Archive for October, 2008

Portugal. The Man photos

October 22, 2008

Parish @ the House of Blues New Orleans, LA


As Cities Burn photos

October 12, 2008

Spanish Moon Baton Rouge, LA

Russian Circles Interview

October 12, 2008


Band delivers big on new album, sets out to do more in the future

To beat a dead horse: technology and the abundant use of the Internet has further pushed the fan base momentum of emerging artists by giving them the ability of posting new demos everyday.

Russian Circles wasn’t about hopping on the Myspace bandwagon, but with it, has come some early success.

“I thought it was really cheesy at first,” said Mike Sullivan, guitarist for the three piece outfit from Chicago. “But eventually we got one. Even Fugazi has a Myspace page, so it’s pretty inevitable.”

Sullivan said there’s two ends to the Web. On the upside, it’s exposure. He said the exchange of music has benefitted every band that has used it. On the downside, he said the market is flooded with a lot of bad bands.

Even the new addition to the band, ex-Botch and current These Arms Are Snakes bassist Brian Cook, said he feels because of the immediate exposure thanks to Web sites like, fresh bands are skipping the baby steps he feels every band should experience. “I feel like a lot of bands need to take those smaller steps and play smaller venues and towns. I kind of like the fact that those first four years of Botch weren’t documented. Some bands are hitting the road or putting out records too early without honing their craft. They need to find a bit more identity and figure out what they’re trying to do.”

Dave and Mike of Russian Circles

Dave Turncrantz, drummer and Mike Sullivan, guitarist of Russian Circles photos: Adam Pfleider

This summer, Russian Circles have embarked on a headlining tour in support of their sophomore release, Station. With slicker production thanks to engineering father Matt Bayles (Botch, Isis, Mastodon), Russian Circles are intent to make a name for themselves just like any other band, keep a distinct sound– though not recycling much of the same.

“It ruins a record for bands to go and try and re-create a sound of their previous releases,” said drummer Dave Turncrantz. “I never want to go in [the studio] and have the intent of making a song that sounds like ‘Carpe’ or ‘Verses.'”

Evident on the band’s new record, “Campaign” isn’t exactly the heavy opener “Carpe” turned into on Enter, and “Verses” is too light hearted and elegant to find itself anywhere on the band’s debut. With those two songs, the band also wants to progress further from the new territory they’ve come across in the past year.

“A lot of our old bands were more A.D.D. and fast paced,” said Sullivan. “[With Russian Circles] we wanted to slow things down and make it simple. [The album] ‘Station’ is taking an idea and elaborating on it. With [the album] ‘Enter,’ we added parts because we had them, so we simply tried them out. I think the older I get, the more years I’ve been in a band, I want [my music] to be more dynamic, not so much a drum fill every second.”

Sitting at the bar of the Spanish Moon and looking up during the band’s soundcheck, it seems the band is intent on giving the audience the same sound and feeling when listening to the band’s discography. The members are checking parts of the songs they were having trouble with the night before, and making sure every level of every instrument is perfect.

After the departure of bassist Colin DeKuiper, Sullivan and Turncrantz had a few people in mind, but through their manager, picked up Cook.

“The timing was perfect,” said Cook. Cook had downtime with his current band These Arms Are Snakes, and gladly joined on. He was sent four demos, but was concerned about how to contribute. “The songs were so varied. Should I fill out the guitar here? What should I accent? It was definitely challenging.”

“I think you can exhaust your options after awhile,” said Sullivan. “Changing one element of the structure to allow something else to keep going, it can give more length sometimes.” Sullivan enjoys the three piece structure of Russian Circles. He said he can sometimes create something simple, and just leave it. “When you have something like a five-piece, it can be like having a lot of people in the kitchen, everyone wanting to leave their mark.”

“I think if we got another guitar player or element, it would step it up,” said Turncrantz. In fact, for a small early stint, the band had a keyboard player. But Turncrantz isn’t shutting out any musical element, and is up for trying anything.

