An Earful of Logic

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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

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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

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Kid Koala LIVE video

 

Legendary turntablist Eric San, aka Kid Koala, recently brought his “Vinyl Vaudeville” tour to San Diego. Not only was I lucky enough to see him and his amazing showcase turn the Casbah into a gigantic, paper-airplane-throwing party, I got to chat with the Ninja Tune craftsman for a while before the show. Check out this quick segment wonderfully shot by Albert Rascon. While it’s not as good as being there, it gives a nice little peek into an amazing evening of music.

CLICK HERE FOR KID KOALA VIDEO

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New (FREE) DJ Shadow Mix

Go HERE for a brand-spanking-new, FREE, downloadable, 17-minute DJ Shadow Mix by Irn Mnky. It’s being shared in conjunction with the limited edition box set release “Reconstructed: The Definitive DJ Shadow.” And if you live in one of the cities below, don’t miss the live show. It’s incredible. I shot this picture the last time he was in San Diego.

 

 

December US Dates:
12/6/12 Madison, WI Majestic Theater
12/7/12 Chicago, IL The Mid
12/8/12 Detroit, MI Majestic Theater
12/9/12 Boston, MA Royal Nightclub
12/11/12 Brooklyn, NY Brooklyn Bowl
12/13/12 New Orleans, LA Bassik @ Republic
12/14/12 Miami, FL Mansion
12/15/12 Atlanta, GA Opera

 

Johnny Not So Rotten

I can’t tell you the alias that iconic frontman John Lydon was registered under when we spoke from his New York hotel recently. I’ve been asked not to share that information. But if I could, it would tell you all you need to know about the current state of affairs for the one-time ringleader of punk rock pioneers the Sex Pistols. Lydon, performing at the House of Blues on Monday night with his other band, Public Image Ltd. (PiL), is as vulgar, hilarious, and controversial as ever. Despite the Pistols famously imploding after only a single album in 1978, Lydon switched gears and formed the “anti-rock” group, PiL, immediately after. While initially alienating those looking for a Sex Pistols re-tread, PiL’s dark, methodical sound became every bit as influential — and recognizable — as the band that came before it. And then, after the band’s eighth album, 1992’s That What Is Not, Lydon practically stopped making music altogether. He wrote a memoir. He briefly reunited with the Sex Pistols. And perhaps most surprising, the man once known as Johnny Rotten spent time doing various nature programs on television.

But now he’s back. And by touring on PiL’s new album, This Is PiL, he’s hoping to jump back into the fold with both feet.

Scott McDonald: May I speak with John, please?
John Lydon: Yes, speaking! Hello! How do you do? Who are you? What do you want? How can I help you? [laughs]

SM: I’m great. Thanks. Calling to do the interview.
JL: Well, that must be just fantastic for you! [laughs]

SM: So far, so good.
JL: [still laughing] Yeah, we’re rocking and a rolling here!

SM: How’s New York treating you?
JL: Well, it’s a town I know very well. So it’s not like I want to run around like a tourist anymore. But it’s hard work. I get precious little sleep. We’re trying to set up a brand new record label — our own — and remain completely independent of that filthy thing we call the recording industry. And we’re performing live every night. It’s harrowing! [laughs]

SM: But it has to beat working in a factory.
JL: Done that. And it’s actually kind of similar. I remember, when I was young, they threw me out of school. I wanted to pass my exams, so I worked on the building sites from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m., and then was at night college until 10 p.m. It’s very much like that. I’ve never been shy of hard work at any time in my life — except for when I’m watching television.

SM: Looking forward to PiL coming back. Caught some of the set out at Coachella in 2010.
JL: Coachella was very interesting. We pulled an enormous crowd away from the Jay-Z thing that was going on. No disrespect and all that, but looking across the field at all them flashing lights and fireworks, it looked like a hideous Las Vegas fiasco.

SM: Despite all of that, there were a lot of people out there to see you.
JL: Yeah, some 15,000 it turned out to be. That really surprised us, and we were really, really chuffed. I mean, before we went on, we were looking at a black, empty field. [Laughs] But I think it’s the music that did it. I think a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t have given Public Image any time or attention were drawn in. And that’s the thing. How do you get the alleged masses to pay attention?

