Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmasongs: 'Twas The Night Before Christmas

Christmasongs is a (semi)annual look at some of my favorite Christmas music through theme-based posts of sonic stocking stuffers from me to you. It's guaranteed goodness and there's no need to keep the receipt!

(While I first wrote this piece back in 2010, it's always a favorite to repost on Christmas Eve. So, here you go. Merry Christmas, you guys!)

“A Visit From St. Nicholas,” or “'Twas The Night Before Christmas” as it is more commonly referred to, is a poem from the 1820’s that is usually ascribed to author Clement C. Moore. Our modern image of Santa Claus, the one found on wrapping paper and Coke packaging everywhere, draws almost exclusively from this poem. It’s hard to hear these classic verses and not get even a little holiday spark in your spirit. Growing up, one of our Christmas Eve traditions was to read this after we read the story of Jesus’ birth from the Bible. Wrapped up in some brand new pajamas we had just opened and sipping some hot apple cider my dad had just made, we would sit back and try to somehow keep our cool on in anticipation of the night of excited sleeplessness that lay ahead. I've still got the book my dad read from and you can bet I'll be reading from it one day too. Maybe that’s why this poem always stirs up something in me no matter who’s reading it. Besides, name me another poem or song that has been able to wrangle the following cast of interpreters:

“The Night Before Christmas” – Bob Dylan: For the Season One “Christmas & New Year’s” episode of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour show, Bob warmly read the poem over a nice acoustic guitar backdrop. His unique delivery and creaky voice fit the reading perfectly and he balances the festive reverence of the well-worn lines with a sly smirk in his voice. I could listen to this version a thousand times over.

"The Night Before Christmas" - Bob Dylan

“The Night Before Christmas“– Louis Armstrong: Satchmo’s infectiously jolly rendition makes you feel like it’s being read by Santa Claus himself. His booming voice, boisterous chuckle and playful inflections create a distinct version all his own. He almost sounds like he’s hearing it for the first time while he’s reading it and there’s no question that he’s thoroughly enjoying himself. Just like with Bob’s version, I never get tired of hearing this one either.

"The Night Before Christmas" - Louis Armstrong

“'Twas The Night Before Christmas” – Henry Rollins: Leave it to punk’s renaissance man Henry Rollins to whip up the most off-kilter arrangement. He kept the original lyrics but fashioned a backing track of air raid sirens, helicopter blades, gunshots and a bomb drop. It’s not quite as “yuletide fuzzy” as the other two, but for a teenager in the 90’s looking for all things irregular, unconventional, sarcastic and ironic, this one fit the bill like few else. This one is a matter of quality over quantity for me because eventhough I don’t listen to it as much as the other two, it hits me just the same.

"'Twas The Night Before Christmas" - Henry Rollins

“A Christmas Sighting ('Twas The Night Before Christmas)” – Star Wars Christmas: If Henry Rollins' reading wasn't left-of-center enough for you, how about the reworking from Christmas in the Stars: A Star Wars Christmas Album that is read by C-3PO and takes place in a droid-run toy factory. I make no bones about it that this is legitimately one of my most favorite Christmas records and each track on it holds such a nostalgic niche in my heart. This one deviates the most from the original poem - at least in setting and atmospheric elements - but the heart and overall theme are still there, so it can certainly still be included on this list amongst the more traditional heavyweights.
"A Christmas Sighting ('Twas The Night Before Christmas)" - Star Wars Christmas

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmasongs: Happy Hanukkah!

Christmasongs is a (semi)annual look at some of my favorite Christmas music through theme-based posts of sonic stocking stuffers from me to you. It's guaranteed goodness and there's no need to keep the receipt!

(While I first wrote this piece back in 2011, it's always a favorite to trot out again each Hanukkah with another song or two added each time.)

According to the Hebrew calendar, today is the 25th day of Kislev, more commonly observed as the kick off to Hanukkah. Don’t feel bad if the eight-day Festival of Lights snuck up on you again this year. Since Jewish holidays aren’t based on the internationalized Gregorian calendar, they actually fall on different days each year. Due to the differences in marking the passage of time and days, Hanukkah can actually be celebrated as early as late November or as late as the end of December. I say we all do our own part to demystify the aura of the menorah and I’ll start with a “Hanukkah Crash Course” and some awesome Hanukkah-inspired tunes.

While I’m no scholar (or the Holiday Armadillo), here’s goes… In 175 BCE, Greek ruler Antiochus IV invaded Judea, recaptured Jerusalem, outlawed Judaism, and desecrated the Holy Temple. Not only could Jews no longer openly practice their beliefs and customs, but Antiochus IV went so far as to ransack the Holy Temple and to sacrifice pigs on the altar. This caused a giant backlash of uprising and guerilla warfare (commonly referred to as the Maccabean Revolt, “maccabean” being taken from the Jewish word for “hammer”) that allowed the Jewish people to reclaim the city and the Holy Temple. They had to repurify the temple by creating new holy vessels and by building a brand new altar. They were only able to find one undefiled container of oil for the temple’s menorah and it was only enough to last through one night’s burning. However, the oil burned for eight days straight, which was the exact time it took for the priests to prepare more oil for the menorah. Hanukkah was established to celebrate, among other things, the rededication of the temple and the miracle of the oil.

