Category Archives: music
With the official release of Artpop earlier this week, and Lady Gaga’s press thrust about the new album, some interesting news has come out regarding the star. She is apparently addicted to marijuana claiming to smoke up to 15-20 doobies a day. Wow. That’s a lot. Granted she says it was because of breaking her hip earlier in the year, but still… she’s either exaggerating or just really really messed up. In the Madonna/Salvador Dali tradition of “There is no such thing as bad publicity,” stupidity is always the exception. Either that, or she’s the new Snoop Dogg.
Before we get to the album, Lady Gaga has also released an app to go along with the album called, what else, Artpop. It’s very psychedelic and possibly, if you’ll excuse the pun, drug driven, and attempts to interact with the user and allow them to interact with other little monsters.
You begin your journey with the album’s opening song and concept, “Aura.” The app appears that it should be able to play other tracks from the album as well, but that never worked on my iPhone at least. I guess this is a bit fun, and useful if you want connect with other monsters, but otherwise it’s only fun in an “Oooh, shiny” kinda way.
On to the actual album, Artpop, I have to say I’m not all that impressed. That said, when I first heard the advance single “Applause,” I hated it, then days later it had grown on me to me my favorite song of that moment. “Venus” hit me the same way, at first dislike, but then growth. Weird.
Not fond of the second single, “Do What U Want” with R. Kelly, either. The love song to “Dope” kinda stands out because of Gaga’s comments, but doesn’t seem like a hit to me either. Only “MANiCURE” and “Gypsy” show any first listen promise to my ears. Artpop is sadly full of fairly standard and substandard dance music. I’ve been a little monster since the beginning, but unless all the other songs on this collection start playing fungus and growing on me, I think she may have stumbled with this effort.
The big music news is the release this week of The Marshall Mathers LP 2 from Eminem. Previewed a bit on iTunes and on “Saturday Night Live” this past weekend, this looks like another winner. He keeps coming back, even when we’ve thought we’ve had enough of him. And I say that with love, because I’m a fan. Several songs stand out in the colossal twenty-one track endeavor, some that peek back into the happily diseased head of Slim Shady.
The sampling of classic rock tunes may drive some older listeners away. I know more than a few folks my age that not only dislike rap and hip hop, but completely lose their minds when rappers sample music of their youth. I say, deal with it, and listen to how it’s been altered, re-imagined, and in same cases, improved.
One of the songs in question, “Berzerk,” takes on the groove of Billy Squier’s “The Stroke” to splendid effect. Also grabbing the classic rock rift of “Time of the Season” by the Zombies is Shady’s “Rhyme or Reason,” one of the better rap mash-ups in recent years. I also dug “Headlights” featuring Nate Ruess, “Desperation” featuring Jamie N Commons, “Baby,” and “Evil Twin.” A viable and hard new release, welcome back.
Tuesday also saw the release of the new album from Adam WarRock, The Middle of Nowhere. I love me some nerdcore, and Adam WarRock is my favorite of the genre. While he is the king of the genre sound, he’s also trying to break into more mainstream hip hop, but no matter how he tries, the nerd is still at the core, and I love it.
Tracks like “High School Reunion,” “Internet Crush,” and “Shoulda Beens” hit close to home in a essentially non-nerd way, but the real thrust here is comics as per usual (not that there’s anything wrong with that). “Sinestrocore,” “J.A.R.V.I.S.,” and “B.S.F.X.” fill the nerdcore void with flair and pizzazz, and Tribe One, MC Frontalot, and Schaffer the Darklord, among others, also drop by. Love this album, and can’t wait for more. Check out Adam WarRock at his website, Twitter, and YouTube.
And then there’s Skinn Jakkitt’s self-titled album, including the song “Epiphany,” seen below:
“Wot” by Captain Sensible
Honestly I had never really thought of this one as lost, but as more of a classic, but it’s been pointed out to me recently by someone who really knows his music – this was something new to him. New, but properly loved, as it should be.
“Wot” is one of my favorites of the new wave era, and could be listened to on a loop for maybe hours, grooving every moment. I love it. And the fact he namedrops and disses Adam Ant in the song just makes all that much cooler.
