The Colbert Report has been putting me to bed for a decade, and after Thursday it’s void will be markedly larger than I’d like to admit. At 35 years old nine years is a quarter of my life, and while Colbert will be moving on to deservedly greener pastures, I can’t help but let the nostalgic part of me long for days of future past.
In 2007 when my future Wife and I were galavanting about Ecuador we became friends with an Australian couple, Peter and Penny. They were basically a Southern Hemisphere mirror of ourselves – which was both refreshing and rejuvenating when deep in an internet-less Amazon basin, especially during the years George Bush was making it easier for Americans traveling abroad to say they were from Canada.
We were aligned on everything – except that is, this brand new show I raved over called The Colbert Report, which these different but same Aussies just couldn’t connect on – and from that moment in Ecuador, I realized how distinctive and American The Colbert Report was. In subsequent years the rest of the World would better understand the character Colbert was playing, but for those of a left leaning mind-set in the middle of the Amazon basin in 2007 we were distinctively in on the “joke” – and with The Colbert Report leaving, I’m predictably melancholy, nostalgic, and sad. Colbert will do a phenomenal job replacing Letterman, but there’ll never be another show quite like The Colbert Report. Huzzah.
Tiger High had one of my favorite releases of 2014 with Inside the Acid Coven, and digging deeper it turns out they created a favorite under a different name in 2012. If only I could time travel. Hot Freak Nation‘s debut album, Lifetime To Lifetime, is a side project led by Greg Roberson (Tiger High) & Don Main (The Late Show), who are also joined by fellow Tiger High members Jack & Tony Vest. The result is a breezy collection of Garage Psych that’ll make you longing for late Summer nights and wish you still smoked cigarettes. It’ll come as no surprise that the album was cut in Memphis, as its fingerprints are all over the music.
Recommended If You Like: Psychedelic Nick Lowe, Stoned Elvis Costello
Kurt von Stetten is a continual favorite of mine and one of Boston’s finest artists. His 2014 solo release, Animals, is one of the best albums of the year, and will be featured in Episode 63, The Top 21 Albums of 2014, dropping this Thursday. I recently asked Kurt some questions on his DIY approach, Art, Influences, among other topics.
– Buy Animals via BandCamp
Kurt von Stetten:
Yeah I take that as a compliment! I love Robert Pollard and GBV. I came to know their music only after I played with The Longwalls. The lead singer is a huge fan and I slowly started getting exposed to them. I love his work ethic and sound- a sound which is not that far from mine. Lo-fi and a little clunky. I think one of my favorites is a recent one, 2012’s The Bears for Lunch. I just think that is a great record and an inspiration- because he produces so much. I always think to myself- well I could do that if I didn’t have a job too. I wrote a song called “Competition (fuck Bob Pollard)” off of my last record that is a reminder to myself that I am not competing with him. It’s no contest at all- he wins!
Another similarity between Pollard and yourself is you’re both Visual Artists as well as Musicians. You both create your own Album art, and you even take it a step further and create your own videos. Does your music influence the art you make – or is it the other way around?
I think visual art definitely influences my music and not the other way around. Really only because all of my training/education is in visual art and music came into my life much later- but all in all they are starting to become closer. This month I started working with an artist on abstract video pieces that I would be writing music for- we will see how that pans out. But really music takes up the emotional space that visual art can’t ever seem to cover- so they compliment each other, but music sometimes gets only the table scraps or base emotions to start with!
Back to your DIY DNA – you’ve played every instrument on each solo album you’ve released – one every year since 2006 – how does this differ from playing drums for fellow Static Motor Recordings band, The Longwells. Do you prefer the solitude of your solo work, or do you miss the camaraderie of collaboration?
