Interview with Rachel Chuganey aka Atomic Annie

Hello Rachel, I would like to introduce you to our readers so let’s talk a little bit about you, shall we? Your main focus as a musician is singing. How and when did all this start? When did you know this is what you want to do?

My mother had a extensive record collection. When I was three, she grew tired of changing records for me and I was taught how to do it myself. I had the ability to hear a song once and be able to sing every word in tune. I’ve always been mesmerized by music, I could sing along to all styles. My first gig came when I was just four, busking on my street corner in inner SE Portland, collecting nickels by singing Barbara Streisand and Carole King.

I must sing, and I sing everywhere. It’s not really a choice. It’s only  in the last few years that I’ve realized I could do it for a living. I’ve been a member of the bluegrass band The Rail Runners, and the folk/blues band The Wild Firs, where I sang backup vocals. I’m currently the vocalist with Nuclear Green, who have a pop/punk and eighties style. I make solo appearances as well.

Apparently your mom played a major role in building your interest in singing. Did your mom ever sing with you or to you? Did she encourage your interest in singing? Beside your mom, who else had a major influence towards further developing your skills?

My mom introduced me to music for sure. She had eclectic taste. My older sister was another major influence. She was 20 years older than me and always seemed so cool, so I liked what she liked. My mom did not encourage me to sing. Her interest in letting me listen to her records was primarily to keep me busy and to leave her alone.

I always found my own opportunities in music. I was in the choir and orchestra throughout school. I first played piano and trumpet, and later took up tuba, baritone, and trombone. I won a music scholarship to Mt. Hood Community College where I studied voice and orchestra. I’ve studied voice primarily over the last 15 years, and taught myself ukulele, guitar, and bass four years ago. I like working with different vocal teachers because they all have their own styles and specialties.

What is your favorite genre to sing to? What makes it so appealing from a vocalist viewpoint?

That’s a really tough question… My favorite is whatever I’m currently working on.

If you could share the stage with three singers who would they be and why?

Another difficult one! Only three? (laughs) Billie Holiday, Whitney Houston, Barbara Streisand, Michael Jackson, Prince, Chrissy Hynde. Just because they all were or are such great talents, extraordinary entertainers, and amazing humans.

Ha ha! This might be a simpler question, what are the biggest goals you’d like to achieve as a singer?

Technically speaking, I’m always trying to expand my vocal range, which is a challenge as I age. I want to perform more, both locally and nationally, with a hope to tour in Europe in the future.

Last question. How would you define singing in your own words? What does it mean to you?

For me singing is communication. It’s the way I express myself. All my triumphs and tribulations are expressed in my songs. In fact, it’s easier for me to sing than to hold a conversation.

Thank you Rachel for taking the time to do this interview with me, and thanks to all Freeform Portland visitors for reading this article. You can catch Rachel at a songwriter showcase at the Jade Lounge on March 9th.

Simply put, music is time travel

With music one can jump back to a different time, a different space…

It folds time so that as you listen now to a steady beat, now to an aggressive guitar, you are easily transported to the first time you heard the song…

Or some other emotionally infused moment at which the song was present…

Such as sharing the song with a friend. Seeing the band perform in concert. Perhaps a sexually charged moment at which the song in question was playing in the background, or some poignant moment in which the season and sunlight were perfect, striking your eyes like polite needles through bare tree limbs in winter, as you walked along listening to a song that you had heard before, but will forever now be part of this particular memory, now. In addition to all the other times. Hearing it again later might open a cascade of events or times. Memories stacked or unfolding one upon another.

In many ways, the threads of emotion and feeling entwined in the music you love provide a greater gravity of sorts than visual or olfactory events. Listening to music is like dropping a black hole on your chest. Every time you drop a needle on a record, cue up a cassette, press play on your cd player or Ipod, you are at the event horizon of a lifetime of experience, awaiting to repeat over again and again this new/old aural adventure.

Any song can be a trigger. Any record can draw you through to the past, based on your personal experience with any particular song. It does not always have to be a favorite song. It can any random song or ditty, that invokes the past experience like a movie projected on your memory eye.

Sometimes this can be evoked by the very first time we hear a song. So that each subsequent listen takes us back to the initial exposure.

For instance, when I play Can’s “Ege Bamyasi” I can feel myself almost physically back in the record store in which I worked, playing the record for the first time after purchasing a copy from a customer’s stack of used records.

