Falling in Love, with Lucinda Williams


“Some people knew they were going to be at a wedding that night and some didn’t.”

Lucinda Williams is referring to her somewhat impromptu 2009 nuptials during the middle of a show at Minneapolis’ First Avenue. The groom, Twin Cities native and former Universal Records exec Tom Overby, had served as the gravelly-voiced Grammy winner’s manager for two years before saying, “I do.”

And while the event will always serve as a fantastic anecdote for both the couple and the unsuspecting fans in attendance, it’s also marks a turning point in Williams’ career.

From the time of her 1979 debut, Ramblin’, Williams struggled with writing songs. Even nearly a decade later, when Rough Trade released her self-titled breakthrough, the Louisiana-born singer still had difficulty crafting the album’s eleven original compositions.

Blame the emotional pain of penning dark, brooding tales of unrequited love, or Williams’ own insistence on surpassing prior works, but the process never came easy.

That is, until recently.

2007’s West was a revelation. Mining the impossible emotions of losing a parent, and guided by her new relationship with Overby, Williams wrote enough material for two albums (the extra songs from the West sessions ended up becoming most of 2008’s Little Honey). And since that wild night of rock and roll matrimony in 2009, Williams’ has both expanded her lyrical focus, and kept the spigot to her newfound creativity wide open.

“I guess it’s better late than never,” she tells CityBeat with a husky laugh from her Los Angeles home. “I can’t really explain it. But I know I’m an anomaly. That’s for sure.”

Case in point: 2014’s Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone. Produced by Overby and guitarist Greg Leisz, Williams’ eleventh studio effort is her first-ever double album. Featuring Elvis Costello’s rhythm section, progressive guitarist Bill Frisell, and an assortment of L.A. studio musicians, the 20-song Spirit was actually edited down from a much larger cache.

“We recorded enough for three albums,” says Williams. “We had so much material that we knew early on it would be impossible to narrow it down to one. But thankfully we knew which ones had to come out together.”

Spirit marks other firsts for Williams as well. It’s the first time she’s used lyrics by her recently deceased father, poet Miller Williams (“Compassion”). And it’s also the inaugural album for her newly founded label, Highway 20 Records.

More than just a vehicle for her own future releases, and in conjunction with plenty of guidance from Overby, Williams relishes the opportunity to find and promote new talent.

“We really haven’t kicked it into gear yet,” she says. “And I’m not sure what to expect. I’ve never had my own label before. But I feel positive about it, and just hope I don’t have hundreds of artists getting me to sign them (laughs). Because I love pretending I’m an A&R person, going into clubs, and discovering great new artists. I have a good ear for that sort of thing. And now, I actually have a vehicle for it.”

While all of this new inspiration, energy, and expansion is coming at a time when many of her contemporaries are either winding down or relying on the re-hash of classic albums in their past, Williams seems to be hitting her creative stride.

Her trademark voice is stronger than ever, she’s finally in a supportive and nurturing relationship, and the most challenging part of her creative process has been figured out.

“I don’t think in terms of age,” says Williams. “I don’t understand when artists feel they haven’t ‘made it’ by the time they turn 30 and start talking about giving up because it’s too late. I’m too fat, I’m too old, I’m too tired – none of that flies. I didn’t even get my first break until I was in my mid-30s. So I don’t get those attitudes. Ageism only exists in the pop world. It’s just not a factor in things like jazz or blues. People are sometimes surprised by my age, but my songwriting has matured as I’ve matured.”

That tough-as-nails attitude resonates in everything she does. For an artist whose music tends to be emotionally vulnerable, there’s an undeniable vibe of industrial-strength durability to everything else about Williams.

“I really enjoy that image,” she says. “I enjoy being the bad girl, the Chrissie Hynde or Joan Jett type. And I’m also not afraid to tell it like it is in my songs. But I just lean more in the direction of motorcycle dudes and leather jackets. So it makes sense that I’d give that impression. It’s probably the combination of all of those things.”

Williams will remain on tour for Spirit until the end of March, when her focus will return to the new record. Although it isn’t likely to be another double album, it promises many other surprises, including covers of The Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes,” Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Factory.”

