INTERVIEW: Rickie Lee Jones

rickieleejonesweb2016

RICKIE’S STILL IN LOVE WITH MUSIC

Rickie Lee Jones, she of the long and diverse career that began back in the late 70s with that single Chuck E’s In Love, is still passionate about music and her achievements, as she explains to Chris Familton.

Beginning at the start of her career in Hollywood, odd jobs, a chance encounter with Tom Waits and her demo tape brought her to the attention of Lenny Waronker, producer and executive at Warner Bros. Records, who beat out other labels to sign her and launch her career.

“It was a dream at the time because before that I was just trying to pay the rent. I had a boyfriend at the time who was in school and he encouraged me to go out and play and make money to pay the rent. That helped me get started. It was hard, I was homeless for a lot of the time and and I had nothing to fall back on. When it happened it happened very quickly. At the time I was 23 I wrote Chuck E’s In Love and The Last Chance Texaco and I was on an unemployment benefit. Then one year later I was in a studio and recording an album. Once I decided in my mind to do it, it took about a year to sixteen months,” recalls Jones. “To be able to devote oneself to it is really helpful in gaining early success,” she says, before adding “that success, who doesn’t want that? But it comes with a lot of baggage.”

Jones’ most recent album, The Other Side Of Desire, was her first in a decade and was released independently after a crowdfunding campaign; making it a world apart from her experiences with major labels in the 70s and 80s heyday.

“It feels good not to have any pressure from an outside person to meet their expectations. The thing I had going when I was first signed was they were the best label in the world, they had the best A&R and they just loved music. They dropped you if you didn’t sell records but they didn’t sign you and then drop you straight away, they tried to develop artists and they kept them on the label,” she explains. “I was spoilt by that and know what it’s like to be on a label run by a company that loves its business more than business, that loves music and artists and doesn’t try to make them act like business people. We live in a time where artists act like business people, they talk about the bottom line and their brand. They talk about the brand of Beyonce and the brand of Madonna, this is shameful in the arts. It shows the whole process is corrupted.” says Jones, a tone of disillusionment creeping into her voice.

Jones sounds like she’s in a great place musically and personally as she looks to the future and what it may hold for her. “I am writing and I’m finishing a book which should be out around Christmas. I’m having fun right now performing and I can feel people engaged in ways that I didn’t feel before. I’ve accepted my place in music and I like that I’ve lasted this long and I just want to keep working on it. When I stand in front of an audience I know exactly who I am and that is a great gift.”

Advertisements

ALBUM REVIEW: Bic Runga – Close Your Eyes

img_3539

This is Bic Runga’s fifth album in two decades and comes as she is inducted into the NZ Music Hall of Fame. A collection of covers and two originals, it finds her tipping her hat to some of her influences, from the obvious to the obscure. Both originals (the title track and Dream A Dream) are lush rhythmic pop songs with tropical noir textures while elsewhere she tackles Neil Young’s Only Love Can Break Your Heart, Love’s Andmoreagain, Nick Drake, Kanye West and the Roberta Flack classic The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face. Many fans would prefer an album of originals but as a stop-gap this is a wonderful and worthy insight into Runga’s musical world.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Lambchop –The Hustle

534_Lambchop_FLOTUS_2500px

Lambchop have been fairly quiet of late with their last LP (Mr. M) coming out in 2012. In the intervening years the band, among other things, performed their landmark album Nixon in full and head honcho Kurt Wagner released an electronic album (The Diet) under the name HeCTA with Lambchop members Ryan Norris and Scott Martin in 2015.

They’ve now announced that a brand new Lambchop LP will be released on November 3rd via Merge Records. Titled FLOTUS it sees them delving further into avantgarde electronic soul, based on this 18 minute track The Hustle. Below you can also check out a brief album trailer clip.

Pre-orders available HERE

 

SONIC KICKS: Show Me Where It Hurts

Sonic KicksSMWIH

Show Me Where It Hurts are a Rhodes electric piano, drums and vocals duo from Auckland, New Zealand. Both musicians have been key players on the Auckland scene for the last two decades with Josh Hetherington fronting Thorazine Shuffle and Ronny Haynes drumming with bands such as Pash and Fagan And The People.

