June 22, 2015

Taylor Swift uses her power for the good of musicians everywhere, but the fans have to act if real change is to take place

By now I am sure you heard yesterday Taylor Swift posted an "open letter" to Apple about their upcoming streaming music service. In summary, Apple Music will rival Spotify and for around $10 a month you will get unlimited streaming access to most of the popular music in the Western world. Apple Music supposedly will give artists a little bit more per stream than Spotify does, but this compensation will still really only be pennies (or fractions of pennies). I have said before I think Spotify is the devil, but maybe all streaming music is the devil?

Screenshot of Taylor Swift's Tumblr


One of the promotions Apple was going to offer was that their new service would be free for three months. Which meant that for three months the artists whose music was being streamed would not be compensated. This would be especially damaging to any artist that was releasing new music during that three month time period.

This sickened me, and thankfully Taylor Swift had the same reaction. But Taylor Swift actually has a voice because she is the most popular musician in the world right now. So unlike the 100 people that will read this post, thousands read her letter.

Swift does not allow her music on Spotify, which is a decision I have praised previously. Essentially what that means is that you have to buy her albums in full, either on iTunes, Amazon, etc. and either as digital downloads or in physical format. I actually bought 1989 as both a digital download (pre-ordered), and then later I bought it again on vinyl because the album is that good.

In her Father's Day letter Swift told Apple that if they did not compensate artists during that three month period, she would not allow her music on their new service. Well, Taylor is queen, and so less than 24 hours later Apple responded. Apparently the three month free trial will continue, but now Apple will compensate artists for streams (here is Apple's official response). Once again, this compensation is negligible and in no way would allow a musician to make a living off their art unless they are Taylor Swift. (Even Swift explained in her letter that her primary income is from touring, not from album sales. But even with her sales I am sure she would be very wealthy.)

Now I assume Swift plans to allow her music on Apple Music, yet still not on Spotify. Unless Apple's artist compensation model is MUCH better than Spotify's, this seems hypocritical to me. If Swift really opposes streaming music services (with negligible artist-payout models), then she should boycott ALL of them. Swift and I see eye to eye on Spotify being the devil, but does she share my new expanded music that all streaming music is the devil?

(To try and understand how much artists make on streams, start here. I put up this chart on my blog in 2011 to help explain, and a new version of the chart was published in April and can be seen on the left below. To see the full size version follow the link to the original website.)

Swift is not the only popular artist who has boycotted Spotify. Radiohead has also kept some of their music (All of their music? I don't even know because I refuse to create a Spotify account) off the service for the same reasons. Not only do they object to the model industry-wide, they want fans to buy their music directly from them. This is the band that self-released an album online and you could literally pay whatever you wanted to the band to download it in 2007. They made millions of dollars off this model and got 100% of the profits. Of course, it was their 7th album and they were arguably the most popular rock band in the world when they pulled off this experiment.

Now, part of me wants Taylor Swift, Radiohead, and all of the popular artists in the world to boycott all streaming music. Like has been discussed, this is not how these artists are making their living, and their is no reason for them to use these extra services. If Taylor Swift were to only sell her music on her website, everyone would go there to get it. If hundreds of artists pulled their music from Spotify and Apple Music, eventually these services would no longer exist because consumers wouldn't subscribe. However, there is a much better solution to this problem.

The problem is not with the musicians; it is with us: the fans and consumers. We are lazy and cheap. What is music worth? What is one song worth? What is an album of 10 songs worth? Those questions have been answered for decades by record labels and the industry, and if we allow those entities to continue to determine the value of music, it is going to be worth less and less because the labels and industry are pouring all their resources into streaming services.

Now, here is where the problem starts. We are cheap, so we want cheap music. If we can pay $5-10 a month to a streaming service and have access to everything we want to listen to, we do it. But, we have to stop. Because if we don't start paying the artists more (or any) money, eventually there will no longer be very many artists around to give money to. (And actually, I know plenty of people that listen just about all the music in the world on a free streaming music service. What free streaming music service? It's called YouTube.)

When you pay a monthly subscription fee to a streaming service, you are paying for the convenience, not for the music. It is simple for you and all the music is in the same place. But you are not paying for the art, as there are many other ways to listen to that same music. The money you pay, for the most part, is going to the service or a record label.

99.99% of your subscription fee is going to a corporation of some kind. And the minuscule percentage that is left over is so small that some artists would rather you steal the music or just use YouTube to listen because that way at least the corporations aren't getting the bulk of your money. Derek Webb, musician and founder/owner of NoiseTrade, has publicly stated he would rather you illegally download his music for free than subscribe to Spotify.

NoiseTrade is an interesting model because you can legally download music for free by providing your ZIP code and email address. You have the option to "pay what you want", and this money goes almost entirely to the artist or to a charity they have chosen. However, as Derek Webb has explained, you should not feel guilty for entering a "0" in the donation box because your location and contact information is far more valuable to the artist. Derek Webb, like Taylor Swift, makes most of his money off touring and playing his songs live, not selling albums.

However, artists can make money off selling albums. But they key is us fans and consumers buying, not streaming, the albums in full. There are lots of ways to do this. The best way out there right now--for both fans and musicians-- is Bandcamp.

Bandcamp provides a variety of services to artists, but essentially it is a store front for buying music. Primarily it is a way to buy digital music, but artists can also sell their physical music on the site, such as vinyl or CD's. But, what makes it special, is that it also provides streaming services based on the artists' preference. Meaning that each musician on Bandcamp can select how many of their songs you can stream (sometimes maybe 3 of the 10 tracks), and they can select how many streams you get. For example, recently I discovered a new band on Bandcamp and I was able to stream the album three times for free and then I either had to stop, or pay for it as a digital download. I payed the $8 and downloaded the music.

Why is this all so important to me? Because most of the music I listen to is not Taylor Swift or Radiohead. While I like both those artists and own digital downloads, CDs, and vinyl records from both Swift and Radiohead, most of the musicians I listen to are indie or underground. I buy albums from musicians I like because I want them to make more music. If an independent artist had to rely on streaming services to make money, they wouldn't. And then they would stop making music. (Recently one of my favorite bands of all time made a 5th album ONLY because 250 fans gave them money to do so; and this is not an isolated incident.)

Why else do I care? Because I love music and I find great value in it. I think a great song is worth at least one dollar. I think a great album is worth at least ten. If an album really connects with me, I have no problem paying $20 or more for the vinyl release because it is WORTH it.

We as fans and consumers have the ability determine the value of music, not the corporations. If music is worth nothing to you, then continue to use a streaming service. If do you think it has value, and if you do think a musician deserves to make some money off their art, start here:

1. Cancel your Spotify subscription. After all, Spotify is the devil.

2. Don't subscribe to Apple Music (and don't use the free trial). (There is an opposing view that Apple Music will be good for indie artists. However, most are recommending indie artists not sign up for it.).

3. Use YouTube and Pandora only to sample music, not as your primary methods of listening. Honestly I wish YouTube would just stay a VIDEO service and remove all the music on their site that isn't from live videos from concerts or music videos. I haven't even really mentioned Pandora here, because you can't stream full albums thankfully. But the same rule applies: if you like something you hear, find a way to pay the artist directly...

