music (2007-04)

The Love Story of Deek hoi

So far, all signs point to 'happily ever after'

Yo La Tengo isn't a fan of small talk

Bang Bang Bang rock hard in a southern place

Bobby Bare Jr., Sippin' beer, Bottle Tree, Birmingham

by Leslie Wylie

Hunched studiously over a stack of keyboards, fingers steadily punching out a melody, Daniel Coy looks as much the part of a scientist as of a maestro. His awareness seems multi-pronged, simultaneously introverted and focused on the loose-leaf sheets of sound wafting up from the instruments surrounding him. Every few bars, the focal point of his concentration seems to shift; the crown of his head lifts, rotates toward his bandmates, and lowers.

Jen Rock is standing in the corner of the practice space, singing into a microphone that's duct-taped onto its stand. Her voice has a plank-board quality--straight and strong, low to the ground, a combination of microscopic splinters and sanded-down silk. I like the colors that you wear , she sings, staring forward at nothing in particular, her words curdling slightly around the edges, I like your hair .

In the opposite corner, Jennifer Bradley sits behind her drum kit, her rhythms as unapologetically candid as Rock's voice. Josh Sidman stands over his upright bass, carving deep crevices into the song's underbelly, as the piano line picks up again just in time to glaze everything over with one last wash of sound. We live in California hey, hey, hey/ We live in California....

Deek hoi's come a long way since our first introduction to it, by way of an unassuming four-track recording that landed in our office sometime last year. But Summer/Book , as it was called, turned out to be among the most stellar efforts--fledgling or not--we'd heard in some time, a splash-puddle of instrumental whimsy and lo-fi production that was as innovative as it was nostalgic. And that was just the beginning.

"We call it the love story of Deek hoi because of the history of how it got started," Rock says, alluding to the serendipitous collision of the band's members. Coy, Rock and Bradley became good friends in college, although the idea of making music together didn't surface on the radar until sometime later.

In part, that was because they were mostly all closet musicians. Bradley, for instance, grew up playing the piano and the saxophone, but explains that stage fright kept her from taking her talent out of the house. "I never ever played in public, ever," she says. "My own parents wouldn't have had evidence that I ever played the instruments they paid for other than practicing, but I just never wanted to."

Though Coy has some band experience, he's still just emerging from a lifetime of at-home tinkering, indirectly fostered by the musical inclinations of his parents. "From a very young age I had pianos and guitars laying around, and drums and basses, and I can't say I'm very good at any of them but I do really like the sounds they make," he says, noting that recording was a passion he developed during childhood, drawn to its noninvasive charm. "You don't have to worry about saying, 'I want to goof around with this idea,' and you're draining other people's time. With recording, you can spend hours and hours and hours only entertaining yourself--you're not boring other people."

Rock may be the band's most novice musician, having taken up the guitar during the last couple of years. But she had a gift for it. "I was like, hey Danny, guess what?," she says, recalling the day she approached Coy with a song she'd taught herself. "And I was so nervous. But the relationship he and I have, I trust him, so I played him a song really fast, and it worked, and a couple weeks later he had this band."

Rounding things out is Sidman, Deek hoi's newest addition. The bassist brings some performance experience to the table, having moved to Knoxville four months ago from California, which he called home base when not touring with well-known bluegrass outfit the Earl Brothers. "I'm used to playing bluegrass/old-time music," Sidman says. "This has been the most musically broadening experience I've ever had."

With next week's CD release show, Deek hoi is preparing to release an updated representation of itself, The Golden Country . It's an album that, in its shyest moments, embodies all the transcendental qualities of psychedelic folk, but when it rocks out, it comes out with fists, punching through the American Gothic canvas and reaching through to something even starker and yet more emotive on the other side.   

"People play all the time hoping they'll land themselves in a good setup with a good band, playing out shows, and I'm floored," Rock says. "It just kind of happened."

What: Deek hoi w/ Eyes and Arms of Smoke

We'd Rather Rely on Playing

by Andrew Clayman

A major university's recent double-blind study found it scientifically impossible for rock critics to describe New Jersey's own Yo La Tengo without using the word "quintessential"--even if the word is mentioned merely in reference to its own unavoidable usage (see example above). What science cannot explain, however, is how a band this adventurous can go two decades without imploding, or worse yet, slowing down.

"I don't have an answer for that either," says longtime Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew, speaking from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y. "I think maybe my lack of an ability to explain it probably has something to do with whatever it is. There's not exactly a rule as far as that stuff (longevity) is concerned, but I know that we never really had any specific goals of success for ourselves. We didn't have a super achievement we were shooting for, so there was less of a chance of us ever being disappointed."

