The funkmaestro of Vulfpeck on gaming Spotify, German pronunciation mishaps, and Google search optimization


By Jonathan Kirchner

Members of the band Vulfpeck describe themselves as a “half-Jewish German-American rhythm section.” Creators of severely catchy, mostly-instrumental grooves, the four-piece — who first met in a German literature class at the University of Michigan — have built a following with their quirky YouTube videos: Each album track is accompanied by a cleverly shot and edited video of its recording. The videos not only capture the band’s camaraderie, loose attitude, and sense of humor, but also their musical cohesion as a group. Each song is endlessly and effortlessly funky.

As we listened to their fourth EP, Fugue State, released last week, a passerby commented on how their music has a distinctly familiar quality. This makes sense, for a group modeled after the great rhythm sections of the ’60s and ’70s: tight-knit groups of studio players like those in Detroit (Motown), Memphis (Stax) and Muscle Shoals (Atlantic, Chess) that played on not only countless soul and R&B hits, but on classic pop and rock records as well.

The LA-based band created a bit of a stir earlier this year with their Sleepify album — a collection of 31-second-long silent tracks that they told their fans to stream on Spotify, on repeat, as they slept. (That’s the minimum song length after which the music streaming service pays bands a small fee.) The group promised to use the Spotify proceeds to fund a tour of free shows, booked around the cities where the album was streamed the most — and that’s just what they did, after raising about $20,000. (Spotify has since removed the album.)

We spoke over the phone with Jack Stratton, multi-instrumentalist, audio/video engineer, and mastermind for the band, ahead of their upcoming performance at Brick & Mortar Music Hall on Mon/15. It’s a free show, of course. Frequent Vulfpeck collaborator Joey Dosik opens.

San Francisco Bay Guardian Do you want to talk a little about Sleepify and how it came about?

Jack Stratton The first time we had talked about touring, we were trying to play live, because there’s somewhat of a demand from our fans of the YouTube videos. So we were just talking about ways to do that, and get information from other groups about what it costs, and it seemed like a losing-money venture.

So we were trying to think up ways for it to make sense, because really we enjoy playing live, and simultaneously we were talking about this demand-funded tour, where you say: If 100 people in any given place say they’ll go, we’ll show up. And we talk about Spotify all the time when we release stuff — whether it hurts sales or has no effect. It’s hard to judge. So all of those conversations kind of collided into this demand-funded Spotify tour.

SFBG Would you consider it a success so far?

JS Oh, absolutely, yeah. Especially since our last release, it’s hard to say how many fans came in from Sleepify. Probably the majority of people were just interested in the Sleepify part of it, but people did end up checking out the band and enjoying it. I think it almost doubled our fanbase since then, so there’s no way to spin it negative, really.

SFBG I know you’re based in LA. Are all the members there these days?

JS No, not right now; we’re all scattered.

SFBG How do you find time to get together and make music?

JS Vulfpeck is a strict Monday-through-Friday workweek, once a year. Our last album we did in a week in Ann Arbor, and definitely the eventual goal is to be doing that way more often, with other artists, like a classic rhythm section. That’s the vision.

SFBG Do you seek out freelance work backing up other singers? It seems like your records could serve as a great demo tape.

JS Yeah, we’ve done a little bit of that. That’s definitely the vision for it, because you can put out a lot more material. Like, you watch any documentary about [classic soul/R&B rhythm sections], and they played on so many hits. Because with any single artist, there’s just a limit to how much new material you want to hear in a year, [but a rhythm section] can just crank it out — and we’re very fast.

The larger concept to start a rhythm section was that — name a band. If you name any band, I could name their dramatic falling out, but all the rhythm sections, they just kinda do their thing. And then there’s a documentary 50 years later and they’re all still hanging out.

SFBG Fugue State is your fourth EP; how would you say the band’s sound has evolved?

JS Well, I’ve gotten better at mixing, we’ve all gotten better at playing, we’ve gotten better as an ensemble…so those are hard to quantify. The team is improving. We’ve had a mastering engineer since the second album, Devin Kerr, and that’s really helped the overall sound.

SFBG I saw that you and Devin released a Vulf compressor plugin for other musicians to use. Not a lot of bands can say that. How did that come about?

JS Yeah, I’m very excited about that. That was, man, a long time in the works. Not heavy duty work, but I was really into, at one point, this sound of Madlib and Flying Lotus and J Dilla. Whatever that sound was, that pumping, where the whole track pumps — I was like “What the hell is that?”

And I did some research, and the Internet is a magical thing, and I was directed to these late 90s/early 2000s digital samplers. And the compressors on those, certainly Madlib was using them, so I went to Devin and was like, “Check out these sounds I’m getting with these digital compressors.” And he was trying to replicate it with his plugins and he couldn’t do it at all, so he just did a ton of listening to these characteristics, that were not, I think, programmed.

SFBG Right, they might have been bugs or imperfections…

JS Yeah, and actually they were, because [the manufacturers] started phasing out certain effects that were classics. They just didn’t know. [Devin’s] a dangerous dude because he’s very good at DSP [Digital Single Processing] and he’s a mastering engineer, so he’s very musical and has this very technical side. So he did his thing and we would test it out and it was really thrilling. And then our friend Rob Stenson did the interface with Devin and now its in beta and eventually it’ll be out. 

SFBG Do you have a take on analog vs. digital recording?

JS We’re fans of both. We’ll do stuff to tape; we’ll use a nice mixing board and go into the computer or some funky cassette preamp. We’ll do it all — no hangups.

SFBG A lot of your videos are shot in living rooms and bedrooms and they look pretty impromptu. 

JS Yeah, I was kind of all about building a nice tricked-out studio for us. But Theo [Katzman, drummer-guitarist] mentioned part of the charm is all of these different locations and how rugged the setups are.

SFBG The last couple records have each featured a song with Antwaun Stanley [on vocals]. Do you envision more collaboration with him in the future?

JS Oh yeah, I mean, he rules. It’s really fun to work with him. Honestly, not many people could [with us]. It’s not just picking a good voice with us; the person has to be a really good improvisor, like Antwaun, because they have to make it happen on the spot, and there’s no overdubs or background vocals. It’s not just a nice timbre; you have to be a really talented singer and improvisor — a performer.

SFBG Did you write the lyrics or did he?

JS I wrote those. That is one of the greatest joys I wish everyone could experience is having Antwaun Stanley sing your lyrics. Because they go from, like, ridiculousness, to sounding like they were meant to be.

SFBG In general, do you write all of the parts for the band or is it more of a collaborative process as far as the arrangements go?

JS Depends on the tune. I like how versatile everyone is: We’ve done tunes where it’s completely arranged, we’ve done tunes where it’s like: “Do your thing.” Generally, one person comes in with the nugget and they’ll kind of be producer on that track and get to call the shots, but it’s collaborative within that.

SFBG You’ve got some multi-instrumentalists in the band. [Theo Katzman doubles on drums and guitar and Jack plays drums, various keyboards and guitar.] How do you choose who’s going to be on drums, and who’s on keys, etc., for each song?

JS It’s mostly a decision of who will be able to pick up the parts fastest, because it’s all on-the-spot — there’s no rehearsal. Theo’s got a really good ear harmonically. I don’t really, I can’t pick up tunes that quick. If I’ve written the tune on keyboards, I’ll play keyboards, but if it’s someone else’s tune and it’s difficult, he’ll play guitar [and I’ll play drums].

SFBG What does Vulfpeck mean?

JS That was kind of the earliest part of it: It’s “wolfpack,” pronounced by a German, but phonetically spelled out in English. So, if a German saw the word wolfpack, it would probably come out “vulf-pock,” which I screwed up at the time. I thought it would be “peck,” but apparently it’s “pock.”

But that’s the whole idea, and it’s endless joy, because I love the name and it’s great for the Internet, you know? Getting all the [web] addresses. I think there was one military dating profile — that was it — when I first Googled it. I was like “Alright, I think this is open.”

SFBG Search engine optimized…

JS Our Google splash page is — I mean you can’t control these things — but nice, man, it’s all us.

With Joey Dosik
9pm, free
Brick & Mortar Music Hall
1710 Mission, SF


Kiesza storms the pop scene at the Rickshaw Stop


By Rob Goszkowski

It’s entirely possible that Kiesza outgrew her gig at the Rickshaw Stop a few minutes after it was booked. Those in attendance at the Pop Scene-presented show were fortunate to see the singer, songwriter, and dancer from Calgary in such an intimate club venue on Thursday, Aug. 28, given the staggering rise that she’s in the midst of.

“Of all the places we’ve played — including Wembly Stadium — this has the biggest energy,” she said midway through her set. “Everybody told me this is probably where I belong.” The 25-year-old has already had a #1 single in the UK, among other European countries. Her video for “Hideway,” a single-shot dance routine made on a shoestring budget, has around 97 million views — and lately, it has been tacking on an additional one or two million per day.

If she’s scrambling to get her performance chops up to the level she’s reaching, it did not show on Thursday night. She and her backup dancers only slowed down when Kiesza sat down at a piano for a couple ballads. While she expressed concern about the condition of her voice prior to the show, it proved to be strong throughout the night, particularly when she sang Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Halfway through it, she got up and finished the song over Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones (Pt II)” beat, another prime example of the 90s aesthetic that has taken over popular culture. In this case, the odd juxtaposition worked. And so did her unironic cover of Haddaway’s “What Is Love?,” the first of the two ballads she played.

Before the show, we caught up with Kiesza to find out how she’s adapting to her newfound success and how she got to where she is.

San Francisco Bay Guardian Welcome to San Francisco. How’s your tour going so far?

Kiesza It’s sort of a tour mixed with promo-touring that has been mixed with finishing up the album. We’ve set an Oct. 21 release date, so it’s nice to have that finished. I’m going to NYC soon, [then] back to the UK for press…there’s a lot of back and forth between continents going on right now.

SFBG Dancing is an important part of your performance. How involved are you with choreography?

K I usually go searching for styles or dance moves that I like and bring them to my choreographer (Ljuba Castot) and say, “I really like this style, can we infuse it into what we’re doing?” Locking is one, there’s a few Bollywood moves that I’ve gotten into recently that I might try to sneak in. I like fusing different styles together and throwing them over different music that they’re not usually associated with. I work really, closely with my choreographer, though. We’ve known each other for three years now.

SFBG It sounds like you keep a close circle. Your brother shot the video for “Hideaway.

K Well…if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, you know? We’re a good team, very creative, we’ve all started from the bottom and now we’re rising together. It’s not like we’re closed to other people. There’s a lot of collaboration that goes on when we bring people into the nucleus.


SFBG You’ve got a real 1990s aesthetic to what you’re doing.

K I’m into that era right now. It was a great time for music, some of the best ballads were written around that time, some of the best dance music. It was all about the divas! And soul, R&B. Then there was David Foster, I think he wrote the most epic 90s ballads and he just called me up the other day! I went to his house for dinner and he was just the coolest person ever. We talked about writing together and I think it’s going to happen.

SFBG Do you have a grasp of what’s happening right now with your career?

K It’s strange. It’s been happening so quickly. In January, I was completely anonymous. Now, it seems like wherever I go, people recognize me. I’ve been working in the music industry for years but to have it blow up so quickly? I started as a writer so I haven’t even had a chance to develop the way that a lot of other artists have. Usually, it takes a bit longer to launch a career. So this one just exploded on me, but I’m very grateful for it. I feel like we’re almost catching up to the song. It’s just been let loose!

SFBG You tacked on an additional two million views between Tuesday and Wednesday.

K It’s going up so fast! I think we’ll hit 100 million soon and that’s mind-blowing.

SFBG Where are people into your music?

K It started in the UK. Then Germany. Finally Canada — which is a little funny. Someone wrote an article where they said that it’s hilarious that I went No. 1 in the UK and my country doesn’t even know about it. The next thing I know, Canada was all over it. So they’ve been really supportive, too and it’s amazing.

SFBG It sounds you struggled to find success as a writer in the music business. And then one day “Hideaway” came together almost as an afterthought.

K It kind of channeled itself, really. I was going to catch a plane to LA. from the studio. We were finished with the session we were working on and my producer was playing around with the synth (sings the first few chords of the song) and I loved it! That’s such a mysterious sound and the melody just popped into my head as I was about to leave. I turned around and asked him if I could lay something down, just really quickly. It wasn’t even a produced track, just a chord progression. And then I laid down pretty much the whole “Hideaway” melody. It just came out.

We were like, “Oh my gosh. . . this is really good! Let me write some lyrics!” I was rushing right through it because I was late for the plane. So I wrote them out and demo’d the lyrics and said to send it to me when I arrive. It was done by the time I got to the airport but I was so late that I couldn’t listen to it before I left. When I arrived in LA, I opened it up and the demo vocals sounded so good that we just kept it. We didn’t send it off to be mixed and mastered, he did it himself. That’s it. The whole thing, everything was done in 90 minutes from start to finish, even the production.


SFBG The video came together pretty organically as well, with you bringing together your network.