Or a song with which we are already familiar creates a new memory that supersedes prior listening.  For me, for instance, this happened with “The Gift” by The Velvet Underground … which I heard one night or early morning … around 3 am … driving with two friends across the country, somewhere between Colorado and Iowa … racing in the flat dark on a highway, and the song came on over the radio … heightening the mood with a more intense sense of fear as half-asleep, I absorbed the lyrics and rhythmic feedback guitar.

And now whenever I play that track, there I am again, flying in a car across the plains.

Or the time I took acid and put on a record by Sonic Youth. “Expressway to yr. skull” ends with a locked groove, which means that the needle does not pick up when the song ends. Instead the record continues to play the same 20 or 30 seconds over and over, until you physically remove the needle from the record. But in the state I was in, and with time itself dilated by the drug, the locked groove might have played for an hour or more before I noticed it was repeating. Or was it only a few minutes that felt like an hour? Regardless, whenever that song comes up on my Ipod, I am hurled through a narrow tunnel of self experience, standing out of my head again in my small second storey apartment, the music swaying against the walls forever.

A very different, and emotionally charged, moment for me came after I first met my wife. We had only been dating for a few weeks when we went to her parents home and played some records. I remember her putting on “Seventeen” by the Sex Pistols, a record that, as a punk rock kid, I was extremely familiar with. Its meaning was changed in an instant. Now when I play that song I am back with my future wife in her childhood bedroom, surrounded by happy abrasive guitar.

These are but a few examples of time travel that I have experienced, thanks to music. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of such situations. I have been listening to music all of my life and collecting such memories and moments, piling them up and gathering new ones each time a song replays. I am then whisked off through my life which is now bigger on the inside.

I am sure you have the same sort of experiences. Music, after all, is  a universal force that draws us together, from the past into the future.

Music of Books: Lou Reed

God forbid I should ever be nice to people: it would ruin everything. – Lou Reed

Anthony DeCurtisLou Reed: A Life, is likely to go down as the definitive biography of the legendary street poet rocker. As one of the few music journalists that the infamously prickly Reed got along with and a professor of creative writing, DeCurtis has the connections and the chops to thoroughly examine his subject’s life and art. One of my favorite parts of rock biographies is learning about the aspects of the musician that are unlike their stage persona. Not so with Lou Reed. He was on a lot of drugs (mostly speed) when he jammed out the original Velvet Underground songs with John Cale in a squalid apartment. He was in a very public three year relationship with a trans woman during his glam and “Rock and Roll Animal” phase in 70’s. He was sober, married and avidly into the NFL when he wrote “Average Guy” in the 80’s. His wonderful 1992 album Magic and Loss was about his friends who were dying at the time.

I have more Lou Reed solo records in my collection than any other artist. All of them, besides Berlin, have at least a couple irredeemable songs and a few of his albums are so misguided that I’m not entirely sure if the parts I like about them are even good. All of that said, I always come back to Lou Reed because he’s more on than almost anyone when he is being real. DeCurtis skillfully weaves what was going on in Reed’s life at the time with the songs in a way that keeps an impressively consistent psychological through-line on a volatile life. One aspect that struck me was Reed’s lingering resentment about the Velvet Underground. Although there was the short lived reunion in 1993, there are numerous stories of not just journalists, but close friends getting totally closed down by Lou for bringing it up. The famous Brian Eno quote about how “everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band,” was more of a reminder to Reed about the slights the group suffered decades ago than something to be incredibly proud of. He always thought his next record (perhaps even Metal Machine Music) was going to be not only his best, but also his big break into the mainstream, all the way up to the near universally derided Metallica collaboration, Lulu, which was his last major release before his 2013 death at the age of 71.

Iggy Pop said of Reed, “I think he’s one of the few guys or gals who’s been in this biz a long time and still has a feeling for the world around him. Most of the others just end up singing to the mirror.” When I put on a Lou Reed album, I know that I’m going to have him front and center, confronting me without a care for how it’s going to make me feel . He’s going to disappoint me with some misplaced jazz number, an unfortunate reworking of a Velvet’s song, or blow me away with how he can blend tenderness and cruelty with aplomb on the three part song “Street Hassle.” He does not comfortably slide into a new role like David Bowie or find a new sound to match the same relatable message like Bruce Springsteen. Instead, Reed inhabits a place where the antics are uncomfortably real, what sounds upbeat is going downhill and that he had no intention of writing a “Perfect Day” or “Heroin” again.

