SONIC REDUCER You can keep your majestic soundscapes, your rewrites of “Rocky Raccoon,
SONIC REDUCER You can keep your majestic soundscapes, your rewrites of “Rocky Raccoon,
It takes a lot to knock an obsession out of Built to Spill singer-songwriter-guitarist Doug Martsch. Behind the beard, the down-low home life with wife and child, and the phone conversation padded with softly undercutting “Oh, I dunno’s,” once lay the heart of a raging pickup basketball junkie.
“I kinda got sucked into the NBA play-offs seven or eight years ago,” explains Martsch, 37, from his home in Boise, Idaho. “Then I quit smoking cigarettes five or six years ago, and when I quit smoking, I decided to go shoot hoops, and then I just got really addicted to it, totally loved it. That was kind of my main passion.
“Yeah, I played music somewhat, but basketball was what I lived for and did every day.”
A seemingly harmless hobby, except that Martsch threw himself so vigorously into the game that he was starting to do some real damage — to himself. Most recently, Built to Spill — one of Northwestern rock’s most respected representatives and one of ’90s indie/alternative/modern rock/whatev’s most influential bands — had to push back the tour dates for their new album, You in Reverse (Warner Bros.), because of a detached retina Martsch suffered while banging around the court. And then there was the last time Built to Spill played in San Francisco, two years ago …
The band was staying at the Phoenix, and as usual while on tour, Martsch ventured out, looking for a local pickup game. He found one at the Tenderloin Golden Gate YMCA. “I was playing noon ball with the people there, and I got smacked in the ear and popped my eardrum, and I was deaf in my right ear for a couple months,” he recalls. “I kept waiting for my hearing to come back. We had to finish the tour, and I could only hear out of one ear, and it was driving me crazy!” After he returned home Martsch finally, reluctantly broke the news to his wife, who had been worried about basketball injuries for some time. One can imagine the I told you sos ringing out all over Boise.
“Yeah, I had my right ear destroyed, and my right eye destroyed so far, and my right knee also,” continues Martsch, who, at one point, also suspected he had a torn ACL. “So, I dunno — I’m about done. I also started taking it a little too seriously. I started not having very much fun unless I was playing well. If I missed a few shots, I’d just become really frustrated, and I wasn’t really enjoying myself.” After his eye injury Martsch followed his doctor’s orders to stop playing for a few months, and in the process, some of the fixation dissipated (though plucky challengers can get a taste of it by playing Martsch via a game on the band’s Built to Spill Web site).
Luckily for patient Built to Spill fans, Martsch reimmersed himself in music. Those listeners had been waiting for five years for a studio follow-up to Ancient Melodies of the Future (Warner Bros.). Touched by Martsch’s passion for the Delta blues — which resulted in his 2002 solo album, Now You Know (Warner Bros.) — You in Reverse finds the band shaping less characteristic jams and experimenting in the studio, sans their longtime producer Phil Ek and accompanied by only engineer Steven Wray Lobdell (who ended up getting the producer credit). Pitting himself against longtime contributing guitarist–turned–permanent member Brett Netson of Caustic Resin, Martsch unfurls guitar solos that are both economical and impassioned, beginning with the lengthy, multitextured suite “Goin’ Against Your Mind.” He buries his vocals as guitars chime brightly in the foreground on “Liar,” then throws indie listeners for a loop with souped-up ska and flamenco tempos (“Mess With Time”). In all, Martsch sounds more like a ’burb-bound Neil Young than ever before, harnessing a semi-tamed Crazy Horse for his garage jams with his Seattle- and Boise-based bandmates while sidestepping the dangers of repeating himself and working in almost undetectable jabs at the current political environment.
Looking back at the gap between Ancient Melodies and You in Reverse, Martsch is quick to point out that the band actually took only a yearlong breather between tours and recording. But the reason they took the break, he confesses, was that “I just really burned out. I was just kind of tired of Built to Spill and wasn’t very interested in alternative rock in general.” He discovered Delta blues around the time he recorded Keep It Like a Secret and, he explains, “that’s all that sounded very good to me.”
That changed when the group got together to jam for You in Reverse, which Martsch describes as Built to Spill’s most collaborative album yet. He hopes with the official addition of Netson that he can write songs with the rest of the band while Built to Spill is on tour and recording songs at studios across the country. “I’m just kind of excited,” says Martsch. And that’s a major score for someone who claims he doesn’t think he has a “real lust for life.”
“I think the best things Built to Spill ever does are yet to come on some sort of level.” SFBG
BUILT TO SPILL
Wed/21-Sat/24, 9 p.m.
333 11th St., SF
SONIC REDUCER Something wicked this way came, right in the middle of last week’s spate of strangely beautiful, beastly hot days, as I sipped a pint on El Rio’s back patio with Comets on Fire vocalist-guitarist Ethan Miller. You can bet — with 6/6/06 plastered all over town, prophesizing an ominously large marketing onslaught for The Omen — that wickedness probably involved horror movies. And you’ll be right. Because Miller is happy to talk about the fruits of Howlin’ Rain, a solo project aided and abetted by Sunburned Hand of the Man’s John Moloney and childhood Humboldt County pal Ian Gradek. But Miller gets really "fanned out" when the subject of mind-gouging, low-budg cinematic howlers like his all-time faves — Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Beyond, Maniac, Suspiria — come up. I can dig it, but do all rockers really bond over the joy of having their eyeballs violated?
"My wife doesn’t want to watch it with me," he says jovially. "I’m, like, ‘Babe, I just got my copy of Cannibal Holocaust in the mail! And she’s just, like, ‘No! Fuck that! No! No! You have to watch that after I go to bed.’
"I had this one friend, I thought he and I had the same taste, and he just wasn’t really speaking up, and I kept giving him films to watch, and he was, like, ‘Dude, I told you. I hate that. That was fucking traumatizing.’”
For all his movie-collector madness, Miller can be reasoned with — and likewise is perfectly reasonable. The Comets’ de facto leader and cofounder tells me their fourth full-length, Avatar (Sub Pop), is ready to go after what sounds like a grueling but fully democratic process recording with Tim Green at Prairie Sun in Cotati. "It’s hard to know if you’re in control of the macro-organism or if it’s in control of you," Miller muses. "Like a minidemocracy, you can’t steer it more than your one-fifth influence. These are real social people wed to each other through their art and music and now through a band."
The Howlin’ Rain project, meanwhile, was quick and dirty, spat out in about eight days, and driven solely by Miller, relying on two trustworthy friends from far-flung parts of the country, with Moloney in Massachusetts and Gradek in Kauai.
Dust demons of fuzz and growling guitar tone still crop up, but here Miller has conjured his own ’06 version of early-’70s "mellow gold" rock ’n’ roll, pulling from the Allman Brothers, Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Neil Young without resorting to outright … cannibalism.
"I tried to pack it full of the psych you could have from this vantage point right now," he says. "Not make a record that’s, like, ‘Fuck, that sounds just like Sabbath. I mean, just like Sabbath.’”