K The single shot was my producer Rami Samir Afuni’s idea. I knew that I wanted to do some street dancing and I went to Ljuba who said that she always wanted to try something like this. Rami’s sister Lianna and I went location scouting and we ended up finding this street we liked that captured graffiti art and the New York skyline. And then I called my brother and said, “Can you please film this for us?” He lives in Toronto, so the biggest expense was flying him from Toronto to New York. The rest of it involved rounding up friends to perform in it. My brother was the most professional person there!

SFBG And he paid the bills by working at weddings.

K Yeah, he’s a very proffesional cinemetographer, but that’s exactly it. Weddings paid the bills. But he’s so phenomenal at these wedding videos!

SFBG All he had to do was apply that skill to this project and he’s getting recognized for it.

K Right! Now he’s a go-to guy for music videos, or at least it definitely helped him.

SFBG What’s driving you? Do you have a dream gig?

K I’ve never thought about that. I just want to keep getting bigger and bigger, but the drive is to keep topping myself, to keep getting better. It’s a challenging show that we do. Singing live, dancing live. There’s no backing tracks and it seems like a lot of people sing over top of vocals to help with touring. Maybe I’m a purist, but I’m just like, “I won’t do it! I can’t do it!” I’d rather be out of tune than do that.

I work really hard, too. I’m always studying other artists. I’m kind of doing it all in the spotlight because it blew up so quickly. A lot of people develop off the stage or off the camera and then when it goes off, you’re seasoned. But with “Hideaway,” that was basically the first time I did the street dance. Ever. And now I’m really learning about that style of dance. I did ballet for years, so I was coordinated. I could pick up dance moves. But now I’m learning the movement, the style, the swag of all these other dances. It’s very different, but it’s fun. With all this creativity behind us, there really is no limit to how far we can go and what we can do.  

Marc E. Bassy on breaking down musical boxes


As a member of 2AM Club and a songwriter for artists like Chris Brown and Sean Kingston, San Francisco-raised Marc Griffin is an experienced pop music craftsman. But as Marc E. Bassy, solo artist, he’s a forward-thinking R&B auteur with more of an ear towards the genre’s growing experimental fringe. Only The Poets, Vol. 1, his new solo debut mixtape-EP (out July 29), features psychedelic, distinctly modern-sounding productions alongside hooks that could have come from any period in contemporary R&B history. Atop it all is his voice, an affable croon that tiptoes the ever-blurring line between rapping and singing.

Griffin currently resides in L.A., whose omnipresent pop industry has influenced his craft and helped him sharpen it. But he’s a Bay Area boy to the bone, and most of his collaborators hail from his hometown — from producer and namesake Count Bassy to rising Richmond rapper Iamsu! We caught up with Griffin the week his album dropped.


San Francisco Bay Guardian You’ve said your manifesto is “there are no more boxes.” Could you elaborate on this?

 Marc E. Bassy My manifesto is that when it comes to being creative musically there are no more boxes as pertains to genre, sound, style. It’s like that classic question — “what style of music do you make?” I make every style of music. 

SFBG When do you think those boxes started falling apart?

MEB I’d say since the dawn of the Internet age. Kids listen to songs they relate to and pick up on the vibe rather than the style. When I was growing up as a kid in San Francisco it was very black and white. You either listened to Tupac and liked Michael Jordan or you listened to Green Day and liked skateboarding. It was divided like that, and nowadays rap culture, skateboarding culture, punk culture has kind of swirled into one thing. Unless you’re going for a particular radio format. I’m a songwriter [for other artists] so I’ve thought about different radio formats, but I’m not making songs for the radio right now.

SFBG When you write for other artists do you write from your own perspective or try to inhabit a persona?

MEB The best songs I’ve written for other people I initially wrote for myself. When I’m writing for someone else I try to tap into the most honest feeling I have — it’s usually gonna be about love, or sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, what every song is about. Once I catch the vibe of the song I can change the lyrics.

SFBG Why did you decide to use a stage name for your solo work?

MEB I’ve kind of stepped away from my band. While my band was on hiatus I was writing songs for other people, and the response I kept getting was “we love this song, but we don’t know who would do it.” So that turned into me deciding to make my own project. I got the name because my biggest collaborator on Only The Poets, Vol. 1 is a producer out of San Francisco named Count Bassy, and every since I was a little baby my family called me Marc E. So I just went by Marc E. Bassy. It’s not a persona — it’s just me, everything I write has some personal resonance.

DB Are there other Bassys?

MEB Nah, it’s just the two of us. But the movement’s growing — I’m sure we’ll have some more. 

Fuck Buttons on their wildly visual live show, the writing process, and bringing “fuck” to the world stage


“I think I’ve heard of them before,” is the kind of spineless response you’ll never hear if you ask someone about Fuck Buttons.  If you’ve heard them, you’ll most definitely will remember.  With music that elicits feelings of wonder and rebellion, intense live shows, and of course an, err — catchy name, Benjamin John Power and Andrew Hung leave a lasting impression.

If you didn’t catch them when they played at The Independent last October, chances are you heard Fuck Buttons in 2012 when the band received arguably the most widespread kind of exposure — their tracks “Surf Solar” and “Olympians” were featured separately during the London Summer Olympics opening ceremony. Their self-produced third effort, Soft Focus, has earned the band a multitude of accolades, including an 8.7 and Best New Music honor from persnickety Pitchfork, as well as the #3 Dance Album Of The Year 2013 from Rolling Stone.

I got the opportunity to chat with Fuck Button Benjamin John Power about the process behind the band’s unique live performance set-up, as well as the AV show they’re bringing to the US for the first time.  The English experimental-electro duo are currently in the middle of a monthlong tour, coming back to The Independent this Fri/27.

San Francisco Bay Guardian So you just played North By Northeast. Taking some time off on the West Coast right now?

Benjamin John Power Yeah, that’s right.  Andy had to go home to a wedding so there is a slight break in the tour, but it’s cool.

SFBG I’m sure the time off to before the shows next week is welcomed.

BJP I get a week off in LA and my wife is coming out to join me for the time off. It’s nice to take a breather.

SFBG NXNE has such a diverse lineup, between all the acts and comedians.

BJP NXNE was great. Quick turnaround, but a really amazing crowd. I didn’t get a chance to see anyone else on the lineup, but I wish I could have seen Tim Hecker.

SFBG It’s funny you mention him. You’re familiar with Steve Hauschildt, yes?

BJP Yep, from Emeralds? I’m a fan.

SFBG I liken his and Tim Hecker’s music to your solo project, Blanck Mass. They form a genre I refer to as “lunar planning music.”

BJP Oh yeah? That’s a nice term.

SFBG I mean that in the best way possible.

BJP It is welcomed — fear not.

SFBG You recently played a show with Mount Kimbie that involved some some special visuals.  Can the stateside crowd expect anything like that?

BJP Yes, 100 percent. We have brought our full AV show with us this time — for the first time in the USA — so that’s totally in the cards. We wanted to make sure that the visual aspect wasn’t just a bunch of video loops, as a separate focus.  The visuals are interactive and in real time, so it’s a more interesting show and it’s working out really well.

SFBG Sounds great. I saw you last year at Primavera Sound, and your music translates really well on stage.

BJP Thank you. The live show and the recorded output go hand in hand, so when we write, we write in exactly the same way that we do when we play live — across the table from each other, with all the gadgets in front of us — so it translates easily into the live performance.

SFBG You also produced the last album (Soft Focus) yourselves — have other people been contacting you regarding production work?

BJP Yeah, a few people have.  We like to keep ourselves busy, and I think from working on the last record primarily by ourselves we have picked up some pretty helpful production tricks.

SFBG Last question — do you feel the word “fuck” is losing its potency?

BJP I don’t really think too much about the word fuck losing its potency. If anything, it probably makes my life easier, haha.

SFBG I can see that.  Being featured in the Olympics, you guys are like ambassadors of “fuck.”  Bringing “fuck” to the world stage.

BJP Yeah! Well, in those instances, everybody just seems to go with “F Buttons.” It’s really fine. What’s in a name anyway?

With Total Life
6/27, 9pm, $20
The Independent
628 Divisadero, SF


Muni sickout: Q&A with transit union president


It’s fair to say San Francisco is sick of the sickout.

Three days after hundreds of Muni workers called in sick to work, crippling the city’s transit system, City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a legal action against Muni workers’ union to end the pseudo-strike. 

Just as Herrera announced his intentions, the Bay Guardian sat down at the Transit Workers Unit local 250-A for an interview with Eric Williams, president of Muni’s worker union. 

Here are William’s answers to our questions. Pick up a copy of next week’s paper for a broader story on the Muni sickout and union backlash in San Francisco.

San Francisco Bay Guardian: Thanks for sitting down with me. This is obviously a contentious time for Muni workers. But let’s hear how this all started: What’s the nitty-gritty contract disagreement between the SFMTA and the union?

Eric Williams: We don’t have a problem paying our pension, despite what’s being said. We would like a fair even swap, just like everyone else had. The police, the fire department, every union in this city got a fair swap to help pay their own pension. Right now they want to offer us a bump to pay our own pension, but once we got our CPA to crunch the numbers, it’s all negative.

The city wants you to beleive it’s cost-neutral, but that’s not the case. Our members will be making $1.10 less an hour due to this negotiation. 

SFBG So you’ve said before that certain laws and codes have “stacked the deck” in negotiations against the union, in favor of the SFMTA. How does that work?

EW You have to read Prop G [regarding Muni operators’ salaries] and code A8.409 [prohibiting strikes] and say “is this fair?” 

We’re struggling, we’re coming into a negoatiaion with our hands tied behind our back. The beauracracy and the spinning of the words and statements is alive in the agency. 

It’s unfortunate the public thinks it’s the common workers’ fault on any of these issues. Our members have to take care of our families, our children, paying for college, just like you. 

[Proponents of Prop. G said] “Well, it will make everything fair.” Actually, it’s not.

A ten-minute video interview with TWU Local 255-A President Eric Williams, as he explains the motivations behind the sickout.

SFBG Let’s get into that a bit more. So you walk into a negotiation, you bring a proposal. The way most union negotiations work is two parties sit down and present proposals, but the Muni worker/SFMTA negotiation is unique. You have to prove something to the arbitrator. What do you have to prove?

EW Basically, we have to show we’re not going to be costly to the agency. But inflation is going up, how could we not be costly?

 We just want restrooms, but those are costly. We want raises, those are costly. We want better parking, that’s costly.

The arbitrator must side with the city if they feel the cost burden will be too high on the city. All SFMTA employees are under the same deal. I’ve been at four tables in the past few months and negotiated two contracts with parties other than the SFMTA. We had to go to mediation, those mediators told us to talk it over again (offering compromise). You take this proposal, you take this one. That’s not the case with the SFMTA negotiations.

SFBG Can Muni workers afford to live in San Francisco?

EW Definitely not. The only members that live inside the city are those who purchased a home 20 or so years ago. The majority of our members live outside the city. That’s what leads to the issue of transportation and parking. If you’re pulling a bus run at 5:30 in the morning, guess what, there’s no bus at 4am to get them there. They need parking. It’s poor or rich in this city, there’s no in between. That’s no secret.

SFBG How far back would you have to go to say a good strong bloc of members lived in the city?

EW At least 20-30 years. Early ’90s, ’80s. 

SFBG Let’s talk about the atmosphere with riders out there. We recently saw a BART strike, did you take a read on the reaction? The sickout, which seems similar … people seem to not be siding with the union on this. There’s a lot of animosity.

EW We thought people understood who were in charge of the economics. It’s unfortunate the public may believe it’s the common workers’ fault on the issues. 

If you look at the bargaining with BART, yes it caused frustration. Yes it did. But when you see them empathizing with the power, “yes we know this hurts, but we have a family too.” The only thing we can do is ring the bell and say “this is unfair.”

SFBG Do you feel there is a backlash against Muni workers for the sickout?

EW Honestly i couldn’t tell the difference, we’ve been drug over the coals for so long. The frustration you’ve seen the past few days, not brought by the union itself, but by the members, is real. 

But in reality our members encounter something different with the everyday riders. The mothers, the fathers, [they have] a different attitude. Of course we have that 10, 20 percent that no matter what we do, who say we’re wrong. But we have to take a stand as well. We’re important here. We take our jobs seriously, and we should be treated as such. 

[Those who disagree with us] need to challenge the agency on everything the agency tells them. The system is still not on time, you still don’t have enough employees to drive the buses on the ground. The SFMTA spends all this money but we’re not on time, we don’t have enough people. 

Those 10-20 percent [who disagree with the workers] need to read the charter. Any person with common sense, any person with a heart, ask themselves if that process is fair. 

SFBG You don’t think part of it is the view that Muni workers make much more than private sector workers?

EW There’ve always been good private sector employers out there. But unions got us weekends, unions got us better working hours, unions got you sick leave. But go out and ask how they feel, what they think the public’s issue with us because we’re making $60,000 a year, and you went to college for four years. Maybe it’s because we’re making a living, and you’re struggling. Well hey, come get a job as a bus driver if it’s that bad out there.


