Category Archives: Talk Narc

TalkNarc: Interview with A Hawk and a Hacksaw’s Jeremy Barnes

Last week, Jeremy Barnes of A Hawk and a Hacksaw (and previously of Neutral Milk Hotel) was kind enough to sit down with Noise Narcs for a lengthy interview. Multi-instrumentalist Barnes and violinist Heather Trost just released their sixth studio album, Cervantine on their new record label, L.M. Dupli-cation. They are currently on a West Coast tour, ending in Albuquerque on 3/12. Barnes reflects on fixing cement with river sand, his introduction to Eastern European music, whether a Neutral Milk Hotel reunion would be possible, Trish Keenan’s death, and the new album.

A Hawk and a Hacksaw, “Espanola Kolo” by NoiseNarcs [Buy]

You’re living in New Mexico now, where you were born. But you’ve lived a lot of different places…
Jeremy Barnes: Yeah… Chicago and Athens, GA. I lived in Denver. France. Then England. And then Hungary.

How do you like living in New Mexico. Was that a homecoming of sorts?
Yeah. After living in Europe, it’s the only place I feel like I could live in the US. I guess it’s home. We grew up here. I just love it. But I had to leave it to understand. When I graduated from high school, I immediately got out of town, and I never wanted to look back, you know? Completely fed up with New Mexico. When I was gone, I realized how great it is.

I read a piece you wrote for Quietus in 2009 about how you had been struggling to make a house out of cob. I was curious, what ever happened with that?

As far as what’s going to happen in the future [with Neutral Milk Hotel], that’s not really my… Well, you know, you’d have to talk to “The Boss.” I’m happy that he’s playing again, I’m really excited for him, and I think he needs to see some of the enthusiasm and excitement he’s created for the people who love his music.

Actually one of the reasons we moved back was to figure out some kind of housing situation, like a real home. When I wrote that piece I was kind of conflicted with the excitement of building my own house for cheaper than a stick frame structure with the apprehension of building codes. The more I looked into it the more I realized that it was a scary situation in a lot of ways. It’s still my dream, and I want to do it. But I realized I wouldn’t have the right funds, and it would take a lot more time than I had. We actually decided to buy an old house near the Rio Grande river, and we’ve been kind of fixing it up. We have an acre of land with apple trees and fig trees and pear trees and grape vines. So instead of going the route of building a house, I decided to buy a house and fix it up. That’s actually what I’m doing right now, I just went out to the river to harvest some sand because I’m sealing a crack in the concrete that’s so deep that I’m going to fill it with sand first and then fill it with some concrete-filler stuff.

Do you have a lot of building experience or is it something you’re just picking up?
No. Not really. I have done some work on straw bale houses and cob. I don’t have traditional building experience, carpentry and stuff like that. I’ve just been feeling my way through. For the most part doing minor stuff.

So what’s your songwriting process? At first, you were in the band by yourself. But you’ve been working with Heather Trost for many years now. How do you do it collaboratively?
Well, it depends. We don’t have a specific process for every song we’re working on. Sometimes Heather will come up with a melody. Or I will. There’s just different way that that happens. We try not to have one specific process. We do a lot of learning older songs and then coming up with notes from that, working with a scale or a rhythm, and then coming up with songs within those parameters. And sometimes we just play together and something just comes out collaboratively. Sometimes one of us will hear a melody–I’ll just be driving around Albuquerque and a melody will get into my head and I’ll present it to Heather and we’ll figure out chord changes or figure out a way to make it to work. Initially I was a drummer, so sometimes I will start with drums. When we’ve got a song going, sometimes the way the drums are put down affects the arrangement. Stevie Wonder records that way sometimes, I guess. Because he was also a drummer. Of course, he was one of those guys who played everything.