While there certainly aren’t a plethora of rocking songs about Hanukkah (punk covers of “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” nonwithstanding), there are a few out there that find themselves right at home in my annual holiday festivities. Here are a few of my favorites:

Adam Sandler first introduced “The Chanukah Song” in 1994 on Saturday Night Live during an episode of “Weekend Update.” They played it a ton on the radio stations where I lived and I learned the simple chords and lyrics to earn some cool points with my school and church friends. Adam’s currently released three different versions of the song with an ever-revolving cast of Jewish and non-Jewish celebrities. Although they are all hilarious, the first version will always hold a special place for it’s sheer out-of-nowhere awesomeness.

"The Chanukah Song" - Adam Sandler

Stephen Colbert released his holiday special, A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! in 2008 and it is filled with ridiculously funny songs and guest stars. Among them is the holiday invitational duet, “Can I Interest You In Hannukah?” sung with Jon Stewart. Much like Sandler’s song, this one is incredibly clever and the first few times you hear it you’re guaranteed to miss a line or two from laughter.

"Can I Interest You In Hannukah?" - Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart

Save Ferris was one of those third wave ska bands from the 90’s that I thought should’ve gotten more recognition. I loved their It Means Everything album from 1997 and it’s a shame that there was apparently only room for No Doubt in the “girl-fronted ska band” category. Save Ferris’ “Christmas Wrapping” is a fun take on The Waitresses’ song that changes all the lyrics by subbing in Hanukkah references.

"Christmas Wrapping" - Save Ferris

When members of Guster and The Zambonies got together to form The LeeVees, they had only one goal in mind; write an entire album’s worth of Hanukkah songs. They succeeded and Hanukkah Rocks was released in 2005. The album has a great sonic sound to it and songs titles like “Jewish Girls (at the Matzoh Ball)” and “Gelt Melts” should tell you all you need to know. May favorite song takes on the spelling dilemma that surrounds Hanukkah and is appropriately titled “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?” to help confuse things even further.

"How Do You Spell Channukkahh?" - The LeeVees

Long before they hit it big with "Stacy's Mom" in 2003, Fountains of Wayne were just a quirky alt-pop band with an amazing ear for singalong melodies. Their 1996 self-titled debut alone contained a wealth of gems like "Leave the Biker," "Radiation Vibe," and "Sink to the Bottom." This little Hanukkah ditty was tucked away as the second b-side on their "I Want An Alien for Christmas" single from 1997. It may only be 16 seconds long, but the swinging lounge-vibe is a perfect slice of Fountains of Wayne goofiness and it compliments the other two Christmas nuggets on the single (the title track and "The Man in the Santa Suit") really well.   

"Chanukah Under the Stars" - Fountains of Wayne

I know Barenaked Ladies can be a bit of a polarizing band, but I've always kind of enjoyed their left-of-center, tongue-in-cheek approach to songwriting. They released Barenaked for the Holidays in 2005 and it's mix of Christmas and Hanukkah songs provides a really festive mix of holiday favorites. Out of their handful of Hanukkah songs, I like the folksy stomp of "I Have a Little Dreidel" just a tad more than "Hanukkah, O Hanukkah" and "Hanukkah Blessings." Although it clocks in at just under a minute, it's infectious melody is guaranteed to have you singing/humming/whistling it for the rest of the day.  

"I Have a Little Dreidel" - Barenaked Ladies

Thursday, December 22, 2016

15 Best Country Christmas Duets (Rolling Stone)

(I originally wrote this article for Rolling Stone. Click on the picture for the full article.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Interview with Josh Garrels

It's beginning to look (and sound) a lot like Christmas with our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One with indie-folk singer-songwriter Josh Garrels. We chatted with the adventurous sonic craftsman to get his insights on his newest album The Light Came Down, his relationship to Christmas music (both as a fan and as a songwriter), and what it's like to take his new Christmas songs (and old holiday classics) out on the road. 

NoiseTrade: What can you tell us about the inspiration behind The Light Came Down and what made “now” the time to finally record a Christmas album?

Josh Garrels: I’ve wanted to record a Christmas album for years. Usually the urge is strongest right before the Christmas season, at which point it’s much too late to begin working on anything substantial. I knew the album would take forethought, and that I’d want to approach it differently than past albums. I began talking with producer Isaac Wardell of Bifrost Arts last spring about working together on something, and our correspondence slowly evolved into the decision to work on a Christmas EP, which then morphed into a 15 song full length!

Even recording the album in August of 2016, we barely got it done in time. In the end, we finished a full length album in three months, which is record breaking time for me. I never could have done it without a lot of help.

NT: What is your relationship with Christmas music and what are some your musical memories from when you were a kid?

Garrels: My dad was a music teacher and he would have music playing in the house at almost all moments. He would play different types of music during the different movements of a given day or holiday: quiet and meditative in the morning, pop music in the car, instrumental music during dinner, sometimes a family dance party to Whitney Houston and INXS. Evenings were often the time for “important” pieces of music. I have vivid memories of the lights down low, laying on the couch with my head by the hi-fi speaker and listening closely to Simon and Garfunkel, Bach, and of course, Christmas music.

The rule in my house was, “nothing Christmas until AFTER Thanksgiving,” and you have to understand, my dad LOVED Christmas. Once a year, he would pull out a huge box full CDs, tapes, and vinyl of his favorite Christmas music. He would be sure to not overplay any of it so as to retain its impact. I was impacted by this. 

NT: With Christmas music covering some pretty well loved and well-worn territory, how did you approach the songwriting process for your original tracks on The Light Came Down?