Elbow’s Craig Potter on iPads, tour fatigue, and hitting #1


By Andrew Blair

If you don’t know of Elbow by now, you should probably stop reading this and go spend some time under a tree, staring out into space, contemplating your existence up to this point. Unless, of course, you want to be brought up to speed and welcomed into a community of people who love the brooding baritone lyrical genius of lead singer Guy Garvey, sung over pulsing drums, spacey melodic piano, and topped off with anthemic triumphant sing-along choruses.

Manchster, England’s Elbow have quietly created an international following that stretches into the far corners of the globe (the band will be playing in Russia this week). Having recently released their sixth full-length album, The Take Off and Landing of Everything — which for the first time in their 20 year career debuted at #1 in their home territory of the UK — the band is now closing out a North American tour.

I had the pleasure of talking to keyboardist and arranger-producer Craig Potter before the band played a nearly sold out show at the Fox Theater, the second to last stop on a very successful North American Tour supporting their new LP.

San Francisco Bay Guardian How has the tour been thus far? Nearly every show has been sold out, and you just played the Sasquatch Festival. Any highlights? 

Craig Potter The tour has been really great, a huge success. We’ve been really happy, and the audiences have been really brilliant. Like you said, a lot of the shows have been sold out. It was really fun to sing “New York Morning” in New York; that was a highlight for us, I think.


SFBG This is your first time playing the Fox Theater. How do you like the venue? 

CP Oh wow, we just arrived actually. It is a beautiful room, big stage, really impressed with it so far.

SFBG So the new album debuted at #1 in the UK?

CP Yeah, we are very pleased about that. Our other albums have sold very well, but I don’t think we’ve ever got the #1 slot. We had a chance to [hit #1] with the last album, and it did really well in the first week, but it just so happened that Adele was selling millions every week so we kind of missed out. So this is our first one and we are very pleased.

SFBG Where did the majority of the songwriting happen for the album?

CP We are always writing a lot while we are on tour, and if we take big breaks it takes us awhile to get back into it. However, most of this album was written at home in Manchester. When we are home we all have different days off during the week. So what happened for this album was, we would get together with whoever was available, maybe one or two other band members, and work on the songs. Richard did a lot of the drums by himself, and we are all involved in the editing of the songs, but the lyrics are very much Guy’s lyrics.

SFBG There seems to be a travel or movement theme to a lot of the lyrics on this record, “New York Morning”  being one of the pillars of that theme. Was there something that Guy was going through that influenced the lyrical content of the songs?

CP Guy had recently broken up with a long time girlfriend and he was traveling to New York rather frequently, but the travel side of it is about touring as well. “New York Morning” is about Guy’s experiences there.

SFBG The song “Colour Fields” was created using mostly an iPad. Is that a process the band uses a lot?

CP There are loads of amazing apps out there and we don’t limit ourselves as far as hardware or technology — if it sounds good, it sounds good. The drum track for “Colour Fields” was created using an iPad.  There are lots of amazing things you can do with an iPad, so we definitely don’t shy away from it.

SFBG This being the second to last stop on this tour, are you all ready to go home, or being that it has been so successful, are you sad to see it end?

CP We try to keep these tours to about three weeks — by the time it gets to the end, it is nice to know you will be back home soon. Guy might give you a different answer, as he kind of is just getting going at this point and would like to see it continue a bit longer, but most of us have families now. I am certainly looking forward to going back.



The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger on going electric and the timeless combination of marijuana and Pink Floyd


By Rebecca Huval

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger is out to topple everyone’s expectations. The two-piece band has rather public identities to overcome: Sean Lennon is the only child of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and his girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl is a world-class model who was the youngest covergirl on Britain’s Harper’s Bazaar.

With their latest release, Midnight Sun, Kemp Muhl has shown she has the pipes and songwriting chops to be taken seriously as a musician, and Lennon has proved he’s more than just his father’s ghost — rather, he’s the inimitable frontman of The GOASTT.

In the trajectory of Sean Lennon’s solo career and The GOASTT’s six-year history, Midnight Sun is their going-electric moment. Sean Lennon’s subdued and minimalist solo music paved the way for The GOASTT’s initial albums to be acoustic and saccharine in what Kemp Muhl now describes as “nerdy folk music.” This April’s album is oh-so-different. Inherited Beatlesque psychedelica meshes with modern-day indie à la Tame Impala and Deerhunter. Midnight Sun rocks in full-fledged electric, with synthy splashes and warped vocal reverb. The album ranges from trippy tracks such as “Devil You Know,” with prismatic texture and thick percussion, to thoughtfully orchestrated ballads such as “Don’t Look Back Orpheus” and Kemp Muhl’s graceful solo, “Johannesburg.”

Ahead of The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger’s show at Great American Music Hall on Tue/20, I spoke with Charlotte Kemp Muhl about meeting Lennon at Coachella, the aha moment listening to Pink Floyd that triggered the band’s psychedelic shift, and how she balances jet-setting modeling and music careers.

San Francisco Bay Guardian You met Sean at Coachella in 2006. How did you strike up a conversation?

Charlotte Kemp Muhl I don’t remember which one of us struck up the conversation, but we were magnetized to each other. We were talking about things like Stephen Hawking, whatever random thing we’d read that week, and claymation. I just thought he was so eccentric and wearing this suit in the middle of the desert. He was with his friend Vincent Gallo, who told him, “Don’t go for that girl, she’s crazy.” I just remember he was really enthusiastic about things and unusual and childlike, even though he was much older than me [30 years old]. I was 17 at the time. We connected immediately.

SFBG Have you put a pause on your modeling career to concentrate on music?

CKM Kind of, it tag-teams. I have to do modeling to support doing music. I would never be able to afford collecting instruments, and unfortunately, it’s really hard to make money as a musician. You don’t! I have to do modeling to do music, but I can’t wait until I can retire and just concentrate on music. In a way the two careers are complementary. Fashion and music are connected like Siamese twins. In the sense that rock n’ roll has been influencing fashion and fashion, rock n’ roll for a long time. They’re incestuous industries.

SFBG Who are some of your musical role models?

CKM Hendrix, Syd Barret, and Bach.

SFBG What have you learned about music from working with Sean?

CKM The area in which I’ve most grown is rhythmically. He’s taught me a lot about being funky and syncopation. He’s an amazing drummer, and I’ve been teaching myself how to play drums by watching him. I learned a lot about arranging. We’ve both influenced each other a lot. It’s been fun.

SFBG Why did you wait until a year after you were dating to share your musical talents with Sean?

CKM I was shy. Everyday someone comes up to him with a demo CD. I didn’t want to be like that. I never thought we’d work together. I thought he’d do his solo career. I showed him one of the childhood songs I wrote, and he loved the melody and insisted that we work together. He quit his solo career to work with his mom and work with me. I hope he goes back to his solo career, fingers crossed for that, but he’s very shy. It’s been fun doing heavier rock music because it’s forcing him to be more of a frontman. We’re not just doing Sonny & Cher melodies. I really want him to be a frontman. He spent so much of his life being a sideman.

SFBG As a solo artist, Sean seemed very minimal and moody. Then, it seemed like The GOASTT started out very sweetly and softly with your acoustic album. Now, The GOASTT is more edgy, percussive, and textured. What do you contribute to his sound?

CKM I pushed us even further into a Pink Floyd, psychedelic direction. When we were doing a tour in France, I discovered the pairing of marijuana and [Pink Floyd’s] Live at Pompeii. We were at some cheap hotel in France, and it was freezing cold. Something just clicked in my mind, and I wanted to be doing psychedelic music and not nerdy folk music. Sean had always been into that shit so he was into that direction. That’s the ultimate cliche, marijuana and Pink Floyd, but it worked! We were opening up for Johnny Hallyday and Matthieu Chedid. He’s huge in France, like the Michael Jackson.

SFBG What was at like playing at Occupy Wall Street?

CKM It was fun. A lot of our friends were doing that at the time, and we were excited that people were getting together to protest because people are placated by their gadgets and they rarely show interest and support. We just came to support anti-fracking and we didn’t even think Sean would get flack for supporting OWS. People online were saying he’s the one percent, which is ridiculous, he’s not in the one percent. I mean technically, anyone with a color TV is in the one percent of the world. We performed a bluegrass version of “Material Girl,” by Madonna. It was supposed to be ironic.

SFBG Have you collaborated with Yoko Ono? What is like working with her?

CKM I played bass for her for a while for her festivals and her shows. We’re around a lot. She doesn’t really collaborate with people, she’s like a singular, visionary person. Sean is much more into collaborating and working with people. She’s more of a leader of an army. She’s like a visionary. You just do what she says kind of a thing.

SFBG What has been your favorite part of working with Sean?

CKM I’ve been working with other musicians without him around. Sean plays every instrument like a virtuoso. In the studio, it’s like a super weapon. I send him in to overdub instrument ideas, and then I’ll edit them all together. We can cover a lot of ground that way. I’ve noticed with other musicians, they’re very limited. They only play one of two instruments, and don’t have a bird’s eye view of songwriting. Sean always have great ideas about rhythm and harmony. We both have a million ideas, and it’s frustrating when you work with someone who’s not that inspired.

SFBG I know you’re a multi-instrumentalist: What instruments do you play on Midnight Sun?

CKM On the record, I play bass, keyboard parts, guitar, percussion, and arranged harmonies. The main instrument I play is Pro Tools. I do all the editing and all that stuff.

SFBG It seems like the album switches between different settings: Xanadu, a missed flight to Johannesburg, traveling to the underworld with Orpheus. Where were you when you wrote these songs? What was your process for collaborating?

CKM I wrote the words for Johannesburg when I was in Johannesburg with a Pirelli shoot for Peter Beard. “Xanadu” and “[Don’t Look Back] Orpheus” we wrote upstate on his farm. We would stay up all night writing acoustic songs in his bed. We would walk down to his studio, which is by a lake, and jam it. Other than “Johannesburg,” I write a part and then he writes a part. It’s like one of those drawings when you fold up a napkin and each of you draw part of a monster.

With Syd Arthur
Tue/20, 8pm, $15
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF

A tUnE-yArDs phone date from the road


Being weird in a good way seems like a more difficult status for artists to attain than it used to be. We can tell when you’re trying too hard — the Gaga meat dress, the Miley tongue-wags felt ’round the world — and it’s straight-up unappealing. Thanks to Ye Olde Internet, we’re also genuinely harder to shock than we used to be. At the same time, the acceptable box that artists seem to need to fit into to be marketable, to achieve anything like mainstream success, feels smaller all the time.

Enter tUnE-yArDs: Even if you count yourself in the camp of people who “just don’t get” the music, there’s no denying that the delightful weirdness that spews forth from the brain of Oakland’s Merrill Garbus has never felt anything but authentic. On her new album, Nikki Nack — out today on 4AD — she seems more than ever like she’s receiving musical cues from sort of secret invisible wood nymph from the future, and also that wood nymph has been listening to a lot of drumming and hand-clapping videos and maybe some Janet Jackson lately. She (Garbus) keeps you guessing, and you get the sense that that’s due, in part, to keeping herself guessing. All of this is good. It’s good for music.

Garbus debuted some new songs last month at The Chapel, then hit the road for a national tour, including several dates opening for the Arcade Fire. She won’t be back in the Bay until two Fillmore shows (June 6 and 7, with Sylvan Esso and The Seshen opening, respectively), but she gave us a call from the road to chat about the new record’s Haitian influences, how tour is going so far, and The Arcade Fire’s culinary prowess.

San Francisco Bay Guardian Thanks for talking! Where are you right now?

Merrill Garbus I’m in a hotel room in Nashville, Tennessee. We just drove all the way from Columbus and now we have a night off, which is nice. But I’ll probably spend most of it on the phone, doing interviews.

SFBG I’m so sorry.

MG No, it’s great! It’s your job! (laughs) I’m excited that people want to talk about the record.

SFBG I do love the new record. Can you talk a little about how heavy it is on the drums, and some of its Haitian influences? I know you traveled to Haiti not too long ago.

MG Thanks so much. As far as the Haitian influences, I would say it was less about the trip than a community I got involved with at home, at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts in downtown Oakland, which is a center for African arts, and the culture of Africa and the diaspora. It’s an incredible place. So for about a year I was studying with Portsha Jefferson, who is an amazing American woman who has devoted much of her life to studying Haitian folklore and dance, and Daniel Brevil, a Haitian-born drummer who teaches drum classes. This company they’ve created in Oakland is a community of people who are studying and immersed in Haitian culture, to see how it’s affected people around the world, especially as the first independent black republic that’s been an inspiration for generations of people. 

For me it was, oh my gosh, music and revolution and cultural history, and folk music versus pop music, all of those [topics] were really present in studying with these two people. And it was important to me that I wasn’t just going “Oh, that sounds cool, give me that cool rhythm” — I was a student of those drums. And there are definitely through lines of Haitian drumming in a lot of the songs that, lyrically, deal with the relationship between the quote-unquote developed world and the developing.

SFBG Your last album, 2011’s w h o k i l l, brought you to such a bigger platform (the national stage, really) than your first one had. Did you feel pressure with this album to follow that up with something even bigger, or to try to reach the people who still don’t “get” you?

