Becca Stevens: On Her Way

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Riverside Fine Arts Series presents: Becca Stevens

Monday, April 27, 7:30 pm

Underbelly, 113 E. Bay St.

$20

For nearly a decade, the Riverside Fine Arts Series has presented some of the most interesting musicians Northeast Florida has hosted in that time. Most of those concerts have occurred in Riverside, at the historic Church of the Good Shepherd, one of the best places in Florida to catch a show. (The Turtle Island String Quartet’s performance some years back remains a personal favorite.)

That process has proceeded full-speed into 2014. Enter Becca Stevens, hailing from Winston-Salem, NC, by way of New York City. Classically-trained in guitar at North Carolina School of the Arts (c/o 2002), she earned a BFA in vocal jazz and composition at the New School for Jazz (c/o 2007) before going pro. Even out of school, Stevens copped credits quickly, in combos led by pianists Taylor Eigsti and fellow New School alumnus Brad Mehldau (who, incidentally, was born in Jacksonville).

By her count, she’s recorded about 25 songs so far. “I have been writing songs since I can remember,” Stevens writes via email from the road, where she’s currently on tour, “and I’ve recorded a lot of original music with artists and bands other than my own, as well as original material that was never officially released.”

Her solo debut, “Tea Bye Sea”, was released independently in 2008. “Weightless” (Sunnyside) followed three years later, bringing her into mainstream focus for the first time. Speaking to NPR that year, Kurt Elling cited her among his five favorite jazz vocalists. A new album is slated for later this year: “I just finished mixing the upcoming album. I’m in the process of trying to find a label for it. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll release it on my own.”

“When we perform live, the music tends to be heavier, bigger, and higher energy than how it was recorded on ‘Weightless’,” she says. “My approach is always changing in little ways as I am as an artist. Also, we are playing mostly new material now, from our upcoming release. This new material tends more towards a heavier rock/pop sound, and is a little more danceable and less moody than the songs from ‘Weightless’.

Stevens is probably best-known to casual fans as the vocalist for Travis Sullivan’s Bjorkestra, an 18-piece supergroup of New York musicians—who’ve worked for artists ranging from Clark Terry and Ray Charles to Jessica Simpson and Arcade Fire—assembled to perform his original big-band arrangements of Bjork songs. Their 2008 album “Enjoy” was, and remains, an instant classic.

It’s hard to accurately describe music that crosses over so many boundaries; even the artist has some difficulty categorizing the dozens of songs she’s written so far. “I’d say it floats somewhere between pop, Appalachian folk, jazz, rock, and world music,” she writes. “The arrangements are intricate and vocal/harmony driven. The compositions are intimate but accessible, through-composed, and from the heart!”

Stevens currently leads her own band, which she founded in 2005; the group includes Liam Robinson (accordion, piano, vocals), Chris Tordini (acoustic bass, vocals) and Jordan Perlson (drums & percussion). Tordini and Robinson have been in her band since day one, whereas Perlson’s “only” been there five years. It’s a band comprised of friends, who have come up in the business and evolved into their mature style together, which lends a real tightness to the live sets, even as the music itself can be downright laconic.

Stevens is contributing strongly to a rebooting of how jazz is perceived by audiences for whom the music is more often considered a fixed entity, in stasis and currently inaccessible, geographically and aesthetically. It’s no coincidence that Underbelly will also be at the epicenter of the “Jazz After Dark” activities at the jazz festival in May; Stevens’ own band and the Bjorkestra are both prime examples of the kind of acts that should be booked at the festival itself in the future. As for Stevens’ own future, all systems are go. “I’d like to stay on the track that i’m currently on!” she writes. “I’d like to also continue collaborating with likeminded artists outside the music I play with my bandmates. I see myself making music until I can’t make music anymore.”