Additionally, where Frisell’s contributions to Spirit were limited, he’ll be featured on almost every track of the next one.

With the release date of the new album still undetermined, and Highway 20 Records yet to be fully realized, it’s likely Williams will hit her upcoming 40th anniversary with a full head of steam and no signs of slowing down.

“I really don’t think like that,” says Williams. “When someone mentions how long it’s been, I still have a hard time believing it. But Tom and I make a good team. And it’s very liberating to have creative control, to be able to put however many songs you like on an album with no middleman to tell you what to do. I have the best of all worlds, and it’s a great situation to be in.”

Originally published by San Diego CityBeat

Under the Covers with Jessica Lea Mayfield


Jessica Lea Mayfield knows a thing or two about life on the road. The well-seasoned traveling musician was playing in her family’s band before hitting her ninth birthday.

A nomadic lifestyle was cemented when Black Keys’ front man Dan Auerbach heard Mayfield’s “White Lies” EP – six songs the then-15-year-old recorded in her brother’s bedroom – and agreed to produce her first two full-length albums.

Mayfield, now 25, spread her creative wings with 2014’s “Make My Head Sing,” adding new sonic textures and self-producing with husband/bassist Jesse Newport.

But with tour dates for “Make My Head Sing” winding down, you’d think the perpetually homesick performer would take some time off.

She’s not.

Instead, she’ll head back out on the road to promote her upcoming, long-in-the-works Elliott Smith covers record with The Avett Brothers’ Seth Avett.

“We started it about four years ago,” Mayfield told DiscoverSD from her home in Ohio. “It was one of those things that we did when we could. I went to North Carolina, and Seth came up here, but it’s always hard to find that time — especially for a project where we’re doing it for fun.”

Appropriately titled “Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith,” the project came from very modest beginnings.

“We were on tour together and just hanging around backstage,” Mayfield said. “Seth was playing the song ‘Twilight’ on the piano, so I started singing along. It really was born out of shared love for Elliott Smith’s music. Neither of us have ever done anything like this, but it’s something we definitely have in common.”

Mayfield also shares plenty of parallels with her muse. From guitar playing, songwriting and admission of unease in the spotlight, to the uncompromising, personal and candid lyrics of both artists, they share plenty of ties. But Mayfield admits that with Smith, it runs even deeper.

“I’ve felt a connection to his lyrics since I was a teenager,” she said. “But I meet people and they tell me that they relate to my songs. It always surprises me that people can attach their emotions to them. But Elliott Smith is one of the only songwriters that does that for me.”

After her solo shows wrap in February, Mayfield will hit the road with Avett in March. It’s undetermined whether additional dates will be added, but Mayfield is already working on her next album. And the strange paradox of a shy homebody who spends her life on the road will begin again.

“I can’t pretend to be normal,” Mayfield said. “I’ve made it this far in the real world saying what’s on my mind and I haven’t been locked up yet. Art brings out emotion. It’s embarrassing, interesting and intriguing. But a lot of times I want to hide all of these things inside me. I feel like I’ve given away too much insight and too many puzzle pieces. But I’ve put myself out there for a living. It’s strange, but it’s all I’ve ever done.”

Originally published by DiscoverSD


Sun Baked: L.A. psych-rockers Allah-Las navigate the eternal summer


A band like Allah-Las couldn’t come from Brooklyn. They couldn’t be from Austin or Portland or any other hipster-band enclave across the country. They’re just too California. And while the Los Angeles quartet draws on a unique mixture of psych-rock, folk, surf, garage and a dusting of the Bakersfield sound, it’s unmistakably SoCal—a Byrds / Surfaris bastard child birthed onto a bed of Afghan Kush in Topanga Canyon.

The band’s latest, Worship the Sun, picks up exactly where their 2012 self-titled debut left off. The guitars are still clean and jangly. The laid-back beats again induce plenty of head nodding. Healthy doses of cinematic instrumentals and lush harmonies are still front and center, while the continued inspiration of women, waves and weed keep the vibe loose and in complete accord with the music.

It’s the kind of record perfectly suited for watching the sunset melt into the Pacific during a drive up the coast. Just don’t mention that to guitarist Pedrum Siadatian. He hates that shit.