They are very different endeavors to be sure. When I sit down to write my own music I make sweeping changes every minute- tempo- key- voice- instrumentation- and then see where the chips land. Then I record it, listen to it, and eight times out of ten trash the whole thing. I shoot first and then aim- I have 90 songs on my iPad from this year that I will never use- they are just in the “booshit” folder (and trust me they are strait up booshit). So I am definitely most comfortable with not being beholden to any sound or style.The Longwalls do all of that hard work before I even get to hear it and add drums to it- that is a huge difference for me and my process. We also usually stay true to the original feel of each new song- that is hard for me too. That is definitely something that I still wrestle with- not being able to be like “why don’t we have a killer musical saw solo here.” I also am the least talented of the bunch so I am playing catch up (musically) most of the time.
Yeah I agree- there are more compatible sounds from song to song than usual for me. I think that is because I used a lot more synthesizers on this record. For a long time I was scared of having the synth be the main sound of a song – or something that leads everything else. And because it is programmable the screw ups are much less noticeable. I generally leave all the rough edges showing in a song, but synths are always a little smooth. I also spent a lot of time on the drums this go around- I was just loving being in studio and recording them- so there are less screw ups in the drums and drum sounds.
Another love of yours is BMX. You recently posted a video of yourself (below) flatlanding on an abandoned basketball court. This was my first time being exposed to your BMX skills and my jaw was agape the entire time, it was beautiful. Do you find your experience with BMX translates over to your music? There seems to be some symmetry between the two – as the final results appear seamless, even though there’s a tightrope you’re walking – with the fall always being a possibility. That’s where I garner a lot of appreciation for your music, you’re obviously not afraid to push yourself and potentially fall.
YES! They are very similar to me- they are both physical, dependent on patterns and structure, and usually end up with me being bloody and disoriented. Seriously, I love practicing things and repetition- probably to an intolerable degree for those around me. Being on that line between not falling and falling- or musically failing or not failing is enjoyable. It means I fail a lot- and have to- to get something that really surprises me and that I like.
Well I am not really a performing musician- and I haven’t had a band in years, but if I was able to find some folks I would love to play again. For now I am a studio guy.
What’s the next big project for you you in 2015?
The Longwalls have another great record coming out soon and I will have another coming out in 2015- those two records are front and center, but I have other side projects in the works too- I have had more people ask me to collaborate this year than in any other so hopefully I will be on many other records. One such local record is the new Dan London record– I Will Take You Back. I played drums and cello (and other odds and ends) on that record- and that was just released.
Animals will justifiably be featured on the 21 Best Albums of 2014 for Visions of the Unexcused – what have you listened to in the past year that’s really dug into your ear holes?
I think a lot of old music came back to me this year- like digital leather, the drums, and Guided By Voices. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the re-releases of classic hip hop that have dominated my listening year too- Ice Cube, NWA, De La Soul, Wu Tang, and Tribe. For new music I would go with Youth Lagoon, The Folk, Pixies, and Karen O.
What does being “Unexcused” mean to you?
Unexcused means presenting yourself – warts and all (and I mean WARTS)- and not taking yourself or others too seriously.
I have the habit, especially while driving, of gradually turning up the volume of an album I’m feeling, track by track. It may start at a four but’ll be cranked up to ten halfway through if it’s hitting home. I’ve never ever done this with a movie, well…until I watched Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton. I found myself continually reaching for my remote to bump the volume as if I was listening to a banging album or mix, this was a documentary I was most certainly feeling, and it hit all sorts of places with me. Having Madlib provide the soundtrack didn’t hurt either.
Stones Throw may be the most important record label in America today, and if you see one documentary this year make it Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton. Stones Throw founder, Peanut Butter Wolf, is a personal hero of mine. His musical taste is impeccable – and his ability to cultivate, promote, and nurture new music and musicians is beyond admirable. He’s also fearless, not scared of getting weird or pimping something he knows won’t profit. I find his “misses” just as important, if not more, than his “hits” – as I think too often record labels only get behind what they deem to be a “sure thing” – which is not good for art and progresses nothing.
Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton goes from the origins of Stone’s Throw to where it is today with all sorts of deliciously funky non-sequiturs, and it was more inspiring than anything for me. Wolf has created such an amazing culture with Stones Throw – he’s a true champion of sound – and I hope nothing but continued success and failures for them as they help shape what good music is and can be. Turn it up.