The pair have just released their debut self-titled EP (stream/buy below) which follows their 2014 7″ single ‘Show Me Where It Hurts’/’All I Ever Need’ (included on the EP). This time around they’ve built on the one-two punch of the drums/Rhodes combination, adding harmonies, guitars, percussion and keys to the mix with players such as Salon Kingsadore’s Hayden Sinclair on bass, Tom Rodwell (‘Sheffield’s answer to Lightnin’ Hopkins’: NME) on guitar, legendary double bassist Peter Scott, Finn Scholes (Carnivorous Plant Society) on trumpet, and Cam Allen on baritone sax. The results are a richer, more textured and nuanced set of recordings that drip with sweet soul, humid grooves and Hetherington’s voice which soothes and strains in equally rewarding amounts.

Hetherington – songwriter, singer and the man on the keys in SMWIH – kindly took the time to reminisce, enthuse and wax lyrical about some of the important albums that have shaped his musical life.

The first album I bought…

Kiss – Unmasked (1980)

MI0002326466Not their greatest, but as an eight-year old turned on to Kiss by their Australasian pop smash ‘Shandi’ (and Dynasty’s ‘I Was Made for Lovin’ You’), along with an older friend’s encouragement, and, yeah, the make-up, mystique and all-out cartoonish-ness of the whole thing, then you couldn’t go wrong with a comic book cover, the original line-up – at least in name (there was a notable session player in place of Peter Criss on the drums) – and the pop accessibility of many of the harmony laden, yet still riff-heavy, tunes (many co-written by producer Vini Poncia). It all made for a perfect entry point as far as these ears were concerned, at very formative stage. Their concert at Western Springs (Auckland, NZ), in December 1980, was my first and was also highly formative.

Gene Simmons’ standouts ‘Naked City’ and ‘She’s So European’ are big-ass, pop metal tunes, Paul Stanley’s ‘What Makes the World Go ’Round’ and ‘Tomorrow’ fill the same sort of bill, but it’s the Ace Frehley tunes, ‘Talk to Me’, ‘Torpedo Girl’ and ‘Two Sides of the Coin’ – along with several of his killer solos – which hark bark to the grittier era of their early-mid ’70s oeuvre, and which always stood out to me.

An album that soundtracked a relationship…

Nick Cave – Your Funeral, My Trial (1986)

MI0003093418Your Funeral, My Trial is an album I gave to my wife early in our relationship, and it holds a special place for me. The doomed, world-weary romance and weighty carnival-esque feel of the record, with its heavy Hammond use (often played by Cave), not to mention a song called ‘The Carney’, provided a beautiful, dark and contrapuntal soundtrack to a happy and exciting time, and proved not at all prophetic for us in its foreboding atmosphere (16 years on!).

I love the title track, and the prototypical, Cave-ian ‘Sad Waters’ which features a character called Mary (no less), with hair of gold and lips like cherries (natch!), who seduces the protagonist’s soul, wading the aforementioned waters with her dress up past her knee, turning them into wine under weeping willow trees, whose vines she plaits.

It still makes me want to drink too much vodka.

An album that inspired me to form a band…

Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)

MI0001996061Nevermind showed the way for rock music post its ’80s nadir, I think, tearing back the curtain to reveal the possibilities of combining a vital and uncompromising, underground punk spirit and sound with the ’70s metal and rock ’n’ roll of this teenager guitar player’s high-school years and the high (’60s-based) art-pop and rock of his childhood (early ’80s Beatlemaniac that I was).

Teenage angst had arguably never sounded quite as raw, exciting, honest, vital, uncompromising or as inspiring as this. Inimitable as it was, it was the intent and the perfectly executed, and infectiously simple idea that provided a way forward, when one had otherwise seemed unforthcoming, much in the same way I’m sure punk in the ’70s did for so many young players and bands.

I got in touch with a drummer I knew from primary school who suggested I bring my guitar along to the rehearsal of a group he was playing with, and I joined my first proper band (Thorazine Shuffle).

Albums that reminds me of my high school years…

MI0002960634Led Zeppelin – II (1969), The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed (1969), The Beatles – White Album (1968), The Who – Quadrophenia (1972), David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust (1972), Lou Reed – Transformer (1972), Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde (1966), The Clash – London Calling (1980), Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True (1977).

I dug pop radio, too, but as a guitarist and nascent songwriter I was immersed in another era, educating myself (in a certain area, anyway), somewhat out of time and out of step with contemporary mores. But I also loved The Cure – and Licensed to Ill and Appetite for Destruction came along at about the right time, too!

An album I’d love to hear live and played in full…

You Am I – Hourly Daily (1996)

Album330_HDr-363x363I’d love to have caught one of these shows in 2013 with all the live horn and string arrangements, when You Am I performed the album and Hi Fi Way (1995) in their entirety.

