Invading Brits To Guide Voices

I’ve been listening to a lot of 60s British Beat/Mod/R&B music lately. My momentary fixation is largely due to the fact that I’ve been taking guitar lessons since July and I’m attracted to the idea that a lot of these bands were at the beginning of their musical development. It’s great music but it’s not necessarily virtuoso, which makes it less intimidating to me. I can picture a time where I could comfortably play many of these songs!

So, I’ve made a mix. You should listen to it. I tried to focus on bands and songs that were big in England but didn’t quite breakthrough in America. There are exceptions to that strategy, so don’t complain about The Byrds song.

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Interview Mix: Toby Fallsgraff, The Earnest Beatle Baby Invading Your Inbox

OFA Campaign HQ March 2012In the rare moments when he moved out from the glow of his computer screen into the public spotlight, the role that proud Ohio native Toby Fallsgraff played on President Obama’s re-election team was not always clear. Labeled in some quarters as “a member of the campaign’s technical team” and in others as “a director on Obama’s marketing campaign,” the post-election consensus has settled on “email director.” At least, that’s how he describes himself when he serves as a keynote speaker. (His best lesson learned? Apparently, no presentation can be successful without at least 3 cat photos.)

With a political resume like Fallsgraff’s — OFA, DNC senior e-mail campaigner, former congressional campaign manager, M&R Strategies consultant — it would be tempting to assume he’s just a one dimensional DC junkie who speaks in soundbites and measures the  worth of the day in dollars raised. But one would be wrong to do so. Ever since he was a student who stood out in the crowd, the narrative of Toby’s life — at least as described by others — has been one of a politico with a heart that truly beat for music.

When Toby left Ohio for DC, “he left behind a musical legacy.” And when he returned to the state to run the 2008 congressional campaign of Bill O’Neill, Cleveland’s Scene Magazine couldn’t help but note that he was “a guitarist for a rock band called Daddy’s Gonna Kill Ralphie, when he’s not trying to get O’Neill elected.”  Even if Toby doesn’t always know the words to his own songs, he’s the type of person who would organize a tribute concert when one of his favorite musicians passes away. In other words, he cares.

I spoke to Toby recently about his tastes and interests in music. His answers were the basis for the 16 songs of this mix:

How would you describe your taste/interest in music? 

I’m not one of the “I love everything” kinds, but I don’t really believe those people anyway. Except for songs sung in a fake country drawl, or ones that are hilariously religious, I’m pretty open to most things. But if I’m going to add you to my music library and get evangelical about you, chances are you’re making thoughtful pop with a good sense of melody (bonus points for ambitious vocal arrangements).

How did you first get interested in music and how has your taste developed since then?

I was raised in a Beatles household the way some kids are raised Catholic. The first record I bought with my own money was Michael Jackson’s Dangerous. And I actually remember hearing Green Day’s “Basket Case” on the radio for the first time and freaking the fuck out. I dabbled in Nine Inch Nails but not got much heavier or more into the devil’s music than that. Then, I spent all of the early 2000s wanting to be Elliott Smith, but unwilling to commit to the hard-drug and greasy-hair lifestyle.

The real synthesis of all of this is when I worked at an indie rock radio station, and fell in love with bands like The Mountain Goats and The New Pornographers, all while co-hosting an oldies show called “Not Your Parents’ Music” with my buddy Joe. These days, you can file me under “obnoxious friend who wants to introduce you to post-surf Beach Boys.”

Name five of your favorite songs at the moment (in no particular order).

The Long Winters – “Shapes

Father John Misty – “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings

The Beach Boys – “Slip On Through

The Band – “Across the Great Divide

A.C. Newman – “I’m Not Talking

Name five of your favorite albums of all time (in no particular order).

I find it difficult not to be incredibly obvious when you get into the “of all time” arena. 

The Beatles – Abbey Road

The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds

Elvis Costello and the Attractions – This Year’s Model

Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

The Mountain Goats – We Shall All Be Healed

What are some songs to which you have a particular emotional attachment?