Having started very early, Stevens (a 15-year veteran) is presently a leading light among the new generation of genre-smashing jazz/pop hybrid female vocalists, several of whom—including Sophie Milman and Esperanza Spalding—have also worked Jacksonville in partnership with RFAS. Although they have worked Miami before, this will be the Becca Stevens Band’s first appearance here in Jacksonville. It will also mark Underbelly’s first time hosting the RFAS. Both those firsts are well worth repeating, as often as possible.

http://www.riversidefinearts.org/concert-series/becca-stevens-band/

http://www.youtube.com/user/beccastevensband

https://www.facebook.com/beccastevensmusic

 

sheltonhull@gmail.com

April 25, 2014

Notes on the Girls Rock Jacksonville Volunteer Showcase (CoRK, 12/15) and “The Punk Singer” (Sun-Ray Cinema, 12/23)

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Girls Rock Jax benefit show—CoRK, December 15

“The Punk Singer”—Sun Ray Cinema, December 23

(One of my favorite concert flyers this year…)

The expansion of the Girls Rock Camp’s global brand into Jacksonville two years ago has been, without question, one of the most important local cultural development of the past decade—the proverbial “gift that keeps on giving”, if you’re a music fan. As Girls Rock Jacksonville prepares to enter its third year, with its third camp coming in summer 2014, the process of preparation has begun, and that includes two events scheduled for mid-December at CoRK (12/15) and Sun-Ray Cinema (12/23).

The first is a Girls Rock Jax fundraising event slated for Friday, Dec. 15 at CoRK, which has been on a heckuva run this year. (A number of their resident artists will be just returning from a triumphant group effort at Art Basel Miami Beach, dubbed the ‘#baselinvasion”; a number of Northeast Florida’s top talents were represented there, at the country’s biggest art festival.) The GRJ funder will feature five bands comprised of GRJ volunteers and volunteers, as well as a silent auction with gimmicks and swag provided by local creative talents like Christina Abercrombie, Alicia Canessa, Cherri Czajkowski, Crystal Floyd, Sarah Humphreys and Karen Kurycki, as well as affiliated local businesses, including: Bold Bean Coffee Roasters, Burro Bags, The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, Dead Tank Records / Distribution, Deep Search Records, Dig Foods, Hawthorn Salon, Intuition Ale Works, M.A.D. Nails, Original Fuzz, Orion | Allen Photography, Sun-Ray Cinema, Sweet Theory Baking Co. and That Poor Girl.

Swag for the auction, provided by Dead Tank…

The first Girls Rock camps started in the Pacific Northwest, and have from the start been largely inspired by the Riot Grrrl movement that began in that region a quarter-century ago. Riot Grrrl, to an even larger extent than the alternative rock scene of the era, in general, marked the first time that girls were positioned front-and-center in multiple bands, in a truly egalitarian way, speaking directly to matters of relevance in their demographic—and they were good, too.

Of course, a central figure in that movement has been Kathleen Hanna—writer, activist, wife of King Ad-Rock and lead singer of Bikini Kill, Le Tigre and the Julie Ruin—one of the most influential women of the 21st century. You can see that all over American culture, to this day, and in ways that are not just latent or nostalgia-based, but active, kinetic and compelling in the present. The network of Girls Rock camps around the world is just the most obvious example.

Hanna with Jabberjaw, circa 1993 or ’94…

A new documentary called “The Punk Singer” tells Hanna’s story in greater detail than ever before, largely in her own words, Jacksonville will be one of the select cities hosting a screening of it at Sun-Ray Cinema, in historic Five Points, on Sunday afternoon, December 23. I’ll proudly note that I was first to call attention to its availability when I saw a posting about it on Facebook, but Tim Massett is the man for connecting with the filmmakers and putting in the legwork to make it happen.

(Kathleen Hanna with the author, Burrito Gallery, November 2011)

Although Hanna herself will not be on hand for the film screening, she’ll be there in spirit. Her affinity for the River City is already a matter of record. I was honored to sit with her, Adee Roberson, Andrew Coulon, Duncan Fristoe and the delightful Mark Creegan for a panel discussion on zines (“The Personal Is Political”) at the Jacksonville Public Library in November 2011. That was followed by a presentation by Hanna herself, and a Q&A session with an audience largely comprised of the city up-and-coming young ladies; after that, everyone adjourned to Burrito Gallery for lunch. Many of those girls ended up being involved in the launch of Girls Rock Jacksonville the following July.

