Tag Archives: House of Blues

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


It’s Getting Hot in Here!

But it was all just a mere warmup for the electric Ms. Tijoux. The ghost town transformed into a crowded floor when the tiny MC took the stage, and the audience showed quite a bit of love for the show opener. Dressed casually — T-shirt, flannel, jean shorts and high-tops — she patrolled the stage, spitting her mainly autobiographical, and mostly high-energy, rhymes with flair. Her keyboard player held things down with tight grooves, and I was sad to see her set end.

Next up were the Venezuelan funksters Los Amigos Invisibles. I’ve never seen them disappoint, and Tuesday night was no exception. As per usual, singer Julio Briceño was drenched in sweat by the second song, and it was literally flying off of him as the band cranked through an unbelievably spot-on version of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Their relentless stage energy makes it hard for me to believe the band has been around for 20 years (!?!). But according to guitarist Jose Luis Pardo, whom I spoke with a few days before the show, they can’t quite believe it either.

“We really started the band when we were teenagers,” Pardo said, “so we really consider it a miracle that we’ve been together this long. We never thought we’d make it this far, and we never thought we’d be able to make a living at it. We just really like playing live music with each other. But it really is a miracle, and we’ve seen it all in this band. Really, for us, it’s about that experience, of seeing people having fun and dancing each night. We love it and we serve that.”

After their fiery set, it was amazing that anyone had the energy left to stick around for local faves Bostich & Fussible. The Norteño-electronic mash-up specialists kept the party going until well after midnight. It still seems so awesome to me that their special niche of music appeals so far across the board. But, ironically, when I spoke with Fussible (aka, Pepe Mogt) shortly before the show, he said there was a time when it didn’t even appeal to them.

“Me and Ramon have been doing electronic music for a long time,” he said. “It’s crazy to say, but we’ve been doing it since ’88. And at that stage, we didn’t even like Norteño. We hated it. In our minds, there was only electronic music. We were collecting drum machines and synthesizers, and doing projects based on technology. And then I started my career in engineering and computer science at university. But now with Ramon, we combine all the Norteños with all of that new technology. And when we make that mixture, it doesn’t sound like a Norteño house remix. We put all the sounds together and make it the right balance between both worlds.”

Balance was the theme of the entire night, and all three acts got it right. And for all of the cities on down the line — whether you know these acts or not — there’s just no reason to show up if you don’t want to dance.


Darker My Love

A Lighter Shade of Wail

Darker My Love aren’t just gazing at shoes anymore

Darker My Love

Tim Presley (second from left) listens to crass and Grateful Dead. - Photo by Malia James

Listening to L.A. quintet Darker My Love’s latest record, Alive As You Are, is a bit like hearing your opera-loving co-worker completely nail The Stooges’ “Down on the Street” at company karaoke night. The more you listen, the faster your initial reactions—“What the fuck?” and “Naw, it can’t be”— give way to a heartfelt “Hell, yeah!” and a reminder that things aren’t always as they seem.

After two albums chock-full of psychedelic rockers and reverb-soaked drones, the band has embraced its inner iPod shuffle, swapping trademark distortion for a self-proclaimed “down to the ground” sound. And in the process, they’ve released a record that’s a whole lot more Jerry Garcia than My Bloody Valentine.

“It really comes from loving all kinds of different music,” says singer / guitarist Tim Presley. “We’re on the road a lot, and we’ll listen to Jimi Hendrix, then Crass, then Grateful Dead, then Ramones and then The Stone Roses. There wasn’t any kind of epiphany, and it certainly wasn’t ‘I’m into this now.’ It’s all happened very naturally. It’s just been a lot of ‘Hey, let’s try this’ and then going with it.”

Switching things up isn’t new to the band. In 2004, Presley co-founded Darker My Love with drummer Andy Granelli, his bandmate in Bay Area hardcore-punk outfit The Nerve Agents. The two were happy to trade fury for fuzz, as they were known for routinely hanging out together after punk shows and playing their favorite songs from a cross section of genres.

It wasn’t long before rhythm guitarist Jared Everett and bassist / co-lead vocalist / Berklee College of Music grad Rob Barbato joined the group. And by 2006, Will Canzoneri had been added on keys.

Granelli was replaced by Brian Jonestown Massacre alum Dan Allaire in 2009, but until last August’s release of Alive As You Are, Darker My Love were primarily known as a feedback-fueled rock band.

“I’ll admit, the track record of punks trying other stuff has not been that favorable,” Presley said. “But for us, it was something that happened organically. And at the same time, we also really wanted to get away from the noise that we were making before. We wanted to strip it, take a break for a second and boil it down. That wasn’t the mission statement going in, but it fell into that place as the songs kept coming.”

Presley maintains that things are pretty much the same since the switch and that it’s all just a natural progression for a band with diverse interests and a million influences from which to draw. But as their sound has changed, so have the bands that they’ve been booked with along the way.

Tours with once-like-minded brethren such as The Dandy Warhols and Warlocks have quickly given way to pairings with Band of Horses, Cass McCombs and Delta Spirit.

And while Presley and Barbato are able to draw on their shared experience of a stint with Mark E. Smith’s legendary band The Fall—including an invite to be a part of the group’s 30th anniversary in Manchester—they haven’t yet been able to completely reconcile the divergent sounds of their three albums when playing live.

“We’re still trying to figure that one out,” Presley says. “But it also depends a lot on who you play with and what kind of show it is. I feel like we can fit in with a bunch of different bands, but it’s kind of tricky. So far, we’re really still learning how to incorporate all the different kinds of songs we have.”

Currently on rotation in the touring van: Fleetwood Mac, Bread, Scott Walker and Danny O’Keefe, among others.

But Presley is adamant in pointing out that they’ve been listening to a heavy rotation of different bands for as long as he can remember, most of which never translate into an obvious influence on their records—and that no matter what musical inspirations they choose to indulge, their attitudes are the same now as the day they started; they’ll never do something just because it’s expected of them.

“It’s just a record played by some dudes,” he says. “But I think it’s punk rock to do something like that in the first place. It’s a brave move because we’d never done anything like that before.”

Whatever it is, the decision to break from an established comfort zone has ensured that the band can never be pigeonholed into record-store-placard categorization or a quick description. And that’s exactly the way they want it.

“It may just be our weird fear of genre,” Presley says, “but it certainly keeps it all fun and interesting.”

Darker My Love play with Delta Spirit and The Fling at House of Blues on Friday, Dec. 10. myspace.com/darkermylove

Originally published by San Diego CityBeat on December 9, 2010:

Racing the Sunset With Ólöf Arnalds

Before her recent tour kickoff with Blonde Redhead at the House of Blues, I was supposed to do an on-site video interview with Icelandic singer/songwriter Ólöf Arnalds.

It was impossible to hear over Blonde Redhead’s soundcheck, so we decided to improvise. Arnalds and her tour manager, Karen, jumped into my truck, and we raced down to the Embarcadero behind the San Diego Convention Center. Sunset was quickly approaching, but Arnalds was ready to go almost immediately. Luckily, I was able to capture this interview and an amazing on-the-fly performance of the title track from her sophomore album. Enjoy!

As originallyposted on NBC San Diego’s SoundDiego Blog, on November 30, 2010: