Tuesday, December 31, 2019

BS 3

Big Stir Single Series, Vol 3
Big Stir Records

The third volume of this series, released earlier this year, showcases pop/rock in all its forms: punk, psych, pop, and rock. All the songs are excellent, a reminder that there is some very good music out there, if one is willing to look for it.

But it’s the emotions of these songs that make this comp stand out--not just good times and bad times, but why they’re good or bad, happy or sad, all without emo-style overwrought lyrics. These are adult emotions, in all their complexity, with happiness, and joy the most prominent.

For examples, Paula Carino’s single, A and B Sides, “Flying Dream/Greenwood,” describes difficult situations, with hope and certainty that things will work out. The Librarians With Hickeys bring comfort in “Black Velvet Dress,” and the comp’s saddest song, “Alex.” One wonders what Alex did to make the narrator so upset. Blow Up bring pure and happy punk for A Side “Reckless Hearts,” and a great Velvet Underground cover of “What Goes On” for the B.

I will be hearing volumes 1&2 early next year. If they are anything like volumes 3&4, they will be some of the best singles comps I’ve ever heard, a reminder that hits don’t have to be Top 40 to be great.


Andrea Weiss

Sunday, December 29, 2019


Carol Pacey & The Honey Shakers

I first heard of this Tempe band from Big Stir Records' singles comp, Vol. 4 and really liked what I heard.

Bliss, their third album, reminds me a bit of Neko Case’s debut, The Virginian, but I like it a lot better, as this band’s Americana thrash is much livelier and not trad, and Pacey’s soulful singing is more forthcoming emotionally and lyrically. I also like the way she takes no guff and isn't mournful about it. The rest of the band, Andy Borunda on electric guitar, Benno DeLuca on drums, and Dante Fiorenza on bass sound great. Pacey’s acoustic guitar playing adds texture and detail.

If you want something different, not run of the mill country or Americana, I think you will really enjoy this album.

Andrea Weiss

Sunday, December 22, 2019


The Jim Basnight Thing
Pop Top
Precedent Records

The pop on this album has a punky rawness to it, making this college rock really powerful. They take Midnight Oil at their best as a starting point. It’s very good, all the more so for including some blues, like “Opportunity Knocks” and “Blue Moon Heart.

“Hello Mary Jane” and “Stop The Words” are straightforward punk, making for even more variety. Another great album from this band, and one that has staying power. People will remember them long after the album has ended.

Andrea Weiss

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Big Stir

Big Stir Singles: The Fourth Wave
Big Stir Records

The fourth volume of virtual A- and B-sides is some of the best pop/rock today. Some tracks are more punk rock, some more folk rock, some psychedelic, and some pure pop. All are melodic.

Everything is here: good times, like Dolph Chaney's “I’m OK;” bad times in The Vapour Trails' "Drowning As I Fall In;" love in all its forms; and sex, like Carol Pacey & The Honey Shakers' amazing, feminist cover of the Violent Femmes' "Add it Up," which also includes a great gun control message. The equally amazing sparkle jets* U.K. do Big Star covers with Jody Stevens himself on drums.

Five dollars from every comp sold goes to the Ed Asner Family Center, which works with special needs people of all ages and their families to give them dignity, confidence, self-respect, and a chance to be whatever they want to be. As someone who is learning disabled, I can’t think of a finer cause to support. I’ve heard of the center and know they do good work.

For this reason I urge you to buy this, but also because it's great music, truly and unjustly outside the mainstream. It is so versatile, so rocking, so smart, so fun, and so everything everyone needs, what more could you want.


Andrea Weiss

Saturday, December 7, 2019


Jim Basnight and the Moberlys
Seattle-New York-Los Angeles
Precedent Records

These recordings from 1982-89 are a great take on early Tom Petty--more garage and punk, but also good power pop, and one song, Elma, borders on cowpunk. Every track has something to recommend it, like Elma’s sarcastic take on wishing to leave a one-horse town. If I’d heard these tracks in the 80s, I would’ve thought they were every bit the breath of fresh air that early Petty was. Fans of all of these genres and just good music, this is a must-hear. Basnight made a wonderful debut with Sexteen and got even better with this album.

Andrea Weiss

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Moberlys Debut

The Moberlys
Precedent Records

This CD of recordings that span 1977-82, was released in 1996, when grunge was just beginning to recede. It's very punky power pop, out of step and proud of it.

Jim Basnight led the band, and his nicely retro, fun music, with lyrics about young adult love and sometimes sex, are a breath of fresh air for being so simple, yet so heartfelt and strong. The last few songs on the album are live, with whoever was there having a blast.

For anyone who wants to hear something 90s besides grunge, since there was more going on than that, this band is for you. And enjoy, as the next few reviews will be of Jim’s music, and they will be fun too.