This is tough because I tend to put the music I’m really digging into temporal context, so they’re usually pretty tied to the feeling of that era. That second Shins record, for instance, puts me right back in those freezing guest rooms I stayed in when I was on the Dean campaign in Manchester, NH. The songs that transcend their original contexts are the ones that I feel the most attached to. Songs like “Carry Me Ohio” by Sun Kil Moon and “Giant Spiders” by Devin Davis are kind of like good friends at this point.

What are some of your musical guilty pleasures?

Does anyone really need to feel guilty about the music they like. Unless you’re going all in on bands like Train or Hootie and the Blowfish or something (and let’s be clear, I’m not entirely sure those people are capable of feeling guilt anyway), I think I’d refuse to say I feel guilt regarding my enjoyment of music.

That’s a cop-out, right? I know what you’re asking. People are sometimes surprised to know I enjoy the Spice Girls and *NSYNC (and that I know where the star goes in their name).

What goes into a good mix?

I’ve given this way too much thought in my years, and there are a number of rules I try to abide by – one song per artist, establishing pressure points (usually tracks 4 and 11/12) that the rest of the mix builds around.

I’m also a big believer in the wild card. Most mixes I make have a natural fold – the point where you have to take whatever path you’ve been going down and completely turn it all on its head.

Oh, also: 16 songs total.

If you were running for President in 2016, what song would you use as your campaign theme? 

I feel like this is an ageist question. Just because I will turn 35 in the year 2016…
Maybe “Eye of the Tiger”? Or the first few seconds to the theme song of “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” on a loop…

What is your process for finding music that is new to you?

Friends, music blogs, and just tooling around on Spotify. Lately, I can feel myself falling behind. The campaign really accelerated that process. But I’m getting old and less cool and I really have no idea how someone like Dan Weiss does it.

What is your opinion on downloading copyrighted material without paying for it?

I have no problem with this, assuming folks know how the economy works and support artists so they don’t have to resort to a lesser career or selling their songs to a Mexican cigarette company. Here’s where I play the “I’m in a band, too, and I don’t care if you steal our music.” (Also, Mexican cigarette companies, if you’re reading this, I have the perfect song for you.)


To hear a mix, created by me and based on Toby’s description of his musical interests, click HERE or listen here:

Here’s the tracklist:

1) James — God Only Knows

2) The Glands — I Can See My House From Here

3) Kim Wilde — Young Heroes

4) Bonnie Hayes With The Wild Combo — Inside Doubt

5) Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci — Spanish Dance Troupe

6) The Temptations — Hey Jude (Beatles Cover)

7) Van Dyke Parks — Donovan’s Colours

8) Heatmiser — Pop In G

9) Walter Egan — I Wannit

10) Split Enz — Amy (Darling)

11) The Spells — Can’t Explain (Who Cover)

12) The Bongos — Telephoto Lens

13) The Ladybug Transistor — Meadowport Arch

14) Zumpano — Let’s Fight

15) The Rolling Stones — We Love You

16) Tall Dwarfs — Life Is Strange

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My 2005 Review of Silver Jews’ Tanglewood Numbers

In the spirit of posting my old Buzzsaw David Berman interview, here’s the review I wrote of Tangelwood Numbers that ran in the same issue. Once again, I’ve maintained the errors of the original printing:

Silver Jews
The Tanglewood Numbers
(Drag City, 2005)

The Silver Jews have come a long way since their days of playing free-associative songs into Thurston Morre and Kim Gordon’s answering machine. While their early releases were lo-fi songwriting experiments, Tanglewood Numbers, their first album in four years, not only features the complex and deft lyrical twists head Jew David Berman is known for, but also rich, densely layered music to house the perceptive non-sequiturs and evocative details.

Of course, it would be a mistake to refer to the Silver Jews using collective words such as “they” and “their” since the single thread running through the band’s disjointed history is Berman himself. Taking the sole producing credit, he has assembled a cast of talented friends, most notably Stephen Malkmus and Will Oldham, to bring his tales of hard times in love and life to musical fruition. The result is an album dripping with an urgency that announces that living might not always be easy, but to actually live is “sweeter than Jewish wine.”