SM: Well, hopefully, people will give some attention to This Is PiL. It’s as good as anything the band has done. But why did it take 20 years to make?
JL: Thank you. And I’ll tell you. It’s the record labels I was on. They were all deals that were extensions of the Sex Pistols, so I couldn’t get off of them. It kept me in such a state of financial ruin that it was impossible for me to function. It took me nearly two decades, really, to buy my way off and out of it. And that, to me, was a great personal tragedy to endure. But I’m not the only one whose had to run that gauntlet. There’s many, many people I know who have had to face similar challenges in life. And then there’s a terrible thing that goes on in journalism, where the journalists seem to sneer at bands re-forming. They’re not re-forming, they’re just getting the opportunity to get themselves back together again because of the mess the record company put them in. You know? Bands should be celebrated for having the endurance to recover from such stifling negativity. It’s so overwhelming, the burden they’ve got us all in. A lot of us are jumping up and down with joy at the demise of corporate record-company thinking. But at the same time, it’s left an enormous hollowness, and it seems like there’s no way of filling the void.

SM: Hollowness?
JL: The demise of record stores, for instance. Things like that have been taken away from us. And in many ways, I see that as the stealing of my culture. I’m very upset and angry about that. I’d like to reintroduce that old school style of sharing and tearing, because that’s where we learn all our acts of rebellion: from music. It is so vital to the young and old, all of us. It’s our freest form of communication. And in one way or another, the entire record company shit storm took it off us, fucked it up and then buried it.

SM: Well, even if it’s 20 years later, things like This Is PiL are still getting made. Was it strange to reintroduce yourself?
JL: It happened instinctively in the studio. We don’t spend a lot of time twiddling with instruments when we work. We just get on. We know each other so well, it all happens intuitively. And I do clarify my position in life. I did that using my very early childhood as a paving stone to base the album on. One thing led to another, and we ended up with a concrete staircase. And I don’t want to have to go through the drudgery of explaining to people that, ‘Yes, I was a Sex Pistol, but I was a human being before that, too, you know?’ More than anything, we wanted to clarify our positions to ourselves. Twenty years is a long time to be away from something that you love the most.

SM: Is the idea that with [record label] PiL Official going, this entity can get its sea legs and go again?
JL: Yes. That is definitely the ambition. And really, it’ll be sink or swim according to the live performances. It’s the major way of earning money, and that money then finances the next record.

SM: The current state of things does allow for a lot of different ways to make an album.
JL: Yes. We can alter all of this and make it for the best. Out of every calamity, there is a positivity. For 20 years, I couldn’t function in the way that I was born for, so I went through a great deal of learning. Rather than make this new album all misery, spite, hate and resentment for what tried to keep me down, I decided that revenge was for children. We just did what we love to do and celebrated life.

SM: Also, it’s not like you didn’t do anything in those 20 years.
JL: Right.

SM: You wrote a book, released a solo record, did all kinds of TV stuff, and you even reunited briefly with the Pistols.
JL: Yeah, in 1996 we did a Pistols tour. We did that because we felt we needed to perform an act of friendship and bond between each other — because of the way the band fell apart originally. We’ve done that, and no more. No need for it. Never. And I’ve had great conversations with them, particularly Paul Cook. We absolutely see it clearly along the same lines. It was a very healthy ending.

SM: Getting together, with both bands, and playing live is one thing, but getting back into the studio with PiL is another.
JL: Yes. It’s a full-on operation. And the press has somehow perpetrated that this is the Johnny Rotten Road Show and it’s not a proper band. But if you listen to the record, you realize what a bunch of nonsense that is and what level of commitment we have to one another. This is how life really is. And one further little point: What the hell would be wrong with the Johnny Rotten sideshow anyway? [Laughs] I mean, really? I have some value and worth in the world. Enough people have copied, imitated and followed my beliefs and musical principals. It’d be a good thing.

SM: Better than all the auto-tune out there.
JL: Oh! That is the worst! There is no need to listen to anything once that is put on it. The one thing as a species that we have to communicate with each other is the accuracy of our voices. And if you robotize that, you’ve eliminated humanity, and the whole thing becomes rather pointless.

SM: And now you’ve got [longtime collaborators] Lu [Edmunds] and Bruce [Smith] back to help you stay on point.
JL: Absolutely. With us, there’s a deep love and a sensibility of sound, point and purpose.