Sullivan said being a three-piece has a drawback. There are some bands he could never come close to recreating their large dense sound, and said with the small amount of instruments, it gives way to a big challenge, but a ton of creativity at the same time. “I’m not concerned about other bands and competition. I’m concerned solely on compositional writing. Then again, anything that is said to be fresh will eventually be outdated.”

Brian Cook of Russian Circles

Brian Cook, bassist of Russian Circles

For Russian Circles, the future is unknown but the band is ready for anything. They hope to push their sound and their fans idea of them further. With Cook taking a permanent spot, and having more stock in the next record, the band are going to take on a few dates opening for Coheed and Cambria and The Secret Machines in July. “We’re all curious on how that’s going to go,” laughed Cook.

With Cook cemented as the third member of the band, he not only hopes to expand his musical ability, but the band’s as well. “You have to write what feels natural,” he paused. “But keep pushing yourself. Keep it interesting.”

His bandmates shake their heads in agreement.

Wolf Parade photos

October 8, 2008

Spanish Moon Baton Rouge, LA

Beat Union photos

October 7, 2008

Varsity Theatre Baton Rouge, LA

Rx Bandits/Portugal. The Man Profile

October 7, 2008


Both bands lead similar paths, yet produce different results

Rich Balling - Rx Bandits

Chris Sheets, trombone RX Bandits photos: Adam Pfleider

New Orleans. A city, not unlike Chicago, that bleeds the blues and jazz veins and pulsates from the downtown clubs of the French Quarter to the streets that lead Uptown to the levees. For a band from Alaska to encapsulate that sound, and directly support a band on tour from the west coast, who lays claim to those soulful roots as well, New Orleans is not as far away from the home towns of Matt Embree and John Gourley.

Embree and Gourley don’t look the same at all. Embree hovers tall, with long curly hair past his shoulders and dresses in clothes that look like they’ve been worn since the release of his band’s breakthrough record Progress, released seven years ago. Gourley is midsized in stature, and looks even less tall hunched over his mic on stage, and he decks himself out in nice corduroy pants and a buttoned down shirt (sometimes even a suit and jacket).

To be politically incorrect, on the outside, the two men look like a well dressed Eskimo and a relaxed unproclaimed hippie. The two men think very similarly when it comes to their bands, past their outer shells.


Four years ago, I sat across from Embree in an interview when they were not yet headlining. Now, we are sitting in the Green Room of the Parish at the House of Blues in New Orleans, and nothing seems to have changed for either of us, except that the Marquis now reads RX Bandits top billing.

“I’ve been doing this for ten years, and this is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” he says with a smile on his face, rag wrapped around his sweating head, dripping on the linoleum floor. There’s nothing but a gaping white smile across his face. “You’ll be doing [what you’re doing] too if you want to ten years from now too.”

Embree, and his band the RX Bandits, were formally on a label not well suited for them. At the time, Embree had started a label, Mash Down Babylon, and was releasing records from fellow artists around the southern California area. In October 2006, the band decided to release …And the Battle Begun on MDB with the help of their management through Sargent House. The album incorporated the live recording style found on The Resignation. It also possessed more jam elements that have been a large part of the band’s live shows throughout the years.

Matt Embree - Rx Bandits

Matt Embree, guitar/lead vocalist RX Bandits

RX Bandits’ music has always been hard to pigeon hold in any particular genre. There’s a ska part here, and a reggae part there. Some of the guitar solos and vocal lines are at the heart of the 50’s and 60’s blues movement. By Embree’s taste in music, which only rivals his love of sports (a self proclaimed Phoenix Suns fan), the roots of his band easily parallel their love of live recording.

“Some of my favorite records are Motown records,” he says. “The artists would just get in a room, or the Snake Pit, which is the Motown studio, and they would only have one or two microphones, and they would just go with it. If a guitar misses a line here or there but the vocal line was amazing, then the track stuck. We wanted to make a record that sounded like us as human beings.”