Garrels: Well, I knew I wanted to stay “on focus” in regards to the songs dealing with the incarnation of Jesus; “The reason for the season,” if you will. Personally, I love some of the cultural American Christmas stuff: Rudolph, Bing Crosby, tinsel, "Rockin' around the Christmas Tree," etc., but for my album, I wanted to land pretty squarely on the sacred significance of what’s being celebrated. Yes, it is beloved territory, but truthfully, I have a relationship with the one who is my beloved, so I felt like the original songs about him came pretty naturally. I have the benefit of pulling from a living reality, and not strictly relying someone else’s perception, no matter how beautiful or on point their perception may have been.

We’re celebrating an event that happened at a particular point in history, which makes that event static. But just as the word became flesh and dwelt among us, I believe the story should continued to be “fleshed out” and take new expression in our art and lives. All that to say, I think there will always be a need for new expression of timeless ideas.

NT: When you decided to make the album a mix of originals and traditional songs, how did you decided on which holiday favorites you’d cover? 

Garrels: I knew I wanted a few traditional songs that would be immediately recognizable, but I wanted to make sure they were ones that I actually liked to sing! There’s a reason "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and "Silent Night” are timeless. So the trick would be honoring the song and doing my best to capture them in a timeless manner. Again, I also wanted the songs chosen to reflect the sacred mystery of the incarnation.

NT: With you currently being out on the road for a couple weeks, how has it felt giving these songs their live debut and how have your audiences received your new songs?

Garrels: In all transparency, I didn’t know how this Christmas album would be received. My die hard audience has come to trust me and expect a certain level of artistic integrity and experimentation. Yet, I didn’t know if this album would feel like it was coming from left field. I knew my own heart was in this work, but would people follow me there or just think it was a hokey “holiday” album?

The good news is that the album has resonated with people! Some self-professed Christmas music haters even like the album! It’s been really meaningful to travel from city to city and share these songs, new and old, with rooms full of people swaying back and forth singing with me. I took for granted how many others out there really want to celebrate this season for its scared significance. 

NT: Finally, what is your recommendation for an oddball, left-of-center Christmas song that you really enjoy but the majority of folks might not know about?

Garrels: Well, “The Boar’s Head” is one and that’s why I recorded it! But for other oddball Christmas songs… ”Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto” by James Brown, “That Was The Worst Christmas Ever” by Sufjan, and one of my favorites, Prokofiev’s “Troika."

Friday, December 16, 2016

Social Distortion – The Independent Years: 1983-2004 (Vinyl Review)

For all of the credit SoCal punk legends Social Distortion get for their four decades of impact and influence, it’s nice to be reminded how much of it happened while they were an independent band. For their very first vinyl box set, the band has partnered with Concord Bicycle to highlight this achievement with The Independent Years: 1983-2004, a 4-LP set that features Mommy’s Little Monster, Prison Bound, Mainliner, and Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll. Not only are all four albums presented with original artwork and packaging, but they’re all pressed on stunning colored wax and housed in a beautiful slipcase. Even before getting into the incredible music contained within, the aesthetics of The Independent Years: 1983-2004 is worth the price of admission alone.

Social Distortion burst onto the California punk scene in 1983 with Mommy’s Little Monster, their debut release that was recorded in a single session on Christmas Eve 1982. Presented in this set on translucent red wax, Mommy’s Little Monster is notable for encapsulating the sound of early-80s suburban punk on the back of its title track and the album’s only single “Another State of Mind.” Social D followed up their debut with Prison Bound in 1988, taking a sudden sonic turn by adding country and bluesy rock elements into their punk aural ethos. With the country-punk swing of the title track and their cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Backstreet Girl,” Mike Ness drew a hard line in the sand for the career-defining direction of the band. Prison Bound is pressed on translucent grey/black concrete swirl for this release. After the band experienced mainstream success and recognition throughout the ‘90s with their three releases on major label Epic Records, the band once again became an independent outfit and released Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll themselves in 2004. Functioning as a musical memorial to original guitarist Dennis Danell who died in 2000, Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll features one of Social D’s biggest hits, “Reach for the Sky,” and is pressed on translucent gold wax in this box set. Rounding out this set is their 1995’s compilation Mainliner: Wreckage from the Past. Although the band was still on Epic at the time, they self-released this record on their own Time Bomb Recordings imprint, as it contained early Social D singles and b-sides that dated all the way back to 1981. Mainliner is pressed on clear vinyl for its inclusion here.

Even if you’ve got all (or even just some) of these albums in your vinyl collection, this set is vinyl box set is worth picking up for its aesthetics and for what it represents for the band’s DIY accomplishments. As always, the multi-colored vinyl adds a nice visual twist to playback as well.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Interview with Sallie Ford


With 2016 winding down to a close, we were lucky enough to squeeze in a chat with the eclectic indie-rock guitar-slinger Sallie Ford for our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One. In our interview, Ford gives us some nice details about her upcoming album Soul Sick (out February 17), her use of her younger self as a songwriting partner via old journals, her knack for creating inspired visual art (as evidenced by some of the amazing pieces you can purchase via her current PledgeMusic campaign), and much more! 

NoiseTrade: You’ve described your new album Soul Sick as a “confessional” album. Did you decide that direction before you started writing the songs or did you recognize that theme after the fact? 