Captain Sensible goes way back in the punk and new wave movements. He founded The Damned, was in the supergroup Dead Men Walking, and was the first of many to record “Jet Boy, Jet Girl,” which I am sure we’ll cover here at some point. Last I heard, the Captain had formed his own anarchist political party over in the UK. Still punking after all these years.
Earlier today I found out that actress Karen Black had passed away via a Tweet from my good friend Andy Burns, also editor-in-chief of Biff Bam Pop!. Another Tweeter’s response was that he had no words. That’s how I feel. We’ve lost one of the good ones, a legend of the genre. Karen Black died yesterday in Los Angeles from ampullary cancer at the age of 74.
When I said genre, I am of course talking about the horror genre. Karen Black probably most remembered film is one where she played a tour de force of four characters in Dan Curtis’ TV movie of the week Trilogy of Terror. It was at the aforementioned Andy Burns’ website, Biff Bam Pop!, that I talked about how that film still scares the crap outta me. You can read that here.
While it’s true she made her share of horror films, notably Trilogy, and Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses among others, it’s a fact she never stopped making movies. But of all the films Ms. Black has made, it is the movies of the 1970s that defne her. Hell, one could even say that Karen Black defined film in the 1970s. She changed the way women and sexuality were portrayed on the big screen.
Among her films are some of the best or at least most memorable of the decade, including Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Great Gatsby, Capricorn One, In Praise of Older Women, Hitchcock’s last movie Family Plot, and Robert Altman’s Nashville. She also starred on stage and on television as well as film. She was a composer, screenwriter, producer, and author of children’s books.
I met her once a few years back, at a Chiller convention near the Meadowlands. We were about to leave and I saw this seemingly crazy woman screaming at people to get her something or other. The men surrounding her scrambled. I realized it was Karen Black. She was holding court in the lobby of the hotel.
I was either brave or stupid, so I approached her and told her she was great in Easy Rider and Nashville, and that I loved her in Trilogy, even though she scared me to death in it. She was kind, and soft spoken, and thanked me, even shook my hand. Moments later she was barking at underlings again, but to me, and other fans who approached her she was an angel.
That’s how I will remember Karen Black – a kind loving woman who adored her fans. Not the psychopath possessed by a Zuni fetish doll. And that’s probably for the best. We’ve lost one of Hollywood’s great actresses, and she will be missed.
This has happened before. Even though I lived through the New Wave era, the 1980s give or take, there are still songs that eluded me. This is another.
I knew the name Robyn Hitchcock, and I had seen it dozens upon dozens of times flipping through albums while shopping or browsing (or filing albums when I worked in a record store). But oddly enough, I don’t actually recall ever hearing any of his music. At least not when it was current.
“Balloon Man” by Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians
Wrapping things up here on the Robin Renee Blog Tour, and I want to thank everyone involved. Special thanks goes out to all the folks who participated and helped with to tour, including, and not limited to, Shelley Szajner, Marie Gilbert, Becca Butcher, Patti O’Brien, Fran Metzman, Ray Cornwall, Andy Burns, the South Jersey Writers, the GAR! Podcast, Biff Bam Pop!, and especially to Robin Renee herself. You all rock, very hard! Thank you!
Here is a breakdown of the stops on the Blog Tour.
Robin Renee is interviewed by Shelley Szajner here about inspiration, Kirtan, and This..
Marie Gilbert runs down some of the places where Robin can be found on the internet here.
Becca Butcher gives her thoughts on the This. release here.
Here, I give a song by song review of This., along with Robin adding her thoughts and observations as well.
Patti O’Brien talks about Robin’s music, and then interviews her about her travels here.
We return to Welcome to Hell, where guest blogger Fran Metzman interviews Robin about her influences, inspirations, and creative process. See it here.
Over on the South Jersey Writers blog, Marie Gilbert returns to interview Robin about encouragement, inspiration, and the ups and downs of a music career.
Robin was a guest on The GAR! Podcast where discussion included DEVO, David Bowie, Saturday Night Live music moments, and the creative process. You can listen to the episode here.
Thank you, everyone!
Hi folks, it’s been a long journey the past week and a half on the Robin Renee Blog Tour. Tonight, I wanted to share a few odds and ends that had to be edited for space in yesterday’s interview with Robin at Biff Bam Pop!. Here you go, enjoy!
