Matt Adams is a man out of time and place. Under the moniker the Blank Tapes, he marches to the beat of his own ’60s indebted drum, channeling the flower power of that decade with a sound as sunny as his California home. He’s something of a do-it-himself savant. Adams plays almost all the instruments on his recordings, and his album art hints to his past work as a Mad Magazine designer. Even the band name is impeccably crafted: Adams claims he has nearly four hundred original songs rattling around in his head, so his blank canvas ends up being more of a blank tape.
Even though he’s so single-minded about his musical pursuit, he never could have imagined having a hit, let alone in a foreign country. Somehow, his 2010 album Home Away From Home made its way to Brazil, and the positive buzz prompted Adams to take his show on the road. With help from several San Francisco musicians, Adams turned the Blank Tapes into a bonafide band and toured South America. Soon after, the group accompanied fellow Bay Area psych-poppers Thee Oh Sees to Europe, and they can also cross Japan of their touring itinerary.
All this traveling is something new for a home-recording enthusiast like Adams, but it’s starting to seep into his music. Last week, the Blank Tapes released Vacation and to celebrate, the band is undertaking a “Coast To Coast” summer jaunt. The outfit stopped by Studio 1A recently, and they’ll also be back in Austin at the Mohawk on June 9. The Blank Tapes kicked off their 1A live session with a song that perfectly sums up Adams’ youthful fervor: “Don’t Ever Get Old.”
When it comes to his music, Chris Flemmons is relentless. The Denton, TX native formed his band the Baptist Generals in the late ’90s with drummer Steve Hill. The pair would often play for tips on Denton’s cracked sidewalks, attracting a following for their unhinged performances. The venerable indie imprint Sub Pop soon took a liking and signed the Generals to a multi-album deal, and in 2003, they released their debut. No Silver/No Gold perfectly captured their intensity. The record is full of wide-eyed strumming, drunken drumming, and Flemmons’ raw voice.
But a follow-up to that promising debut was much harder to come by. Several versions were recorded and ultimately scrapped. Flemmons recently confided to Texas Music Matters that he didn’t want the Generals to turn into your typical indie rock band, and the sound he heard in his head became an obsession. So he kept chipping away at a collection of songs, snaring help from a number of Denton and Dallas area musicians, as well as producer Stuart Sikes (the White Stripes, Cat Power, the Walkmen). After nearly a decade of work, he was able to let go and press send on an email to Sub Pop that read, “New Baptist Generals Album.”
That retreat from the spotlight, that single-minded vision has ultimately paid off. Out May 21, Jackleg Devotional To The Heart is well worth the wait for the Baptist Generals’ cult fanbase. There’s a full electrified band accompanying Flemmons now, and he admits he’s still wary about all the corners that were smoothed out in his sound. Yet the record is a natural next step. The melodies are larger, the rhythms are crisper, and the Generals more that live up to their commander’s vision. First single “Dog That Bit You” draws from fellow Texan Roky Erickson’s psych-pop blueprint, kicking off the album with a bang. The ten years of pressure and self-doubt have created something that perhaps even Flemmons couldn’t have predicted: an absolute gem.
You can also hear a feature story on the Baptist Generals on this week’s episode of Texas Music Matters.
Photo by Kyle Johnson
Michael Benjamin Lerner has really struggled with his music in the past. Under the name of Telekinesis, the Seattle artist released his second album–2011′s 12 Desperate Straight Lines–after months of hard living. Breakups, broken-down vans, and a busted inner-ear took its toll, and it came out in the music, which he largely recorded by himself. When it came time to do the follow-up, he couldn’t bear the solitude, so he called on producer Jim Eno. For an artist who’s used to working alone, it was nerve-wracking at first. “It’s a big leap of faith for both of the people involved with making a record,” Lerner told the Village Voice. “It’s one of the most vulnerable environments you could put yourself into, the studio: you’re baring your soul to a tape machine and everything is scrutinized and microscopic.”