Sallie Ford: I think I always have written confessional lyrics, but they tended to be more about sex and anger. I knew I wanted to write an album about struggling with my demons. I was lyrically inspired by how Sufjan Stevens has written some of his records with a story and going through that journey with him. Carrie & Lowell was an especially personal record from Sufjan. 

NT: “Get Out” is the album’s inspired first single. What can you tell us about the writing and recording of this garage-rock singalong and its retro wah-wah guitar solo? 

Ford: This was one of the first songs I wrote for this album before I really knew what I was writing about. It is about struggling with feeling insecure in the music business and having thoughts of wanting to give up on it. But my music career and my personal life are very intertwined. Thoughts can get spun in my head and the easiest way to retreat is to have a plan of escape. As for the wah wah solo, I fell in love with the wah wah after listening to the Wicked Lady album The Axeman Cometh. The album is laced with dreamy psychedelic wah wah guitar. 

NT: One of your new songs “Loneliness is Power” contains lyrics that were culled from some of your old journals. How did it feel to revisit a younger version of yourself through that songwriting process and have you done that before for any other songs? 

Ford: I wanted to revisit my old journals to capture raw moments that I knew I had written down and never used but could still relate with. I really should still keep a journal, but I've fell out of the practice. I used to be so good about it and would make my own journals and incorporate my art as well. I have gone back and edited down sections of my old journals for songwriting before. Writing from a stream of thought place tends to make you most honest and then you can edit after. 

NT: You’ve included some really cool handmade pieces in your PledgeMusic campaign, like postcards, watercolor paintings, and embroidery hoops. Is this something you’ve always done or have you picked it up recently as an additional way to connect with fans? 

Ford: I grew up playing classical music and then quit in high school to focus on visual art. I loved photography, painting & filmmaking. I liked being behind the scenes and not in the spotlight. Then, I moved to Portland and that all changed. I had dabbled in signing some jazzy inspired covers and played them for some friends at a house party right after moving to Portland. Their reaction was so positive and I thought "maybe I should really try this..." and started writing songs in that style. Over the last few years I have gotten back into doing visual art though. It's nice to do both and especially when visual art isn't my job and there's no pressure there. 

NT: This is your second solo album since fronting The Sound Outside. What are some of the differences you’ve experienced between working within a band and working solo? 

Ford: It's nice to collaborate with different people. This record still has a cast of different folks and each song is a different line up of a band. It's nice to have that freedom to work with different people for each record. I have learned more and more from each different player I play with. 

NT: Finally, The New Yorker described you as a “a cross between Liz Phair and Buddy Holly.” Do you feel that’s an accurate assessment of your sound and if not, which two artists would you substitute into that quote? 

Ford: At first when people started saying I sounded like Buddy Holly, I thought it might be just because of the glasses. I'm not too familiar with Liz Phair but I suppose the "folky" aspect was something I had when I first started, but my music has changed a lot since then. I also am guessing it's cause I swear a lot in my music and so does she, maybe? I'm just guessing here. If I had to say two artists that I'm a mashup of, I'd say The Kinks and Skeeter Davis, or maybe PJ Harvey and Billie Holiday? I dunno, there's so many.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Christmasongs: Stink, Stank, Stunk!

Christmasongs is a (semi)annual look at some of my favorite Christmas music through theme-based posts of sonic stocking stuffers from me to you. It's guaranteed goodness and there's no need to keep the receipt!

For all the classic, engrained-in-our-upbringing holiday television specials of yesteryear (i.e., before the 80’s), not many of them contain an actual villain. Sure, Hermey and Rudolph had to watch out for the Abominable Snow Monster and Frosty was always looking over his shoulder for the sun. But for the most part, everywhere was pretty peachy keen in Christmas cartoonland. Everywhere that is, except Whoville! 

How The Grinch Stole Christmas! was always fascinating to me as a kid because of the dread and terror from the Grinch that balanced out all the syrupy sweetness of the Whos. I mean the guy has yellow eyes and has termites running through his teeth! It’s no surprise that everything ends well for all parties involved, but the first two-thirds of the story is a one-man maniacal reign of terror that keeps me coming back year after year. Eventhough Dr. Suess wrote How The Grinch Stole Christmas! all the way back in 1957 and the televised special came out in 1966, the Grinch still seems as popular as ever. I believe it's because to be truly memorable, a villain needs a really good theme song and “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” fits the bill perfectly. The song was originally sung in the animated special, not by the narrator Boris Karloff as many believe, but by the equally gravelly-throated and equally devilishly-named Thurl Ravenscroft. It’s a 6-verse, no chorus, occasional speaking part romp of stink, stank, stunk goodness.

"You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” - Thurl Ravenscroft

Throughout the years, everyone from Mojo Nixon to RuPaul has tried their hand at covering “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” to varying degrees of success. Some really rock and some are pretty ho-hum, but here are a few of my most favorite versions:

"You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" - Whirling Dervishes

"You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" - Tracy Bonham

"You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" - Sixpence None The Richer

As a Grinch-related bonus, here’s a version of “Little Drummer Boy” by Jars of Clay dubbed the “Grinch Mix” from their 1995 EP, Little Drummer Boy. Colder and more abrasive than their straight version of “Little Drummer Boy” from the same EP, this one is definitely a 3 Decker sauerkraut and toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce compared to the other one.