Andrea Weiss

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Lady Lamb

Lady Lamb
Even in the Tender
Ba Da Bing Records

I’ve known about Aly Spaltro, who is Lady Lamb, since she was Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, but I had lost track until this latest album and seeing her open for The New Pornographers.

Even in the Tender, released earlier this year, is great, with every track standing out. She’s strongly reminiscent of St. Vincent, especially lyrically. This is old school indie rock, before hipsters got ahold of it and made it boring with everything sounding the same. Back then someone could put a record on their media player and go, “That’s St. Vincent," or Lady Lamb, or Spoon, or TV On the Radio…

Live, she was very gritty, and very appealing. The songs from Tender sound very up to date, and like no one else. The older songs sound current too. If you don't know her music, Tender is where to start, and go see her live. She’s more than worth it.

Andrea Weiss

Sunday, November 10, 2019

TNP Live

Lady Lamb/The New Pornographers
Union Transfer, Philadelphia, PA,
November 8, 2019

I've been a TNP fan from the beginning, and this was my second time seeing them live. I would have to say that tonight's show topped the first one, just for songs I’d never heard live before.

Lady Lamb, the opener, was a band I hadn’t heard about in a while. I remember hearing some of their first album. It was folk/rock and I liked it, but not enough to pick it up. Not this time! They were a great opening act and reminded me of Waxahatchee or early Hop Along, two bands I like a lot, so this time I picked up the album. I'll listen to it soon.

TNP brought the energy, and a huge sound. Newest member Simi Stone is great on violin, and her take on Moves’ cello part, which I love and hadn’t heard live before, was wonderful. Blaine and Kathryn were terrific on keys. Todd and John were great on guitar and bass, as was Joe on drums. I am not sure how tall Carl is, but he is a big, tall man. He hunched over an acoustic guitar that looked too small for him, while playing it expertly. Neko, with her natural earthiness and amazing voice, held the crowd in her hand.

They played a good bit of their new album, In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights, and the sound of it, indeed all their songs, was sprawling, but seamless: many moving parts adding up to a natural whole. It all worked. It all was perfect. The didn’t neglect their older songs. There was a smattering of them, including a Dan Bejar tribute, Testament To Youth In Verse.

They saved the best for last though: Letter From An Occupant. Neko’s singing was to die for, and while I’d heard the song Mass Romantic live before, Neko was amazing on that one, as well. Carl is also very good live. Go see them! You won’t regret it. They really are that good, that fun, and that energetic.
Andrea Weiss

Sunday, November 3, 2019


The Muffs
No Holiday
Omnivore Recordings

Kim Shattuck went out on top. These eighteen songs, some fully produced, some home recordings, show her at the top of her game. Likewise, bassist Ronnie Barnett and drummer Roy McDonald.

My three favorites of these excellent songs are “Late And Sorry,” where she unleashes her wonderful scream, “The Kids Have Gone Away,” where she shows how great a guitar player she was, and “Lucky Charm,” which is very sweet.

Shattuck lost her battle with ALS on October 2, 2019. Even as this album wasn’t meant to be her last will and testament, it is now. It’s also a good starting point for getting into a great band. Check them out if you haven't already.

Andrea Weiss


The Breeders
Walking With a Killer (Video)
Marcos Sanchez, Director

Walking With A Killer, from the band’s compelling 2018 comeback album All Nerve, is a cautionary tale about being killed, not necessarily physically, more like emotionally. It’s one of the best songs on a really great album, with some amazing guitar playing by Kelley Deal.

The video is a collage of old black and white, mostly non-horror film clips, animated with liquid neon flowers and plants, the only color in the clip, all to show death and dying as natural, organic, and a fact of life. It’s very well made and, like the best horror films, mesmerizing, the perfect synthesis of song and film. Recommended for Halloween, and for anyone who just wants to see a terrific video.


Andrea Weiss

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The New Pornographers
In the Morse Code of Brake Lights
Concord Records

Where to start with what I like about this? That the band’s fusion of Game Theory and ELO is wonderful. That Carl Newman’s lyrics are as sharp as ever. That Neko’s, Kathryn’s, Joe’s and new member Simi Stone’s singing is great.

Now for some details. The lyrics are meant to be political and romantic at the same time, maybe sexual politics, and therefore are intriguing. They remind me of Scott Miller’s best writing, like on Game Theory's Real Nighttime album.

The music is more ELO. Like ELO, the strings, whether Simi’s violin or a string section, give the music new textures. It’s reminiscent of the cello on TNP's Together album, but more campy.

As for Dan not being on the album, to be very honest, I think the band is better off without him. I always felt that his songs, in the context of the albums, were too jarring, because his lyrics are so different from Carl’s. I love some of his songs, like War On the East Coast, but the self-explanatory Entering White Celia is one of my least favorites. There is a flow and smoothness to this album that wasn’t there before, and I find it quite appealing. Even as some of the lyrics are dark, they are soothing and uplifting anyway.