SM: And if nothing else, it sounds like friends playing together.
JL: Exactly. There’s a real warmth between us, and we fully respect each other. You can hear that. We’re creating new, adventurous musical landscapes, but we’re doing it naturally. And we’re doing it instinctively, with a great respect for everyone’s sensibilities. We’re not sitting around manufacturing weirdness. It’s the little details of our life experience. And it’s very enjoyable to make records this way.

SM: So that begs the question: More PiL albums to come?
JL: Yes, yes. We’re very prolific when we record. We have a whole bunch of songs we haven’t finished. The possibilities and capabilities are endless. We’re hoping it’s an ongoing process. But it’s an uphill climb.

SM: You talked about your influence earlier.
JL: Well, I hear it all the time. Even in the Top 30, I can hear our sound ideas, our viewpoint on mixing, balance — all of it. I can hear how PiL-type sound structures have been absolutely taken lock, stock and barrel. I mean, rap music is full of PiL structures. But that’s all right. That’s fine. No problems.

SM: So how does the process work?
JL: For me, a song is always subject-matter-led. Then, the sound will automatically fit the emotion I’m trying to express in the words. Nothing can be contrived, because we all know that doesn’t work. You can smell that so clearly, can’t you? You’ve got Radiohead and Green Day for that. [laughs]

SM: Your music seems as political as ever.
JL: That’s the world we live in. Can’t really avoid politics. That’s the modern religion. These people are trying to tell us how and who we are. They’re trying to tell us what we have the right to do and what we don’t have the right to do. You’d be a fool not to pay attention. And I’ll always stand up and argue a point for the disenfranchised. I come from that: I come from poverty, I come from the slums. And many people like me do. Down there, we’re very mixed. We’re multirace and multicultural. We have multiple beliefs, but we do have a sense of equality about ourselves. And that’s what I’m trying to constantly push forward. That loyalty we hold among one another, it’s our main value. That’s my cultural bond and duty: to represent it as accurately and as well as I can at every opportunity. And until governments realize that if you don’t help your poor that they’re going to help themselves, you’ve got a real problem.

SM: Is it strange to be singing about the same things that you did when you started? I mean, punk rock has really changed, but it seems nothing that inspired it has.
JL: Well, a lot of the alleged punk rockers thought, “Oh, look at the Sex Pistols. They’re famous. We can be famous, too.” And they didn’t pay attention to what the songs were saying and didn’t understand the social significance of the message. They just adhere to the clothing. And that’s the current climate of punk rock. It’s coat hangers, spikey hairdos, and studded leather jackets. And Green Day’s at the forefront of it all, which I think is a travesty. It’s a shame. But at the end of the day, at least I can take some credit for having been fashion-forward. [laughs]

Originally published by NBC San Diego on October 29, 2012

 

The Freedom of Patti Smith

 

Patti Smith could retire if she wanted to. Her service record to the artistic community was cemented long ago. There are no accolades left to chase, no accomplishments to reaffirm, no career goals to conquer, no creative stones left unturned. Not that she cared about those things, anyway.

As a singer, writer, poet, painter, photographer and performer, she’s proven herself time and again during a storied, four-decade career. So, why does the 65-year-old, recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee keep producing art at such a breakneck pace?

Because she can.

“It’s sort of a non-stop situation,” Smith tells CityBeat, speaking by phone from her Copenhagen hotel room on the last night of a European tour. “I’m always working on something. I’m a worker. And I feel very privileged that I can communicate in so many different ways.”

In recent years, that’s what she’s been doing. That is, in every manner but musically. Once the face of high-brow rock ’n’ roll, she seemingly abandoned songwriting after an extended absence from music, choosing instead to explore the art and literary worlds. But that all changed this summer.

Released in June, her new Columbia album, Banga, offers up her first original material since 2004’s Trampin’. Tempered by motherhood and the decades of distance from the punk jams that made her a household name in the 1970s, her solo material is far mellower these days—her latest album is a meditative, guitar-driven affair. But it’s no less challenging. Smith explores themes of forgiveness, loyalty and environmental apocalypse—all gleaned from personal experiences during her time away from the studio.

The title track comes from an obsession with Mikhail Bulgakov’s 1937 novel, The Master and Margarita, a book she read four years ago. She wrote the rocking rambler “Fuji-san” in response to the tsunami in Japan. Late-album opus “Constantine’s Dream” works through the deaths of the venerable St. Francis and early Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca, ending with images of Columbus dreaming of the world in flames.

