Twenty years ago, Nan Warshaw, Rob Miller, and Eric Babcock started Bloodshot Records to document the budding alternative country scene in their hometown of Chicago. Their first release–a compilation of local and national like-minded artists, from the Old 97′s to the Handsome Family–gave a home to roots bands that didn’t fit the “roots” mold. These groups spiked their Carter Family-isms with punk and rock, tipping their hats to the old while making something uniquely new. Ryan Adams, Neko Case, and Justin Townes Earle all called Bloodshot Records home at one point. Austinites like Alejandro Escovedo, Rosie Flores, and Scott H. Biram were also scooped up into the label’s orbit.
Two decades later, Bloodshot is celebrating their birthday with a bang. While No One Was Looking hints at the tongue-in-cheek attitude always taken by the label, who’s constantly swam upstream since its inception. But it’s worthy of celebration, partially due to the diverse set of artists they’ve touched over the years. Andrew Bird, Chuck Prophet, Ted Leo, Shakey Graves, Ben Kweller, Shinyribs, and Samuel Fogarino of Interpol all appear on the compilation, tackling a wide range of songs. And today, we’re turning the spotlight on Blitzen Trapper, fellow rootsy outsiders who cover Ryan Adams’ classic “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High).”
This week on the Austin Music Experience, artists getting back to their roots. Kathy Valentine is known for her pioneering work in the Go-Gos, but she’s turning over a new leaf with her band the Bluebonnets, who stop by Studio 1A. Valentine also talks about moving back to Austin and reconnecting with her influences. Plus, Ryan Bingham might be known for his rowdy live shows, but he’s back in our Studio 1A with his acoustic, talking about his one-of-a-kind career and showing us a new song. Also, A. Sinclair’s rock-and-roll reinvention, Joseph Arthur on the ‘Wild Side,’ and more. Join us Sunday at 6pm on KUTX 98.9 and KUTX.org.
The overarching joke throughout the Vaselines’ career has been their lack of timeliness. Formed in Glasgow, Scotland by Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee in 1986, the Vaselines put out a pair of EPs and a full-length before breaking up in 1989. But Kurt Cobain counted himself a big fan. The Vaselines reunited to open for Nirvana in 1990, and Nirvana repaid them by covering several Vaselines songs.
The notoriety was nice, but the Vaselines never really cashed in. For a band as shambolic and tongue-in-cheek as them, though, you wouldn’t expect them to. Kelly and McKee only reunite when they want to; their second album came out nearly two decades after their first. The Vaselines are on somewhat of a roll as of late, with album number three out this year. For V For Vaselines, they took inspiration from the Ramones and the Stooges. “I hadn’t listened to them for ages, and every song was amazing,” Kelly told Pitchfork. “I just thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to write really short, instant pop songs like that again?’” Of course, the Vaselines have always had a penchant for short, instant pop songs, mixing catchy melodies with dark wit and plenty of distortion. “One Lost Year” doesn’t mess with a proven formula, but then again, the Vaselines never had anything to prove.
Photo by Jim Anderson
When singer and songwriter Al Spx was trying to think of a name for her new musical project, she remembered a line from James Joyce’s Ulysses from her English studies at the University of Toronto. “Born all in the dark wormy earth, cold specks of fire, evil lights shining in the darkness. Where fallen archangels flung the stars of their brows,” reads the line. She named her project Cold Specks.
Spx first entered into the public’s musical consciousness not in her native Canada, but in Britain. One of her demos found its way across the Atlantic to producer and record engineer Jim Anderson who persuaded her to come over. A dynamite performance on BBC2′s Later…With Jools Holland brought Spx to the attention of the masses in the UK, and her 2012 debut, I Predict A Graceful Expulsion, did not disappoint. It does more with less, spare guitar putting the spotlight firmly on Spx’s powerful voice.
She returned to Britain for album number two, writing in the small town of Wick, which is known more for occult tourism than music (“You couldn’t buy socks in the town, but you could buy cauldrons and crystals,” Spx told KUTX’s Elizabeth McQueen). Neuroplasticity retains Spx’s darkness, but this time around she fronts a full-on rock band. The group recently stopped by our Studio 1A, and today’s song of the day comes from this live session. “Living Signs” finds Cold Specks pitched somewhere between coldness and warmth–”doom soul,” as she so eloquently puts it.
Photo by Justin Borucki
On 2010′s The Budos Band III, the Budos Band played its real hand. Yes, the musicians are well-versed in Afrobeat, funk, and soul, but they also grew up loving heavy metal. III mixed in some Black Sabbath with the Fela Kuti rhythms in a really inventive way, and for album number four, the Budos Band heads further down that rabbit hole. From the album cover on down, Burnt Offering pays homage to the kind of psychedelic metal you can find in the dollar bin of your local record store. The guitars are distorted and the mix is swampy, but the beats are still danceable, and “Burnt Offering” itself sounds like a soul song from hell. Only the polymaths in the Budos Band could pull off something this demented and fun.