(Flyer for the NYC screenings…)

“The Punk Singer” was released theatrically by IFC Films on November 29, with some 19 screenings in ten states; the screening at Sun-Ray will be the very first one in the state of Florida. (The film will also be showing at the Hippodrome in Gainesville on January 24, 2014.)      As a bonus, the screening will be preceded by a performance of songs associated with the film’s subject, as rendered by a group of girls drawn together specifically for the occasion from the ranks of GRJ volunteers. Drummer Summer Wood is probably best-known for her work with Rice, and now with Four Families. Singer/guitarist/keyboardist Alex E. Michael has led some of the city’s most dynamic bands of the past few years, including Wild Life Society and Ritual Union, in addition to her own solo work. She and singer Bethany Buckner were once half of the legendary Fruit Machine, which during its too-short run was, quite simply, one of the best all-girls bands ever, anywhere.

According to the official “Girls Rock Camp Alliance” website, GRJ is just one of 44 Girls Rock camps in eight different countries, with more forthcoming. The volunteers who’ve organized and run the past two GRJ camps include some of the most talented artists and musicians working the region today, women whose own individual achievements are already a matter of public record. Together, they have created something even greater than the sum of its already-valuable parts. They have nurtured, empowered and mentored these young ladies like they were their own sisters, daughters and friends—which they often are, in many cases.

            Girls Rock, as a concept, was born at Portland State University in 2001, and quickly spread to cities around the world. The girlsrockcamp.org website offers a glimpse at Portland’s organization ten years on, fully-formed and self-actualized, with ample merchandise to ensure a steady influx of capital. What began, like ours, as a weekly summer camp has expanded into a full-time Girls Rock Institute, with a camp for women, its own Rock Camp Studio, and hundreds of pupils per year; they have received nearly a quarter-million dollars in sponsorship, including a $40,000 donation from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Instructors’ educational experiences have been codified into a book, and an excellent documentary feature was filmed at the 2005 camp. The Portlandians even formed 16 Records to market and distribute music related to the project from talent like Dolly Ranchers, Jack Queen, The Haggard and Pom Pom Meltdown. (Note especially the splendid singer Marisa Anderson, who doubles on keyboards and lap-steel guitar.) No doubt, interest in this material will only increase as these ladies further establish themselves in the industry; the earliest campers are now in their mid-20s, so that process is already well-underway.

For the uninitiated, the GRJ camp is a one-week camp for girls aged 9-16, usually running from late July into early August. Attendees are provided hands-on instruction in a wide range of artistic disciplines—singing, instruments, DJing, arts and crafts, flyer- and zine-making—related to the skills needed for success as a professional musician. Having the lessons administered to girls by girls, by actual working musicians and longtime vets of the scene. The inaugural camp, in 2012, drew 29 campers and 40 volunteers. Camp sessions are run at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, and each year’s camp ends with the girls forming their own bands to play a showcase concert at the historic Florida Theatre on Saturday afternoon. (Hopefully, future concerts will be recorded and marketed for fans, parents, etc.)

A cursory glance at the concert listings in Northeast Florida on any given week is a testament to the skills being brought to bear for the GRJ project—and that’s just the volunteers. At this rate, it will be just a few couple more years before GRJ attendees are themselves sharing space with their teachers—on the stage, on the page, online and in the firmament of what is already known as one of the most dynamic, emerging music scenes in the world today. And you can help!

 

sheltonhull@gmail.com

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Tony Allen: an Autobiography of the Master Drummer of Afrobeat, by Tony Allen and Michael E. Veal. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 192 pp, illustrated.

“There would be no Afrobeat without Tony Allen,” said the late great Fela Kuti (1938-1997), leader of the Africa 70—originally Koola Lobitos, later the Nigeria 80. Together he and Allen rose together from their early years in Nigeria’s ‘Highlife” scene to the peaks of global prominence, together they built one of the hardest-hitting and smoothest-swinging big-bands of all time—a band as tight as Ellington’s or Benny Goodman’s, yet as expansive in sound as the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis group–and that’s only speaking as far as the jazz aspects of it. There are infinite other angles, as the reader likely knows already.