Overall this album is more pop than rock. It has the rock elements of Mass Romantic and the pop elements of Electric Version, but also syth-pop, and fewer guitars, adding up to a new sound. For me, that seals it as one of the best of the year.

Andrea Weiss

Saturday, September 28, 2019


Rock and Roll: An Interivew With Jim Basnight

The internet is amazing, anything can happen, and for all that’s bad about it, when something good happens, it’s amazing.

I used to live at the Jersey Shore, and for many years I listened to the local modern rock station, WHTG. The station is long gone and now is remembered mostly for giving Matt Pinfield of 120 Minutes fame his start. When he was programming the music, the station literally played everything, and it was not uncommon, before it was phased out when grunge exploded, to go from Paul Simon to early Nirvana in one set.

One song that got played a bit the Moberlys with their song “Blow Your Life Away.” It’s anti-suicide, pro-gun control, and wonderful power pop. But because I wasn’t a hipster in the eyes of the local record store, they wouldn’t special order the album it was on. This was pre-internet, so I was stuck, until many years later, but I never forgot the song.

One day I went on You Tube, and there it was, with a comp it was on, We Rocked And Rolled (The First 25 Years Of Jim Basnight: The Moberlys And Beyond). Basnight was the leader of that band, also The Rockinghams, Jim Basnight Thing, and solo. I recommend the comp. He really is very good, and it’s a good summing up of everything.

Then one day, out of the blue, Basnight contacted me, I think because I’d reviewed a couple of albums from a label he’s put a single out on, Big Stir. Apparently he had read my blog and liked it. The review of his latest solo album is up alongside this interview, where he was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

Andrea Weiss: For those who don’t know who you are, could you tell us a little of your musical history?

Jim Basnight: I’m a guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer, journalist, author. I started playing guitar in the mid to late 60’s, as a small child. I played my first gigs in school with school mates at 11. I loved the British bands and American rock and roll, R&B, and pop. I was a good student and also played a lot of basketball, so music was only a side thing. I was really inspired, though, by the glam artists of the early 70’s, which led me to write my first songs in 1975.

Once I wrote songs, I was hooked and I became a careerist. The Meyce, my first original band, opened for the Ramones the first time they played in my hometown. I then moved to NYC to be close to the scene there, came back to Seattle, and cut my first 45 in 1977 on my own Precedent label. I formed my second original band, the Moberlys, in 1978, who cut an LP in 1979 (Precedent), which got substantial coverage in the then underground rock press.

I moved back to NYC and formed a second version of the Moberlys there in 1980. I stayed New York based until early 1984, recording, writing, performing, and playing gigs with a number of notable folks. I cut a single and an EP in Vancouver, BC in 1983, which came out in 1984, right when I moved back to the Northwest. Formed a third version of the Moberlys and performed in Seattle, Vancouver, BC, and Portland in 1984-85 and cut an LP for the Lolita Records label in France.

Moved to LA with the Moberlys in 1985. In LA, recorded a lot of tracks with the Moberlys, including eight sides for EMI records in 1987 (which never came out, but I retained rights to, in 1990, later released) and played a lot of dates, mostly in LA, but some up the West Coast. The band split and I formed another band in 1989, while playing West Coast solo acoustic guitar dates. Cut my first CD in 1991-92 and released it on cassette and CD on my Precedent, after re-locating back to Seattle in 1992-93.

I formed a band called the Rockinghams with Seattle musicians in 1993, while also playing acoustic solo dates in the Northwest region. In 1994 I co-composed a musical based on the Little Rock Nine, titled “Little Rock,” and co-produced the original cast album, which I intend to release on Precedent in 2020. The Rockinghams released a CD EP in 1995 and a Moberlys re-issue CD in 1996, both on Precedent.

In 1997 I released a larger Moberlys CD package on the Bear Family (Germany) label and a solo acoustic rock album on Precedent. In 1998 the Rockinghams released a full length CD album on the Not Lame (US) label and started a booking agency. In 1999-2003 I played and booked gigs for a living all over the extended Northwest region of the US, including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and California, and released a second Moberlys re-issue CD in 2001 on the Pop the Balloon label (France).

In 2004 I released my first album of new material since the Rockinghams LP on the Precedent label. In 2005 I discontinued my booking business and started working as a sports site publisher for Rivals, which became part of Yahoo in 2007, all the while traveling the extended Northwest region doing gigs. In 2006 I released a Moberlys re-issue LP on the Rave-UP label (Italy) and a different Moberlys re-issue CD on the Wizzard-In-Vinyl label (Japan).

In 2008 I left Yahoo to do an indie sports site, write a column for the Seattle ESPN-Radio affiliate’s website, and started raising a then seven-year-old, while playing gigs mostly within a smaller radius (300 miles from the Seattle area). Also in 2008 I released a career retrospective CD on the Disclosed label (US).

