Friday, September 29, 2017

The Blackbirds soar: An interivew with Bradley Skaught

I first heard Bradley Skaught (foreground with guitar) when the late Scott Miller contributed to Bradley’s project Belle De Gama. It was wonderful. The next time I heard him, it was his band The Bye Bye Blackbirds, as great as Belle De Gama and still rock and roll. I would love to see them live someday, if I ever make to Oakland, California.

Bradley was kind enough to answer a few questions about the new Bye Bye Blackbirds album "Take Out The Poison." His answers are wonderful, so enjoy.

Andrea Weiss:  Power pop is such a catch-all term, but would you say your music is, or is it something else?

Bradley Skaught:  I try to remind myself that people are generally being complimentary when they’re looking for a genre to apply to a band or record. Personally, it’s hard for me to relate to, especially when there’s some kind of cultural or social baggage attached to it. I really like the term “rock and roll” because it feels like it encompasses the actual musical DNA of what we do and it’s not trying too hard to fence things off in order to reach a specific group of people. But I guess that’s the problem, right? Folks want things narrowed down. It starts to feel like market-driven behavior and it makes me itchy.

AW:  Your songs are really direct and honest about relationships. Are they about real people, or more about hypothetical situations?

BS:  All real people, although it’s more the feelings that are real than the specifics in the song, you know? I don’t feel like I’m necessarily telling the stories of my experiences, but the experiences are finding their way into songs via whatever images resonate with me when I’m writing.

AW:  There seem to be more happy songs on this album than on your previous albums. What brought about this change?

BS:  I don’t know if I feel like it’s a happier album, but I do think there’s more diversity of mood and subject matter – it covers the scale a little more. I think that’s mostly a reflection of the songs being written over a relatively longer period of time, and more in isolation from each other, than before.

AW: Where did the album title come from?

BS:  I really don’t know! I’m always jotting down phrases that strike me as good titles and I’ll usually have a big list to choose from while we’re working on an album. It could’ve been something I overheard or misheard or read. It was right in the middle of the list, but actually didn’t stand out as a good option until fairly late. But now it seems so appropriate it’s hard for me to remember why it didn’t stick right away! There’s always a real danger that my good phrase ideas come from Harry Potter, but I’m pretty sure this one didn’t.

AW:  Would you ever write anything political?

BS:  Maybe? I don’t generally write with a topic in mind or a specific meaning as a goal, so whatever is in the pipeline in my sub-conscious that wants to come out is what gets written. It’s hard for me to imagine looking at current events and deliberately putting my thoughts into words, and it’s not an exercise that I find too attractive. That said, I’ve got a new-ish one that clearly seems to have come out of the economic and social changes going on around here in the Bay Area. So if it’s in there and it wants to come out, I suppose it could happen.

AW:  You worked with the late Scott Miller. What was that like?

BS:  Really fun and a great education – he had brilliant and unique insights into songs and songwriting.

AW:  Are there any dream musicians you’d like to work with?

BS:  I already play with them! I look at the band and there’s nothing they can’t do, you know? It probably sounds cocky, but any songwriter would dream of having a band this good to work with. These guys are the dream musicians other songwriters would want to work with! I suppose there are times when I think about someone who could do string arrangements or something, but then I meet a guy like Mark Clifford (who did the arrangements on the new one) and, again, I’m working with someone who is bringing brilliant and accomplished work to the table that’s as good and cool as anything. I will say that I would love to know what it’d be like to play with the E Street Band or The Imposters or The Heartbreakers or any of those amazing groups that have spent decades behind a great songwriter, but, once again, I sort of feel like that’s what we are.

AW:  Any plans for a national tour, or at least the East Coast, or is that not something you want to do?

BS:  The logistics and economics are really against it, sadly, because I’d love to do it. Maybe an acoustic thing would work, but I’d rather do it with the band and it’s hard to imagine it happening without support of a label or someone.

AW:  If a well-established indie label wanted to sign you, say Merge or Sup Pop, would you?

BS:  I would, yeah. There’s a lot of pride in doing things in this DIY fashion, but, frankly, I’m not super good at it and it’s a weird burden that I don’t always weather that well. Having distribution and some press and the credibility that would come with that would be great. And, more than anything, just reaching more people. I think folks would dig it if they heard it, and my ability to get it heard all by myself is pretty limited.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017


Queens Of The Stone Age

I’ve always liked this band, but never more than with this new album. I’d feared the worst when I found out Mark Ronson had produced it. I did not want Josh Homme turned into Bruno Mars, or the band aping Uptown Funk.

Thankfully that isn’t what happened. Instead, the production has an organic feel. Their angular, irregular hard rock packs a bigger punch than most, and when synths are used, it’s with a light touch. While I always loved their sense of melody, this album sounds even more melodic to me than their previous work. The songs flow both melodically and lyrically, not just within themselves, but over the album as a whole, pulling it all together as a unit.

The lyrics are dark, but done smartly, so they never go overboard. My favorite lyric on this album is "Hideaway," and anyone who has been in an unequal relationship will relate to this song. It's balanced by "Fortress," where Josh offers shelter and comfort to someone he loves, tells them to let their guard down, and be with him. In its own way, it’s sweet.

The moral of this review is never judge a book by its cover. Ignore Ronson’s pop work and approach this album with an open mind. If you’re a fan, though this is a little different, there is plenty for you to sink your teeth into. If you’re new to the band, let the guys take you on a ride, then go on into their past work from there.

Andrea Weiss


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