Your Hands (Together)- The New Pornographers (2010)
In 1997 Vancouver musician Carl Newman had an idea that involved some friends, some music and a few one off gigs…..for a little bit of fun. This fun little idea that included Neko Case along with members of The Evaporators, Limblifter and Age of Electric became The New Pornographers who after 3 years as a side project for all its Vancouver famous members, released the debut album Mass Romantic which became a music critic’s wet dream. A SXSW duet with Ray Davies of the Kinks kept that word of mouth chirping and before Carl Newman knew it, The New Pornographers were a side project no more. They are now on their 5th album which means you have a lot of homework to do. Their latest is called “Together” and the track that can help begin your journey back to the beginning is Your Hands (together).
Coma Girl – Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros (2003)
For a lot of people, myself included, The Clash are one of the most important bands in the history of Rock and Roll …but if we know anything about Joe Strummer it’s that he wasn’t made to be a rock star. After The Clash fell apart Joe spent many years lost and literally wondering while making music for movies and doing a little acting. There is also the righteous story of his first post Clash work: 1988’s “Earthquake Weather”; as good as any devout Strummer fan says this album is, it was as much a reaction to pressure from his record label to reproduce the success of The Clash as it was an honest to goodness attempt at finding his place in the music industry again-if anything it was a fun way for Joe to satisfy his contract with Epic while flipping them da punk rock bird. It wasn’t perhaps until the last years of his life; making music with his band the Mescaleros did Joe finally find musical peace. From his very last album, Streetcore, released after his death, check out Coma Girl.
Lazy Susan – Sweet Thing (2010)
One of the first things I do when I’m digesting a new album is check to see who produced it; I’ve always been interested in an artist’s choice of a producer and the relationship between the two. Toronto band Sweet Thing had the opportunity to work with Rob Schnaph whose resume includes XO by Elliot Smith and Mellow Gold by Beck. It might be a music geeky kind of thing to do but if you listen to those 2 albums, and then listen to Sweet Thing’s 2010 self titled album you can hear the unique take on pop songs that Rob Schnaph has become known for. And to think, it was just a few years ago after meeting at the Ryerson Theatre School in Toronto and pulling a band together that Sweet Thing scored their first big time gig: guitarist Nick Rose’s parent’s 25th anniversary party. Without that gig….perhaps Rob Schnaph and Sweet Thing might never have met and made beautiful pop music together.
Just like Water-Lauyrn Hill (2002)
In 15 years, when we look back on the career of Lauryn Hill all we’ll really care about is her beautiful contribution to music as a member of the Fugees and then as a solo artist (and also maybe her performance in Sister Act 2). At the present moment however, and pretty much since her already classic 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, she has been mostly been portrayed in the media for her erratic behavior, on again off again comebacks and cancelled gigs, but you know how that silly media can be. Whoever has the issues here: the media, Lauyrn or both is irrelevant because she’s kinda worth it (if she does say so herself) and music needs her. I’m just sayin’.
What Light -Wilco (2007)
In 2003 I was sitting in a rented apartment in Umea Sweden with 5 other dudes, broke and in the middle of a self financed month long songwriting and recording marathon with everything on the line. We had tapped out bank loans and credit cards because we had come to a place in our bands life where we felt that owning our music would pay off later, even if it was breaking us at the time. Most days we were numb to the reality of coming back home with the debt to deal with because we were focused on making the album, but as the days ran away from us the reality became more worrisome and we were afraid of what was going to happen once we left the studio bubble.
So, there I was, sitting in that apartment flipping through the Swedish channels trying to find something to distract me and BANG (no not Swedish porn)……like the musical Gods were trying to tell me something: The Wilco documentary “I Am trying to break your Heart” slapped me in the face. It tells the story of the band’s album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot which was not supported by their record company at the time (Reprise) because after some downsizing a new A&R person was put in charge of the band and he didn’t really get their music. Wilco refused to give in to revisiting the album to record something that could be a radio single which then caused Reprise to suggest that the band release the album independently. After a lot of yada yada yada and business BS, Wilco was released from their contract and retained the rights to their album which was originally paid for by Reprise (owned by Warner); that meant Wilco was able to make their own decisions which included streaming the album in it’s entirety on their website before it was released, which in 2001 was a BIG DEAL. So now there was HUGE attention focused on the band and BIG demand for the album, Wilco held all the power and could be very selective over who they would sign with……..eventually they signed with and sold the rights to Nonesuch Records (also owned by Warner) and the album has gone on to sell over 600 000 copies. Warner paid for the album twice.
This documentary came into my life at exactly the right time and gave me the confidence in what I was doing with my own band, it also gave me a whole new respect for Wilco and how they handle their career. They have remained one of the most successful bands in Rock and Roll because of excellent albums and constant touring (it’s a pretty simple formula) and are an amazing model for longevity in this business, in my opinion. In 2007 Wilco released Sky, Blue Sky and to combat the lack of support they felt they had received on radio in previous years, licensed 6 songs to Volkswagon for TV commercials that sent the media and fans into a self righteous tizzy screaming bloody sellout…..cut to singer Jeff Tweedy doing interviews in a sellout t- shirt his son made for him which made me fall in love with this band all over again. What can I say; I’m a fan of the underdog.