Robin on Covers
We both have a deep love of covers, and I wanted to say that your quiet subtle version of Nick Lowe’s “Cruel to be Kind” is beautiful. What made you decide to do this song?
Robin Renee: Well, there’s a funny story. When I was in junior high school, I had a Ouija board. When my parents found out, they got all mad and took it away, thinking something evil would come through it or something. After that, I was pissed off and determined to have a Ouija board. I decided to make one by writing out all the letters on a chalkboard I had (in heavy pencil or some kind of ink). Next, I needed an indicator. I had the 45 record of “Cruel to be Kind.” I loved that song, but wasn’t crazy about whatever song was on the B-side, so I wound up using the record as the Ouija indicator with the B-side scratching against the board.
Wacky story, right? But unforgettable. So first, “Cruel to be Kind” is just a quintessentially great pop song. I was also a rather precocious person and was a bit interested in BDSM, so I liked the song title for that possible construed meaning. And finally, the song will forever be linked to that funny Ouija board memory for me. I guess when I made the All Six Senses album, it was just time to record a new take on this classic tune.
Robin on Devo Dan
Now you have done other covers of another type. Do you want to talk about Devo Dan?
Robin Renee: Devo Dan… Strange you should ask me about Devo Dan. From time to time, some people have told me I kind of look like him and some think I sound like him. I don’t really get it. But I finally looked him up and I like it a lot! It’s kind of synth pop meets the smooth sounds of the 70’s, or something like that. I found his story here and my favorite Devo Dan song is here.
Robin on the Mutant Mountain Boys
How about the Mutant Mountain Boys?
Robin Renee: I absolutely love being part of the Mutant Mountain Boys! We come from all over the country, so we get together when we can. The band is the brainchild of Samantha, whose musical favorites are Devo and Charlie Poole. She put the two together, added some Church of the Subgenius, and Presto! You’ve got a Devo-gone-bluegrass, SubG gospel band! We have so much fun, and I really hope we can figure out a way to get together and play more often. We need some nerds and geeks to invite us to play their favorite venues and conventions (hint, hint).
Check out “Look Away from the Pinks” and a few other Mutant Mountain Boys tunes.
Robin on the Holidays
You have also released a couple terrific and unique holiday songs over the years, “(Almost Had A) Holiday,” “The Yule Song,” and “Hare Krishna Christmas.” What can you tell us about these great tunes, and especially the video for that last one?
Robin Renee: I know, I didn’t set out to have a tradition of releasing holiday songs, but it seems a trend has started! Who knows – maybe there’ll be a holiday album one of these days that includes the tunes already recorded plus some more from various traditions. “The Yule Song” is to the tune of Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song,” and it kind of serves the same humorous and serious function for those of us who celebrate Yule, or Winter Solstice in the Pagan traditions. “(Almost Had A) Holiday” is actually an original song I first recorded with a band I used to be in called The Loved Ones. It is upbeat, but about planning a perfect holiday with a partner only to have a breakup and wind up somewhere far away. It’s a fairly true-to-life song, and the cool thing about it is it’s come full circle – After many years apart, I have started spending Christmas Eves with that ex and his family. It’s a nice shift.
I wrote “Hare Krishna Christmas” (“Holly Jolly Christmas” parody) around the time I was first getting deeply into kirtan and bhakti. It was Christmastime and I was just in this really intense place of diving into something new while trying to uphold all the traditional stuff and holiday obligations. So, I was kind of laughing at myself and that song just came out while I was doing my holiday decorating. For the video, I asked friends to send me all kinds of holiday pictures, I had a few, and we used some royalty-free images, too, to come up with something kind of funny and also clearly embracing all winter holiday traditions.
Robin on Her Background
If I’m not intruding, could you tell us about your upbringing?
But seriously, folks… you aren’t intruding at all. It is a ginormous question, though. I grew up in Southern New Jersey and I was lucky in that my interest in music showed up pretty early and my parents were very supportive of that. They also encouraged my interest in science and I got to travel since I was fairly young, which I really appreciate. My parents are (were, actually – they are both deceased) my maternal grandmother and her second husband, who raised me from the beginning and adopted me when I was about five. She was black and he was white, so I had a completely biracial upbringing, though it took me a long time to recognize that as a big part of my identity. I’m really happy I understand that now. They had an interracial marriage several years before Loving v. Virginia, and while it was not illegal in New Jersey, I think it was courageous of them and probably wasn’t always easy early on.
There was always a lot of music in the house, and my parents were pretty metaphysical in their outlook. They were Christian, and also into Edgar Cayce, so I learned about meditation and other broad and alternative spiritual perspectives early on. My brother was there, then off at college & other travels, but we grew to have certain things in common like some musical tastes and love of cartoons. My grandmother (i.e. biological great-grandmother) lived with us, too, and she really was the overriding mother figure. I have often reflected that I think my relationship to Grandmom has been the purest of my life – there was just so much love without complication. My mom was pretty political, so I probably inherited the activist gene from her. Of course there is so much more, but I’m not sure what else I could say without writing a book here.
Robin on Wigheads
Tell us about Wigheads.
Robin Renee: I kinda have no idea. I love them. I find mannequins in general to be strangely compelling and beautiful – maybe that’s the New Wave/Gary Wilson aesthetic. Somewhere along the line, something moved me and I discovered that wig display heads are my canvas for now. I love making 3-D collages with them, and as I work it’s as if they start to tell me their story. Songs and other writings do that, too – they change and grow in the process. I’d like to make more wigheads, and to make photographs from them. I have a lot of other practical and artistic projects that seem to be ahead in line, but I haven’t forgotten them. One day, I’d love to do commissioned wighead works, like create them for clubs and other interesting spaces.
More to come!
“Jocko Homo” by DEVO
Over on The GAR! Podcast, as part of the Robin Renee Blog Tour, Ray and I interviewed Robin for about a half-hour or so. One of the things that came up in conversation was transformative moments in music on “Saturday Night Live.”
In those early seasons of the program I was exposed to many new musical experiences that shaped and influenced how I perceived music, and in the growing punk and new wave atmosphere of the late 1970s, “SNL” was full of new musical experiences. Both Robin and I were affected by an appearance by David Bowie. Ray talked about seeing Fishbone, although much later. I remember being amazed by Patti Smith, Elvis Costello, The Specials, The Clash, the B-52s, Gary Numan, and yes, DEVO.
I wouldn’t be as hardcore into the band as I was later in the Freedom of Choice and New Traditionalists years, but the visuals and sounds stayed with me. I was especially drawn to their cover of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” and that it did what all covers should seek to do, overtake the original. I still to this day feel the DEVO version is superior to the Stones’.
Fran Metzman: What inspires you?
Robin Renee: I am inspired by so many things – Every time I am asked this question, it feels entirely new. The strange rituals and pitfalls and triumphs of human interaction fascinate me, and make for good things to learn from and write about. Artists who show us the deep and sometimes bizarre bits of their minds inspire me (Salvador Dalí and Gary Wilson come to mind). People like that show me how it’s always possible to dig deeper and to talk about what’s real, what’s primal. I am inspired by dancing, costumes, laughter, and people who allow fun and joy to move through them without reservation. I am completely in love with the ocean. I strive to be my best self, so anyone I see who is pushing their own boundaries through what may be scary in order to get to something stronger and more powerful on the other side –they are inspirations to me all the time.
Fran Metzman: What instruments do you play, what are your favorites, and why?
Robin Renee: I play guitar, harmonium, piano and keyboards, and I kind of fake it on percussion at times. It is hard to say what a favorite instrument is, because in a sense, the best instrument is the one you need to make the sound for a song in that particular moment. Nothing has that amazing drone quite like a harmonium. So many sounds can come from a guitar – harmonic, percussive… All that said, I seem to have a very deep resonance with the piano. It is my first instrument, which may be why playing piano is so close to my heart. I am also a huge fan of electronic music, and I love the sounds that synths can make. I most often play guitar when I am performing out and about these days. The guitar is a more portable instrument, which is why I think I began to favor it, but lately I’ve had to wonder why I don’t spend more time playing and developing songs on keys. See response #1 re: pushing through boundaries and fears, perhaps. I predict more keyboard sounds in my future.
Robin Renee: I am not sure what you mean here, actually. There are some general things I could talk about. Harmonium gives a sense of Om – of well-being, acoustic guitar might invite tunefulness or singability – but I think you’d have to ask me about a specific song you’re curious about and I could talk about the roles of each instrument in it. What musical instruments do in any given moment isn’t really a static thing.
Fran Metzman: How many ways do you arrange a song before deciding on a final draft?
Robin Renee: There are no rules. I think sometimes it’s more about an incubation period where I can tell a song just doesn’t have the right melody or lyrics yet. When that happens, sometimes the thing to do is to sit down and work on it, but often enough it is more productive to let it float around in the back of my mind and when the missing pieces show up, I’ll know. During that time, the song needs to exist in the “I’m letting you percolate” zone rather than the “I’m avoiding you” zone. I’m getting better at keeping them in the former and not the latter.
Fran Metzman: Take us through your songwriting process, from start to finish, how do you do it?
Robin Renee: Again, there’s never really one way that this happens. Sometimes I am walking or driving and I’ll hear a trail of a piece of music that just sparks me to want to write. I might have a conversation with someone and a phrase will come out that screams “lyric.” Sometimes it doesn’t come from any prompt I can discern. When that spark happens, however it happens, it usually is like a few words, often with a melody, that show up very suddenly. I scribble it down or record a voice memo on my phone, or whatever, as soon as I can.
It might just go into a virtual pile of ideas for another time, but if there’s something pressing about it, I will take what I have and do some purposeful work on it. I like to write lyrics with an actual pen and paper- There is something about the tactile nature of it that seems to connect more readily to the creation of solid lines and meter. I may sit with pen and paper and guitar and just work freeform until the basics are there. Once the basic idea for verses and the structure of the song is there, it is less about the initial inspiration and more about the craft of writing. I’ll think logically about things like the progression of a story or where certain sounds will have the most impact.
A lot of the real formation of my songs happens in the recording. I will sometimes have some pretty strong ideas of what the full production should sound like, but it isn’t until I start adding sounds that what is really needed starts to reveal itself. At that point, when we’re adding voices, samples, and other sounds, it feels like sculpting.
Fran Metzman: How does kirtan influence your pop music and vice versa?
Robin Renee: Kirtan, has influenced me overall because of its effect on the mind and mental/emotional health. Like silent meditation, I think, it changes the brain and consciousness in positive ways. In regard to how my pop music has influenced the kirtan – pop, rock, and folk rock form the basis of how I play. So, I think it is natural that the kirtans that show up for me have those influences. I like that about the way kirtan is developing. The backgrounds and influences of kirtan artists can be very evident, so if you groove on rock, jazz, raga, simple melodies, or complex orchestrations, there are probably some kirtan sounds somewhere that will be a way into the experience for you.
How kirtan has influenced my pop music: It basically “insisted” on being part of it! There are a couple of songs like “I’m Coming Down” and “Holy River” that really seemed to cry out for mantra. I like the sound that has emerged from the integration.
In another sense, kirtan has held back some of my pop music interest. There were several years when I was so consumed with mantra that I really wasn’t writing, per se. It feels to me that this was a natural response to a practice that can make the stories of life seem insignificant in relation to the whole, the drive toward Oneness. It has taken some time for me to discover where I am now and relearn how to present what I do. I think the media loves a simplistic story, and for a while it felt like adding this overtly spiritual piece to what I do made it more difficult to make a clear presentation about who I am. I’m glad to be figuring that out now. Writing has reemerged for me and I have discovered that my message was hidden within the challenge all along – It is to insist upon being all that I am. That is the singular intention and image, and my work stands for those who are taking on a similar journey.
Fran Metzman: Where do you see yourself in the future musically?
Robin Renee: I don’t want to predict too far into the future, but right now I am interested in electronica and ambient music. As I mentioned, I have always been big into synth sounds and sometimes haven’t reflected that in my own music as much as I would like. I hope to retain the kind of singer/songwriter craft that feels natural to me while bringing in more electronic sounds and see where that takes it. I’m very open to collaboration these days, so I am looking forward to finding out what’s next, too.
Thank you Fran, and Robin.