Keep your bloody Sabbath — instead a laid-back, sun-swept blues-rock vibe, edged with moments of darkness, comes in as clear as a rushing river. You can hear Miller’s relatively effects-free voice, for once not screaming over the maelstrom as if flesh were being ripped from his bones, cushioned by the occasional harmony, which he describes as "Simon and Garfunkel on a bad trip or something."
Nonetheless, Miller isn’t ready to forsake the power jams of yore. He sees Howlin’ Rain and Comets as populist entertainments, much like those beloved horror films. "The best ones succeed in an absolute emotional manipulation that’s kind of a ride, like listening to Queen or Mahavishnu Orchestra, music that’s made for an absolute thrill ride. It’s just so dense and thrilling, and they don’t make you sit around waiting for something to happen. Though maybe Mahavishnu wouldn’t appreciate that because their shit is supposed to be more spiritual …"
Stinky no more What’s it like growing up rock? Ask XBXRX, or Gaviotas’s Simon Timony, who had his share of alterna-cool attention at a very young age: The 22-year-old San Franciscan led the Stinkypuffs — which included his onetime stepfather Jad Fair of Half Japanese, his mother Sheenah Fair, Gumball’s Don Fleming, and Lee Ranaldo’s son Cody Linn Ranaldo. Fronting and writing for the most notable child-centered supergroup of the early-’90s alt-rock scene, Timony learned guitar from family friend Snakefinger, was home-schooled by his parents, who ran Ralph Records (his father Tom was in the Residents), and eventually befriended Nirvana when Half Japanese opened for them during the In Utero tour. "I was actually trusted to go wake up Kurt before a show," Timony says wonderingly today.
After notably performing with Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl, together for the first time after Cobain’s suicide, at the 1994 Yo Yo a Go Go fest in Olympia, Wash., Timony grew disillusioned with music at around age 13. But he picked up his moldy guitar again after discovering Korn and now he’s making Gaviotas his full-time job. He performs at a suicide-prevention benefit May 31. "My dad and my mom were, like, ‘If this is what you want to do …,’” Timony explains. “‘As long as you don’t suck!’ My dad is a very honest person — too honest sometimes." SFBG
Thurs/1, 6 p.m.
1855 Haight, SF
Also with Citay and Sic Alps
Sat/3, 9:30 p.m.
1131 Polk, SF
Gaviotas with Crowing and Habitforming
Wed/31, 9 p.m.
Annie’s Social Club
917 Folsom, SF
Play nice with Chloe and Asya, those übertalented but otherwise normal preteens in Seattle’s Smoosh. Their new album, Free to Stay, is here to stay June 6. Eels headline. Wed/31, 8 p.m., Fillmore, 1805 Geary, SF. $25. (415) 346-6000.
Frontperson John lays down his Foucault — and likely won’t set himself on fire — for a few choice shows celebrating the release of Scrape the Walls (Alternative Tentacles). Fri/2, 10 p.m., Annie’s Social Club, 917 Folsom, SF. $7. (415) 974-1585; June 9, 8 p.m., 924 Gilman, Berk. $5. (510) 525-9926, www.924gilman.org.
SONIC REDUCER Mother’s Day: the primo time to think about reasons why mom rules. So why did I spend it listening to Grandaddy’s new, possibly last album, Just Like the Fambly Cat (V2)? I also lost about four solid hours watching Amon Duul, MC5, and Scott Walker videos on YouTube and thinking back to my adolescent years, when my household chores fell by the wayside and dear ole mum would threaten to spirit away a sackful of our 20 or so semiferal "fambly" cats and kittens and abandon them by some desolate roadside pineapple cannery. Thanks, ma!
Really, Hallmark and the assorted commercial pressures that guilt you into shuffling to the post office with an annual tribute to motherhood bring out the absolute worst — namely, inappropriate memories — in me. Though that certain special someone never carried out those acts of probable feline-cide, it’s clear not all of us come psychologically, emotionally, and financially equipped to be parents — just as many of us were not well kitted out to be pet owners. We try: Glance through the approximately 17,000 cat videos on YouTube — John Lennon’s scant 415 refs are no match against the cuddly-wuddly, flea-bitten hordes. The majority are amateurish, dull, full of "aw-isn’t-she/he/it-cute — quick get it on the cameraphone" tumescent adoration.
Still, between the anticlimactic "Puppy vs. Cat" snippets, music fans can kill an entire Mother’s Day watching Magma serenade Catholic padres in some strange French B-movie or study a drowsy Velvet Underground supposedly writing "Sunday Morning" ("They all look so fucked up. Heroin is bad for you," comments one viewer) or check out the most viewed music-related vid that day (perhaps related to the new service that started last week allowing users to upload footage directly from a phone or PDA): a blurry, too-loud, obviously cellie-derived clip of Guns n’ Roses blasting out "Welcome to the Jungle" at NYC’s Hammerstein Ballroom on May 12.
How perfect then that I stumble across a few Grandaddy videos on my YouTube travels, including a slightly oogy bit showcasing, as its maker puts it, "a slug on a cucumber listening to Grandaddy." A comment on the lysergic lethargy embedded in the Modesto band’s tunes? Animals, or rather people in animal suits, operate as stand-ins for nature in the group’s shared videos, representing a star-crossed love for the junky delights of an infinitely disposable, shareable information culture, as well as the earthly attractions of the Central Cali natural world. I can totally relate, dudes.
Sluggish Grandaddy fans who can’t break away from waxing their own cucumbers will be pleased to know that Just Like the Fambly Cat is a suitably great, elegiac outro for the disbanding band (so says songwriter Jason Lytle). A pop symphony to that final solution to dissolution and aimlessness: death. If Grandaddy always seem to teeter betwixt stoner listlessness and slacker lack of focus, the threat of imminent nonexistence and looming loss has brought a sense of purpose, opening with a child’s repeated, lisping, "What happened to the fambly cat?" and closing with Lytle’s grandiose finale, "I’ll never return!" The act of recording melts into biography, as Lytle angrily mourns his broken engagement with all the infectious pop trappings ("Jeez Louise") and then gets lost in dusty, hermetic yet elegant reveries reminiscent of such peers as Air ("Oxygen/Auxsend"). There are, as Lytle sings, about "fifty percent less words" here, breaking from pop formulae, but the writing is more than up to providing the mental visuals for Fambly Cat‘s aural invocation of the last, sad days of summer.
Nonetheless, YouTube comes through with some Fambly Cat imagery, as Lytle has come out from behind the animal costume on a lo-fi video for the "single" "Where I’m Anymore." He bicycles down orchard and suburban lanes, bridging Modesto’s agri and aggro environs, as a papier-mâché cat head jumps into the frame for the slow-jamz chorus of lost-pussy meows. This shy number may have emerged after Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s similar catcentric number, but Grandaddy’s easy, sensuous paw tracks promise to stick with you longer, even after Lytle supposedly says good-bye to Modesto, a place tied tightly to another dubbed Grandaddy. After all, Magnet magazine recently reported that Lytle has sold his Modesto house and is moving to Montana, with no plans to perform Fambly Cat songs live ("If we go on tour, somebody’s gonna fucking die"). But perhaps this media-lavished long good-bye isn’t what it seems — and Grandaddy fans can dry their tears — because it appears Lytle will play those tunes after all, at Amoeba Saturday. Like a cat that always comes back, all may not be lost. SFBG
JASON LYTLE OF GRANDADDY
Sat/20, 6 p.m.
Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight, SF
Love ballads, boyish harmonies, and a single acoustic guitar — four albums along, with numerous side projects such as Sandycoates bringing up the rear, the Moore Brothers obviously have a sweet streak that’s miles wide and filled with melodies as creamy as custard pie and as dreamy as those steamy, leisurely days of teenage summer.
But even dark thoughts dog nice guys, diligent students, and upstanding Joes like Greg and Thom Moore, holding court on a sunny day at a corner table, next to a picture of Jack London, in Mama Buzz’s concrete backyard. Behold the smiling, prone girl lying in the snow on the cover of their beautiful new album, Murdered by the Moore Brothers (Plain). Cock an ear toward the dulcet numbers within, eerie narratives populated with drowned pals ("Old Friend of Mine"), spiteful lovers ("Fresh Thoughts of You"), cemetery lovers ("Bury Me under the Kissing Teens"), and "good deaths" ("Pham"). Even idle bird-watching has a soft veneer of creepy claustrophobia ("The Auditorium Birds"), counterpointing the Moores’ delectable vocals.
What did we do to deserve this? "Lyrically, it is probably the darkest Moore Brothers record," Thom, 32, confesses. "But it also seemed like a nice idea coming out after Now Is the Time for Love, a more holding-hands record. This could be too, but it’s a little more sinister."
"Like holding a severed hand," Greg, 35, chuckles.
Additionally, Thom says, "We’ve got gothic roots." He goes on to describe his first concert as a 12-year-old, accompanying Greg to the Cure’s 1986 Standing on the Beach stop at the LA Forum. The young brothers watched, horrified, as a man in a cowboy hat, standing on a chair, committed suicide by stabbing himself with a huge dagger as an enormous crowd encircled him. "It really scarred me for life!" Thom says. "I thought, I’m never gong to see another concert again unless it’s the Dream Academy!"
So when Thom found himself thumbing through a book of folk songs, looking for numbers for his next side project, Chicken on a Raft, and he came across one titled "Murdered by a Brother," he knew it would be perfect for the Moore Brothers’ next release. "It’s so mean! It’s awful," he says, smiling. They decided to go with it, although their mother — and Girl George, their "punk rock mother," in charge of the Starry Plough open mic — hated it. The former "is afraid someone will murder us," Thom explains. "She said, ‘What if someone sees the album and wants to murder you or wants to implicate you in a murder?!’"
What if? Family bands — and particularly brother bands like the Moore Brothers’ faves the Beach Boys, the Bee Gees, and the Everly Brothers — have always hit a powerful, resonant chord in our pop imaginations, touching off daydreams of thick-as-thieves musical togetherness and nightmares of creepy, smothering … togetherness. After all, the pair does at times finish each other’s sentences, and as Thom offers, their mother can’t tell the two apart on the phone. No wonder rumor in local music circles has it that not only do the Moore Brothers share a house (where, in fact, until recently, songwriting legend Biff Rose couch-surfed), but also a room, an idea that strikes them as natural and practical, although the siblings really haven’t shared a bedroom since they were kids. Back then, though, that closeness played as important a role in their musical development as the obligatory piano lessons. Greg says: "I’d hear all his records, and he’d hear all my records."
"Even back then, we were forced to take turns," Thom continues. "So nowadays we take turns with the set list and album song order — pretty much everything." That sense of fair play extends to their track on the largely acoustic new Kill Rock Stars comp, The Sound the Hare Heard, which was decided with a flip of a coin.
Still, the close living arrangements eases the Moore Brothers’ existence in more ways than one: Songwriters since youth (Thom started writing songs at 10 with Jon B, who later collaborated with Babyface), the pair never needs to rehearse, and they dispense with chitchat during long drives on tour, instead sharing a friendly silence as a CD plays.
And, of course, they’ll always be there for each other. "Things come and go in cycles," Thom says. "The good thing about us is that we’re planning to do it forever.
"We still have hopes for being hip in our 50s." SFBG>
With Rose Melberg, the Harbours, and the Lonelyhearts
Tues/16, 9 p.m.
155 Fell, SF
Considering its bodacious flag team and its players’ general inclination to treat every day like birthday-suit day, Extra Action Marching Band has boasted its share of fleshy, fantastic, and extra-weird gigs, though none quite so intimate as the time they were hired by a would-be groom to crash his marriage proposal. Let into their client’s abode by a friend, about 20 members of the drum corps, horn section, and flag team stomped into the couple’s bedroom just after the "act." "His girlfriend was naked, jumping up and down on the bed, going, ‘Yaaarrr!’" modified-bullhorn manipulator Mateo remembers. "She was totally psyched."
Sit down with whichever members of the 30-odd, proudly odd members of the Bay Area troupe you can rustle up, and you’ll get an earful of many similar stories. There was the time they transformed a school bus into a 60-foot-long, 50-foot-tall Spanish galleon, a.k.a. La Contessa, to drive around Burning Man. "But they started to get really strict and created a five-mile-an-hour speed limit," trombone player Chad Castillo explains after a recent practice in seven-year vet Mateo’s cavernous Oakland warehouse space, the Meltdown. "We were always going faster because we always had been going faster and never had problems. So they finally banned us from Burning Man."
As with most tales, the exact events are in question, and Castillo and Mateo argue good-naturedly about whether their school-bus-run-amok was actually, er, expelled, before the trombonist continues: "The point is, they banned us, and we brought it back, and we took it on a maiden voyage and crashed it," putting a four-foot-high hole in La Contessa’s side.
Hunter Thompson’s wake and East Bay Rats soirees aside, performance highlights include opening for David Byrne on his 2005 SoCal tour, stopping at the Hollywood Bowl and later careening through a pelvic thrust–heavy version of Beyoncé’s "Crazy in Love." And then there was a Mardi Gras tour that re-created Black Sabbath’s heavy metal debut classic, with plain ole heavy eXtreme Elvis on vocals, and special, sexy rifle and fan-dance routines, flag team dancer and original member Kelek Stevenson relates.
The band upped themselves two years ago, when they played the Balkan Brass Bands Festival in Guca, Serbia, deep in the heart of gypsy horn country, one of the inspirations for Extra Action’s cosmopolitan mosh pit of Sousa, Latin, and New Orleans second-line sounds. A recent DVD by Emmy-winning nature documentarian and Extra Action flag girl Anna Fitch supports the stories and catches the combo in action as villagers cheer, fall to their knees, and hug the ensemble as they blow through the streets. One grandmotherly onlooker even gets some extra, extra action, copping a feel of a manly member’s bare chest.
But with the anarchic joys come the passionate battles, such as the recent knockdown blowout over the possibility of doing a Coke commercial, one of many battles regularly undergone in the collective, which has only one CD to its name, last year’s self-released Live on Stubnitz. "There was this huge firestorm between those who wanted to take the gig and use the money to further social change in the world and show that we don’t support Coke and its policies," Mateo explains.