The combination of gigs, selling CD’s off the stage mostly, and sports journalism went on until late 2011, when I was hired to manage a research project on Sonny Boy Williamson (Alex “Rice” Miller), who passed on in 1965. In 2012 I released an album which I compiled from the best of my unreleased material, plus five new tracks. From 2012-2017 I worked on "Sonny Boy" while playing the same circuit of gigs to support myself and my family.

In 2018 I started putting together tunes for my new album, “Not Changing,” and finished co-producing it by early 2019, while working on “Sonny Boy,” getting my 450-page biography published, a documentary film released, and converting my screen play based on the story to a pilot and a series of episodes for TV. I also, as always, continue to play gigs as the majority of my income. In most every venue I perform, I play more original music than nearly every act who work there.

In June of 2019 my kid moved away to go to college. I’m also in the process of compiling an all covers album for release in 2020. I’ve participated in around 40 compilation albums, mostly with original material published prior, but I’ve also been involved with tribute CD’s, all of whom are going to be included in this covers album, as well as a three-song medley I recorded during the “Not Changing” sessions. There are a number of other cool cover cuts, most never before released.

My goal is to release an album of all new material and a live album in 2021. I would classify myself as an American musician, who loves rock and roll and great tunes of all styles. Some have classified me with different labels, but I prefer to call what I do just plain rock and roll. That’s all there is to my music and to me in general, other than the fact that I am heavily involved with caring for my brother, who has special needs. I also love a dog named Clyde, who is pictured on the back cover of “Not Changing.”

AW: Who are your influences?

JB: Far reaching, within the range of amplified and some fully acoustic American roots music. Not big on jazz or Classical. If you want me to name a decade, between the beginnings of the popularization of amplified blues-based music in the mid 1950’s, to the establishment of the digital age in the mid 90’s, I’d be happy to expand on that. To summarize, I’d probably name my personal stylistic favorites/obsessions from each decade as follows:
50’s: Sonny Boy Williamson and Lenny Bruce
60’s: Beatles and Jimi Hendrix
70’s: David Bowie and Johnny Thunders
80’s and 90’s: Moberlys, Rockinghams, and Jim Basnight solo

AW: I like that you talk about more than cars and girls in your songs. Do you feel that you're pushing power pop in new directions?

JB: I love power pop. The Hollies, The Kinks, The Who, Badfinger, Slade, The Raspberries, The Heats, Oasis are among my very favorites who slide somewhat easily into that classification. I think, if anything, I’m pushing power pop, because it’s pushing it that I am power pop. I really like blues and R&B, as well as rockabilly, classic C&W, early punk, garage, and grunge. Basically, it’s all rock and roll. If our music is considered power pop, that’s someone else’s idea.

AW: On "Not Changing," some of the references suggest it’s an older song. It’s a great song. How old is it?

JB: “Not Changing” is a song I finished in 2018, but pieces of it come from other songs which go back to 1988. I’ve written about 500 songs so far and sometimes I grab stuff from various unpublished tunes as I develop material.

AW: Are there any other older songs on the album?

JB: They are all new and old. As far as I’m concerned they are all new.

AW: Your music is pretty powerful, and I don’t hear a lot of power pop like this. Listening to your best known songs comp, it seems like this was always the case. Was it?

JB: I think so. I became a better guitar player over time, mostly because I had to in order to work. I’ve evolved by playing gigs, for the most part, by engaging with audiences and playing the music that moves them.

AW: Your tribute to Kurt Cobain is very powerful, and nicely grungy. Were you ever classified as grunge?

JB: In 1992-93 the Seattle scene didn’t exactly embrace me, coming back from LA. I made my own way, entirely independent from the powerful connected new money that resulted from grunge. I never tried to be grunge or any style, power pop included. I’ve always done it my own way, for better or worse. I love Kurt’s music. I think he was brilliant and transformational. I think the song speaks for itself.

AW: Some of these songs sound very much like blues. Do you see your music that way, or as something else?

JB: I’d be lying if I told you that researching “Sonny Boy” in depth and hanging out in Mississippi a lot has not rubbed off on me. Yes, I’ve been especially influenced by the masters of the blues over the past 7-8 years. Some of my favorites besides Miller include Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, BB King, Buddy Guy, Robert Nighthawk, Junior Wells, Robert Lockwood, Little Walter, Bobby Rush, and Jody Williams. I also appreciate British blues men like Jeff Beck, Ron Wood, and Mick Taylor more, since I’ve fallen in love with the blues.

Thanks for your excellent questions.

Jim's Album review

Jim Basnight
Not Changing
Precedent Records

The latest project by longtime power popper Jim Basnight (Jim Basnight Thing, The Meyce, The Moberlys, The Rockinghams) is a solo album that is very good, and very adult power pop (adult in the sense that it’s more than cars and girls, but also mature). It’s steeped in the blues and very powerful.

