Friday, February 26, 2021

 Rich Arithmetic


Kool Kat Musik

This album, first in a long time by Arithmetic, is beholden to a lot of 60s pop, largely the Beatles, with trippy lyrics about love and life.

Some of the songs, like “A Girl's Reply,” featuring Diane Leigh, and “One Thing,” featuring Maura Kennedy of Pete and Maura Kennedy fame, sound like a punky take on the Jefferson Airplane. I like the way this album updates their sound.

So if you want some good pop that updates older sounds, this is an album to get. Light, but not lightweight, it goes down easy, while still having an edge.

Andrea Weiss

Thursday, February 25, 2021

 When I heard Petrified Max, I was hooked immediately, but didn't realize Vitus and John, who are interviewed here, were in The Last and Trotsky Icepick, two bands that I'd heard and liked. But it had been awhile since I heard either. The Last's album Look Away, recorded in 1980, but not released until last year, is great. If you are a fan of these two bands, check out Petrified Max.

Andrea Weiss: Please give us a short history of the band.

John Rosewall: Vitus and I have been in bands together for almost forty years, beginning with The Last and moving on to Trotsky Icepick in the eighties and early nineties. We reconnected musically about three years ago and without much forethought decided to start recording tunes that we each had lying around. Drummer Danny Frankel is also an old friend; he recorded at Vitus’ studio in the eighties with Carmaig de Forest and has always kept in touch. After a few months of intermittent recording, we realized we had a coherent batch of material, and just about the time we were completing our first album, Charlie Drove North, the pandemic hit. With no live shows to distract us, we kept writing and recording and were able to put together our new album, Year Gone By, in a few months. And that’s where we are now.

Vitus Mataré: There’s a series of locally active L.A. garage bands in our past. The Last began playing incessant live shows in 1976, but did not tour nationally until a decade later, at which time John and I had moved on to Trotsky Icepick.

AW: Who are your influences?

John: They’re all over the map. Sixties garage rock, the British invasion, and psychedelia are always there and are foundational for me. I spent my adolescence listening to what we now call “Classic Rock” before slowly working my way into pub and punk rock. Later, at the same time that post-punk was happening, I was also listening to country music and acoustic blues. It all finds a way into the music at different times, sometimes quite intentionally. “Quentin’s Stroll” on the new album is a very conscious take on surf music, for instance.

Vitus: I find inspiration in unique chord structures, and just about any style of music can be of interest.

AW: Your music reminds me of Dream Syndicate. Are they an influence?

John: I’d say instead that we obviously share influences with them, and other bands of that scene, which might account for any similarities that you’re hearing. Dream Syndicate were one of the bands that came up in Los Angeles while Vitus and I were both in The Last, and we shared bills with them and other Paisley Underground bands.

Vitus: Always loved Steve Wynn’s music. We met when he was still with The Suspects and tried out as guitarist for The Last. A few years later I produced a handful of Dream Syndicate recordings that are still popping up here and there.

AW: I also hear a bit of Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth in your guitar playing. Am I on track there?

John: I love Sonic Youth and Ranaldo’s playing, but I wouldn’t call him an influence. In terms of my guitar work, the influences range from the usual Sixties guitar heroes to the original blues guitarists that those British players were ripping off. But I’ll lean on anyone depending on what’s right for a particular song, whether it’s Buddy Guy or Pete Townshend.

Vitus: Love Sonic Youth. I believe I hear bits of Danny Kirwan and Peter Green in our newer recordings.

AW: Your lyrics are very psychedelic, which I like. Where do you get your ideas for them?

John: Vitus writes most of the lyrics, but when I do write words, the lyrics are mostly free-associative and start with a random line or two, something that pops into my head, seems to have some interesting associations, and sits comfortably into the tune. An exception would be “The Days,” which was a conscious attempt to write about the pandemic.

Vitus: My lyrics are based on common, real life experiences that in my mind became cinematic.

AW: There seems to be a lot of jamming in your music, and that's cool. Does your music lend itself to that?

John: The songs are actually very tightly composed, but on the new album, I did add a lot of improvised guitar. That was just a function of the songs and what they seemed to need. The kind of jamming that a “jam band” does isn’t an interest of ours, but I think we both like the coloration that a lead guitar can bring when it weaves in and out of a song and interacts with the other elements, particularly, of course, the vocal.

Vitus: The jamming occurs when the initial chords collide and countermelodies spring forth. There are little improvised flourishes when we play live and record, but the presentation was usually tightly constructed in advance.

AW: “Year Gone By” seems to be about LA. Is that the case?

Vitus: That song has more to do with our local experience during the pandemic with the unfortunate politics of 2020, and it sets the tone for the album, as do “Sipping The Moon” and “The Days."

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AW: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in music?

VitusThe banjo is an underrated addition to any song.

 Petrified Max

Year Gone By


John Rosewall and Vitus Mataré, formerly of The Last and Trotsky Icepick, have a new band, Petrified Max. Their psychedelic lyrics are mostly about common life experiences, and while the guitar playing is somewhat improvised, the music is tightly constructed in every other way.

“The Days” and “Year Gone By” are about the pandemic, and are fine examples of their sound, which is really good, nicely psychedelic, and great to listen to while walking.

