Quickie: The Menzingers ‘Rented World’

When I had my very short punk music phase (only musically, I was never rebellious and/or cool enough to actually be a punk), I came to love the more melodic punk songs because in a way it was the skill of creating an actually very pretty song and then bashing it to bits and pieces with rough instrumentals and raw singing. It made the whole music genre so appealing. It was the destruction of beauty.

The Menzingers – for fans of the genre probably already known for three previous albums – have released an album that is very old-fashioned in that way. Ok, it’s not a 70s or even 80s punk album but seems to be very cozy in the 90s and early 2000s and the roots of the kind of punk music that one day would hurl out the unfortunate remnants of what we now know as “College Rock”. But as with so many horribly genres, they were born out of awesome genres that were usually raw, honest and ingenious.

“Rented World” is the angsty punk rock album to feel very depressed and angry to, a somewhat sobering piece of music that has some optimistic moments but mainly revels in a well executed frustration that runs through great melodies and two very capable vocalists. There are really gorgeous moments on this album that allows itself moments of calm and lavish melodies without trying to outscream the listener in every song.

Maybe it’s my looming 30th birthday, but I do enjoy this nostalgic feel of the 90s in this album and sometimes I really wish I was 20 in the 90s because it must have been cool to be old enough to live like the characters of “Singles” and not have the biting and nearly nihilistic cynicism of the 21st century breathing down your neck. But then again, the worst thing about nostalgia is always the romanticism…

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Skating Polly ‘Fuzz Steilacoom’: Cementing their way to alt-stardom


That’s pretty much how Skating Polly kick your ass with the first song of their third album “Fuzz Steilacoom” (named like that because they are THAT cool). “Alabama Movies” has an awesome dirty punk vibe to it that makes you want to rebel against your parents, even if you’re close to 30 and your parents are so open-minded that you have no chance of ever really rebelling against them. I already swooned over the vocal abilities of Peyton and Kelli and I have to continue my praises because on their third album they show yet another wide range that makes anyone else’s sphincters bleed.

Speaking of wide range, I love that they present the best bits of alternative music in one album, like a mixed Tapas-platter. So of course “Alabama Movies” – that has you shaking in your boots – is being followed by an incredibly laid back cool punkrock-ditty called “Fuzz Steilacoom”.

I think it’s a big sign how unique, skilled and fun their music is, that numerous musicians have previously offered their souls to produce their music and help them to spread the word. People want this band to be popular and known, this should not stay a secret to appear cool, NO, this has to get out to the world, so everyone can take part in these girl’s wonderful world of very loud music.

I’d say that in contrast to “Lost Wonderfuls“, the new record is a little grittier, darker in sound and tone but keeps the rough excitement of dynamic song-structures (“Ugly” is a great example, it has more twists than a Night Shyamalan-movie-marathon but without the kitsch and eye-rolling). It is also just as diverse and interesting as the previous album which is no small feat since most follow-up albums are usually a little more grounded in one single direction. In the case of Skating Polly, that would have been a shame, though, because even though their overall genre is probably alt/punk, they have way too many great ideas (executed in a rambunctious, joyful and expert manner) to just do one thing.

The album was produced by Calvin Johnson – not the Football-player, though – who founded K Records and owns the Dub Narcotic recording studio (named after one of his thousand bands) where he produces goodness for the people.

I’ve read that there is a fourth album waiting (pretty darn productive, since “Lost Wonderfuls” was released last year – although it was simmering a little longer). That one supposedly will be comprised of piano-pieces and whether that actually holds true or not, the fact that I read it and thought ‘Sure, these girls can do whatever they want, it will probably be awesome’ reminds me of the great mix of fun and dedication that shows in every song. It doesn’t feel incongruent when they schrammel their way through “Van Gogh” which is a fuzzy delight and then continue with a rather cute (yet dangerous) alt-pop song like “Dead Friends” and then head on with some hardrocking Umph in “Play”.

Maybe they do a piano-album one day, maybe they record a heartfelt folk-album maybe they keep punk alive, who knows. So far, Skating Polly are brimming with potential and it would be a real surprise if they wouldn’t be inspiration for a new generation of kids to play their heart out in ten or twenty years.

By the way, we do get a lovely piano-song by the end of the album. “A Little Late” is very lovely and opens up the already vast possibilities this band has for the future.

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Lucius Interview: Where the Wildewomen are

It all started with a seemingly simple song that breathed 60s pop and had enough pep to pretty much kick start my winterly depressed heart into a springful joy. “Turn it around” is the kind of song that you want to have on a 7 inch just so you can put it on one of those tiny kid’s record players like the one in that gorgeous scene in “Ghost World” (both Graphic Novel and movie). And then you notice the lyrics and it’s even better because these fantastic melodies hide a rather cautious tale – smart pop? Awesomesauce!