4. Start using Bandcamp and figure out which artists you like are on it. If they artist isn't on Bandcamp head over to Soundcloud because at least there you can preview full songs rather than the clips on iTunes or Amazon.

5. After you discover music you like, commit to buy the WHOLE ALBUM. Bandcamp or the artist's website is preferred, because they get most all the profit.

6. If the methods in step 6 don't work, use a larger retailer like Amazon or iTunes, and buy the full album; either as a digital download, CD (sometimes the same price as the digital download, plus you get the artwork, which is hopefully great) or vinyl.

7. Go back in time (pre-2000) and go to an awesome record store and buy CDs, cassettes, or vinyl records. Actually, stores like this still exist! Here is the best one I am aware of.

8. Go to a concert and buy merch! This is by far the best way to support an artist. I discuss this in much more detail here.





June 10, 2015

New Mates of State EP, "You're Going to Make It", streaming in full

No surprise, the EP is excellent, but it leaves me yearning for more. Mates of State made a statement a few months ago that they would only be doing EPs for the rest of their career, which is a TERRIBLE idea. Honestly I would rather wait another year or two for an LP, than have EPs more frequently. Thankfully, Rumperbutts, the Mates of State feature film was just released, and can be watched on iTunes or Amazon. I haven't seen it yet, but plan to rent or buy it soon. The soundtrack is 12 tracks, most of which are new, original Mates of State tunes, releases on July 10 and can also be found on iTunes and Amazon for $8.99.

June 2, 2015

Bully; and thoughts on female-fronted rock bands

I briefly mentioned the band Bully in February as a part of a post about all the great female-fronted rock bands I have discovered in 2015. I read an interesting article about Bully this morning, and as their debut album approaches on June 23, here is a video about their band:



I have read in countless interviews that female musicians hate to be classified by their gender, and that is understandable. However, I can't help it.  I LOVE the sound of female vocals, and I personally classify female vocals as genre in my head and have done so for decades (despite the diversity of styles and sounds within that grouping). My February blog post got me thinking, and I eventually created three mixes, all with female vocals: the 90's, the 00's, and the 10's. It resulted in 65 total songs.

I listened to all three mixes in one day as I drove from Kandern to Frankfurt and back. I made some fascinating discoveries, and I apologize in advance if these are over-generalizations (some definitely are). Number one, there was an aggression found in female-fronted rock in the early 90's that was lost for almost 15 years. It wasn't until the past couple years that aggression and intensity returned, and Bully is a perfect example. Other recent examples are Speedy Ortiz and Cayetana.

Another discovery is that 90's bands with female vocals were primarily a bunch of guys with a girl singer. There are exceptions of course (Veruca Salt, That Dog), but SO many of those 90's bands (Sixpence None the Richer, Dakoda Motor Co.) the girls just sang. I have no problem with that, because I love their music no matter what the roles of the band members are. I recently wrote an article about two female-fronted rock bands that had a huge impact on me in the 90's:

Fleming & John’s ‘Delusions of Grandeur’ and Hoi Polloi’s ‘Happy Ever After’

In the 00's women seemingly began fronting bands more often--meaning not only did they sing--they wrote the songs, played guitar, etc. (Tegan & Sara, Eisley, Rilo Kiley). But as I mentioned, these bands were "clean" and "slick." Once again, I don't have a problem with that, as I love their music and the "prettiness" of some female-fronted music is undeniable and awesome. And a lot of this was just the style of the decade.

But now in the 10's we have both the aggression, intensity, and female leadership. Alicia Bognanno (Bully), Sadie Dupuis (Speedy Ortiz), and Augusta Koch (Cayetana) write the songs, play the guitar, sing lead vocals, and sometimes produce and record the music itself- and it is INTENSE:



Finally, using my iTunes as a database, I created a playlist of 70 female-fronted (or solo) rock artists that I love, and that I am forming my opinions with. So when I talk about loving female vocals, this is my point of reference. There is at least one album from every year from 1991 to the present, and no artist is listed more than once. (Sorry about the formatting; struggling to find the best way of getting the data out of iTunes into a post.)

If you have any recommendations on artists I am missing and unaware of, please comment!

My Bloody Valentine Loveless Blown A Wish 1991
Curve Doppelgänger Wish You Dead 1992
The Cranberries Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can't We? Dreams 1993
Dakoda Motor Co. Welcome Race Fans Alive 1994
Letters To Cleo Aurora Gory Alice Here & Now 1994
Veruca Salt American Thighs Seether 1994
Fleming & John Delusions Of Grandeur I'm Not Afraid 1995
Hoi Polloi Happy Ever After Tiptoe 1995
The Innocence Mission Glow Speak Our Minds 1995
No Doubt Tragic Kingdom Sunday Morning 1995
Raspberry Jam Oceanic Can I 1995
Sixpence None the Richer This Beautiful Mess Love, Salvation, The Fear Of Death 1995
Tess Wiley Splendora- Bootleg Pre-Release Version Skinny Little Line 1995
Aleixa Honey Lake Whirling Within 1996
Morella's Forest Ultraphonic Hiss Silver Syrup 1996
Jejune Junk Radical Firepower 1997
Jill Sobule Happy Town Bitter 1997
That Dog Retreat From The Sun (GBG Deluxe Edition) Never Say Never 1997
Velour 100 Of Color Bright Clouds 1997
The Cardigans Gran Turismo Hanging Around 1998
Hole Celebrity Skin Awful 1998
K's Choice Cocoon Crash Believe 1998
Plumb Candycoatedwaterdrops Damaged 1999
Ashen No Other Comfort Autopilot 2000
Over the Rhine Films For Radio Give Me Strength 2001
The Anniversary Your Majesty Devil On My Side 2002
Halo Friendlies Get Real Milwaukee 2002
Mates of State Our Constant Concern 10 Years Later 2002
The Reputation The Reputation The Stars Of Amateur Hour 2002
Rilo Kiley The Execution Of All Things Spectacular Views 2002
Rocking Horse Winner Horizon Orange Blossom 2002
Brown Feather Sparrow Wide Awakens Everything A Box Of Spring 2003
Cat Power You Are Free Free 2003
Evanescence Fallen Imaginary 2003
The New Pornographers Electric Version All For Swinging You Around 2003
Pretty Girls Make Graves The New Romance Something Bigger, Something Brighter 2003
Tegan & Sara So Jealous Speak Slow 2004
Cruiserweight Sweet Weaponry Goodbye Daily Sadness 2005
Sarah Hepburn Stars and Haze Hey…OK! 2005
Sleater-Kinney The Woods Entertain 2005
Headlights Kill Them With Kindness Put Us Back Together Right 2006
Rainer Maria Catastrophe Keeps Us Together Life of Leisure 2006
Great Northern Trading Twilight for Daylight Our Bleeding Hearts 2007
Via Audio Say Something Say Something Say Something We Can Be Good 2007
The Bridges Limits of the sky Pieces 2008
Juliana Hatfield How to Walk Away The Fact Remains 2008
Thao We Brave Bee Stings and All Swimming Pools 2008
Camera Obscura My Maudlin Career French Navy 2009
Best Coast Crazy For You Boyfriend 2010
Eisley The Valley Watch It Die 2011
Gemma Hayes Let It Break There's Only Love 2012
Hospitality Hospitality Friends Of Friends 2012
Lana Del Rey Born To Die Off To The Races 2012
Metric Synthetica Youth Without Youth 2012
Sarah Jaffe The Body Wins Glorified High 2012
Sleigh Bells Reign of Terror Crush 2012
CHVRCHES The Bones Of What You Believe Gun 2013
Echosmith Talking Dreams Come With Me 2013
Haim Days Are Gone If I Could Change Your Mind 2013
Alvvays Alvvays Archie, Marry Me 2014
The Casket Girls True Love Kills the Fairy Tale Ashes & Embers 2014
Cayetana Nervous Like Me Serious Things Are Stupid 2014
Haley Bonar Last War Bad Reputation 2014
Stars No One Is Lost Are You OK? 2014
Stranger Kings Stranger Kings All Of Everything 2014
Vekora Vekora Back For Lapse 2014
Bandit Of Life Losing In A Sense 2015
Bully Feels Like I Remember 2015
Football, etc. Disappear 7" Sunday 2015
Speedy Ortiz Foil Deer Puffer 2015