“I’m sick of hearing ‘chill beach music’ constantly,” he tells CityBeat from a recent tour stop in Texas. “That one is especially annoying to me. I think it can’t be helped when people are saying the same thing about you over and over. But I’m sure everyone in the band has his own unique gripes. It just makes me not want to sound like that at all.”

It’s doubtful that Allah-Las will drop a black-metal or mariachi record anytime soon, but there is a direct line to his exasperation. Siadatian, bassist Spencer Dunham and drummer Matthew Correia formed the band when all three were employees at Amoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard (vocalist Miles Michaud joined later).

Especially for a music-store worker, having your art constantly reduced to the equivalent of a category placard has to be frustrating. But it’s also something that’s served the band tremendously well. In just two quick albums, Allah-Las have etched out a distinct sound that’s directly tied to their own geography. And they’ve done it through the unlikely paradox of being an act that’s both forward-thinking and vintage. There’s a palpable air of timeless California chic to the group and their songs, and it doesn’t stop with the music.

From their gorgeously minimalist marketing campaigns to their weekly Reverberation Radio podcast, the band oozes West Coast cool—even if they aren’t trying very hard.

“I think we’re kind of weak on promoting ourselves,” Siadatian says. “We don’t really bombard people with that stuff. But I guess we’re attempting to make a collective consciousness with our fans. It’s more about imagery and things like the Reverberation we do. We want to bring people into this world of appreciation for great things in the past. But we’re just promoting the things we like, both aesthetically and through our music.”

Part of the credit, at least for the music, can go to Nick Waterhouse. No stranger to vintage cool himself, the L.A. artist and producer is a college friend of Michaud’s who took interest in Allah-Las after seeing them play live. He ended up producing the band’s debut and co-producing Worship the Sun.

Dan Horne picked up the slack on the latter, producing much of the album in his Echo Park garage / studio over a period of a few months. Horne and other friends, like percussionist Jeff Luger, have been rounding out the live shows.

Although the extra players help to replicate Worship’s expanded sound, Siadatian has found that it injects new energy into the old songs, as well.

“It really helps,” he says, “especially with stuff from the first album that we’ve played a million times. It’s great to have someone else on stage adding their own touches. It just invigorates the songs for us. It helps to fill it out.”

Things come full circle as the current five-piece closes out its 2014 tour with a run of dates on the West Coast. It’ll be a welcome change for a band that Siadatian says “has been freezing our bones off in the sun” in recent weeks.

The new year is bound to have plenty of additional tour dates, but it will include work on new music, too. For fans accustomed to being transported to a 72-degree day in the City of Angels when Allah-Las hit their earphones, this is welcome news.

“We write songs in all kinds of ways,” Siadatian says. “It’s good when whoever is writing can fully realize what they want to say and present it without making it into a full sound. We actually come up with a lot of ideas during sound check. We figure out quite a lot of things when we’re just riffing and messing around. They’re all there. And we’ll definitely be working on the ideas we feel are good enough when we get home.”

Originally published in San Diego CityBeat


Doing Meatbodies Good

Screen Shot 2014-11-08 at 8.17.49 PM

Chad Ubovich knows a thing or two about turning it to eleven. Before his band, Meatbodies, released their excellent self-titled debut a few weeks ago, the 26-year-old bandleader cut his teeth with fellow L.A. ripper Ty Segall in hard-rockers Fuzz, as well as playing bass and guitar in Mikal Cronin’s band.

With the spotlight currently on Meatbodies, the longtime sideman recently spoke with DiscoverSD about his move to center stage, instinctive head banging, and what’s next for the band before their show here at Soda Bar on Nov. 13.

Q: Are there major differences in moving from sideman to frontman?

A: It’s the same drill. I’m just doing more (laughs). Same deal, I just find myself wanting to handle details I didn’t have to think about before. I’m taking care of things like driving, interviews and stuff like that.

Q: Easier having been out with Fuzz and Mikal?

A: It’s like any job. You start and work your way up the line. You witness everything that goes down and pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. But even with all of that knowledge, I’m still doing a lot of messing up. It’s a learning process and I’m doing as much of it as I can while we go along.