"And a bunch of people threatened to quit the band," Castillo adds. "This band is so big — you’ve got homeowners and you’ve got people who are basically living in their campers — and when it came to doing the Coke commercial, there were a lot of people who just don’t like the big multinational corporations."
It’s remarkable that such an unruly, perpetually shifting, shiftless bunch has managed to hold it together for all of seven or eight years with few agreed-upon "leaders" (although Castillo asserts, "the original members always walk around like aristocracy"). The wireless, untethered energy they bring to the trad rock lineup is impressive. When they marched onto the stage at Shoreline Amphitheatre to join Arcade Fire (after crashing the women’s room) at last year’s Download Festival — ragtag horn and drum corps ripping through a few numbers as the flag girls and boy bumped and grinded in blond wigs and glittery G-strings — you realized what was really missing from indie at this performance, at so many performances: sex appeal. Theater. A drunken mastery of performance and the dark arts of showmanship, along with the sense of team spirit linked to so much marching band imagery bandied about in today’s pop.
As Castillo quips, "Record companies are interested in having us play with their bands because their bands are so boring onstage. People pay big money to go to these concerts because the music is all great and produced, and then they go to these shows, and these guys are sitting there bent over their Game Boys. Oh, that’s really exciting. Where’s the show?"
This show emerged from the ashes of Crash Worship, the legendary SoCal "cult, paganistic drum corps," as Castillo describes it, "where people would just strip naked and writhe in orgiastic piles." Extra Action was the processional that would cut through the heaps, eventually marching north to a Fruitvale warehouse, at the behest of ex-Crash Worshipper Simon Cheffins.
"I’ve been pretty much kicked out of every band I’ve been in," Castillo says, who has played with the group for five years. Members — many of the sculptor, performance artist, or "computer geek" persuasion — come and go, sometimes after a few practices, spinning off into combos like the As Is Brass Band. But it’s a family of sorts — a band-geek gang cognizant of the Bay Area’s countercultural/subcultural performance traditions and the unchartable wildness extending from the Diggers to the Cacophony Society. And only "one thing seems to be a requirement," Castrillo continues. "People have to have some problem that needs to be expressed. Everybody’s an exhibitionist. We like to take off our clothes." Those are family values we can get behind. SFBG
Extra Action Marching Band
With Death of a Party, Sugar and Gold, and Hank IV
May 18, 8 p.m. door
398 12th St., SF
Call for price.
SONIC REDUCER I used to think of myself as the ultimate freak magnet, fending off moist-haired gents with a fetish for girl bands. Damp palms. Foam bubbling at the corners of the mouth. Barely discernable vertigo spirals in their bloodshot eyes. Cute, huh?
But the Court and Spark have me beat. We were sitting around the high-ceilinged kitchen of their Alabama Street Station studio/flat and talking about making their new album, Hearts (Absolutely Kosher), when vocalist-guitarist MC Taylor and guitarist Scott Hirsch suddenly leapt to their feet and started pawing through a drawer by the stove. Drummer James Kim bolted down the hallway. Was it something I said or … ate?
No, they all simply hit on their most memorable piece of fan mail, which Kim pulled from his shadow files. "This is classic," Taylor said, forking the letter over. "This explains to you what the Court and Spark journey is all about."
The script on the wide-rule binder paper was large, loopy, and ever so shaky, and its author told of hearing a song from the band’s last EP, Dead Diamond River, then embarking on his own river of no return: "My life is rough. In May my mom died after having colon cancer surgery. I lost my dad months earlier to lymphoma. For 41 years I’ve been struggling since a child living with severe type 1 diabetes. Not having any health insurance is difficult. My yearly medical expenses are now over $5,000, not including doctor and lab costs. I do without. I hope you will seriously consider sending me a promo copy of your new amazing CD to brighten my life at this difficult time." The missive closed with a San Jose address and came with a checklist of meds.
Of course, the soft hearts of C and S sent the letter-writer the disc — and never heard from their diabetic sad case in the South Bay again.
Score one crazy diamond for C and S, but what’s the attraction? Are the crazies seeking the healing qualities in the band’s shimmering Cali rock ’n’ soul? Are they looking to levitate alongside the group’s increasingly psychedelic yet still hard-to-quantify sound. Am I asking the wrong people? Not for nothing did Taylor first consider titling the new album I Want to Be a Gallant Rider Like My Father Was before Me, after a line in Werner Herzog’s The Enigma of Kasper Hauser. Like Herzog, C and S seem to draw, or be drawn to, those blurry border towns between Insanity, Texas, and Epiphany, Mexico.
Despite Hirsch’s disbelief that their audience actually comes to see them perform rather than the other bands on their bills, C and S are 50 times more comfortable in their collective skin than the first time I spoke to them, around 2002, shortly after the release of their lovely 2001 second album, Bless You.
"We’ve always been the lone wolves out there," Taylor ponders. "But we’ve also played on every kind of possible bill you can possibly imagine, and on good nights, actually, we’ve been able to make it work. We’ve played with everyone from Devendra to Bob Weir."
It’s at home, however, that the onetime UC Santa Barbara students found a sense of freedom last year, tinkering with Hearts to their hearts’ content, experimenting with instruments like harp and hammered dulcimer, and falling in love with Farfisa organ and throwing it, along with a wah pedal, over everything — all while also working on Michael Talbott and the Wolfkings’ new album and the beginnings of Willow Willow’s record. They’d rent, say, a really good, $10,000 mic and then cram everyone into their space to share costs. "We’d wake up earlier than anybody else, since we lived here, and we’d set up and drink coffee and do it," says Hirsch, who also teaches recording at Bay Area Video Coalition.
It may sound too pat for these courtly Mission dwellers, but it looks like they got out of their musical comfort zone by digging deeper into their literal one. "It’s like that Steely Dan quote, ‘We used to spend five months just trying to figure out what chair we were going to sit in in the studio,’" Hirsch says with a laugh. "That’s the kind of freedom that we like and that we found for ourselves — and that maybe they had too, because they would also record a million things and pick just one thing from that. That’s why their records sound so good, I guess." SFBG
Court and Spark
With Jason Molina, Black Fiction, and the Finches
Fri/12, 9 p.m.
Great American Music Hall
859 O’Farrell, SF
SONIC REDUCER A passionate music fan friend recently laid some curious medicine on me as we were hunkered down at Doc’s Clock, watching our inexplicably enraged lady bartender toss one of our half-full beverages: My friend’s musician ex had already written off his barely released singer-songwriter-ish album, because according to his veteran estimate, "people are only interested in bands these days."