For a guy who shot up on stage, fired John Cale and openly sang about spousal abuse, Lou Reed found a kind of redemption in his relationship with musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson. DeCurtis goes into detail about the truly remarkable union between these equals, that is relatively rare for famous artists, especially given how late in life they met. The balance that they struck to continue their creative endeavors while still be a regular sight together in New York was the most unexpected and illuminating part of the biography. It is almost improbable to think that a man whose career aim and life choices were geared towards driving gaps between himself and his listeners and those close to him, found a such a resonant coda in his last marriage.

Lou Reed was extremely generous with friends who were dying, almost becoming as close in the final days as the family members. He worked to revitalize the careers of some of the fifties and sixties rockers he grew up idolizing such as Doc Pomus. He grew to be remorseful about his prior drug abuse and violent behavior toward women and was quite explicit about discussing it in his music. All of that said, Reed kept true to his maxim about being difficult. There are far more important things than being nice, but I found a few nuggets of Reed breaking character and decided to pair them with songs that aren’t so nice.

Known for a stripped down sound, Reed was a surprisingly serious music gear fiend who would show house guests his pedals and amps for hours. He also was an early adopter of the Atari system and would readily play video games with family friends’ children after he gave up the drugs and alcohol. Probably not where he was going with “Video Violence,” but it’s easy to imagine him getting really competitive in Pong.

As many New York celebrities in the 60’s and 70’s, Reed was on familiar terms with Dr. Richard Freymann, otherwise known as Dr. Feelgood for his special shots of amphetamine and vitamins. When boozy writer Ed McCormack was ill after a binge, Reed showed up early to drag him to Freymann’s office saying, “Don’t worry about it. This guy gets in early. And he can cure anything – including cirrhosis – as long as you’re honest with him about your habits.” Although McCormack only received X-rays on his liver and bill of good health, Reed footed the medical bill in advance. Here’s a knowing drinking song called “Underneath the Bottle” from the excellent Blue Mask.

Reed was supporting the release of his 1979 album The Bells at the Bottom Line and confronted his producer Clive Davis onstage, saying, “Where’s the money, Clive? How come I don’t hear my album on the radio?” Uncharacteristically, for the man who named his prior record Take No Prisoners, Reed issued an apology, saying, “I’ve always loved Clive and he happens to be one of my best friends. I just felt like having a business discussion from the stage. Sometimes out of frustrations you yell at those you love the most.” Apologies are pretty nice, especially when you can acknowledge your failings in business and friendship. Here’s “Stupid Man,” from the same album he thought was going to do so well on the radio.

Leonard Cohen fell for Nico from a distance and followed her around New York when he first arrived in the city. About one particularly lonely night, he said:

“I remember lingering by the bar, I was never good at that kind of hard work that’s involved with socializing, and a young man came over to me and said, ‘You’re Leonard Cohen, you wrote Beautiful Losers.’ which nobody had read, it only sold a few copies in America. And it was Lou Reed. He brought me over to a table full of luminaries –  Andy Warhol, Nico. I was suddenly sitting at this table with the great spirits of the time.”

There is nothing that lifts a depressed writer’s spirits more than recognizing their obscure book and introducing them to the person they are hopelessly in love with. We’ll end with “Berlin,” which sure seems like it is about Nico.

Sources

DeCurtis, Anthony, Lou Reed: A Life. Little Brown and Co., 2017.

Simmons, Sylvie, I’m Your Man. Ecco, 2012.

I Learned to play the guitar

My father played guitar as far back as I can remember. It was always a comforting sound to hear him strumming quietly in a corner of our house. He was never showy. He made up one tune which was more upbeat than his usual classical fare and when he would play that my sister and I would run like maniacs around the coffee table. That was about as fancy as it got.

He was saving up to buy a bowling ball, but instead he took me to the West Village to a music store and bought me a three-quarter size Goya guitar. I didn’t know the first thing about playing, but was fascinated by folk music, which was bursting onto the scene with Joan Baez, Buffy St. Marie, Peter Paul & Mary and, of course, Bob Dylan.

