Friday, January 29, 2016

The Jam – About The Young Idea (DVD Review)

“We stopped at the right time, but the music’s gone on… Good enough, eh? That’s a good place to leave it.” Paul Weller’s closing thoughts on About the Young Idea, the new documentary about legendary UK mod-punk band The Jam, sums up the band’s career and their lasting legacy in a deceptively succinct manner. However, over the course of the film’s 90-minute run time, The Jam’s entire birth-to-break-up story is unfolded in far more detail, drama, and fanfare.

Although The Jam were only around for a relatively short time – releasing their first album in 1977 and breaking up by 1982 – they unquestionably made an indelible mark on music and pop culture with their unique sonic and aesthetic imprints. While they routinely get lumped in with their peers in the UK-brand of 70s punk rock of The Clash and The Sex Pistols, The Jam favored suits over safety pins and their music was far more melodic than most. Capturing the passion, restlessness, joy, and angst of working-class English youths, The Jam managed to ignite the underground, achieve chart-topping success, and bow out on their own terms, all while maintaining their own brand of songwriting, attitude, and street cred.    

For its release, About the Young Idea is being paired with When You’re Young, a stunning, never-before-released 22-song concert film of The Jam performing on German television’s Rockpalast show from 1980. There are also a ton of bonus features on the first disc, including additional interviews and other musical performances from the band’s career. The Deluxe Edition houses even more extras, including a CD of the Rockpalast show and a 40-page booklet.

About The Young Idea (Documentary) – “It was The Who, kissed by Motown, with a dash of The Clash.” This is how music journalist Barry Cain sums up the sound of The Jam during one of the new interviews featured in About The Young Idea. Foregoing the favorite narration-over-archival-footage style used by most music documentaries, About The Young Idea tells the story of The Jam through a variety of modern day interviews. First and foremost, it’s really nice to hear all three band members – singer/guitarist Paul Weller, bassist Bruce Foxton, and drummer Rick Buckler – tell their own sides of the band’s collective rise to pop cultural prominence from their almost 40-years-on perspective. However, About the Young Idea really shines in relaying the band’s story through a revolving cast of characters of fans, industry personnel, photographers, authors, screenwriters, and actors.

Telling the story of The Jam from the band’s early formation in the UK suburb of Woking in the early 1970s to their break-up at the heights of their popularity in 1982, About The Young Idea is a thoroughly entertaining and surprisingly emotional recounting of the band’s successes and struggles. The film tracks their start as a trio to a temporary foursome and back to a trio again – which how they would remain throughout their rest of their career – and it elegantly maps their rise through the releases of their album and singles. Whether they were releasing their first two albums back-to-back within the same year, netting back-to-back #1 singles in 1980, or using the b-side covers on their very last single to hint at Weller’s new soul-infused sonic direction that he would perfect in post-Jam band The Style Council, The Jam knew how to keep fans excited and how to keep them guessing. 

There’s an emotional narrative that’s woven extremely well throughout About The Young Idea that is eloquently captured in one of the documentary’s earliest scenes. As the band’s early formation is being laid out, a present-day Paul Weller and early bandmate Steve Brookes are shown playing through a rendition of “Bye, Bye Love” by The Everly Brothers and “Slow Down” by Larry Williams. Not only does the scene highlight some of The Jam’s early R&B influences, but it underscores the relational aspect of Weller’s musical career. Even when he hasn’t played with someone for a very long time, the bond that was formed when they initially made music together seems to allow him to just pick right back up with the person. While there has never been any positive speculation about the viability of The Jam reuniting, seeing how easily Weller is able to pick back up with someone still gives a fool’s hope to the possibility.

About the Young Idea closes with a modern day check-in on the band members and what they’re doing now, including Foxton’s involvement in quasi-tribute band From the Jam, Buckler’s stint as an author for his book That’s Entertainment, and Weller’s continuing solo career. While all three members address the reunion question – and all three agree to it not being a good idea – there’s certainly enough material in their catalog to keep fans intrigued and inspired for quite some time, an idea that is nicely driven home throughout About the Young Idea again and again.

When You’re Young (Concert Film) – This 22-track concert film recorded in 1980 for the German television show Rockpalast highlights the band at one of its most exciting and innovative periods. Recorded just a few days after the release of their fifth studio album Sound Affects, the band wisely relies on fan favorites like “Going Underground,” “The Modern World,”  “In The City,” and “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight” to bolster the inclusion of the brand new songs like “Start!” and “Boy About Town”. While the more well known songs get the biggest crowd reactions at their opening chords, When You’re Young wonderfully shows how The Jam was at a point in their career were fans were along for the journey on the new songs as well.

