you so far; the song “Backchannels” is sort of an attempt to meet that head-on. Not to get too cosmic about it, but, you know, eventually the sun will expand till it’s right where you and I are sitting, no matter what we do or don’t do, and at least it’s better to be alive at the end than after the end, you know? The guy who did the neon work for the cover said that people ask him all the time if he worries about working in a dying medium—and he said, “I’m like, well, I’m also in this dying body, in a dying city, on a dying planet...”
MA: Why are we laughing…
JM: Why are we laughing about this? I know! I guess sometimes the truth is like a hit of oxygen, or maybe nitrous, even when it’s grim. But that’s just the backdrop to life; it’s our fantasies that show you who we really are. I remember watching the Baltimore Aquarium being built back when I was a kid, this giant, earthbound space station of concrete and neon and glass, full of escalators and dark passageways and glowing fish, and the shining pyramid on top with a rain forest in it, and thinking this is the future! I was so excited about growing up in that future, you know?
MA: Now it’s yesterday’s future.
JM: Just like today’s will be tomorrow. Did you ever see Arthur Russell perform, by the way?
MA: No. It was just as possible to miss great stuff then as it is now.
JM: Are you saying that to make me feel better?
MA: Maybe! My guess is fewer people will miss this record than you might think. Speaking for myself, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you sound so extroverted—I can see you singing these songs to stadiums full of people, with one foot up on the monitor.
JM: Is that a good thing?
MA: In this context, yeah. I felt like you were reaching out with this record, making something really big, in a way I hadn’t quite heard from you before. As the kids would say, it’s “epic.”
JM: I think I have to make peace with that word. As long as it means “the record offers you a sonic landscape that rewards repeat listens”, which is something I’m always striving for, I’m OK with it. This one definitely has some of my proudest recorded moments, like that solo at the end of “Filaments”.
MA: What is that, by the way?
JM: It’s a guitar. I promise!
MA: It’s very Adrian Belew. Of all these songs, “Quiet Americans” sounds most like a hit to me, or your version of a hit, more than any other Shearwater song I’ve heard. It’s hard for me to get it out of my head. And I think I know what it means, but what does it mean to you?
JM: My idea for Jet Plane and Oxbow was to try to make a protest record that wasn’t dumb or preachy. Which was sometimes hard to reconcile with how much fun it was to do! But the more grand or triumphant the songs sounded, the more conflicted the lyrics became, which I really liked. I listened to it the other day for the first time since we mastered it and it reminded me of a breakup letter—the kind that’s furious and tender at the same time, because it’s written with love.
MA: Wow, who are you breaking up with?
JM: Good question…the United States, I guess, though that sounds ridiculous when I say it out loud. Maybe the idea of the United States. Some of the things we like to tell ourselves about ourselves. I’m as guilty of that as the next person, by the way; I’m not saying I’m the guy who sees it all clearly. I don’t know if anybody really can.
MA [in his best Bowie]: “I’m afraid of Americans!” But it can’t really be a breakup, can it? Because in a breakup you walk away, and you’re not leaving… are you?
JM: That’s the thing. I can’t stop being an American, even when it makes my skin crawl. I also can’t help loving it here, even though I hate it sometimes, too. And I don’t think I’m the only one here who feels like this. So in the end, I guess, the record felt like a way for me to send out a little beacon that just says “You’re not alone.” In the tense, polarized, tech-addled—but still very beautiful—world we’re in, I don’t think anyone can hear that enough.