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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Meghann Wright Interview

On Tuesday, May 24th, I spoke with Meghann Wright, a blues singer-songwriter on Blacktop Records. Wright will be in Pittsburgh on Friday, June 3rd at Diesel. Just in the nick of time, my pfone broke the night before the interview, so I had to call Wright from my work pfone. Being in the middle of the office made the interview a little uncomfortable for me, but we still did it.

I got in touch with Wright while she and her band were on the road from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Memphis, Tennessee where her musick is probably right at home. Originally, Wright is from Hawaii, a place very alien to me. She descirbed it as a beautiful place with a "melting pot of cultures". At the moment, she calls Brooklyn home. "I went to school in the northeast and got involved with the heavy music scene in Boston," she said. She moved to New York to pursue her growing career in musick.


Before the call, I listened to her new album, Nothin' Left to Lose. It's a little more produced than what I usually listen to, but I like the album as a whole. Not every song gels with me. The record is polished with good production; haunting organs, fuzzy guitars, and Wright's soulful vocals unite to create a quality sum. My favorite tracks are "River", the bombastic "Vacency", and the gospel-influenced "Sunshine Through the Rain". The album was recorded at two studios owned by friends, Virtue & Vice and New Warsaw. An earlier EP, included with the album, was recorded at Big Blue Meanie in New Jersey. The studios used analog equipment to create a vintage sound. Some of the tracks sound like tunes that could have been sung by Janis Joplin or Elvis Presley. Wright says that for this project, she was inspired by artists like Elvis Costello, Dolly Parton, and other musicians who are hard to pin down in one genre. Though some of the tracks reminded me of Meatloaf's Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose, Wright says that he isn't an influence at all. Nothin' Left to Lose receives a rating of Good.

The show on June 3rd will be Wright's second show in Pittsburgh. She says that she was here some time ago, but the name of the venue eluded her. "I don't often get to check out Pittsburgh," she said, "I've heard the bridges are beautiful." On the road, the band doesn't get a lot of time to tour each city, but Wright says that they like to find local record stores and cafes. I didn't get a chance to mention it over the pfone, but I hope they get a chance to go to Mind Cure or Soundcat here.

Years ago, Wright released musick on her Bandcamp and was signed to Blacktop through that page. It's cool to here of a success story like that. She recorded all of the instruments herself in a tiny apartment. At the end of the call, I asked her what advice she would have for younger musicians or artists. "I definitely think it's important to keep pushing forward," she said, "People can feel gated, so it's important to work with others. It can help you to stop feeling stuck." It's definitely worked out for her, and, the past two years, I've come to feel the same way.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Under-School of Post-Punk Lo-Fi

My friend Ocasia and I took a bus to Munhall for a sorta no-wave show at a new school/basement venue. I was excited to see the bands, especially Mercury Uncovered, who I had only seen mention of recently, and Tanning Machine, one of my favorite Pittsburgh bands. The trip to the venue was much easier than I thought it would be, though we went through Oakland and heard some students be whiny about taking the bus for one block. When we hit Munhall, everything was super run down. We walked past the emptiest pizza place I have ever seen. It was one room, about 25 by 25 feet, with pop machines and an ATM. For whatever reason, all of those things were pushed into one corner, leaving another totally bear. A few steps away, we made it to the venue.


Mercury Uncovered was the first band to play. It's an odd setup: drums, vocals, and a computer. The band really made me think of early no-wave stuff like DNA, Mars, or the first Sonic Youth record. Rin, the vocalist, was sort of shy, but it kind of added to the set in a way. The awkwardness reminded me of the smaller post-punk bands that you might find on Messthetics comps. It's very mysterious, especially in this cavernous venue. I'm playing with Mercury Uncovered on July 14th at Howler's.


We went upstairs into a super bright art space. Joey Molinaro played his grind violin stuff in one corner, moving around a lot towards the end. I think this was the weakest set I've seen him play. Something just felt off. I think the room was a little too big maybe. If nothing else, that's certainly an interesting shirt.


We returned to the basement for one of the touring bands, Divide and Dissolve. They have a cool band that's very weird. Divide and Dissolve combines elements of doom, punk, and free jazz. Just like Mercury Uncovered, there was an honesty to their band, created by the simplicity and bareness of weird song structures. It was extremely refreshing to see this in a lot of the bands at this show; stuff that is super polished can be a big turn off for me. I really like the guitarist's guitar tone (even if I hate the phrase guitar tone), because it sounded just like my guitar in Satyr/Elfheim. I've never really heard a guitar sound like that that was not mine. I always felt that people thought I had no idea what I was doing, but the guitar sounded great, which is why I play the way I do.


The next band was Eekum Seekum, also on tour. They played a nasty hardcore/grind kinda thing. It was excellent! I'm not a huge fan of those types of bands usually, but Eekum Seekum was really exciting. The vocals reminded me of NΓΌ Sensae. The bass player and drummer were really top notch. I feel like the guitar was lacking a little bit; it should have had more punch. I got a very cool Eekum Seekum embroidered patch with a crystal ball on it after the show was done.


Big Girls played second to last. I did not really like their set. While it sounded somewhat like a K-Records riot grrl band, they seemed unprepared. Some songs seemed too jammy. I couldn't really get into the lyrics, but I did like how they used chants. I'd like to see them in the future to see what they sound like then.