When You’re Young also does a phenomenal job of showing what made The Jam so special. Embodying the very sonic definition of “power trio,” Weller’s herky-jerky guitar stabs, Foxton’s aggressive and agile bass lines, and Buckler’s R&B-meets-punk drumming style carry each song to the dizzying heights that only The Jam could conjure. Weller’s on stage banter is minimalist at best, but his few-and-far-between song intros are coldly charming: “This one’s for anyone who was around in the early days. This is called ‘The Modern World’” and “Cynics beware. This one’s called ‘Scrape Away.’” After a burning closer of “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight,” Weller’s short and sweet “Thank you, goodnight” barely finishes ringing out before the band is completely gone from the stage. They came, they slayed, and they left before anyone really knew they were gone.  Pretty fitting indeed.

About the Young Idea is currently available on 2DVD, Blu-ray + DVD, digital format, and Deluxe Edition packages.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Interview with Grant-Lee Phillips

For our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One, we were seriously stoked to have the opportunity to talk with legendary singer-songwriter and Stars Hollow troubadour Grant-Lee Phillips in advance of his new album The Narrows (out March 18 on Yep Roc). 

Along with offering an exclusive NoiseTrade compilation Gather Up, Phillips breaks down the inspiration behind some of his new songs, discusses his relocation from Los Angeles to Nashville, describes the recording atmosphere at Dan Auerbach's Easy Eye Studio, and even graciously indulges a little Gilmore Girls chit-chat.

NoiseTrade: Your new NoiseTrade compilation Gather Up features “Smoke and Sparks” from your upcoming album The Narrows (out March 18 on Yep Roc). What can you tell us about the song and your new album?

Grant-Lee Phillips: Mortality, transcendence, dignity – that’s what I’m touching on here with “Smoke And Sparks”. It was written as my father was dying. This collection of songs came out of a hard time, including loss and relocation. Very often my songs, whether it’s me or the voice of a character, are about navigating tough waters while keeping the shore within sight.

NT: A lot of your new songs on The Narrows deal with your recent move to Nashville after three decades in Los Angeles. What inspired the move and did you know it was going to be so sonically inspiring?

Phillips: Los Angeles was home for a big part of my life. My wife and I had to ask ourselves if it was where we wished to raise our daughter and remain for the next decade. As a touring musician and songwriter, I’m not as pinned down to one particular place these days. The city winds me up. I get plenty of that energy on the road. The thought of living with my ear a little closer to the ground – I was ready for that. Musically speaking, there’s a lot going on in Nashville. Some of it’s really inspiring and some of it hurts my head. But I love the place.

NT: Another topic that you write about on your new album is your Native American ancestry, specifically on the song “Cry Cry.” What was the inspiration for that song?

Phillips: I’ve always been interested in trying to tell some of these stories that we talk so little about. Native American history has been largely told by Western movies and poorly so. “Cry Cry” is about the Removal, also known as Trail Where They Cried. Part of the trail actually winds through Nashville. Being of Creek and Cherokee heritage, it hits home when I visit some of these places and I think of what my ancestors endured.

NT: Did recording the album at Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Studio (with its amazing collection of vintage gear) help shape the sound of The Narrows in any surprise ways?

Phillips: Dan’s really built the ideal recording studio. As you would imagine, there’s a big emphasis on old gear and the room is set up to play live without a bunch of separation. It’s a very workman-like space, set up to get down to business. Collin Dupuis, who engineered the album, is so quick on the draw. That freed me up to just play and forget that I was making a record. The marimba on “Cry Cry” was one of Dan’s instruments, that and the parlor guitar I played on “Holy Irons”. All old instruments are kind of haunted. So yea, having those things to grab for was great.

NT: Alongside the new track “Smoke and Sparks,” Gather Up also features two tracks each from your last two albums (Walking In The Green Corn and Little Moon) and “Heavenly” from your 2000 debut solo album Ladies Love Oracle. What made you pick these songs to help represent your catalog?

Phillips: I felt like this little grouping of songs worked well together. More and more I’m drawn to albums that allow me to remain in a certain emotional place for awhile. When it feels right you don’t want to be yanked by the collar to some other place. It’s a reflective batch of songs. These are the kind of songs that are most personal and the songs I would sit and play for myself in the late hours.

