Photo by Gabriel C. Pérez/KUTX
The 2010’s are about to be history, so we thought it would be fun to reach out to a bunch of Austin music makers to find out one of their absolute favorite albums of the decade. Um, wrong. We churn out lists like this regularly here at KUTX, so it seemed to us that artists would have a great time chiming in. We reached some and didn’t manage to track down others. Apparently, we underestimated the difficulty in picking ONE album from the entire decade. Imagine that. For those willing to put up with our hounding and take this daunting mission on, comments generally ranged from “this is really hard” to “HOLY CRAP! THIS IS REALLY HARD!!”. Others gave in and sent us multiple picks. We commend the fortitude of those who saw this through, getting back to us from as far away as Europe, in the recording studio, asleep on the couch… Our unscientific survey reveals picks that range from Pulitzer prize-winners to cool obscurities, and everything in between. If we made your lives difficult, sorry, and thanks for playing! At least the final result is fun!
– Jeff McCord, Music Editor
ABHI THE NOMAD
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib – “Bandana” (2019)
My favorite album of the year / in the last decade or so. The production on the entire project was incredible, Freddie spills his guts over dusty loops and dirty samples that accompany his adventures as a drug dealer and musician. Coming off his recent legal stint, Bandana is the raw, unadulterated black American experience
Solange – A Seat at the Table (2016) / When I Get Home (2019)
If there is any album(s) that shifted my perception on musicianship and inspired me to be my true self as an artist and a human being, it would be these albums. They painted a picture on black culture in a way that a lot of us could relate to, especially as Southerners. She broke boundaries, even on architectural levels and with her being from Texas, it just pushed me to become the male artist that could resemble that level of artistry, heartfelt creativity and provide a view from the South that could create national attention. In a way, these albums made noise like what OutKast did in 1994 for the South in the hip-hop world.
Natalie Prass – Natalie Prass (2015)
I listened to this constantly around the time I was working on my first record. I was so attracted to Natalie’s voice and the production of the album — it inspired me so much while I was navigating recording for the first time. I felt like she was my friend! So cheesy but true. Anytime I listen to it now I get nostalgic for that time in my life where I was entering a whole new chapter.
ERIC BURTON (BLACK PUMAS)
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
(Eric just sent a list of albums. Pimp topped the list but he also listed Good Kid m.A.A.d City by Kendrick, Kamasi Washington’s Heaven and Earth and The Epic, Alabama Shakes’ Sound In Color, Frank Ocean’s Blonde, Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories).
Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free (2015)
Brilliant songwriting. So many great songs that have a depth and substance to them that few artists can match. It’s also catchy as hell. This record moved me as much as anything I’ve heard this decade. “If It Takes a Lifetime” sums up the quest to keep moving forward as a human being. “24 Frames” is smart and undeniable. “Teach Me How To Forget” is heartbreaking and relatable.
ANDREW CASHEN (A GIANT DOG / SWEET SPIRIT)
Ty Segall – Melted (2010)
This came out a year or so after I watched him open for Thee Oh Sees as a one-man band on the floor of Beerland. I knew he was talented but did not expect the 17 or 18 albums he would put out in the coming decade, and the thousands of bands he would inspire. This album is no longer listenable due to the wear and tear of constant plays it got at the house A Giant Dog shared in the early aughts (if that is what we are calling this era).
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (2013)
This record broke the sonic mold. It’s everything that I love about music. It dances and takes you on a hella good ride. Nile Rodgers is a guitar funk master disco God too. ⚡️⚡️⚡️
BRITT DANIEL (SPOON / DIVINE FITS)
A Giant Dog – Pile (2016)
This has got to be one of my favorite LPs of the decade. It’s a record made by pure hearts playing pure rock and roll. To me this record summed up Austin when it came out — trouble, euphoria, rock and roll, love, consequences, boom and decay. And yes, I sing a little on the second to last song but that’s got nothing to do with it
JOHN DOE (X / FLESH EATERS / JOHN DOE THING)
Skating Polly – New Trick (2017)
First track, “Louder in Outer Space” is HIT song that carries on punk rock’s legacy. This record was produced by Louise Post & Nina Gordon of Veruca Salt. They’re celebrating their 10th anniversary as a band & the two sisters Kelli Mayo & Peyton Bighorse are 19 & 24 respectively. If this is the future, count me in.