Embree is very about the moment, and says his band relies mainly on visual ideas when recording in the studio. “You put a record out because that’s a musical documentation at a certain time by specific individuals. We do things weird. At lot of times we write songs and we say, ‘this song is supposed to sound like a mountain that gradually climbs in steepness and at the top there is a storm of thunderclouds and pterodactyls swooping around and then on the other side of the mountain there’s a cliff we are all going to fall off.’”


Gourley’s band, Portugal. The Man, departed from their former label following the release of its sophomore album last year, Church Mouth. Stripped of some of the mechanical effects laced throughout the band’s debut, Waiter: You Vultures!, Church Mouth sounded like it was recorded in a shack out in the swamp. Each riff sounded cut out the blues scale and then each tracks’ composition was formulated around it.

It’s only proper that the band’s next record, coming out September 16, through a partnership with Equal Vision Records and the band’s label and publishing company Approaching AIRBalloons, Censored Colors, is the next evolution in the blues timeline: jazz. Building on what sounds like David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, Censored Colors, is cut into two parts. The first few tracks, Gourley says, are the colors, there’s an intermission track, and then there’s eight tracks that blend those “colors,” or ideas, together as a long twenty-five minute song. “It’s the closest thing to a concept record we’ve come close to,” he laughs.

From the harmonies and slow paced ragtime keys of the opening “Lay Me Back Down,” the jazz filled, and appropriately titled “New Orleans,” Gourley says the album didn’t even come out the way he planned it, but is very pleased with the outcome.

John Gourley, Alex Neighbors - Portugal. The Man

John Gourley, guitar/lead vocals, and Alex Neighbors, keys/vocals/various other instruments Portugal. The Man

Learning songs from a Beatles’ songbook months before recording, Gourley wanted to steer from the “riff based” back catalog his guitar antics are known for, and move into “chord progression” territory. Pressed for time, and only going into the studio with two songs, he sat and pinned the rest of the album with chords instead of repetitive finger movements. This is nothing new for the band.

“We usually have no plan in the studio, whatever we’re feeling at the time, it just comes out,” he says. “Alex [Neighbors] was more part of this record, and he brought in a lot of harmony and amazing keys. Zach [Carothers] sings more on this record as well.”

Gourley agrees with Embree on letting the music revolve around the moment. Gourley says he usually sits down on acoustic guitar with a song, and then each member builds on top of it.

Portugal. The Man seemed like more of a project in the beginning, Embree believes, where RX Bandits was a band from the start. But since Embree recorded most of the vocals and guitars on Progress – excluding harmonies from former member Rich Balling – Embree understands the position Gourley is in. But where Embree sees Portugal. The Man as Gourley’s project, he sees himself just another piece of the band as a whole. Even though Gourley says he still has the ideas, Portugal. The Man wouldn’t come together without the other members collaborating on top.

“From the beginning it was a band. The idea was I was going to be Portugal. The Man with the Approaching Air Balloons. Zach would be Sergeant Arms with the Approaching Air Balloons, and Wes [Hubbard] would be Dr. Helicopter with the Approaching Air Balloons,” he says. “The idea would be that these guys with solo projects coming together with their ideas. I’m constantly working on music, so its just more of a project I guess.”

Embree also says solo artists are nothing without key players on their records. Whether it was the back-up band for Aretha Franklin or John Brion’s production work with Fiona Apple, both men agree that there are major players contributing to a musical documentation, and both men have those players with them every night on stage and any time in the studio.

Embree said his first impression of Waiter: You Vultures! was quite pleasurable. He also enjoyed the approach Gourley took to recording the record. “When I asked [Gourley] about it, he told me he approached recording it like a hip-hop record.” Embree sounds as if his heart is into the dirt floor recordings, but has an understanding for production. Essentially though, Embree says autotune and ProTools, “puts a bad taste in my mouth.”