So, who is this mysterious band? Are they time-travelers from the 60s, sent to us to bring us joy and wisdom? No, they are present people that bring joy and wisdom! It’s Jess and Holly, two besties since college who discovered one day that their two voices harmoniously combined create a magical sound that makes people go all crazy for them and creates a fuzzy warmth in everyone’s heart. They moved to Brooklyn and lived in a big house and somewhere along the way met Dan, who is not only an awesome drummer and beard-wearer but also can produce and engineer music like no tomorrow. And after a while – so the story goes – Andrew and Pete were picked amongst dozens of musicians to complete the quintet that from now on shall be named “Lucius”!

“Wildewoman” (you see, the misspelling in the title was deliberate cause references) is kind of the debut of Lucius who have previous releases but this album is the first true form of their sound and boy/girl, it’s a major sound. Now, to the surprise of none of my regular readers, a smart pop album of course wins my heart but Lucius have so many tricks up their sleeve (and on the album) that it can make your head spin. They not only win my heart but also turn my head into a carousel, that’s a double-whammy!

Look, so the album starts with two songs ripped straight from the 60s, you might think, there is at least one Ronette in the mix but no. And then suddenly, the record gives way to a beautiful 40s-inspired love song that reminds me of the sirens in “O’Brother Where Art Thou” and therefore – even without any lyrical connotation – has some spiritual vibe for me. It’s being followed by a few songs that could make 80s-band Bananarama super-jealous because they are THAT 80s inspired and awesome and then…

…oh, you guys, then they present us “Nothing Ordinary” which is nearly tribal in its percussive aggressiveness. It’s a big bold monster amidst those previously established beautiful pop-songs. Yes, this band easily ballets between genres, musical decades, tones and stylistic choices because nope, that’s not even the end of the whirlwind this album has to offer. “Two of us on the Run” is a striking song about taking chances (which pretty much struck me right in the feels) and it is one of the greatest songs to sing at the campfire without ever being able to sound tired (hear that, “Wonderwall”?), so acoustic-guitar dudes who want to impress girls need to get this on their performance sheets (acoustic-guitar dudettes may as well).

So, vinyl-wise, I think (I only have the CD, so I can only guess) the second side is being opened with the otherworldly “Two of us on the run” which the band usually performs amidst the crowd at their concerts which makes for a warm, cozy, spiritual (there it is again) feeling of togetherness.

After this, and after you wiped away your (happy) tears, they throw some more insanely well written pop-songs at you and by now, you probably also have noticed that not only the harmonious voices of Jess and Holly make this band pure gold but also the amazing band – the percussion comes especially through in a live-setting, it’s like a thunderstorm but also carries the songs on the album right onto the dance floor and there is some guitar-work on the songs (specifically my new favourite song to put on a soundtrack, “How Loud Your Heart Gets”) that is just fingerpicking good (really, after roughly 5-10 times through this album, I still find beautifully woven guitar-parts I didn’t notice before). Oh, and it’s a very nice touch that the guys do the background vocals. Let’s just leave that here without the essay about reversed gender-roles in modern pop music, alright?

The vinyl ends with the aforementioned awesomeness that is “How Loud Your Heart Gets” which seriously, I want to write a whole movie for but CD-buyers like me (the scum of the earth for every vinyl-lover) also get “Genevieve” which is an incredibly fun song that is cheeky as hell. It fits the whole mood of the album which can be really emotional but also has a lot of joy to offer, like a childhood-memory running down a hill with open arms. The songwriting on “Wildewoman” is crazy good and I’ll be damned if this album won’t be at least in the Top5 of my Top10 this year (right now, I would even place it in my Top3, fighting with Elbow for the 1st place).

So, obviously, when I got the opportunity, to speak to the two lovely ladies Jess and Holly, I could not contain myself, ran to the Magnet Club in Berlin, asked myself around to find the two Superwomen (thank god that Andrew not only plays a mean guitar but knows his way around the labyrinth that is the Magnet club) and stuttered myself through the interview. I could ease myself into the conversation by being the first person to announce to them that Stephen Colbert will be the new Letterman. Yes, after one and a half years of entertainment news this will probably be the last (and possibly first) news I read about on the job that I could actually use in real life.

So here ya go:

Me: Your album took 3 ½ years. How was the process? Did you change it overtime bit by bit or was there a point where you thought, ‘Ok, we are now trying something completely different’? Because 3 ½ years is a long time.