SABRINA ELLIS (A GIANT DOG / SWEET SPIRIT / HEART BONES)
Ezra Furman – Transangelic Exodus (2018)
My favorite album of the decade came out last year. It’s a thematic album about a society in which some people transform into angels. The transformed angels are outlawed and hunted by the government. Within the album, Furman threads her coming-out story. The production is awesome. The lyrics inspire envy in me. The first song rhymes “Pasadena” with “Deus ex Machina”. Emotional intensity is turned up to 11 throughout.
Tom Waits – Bad As Me (2011)
This was the first Tom Waits album that I anticipated the release of- as an adult, I’d previously always been catching up on old Tom Waits music. The afternoon it came out, I sat down at the kitchen table and listened to all of it. Tom Waits in real time! (Sort of.) After I listened to the whole album, I went back to track #8, “Back In The Crowd” (my new favorite song!) and kept it on repeat until I learned it entirely. The writing of that song is perfectly heartbreaking, the production feels amazing, and to me, it’s the quintessence of perfect pop arranging. It sounds like a lost Roy Orbison song complete with the odd arrangement.
JIM ENO (SPOON)
D’Angelo – Black Messiah (2014)
Broke the mold for innovative production, sonics and vibe. This record has been one of the most referenced by any band I have worked with. “Sugah Daddy” with the great James Gadson drumming on his lap is a highlight.
GREG GONZALEZ (GRUPO FANTASMA / BROWNOUT)
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
I heard a lot of good music this decade, but this one stands out to me as an album which both redefined a genre and embraced its history. As a fan of hip hop from the golden era I was discouraged to see so many young popular rap artists abandoning the lyrical delivery and style of their predecessors to embrace auto-tune “singing” or more staccato trap style rapping without showcasing a diverse or profound vocabulary that for me exemplified the art of hip hop rapping/lyricism. This album truly bridged the gap for me, showcasing a wide-range of styles from party-anthems (“King Kunta”) to spoken word (“For Free”) and social-commentary (“Blacker the berry” “alright”) as well as experimental and poetic personal statements. Combine that with a diverse sound palette and production that embraced modern techniques as well as orchestration and moments of musical genius from Thundercat, Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington and co. The result was an album both timeless and timely. To me the album is like a Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going on?” type statement.
Tweedy – Sukierae (2014)
A solo record that turns into a father-son record? Soft and hard all at the same time? Catchy and challenging? New and old? This record has it all; a mood and quality that hasn’t stopped inspiring me since my first listen.
Mavis Staples – We Get By (2019)
Maybe it’s just because it’s fresh, but I’m going to say Mavis Staples last record…. I mean first…she’s 80!!!!! Beyond that, it is truly a gift – and I’m amazed how she’s stayed on message all these years. Wow. She really goes for it on this record. It’s truly deep and there’s no messing about. You’re getting the real thing. It’s just got great performances and songs. Ben Harper did a great job on the production – super minimal – play great and get out of the way kind of stuff. Sounds like her touring band, but I’m not sure. It makes me cry and I’m so grateful for Mavis!
Rihanna – Anti (2016)
It took me some time to think about. What album do I still play to this day? This album introduced me to the vocal and pen talent of Sza (Consideration). It was the “anti” pop album for Rihanna and ushered in her international domination as a makeup, lingerie, and high fashion mogul. Will we get another album from Rihanna? Who knows. One thing I do know is that this was the last piece of musical work before Rihanna chose to be more than a pop icon. My favorite tracks on this album are “Consideration,” “Same Ol Mistakes,” and “Kiss It Better.”
MEGZ KELLI (MAGNA CARDA)
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
Probably the most perfect album of this decade, at least in my opinion. I don’t know any other album that gets you a Pulitzer Prize. TPAB is important to me because it’s one of the few albums that beautifully explores the state of politics in this country, racial issues, and Kendrick’s own personal problems. On top of it all, it’s entirely influenced by a whole spectrum of black music genres/sub-genres aided by some of the greatest musicians of our generation (Sounwave, Terrace Martin, and Robert Glasper – just to name a few). The discussion is already there, but I think in a year or so people will really start to consider where this album falls in the top 10 Hip-Hop/Rap albums of all time..
Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon (2015)
The lyrics, the production and vibe all the way thru this album is so organic and inspiring. Definitely would be a dream to be a fly on a wall during their creative process!
Yelawolf – Love Story (2015)
This is a tough one as so much music from 2010 to now has helped mold me. This decade is when I really started listening outside my comfort zone of familiar genres I grew up on. But I think my pick for this decade is going to be Yelawolf. Up to that point the Alabama native who resided on the Shady Records imprint had been known for southern beats with equally southern lyrics, but on this LP, he mixed in sounds of Outlaw country, and even experimented with folk. It was exactly what I was looking for in 2015 when I was at a pivotal point in my artistry.
ALEX MAAS (BLACK ANGELS)
Clinic – Free Reign II (2013)
I chose this record because I feel like Clinic channeled cyborgs looking for understanding freedom and emotional stability in the near future. They are trying to understand love and human connection, with only images of jungles, the animal life and the planet earth that once was through a time capsule they found somewhere in space. I’m always left standing hypnotized until the record needle stops and I’m brought back to reality. Time travel is real.
BETO MARTINEZ (GRUPO FANTASMA / BROWNOUT)
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II (2013)
This record has been a constant for me since it came out in 2013. Great sounds and overall vibe. Really inspired me as a sort of bedroom recording. And no cymbals! (Beto also listed runner-up’s: Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music and Altin Gün – Gece)
TOPAZ McGARIGGLE (GOLDEN DAWN ARKESTRA)
Khruangbin – The Universe Smiles Upon You (2015)
One of my favorite records of the decade. I love how they blend world music, funk and psychedelic grooves. Interestingly it really borders on easy listening which I think says a lot about how noisy our world has become, sometimes it’s just really nice to breathe and get into some stripped down mellow vibrations. Also, they’re from Texas!!!
Teho Teardo – Music for Wilder Mann (2013)
Teho Teardo first came to my attention as a film composer. I listened to his score for Diaz on the way to Marfa when I was working on a commission out there in the desert. It was inspirational. Digging deeper into his catalog I discovered Music for Wilder Mann, based on the photographic book by Charles Freger. The main instrument featured on the opening track is the spring reverb! That got me hooked. Then come the strings, guitars, keyboards, and various electronic and other miscellany. This is an album I wish I had made
ADRIAN QUESADA (BLACK PUMAS / BROWNOUT)
Michael Kiwanuka – Love and Hate (2016)
It’s hard to pick just one but one album of the last decade but this is the one that impacted me the most in recent memory. I didn’t fully digest it until a year or so after it came out but it has remained in steady rotation for me. I had been a fan of his previous releases but this felt like a statement/concept rather than just a collection of songs, his sound was the record felt grand and cinematic, and had some poignant themes throughout. He spent a few months living in Austin so bonus points for the ATX connection too.
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker (2016)
I would have to say Cohen’s You Want It Darker. His last record released just days before he died. It’s clear he was aware of his impending departure from the world. And he made this his final farewell. Then stuck around just long enough to make sure it was properly realized. The weight of the songs is not without humor and love. Truly a collection of wisdom and reassurance to those of us who follow behind. His music and poetry will live forever.
LESLIE SISSON (MOVING PANORAMAS)
Josh T. Pearson – Last of the Country Gentleman (2011)
Josh is a longtime close friend since we were teenagers in DFW and has been like a brother to me through the years. He even starred in the first Moving Panoramas music video. This album was released days before my mother’s death. I have vivid memories of seeing Josh perform at SXSW that year and spending time with him and our friends after one of his shows when my mom called me asking if we were still meeting up for lunch that day, which I totally spaced on and felt massive guilt for, wishing I’d spent that entire visit with her nonstop in retrospect. I’m immensely grateful for what I didn’t know at the time would be my last days with my mom the month this record came out and every time I hear it now, I think of her…. and how proud I am of my brother from another mother, Josh Pearson.
STEVE TEREBECKI (WHITE DENIM)
Cass McCombs – Mangy Love (2016)
My selection for best record of the 2010’s. I think that Cass is the best songwriter of our time. Today’s Bob Dylan. His lyrics are thoughtful, humorous and filled with deeper meaning, which is getting incredibly hard to come by lately. His music is rooted mainly in rock n roll, but it’s more art rock, with carefully considered arrangements and instrumentation. It was hard to pick my favorite of his 6 records that came out in the 2010’s.