MG I really do everything I can to not think about what how other people are going to receivewhat I’m making while I’m making it, because it just kills it right away. It’s something I have to practice, just like I have to practice singing or practice things with music, I have to practice not considering what other people think. Especially when you feel like you’re failing, because there are always moments when you’re making something going ‘This is not good.’ Or ‘people are not gonna like it.’

It’s the same thing with reading reviews or interviews — unless someone tells me “Oh, I think this one would actually really be helpful for you to read.” Otherwise it’s kind of poison, regardless of it’s good or bad. Because there’s a sense of being outside of yourself, and I always want to get really inside myself. I kinda shut down on the social media.

SFBG How’s Oakland treating you these days? Have you reached the point where you feel like a a kind of famous person, or is life pretty much business as usual?

MG You know, people say hi at the farmer’s market, but no one really cares. Which is great. Oakland’s been really good for my head, and I feel like there are a number of factors that keep me grounded. My relationship, the ways I’ve started to ground myself. It helps to remember that it’s all a mirage — I mean, if I give [press and publicity] any more weight than that, it’s kind of entering into the fictional world.

SFBG How’s tour been going so far? What’s it like opening for the Arcade Fire?

MG It’s awesome. One of them the other day was like, “If you want to sit in on anything, let us know,” and I was just like — I don’t even know what that would be, or mean (laughs). They’ve been so nice to us. I knew some of these guys from Montreal, and what they want to do is nerd out about music. Which is exactly what I want it to be about. They’re crazy, too; they play for two hours.

Tour in general — I love seeing new places around the world. Driving from Denver to Nashville is such a cool way to see this country, and we got to go to Australia this year, Europe several times. I do have to navigate my extreme fear of getting ill on the road, and it’s not so emotionally easy to be with seven people riding in a van for so long, but that’s why I feel so lucky that all the people with me are really dedicated to the project — Nate [Brenner] and I wrote a lot of this music together and then asked these people to play it with us for the next few months of their lives, and there’s no way I could do it without them. I’m also really excited that we sold out the Fillmore.

SFBG Best thing you’ve eaten on this tour?

MG When we were in Kansas City, the Arcade Fire guys got these huge things of barbecue backstage, and they knew what they were doing. Let me think…yeah, definitely that.

José James on Ice-T, moving forward, and stone-cold jazz


By Micah Dubreuil

You might not be alone if you do a double-take when hearing José James’ new single for the first time. The song, “EveryLittleThing,” off the singer’s forthcoming album on Blue Note Records (While You Were Sleeping, out June 10), recalls a grinding club hit more than the effortless mix of jazz and neo-soul that made him famous. It is a surprise, to say the least — the driving, electric sound is nothing like the mellow and easy cool of his previous record, No Beginning No End, released in 2013.

And that’s just fine with James. The 36-year-old singer is a perpetual denier of expectations. He was born and raised in Minneapolis, maybe not the first city that comes to mind when you think of jazz. After appearing as a finalist in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Vocal Competition in 2004, James released two albums with a heavy influence of electronic house music, produced by British DJ Giles Peterson. His third album was a duo set of jazz standards with pianist Jef Neve, but it wasn’t until he recorded the groove-based single for No Beginning No End that he was signed to the legendary Blue Note Records.

That album and platform brought him to a broader audience worldwide, compelling listeners with its sophisticated grooves and his rich tenor voice. The presence of some of the modern messiahs of cool (the band included Grammy-winning keyboardist Robert Glasper and bassist Pino Palladino — the later revered for his work on D’Angelo’s Voodoo), cemented James’ place at the forefront of the hip young jazz and soul scene.

But even on that album there were hints of a broader agenda. Landing right in the middle of the record was a track that could only be described as guitar-driven acoustic pop, a left turn in a career of left turns. Perhaps the defining trait of his generation is the habitual rejection of genre boundaries, and James has no intention of letting up. As part of his tour to promote the new record, James will hit The Independent Saturday, April 26. We spoke over the phone while he was in Chicago.

San Francisco Bay Guardian You’re on tour previewing your new album which, based on the single “EveryLittleThing,” has a very different sound from your previous work. What was the inspiration to go in this direction?

José James A lot of people don’t understand the lifespan of a project. It was three years from the start of writing No Beginning No End to the last tour. By that point we had gotten really comfortable with the material. I wanted more energy. I love neo-soul and R&B, but I wanted to go back to how I used to feel about music as a teenager, when it was all about the Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, and Nirvana.

SFBG For this album you’ve started writing on guitar. What sparked that decision?

JJ The guitar came back into my life when I was recording the song “Sword + Gun” in Paris with Hindi Zahra (off No Beginning) because we didn’t have a band at that session. It’s how we came up with the initial riff. From that moment on I thought: “I should play guitar again.”

SFBG What’s different about the band on this tour?

JJ No horns, just keys, bass, drums and guitars. Almost everybody is doubling. If they’re not alternating on two instruments they’re singing as well. It really feels like a band now, instead of just a jazz band.

SFBG Every album you make sounds really different. Is this an intentional decision or product of musical exploration?

JJ I think it’s both. I would never be happy just doing the same thing. Whatever I release an album I have to tour it for a year, maybe two, which is a long time. Coming from a jazz background I really need things to be fresh night after night, so it has to be material that can grow.

After working on No Beginning No End for three years, I had explored every option in a hip-hop/groove/neo-soul/jazz project that I wanted to do. It was the same with Miles and Coltrane: they would exhaust all the possibilities of a certain style, so moving on wasn’t really a choice. It’s not like I’m sitting there thinking “I’m going to mess up people’s heads with the next one” — it just kind of happens like that. For me it’s such a natural progression, but when you release a single or album it takes people by surprise, especially if they haven’t been with you for the journey.

SFBG How has the response been so far?

JJ It’s been really great. I think people are surprised by the sound and hearing me in that sound on Blue Note Records. It was cool of them to drop “EveryLittleThing” as a single. People are curious when they hear it — it makes them more interested in what the album’s going to sound like. I think honestly it’s the best album I’ve ever made. The songwriting and production are way above anything I’ve ever done, so I’m super excited.

SFBG So Blue Note has been supportive of your decision to make this kind of music?

JJ There are a lot of people who work at Blue Note. Don Was is super supportive and he’s the president, so that energy flows from the top down. There are definitely some stone-cold jazz people, both at the label and in the community, but honestly Blue Note hasn’t been a stone-cold jazz label for a long time. I think the single took everybody by surprise, especially because they were so in love with “No Beginning No End,” which is an easy album to fall in love with.

SFBG There’s a young generation of Blue Note musicians (yourself, Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge, Takuya Kuroda, etc.) that are redefining the terms of modern jazz. Do you feel like you guys are part of a community, in terms of exploring and expanding what jazz can be today?

JJ Yeah, absolutely, we all help each other along. It’s just a generational shift. It’s not such a huge deal for us; I don’t even know if it’s expansion. Hodge and Glasper play with Maxwell, and they play with Mos Def, and then they play their own stuff. It’s just the normal reality of musicians of that level now. We just want to play music. It’s different for me, because I’m not an instrumentalist, so it always comes under my name and that brings a little bit of pressure, you know what I mean? But it’s a cool scene and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

SFBG Do you expect to reach a wider audience with the new sound?

JJ I mean, that’s always the goal for anything, really. I think there’s a core José James fan who understands I’m going to do something different on every album. With each album I definitely hope to bring in different people. When I did Blackmagic, I connected with Flying Lotus and other DJs and producers. It’s not necessarily a conscious effort but the music takes it in different directions. We’re still playing some jazz clubs in the US — which is kind of funny, hearing a song like “EveryLittleThing” in a jazz club. You’d be surprised: we played at a jazz club in Boston two nights ago and people loved it. It’s all in the presentation. I don’t start with that song. I lead people to it so they understand it musically.

SFBG What shows did you go see when you were growing up?

JJ Mostly I would see any hip-hop show I could get to, like Das EFX or De La Soul or basically anybody who came through Minneapolis. It was a good music city to grow up in; First Avenue was still pretty fresh and Prince had a club downtown where he would play sometimes. I remember seeing Ice-T perform “Colors,” and he came out for the second set and did the Body Count stuff. It was cool to see Ice-T do heavy metal. I think people forget about that because now it’s so straight-laced: bands just do one thing. But back then people were really mixing it up in cool ways. I remember Digable Planets touring with horn players.

SFBG Did you listen to jazz?

JJ I didn’t see jazz live, but once I discovered the archives – Blue Note, Prestige, impulse! – I turned into a crazy record-buyer. I bought everything I could and became obsessed with getting the whole catalogue. It was something that nobody else knew about at my school, and I thought I was that much cooler because I was checking out all the music that Q-Tip and those guys were sampling.

SFBG What do you think about the future of jazz?

JJ Jazz is a at place where it’s going to be firmly museum-music, and there’s something to be said that as much as people can hate on new music, it’s music that people like. It speaks to them. This is the point where jazz artists need to decide whether we are going to be keepers of the flames or we’re going to stay current. I know that people like Herbie Hancock or Quincy Jones were able to take their jazz skills and make amazing music. Anytime I listen to “Off The Wall” or any of the Al Green stuff I think to myself: a jazz mind is responsible for this.

SFBG Do you have any influences that might surprise people?

JJ Kurt Cobain. I know it’s the anniversary of his death, but he’s one of the artists who really had an impact on me at an early age. His influence is like a John Coltrane or a Marvin Gaye. I think the unplugged album that Nirvana made shows what a great band they were and what a great songwriter he was.That’s what I’m focusing on right now. More so than a sound I really want to write great songs that have meaning and really mark a time and place.

José James
With Moonchild
9pm, $18
The Independent
628 Divisadero, SF

Juana Molina on the value of repetition and how music is like cooking with an audience


By Rob Goszkowski

In the past, Argentinean singer-songwriter Juana Molina took her time to craft carefully looped and layered beatscapes before her audiences. Her approach has changed, per the artistic demands of her most recent release, Wed 21. The songs are more condensed, but the aesthetic is the same.

There is a primal quality to her music, like she is tapping into a great heartbeat and proceeds to drape the sounds of whatever instrument has ahold of her attention at that moment. Her experimental pop has gained acclaim from world music fans and critics at prominent publications alike. The performer, who is still known for her successful career in comedy back home as well as her music, will be at The Independent with her band tomorrow night, Thu/24. We caught up with her before the show.

San Francisco Bay Guardian I understand that Wed 21 was recorded only by you in your apartment. Are you self-taught on all of these instruments that appear on the album?

Juana Molina Yes, I suppose. But let me make a little clarification: All of my records were done on my own at home. There is some misunderstanding there because everybody is asking me the same thing! When I’m recording and I find a new sound, figuring out what to do with it is the key. I’m not looking for or seeking anything. There is something that happens between the sounds and me.

SFBG As a listener, it is easy to go into a kind of trance while hearing your music, you can get lost in it.

JM That’s exactly what happens to me! It’s true! I just get lost and I let the sound take me for a ride. I just do whatever the sound tells me to do and I follow. Sometimes it’s so long — and I hate it a little bit. Because I think, “Oh, I can’t have a 45-minute song that does the exact same thing the entire time.” But I’m so into it when I get there. That’s probably why some people, like you in this case, get the same effect. It is the sound that is leading the ride.

SFBG You have talked about the value of repetition, of playing something over and over again. What is that about?

JM I think the answer comes from the idea that I loop things in my recordings, which is something that I don’t do. I very much enjoy playing the same thing over and over. Because I am taken by it. So I make very long recordings because sometimes, even if it sounds like the same thing — it is not the same thing. If you put one on top of the other, you hear the difference. When it’s really nice and I want to keep it, I need to go through it part by part, step by step, because everything needs to fit with what was played at that time. Putting it together can become a nightmare because sometimes I play for hours and hours.

SFBG Does this approach make playing before an audience with a limited amount of time difficult?

JM No. Because the process of putting sounds together for a live show is a completely different process. You know what the song is about, because you worked on it for months. And then what you need to do is to figure out sounds are essential to it, what makes the song a song. This record was especially hard to put together live because of the dynamics. For previous records, where I built up layers up layers on to layers — that was easy to do in the live show. The dynamics are so different on this one that it took me forever to translate it for the live show. Now that we’ve managed to put it together, we don’t understand why it took us so long. Now it is easy, it’s obvious.

SFBG So you and the band had a breakthrough.

JM It seems so easy now. When we compare this tour to our previous one in Europe, we can’t believe the difference. Now it’s so tight — and I say this now when it risks making the next show a mess — but there’s confidence we have gained over the months. The previous record had very long songs. I would play one loop and add layers upon layers. It was like cooking for the people, in front of the people. Waiting for the onions to be a little more brown, now I add a little bit of salt, then let’s go with tomatoes — mmm, tomatoes! What else to add? And at the end of the song, we have the dish ready. But these songs are so short, that they need to be ready as soon as you start them. The energy must be completely different, it has to be there from the beginning. That is something I had to learn.

