Thursday, March 29, 2018

Playlist March

  • Wye Oak—The Louder I Call, the Faster it Runs (2018)
  • Soccer Mommy—Clean (2018)
  • Ed Schrader's Music Beat—Riddles (2018)
  • I'm With Her—See You Around (2018)
  • Francis Dunnery—Live in Japan (2018)
  • Snow Patrol—Wildness (2018)
  • Loma—Loma (2018)
  • Mark Pritchard—The Four Worlds (2018)
  • Sufjan Stevens—Age of Adz (2010)
  • TV on the Radio—desperate youth, blood thirsty babes (2004)
  • Sigur Ros—() (2002)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Steven Wilson tour program

'Twas a pleasure to interview Steven Wilson for his new tour program. The focus of my piece is the live side of Steven's work. An in-depth look at artistry behind how Steven designs his concerts from the setlists to the staging, lighting, and visual display. The program is a handsome production thanks to the design of Carl Glover + photos by Lasse Hoile and Joe del Tufo. Look for it at Steven's current tour of Europe and upcoming US tour (see:

Here, below, are excerpts from the interview with SW that didn't make the cut for the tour program:

When you’re performing on stage, what sort of things go through your mind? Are you thinking, “I have to tap that guitar pedal in the next bar and then go over to the keyboard next?”

There comes a point where all those things have become automatic, they become instinct and you don’t even have to think about them. Actually, the worst thing that you can do is think about it too much. Because the moment I start to think about it, that’s when I suddenly panic and forget lyrics or what I’m supposed to do because you’re no longer relying on that subconscious instinct. So it’s better not to have that stuff in your mind.

When I'm actually in the middle of playing songs, I'm not sure what I'm thinking really. We have a lot of fun on stage and we have a lot of in-jokes. A lot of the time I might be thinking, “How can I put Craig off?” Or, “How can I make Nick laugh?”

How do you deal with hecklers? 

The hecklers that I get at my shows tend to be smart-arses who want to shout something out to show everyone else how clever they are. Being a smart-arse myself, I enjoy engaging with those kind of people, in fact I’m probably guilty of conversing with them for too long sometimes. The band will start to look at their watches and wonder when we’re going to play the next song!

I guess I do talk quite a lot between songs. I can’t abide clichéd showbiz stage banter, so I’ve learned that it’s best to talk to an audience like you’re talking to a single person one-on-one, relaxed and don’t be self-conscious about what you’re saying. That way you’re not doing the “reading from a script” thing.

Do you ever find your mind wandering—seeing someone in the audience that you recognize or who looks interesting for some reason?

Sometimes you have people literally leaning over the front of the stage and you can’t help but engage with them. I might be admiring a pretty girl or marvelling at a particularly grotesque T-shirt someone in the front row might be wearing!  The one thing that’s very difficult to avoid is obsessing about someone in the audience that doesn’t seem to be enjoying it. They might be a partner who has been dragged along to the show; it’s not really their thing but they come along to keep their other half company. You start to fixate on that person. It’s almost like the show for me becomes just for that person. If I can make that person enjoy the show, then it’s a success!

What does an audience have to do to merit a rare additional, unplanned encore?

Haha! Obvious, just don’t let us feel like you’ve had enough, don’t let the enthusiasm drop. But they have to do it as a collective, it’s no good if just a few people are screaming for more, it has to be the whole audience. Although in theory the show ends when the setlist ends, I have been known to come back on for an impromptu extra song or two if the audience were passionate enough about it.

What sort of mishaps have you or other band members had on stage?

Ah, Spinal Tap again!  Well, we have a lot of visual elements in the show, as well as some audio on backing track, mainly sound design and backing vocals. Not massive amounts, but things that make the musical tapestry more immersive. Because of that, we have to play to a click track which synchronises the music with the visuals. I remember when we were on stage in Sao Paulo in Brazil and we made a big entrance playing “Luminol”, but for whatever reason, we got out of synchronisation with the backing track and all the backing vocals were coming in at all the wrong moments, it was a total train wreck!  So much so, that it was just not possible to recover, so after about 3 minutes into the 14-minute song, I said, “STOP THE SHOW!”, and made a joke about it with the audience. I told them, “We’re going to walk off stage and we’re going come back on stage pretending as if nothing happened.” And of course the audience loved it. The worst thing you can do is be embarrassed, because then they feel embarrassed too.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Playlist January/February

  • Vertical Horizon—The Lost Mile (2018)
  • Snow Patrol—Wildness (2018)
  • Loma—Loma (2018)
  • Calexico—The Thread that Keeps Us (2018)
  • Nils Frahm—All Melody (2018)
  • Field Music—Open Here (2018)
  • Jonathan Wilson—Rare Birds (2018)
  • Richard Barbieri—Variants 2 EP (2018)
  • Joe Satriani—What Happens Next (2018)
  • Francis Dunnery—Live in Japan (2017)
  • Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch—Blade Runner 2049 soundtrack (2017)
  • Max Richter—Three Worlds: Music from Woolf Works (2017)
  • Johnny Clegg—King of Time (2017)
  • Ride—Weather Diaries (2017)
  • Jon Durant—Parting Is (2017)
  • Elbow—The Best Of, deluxe edition (2017)
  • Seth Lakeman—Ballads of the Broken Few (2017)
  • Flock of Dimes—If You See Me, Say Yes (2016)
  • Lana Del Rey—Born to Die (2012)
  • Fistful of Mercy—As I Call You Down (2010)

Friday, February 16, 2018

My Robert Plant interview in The Boston Globe

I interviewed Robert Plant for today's Boston Globe. (You can read the online version here.)