Q: Have you been surprised by the reaction to the album?

A: I’m just really honored. And that was my whole thing going into this. I thought ‘I’m going to try this and if it doesn’t work out, well that’s all right.’ You know? And now, of course I’m happy that everyone’s stoked, but I’m also keeping a certain level of detachment to it all. Without that, I feel like you’d be catering to an idea of yourself, or what people have said that you are. And I don’t want to do that.

Q: Was working with (producer) Eric Bauer the reason you recorded it in San Francisco?

A: I definitely wanted to do it with Bauer. It was just a perk that he happened to be in San Francisco. But I love the city. There’s a shine to it that made me want to invest my mind in the project. When I’m an older gentleman and have the liberty to move where I want to, I’d love to move there. San Francisco or New York – somewhere with a city vibe. Los Angeles is so spread out.

Q: It’d be interesting to see how that changed the music. Have you even thought about what’s next?

A: You know, I’ve been trying to rewire my brain and my inspirations to be more linear. But my first instinct with music is always to be loud and bang my head. It comes down to my nature as a person who is pretty aggressive and high strung. But I’m also such a sociable person. My whole easel process is setting aside a huge chunk of time. I need to get myself away for a couple of weeks or something. If I’m alone in a place that’s quiet, I’ll get bored. If I’m bored, I’ll try to create my own entertainment. And that’s when I make songs.

Q: Wait, so you haven’t written because you’re having too much fun?

A: (laughs) I have some ideas I’d like to meditate on. But I have nothing concrete right now. Fuzz is writing a new album sometime next year. But hopefully, I can also find the time to get down on some of my own stuff.

Originally published by DiscoverSD

Majical Cloudz and beyond….

So, NBC persists on saying “Scott McDonald of Eight24.com” even though they are well aware that this blog gets updated about as much as  a hermit without a computer living at the North Pole. BUT, as I hate to have anyone come here and see the same exact posts they’ve seen the last 14 times they visited, I will attempt to post a few new things. And that starts with this — one of the pics I shot at the Lorde/Majical Cloudz show at SDSU’s Cal Coast Credit Union Theatre last Friday. I will try to post more (including a few of Lorde) very soon.


An Earful of Logic


Jason Kibler (aka DJ Logic) is not your typical DJ. The Bronx native’s nearly 25-year career is every bit as eclectic as his massive record collection.

Starting out in early 90s R&B’ers Eye & I, Kibler formed a life-long friendship with Living Colour’s Vernon Reid after the guitarist guested on one of the band’s tracks.

The two would pair again on Kibler’s true debut, the hip-hop/jazz mash-up of 1999’s Project Logic, and once more with their partnership in The Yohimbe Brothers.

But it was Logic’s work on Medeski Martin and Wood’s 1998 Blue Note debut, Combustication, that cemented the DJ’s readiness to collaborate with musicians from any genre. And he’s stayed true to the philosophy, working with everyone from The Grateful Dead and Christian McBride to Charlie Hunter and G. Love.

“It’s always good to see musicians and DJs collaborating,” Kibler recently told SoundDiego by phone from New York. “And it’s great when it goes both ways – DJs learning the music, and musicians learning aspects of DJing. It’s good to see that whole thing gel. Growing up, I had a keyboard and I played clarinet. I’ve always been excited about collaboration. It’s an incredible feeling to contribute ideas to something musically amazing.”

Kibler’s most recent collaboration finds him paired with The Earful – a San Diego funk collective featuring members of The Mars Volta and B-Side Players. Nominated for Best Jazz Artist at the 2013 San Diego Music Awards, The Earful is ending their current West Coast tour with shows featuring Logic. That includes a tour-closing stop on Saturday at Winston’s Beach Club in Ocean Beach.

“I’ve known those guys for a while now,” said Kibler. “I’m a big fan of their music and a big fan of the guys in the band. Plus, the timing was right for us to do something this summer.”

Kibler is already working on follow-ups to last year’s releases of Are You Ready, a more hip-hop-centric solo album, and Chillin’ in Batumi, an album he made with Georgian pianist Beka Gochiashvili. DJ Logic dates will continue throughout the year, and the turntablist is always working on a steady stream of remixing and production work.