"Little Drummer Boy" (Grinch Mix) - Jars of Clay

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Interview with Fastball

If it’s been a while since you’ve rocked out to a Fastball song, your luck’s about to change. For our latest NoiseTrade One-on-One, we talked to Fastball’s co-lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter, Miles Zuniga about the band’s upcoming album Step Into Light, shooting new music videos with friend/industry vet Nigel Dick (Guns N’ Roses, Britney Spears, Oasis), and the new life that’s been given to their ‘90s hit “Out of My Head” via Machine Gun Kelly’s new hit single “Bad Things.”  

NoiseTrade: Two decades into your career, tell us how the writing and recording of your new album Step Into Light compares to the experience of your first few albums?  
Miles Zuniga: The first few albums were recorded back in the days when record companies had big piles of money. Those records were done in Los Angeles in beautiful recording studios where people would offer you cappuccino and bring you cocaine on silver trays. Okay, I made that last part up. That never happened to Fastball. Maybe it happened to Fleetwood Mac, but it never happened to us. We did get offered cappuccino though. In contrast, we recorded Step Into Light in two weeks at The Bubble, our pal Frenchy’s studio. For reasons I’ll explain in a minute, we were under a tight deadline. The deadline meant that we had to be very efficient in the studio. I would be singing upstairs and Tony would be playing bass downstairs or vice versa. There was very little idle time. I’m quite pleased with the results. Most of the songs were written separately. A few were songs that we’ve had that for whatever reason, never made the cut. “Best Friend” and “We’re On Our Way” were written and recorded for the Keep Your Wig On record but we scrapped them. We re-recorded them for Step Into Light. We recorded “Love Comes In Waves” with Mike McCarthy a few years back.  

NT: With your last album Little White Lies having been released in 2009, what was the first spark that got you guys back into the studio for Step Into Light? 

Zuniga: We notoriously take a long time between records but we’re always writing songs. The spark was a tour that we were going to go on but the tour fell through. We made the record for that tour.  

NT: Fastball has always seemed to have more of a melodic touch than most of your ‘90s contemporaries. To what do you attribute that and who do you guys count as songwriting influences? 

Zuniga: I just like melodic stuff. I always have. I enjoy other kinds of music but nothing beats a well-written song with an amazing melody. The Beatles are obviously a big influence but I love and listen to a lot of different kinds of music. Howling Wolf, Monk, Mingus, Bob Marley, Willie Nelson, Brian Eno, Nick Cave, Tom Waits… I listen to all kinds of stuff, but I know what I do well. I could write a certain kind of song but I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. Ultimately I’m writing the songs for me to sing and so that narrows it down as to what I’m going to do.  

NT: You guys have always had a knack for making fun, interesting music videos. What can you tell us about the three new ones you guys shot for “We’re On Our Way," “Behind The Sun," and “I Will Never Let You Down” and why did you pick those specific songs for videos? 

Zuniga: We’re lucky to be friends with Nigel Dick. Nigel directed “Sweet Child of Mine” for Guns N’ Roses, “One More Time” for Britney Spears, and “Wonderwall” for Oasis, just to name a few. He’s a genius and we cranked those videos out as fast as the record. We shot one a day. Originally we were just going to do “We’re On Our Way” and “Behind The Sun,” but Nigel really liked “I Will Never Let You Down.” Tony did a great job acting in that one. “And the Oscar goes to…”  

NT: How has your songwriting been shaped by having such a huge hit like "The Way" come about so early in your career? 

Zuniga: It’s a blessing and a curse. That song is not our best song, I personally think “Out Of My Head” is better, but “The Way” is our biggest song. I’m always just trying to write the song in front of me and while I’m writing it, I’m just trying to finish the song without ruining it. The initial inspiration is almost always good but there are a million ways to ruin it and only a few ways to set the plane down without crashing. You can easily ruin it by trying to force it, or over-thinking it. It’s a strange alchemy. It helps to play the song for other people and then you can see what it needs. If people are excited by it that’s great, if they’re staring at their phone midway through, it’s not that great.  

NT: One of your ‘90s hits "Out of My Head" has recently been re-imagined for the chorus of Machine Gun Kelly's new single "Bad Things." How did you first learn of your song's new life and what do you think of what MGK did with it? 

Zuniga: Our publisher told us they wanted to use the tune and sent us the track. We liked it so we worked out a deal with them. “Bad Things” is giving “Out Of My Head” a whole new life. It’s exposing us to a brand new audience. It’s in the Top 20. I told you that was our best song. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Christmasongs: Merry Punksmas!

Christmasongs is a (semi)annual look at some of my favorite Christmas music through theme-based posts of sonic stocking stuffers from me to you. It's guaranteed goodness and there's no need to keep the receipt!

(While I initially wrote this piece back in 2010, it's one of my absolute favorites to re-gift to you guys with another song or two added each year.)

For me, Christmas and punk music are a combination straight from heaven. Mixing together two of my all-time favorite ingredients, punk rock Christmas songs get me in the spirit as much as A Christmas Story and a real tree do. Being that they hold such an important place, I’m pretty discerning of which ones I hold in high regard. There are some definite duds out there, but there are plenty of amped up chestnuts that float to the top of the holiday punch bowl. It’s always fun to hear an old classic sped up and shouted out, but I really like the originals the most. Here are a few of the keepers:

“Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)” – Ramones: You can’t talk about Christmas punk rock without starting here. Opening with Joey’s nasally snarl and immediately kicking into that iconic Ramones sound, “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight Tonight)” is so awesome on so many levels. Johnny’s down-stroked guitar leads the holiday charge and Joey’s somewhat confident/somewhat pleading vocals ring out over Dee Dee’s bass and Marky’s drums. This song was released at the end of the 80’s and if VH1’s “Pop-Up Video” is to be believed, a young Liv Tyler appears in the music video for it.

"Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight Tonight)" - Ramones

“Silent Night” – The Dickies: From late, great 1978, it's campy, pop-punk legends The Dickies with their super fun take on the old 19th century Christmas hymn. This is the band that also released singles about Gigantor and The Banana Splits, so you know what you're getting with a Dickies song. Goofy, fast, loud, big bassed '70s punk never goes out of style with me and thankfully I don't have to put that on hold during the Christmas season thanks to The Dickies!

"Silent Night" - The Dickies

“Punk Rawk Christmas” - MxPx: In 2009, MxPx compiled all of their fan club Christmas singles and added a few new tracks to release the incredibly awesome Punk Rawk Christmas. The title track was a new recording and perfectly captures the desire to have a good Christmas in the midst of whatever issues, financial or otherwise, that may be going on. One of my favorite bands plus my favorite holiday equals an album that pumps even more yuletide awesomeness into the season.

"Punk Rawk Christmas" - MxPx

“Merry Christmas” – Face to Face: While I must admit that my favorite Face to Face song is probably their cover of "I'm Popeye, the Sailor Man" from 1995's Saturday Morning Cartoons' Greatest Hits, this one totally comes in at a very close second! "Merry Christmas" appears on Christmastime in the 909, the 2004 version of KROQ's yearly Christmas CDs from Kevin & Bean. Face to Face actually released an early Christmas song - their swinging' lounge-take cover of "Blue Christmas" from 1996's O Come All Ye Faithful - but "Merry Christmas" is quintessential '90s skate punk gold.  

"Merry Christmas" - Face to Face

“It’s Always Christmas At My House” – Huntingtons: It’s no secret that the Huntingtons are deeply in love with, and are masters at paying homage to, the Ramones. They were even lucky enough to be Joey Ramone’s backing band for a couple of shows at CBGB’s before he passed away. They wrote “It’s Always Christmas At My House” for Tooth and Nail Records’ first Happy Christmas compilation and it’s definitely a crowd pleaser. The lyrics playfully reference National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and describe that crazy Christmas over-the-topness in all of us. Okay, most of us…some of us…just a few of us? Well, at least we have an anthem!

"It's Always Christmas At My House" - Huntingtons

“Christmas Eve (She Got Up And Left Me)” – Rancid: After wearing out my copy of …And Out Come The Wolves my sophomore year of high school, I’ve always had a soft spot for Rancid. Their unique mixture of punk, reggae and ska has always stood out to me and they always get me moving. The Christmas part of this song pretty much boils down to just being the date the girl left, but I still count it as a Christmas song.

"Christmas Eve (She Got Up And Left Me)" - Rancid

“Christmas on Mars” – Groovie Ghoulies: Is this the best Christmas 7" vinyl single of 1992? Probably so. I mean, sure, Bon Jovi released "I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas" on the flip side of their "Keep the Faith" single that same year, but "Christmas on Mars" is at least the best A-side, right? I really love listening to this one on dark morning commutes to work during the Christmas season to pump me up for both the day ahead and also the season in general. At least than 2 and a half minutes, this one doesn't run the risk of overstaying it's holiday welcome. Plus, there's not enough "Christmas in space" songs out there You just can't lose with this one!     

"Christmas on Mars" - Groovie Ghoulies

“This Time Of Year” – The Mighty Mighty Bosstones: Great punk rock usually carries a message right? With “This Time Of Year,” The Mighty Mighty Bosstones remind us that all the “stuff” associated with Christmas is nice, but the real meaningful things are spending time with friends and family and letting all the peace and goodwill towards men come out in your attitude. I love, love, love this song and the bouncy rhythm and lyrical focus always put a huge smile on my face.

"This Time Of Year" - The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

“Oi To The World” - No Doubt: I included The Vandals’ original version of “Oi To The World” in my personal favorites post and I really like No Doubt’s cover too. Gwen does a good job handling such a rowdy vocal and I love the dancehall “Frosty The Snowman” breakdown in the middle as well. Besides adding that and a few horns, they keep it pretty much the same. Why mess with a good thing right?

"Oi To The World" - No Doubt

“Santa Claus Is Thumbing To Town” – Relient K: I first heard this song on Tooth and Nail Records’ Happy Christmas Volume 3, but it can also be found on Relient K’s two Christmas releases, Deck The Halls, Bruise Your Hand and Let It Snow Baby…Let It Reindeer. I love the humor and chaos in the lyrics and the image of Santa trying to hitchhike after his sleigh breaks down is great. Funny, boisterous and still so festive, it should be on as many Christmas albums as it can.

"Santa Claus Is Thumbing To Town" - Relient K

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Interview with Nikki Lane

For our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One, we caught up with Outlaw country firebrand Nikki Lane during a rare "off the road" moment. Lane gave us the lowdown on her upcoming album Highway Queen (out next February on New West), how it stacks up against her earlier work, how vintage country fashion plays a role in her art, and what it was like to drive a monster truck for her latest music video.

NoiseTrade: Your new album Highway Queen (out 2/17 on New West) evokes an interesting geographical blending in its lyrics and musical styles. To what do you attribute its sprawling roots?