With Emily Jane White

8pm, $15
The Independent
628 Divisadero, SF

Q&A: Queer Rebels on accessibility, representation, and the challenges queer people of color still face


It’s not that Modern Family and your Gender Studies reading list aren’t doing anything for queer and trans representation — but there are still stories to be told, and ears to be reached.

Since 2008, it has been the mission of Queer Rebels founders Celeste Chan and KB Boyce to bring the art, history, and stories of queer and trans people of color to stages and screens, where it can be shared and celebrated. This weekend, Queer Rebels return with Liberating Legacies, a free, all-ages, multi-ethnic, multi-genre show at the San Francisco Public Library [Sun/20]. As the show date approaches, we caught up with Queer Rebels via email to get an idea of what to expect from Liberating Legacies, and the importance of accessibility to the arts.

San Francisco Bay Guardian What was the planning process for Liberating Legacies? What is different or new about this show compared to other Queer Rebels performances?

Queer Rebels Liberating Legacies celebrates the vibrant visions of queer/trans artists of color today. It is multi-ethnic, offering a sampling of all our different programs — from experimental film to SPIRIT: Queer Asian, Arab, and Pacific Islander Artivism, to our popular Queer Harlem Renaissance show. We’re so thrilled that Liberating Legacies is free, all ages, and multi-ethnic. We’ve wanted to do this for a while.

SFBG What is the importance of making a show like Liberating Legacies free and all ages?

QR We’re so excited to partner with the SF Public Library to provide access through this great venue. Our mission is to showcase queer and trans artists of color, connect generations, and honor our histories with art for the future. In keeping with our mission, we really want to reach youth and elders, and anyone barred access to art due to economic stress. Art has long been a tool for resistance in communities of color. It is the passing on of histories, and cultural reclamation. We do this to energize our community through the arts, to create our own culture, and to inspire hope. Art can create the world anew.

SFBG What are the current issues of accessibility in terms of art and representation of QTPOC communities? It’s a popular opinion that media and popular entertainment have become more progressive and inclusive, but what’s still missing?

QR It is true, we’re in a different place than we were 10, 20, or 30 years ago, when queer/trans of color representation was a real rarity. Now we have role models like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox, but we still have RuPaul’s DragRace using slurs like “she-male,” and disrespecting trans women. Queer/trans youth of color face racial violence and homophobia. Approximately 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT, LGBT people of color face multiple barriers or forms of oppression, and LGBT elders of color face isolation. So we still have a lot of work to do. We want art that speaks to these realities, created by our communities. There needs to be space for all of us. Beyond positive representation, we need to see queer and trans people of color in all of our complexities and diverse histories!

SFBG What can we look forward to seeing at Liberating Legacies? What would you tell someone who has never been to a QR show to expect from your performances?

QR We’re bringing diverse arty interpretations to Liberating Legacies. From “tropical Sci-Fi” to transgressive torch singers; Afrocentric literary duets to pop music manifestos; experimental film, world class Blues — and beyond! We’ve got something for everyone, and it is free, vibrant, and alive — very much of this moment! We pay homage to our ancestors and march boldly into the future. Artist MA Brooks once told us, “you two embody your mission statement.” It really resonates now. We are a multi-generational, Queer Black and Asian artist and activist couple. Queer Rebels is our lovechild: beautiful and rebellious, aesthetic and experimental, born from our experiences as people of color in punk and DIY scenes, and created with riotously gay love and joy.
Liberating Legacies
Sun/20, 2pm, free
San Francisco Public Library, Koret Auditorium
100 Larkin, SF
 (415) 581-3500

Q&A: Punk veteran Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham


After more than 20 years of playing an important role in the formation and evolution of a variety of bands including the Cadillac Tramps, Youth Brigade, U.S. Bombs and Social Distortion, Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham is finally stepping into the spotlight on his own with his first solo record, the excellent Salvation Town, (Isotone Records/Thirty Tigers) which hit stores earlier this week.

Steeped in a tasty mix of roots rock and Americana, the collection of 10 original songs has been a long time coming, due to a variety of reasons, according to Wickersham, who plays San Francisco tonight and tomorrow [Thu/3 and Fri/4], opening for Chuck Ragan at Slim’s and the Great American Music Hall.

“I worked on it really sporadically over the past couple of years — Social D was very busy after we put out Hard Times and Nursery Rhymes, and we were constantly on the road for two and a half years. On breaks in between tour runs I’d go in the studio and work on it a little bit. It’s actually been finished for over a year, aside from the artwork, and this is a pretty good time to put it out because Social D has been on a break for while,” says Wickersham over the phone from his home in Los Angeles.

Although he grew up in the outhern California punk scene, and has played with some of the luminaries of the genre, Wickersham says there has always been a thread of other, older influences running through his music.

“As far as the influences I had growing up over the years, most of it comes from two places, the first being the music I heard growing up at home; my father was a musician, and he basically raised me by playing in bar bands, so the music that I heard spanned rock n’ roll, funk and country.”

“When I got into punk rock, which was around 1980, at the same time I was discovering Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash, and then California bands like Black Flag and The Adolescents, I was discovering The Blasters and X — that part of the L.A. punk scene was sort of rockabilly, and the Americana part of that scene. To me, that was part of punk rock, it wasn’t separate,” says Wickersham.

“I’m not a purist — there are a lot of people who are rockabilly purists or they’re country music purists, I’ve never been a purist about any type of music that I like, I stumble across what I stumble across, and I have sounds I like.”


Much of the record is built around Wickersham’s acoustic guitar, with a wide variety of friends and guests adding their talents to different songs, including Jackson Browne, Pete Thomas (longtime drummer for Elvis Costello), singer Gaby Moreno, and his Social Distortion band mates Brent Harding, Danny McGough and David Hidalgo, Jr.
“I didn’t initially want to go ‘solo,’ and be the ‘solo artist’ guy, coming from my background, for some reason that was so uncomfortable. The intention was to start a band that I can be the songwriter of as a vehicle to do my stuff, the way I want,” says Wickersham.

“There were just so many players that ended being involved, though, so I thought, well this isn’t a band, this really is a solo record, with a bunch of guest artists.”

The extra touches brought by his friends, such as shared vocals, accordion, and guitar solos all add to the great overall sound of the album, but the real strength of the record is the solid foundation of the songs themselves, all written solely by Wickersham with the exception of just a couple.

With catchy hooks and strongly emotive melodies paired with frank lyrics about his hard-lived past such as “I’ve got one foot in the gutter, and one foot kickin’ in the door to heaven,” the collection of songs was written over the course of many years.

Wickersham says getting to this point as a songsmith has taken a lot of hard work — but he’s had a lot of inspiration along the way as well.

“I was just learning how to write songs in the early days of the Cadillac Tramps, and Brian Coakely, who played guitar along with me in that band, is a great songwriter, he’s always been really prolific, and he works really hard at it. He really was the first person that I had ever met in my life that took the craft of songwriting as seriously as he did. When you’re coming up in punk bands—everybody wrote their own songs and stuff—but it wasn’t viewed as ‘I’m a songwriter,’ you know what I mean?” Wickersham laughs.

“Then I played with Youth Brigade, and did a record with them, one that I’m very proud to be part of, but again, Shawn [Stern] wrote the bulk of that stuff, as he should, it’s Youth Brigade—it’s Shawn, Mark and Adam’s band.”

Wickersham also played with Duane Peters and U.S. Bombs for a while before joining Social Distortion in 2000 after the death of his friend Dennis Danell, and has since co-written several songs with front man Mike Ness.

“When I started playing with Social D, and for Mike [Ness] to ask me to be part of the songwriting was just an amazing honor; he hadn’t written with anybody in the band aside from some stuff he did with John Mauer in the early 90s and the very, very early stuff that he and Dennis wrote together,” says Wickersham.

“With each one of those I learned a little bit more about songwriting and what it was I wanted to do as a songwriter. So it’s been a long time coming — I guess I’m just kind of a slow learner!”

Although he took everything that he learned from writing in all the bands he’s played with over the years, Wickersham wanted to make sure that he set himself apart from them at the same time.

“I didn’t want it to sound like any other band I have been in, but with me singing, that was a really intentional thing. One of the things about this record that was kind of freaking me out a little bit while we were making it was that it just didn’t seem natural to make it have a lot of big guitar on it, it just wasn’t working. I kept trying to get that guitar foundation, that bedrock that I’m so used to doing. So most of the songs ended up having an acoustic rhythm, and a different style of electric rhythm.”

Wickersham says that when he was still planning on having the project turn into an actual band, he spent a lot of time trying to come up with a name for the group—a task that he says was much more daunting that he thought it would be.

“Everything cool that I could come up with had been taken. No one will ever get to find a cool band name like The Pretenders or The Jam again, some simple, one-word bitchin’ thing. Now I understand why so many of these young kids are forming bands with names that are like a paragraph long,” Wickersham laughs.

Eventually the name that came to him was Salvation Town, which was the name of a song by his friend’s band Joyride, a title that Wickersham says spoke to him about growing up in Southern California, the punk scene, skateboarding and more.

The “Two Bags” moniker has stuck with him for many years, and Wickersham says there were several reasons that the nickname was given to him back in the old days.

“I was very young when they gave me that nickname, it’s almost like a lifetime ago. It’s kind of a threefold thing; it’s a take on the old Slickers tune ‘Johnny Too Bad,’ and then had to do with drugs, and back then, so many of us kids in that world ended up living out on the street.”

Wickersham has come a long way since his turbulent youth, and Salvation Town appears to be the start of a fruitful path for the 45 year-old guitar slinger, who is most pleased with the results.

“I’m super proud, I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.”

Jonny “Two Bags” Wickersham
Opening for Chuck Ragan & The Camaraderie and The White Buffalo
Thursday, April 3
8pm, $21-$23
333 11th St, SF
(415) 522-0333
Friday, April 4
8pm, $21-$23
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
(415) 885-0750



Ana Tijoux on motherhood, Breaking Bad, and un-learning colonialist history


By Rebecca Huval

If you’re tired of mainstream Latin hip-hop — which, right now, is disproportionately made up of reggaeton beats, male MCs, and bitter lyrics — then Ana Tijoux is the lady rapper for you.

The French-Chilean artist upends the genre. Instead of bragging about her millions, she advocates for cultural pride. Instead of barking at her enemies, she weaves a soothing spool of words that remixes the Spanish language into silk. She has evolved from using samples to working with a live band in a textured, colorful sound all its own, incorporating brass, jazz inflections, and a smorgasbord of South American instruments such as Andean charangos and pan-flutes.

You might have heard Tijoux’s origin-story track, “1977,” on Breaking Bad, as Jesse and Mike make deliveries through a desolate Southwestern landscape. The song describes the year she was born in France to parents who were exiled during the military dictatorship in Chile. Her alternating flow and staccato make the mind-numbing road trip seem badass. Following that sophomore record, La Bala, Tijoux is releasing a mature album with lush orchestration March 18: Vengo. The following evening, Wed/19, she’ll hit The Independent.

Calling to mind Erykah Badu, Tijoux is a poet with a low, creamy voice and a call for algre rebelde, or joyful rebellion. Her lyrics will make you feel like the top of your head was taken off, to paraphrase Emily Dickinson. “I come as a child who sought entrance to his/ home, the entrance to his origin, the return to/ his crusade, I come seeking silenced history/ the history of a land pillaged/ I come with the world and I come with the birds,” Tijoux raps in the title track of Vengo. In the shadow of Pinochet’s Chile, Tijoux is rebuilding dignity in her heritage with thoughtful, joyous rap.

Ahead of her show Wednesday night, we caught up with her by phone to talk about why it’s better to protest with beauty, how it felt to move from France to Chile as a teenager, and what it was like to dance with a man in an octopus suit in a music video.

San Francisco Bay Guardian How did you start rapping, and what female rappers influenced you?

Ana Tijoux I think I began when I was 20, very naturally, out of necessity because I needed to communicate. The woman who inspired me first was Bahamadia. And then I began to rhyme and write, and then I began to learn about more female MCs: MC Lyte, and when I was younger, Queen Latifah.

SFBG I’ve read that you consider yourself to be shy. How do you find the strength to perform in front of so many audiences?

AT Because I’m an amazing actress. [Laughs] On stage, I’m singing, I’m communicating, so I forget about the audience. It’s energy, and you begin a dialogue with people. That’s one of the moments when I feel free. It doesn’t matter what happens, I just do it.

SFBG Why did you move to Chile in 1993?

AT Because my parents were exiled in France, and I’m from there, and when refugees could come back I came with my parents. It was hard, very hard. I was a teenager and you’re in the construction of a personality. You’re fighting between a child and an adult in one personality, and then to change continents was hard. It was also one of the most amazing moments in my life. And it was a moment of a lot of lessons, but I understood about them more later, not immediately. I understood about friends, and about how the North robs so many things from the South. It was a political education.

SFBG Your 2007 video for “Eres Para Mi” with Julieta Venegas is goofy and delightful. It looks like you had a lot of fun making it. What was it like dancing with a man in an octopus suit and a nun?