Jess: When we first started recording it was just the two of us and we had these new songs and wanted to experiment in the studio because we never got that opportunity before. And so we called Danny (Molad) who is an engineer and producer and our drummer and asked him if he was interested. He had just parted ways with another band he was working with and so we got together and we had our whole community of musicians come and play on our record but at that time there wasn’t even a band, we just had everybody come and play. And through the process we met the people who would become our bandmates and so by the end of the recording process we said, ‘let’s tour a little and then re-record everything, so it sounds like the five of us.’ Because the songs were almost like really really good demos at that point.

We got to feel it out live and see how we’d like to play it as the five of us together and then we went back to the studio. We always say that we kind of recorded in three years and kind of recorded in three weeks.

Me: When you write a song, do you think about how it would translate on stage?

Holly: I think for the most part we deal with that later. For all the songs, some of them sound like they are coming from different influences and we will write a song that feels melodically like it would work for our voices and then try to work around what the song is asking for and not think too much ‘let’s write this, so it fits with the record or let’s write this so that we can perform it in a certain way.’ This has – so far – come afterwards.

Me: How do you go about the track listing? Because I found it very interesting. The first song I listened to was “Turn it around” and the album starts with what I expected judging from that song and then by the fifth or sixth song I was completely surprised because it opened up so much.

Jess: We did a couple of track listings and kept playing them, seeing what felt best to us. We just wanted you to feel that you’re traveling with the music, feeling the dynamic intensely but also organically traveling from one song to the next, so that it felt that you were on a ride.

Me: Were there songs that you had to kick off the album because they didn’t fit in?

Holly: No, but one of our songs is a bonus track and we have it as a 7 inch now because it didn’t fit on the vinyl.

Jess: Yeah, we were only allowed eleven songs on the vinyl…

Holly:…so in that sense it literally didn’t fit but we wanted it to be still part of it.

Jess: We have a few other songs that we recorded that just didn’t feel like they fit in – especially after we recorded a second time.

Me: Do you already have ideas in which direction you want to take the second album?

Jess: I think we are interested in furthering this percussive element but it really depends how the songs turn out. We have been writing but we haven’t been given the time. But that’s on our mind right now.

Me: Can you write when you’re on tour?

Holly: Not really. I mean, we think of melodies and lyrics and write them down and record them but we don’t really have time to sit down and really delve into it.

Jess: It’s just not enough privacy and not enough space, there are just too many people around all the time and you need to find that breath but we’re always recording on our iPhones, little melodies or we’re writing in our journals.

Me: Did it take a long time to find this sweet spot where you could harmonize very easily?

Jess: The singing came immediately. The songwriting took years to really find a place where we thought, ‘this is us’ and I am excited to get back into that zone because I think that it’s only gonna progress. But the singing really was instantaneous and when we first were singing and writing together that’s what just clicked and made us feel like this could be something special.

Me: Just like in the movies, where one person starts to sing and the other just sings along and it’s magic…

Jess: It was. Not to toot our own horns but I remember the feeling of being just really happily surprised by the sound we were making together. It was in that moment that I felt possibilities being opened and that’s always a good sign.

Me: And when it comes to the songwriting do you work together or individually?

Holly: Both. A lot of times one of us will have a verse-idea and the other will have a bridge-idea or chorus and we come together with each having a lot of ideas and then piece them together or fill in the blanks. We don’t really have a particular formula.

Jess: Timing-wise we’re not going to have a lot of time off, so whenever we have the time we will get together and see what happens. In the meantime, we both are piecing together the ideas in our heads individually.

Me: And how does the band come into that?

Jess: After the songs are written, it’s very much a collaborative arrangement process because they are such creative people but the songwriting – because we are such strong singers and it’s important for us to feel like we’re in a zone with our voices where it feels comfortable and where we can be truly emotive, it lends itself better if we write for ourselves. But they have a huge part in our sound, no question.

Me: You have a very strong look, obviously. Did it take long to come up with the concept; did you try out other things?

Holly: It was like most other things that just evolved over time. So much we do has always been this way, it’s the two voices together and initially we thought we should coordinate at least, so there was some visual representation and just something fun. A lot of artists we’re looking up to are very eccentric with fashion and present a visual for the audience and that’s always been intriguing. And over time as the sound became clearer the visuals also became clearer and now it’s very clear.

Jess: We were thinking the other day, in the 60s and 70s it was just customary for people to have a visual representation of themselves and of their sound. Some more than others obviously, there is David Bowie and then there’s The Supremes but it was important that everyone came on stage for a show so that they could transport themselves and their audience and that was something that we always were intrigued and inspired by. And Holly was saying the other day that when you’re watching a choir, everybody is wearing the exact same thing because they want you to feel like this is one unit, one voice and for us it’s the same thing. We want you to look at the stage and see a unit, two as one and before we get on stage we feel connected to that and when we go on stage we hope that people see that before they hear it.