June 1, 2015

Thrice coming to the UK

So I'm still pretty pumped about Thrice's return, and even though I have seen them live 3 times, I can't stop watching YouTube videos of recent performances. Here is a great one...

 

I listened to the Alchemy Index recently, and while it has always been my #1 Thrice release because of it's diversity and length (24 songs!) it never quite hit me that the songs on the Fire EP are definitively the heaviest, most brutal songs Thrice has ever recorded. My hope and dream is that when Thrice gets in the studio again they record the hardest album they have ever done. Dustin has his solo career to do the more melodic stuff, so maybe he can release some angst and aggression through Thrice. I am sure his bandmates wouldn't mind.

This morning I began researching Hevy Fest, which is in the UK in August. There are a number of other bands I would also like to see, and I haven't been to a festival of any kind since 2007.


It is only about an 8 hour drive from my corner of Germany, but it would be significantly cheaper to fly. I found flights through Ryan Air and EasyJet for less than $60 round-trip, while that is what it costs to send my car through the Chunnel ONE WAY. So if I go, flying will definitely be the best route. Anyway, fun to think about, and maybe I'll be able to see Thrice again in 2 months.

May 28, 2015

The countdown to mewithoutYou's "Pale Horses"

mewithoutYou debuted a second song (stream below) off their upcoming (June 16) 6th album, Pale Horses, yesterday on NPR. Not surprisingly, it is outstanding and 14 years into their career they are on top of their game.

There are a dozen (or more) different pre-order options on mewithouYou's,  Run For Cover's, and Big Scary Monsters' websites. Here is a photo of the deluxe version that I wanted, but decided against due to cost. Living in Germany, I ordered the "200 - Clear with cherry cola colour in colour and black splatter (BSM UK/EU exclusive)". In addition to the countless vinyl variations, Pale Horses is also available on cassette, CD, and digital.


May 26, 2015

Looking back; an interview with Leigh Nash

This is story number four in my series celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Sixpence None the Richer's This Beautiful Mess. It began with this review I wrote in February :
Sixpence None the Richer’s This Beautiful Mess
Then I wrote and published an extensive oral history on the release date, April 18:
Sixpence None the Richer’s “This Beautiful Mess” turns 20 
Most recently, I wrote an article about the song "Love, Salvation, Fear of Death."

If you have not already, read those three stories before you proceed. Later this summer I will publish the full interviews I conducted with Matt Slocum, Tess Wiley, J.J. Plasencio, Dale Baker, James Arhelger, Joel Bailey, and Armand Petri.

Here is my March email conversation with Leigh Nash:

Leigh in 1995.
AP: As you and Matt began Sixpence, the rest of the band members fluctuated for a few years. From a fan’s perspective, it seemed the This Beautiful 5-piece line-up was the first “permanent” band you had during those early years (obviously no band is ever permanent, and looking back this was just one of many line-ups Sixpence has had). What was it like having Tess, J.J., and Dale in the band all at the same time, and how did that affect the sound of your music?

LN: It's amazing what 20 years does to a mind! My memories are scattered but the ones that remain are pretty vivid. From my perspective, the dynamic at the time between members musically was great. I think the sum of everyone's influences at the time made for a harder sound. It was so early in our life as a band that our identity hadn't yet been formed. 

AP: Sixpence got much more “aggressive” between the release of The Fatherless and the Widow and This Beautiful Mess. How much of that was intentional? Or can it just be credited to the members of the band at the time? How much of that sound was where you intentionally wanted to take the band or was it just your personal influences at the time? 

LN: I think the sound was due to influences at the time... certainly Tess playing another guitar freed Matt up to do more and probably opened up new inspiration in his writing as well. I don't think it was intentional as much as it was a natural progression- trying things out. I loved the rock songs live, those were always my favorite live songs to sing with the band. 

AP: When I found Armand’s email last week, he wrote back immediately, and said This Beautiful Mess was one of his favorite albums he ever worked on. How did you originally connect with Armand, and how did he help you along early in your career? 

LN: Armand was great to have in the studio. He brought humor and intensity and gave us a sense of our potential that was maybe not quite formed in us yet. I hope that makes sense. 
Also for me, he represented a bit of a parental figure for a while. I wasn't the most independent kid. I still got really homesick when we were away and Armand felt somewhat familial.

AP:  Was “Angeltread” meant to be a statement (that the band’s sound was changing)? Were you trying to record a song that was radically different than what you had released previously, or was it more of an organic process and just a representative of what the five of you were doing at that time?

LN: I always felt that my position in the band was to interpret Matt's lyrics from my heart the best I could. Even when my voice was "new" and very much still developing, I was eager to share the beauty Matt was coming out with in those lyrics. I wanted you, the listener, to get chills the way that I did when I read them and performed them. That was and always has been my place, I feel. I did not get involved in the music beyond being the voice. I recall feeling pretty out of my league when it came to discussions about guitar sounds or even parts for that matter. I'm not good at ALL of it- ha ha ha. But very good at some of it. Those decisions were in very capable hands. I felt a huge amount of pride in who I was sharing the stage with and what they, and we collectively, were capable of.  I loved the harder sound. Being so young, I was up for anything and I do love a challenge. Tess for sure was a big part of that bigger, louder sound and it was welcome. 

AP: The motivation behind this interview is the fact that This Beautiful Mess is 20 years old. How do you feel about the fact that so many people are still so emotionally attached to it? Myself and other fans feel it holds up remarkably well over that time period. Do you agree or do you think it sounds dated? When you were making this album did you ever imagine you would be questioned about it 20 years later?

LN: I'm so happy that there are people wanting to know more about us- always! 20 years or 50! It's hard for me to listen to my voice from back then. So in that way, for me, it doesn't hold up. But the songs, the lyrics, the guitar, bass and drum work... so much artistry in what got put down. And I don't mean to put myself down. I did my best, I was just so young. I'd grown up on Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette but found myself in this amazing situation where this incredibly thoughtful, smart guy was giving me words and beautiful melodies to sing and man, I dug it. 