Photo courtesy of Little Feat.
By Jeff McCord
Like the band Little Feat where he spent most of his adult life, Paul Barrere was a bit of a chameleon. The son of Hollywood actors, Barrere’s California upbringing did little to explain his affinity for Southern-fried funk. He played and recorded with everyone from pop singer Nicolette Larson to Bob Dylan to jazz composer Chico Hamilton, almost invisibly enhancing their sound. Yet it was in Little Feat where Barrere, who passed away in late October at age 71, found a home.
Like Barerre, Little Feat’s founder, Lowell George, was a Hollywood native. His upbringing couldn’t have been further removed from his gritty, hard blues ethos. George’s parents raised chinchillas and provided furs to movie stars. An early band of his, The Factory, actually performed on F Troop and Gomer Pyle. George would end up in Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, whose wriggly fusion was to many the antithesis of anything soulful.
Yet the band George formed, with keyboardist Bill Payne and fellow Zappa alum Roy Estrada (who beat out Barrere for the bass player slot) found unique alchemy. George’s guttural baritone and earthy slide guitar betrayed his love for the blues, and churning third-line funk. Instead of raw power, though, the band – particularly in 1972 when they expanded to a six-piece including Barrere on second guitar and vocals – were mind-blowing in their chops and dexterity. Little Feat became a band without peer.
It wouldn’t last long. Never prolific, George’s songwriting would drop to almost nothing, while his appetites for binge eating, alcohol and speedballs grew exponentially. He both enabled and resented Payne and Barrere’s rise in the band. The pair made Little Feat sound the kind of the same, but different – songs were longer, jazzier, hinting at fusion that George openly despised. By the time of their 1977 release Time Love A Hero, Barrere was singing the bulk of the material. Two years later, the band split. George released a solo album, went on tour, and in Arlington VA, died of a cocaine overdose. He was just 34 years old.
In 1987, the surviving members of Little Feat reformed, and some version of the band has been performing ever since.
Barrere used to claim he was “right behind George” in terms of his excesses. His health decline backed this up. He contracted Hepatitis C in 1994, was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2015. Last year, when he dropped out of Little Feat’s 50th anniversary tour, his bandmates feared the worst.
Many of the band’s loyalists paid scant attention to Little Feat in the post-George era, but they continued to make new fans, and throughout, Barrere’s mixture of funky and slick remained an inseparable part of their sound. “Skin It Back”, “Old Folk’s Boogie”, “Time Loves A Hero” – all his songs, and the way he connected with George on guitar gave the band much of their unrelenting drive. Captured just past their prime in 1978, Waiting For Columbus –one of rock’s finest live albums- stands as evidence of how good this band could be, Attempting to describe their weird, unclassifiable soup to an interviewer back in the day, Barrere eventually gave up. “It’s been described as a musician’s band,” he said. He seemed to be just fine with that.
By Jeff McCord
He seemed to show up at exactly the right time. Born in Sacramento, Daniel Johnston, who died on September 10th at age 58, grew up in the coal country of West Virginia. He attended Kent State, even worked in a traveling carnival before making his way to Austin in 1984. The posturing of the city’s punk and new wave scene was waning, and in its place was a new breed of guitar bands – young, earnest, coed and bristling with pop instincts.
Johnston walked into this sea change impossibly skinny, ambitious, awkward, his arms clutching loads of his homemade cassettes, featuring his crude illustrations and amateurish recordings. He’d walk right up to you. “Hi, I’m Daniel. Would you like to hear my music?”
Everyone said yes, and soon his tapes were everywhere. It was, of course, his fellow musicians who were the first to listen beyond his tinny home recordings to hear the sweetness and frailty of his songs. They were bare, guileless in their joy and hurt, sometimes wrenchingly sad. (The first tape he made was titled “Songs of Pain”) The cool veneer that so many artists worked so hard to maintain was stripped away.
Virtually every Austin band of the period would work up a Johnston cover, and immersion in his work began to influence their own writing. He seemed to be always around, opening shows. Or at times still in his McDonald’s uniform from his job at Dobie Mall, telling his engaging, hard to follow stories from the outside tables at The Beach Cabaret, one of the scene’s epicenters. His childlike artwork began turning up everywhere. His famed mural of Jeremiah the Bullfrog, which he painted on the side of the Drag’s Sound Exchange in 1993, has long outlasted the record store.