There was a show on the NYC channel 13, public TV that featured a woman who actually resembled Joan Baez. She taught the basics of playing guitar, a few chords, and in time I was able to squeak out The House of the Rising Sun, my very first song. It even had an “F” chord in it, still something I hate to play because you have to twist your fingers into a painful position.

The guitar was a classical acoustic, meaning the strings were nylon and the neck was thicker than a non-classical guitar. It made it easier for finger picking, but harder to stretch between chords. I bought a Bob Dylan guitar book, which had everything he had written up to that point.

As time went on, I got better, developed callouses on my small fingers. I have never taken a lesson, and to this day only a few people have heard me play, but, like my father, I have done it for my own peace of mind.

I now own three guitars, my father’s cherished Epiphone, a Guild Acoustic, and a Fender Telecaster. My beloved Goya was stolen long ago and I didn’t replace it or play for ten years.

I suppose that is were it began, and I am still comforted by the sound of Asturias by Segovia and All Along the Watchtower by Hendrix.

Cindy Matthews makes tiny clothes and wacky dolls. When she isn’t jamming out to Bruce Springsteen on her headphones, she volunteers at a food pantry in Melbourne, Florida. She is a big fan of her daughter’s radio show, Bachelard’s Panty Drawer, on Freeform Portland. 

Des Demonas – Reviewed by Noah Fence

The self titled debut album by Des Demonas grabs you by the ears and spins you round. It pleases on every level. Instantly familiar, but new at the same time. It’s a garage punk masterpiece that echoes the past, each song heavy with organ and reverb guitar. A fantastic addition to any music collection.

There was no seven-inch single release prior to the album release. No early version of a song, that would be re-recorded for favorable digestion as part of a set of songs well chosen and properly ordered for maximum LP effect. Instead we get the album as a whole, which I find to be a completely pleasing. I have enjoyed playing the album, letting the songs unfold, just as much as I have enjoyed playing individual tracks on my radio show, making segues and connections between bands such as The Fall, The Modern Lovers, The Lyres, and The 13th Floor Elevators.

The album kicks off with “The South Will Never Rise Again” starting as though the song was already playing as we are invited to listen, organ constant, feedback guitar, and anthemic lyrics delivered with with repetition.

The third track, “Liez” is another favorite of mine, building on a bouncing bass beat, the guitar slashes between drone and feedback…

Track number five “There are no vampires in Africa,” builds up slow, rhythm section of bass and drums over a bed of organ, the chorus becomes a lengthy chant that sticks in the brain.

Track number nine “Say You Tried”…initially I assumed that title was borrowed from a line of a song by Joy Division…again the song builds slowly, then explodes to a full on wall of instrumentation.

Track number eleven “Teen Stooge” concludes the album, with a drum pounding guitar freakout of sorts.

None of the tracks disappoint. It is as near a perfect album as I, a long time listener of rock & roll, can conceive. Made all the better by the fact that with no precedent or series of singles leading up this album’s release, the band and their history is a bit of a mystery.

I have had other albums that I liked from last year, but none of them have appealed to my garage rock, punk rock inner child such as this album by Des Demonas.

Val Wilmer is Seriously As Serious As Her Life

Valerie Wilmer was born in Harrogate, England Dec, 7th 1941. She is an English woman, photographer, jazz/African, Jamaican West Indies music historian/archivist, writer, lesbian and feminist. She has written for Jazz Journal, Mojo, The Wire, Jazz News, The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, The British Library Sound Archive and The Guardian, as well as many other jazz/music publications. She is the author of Jazz People (London: Allison & Busby, 1970; Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1970), The Face of Black Music (New York: Da Capo, 1976); As Serious as Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz (London: Allison & Busby, 1977) and her autobiography Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This: My Life in the Jazz World (London: Women’s Press, 1989).

Wilmer and her brother Clive were raised by a single mother, who rented rooms from their London house to pay the bills. Wilmer’s mother was supportive of her blossoming interests in jazz music which began in her teens with the book by New Orleans Jazz enthusiast and radio deejay Rudi Blesch, Shining Trumpets: A History of Jazz. At a young age, Wilmer immersed herself in jazz and African American/international music culture before it was embraced by mainstream culture. She frequently brought home jazz musicians who were mostly male, black and international to have tea with the family, and, as a result, the house soon became a known jazz performer destination in London to visit while on tour. Harry Carney, who played baritone sax with Duke Ellington’s band, sent them Christmas cards every year. Jazz pianist Randy Weston would stay over to talk about Africa and Nationalism while eating a breakfast of bacon and eggs. The Ambassador for Liberia invited her mother to champagne parties (Neglected Books, 2016).