But Lerner and Eno make a great team. For starters, they’re both primarily drummers, and they immediately bonded over how to shape the rhythms. The relaxed atmosphere of Eno’s Public Hi-Fi Studios also allowed Lerner to stretch out musically. Dormarion–named for the street Public Hi-Fi sits on here in Austin–is balanced perfectly between rock and pop. The melodies are crisp and bright, but underneath is some metronomic muscle.
The partnership between Lerner and Eno is immediately apparent on album highlight “Ghosts And Creatures.” In the studio, Eno didn’t like the original drumbeat, so he suggested a drum machine, and it completely transformed the song. “When you’re doing everything yourself you start to lose perspective on that stuff,” says Lerner. “He basically came up with that drum machine part — it made the song how it is today, and I’m really proud of how it is and I couldn’t have done that without him. It’s nice to know it’s a true collaboration.” And when Lerner stopped by Studio 1A recently, the collaborations kept coming. The touring version of Telekinesis turned “Ghosts And Creatures” into a wholly new creature altogether.
A few years ago, Paste magazine called Austin’s David Ramirez “the best damn songwriter you don’t know yet,” and they were certainly right, in one respect. Over the course of a handful of albums and EPs, Ramirez has established himself as a premier talent. His style of folk has been praised by critics and (perhaps more importantly) fellow musicians, with Grammy winners the Civil Wars labeling him as “soulful, stirring, heartbreaking.”
Those qualities are due in part to the kind of itinerant life Ramirez leads. He grew up in Houston before his passion for songwriting took him to Nashville and then Birmingham, Alabama. Even though he makes his home in Austin these days, Ramirez tours incessantly. Last year he notched 175 live dates, performing in clubs, bars, coffee shops, and on college campuses around the country. All the miles have taken a toll; his past work has been marked by a sobering sadness. He wears his heart on his sleeve when it comes to his personal relationships, which often can fall apart due to his constant travel.
Yet his new EP is decidedly more upbeat. The Rooster was written quickly after last year’s full-length Apologies, and it details Ramirez’s new-found love. He remains brutally honest: on EP highlight “The Bad Days,” Ramirez lets it be known that there are “gonna be days when you hate me.” It’s that kind of honesty–coupled with a stunning voice and melodic brilliance–that’s putting the name David Ramirez on a lot of tongues these days.
The folksinger will be celebrating the release of The Rooster with a sold-out show tonight at the Cactus Cafe.
Against all odds, Of Montreal have become something of a legacy band in the indie-rock world. Yes, they’re known for their outlandish onstage antics–horseback riding, costumes, theatrical skits–but they’re a pretty stable outfit. Formed in Athens, Georgia in 1996, Of Montreal has released eleven albums, each one varying pretty wildly from the one that preceded it. Lead singer Kevin Barnes grew out of the famed Elephant 6 collective, sharing bands and ideas with future members of Neutral Milk Hotel and the Apples In Stereo. The collective’s anything-goes mentality fit right with Barnes: over the last fifteen years, Of Montreal has flirted with psychedelia, pop, rock, funk, soul, and disco.
This constant evolution is rare for a band, but luckily for fans, Of Montreal have set about to capture it. Last winter, the group launched a Kickstarter to help fund Song Dynasties, a feature-length documentary on the band. Over the course of five years, Barnes had a film crew capture hundreds of the band’s legendary live shows, and they’re planning on releasing the film with a collection of the earliest Of Montreal recordings. Barnes has also let slip that the group’s twelfth album is on the horizon, coming just a year after 2012′s Paralytic Stalks. No disco-funk-psych hybrid this time, though: the singer claims he was influenced by Neil Young, the Grateful Dead, and the Flying Burrito Brothers.
It’s certainly never a dull moment in the Of Montreal universe. With all this archival activity, we’re dipping into our vaults for today’s song of the day. Back in 2007, the band stopped by Studio 1A in the midst of their disco days and surprised us all with a tender acoustic cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” It’s hard to know where Of Montreal are headed next, but that’s the fun part.
You can catch Of Montreal tonight at the Mohawk starting at 8pm.