AT The most hilarious moment in my life. When she made the video she didn’t tell me an octopus would be there, so it was a surprise. And I’m shy, like I told you, so I tried to act the best that I could. I didn’t know I would have an octopus near to me.

SFBG How did you write an album with your young children around?

AT It was an amazing moment, but very hard with time. I learned so much, like trying to be a mother with the [artistic] creation and no sleeping. At the same time, it was amazing. I learned time is a precious treasure and so valuable. I can’t lose time anymore in stupidity. The time I have is for creation or friends and family. It was hard to be honest, but really amazing.

SFBG Why did you decide to work with a live band instead of using samples?

AT I work with the best musicians I could have imagined. The songs have different vision with drums because it can be longer, or if the bassist has a solo, each instrument sings and gives a different color. It feels so organic and every instrument can give one texture to a song, and different movement and weather in the songs.

SFBG In “Vengo,” you say “Without fear you and I decolonize/what we were taught.” How have you unlearned what you were taught about Chile’s history?

AT I feel like everything I learned in school was with a colonized vision. You become interested in your roots, you understand that how you learned history is so different than what happened. In Chile, we live in a country with people with brown and black hair, and in publicity they have women with blond hair. All this publicity is about who we should be, and I’m saying we should be proud of who we are as a society and a community.

In America, they say it’s been 500 years since they discovered the continent. They didn’t discover it, people were here before the colonizers arrived. We’re changing the vision and vocabulary.

SFBG I loved Somos Sur, and I think your lyric “alegre rebeldía” captures the spirit of your music. In your calls for social justice, I sense more beauty than anger. What inspires you to call for equality with your gorgeous lyrics instead of just shouting at a protest?

AT Protests in general are protests for life. When you see fights around the world, it’s a fight for life. To have a fair life, it’s about dignity. We’re so used to protests with anger. We want a better future for us our kids and community. So that’s what I’m saying, it’s a fight for happiness.

SFBG How did it feel to hear “1977” on Breaking Bad?

AT Funny. I’m glad. It’s an amazing series, and I’m glad that there is a mainstream series that’s taking a risk. It’s a good series with amazing characters.

SFBG In “1977,” you say “Caminas en crucijadas/ Cada cual es su morada” (“You walk in crossroads/ each one is your home”). Where do you consider your home now?

AT Chile, totally Chile. It’s where my family is, my parents, my kids, my garden, and my refugees.

SFBG What advice would you give to young female rappers out there?

AT Do not listen to advice at all. Everybody wants to give advice about how to make stuff. Don’t listen to advice. Try to make music and be free.


Dispatches from SXSW: Painted Palms


After a long day of waiting in line in the sun, catching various 15-minute sets, and just being downright baffled by the enormity and complexity of SXSW (this is my first time), I lumbered my way to Maggie Mae to catch San Francisco’s psych band du jour, Painted Palms, at the Forcefield PR showcase (disclosure: I interned for Forcefield one summer a long time ago). The venue itself looked like Bottom of the Hill’s cousin but without the absurdly short ceilings and claustrophobia.

San Francisco power-punk act Tony Molina fronted by (you guessed it) Tony Molina packed a raucous and chaotic set into 20 minutes, which of course was too short, but then this is SXSW.

tony molina
Tony Molina

This was Painted Palms’ second show so far at SXSW. They are touring on debut LP Forever, which came out last January on Polyvinyl Records. The band is comprised of two cousins, Chris Prudhomme (vocals, guitar, hails from Bernal Heights), and Reese Donahue (electronics, hails from Western Addition).

Despite some minor technical difficulties, the psych-pop duo jammed out a sunny set full of spirited electronic sounds, a great soundtrack to lounge on for day-long retreat at Alamo Square or Dolores Park. Just minutes after the show, the  cousins joined me for a quick Q&A, where we discussed the origin of the name Painted Palms, whether or not they would ever cover The Talking Heads, and everyone’s favorite topic of conversation: the cost of living in San Francisco.

San Francisco Bay Guardian: Why are you called Painted Palms?
Prudhomme: I don’t know, people guess, and I think the best guess that someone has had so far is that William Randolph Hearst had a mansion and at the end of his life, he didn’t want to see death on his property. So whenever the palm trees died, he would have people paint the bark of the palms to keep it looking like they were still alive.

SFBG: This is your second show at your first-ever SXSW, how’s it going so far?
Prudhomme: We had some technical difficulties, but I think it’s something that with a full band is recoverable.
Donahue: I think [the show] was sketchy in the beginning…but it’s fine.

SFBG: So music journalists like myself often describe bands in a wrong manner. Tell me how do you describe yourselves?
Prudhomme: It’s psychedelic pop music.
Donahue: I think it focuses on pop structure, the structure of ’60s pop music. We have a fascination with ’90s electronic psychedelic stuff.

painted palms
Painted Palms

SFBG: Your influences?
Donahue: I’d say The Zombies, they’re just the coolest motherfuckers.
Prudhomme: Some of our influences also don’t have anything to do with the way our music sounds, a lot of it is just music personalities. I really like David Bowie a lot, but I don’t think our music sounds anything like David Bowie.

Donahue: My favorite band of all time is The Talking Heads, and I think the drummer was at our showcase earlier.

SFBG: The city is extremely expensive right now, which is especially tough on creative types such as musicians like yourselves. Has this impacted you? Is this a big worry for you?
Prudhomme: It hasn’t really impacted us that much because we’ve been doing the same kind of recording process for a really long time. We have a really cheap, raggeddy practice space in the Tenderloin.
Donahue: But we have to share it with five other bands to make the rent. I tried to move out and get my own place at one point but it didn’t work out. If I ever decide to leave San Francisco and live somewhere else, I don’t think I could come back. I do have rent control so it’s not something I’m worried about.
Prudhomme: I worry about it. I live in a big house with lots of tenants, which is the only way I can afford to live in SF. So whenever I have master tenants who are about to move out, I worry about my rent being jacked up.

SFBG: Is the East Bay an option?
Donahue: Oakland is fucking awesome…but I don’t know.

SFBG: Ever thought about covering a Talking Heads song?
Donahue: No, we’d never do that. I don’t think we could make those songs better.

No shame: Activist-rockers the Shondes celebrate Halloween in SF


The Shondes are a dream come true for music-lovers with a political consciousness. The world can be a rough place, but doom-and-gloom is not this Brooklyn band’s style. With their bright klezmer-pop tunes and soaring, anthemic verses about love, perseverance, and messages of hope, the Shondes are out to better the world — or at least move their audiences to dance hard and sing-along.
Currently touring on their fourth album, The Garden, the Shondes are embracing the power of pop. Whether you’re an activist or just enjoy a good live show, give The Garden a listen and try to get “Nights Like These” or “Running Out of Time” out of your head.

I asked vocalist-bassist Louisa Solomon about the band’s latest album, the causes that are most important to the Shondes, and how their music connects them with their fans:
SFBG Can you start off by telling me about your band’s name? I read that it means “shameful” in Yiddish.
LS We wanted to give a nod to our Jewish lineage, and to reclaim a word that is sometimes used to brand outcasts. At the time, we were doing a lot of activism in Jewish communities, challenging some deeply entrenched norms, and we would sometimes get screamed at and spat on and all that good stuff. It was kind of like, “OK, if I’m a ‘shonde’ for standing up for what I believe in, so be it.” I think it tends to be much more immediately resonant for Jews who have grown up hearing it, but the idea is resonant for most people in one way or another.
SFBG How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?
LS Sing-along, spirited rock anthems! The most flattering thing in the world is when our fans say we make them dance and we make them cry; that our music is hopeful. When we are able to impart hope, I feel totally fulfilled. So think of a Springsteen show and a riot grrrl punk show combining their emotional pay off, and that’s what we are going for!
SFBG What was the process of writing and recording The Garden like?
LS We worked really hard on The Garden. When we were touring on the previous record (2011’s Searchlights), we were starting to work through the musical and lyrical themes that came to define The Garden.

“Nights Like These” was one of the first songs we wrote in the Garden song cycle, and it felt like an important step in our evolution. We were embracing the cathartic potential of pop. We went on to write love songs, songs about friendship, and songs about not giving up. We wanted these songs to help people keep going – we were trying to ride the line between sincerity and cheesiness. I think we did OK in the end!
SFBG Can you tell me about “Nights Like These” and what made you choose it as the first single for this album?
LS “Nights Like These” is a good entry point to the record. We’re talking about hopes and dreams and fears and all that poppy stuff, but we really mean it! And there’s also serious musicianship and craft going on.
SFBG Is there a song from The Garden that you particularly enjoy performing?
LS I love jumping up and down during “Nights Like These,” getting the audience clapping along in “On Your Side,” and singing along to “The Garden” and “Nothing More Whole.” I also love singing “The Promise,” which is basically a duet with Eli, and we get the chance to camp it up just a bit.
SFBG Activism is an important factor in the band. Are there any causes in particular that you’re supporting right now?
LS We want a better and more just world, where people have what they need. So there are a billion causes we support! Big ones like universal healthcare, ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine, trans justice, but also we always want to support community organizers as much as possible, who are fighting racism and economic oppression (and tons of other great stuff!) at the local level. So we try to keep our eyes open.
SFBG What is the crowd usually like at a Shondes show?
LS Our fans are completely amazing and inspiring. There tends to be a lot of organizers who come out, and we have a growing number of older folks these days, which I think is awesome! Multigenerational fanbases rule. People who are mostly into punk and people who are mostly into pop and rock; people who are excited about the Jewish stuff and people who just love the music. Everyone tends to be enthusiastic and ready to dance. People very regularly tell us that they are moved by our playing (even to tears). It means a lot to us. It means everything.
SFBG What are you looking forward to most about playing in San Francisco?
LS It’s always wonderful to visit the Bay and play for our awesome people there. Cafe du Nord is one of our favorite clubs in the country; they have a totally heimishe (homey) vibe but are also extremely competent, respectful folks. It’s the best of all worlds as far as I’m concerned. Not to mention it’ll be my first Halloween in SF and I have seriously high expectations! Costumes, people.
The Shondes
With Naïve Americans, the Galloping Sea
Thu/31, 8:30pm, $7
Café du Nord
2170 Market, SF

Q&A: Blouse on the Dream Syndicate, forest life, and going synth-less


Blouse, may have ditched the synths and drum machines of its 2011 debut self-titled album with new Captured Tracks full-length, Imperium, but the sound remains as hazy and dreamy as ever. Now it’s just backed by rippling reverb and distortion.

The misty Portland, Ore. dreampop trio makes siren calls that would entice a shipwrecked sailor, floating endlessly in a gurgling oceanic abyss. See? Wistful. Check first single, “A Feeling Like This” or next track “No Shelter” for that particular mental imagery. It’s all there, the swashing of fuzz, the wide open minimalism à la xx, the delicate, teetering vocal tracks, and an uneasy feeling of isolation.

I asked Blouse frontperson Charlie Hilton about the band’s new album, the local Portland music scene, going synth-less, and the albums they bonded over:


SFBG How did Blouse first come together?

CH Three years ago, I moved to Portland from LA and met Patrick in an intro design class at PSU. We became friends almost immediately and he started giving me rides home from school. We were always talking about music, about the bands we’d been involved in, about what we liked. Eventually we decided to play together in my living room a few nights a week.

I’d been writing since middle school, so I shared some of my recent work with him. We also worked on new songs, recording them on Garageband as we went, until his friend Jake heard the demos and thought we should all record together. Jake had produced some really great records, and he and Patrick had been in bands together in the past.

We felt a weird kind of urgency to do something together, so we went to a place called Jackpot Studios for two days, hung out, and worked on the songs. We decided on a band name, finished two tracks, and posted them on the Internet. It was only a couple of months later that we signed with Captured Tracks.
SFBG What songs or albums by other artists have you bonded over as a group?

CH The Dream Syndicate, Days of Wine and Roses. I had never met anyone who loved that record like I did, and then I saw it propped up at their house. It’s funny how that can make you trust a person.
SFBG Why the shift from synths to a more guitar-focused sound on new album, Imperium?

CH We like guitars a lot and it was fun to see what we sounded like without the synths, to see whether or not we could remain ourselves.

SFBG Can you tell me about writing the song “No Shelter” off Imperium?

CH I was feeling really terrible at the time, for no reason. My husband and I had just bought a cabin in the mountains, and all I wanted to do was be there, away from everything and everybody. I was getting very addicted to this place in the forest, and I realized that I was using it to escape the dread inside me. Writing that song was just about coming to terms with that feeling, recognizing that it was there and that I couldn’t really get away from it.
SFBG What inspired first single “A Feeling Like This?”

CH A mushroom trip in a white room.
SFBG Do you feel part of a Portland music community? Who are your closest contemporaries music-wise, in Portland and beyond?

CH Yes. I have so many friends in bands that I love. Wampire, WL, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Industrial Park, Hausu, Vice Device, Concrete Floor, Litanic Mask — just to name a few.
SFBG What’s the most common misconception about Blouse?