While every song here has something to recommend it, the ones I like the best are “Never Get Lost,” about how if you wait long enough you’ll have your day, and has a great melody; “Saturday Dream,” which is also about getting what you want if you persevere, and is somewhat folk rock, for quiet times. The third would be the tribute song "Kurt Cobain," which is very good. It all adds up to a wonderful album.
Andrea Weiss

Saturday, September 21, 2019


One Kind Of Solomon
The New Pornographers

This is the third single from their upcoming album In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights.

The excitement of the music makes it soar. Kathryn Calder’s keyboards are lovely and make the music dance, as do Todd Fancey’s guitar solos.

While the lyrics are a meditation on Solomon, the Biblical figure, Neko Case’s part calls for political unity over bad times and signs. It’s a message to be heeded going into an election year. The lyrics in the main feel political.

Another wonderful offering, and maybe the best yet from this album.

Andrea Weiss

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Paula C

Paula Carino
Flying Dream/Green-Wood single
Big Stir Records

I’ve always like Carino’s music. It's very 90s, but uses the influences of, say, Liz Phair, in fresh, original ways. This is her newest single, part of Big Stir’s single series.

Both songs are about difficult, uncomfortable situations, even as, especially on “Green-Wood,” it’s okay in the end. The music updates 90s college rock very nicely, as it sounds like today’s guitar rock, say, Jay Som. Carino’s voice, while soothing, also has a subtle edge, as though she understands, but wants you to do the heavy thinking yourself. Both songs are memorable, and wonderful food for thought.

Andrea Weiss

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The New Pornographers 
The Surprise Knock
In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights

The second single from the upcoming ninth album from The New Pornographers is even more exciting than their last single “Falling Down the Stairs Of Your Smile”, and that one was also very exciting. Musically it sounds like a cross between “Mass Romantic” the song from the band’s first album, and AC Newman’s (Carl Newman’s solo name) song “The Palace At 4am” from his second solo album “Get Guilty”. 

Lyrically it seems to be about feeling uncomfortable about a situation or person, and then everything turning out okay.... and what it all adds up to is a preview to an album that might be one of their best, and a logical progression from their last album “Whiteout Conditions”.  

Andrea Weiss

The New Pornographers 
“The Surprise Knock”
In the Morse Code of Brake Lights

The second single from the upcoming ninth album by The New Pornographers is even more exciting than their last single “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile,” and that one was also very exciting. Musically it sounds like a cross between the song “Mass Romantic” from the band’s first album, and AC Newman’s song “The Palace At 4 AM” from his second solo album Get Guilty

Lyrically it seems to be about feeling uncomfortable about a situation or person, and then everything turning out okay. What it all adds up to is a preview of an album that might be one of their best, and a logical progression from their last album, Whiteout Conditions.

Andrea Weiss

Wednesday, August 21, 2019


The Center Won’t Hold
Mom And Pop

I almost never give bad reviews, because it’s damn hard to make a living as a musician, let alone have the success Sleater-Kinney have had. And I am a long-time fan. I also never cry “sell-out,” because there is no such thing. Everyone needs and wants money so they can live properly. Anyone who says money is this, that and the other thing evil has enough money and power to afford to say it. This band hasn’t sold out at all, they just want payday.

Nevertheless, this is not going to be an altogether positive review. Let’s start with what’s good first. St. Vincent’s production is great. The band’s lyrics, politically and relationship-wise, are as sharp as ever. I like the way they’ve updated their sound, as I guess they felt they’d gone as far as they could with their old one. That’s not bad; nothing wrong with staying current.

It’s their idea of staying current that’s the problem. The band has made an early-to-mid 80s new wave album, and the 80s band they most resemble in tone and form here is the unjustly forgotten We’ve Got A Fuzzbox And We’re Going To Use It, A.K.A. Fuzzbox. Sometimes Fuzzbox sounds better than this. If this change of direction is why Janet left, I can’t blame her. There are better ways to be modern than this, and Corin and Carrie are too good guitarists to put their guitars down in favor of synths.

So take this review for what it’s worth, and approach with caution. As I say, this isn’t a bad album, but I wish it was better, and a lot more truly modern.

Andrea Weiss

Friday, August 9, 2019

To Wild Homes

An interview with Rex and Christina from The Armoires

I am a member of the "Scott Miller, Game Theory, The Loud Family" group on Facebook. It was there that I first heard The Armoires, with their cover of The New Pornographers' "The Laws Have Changed." TNP is already updated college rock, and I liked this update of the update very much. A violin taking a guitar line, Rex and Christina's off-kilter vocal harmonies, and a slightly folk/rock feel all add up to a great cover.