You played drums in tour, briefly, with Broadcast. Trish Keenan’s death this year was such a shock to me.
It was a shock to me, too. I played with them for about six months. I didn’t do any recording, but it was while I was living in England. And we toured Europe and the US. They’re an amazing band. It was very interesting, and I really enjoyed seeing the way they work, and talking to them about music and everything. And I was really… sad and shocked to hear about her death. It seems like there’s so much more; she could have continued into old age. She was one of those very creative people. I felt like there was so much more in her. It’s really unfortunate.
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TalkNarc: Interview with Spencer from Incan Abraham

I’m not sure if people in LA even understand how February starts to wear down us East Coasters. The snow. The biting cold. Don’t get me wrong, we love it: those late nights drinking thick beers. The tracks across town to see a sold out show that snow has turned into an intimate event. But seriously: we’re getting stir crazy. And the fuzzy sunshine that Incan Abraham is laying down, alternatively sounding of Animal Collective and The Walkmen, isn’t helping things much. Incan Abraham’s Spencer Mandel was kind enough to answer a few questions for us stir-crazy East Coasters.

Sometimes it feels (aka, Pitchfork makes it seem) like the entire LA scene happens at The Smell. Care to teach a Philadelphian something?
No disrespect to the Smell, but it’s just a room downtown that doesn’t even serve alcohol. Yes, No Age came out of there, so it deserves some credit. But there are other better Los Angeles venues. Venues in the Silver Lake/Echo Park neighborhoods in Northeast LA have produced lots of stuff, like Spaceland, which helped popularize LA artists like Beck and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, the Silverlake Lounge, whose cross streets the Silversun Pickups took its name (Silver Lake and Sunset Boulevards), and the Echo (http://www.attheecho.com/), which is probably the most important venue in the area nowadays. West LA’s The Troubadour, where Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, et. al. would play during the 60’s-70’s, is still around, and still relevant, but less so for indie rock than the East Side venues. The Hollywood “Sunset Strip” scene, home to 80’s hair metal, is entirely dead, thank god. That’s LA in a nutshell.

One of the obvious comparisons, and I’m sure you’ve got this before, is Animal Collective. Do you worry about their influence on electronic pop in general/your music?
Animal Collective is one of the most unique acts of the past decade, and the comparison is fair. However, our other electronic influences are more ‘electronic’ than ‘electronic pop’, such as great Warp Records acts like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher.

Have you heard Philadelphia’s Sun Airway? You guys would make beautiful babies together.
Haven’t heard of Sun Airway, but we’re always down to make babies. Thanks for turning me on to them.

When you think of Philadelphia, you think… (not endearing answers: cheesesteaks, Rocky)
Philadelphia. City of Brotherly Love. Besides my endearing answer that I enjoy “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”… Giuliano’s uncle used to work at Drexel University, for one. Haha, that’s the best I can do… never been. Please educate me.

We’re about to head to San Fran for a Noise Narcs roadtrip. What should we check out there? Yes, I’m aware that’s liking asking a Philadelphian about things to do in Pittsburgh (for the record: Primanti Brothers, Andy Warhol Museum, leave).
San Francisco’s a different world than LA, but unlike other Southern Californians, I don’t participate in the rivalry. It’s a beautiful little city full of open minded people, so I don’t think you can really go wrong. Need to spend some more time in SF myself… but we’ll be up there for Noise Pop festival this month. Grab some Chinese food, it’s supposed to be very good there

Any plans for an LP in the near future?
Yes, we’re stockpiling great new songs now, in the event that we fall into some more money, and are able to produce an LP in the foreseeable future. We’ll let you know when that happens.

Incan Abraham, “Third Man” [Free Single Download]
Incan Abraham, “Helium Eggs” [Free EP Download]

Well, we at Noise Narcs are hoping for an LP’s worth of a windfall. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about Incan Abraham soon. Head over to their Bandcamp for more free goodness.
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Talknarc: Interview with Philly’s Work Drugs

Work Drugs [Facebook] consist of “Benjamin Louisiana (more instrumental/less vocal) and Thomas Crystal (more vocal/less instrumental)” who hail from an abandoned pier on the banks of Philly’s Delaware River. In colonial times, what is now piers, highway, ill-planned condos, and wasted coastline consisted of high cliffs and caves. Outside the confines of William Penn’s Quaker paradise, the cliffs housed all manners of ne’er-do-wells, prostitutes, and pirates. Fitting then that Work Drugs hail from the banks of the Delaware: they raid the underbelly of ’80s soft rock and caress it with the gauzy embrace of today’s chillwave. On the occasion of the the release of their first single, “Third Wave,” they were kind enough to sit down for a quick chat.

Work Drugs, “Third Wave”

The internet wonders if your name is an Eastbound and Down reference… is it?

Eastbound and Down… is that a show on the Food Network?

Our buddy Eduardo S. came up with the name when we were sailing the Baja of Mexico. He had just hurt his “nose” and was feeling a bit sea sick, so in his partially delusional state, he kept screaming “work drugs… work drugs…” until his “meds” kicked in. And it kinda stuck. Our friends don’t like it… but fuck that noise.

How’s living on an abandoned pier?

Once in a while a Duck Boat rescue boat gets a little too close… but it sure beats the abandoned doll factory.

How’d ya’ll meet?

In Mrs. McDonald’s kindergarten class… seriously.

We’ve poked a bit of fun at the chillwave genre (while digging the music). Although it has its use, it’s also about as silly as the nonsense “slowcore” movement that built up around Low in the 1990s. Chillwave: hot or not? Sidenote: Apparently hotornot.com still exists. Do the kids today even know what that is?

I think it was just a genre that was created by kids of the 80’s who were too embarrassed to cite Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Steely Dan, and Phil Collins as serious musical influences. In reality we have no problem with citing these guys (in fact if it wasn’t for the plethora of Genesis tapes in my parents minivan, I doubt I’d be talking to you), but we figured “chillwave” was the buzz word of the moment. I’m pushing “smooth-fi,” but no takers so far. I give “chillwave” a 7…. but her a 9.

If you could play with one Philly band that’s not Hall & Oates, whom would it be?

Well we came up with two (other than Hall & Oates, P.S.- good call) … Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes (Ben) and Tickley Feather (Thomas)

Philly spot we’re most likely to find Work Drugs chill(wav)ing at?

Bonk’s Bar & Grille

How many yachts have you sailed on?

Too many to count… unfortunately our favorite used to set sail from the Barbary on the last Tuesday of every month… but alas it seems to have found a new port of call.

What’s the plan for recording more songs?

Well, we have a bunch more recorded (probably a few albums worth), but for now we are keeping them in the bait box until the fishing looks good. I would expect another new one in mid-January… as soon as we finish a little video for it…

Here’s hoping they spill their bait box soon. We’re biting.

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Talknarc: Bridge Underwater Interview

Pat Mellon and John Basile of Bridger Underwater

Bridge Underwater has been active in the Philly music scene since 2005, releasing three EPs and an album. Their newest EP, Send Me All Your Love (available now for a bargain bottom $1 at Bandcamp), is a gamechanger. The titular track has been spinning Noise Narcs’ platters several times a day since we were introduced to it last week. A Beatles-esque romp that dips its feet into New Wave’s driving guitar and beat, “Send Me All Your Love” makes big on the duo’s promise. Leadsinger Pat Mellon, whose voice has a tinge of Gordon Gano’s fragile intensity, sat down to answer Noise Narcs’ questions in advance of their record release party at North Star on Saturday.

Bridge Underwater, “Send Me All Your Love” [Buy]

Introduce your band. Where’re you all from?
The band is me on guitar and vocals and John Basile on drums. So far on all of the recordings, I’ve played everything, but John is going to be playing drums from now on. We’re both from Southwest Philly and have known each other since we were 12. Right now it’s just the two of us playing live. Maybe sometime down the road we’ll find other people to play with, but we’re not really worried about that now. We’re just concentrating on practicing as much as possible and writing as many songs as we can.