McNew joined Yo La Tengo in 1992, making him the venerable third man alongside the band's lawfully wedded co-founders, singer/guitarist Ira Kaplan and drummer/vocalist Georgia Hubley. By that point, YLT had already earned plenty of critical praise and Velvet Underground comparisons for standout LPs like President Yo La Tengo (1989) and Fakebook (1990). It was the addition of McNew as the permanent bass player, however--along with a well timed move to Matador Records--that transformed the genre-dodging trio into indie rock's "quintessential" outfit.

The Yo La's 12th and most recent studio concoction, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass , is every bit as spunky, melodic, and eclectic as 1993's Painful or 1997's I Hear the Heart Beating As One --albums that became pop study guides for every dorm-formed band of the past decade. When it comes to schooling, though, it's still on stage where YLT deliver its finest lessons.

"The set list changes every night," McNew explains, merely hinting at YLT's infamously encyclopedic catalog of tunes. "Literally, every show that we do is different. It's like a puzzle, sort of, to put it together, depending on where you are. If it's a place you've played before, you want to come up with something different than last time. And if it's a place you've never been before, chances are the shows are going to be longer than usual and the songs are older than usual. It's always fun putting that stuff together."

There have even been a few special shows in which Kaplan, Hubley, and McNew played entire sets based on random requests, which raises the question: Why not forget the set list idea all together?

"Actually, the only reason we don't just call them spontaneously is for logistical reasons," McNew replies, "guitar tunings and basic set-up issues. That's why we don't just go out and wing it for a while, which would be really fun. If we did wing it, though, we'd have to rely a lot more on on-stage comedy and banter to cover up the gaps between songs. And while we are very funny, I think we would rather rely on playing."

Despite the demands of their high-energy shows and the toll of 20 years on a tour bus, McNew says life on the road hasn't worn out its welcome just yet.

"Of course, there are going to be moments in every day when you're on the road, where you just really wish you were somewhere else," he admits. "But overall, it's great. Playing is always great, and I love traveling and always look forward to it. I'm looking forward to it a lot now."

Adding to McNew's anticipation on the current leg of the Beat Your Ass tour will be a special, one-night appearance by Lambchop, the veteran Nashville band that will serve as YLT's opener in Knoxville.

"I've always loved Lambchop," McNew gushes. "We've known those guys for about 12 or 13 years, and there's really nothing like them. Probably among any other band in the world, they are our closest friends--so much so that we'll stay in their houses if we're in Nashville making records. Which is easy, because there's about 18 of them, so you never really wear out your welcome. But yeah, tell Kurt (Wagner) I said hello."

Who: Yo La Tengo w/ Lambchop

Lambchop's Kurt Wagner: A Pretty Normal Guy

"James from Yo La Tengo says hello ."

"Oh, good! Can't wait to see him," replies Kurt Wagner, the gentle baritone behind Nashville's most enduring and endearing supergroup, Lambchop. "We're kind of old friends, you know. Usually, they [Yo La Tengo] come to Nashville and we just go down the street and play with them. But, in this case, they figured, 'Knoxville, it's close. Let's see what happens.' We were, of course, glad to do it."

Wagner is referring to his band's upcoming gig in Knoxville as Yo La Tengo's honorary opening act. As of now, it's the only show on the Lambchop schedule for 2007. The question is, how many of the group's dozen or so members will be making the cross-state trip?

"Yet to be determined," says Wagner. "But the numbers seem to be swelling. Originally, it was going to be seven of us, but I think we'll have a few more than that, just because it's close and everybody wants to go and see Yo La Tengo play."

Wagner and company spent much of last year touring the globe in support of their ninth studio album, Damaged , a complex collection of insight and instrumentation that successfully made the band even harder to describe, if perhaps a little easier to understand.

"I still have trouble describing us," Wagner says. "I've never really been very good at it. But it's nice to know that we've become a little bit more, um, legible."

Of course, everything is relative. After 15 years, Lambchop's tag resistant blend of Stax soul, punk gall and classic country--not to mention Wagner's spoken-word surrealism-- is still a bit much for the Music City establishment to fully comprehend. Then again, the humble, 43 year-old Wagner never did have any interest in playing the role of the Nashville Star.

"There are a lot of guys in Nashville who hide behind that idea of being a musician," he says. "They take on a persona or act weird for weird's sake. I don't want to be like that. I mean, my songs are weird enough. I'm a pretty normal guy."