I bought Side Three, the Armoires EP this song is on, and really liked it too. The EP just made me want to hear more.

And now there is more, with the release of their second full-length album, Zibaldone. What a great album this is: lots of moving parts, all forming a teeming whole of a world, with terrific production from Plasticsoul leader Steven Wilson.

They remind me of Nields here, too, whose gently askew, very cheerful folk/rock is, in tone and form, a good fit.

Rex and Christina, who are not a couple, just good friends and band mates, were kind enough to answer my questions.

AW: Who are your influences besides The New Pornographers and Game Theory?

Rex: Those are both huge ones. I don't know that we soundlike TNP in particular, but their whole aesthetic and approach were the template for how the band works, something I was chasing in the three-piece I had with The Armoires' rhythm section before I met Christina. That band was sort of like The Jam meets Dylan maybe, but the material started to seem to call for a bigger canvas, and the Pornos were it. Christina brought everything that I was imagining and so much more.  Together we have that “feel” without copying the “sound.” And yes, Scott Miller was absolutely a lyrical, melodic, and conceptual hero, alongside Robyn Hitchcock on that level. A lot of people see us as a very 60s influenced band, but I'm way more prone to taking that as a given – Kinks and Byrds at the top of the heap – and citing my college rock heroes instead. The Go-Betweens are massive to me. John Cale's a huge inspiration. And Camper Van Beethoven. I'm surprised more people don't peg that one. Must be the sunshine pop harmonies! There's a lot in the mix.

Christina: I think the first song I ever learned the lyrics to was “Pinball Wizard” when I was really young, and my friend learned “Last Train to Clarksville.” This was us trying to absorb every word of each song. We would drop the needle and write down the lyrics, and then drop the needle again. The band I later joined in Detroit – this was the mid-80s – was a very new wave, pop punk thing called Breakfast! That connected with the stuff I loved, like The Cars and Blondie. Years later in Burbank, Rex and I were teaching together at a sort of “School of Rock” type institution – I teach keys and vocals to this day – and all of the little kids were learning, like, “We Will Rock You” and kind of classic rock cliché stuff. One day, though, I heard the opening riff to “There She Goes” by The La's coming from one of the rehearsal rooms and I had to find out who was doing that one. It was striking chords in my soul. That was Rex. He'd brought in his 12-string so the kids could get the right sound. I thought, "Now, if this is what we're teaching the kids, we're gonna be okay." The jangly guitar resonated with me on such a deep level, and we ended up doing stuff like “Crash” by The Primitives, “Hero Takes a Fall” by The Bangles, and “Under the Milky Way” before the management kind of said, “Let's get back to doing 'TNT' over and over again.” Hahaha! But by then he was trying to get me onstage to sing “Call Me” with his grown-up band, so we moved on.

AW: How did the band form?

Rex: This is always a tough one, because... people who've known of us for a while know that there's a deep tragedy at the very root of the band that's just taken at face value as we've evolved, but for people who are new to us – and we're grateful to be discovered – there's no easy way to talk about it. Christina and I met as music teachers and discovered a lot of musical common ground and that weird thing where our very different voices blended really well. We were making demos basically for fun, and Christina's son Ian was a huge part of it. He was a spectacular musician and really getting into recording, and we basically volunteered ourselves as guinea pigs for him to hone that craft. It evolved into a live band with him as the drummer and his sister Larysa on viola. And then the night after our first gig as a band, he was killed in a car accident. The times that followed were every bit as awful as you would imagine and I can't say how we endured them at all. Christina will be better able to say how much we miss him and how much he still inspires us.

Christina: There was always, always music in the house when Ian was alive. He was always having friends over and jamming, on guitar and drums, and picking up his MIDI keyboard and doing remixes. We ended up bringing instruments to his funeral, because we knew how much it meant to him. He would have wanted people to pick up instruments and just start jamming. It was hard to know how to go on after we lost him. But I truly believe that if I'd given up on music, I don't think I'd be here today. I can honestly say he saved my life. I didn't want to go on without him, but he lived on in the music and still does.

AW: How did Big Stir get started?

Rex: Completely organically and by accident. Being in a place where music was almost literally saving our lives, we stumbled into a live scene that miraculously accepted us, and gratitude compelled us to try to give something back to that community. The LA booking world being the mercenary mess that it is, we first started crusading to find a place where we could book the bands we liked together, to find a proper home for the scene we wanted to see – having no idea how to do that. But we persevered, and the monthly concert series that we'd named “Big Stir” (Christina's idea) took off. As the bands coalesced around us, we started talking about records and how there should be a home for those, too, and Steven Wilson of Plasticsoul just kind of said, "Well, we have this thing called Big Stir, and people are responding to it; why wouldn't it be a label too?" And at the same time we had the opportunity to tour in the UK, and we took that same community-building zeal over there and started stitching the whole thing together on a global level. The bottom line is, it just happened and we kept chasing the beautiful things that materialized in front of us. There was no plan, and we couldn't have imagined it turning into what it has so quickly.