Wilmer’s life as a white female gay critic in the 1960s and 1970s juxtaposed the conventional media coverage of race with the empowerment of people of color and women as captured through her personal lens. The early women’s liberation movement then flourishing in the United States also influenced the U.K., and Wilmer became politically involved with women’s empowerment, organizing Take Back the Night events in the late 1970s in London to bring awareness to sexual violence perpetrated upon women. Wilmer realized she preferred women sexually when she witnessed Althea Gibson, the first African American woman to play in professional international tennis, embrace her opponent in good sportsmanship at Wimbledon. Wilmer was never deterred when private lesbian clubs she visited were occasionally raided by vice squads because she felt it was her right to have access to such clubs without discrimination or shame:

. … because what we were doing by walking through that door was declaring ourselves — what some would call “coming out” — there was about the whole exercise a sense of terrible excitement. It revolved around bravado and ritual. Getting ready to go there was a ritual, the crease in the trousers, the eyes made-up just so Parking the car was a ritual, as near to the club as possible to avoid the voyeurs and the challenge of passers-by. Gaining entry meant mustering bravado. And for what? To spend time in a place where you could, supposedly, be yourself. 

Louis Armstrong- Val Wilmer 1961

Wilmer has lived her life always being herself and actively pursuing what interests her the most. She took her first photograph documenting Louis Armstrong with her mother’s Kodak Brownie camera and soon afterward pursued an education at The Regent Street Polytechnic in London, with a dual degree in jazz photography and writing. Her photographs have been shown in galleries in Europe and the U.S, and she co-founded the first all-woman photo agency in London, Format, in 1983 (The Jazz Image).

Wilmer has been documenting jazz artists and music history since 1959. She has countless interviews and photographs with jazz greats, beginning with Earl Warren, who was an alto saxophonist and sometimes vocalist for Count Basie and Lester Young. Her reputation as a serious critic grew following her piece on Billy Higgins and Ornette Coleman. By 1965, she was visually documenting Thelonious Monk’s progression through his changing improvisation and composition styles while critiquing the past decade of his career (Wiki).

My favorite book by Wilmer, As Serious As Your Life, first published in 1977, documents the early scene of “free jazz”, or “new jazz,” in various urban areas across the United States. It is a seminal text that chronicles the groundbreaking beginnings of what would soon become known as the Free Jazz movement.

Wilmer interviews such innovators as Sunny Murray, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor, Rashied Ali, Albert Ayler, Bill Dixon, Archie Shepp, Marion Brown, and Don Cherry, to name a few, all of whom changed many conceptions of what “jazz” music is. She interviews jazz musicians who performed at community places, such as The Storefront Museum in Jamaica, New York, which was a converted storefront and community project in the borough of Queens. She talks to Milford Graves, an innovative free jazz drummer, comparing his compositions to the compositional brilliance of Terry Riley, and the British gay painter, David Hockney.

Wilmer’s critical comparisons often mirror the artists she is interviewing, comparing and contrasting other fringe musicians. She often combines descriptions of musical virtuosity with visual artists, to better display the dynamics of hearing free/new jazz in three dimensional concepts, to help her readers conceptualize their expansity. Wilmer appears to always be fully present in her writing about jazz or music history, portraying jazz artists in their natural environments and contextualizing the aspects of jazz intellects.

Albert Ayler- Val Wilmer 1966

The label of free/new jazz was often condoned by the jazz musicians who were making the music, but the concept of categorization is typically based on paradigms created by white patriarchal institutions. Thus, one can argue that categorical terms like “Free/New Jazz” may limit the audience. Unfortunately, the concept of categorization is often needed to relay a style or period to draw context for readers because of the established dominant discourse of labels. The Art Ensemble of Chicago explain, “It is whites who have called our music ‘free,’ we just call it music”. The Art Ensemble of Chicago were part of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). AACM became an established group in 1965 by pianist Muhal Richard Abrams; Jodie Christian; drummer Steve McCall, and Phil Cohran.The AACM was composed of four to five creative musician groups who based their creativity on maintaining their own rights and self to their music. They paid minimal dues to AACM and played concerts at different venues or places in Chicago. Cohran was a band member in Sun Ra’s Arkestra, playing trumpet for Ra from 1959-1961, until he left to pursue his own form of spiritual jazz. As Wilmer explained in As Serious As Your Life, many AACM members had always focused on the progression of jazz but some members felt Sun Ra had progressed too far out. After time, these members went to New York to seek out Sun Ra to tell him “yes” to his music, after Ra had left AACM (Wilmer, 1977).

