— information leafblower

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Interviews

After taking most of 2009 off from writing, I had the chance to interview quite a few of my favorite bands in 2010 and one of the best photographers in the world.

Photographer Danny Clinch

One of the things I read about you is you got your start back in the day shooting hip-hop artists, back when that was a sort of a new genre.

Yes. I got a couple of assignments from SPIN Magazine, and one of the assignments was to shoot 3rd Bass. And I got the photos back and I was very proud of them. I thought they were really good photos and I thought, “What now? What am I going to do with these photos?” And I decided to take them to Def Jam Records, because they were on Def Jam at the time, and I thought I would take them over there and see what they think of them. So I tried really hard to get an appointment with these guys and they were like “No, no just leave us your portfolio. Drop it off on a Wednesday, pick it up on a Thursday.” And I finally said “I just shot 3rd Bass for SPIN and I got some really good stuff.” And so I finally went over and met with these people at the Drawing Board, which was the name of the art department at the time, and we just really hit it off. They really liked the photos I took of 3rd Bass. Back then in hip-hop, there weren’t big budgets. The bands were very popular commercially, you know 3rd bass, LL Cool J and Public Enemy, but they weren’t big budget jobs, so the big photographers could really care less. And so I started to get some of those jobs and it was a really good thing for me. So I was a young photographer that was getting album packing jobs, and it was really exciting.

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I interviewed Danny Clinch in advance of his talk at National Geographic. It was a real pleasure to speak to such a legendary photographer.

Here’s a brief piece of the interview:

Everybody’s a photographer these days.

Yeah, everybody’s a photographer. But the fact is there is that sort of snapshot aesthetic that people can get away with — but if your photos suck, then your photos suck. If you don’t have an interesting point of view or something like that, then it doesn’t matter if it’s a digital camera or what. There are a lot more people out there that they’re willing to give a chance to and that’s flooded the market a bit. But it’s tough, it’s always been tough to make it in the music industry as a photographer.

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For DCist. Earlier in the week. I’m a bit behind over here. Too many overtimes.

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I interviewed bassist Gordon Moakes (not pictured) in advance of their show at the 9:30 Club on Sunday. Some excerpts:
So the new record, Intimacy. It was co-produced by “Jacknife” Lee and Paul Epworth. You’ve worked with each of them in the past. How do you get a cohesive sound out of two different producers?
For us, in terms of a cohesive record, we were hoping for the best really, but we wanted two separate elements. It was kind of part of the idea to have two different producers to work on two completely different ends of the record and trust in them that it would come together and not sound disjointed. And I think it worked in that sense.
This record has a more electronic sound. Is that something you worked on prior to entering the studio or was that something that came about while you were recording?
It was a blueprint, in a way, for the record. The main thing being on a certain number of songs (lead singer and songwriter) Kele wanted to not write in a traditional way–you know, instruments in a room, turn up and play–but actually building that from scratch with software on a computer. We found actually that the two do complement each other, that there were times when we did need a live drum sound. But we were approaching music slightly differently for us. To not think of a band in a room playing music. You have to strike a balance. If we approached a whole record like that, then you are in danger of losing that spark of what we are as a band, collectively. The ideas come when we play together, so you don’t want to lose all of that organic quality.
Go read the full interview over at DCist.

