Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Dolph Chaney
Rebuilding Permit
Big Stir Records

This Chicago modern pop/rock singer/songwriter has put out a fine album: very raw, but real, warm, but never wallows in pain, or whines. 

The two happier songs are the opener, “It’s OK,” and the closer, “(Who Am I) To Ask You.” In "It's OK" he worries if he is okay, but concludes that he is. "(Who Am I)" is about an ordinary guy asking the belle of the club to dance.

In the end, it’s a gentle, contemplative album, and rewards the listener with things to think about.
Andrea Weiss

Sunday, April 26, 2020


The Bye Bye Blackbirds
Boxer At Rest
Double Potions Records

All but the lead guitar was recorded before bandmember Lenny Gil’s heart transplant and long recovery, and when he had recovered he tracked all his parts in one day. 

This album is wonderfully produced and engineered by Doug Gillard and Chris Von Sneidern. It's a testament to perseverance, to hope that things will get better, for the good times following the bad, and believing in yourself, your friends, and your loved ones. As such, it’s great, and is a welcome addition to the Oakland, CA band's catalog.

The centerpiece of the album is “If It Gets Light,” with its hypnotic jam. Indeed this album is warm, jangly, modern pop/rock, with “Words and Signs” folkish in nature. A terrific album, and one that repays repeated listening with joy.
Andrea Weiss

The Blackbirds Sing: An interview with Bradley Skaught 

I first heard Bradley Skaught with Belle Da Gama, a project that the late Scott Miller worked on with him. The Bye Bye Blackbirds' 2011 album We Need The Rain made me a real fan. Bradley was kind enough to answer a few questions I had.

Andrea Weiss: Power pop, or modern pop/rock, can mean so many things right now. Would you categorize the BBB’s as any particular style?

Bradley Skaught: You know, I don’t really tend to categorize like that much. I tend to lump everything together under the banner of “rock and roll,” which feels all-encompassing to me! Anything beyond that starts to feel like marketing, and that’s too non-creative and non-musical to get worked up over.

AW: Your albums have been self-released in the past. Why a label this time?

BS: I have to admit… it’s still self-released! I got bored with the generic label name we used for the last two and wanted something more fun. Sadly, I’m still my own boss and I can’t quit/fire me. I could use a raise.

AW: How did Doug Gillard and Chris von Sneidern, who made the album sound great, get involved as producer and engineer?

BS: I’ve known Doug a bit since way back when I played in the Yuji Oniki band, and Doug’s wife was my first roommate in California! I love his work so much – all the amazing records he’s been involved with, plus his own songwriting and solo records. I always had it in the back of my mind that I’d love to have him work with us, and when we had this particular batch of songs written we all felt like it was an album that really deserved some extra care and attention. Similar thing with Chris. I’ve been a huge fan of his since the 90’s, and over time came to discover that he’s also a top-shelf engineer. We wanted to record in a really nice, classic room and Chris’ studio is in the same building as Hyde Street, one of the great old San Francisco studios. So we got to use Hyde Street, Chris’ place, and take advantage of his amazing ear for rock and roll.

AW: I really like the video for "If It Gets Light." Where was it filmed, and how did Jonathan Segal get involved?

BS: I’d seen a video he made for a recent Dave Alvin project and it felt like a good fit for “If It Gets Light.” The footage is existing footage that I sent to Jonathan – just some stuff filmed at the Starry Plough in Berkeley and the Ivy Room in Albany – and he brought the wild psychedelic effects and stuff on his own. He’s been a supporter of ours for years, which means a ton, really. Again, look at his body of work. It’s encouraging when someone like that says you’re doing something cool.

AW: This album has a slightly different sound from your previous albums. Did the songs just evolve that way, or was there a plan?

BS: Just evolved, really. Totally different studio, engineer, producer, etc. So that’s going to bring new sounds. And then it’s just whatever the songs demand. They’re really the guide to every decision. I will say it’s very much our live sound, minus some of the decorative stuff like horns and things, of course.

AW: There is a jam on “If It Gets Light,” which is new and good. Did the song just lend itself to that, or was there the idea that it needed it before it happened?

BS: A bit of both. Sometimes I have ideas that are in the back of my mind for a long time before an opportunity arises to apply them. I’d always wanted to cut loose with something like the jam on that song, and when I found myself writing it I realized the opportunity to really go for it had presented itself. The Velvet Underground’s Complete Matrix Tapes set is one of the most listened to collections I own. I think we were able to channel that spirit a bit with our own style.

AW: The album's lyrics are about founding member Lenny Gill’s long illness and recovery, and they are very positive, happy, and healthy ones, which is wonderful. Was Lenny the sole inspiration for them?

BS: Actually the whole thing was written way before any of the stuff with Lenny’s heart went down! But all the songs seem to deal with struggles and losses and challenges in a way that certainly resonated with what we went through with that, too. You know, we’ve lost some really good friends and people from our musical circles, and on top of that the struggles of our times and places – the political landscape, wealth disparity, gentrification, this feeling of things fraying around the edges. I think a lot of just living in Oakland has fed into these songs – Ghost Ship, homeless encampments in public spaces, venues closing, people on the margins pushed even further out. I think the songs sit right where the personal and the public are the same thing. But you’re right, they’re not defeated songs. They’re survivor songs. But luckily not Survivor songs.