Liner notes to Phase One- Art Ensemble of Chicago Prestige 1971 by Val Wilmer

Wilmer’s photographs are mostly taken in black and white. She used a 35mm Pentax Silverline and would wait backstage or in the audience, before or after interviews, or on the sidelines for the perfect shot. Wilmer is a master at manipulating light to contrast the artists she is capturing. For example, referencing the Sun Ra photo Wilmer took in 1966, we see Sun Ra and his Arkestra in deep concentration. The group was living communally at the time, maintaining a regimen of creative cohesiveness that was rooted in the cosmic realm of Ra’s psyche. The light that plays on Ra’s sequined cloak shines and morphs into shadows on his right side, downplaying his eloquent genius. Marshall Allen stands to Ra’s left, playing oboe and complimenting the photo’s chiaroscuro lighting with infinite dimensional sounds that are heard by Wilmer at that moment, suspended in time.

Sun Ra Arkestra- Val Wilmer 1966

Wilmer is in every sense as important as the musicians and music she has documented. Music criticism is often told from the standpoint of the critic, who is usually a white male, and the criticism can be construed as flat, lacking compassion and mostly based on the judgment of the white male critic’s taste or bias. Sometimes the white male ego is accentuated in their writing, and often the emotion behind the critique lacks any form of humanism or compassion for exploring compositional pieces that are dynamic and rooted in the creative heritage of the artists they are critiquing. Wilmer is a transcriber: she writes what the musicians “tell” her, and she portrays musicians in their spaces, places and mindsets, while not impinging upon their creative narrative. She spends time with the people whom she admires, and the time she spends adds increased depth to her prolific photographs and writing.

By Karen Lee (Weekend Family Music Hour)

Just Add Air: A Short Story of My Instant Love of Moon Safari

*Disclaimer: These are the words of someone deeply in love with an album. All hyperbole and analogy must be accepted as factual and taken as universal gospel. 

42 minutes of bliss. 

It starts with a sample of water. It’s either rain, or a stream. It takes you immediately out of your present. Placing you somewhere in your past or future, while making you acutely aware of the beauty right here in your present. This is the magic of AIR’s Moon Safari and what makes it as close to sublime an album as has ever been recorded. It is a classic and the defining album in the lazily named genre electronica. Online it is categorized as “future jazz, downtempo, synth-pop.” To categorize it is to diminish its power as a rocket transport to gravity-free musical bliss. It is an album for songwriters, musicians, producers, and casual listeners; each will find something brilliant. This is its genius. 

Last week, the album turned 20 years old.

When released, it was universally acclaimed, made many end-of-year best of lists, but was sometimes derided for being music to soundtrack a dinner party. I thought then, and still do, if that derision is even remotely accurate, I would anxiously wait by the mailbox for an invite. The menu for dinner wouldn’t matter.

I first heard the album on a March night in 1998 in a London record shop while sat in a 60s bubble-chair-turned-listening-station. It’s almost 42 minutes long, and in that orb, I played the record twice through before someone knocked on the shell, “Uh…Mate. Can I have a go?”

I could have cocooned myself and pushed repeat a hundred more times. It was love at first listen, and like being in love with an actual human, it made even the questionable ergonomics of the chair enjoyable. This was more than limerence. It was a chill-inducing eclipse and full-blown case of lunar love. I bought the CD, put it in my Walkman, and stepped out into the moonlit street. 

Continue reading →

COLORING ELECTRIC LIKE, PHOTONA, AND WHEN WE MET – AT DANTE’S

Heading into downtown Portland on a Friday night is always an adventure. I prefer not to spend $10 to park my car, so I usually opt for the SmartPark and walk the 10 blocks past staggering drunks and screaming college kids to arrive at Dante’s.