Nikki Lane: I guess it's a byproduct of all the travel. We canvassed so much ground on this record and I believe it really took its toll on me. I can see some of the skepticism in my lyrics that comes from being worn down by the road and from the vulnerability that comes with this job. I can also see the growth that takes place when you go out and work the way we did. My musical influences have quadrupled having such a cool group of musicians in the band. My bass player Eric in particular is responsible for me having so many modern bands on my playlists these days. I've loved being able to draw from this era as much as I do from the past.

NT: Recording sessions for Highway Queen took place in Denton, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee. Did both places end up playing different roles or providing different inspirations for the finished product?

Lane: Most definitely. Texas in itself changes the way I feel. My stress level drops so much when I am able to create outside of my hometown. The demands of being home were able to be put aside so that I could focus on making the best possible record. Playing with the young Texas guys helped me to develop a voice in the studio, which is something I hadn't had the nerve to do until recently. However, I was craving some of that Nashville sound and wanted to make sure we got Colin Dupuis involved in the record again. He engineered All or Nothin' and mixed this record. He also pulled the great players together who had worked on the last record to try a few last tracks, one of which is "Jackpot." That one was deemed the single or the "hopeful hit" the second it was recorded.

NT: The music video you recorded for the title track seems like it was a blast to shoot. Where’d the monster truck idea come from and how much fun did you have that day?

Lane: My father used to set his own monster truck up to roll over cars on a couple of holidays when I was a kid. He mainly used it for mud bogging. Then, one Fourth of July, he had our cousins bring over some cars from the junkyard and he ran them over for people in the town. Everyone just hooted and hollered. It's been on the bucket list ever since. What's crazy is that on the second time over the cars, we had seven of the people who work on my team in the cab with me. Space was so tight that one of the girls laid across four guys in the backseat. There was a second there where I got really nervous that I had the lives of my whole team in my hands. I made sure to hold the wheel real straight!

NT: What songs on Highway Queen came the easiest to write and record? Which ones seemed the most difficult to capture?

Lane: "Companion" takes the cake for being the easiest piece of the puzzle. I wrote it in a quick moment sitting at the kitchen table one night and we recorded it at two in the morning when everyone should have been on their way home. I sat at the piano in the back of the room with Daniel Creamer and just wanted to show him the idea. Moments later Matt Pence was moving the vocal mic across the room and we cut it right there. The only reason we did a second take was to give the boys time to learn the harmony. "Highway Queen" had a lot of pressure riding on it. After all, it was the title of the record long before it was written... a concept, if you will. We tracked it maybe six times in various settings at four different studios. It wasn't that the other versions weren't good, it just took hearing it with a bunch of different treatments before I could make a decision.

NT: Along with your new single, you’re offering your debut album here on NoiseTrade. What do you hear when you listen back to your earlier work?

Lane: I'm really impressed with it... I mean, I've been lucky to work with such great producers since day one. I can hear the growth in the songwriting as time progresses and I also see just how much of my cards have been shown. The first record was made as a young married woman trying to carve a career path. By the second record, I am heartbroken and divorced. It's nice to have a new one which still reflects the truth but shows signs of evening out. Maybe a little bit of luck in love, as well.

NT: Finally, from your impeccable stage gear to your vintage shop High Class Hillbilly, your country credentials go far beyond just the music. What part does fashion play in your overall creative aesthetic and what can you tell us about your store?

Lane: I believe that being a front man isn't just about the songs I write, it's about the entire identity. It has to reflect the character. It has to be genuine. It has to be original. That part has always been obvious to me, long before I started playing music. What can I say, I am a sucker for Elvis, ZZ Top, and Loretta Lynn. They're not legends because they were dressed in clothes from the mall. So I began collecting and working on my identity a long time ago. Trying to decide how to reflect what's going on inside on the outside. High Class Hillbilly is what happens when collecting gets out of hand. I opened the store because there were too many great treasures to leave behind. Besides, most of the pieces I find, I can almost picture exactly who they're going to end up with. Owning the store also helps me connect with fans and friends in a different way than music and I enjoy that.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Christmasongs: A Totally Rad '80s Christmas

Christmasongs is a (semi)annual look at some of my favorite Christmas music through theme-based posts of sonic stocking stuffers from me to you. It's guaranteed goodness and there's no need to keep the receipt!

Yes, Virginia, that is Mr. T getting some sweet Nancy Reagan sugar for Christmas.

Can we all agree that there seemed to be something extra special about the Christmases of the 1980s? Whether it was due to my age (born in 1980), the special marketing relationship between TV and toys, the rise of video game systems, the plethora of McDonald’s holiday commercials, or the awesome toys that were created under the Cold War climate (G.I. Joe, Rambo, Hulk Hogan vs. Nikolai Volkoff action figures), it seemed to always be a ‘roided out version of Christmas, at least for us kids. Luckily there was also some great music to go along with all of the Cabbage Patch Kid stampedes and claymation California Raisins. A bunch of 80’s Christmas songs have appeared in my previous “Christmasongs” posts and they are more to come after this, but here's a nice chunk of goods ones to mention. Let’s jump in the DeLorean and take a trip shall we…

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” – Band Aid: You can’t talk about Christmas music from the '80s without starting here. In 1984, Bob Geldof and Midge Ure gathered together a huge collection of some the biggest musical acts of the time to record a single that would raise money for the Ethiopian Famine. Leading the way for other charitable efforts like Live Aid and the “We Are The World” single, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” serves as an important milestone in the ongoing relationship between music and relief efforts. Watching the video for this one is like a “Where’s Waldo” of the musical landscape of the 8'0s.