Maybe that’s why Vancouver‘s indie-esque artist and sometime New Pornographer Dan Bejar rocks under the name Destroyer. Still, it’s hard to scan the music news these days and avoid single, solitary monikers like Bruce Springsteen or Neil Young, both breaking from their associations with bands and recording protest songs old and new. Bejar’s fellow Canadian Young just last week offered up the quickie, choir-backed Living with War, which includes a song titled "Let’s Impeach the President" and streams for free at www.neilyoung.com starting April 28 (leading one to wonder if the Peninsula’s Shakey is responding to the calls at his onstage SXSW interview for a new "Ohio"?). Perhaps in an instantly downloadable, superniched, and highly fragmented aural landscape, there remains a certain heroic power in creating and performing in the first person, under your own name, while reaching for a collective imagination, some elusive third person.
Chatting on the phone, over the border, Bejar might not easily parse as a part of the aforementioned crew, though he musically cross-references urban rock ’n’ rollers, stardusted glitter kids, and louche lounge cats, explicitly tweaking those "West Coast maximalists, exploring the blues, ignoring the news" on "Priest’s Knees," off his new full-length, Destroyer’s Rubies (Merge). Some might even venture that the late-night, loose lips and goosed hips, full-blown rock of the album, his sixth, marks it as his most indulgent to date.
And Bejar, 33 and a Libra, will readily fess up to his share of indulgences, in lieu of collecting juicy tour adventures. On tour he says, "I tend to go and then kind of hide backstage, get up onstage, try and play, get off, and continue to hide backstage.
"I’m not super into rock clubs," Bejar continues. "I just don’t feel a need to make a home of them."
Just back from the first part of his US journeys ("We played 12 or 14 of 16 dates. That’s hardly any. I think most bands would think that’s psychotic"), Bejar does feel quite at home in Vancouver and will reluctantly theorize about Canadian music. "I think there’s a certain outsider perspective that people might say comes with Canadian songwriters, like the states would never be able to produce a Leonard Cohen or a Joni Mitchell or a Neil Young — just kind of idiosyncratic characters." But then he brakes and reverses. "But I don’t know if I believe that."
Bejar could be talking about his own amiable, idiosyncratic self. Most of his sentences end with a little, upward, questioning lilt, giving his responses a way-relaxed, studiedly casual, postgrad quality, clad as they are in contradictions, at times inspiring detailed analysis, but more often triggering mild arguments and arriving at good-humored dead ends. In other words, the man can talk complete paragraphs — or monosyllables. Rubies‘ last track, "Sick Priest Learns to Last Forever," for example, has been kicking around for five years. "It’s kind of like the first song I tried doing, to break out a certain mold of Destroyer songs that I had unconsciously set up in the late ’90s," Bejar explains. "It was a style of song where the language was mostly based on political or economic rhetoric and social expression and the occasional personal aside. ‘Sick Priest’ is kind of an exercise in a more free-flowing, imagistic song, which I was dead against back in my younger days, and I’ve since completely embraced that style of writing."
Maybe it’s the sax, I venture. To these rust-belt-weaned ears, the new album sounds like urban East Coast rock of the ’70s — à la not only Bowie but Springsteen and, say, the J. Geils Band.
"Wow, Peter Wolf," he sighs. "That’s cool. That’s funny. I mean, I kind of have a soft spot for, uh, that kind of sounding band, though I don’t have a soft spot for the songs that those people wrote. I like the ’70s bar-rock feel, especially the laid-back afternoon variety."
Yeah, like when you’re sitting at the bar, drinking cheap beer, watching the sun shoot through a vinyl padded door.
Bejar can go for that scenario: Despite the fact that he will be playing All Tomorrow’s Parties in England shortly after his SF date, you get the impression he can take or leave Destroyer and even the New Pornographers. (Since he moved away to his father’s homeland of Spain a few years ago, he says, "My involvement is pretty minimal. I don’t go to practices. I don’t tour.") Who knows, when he gets some time off after ATP and the Pitchfork music festival in Chicago, he might even take his own "bad advice," the kind that’s ingrained in Destroyer songs’ "little pep talks," and fall back on a career shelving books at the public library. "Something part-time, maybe, that doesn’t involve too much dealing with the public," he ponders playfully. "I’m good at alphabetizing stuff." SFBG
May 8, 9:30 p.m.
Cafe du Nord
2170 Market, SF
SONIC REDUCER I love the fact that whenever you leave this country, you immediately come to the discomfiting realization that … you’re such a damaged by-product of capitalist America. Case in point: Last week I gazed upon the beauteous, barren, and treeless expanses of Iceland, miles and miles of rock, scrubby grass, and mirrorlike pools of ice. Iceland in the spring is the chill, brown-white-and-blue equivalent of the Southwestern desert, austere yet fragile in the face of certain global warming, and barely containing an undercurrent of volcanic energy reminiscent of Hawaii’s Big Island. So why do I look at these moonscapes and wonder where all the people are and why there aren’t any houses, strip malls, or ski resorts out here? Why do I look at untrammeled land and see real estate?
Reykjavik: I’m here on a press trip with other media field operatives from BPM, OK!, Nylon, and Vapors, studying the club culture, seeing the sights, taking in gutfuls of fresh, fishy air by the wharf, gazing at snowcapped mountains, and perusing menus in shock. I just couldn’t help blurting a culturally insensitive, "Omigod, that’s My Little Pony!" when I saw the roast Icelandic foal with a tian of mushrooms, caramelized apples, and calvados sauce on the bill of traditional Icelandic restaurant Laekjarbrekka.
Likewise, the Icelanders probably can’t help turning those cute puffins and herb-fed lambs into meaty main courses to warm them through those long, dark winters. The real, long-haired, sweet-faced Icelandic horses turned out to be more engaging and curious than I’d ever imagined, strolling up to our group out in the wilds near Thingvellir to examine the hipsters (and hip-hoppsters) and be ooohed over. "They’re more like dogs than horses!" our Icelandair rep, Michael Raucheisen, exclaimed.
After a scrumptious Asian fusion meal at the elegant, cream-colored, deco Apotek (started with kangaroo tartare and finished off with a mistakenly ordered $125 bottle of Gallo cab; travel tip number one: Reykjavik is not the spot to sample California vino), our wild bunch was more into checking out a local strip club than settling in with a good book like Dustin Long’s charming Agatha Christie parody, Icelander (McSweeney’s), or the catalog for the National Museum of Iceland’s current photo exhibit of fishing village life in the southeast, "Raetur Runtsins" ("Roots of the Runtur"). We were more likely to price the local, ahem, pharmaceutical offerings ("$175 for a gram of coke is not cheap!" was one assessment) at the city’s nightclubs than shop for runic love charms or grandmotherly woolens.
One reason for the aforementioned vast, unpopulated expanses: There are only 300,000 people in the entire country — albeit well educated, well employed, relatively youthful, and wired. (Is it any wonder this isle has the highest concentration of broadband users in the world?) Most of the youth culture was happening in the capital, where about a third of the population lives it up, sucks down Brennivin and macerated strawberry mojitos, dances with compact little hand motions that resemble a funky elfin hand jive. I must confess that, watching Deep Dish’s Ali "Dubfire" Shirazinia skillfully work Iceland native Björk into his house mix at NASA, I’ve rarely seen more hot, seemingly straight men dancing, en masse, on the floor, on the mezzanine, in the booths, every damn where. Where did they get the energy — from a geothermal pipeline or those mischievous sprites called Julelads?