Christina: I always say it was a reaction to the fragmented nature of a typical LA club night. You'd pay your $10 to see your friends' band play for half an hour on a weeknight, and you wouldn't like the band before or after them, and it was profoundly dissatisfying. No care being taken to the night as a whole. We really thought there needed to be bills where the bands belonged together. Everyone dreams of being part of a scene, and we saw the elements of a scene. There was simply nobody bringing it all together. Honestly, the motivation was dignity. The bands deserved better. And so do the fans, and so do the venues. We managed to hold it together for a year, which is pretty difficult in LA – a lot of our friends had tried similar things – and then as a kind of a lark we decided to celebrate that by throwing together a CD compilation from the bands who'd been playing. I think that's how word got out beyond LA. It felt alive. A lot of people who had been on the pop scene for years regarded us with understandable skepticism at first, and it was mostly bands playing for the members of the other bands on the bill at first. But we knew we were doing it heart and soul, and trusted that would become clear eventually. And it did.

AW: I love your song titles and lyrics. Where do you get your ideas from?

Rex: It may be a cliché, but... dreams, snippets of conversation, evocative turns of phrase, that kind of thing, but only in the sense that they can be spun out into bigger ideas. If the idea sticks for a while, it's probably worth pursuing, and once that's in place the writing happens pretty quickly. For us there always needs to be at least some element of risk, something odd that makes us think, “Are we really going to do this? It's a little weird!” We'll chase those kinds of thing down when there are clearly “easier” kinds of songs to write.

Christina: For me it's stories. If a story resonates with me, or the imagery in the story, if it's actually an interesting tale and there's vivid imagery, and characters. I spent my college years studying acting, so I love to throw myself into other people's shoes to tell a story. I'll stow the stories away until they fit a song. There's a tune on the new album called “The Romantic Dream Appears Before Us.” The chorus is made up of jibberish English that Rex's daughters found in an ad for a purple backpack, and it's interesting and evocative, but that's all he had. The musical setting, though, sounded like rain to me. I reminded him of a story he'd told about driving a friend to the airport in a rainstorm, and it all fell into place. “Playing with the Lights,” the song we wrote for Ian after he died, that's all put together out of images, things that happened when he was alive and afterward that made us feel he was still with us. It was important that it wasn't just a lament, but more of a legacy of his vivacious spirit.

AW: Who writes the lyrics and who writes the music, or is it a collaboration?

Rex: We started with a whole bunch of tunes I'd been sitting on for a long time, and Christina's unerring sense of which ones worked for us. The ones that did set the template for what kinds of things we would write together knowing how the band worked. There's a special magic that comes from two voices starting off almost every song together, where all bets as to the identity or gender or personality of the narrator are off. It's incredibly freeing and I'm more than content to explore that from here on out. I don't ever need to write another song that comes off as “my” perspective or what “I” think. An ambiguous, androgynous “we” is a much more open idiom and I can't imagine ever tiring of it. It's really the coolest thing ever and it's Christina who makes it sing.

Christina: I really responded to the songs in this massive tome that Rex handed me early on, because they were clever and quirky and already laden with imagery that really got me. It was smart, worldly, and empathetic, not “me me me.” That was the seed, but they all changed as we grew into a band. And it wasn't just the songs that changed, but the direction of the writing, too, as we started to understand what was unique about the band as its own instrument. One thing we have going for us is that no matter what we do, it sounds like us. So we can start with a pretty radical departure of an idea and it all comes home because of the signature sounds that are always there. We can say “(How Did You Make) A Mistake Like Me?” is our “Motown” song or “Drama Sue” came from trying to do The Buzzcocks, but that's not how they play out, and that's a good thing.

AW: Your music to me leans folk/rock. Do you like that style of music?

Rex: I think that term means different things to different people. "Folk rock” as the electric beast invented by The Byrds is the bedrock, for sure, but when we're recording, it takes Steven Wilson really leaning on me before I'll relent to putting an acoustic guitar on there! The male/female harmony thing is certainly a lot more common in rootsier material, but then there's X, there's a lot of shoegaze bands that do that, and we draw from all of that. You get a lot of duos in modern Americana where they run the risk of seeming overly earnest or serious. I'm from West Virginia. I know from murder ballads and laments on a deep genetic level, but I don't think that's us. We find humor pretty essential, and while we're not Pantera or even a louder kind of melodic punk/pop band like Hüsker Dü, we want to rock more often than not, in our quirky way.