NT: Finally, as a big Gilmore Girls fan, I have to ask… What was your favorite moment playing the Stars Hollow town troubadour and is there a chance we’ll get to see him at all in the new Netflix episodes?

Phillips: Gilmore Girls was something I never could have predicted. I meet people the world over who have discovered my music through the show. “Love, Daisies and Troubadours“ remains my favorite episode of course. That’s the one where I have to battle it with Dave “Gruber” Allen for troubadour turf. I’m as thrilled as any fan about these new episodes. I wore my own clothes for the character back in the day and the jacket still hangs in the closet, along with my busking rig. This Troubadour is ready to spring into action.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Interview with Brooke Waggoner

With her new album Sweven having just released last week, we chatted with the enchantingly inventive singer-songwriter Brooke Waggoner for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. Along with her Sweven NoiseTrade EP, we're offering this pull-back-the-curtain look at how emotional and instrumental inspirations played out in Waggoner's new collection of songs, how her childhood writings found their place in her current lyrics, and how the birth of her son helped influence the album's completion.

NoiseTrade: Your NoiseTrade EP features two live cuts from your recent OurVinyl session and three songs from your brand new album Sweven. Where did the album title come from and what can you tell us about these new entries in your songwriting catalog?

Brooke Waggoner: The word sweven is an old English term that rarely gets used anymore. The sonic elements of the word along with it's meaning really encapsulated the "feel" of the album for me - a dreamlike state, futuristic, vision. It's also the title of one of the album's songs; a short darker lullaby of sorts that has a bed of whimsical instruments and a more poetic slant on the lyrics. I wanted this album to feel like a world you may happen upon underwater - murky at times, floating in space, submerged in emotion. But also create songs that are more traditional in structure and less tangent-oriented. The lyrics are full of stories and imagery involving nature, travels taking place at night, becoming a grown-up with a lens for childlike creativity in the realm of adult problems like divorce, death, and regretting wasted youth. But there's important lessons to be learned from all of those hardships - a lesson in "how to respond."

NT: Since the songs on Sweven have their roots in your childhood writings and recordings, what were some of the more interesting things you found out about yourself while revisiting them?

Waggoner: I was reminded from early childhood recordings that I've always listened for melody first. Rhythmic patterns, repetition, developing an idea; all of those things came and still come second. Melody first. I also rediscovered the way I used to the think about the world. Things really were seen through rose-colored glass, and the world seemed truly like my oyster; a place to find adventure and fulfill young dreams. All so optimistic.

NT: Being that you succeeded at hitting your self-set deadline of finishing the recording of Sweven before the birth of your son (by at least an afternoon), did you give him a producer’s credit for knowing when the songs where done or do you have any of the typical “unfinished” feelings that can accompany the end of an album’s recording sessions?

Waggoner: Ha, I should have given Ames a "producer's credit"! My son was a driving motivator in completion timelines. And I'm grateful for that. It can be easy to marinate too long in the production process and lose the original excitement of the project. I can honestly say, this album feels very complete to me, and I feel I addressed what I wanted to say. That doesn't always happen, so I'm grateful for that!

NT: I’m transfixed with the lush, goth-lounge vibe of “Fellow” from your live OurVinyl session. What was your sonic inspiration for that song?

Waggoner: That song was originally written and recorded to be an instrumental piece. I later decided to add vocals and lyrics. This explains a lot of the push and pull of the tempo - definitely not locked in. The way you would typically play an expressive solo piano piece. But that was an enjoyable confine when recording vocals. The chord progressions felt like a new level for me artistically, taking it places I wouldn't have been able to go 3, 5, or 10 years ago.

NT: Finally, what is one of the more profound lyrics your 9-year-old self wrote that you just couldn’t find the right place for on this album? How about the most funny or interesting one as well?

Waggoner: Ha, there's some pretty "bad" lyrics in all of those old recordings. Thankfully, right?! You've got to start somewhere and usually the early stuff just sounds "bad". Just trying to find your place in it all. The first song I can remember writing when 9 was a little ditty called "Right Now". It's about the tumultuous plight of a 4th grader dealing with a crush and having no idea how to think about boys much less talk to them. "Right now, I'm here.... right now..., I'm here." That's poetic gold right there.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Interview with Ethan Luck

There's no question that Ethan Luck expertly harnesses his punk pedigree on his exciting new EP Ethan Luck & The Intruders. You can download the whole thing here on NoiseTrade and there's still time to pre-order the 10" vinyl version from SuperFan Vinyl too! For our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One, we talked with Luck about the recording of his new EP, what it was like to hand over the producer reigns to Paul Moak, and we got him to tell us some of his own favorite band-to-solo artists as well.