Me: Does it help with a stage persona?

Jess: Definitely. We feel like we are being transported even before we go on stage.

Me: I’ve read that you hardly get out of the clothes because you tour a lot and do interviews and all that. So do you feel relieved when you can shed the clothes and get out of that?

Holly: Yeah because when we get out of this we usually get into pajamas because they are incredibly comfortable.

Jess: People are like, ‘So, what are you wearing when you’re not wearing this?’ and I am saying, ‘Pajamas’. Sometimes we even sleep in our clothes because we had shows late at night and had to drive eight hours at night. It’s hard to get out of these clothes.

Me: And the band also wears the same clothes. Was that important as well? Like, ‘You guys can be in our band but only if you all wear the same suit?’

Holly: It was a little bit of a battle there.

Jess: But they get it. They understand why and at first it was maybe not as comfortable to them as it was to us but after they’ve seen the growth and how the sound has developed they understand it more. It’s also less to think about.

Me: Your sound is not exclusively the 60s but with your look and the eyeliner it’s the first thing that comes to mind. So do you like other aspects of the 60s as well or is it just the music?

Holly: It’s all aspects. Not exclusively but it’s definitely something. I was always influenced by it growing up and that’s our parents’ generation something that we always had around.

Jess: It’s so bold and vibrant and it’s the first time that people could speak clear and loudly and that was something that – as a woman in particular – was important to see and feel and hear.

Me: You said in an interview that you’re feminists. Would you say that your band is also feminist?

Holly: I think feminist in saying that we’re pro-women and on the side of women our band absolutely is feminist but not in the sense of the word that it’s like anti-man. Some people use that word in different ways.

Jess: We want to be open to everybody. At least half of our audience is male and I think they get it too and we have such a diverse crowd at our shows, older men and women and young girls and middle-aged guys and it’s not just in the US and so we don’t ever want to abandon those people. Not to say that if we had strong feminist values or view-points that that would happen but we just want to make it clear that any woman – I hope – should feel empowered and strong as a woman. And there’s two of us and a lot of the things that we’ve written about involve femininity and in that respect we’re feminists.

Me: I just ask because in recent years it’s been interesting because due to tv-shows and movies like ‘Mad Men’ or ‘Masters of Sex’ and others you see feminist characters that are not aggressive. They are very feminine but also fight for their own rights and fortunately that opens up the picture because it has become this curse word, like man-hater, even though it doesn’t mean that.

Jess: Yeah and that’s why we want to clarify because that’s not the type of feminist we associate ourselves with. But certainly with the empowering type.

Me: You said that you have a diverse crowd which probably means that you can play wherever you want to. So what was the craziest place you ever played at?

Jess: We played at strange places. We played a festival in the middle of nowhere in Texas. They call it ‘Utopia’ which is perfect. We played a show on the main stage but then we also went to a late-night after-party show in the middle of a dried up waterfall and all these people came to watch. Maybe fifty people came, only people who worked at the festival and it was late night at two AM and the acoustics were amazing and that was strange and beautiful.

Holly: It was really in the middle of nowhere. If it had been at another festival and they had security they probably wouldn’t have allowed that because it was really late, people were drinking, someone fell.

Jess: Yeah, there was this guy that fell and cracked his head open.

Holly: And we were, ‘Oh my God, what do we do, he has to go to the hospital!’, because he was bleeding but his friend was just like [adopts a Texan accent], ‘Nah, he’s alright, we just staple his forehead. This is not the worst thing he’s ever done.’”

Jess: We also played in some amazing churches where the acoustic was almost a spiritual experience. In Europe it’s interesting as well because we never know where we’re gonna play and what to expect. It’s always new and surprising.

Me: Churches have amazing acoustics and it fits because some of your songs – with other lyrics – sound to me like they would go great with a gospel choir. Like a traveling priest and a tent and stuff.

Jess: Like an evangelist priest. I just watched this documentary.

Holly: She just watches all these religious documentaries.

Jess: It’s just random, I don’t know why. Anyway, there was this one about religion it was about this evangelical preacher – the ones who are in a spell – and he is an evangelical reverend since he was four years old…

Me:…oh, one of those types.

Jess: Yeah. And he grows up and realizes, ‘My parents never saved any money for me and I made them millions’ because he was such a phenomenon and then he decided to turn it into a business. ‘I am going to start preaching again but I don’t believe anything I am saying’, he was a total hippie at that point. And everybody was thinking he was this evangelical reverend. It was intense.