Southwest Philly is a neighborhood I associate more with Beanie Siegal than indie rock. What brought you to Southwest Philly? What’re your favorite things about it?
I grew up in Southwest, and all of my friends are from Southwest, including John. At the moment I’m actually living in Delaware County, but John still lives in Southwest, and we practice at his house. I guess my favorite things about the neighborhood are my memories from growing up there. I think Beanie Sigel is from South Philly, maybe? Either way I wouldn’t mind being associated with Beans. [Sigel got his name from Sigel Street in western South Philly, not Southwest Philly… got it? -Ed]

Your most recent album and EP, Feeling and The Love EP, had a distinctly and intentionally lo-fi sound. Send Me All Your Love is lush, and not just by comparison. What made you move in that direction?
Here’s the long story: I recorded an EP called The Music in Your Mind before Feeling. I spent a lot of time, way too much time, mixing it. I recorded that one digitally. The mixing process really sucked the life out of the music for me, and I ended up hating those songs. I learned from that experience that the most important thing is to write a good song first. Recording and mixing are always secondary and can’t help make a bad song good. So after that I didn’t record another song for like 6 months because I was too scared it would be another horrible experience. Finally, I decided to just make things as simple as
possible, so I recorded Feeling with just me and a guitar into a tape recorder—that way I wouldn’t be tempted to mix the thing and freak out over it. After that I just kept writing songs, and I decided to record the new ones for Send Me on the computer again. I finally stopped worrying about what was better, lo-fi or digital. And this time around I didn’t mix the songs which really helped. I also felt like I owed it to these new songs to give them a more “hi-fi” sound and a better mix. I’m happy with how things have turned out.

Your press email said that you’re “really into The Beatles, so I think that might come through in the music.” That’s true. But in my ears, your music has the same relationship to The Beatles as a lot of the Elephant Six collective: an influence skewed. What other influences brought you to your sound?
That’s cool you mention the Elephant Six collective because Neutral Milk Hotel is one of my favorite bands. I also really enjoy Animal Collective. I think my favorite band making music right now, though, is Girls. Album is one of my favorite albums ever.

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TalkNarc: Philly’s rockingest band, Blood Feathers, answers questions from the road

Previously I’ve mentioned Philly’s Blood Feathers a handful of times on Noise Narcs, but only to castigate myself for not having posted on them. But I’m glad I waited, since guitarist/singer Drew Mills was kind enough to answer a few questions from the road of their Summer’s End tour.

Blood Feathers plays harmonized stompin’ rock with monster hooks, which never veers into dreaded roots rock territory despite influences as far afield as Bo Diddley and classic country. That members of the band have moonlighted in both Bob Wills and Tom Petty cover bands is fitting. Mostly, it’s just good old rock and roll, and we at Noise Narcs can attest that they put on a great show, from their “reunion” show at Johnny Brendas that my not-quite-yet girlfriend and I made out through, to their stunning blast of a ’50s cover gig at Philebrity’s Under the Sea Dance, which was worth every minute of the 40 minute walk in the freezing cold and snow to snag a cab.

Their new album, Goodness Gracious, is a lock for a spot on my top ten of ’10 list and has already become a staple of any Noise Narc road trip. Out now, via Philebrity Label, it comes highly recommend. Stream it for free at Apollo Audio and then buy it (and their equally great debut, Curse and Praise) via the Blood Feathers site.

Blood Feathers, “Don’t Know You at All” [Amazon]
Blood Feathers, “Sugar in Bed” [Amazon]
Blood Feathers, “Sea Legs” (from Curse & Praise) [Amazon]

How did you guys move from two-piece plus help of Curse and Praise to today’s expanded and solidified lineup? And how has that changed the process of writing and recording an album?
Drew Mills: Ben and I had been playin’ together for quite a while before we even considered having other players. Once the music started to grow toward a larger more rock n’ roll vibe, we clearly needed some players. And, fortunatley enough, we found the best players we know, that happened to be our best friends who wanted to play good old rock n’ roll.