NoiseTrade: What do you think are some of the biggest differences and similarities between your new EP Ethan Luck & The Intruders and your previous two solo EPs, Wounds & Fears and Hard Seas?

Ethan Luck: The biggest difference is, it was the first batch of solo songs not recorded at my home studio (My Garage). I recorded these songs at The Smoakstack in Nashville and it was produced by Paul Moak, who owns the studio. Although I’ve recorded in tons of pro studios over the last 19 years, this was a first as a solo artist. Paul and his dudes took these songs to a place WAY above my expectations. It’s my favorite studio in Nashville, hands down.

NT: Your previous solo releases, while including multiple instruments, feel a little more intimate and folksy than your new EP. What made you decide to tackle this one with the bigger “full band” approach?

Luck: On my first two EP’s, I really wanted to include my love of old country music. I wanted to include other instruments I play and just try new ideas. I’m happy with them, although this new one is definitely more “me.” These songs are more a reflection of what I listen to and have been listening to for so many years. Another reason for going the sonic and style route I did was, that’s how my older songs end up sounding live anyway - louder and faster!

NT: As a songwriter, what’s your indicator that lets you know it’s time to get back into the studio to record?

Luck: There’s no actual indicator, other than the songs are where I like them. I’m writing and recording all the time. Once I have a batch of songs I feel good about, I think “Ok, time to record it.” I’m always coming up with different ideas, musically. I have a few instrumental surf songs, ska songs… whatever. I like exploring everything I feel I’m pretty good at. I like getting my music out at fast as possible too. I hate when bands record and the album comes out 8 months later. It’s 2015, you don’t need to do that anymore.

NT: With this being your first time working with an outside producer for your solo work, what was your experience working with Paul Moak?

Luck: My experience was incredible, as I expected. I worked with him before on the last Relient K album. Although that album wasn’t really good, the sounds, environment and experience were amazing. We’ve been friends for a while and it’s been a dream to record my solo stuff in his place. Paul pushes you, knows what he wants next before you finish something. He’s driven and excited. He doesn’t go through the motions just to get it done. He puts his heart and soul into what he works on. I hope to record there again the next time around.

NT: Were there any differences working with a producer for your solo work, as opposed to how it’s been for you working with a producer within the context of a band?

Luck: With a band setting, you do your parts and thats about it. With my old bands, I would record my parts and still hang in the studio because I like that creative environment. With my solo stuff, I’m basically playing everything. So, there’s not much stopping especially at Smoakstack. I’d finish drums, listen back, Paul would hand me a bass, then guitars…etc. Paul did some percussion, BGV’s and O\organ on the EP, so it was cool to take a break here and there. I like doing it that way. It's almost non-stop all day! If I were to use a full band on another release, I hope to do most of it live in the same room.

NT: Being that you’ve had such a prolific career as a band member (The Dingees, Relient K, Demon Hunter, The Supertones) and as a live sideman (Kings of Leon, Lees of Memory), what does having a solo career mean to you personally and do you approach your solo songs any differently than when you are playing someone else’s songs?

Luck: Well, I wouldn't call my solo stuff a “career” by any means, haha! It’s what I would be doing no matter what my actual job is. It means a lot to me though. It's my therapy. I try to keep my heart on my sleeve in regular life and in songs. Sometimes, I feel I can explain myself better in songs. I’ll never stop doing it. In music, I’m mostly attracted to music with substance. I try my best to do the same. I approach what I play with other bands differently, but can still feel connected to it. It’s like listening to your favorite record, there’s a connection. There are songs that I play with Kings Of Leon or The Lees Of Memory that are amazingly beautiful! How can you not feel something? Especially if you’re playing the instrument you love at the same time. And The Lees Of Memory songs? Forget about it, to me, that’s worship music. 100%

NT: Finally, in a previous interview I asked you to list some of your favorite EPs from other artists. This time around, I’d like to know what are some of your favorite formerly-band-to-currently-solo albums from other artists?

Luck: One of my favorites is Jakob Dylan. I always liked the mellow stuff on Wallflowers albums and he does that even better on his solo stuff. Others would be Joe Strummer (RIP), Mike Ness, Rhett Miller, and John Davis.