CH That we all live together in the warehouse where we record music. I don’t mind if people keep thinking that. It sounds fun. But no, we don’t really. There’s no shower.
SFBG Anything you’re looking forward to on this West Coast tour?

CH I’m from LA so I always love going home to play Part Time Punks. Michael Stock was my favorite DJ when I lived there, so it was an absolute pleasure to meet him and do a session with KXLU last year. We’ll be doing another one this time. I’m excited.

SFBG Is there anything else you’d like people to know about your band?

CH We’re very Polish.

With Social Studies, Feathers
Sat/21, 9:30pm, $12
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St, SF
(415) 626-4455

San Francisco Homebrewers Guild Q&A: A mashing good time


For this week’s cover story, I profiled one particular homebrewer — my husband — on his quest to DIY kegerator glory. But there’s more to this story — hundreds more, in fact. And the homebrewers of San Francisco congregate in the virtual San Francisco Homebrewers Guild (cute motto: “A mashing good time!). I chatted with the friendly and knowledgeable Kevin Inglin, who is the group’s VP (Chris Cohen is the group founder and president) about rising membership, local homebrewing trends, and helping people brew better beer:

SF Bay Guardian
How many active members are there in the San Francisco Homebrewers Guild?

Kevin Inglin We have about 140 dues-paying members in the SFHG ($45 annual membership gets them into monthly meetings for free — $5 for non-members — and allows them to enter our quarterly competitions for free, attend members-only events, and gets them discounts at local homebrew supply shops).

Our emailing list and Meetup group numbers are nearing 500. We have more than 130 people who are regularly “active” on our Meetup page (meaning they access the page for information at least bi-weekly), and we usually have 40-80 members who attend our monthly meetings and events.

SFBG How long has the group/guild been active? It combined with another group late last year, correct?

KI That’s correct. The current formation of the SFHG is really a combination of two groups. In October 2012 I took over as organizer of a Meetup group (of which I had been a member for about a year) called the SF Homebrew Club, which had formed online in December 2010. Chris Cohen started the SFHG in February 2012 and had held a couple of events throughout 2012. Upon taking over the Meetup group, I was pondering what type of homebrew club I thought we needed to be what my role would be as organizer and I came across what Chris was doing with SFHG.

I thought we had a lot of similar goals with regard to uniting and promoting the homebrewing community in the city, so I reached out to him and very quickly thereafter cross-promoted the November 2012 “SFHG Presidential Honey Ale Competition” — an event he already had in the works — to members of the Meetup group. In December of that same year, Chris then cross-promoted a Meetup group event — a North Bay Craft Brewery Tour I had been working on – to the members of the SFHG.

After those two very successful joint endeavors, we made it official in January 2013 when we merged the two groups, changed the Meetup group name to SFHG to ensure common branding, began having our regular monthly meetings, and proceeded to carry out numerous events throughout the year. We haven’t looked back since!

SFBG Any common homebrewing trends you’ve noticed among the group lately? Any ongoing trends or common issues that always arise among members?

KI I think the common trend in the homebrewing community is that every homebrewer at one time or another secretly desires to “go pro” — if they say they haven’t after someone has told them “that’s really great beer!” they’re probably lying!

Joking aside, I think the trend among homebrewers is creativity and reviving often “forgotten” styles or bringing a new twist to old classics. This creativity inevitably then emerges in the craft brewing scene as many craft brewers do indeed have homebrewing roots. People new to homebrewing then see what is happening in the craft brewing world and work to replicate those beers, so it’s somewhat of a circuitous path, but the two communities (homebrewing and craft brewing) tend to feed off one another.

In the past several years, we’ve seen the craft beer scene follow the homebrewing lead of running through big, high-alcohol “extreme” beers (e.g., big stouts and barleywines), and who can make the hoppiest IPA known to man. Now we see sour beers trending quite a bit in the craft brewing industry, which is at least in part due, in my opinion, to a trend of homebrewers seeking to make these challenging and very tasty beers for the past several years.

Our club is about to embark on a sour beer project with GigaYeast, a local, up-and-coming yeast provider that is gaining an increased market presence – we’re very excited about helping them gather data to tweak their sour yeasts and agents they’ll ultimately bring to market for use by other home and craft brewers.

SFBG Are most members brewing all-grain or extract? What is the experience level of most of the members?

KI We really run the gamut. We have several brewers who have been at it for a decade or more and a large group of people new to the hobby. With that mix of experience level, we have a corresponding mix of brewers who are all-grain and those using extracts. Being in an urban environment, some of our brewers are challenged with space and continue to use extracts for this reason, others have found ways to move to all-grain, but do so on a much smaller scale (1 to 3 gallon batches) than is most-often found in the hobby, where brewing 5 gallons at a time is the most common volume.

SFBG Have you noticed any uptick in membership in the past six months-few years?

KI Absolutely! Before we merged the SF Homebrew Club with SFHG, there were 287 members in the Meetup group, of which, just more than 30 were “active” members regularly using the site to gather and share information. We now have more than 460 members in the Meetup group, of which more than 130 are regularly “active” so that has definitely been very positive and consistent growth for the group over the past 11 months.

With the merger of the Meetup group into the SFHG proper, we’ve also seen a significant increase in paid memberships for SFHG (nearly double from last year), which has been essentially to the vitality of the group and allowing us to host so many events for members in the past year.

SFBG When did you personally start homebrewing?

KI I started in 1996 with an equipment and ingredient kit I bought from a display set up in the corner of a German bar. I had no group or resources to really tell me what to do, so I just read what I could and went for it. Those first batches weren’t too great, but I’d like to think now after all these years I’m able to produce beers a bit more palatable!

SFBG Anything else you would like to add about yourself or the group?

KI Running the SFHG has been a truly rewarding experience – it’s always great to help someone “get it” and see their joy when they make a beer far better than they ever thought they could based on information and tips they gathered from other club members. Having struggled somewhat on my own when I got started, it’s very enjoyable to help others avoid that isolation and be able to improve their brewing much more quickly based on the help and advice from others. That’s really the crux of our existence — help people brew better beer!

As for me personally, as an Army officer, I’ve moved around quite a bit over the years and homebrewed in Tennessee, Alabama (not realizing it wasn’t legal there at the time – thankfully it is now!), Hawaii, Virginia, Texas, Germany, and of course here in California.

It’s been a very enjoyable hobby and now that I’m set to retire from the Army in 2014, my wife and I have indeed decided to venture into the ranks of the professionals and open our own Nano Brewery here in the city. I’ll be attending a professional brewing course next year to augment my homebrewing experience and we’re in the throws of getting the business off the ground in the coming months. Wish us luck!

Grouplove talks Haight love, the Seesaw Tour, and spreading rumors


Grouplove’s existence is a strong argument for fate. In 2009, Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi met on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Feeling an instant connection, Hooper invited Zucconi to an artist residency in Greece on the island of Crete, which she was heading to just a few days later, and he said yes. At this residency, in a remote mountain village, the pair formed a fast friendship with three other musicians. Within the year, Grouplove was formed.

Two years after that, the band exploded into the music scene with its cheekily titled, megacatchy album Never Trust a Happy Song. Touring constantly since its inception, Grouplove is still going at full sprint, with its second album, Spreading Rumors, coming out Sept. 17, accompanied by the ambitious Seesaw Tour, in which the band will spend two nights in every city at intimate venues, playing one electric and one acoustic show.

I caught up with Hooper during one of her rare moments of semi-downtime (if that’s what you call standing on a busy street corner waiting for Zucconi) to chat about hometown shows, Haight Street, and (group)love:
SF Bay Guardian I saw you play in San Francisco almost exactly two years ago to a nearly empty Bimbo’s, and it was an absolutely amazing show. There was this incredible energy and because there was a sparse audience, it felt truly special to be there. Now you’re playing to much bigger audiences and selling out two nights in a row in SF. How do you feel about this change in dynamics?
Hannah Hooper It’s really exciting! It’s kind of surreal in a lot of ways. When we get to play a show we’re excited no matter what, so the scale of it blows our minds. With the Seesaw Tour, we’re kind of underplaying and getting to actually see our fans again. And we’re playing the Independent, which is one of the first venues we played in SF.

We personally love playing any size, but there’s a level of intimacy that’s hard to capture [in a bigger venue]. It’s a very special thing. As a fan, I love to see high-energy bands in small venues. That’s what we want to do before we gear up to do a bigger tour.

SFBG How did you come up with the idea for the Seesaw Tour? Why this format?
HH We were talking about bands. I love the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I’m a big fan, but I’ve never had the opportunity to get close to them. I’m always in the back behind like thousands of people. I had this vision of how cool it would be to see them play one night electric and one night acoustic.
It will be a challenge for us because we’re definitively an electric band.
SFBG Grouplove has a very vigorous touring schedule. How do you keep from getting burned-out?
HH That’s a good question! We stopped to record our album that’s about to come out, which is really the first time we’ve stopped touring in three years. But recording is not that different from touring — we still are living in tight quarters and spending all our time together.

If you stay in motion you don’t notice how exhausted you are. Even when you’ve traveled halfway around the world and you’re like, “are we going to be able to do this?” When you get up on stage, you just respond to the audience. It’s a back and forth. When you see people there screaming your name, you just have to bring it. It’s so fulfilling to give all that you have every time you get on stage. We just get into a trance friendship mode.
SFBG Do you all really love each other as much as your name and your live show suggests?
HH We do! We really love each other. We have this ability to share this crazy experience together; we’re vulnerable and we’re funny together; we’re stronger together than we are separate. It really works.

There was a freedom when we first got together because we didn’t know each other. We all got to be exactly who we are. We met at a really special time and our friendship really shows that. We write a lot of songs on the road and we genuinely go out together…You have to want to make it work. This is our dream, this is what we want to do. It’s an outlook that we all quietly agreed to have.
SFBG There is a unique pressure associated with sophomore albums. Have you felt a need to prove that you’re not a one hit wonder with this record?
HH Coming from a painter background I didn’t really realize the “pressure of the second album.” We had this catalogue of songs we had written on the road and we basically drew straws to see which songs made the album. We’re really lucky. We make a point never to combine fear of success with making artwork and writing songs. There’s nothing you can do — you can’t predict whether people will like the songs. All you can really do is be genuine.

SFBG What does the title of the album Spreading Rumors mean?
HH We’re kind of bringing it back to the way that people used to talk about bands and spread the word before the Internet. Despite all of the Internet attention we got for [2011 single] “Tongue Tied,” people were also telling their friends about us and our live shows. The rumor that keeps spreading…we really are this crazy bunch of wild animals let loose.
SFBG Since you’re playing two nights in a row here, you’ll have some time to spend in the city. Any special SF plans?
HH Well, my brother, sister, mom, and dad live here. I grew up in Upper Haight. I really miss SF. I just like walking down Haight Street. Thrift stores in SF are the best. I can’t tell you how much I love San Francisco.

[Playing here is] like playing a hometown show which is always secretly the most nerve-wracking. It’s always funny to see people you’ve known your whole life in the audience. You really get a sense of how far we’ve come. I’ll probably get emotional up there.
SFBG Anything else you feel that people need to know about Grouplove? Any parting words?
HH [I’ve learned] through all this touring and meeting all these bands that everyone has their own flavor. We have love, heart, honesty, and passion. Our goal is to have people see that there’s no bullshit up there [on stage] and leave feeling happy. We’re not trying to be cool or sexy. We want to inspire kids to not to care what they look like or whether they’re cool and just be themselves.
With the Rubens
Sat/14, 9pm, $20
628 Divisadero, SF
(415) 771-1421

Grouplove (acoustic)
Sun/15, 9pm, $22
777 Valencia, SF
(415) 551-5157

Q&A: If Sebadoh was a meal, it’d be chili over spaghetti


Many things have changed since Sebadoh released its last full-length album, The Sebadoh, 14 years ago. We’ve seen three respective presidents hold terms, have started and ended wars, and the Backstreet Boys have broken up and reunited once again.

Taking influences from proto-punk masters such as Captain Beefheart and noise bands like Unwound, Sebadoh comes together to form a delightful trio with varying musical influences. With its latest full-length release, Defend Yourself, expected to drop in September, Sebadoh is returning to do-it-yourself ethics, recording the album on its own terms on a smaller record label, Joyful Noise.

Sebadoh is coming to the Bay Area on July 31, playing with San Diego garage rock revivalists Octa#grape at Cafe Du Nord. Here’s what Sebadoh’s vocalist and bass player Jason Loewenstein had to say about the new record, Sebadoh-as-food, Courtney Love, and returning to the DIY:

San Francisco Bay Guardian Why hasn’t there been an album in 14 years? Will this album be extra-special?

Jason Loewenstein We’re not trying to make up for extra years we went without having an album, but it is a a little bit special because we made it by ourselves, unlike our past six albums. The album returns to the early days of Sebadoh.

SFBG What are some influences for the new album? What has changed since the last album?

JW Since we made our last record, I’ve indulged in country music, so there will be a few songs on there that have that feel. As always, we’re a fan of noisy bands like Unwound. When it comes to guitar, there’s some nods at Captain Beefheart. But all of this would be fairly obvious listening to Sebadoh. Also having a new member of the band has influenced this album. We went from having Russell [Pollard] on drums to Bob [D’Amico], and it’s changed the way the band sounds. So, Bob is the main influence.