“I just take it as it comes,” he said. “There’s a lot of music out there. I’m always interested in learning, no matter how much I do, or how many styles I play. I’m always keeping it open to exploring more and more, and challenging myself. I just love music.”

Originally published by NBC San Diego

Big Whoop


Admittedly, Kim Shattuck is a gearhead. You’re far more likely to find her wandering the halls of an auto show than among the throngs of cosplayers and gamers in town for Comic-Con. But that doesn’t mean the gravelly-voiced frontwoman isn’t excited about playing during the massive convention.

Shattuck and her band mates, L.A. garage-punks The Muffs, are about to release their first album in a decade. And after a 2013 that found Shattuck hired, and subsequently fired, by iconic alt-rockers the Pixies, it’s long overdue.

“Finally this album is coming out!” she told DiscoverSD recently. “I’ve never had my own baby or anything, but I’ve been likening it to being nine-and-a-half months pregnant. It’s just like ‘Get. It. Out.’ Get it out already. I can’t take it anymore.”

Relief will come on July 29 when the trio releases Whoop Dee Doo on Burger Records. The album was started in 2010, but suffered a string of delays.

“It’s been a long time,” said Shattuck. “I worked on it in earnest for months. Then it stretched out and took some time to finish. Time just slips away, especially when people are busy doing other things. But as soon as I said, ‘I love the mix, let’s go master,’ I got the Pixies gig.”

Infamously, she was booted for stage-diving at a show by the band’s manager. But in the long run, it just meant that Whoop Dee Doo was released faster.

And it’s a doozy. Album opener “Weird Boy Next Door” showcases Shattuck’s trademark growl while keeping tempos up and production tight.

“My whole intention with that song is to make you feel like you got hit in the face with a pie,” said Shattuck. “Bam!”

But that could easily describe the entire record. The band’s last offering, 2004’s appropriately titled Really Really Happy, had a far sunnier disposition. Whether the Pixies debacle had anything to do with it or not, the band’s 10-year hiatus has allowed the vinegar to seep back into the mix.

“The songs of Whoop Dee Doo are angry again,” Shattuck said, laughing. “I got some of my old aggression back.”

With longtime members Ronnie Barnett and Roy McDonald (Redd Kross) in tow, the band starts a tour to support the new album with a record release party at the Casbah on Saturday. And at least in North America, they’ll be trying something new.

“We’re doing it a bit differently this time,” said Shattuck. “We’re going to pick our spots and come in and out of tour. We’re older. We all have lives. So we’re going to strike and then go home. Strike, and then go home. But we’re also going to Japan and Europe. And you obviously can’t do it like that over there.”

Wherever the tour takes them, the trio is ready to deliver on the promise of an album 10-years in the making. And while the band isn’t getting ahead of themselves, the time between records will be far shorter next time around.

“We’re living in the moment right now,” she said. “But I already have an album’s worth of songs that are pretty awesome. They’ll basically be all about the Pixies and those that have wronged me! (laughs) No, but once I do start writing lyrics, who knows what will come out. I just always write about what I’m feeling.”

The Muffs play The Casbah’s “4 Nights at the Con!” on Saturday. The Loons, Aquadolls and The Touchies support.

Originally published by DiscoverSD

Christmas Under Waters


John Waters hates Easter.

Well, the popular version of it, anyway.

He hates the hunt. He hates hard-boiled eggs. He hates the pastel-colored baskets and the shredded plasti-grass that goes in them. But, most of all, he hates the bunny. Man, does he hate that bunny.

Christmas, on the other hand, is a different story.

Since releasing A John Waters Christmas in 2004—a compilation album of hand-picked holiday oddities from artists like Tiny Tim and Jimmy Donley—the cult filmmaker and best-selling author has used every December to star in a Christmas-themed, one-man show of the same name.

What started as a handful of stand-up dates in places like New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., has now become a well-polished show that makes an annual trek through 15 cities, as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

“I hope it sounds like I’m just talking without any planning,” Waters says, speaking by phone from his hometown of Baltimore. “But it’s completely written out and rehearsed. I need to remind people of important things—like to never ask the fat person in your office to play Santa Claus. That’s the worst, rudest thing you could ever do.”