Me: I always have to think of Genesis and “Jesus, he knows me” about those televised preachers where you can call and get absolution.

Holly: Yeah, 1-0-0-save me

Me: Well, back to your music. If you could choose a tv-show for which you could do a soundtrack, what would you pick?

Jess: It depends. We write a lot for jingles and are given these perimeters like, ‘This one needs to be uplifting’ or ‘This needs to be in the pop realm or rock realm’ and then we write based on what we think it could be so we could even do something like ‘Planet Earth’ very percussive, soulful with very padded vocals that almost don’t sound like vocals and that would be awesome. I love David Attenborough so anything of his would be awesome. And then we could go in the more expected directions…

Holly:…like the old ‘Avengers’ with Diana Rigg. That would be fun.

Me: With those jingles, is that a completely different experience than writing your own music?

Jess: Yeah, it’s kind of an exercise. It’s healthy for us. We are given a very concrete amount of time and a very specific aesthetic and then we can do what we want within those perimeters and we just try to navigate and go as far and ‘us’ as possible. It’s cool and I really enjoy it and it’s a good supplement on tour.

Me: I know that SIA wrote a song for Rihanna, so would you do the same for a pop star?

Holly: I know that if we wrote a song that we felt is ours we would keep it but we would also be interested to write a pop song for somebody.

Jess: I think it’s fun to get outside of what you are and trying to have an imprint on something else and it’s a good tool to have and it keeps things interesting. We sang a lot on other people’s records that were completely different and it was such a challenge and enjoyable and it strengthens you as an artist to be able to explore somebody else’s realm.

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Soap Box 12: Things that bugged me in March

People, what a month that was. I quit my job in March and had my last day at work last week. It’s a scary thing because I was bold enough to quit without having anything new which leads to most friends and family-members reacting as if I decided to jump down the Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel. But here’s the thing: I was unhappy at my job for a very long time and it was really hard to find something new with a 9 to 5-gig. So I saved a little money, thought a lot about it, panicked a lot about it and then quit. BAM!

Although I am already a little fearful that my expectations for my next job are too high (you know, not necessarily being unhappy at work and being paid moderately for it) but now it’s too late anyway and as often as I ask myself whether I regret my decision, the answer stays the same: Nope.
That might change in six months’ time but till then, let’s see what bothered me last month, because there’s always something, isn’t there?

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Elbow ‘The Take Off And Landing of Everything’: Needless to say, it’s wonderful

Oh, that beginning. Oh, all the beginnings of Elbow-albums. It’s never the same but it always feels like home, like coming back after a long journey and seeing how things have changed but stayed the same because somehow home will always have this steady warm place to come back to.
“This Blue World” is a gentle opener and only hints at more epic instrumentals in faint uses of an Organ, a few percussion instruments at the end and this feeling like the camera is simply establishing the scene while slowly gliding over a coastline or through the skies to finally arrive at the first chapter, the first street sign, the first open door.

Oh, and it gets big because in contrast to the last album, the big bold orchestra is back, to give you a determination in your step, as “Charge” leads the way, a defiant little beast that boasts in lyrics and music and shows cracks in the nooks and crannies of this old town. “Fly Boy Blue/ Lunette”, reminding that the backroom-pub-jazz-elements are an integral part of this band, ventures further into this direction, painting a picture of a slightly askew image of everyday-life, everyday-impressions and then lifts off to the second part of the song, suddenly, the lyrics are clearer, the music less disruptive, the whole narrative softer and more caring, a vulnerable side to the brass voice of a few seconds ago.

The way how easily Elbow slip from one state to the other without interrupting the flow is one of their biggest secrets and reason why “The Seldom Seen Kid” still is one of the most perfect albums ever created. “The Take Off And Landing of Everything” is nothing like the fourth album but seems to have the focus of it, the soft rippling in the waves of the river it draws with bright strokes on the piano.
Remember U2′s “Where the Streets have no name”? This giant stadium song that hovered over the streets and people like a giant ray of sunshine? Elbow’s love letter to the Big Apple decides to touch the ground and march through the streets, with waving flags and a chorus to chime in. “Oh my God, New York can talk. Somewhere in that talk is all the answers”, Guy Garvey sings with a backing choir and darn it, if he doesn’t make us believe that maybe they really are there, hidden in a small damp apartment, a crammed elevator, a spacious office or a doorway next to a 24/7.