Much has been made of the revelation that Berman spent the past few years battling drugs and personal demons, and while it’s hard to not hear the tremors of that journey in his songs, it is clear that this is a record about facing trouble and forging through it. From the acknowledgement that “it gets really really bad” in opener “Punks in the Beerlight” to the declaration that he doesn’t want to return to the place where he saw “God’s shadow on this world” in closer “There is a Place,” Berman traverses an emotionally poetic landscape that rewards the listener with insight and gusto. This is an album worth hearing and then listening to again and again.

— Matt Corley

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Feelings For The Unfeeling: A (2005) Interview With David Berman

It’s no secret on this blog that I am a big fan of the Silver Jews and their sole fixed member, David Berman. As it happens, I e-interviewed Berman for my college’s alternative magazine years ago, but due to our stretched thin organization at the time, that interview has never been posted on the web. As of today, that is no longer true. The following was published in Buzzsaw Haircut’s (now just Buzzsaw) October 2005 issue. I’ve included any errors, such as the dropped article in the first sentence of the introduction, that appeared in print :

Feelings for the Unfeeling: An interview with David Berman

David Berman is musician known for his words. At other times he’s a writer known for his music. In truth, he should be widely known for both. Though Berman’s band, the Silver Jews, began as a stress-relieving collaboration with college friends Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastonovich, it has grown into a vehicle for his truly unique artistic vision. While promoting his first album in four years, Tanglewood Numbers, he was kind enough to answer Buzzsaw editor Matt Corley’s questions via e-mail.

BH: What was the writing process like for this album?

DB: The songs were chiefly written in the mornings and early afternoons, which was sort of a new time territory for me working. It was all written on electric guitar through an amp. In the past I have written by unamplified electric (on the first and third albums) or an acoustic (on the second and fourth albums).

BH: In previous interviews you’ve mentioned that you conduct musicians during the recording of songs by describing the mood of the song and the characters within it. What were some of the descriptions and scenes you set for the musicians on this record?

DB: The descriptors were more basic and blocky, like “play desperate” or “kill,” since I was trying to plan a range of distinct emotional boroughs for each song to occupy.

BH: Were any of the songs on the new album radically transformed in the studio?

DB: Transformed, no. But many of them were transfused with real blood.

BH: Did the record end up sounding like what you had in your head when you were conceptualizing it?

DB: It would be nice to think so. I just wanted it to sound fiercer. I didn’t know how that was going to happen, though.

BH: The Billboard article mentions you wrestling control of the project from producer Mark Nevers. What musical directions were being disputed between you and him?

DB: He wasn’t listening to me BECAUSE we are/were friends.

BH: What wasn’t he listening to you about?

DB: He broke the levees of my patience and I had to tear the bigtop down and put it up in another town, another studio I mean. Fortunately, it had to happen that way for the record to live. Meaning, I’m not just the human that speaks my words, and not always the person who invents what I say.

BH: When the early reports came out about the Easley McCain recording studio fire, it was thought that the tapes for Tanglewood Numbers had been destroyed. What was that day like for you?

DB: I knew I had the hard drive in an 800-pound safe. I felt survivor’s guilt.

BH: You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that there is a greater possibility for touring for this record than there has been in the past. Have there been any developments around that decision? Have you spoken to Malkmus, Kotzur, Fellows and the rest of the Tanglewood Numbers band about a tour?

DB: We’ve got a trio that plays dopwn in the basement. Me, Cassie and the drummer, Brian Kotzur. We are working our way out of the basement, honestly. Hopefully we’ll be a local band by January.

(Editor’s Note: While the Silver Jews are notorious for their lack of live shows, the sincerity of Mr. Berman’s statement  that they will hopefully be a local band by January is supported by the fact that they now have their first ever booking agent.)

BH: Your lyrics usually seem to have a certain detachedness to them, in the sense that they are clearly stories and characters, and it’s hard to know where David Berman is in them. A recent article in Fader magazine shined a light on some very personal experiences of yours. How has the Fader article affected people’s reception of you and the album? Does it seem like people are reading into the lyrics on the album more than usual, now that drugs and suicide attempts have been made part of your public persona?