And while it’s impossible for the transgressive auteur not to infuse his perverse holiday monologues with the same kind of bawdy humor he used in films like Pink Flamingos, Polyester and A Dirty Shame, the man once dubbed “The Prince of Puke” swears the show—which comes to Belly Up Tavern on Dec. 4—is more therapy than anything else.

“I don’t have much tongue-in-cheek in this,” he says. “I’m serious when I say I’m going to tell you how to get through Christmas no matter your religion, creed, sexual preference or relationship with your family. If you’re a criminal, a capitalist, Republican or Democrat, I can tell you how to get through it. It’s like a self-help meeting.”

Despite the current version of his traveling support group unabashedly celebrating things like Christmas-tree violence and chocolate, Santa-shaped butt plugs, Waters’ own Yuletide celebrations are relatively tame.

He designs and sends out a Christmas card. He gives gifts. He throws a party. And Waters always takes his turn when it’s time to cook for the family.

“It’s traditional,” he says, “but everything has a twist to it. My mantle has the Unabomber birdhouse on it. My sister does a wreath on the front door, but it has prickly bushes that scratch you on the way in. I decorate an electric chair instead of a Christmas tree. But I’ve always said that to celebrate bad taste, you have to know good taste.”

And gift giving and receiving? For the 66-year-old iconoclast, it’s all about books. A bibliophile with a massive collection, Waters finds as much joy in fringe pulp fiction as he does Tennessee Williams. Whether it’s a cheesy, soft-core sex book with a hilarious cover or an obscure piece of literature he hasn’t yet acquired, Waters wouldn’t want to unwrap anything else on the big day. For years now, on the top of his wish list are movies made into novels.

“I collect those because no one collects them anymore,” he says. “It’s a dead genre. And if anyone can ever find me the novelization of Pootie Tang, I’ll give them a lap dance.”

Waters is an accomplished author himself, with five books to his credit. The latest, 2010’s bestselling Role Models, is a collection of essays, including reflections on Manson family member Leslie Van Houten, singer Johnny Mathis and Baltimore stripper Lady Zorro.

He’ll follow that next year with Carsick, a chronicle of his recent hitchhiking adventure across the country. In it, he both imagines what might happen and documents the actual pickups by, among others, a city council member, a married couple and the indie-rock band Here We Go Magic (they tweeted in disbelief at the time).

“The first third of it is a little novella,” Waters says, “and I’m imagining the very best that could happen on the trip—vicious characters, sex, adventure. Next, I wrote the 15 worst rides possible. The day before I left, I wrote my own death, and then I went and really did it. Twenty-one rides in nine days. Most people thought I was homeless at first. The rest you’ll have to read in the book.”

If it seems strange that an iconic writer / director of 16 films has spent the last eight years doing one-man holiday shows and authoring books, it is, especially considering that Waters’ 1988 film, Hairspray, was turned into a Broadway hit—before Hollywood remade it in 2007—and went on to become the forth-highest grossing musical in U.S. history.

But he hasn’t stopped trying to make movies. He’s been attempting to get his children’s Christmas film, Fruitcake, which he describes as “The Little Rascals on acid,” made since 2008. The studios haven’t been cooperating.

So, instead, at least for now, all of that unrequited holiday commentary is channeled into his live act.

“I hate Easter,” he says. “But I do like Christmas. I just think everyone’s neurotic at Christmas, even if you don’t acknowledge it. And that’s just another form of neuroses. And that’s why I’m here to tell you how you can both love and hate Christmas at the same time.”

Waters is going to keep writing books, and he’s going keep doling out Christmas advice and observations, until someone decides to finance Fruitcake. And if that day never comes, well, he’s fine with that, too.

“It may never go into production,” he says. “That’s why I’m writing a book. But it’s OK. I have many ways to sell stories. It’s not that big of a shame. I’ve made 16 movies. It’s not like I haven’t spoken.”

Originally published in San Diego CityBeat on November 28, 2012