"Do They Know It's Christmas?" - Band Aid

“One Year On” – Band Aid: Sure, everyone's heard "Do They Know It's Christmas?" a million times since 1984. However, when they repressed the single the next year, they added a pretty interesting B-side titled "One Year On." It opens with a spoken message from Bob Geldof and then features Midge Ure reading out on everything that the Band Aid money went to over the last year since the single was first released, all played over the musical bed from "Do They Know It's Christmas?" It's a pretty interesting track and serves as a really nice follow-up to all the attention that was garnered by the single and Live Aid. Without a doubt it's a "do not miss" piece of 80s pop culture that shows just how impactful the whole Band Aid movement was (and why it continues to still be so impactful three decades later).     

"One Year On" - Band Aid

“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – U2: It’s hard to believe that only one of the A Very Special Christmas compilations were released in the 80’s, but it was at least a really good one. Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Run DMC, Madonna and Bon Jovi all appeared on it and U2 performed one of the best loved covers of Darlene Love’s classic “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” It was recorded during a soundcheck on one of the stops on The Joshua Tree tour, so it has that iconic mid-8'0s U2 sound. This one shows up every year on radio playlists and retail store overhead speaker, but for very good reason.

"Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" - U2

“Thanks For Christmas” – XTC: Under the moniker “The Three Wise Men,” XTC released “Thanks For Christmas” as a non-album holiday single in 1983. XTC has always been one of the better bands to emerge from the New Wave/Alternative genre and it speaks a lot about them that they can even pump out an original Christmas tune as well. This one feels super upbeat and festive and I really love the overall musical tone of the song. As a side note, the appearance of this song (along with “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses) in the first season Christmas episode of Gilmore Girls helped Amanda get me hooked on the show. I’m totally down with any show the exhibits such incredible musical taste. I’ve said too much…

"Thanks For Christmas" - The Three Wise Men (XTC)

“All I Want For Christmas” – Timbuk 3: Timbuk 3 is a unique band that is mostly categorized as a one-hit wonder for their irony laced “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” single. However, my favorite song of theirs is “All I Want For Christmas” from 1987. Written as somewhat of a protest song against the vast array of “war toys” that were available to kids, the chorus of “All I want for Christmas is world peace” sums up the song pretty well. The verses name drop a lot of toys like Transformers, G.I. Joes, Rambo, and Thundercats and there’s also a reference to Stars Wars 1, 2, and 3 and VCRs. Add in a drum machine and a “We Three Kings” harmonica solo and you’ve got one decidedly '80s socio-political Cold War Christmas song.

"All I Want For Christmas" - Timbuk 3

“Give Love on Christmas Day” – New Edition: Before there was Bell Biv DeVoe and Bobby Brown's solo career, there was New Edition - one of the most ridiculously talented teenage R&B vocal groups since the Jackson 5. Their 1985 Christmas All Over The World album is one of my favorite go-to holiday albums every year and I was so happy to finally upgrade it from cassette to CD a few years back. While the song "All I Want for Christmas (Is My Girl)" is my favorite song from the album, their cover of the Jackson 5's "Give Love on Christmas Day" gets the highlight here for it's old-school throwback move of throwing the each band member's name into the lyrics: "Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, Mike, and Ralph too/Give all the love that we feel to you." Classic cheesy goodness, every single time.     

"Give Love On Christmas Day" - New Edition

“Christmas Wrapping” – The Waitresses: I know, I know… people either love the '80s New Wavey awesomeness of this song or they hate that it’s played so much. I am absolutely in the former camp because this song is really, really good and it’s possibly the only Christmas song to reference one time grocery giant A&P. The song is super festive and relays a bunch of missed connections that tie together nicely in the end. I love the sound of this song and the late Patty Donahue had one of the coolest and most distinctive voices in the New Wave genre. Special thanks to Steve Craig, radio DJ hero of my teens, for cementing this song in my holiday heart by spinning it a few times every year during his "House Of Retro Pleasure" Christmas shows. I can't thank that guy enough for all the great music over the years!

"Christmas Wrapping" - The Waitresses

“Merry Christmas Santa Claus (You’re A Lovely Guy)” – Max Headroom: '80s icon and “New Coke” spokesman Max Headroom’s voice causes an instant flashback for folks like me. His humor, sarcasm, electronic voice and stuttering delivery brought an erratic vibe to everything he was involved in. Hearing him sing this song takes me right back to a childhood Christmas playing Super Mario Brothers in my Karate Kid-esque pajamas that oddly enough had a Ghostbusters logo on them.

"Merry Christmas Santa Claus (You're A Lovely Guy) - Max Headroom

“Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You” – Billy Squier: Man, this pop-rock holiday gem from 1981 is so over the top cheesy that I can’t decide if it’s genius or just ironic. Either way it’s a guaranteed spirit lifter and it’s pretty much impossible not to sing along with a goofy grin on your face. I’ve got such a special spot for this one and I have no idea why. If you really want the full affect of this song though, you’ve got to watch the studio video from MTV’s first Christmas on the air. All 5 original VJs can be seen and the clothing and haircuts are priceless!

"Christmas Is The Time To Say I Love You" - Billy Squier