Embree and Gourley’s bands both use digital effects in their recording, but Gourley says, “We like to use those effects as a tool, not as a crutch.” Embree shakes his head in agreement, “exactly,” he says.


Finishing up our talk, Embree is still sweating, and the green room door swings open. It’s a friend of Embree’s who hopped in the van for the long haul to help out. He’s brought a tour poster for Embree to sign for a fan. The fan, at the sold out room, got his nose busted open and glasses broken. Embree asks his friend where the kid is, and he wished to come talk to him. This is the relationship that Embree, and his band, keeps with their fans. Portugal. The Man is in front of the venue packing up. When I leave, they’re loading their equipment and talking to some of the fans from the show.

Embree doesn’t hold an absolute with who’s greater: someone with a large following and playing big shows, or someone with a DIY ethic and smaller club settings. He says some bands that are playing big arenas and headlining large tours never sacrificed their music, and they deserve every bit of fame. But he also feels he has connected more to everyone in the audience earlier in the night than when he played to 25,000 people at Bonaroo’s Music Festival last summer on one of the main stages.

Steve Choi, Matt Embree, Rich Balling - Rx Bandits

L t R: Steve Choi, guitar/keys, Chris Sheets, trombone, Matt Embree, guitar/lead vocals RX Bandits

“I can see the faces in the crowd and I feel attached to them,” he says. “That whole thing that went down on stage tonight was a large entity put together with the crowd. I don’t see how these huge radio bands can connect the same way. That doesn’t make me any better than them though.”

Last Fall when Portugal. The Man was in town, its show was bootlegged. Word of this to the band put a smile on their faces. Bassist Zach Carothers says he thinks the person who recorded it even sent him a copy. There are also tons of RX Bandits bootlegs across the Web. There’s even a fan site with a section dedicated to those live recordings.

With the economy moving the way it is, even Embree admits he’s not striking it big. Gourley says the same thing. Neither one of them are upset about this.

Portugal. The Man has put together Censored Colors on their own bill, and is only looking at partnerships with other record companies for record pressings and distribution.

“Music started out with bands touring and not making any money,” Gourley says with a smile under the mustache of his. “We’re just going to continue to back that mentality that we’ve already had, and run with it.”

Zach Carothers, John Gourley - Portugal. The Man

Zach Carothers, bass/vocals, John Gourley, guitar/lead vocals Portugal.The Man

When asked if Embree is still enjoying what he is doing since the last time I saw him, he laughs, looks up and says, “I think you know the answer to that. I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. I’ve been wanting to do this ever since I picked up a guitar when I was 9.”

On stage, Embree dedicated part of the set to the city’s musical history saying, “Here’s to Louis Armstrong.” For two and half hours that night, that musical mentality was felt from Portugal. The Man’s opener “AKA M80 the Wolf” to RX Bandits’ closing encore “Decrescendo.”

Kevin Devine

October 3, 2008


Artist talks about “Super Tuesday,” being part of a group of bands that may not belong in the scene they are currently in and his influences.

Kevin Devine has been e-mailing a friend of his all day discussing the results of what the media have deemed “Super Tuesday.” Devine has been known for his political lyrics, but he doesn’t want to be called a political songwriter.

“I feel like I am an observational songwriter,” said the 28-year-old Brooklyn journalism graduate. “Part of being human right now is existing in this state we live in.” Devine said he grew up in the Clinton and Bush Sr. administrations, and that’s what he relates to right now.

“I think there’s a middle and a far right in this country, there’s not a left and a right,” he said. “With Democrats, productive rights will be taken care of more in the White House. The impoverished people in this country will be better with Democrats in charge. That’s important. That’s the day to day nuts and bolts that shouldn’t be overlooked.”

Devine would vote for Dennis Kusinich but Kusinich doesn’t rate, he said. He isn’t going to be playing any Obama fundraisers either.