As weird as Sun Ra and as socially-relevant as James Brown, Fela’s music has only grown in popularity since his death, and the most indispensable component of his singular sound was his drummer, Tony Allen, whose memoir was published last month. His co-author, Michael E. Veal, previously wrote a well-received biography of Fela, so he entered the project already prepared and predisposed to tell Allen’s story with the fidelity it merits.

Tony Oladipo Allen was born in Nigeria’s capital city of Lagos on August 12, 1940—well, that’s what Wikipedia says; Allen declares his birthday as July 20 on page 21. The book’s first 40-plus pages covers that early phase in his career before he linked up with Fela. Both men were highly influenced by jazz, and some of my favorite stuff in the book comes from this early session, where Allen describes the evolution of his own inimitable drum style in the context of drummers who came before—giants like Gene Krupa, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones and Max Roach. This section also covers serves as a nice overview of what the Nigerian music scene was like before Fela’s crew became the dominant band of that era, in the process bringing Nigerian culture into the mainstream for the first time. The pages are peppered with long-forgotten names, and in that sense the authors have really done a service, not just for musicologists but for their country.

His career as a professional musician began around 1960. One of his earliest serious gig was drumming for Sivor Lawson and the Cool Cats when they opened for Louis Armstrong in 1960; he notes the great impression left his Pops’ drummer, Danny Barcelona (1929-2007), who became one of his first of his many friends working in western music. Allen himself would later become a major player in the fusion of African and Euro-American musical concepts, starting with the infamous Fela recordings with Ginger Baker, the former drummer for Cream. Baker lived in Nigeria for the first half of the 1970s, and his collaboration with Allen and Africa 70 became one of the great “percussion discussions” ever put to wax; their 16-minute drum battle (from 1978) is appended to the CD reissue of Fela’s album Live! (Capitol/EMI, 1971).

Personally, my first experience with Tony Allen’s solo material came via the World Music section of the Jacksonville Public Library, downtown. There was a compilation CD of music from Nigeria, and one of the tracks remains my favorite of his: “Get Together”, whose locomotive beat, fat bass lines and vocal harmonies—understated, but resonant—offered an ideal introduction to the man’s work. I still put it on mixes and such, a decade later.

Casual fans may recall the song “Heat”, by Common, an instant-classic from his Like Water For Chocolate album (MCA, 2000); was built around a beat J. Dilla sampled from Allen’s “Asiko”, track one on 1999’s Black Voices.

As it turns out, Allen’s experience extends well before and after his tenure (1968-79) with Africa 70, and this book really helps flesh out that history. The concert in Berlin that yielded the drum battle with Baker in 1978 was also Allen’s last as a member of Africa 70. By that point, the band had undergone significant trauma, much of it focused on the leader himself, who had made powerful enemies with his brazen critiques of Nigeria’s military dictatorship. Only by coincidence was Allen not at Fela’s home (known as the “Kalakuta Republic”) when it was raided by a thousand soldiers of the Nigerian military in 1977; it one of the most brutal examples of state-sponsored suppression of art in the post-war era. Fela was nearly beaten to death, his life only spared by an officer’s intervention, but the compound was burned to the ground along with his studio, his instruments and master-tapes. Worst of all, Fela’s mother was defenestrated through of a second-story window, causing fatal injuries, and one of the soldiers shit on her face afterwards. Neither Fela nor his music were ever the same again, and neither would Tony Allen.

Allen’s final break with Fela comes on page 127, and the remaining 58 pages covers the years after, as the author became an ambassador of Afrobeat and a touring act in great demand around the world. His solo work displays the same inimitable rhythms he pioneered with Fela, but the music itself is quite different; Allen long ago began to fuse his native sounds with the emergent aesthetic of hip-hop resulting in some of the most compelling music of the past 30 years.

There’s really very little, if anything, to complain about here, but for exactitude’s sake, a few quick points. First, this book would’ve benefitted from a few sparse footnotes, offering biographical details of some of the artists Allen mentions in the text. Many of the names will be familiar to casual fans, but a lot of them will be unknown and obscure even to obsessive fans of Afrobeat; in some cases, there is literally no information available about them at all. The book walks us back through the rise and evolution of the music, but footnotes would’ve helped flesh out the narrative and situate Allen’s work more comfortably in its broader context. To that end, while the book has a decent selected discography also could’ve used a sessionography—although that, too, is a minor complaint, since that information is available online, for anyone who might be interested.