DB: I don’t know. It’s too early to say. If the music is great, then it ultimately won’t matter. I’ve lived this band for 13 years in the darkness. I am hardly bothered by issues related to my public persona.

BH: What kind of process do you go through in terms of deciding if something you write is good? What’s your revising process like, for both writing and music?

DB: It just has to keep seeming like a good idea for longer than 48 hours. Everything gets revised many, many times.

BH: Your more country/singer-songwriter albums like The Natural Bridge and Bright Flight opened up some new sonic territory for me, especially in the direction of really listening to strong songwriters such as Hank Williams and Townes Van Zandt. I’m still pretty green in my knowledge of good country. What do you think is the appeal of that type of songwriting?

DB: It’s been blues for white people. A setting for realization and a depository of feelings for the otherwise unfeeling.

BH: Who are some artists in that vein who you would suggest checking out?

DB: Johnny Paycheck is the most rewarding country singer. You should check out Out of Hand by Gary Stewart. Frat boys may have ruined the Violent Femmes, but Jerry Jeff Walker’s Viva Terlingua is still the greatest.

BH: Who’s really good in the Nashville scene right now?

DB: Phil Lee. The Mighty King of Love LP on Koch is amazing.

BH: Is it common for other artists/writers/songwriters to come to you for critiques?

DB: No. Just a couple of my neighbors, actually.

BH: You’ve sung the line “there must be a Spanish word for this feeling,” and in the Pitchfork interview you described the way you felt when you first saw a picture of your wife as “there’s probably a German word for it.” Do you find that the English language can’t describe some feelings/emotions? Is this a lacking in English in particular, or do you think all language have flaws in their emotional adjectives? Are there some feelings and emotions that words can’t do justice to?

DB: I don’t have the words to do justice to this question!

BH: In a past interview you described your sense of politics as “an angry relationship with an abstract enemy called ‘rich people'” and the battle of us vs. the forces that lie to us.” The past five years have seen a glaring increase in forces lying to us, especially the forces of rich people. How are you and your work affected by the politics of the day? Do you feel that artists have any kind of obligation to address and engage contemporary politics?

DB: I think everyone has a moral obligation to read a good newspaper every day to remain intellectually in touch with events around the world. Especially in times of war and great suffering, which is just about all the time I realize.

BH: What papers do you read, and have there been any stories in the news lately that you think should be getting more attention then they are being given?

DB: The future can sometimes be seen developing on pages A18, A19 etc. That’s where the rats are doing bad shit. Something very bad happened in Uzbekistan this summer. Nobody knows how many people were killed. Their government is shielding us from knowing what happened. I read The New York Times and The Tennessean every day. The paper versions.

BH: The theme for our magazine this month is the future. In the sense that there will be a moment after the current one, a day after tomorrow, and so on, how has the concept of the future played into your life and work?

DB: Working with the subject of the future requires one to be either more idealistic or alternately pessimistic than I want to be as a writer. I like to say “everything is going to be okay” in the hopes that saying it will make it so. I would like to help console anyone who is currently scared of the future.

BH: What is the interviewing process like for you? We’re both strangers, though I can read interviews and look at your wok in order to forma  picture of who you are, but you must have no idea who I am other than that I work for a magazine, and you wouldn’t be able to find out much more through a Google search. I can only imagine that talking to strangers who think they have some kind of conception of who you are is really weird, especially since they are likely to have an incorrect conception. How has the shift from unknown Johnny Anybody to quasi-celebrity poet and musician affected your life?

DB: I think because I don’t play live, I don’t meet Silver Jews fans, like touring bands that must feel their “celebrity” and “specialness” wherever they go. So my life is relatively unrocked by strangers. Every couple of years I do a round of interviews, but that’s it.

Matt Corley is a senior politics major who would tell you that the Uzbek government claims 187 people were killed in a clash between the military and civilians while human rights groups say it was closer to 700 people.