“Obama is charismatic,” he said. “He’s smart, compassionate, and extremely poetic when he expresses himself. It’s just poetic enough that you can project whatever you want to it, but I really don’t know what he is saying yet. [Obama] is talking a lot about things in a rhetorical sense.”

Devine said Obama speaks in a desire to want to believe in this dream, but his platform doesn’t differ much from Hilary Clinton, who he sees as being status quo. In the end, he doesn’t want to see a Republican win. “They are generally militaristic, xenophobic or mental lunatics. The only thing I take seriously about their candidacy is that other people do. They are so clearly part of the problem.”

Devine isn’t going to see some things he wants to see happen in this country, but he is hopeful Obama will get to the White House and be amazing. He still isn’t dumb to the fact that Obama is a politician and has to govern, but more often then not, that means that there’s corporate interest.

Devine said there’s an upside of hope with Obama. With Clinton and McCain, Devine knows what to expect. What Devine worries about is the situation overseas.

Saddam Hussein was an egomaniacal dictator that harmed his people in many ways, Devine said, but at the same time, the country had an infrastructure made up of education, health care and distribution of wealth that we went in and dismantled.

“We destroyed their access to something as simple as water and electricity,” he said. “This is a disastrous part of American history. What [the new administration] needs to do is inherit what has happened and not repeat those mistakes. You can’t fix something that is inherently broken. We have to try to be publicly apologetic for what we did.”


Devine is standing on the side of the stage watching The Jealous Girlfriend, waiting to play for about 50 people in Baton Rouge. He couldn’t be happier.

This Spring, Devine went on tour with his “Goddamn Band” in support of his first major label release “Put Your Ghost to Rest.” It just so happened he went out with one of the biggest bands in the scene, and another which was gaining speed in popularity and message boards across the Web. Every night, he played right between them.

“The Brand New, Manchester Orchestra tour is the best tour I’ve ever been on,” he said with a grand smile. “I definitely stuck out. Those bands conduct themselves in away that makes me proud to be apart of them. There’s a minimal amount of bullshit. They just go out and play.”

Devine said those two bands write music that’s more accessible than he writes, but at the same time the music is challenging. He said bands like Brand New, Manchester Orchestra, Colour Revolt, Anathallo, mewithoutYou and Devine himself are part of this small bubble on the scene. He said Brand New is the biggest out of them, but belongs in that bubble and not apart of everything else.

“All these bands are not good enough for the critics to write about on Pitchfork, and they don’t solely belong on either,” he said.

A few months after the sold out Spring tour, Devine went out for a few weeks with Grace Read and Brand New’s frontman Jesse Lacey for a solo acoustic tour. Lacey is one of Devine’s best friends.

“Towards the end of the [Spring] tour, Jesse asked me to go out with him for a few weeks and do a couple solo shows,” he said. “I do everything [with Jesse] that anyone does with a friend. I talk politics with him. I go eat out at diners with him. Then I go on tour with him for six weeks [with Brand New] and watch 6,000 people go completely berserk over everything he does. He’s grown with everything he’s done, and his peer group hasn’t.”


Devine is on a simple level, a singer-songwriter influenced by other songwriters such as Bob Dylan and Elliott Smith, the 90s music he grew up on and the punk rock scene he grew up in up North. He said is stint on Capitol Records was a response to their own Bright Eyes, but it doesn’t faze him.

“I think it’s unfair about the comparison Conor gets from critics,” Devine said. “I know him, and he’s a great guy. But it’s just songs, and you either like them or you don’t. I have never read or spoken to [Oberst] about the subject where he has said ‘I am Bob Dylan.’”

Attaching these lofty sentiments to these bands is ridiculous to Devine. He said it’s just because the marketplace is crowded, and you just can’t “like” something anymore, you’re told how cool something is these days.