Nashville Fireworks

by Mike Gibson

Bang Bang Bang is the sound of explosion, the sound of a blistering Southern blooze-rock outfit that's burst out of Nashville with all of the thundering fury of a fireball from the mouth of a cannon. Scarcely a year-and-a-half after its first jam session in June of 2005, the Music City four-piece is signed to a deal with Warner Brothers Records, with an EP set to come out by early spring.

"We started out a flier campaign before we had even played a show together, 'Go see Bang Bang Bang,'" recounts drummer Neil Mason, speaking by phone on a brief stopover from the road. "People were like 'What the hell is Bang Bang Bang?' It didn't say and nobody knew. But we totally plastered the town for about two months while we were rehearsing. Then we did a coming out show in October of 2005, and we had 300 kids there. It was a really good start."

Things have only gotten better since. The band, which also features bassist Kelby Caldwell, lead guitarist Ben Brown, and frontman/guitarist/lead songwriter Jaren Johnston, played more than 200 shows in 2006, and along the way built enough of a buzz to start a minor bidding war among several major labels; Bang Bang Bang nearly signed with Sony last year before Warner Brothers representatives flew into Nashville for a showcase and put a better offer on the table.

Now the band members forge on with a relentless touring schedule as they await the imminent release of their major label debut EP in a few short weeks, to be followed later by a full-length Warner Bros. opus.

For better and worse, the band has been dogged by persisting comparisons to fellow Nashville southern-indie rockers Kings of Leon. Plenty of Bang Bang Bang fans saw the band for the first time simply because someone told them "they sound like Kings of Leon"; maybe a few others have avoided them for the same reason.

The comparisons aren't entirely unfounded; both bands play a similar brand of basic boogie-friendly, rural-tinged rock'n'roll, and Leon singer Caleb Followill's loopy backwater party-boy vox are close kin to Johnston's boozy drawl.

Mason says the similarities were come by honestly, the natural result of like-minded young men growing up in the same place at the same time, with more-or-less the same set of corrupting influences.

"Nobody believes me, but when we started this band I had never heard the Kings of Leon," Mason says. "We're buddies with them now, and we think they're badass. But being from a certain town you're always going to be compared to another band who's doing similar things. It's to be expected and it's no big deal. On top of that, once we saw them play it was like 'Shit, that's a compliment.' They're good dudes and we have a good time; we go out with them and drink and hang out."

And while the comparisons may have a grain of truth in them, that doesn't mean they're not lazy. The truth is that Bang Bang Bang is a far more unruly outfit than KOL, a balls-out rock juggernaut that takes its cues as much from AC/DC as from Elvin Bishop; at certain moments, the band even channels some of the same kinetic proto-punk energy as the Stooges or the MC5.

A lot of that is attributable to Johnston, who wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the band's self-released debut I Shot the King . There's something distinctly dangerous, yet alluring about Johnston's presence when he leaps onto a cocktail table in the middle of an overflow bar crowd, belting out Bang anthems like "Traffic" or "Unstoppable" and hammering away on rhythm guitar. Unlike the aforementioned Followill, there's more than a hint of menace in the way he growls his songs of hard living into the microphone, as if he would just as soon slash you with the jagged end of his broken beer bottle as light your cigarette.

The irony of it all is that the brashly charismatic Johnston was primarily a drummer up until Bang Bang Bang started 18 months ago, a role player who sat in the back behind a kit playing somebody else's songs.

"When he was playing in his last band, I was always like, 'Dude, you should really be in the front,'" Mason remembers. "He's always been a good singer, doing backup singing in his other bands, and he's always played other instruments along the way. I guess it finally got to the point where he was tired of being the drummer, and started writing stuff that we all kind of considered good enough to start a band around."

In the meantime, the Warner Bros. contract calls for Bang Bang Bang to release a full-length record sometime next fall, though an official date hasn't been set. Mason says he expects their inaugural major label studio efforts--even moreso than their impressive I Shot the King debut--to preserve the ferocious hard rock energy of the band's live show.

"I think our album is going to be a pretty big rock record," he says. "With the songs we're lining up and everything, it's going to be a big-sounding record. People always have a great time at our shows, dancing around and getting into it. We want to put that same vibe on a CD."

Who: Bang Bang Bang, The Features and The Secret

Bare-bones

by Holly Haworth

I had the grand opportunity to catch up with Bobby Bare Jr. on his tour , via telephone. While our conversation was nothing less than forced, and I had no success breaking the man down, I still got ... well, hardly anything. But hey, it's here for you to feast your inquiring mind upon - maybe you'll find out something (anything?) you didn't already know about the still little-known man who goes by a name that inspires benumbing b-alliterations in the hearts of journalists world-wide. Bear with me.