Smith recorded the album at New York’s famed Electric Lady studios, working with longtime bandmates Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty—just as the threesome did on her 1975 debut, Horses.

“It’s nice to have the collaboration of my band and crew,” Smith says. “It’s so energizing and such a great way to expand our cultural voice. But if I desire solitude, I do have that option. I can always take a photograph or work on a poem.”

Much has been made of Smith’s eight-year hiatus from making music—she’s been quoted as saying she needed to “evolve”—but the time wasn’t exactly ill-spent. She helmed the 2006 closing performance at New York’s CBGB nightclub. She had high-profile exhibitions of her visual art and photography, like last year’s Camera Solo show at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Conn. She acted in the 2010 Jean-Luc Godard feature, Film Socialism. And she spent time with her two children.

Perhaps most importantly, the break gave Smith the opportunity to really focus on her lifelong passion.

“Of all the disciplines I’ve pursued, I identify most with writing,” she says. “I’ve written all my life. I started when I was 10 or 12 years old, and I’ve never stopped. So, even if I’m not writing for the public or having something published, I keep hundreds and hundreds of notebooks. I write every single day.”

During the downtime, she penned the starkly honest and beautifully written Just Kids, her memoir about coming of age in New York City with artist and lover Robert Mapplethorpe. A New York Times bestseller, it was translated into 30 languages and picked up the prestigious National Book Award for nonfiction in 2010.

“I was thrilled,” Smith says. “You know, for a girl who worked in a bookstore for almost eight years, I really had to grasp what a wonderful thing it was. And what a privilege it is to have a National Book Award. It’s something I never even dreamed of.”

A true labor of love, Just Kids started as a promise to Mapplethorpe the day before he died. Despite never having written a single piece of extended nonfiction, Smith was determined to see it through.

“It took a really long time,” she says. “I started it, shelved it for a couple of years and started it again. And then I’d re-write it, and that was almost like the process of writing the first draft. I had the story I wanted to tell, I just had to get the confidence and take the time to write it.”

And she had help—not from another writer, but from highly detailed journals that she kept since childhood.

“I mean, I knew exactly what day I chopped up my hair like Keith Richards,” she says. “I knew what day I met Janis Joplin. I knew where the moon was in the sky on a night in 1972. I kept such good notes that I could draw from them and really picture everything.”

Smith will be in San Diego this week for a special two-date run, unlike any others she’ll play in the U.S. As she does occasionally in Europe, she’ll play two distinct shows. At Downtown’s Spreckels Theatre, she’ll do some reading, be the subject of an interview, participate in a Q&A and perform acoustic songs. The next night at House of Blues, she’ll play a rock show with her full band.

“It’s been a long time since I played San Diego,” she says. “And we’re not doing a whole lot of dates. But I promise you one thing—each show will be different. I have a lot of freedom in the way that I can communicate. That’s part of the beautiful challenge of performing every night—the way it unfolds in front of you.”

Originally published in San Diego CityBeat on October 10, 2012

Not So General Mills

Blake Mills isn’t a household name. Yet. But it’s likely this 25-year-old guitar player from Venice Beach will be very soon.

He’ll be in San Diego on Sunday, playing guitar in Fiona Apple’s band at FM 94/9’s Independence Jam in Oceanside. But if things continue to go the way they have, it won’t be long before Mills is headlining major venues across the country on his own. After playing in Dawes with childhood friend Taylor Goldsmith, Mills released his solo debut, Break Mirrors, in 2010. He’s also amassed a more than impressive roster of collaborators along the way, including Cass McCombs, Lucinda Williams, Dangermouse, Rick Rubin, Fiona Apple, Conor Oberst, Julian Casablancas, Jackson Browne and Band of Horses.

And if that wasn’t enough, Eric Clapton just personally invited him to play his Crossroads Benefit.

I recently spoke with the down-to-earth Mills, who was on a tour stop in the Bay Area.

Scott McDonald: How are you?
Blake Mills: I’m very good, man. How are you?

SM: Good. How are things going?
BM: Really good. We just got started back up with some new Fiona dates, so today we’re in San Francisco.

SM: The list of people you’ve either recorded or played with is unbelievable. Is it hard to also try to squeeze your own thing in?
BM: They kind of do come hand-in-hand. Being on the road with amazing people definitely is inspiring when you come back off the road, so it’s this natural sort of balancing act that figures itself out with not too much fuss.

