Friday, September 22, 2017

My Boston Globe interview with Jonathan Wilson

When 19-year-old Jonathan Wilson left North Carolina for Los Angeles, he discovered that the club across the street from his pad hosted musical improv sessions on Tuesday nights.

“It was a jam Harry Dean Stanton used to have,” Wilson told me. “It was basically his blues band that would jam over there. Joni [Mitchell] sit would in.” 

It was the beginning of a long love affair with the Golden State. He didn't settle there right away. Wilson drove a U-Haul across the USA several times over the next decade, trying to establish a music career. It took a while until he found a home both in California and in its music scene. (Fun fact: Shortly after the start of the millennium, Wilson even lived in a hippie commune consisting of 50 odd shacks and shanties that was bulldozed.)

I interviewed Wilson, who is currently about his musical journey for tomorrow's edition of The Boston Globe. Read it here.

I first came across Jonathan when I heard his captivating 2013 album FanfareIts influenced by albums such as Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, Pink Floyd's Meddle and CSN and Y's Deja Vu but shot through with Wilson's personality. A new solo album is imminent.

In addition to co-producing Father John Misty's Pure Comedy this year, Jonathan Wilson also plays guitar on Roger Waters's Is This the Life We Really Want? and is now a member of Roger's touring band. He's produced albums for Conor Oberst, Dawes, Roy Harper and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy. He's also written a number of yet-to-be-released songs with Lana Del Rey. (In the liner notes of Lust for Life, Lana thanked Jonathan, whom she roped in to play drums on her music video for "Love," by writing, "You're kind of too famous for us now that ur touring with Pink Floyd, but for a while you were throwing some pretty good mixtapes my way, so thanks for that.")

The lanky musician is one talented dude. He plays guitar, drums, bass, piano and horn. He also makes his own guitars which, apparently, are what he plays on the Roger Waters tour. And his studio is crammed with vintage gear he’s been collecting ever since he acquired his first TASCAM tape recorder at 13—long before it became fashionable to collect vintage gear and instruments. He's able to take apart and troubleshoot anything in the studio, from amplifiers to microphones to the recording console. Well, almost. “Unfortunately the hot tub is broken. That’s the one thing that I cannot fix,” Wilson joked.

But its his musical know-how as a songwriter and producer that has garnered him the respect of the likes of Jackson Browne, David Crosby and Graham Nash (who kindly sent me a comment for my article). One story I wasn't able to include in my article is that Crosby once retuned Wilson's guitar in an unusual tuning and handed it back to him.

"He does that from time to time with folks—he goes into their house and he tunes their guitar in a special Crosby way and then he challenges you to write a song, or two. He tuned it in one of his tunings and I think he said he found maybe five songs in that tuning. Me? I found two songs. One of them is on Fanfare."

Jonathan Wilson may be heavily indebted to the music of 1960s and 1970s, but he told me that he also listens to Kendrick Lamar and the electronic producer Haxan Cloak. But he feels that the studio technique and attention to high-fidelity of those golden-era sounds has often been neglected in today's world. He wants to carry flag planted by the likes of Browne, Crosby and Nash proud.

"I don’t want those guys to think that they have left a legacy to younger guys who can’t find their away around a tape machine or a studio," Wilson told me. "I do have a bit of a goal to be able to continue certain traditions."

Thursday, August 31, 2017

July/August playlist

  • Robert Plant—Holiday Carry Fire (upcoming 2017)
  • The War on Drugs—A Deeper Understanding (2017)
  • Queens of the Stone AgeVillains (2017)
  • Nadine ShahHoliday Destination (2017)
  • Grizzly BearPainted Ruins (2017)
  • Paul DraperSpooky Action (2017)
  • Lana Del ReyLust for Life (upcoming 2017)
  • Land of TalkLife After Youth (2017)
  • Arcade FireEverything Now (2017)
  • Carl Craig—Versus (2017)
  • MoulettesPreternatural (2017)
  • Cigarettes after SexK (2017)
  • Justin Adams (feat. Anneli Drecker)Ribbons (2017)
  • Algiers—The Underside of Power (2017)
  • Steve Winwood—Greatest Hits Live (2017)
  • The Big Moon—Love in the Fourth Dimension (2017)
  • Four Tet—Morning/Evening (2015)
  • The Beta BandHot Shots II (2001)
  • Nine Inch NailsThe Downward Spiral (1994)
  • The Allman Brothers BandFirst Set (1992)
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan—The Sky is Crying (1991)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Two-part interview with Steven Wilson

A little over a year ago, I was working on the sleeve notes for a Porcupine Tree vinyl box set when Steven Wilson, the leader of that band, casually asked me if I'd like to hear some of the songs he was writing for his fifth solo album.

I felt like an amateur stargazer who'd be invited to accompany an astronaut on a trip to the moon.