All in all, Allen and Veal have combined to tell one of the most remarkable stories of the last 40 years of music history. They have also managed to flesh out the history of a man who has never quite been recognized for the vastness of his influence. Ultimately, Tony Allen deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as legends like Clyde Stubblefield, Al Jackson Jr. and Bernard Purdie—a true innovator, and master of a sound that would simply not exist without his efforts. That is a fact, and hopefully it will become even more apparent as time goes by.

Book review: “The Squared Circle”

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The Squared Circle: Life, Death and Professional Wrestling, by David Shoemaker, aka “The Masked Man”. New York: Gotham Books/Penguin. 386pp, ill.

David Shoemaker’s The Squared Circle is only the latest entry into a literary market already well-saturated with books about professional wrestling. Most of these books have been hagiographical scribblings by ghostwriters, passing themselves off as memoir; these books are useful, given their access to the subject at hand, but they often fail to pass muster in terms of actual readability. Others have been written by outsiders, by fans and nominal wrestling “journalists”, some of whom are legit, while others are hacks who lucked into a small-press book deal.

Shoemaker’s book, however, is something of an anomaly within the genre—a full-length, hardcover book about wrestling published by a major imprint (or, at least, a subsidiary thereof) and handled with the sort of care that makes clear that, however bizarre and ridiculous pro-wrestling can be, the author retains real passion for a business that, frankly, makes no sense to the average person. In entertainment terms, pro-wrestling may be the ultimate niche market.

“This is a book about dead wrestlers,” he writes in the introduction, as if he’s offering the reader a spoiler alert for a pre-taped wrestling show that you personally attended. That is, there is no way to tell the story of professional wrestling over the past 30 years with any kind of historical accuracy without directly addressing the unprecedented wave of premature death that has befallen the business in that time, starting with that of David Von Erich in February 1984 and culminating with what the wrestling media now euphemizes as the “Benoit Family Tragedy” in June 2007.

Writing as “The Masked Man”, Shoemaker has done some of the most interesting writing about pro-wrestling in recent years, working mostly for Grantland and Deadspin. This book is not an anthology of that material; it’s rather takes a fresh look at a subject that has already been covered extensively from almost every conceivable angle. The fact that he manages to consistently generate new original insights speaks to his skill as a writer and, more important, his almost-intuitive grasp of what makes the business click. Shoemaker is at his best when explaining why certain characters resonated with fans as well as they did, breaking down their inner motivations and our own subconscious affinity with their message. Basically, he writes like someone who actually respects pro-wrestling; imagine that!

To say that The Squared Circle is a page-turner would be a gross understatement. Making the point more finely, it’s one of the more interesting wrestling books ever written by a non-wrestler. It has a good bit of new material that even seasoned fans will be unfamiliar with, but much of the stories spin around plots well-ingrained in the memories of casual fans from the ‘80s and ‘90s boom periods. Even so, Shoemaker renders all his information in a peppy, easy-to-digest style that, in itself, offers an object lesson in how the wrestling business has managed to achieve a new level of mainstream appeal that, while not as lucrative as in previous eras, is far more pervasive in the long-term, as well as the tragic price that so many stars paid for their success.

November 27, 2013

sheltonhull@gmail.com

Interview with Maitejosune Urrechaga, from Pocket of Lollipops

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Pocket Of Lollipops/Lake Disney/Legs

Burro Bar, 100 E. Adams St.

Friday, November 29; $5

Pocket of Lollipops have quickly made a name for themselves since springing fully-formed from the burgeoning Miami scene a couple years ago. Their music reflects their shared interests in art and fashion, as well as their shared experiences living in a cultural hub. The band is a duo, consisting of singer/guitarist Maitejosune Urrechaga and her husband, drummer Tony Kapel. There is a very kinetic sound, jangly and propulsive; the music practically vibrates, like a wino with the shakes or a kid about to meet their hero.

