San Fransisco polymath Mikal Cronin — who recently received his BFA in music from CalArts, and who recorded most of the instrumentation on his brand-new Merge Records debut, MCII, himself — will play tonight at The Stone Fox. I spoke with Cronin via phone in advance of his Nashville gig, and you can read a good chunk of our conversation here. As you'll see in our chat — and in the excellent clip above, which comes to us courtesy of Yours Truly and Adult Swim — Cronin is a gifted songwriter, and one of those introspective, thoughtfully creative types. He's known for his collaborations with Ty Segall and others as well as for his solo material, and with MCII, the 27-year-old explores themes of uncertainty and identity. Here's a little snippet from our conversation:
Lyrically on this record, I do detect themes of uncertainty. Is that something that comes from where you were when you were making the record, or maybe coming to terms with something when you were writing those songs?
Yeah, absolutely. I'm still feeling those themes really strongly now. It's just a place I've been for a while, just based off of a whole lot of changes to my life really quickly. I feel like it's my own personal coming-of-age story. There's a whole lot of uncertainty, a lack of stability, especially in the life I'm in now as a touring musician full time. Traveling so much, not being home. That puts strain on your relationships and your relationship to yourself, at least to me personally. Just trying to figure out who I am and what I'm doing, if I'm making the right choices in this crazy world I find myself in.
Fans of pop music couched in punk aesthetics will likely find that Cronin's done pretty well for himself with MCII. Tonight he'll be joined by excellent fellow Bay Area rock 'n' rollers Shannon and the Clams, plus locals Weekend Babes and The Paperhead. Show's at 9 p.m., tickets will run you $12. Oh also, see the video for Cronin's "Change" after the jump.
Love him or not, finding someone unfamiliar with Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show on TBS is a bit like finding sarsaparilla on tap at your corner pub; you may legitimately wonder if you’ve stepped into the Twilight Zone. Though he’s my favorite late-show host, I don’t make a habit of watching; however, Coco’s burgeoning online media portfolio has been perking up my ears lately. One of the latest additions to the lighthearted web-exclusive fare is indeed a rare bird in our fast-paced, hash-tagged world: Serious Jibber Jabber, a series of hour-plus conversations with people the red-maned host finds interesting.
Two of said interesting persons have strong ties to Nashville music. Third Man honcho Jack White, who hosted O’Brien at Third Man at the height of the media frenzy around his split with NBC, was filmed last December entirely on 35mm film, naturally, and spoke about the nature of art and success. Music historian and Vanderbilt creative writing prof Peter Guralnick, whose chat with the Ginja Ninja was published just last week, talked in depth about Sam Cooke, Sam Phillips and Elvis, each of whom he’s written on extensively. While the SJJ pieces all migrate to YouTube eventually (see the White episode above), the Guralnick episode still only streams via Team Coco.
I got to sit down with Guralnick myself before I reviewed his phenomenal 2-volume biography of Elvis Presley in April. We mostly talked about, well, writing about music. Check out some highlights from our conversation after the jump.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Hopefully still making music, a little more settled down, hanging with my cat drinking a margarita by my pool.
Name one skill that sets you apart and one area of weakness.
I'm really good at typing — like, I can type really, really fast. I'm really bad a math so I probably would need to work on that.
How are you in a pressure situation?
I am the most stressed-out person on planet earth, I have no patience, and I freak out about almost everything — so basically, I would suck.
We do regular drug testing at the office. Is that a problem for you?
Does Ambien count?
When can you start?
As soon as I finish watching this episode of Martin.
Jaye’s long since become a well-adjusted Nashville fixture, finding kindred co-writers like Thad Cockrell, lending her luminous voice to Jessie Baylin’s latest and appearing in a JEFF the Brotherhood video. Jaye stretched her legs as a singer, songwriter and Hawaii-infatuated producer on 2010’s The Exotic Sounds of Courtney Jaye, which boasted a duet with Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell and a Zach Galifianakis endorsement. Three years and a convalescence after a car wreck later, she’s releasing her best yet, an irresistibly hooky, unabashedly well-crafted roots-pop album called Love and Forgiveness. She’ll celebrate with a Grimey’s in-store today and a full-blown show Friday night at The Stone Fox (more on that in this week's forthcoming issue of the Scene). Jaye was only too happy to talk with the Cream about everything from her evolved musical philosophy to her Deadhead days.