As we piled into the van to steep at the sulfur-scented but soul-soothing Blue Lagoon and study the brand-spankin’ Icelandic Idol Snorri Snorrason (I kid you not) serenading the soakers lagoonside with Jack Johnson–like tunes, I could only sit and plot my next visit — possible when Icelandair resumes its summer flights from SF in May? It’ll be too late to catch late April’s new Rite of Spring alt-jazz and folk music festival, but not for October’s Iceland Airwaves music fest (Oct. 18 through 22, www.icelandairwaves.com), where big tickets like the Flaming Lips have filled the city’s venues alongside Icelanders such as Sigur R??s. I’ll have to catch these new Icelandic rock artists:
Ampop, My Delusions (Dennis)
This trio was getting the royal hype in Reykjavik — posters were plastered everywhere. How nice to find that their jaunty yet dramatic English-language orchestral psych-rock traverses the dreamier side of Coldplay and Doves.
Mammut, Mammut (Smekkleysa)
Polished though quirky, this bass-driven, all-lady post-punk fivesome takes a bite of the Sugarcubes, Siouxsie Sioux, and the Raincoats, with plenty of all-Icelandic lyrical histrionics.
Storsveit Nix Noltes, Orkideur Havai (12 Tonar; to be released on Bubblecore)
Last glimpsed at South by Southwest’s Paw Tracks/Fat Cat showcase, these Animal Collective tourmates draw inspiration for their instrumentals from Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and the Balkans.
Mugison, Mugimama — Is This Monkey Music? (12 Tonar)
The Mark Linkous of Icelandic rock digs into the raw stuff on this acclaimed full-length. He also recently scored Baltasar Kormakur’s film A Little Trip to Heaven, reinterpreting the Tom Waits track of the same name.
For the real folkways, check out Raddir/Voices: Recordings of Folk Songs from the Archives of the Arni Magnusson Institute in Iceland (Smekkleysa/Arni Magnusson Institute), which includes a great booklet on the music, collected between 1903 and 1973 and revolving around Icelandic sagas and cautionary fables of monsters, ogres, and child-snatching ravens. SFBG
CH-CH-CHECK IT OUT
Anthony Hamilton, Heather Headley, and Van Hunt
Hamilton killed, from all reports, at SXSW, and we all know how good that Hunt album is. Wed/19 and Mon/24, 7:30 p.m., Paramount, 2025 Broadway, Oakl. $39–$67.75. www.ticketmaster.com
M’s and the Deathray Davies
Chicago cock-rockers meet quirk poppers. Wed/19, 8 p.m., Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell, SF. $8. (415) 861-2011
The chairs are pushed back when this band of Tuaregs, the indigenous people from Eastern Mali, break out the guitars. Wed/19, 8 and 10 p.m. Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakl. $14–$20. (510) 238-9200
The gritty girlfriend that might be the next Mary adds a late show. Fri/21, 11:30 p.m., The Grand, 1300 Van Ness, SF. $32.50. (415) 864-0815
The ensemble premieres a collaboration with Walter Kitundu, takes on a Sigur R??s number, and teams with Matmos on "For Terry Riley." Fri/21–Sat/22, 8 p.m., Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF. $18–$35. (415) 978-ARTS
Saddle Creek’s electro-folk-pop sweetheart steps out from Azure Ray. Sat/22, 9 p.m., Cafe du Nord, 2170 Market, SF. $10. (415) 861-5016 SFBG
SONIC REDUCER In the best of all music fans’ worlds, an album will grow on you — like lichen, excessive body hair, or a parasite à la guinea worm, only with more pleasure and less arterial spray, I pray. You like it more and more as you play-repeat-play. It starts with an ear-catching opening track or appetite-whetting overture, as that well-worn pop recipe goes, and builds momentum until track three or four. That one should sink its little tenterhooks into you and refuse to let go until you listen to it once again or upload it to your iPod or whatever musical delivery system serves the addiction.
That analyzed, it’s amazing how some bands, like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, can go from compulsively listenable to annoying with one album, Show Your Bones (Interscope). Too bad because the YYYs still stand out, like a slash of smeared red lipstick, as one of the few female-fronted groups to emerge from that much hyped, new-rock New York music scene of the early ’00s. That barely sublimated burden of representation, the YYYs’ association with the Liars and the more artistically ambitious NYC crew, as well as the heightened critical expectations after the strength of 2003’s Fever to Tell hasn’t helped Show. Once the flurry of screeching, obscuring noise and rockabilly riffs are stripped away and the songs are spruced up in the studio, the poppier YYYs sound deathly similar to peers like the Strokes at their most singsong (“Dudley,” “Mysteries”). O’s slight lyrics are exposed as the slender vehicles they are — her piercing tone, which cut through the distortion in the past, simply seems affected.
Even when O toys with teasing double entendre on “Cheating Hearts,” confutf8g the act of taking off a ring with a sexed-up strip (“Well I’m / Taka-taka-taka-taka-takin’ it off / And she’s / Taka-taka-taka-taka-takin’ it off / And he’s / Taka-taka-taka-taka-takin’ it off / And we’re / Taka-taka-taka-taka-takin’ it off”), the story doesn’t go anywhere beyond the (again, repeated) lines “Sometimes / I think that I’m bigger / Than the sound.” The entire enterprise gives up the reheated, ego-stroking aroma of Zep knockoffs like Heart. That wouldn’t necessarily be bad, if those commercial rock invocations seemed to serve more than an ego that seems “something like a phenomena, baby” (see the key fourth track, “Phenomena”). This album feels like a grandiose, strident, ultimately airheaded mess — all Show, no go.
“Fab Mab” flap
I was a humongoid Flipper fan back in the day, but, truthfully, I wasn’t thinking too hard about the imminent “Fab Mab Reunion” show featuring the SF dadaist-punk legends and Mabuhay Gardens regulars the Dead Kennedys, the Avengers, and the Mutants. The reunion part of the show’s name brought out ex-DK vocalist Jello Biafra, who issued the statement, “No, it is not a Dead Kennedys reunion. Yes, I am boycotting the whole scam. These are the same greedmongers who ran to corporate lawyers and sued me for over six years in a dispute sparked by my not wanting ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ sold into a Levi’s commercial. They now pimp Dead Kennedys in the same spirit as Mike Love suing Brian Wilson over and over again, then turning around and playing shows as the Beach Boys.”
I was curious about the pimping notion. The idea can’t help but cross one’s mind with the crowded pit of punk reunion shows (including the Flesh Eaters; see “Zombies Are Back!” page 35), all within spittin’ distance of each other in the past few years. So I spoke to Flipper drummer Steve DePace, who put together the “reunion” after the band’s first performance after a “10-year hiatus” (Bruno DeMartis sitting in for the late Will Shatter) at a CBGB’s benefit last year. Following that, they answered a request to play LA’s closing Olympic Auditorium. “I thought to myself, in the spirit of the funnest days of my career back in the late ’70s and early ’80s at the Mabuhay Gardens — when that scene was flourishing and that club served as the hub to the punk rock scene that developed in SF — what if we were to do a show with that vibe?” says the 49-year-old ex–animation industry project manager, who now lives in LA. “What are the bands around that are still playing from back in those days?