“Real Life (Angel)” then is a song I probably never would have expected from Elbow for its sound, especially its beat is nearly electronic, driving, restless, like something, modern Peter Gabriel would be (and probably is) very fond of.
The album is a lot of different things, influences, views on life mixed up, no, layered so softly that they feel mixed but still can be seen individually when the light is just right. Garvey broke up with his longtime girlfriend during the making of the album which is something that I usually wouldn’t mention but it changed some lyrics, song titles and maybe moods, as if the original was slightly tilted.
And the band worked independently on several songs, like little working groups creating pieces to mend together in the recording studio. Maybe that’s why “Honey Sun” has a certain Masters of Reality-vibe (circa “Welcome to the Western Lounge”). Written by Mark Potter who strings the guitar like he’s sitting at the docks and looking over the sea (not minding the twisted lyrics) until the Honey Sun breaks through the clouds.
And I guess, I am coming back to “The Seldom Seen Kid”, because “My Sad Captains” is a song for lost drinking buddies, which lyrically reminds of “Friend of Ours” (about musician and friend Bryan Glancy, who died in 2006) but musically has the echoing clapping of a church-song as the celebratory “One Day Like This” and offers a positive outlook to a scene that can also evoke sadness.

Another sunrise with my sad captains
With who I choose to lose my mind
And if it’s all we only pass this way but once
What a perfect waste of time

“Colour Fields” is a nice example how modern technology can still create earthy music. Apparently, Pete Turner (bass guitar) created most of the song on his iphone with several nifty apps and still managed to keep it uncluttered of too much diddlying. In fact, it’s one of the most open and clear songs on the album which fits the lyrics, a yearning to find a place for yourself where the pressure of the outer world don’t hole you in, to find some peace of mind amidst all the rumbling chaos.
The title song then is one of the songs we’ve come to know and love from this band and maybe – just maybe – one of the songs written after the love was lost between Garvey and his missus. But there is no bitterness nor anger, only deep affection and fond memories. For an album that offers many new glimpses into these artist’s minds, this song sits surprisingly far in the back, waiting patiently to make its mark, to spread out those layers, those lines “A prayer to the take off and landing of everything Leaving your lips as we took to the sky”, there’s hardly anyone else, who can write about love as effortlessly, grounded and delicate as Garvey.

The last, the lasting impression is another venture into slightly new territory and electronic playfulness with “The Blanket of Night” that offers the lines “Carry her, carry me” which were originally intended to be the album title. If “This Blue World” was the camera panning over a sleepy landscape, then “The Blanket of Night” is the otherworldly Greek boat-ride to the other side, some other sea, the night’s sky, the endless waves of stars and fading planets.

Oh, this ending.

Paper cup of the boat
Even chest of the sea
Carry both of us
Or, swallow her, swallow me

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Hey Ocean! Interview: Music is Magic

One of my more chaotic interviews happened in the cold and dark month of January, a time when I usually don’t go out unless I have to because let’s face it: January and February are the most unpleasant months of the year if you live in the parts of the hemisphere where the sun is mostly absent, the weather is mostly cold and dire (just like your wife, ammiright?) and the flu has the same characteristics like glitter e.g. it sticks to everyone and stays there for weeks.

BUT with an upbeat pop act, you can hardly make a mistake, so I threw on my 12 layers of clothing and fought my way to the Bii Nu in Berlin, waited for a very long time (because of soundcheck – it’s always soundcheck when you have an interview-appointment) and then was led to the creepy backstage-area of the club which resembles every horror movie set based in the basement of a large building.

The band is a very fun bunch and it’s therefore a good thing for you, dear reader, that this is not the audio file because that was messy. Hey Ocean! was founded in 2005 by long-time friends Ashleigh Ball and David Beckingham (henceforth referred to as ‘David’) and David Vertesei (henceforth referred to as ‘Dave’) makes three. The rest of the band is a somewhat ever-changing rag-tag group of musicians (currently being Devon Lougheed and Johnny Andrews who travelled the whole world, if I remember correctly).

Their music is the kind of indie-pop that is sugary sweet that it sticks to your teeth. It’s absolutely adorable and innocent and therefore perfect for the times when you feel really vulnerable and just want something pure and lovely that hugs you like a giant teddy bear or…pony. Ah yes, because Ashleigh might be known to some avid cartoon watchers as several voices on the miraculous cartoon-phenomenon that is “My little Pony – Friendship is Magic” (hence the title, clever, ey?). Although the band and Ashleigh’s work on the show should be treated mostly as unrelated, the tone of both sure fits into a common theme which is a bright smile and a skip in your step. Cuteness Overload!

Their new album is called “Is” and is a lovely fruitbasket full of different instruments and styles just the way I like my pop-album.

They are also a great live band which is something I quite often say when I post an interview but that’s mainly because I really dig good live bands that are not only able to play but actually perform and engage with the audience. Connecting with the audience doesn’t come easy and I am always happy when I find yet another band that really manages to create something special for their live-shows, especially as it can be really exhausting and demanding on a tour when you have to get that kind of energy up every single night in front of strangers.