If marriage is good for people, it’s good for all people. It’s like going to the gym. If it’s good for you, it’s good for everyone. It’s not just good for people depending on their sexuality
Killer quote, right? Read that and more after the jump.
You’ve talked about songs being almost journals for you. So the question is why chronicle?
Songwriting has always simply been a form of therapy for me. It’s just something I feel like I have to do. For just myself to simply understand my own reasons, my own paths, and take a step out of what I’m doing at the moment and in a way look at my life from a different perspective. Or tell a story or just decipher my own thoughts in a way. So it’s just kind of always been crucial to lay that stuff down and get it off my chest and out of my head and one way or another take the next step forward.
After Ron died a decade ago, Gail was determined to put her cachet with country music vets to work producing a tribute to him. All these years later, the album’s finally done — it’s called Unsung Hero: A Tribute to the Music of Ron Davies, and it’s packed with his romantic pop balladry, wry blues-rock complaints and dozens of other emotionally eloquent, melodically sophisticated shades of songwriting, performed by the likes of Shelby Lynne, John Prine, BR-549 (of which her son, Chris Scruggs, was a member), Alison Krauss and John Anderson. For a lot of the singers, the recording process served as an introduction to Ron and his work. But that wasn’t the case with his old pal Kevin Welch, or Jeff Hanna, who recorded one of his songs with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, or Dolly Parton, who met him by accident — literally. While pressure-washing Parton’s windows, Ron fell from a ladder and broke his hip. Says Gail, “Ronnie used to say, ‘A lot of guys have fallen for Dolly Parton, but not like me. Not the way I did.’ He was very funny.”
The release show for Unsung Hero is tomorrow night, March 29, at 3rd & Lindsley, and Gail Davies took the time to fill us in on who’s in the lineup, why both the album and the show proceeds are going to the W.O. Smith School, what getting to know Joni Mitchell did for her and how that Bowie cover figured into her brother’s songwriting career.
The venue isn’t the only thing that’s changed. In 2009, Lange had just released his first record under the Helado Negro moniker, Awe Owe — a mostly acoustic collection of hypnotic tunes drawing from South America’s generous well of pop music. Invisible Life (stream it below or at Helado's Bandcamp page) builds on those roots with a strong dose of electro, which featured prominently in the soundtrack of Lange’s youth in south Florida. The resulting tracks frequently turn the lilting Latin groove dance-floor-friendly, while the songs (most in Spanish, a few in English) remain introspective. That delicate balance of primal and cerebral is an undercurrent that runs throughout Lange’s body of work. Eager to learn more, we caught up with him on his way to Austin for a string of SXSW showcases.
What’s in store for this run of dates?
It’ll be a mixture of the most recent record and probably one or two [songs] from each of the records preceding it.
Will there be any new material in the mix? I remember the days when you exclusively played unreleased songs live.
Yeah, we just don’t work as quickly anymore because we’re so spread out and people have children. There’s a lot going on, so life got a little bit ahead of us as opposed to it being the other way around. Maybe if when we get together over the next few days, if someone has an idea for something to do that’s new, we’ll put it into the set, but there’s no plans for that right now.
Along with 1971's Rat On!, Swamp Dogg's Total Destruction is getting a long-overdue reissue. Alive Naturalsound Records has released spiffy remastered versions of the two albums on CD and vinyl, and it could be that a new generation of music fans will come to appreciate the work of a brilliant, prolific soul auteur. Born in Virginia in 1942, Williams has also had a close connection with Nashville for decades — with co-writer Gary U.S. Bonds, Williams penned a classic country song, "She's All I Got," which went on to be a 1971 hit for Nashville soul singer Freddie North, as well as a smash for country vocalist Johnny Paycheck.
Produced by Williams for Mankind, a Nashville soul label, North's version of "She's All I Got" is true country-soul crossover. Cut in Music City with producer Billy Sherrill after the North version had made the charts, Paycheck's version is stone country. The song has been recorded by around 90 artists, including Conway Twitty, Norma Jean and Floyd Cramer. A decade later, Williams came to Nashville and cut an idiosyncratic country album for Mercury. It didn't see the light of day until Williams himself released it on CD some years later.
well fuck you anon! Go and Catch fire!
The guitar is a custom made Gretsch he used on the Raconteurs tours...sweet. I couldn't…
Sometimes I think snowman69 makes good points. But I think he's way off the mark…
You obviously don't have a clue what touring is actually like snowman69. We all know…