AP: In my opinion, the addition of Dale Baker made a remarkable impact on the band. Often times, drummers don’t take part in the song-writing process, but Dale obviously did (song-writing credits on “The Garden” and later “Puedo Escribir”). What was it like adding Dale as a consistent player and having him contribute for such a long period?

LN: Dale is one of the best drummers I've ever worked with. Very creative and so passionate about music. His joining definitely took everything up several notches.

AP: J.J. was not with the band long (A little less than 3 years?), but he was there for the writing and recording of two albums, and also made an enormous impact. When I saw you perform in the Fall of 1995, he blew me away, as I had never seen anyone play bass like that. What was it like to have someone of his capabilities in Sixpence?

LN: JJ was a great addition while he was around. Skill level- through the roof, like Dale. Together, they made a pretty rock solid rhythm section. His playing was so great it was jarring and in the best way! It was a pleasure to be on stage during one of his bass solos and watch the crowds faces. Amazing! 

AP: Tess’s time in the band was short but memorable (for fans at least). What was it like to have a second another female member of Sixpence? The harmonies that you and she recorded on This Beautiful mess are gorgeous; your vocals complimented each other’s very well (especially on “Dresses”, which didn’t make this album).

LN: Bringing Tess in was great in a lot of ways. She was funny, beautiful and extremely talented. It's always a funny situation getting thrown together with a girl on the road. You have to get in all the way or sort of tip toe around each other. I think mostly we dived in pretty far, for knowing each other such a short time. She and I had laughs that I'm STILL laughing about. I had and always seem to have a level to me that is only unlocked at certain points... like an awesome chest in Zelda. I don't know of we ever got to deeps of our depths, but certainly walked down the road pretty far. I love that girl to pieces. 

AP: The album title “This Beautiful Mess” is a great summary of the lyrical content of the album as a whole. Where did that phrase originate?  The artwork and packaging for this release is spectacular, and very complimentary to the music contained within. Were you involved in that process?

Photo by Ben Pearson from the album photo shoot.
LN: Matt had a strong hand in naming records and seemed to have strong vision even for what he wanted covers to look like. They were always great and I was proud of how they turned out, but I had my mind elsewhere most of the time. Usually up in the clouds- for better or for worse.

AP: Do you have any specific memories of what the time in the studio was like? Any funny stories from those couple weeks in Nashville during recording?

LN: I remember Wendy's # 6 for lunch. I remember missing my mom terribly. I remember the smell of deodorant and crayons in the hallway where we stayed. Sarah McLachlan had just put out a record the guys were in love with. And I heard "Lightning Crashes" by Live for the first time. I had a black velvet one piece suit I'd found in some goodwill bin and wore it like it was a ball gown, until it tore, in a most tragic spot. There were freak outs about "splicing" that went awry, I remember that. Amidst all the being young and in a band making a record,  I did notice- "This is awesome", "I love these people". Still do. 

AP: As far as I know, “The Garden” was your first song-writing credit. What do you remember about creating that song? 

LN: I think "The Garden" was my first attempt at writing something that could contend with the rest of our songs. I was just stretching my writing muscle for the first time and BOOM! Mediocre song ha ha ha but not a heinous first try.

AP: Could you talk a little about what it was like at the time to take lyrics someone else wrote (Matt’s and Tess's) and sing them? Now that you and Matt have been writing and recording music together for 23 (?) years, obviously you have gotten really good at it. But was it a challenge in the early years? You write a lot of songs now, and you have been for a while, both in Sixpence and on solo releases. Most songwriters sing the songs they write, but Matt never has. How does he present them to you? Does he sing them or just on paper?

LN: Singing Matt's words has been a great privilege. I have always been truly stunned by his gift with words. I felt it was my calling to sing them. He would usually play me the song, hand me the words, to teach it to me. Those were always the best moments, hearing them for the first time. Tess writes great songs too- it's different singing songs of someone's who is a singer. I didn't feel like I was doing anything she couldn't do better- because it was her own song. 

AP: What is your favorite song on This Beautiful Mess? 

LN: "Melting Alone" and "Bleeding" are my favorites. 

AP: What is next for Sixpence, if anything? Do you have any current musical projects outside of Sixpence? I heard through the grapevine that maybe you are working on a country album?

LN: We are in a bit of a hiatus. I am preparing to make a record I've been desperate to make sense I was very young. So all my energy is there at the monent. It's a country record, but not the kind you'd think. This is all me, for the first time. Fingers crossed. We'll see. 

When I interviewed Leigh, she had not yet announced her PledgeMusic campaign, that is now a few weeks old. You can pre-order her new album and find out much more about it here.


May 15, 2015

Best of 2001




Until researching this post, I didn't even know this performance occurred or that video existed. I love it!

The early part of the 2000's was fun for me, because a bunch of bands that I loved--originally that no one had ever heard of--began getting heard. Two bands specifically that I had been loving in the 90's got HUGE in 2001: Jimmy Eat World and P.O.D.

For a couple years in the late 90's/early 00's I made mix CD's for my friends called Buy This Music. What I was doing was technically illegal, I guess, because I was burning a bunch of CD's and giving them away. But, my intentions were good, as I was promoting indie bands by making compilations that included one song each from 20-25 bands I loved (plus, I called the CD's "Buy This Music"!). I did this for 2 or 3 years, and gave the CD's to a couple dozen friends.

On the late 2000/early 2001 "Buy This Music" CD I included a short demo song from Jimmy Eat World. The Bleed American demos were circulating on the internet (Napster?), and I had a full album worth. I picked this song for the CD because of its length (the shorter the song, the more songs I could put on the CD!). Who knew it would go on to be one of the most popular songs in the world in 2002, and then performed by Taylor Swift a decade later?! I speak of "The Middle", of course.

Friends gave me a ton of credit for predicting the rise of these bands, but that was silly, because I listened to hundreds of indie bands, and it was inevitable that some would break into the mainstream. (And if someone had asked me to predict who would make it, I am sure I would have always guessed wrong.)

My number one album of 2001 was far from popular then, and far from popular now; not a single song among 26 tracks could or should ever be played on the radio. But it is a landmark album for me, and I previously ranked it as my #4 album of the decade. Back in 2001 I only ranked it #7 from that year, but it was obviously a grower and I didn't know how influential it would be both on my personal tastes and the independent music scene as a whole.

Top 20 albums of 2001:

1. Appleseed Cast- Low Level Owl Volumes 1 + 2
L to R: LLOv1 CD cover, LLOv2 CD cover, LLOv1+2 double vinyl cover


OK, first of all, this album is on Bandcamp for NAME YOUR OWN PRICE. If you don't own it, get it! Now!

When this album was first released (volumes 1 and 2 were originally released a few months apart), I am not sure I even knew the term "post-rock", much less listened to any bands in that genre. My brother had made me aware of Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor in the late 90's, but I didn't yet listen to them. I am now a huge Mogwai fan, and also love Explosions in the Sky. But for me, Low Level Owl is post-rock at its best.