By the way, when I was young (oh, the 90s) I also had a couple of My Little Pony-ponies and a My Little Pony-bakery that my parents bought me for my birthday, only to tease me endlessly afterwards by saying: “How the hell are ponies supposed to bake anything? They don’t have hands!” My usual (and quite enraged) reply was: “They’re magic, that’s how!” So…you see, I totally got the whole pony-thing right from the beginning.

Anyways, let’s gallop to the interview which was very funny, maybe a little un-coordinated but entertaining. Because everyone in the band at one point had something to say from all corners of the room, I might mix up some answers, but as no one said something horrible, I think we are safe.

The Interview!

By the way, the first words on my audio file are “The Shrimp” because they just got their dinner.

Me: Is this your first European tour?

Ashleigh: We were in Hamburg for the Reeperbahn Festival at the end of September, so technically, we did a European show and then we went to the UK and played a couple of shows and then we all dispersed and did some traveling, it was a nice first taste of Europe. We are happy to be back and do the first official tour of Germany.

Me: So, what was the biggest culture clash when you came to Europe?

Ashleigh: Dealing with the time difference. I never really had to deal with Jet-Lag before and it’s crazy. And then obviously the language. I didn’t know how I felt about the German language before. I always thought it was kind of harsh but being around it now, it’s a really beautiful language and very fluid.

David: All the rules.

Ashleigh: Paying to go to the bathroom on the highway.

Me: But the bathroom is nice at least.

David: It’s super nice, I actually prefer it because really, if you’re buying something at the gas station you’re only spending 20 cents and those cents clean the toilet.

Ashleigh: Sometimes at truckstops in Canada you have the grossest bathrooms.

Me: I only know those bathrooms from horror movies, so my impression of them is not the best.

Me: Is it difficult to keep the connection with your fans – because you have a really good relationship with them – the bigger you get?

David: I don’t know if we’ve gotten that big yet. In terms of knowing how that would work.

Dave: You definitely see a change. At the start, they’re all your best friends.

David: I think you’re just trying to respond to everyone you can…I think we’re pretty good at it.

Dave: Someone once gave us the advice that what people are really wanting in a relationship with us as an artist is to get to know us, to create a personal connection, so you can do that and have fun with it at the same time. The internet provides you with a really cool way to do that. We did the “Make a New Dance Up”-video that had fan-videos of them dancing to our song and we made a whole music video out of that.

Ashleigh: There’s tons of things how you can do that. And we always make a plan to stick around after we played a show, saying ‘Hi’ to people…

David: …making out and stuff….

Ashleigh: I just remember as a kid or even now going to a show and sticking around. Getting to say something to the artist who performed because you were impacted by it. The chance to interact with them is always really special.

Dave: Nowadays you don’t even need to do that you can just write them on Facebook and directly go on their personal page, asking them if they are ticklish…you can ask them whatever you want – I mean, until they block you.

Me: Well, the ticklish-question is a little odd.

Ashleigh: It IS a bit odd. That happened to me. That men kept writing me, asking if my feet are ticklish.

Me: Your feet, that’s even worse.

Ashleigh: Over and over again, twenty different messages…

Me: So, was that the weirdest fan encounter?

Ashleigh: There’s been really weird ones but that was the most recent one that was weird.

Me: I read that you were somewhat involved with My Little Pony. So do you have Bronies as fans?

Editor’s note: “Bronies” – in case you don’t roam the internets as often as I do – are adult, mostly male fans of the cartoon series that are REALLY into it. They are mostly harmless, goofy and fun (just like Whovians and Supernatural-fans) but some are just outright weird.

Ashleigh: Oh yeah. That’s the weird ones. I do two voices of “My Little Pony – Friendship is Magic”, so because of that – and the internet – they figured out that I play in a band and a lot of them really like the music and come for the music. But some of them are really big fans of the show and come with their littly plushy dolls and ponies on their t-shirts. Most of them are fine.

Dave: But then there is always a small group that is a bit weird and another group that make you actually feel pretty uncomfortable. But pretty much all of them are there because they like the music.

Ashleigh: Some are just really into it and are like, ‘Do the voice’ after the show and that’s not really why I am here for.

Me: Do you write your music on tour?

Dave: We have. It always depends on the kind of tour. Sometimes you’re on a tour that is really inspiring and sometimes it’s exhausting. There are times when we take breaks on the road and stop somewhere for a weekend. Dave (David) actually, he just hangs out in his room sometimes and plays guitar all night.