Why have you returned back to DIY ethics on this record?

JW We spent the most money we ever spent on last record, and we’ve learned about what we don’t need and do need. Since the last record I’ve done a lot of engineering and have helped other bands record. We’re saving a tremendous amount of money by doing it ourselves and doing what we want.

SFBG If Sebadoh was food, what would it be and would you eat it?

JW Sebadoh is chili over spaghetti with oyster crackers, chopped onion and hot sauce. The reason is because there’s a lot of random stuff that goes into Sebadoh, and you don’t think it would go good together but it turns out pretty good…I’d definitely eat it.

SFBG What was it like being on Sub Pop Records during its heyday?

JW They were a big label with the excitement held for fan zines. It was a coup of underdogs! Possibilities were a big question mark, and there was the possibility that what you did could get on the radio, though it wasn’t what we really expected or wanted. You just couldn’t expect or predict bands like Nirvana (Sub-Pop label mates) exploding the way they did.

SFBG What’s the oddest thing that has happened while on tour?

JW We were playing in front of 5,000 people, and strings (on the guitars) just started breaking. Lou (Barlow, vocalist and guitarist) got so frustrated he broke his guitar, so they handed him a new guitar. Trying to keep the crowd entertained, Bob Fay (the drummer at the time) just started jamming and and I started yelling into mic. All while this was happening Courtney Love was at the side of the stage intoxicated yelling “Don’t disrespect Kurt!” I don’t know why. He had died a year ago? Yeah, that was really weird.

SFBG Are there any grand plans in the future for Sebadoh?

JW We’re just hoping to hit the road a lot in 2014. We want to do a couple US tours and keep super busy. We’ve been waiting for our turn with Lou [Note: Barlow has been touring with his other band, Dinosaur Jr.]

With OCTA#Grape
July 31, 9pm, $15
Café Du Nord
2170 Market, SF

Jello sounds off


When setting up an interview with Jello Biafra, I got this light-hearted warning: “There is no such thing as a short interview with Jello.” It’s true, the legendary punk showman/spoken word enthusiast is full of political ideas, historical references, and elder-punk-dude tales. How can he be expected to keep it brief?

Below, we spend an intense half hour discussing the media, corruption, spoken word, Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, Jello Biafra and the New Orleans Raunch and Soul All-Stars, and the future of underground rock’n’roll. (For the feature on Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine, see this week’s paper):

San Francisco Bay Guardian
Where do you gather your news? What are your sources for political commentary in your songs?

Jello Biafra Why, the Bay Guardian, of course! Where would a local voter be without your fine rag? I just hope the new ownership and staff goes pedal to the metal to keep up the standard of muckraking and ethics. There’s so much corruption to dig up in this area.

I think the real renaissance was before the Weekly was sold to New Times/VVM, when the Guardian and the Weekly were both muckraking papers concentrating on local issues and were trying to out-scoop each other. That’s what I’d like to see continue and come back.

But basically I’d read a lot of periodicals. Locally, we have you folks, among others. And then you know Nation, Progressive, Mother Jones, interesting things people send me in the mail, digitally or otherwise, talking to people, putting two and two together — trying to write songs about stuff that no one else has! Or at least not in the same way.

SFBG Why is that? Why choose to write songs about something no one else has?

JB It’s just filling in the gaps with what’s interesting. I’m proud that no two of my music albums sound alike. Not even the Lard albums sound alike. From Dead Kennedys onward my mission as the main lyricist and composer of the damn tunes, I kind of stick to my punk core — whether I intend to or not, it’s just who and what I am — and but kind of widen the base of the pyramid to what you can do with that energy.


SFBG What are some the topics you focused on when writing White People and the Damage Done?

JB I guess it was a little more focused as a semi-concept album, than anything since Frankenchrist. It’s basically about grand theft austerity, and how unnecessary it is, what a scam it is. People have asked me when we go to play different cities or countries, what I think is the biggest problem in the world today and they expect me to say something like “climate change” which I prefer to call “climate collapse” because that’s what it is, or inequality, or war, or whatever, and I say you know, there’s a worse one, it’s corruption. Because that is what’s blocking anything constructive being done about all the other problems. There’s a thread through White People and the Damage Done about that. 

The title track is not so much about race specifically, but about this attitude of the higher ups in the United States, the EU, and others, is that other countries, especially ones run by people of color, where we call them “Third World” or whatever, are somehow unfit to govern themselves and need us to pull the strings, plant the puppets, and tell everyone what to do. And it’s often for the purposes of looting their resources and exploiting their people. And what kind of unintended consequences that can have.

For example, we talk about why we need more democracy in Iran, and we don’t have the big bad Soviet Empire to freak out everyone anymore so we have Iran and North Korea instead. Wait a minute, you want democracy in the Middle East? Well Iran was a democracy in the early 1950s, guess who decided to overthrow the democratically-elected leader Mohammad Mosaddegh, and put the most hated person in the country, the Shah, back into power? But he was our policeman for the gulf basically, and he got overthrown anyway. And now it’s a theocratic regime. Where would be today if we had just left that region alone in the 1950s?

Same for Afghanistan. I nearly went through the roof when I found out about an interview with Jimmy Carter’s old national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski’s, whose daughter is on one of the morning cartoon pundit shows, bragged on an interview with French media about what a great thing we did by arming, training, and financing the guerrillas in Afghanistan before the Soviet Union invaded, and how we cracked apart the evil empire, hooray for us, we win.

But look what we created for crying out loud. We were even helping back a young hothead with a trust fund named Osama Bin Laden. And then once the Soviets were out, we didn’t lift a finger to help rebuild the country, let alone take back the guns and rocket-launchers. And now look where we are. That’s another example of white people and the damage done.

[Pause] hold on my juice machine, now I have to turn it off, it’s bouncing all over the counter.

SFBG What kind of juice are you making?

JB Oh, just a mixture of stuff. Spinach, apples, other things.

SFBG Can you tell me about forming Guantanamo School of Medicine?

JB Here we go again. I wanted to have another band ever since Dead Kennedys, it just never quite happened. Either people weren’t available, or I was off doing spoken word or other adventures, but of course I never stopped making albums, there was Lard, two with the Melvins, one with DOA, Mojo Nixon, NoMeansNo.

I kept the music out there, I just didn’t have a performing vehicle. And then when I was down at the Warfield seeing the Stooges on Iggy’s 60th birthday, it occurred to me, “oh shit, I turn 50 next year. I better do something or I may never get another chance.” If it’s half as good as the Stooges, I’ll declare victory.

SFBG Do you have any other projects coming up?

JB I started getting back into spoken word. I did a tour in Australia after the band’s tour was done. And at some point, something that will probably see the light of day: some of the New Orleans guys from Cowboy Mouse and Dash Rip Rock dared me to come down there during the jazz fest a few years ago and do a whole set of New Orleans soul and rhythm and blues songs, which I did with some badly needed garage rock added in and we got Mojo Nixon’s keyboard wizard with all the Jerry Lee Lewis moves, and quite the cacophonous horn section, as well as [Cowboy Mouth’s] Fred LeBlanc, and [Dash Rip Rock’s] Bill Davis.

The multitrack recording was a trainwreck, but then Ben Mumphrey who works with Frank Black and the Pixies and many others, called me up and said he could rescue this recording. Slowly but surely he has been rescuing it. So Jello Biafra and the New Orleans Raunch and Soul All-Stars will see the light of day somehow. We haven’t been able to pull it together to play a show though. 


SFBG I was wondering your opinion of this new, kind of second tech bubble taking over in areas like the Mission?

JB Again, I refer you to one of my songs. It came out on the EP of the rest of the recording session when we recorded The Audacity of Hype with Billy Gould. The song is called “Dot Com Monte Carlo.” And sure enough there was a little mini firestorm on the Internet of course. A lot of people writing in were too chicken-shit to sign their own names, but they said ‘oh that’s such an old topic, it doesn’t matter anymore.’

Well I had this funny feeling we weren’t done with the Dot Com Holocaust. Sure enough, now it’s more aggressive and obnoxious than ever. Dot Com Monte Carlo — that’s kind of what Willie Brown’s puppets are trying to turn this city into, yet again.

It has been really sad for me to see so many cool people and artists and service-workers and people of color just bull-dozed out of this town to make room for more mini little yuppies who treat San Francisco as a suburb of Silly-clone Valley.

And now you don’t see people like me when I was 19, just moving out to San Francisco chasing a dream. There was a time when the vitality of the underground was maintained by entire bands moving here as a unit. Everybody from MDC and the Dicks to DRI and later, Zen Guerilla, the only one I can think of in recent years, who dare tried to relocate to San Francisco were I believe No Doctors and Sixteen Bitch Pile-Up, and I’m not sure either one of them exist at this point. Maybe they all packed up and left. A lot of that underground fire, and that’s not just confined to rock of course, but a lot is going on in Oakland now.

SFBG Yeah, I’ve had a lot of bands telling me they can’t afford San Francisco anymore, so they’ve been moving to the East Bay or beyond…

JB I mean, I’d hate to see San Francisco turn any further into a giant Aspen, Colorado, or even Boulder, Colorado, which is where I fled from in order to come here [in ’78.]

SFBG Are there current East Bay or San Francisco bands that you feel like are doing good things?

JB Of course I always brain-fart on this question. Well, of course I’m going to support my label bands, I love Pins of Light.

SFBG How involved are you with Alternative Tentacles? Are you going out and finding bands?

JB Well I’m still the absentee-thought-lord, the buck stops with me. Someone deeply suspicious of capitalism has wound up owning a business by default, whether I should or not. Luckily there’s still money to pay a shrinking staff and to make sure we can keep putting out cool things. But it’s becoming harder and harder because of the combination of a crashed economy, rents going through the ceiling all over country, and file-sharing on the other hand. Of course, one feeds the other when people don’t have any money.

That doesn’t mean I support these misguided efforts, these major label RIAA scams to blackmail people and sue them for file-sharing. They’ve raked in over a hundred million dollars doing that and no artist has seen a penny. That’s not the way to solve this.

On the other hand, when I see one of the best bands we’ve seen in years like the Phantom Limbs break up way too soon, I can’t help but wonder whether file-sharing might be a part of the problem, with so many people going crazy over them and going to their shows all over the place, and then hardly anybody buys the album.

When you’ve got people in the age of high housing and transportation cost trying to keep themselves fed or also sustain a family, that hurts. I wonder how many people save up money from their shitty jobs for years in order to make some really cool piece of music only to find that nobody actually gives anything back; they’re that much more likely to quit making anything.

Maybe the solution is, for people who want to get their friends into really cool music, don’t just send them the whole album, pick some favorites and send them a little teaser package, a little file to inspire them to check out them more.

Not to mention, be conscious of whose file you’re sharing. Major labels go so far out of their way to rip off their artists anyways, with an army of lawyers to back them up. But when it’s an underground artist or label, that’s different. I never would have thought that GSL would’ve stopped, for example. Or that Touch and Go would draw mainly into reissues and back catalogue. It’s not just the economy and music industry crashed that’s to blame, it’s also people who don’t think artists should get any of their support.

SFBG Do you still love performing in front of a crowd? Do you have any recent performances with this band that you’ll take with you?

JB I’m not sure I’d be doing it if there wasn’t this inner need to do it. I’m really greatful that at my age anybody even cares about what I have to say, or new stuff I’ve been making.

We’ve been able to play a lot of places Dead Kennedys weren’t, because countries hadn’t opened up yet and they were still under the boot of Communist dictators or Latin American military or whatever. And we get to play for people in those places now. I don’t have the kind money where I can go jet-setting around to these places, I have to play my way to places like Buenos Aires or Slovenia, or I’ll never get there.

Bringing these musical riffs in my head to life and to have them actually work and getting to play them for people, that’s always pretty cool.

Some of the stranger moments were last time we were in Geneva we had a stage-diver in a wheelchair. The crowd was very gentle with him, passing him around, and making sure he was reunited with the chair, which was floating somewhere else in the crowd. Three or four songs later, he’d be back again! That was good.

Also, being able to scrape together just enough of my high school Spanish to be able to talk to people in Buenos Aires from the stage about some songs that were written with them in mind. I mean, “Bleed for Me,” the old Dead Kennedys song, was written about the Dirty Wars. And this was the first time I could actually dedicate “Bleed for Me” to the Desaparecidos in Argentina and explain it a little bit.

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine
With D.I., the Divvys, Girl-illa Biscuits
Fri/26, 9pm, $15
1928 Telegraph, Oakl.

Video Q&A: Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown


Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown are tearing up the stage, and people are taking notice. The Nashville-based country and blues-rock group released its well-crafted, guitar-heavy, debut album Wild Child in January of this year, and just wrapped a lengthy tour through the States, which included a stop in San Francisco.

Following its gritty performance at Brick and Mortar Music Hall late last month, the group talked about how it arrived at its raw, high-energy performances, first loves, and non-musical hobbies.