Appleseed Cast blew me away with their album from the previous year, Mare Vitalis, which is celebrating its 15th Anniversary right now with an exclusive vinyl release. But everything about LLO is a huge step up, from the creativity, to the vocals, to the production. The rawness was lost, but I didn't mind. Appleseed Cast should be given a ton of credit for their experimentation, and how radically they have often shifted from album to album.

2. Tess Wiley- Rainy Day Assembly
By the time Tess Wiley's debut album dropped in 2001, I had already been a fan of her for six years. That is obviously atypical, as most of the time myself or anyone discovers musicians through their debut album. But Tess released half a dozen EPs and demos from 1995 on that contain original versions of nine of the ten songs found on this full length. The only song that was a surprise--that had not been released previously in any form--is "Nice and Warm."

This is by far Tess' slickest album, and benefitted from a huge budget, diverse instrumentation, and outstanding production. If I fault it in any way, it is too "big" and often the great songs get lost amongst the layers. But I love it, and was thrilled at the time that Tess' music was finally able to be heard by the masses.

3. Jimmy Eat World- Bleed American
As mentioned previously, I had demos of all of these songs months and months before the album actually released. That was a first, and has rarely happened since. Number one, obviously demos don't usually circulate like those did, and two, now I'd just rather wait and hear the finished product. What makes this different than the Tess album prior to this one on the list, is that her demos were released officially over years, and these Jimmy Eat World demos were leaked through file-sharing, which was still fairly new at the time. (The demo of "A Praise Chorus" is the one I remember the most clearly, as it had a completely different bridge that did not have the part sung by Davey von Bohlen.)

I bought the album on its release date, July 18, at a Best Buy. Exactly a week later on July 25 I saw Jimmy Eat World play a live studio X-session for 99X in Atlanta. I somehow won tickets (email list?) and my friend Micah and I got to see them play "The Middle", "Lucky Denver Mint", "Bleed American", "No Sensitivity", and "Sweetness".

4. Death Cab for Cutie- The Photo Album
I have written this story before, but time to write it again, because it is hilarious and shows what a shallow and terrible guy I was at times: In 2001 (maybe February) myself and a roommate of a girl I was dating drove from Birmingham to Atlanta to see Death Cab for Cutie. They were still touring We Have the Facts..., but were playing a ton of songs from the upcoming Photo Album. Here is a setlist from a show in Orlando that may have been the same week as the Atlanta one.

On the way back from the show, driving very late at night on I-20, I put Clarity in the CD player. I thought the pretty girl in my passenger seat was asleep, but when the first line of “Table for Glasses” began, she started singing along with her eyes closed. When "Lucky Denver Mint" began, she opened her eyes, sat up, and we both sang loudly to the rest of the album. Needless to say over the next hour I developed a huge crush on this girl and forgot about her roommate who I was dating.

5. Pinback- Blue Screen Life
Right before I moved to Zambia in 2002, I bought a portable CD player that played MP3 cds. While I knew all about MP3s that I downloaded from the internet, the concept of "ripping" CDs that I owned to make MP3s was new to me. But I knew I couldn't take all my CDs to Zambia with me, so I ripped them all to MP3 and made new CDs (the iPod was still a couple years away). Instead of 10-20 songs on a CD, with MP3s, I could get 100-200. (And yes, most of the time I was ripping at very low bit rates because I didn't know any better.)

I bring all this up, because while I was in Zambia, I had people mail me MP3s CDs. And someone, maybe my brother, sent me an MP3 CD that had this album on it. I fell in love with Pinback, and bought this album on vinyl when I returned to the States in 2004.

Another crazy memory about MP3 CDs is that they had them on sale in Pakistan when I visited there in 1999! I remember seeing a bootleg CD for sale that had ALL of R.E.M.'s albums on it. I didn't understand, didn't think that was possible to have that many songs on a CD, and thought it was a gimmick. Another crazy piracy memory from Pakistan in 1999 is that we rented The Matrix on VHS (maybe DVD?) while it was still in the theaters in the US. There were Russian subtitles and you could see silhouettes of people's heads at the bottom of the screen, but who cares, right?


6. The Spirit That Guides Us- The Sand, the Barrier
I am almost positive I heard the song "Real Life Motion Picture" back in 2001 or 2002, but I have no idea how or where. It was in 2003 when I went to the Netherlands that I really discovered this great Dutch, melodic, sometimes-hardcore band and bought this CD. They didn't play at Flevo Fest in 2003, but I bought TSTGU shirt there, that became my favorite shirt for years.

I wrote at length about The Spirit That Guides Us back in 2011 when a member of the band sent me their entire discography. This isn't their best album, but it is probably their most accessible.

7. Rosie Thomas- When We Were Small
"Wedding Day" could be my favorite song of the year. I am not sure when I first heard it, or first heard Rosie. I do know that I heard a few songs by her before I saw her in concert, because when I did see her perform, I think at either Cornerstone 2001 or 2002, I was shocked.

If you don't know, Rosie's singing voice and speaking voice are VERY different. Not only that, Rosie does a stand-up comedy routine mid-set as an alter ego, which is hilarious and very, very weird. When Rosie sings, it is a radical shift and as if an angel has entered her body.

Many of Rosie's albums suffer from over-production that distracts from her amazing, angelic voice. But this album, along with 2007's These Friends of Mine, have perfect, minimalistic production that keeps it simple and the focus on the vocals.

8. Starflyer 59- Leave Here a Stranger
By this point in Starflyer's career, Jason Martin was almost four years post-feedback. However, I still had hope he would revert back to his initial sound. For years and years I hoped that when I popped that SF59 CD in I would hear a wall of heavy guitars. When that experiment failed with Leave Here a Stranger, surprisingly, for the first time, I was OK with it.

Looking back, I love both The Fashion Focus and Everybody Makes Mistakes just as they are. But when they were released myself and most of the fan base were pissed because they weren't heavy shoegaze as the first three SF59 albums had been (most were also pissed that the album covers weren't solid fields of color). With Leave Here a Stranger, Martin had established a new sound with lush, orchestrated instrumentation. As the photo from the album cover implies, this album sounds like a soundtrack for a film.

9. Further Seems Forever- The Moon is Down
My interest and liking of this album has waxed and waned over the years. I initially loved it, then I lost all desire to listen to it; and back and forth that went for a decade. I finally decided for good that I do really like it a few years ago.

Why the changing opinion? Chris Carrabba. I have always found his departure from the band during the recording of this album to be selfish and ridiculous. Obviously I don't know him personally, and it was great to see him reunite with the band a few years ago and I am glad all the guys are on good terms now (despite the fact that their reunion album, Penny Black, is average at best).

But he apparently tried to leave the band before recording the vocals because of his pursuit of his solo project, Dashboard Confessional. And man, I HATE Dashboard Confessional. I understand how he got popular with the project, but whiney songs about his failed relationships with girls? Terrible. And let me make it clear I have no problem with anyone quitting a band for personal reasons, but during a recording session?