Daniel’s love of Captain America, Batman, Casper the Friendly Ghost, religion and the Beatles all found its way in his music. His songs brimmed with hope and empathy – “Hey Joe”, “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Your Grievance”. “Running Water”, “True Love Will Find You In The End”. Yet others, like “Sorry Entertainer” and “Monkey in a Zoo”, chronicled what a tough sled it could be for him. His shaky voice and lack of professional accompaniment made it impossible for others to hear Daniel’s music the way it sounded to him. His eccentricities were inseparable from who he was.
Yet Johnston was convinced he was going to be famous. He seemed to be on his way. He talked his way on to MTV when they visited Austin. And word of Daniel’s work had begun to spread throughout the country. Early adapters included Yo La Tengo, Jad Fair, Sonic Youth. Kurt Cobain turned up on MTV’s 1992 Video Awards wearing a Johnston ‘Hi, How Are You’ t-shirt. Eventually, the major labels came knocking. Johnston signed with Atlantic and released Fun in 1994.
Austin musican and producer Brian Beattie, who worked with Daniel on many of his recordings, including most recently Beattie’s Ivy And The Wicker Suitcase project (Johnston played Satan) and a yet to be released Johnston album of new material, remembers him this way. “Daniel had such a strong imagination, it was like a rocket ship, you could ride it to a new destination. He loved Austin and he remembered his time here with wonder. Years later, he would bore me by reeling off band and club names, and endlessly repeating “Those were the days, huh?” But, in fact, his time here in the mid to late 80’s was a time of wonder, and seeing his self made myth and vision slowly manifest itself into the mind of America has been a wondrous thing to witness.”
Aiding in that manifestation was an extraordinary tribute album produced by Beattie, released in 1994, his former band mate Kathy McCarty’s Dead Dog’s Eyeball. McCarty and Beattie’s band Glass Eye had a national cult following, and their reimagining’s of Johnston’s best songs caught hold, bringing him even more admirers. Director Rick Linklater would feature McCarty’s version of “Living Life” in the closing credits of his film “Before Sunrise”.
McCarty, a longtime friend and fan, reminisces. “Daniel’s songs spoke so directly and honestly about the experience of being human. There are literally millions of people who have been helped through difficult times in their lives by listening to his songs about depression, unrequited love, and faith in God and the future.”
By time of the album’s release, though, Daniel had left Austin to live with his parents. Johnston suffered from manic depression and schizophrenia, and had a nervous breakdown before even reaching Austin. The city’s party atmosphere and Johnston’s newfound notoriety proved a bad combination. After trying LSD, his erratic behavior landed him in trouble and led to a stay in a mental institution. Eventually his family came to get him. Returning to Austin to play the 1990 Austin Music Awards, his dad was flying him back to West Virigina on a private plane when Daniel suddenly grabbed the keys from the ignition and threw them out the window, causing the plane to crash. Somehow they both survived. Other violent episodes, including a break-in, and an assault of Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley would follow.
As Beck, Tom Waits, Wilco and the Flaming Lips were recording his songs, as his artwork was on exhibit in NYC’s Whitney and other European galleries, and as a documentary based on his life was showing around the country, Daniel was at home with his parents, now living in Waller Texas. On antidepressants, his weight had ballooned. Michael Hall, who profiled Johnston for Texas Monthly remembers his 2005 visit. “He was very calm, seemed to be in good mental shape, physically, he was big and fat and ate a bunch of crappy food and drank a bunch of sodas.”
This would be Daniel’s existence, more or less, for the rest of his life, occasionally emerging in public but mostly holed up smoking cigarettes and gulping orange drinks, while the world outside clamored for any sign of him. Balancing the constant demands of fans, management, his own ambitions and his deeply religious and protective parents, his appearances grew more and more infrequent.
One of the last times he was onstage in Austin was his 57th birthday, when his manager Tom Gimbel arranged for the city to celebrate “Hi How Are You Day”. The holiday continues in Austin, celebrating the kid who arrived with his tapes in hand so long ago (this year’s show featured the Flaming Lips). But they’ll be without Daniel.
