Tag Archives: Belly Up Tavern

Joanna Bolme: Jick Chick

“When you’re a Jick, you’re a Jick all the way, from your first cigarette, to your last dying day.” Wait a second. That’s jet. No matter. When it comes to bassist Joanna Bolme, she is a Jick all the way. Ever since indie elder statesmen Pavement went on “hiatus,” Bolme has been playing with frontman Stephen Malkmus in his band the Jicks. Bolme is also a recording engineer who handled the mixing on Elliott Smith’s seminal Either/Or and, until recently, played with ex-Jick Janet Weiss, and her ex-husband/ex-Elliott Smith cohort, Sam Coombs, in indie-rockers Quasi.
I recently spoke with Bolme from her home in Portland. She was about to wrap up the last few tour dates supporting the Jicks’ August-released/Beck-produced Mirror Traffic — including a tour-closing stop at the Belly Up tonight.

Scott McDonald: You’ve been a Jick for more than a decade now.

Joanna Bolme: It’s strange. That’s longer than some of those Pavement guys. It’s a quarter of my life or something. But I usually don’t give it that much thought. I tend to focus on whatever it is that we’re doing next, but I have been there the whole time. John Moen was the first Jick, and I was the second. I’m on every record, for sure. It’s been great.


SM: How was working with Beck on this record?

JB: It was pretty awesome. First and foremost, he’s a musician, so there wasn’t any barrier between roles for him. It was just a group of musicians hanging out, and he was the one who was behind the glass a lot of the time. He came up with a lot of great ideas for things, and we trusted him when he said things like, “That was great.” It’s great to have someone that you respect and trust calling the shots in that department. A producer’s producer is probably going to make you do it over and over again until there’s no life left in it, whereas a musician recognizes the life of a song and doesn’t want to ruin that. His style was free-flowing and loose, and it was the thing that kept us all interested.


SM: That sounds ideal.

JB: Beck really likes those impromptu, weird things about Steve’s songs, and he really got Steve to keep a lot of lyrics that were stream-of-consciousness. There were songs that didn’t have any lyrics yet, and Steve was just making things up off the top of his head, and some of it was really good. But Steve, of course, was like, “No, no, I’ll come up with something for it later,” but Beck was like, “No way — those were great!” So we kept a lot of them. It was a good match for us.


SM: Has Steve moved to Europe?

JB: He and his family moved to Berlin for a change of pace. But so far, it hasn’t really affected anything that we do at all. It’s not like we see each other all that much anyway. Since he’s become a dad, he really has his hands full. It worked out thus far that when he does the band, he’s full-time band, and when he’s off, he’s a full-time dad. It’s just a more expensive plane ticket.


SM: Is Quasi still playing?

JB: I don’t play with them anymore, but Quasi is still a band, for sure. Janet’s just pretty busy with Wild Flag. That’s one of the reason’s she’s not playing with us and things have just gotten busy all the way around. But I’m pretty sure they’ll continue as a two-piece and be more of a recording thing than a touring project. I’m not exactly sure what they have planned, but I know everyone is really busy right now.


SM: Will you ever go back to guitar?

JB: I still play it in the Shadow Mortons, and I played it in the first band I was in, Calamity Jane. Then my friends wanted a bass player for their band, so I picked it up and actually liked it better. I realized at some point that I didn’t have an interest in becoming a total shredder. I taught myself how to play guitar by playing along with Keith Richards, so rhythm was always what I liked more and really felt. Bass is just more along those lines, and it’s still melodic. It’s more my style than ripping leads, for sure.


SM: So, it’s cool we get the last night of the tour.

JB: You are the last day of the tour. Watch out. It might get weird. We’ve already started going off-script. It could really go off the rails. But maybe we’ll be back on track. I’m not sure.


SM: What’s next?

JB: We have about 15 or 16 new songs already, and we’re working on them all the time. We actually play about two or three of them at these shows, and some of them are getting really good. We definitely have more up our sleeves.

Source: Originally published by  NBC San Diego on October 20, 2011

Hannigan Finds Groove Of Her Own

For almost seven years, Irish singer/songwriter Lisa Hannigan collaborated with Damien Rice. She toured with him, sang on his albums, played piano and served as his muse.