Proof that this interview truly did get printed:


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Call It The Politico Rhetorical Crutch

Reading Politico’s big article today on Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), the rhetorical move used in the second sentence seemed oddly familiar to me:

David Vitter is stepping up his attacks on Wall Street, slamming President Barack Obama’s oil policies and vowing to use a new committee perch to speed up unfinished levee work — issues that play well back home in Louisiana and could boost a possible bid for the governor’s mansion.

Call it the rehabilitation of Sen. Vitter.

On a hunch, I searched Politico’s website for the phrase “call it the.” Here’s what I found going 50 Google search pages deep into a Politico site search:

Call it the Chopper candidacy.

Call it the West Wing North.

Call it the sequel.

Call it the little green engine that could.

Call it the McDonnell Strategy

Call it the 19 percent solution.

Call it the freight debate:

Call it the Christie Primary.

Call it the brawl on the bayou.

Call it the politics of personal perfection.

Call it the Andres Challenge:

Call it the Drama Queen Caucus

Call it the White House Legislative Affairs shop, version 2.0.

Call it the dawn of the Apple presidency.

Call it the final smackdown.

Call it the return of the default deniers.

Call it the multistage strategy.

Call it the farm bill two-step.

Call it the Mittness Protection Program.

Call it the Split the Difference Scenario

Call it the Mike Castle rule.

Call it the Rand Paul Evolution.

Call it the rehabilitation of Sen. Vitter.

Call it the Sandy lobby.


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Anyone Can Play Guitar (Even Me?)

Back in elementary school, when my best friends and I first seriously got into rock music, we did talked a lot about forming a band. This cheap talk never led to a band practice, let alone the creation of any music, but it did lead to the assignment of instruments that we would eventually play in our future band.

Despite my lack of rhythm, I was to be our drummer. I even took drum lessons for about four years. But there were two problems, beyond my ear’s deficiencies in picking up the beat, that held me back from ever getting comfortable behind a snare: I didn’t practice much and I would try to drum along with the guitar. Before long, my musical growth was stunted and eventually abandoned.

I did try to pick up guitar in college, but once again practice was intermittent at best. Worse than that, I wasn’t realistic about what I would need to do to get comfortable with a six string. Instead of focusing on the fundamentals and building my skills steadily, I would look up the tabs for songs I liked and then get frustrated when I couldn’t play them. Eventually I stopped trying.

But I never stopped loving music. And now that I’m working at a job that doesn’t come home with me at the end of the day, I’ve decided that I need a hobby. Something creative and a little bit physical. So, with that in mind, I’m going to learn to play guitar.

I’m going to be realistic about this endeavor though. I’m not picturing myself as a rock star on a stage. My ambition is to be someone who can comfortably play an instrument for his own enjoyment. If I’m lucky, I might get to a place where I can be creative with it.

The plan is simple. I recently purchased “Hal Leonard Guitar Method Complete Edition.” Using it as a guide, I’m going to practice for 30 minutes a day. The idea is to go slow and steady as she goes.

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Not What I Was Looking For, But Still…

Taking advantage of my office’s adherence to the federal holiday schedule, I am spending a chunk of my day today seeing how many pennies I can get from Amazon for the old CDs gathering dust in my closet. As it turns out, Amazon is not interested in many of my CDs, including music both obscure, like anything by Azita, and much more mainstream, like Bob Dylan’s Together Through Life.

On the bright side, Amazon’s refusal to even acknowledge the existence of some albums has led me to learn of some interesting items that do exist. For instance, when I searched for Quasi’s Hot Shit, Amazon’s search engine threw up just two results, Pure 80’s Hits and Millie Jackson’s Back to the Shit.

Oh my, what I can I say about Back to the Shit that its cover doesn’t say for itself:

As of today, Amazon is offering up to $16.01 for a copy of this CD, which is the highest offer I’ve seen for any album while checking my own CDs.