“Listen up and I’ll tell a story,” he sang in his song “Story of an Artist”. “About an artist growing old / some would try for fame and glory / others aren’t so bold”
Johnston was bold, persevering in his goal against all odds. This nervous, odd kid did capture the world’s attention. One of Johnston’s early and loyal champions, former manger Jeff Tartakov says, “ He touched people in a way that will never be forgotten.”
Comments are now pouring in on social media from both friends and encounters, famous and not. All seem compelled to say how Daniel and the music he made affected them, and how his honesty cut through this noisy world like a beacon.
John Doe walks into his own North Side Bar
By Jeff McCord
It’s a late summer Tuesday night at the Long Play Lounge, and I’m leaning over the bar trying to read the label of a record spinning on the turntable. A few feet away, manager Tate Mayeux is chatting up a couple of regulars. There’s about twenty of us in the cozy low-lit surroundings, paired off among the tables. The music – a garage band called the Detroit Cobras – rumbles warmly from the stereo.
Until late last year, the Long Play was a gastro pub called Royal Jelly. “I remember driving past and they always had different signs, which was confusing,” remembers Long Play partner John Doe, co-leader of X, who relocated from the West Coast to Austin’s St. Johns neighborhood two and a half years ago. “But a few neighbors would say it’s got some pretty good food. I never went in there. I was like, huh, Royal Jelly, I don’t really want either one of those things.”
Will Tanner, who has owned Austin mainstay the Hole in the Wall since 2008 and another East Side newcomer, Stay Gold, noticed Royal Jelly, too. For sale. On Craigslist. “I went on, typed in ‘bar’, and it was the first listing that appeared, like seven minutes old. It’s up north, south of 183, and immediately I knew what it was. I emailed the guy and he called me within two minutes. We got it bought in about a week. And we just started working.”
John and Will, friends since Doe started playing SXSW day parties at the Hole in the Wall, stay in touch. “Will said ‘It’s your neighborhood,” Doe recalled, “So why don’t you come in on this thing?’ I came in as the bring-it-over-the line investor. But Will put most of the money in, and had the whole concept complete – which is no Spotify, no fuckin’ Pandora. No sports TV. It’s LP’s, straight up cocktails, nothing super fancy, but good liquor, good beer. And that’s it.”
The Long Play vibe is like a friend’s living room. It’s a small space. Drinks flow and records play. The selection is varied and can be eclectic. But it’s not overly fussed over. Customers make requests. Entire sides of albums blend into one another. And despite a first-rate sound system, the music doesn’t dominate. Conversation comes easy.
But if you’re there for the tunes, the staff will oblige. Most all are musicians. “I intentionally didn’t bring on seasoned bartenders,” Will explains, “so if you want to talk about the music, you’re with people that have put in 10,000 hours. Tate especially has a really rangy knowledge, he just carries all over the board.”
Tanner started with 300-400 of his own LP’s, a nice mix of the new and not-so-new, and as regulars have gotten to know the staff, they’ve gifted the Long Play other records they think they might like.
And then, there are the audiophiles, the occasional customers, who, according to Mayeux, just appear, and plant themselves flat footed in the center of the bar facing the speakers.
The speakers. Don’t get Tanner started. “It’s a Danish company called Dynaudio and they’re handmade – this is gonna to be a little dorky technical, but it’s a mastering rig that goes from super high all the way down to 18 Hertz without losing anything. So, whatever they did you can hear. Like the best monitor you can get. Truthfully, I’d been looking for an excuse to buy these speakers, and I was able to shoehorn it into the budget.”
Tanner’s more than a longtime vinyl collecter. “So many people will concentrate on getting the records and they’re playingthem through garbage. What’s great about analog is it’s unlimited. There’s a lot there to be heard. So not only do we find a lot of people that are already interested in records coming in, but they’re also listening. In my opinion this is the closest way to doing it right – flat EQ’s, powerful high-end speakers. And if you don’t care about that, you can come in, hang out and have a cocktail on the patio. That’s just the way that we’re listening to music. It’s not a bunch of people needling over stuff.
I ask Doe if he’s a hi-fi guy. “Not that much. Will goes deep and I’m grateful for that.” His disdain for algorithm-driven apps like Pandora comes down to this: “Whatever band you put on eventually cycles down to Sublime or the Red Hot Chili Peppers.”