Then, after one fateful night in Germany, it all came to a screeching halt. Rice fired Hannigan just minutes before a gig in Munich, and the couple have hardly spoken since, if at all. But that was 2007.

Although working here and there, Rice has released nothing of his own in the past four years, and recently broke a multiyear silence only to declare that he’d trade it all to “still have Lisa in my life.”

Hannigan hasn’t spoken much about the split, but she seems to have used the time far more productively.

She released her solo debut, “Sea Sew,” in 2008. The album was well-received by both critics and fans, and landed her a Mercury Prize nomination. It also led to a supporting slot on a 42-date U.S. tour with Jason Mraz. But perhaps most important, it taught her that she was a pretty decent songwriter and got her some much-needed exclusivity under the spotlight.

She just released the Joe Henry-produced follow up, “Passenger,” last week and started a three-continent tour on Tuesday to support it.

“We’ve been playing in Ireland this summer,” Hannigan said recently from her home in Dublin. “When the record was done and was being finished here, we went out on tour just to play the songs live and see where they go. It’s such a different experience than the studio. And I was anxious just to get the new songs out there. But it all just means we’re ready. I can’t wait. We’re ready and excited.”

Hannigan has a lot to be excited about. But it also seems like a lot of things are going well for the 30-year-old songstress. And the way she hooked up with Grammy-winning artist/producer Joe Henry is one of them.

“It was very serendipitous,” she said. “I was doing a tribute concert for (folk singer) Kate McGarrigle in London, and he happened to be doing a gig next door. He popped his head in, wanted to pay his respects, and I was the person he happened to catch onstage. He sent an email to my manager and we met.”

The pair exchanged demos and ideas for months before meeting to record the album in Wales earlier this year.

“Lucky me,” said Hannigan. “Straightaway, I fully trusted him. We never, at any point, discussed the record while we were sending things back and forth. There was such a great trust there that it never even really occurred to me to talk about it. He’s such a wonderful man and musician and listener. Everyone just played their socks off trying to impress him, really.”

Good fortune also intervened for Hannigan when talk show host Stephen Colbert came across her name while doing research online and immediately booked her for a rare performance on “The Colbert Report.”

“He was looking up Sean Hannity,” she said. “I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how it happened. Luckily, my name is only a few letters different. And we were on tour in the states at the time. They wanted us to play in New York and we were going to be there in a week. It was amazing.”

That was the same feeling Hannigan had when singer Ray LaMontagne agreed to appear on the new album. She didn’t feel she knew him well enough to ask outright, so she did it through a friend. And their duet, “O Sleep,” is part of the travel-inspired, 10-song collection that the charming singer and her five-piece band are out promoting across the U.S., Australia and U.K.

“You can think of themes almost in retrospect,” Hannigan said. “But because I was away for so much of the writing, there was that sense that you get when you’re away from home, that strange nostalgia. If it ever comes into focus, it’s that true idea of home and all of its preoccupations from faraway places. It can really become the portrait of your mind. Looking back, I think it ties together that way. And the traveling really got under the skin of the record.”

Hannigan will be traveling again for the next few months. It’s impossible to know what inspirations will come from it, but it is likely to cement the idea that front and center is the perfect spot for her to stand.

“I feel absolutely comfortable doing what I’m doing now,” Hannigan said. “But it has been weird. I had never stood in the middle before. It’s such a different feeling. And there was a period of mourning. That band was such a part of my life for so long.

“But now it’s been years, and I have such a wonderful band and crew, everyone around me are friends. And that makes it so much easier. I don’t regret anything that’s happened along the way. It’s all just led to me doing what I’m doing now. And I love it.”

First published by The North County Times on September 29, 2011


Blues Still Alive In Guy

Maybe Buddy Guy is a robot.

Or maybe he’s from an undiscovered planet where everyone is exceptional.

But there just doesn’t seem to be a likely explanation for how the 75-year-old blues legend has been able to accomplish all that he has since first picking up a two-string, hand-me-down guitar nearly six generations ago.