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Robyn Hitchcock’s Right Wing Radio Song

They do say you learn something new every day. This morning, biding my time before a trip to the National Cryptologic Museum, I made my monthly eMusic choices. Stuck with a little over $6 to spend and no clear sense of what I wanted, I searched and searched, unsatisfied with where my link clicking and keyword entering were taking me. Thankfully, I have a helpful decision rule for situations like this: I could always use more Robyn Hitchcock. Thus, I purchased his 1996 Moss Elixir album.

Imagine how surprised I was to find that one of the songs, on first listen at least, appears to take right wing talk radio as its subject. Behold, The Devil’s Radio (listen for the Limbaugh name drop):

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Andrew’s Gettin’ Old

A good friend just turned 30 and I haven’t updated this blog in a long time. Prompted by the former and sorry about the latter, I post this mix:

On the personal front, I started working at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington last month. They put my condensed professional bio on their website recently. I’m a pro again.

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Jake Tapper On His Transition From Salon To ABC News

Following a Romenesko tweet, I read a MediaBistro interview today with Richard Lawson, a Senior Writer for The Atlantic Wire who used to write for Gawker.  After reading the interview, which had some resonant thoughts for me on seeking “a new, different opportunity” in online writing, I swam through Media Bistro’s “So What Do You Do” interview archives a bit and came across a 2009 interview with ABC News’ Jake Tapper.

Particularly interesting to me was Tapper’s take on the differences between writing for Salon and for ABC:

Your writing at Salon was more opinionated in tone. Was it an adjustment to move to your quote-unquote unbiased role at ABC?
No, because I’m not a particularly dogmatic person. I have not found it difficult. In fact, I’ve found it much easier — even when I was at Salon, but certainly much more so since, — to try to be as politically agnostic as possible. It’s much more interesting anyway if you don’t think you know the answer to what is right or wrong in politics. And that’s not to say there are not rights and wrongs, but just that they are not dictated by any one particular point of view. So no, actually it suits me much better. I never felt completely comfortable; I never fit in perfectly at Salon, as much as I loved writing for Salon. I never fit in perfectly because I didn’t have an established point of view, and I didn’t view the world as automatically ‘so-and-so should be elected and such-and-such a view is wrong.’

In general, I’m OK with reporters acknowledging that they embrace certain premises, but I think the case that Tapper makes for the benefits of humility in one’s own ability to “know the answer to what is right or wrong in politics” is well-taken. Too many digital scribblers seem to write with more confidence than their experiences and knowledge can likely support. Maybe it’s because I often lack that confidence, but the belief that you don’t know the answer can be an important catalyst for finding answers that are closer to the quote-unquote truth.

This is something I like about political science. You are pushed to take notions and beliefs about how politics works (theories, if you will) and then translate them into testable hypotheses. By bringing data to bear, you can, at the very least, separate some of the assumptions from the actuality. 

UPDATE: Unrelated, but worth noting just for interest’s sake is Tapper’s description of his old boss, David Carr:

Alright, last thing. In your first newspaper job, your editor was New York Times media guru David Carr. Can you close us out with a good Carr story from that era?
If you’ve ever met David Carr you know he’s not just a columnist and reporter, he is a force of nature. Even calling him a force of nature does a disservice to him, because there are some very minor hurricanes that are forces of nature and Carr is certainly beyond that. You become enveloped in his dialogue, his world view, his enthusiasm for journalism. I’d never met anyone like him. It was our first meeting after I had written a few stories for the Washington City Paper on a freelance basis, he basically convinced me to do what I wanted to do but hadn’t had the guts to do — to take a substantial pay cut and become a journalist. And then for that year-plus I worked for him, he was a one man J-school. I often tell young people seeking to break into the business, ‘Before you go to journalism school, I recommend you start at a small local newspaper.’ That probably overestimates editors in general out there, but I was really lucky that I had this guy who was in the process of becoming a legend as my first editor. I remember the triumphs we shared and I remember the times he yelled at me. I remember what he yelled at me about. It’s all there. And I’m a lucky guy that I fell into his world when I did, because he wasn’t really at City Paper all that long, and neither was I. But I invited him to my wedding. He’s a very important figure in my life.

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