Over the course of many months, Steven sent me batches of demo recordings for my feedback—no exaggeration: his demos sound as polished and produced as many people's finished albums—and, later, various mixes of recorded versions. He asked for honest opinions on these nascent songs. I was surprised that he took some of my suggestions on board and tweaked some of the songs accordingly. It takes a degree of humility as an artist to be open to be open to feedback. Who the am I to tell a songwriter, producer and mixer as accomplished as Steven Wilson what I think? I'm just a journalist who can't even play the fucking tambourine.

To the Bone was released today and I'm so excited for the world to hear it. I reckon it's a masterpiece. Even after a year, I get cravings to listen to the album, which is a testament to its durability. To the Bone has, unsurprisingly, received rave reviews from Mojo, Classic Rock, Planet Rock, and Q.

It was an honor to be entrusted to write the liner notes for the deluxe box set edition of To the Bone. Rather than just write a straight-up essay like my liner notes for the two Porcupine Tree box sets, SW encouraged me to instead write a journal from my own perspective. Steven's inspiration for that approach? Paul Gambaccini's diary-like sleeve notes to Godley and Creme's L.

Although I wrote 12,000 word sleeve notes, I still had reams of unused material from the many interviews I did with Steven about the album. I've compiled those leftovers into a two-part interview in which SW discusses each track of the album. Here's part 1 and part 2.

Friday, June 30, 2017

June Playlist

  • Shearwater—The Sky is a Blank Screen (2017)
  • Public Service Broadcasting—Every Valley (upcoming 2017)
  • Nadine ShahHoliday Destination (upcoming 2017)
  • Songhoy Blues—RĂ©sistance (2017)
  • Floating Points—Reflections-Mojave Desert (2017)
  • Shelby Lynne and Allison MoorerNot Dark Yet  (upcoming 2017)
  • Radiohead—OKNOTOK (OK Computer re-release) (2017)
  • Bent KneeLand Animal (2017)
  • Roger Waters—Is this the Life We Really Want? (2017)
  • Fleet Foxes—Crack-Up (2017)
  • Forest Swords—Compassion (2017)
  • Iron and Wine—Beast Epic (upcoming 2017)
  • Steve Hogarth with Ranestrane—Friends, Romans (2017)
  • Mappe OfA Northern Star, A Perfect Stone (upcoming 2017)
  • Joseph ArthurRedemption's Son, 15th Anniversary edition (2017)
  • Squarepusher—Ultravisitor (2003)
  • The Cure—Staring at the Sea (1986)
  • YES—Yessongs (1993)

    Songs from most of these albums (and other imminent albums that have yet to be released) can be heard in my new wide-ranging and eclectic Spotify playlist: Best new songs of June:

    Now on Newsstands

    The new issue of Prog magazine hits newsstands in the UK today and will soon make its way to US newsstands such as your local Barnes & Noble. Better yet, try a monthly subscription at $4.99 to the online version at to access the magazine as well as other Team Rock magazines (and archives) such as Classic Rock, Metal Hammer and Blues.

    In addition to stories about YES and Amplifier—I adore both bands and own their entire catalogs—the issue also includes a lengthy feature I wrote about Bent Knee.

    Bent Knee, a six piece that formed at the Berklee School of Music, has developed a sizable following for music that they describe as existing in the "nooks and crannies just outside the mainstream."

    What I love about Bent Knee, whose influences span from Sufjan Stevens to Kendrick Lamar, is that they don't sound like anyone else. That includes powerhouse singer Courtney Swain. These mid-twenties musicians don't sound derivative. A Wall Street Journal feature on the band praised their silo-smashing sound which "taps into cabaret, ’70s piano-based folk, chamber pop, industrial rock, metal and prog rock—with the snap of funk and hip-hop in some of its rhythms."

    They've just signed to a Sony label and their album Land Animal is released now out. (Hear it now on Spotify or, better yet, order a physical copy.) It's excellent and should be a breakthrough for them—check out songs such as "Insides In," "These Hands," "Time Deer" and "Boxes." The hard-working band's burgeoning success is well-deserved as they're such lovely people.

    Bent Knee already have a good-sized fanbase thanks to constant touring across the US. The song "Terror Bird" from the album, below, will give you an inkling of how good they are in concert. Catch them on a US tour in July and August. Dates below and more details at

    7/14       Northampton, MA @ Iron Horse
    7/15       Nashua, NH @ Riverwalk
    7/18       Ferndale, MI @ The Loving Touch
    7/20       Madison, WI @ Frequency
    7/24       Minneapolis, MN @ 7th Street Entry
    7/25       Lawrence, KS @ Bottleneck
    7/27       Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge
    7/31       Seattle, WA @ Barboza
    8/1         Portland, OR @Analog Cafe
    8/2         Bend, OR @Volcanic Theatre
    8/4         San Francisco, CA @cafe Du Nord
    8/7         San Diego, CA @Soda Bar


    Wednesday, May 31, 2017

    May Playlist

    • SlowdiveSlowdive (2017)
    • Jane WeaverKosmology (2017)
    • Forest SwordsCompassion (2017)
    • Bent KneeLand Animal (2017)
    • Marika Hackmanl'm not Your Man (2017)
    • Steve Hogarth and RanestraneRomans, Friends (2017)
    • Kurt VileBelieve I'm Goin' Down (2016)
    • Gregg AllmanLow Country Blues (2011)
    • Ryan AdamsLove is Hell (2004)
    • SoundgardenA-Sides (1997)
    • Tears for FearsElemental (1993)
    • Allman Brothers BandLegendary Hits (1994), Back Where It Begins (1994), 1st Set (1991)
    • Stevie Ray VaughanThe Sky is Crying (1991)
    • XTC—Black Sea (1980)
    • Alice Coltrane—Ptah the El Daoud (1970) 

    Tuesday, May 09, 2017

    I'm honored to have written 12,000 word sleeve notes for the box set edition of Steven Wilson's new album, To the Bone, which will be released on August 18 on Caroline/Universal.

    It's hard to imagine anyone will release a better record in 2017. The 11 track album boasts Steven's strongest melodies to date. It's a thoroughly modern, song-based album that showcases Steven's songcraft and striking production, The album features his most thrilling guitar-playing and most emotive singing, too. Steven describes it this way in the press release:
    My fifth record is in many ways inspired by the hugely ambitious progressive pop records that I loved in my youth (think Peter Gabriel’s So, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, Talk Talk’s Colour of Spring and Tears for Fears’ Seeds of Love). Lyrically, the album’s eleven tracks veer from the paranoid chaos of the current era in which truth can apparently be a flexible notion, observations of the everyday lives of refugees, terrorists and religious fundamentalists, and a welcome shot of some of the most joyous wide-eyed escapism I’ve created in my career so far. Something for all the family!
    Take a listen to the first single, "Pariah," featuring Ninet Tayeb, in the video below.

    Full details on the box set contents (plus a few preview photos) can be found here. The deluxe edition box set is expensive, but it's a high-quality 120 page hardcover book with incredible photography by Lasse Hoile and a lovely design by Rob Carmichael at Seen Studio. In addition to my extensive chronicle of the making of the album, informed by multiple interviews with Steven over a period of six months, the deluxe edition also features an exclusive CD of top-notch bonus tracks and demos, a Blu-Ray with 5.1 mix, documentary and videos, and the box set also includes a 7" vinyl of a track unavailable elsewhere. I reckon it's great value for the $.

    Sunday, April 30, 2017

    April Playlist

    • FeistPleasure (2017)
    • Steven WilsonUnreleased Electronic Music (2017 reissue)
    • Sheryl Crow—Be Myself (2017)
    • GasNarkopop (2017)
    • Bent KneeLand Animal (2017)
    • Marika Hackmanl'm not Your Man (2017)
    • Steve Hogarth and Isuldur's BaneColours Not Found in Nature (2017)
    • Marillion—Marbles in the Park (2017)
    • The Slow RevoltSketches (2016)
    • Depeche Mode—Singles '81-'85 (1998)
    • SadeLove Deluxe (1993)
    • XTCThe Big Express (1984)
    • Roger Waters—The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking (1984)
    • David BowieDavid Live (1974)
    • The Beatles—White album (1968)

    Friday, April 21, 2017

    Meet America’s top black Christian anarcho-capitalist rap-metal artist

    Meet Backwordz, a band that bills itself as "the liberarian Rage Against the Machine." Their debut album, Veracity, is racing up the chartz,  I interviewed Eric July, the frontman of the Dallas five-piece band, for the new issue of Reason magazine.

    The band's grindcore guitars and spitball rapping isn't the heaviest aspect of Backwordz. It's the message. The single "Statism" declares that taxation as theft and questions the government's monopoly on violence and its role in so many other areas of life.

    The larynx-shredding anthem “Utopias Don’t Exist” challenges the Black Lives Matter narrative that police violence against African-Americans is primarily motivated by racism. And when was the last time you heard a song called “Democracy Sucks”?

    When he isn’t recording or touring, Backwordz frontman July, 27, pens articles at Libertarian Republic and works as a multimedia producer for the website Being Libertarian. But long before he started wearing a hoodie with a picture of Ron Paul on it, he was once a staunch supporter of Barack Obama and a member of an inner-city gang.

    “People think of libertarianism as old, white people like the Koch brothers,” the MC told me. “It’s cool to be able to get out there and talk to people because I come from a different avenue and what led me to libertarianism.”

    It was a pleasure to talk to a fellow libertarian about his intellectual journey and why Backwordz is on a mission to share ideas on liberty with its listeners. A condensed version of the interview appears in the pages of the new issue of Reasonbut you can read the full interview here on its website. (While you are on the website, poke around the libertarian magazine's blog, Hit & Run, which is an indispensable daily read for its insights into subjects in the news and other newsworthy subjects you haven't seen in the news.)

    Here's a couple of the band's music videos. Not the faint of ear...