Opening for Pocket of Lollipops at Burro Bar will be Legs, from Orlando, and Jacksonville’s own Lake Disney, one of the many interesting new local bands of 2013. The band was formed as a trio of electronics (Greg Price and John Lackey) and bass guitar (Kareem Ghori, aka “Special K”), set in a Joy Division/Nick Cave sort of mold, but they’ve rapidly breaking that mold, with epic house-party jams that can last for hours.

Even with the holiday season approaching, and a couple really busy weeks ahead (including performances at Art Basel Miami), I was able to ask some questions of Urrechaga, who was kind enough to respond…

SDH: What does the name “Pocket of Lollipops” mean to you, in the context of the band.

MU: Multi-flavor, the options are endless. We can even be a surprise flavor.

SDH: How did you end up getting booked at Burro Bar? Who did you deal with?

MU: James Arthur Bayer III, we played with him at the Loft last time we were in Jacksonville and he reached out to us this past summer so we set something up. He runs the records label “Infintesmal”.

SDH: How would you describe the band’s aesthetic? What is Pocket of Lollipops about?

MU: When the natural and the dream collide. We are punk kids at heart with a love for the avant-garde. I would say we are the kind of aliens you can talk to and don’t have to fear. Or when you find a unicorn on your bike ride home. We do have a specific aesthetic for how we represent our material. Most of it is DIY; I like touching all the shirts, records etc. I will silk screening some of my drawings for t-shirt designs or for our current vinyl.

Sometimes I make things for our shows to give to everyone. It really depends on the setting and how we are feeling. We also like working with other artists. It is cool to see how they represent you. We currently released our video “Open Pirate”, artist Christopher Ian Macfarlane created it. All we told him was we wanted his style of work, and that I wanted an image of a goat, his family had to be in it someplace, I also told him what the song was about but told him that did not have to be in it at all. So we let him have loads of creative freedom. I love the new video. We also did a fan video for “Shelby Apples” like 2 years ago and fans had to take a mask we made download it and draw on them and video tape themselves. We enjoy that interaction with people.

SDH: How many tracks has the band recorded, all together?

MU: 23-25 tracks for sure. We may have one or two random tracks recorded on special cd’s that we give out at shows or sometimes we give free downloads of things we haven’t released if you win a prize from us. We are really into doing one of kind things.

SDH: What are your songs about?

MU: Some are about the education system/parents. Others are about parties. Running around abandoned train stations; Tony and I still do a lot of that stuff any second we can. Some is about dumb conversations you have with people.

SDH: Is there any one song that, for you, epitomizes the sound of Pocket Of Lollipops?

MU: Tony thinks it is “Sewing Circle”, but I think “Angry Kittens”. I think our fans would say “Shelby Apples”or “Cute Chaos”

SDH: How does the songwriting process play out? Is the band a full-on partnership, or does one of you act as the nominal “leader” of the group?

MU: We are both leaders at different time. I write the bass lines and organizes parts, then I share them with tony then he plays drums and I listen to what he does a bit and vice versa, Then I add lyrics that both of us come up with. Usually the ones I can’t sing are the ones he can sing perfect. After we write the song tony composes some digital violins, space sounds, etc. I just tell him some sounds I like and he just writes things. Eventually one of the digital tracks works with the song we are putting together. If it doesn’t work we save it and use it later. IT is a partnership almost all the time, unless we disagree then I just fight for what I want. I usually win, or he lets me win.

SDH: How long have you been married? How did you meet? Does your marriage pre-date the band?

MU: We got married on 11-11-01 I have a crazy thing with numbers. We meet at a third grade bake sale, but became friends later on high school. Yes, the marriage pre-dates the band, the band started in 2009.

SDH: Being in a band is a challenge, and being married is a challenge…

MU: I like challenges.

SDH: What kind of equipment do you use?

MU: Tony plays a Gretsch Drum set and I play an Acoustic 450 Bass/Combo. I use tons of pedals to create different distortion and other effects. All the extra sounds Tony makes are done on a Mac Computer with synths.

SDH: How long are your sets usually?

MU: 25-30 min…for a bar. For a gallery, sometimes we do 45 minutes-2hours. It really depends on the space and if we are playing with other people.

SDH: What artists have inspired your approach to music?

MU: My approach to music is more how I approach art; I take things I like and start to put pieces together. Tony and I are inspired by so many artists it would be really hard to pick one out. For example, Bjork for the way she can come out in some random outfit, or Brian Wilson how he was a studio nazi, or how Radio Head could sell their cd for whatever they wanted, the rule breakers or makers, whatever you wanna called them. But we are drawn to those who did what they wanted.

SDH: What’s been your favorite music to listen to this year?

MU: Julie Ruin, I just got into and I am enjoying that. Echo and the Bunnymen, Television, Pink Floyd, The Unicorns, Versus, Unrest and Dr. Dre.

SDH: What Basel-related stuff are you guys doing?

MU: We are playing for an opening party for one of the fairs. And I have an art show for a fair that is not a fair, and we are playing it also.

SDH: As a Miami-based artist and musician, what does Basel mean to you, in terms of business? Is it something locals look forward to?

MU: Yes and no. We complain about it and rest before it and always say we won’t do anything that year, and then you feel its presence, and you start saying yes to things, and it’s cool, ‘cuz so many things are going on, and you want to try and see all of it also.

SDH: Do you guys make your living fully through your art and music? Is that something the artists and musicians in your scene are able to do?

MU: Maybe a handful…they may take up an odd job here and there, but some are. But it is a hustle. Tony the other half of Lollipops(my husband) just quit his day job so one of us can put more time into everything we are doing. I also teach high school art for the public school system somehow–I just don’t tell everyone.

SDH: Which is more stressful: being a working musician or being an art teacher?

MU: I tend to look at things pretty positive. I think they both feed off of each other right now. I like going to work with kids; they have a great energy, and it feeds for good lyrics. I would say the stress is when i have a show and I am up till late, and somehow I make it to work the next day ‘cuz i don’t want to be a slack teacher ‘cuz of my other career, and vice versa. I do know a stress: one time we played at some crazy house party, and out of nowhere i saw students in the crowd. That was my two worlds combining. I was not prepared for that.

SDH: Does your status as a musician help you relate to the students?

MU: Yes. They love it. They always ask me why i don’t play our songs in class, ‘cuz i play music all the time with our lessons. I tell them I am there to teach art, not gain new fans.

SDH: What are your plans for 2014, personally and professionally? What do you wish to accomplish next?

MU: We have an artist/music residency in Rhode Island at the end of June at the AS220 Building, so we will also set up a little mini tour on the way. We are releasing another video. Working on a SXSW bill. Making new drawings and songs. Tony is writing another novel, which lends to our lyrical layout. Maybe figure out a way to make it overseas. Make more music and tour some more. I like visiting new places.

http://www.pocketoflollipops.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pocketoflollipops

https://www.facebook.com/LAKEDISNEYBAND

http://lllegs.bandcamp.com/

https://www.facebook.com/events/595166023874725/605833002808027

[Update: Here's the video of their set at Burro Bar on the 29th--any video sloppiness is my fault entirely...]

#HateMail!

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Here’s the kind of thing I get to mess with sometimes. I dissed Obama online earlier today, at length, and someone sent me this a few minutes ago:

“Shelton, I never expected to see the day that I would find that your curious mind and unique perspective on the world and issues would degenerate to the point that you would not welcome commentary, expect only to be listened to, not challenged and when your ideas are countered determine that the action of so doing is liberal condescending Baby Boomer input. That is just so cliche. I have always viewed your commentary with an open mind even when I didn’t always agree and respected the difference in views but you went off the rails today and it wasn’t cool or edgy, beginning with the scummy white folks surrounding Obama remark to be followed by an uncalled for insult on entire nation of America and the very many fine, courageous, selfless and giving people who make this nation great. For those of us who have had people in wars to protect our country and freedoms as well as those who have lost their lives or loved ones doing so is an unforgivable insult to the good hearts of people who suffered much to give you the freedom to spin your opinions and yarns as openly as you do. I lost all respect for you today and for me that is a sad, sad thing. As someone who has read your work for years and someone you confided in in the past (and have clearly forgotten about) I truly believe that you have lost your balance and perspective. That is not meant as an insult but perhaps just enough of a comment to cause you to step back and rethink. What I read today was ugly pretending at creative commentary. I have always though better of you than that. I don’t expect a response and frankly at this point am not interested in one. What a shame you don’t understand how lucky you are to be an American and the suffering it took in order for you to live as free and openly in opinion as you do. Hurts my heart.”