AW: Is there anything about Lenny that readers should know?

BS: He’s doing great! He survived the heart transplant and worked his way back to recording and playing shows, and not just getting back to living, but thriving. He’s a force of pure mellow positive energy, that guy. I don’t think there’s a question that his attitude and the way he navigates life has allowed him to survive numerous health scares that would probably have derailed most of us.
Andrea Weiss

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Big Believe

The Big Believe
Self Released

The new album from this U.K. band builds on 2015’s Illuminate in many good ways. The music flows very well, and I like their synth pop as much as I do the more rock guitar-based sound of Illuminate. Amanda Thompson, the lead singer, sounds very wise and clever.

The lyrics remind me of Let’s Active’s Big Plans For Everybody in their portrayal of complex relationships, and on “Tania Was A Truth Teller,” a same-sex one. “We’re Not Sheep” brings a message of political unity to the forefront, a good way to close out the album.

I suspect this album will be in my Top Ten for the year. It’s that good. So if you want some great pop, this is the album to get.

Andrea Weiss

Amanda Thompson

The Unstoppable Big Belief in Pure Pop:
A Conversation with Amanda Thompson

I first heard UK band the Big Believe on their delightful single “Let’s Pretend We’re Spies,” featuring the late Faye Hunter of Let’s Active fame. I’d been a huge fan of Let's Active and wanted to hear more of the Big Believe. I found more on Illuminate, their wonderful 2015 album. Now they're back with Juggernaut.

Amanda Thompson, the lead singer of the Big Believe, was kind enough to answer a few questions.

Andrea Weiss: I know you’re influenced by The New Pornographers and Let’s Active. What do you get from them?

Amanda Thompson: They are my two favourite bands but sometimes I think I wouldn't know how to be influenced by them. The melodies and structures of those songs are so incredible to me that I wouldn't know where to start. I like it that way. If I knew how to be that good, listening to them wouldn't blow my mind anymore. They both sound like the music I waited my whole life to hear.

AW: Any other influences you want to mention?

AT: Led Zeppelin and early R.E.M. up until Green are big ones for me. I also buy a lot of records being made right now, much of it post-punk, new wave, and punk-pop. I love the current music scene in Chicago, and think I'm influenced by listening to this stuff all the time and hearing a lot of guitars and synths in equal measure. It's all full of energy and melody and those two things are key.

AW: "Magnets" and "The Exceeder" have been played on the BBC. How has that been in terms of exposure and new fans?

AT: That's been fun, and there's always a little flutter of new followers after the airplay, so I'm grateful for that.

AW: I like your melodies a lot, very TNP-like, and they seem to come naturally to you. Do they?

AT: Thank you. Yes, the melodies do come naturally, but I always want to get better and better at them. I'm in awe of writers whose melodies move around seamlessly so that you're unaware of the structure underneath. Carl Newman is a master of this, and of course those who came before -- Brian Wilson, John Cale, Elvis Costello, etc., etc.

AW: “We’re Not Sheep” is political without being about anyone, even as it’s an attack on the system. Has that message changed?

AT: Good question! No, I don't think it ever changes. It's an attempt at a feeling or message that can hopefully be applied to most difficult situations we find ourselves in. Unfortunately, the same kind of problems seem to keep repeating themselves throughout history. The "us and them" protest always pops its head up at least once on a Big Believe album.

AW: Your lyrics in general are about complicated romantic situations, which I like. Are they based on personal experiences?

AT: Actually, no. I don't like writing about personal experiences. I find that boring and it seems to limit the lyrics. I think writing song words is a great opportunity to tell a fictional story...be a writer, briefly.

AW: Could you give a history of the band for people who are here for the first time?

AT: It merged out of my previous band, Ozone Baby, which was indie-rock. Music around me started changing, so I changed with it. My guitarist friend Simon Ruckes came on board and we did live shows as a two-piece around South East U.K. The show that was the most fun was supporting TV Smith, of The Adverts. This was in 2013, and the same year the Big Believe 7" single with Faye Hunter was released. That song was the beginning of the new batch of material that really became The Big Believe.

AW: You worked with Faye on the single “Let’s Pretend We’re Spies." How was that?

AT: Well, a dream in every sense. The honour of working with an all-time hero and then finding her so easy to work with. So obliging, humble, and giving. She learnt the song as quick as. She loved the sound of our voices together and I'll always treasure that.

AW: In what ways do you feel the new album differs from Illuminate, your previous album? I think both are great, but I do hear differences.

AT: Sounds really crap to say, but I think I found a sound with Juggernaut, a sound I hadn't quite found yet on Illuminate. Also I like to banish a dominant instrument and replace it with a new one, e.g., my previous band Ozone Baby used a lot of distortion on guitar, so I didn't allow distortion on the first Big Believe record, but brought in piano. On this second Big Believe record I banished piano, but brought in synths. Also Juggernaut is the first album not mixed by myself, but by the very talented Fritz Catlin of 23 Skidoo, and he plays a part in the sound of this record.

Andrea Weiss


Blog Archive