“Listen, Flipper is not making a ton of money,” he continues, adding that Flipper has reformed because they still have a passionate audience. To DePace, the most famous of those Flipper fans was likely Kurt Cobain, who wore his homemade Flipper T-shirt on TV and magazine covers. Of course, there were no official Flipper shirts, he says. “Back in those days we were not into the commerce,” he explains. “No one thought about selling merchandise — nowadays it’s the biggest thing. People gobble it up.” Just keep feeding.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
April 28 and 29
982 Market, SF
Call for time and price.
“Fab Mab Reunion”
Sat/8, 9 p.m.
1805 Geary, SF
GET A LOAD OF HIS DOWNLOAD
After supporting his buddies the Shins and finding inspiration on Fleetwood Mac’s Future Games (Reprise, 1971), ex-Califone side guy Eric Johnson made one of the loveliest, most underrated indie pop LPs of 2005, Spelled in Bones (Sub Pop). Images of blood injury (the legacy of cutting his head open as a five-year-old and, later, one auto accident too many) crop up, as does a ref to that distinctively northern Midwestern “land of sky blue waters” from the old Hamm’s beer commercial. Johnson’s obviously comfortable listening in the past, judging from these items in the iTunes library on his new computer:
•Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (Bizarre/Straight/EMI)
•Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde (Columbia)
•Kinks, Muswell Hillbillies (Rhino/WEA)
•Steve Martin, A Wild and Crazy Guy (WEA)
•Meat Puppets, Meat Puppets II (SST/Rykodisc)
•Rod Stewart, Every Picture Tells a Story (Polygram)
•Kelley Stoltz, Below the Branches (Sub Pop); “Favorite thing I’ve heard this year so far.”
•T. Rex, The Slider (Rhino/WEA); “I listen to it when I clean house.”
Fruit Bats play Mon/10, 8 p.m., the Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. $10–$12. (415) 771-1421
MORE, MORE, MORE
Italy’s punky musical absurdists swing through town once more, after last year’s power-packed Hemlock and Cookie Factory dates. SF experimentalists the Molecules also reunite. Fri/7, 9:30 p.m., Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. $7. (415) 923-0923
The Seattle musician makes moody folk songs with a bleeding edge; check his second album, This Murder Is a Peaceful Gathering (Denimclature). Jean Marie, the Blank Tapes, and 60 Watt Kid also play. Thurs/6, 8:30 p.m., Hotel Utah Saloon, 500 Fourth St., SF. $6. (415) 546-6300
Enrico Rava and Stefano Bollani
The Trieste trumpet-player and Bollani back up their recent album, Tati (ECM), while collaborator, drummer Paul Motian, remains in NYC. Enrico Pieranunzi fills out this il Jazz Italiano bill. Fri/7, 8 p.m., Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness, SF. $25–$51. (415) 621-6600, www.sfjazz.org
Break it down to the Beastie Boys’ smart-ass advocacy of the everydude, or their ability to agilely swing with hip-hop’s developments and evolve with their more adventurous listeners, but Adam Yauch (MCA), Mike Diamond (Mike D), and Adam Horovitz (Adrock) have always maintained a special "relationship" with their fans. Their new concert film, Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!, a listener-producer "collabo," as Yauch puts it, explodes that bond. It’s a mash(-up) note, a Bronx-cheer pop Rashomon from the 50 followers who were given video cameras to shoot the group’s sold-out Madison Square Garden concert Oct. 9, 2004.
Something from each camera made it onscreen. By the second part of the film, director-producer Yauch — working under his music vid/viz art nom de camera Nathaniel Hornblower — moves from exciting but straightforward cinéma vérité into a playful, fourth wall–banging realm familiar to aficionados of the group’s videos. The color is leeched from one song and intensified in another; strobe effects are magnified here, and the zoom plunges deep into the frame there. When one shooter — diligently following his preconcert instructions to "start when the Beastie Boys hit the stage and don’t stop till it’s over" — takes his camera into the men’s room and captures himself taking a piss, Yauch matches the onstage musical break with the rip of a paper towel.
Along with Yauch’s edit of a female fan doing the same dance move as the onstage Diamond (and his superimposition of the two in the same frame, so that they appear to be dancing together), that bathroom break also marked the limits for the two Beasties sidelined during the editing. Discussing the film in Austin at this year’s South by Southwest conference, Diamond said he "begged Yauch to take out the explicit scene of me dancing with the young lady." Horovitz felt like the onscreen urination was too much information.
But what are the now mature Boys going to do with all the newfound respect they’re fielding from … their parents? "My dad [playwright Israel Horovitz] is just superimpressed with Yauch," Horovitz claims. "Now that we got reviewed in the New York Times as a film —"
" — it comes onto the parents’ radar," Yauch says.
"What, isn’t it good enough we’re playing at the Garden?" Horovitz jokes. *
AWESOME; I FUCKIN’ SHOT THAT!
For showtimes go to www.sfbg.com.
As raw as road rash and as disarming as a child, Arlington, Texas, songwriter Jana Hunter is a jewel in the rough. At her eeriest best, the short hairs stand on end and small chills roll down your neck — a quiet intensity is embedded in the unadorned sound of her debut, Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom, the first release on Gnomonsong, Devendra Banhart and Andy Cabic’s new label. A compilation of four-tracks, two-tracks, and music recorded on computer, the CD doesn’t seem like the work of a onetime classical violin player: It has the musty scent of a recently unearthed, once lost recording from a lady recluse who spent her days porch-sitting and eking out a farm life in the dust bowl. There’s a sense of history — and emotional dimension — in Hunter’s voice and spare guitar sounds. Imagine Emily Dickinson as an outfolk ragamuffin. (Kimberly Chun)
JANA HUNTER Fri/25, 9 p.m., Hotel Utah Saloon, 500 Fourth St., SF
$8. (415) 546-6300, www.hotelutah.com
Also Sat/26, 2 p.m., Amoeba Music, 1855 Haight, SF
Free. (415) 831-1200, www.amoebamusic.com
Nonetheless, it was a revelation to finally get a looky-loo at the recently released Hot Chick Hot Rod Stoner BBQ DVD (Stroker Productions, www.stonerrock.com), the straight-to-DVD-in-all-its-glorioski sequel to Hot Chick Stoner BBQ. Both projects star Hot Rod Honey — the charismatic, witty, and much more likeable rock ’n’ roll alternative to Rachael Ray.
The latest disc picks you up, throws you in the backseat, and gives you a smokin’ ride to Ace Junkyard in SF, where HRH gently but firmly takes you through the gutbucket basics of barbecuing, from starting a flame to cooking some beer can chicken, while hep, cute, but grittily real-looking metal and stoner rock chicks mill about, show off their shh-weet hot rods, chow down, and get buzzed. HRH lays down the grillable wisdom, urging hot-rodders to "put some time into your ride and some time into your food" before quipping that she’s making her food mild for the party because "I know some folks here have a bad case of honky mouth, so I don’t want anyone’s asshole to blow out."