Christina: Well... would you consider Fleetwood Mac folk/rock? We used to kind of say, for the less deeply music-geeky people who asked “What kind of stuff do you play?” that it was basically like Fleetwood Mac and R.E.M. … umm... met in an elevator on one fateful night, and spawned a child? I'd always thought of folk/rock as a duo standing onstage with acoustic guitars doing protest songs over some relatively chill drums. And there's nothing wrong with that. Certainly, jangly guitars and co-ed vocals fit the definition, and having strings on each song might, as well, but as far as we know the only other band to have a regular violist was The Velvet Underground, and we might even be a bit more like them than The Beau Brummels!

AW: The album seems to be a panorama of people and places. Are these real people and, besides England, real places?

Rex: Place names and proper names just add so much texture, and we're of the mind that details and stories actually make songs more universal, not less. So we do that a lot. Christina will probably be better at picking out good examples. Drama Sue is real and she really does go by that name, I can say that! “Appalachukrainia” has a pretty extensive roll call of our friends and fellow travelers on the pop scene, but it's a very selective and whimsical travelogue. Other times the process of the song unfolding tells you when to tweak the literal truth to make it what it wants to be. “McCadden” started off as being a dialogue between myself and my daughter Ridley when she was in first grade, and I was deep in a custody battle, trying to figure out how best to be a single dad, to connect with her while setting that aside. But over and over again the phrases that came up dictated that the narrator wasn't me at all, but a completely different kind of guy, a deeply invested mathematician, in fact, who just happened to have my same circumstances and a very similar child to mine. And then we arranged it so that Christina and I trade off lead vocals, and it could be a mother, or a father, or two sides of the story. That made it a lot richer, and both characters (or all three) took on more depth, and the language became a lot more consonant somehow. You feel the love and the conflict, but it doesn't come off as self-involved axe-grinding, hopefully.

Christina: Obviously “Appalachukrainia” is not a real place, it's the intersection of our individual origins (I'm a first generation Ukrainian American and Rex is from West Virginia), and most of the stuff in that song is true. But it's very much a mix of real and not-real and hybrids of the two. “Fort Ashby” is a real place. Carl Crew is a real guy, although the song isn't about him in the least. “Suddenly Succulents” is a good example. I'm singing as a guy writing a letter to his wife in 1886.  He's slowly losing his mind trying to farm Garbanzo beans in what's now Los Angeles, trying to make enough money to bring her out west, and drinking too much home-made tequila. But time is kind of warping around him and he's getting vaguely psychedelic visions of the future, which include Rex's daughter in the same physical space more than a century later, consulting her cell phone about how to care for potted cacti. None of which you could literally glean from the lyrics, but these backstories are important to us. You're getting one chapter of a bigger story – just the good bits – and the details you fill in are up to you.

AW: I love Steven Wilson’s production. How did he approach the album sound-wise?

Rex: It's amazing. Can you believe this is the first record he's produced for anyone other than his own band, Plasticsoul? And we're a very different band! But he knows our sound really well. We've played together many times, and subbed in each other's bands, and talk music constantly, and he knew that we wanted something that the first Armoires record, which was recorded all over the place by different people, with different versions of the band, in a haze of grief, and really lacked: a consistent aesthetic. We had our drummer Derek for the whole of the sessions, which really helped, and Steven ran with it, doing the whole record and the Side Three EP, as well. We were still tracking while he mixed, and what he was doing made us better at our side of it. Hearing the way he was treating the viola and 12-string together made us think, "Okay, let's do that more, better, smarter," and we did. We honed our thing in response to the way he was shaping us and what we got, despite the many, many wonderful guest artists doing their individual things, was a very solid distillation of what works about the band.

And best of all, it was playful. He would be like, “I made this section sound like Rush, because I know you hate Rush,” and we'd be like, “Awesome.” “I put this French chick's dialogue over the bridge here, because it seemed weird and mysterious like the song.” “Rad.” “How about I make these drums sound like Lee Scratch Perry mixed them?” “Definitely.” On the first record we had a lot of producers who were great, but none of it was fun. We were recording through a lot of pain and our heads were elsewhere, and we picked the wrong guy to do the tail end of it. He made us absolutely miserable and left us with versions of a few of our tunes that show the strain and are hard for us to hear. Steven's approach let us re-learn that we could be loose and loopy with the recording process, and we think that comes through.

Christina: Steven had an impossible task with what we gave him. There was everything we as the core band recorded here in Burbank, plus all of the contributions from our guests pouring in from all over the world. What impressed me was that, when he felt like something wasn't quite right, it would really eat away at him until it was, and he would do extensive research on the best way to handle it. Viola is a weird instrument to record. We had theremin and accordion and pedal steel, and there were all these super-stacked vocals that were a real challenge to untangle, and he'd go figure out how to do it. He really wanted it to be the best it could possibly be. It was as important to him as if it were his own record. He really is a brilliant producer. If we didn't really need him to get on to the next Plasticsoul, we'd never stop sending work his way.

Andrea Weiss


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