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robbersinDC
In advance of Thursday’s show at the Rock and Roll Hotel with openers The City Veins (doors at 8 p.m., buy tickets here!), I spoke with Robbers on High Street lead singer/guitarist/keyboardist Ben Trokan about the group’s latest album, Grand Animals, and the band’s penchant for, among other things, choosing cover songs.
I wanted to start off talking about Grand Animals, which came out last year. It seems more varid than your debut record. I felt like your first record had this hurried feeling to it, while this one is more laid back.
Well, that one was recorded a lot more live than this record. I don’t know, with that one we just tried to make the best power pop record we could do with the songs we had. That was the plan. But with this one, we had talked about making this one have a mixed tape sort of feel.
Peter Katis produced your first record, but for this record you imported an Italian, Daniele Luppi, to man the boards.
Yeah, he did the cool string part on (Gnarls Barkley’s) “Crazy,” and all the bass arrangements.
How did you find him?
He had put out his own record, this really cool instrumental record he did with these 60 year old Roman guys that recorded all of the spaghetti westerns, they were like the house band. It’s a pretty interesting record actually. Well, we heard that record and then through a mutual contact, his name came up. It’s an unorthodox choice I guess, because he’d never recorded a rock band before. Peter’s sort of like, you let him deal with the sonics and you tell him if you like it or not. He stays out of your way in terms of the songs. This was more of a producer in a traditional role.
So if this was his first time recording a rock band, was it a learning curve for him as well?
It was. There were some grueling moments during tracking. He’s pretty thorough. And, of course, he’s Italian! So he sticks to his fucking guns. And we have some really strong ideas as well, so…

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At least, so says Editors lead singer Tom Smith. Here’s a snippet of the interview I conducted with him yesterday.
I’ve also read that you personally are a big R.E.M. fan and last year the band recorded a great cover of “Orange Crush.” How do rate their more recent records? I used to be a huge fan but they’ve lost me with the last few albums.
The first records are the records that I continue to listen to. I’m still intrigued by new R.E.M. material. I still think there are moments of greatness on all of their records, but I was disappointed by the last record. But I still listen to New Adventures In Hi-Fi quite a bit.
That is by far their most underrated record.
It’s too long and there are too many songs on it but as far as ideas go, there are some great songs on there. It’s a record they wrote and recorded on the road, which is quite an accomplishment. But yeah, they’ve had a bit of a shake up and now their recording with Jacknife Lee.
I think they needed things turned on its head. I’ve heard half of the record and it sounds like they’re having fun. A lot of fun. And it sounds loud as well. I’ve only heard it once and it hasn’t really sunk in yet, but yeah, I think they’re doing the right thing.
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Head over to DCist early next week for the entire interview.
Editors are on currently on tour here in the States. They hit the 9:30 Club next Tuesday.
[mp3] Editors | Orange Crush
[mp3] R.E.M. | Just A Touch (live in the studio)
[mp3] R.E.M. | Crush With Eyeliner (live on T.V.)