Hourly Daily is a beautiful, evocative and poignant record, that makes me feel as sad as it makes me happy. Though I’m not Australian, there’s a spirit, sound, sense of humour and sensitivity to this band and Tim Rogers’ songs – as optimised by their mid 1990s output – which has always appealed to me and to which I really relate – making me wonder if perhaps the suburban New Zealand childhood I experienced wasn’t so different from that of many of our Australian cobbers.

The Triple J documentary on the making of Hourly Daily, which originally aired in the early 2000s, was recently posted at the station’s site, and is a compelling listen, with the multi-tracks revisited, and drum, keyboard, guitar and vocal parts re-examined, soloed, marvelled at and celebrated by the band.

Personal note: Having shared Auckland Big Day Out festival bills on a number of occasions in the 1990s, my then band (Thorazine Shuffle) finally got a chance to share a stage in support, on the night You Am I debuted their new guitarist Davey Lane at Auckland’s Powerstation in 1999.

My favourite album cover art…

The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street  (1972)

MI0000035025‘They’re gonna love it!’ Mick Jagger was quoted as saying upon seeing the design from beat photographer (and subsequent director of infamous Stone’s verité film Cocksucker Blues), Robert Franks. And by they, he meant the kids, legions of them, Stones fans all, who would understand implicitly, in the monochromatic murkiness of the sleeve and the music, this perfect representation of the marriage of art and commerce, music and money, the band and the record.

The front cover isn’t simply the collage of freaks, strongmen, dancing girls, ventriloquists, b-grade movie stars and billiard ball eaters, which it initially appears to be. Rather, it’s a single photograph of a wall covered in postcards, cigarette cards, snaps from a bygone era (covering all of the aforementioned material and a great deal more).

The distinction is important, as interest lies not only specifically in the strangeness of the images themselves, but in the strangeness of the world they represent in the photograph’s entirety, and the unease and loneliness it (and the realisation of its nature) evokes.

As with the album itself – a sprawling yet somehow highly successful, evocative, moving, inspiring and ultimately cohesive (in its whole) exploration of rock ’n’ roll, Gospel, blues, country and Americana – the photograph is greatest as the sum of its parts.

Franks was heralded by none other than King of the Beats, Jack Kerouac himself, who wrote the introduction to the photographer’s iconic collection of photographs, The Americans, first published in 1958. His employment by Mick Jagger was in part testament to the lineage (that bona-fide Beats connection) that his involvement would lend. But it was mostly due to the greatness of his work – Franks clear understanding of, and eye for, the magnitude and unknowingness of his greatest subject matter (in America and Americans), in harmony with the greatness of the singer’s and his band’s own work (and their understanding of their own often overlapping subject matter) – not to mention Jagger’s own impeccable instincts and taste.

The back cover and gatefold spread are balanced with additional Franks images from his ’50s America – a box office showing a Joan Crawford film, a small-town parade of saluting servicemen and civilians, lonely juke joints, a desert road – and augmented with Super 8 stills shot by the photographer of the Stones, surrounded by the decadence of some of the gardens, streets, studios and porno theatres of L.A – Mick, Keith and Charlie, Bobby Keys, Jim Price, Marshall Chess, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman, a sleeping man (one eye open), an unidentified woman, bystanders, hangers on, mugging for the camera, smiling, pouting but mostly looking bored, yawning, self-conscious – the ennui of the ’70s having well and truly set-in.

‘They’re gonna love it’, and indeed they did. I do, too.

A guilty pleasure album…

Dire Straits – Making Movies (1980)

MI0003515822Another formative album from my childhood, so there’s a strong nostalgic element. That said you can’t really go past the melodrama or whirligig-ery of ‘Tunnel of Love’ for a song.

And how about ‘Romeo and Juliet’? That picked Dobro intro always grabs me, and Mark Knopfler’s film noir, street-wise patter, always impressed me as a kid, too. Come to think of it what am I apologising for? It still impresses me. Plus he plays guitar on Dylan’s Slow Train Coming (another guilty pleasure!)

The last album I bought…

Sly Stone – Listen To The Voices: Sly Stone In The Studio 1965-1970

ListenToTheVoicesSlyA killer collection of often rare, formative-era, Sly Stone produced cuts as Svengali-style producer and hit man.