Ocasia and I almost had to leave, but we were able to catch the last band, Tanning Machine. I've only seen them once before. At that show, which may be discussed at a later date, I was pleasantly surprised with their sound and stage presence, expecting it to be sort of phoned in. Tanning Machine plays a fast punk/no-wave that reaches the point of nearly crashing every other song. I'm all about that moment of near collapse in a live band, so it's super appealing to me.Tanning Machine threw Dum-Dums to the audience, which was goofy and fun. It was a great set.

I want to mention that the merch at this show was super cool. I do not remember the artist's name, but their prints and zines had a late 19th century witchcraft look to them, coloring in silver ink on black paper. I got a zine and the aforementioned Eekum Seekum patch. I did not know what to expect going in to this show, but it was a very fun night with mostly excellent musick. I hope more shows happen at the weird underground school venue, and I want to see more "fall-apart-y" post-punk type of stuff.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

I'm Against It!: A Tribute to the Ramones

flyer by Steph Neary
The first Ramones album was released on April 23rd, 1976. It's a great album. On Friday, April 22nd, 2016, I booked a tribute show to the Ramones for the 40th anniversary of that album. Ten bands played Ramones songs for 10 minutes each all night at the newish venue, Spirit. We also had a booth from the Carnegie Library with Ramones/punk media and trivia games and a DJ playing Ramones-related songs. It was a fun night.


The Weird Paul Rock Band played first. They played "Timebomb", "I Wanted Everything", "I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement", "Poor Little Rich Girl", and "Durango 95". "Poor Little Rich Girl" was the only Dee Dee King song played the entire night. The set was pretty authentic to the Ramones sound, guitar-bass-drums. Weird Paul was wearing sunglasses, which got in the way for one of the songs; he had to take them off so that he could check the lyrics.


Second up was Jim Storch on his ukulele. I think a lot of people were thrown off. I heard that some of the audience anticipated the show to be one or more Ramones tribute bands, which wasn't the case. All of the bands have their own songs and do shows pretty often around the area. If some people left, too bad. Anyway, Jim did a good job; he played "Rockaway Beach", "She Talks to Rainbows", and "I Want You Around". They all sounded good, with a very cool and Ramones-appropriate lo-fi sound, especially "Rockaway Beach". I also really liked "She Talks to Rainbows", because I had never really heard it before. Jim said that he based his cover off of the Ronnie Spector version.


The new band, Beasters, played third. Beasters is composed of 2/3 of the band the Cunks and 1/3 of the band Boys. They played a doom/fuzz/noise rock that sounded like it was sung by Macho Man Randy Savage. They referred to this as caveman rock; it was an appropriate name. The songs they chose were "Beat on the Brat", "Mama's Boy", "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend", "Judy Is a Punk", and the version of "Happy Birthday" the Ramones played on The Simpsons. The songs were so distorted and weird; it was great!

pfoto by Steph Flati

My new band was next. We're called Sorry, I'm Dead from a line in the NES game Monster Party. This was our first show. We played "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?", "Glad to See You Go", and "Everytime I Eat Vegetables, It Makes Me Think of You". The second song was dedicated to some jerks I know, and the last one was for my friend Patrick. I'm really happy with the set we did, but this was the only one that I forgot to record. We might do some new versions at our practice space. Though the band was formed just for this show, we are definitely gonna be playing out some more in the coming months.


Bat Zuppel, was next, and they are great! They played a lot of the big songs: "Pinhead", "Go Lil' Camaro Go", "Outsider", and "I Wanna Be Sedated". It was a great performance, full of energy, that ended with the singer on the floor amongst pulsating feedback. I've tried to book this band a few times before, but this was the first show we actually got set up. I hope to see them some more.


SFX played sixth. They did a very straightforward set, though it lacked some energy. The songs were "Crummy Stuff", "The KKK Took My Baby Away", and two songs the Ramones covered ("R.A.M.O.N.E.S." and "Take It As It Comes"). There were a few false starts, and the band got into a small argument on stage. Some people said that the argument was intentional, to replicate the real way the Ramones were on stage, while other people told me that the argument may have been more real. Scott wore a funny wig.


The next set seems like it divided the room a bit, though the night was also getting late. If you were really just expecting all bands that sounded exactly like the Ramones, too bad for you. Anyway, Xylen Roberts played an electronic set via keyboard and loops. The songs were the more political ones: "Planet Earth 1988", "Anxiety", and "Poison Heart". I think his set was hurt a little due to all of the vocals being sampled from the original songs with the keyboard over top, but there were medical reasons behind that decision.


Middle Children was next, and they were joined by Dustin Giannopoulos on drums instead of a backing track. I hope that they do that more. Middle Children played the songs "Surfin' Bird", "Do You Wanna Dance", and "We're a Happy Family". "Surfin' Bird" was super fun because they all wore bird hats when they played it. It was a fun, upbeat, and goofy set.


Second to last, there was the Lopez, probably one of Pittsburgh's coolest bands. They played "I Just Wanna Have Something to Do", "Don't Come Close", "Howlin' at the Moon" and "Swallow My Pride"; they play the last of those songs regularly. The songs sounded good. It was cool to hear more synths being played on these songs.


The last band, Abysme confused the remaining crowd with their death metal versions of the classic Ramones songs "Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World", "You Sound Like Your Sick", "You Should Never Have Opened That Door", and "I Wanna Be Well". The vocals were so phlegmy and gross, which made a lot of sense for these songs. Some people had no idea what songs were being played. I'm not a big fan of death metal, but even I thought it was a cool set.

Correction: An earlier version of this article listed that members of the band Beasters comprised 2/3 of the band Boys.