Goodness Gracious took me a beat longer to get into, with its lush, dense sound, but has grown on me like a second skin. Was that denser sound a result of the bigger band? What else has moved you into the direction?
DM:Definitely a result of the added fellas. There’s a limit to what two dudes can do. Pretty much the sky is the limit with a full ensemble. “Touch the sky BLUE MOUNTAIN.”
[Natives of the Delaware Valley will remember ads from the area’s closest ski
resort
-Ed
]

Back in March, PhillyBurbs claimed that your next release would be a Christmas album, coming out, well, soon. Any truth to that?
DM: There was talk…

Best Philly bar, non-band owned/employed-at division: Kurt’s half of the 700. [Blood Feathers’ multi-instrumentalist Tracy Stanton owns the other half]

Best Philly bar, non-Port Fishington/Northern Liberties division: Surf n’ turf, West Philly, but only when the flyers are doin’ well. [Well, I thought we at Noise Narcs had a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of Philly bars but we’re stumped. -Ed]

More answers after the jump, including Blood Feathers’ Ethan Hawke connection…

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TalkNarc: The Eeries

A few weeks ago, I posted a laid-back track by a Philadelphia garage band named The Eeries.  The song was submitted to Noise Narcs’ “Minute Music” (our sans context, sans comment category) because, frankly, there just wasn’t much to find out about them online.  I could have said more about the music, of course, like that The Eeries write early-60s inspired garage pop with infectious melodies and pitch-perfect yet seemingly effortless harmonies.  The tempo is usually lazy, the lyrics are occasionally morbid.  But beyond that I could only direct you to their blog, which is about as lo-fi as their sound and exists purely to give away free music.  I was like a narc without any beans to spill or a dime to drop.

Thankfully though, The Eeries agreed to sit down and remedy the situation by answering a few questions for us.

The Eeries, “Ain’t it a Shame”
The Eeries, “Feel Right”

From what I’ve been able to gather: 1) there are three of you, 2) you’re from Philadelphia, and 3) based on your myspace page, you appear to be a popular 1940’s contortionist sister act.  But apart from that, you’ve kept a pretty low online profile.  So what’s your back story?  Who are you guys, and how’d the band get its start?

We’re all from a town in central Jersey called West Windsor.  Andy and Scott were in bands together all throughout high school and I (Mike) was in a hardcore punk band out of New Brunswick, NJ at the same time.  So we all knew each other from growing up in the same town and became close friends because of the very small music scene in town which revolved around Tom Murphy’s house.  Tom’s dad was into home recording when he was a younger man, so Tom’s room was a makeshift studio.  All of our earliest projects were cut by Tom.  He’s currently in an awesome 2 man grind/death band called Dethroned Emperor.

We were all guitarists when we started living together last september so we borrowed gear and learned other instruments out of necessity.  Andy plays drums and sings, Scott plays guitar and sings and I play bass and sing.

Cover art for TAPE by Philadelphia artist Randy Vale

From the sound of it, you aren’t really big into high production values.  In his post about you at Passion of the Weiss, Douglas Martin writes that the lo-fi aesthetic is often a deliberate and “defiant rejection” of modern recording technology, but he also wonders whether that is the case with you.  Your songs are good, but why do they also sound shitty?

We like recording ourselves.  Being able to control every part of production is more important to us than the quality of the recording.

What kind of equipment do you use?  Do you do any mixing on the computer?  I’ve noticed that your file formats have been all over the place (m4a, mp3, aif).

We’ve recorded every release differently.  We usually use the on-board mic on Scott’s laptop for every instrument (vocals included).  We did instruments live on EP(A) and those were recorded by the built in mic on a tape deck.  We try different (inexpensive) techniques until we get the sound we want.  Our formats are crazy due to laziness and inexperience.