In a storied career that has spanned well over 50 years, Guy has released nearly 65 albums, won six Grammy Awards, was bestowed with the National Medal of Arts, picked up 23 W.C. Handy Awards, been named “Greatest Living Electric Blues Guitarist” by Billboard Magazine, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.

And perhaps more important, Guy has been a direct influence on people such as Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Beck.

Yet, despite his numerous contributions to music, Guy has barely slowed over the years. He still owns and operates Buddy Guy’s Legends Club in downtown Chicago, and just released one of his strongest records in a long time, “Living Proof,” late last year.

Although the album opens with the track “74 Years Young,” Guy’s blistering solos throughout hearken back to what many would call his glory years.

It’s all somewhat hard to believe for someone who didn’t even pick up an instrument until he was in his teens.

“I didn’t even know what a guitar was for the longest time,” Guy said recently from his Chicago home. “But my momma used to get a catalog from Sears Roebuck. I’d see a guitar in it every year around Christmas because that’s when she’d order our clothes and shoes. We finally got a radio and I heard John Lee Hooker on it. I knew I wanted a guitar, but there wasn’t no shopping out there where I was. My daddy finally paid two dollars for one that had two strings on it. And that was my first. I was about 16 then. But I didn’t even know what running water was until I was about 16 or 17.”

Guy played the blues throughout the ’50s, but it was an underground, segregated style until the British Invasion of the ’60s co-opted it. And while many look at those bands as ripping off the blues, Guy sees it another way.

“The British gave a big lift to black-man blues,” he said. “When they started playing it, that’s when our names started coming up again. White America certainly didn’t know about it. They didn’t know who someone like Muddy Waters was until then. And when the Rolling Stones were getting bigger than bubble gum, they did a show called ‘Shindig!’ and brought Muddy with them. And Mick got really offended when they didn’t even realize that the band was named after one of his songs.”

Although Guy can look back on an unmatched run of his own, he’s also trying to lay groundwork for the future. He recently self-released an album for 12-year-old guitar prodigy Quinn Sullivan and has taken the youngster under his wing.

“Producers and managers take advantage of us all unless you know what they’re doing,” Guy said. “In this business, you need all the education you can get. I’m trying to school Quinn with this street sense I … learned from the Muddys, the Walters, the Wolfs, the Sonny Boys, the B.B.s, and everyone else who got ripped off. The alligators and crocodiles are out here and they will bite you.”

Adding mentoring to the list, it makes you wonder how he finds the time for it all. But his efforts have not gone unnoticed. Chicago just named a street after him.

“I think it was the most surprising thing that’s ever happened to me in my life,” Guy said. “But Chicago is where I first met Muddy, B.B., Clapton, Hendrix, and all of the other greats. I thought they were kidding when they told me. I’m too old to cry. So I held the tears back until I got home.”

With so many things going on with him, it would seem hard to keep track of it all, but Guy just tries to keep things simple.

“I’m divorced,” he said. “So I don’t have to come home and report anymore. I mostly go to the club and just enjoy it with all of the people. I’m really trying to keep all of this alive. There just aren’t the blues clubs out there in the world like there were in Muddy Waters’ or my younger days. They’ve all but disappeared. So far, we’re surviving in mine. I’m just trying to keep the music playing.”

Guy is also trying to do something much bigger. He wants to make sure that blues itself lives on past the lives of its true pioneers.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “But if you were interviewing me 20 years ago, I’d have said there’d be at least a handful of us blues players left by now. But the hand’s not even full anymore, man. Me and B.B. talk about it all the time. And we’re no babies anymore. We’re just trying to carry this as far as we can.”


Karl Denson

Karl Denson – San Diego Sax Symbol

For as long as I can remember, there have been a few things that can be unequivocally counted on during the holidays in San Diego – the absence of snow, lighted boats parading in the harbor, surfing Santas, and Karl Denson (in one incarnation or another) playing shows around town. Despite the Greyboy Allstars co-founder and Tiny Universe bandleader boasting a resume that includes parings with icons like Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley, headlining slots at the Newport and New Orleans Jazz Festivals, and a two-decade-strong recording career, the quintessential sax man always finds the time to treat hometown fans with some funk and boogaloo at the end of each calendar year. I recently caught up with him during a soundcheck at the Belly Up to chat about his adoption of America’s finest city, his unique musical path, and bringing jazz to the rock kids.