“I do like vinyl,” John says. “Sounds good. I don’t have a huge collection. I got rid of a bunch of stuff and I constantly cycle through. There are some old 60s records from when I was a kid that I still have and a couple of old country records from back when you would find things in thrift stores, and I’ve got a test pressing of Black Randy and the Metrosquad [a joke LA punk band that included members of X and the Go-Go’s, among others]. But I don’t have walls and walls of records.”
“I did get to visit [Canned Heat vocalist and famed record collector] Bob Hite a couple times. I mean he had test pressings of Leadbelly records. It was insane. You never knew what you were gonna get with Bob. One time we went over there and he was naked the entire time, but his belly was so big that you couldn’t see anything down there. Okay, whatever. He played nothing but Bing Crosby instead of all this great blues stuff, and that was a little much. Unfortunately his collection got savaged when he passed away.”
There’s been no Bing Crosby night at the Long Play – at least so far – but they have had a few guest DJs. “I even deejayed once – my one and only deejay set,” says Doe. “I played the Cramps, the Big Boys, Lee Dorsey, some reggae stuff. We’re trying to find people who want to have listening parties. If you’ve made a record, rather than having to play at your party, come over, just hang out, drink and play your record.”
Tanner says they’ve already done a few of these. “We have Fastball on the books for October 12th.”
In a way, having no space for live bands expands the musical discussion exponentially. Without a performer to focus on, the music can roam anywhere, from Can to Jerry Jeff Walker. “We have people that come from pretty far away just because they they’re super into records,” says Tanner.
But records or no, at its heart, the Long Play is a neighborhood bar. “I live five blocks from the place, which is both good and bad,” Doe relates with a smile.
I ask him what made him want to get in the bar business. “I had some extra money and I wanted to invest in the community.”
Friends initially brought Doe to Austin. “I’ve been coming here since 79 or 80, playing with the Big Boys, the Dicks …it’s always been great. We were living in the Bay Area had been for about 10 years and my daughters lived up there. I liked it, but I could never buy a house there and I ended up in [the St. John’s] neighborhood because I kind of saved a 50s house. You get more house there, and I don’t have to deal with too many young people at the grocery store.”
He recalls other neighborhood haunts. “When I was in my early twenties I played in a bunch of bars down in Fells Point which was kind of where John Waters crew hung out. I met John down there and we’d just play Thursday nights for tips. It was a bunch of artists and weirdo’s, because Fells Point is right down by the water in Baltimore. It was like Hoboken, even more bars per capita. There were some bars that didn’t have a sign, just a house. You just knew that. Oh that’s the place. And Hollywood, too, when I was there, had great dive bars.”
You’d be hard pressed to call the Long Play a dive – everything still feels new. On this Tuesday, women outnumber men, and as the evening wears on, the crowd thins. It’s still warm out, but we move to the deck, where the music plays through outdoor speakers. The radiator shop across the street has some weird rocket attached to it reflecting what little slivers of daylight are left. The music has changed again – T Rex now. A few people walk up, they all seem to know each other. We sip our beers, watch the neighborhood wind down, and listen to Bolan’s nonsense lyrics. “I could never understand the wind at all…” It’s easy to see the charm of the place.
“It’s a business,” says Tanner, “but for both the staff and the people, I’ve seen some real relationships grow. You really can become a sort of community center. We have some weird stuff happen, but mostly people kind of connect and it’s great. The other day, we’re looking at a pretty full patio – it was a Friday. Not a single phone was out. People were talking. You think, oh yeah, this is cool.”
“The end of all wanting / is all I’ve been wanting.”
These lines, typical of David Berman’s wit and humor, found him picking up right where he left off a decade earlier.
The publicity ramp up to the album, Purple Mountains, was startling for fans accustomed to nothing from him but silence. There were features, interviews, and an actual tour, set to begin on August 10th.
But on August 7th, David Berman, the indie rock icon, poet, and songwriter, was found dead in a Brooklyn apartment, an apparent suicide. He was 52 years old.
From 1992-2008, through six albums and various EP’s with his band the Silver Jews, Berman remained a conundrum. He seemed a reluctant traveler on his own career path. He shunned publicity, his band didn’t tour until 2005, and then only sporadically. Yet he would spill intimate details about his life. He was open about his problems with alcohol, his plunge into drug addiction, and a 2003 suicide attempt. And when he abruptly stepped away from music in 2009, he left his fans shell-shocked and hungry for answers.
