Kath vs. Hendrix

15 Aug


Regardless of whether or not you believe the story about Jimi Hendrix allegedly telling Chicago’s Walt Parazaider, “I think your guitarist is better than me,” it’s hard to deny that Terry Kath never really enough credit while he was alive for being the main creative force behind the band. Robert Lamm may have written most of the hits, Pete Cetera may have had the prettier voice, and the horn section may have been what set them apart from their peers. But it was Kath (along with drummer Danny Seraphine, another criminally underrated musician) who drove the whole show. His funky rhythms and fierce leads gave the band at least half its soul and about 90% of its rock ‘n’ roll.

It’s even harder to deny that since his death, he’s been almost completely overlooked outside of diehard Chicago fans and the occasional classic-rock ax nerd. So I was excited to hear that his daughter is nearing completion of a documentary about him, and even more excited when I got the green light to interview her for LA Weekly.

Never Heard of Guitarist Terry Kath From the Band Chicago? He’s Ah-Mazing


Breakcore breaks out

7 Aug


I’m having a lot of fun writing these sum-up-a-whole-genre-in-1,000-words-or-less pieces for Insomniac. After shining a light on the awesomeness that is electro-swing, I’m going the other end of the EDM spectrum and tackling the difficult, highly experimental and frequently aggro style called breakcore.

As I learned in researching the article, breakcore’s meant different things to different groups over its 20-odd year history. But what I love about its present moment is that it’s become something of a catch-all for any style of electronic music that features lots of crazy, chopped-up drum programming and random snippets of other styles of music, from classical to death metal. It’s the anything-goes genre of electronic music—which is why, for my money, it’s where some of the most exciting new stuff is happening.

Because breakcore covers such a broad swath of styles and influences, I decided to devote most of the article to mini-profiles of 10 currently active breakcore artists—starting with the godfather of them all, Venetian Snares (pictured above). I also devoted a fair amount of space to Anklepants, who’s newer to the scene but definitely shaking it up with his demented stage show.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Breakcore

Mixing business with leather

4 Aug


One of my biggest pet peeves is when critics (and some overly snobby fans) dismiss a record as not being “serious” or “authentic” enough. To these folks, there can be no art where artifice is involved.

This is nonsense, of course. From Bob Dylan to Jack White, many of the greatest musicians of the past half-century have hidden behind public personae that were just as carefully constructed as their records. Others, like Bowie, have been chameleons, reinventing themselves every few years. Beck works more in the Bowie tradition; his public image doesn’t seem like a construct, but his music definitely has that shape-shifting quality that is so fascinating to fans and so suspicious to critics.

The most chameleonic of all Beck albums is Midnite Vultures, an album even Beck fans tend to think of a giant put-on. But I think it’s one of his best, and here’s why.

In Defense of… Beck’s ‘Midnite Vultures’

“Breaking the Chains”…of entertainment contract law!

29 Jul


You know how they say you have to choose between being an artist and having a “normal” career? That the only people who succeed in creative endeavors are the ones who have no Plan B? Well, that’s all bullshit. If you’re smart enough and willing to put in the work, you can do both. Take Jon Levin. He’s an entertainment and family law attorney and the guitarist in Dokken.

It didn’t all happen at once, of course—and there’s a big difference between joining an existing band with a well-established following and starting from scratch. Still, I think guys like Levin are interesting because they’re walking proof that so many of our myths about art vs. commerce are just that—myths. Not everybody’s talents fit into these neat little boxes. Some guys can negotiate a record contract and make the record.

Lawyer/Guitarist Jon Levin Is Probably Your Favorite ’80s Metal Band’s Attorney

Let’s chug some history!

24 Jul


One of my favorite shows at the moment is Comedy Central‘s Drunk History, so I was pretty thrilled to get a chance to interview director/executive producer Jeremy Konner, who’s worked on the show with creator/host Derek Waters since day one. Among the many things we chatted about: Jeremy’s first drinking experience, comedy vs. historical accuracy, and the importance of the word “like” in modern vernacular.

I edited the interview down some for clarity and length, but most of the good bits stayed in. Here’s the best outtake, though, in response to the question, “What’s the most anyone’s ever drunk on the show?”

Probably a bottle of tequila. That was Kyle Kinane last year. And it didn’t stay down for very long. And by the way, we were not encouraging him to drink a bottle of tequila—and that’s why he drank a bottle of tequila. We were the ones who kept saying, “You’ve had enough.” Do not tell drunk, angry people they’ve had enough.

Anyway, full Q&A is up now on my latest outlet, Static Beach. For a fun drinking game, I suggest doing a shot every time the interview mentions the word “history.” You’ll be, like, hammered in no time.

Drunk History: An Interview With Jeremy Konner


Why Neil deGrasse Tyson should be an electro-swing fan

20 Jul


Here’s a quote that didn’t make it into my article about electro-swing for Insomniac, mostly because I didn’t feel like explaining it: “House music,” said Buck Down, one-half of electro-swing duo Gentlemen Callers, “is the tardigrade of electronic dance music.”

For those of you who have no idea what a tardigrade is (and I counted myself among your ranks until Buck explained it to me): It’s a tiny, water-dwelling critter that’s been around for over 500 million years. They’re about as close to indestructible as any life form yet discovered; you can freeze them, dehydrate them, even expose them to the vacuum of space, and after their ordeal, most of them are fully capable of reviving and reproducing. Neil deGrasse Tyson uses them several times on Cosmos as an example of the diversity and resiliency of life.

So how is house music the tardigrade of dance music? Because no matter how many other styles and genres of boom-tss music come and go, house music always makes a comeback. It’s having another moment now, thanks to the popularity of acts like Disclosure and Duck Sauce. And, as Buck explained to me, it’s ultimately the foundation of Gentlemen Callers’ highly addictive take on electro-swing.

Technically, electro-swing doesn’t have to follow a house template. Plenty of European electro-swing bands and producers bring elements of breakbeat, electro, hip-hop, techno and even dubstep to the party, as well. The real common denominator is jazz, preferably of the “hot” variety popular in the 1920s and ’30s. But for the music to take hold in America the way it has in Europe—and in Europe, it’s huge right now—it’ll probably need that four-on-the-floor house bounce.

I hope it does take off, because at its best, electro-swing is just crazy fun. After writing this article, I finally got to go to a party the Gentlemen Callers performed at, and I danced my ass off. In full speakeasy attire, I might add. Which at my age only adds to the fun. I can’t pull off raver chic anymore, but I look pretty good in a vest and porkpie hat.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Electro-Swing (Insomniac.com)

Music videos, minus the music

2 Jul


Mario Wienerroiter has a strange and wonderful hobby: He takes classic music video, removes the soundtrack, and replaces it with his own soundscape of ambient noises and awkward grunts, gasps and sneezes from the performers, imagining how absurd it might have been to shoot these videos in the first place. It’s a simple idea, and he’s not the only one who’s done it, but there’s something about his “musicless music videos” that’s so clean and well-executed that it heightens the comedy and makes them endlessly watchable.

I was really happy when Daily Dot accepted my pitch to interview Mario, because too often, when the creator of a viral video is behind the scenes and not starring in their own clip, you never get to hear their story. So here’s Mario’s:

Meet the man behind your favorite musicless music videos