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This is a week old at this point, but I’ve been so busy, I’m just now getting around to it. Gruff’s show last week was alot of fun. The material from his new record, Candylion, was wonderful and he was his normal, extremely engaging self during the show, naming all his “bandmates” who were actually random knick-knacks laid out on the table before him that produced a variety of the sounds heard on the record. His true bandmate, Lisa Jen, has a voice like an angel. Overall a good show.
I got to chat a bit with Gruff before the gig, which is always nice. He always has a big hug for me whenever we see each other, which is awesome. He told me about Bunf‘s recent birthday, his 40th (!!!!), where they both got trashed at an Adam Hussain gig in Wales. Recounting the night, Gruff gave me the “Dude, we go so trashed,” look and sigh combo, before adding “Bunf may be the oldest of us, but he’s definitely the youngest at heart.” Truer words were never spoken.
I also interviewed Gruff for DCist. You can read the entire interview here. Unfortunately it ended before I could get to my good (read: “Inside baseball”) questions due to some very insistent person calling from New Zealand claiming they had an interview set up and a deadline fast approaching. Still I got some good stuff:
I think there’s some really brilliant songs on Hey Venus! “Baby Ate My Eightball” is one of the best things you’ve done, in my opinion. The backing vocals are brilliant.
That song took loads of twists and turns. The first incarnation had this sort of Miami based rhythm with babies crying and glasses smashing. It was very abrasive. One of the most abrasive and punk rock things we’ve ever done. And then we mixed it three or four times in the end and the final version barely resembles the original. It’s just a song that took a life of it’s own. Bunf is impersonating a police or ambulance siren with the backing vocals.
How do you keep the whole recording process fresh and keep challenging yourselves?
With this record we worked with Dave Newfield. So that was different to start with, to go into the studio with someone new. We’ve become very set in our ways, you know? In the studio we’re like a bunch of old men, so it was good to have someone come in and be like a coach or referee figure. His background is he was a wedding DJ for years. He did like 500 weddings as a DJ. So he knows what makes the whole family move. And Dave works standing up. He got us to do multiple takes of the songs until it physically moved him.
I can see that. This record has a lot of energy.
I think we were going for energy in the songwriting rather than sonic adventure on this record. Which means we’ll probably react to this record by making a sonically adventurous record with no lyrics.
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Here’s a true Gruff story. When the band released Rings Around the World and came to the US to tour I was in a weird place in my life; in between jobs, getting sick of living in NYC and my relationship to my then girlfriend falling apart. So I decided to take two weeks and follow the Furries around and go to a bunch of gigs. I saw a total of eight gigs all up and down the East Coast, going to different cities and hooking up with old friends I hadn’t seen in a while and visiting venues I’d always wanted to go to (like the 40 Watt club in Athens, Ga.).
During the last gig, at a venue in Atlanta who’s name escapes me, when I got to the will call window at the club, the person there checked off my name and told me that Gruff wanted to see me backstage as soon as I arrived. I was a bit confused by this and also a bit hesitant to go back there. Even though I am super tight with the Furries, I make a point not to bug artists before the show, only after. Before the show is their time to get into whatever mental space they need to play that night’s show.
Ultimately I decided to go back there and I tracked Gruff down. He took me aside with a very grave look on his face and sat me down while all sorts of shit was running through my head. It was then when Gruff apologized to me. He told me he felt bad because I had seen eight shows where the band had played the exact same set and he would check with the band and see if they couldn’t throw “Ice Hockey Hair” or something like that into the set that night for me.
A quick aside here. Part of my relationship with the Furries is that I continually pester them to play songs from their catalog I am pretty sure they’re never going to play. Like “Frisbee,” “Mario Man,” “Citizen’s Band,” This, That, and the Other,” “Dacw Hi” and so on (although I should note “Herman Loves Pauline” was also on this list and they finally relented and played it on the Love Kraft tour). Anyways, I ask for songs, they point at me and laugh and in turn I have something to bitch about. Sounds weird, but trust me. It’s fun. Back to the story…
Man. You could have knocked me over with a feather. Here Gruff was apologizing to me for something I couldn’t care less about. I explained to him that although I am always asking for other stuff to be included in the set, I really didn’t care what they played. I’d be singing along to the “wowoooooahs” in “Run, Christian, Run” and playing air drums to “Calimero” that night just like I did every other night. Seeing the band play was more important that what they played, despite my (good-natured) bitching.
Anyways, I hope that shows you what a stand up guy Gruff is. He’s truly one of the nicest people I ever met in any walk of life and I’m really glad to be able to call him my friend.
One other thing. While we were hanging out at soundcheck last week, Gruff introduced me to Jim Fairchild, who used to be the guitar player in Grandaddy and is performing under the name All Smiles. Jim was super cool and I enjoyed his opening set, filled with acoustic guitar and lots of self deprecating humor, quite a bit. He’s back in D.C. on November 1st opening for David Bazan and I’m really looking forward to seeing him then.

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Apparently an interview I did last year with John Vanderslice is causing some among the “media elites.” At least according to Popmatters (scroll down a bit). Sweet.
Speaking of interviews, I conducted another awesome one yesterday with Ed Lay, the drummer from Editors. Unfortunately I had a technical malfunction and my tape recorder only recorded my questions during our chat and not his answers. Worst. Still, I’ll try and make something of it and have it up soon. It’s a shame too, because he was incredibly nice and had some great thoughts. And I’m not just saying that because he thought the name “information leafblower” was “brilliant.”

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