February 9th’s show was a tribute to the Women Who Rock Portland. Opening the night was an indie-electropop band called When We Met. Bryan and Melissa are more than bandmates, they’re lovers. Melissa rocked a solid bass while Bryan played guitar and pinball-bounced off the walls.

Their chemistry was infectious and their sound highly energetic, often danceable, a mix of late 80’s New Wave and mid 90’s Indie Rock. Both of them shared vocal duties and sang about everything from women’s rights to their own personal demons. In between songs, the couple exuded a genuine warmth that drew the audience into their world. They wrapped up with a Pixies cover that moved the entire room to sing along.

Second on the show roster was Photona, an electronic rock trio with a dark powerful sound derived from the deepest depths of the cosmos. I was immediately captivated by singer Outer Stace’s vocal prowess. She stalked the stage like a caged tiger, occasionally crouching down in front of the crowd in a pose I’d describe as dangerous and playful. Her husband, XavierX, rocked a partially electronic drum set and brought back a sound reminiscent of John Bonham. Guitarist/synth player, Phono, filled out the band’s arena quality sound. They were powerful and edgy with catchy hooks that made songs stick to me for the rest of the evening and into the next morning.

Photona

Wrapping up the night was the amazing shoegaze band Coloring Electric Like. The duo is made up of singer/bassist/keyboardist Mia and her partner Benjamin on guitar. The songs were slow and moody, with heavy backbeats layered over synth loops, a strong industrial influence. Benjamin struck bold poses and beamed dark stares into the crowd. Mia slithered snake-like while crooning warm notes over manic instrumentations. Along with a set of original music, they thrilled the crowd with a catchy Depeche Mode cover.

Coloring Electric Light

As the evening wrapped, all the bands gathered for a drink, hugs, pictures, and laughter. A couple of other local women rockers were in attendance. Saren of Kool Stuff Katie and Barbie of Die Robot.

I’ve been a fan of women in rock for decades, and I’m thrilled to live in a city that celebrates all genders and identities on stage.

Scott “Uncle Scotty” Hammond has been a radio show host for over 20 years. He brought his internet radio station, Radio Hot Tub, to Portland 4 years ago and has been a strong supporter of the local music scene. He currently does live shows featuring local rock bands alternating Friday mornings on Freeform Portland. 

I DON’T BELIEVE IN ANGELS ANYMORE: ON TINO DRIMA’S NEW VIDEO FOR “ANGELS,” AND PLEASANT SURPRISES

One of the most singular experiences I’ve had watching live music in the past year was seeing Bay Area band Tino Drima play play at Turn! Turn! Turn! in November. They were the middle act between two Portland bands (Point Juncture, WA and Sama Dams). The latter are labelmates with Tino Drima, who released their latest record Her Kind of Man on Friendship Fever, an indie label run out of Sacramento, CA.

When they began playing, I knew nothing about them. For the next half hour, I stood transfixed. They conjured an intoxicating sound that hearkened back to the early days of rock ‘n roll, with songs and arrangements influenced by rockabilly and doo-wop. Lead singer Gregory DiMartino cut an arresting figure on stage. He was lanky and expressive, and his voice slid between a quavering crooner and a soul screamer over the course of the band’s songs. There was an intense, pleasing melodrama to the music, at turns bombastic and pleading.

Watch the video for Turn! Turn! Turn! show below. “Angels” starts at 28 minutes:

The band recently released a video for the song “Angels,” the highlight of the album, directed by Ry Pieri. The song encapsulates what I find so alluring about the band, and is punctuated by strings and brass that add to the dramatic effect of the story of spurned love. The video is filled with surreal exposures of smoke or fog, blank rooms, distant corridors, and human longing. I think it does a great job of capturing the best qualities of the band. They made a believer and a fan for life out of me with a single performance.

Cover photo by Tino Drima at Turn! Turn! Turn!, November 2017. Photo courtesy Yousef Hatlani for Faces on the Radio

DRUM MACHINES HAVE NO SOUL, BUT THE BUMPER STICKER HAS A HEART

The bumper sticker on the car reads, “DRUM MACHINES HAVE NO SOUL.” 

I’ve seen this for years. And if it is not a bumper sticker, it’s a t-shirt. And if it is not a t-shirt, it’s a thought rolling around in someone’s head. I have always dismissed it as hyperbole that surely could not be believed by the bearer of such a blasphemy. 