SM: Really, it’s an embarrassment of riches. And time is on your side.
BM: Right. I just hope that when I’m 40, I still do have options.

SM: When you did Break Mirrors, were you already working with all of these other people, or was that album the catalyst for it all?
BM: Well, I had already been going out on tours doing some opening stuff, and I got a little stressed out with that. So I decided to spend a few years going out with other people instead. I continued to write the entire time, but never really had any plans for where the songs would go. And when a little window opened up between tours, I’d do some more writing and little by little I came up with enough material for an album.

SM: On the other hand, it has to be advantageous to just know your role, and be part of the background each night as well.
BM: Absolutely. I do enjoy being out of the spotlight with only needing to react to what someone else is doing. It feels like a natural place to be. But with the solo stuff, it really just seems more like leading a new conversation than striking out on my own. And it’s a lifesaver in that way. I’m not just out there alone.

SM: There are a lot of people out there saying really nice things about you — namely that you’re slated to be “the next big thing.” Does that create any pressure for you?
BM: There’s only pressure if you buy into it. And it’s easy to fall into that. But my career path hasn’t really been designed, and because of that, it’s headed in all kinds of cool directions. I find myself getting so much out of these experiences that I didn’t plan. I like to keep my hands off of it. I love being proven wrong about what’s right for me or what’s best for me. All of my experiences thus far have been really great because I haven’t had to give anything up. I think if I had ambitions to become a household name, I would have to give a lot of things up that I get a lot out of.

SM: Did you start as a kid?
BM: I did. I asked my dad for what seemed like forever to get me a Strat. In ’94 we got Microsoft Encarta on the computer. And every time you opened the computer, it did a year in review. Kurt Cobain had committed suicide and they were highlighting clips of him. I was obsessed with Kurt and Nirvana for a few years, and I bugged and bugged and bugged my dad for a guitar. And when I was about 10, he got me one. I went straight into learning how to play Nirvana, Soundgarden and Metallica songs. That was the goal at first. A friend of my dad’s came over and asked me what I was listening to, so I put on [Weezer’s] Pinkerton. He was like, “Ok. Yeah. That chord progression: 1, 5, 6, 4.” He explained to me how the chords had numbers and you could pick them out without having an instrument around. And it was then that this magic art was illuminated for me. And I knew that I had to find out how to do that. I don’t know if I took it more seriously, or it was just fascinating to me, but it became my everything, all the time, and it still is.

SM: How was it having Eric Clapton call you to do the Crossroads gig?
BM: Oh, man. It was pretty heavy. I was about to go out on the first leg with Fiona, and my dad was having some health complications. I got this letter in the mail from Clapton, and it was the invitation. I went to see my dad in the hospital and I shared it with him. He was pretty moved by it, because Clapton was the very first concert he ever brought me to in Scottsdale, Ariz. The thing I remembered about it was his Stratocaster and the cool paint job it had on it. Anyway, so I wrote him back asking things like, “How did you find me?” and “Are you sure you have the right person?” [laughs] He said yes and that he’d heard me play some slide on a Dixie Chicks song that ended up on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy but that he thought it was Derek Trucks at first. And if there’s any guitar player out there, for me, it’s Derek. So he calls Derek to say how much he liked it, and Derek tells him that it’s not him, it was me. So it was one thing for Clapton to be aware, but then to know that Derek was aware — that really messed me up a bit. That pressure you were talking about earlier is dwarfed by the pressure from knowing that now both of those guys are aware and watching what you’re doing. That’s a different arena.

SM: That’s crazy for any musician, but for a guitar player …
BM: I know. It’s mindblowing. And just to be a fly on the wall for some of these conversations that I’ve managed to finagle my way into …

SM: It seems like a lot.
BM: It’s a pinch-yourself kind of thing. I don’t want to take advantage of any situation in the proximity, but I also don’t want to take any of it for granted. I want to make sure that I glean all of the rock & roll wisdom I can. It’s so precious.

SM: What’s next?
BM: Well, I know that I’ll make another record. Not sure when, but it’s something I’m going to do. I also really want to do some more work with Cass McCombs. But mostly, I just want to keep with the momentum I already have going and see what happens.

Originally published by NBC San Diego on September 16,2012