Born in Virginia, Berman went to high school in Addison, Texas. He formed the Silver Jews with University of Virginia college friends Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich (whose other venture, Pavement, proved to be much more in sync with 90’s slackerdom. Berman came up with the title for their debut, Slanted and Enchanted). After two messy DIY Silver Jews EP’s, Berman went to Amherst for his masters. It was there he assembled the material for the band’s first album, 1994’s Starlite Walker. He would also log some below-the-radar time as an Austin resident in the mid-90’s.
Though the lineup for the Silver Jews constantly shifted, their recordings remained consistent. The music could best be described as a kind of fractured electric country – loose, shambolic, with Berman’s deep vocals always sounding like he almost forgot to record them. There were no real melodies to speak of.
Instead, there was this:
“In 27 years / I drunk 50,000 beers / and they just wash against me / like the sea into a pier.”
“Is the problem that we can’t see or is it that the problem is beautiful to me?”
“Moments can be monuments to you.”
Sharing similar world views, Berman was mentioned alongside Townes Van Zandt, but he wasn’t that inward-looking. Though both he and his fans might have balked at the comparison, Berman resembled, lyrically at least, a Gen X version of Randy Newman or Leonard Cohen: the same affinity for flawed characters, and the same knack of finding humor in the darkest of corners.
In his songs, eccentrics tried to weather life’s many setbacks. Often, they failed, other times they found reasons for hope. And there were the rare moments of unbridled joy. “Punks In The Beerlights”’ discarded couple screaming “I love you to the max!” “People” unearthing mundane pleasures of everyday city life – a rainbow from a garden hose, sparks from a low-hanging muffler, the way everyone gravitates towards one another. “It’s sunny and 75 / It feels so good be alive.”
He topped Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s yin/yang ode with a “Dallas” of his own: “O Dallas you shine with an evil light / don’t you know that God stays up all night? / And how’d you turn a billion steers / into buildings made of mirrors / And why am I drawn to you tonight?”
Words fussed over, the kind that makes disaffected English majors giddy. And they adored Berman. Even his 1999 book of poetry, Actual Air, became a minor hit.
Berman didn’t believe any of it. “I’m not convinced I have fans,” he told a recent interviewer. As a cult artist emerging from ten years of self-imposed exile, he seemed to struggle to find his new place in the world.
2009 marked one of Berman’s upbeat periods. He was sober, happily married, finding a renewed interest in his faith. He had just released an almost sunny set of songs, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea. So his retirement announcement came without warning. At first, it seemed like a characteristic put-on. “If I continue to record,” he wrote, “I might accidentally write the answer song to ‘Shiny Happy People’.”
It got stranger. Berman revealed his father to be Rick Berman, the zealous lobbyist for tobacco, soft drinks and union busting, once profiled by 60 Minutes and given the nickname “Dr. Evil.” “My father is a despicable man,” he wrote. “I decided that the SJs were too small a force to come close to undoing a millionth of all the harm he has caused. I’ve always hid this terrible shame from you.”
No one was sure what to make of this, but true to his word, the music came to a stop. Berman simply went away, and the ensuing silence made his cultivated myth grow even larger.
Only many years later, following a serendipitous email exchange with the Brooklyn band Woods, did the new Purple Mountains sessions begin. When word began to leak out that David Berman was back with a new album, there was palpable excitement.
On first listen, Purple Mountains seemed more musically focused, Berman’s vocals more urgent. But the anticipation obscured troubling signs. In the layoff, Berman’s long marriage had ended. His mother had passed away. There were rumors of mounting credit card debt.
And there were the songs – “Maybe I’m The Only One for Me,” “Darkness and Cold,” “All My Happiness Is Gone,” “I Loved Being My Mother’s Son.” While unmistakably his work, they were visceral, the hurt raw and on the surface. His strained faith in such a “subtle god” was impossible to miss. Berman’s ability to step outside his head and view life with a bemused detachment was always key to his appeal. Suddenly, he seemed surrounded.
And now he’s gone. The loss is tragic, and we are, once again, left with no answers. Only his words.
“I spent a decade playing chicken with oblivion / Day to day, I’m neck and neck with giving in.”
Cover photo: Bobbi Fabian