HH: Hey Bobby, It's Holly...

BB: Hello Holly.

We have already established rapport here, as I realize that we both have double initials. Wow. I mean, we kind of belong to a sacred occult of people, including Greta Garbo, Ozzy Osbourne and Humbert Humbert just to name a few of the initiated. My heart warms at the thought of this, although I forget to tell Bobby my realization - still, I think he intuits that I am a fellow DI and noticeably loosens up after this awkward introduction.

HH: Can you hear me OK?

BB: Super. Ha! And I had all these anxieties about using the speaker phone.

BB: (aside) I'm gonna do this interview and I'll be done. OK, I'm back.

Phew. At least I know that BB's attention is completely on me. I mean, he bare ly turns away for a second before he feels compelled to turn back around and tell me he's back.

HH: Where are you now?

BB: I am in Birmingham, on my way to Macon.

HH: How's the tour?

BB: Oh, just fine, I mean all the (yawning) Seattle shows were sold out, and the two Andrew Bird dates were sold out... so uh, it's been good. Last night it was really crowded.

I think it's a good sign, him yawning. It shows that he's truly comfortable in my presence, and I sort of yawn a little as well just to show him that I'm comfortable in his presence as well. We feel like old friends already.

HH: How did your shows with Andrew Bird go?

BB: He's the most talented person I know. (long silence)

See there, he doesn't like to dominate the spotlight. He wanted me to think on Andrew Bird's talents for a little while, and again, like an old friend, he doesn't care to leave a long silence in a phone conversation.

HH: You're rounding out [the tour] in Knoxville - have you played Pilot Light before?

BB: Never played Pilot Light. I graduated college from UT, and I have lots of friends there and I go there a bunch, but I've never done really good in Knoxville, so ...

So what?? Things are going to change after Knoxvillians read this interview!! Your reputation will pretty much change forever, so worry not, my dear double initialed friend.

HH: Yeah, actually I think you know my friend [name withheld here].

BB: Mmhm. I know name withheld.

Further rapport! I can feel things loosening up a lot more now.

HH: So you're touring with Dr. Dog in March...

BB: Yeah. They're one of my favorites.

HH: Have you played with them before?

BB: Uh-huh. (silence)

HH: OK. (silence) ... So, how did the recording session go for your latest album? I read...

BB: ...It's the most fun I ever had in one day.

That's exactly what I read! It was in the press release! He already knew what I was getting at, and he finished my sentence for me. This is truly amazing.

HH: So, do you like that method, of kind of like kamikaze recording session?

BB: For this record, it was great. I don't know what I'm gonna do for the next record, but for this album it was fantastic!

HH: Do you have a favorite song off the album?

BB: I like playin' "Uh Wuh Oh." I think "Back to Blue" is probably the best written song, maybe, I don't know. The one that kills me is "[Borrow Your] Cape." It just blows me away that I actually participated in that song.

HH: On your 2004 album you had almost 20 people on it - did you do the recording different on that one?

BB: Yeah, it was spread out over a longer amount of time.

HH: Which way worked better for you?

BB: It has to do with the songs and how I'm approachin' the whole shlamoozle... But... I don't know. ... I really don't know.

I think I have succeeded in getting BB in a very self-reflective state here. I'm sure any musician can tell you, there's nothing like a journalist that can do that for you. I'll just ride this moment out for a bit and allow the man his revelations.

HH: (hearing background noises) Are you on the bus right now?

BB: No, I'm at the bar, the Bottle Tree , where we played last night, which is 'bout the coolest bar I've ever been in.

HH: Oh, that's cool. In Birmingham?

BB: Yeah, it's really great ...

Hey, I can tell when a man needs a moment to himself, and his beer. I can tell that he just needs to contemplate a lot of the things we've talked about here today, possibly for our next interview session. I reluctantly tell my new friend goodbye and then go into contemplation myself.

I contemplate when I will next see Bobby Bare, on stage, like he should be. He may be a man of few words, or just basically disinterested in petty interviews, but none of that really matters. Why don't we just let the man do what he does best, which is express himself through music. That's why he's a musician, and not a public relations agent or a politician. All that really matters are his musical expressions, and that's why I'll be standing there at Pilot Light to witness the talent, rambunctiousness, humility, wit and honesty that he brings to the stage.