Tracks include unreleased demos, nuggets and gems from the Family Stone along with songs Sly wrote and produced for artists such as (Nuggets-era) Beau Brummels, Billy Preston, 6IX, Joe Hicks, Little Sister, The French Fries and Sly himself – and many have been excavated and in some instances mixed for the first time for this release, by compilation producer Alec Paleo.

It’s a master class in pop, soul and funk production with heavy signposts along the way telegraphing Sly’s production peak (and personal nadir) in ’71’s dense, claustrophobic, and sometimes downright paranoid There’s a Riot Going On – both his biggest album to that date, and the record which saw the dissolution of the original Family Stone line-up.

Tracks by 6IX, Joe Hicks, Abaco Dream and Sly himself often point the way towards Riot’s infamous and hypnotic, narco-funk minimalism – with tracks often sparsely yet powerfully furnished with early drum machine, direct and extremely up-front bass, harmonica, effected keyboards and guitar, not to mention Sly’s own unique and unselfconscious singing and vocalisms.

Earlier tracks often reflect the more raucous, upbeat R&B and soul of The Family Stone’s earlier breakthrough hits (‘Want to Take You Higher’ and Dance to the Music’) – and the joie-de-vivre of Beau Brummels’ ‘Underdog’, The French Fries’ own ‘Danse a la Musique’ and Sly’s cover of The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’ are infectious and irresistible.

The Paleo’s access to master tapes sees studio banter included on many of these cuts, adding further insight into the fertile, creative and vital period for Sly Stone at the height of his popularity and burgeoning production prowess.

Another, more recent release I’m Just Like You: Sly Stone’s Stone Flower 1969-70 is a more focused look at productions specific to his Stone Flower label, and cuts which more directly point to the iconoclastic minimalism of Riot. Many tracks appear on both compilations and each release is great, though the former offers more surprises and a broader palette, while the latter is also available on vinyl.

The next album I want to buy…

Shayne P. Carter – Offsider

a2976649321_10I can’t wait for Shayne Carter’s new piano-driven album Offsider. In fact I’ve been looking forward to it since I heard about it from Carter’s drummer Gary Sullivan (JPSE, Dimmer) some years ago. So it’s been sometime in the making and on the strength of the first two singles (available to hear at shaynepcarter.bandcamp.com) it’s going to be a cracker!

I’m a fan of Carter from across his career (Double Happys, Straitjacket Fits, Dimmer and solo), and this change of angle in his decision to learn, write and perform on piano promises intriguing new musical possibilities from a true, original and uncompromising composer and writer (and also intrigues and resonates with me in terms of my own, more recent, piano-based approach to writing and performing with Show Me Where It Hurts).

Apocalyptic first single, ‘We Will Rise Again’ is as tense as can be in its foreboding waltz-time verses, and almost overwhelming free-time, feedback- and string-drenched refrains, which it dissolves into repeatedly.

There’s no easing of the tension in second single, ‘I Know Not Where I Stand’ either, where strings, synths and Carter’s strident yet delicate piano line marches in lock step with Sullivan’s four-on-the-floor, bass-drum driven groove, which is punctuated by an ever growing crescendo of driving, swinging brush-strokes predominant on the snare, and Carter’s own anxiety ridden vocals, cushioned occasionally in chorused harmony with himself.

ALBUM REVIEW: The Mystery Lights – The Mystery Lights

a0991358779_10

Rating7.5The popularity of psych and garage rock in recent years shows no sign of abating and that’s a good thing when top shelf exponents such as NewYork five-piece The Mystery Lights rise to the top. They’ve got the 60s sound down pat with heavy-on-the-reverb, fuzzed-out guitars, droning organ, and a soulful, punk-injected push and pull rhythm section. Singer Mike Brandon has a thin, taut and frenzied yelp that keeps the ramalama riffs and grooves in a permanent state of teen anxiety. They never run out of ideas on this, their debut album and though it’s nothing new, they’ve impressively nailed the sound and attitude of primitive rock ’n’ roll.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Marcus Whale – Inland Sea

a3140720792_10

Rating7Marcus Whale (Collarbones) has made an impressive artistic statement with his debut solo album. Released digitally, with an accompanying physical book, Inland Sea explores queer and colonial Australian history through a dark and oblique gauze of minimal electronica. It veers between militant tech-heavy drums and glitchy whirs of atmospheric sounds that can draw a timeline back through artists such as Bjork and Photek. There’s an ominous and heavy-lidded tone to Whale’s soulful voice as he builds layers of effected vocals, like mantras floating over the dystopian landscape below. All the while searching for answers and self-fulfilment in the modern world.

Chris Familton