I was really glad that the band contacted me about this album, and I thank them for it. It's a real find, and bears repeated listening, as there's always something new to notice. That makes the album extra fun.

Andrea Weiss

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

 I was introduced to the music of Dolph Chaney last year with the great Rebuilding Permit, and now he returns with This Is Dolph Cheney, well worth picking up. Also, his Woody Radio concerts are a lot of fun to watch.

My thanks to Dolph, who recently answered a few questions for me.

Andrea Weiss: How did you get your start in music?

Dolph Chaney: I grew up in a musical family – my mom and sister both sing too -- and I started on the family piano at age 8 and sang in choirs at school and church, then picked up guitar at 12 and started putting my own songs on tape at 13. I had great music teachers all along who really saw me for my particular abilities and interests, which makes me very lucky.

AW: Who are your influences?

DC: I connect with anything that has a committed, honest singer and a lyric with intent, and if there’s something playful going on in the background, then all the better. I’d say this landed hardest on me with the 1966-68 Beatles and Who, XTC, Elvis Costello, Bob Mould, Guided By Voices, and Robyn Hitchcock. 

AW: I'm hearing the New Pornographers and Game Theory in the music, which is great. Did you draw on them?

DC: Both tremendous artists with great songs – that’s high praise! I got my start before I heard either, but I think we draw from several of the same sources.

AW: How was it working with a producer after recording and playing everything yourself?

DC: It was a thrill and a relief and a joy. The album before last (Shenanigans, 2013) was all done by me, and it was absolutely as far as I could go on my own. Having co-produced Rebuilding Permit last year, I knew that decision to "let the right one in" was a great direction to go in. I'd also done the "Be My Old Fart" single with Michael Simmons producing, arranging, and playing, and I loved how that came out. So when Nick Bertling came in and offered to produce, I knew it would lead to great things. His versatility is limitless, he works hard, his instincts and insights do not fail, and he plays absolute hell out of the drums along with any other instrument you've got around. 

AW: It was great to hear you on Woody Radio. How did that come about?

DC: As with so many great things, the Woody connection started through my connection to Big Stir Records. Mike Lidskin was first at the station to pick it up, and gradually it spread to many of the other Djs. In April, 2020 Gidget Bates approached me to join their Quarantinarama live stream series, and I jumped at it! She has worked hard supporting me on that, and so has Boris Boden ("The Secret Weapon") who has done cool graphics for each show. We now call the series Woody Remote, and I'm on 2-3 times a month to bring what I hope is a fun show with a lot of heart.

AW: Your lyrics are really unpretentious, and have a lot of possible meanings to them. Do they come about spontaneously, or do you approach things more methodically?

DC: Thank you, that's kind of you to say! Usually, my lyric writing comes in bursts – not much for a long while, then clusters of ideas in rapid succession. Most often I start with either one line (usually some terrible pun) or one guitar riff, let them percolate until an idea forms around it. So, what happens with the best of them is that I start with a joke and then the truth sneaks its way out the more I write. I have to trick myself into spilling the goods.

AW: “Worship Song” is a really cool take on religion and spirituality. What did you have in mind when you wrote it?

DC: Thank you! I was almost afraid of that song as I wrote it. My father was a Southern Baptist preacher, and so I grew up steeped in the church. I remember sometimes feeling a pressure to worship as fervently (or more) as the person in the next pew over – like if I didn't, God would notice and be unhappy. And then in the 2000s there was this trend in churches to abandon the old hymns and replace them with very simple, U2-inspired, repetitive choruses that people could sing over and over again for long stretches. At some point it started to feel like more of that competitive show-off dynamic of who REALLY MEANT IT the most, a little bit like Linus and the most sincere pumpkin patch. So I imagined a guy beating himself up so hard that finally Jesus answers and tells him (in plain and impolite language) to knock it off already. I'm not a church person anymore, but I still like the idea that the spirit is willing to meet us wherever we are if we seek it with an open honest heart.

AW: What would you tell someone just starting out in music?

DC: Do it for the love of it and it'll never let you down. Write as much as you can as often as you can while you're finding your voice, then let it come to you. Learn the rules so you can figure out which ones are your favorites to break. Most of all, commit to the song when you sing and play it. That's what matters most and what makes people remember. And watch for your tribe;finding them is one of the all-time great joys.

 Dolph Chaney

This is Dolph Chaney

Big Stir

The second album from Chaney on Big Stir, the followup to the wonderful Rebuilding Permit, is just as emotionally moving and common sensible. “Cuddle Party” and “My Good Twin” are a lot of fun. The music draws on Challengers era New Pornographers and Big Shot Chronicles era Game Theory.

Chaney worked with a producer this time, Nick Bertling, after years of self-production, and the sound is warm and somewhat more mellow that Rebuilding Permit. Both serve the songs well: the nuances of the lyrics shine, while rocking enough to keep things moving crisply.

“Worship Song” stands out in particular. Even atheists can find something to relate to, as the song really isn't about religon, but forgiveness, love, and friendship, with it's twin refrain of “Jesus I'm a dumbass...” and “Jesus you'r ea dumbass...”

This album is an early contender for best of the year, and well worth picking up, for the best kind of mellow, smart guitar pop/rock, that will make you think and rock out.

Andrea Weiss


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