My response: “Hmm, let’s see… 1) You’re disappointed in me–patronizing tone, and implies that your approval is a valuable prize that, once rescinded, should make me sad. But it does not. 2) Use of the word “degenerate” implies that my style no longer meets your approval. 3) Suggesting that I went “off the rails” implies that your opinion predominates, but it does not. 4) Being “cool or edgy” was not my intent, so I’m not sure where that comes from. 5) I stand by the “scummy white folks” remark, but I’ll amend it to note that he has some scummy black people around him, too–just not usually in position of real authority. 6) I stand by the “cowardly president for a cowardly nation” remark; just my opinion. 7) You seem to feel that I’ve never had friends of loved ones in the military; that is not the case. You also seem to think that I don’t know about the role our troops have played in winning the freedoms we enjoy today; this is consistent with your overall theme, and is another one of those condescending boomer cliches we were talking about. Your having lost all respect for me in the course of an hour’s worth of Facebook chatter begs the question of how much respect you ever had for me to begin with–but I’ll not ask that, because I don’t care. 9) Your suggestion that I “clearly forgotten” about our previous conversations is, again, consistent with your overall theme. 10) Your suggestion that I “have lost balance and perspective” implies that you are in a position to evaluate me, based on whatever your professional qualifications may be. 11) Was what you ready ugly? Of course–we were talking about Obama, lol! 12) If you weren’t interested in a response, you wouldn’t have wasted a moment of this lovely Friday evening doubling-down on remarks that you already knew I took offense to. 13) Your telling me that I do not understand my privileged position as an American citizen, or its history or my ancestors’ history would be a blatant insult, even if that information wasn’t taught at grade-school level. Everything you’ve said here involves talking to down to people, implying that you’re smarter and more sophisticated than anyone else in the conversation, and that anyone who disagrees with you is worth of your hand-wringing pity. That is not the case at all. 14) If your heart hurts, see your doctor; it has nothing to do with me. Good day to you.”

Millcent Martin: Mavericky!

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I’d never heard of Millicent Martin until just a few days ago, when I found myself looking for old David Frost stuff on YouTube after his death earlier this week. Miss Martin has had a long career, but may be best-known for singing satirical songs on Frost’s short-lived but groundbreaking public-affairs show “That Was the Week That Was” (aka “TW3″), which kinda presages not only much of the British comedy boom of that decade, but virtually pioneered the use of comedy as a means of direct engagement with the political process via mainstream television.

The show was entire unique, starting with its opening theme–a swinging swath of British bop (which sounds a lot like West Coast stuff) popular enough to market as its own studio album… 

The lyrics were reworked for new episodes, to encompass the news of the day. The quality of the writing seems uniformly strong, in particular the poetry and song-lyrics, all of which is smoothly articulated by the singer, if not always the panelists. It’s a tricky enough matter in America these days, let alone in the BBC structure of 50 years ago. TW3 was the beginning of Frost’s lifelong push to establish himself in the newest, freshest broadcast formats; he went on to co-found the infamous TV-am network, and he was working for al-Jazeera at the time of his death. To see TW3 at its most bold, brash and biting, check Millicent Martin in the lead on “Mississippi”, which ruthlessly lampoons America’s racial climate at that time.

1963 saw the show’s peak, and its subsequent demise, just a month after the murder of JFK–a crime that stirred the cast to cold, sober sanctimony in the darkest moment yet for their generation. After some reflective words from the panel, Martin adds her voice, singing “In the Summer Of His Years” in honor of the fallen president…

By year’s end, the show would be off the air, but not before yielding another masterpiece from Millicent Martin, who duets with herself in split-screen for a run of rollicking vocalese on “Goodbye”, from the show’s finale. Those who saw the show then never forgot, while those who weren’t around–like myself–get to experience it anew…