Between barbecue tips, hip chicks (one, Vicki, works as a mechanic at Oakland Ford and is said to be married to a Drunk Horse) show you how to do elementary work on your machine, like changing the spark plugs. An added bonus: a solid soundtrack by local heavies like Om, Hightower, High on Fire, Acid King, and Dirty Power and cameos of familiar Bay faces and their rides, including Leslie Mah of Tribe 8, Meg of Totimoshi, and Windy Chien, former owner of Aquarius Records (showing off her now-departed Porsche). Toss in some shots of hot girls hot-boxing it and a recipe for "potcorn" with "pot butter," and you can imagine rock kids in Peoria drooling over the high times, good eats, and hip crew in SF.
Hot Chick Hot Rod Stoner BBQ looks that cool, as conceived and directed by Tina "Tankdog" Gordon, drummer of onetime Guardian Goldies winner Lost Goat. The video production teacher, who now drums in Night after Night, found the impetus for the series in Hot Rod Honey herself. "Hot Rod Honey is an old friend of mine. She’s been cooking for rockers for years," says Gordon over the phone. "In fact, she was the reason I stopped being a vegetarian. My old band was playing at Pondathon [in Mendocino County], and she was sitting at the edge of the pond surrounded by a pack of dogs. I said, ‘What are you cooking?’ And she said, ‘Beer Boat Sausage. It’s good. You should try some.’ It was like she put a spell on me. I said, ‘OK,’ and I ate it, and then I ate rattlesnake and steak."
The project took form because, Gordon says, Hot Rod Honey (who apparently not only works on her hot rods but also rides horses, shoots guns, bartends, and barbecues like a bad ass) "needed to be appreciated and kind of honored. I see all these cooking shows, but none of them are interesting to me, y’know. So I wanted to do something I was interested in, in this genre. In general, the stuff I like to document are things that aren’t generally documented. I’m not excited by most of what I see in TV and popular culture; so when you don’t like what you see and you’re someone who makes stuff, you gotta make the stuff you want to see. It’s just like music."
For the Hot Rod shoot in fall 2004, Gordon assembled pals who could understand the project and the vibe "and are down with barbecue." Even her vegan hot chick friends could get with the spirit of the series. "The love of hard rock is a huge thing," Gordon says. "There’s a cross section in there who can appreciate hard rock and who are hungry for that right now." Chomp chomp, there go those crunchy guitars.
Gordon tells me the next DVD will be titled Hot Chick Backwoods Stoner BBQ, and I’m probably not outta line to make a wise crack about seeing a pattern here. But after that, who knows? Gordon and HRH have been invited to film in Mississippi in May with the boys of Yokel, a Jackass-related redneck hipster pride TV series on the Turner South network. Nashville Pussy lovin’—Nascar Nationals meet NorCal hottie headbangers? Bring it on.
Most teen starlets are probably satisfied to look their hottest on press junkets and don the cutest duds they can find at Fred Segal. But at 15, Q’Orianka Kilcher isn’t your average Teen Vogue pinup. Perhaps it’s indicative of the added expectations – and attendant ambitions – that come with playing Pocahontas in Terrence Malick’s The New World, but Kilcher seemed to be firing on all cylinders, in terms of accomplishments, when she showed up at San Francisco’s Ritz-Carlton in gorgeous multiskinned boots and a covetable leather jacket, both of which she made herself.
A dancer, musician, and singer, yet relatively untried in the movies, with only a small part in Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas to her name, Kilcher – the daughter of a native Peruvian Quecha/Huachapaeri father and a Swiss-Alaskan mother – rose above the iconic demands of playing the metaphorically loaded yet still mysterious Indian princess with considerable charm, unstudied poise, and sweet naturalism on film. Bringing modern-dance moves and a watchful (and watchable) lightness to the first half of The New World, she holds her own when the stifling star power and narrative filter of Colin Farrell as John Smith falls away and Pocahontas and her sadly all-too-familiar story of a native woman’s tragic encounter with "old-world" colonizers move closer to the center of The New World.
Petite, simultaneously softer and rawer than Malick’s other girlish innocents (Sissy Spacek in Badlands and Linda Manz in Days of Heaven), and just as graceful in person as she is in front of the lens (except when she is later startled in the women’s room and then resembles a frightened doe in her buckskins), Kilcher seems to be handling the weighty burdens of representing a legendary figure (which included getting her first kiss, from Farrell) well, although a body can obviously only take so much. "Omigod, my back just … cracked!" she yelped, rising from her gilded nest of a settee.
SFBG: I found the Pocahontas story extremely moving because it reminded me of the sad stories of native Hawaiian royalty I’d hear growing up.
Q’Orianka Kilcher: I grew up in Hawaii! I lived there for six and a half years. We lived on the North Shore, Oahu, Kailua, Waikiki – omigod I’m forgetting the names – Wailua? I remember surfing, being at the beach every day, catching beautiful, tropical-looking fish.
SFBG: What were your impressions of Pocahontas before you took the role?
QK: I just knew the cartoon like everyone else. But when I went to Virginia, I did so much research. I learned her native language, Algonquian, and I can even speak it today. I immersed myself. The sets that Jack Fisk designed, as well as the clothing Jackie West made, really helped me to get lost in the 1600s and how life kind of was back then – the purity and delight and simplicity.
SFBG: The clothing conveys the character’s physical changes.
QK: It really does. When she’s in Virginia in her traditional tribal clothes, she holds the spirit of freedom and is able to move freely around, and when she moves to London and has the corset on, she’s very constricted. I went home and cried the first time I tried on my corset and my shoes. I had them put on my corset extra-too-tight and my shoes a size too small.
SFBG: What was the audition process like? Did you know who Terrence Malick was?
QK: I didn’t. I didn’t know who Colin Farrell was; Christian Bale, not too much. I must have done 15 to 20 auditions. I never knew what to expect, because they’d tell me to suddenly do a traditional feather dance or play my Native American flute. They would put all these obstacles in my path to see if I would withstand them and overcome them.
SFBG: What was the shoot like?
QK: It was an emotional roller coaster. Sometimes I would be crying for four or five hours straight – those were my favorite scenes to film, because I was able to throw my whole heart and soul into it and I wasn’t honestly sure in the beginning that I was able to pull those scenes off. So I’d kind of ask the spirit of Pocahontas to guide me and help me show her story as best as I could to the world.
SFBG: Did you feel any added pressure playing Pocahontas because she is such a symbol of …
SFBG: … and …
SFBG: And America.
QK: People have so many different views. Being a young girl myself – Pocahontas seeing a white person for the first time, with their armor and their white skin, never seeing them before, I think she would have perceived John Smith in a way like a god or spirit. So there was a little bit of a crush and [a] naïveté. Were she given the foresight to see what devastating consequences her actions and beliefs in the hopes for peace would have brought upon her own people, I think she would have gone away from [him]. I wanted to show Pocahontas’s story as best I could to the world and really do her justice because I fell in love with who she was. I thought she was an amazing, strong woman who wasn’t afraid to dream.