You can get a lot of insight on this album and how the problems with it changed the way record label contracts were written from Billy Power's Urban Achiever podcast. In an early episode Power talked about when he worked for Tooth & Nail and about The Moon is Down specifically, and one of the most recent episodes is with Chad Neptune of Strongarm and FSF. I haven't even listened to that yet, but I would assume this album is discussed.

10. P.O.D.- Satellite
Most of my memories around the release of this album are related to MTV and Carson Daly's love for it and the band. I found that fascinating at the time, and still do. For Christians to not only be accepted by MTV, but promoted, was radical. And they deserved it. This album was very slick, and far more melodic than anything the band had done up until this point. And in 2001 P.O.D. had been a band for almost a decade and I am willing to bet some of their original fans were put off by them getting "softer".

As I usually do, when writing this, I Googled the band. And I had no idea P.O.D. released an acoustic album in 2014, called SoCal Sessions. Time to go to listen to it...


11. Over the Rhine- Films for Radio
I am sad to say I have lost interest in Over the Rhine in the last decade. For the longest time they were one of my favorite bands, and when you combine my tastes with my wife's, they were our mutual top artist. I saw them live probably close to 10 times from 1997-2002, and then my wife and I saw them together three times in 2004 and 2005. We also worked their merch table at two Atlanta shows in that time frame, at the Variety Playhouse and Smith's Olde Bar thanks to a connection with Jake Bradley, who played bass with the at the time.

But then in 2007 they released The Trumpet Child. My wife and I did not connect to it, and I personally hated the more jazzy sound. (The Trumpet Child is by far my least favorite OTR album). Looking back, there is a certain era of Over the Rhine I really have an affinity for, 1997-2005. The albums prior to 1997 I mainly just wasn't aware of, and the albums since I struggle to appreciate. (The only exception would be 2011's The Long Surrender, which almost recaptured the magic.) Karin's voice continues to become more slurred over the years, and honestly a lot of time it sounds like she is singing drunk. And Linford is singing more and more, which is really the last thing I want to hear. His "singing" was funny on "Jack's Valentine" 15 years ago, but it is just plain bad on the new OTR stuff.

Films For Radio is right in the middle of that 8-year obsession. It is hard to believe it was released 5 years after Good Dog Bad Dog, my #1 OTR album, released in 1996 (Which I heard performed live, practically in full, twice at Cornerstone 1997). And what a radical shift in 5 years from a simple, acoustic album to a heavily produced almost-rock album. Films for Radio I would rank #3, behind the incredible double album Ohio at #2.

12. Rilo Kiley- Take Offs and Landings
I heard this album for the first time less than one year ago. Sad, I know, but it, along with 2002's Execution of All Things have had quite an impact on me. This one isn't as good as that next one, but it is still terrific.

Despite Rilo Kiley having much in common with a ton of the bands I listened to in 2001 and 2002, I didn't hear them for the first time until post-Zambia (mid-2004). When my wife and I were first married, we drove around in a loaned Madza Miata that only had a radio (no CD player and no tape deck). We lived in Nashville at the time, and rarely changed the channel from Lightning 100 (the wussy version of its defunct sister station Thunder 94).

One of the highlights of those months of Lightning 100 were the Rilo Kiley songs that were played from 2004's More Adventurous. I ended up getting that album on eMusic, and while enjoying it, it wasn't enough for me to explore the back catalog. Then my wife and I loved Jenny Lewis' first solo album Rabbit Fur Coat in 2005 (also thanks to eMusic), but for the most part I then forgot about Lewis and Rilo Kiley for almost a decade. Upon the release of The Voyager last year I finally went back and got the first two Rilo Kiley albums.


13. Thursday- Full Collapse
My memories surrounding this album are two terrific Thursday concerts, and listening to the CD in my car driving back and forth from my apartment to a laundromat in Birmingham. It's weird how the mind works, but I can remember vividly singing along to "Paris in Flames" as I drove my wet clothes (I owned a washer, not a dryer) to the laundromat on Green Springs Highway.

As far as the shows go, I saw Thursday play in a small, coffee-shop like place in Montevallo, Alabama around the release of this album. It was so small I really can't imagine more than 30 people were there, and I was within arms length of everyone in the band.

I saw them again a few months later at The Nick, a much larger club, but still very small. I have amazing photographs from both these shows, but on film, and the prints are in a box in storage. Would love to scan them, but that will have to wait a few years.

14. Common Children- The Inbetween Time
I never imagined at the time that this would be Marc Byrd's last album with vocals, well at least his vocals. Byrd of course has gone on to be one half of the critically acclaimed instrumental post-rock band Hammock. When Hammock began, I really missed Common Children, as Hammock was very experimental and atmospheric with very little song structure. However, as time has gone on, Hammock has become more rock in the vein of Mogwai, and their 2012 double album Departure Songs is fantastic and finally surpassed anything Common Children ever did.


15. Built to Spill- Ancient Melodies of the Future
I have very little memories regarding this album, but I think it may have been the first Built to Spill album I listened to in its entirety. I heard single songs in the late 90's, but it wasn't until the early 00's that I finally "got" Built to Spill. My favorite album from the band is easily Keep it Like a Secret, and then all the rest just blend together for me. I like them all, but have trouble ordering them in any way (which is rare for me). With a quick search many rank this as one of the "worst" Built to Spill albums, which says a lot about how good this band is.


16. Tool- Lateralus
On May, 15, 2001 I went to a CD store on midnight for the release of the new R.E.M. album Reveal. (Sadly, I can't remember the name of the store, and it closed down years and years ago.) That same night, two other significant albums were released: Lateralus by Tool and Weezer's Green album. I only bought Reveal at the time, but it wouldn't be long before I got Lateralus (never liked the Weezer).

It took me a long time to get in to Tool; not because they weren't good, but because they were so freaking offensive. In 1993 a friend on my swim team had the "wrench" shirt, and had me listen to their music. I loved their sound, but couldn't tolerate their lyrics and at age 16 I felt dirty even looking at his shirt. 1996's Ænema was equally if not more offensive than 1993's Undertow, so up until 2001 I rarely listened to the band.

Lateralus is Tool's "clean" album. I hate to even classify any music as clean or offensive, but the lyrics on Tool's first two albums are sickening, disgusting, and make the music mostly unlistenable to me. But not only are the lyrics on Lateralus not offensive, I find them inspiring and full of faith, especially on my favorite song on the album "Parabola."


17. R.E.M.- Reveal
In the massive R.E.M. discography, the only album that gets less listens from me than this one is the awful, terrible Around the Sun (which is actually the only R.E.M. album I don't like). Reveal is infinitely better, I just don't find myself ever listening to it. Stereogum ranks all 16 R.E.M. LPs, and puts Around the Sun at #16, Reveal at #15, and Up at #14. However, Up is my favorite, #1 R.E.M. album. I did think Reveal was pretty good at the time, and still do, but it is not as memorable as most R.E.M.


18. Frodus- And We Washed Our Weapons in the Sea
I have only had this album for about six months, because that is when I discovered Frodus was giving it away for free on their Bandcamp page. I feel like an idiot for waiting so long, as it is terrific. I was aware of Frodus in the 90's, as I was with any and every band signed to Tooth & Nail Records. But for some stupid reason I never bought any of their music (Roadside Monument was the same; man I really missed out!).