Originally posted on NBC San Diego’s Sound Diego Blog on December 30, 2010.

Back in Black at Belly Up

Lately, Vancouver, British Columbia’s Black Mountain and Austin, Texas’ Black Angels have been two of the most buzzed-about bands in rock ‘n’ roll.

Everyone from online hipster outlet Pitchfork to print stalwart Rolling Stone has toasted Black Mountain’s classic rock riffs and the Black Angels’ psych-rock drones.

And somewhat coincidentally, the bands are playing together, co-headlining the appropriately titled Dropout Boogie Tour in Europe, the U.S. and Canada.

But despite their differences in style and the 2,300 miles that separate their hometowns, these two bands share far more than similar, color-specific names.

“There are a lot of coincidences,” said Black Mountain bandleader Stephen McBean recently. “We both just put our third record out and they came out on the same day. We both worked with (Grammy-winning producer) Dave Sardy this time. We’re both pretty close in size. And we’ve both been tagged with the ‘trip down memory lane’ thing and mine different but similar fields. There’s a lot of stuff happening with us. But the shows have been great, and they definitely feel bigger than either of us on our own.”

Black Angels frontman Alex Maas shares the feeling of camaraderie and sees the partnership as something that was bound to happen.

“It’s something that we had wanted to do for a while,” said Maas from a Chicago tour stop. “They’re just really nice people. We toured with (McBean’s other band) Pink Mountaintops before and had talked about doing a tour with Black Mountain at some point. But with everything going on, we didn’t think we’d be able to work it out. But it seems that now is the right time.”

While each band has its own unmistakable sound, their musical paths have shared even more uncanny similarities as of late.

Not only did Sept. 14 mark the date of each respective outfit’s third full-length release, both albums marked the first time that either band had left their hometown to record. And while both groups had shown a penchant for long, extended jams in the past, each of the new records feature shorter, more focused anthems and distinct changes in sound.

“It was good for us to change things up and take a chance this time,” said Black Mountain’s McBean. “It’s nice to work with a bit of conflict and fear of failure. We don’t want to just replicate the albums. We always want to add new life to them. But it certainly wasn’t a plan at the start. The songs just led us in that direction. As much as it’s a challenge to write a 17-minute song, it’s also a challenge for us to whittle it down. But it’s awesome to have something that encapsulates everything that we do in four minutes.”

Maas has similar feelings about the Black Angels’ process.

“It was all about the situation,” he said. “It wasn’t as much about getting out of Austin as it was working with Dave Sardy. I think we would have made the same record in Milwaukee or Denver. But we didn’t want to make something entirely different like a hip-hop record or anything. Yet, at the same time, we didn’t want something that was easy or just more of the same. We thought it was healthy to do a lot of things that we’d never done before.”

Whether it’s serendipity or some kind of rock ‘n’ roll mind meld, it’s obvious that the two bands are sharing more than just the stage every night. Both of their albums have been well-received by critics and fans alike, while those excited to catch both acts in a single night have seen a tour where both acts are completely enjoying themselves.

“I think the new songs add a different dynamic to the live show,” Maas said. “And we look forward to playing them every night for that exact reason. It pushes us to try things we’ve never done before. This whole thing has just been a blast.”

Not surprisingly, McBean echoes his counterpart’s feelings.

“It’s been fun,” he said. “I always like it when you go and see a band and they change things live. It just makes it more exciting. And there’s always going to be people who like one record better than the other. That’s fine. But you shouldn’t let the fans dictate where you go. Hopefully, you do what you do, take some chances, and bring your fans along for the ride.

“There may be some arguments between fans on which band is better, but between the bands, there are no issues about who’s got the bigger rider or backstage area. For us, it’s just a celebration of music.”

Black Mountain and the Black Angels

When: 9 p.m. Nov. 23

Where: Belly Up Tavern, 143 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach

Tickets: $15-$17

Info: 858-481-8140


Web: blackmountainband.com; theblackangels.com

Originally printed in the Preview section of the North County Times, November 18, 2010.