Why do you call yourselves “The Eeries,” and what do you think is the eeriest song you’ve ever heard?

We wanted to call ourselves “The Spooks”.  Then we found out it was a racial slur and, a month or two after moving to Philadelphia, found out a garage band had recently started up in the area called The Spooks.  We went with The Eeries because it’s a ghost in super mario world (we figured that was close enough).  We all listen exclusively to “Spooky Sounds” volumes 4 through 7 available on Party City records.

Isn’t the ghost from super mario world named Boo?

There are a lot of ghosts in super mario world:

Eeries are ghosts that dwell in the Ghost Houses. They fly in groups or solo, but always in fixed formations, ignoring where Mario is or isn’t. (strategywiki.org)

One thing I really like about your music is how, on songs like “Ain’t it a Shame,” you manage to sound so morose and yet so catchy and fun at the same time.  Those great harmonies definitely contribute to the effect.  Would you say, on the whole, that you are “glass half full” or “glass half empty” kind of people?

What glass?

So far you’ve given a lot of music away for free at your blog.  I’m not complaining, but is there an LP in the works?  Like one that you might sell to people?

We’re currently working on a full length.  We’d like to put a 12″ out ourselves but we don’t have any money so we’re looking for someone to put it out.  We just finished a press of 100 of our newest TAPE and a repress of 100 of our previous tape EP(A).  If anyone wants a hard copy they can email us.  Our music will always be available for download on our blog regardless of what format it’s on.

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TalkNarc: Grubby Little Hands

If I were forced to describe our first interview victim, Philly’s Grubby Little Hands, using only bands with five letter names, I’d say they fit somewhere between the Kinks and the Books. If I weren’t using such an arbitrary measuring stick, I’d mention the ethereal quality of A Sunny Day in Glasgow and a touch of the fragility of Elliott Smith. But then their 2009 debut, Imaginary Friends [free stream at VIRB, purchase at CDBaby], has plenty of multi-instrumentalism, several songs that march to a military beat, and a clarinet-laced Dixieland finale. So I’m pretty up the creek for parallels. Let’s just say this: it’s good.

Grubby Little Hands, “Apt 4”
Grubby Little Hands, “Shoestrings”


The only thing the internet seems to know about you guys is that you met in musical theory class. Who are you, what do you all play, and who did better on the final?

We are Donnie Felton from Winston-Salem, NC, and Brian Hall from Wyomissing, PA. We both sing, play keyboard and stringed instruments, and Donnie plays clarinet. We had help on the album from our friend Pete who recorded trumpet on “Feel In My Back” and drums on a few songs. We also recently added Joseph Primavera to the line-up. He plays drums, anything with strings, and vocals. I’m not sure who did better on the final, but late night study sessions are where our first collaborative song-writing efforts came from.

We at Noise Narcs (okay, just me) pay all too much attention to where you’re from: How long have you been in Philly? What neighborhood? Why is/isn’t it the best neighborhood in Philly? What should we eat and drink there? And while we’re at it, what’s you favorite Philly venue?

B: I grew up about an hour west of here, so I’ve always loved the city and its sports teams. I moved to Philly after college, lived in West Philly for the last few years, and just moved to Manayunk. There’s nothing exceptional about the neighborhood, but Dalessandro’s is definitely the best cheese steak joint in the city. Favorite venue would probably be Johnny Brenda’s. It’s big enough to accommodate a large crowd, but small enough to still feel intimate – and they book a lot of great bands.
D: I moved to Philly in June of 2006, so about 4 years ago. I currently reside in Fishtown. It is definitely my favorite Philly neighborhood. There are great restaurants, pubs, art galleries, etc., and it also has a certain blue collar grit that I like. As for venues, I’d also have to say Johnny B’s is my favorite. They just tend to bring in more bands that I like than any other. As for local shows though, I love a good house party or DIY show.
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