Frodus' entire discography is either for free or cheap, depending on the album, on their Bandcamp site, and if you don't download it now, you can only blame yourself. Frodus is exceptional. Thrice covered "The Earth Isn't Humming" from this album in 2008, and that wasn't even enough for me to pursue it (strangely). Thankfully now I have seen the light.


19. Penfold- Our First Taste of Escape
I don't know much of anything about Penfold. I have no other music from them, never saw them in concert, never discussed them on a message board, and never even had a face-to-face conversation about them (someone want to have coffee and tell me all about them?).

But man, this album is great. I have the CD, but no clue where I got it. I do think I got it in 2001 though, or maybe 2002. I just did a Google search and discovered someone did a terrific vinyl reissue on the album's 10th anniversary, and it is still for sale. I also just watched my first-ever Penfold concert video footage, from a 2012 reunion show in Japan.

EDIT: OK, so watched a few YouTube videos and got intrigued. So turns out this is Penfold's second album, and I had a song from their first album in my iTunes database all this time ("M", it was mislabeled). 1998's Amateurs and Professionals was also reissued on vinyl in 2011, and is streaming on Bandcamp (currently listening).


20. Curve- Gift
I have been aware of Curve for a long time, but never really taken the plunge into their discography or history. I got 3-4 songs from this album a decade ago, probably on eMusic. But it wasn't until researching this post that I finally bought the whole thing ($5 digitally), and it is terrific. I also own Doppleganger on cassette, and I find this album WAY better.

Top 5 EPs of 2001:

1. Kerith Ravine- Lined Up in Pairs We Wait for What Comes Next
This three-song EP was Kerith Ravine's swansong, with the exception of the ridiculously amazing single track the band released in 2007. Despite only three songs, the EP is almost 20 minutes long (so almost as long as Weezer's Green album!). The three songs are so, so good, but unfortunately Michael Shepard and Adam Ladd would then end this band and start a new one--Lovedrug. I have written at length over and over on this blog and message boards on how superior I feel Kerith Ravine is to Lovedrug (despite loving Lovedrug's first two albums).

This EP concludes with "Trails to the Underworld", Kerith Ravine's longest song (of the 22 they released), and one of the best--the last 45 seconds of the 9 minutes are unreal. You can stream all of 22 of Kerith Ravine's out-of-print songs on their Bandcamp page, but most of it is not available to download.

2. Beloved- The Running
I was fortunate enough to see Beloved at Cornerstone Festival (in either 2001 or 2002, can't remember), and they were spectacular. I picked up this EP there. There are at least two, possibly more, versions of this EP. The image here is from the 2004 Solid State reissue, but the CD copy I actually have is what Vindicated Records put out in 2001. Here is a great YouTube video of the band playing at Cornerstone (while not the show I was at).

3. Cush- Brown
Another EP picked up at Cornerstone, this one definitely at the 2001 fest. A pretty radical departure from Cush's debut album, because of the loss of the vocalist. Mike Knott sang lead on all the songs on the 2000 LP, but when he left the band, they then recorded an entire EP about him (this). Lots of different vocalists appear here, and the style is radically different then the debut. This is very raw with short punk-ish songs.
4. The Anniversary & Superdrag- Split
On October 24, 2001 these two bands played at 40 Watt in Athens, Georgia. According to some websites, Mates of State also opened. If so, that is really sad, because I didn't see them (probably got there late), and didn't discover Mates of State until 2002. What is also crazy about this show is that I didn't like Superdrag. Not that I am a Superdrag fan now, but they are really good (I prefer John Davis' new band The Lees of Memory). I am surprised I have no memories of their performance. The Anniversary was awesome, and once again I have some great photos from this show that are in storage. I bought this EP at that show.

5. The Juliana Theory- Music From Another Room
I was a huge Juliana Theory fan when this EP released, as I had been completely obsessed with their first two albums. Unfortunately this was the beginning of the end for this band in my eyes; this EP bridges the gap between the Juliana Theory that I loved and the Juliana Theory that I despised.

Other 2001 releases I own and enjoy in alphabetical order:

Aaron Sprinkle- Really Something EP
Absinthe Blind- The Everyday Separation
All Things Bright And Beautiful- Untitled
Amon Krist- Humble B. EP
The Autumns- Le Carillon EP
Cool Hand Luke- I Fought Against Myself... 
Crash Rickshaw- Crash Rickshaw 
Embodyment- Hold Your Breath
Explosions in the Sky- Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live...
The Frames- For The Birds
Hem- Rabbit Songs
Hundred Hands- Little Eyes EP
The Innocence Mission- Small Planes
Jennifer Knapp- The Way I Am
Jump, Little Children- Vertigo
Low- Things We Lost In The Fire
Sky's the Limit (Demos that would become the band Mae)
The Melody Unit- Choose Your Own Adventure
Mogwai- Rock Action
Neko Case- Canadian Amp
Radiohead- Amnesiac
Rainer Maria- A Better Version of Me
Sandra McCracken- Gypsy Flat Road
Sixpence None the Richer- Original Divine Discontent (Unofficial; final album with different tracklist released 2002)
Spoon- Girls Can Tell
Stairwell- The Sounds Of Change
Stretch Arm Strong- A Revolution Transmission
Thrice- Identity Crisis (Amazing that an album from Thrice couldn't make a top 20 list of mine, but they were still developing their sound and skill at this point.)
Travis- The Invisible Band
Unwed Sailor- The Faithful Anchor
Vigilantes of Love- Summershine
Wes Dando- The Tired Hours
The 77's- A Golden Field Of Radioactive Crows

2001 albums I don't own but wish I did:

Björk- Vespertine
Fugazi- The Argument
Gillian Welch- Time (The Revelator)
New Order- Get Ready

May 13, 2015

Thrice's first show in three years!

So Thrice played last night in California, and actually, as I write this from Germany, the show only ended a couple hours ago. Videos are already online, and here is the first one that was uploaded on YouTube, "Stare at the Sun": Edit: much better videos have been uploaded a few hours later, and this is my favorite of the ones I have gone through, "Of Dust and Nations":

The setlist is also online, so I decided to compare this new setlist from May 12, 2015 with Thrice's previous show, from June 19, 2012. I have copied and pasted the 2012 setlist since it is much larger, and then italicized the songs they played last night.

To start, there were four songs they played last night that they did not play at that massive farewell show (33 songs!) 3 years ago:
The Arsonist 
All That's Left 
Cataracts
Circles

June 19, 2012:
Set #1

Yellow Belly
Image of the Invisible
The Artist in the Ambulance (2015)
Kill Me Quickly
Hold Fast Hope
Blood Clots and Black Holes
Silhouette (2015)
In Exile (2015)
The Weight (2015)
Promises (2015)
Broken Lungs
Daedalus (2015)
Words in the Water
Of Dust and Nations (2015)
Red Sky
Acoustic set
Come All You Weary (2015)
Madman
The Whaler
Stare at the Sun (2015)
Disarmed
Set #2
Firebreather (2015)
The Messenger
The Earth Will Shake (2015)
Identity Crisis
Helter Skelter
(The Beatles cover)
Beggars (2015)
Phoenix Ignition
T & C
Stand and Feel Your Worth
Under a Killing Moon
Deadbolt (2015)
To Awake and Avenge the Dead
Encore:
Anthology (2015)

May 7, 2015

Bandit's new video; filmed in Iceland

For those of you who read my blog you know I spend a good bit of time writing about the past. I am very nostalgic, it is fun for me, and there seems to be interest. However, the past few months have been a time of discovery of good, new, young bands. One of those is Bandit. Their debut album Of Life, released in January, it one of my 2015 favorites. I wrote about them at length in January, a couple of weeks before the album dropped.