David: Sometimes you’re more creative than others. I think it requires a certain amount of energy to be creative and sometimes touring is not very inductive to saving energy. It’s just like give give give and not get a lot of sleep. I find that I am most creative when I am happier and more comfortable in my life.

Dave: It’s also about being tapped into yourself and being able to be in touch with yourself when you’re sad or whatever. And when you’re on tour it sometimes involves turning off your brain. You’re in a car for twelve hours every day in Canada and you have to find a way to numb yourself to be in the car. You stop being a person, you stop being in touch with yourself because you’re just trying to pass the time as opposed to really taking in your surroundings which is what you really need to do to be creative.

Me: So, do you write the core of the songs individually or as a group?

Ashleigh: It depends on the song. I usually come with a melody or some lyrical stuff. Dave (David) has this new thing called a Tenori-ON. It’s like a little mini-synthesizer and he’s creating this musical sequences and recently we started playing them and tried to write all together this one song.

Me: Is it a harmonious process?

David: I think that’s the best way to go and I think it’s because at the end of the day whatever we put into the band is considered a joint effort. We all put in creatively different ways. I think it would be different – and weirdly so – if we would all try to fight for having a certain amount of MY songs on the record.

Dave: But the process itself can be quite brutal. We’re like siblings.

Me: Do you have musical side-projects where you can put those ideas that everyone hated in the band so they come to fruition?

David: Dave has his own thing, I have songs that I have got aside…

Ashleigh: I have a lot of pony-songs.

David: But this is our priority, it takes the most of our time and our energy.

Me: I’ve read that you had to change the producer, was that scary? Because I know from one other band that had to do that and they said it was really risky because of the deadlines and they had to postpone everything.

David: Yeah, it was getting postponed anyway.

Dave: We did it all independently so we didn’t have someone who was like, ‘It’s gotta come out on this day!’ So we finished it and then we dropped it to labels.

David: It was taking longer than we had planned because the thing with the producer went so far and then totally fell apart. We had spent a bunch of money and were totally crushed and emotionally drained. It was a very negative relationship toward the end. And after that we took a little time off and then decided to regroup. And when we decided to do this, Dave was really keen on doing it ourselves.

Dave: It would have been weird to bring someone new in. It was like coming from an intense break-up and then dating someone right away.

Me: You also changed labels – I mean, a couple of years ago but was that a big change?

David: We were independent before and that’s been a big learning curve for sure but not in a restricting way because we maintain all creative control over what we do. Our label (Universal/Nettwerk) is…we are working on a new album and they have been responding to our new demos and giving us their opinions like, ‘This will be hard to work because of the radio and this will be easy because of this’. They are giving us a heads up but we never wanted to be in a position where someone is telling us what kind of music to make or how to make it. It was nice to have people advising us.

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Favourite Song: Sarah Jarosz ‘Build me up from Bones’

Ok, first off, sorry for abandoning this blog for so long, apart from this week being early shift-week (meaning that I get up early and get home – weirdly enough – late), I am in a flux right now, there are things changing and my mind was and probably will be (for a few weeks) a little less focused on music.

I try to make up for it, though, I did a few really cool interviews that I need to transcribe and I am actually listening to new music and I plan a themed week for April, so it will be hopefully all exciting.

Man, do you know how many blogs I know that had entries like this which essentially were the last entries on that blog ever?

It’s always the “Sorry, I haven’t posted so much, was totes busy but I will try to write more frequently” and then you look at the date and realize it’s the 12th November 1968 and then you realize you’re not even looking at your computer screen anymore but at a diary entry of a stranger you found in an empty house…


Ok, Sarah Jarosz was recommended by a colleague who I only know via chat because his office is located in London which is supercool and superweird at once. But he gives great tips on music and has yet another different taste in genres and artists than my other music-friends which is great and helps my plan to become the all-knowing trash-heap of music-recommendations (I am already pretty good at that).

I basically liked everything I heard from Sarah so far but I keep getting back to this song because it has a natural melancholy, something that immediately reaches a little deeper and plays harp with your heartstrings.

“The moon’s a fingernail, Scratching on the back of the night in which we lay beside” is also one of the finest lyrics I noticed in a while. I am usually not really concentrating on lyrics very much (unless I listen to bands who are known for otherworldly poetry like Elbow) but this just sprung out to me because – at least for me – it’s a very unique, very beautiful image. It reminds me of Wye Oak’s line from one of my all-time-favourite songs “Civilian”: I still keep my baby teeth in the bedside table with my jewelry” – it’s this seemingly random observance that becomes very meaningful in the context of the song (which I guess is one definition of poetry, so way to state the obvious, Juliane).


Filed under Favourite songs