It's the third time I've interviewed the singer, who is my all-time favorite artist. (You can read the other two pieces here and here.) The first album I ever bought, at age 12, was Robert Plant's Shaken 'n' Stirred upon its release in 1985. I'm not sure I had even heard of Led Zeppelin at that point but all I knew was that the lead single, "Little by Little," was the greatest thing I had ever heard (check out the music video, below).


Since then, I've followed every step of the vocalist's career. I love the fact that every one of his records is different and that I have no idea what he'll do next. He's one of the few artists of his vintage who hasn't lost his artistic thirst and curiosity, a theme I explored in my piece. I think that the reason I'm drawn to his work time and time again is that he's such an expressive singer - he doesn't feign emotion, he channels his most intimate feelings into his vocals.

If you're unfamiliar with much of Plant's solo career, then I'd recommend his latest album Carry Fire (2017), Mighty Rearranger (2005), and Fate of Nations (1993) for starters. Or try this Spotify playlist, below, compiled by Plant himself as a survey of some of his best songs.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

November and December playlist

      • LOMA—Loma (upcoming 2018)
      • Steven Wilson—Last Day of June: OST (2017)
      • U2—Songs of Experience (2017)
      • Bjork—Utopia (2017)
      • Sufjan Stevens—The Greatest Gift: Outtakes, Remixes + Demos from Carrie + Lowell (2017)
      • Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds—Who Built the Moon? (2017)
      • Courtney Swain—Growing Pains (2017)
      • Marillion—The Gold (2017)
      • The Yardbirds—Yardbirds '68 (2017 release)
      • Tears for Fears—Rule the World: Greatest Hits (2017 release)
      • Rush—A Farewell to Kings: 40th Anniversary edition (2017 release)
      • Eno + Hyde—High Life (2014)
      • Buddy and Julie Miller—White Chalk (2009)
      • Fever Ray—Plunge (2017)
      • Otis Taylor—White African (2000)
      • Roland Orzabal—Tomcats Screaming Outside (2000)
      • Shawn Colvin—Cover Girl (1994)
      • Dead Can Dance—Into the Labyrinth (1993)
      • Joni Mitchell—Wild Things Run Fast (1982)
      • Peter Gabriel—Peter Gabriel 3 (1980)

Now on Newsstands (and airline seats)

I wrote a short, front of book piece in the November issue of American Way (the in-flight magazine for American Airlines) about an ambitious multimedia Leonard Cohen exhibition in Montreal. (You can read the piece on page 18 via this link.)

The Museum of Contemporary Art's Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything isn't a gaudy Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame-style memorabilia display—don't go looking for his famous blue raincoat or fedoras. Instead, curator John Zeppetelli invited 40 artists from across the world to channel Cohen's influence into new works.

Michael Putland
The troubadour’s words and melodies have been recontextualized in newly commissioned works that explore his recurring themes: love and lust, politics and war, religion and redemption.

“There was an endless, thwarted quest for happiness. But then also a kind of resignation. There is a crack in everything and that’s what allows the light to come in,” Mr. Zeppetelli, the museum director told me via a phone interview.

Visitors can enter a virtual, surround-sound concert room, whose four walls will display montages of Cohen performing hit songs such as “Suzanne” over several decades. Another listening space includes exclusive cover versions by musicians such as Moby, Julia Holter, and The National with Sufjan Stevens. Candice Breitz formed out an amateur choir of Cohen fans who recorded their own version of the artist's landmark album I'm Your Man. A video installation titled The Offerings explores Cohen’s philosophical outlook. There's also a Wurlitzer organ whose keys have each been programmed to trigger audio of the singer reading his own poems. Zach Richter created a virtual reality experience titled "Halleluljah." If, to quote a Cohen song, you want it darker, then spend some alone time in the Depression Box designed by Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman ("Waltz with Bashir).

The singer gave his blessing to the Museum of Contemporary Art to stage the exhibition A Crack in Everything, which includes items from his personal archives, including autobiographical sketches.

Planning for the exhibition was underway before the singer died in 2016. The exhibition took on a different tenor following his passing, Zeppetelli admitted.

“We were planning for almost two years and fantasizing about inviting Leonard to the opening and showing him around just to demonstrate to him how vital his work has been, not just to his fans and music lovers, but to all kinds of people. He was very chuffed about that, that he could be an influence to people outside of his area, not songwriters and fans, but to other artists in different disciplines.”

The exhibition at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal runs through April 9, 2018.


Also on newsstands: The new issue of Prog magazine includes an interview I did with renowned Washington Post politics reporter David Weigel.

In addition to the demanding beat of covering Donald Trump on the campaign trail, Weigel wrote The Show that Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock. The hardcover edition, published by W.W. Norton, has been such a success that it quickly sold out its first print run. During my piece about Weigel's love of progressive rock, he told me about how he got turned on to Yes and got turned down by Robert Fripp.

The magazine includes exclusive interviews with Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush (both of whom I was honored to interview when I wrote the book The Art of Rush) as well as Peter Hammill, Brian Eno, Godley & Creme, and Tim Bowness.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

October playlist

    • Melanie De Biasio—Lillies (2017)
    • LOMA—Loma (upcoming 2018)
    • Fever Ray—Plunge (2017)
    • Bass Communion—Sisters Oregon (2017)
    • Robert Plant—Carry Fire (2017)
    • St. Vincent—Masseduction (2017)
    • Courtney Barnett+Kurt Vile—Lotta Sea Lice (2017)
    • Wolf Alice—Visions of a Life (2017)
    • Four Tet—New Energy (2017)
    • Ibeyi—Ash (2017)
    • David Gilmour—Live at Pompeii (2017)
    • Black Country Communion—BCCIV (2017)
    • Beach Fossils—Somersault (2017)
    • Jeff Beck—Live at the Hollywood Bowl (2017)
    • Jeremy Enigk—Ghosts (2017)
    • Neil Finn—Out of Silence (2017)
    • Broken Social Scene—Hug of Thunder (2017)
    • Ghostpoet—Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam (2011)
    • Funkadelic—Maggot Brain (1971)

    Thursday, October 12, 2017

    I went to see a Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford movie for work...

    At the end of the original Planet of the Apes, Charlton Heston kneels in the sand, shakes his fist at the half-buried Statue of Liberty, and realizes that he’s doomed to live the rest of his life wearing just a loin-cloth.

    As dystopian sci-fi movies go, that one's relatively cheerful. Nowadays, many science fiction books and movies depict a scorched-earth future in which life is nasty, brutish and short (well, unless there's a chance of a sequel). I wrote a newspaper article for The Christian Science Monitor about a debate within the science fiction community about the value of dystopian stories such as the newly released Blade Runner 2049.

    In recent years, sci-fi writers such as Neal Stephenson, Cory Doctorow, Kim Stanley Robinson have been very vocal about how science fiction is fixated on apocalyptic scenarios for the future. They've largely displaced the hopeful visions of the future that were part of the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction until the mid-1960s.

    Stephenson believes that these pessimistic stories, which arose out of the New Wave of science fiction, have had a knock-on effect among scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs because, he believes, it discourages them from thinking big and tackling daunting projects. But other sci-fi authors believe that dystopian tales not only serve a valuable and worthwhile purpose, but can also be just as inspirational. Daniel H. Wilson, the former robotics researcher who wrote the bestselling novel Robopocalypse, gave me a wonderful anecdotal example of the latter that I wasn't able to fit into my story.

    “Having been a scientist and having lots and lots of friends who are scientists, I can tell you definitively that people are inspired by dystopias [and] they’re inspired by utopias,” Daniel told me. He cited an example of a former colleague at Carnegie Melon University who researched how to program robots to devise new methods of locomotion if they break a limb. His inspiration? The horrific scene in The Terminator in which the T-800 assassin robot (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) crawls out of a burning inferno with all its skin burned off and exposed as a mechanical being. As Daniel put it, his friend was sitting there watching and thinking, “Wow, he figured out how to move without his legs!”

    Side note: I asked Daniel H. Wilson about Elon Musk’s loud claim that Artificial Intelligence will come to view humanity as an inferior species and destroy the plot of the aforementioned movie. (Here’s hoping that the coming fleet of self-driving Teslas don’t develop a grudge against backseat drivers.) His response? If you can find a single robotics researched afraid of singularity, call me!

    You can read my article via this link...

    (Btw, I loved Blade Runner 2049. A truly immersive, transportive cinematic big-screen experience.)

    Friday, September 29, 2017

    September playlist

      • Robert Plant—Holiday Carry Fire (upcoming 2017)
      • The Weather Station—The Weather Station (2017)
      • Four Tet—New Energy (2017)
      • Neil Finn—Out of Silence (2017)
      • Wolf Alice—Visions of a Life (2017)
      • LCD Soundsystem—American Dream (2017)
      • Nick Mulvey—Wave Up Now (2017)
      • The Waterboys—Out of All this Blue (2017)
      • Tim Bowness—Songs from the Ghost Light (2017)
      • Gregg Allman—Southern Blood (2017)
      • Mogwai—Every Country's Sun (2017)
      • The War on Drugs—A Deeper Understanding (2017)
      • Black Country Communion—BCCIV (2017)
      • Gentle Giant—Three Piece Suite (2017 compilation with Steven Wilson remix)
      • Lana Del Rey—Born to Die: Paradise Edition (2012)
      • Nirvana—MTV: Unplugged (1994)
      • PJ HarveyRid of Me (1993)
      • The Vaughan Brothers—Family Style (1990)
      • XTC—Black Sea (1980)