Yesterday they released their first music video, on NPR. It is gorgeous, both musically and visually, as it was filmed in Iceland:

May 3, 2015

Love, Salvation, the Fear of Death

This is story number three in my series celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Sixpence None the Richer's This Beautiful Mess. It began with this review I wrote in February :
Sixpence None the Richer’s This Beautiful Mess
Then I wrote and published an extensive oral history on the release date, April 18:
Sixpence None the Richer’s “This Beautiful Mess” turns 20 
If you have not already, read those before you proceed. Later this summer I will publish the full interviews I conducted with Leigh Nash, Matt Slocum, Tess Wiley, J.J. Plasencio, Dale Baker, James Arhelger, Joel Bailey, and Armand Petri. But for now, here is the story of one song; the best song on this terrific album...

"Love, Salvation, Fear of Death."
This song, along with "Within a Room..." stayed in Sixpence concert setlists long after the other ten songs unfortunately disappeared. The song is important for a variety of reasons, but mostly because of the unique bass line that brought so much attention to it. Joel Heng Hartse writes in his Songs That Explain blog, "If I had to choose any song to represent Sixpence's entire oeuvre, it would probably be ["Love, Salvation, Fear of Death"]. It's so complex and pretty, so full of musical ideas that converge so subtly. That first clump of bass notes blows my mind--not being an expert, I cannot tell which are the real notes and which are the digital ghosts, and I imagine something like a 20-string bass played by 10 nimble fingers."

Like Hartse, I was very impressed by that bass line, and until this year, assumed incorrectly the part was incredibly difficult to play. While I'll get into that--and most of this story is about the instrumentation of the song--what really draws me to it, and why I singled it out among the 12 songs on This Beautiful Mess, is the lyrics:

Well I'm staring straight into the face of hell
You're so close and you can't even tell
I'm so wrapped up inside
Because I don't have much to love

Horrified I reel from pits unseen
Falling off my pedestal of plentiful deeds
As it crumbles down on top of me
I contemplate my lack of love

Come and save my soul
Before it's not too late
I'm not afraid to admit
How much I hate myself

All these gongs and cymbals ring inside my head
Surrendered body to the flames has singed the skin
Can't speak in tongues and even if I could it's nothing
Because I cannot love

Well I'm staring straight into the face of hell
I'm so close and I can't even tell
I'm so afraid I'll amount to nothing
'cause I don't have much to love

I won't quote myself, but the central theme of my album review is based on the honesty portrayed in these lyrics by Matt Slocum. Unlike any song I had heard in the first 18 years of my life, it helped me understand my own thoughts, emotions, and personal faith struggle. Slocum admits he was very depressed at the time, and goes on to say, "We have to view our brokenness with compassion and admiration."


Live recording, St. Louis, MO, March '96. Bass played by J.J.

Most of the songs on This Beautiful Mess, and most of the songs in Sixpence's discography, were written by Matt Slocum alone. There are 4 exceptions on This Beautiful Mess, and "Love, Salvation, Fear of Death" is one of them. It was co-written by James Arhelger, who played bass in the band from mid-1993 to early 1994. That makes it one of the oldest songs on the album, and means Arhelger was only the first of three bass players to play it before it was recorded.

Arhelger had this to say about it: "So I love delay on a bass and will use it any chance I get. For example:



"...I was just messing around and came up with the song, mostly it started as a warm up exercise to be honest.  Matt liked it so we worked it up into a song. I think it was a little faster on the record, which is a good thing. I played more in the verses and especially the chorus. The bass kinda disappears in the chorus, I was still going like gangbusters...

"Actually it's incredibly easy, just straight 8th notes playing the 1-5-8 notes of the chord. The delay pedal is doing all the work, which is why it's so awesome.  Just set your delay to around 340 milliseconds and you should be good. ...It's really hard to explain, but the song couldn't be easier to play.

"The bass line just started as a warm up for the pinky finger, with some delay to make it interesting... J.J .played it great but with his fingers, I used a pick to give it more attack."

Slocum and Arhelger co-wrote the song in an apartment, and Slocum had this to add: "I remember hearing him play it in soundcheck and wanting to make it into a song. I think the [album] version was much faster than the original. J.J. just attacked it and launched that riff forward." Arhelger went on to play in the band Velosheen where he continued fantastic, creative bass playing.

Joel Bailey with Sixpence, Summer '94
But before Plasencio even had a chance to play it, it was interpreted and performed by Joel Bailey, who toured with Sixpence much of 1994. Drummer Dale Baker describes Bailey as having a punk aesthetic, and Bailey played in the hardcore band Mr. Bishop's Fist just after his time in Sixpence.

Bailey writes, "... I played it with a Boss Delay pedal.  I loved playing that tune.  Any time the bass player gets to have a stand out moment live is fun.  It sounds extremely complicated, but... it isn't that hard. It's basically a simple arpeggiated chord that ends up sounding crazy with the delay pedal... Dale is easily one of the best drummers I ever played with and made it easy."

J.J. Plasencio joined Sixpence in September of 1994, and went on to record the song for This Beautiful Mess and perform it in concert hundreds of times.


Live recording, Concord, CA, October '95


Plasencio says, "It is a brilliant, brilliant bass line. It is really fun to play. We just kept speeding that song up. It is not that difficult to execute; it is just a very creative bass line. The thing that is difficult to execute it with a band is that you are forced to stay in time, on a certain pulse. If you drift in anyway, it is not going to work. That band really listened to me. You had to really listen. That was the thing about us--we listened to each other really well on stage, in the band. I had to make sure I really heard Matt’s delay, Leigh’s vocal…

Plasencio recording at OmniSound, Nashville, TN, Jan. '95
"That song in particular I remember a lot of kids purposely standing in front of my bass rig. I could tell all the bass players that showed up to see me do that song, or if I got a lead, or something. Which is always a compliment...

"That song has definitely brought some attention, spotlight… James just did a wonderful job writing that, it is a brilliant piece. It was fun to be a part of, fun to play that. And the truth is, credit to Dale. The bass can do that, that’s fine, but to play to it, in time… it’s actually props to Dale for being able to keep us in time and allowing us to execute it."

Plasencio left the band in 1997 (after the recording of the self-titled album but before its release). Sixpence continued to perform "Love, Salvation, Fear of Death," but without the bass line. Slocum modified it into a guitar part that I first heard at Cornerstone 1997. Here is a recording of it from March 20, 1999 with the delay on the guitar and a much slower tempo: