Interview: NE-HI Talk Current State of Chicago DIY

By: Seth Johnson
Photos: Berto Campos

Following their high-energy set at Pitchfork Music Festival 2017, our Seth Johnson caught up with Chicago’s NE-HI for an afternoon chat.

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Seth Johnson: What background did you two have in Chicago’s DIY scene prior to NE-HI? How did your individual paths eventually cross?

Alex Otake (drummer): Me and Jason play in another project called EARRING.

James Weir (bassist): You also have deep history in Chicago with putting on shows.

AO: Yeah. I’ve lived at a bunch of show spaces. Like, I used to live at this place called Treasure Town on the south side (see footage of The Men playing there in 2012 here). That was like a three-times-a-week kind of show house. It was like a three-story warehouse. So we have been deeply rooted in Chicago’s DIY scene, which is now unfortunately very depleted in a big way.

SJ: What has changed about it?

AO: I mean, there are always peaks and valleys when it comes to show spaces and DIY houses in Chicago. But right now, it’s a very deep valley it seems. There are still definitely DIY spaces, but it’s not at all what it was.

JW: I think a lot of the bands we had been playing with were just moving to bigger venues too. There was just so much concentration on that specific scene, and it just kind of outgrew its space.

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SJ: Even though you say its depleted, are there still things that excite you about Chicago’s DIY scene?

AO: When I say depleted, I mean that the spaces aren’t all there. The music is all there 100%, even more so than it has been in the past. The space for having a larger DIY show is just not really there. There’s so much exciting music coming out of Chicago right now.

JW: The spaces might not be there. But as far as the sound of new Chicago bands, it’s even better than I think it was. The boundaries are being pushed more, and there are so many awesome bands out here. It’s not even just bands, but hip-hop and R&B too. From every genre, there’s just good fucking stuff going on right now.

SJ: Who are some people that you guys are personally excited about from Chicago?

JW: Jamila Woods. My cousin used to be a part of this group called Young Chicago Authors, which Saba and Chance the Rapper got their start through. I’ve seen her do poetry for the past five years, and now she’s just putting out amazing music. I think she’s going to be really big, and I really appreciate her message and her music.

AO: And then, we just saw our really good friends Deeper play, and they’re unbelievable.

JW: They feel like a piece of that old Chicago that we came from too. They’re new, and they’re great. We love them.

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SJ: Obviously, you guys aren’t playing DIY shows as much now. What adjustments have you had to make with playing more conventional venues?

AO: For me, the real thing is trying to bring the kind of energy that we were able to create in a small space into a bigger space, which is really hard to do (laughs). The real challenge is trying to bring that kind of energy and trying to get everyone on that energy level with you while you’re playing.

JW: It’s just more preparation and trying to keep the same spirit and energy.

AO: We try not to waiver from the way we perform.

SJ: I know you went through some ups and downs with the making of your latest album, Offers. Can you talk to me a little bit about that?

JW: The process was just putting your whole life into it — not only your time, but also your emotions.

AO: It was very emotionally draining when we were having difficulties with it.

JW: But the beauty is that it’s so emotionally rewarding in that we put everything in, and there’s been some really awesome payback.

AO: As cheesy as fuck as that all sounds (laughs by all). But, it’s real though.

JW: People have been giving us a lot of love, and it’s really cool. At the end of the day, we put out a record that we’re really proud of, and I think we can do even better next time.

SJ: What’s on the horizon for you guys? More touring?

JW: We have some really tight tours coming up. We’re going to be in Indy with The Drums in August (event info here).

AO: We’re rolling with Chad VanGaalen to the West Coast, which I’m really, really excited about. He’s just a total badass, and we’re very excited to go on the road with him.

JW: We’re also touring with our really good buddies Whitney in late November/December.

Interview: Brian Wilson Reflects on Pet Sounds

By: Seth Johnson

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On May 16, 1966, the Beach Boys gave us Pet Sounds, forever changing the music world. Now half a century later, the album’s mastermind is out on the road, playing every song from Pet Sounds live at venues all around the world.

On this golden anniversary tour, Brian Wilson is playing alongside Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin, who were both formerly in early versions of the Beach Boys. In addition to songs from Pet Sounds, audiences can also expect to hear top hits and fan favorites spanning Wilson’s 54-year career with the Beach Boys and as a solo artist.

Prior to his performance at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, our Seth Johnson arranged for a quick email interview with Wilson, which you can read below.

Seth Johnson: At the time that Pet Sounds came out, how were you thinking it would be perceived?

Brian Wilson: Well, I thought that some of the older people would appreciate it and some of the younger people wouldn’t think it was commercial enough.

SJ: Were you apprehensive at all though? If so, why?

BW: Not at all – I was looking forward to releasing it

SJ: Pet Sounds has now become a timeless album. What are some elements of the record that you personally would attribute to that?

BW: I think the melodies and lyrics and the harmonies is what makes it really appeal to people.

SJ: It’s been half a century since Pet Sounds was released. What parts about it do you still really like?

BW: I still like the ballads on it (“Don’t Talk,” “Caroline, No” and “God Only Knows”).

SJ: Are there any parts you don’t like now?

BW: No.

SJ: How is Brian Wilson now different then Brian Wilson then?

BW: I’ve slowed down a little bit, my energy. My songwriting is not as often now. I don’t write songs all that often. And now, I have a family that I love.

SJ: I actually interviewed your nephew Scott about a year ago, and he spoke to how special the Beach Boys’ live shows were around the time when Pet Sounds came out. Compared to those earlier days, how does it feel to perform Pet Sounds today?

BW: It feels very satisfying and takes me back to when we recorded the album. Now, I can really appreciate how much the fans like it.

SJ: Smiley Smile and Wild Honey were released the year after Pet Sounds. How did those albums continue down the same path as Pet Sounds, in your eyes?

BW: They weren’t like Pet Sounds at all. Wild Honey was our R&B album and Smiley Smile was our more adventurous, psychedelic music.

SJ: What plans do you have after this Pet Sounds tour?

BW: I plan to do an album, a rock and roll album.

SJ: Could you ever see yourself doing a Smiley Smile/Wild Honey tour?

BW: No. Maybe a Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) tour sometime. I’d like to do that.

Watch Nardwuar’s Entertaining Interview with Hinds

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We already shared Hind’s performance of their latest single “Garden” earlier today, but we are going to double down because this interview is too good not to post. Interviewer extraordinaire and legend Nardwuar recently connected up the band in Vancouver and it is absolutely a fun watch. Watch Nardwuar, who always brings the best out of people, gets the band to freak out over a signed Strokes poster, discuss Carlotta’s acting career (see image below) along with Spanish food, the band that made them change their name, The Dears, and so much more.

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Interview : Buzz Osborne (of The Melvins) : Unplugged

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By Thomas Kennedy

It been over twenty years since Buzz’s last solo-effort. We talked about who he’d been listening to during that period of time.

On the Corner by Miles Davis has definitely been one of the biggest albums that we go back to over the past 20 years,” Buzz Osborne told me. “That’s one of the main places we’re coming from. People don’t see it, but it’s there.”

While the Miles Davis influence on Buzz Osborne’s new solo material may be rather oblique, it’s front-and-center on Dale Crover’s new all-drumming project, Hew Time.* Revisiting On the Corner, I can see how the use of sleigh bells on “Black Satin” might inform the final post-silence minute of “See How Pretty, See How Smart”.

“The jazz people all hated it,” Buzz was saying, still in reference to On the Corner, “They probably still do.”

“The whole electric period,” of Miles Davis’s career is the period that had the most impact on Buzz. “Big Fun, Bitches Brew…but especially On the Corner. There’s a boxed-set of all the sessions for On the Corner that I would highly, highly, highly recommend.”

Buzz seemed thoughtful for a moment. “A lot of it comes from Miles Davis. Miles Davis and Captain Beefheart of course. Primarily with Beefheart, you know, we go back to Clear Spot and the Spotlight Kid. Not so much Trout Mask Replica. But people don’t really hear that either. But if you listen to those albums, you’ll hear it. If you listen to them, it’ll make sense. That’s where we’re coming from.”

We were standing beneath the marquee in front of Radio Radio where he would be playing an acoustic set that night, trotting out new material from his upcoming album This Machine Kills Artists.

I’d purposefully avoided previewing his set online before the show, so that I could experience the full novelty of Buzz Osborne unplugged in a live setting. I told him that I was literally unable to imagine what he would sound like on acoustic guitar. “It’s like an epistemological threshold that I cannot mentally traverse,” I was explaining.

“Yeah, well,” Buzz mused, nodding, “You’ll see. It will make sense. Although it’s not really like anything else. There’s nothing, really, to compare it to.”

How had he decided to do an acoustic project?

“Well I’ve always played acoustic guitar. A lot of the Melvins songs, I wrote them on acoustic. I can’t remember which ones, but that’s not the point. The point is, I’ve been thinking about doing this for a long time. A really long time. So… here we are.”

As Mr. Osborne has previously expressed, his acoustic stuff does not sound like Woodie Guthrie or James Taylor. The name of the album, in fact, appears to be a play on the bumper-sticker formerly displayed on Woody Guthrie’s guitar: “This machine kills fascists.”

If anything, I thought, it would make sense in the context of an Acid Western. I told myself that it would work well as a sonic backdrop for something by Jodorowsky or Downey Sr. But then when I actually glancingly reviewed the films in question on Youtube, I realized This Machine Kills Artists wouldn’t really fit as a score for these films either.

Not metal, not folk, not Acid Western: maybe it could be called, “Acid Western Molk.” As the missus, Mackey Osborne, remarked, “It sounds like The Melvins.”

Relative to the mean-average Melvins fan , the fact that I’ve been to a mere seven Melvins shows over the past 15 years actually puts me on the low-end of the standard spectrum of devotion. But I’ve seen them live enough times that it was really almost dissociative to be able to hear Mr. Osborne’s vocals, out from underneath all of the heavy distortion and thundering drums. Sort of like seeing a shucked oyster walking around. He sounded clear as a bell up there on stage, everything crisply enunciated.

“No drummers to hide behind tonight,” Buzz had told me.

“That was really, like, almost disorienting to be able to hear what you were saying,” I told him, later.

He was like: “Thank you.”

*Full disclosure: I occasionally consult on PR stuff for the record label that released Hew Time (Joyful Noise Recordings), though I did not do any work on press for Hew Time directly.

Listen : Warpaint : BBC Radio 6 Music Live In Session for Steve Lamacq

Warpaint dropped by BBC Radio 6 Music to record an interview and live in session for Steve Lamacq. The ladies have started to hit the promotional circuit in support of their forthcoming self-titled sophomore full-length due out in January via Rough Trade. During the session, they played two new songs from new LP “Love Is To Die” and the previously unheard “Keep It Healthy,” along with “Composure” from their 2010 debut album.

MOKB Interview : Henry Rollins

We here at MOKB are never going to enter the 1% putting digital pen to paper, so we have to make do with advance copies of new CDs, an occasional press pass to a major festival and, only if we promise to behave, interviews with legends. Recently, we hit the jackpot and threw down with performer, writer, actor, LA Weekly columnist/KCRW radio show host and all-time hero to this lowly scribe, Henry Rollins.

MOKB: First things first. New Black Sabbath record. I know you’re a huge fan, so did you ever think we’d come this close to a full-blown Sabbath reunion? I think the record, while a bit light on memorable riffs, is surprisingly strong. Your thoughts on the record?

Henry Rollins: I have not yet heard the album. I heard one song and it didn’t inspire me. I will eventually get it. No Bill Ward kind of put me off it.

MOKB: With the exception of the Claremont Folk Festival, you’re somewhat off the grid lately. If you don’t mind sharing, where are you these days and what are you working on?

HR: I am doing more television/film/voice over stuff this year. It’s keeping me on location, soundstages and studios. There has been cartoon work, television work, a pilot and a film coming up towards the end of the year. Due to the contracts I have signed, I can’t talk about any of it. They are very uptight with all this these days. I am doing voice over work for Infiniti car.

MOKB: Any travels of interest recently or in the near future?

HR: Nothing is planned because I am so nailed to the ground with the present schedule. I will be loose to travel in perhaps December at the earliest. Before that, I am pretty booked.

MOKB: Now that we’re well into Obama’s second term, do you think the world’s perception of the United States has changed at all? If yes, how so?

HR: The perception has changed, certainly. The president has pulled soldiers out of Iraq. On the other hand, the drone strikes, which are ultimately, just another way to deliver the same stuff the America has been dropping on people for a long time, are probably not playing well in regions that have not liked the America for a long time anyway. I think many people thought Mr. Obama was a liberal or a progressive. He is neither and that’s making some people in the States disappointed. I think the NSA stuff, what people’s perception of it is, will not play well at home or abroad. How the president plays Syria will be key to the perception of the America in the future. That’s a tricky one. There’s more at stake there than at first glance. There are a lot of big players in that one on all sides. The president is probably getting talked to by a lot of different people with different interests.

MOKB: I’m listening to A Clockwork Orange Stage as I type this? How many times have you performed at Roskilde since 2000?

HR: Once or twice. I will be there for all four days of it this year. It’s a great festival. Awful what happened there several years ago.

MOKB: Anything I should be prepared for in terms of the festival? Anything I absolutely need to bring with me?

HR: Not really. It’s extremely well run and I can’t see you needing for anything that won’t be easily obtainable. Perhaps having some sunscreen on hand will save you a purchase there. People in my experience there are very friendly.

MOKB: Would you say that festival audiences overseas are any different from American festival audiences?

HR: I have not done nearly as many festivals in America as in Europe. Lollapalooza, Woodstock, Bonaroo, Fun Fun Fun are the US ones I remember. They were fine. I reckon the audiences at them and the ones in Europe are both great. At least they have all been great to me.

MOKB: Are there any current bands that you particularly appreciate?

HR: I look for new music almost every single day. I have been listening to a lot of Finnish folk and drone music lately. I have a Masaya Nakahara album that I am going to listen to later tonight and am listening to an Autumn Galaxy album called An Emperor’s Garden at the moment. Noise/Drone/Avant music comprises most of my listening at this time.

MOKB: I’m pretty giddy over the Dan Auerbach-produced Bombino record. What is your latest musical discovery, past or present?

HR: The new records on http://www.castlefacerecords.com/ and In The Red I think are really good. The new Oh Sees album, White Fence, the new Kid Congo record is great. The new Steven R. Smith download albums are amazing. Those are perhaps my favorite new releases.

MOKB: For someone who has never heard you as a musical performer, what would you point them to as a “gateway” record?

HR: I can’t recommend my work to anyone.

MOKB: The As The World Burns Tour with X obviously left a bad taste in your mouth in terms of performing with a band. Is there any situation in which you could see yourself again performing in a band?

HR: I don’t think so. I have to be honest and if it’s not there, it’s not there.

MOKB: Any Rollins Band releases festering in the archives just waiting to see the light of day?

HR: Not really. There are some live shows that sound pretty good. A few outtakes but nothing to write home about.

MOKB: I’m assuming there’s a new journal/book in the works. Any other projects coming down in the pipeline fans would be interested in?

HR: There is a book I am trying to finish the edit on from 2009 – 2010. There is another photo book almost done as well as some more journal book stuff as well. I have a lot of voice over, television and film stuff that will roll out later this year and next year as well. Some is in the can and some has yet to be done.

MOKB: I always find it interesting that “former Black Flag singer/frontman” is how you seem to always be referenced by the media, when that was such a relatively short period. How would you like to be remembered?

HR: I don’t agree. As far as being remembered, I honestly don’t care.

Henry Rollins@Roskilde 2013
7/5 – Odeon Stage – 13:00
7/6 – Pavilion – 13:00
7/7 – Gloria Stage – 12:00

MOKB@Roskilde : Something is Rocking in the State of Denmark

That’s right, Mom. MOKB is packing an ol’kit bag and heading off to Roskilde 2013. What to expect is anyone’s guess, but given the list of bands (see poster), how can it be anything short of superfantastic?

Our goal? Avoid the pitfalls (mud, cholera, long bathroom lines) and temptations (local brews, local fare, half-naked Danes) long enough to cover as many acts as possible, interview a few famous (and not-yet famous) folks and even provide a little cultural commentary about our gracious hosts and their beloved homeland.

Stay tuned as MOKB gets all Hamlet on yo ass…