I saw this bumper sticker again today after my morning radio show — a show that was themed around celebrating the 20th anniversary of Air’s mostly electronic album Moon Safari.

Listed underneath the all-caps proclamation on the sticker is an organization called Society for the Rehumanization of American Music. There is a phone number. So, today I called.

Now, cold calling in any context is not an activity of which I am fond. I am the guy that tiptoes around the corner like a spy in my house when the doorbell rings unexpectedly. I found myself slightly uneasy making this call. I am not sure what I expected, and to be honest, I did not think anyone would answer. 

I was well wrong.

After one ring, a youthful sounding man answered with a loud, “Hello?” And as inaudibly loud music played in his background, I explained that I saw the phone number on a bumper sticker and thought I’d call to see what it was about. He asked, “Which bumper sticker is that?” Ignoring my immediate thought of There are others?

“It’s the one that says ‘Drum m-‘” and before I was halfway through the word machine he said, “Oh, yeah, that one. Well, let me tell you about that.” He went on to proudly proclaim that in the twelve years since forming the Society for the Rehumanization of American Music80,000 bumper stickers and t-shirts emblazoned with the phrase have been sold.

80,000!? 

(Side note: maybe my own side hustle needs a rethink)

When I asked the impetus for boldly stating and printing – as musical fact – that drum machines have no soul, he told a story about music studios in the 50s and 60s and how his father had owned one. In these studios, musicians would jam together to create a synchronicity of spirit (my term), and that those were the days of good music (his term). 

Enthusiastically, he expounded on the virtuosity of drummers and bass players, and having witnessed the general goodness and greatness that came with human beings connecting musically with hand held instruments. He shared that he did not own a computer, never went on the internet, and did not have a smartphone. His love of music and his story, was obvious. The cheerfulness with which he recounted what he witnessed in his dad’s studio put me at ease. He talked a little about how the bumper sticker had been inspired by his distaste for the ubiquity of electronic and rap music and that neither really had a musicality. I had not called for an argument, and he did not present these statements to provoke, so I did not challenge. He was just talking, so I just listened. 

In the past, I have had this conversation with friends. Technically, the statement about drum machines is true. Yet the same is true about a guitar, or bass, or drum kit. None of them have soul without the human element. They just sit there until the human intervenes.

When I dialed the number and realized it was legitimate, I thought the connection might be a meeting of dissimilar minds. It was not, but I am not sure exactly what it was either. At the very least, it was a short conversation between two people who loved music, who may or may not agree to disagree on the merits of instruments with hard drives. I would like to think of it as a bumper sticker playing catalyst for two strangers connecting. That would feel good, right?

He asked where I lived and when I said Portland, Oregon he replied, “Ah, so you must have purchased that sticker at Music Millennium.” Before I could say anything, he shared a few positive thoughts about independent record shops, to which I agreed.

The conversation was about at the eight minute mark when he said he needed to go. I quickly stated, “Before you do, I’m curious…how many people are in the Society for the Rehumanization of American Music?”

He chuckled, and said, “We’re all members. You’ve got the sticker, and now you’re a part of it. We can call you a…member emeritus.” He laughed again, and said with a lilt, “You’re in!”

I didn’t tell him that I had not purchased the sticker. That I had just seen it on a car on the side of the road, and was not, in fact, number 80,001. 

(Second side note: drum machines may not have soul, but I didn’t have the heart)

“One more thing,” I added. “Can the music made with a drum machine have soul?”

“Oh yeah, that’s no problem,” he said. “I had a bunch of drum machines in the 70s and 80s, and have made music with them before. Anyway, thanks for calling. What did you say your name was?”

“Scott,” I replied.

“Can you spell that for me?” he asked, as the music blasted in his background.

I spelled it for him, after which he said, “That’s an unusual name.”

I paused, “Really?”

“No, I just couldn’t hear you,” he laughed again. 

”Have a good day,” he continued “I’m glad you called me…and keep supporting good music.” 

Then he hung up. 

That was that: a Sunday morning phone call, on a whim, and a conversation about music with a total stranger in some other city. 

He listened and thanked me for calling a number for an organization that does not actually exist. And two strangers conversed and connected through and about music for about nine minutes. Genius! For the moment, I don’t care about the debate of drum machines having soul. This bumper sticker has a heart and right about now, that’s a feel-good groove.