“It’s just that music is oversaturated,” he sighs about the current digital age music is moving into. “Everyone who has Internet access and Garageband can have a Myspace page.”

He said the current stereotype of a singer-songwriter is supposed to be this balladeer, unsmiling and kind of featherweight. The two big artists he listens to, Dylan and Smith, don’t fit that description.

“Elliott Smith’s stuff was soft but it was tough,” he sternly said. “He expertly played it and didn’t fit his contemporaries. He mixed punk rock and old country, but toured with East Coast hardcore bands.”

Devine isn’t far from the picture. Growing up in Brooklyn, Devine was raised around the working class of firefighters and police officers, which is where his constant tour ethic blossomed. He believes nothing should be handed to someone without hard work.

For Devine, the majority of the bands he played with in the beginning of his carrer were in the punk and hardcore scenes in the Northeast. “While you won’t hear that sound in my music, those ethics are there. I’m a little more ideo-Socratic and tougher to pin down, and that’s why I’m able to tour with so man different bands.”

Sitting on the couch in the back room of the Spanish Moon, Devine has hope for the state of music today, but still thinks it’s getting complicated with the digital shift that’s changing the industry rapidly. As far as his success, the 50 patrons at tonight’s show is where his content lies in his work.

“I try to keep things very simple, because my brain can get knotted without help,” he said. “My early 20’s were about how I could get people to like my music, but fuck that now. I’m just grateful I have fans and have people come out to my shows.”

Colour Revolt – Plunder, Beg and Curse

October 3, 2008


Last year I was dismayed to pick up a copy of Alternative Press and see they had written off Colour Revolt with a 2 out of 5 rating for the band’s self-titled EP. I’ve never been big into Modest Mouse, (I am more so now than in previous years; like a fine wine, they have grown on me with age) but upon seeing Colour Revolt two years ago at a CD release show for their EP, and then hearing the final product, I just kept thinking, “This sounds like a heavy version of Modest Mouse.” Somewhere between the intensity of Lonesome Crowded West and “Bury Me With It” from Good News for People Who Love Bad News is the sound that encapsulates Colour Revolt’s debut EP.

Through a friend I obtained the demos “Naked and Red” and what I know now to be “Swamp” last year. “Naked and Red” is a heightening song, building verse by verse into an explosion with frontman Jesse Coppenbarger trying to violently have edge over the sound backing him. From this I knew the band’s debut would be one of my top picks of 2008.

For fans of “Blood in Your Mouth” and “Circus,” those sounds lie few and far between on Plunder, Beg, and Curse. “Naked and Red,” “Swamp,” and “A Siren” are good complements for song structure in this area, but they don’t make up the bulk of how good and relaxed this album is.

“Elegant View” is the best Colour Revolt song to date. I remember seeing them play this live a few months back and was just blown away. This was in the stages of just writing new songs for an album, but I was convinced that this one had to make the final cut for the full-length. Slow at first, the track really shows how the band can interweave all three guitars, giving them separate voices, while at the same time acting together. Coppenbarger’s vocal strain displayed here is the backbone to not only this song, but the band as a whole.

Lyrically, Coppenbarger is at the top of his game. “Naked and Red,” “Shovel to Ground,” and especially “Moses of the South” (where the title of the record comes from) show not only progression, but a man being poetic and honest without sounding over the top or overly vague:

“You’re spitting at the Earth
Plunder, beg, and curse
Pure and fearful children flee North
At the sound of the King’s horn”

“See It” and “Innocent and All” are the weakest tracks of the album, but still have bright moments within their respected structures, and again, are lyrically phenomenal. “What Will Come of Us” is an old Fletcher song (Fletcher being the band’s previous name), and does a great job of closing out the album like a story, building to a climax and then falling off to a conclusion of Coppenbarger repeating, “I’m the better man.” The last three seconds of the song are a vocal track played backwards – maybe it will give insight to the new Cloverfield movie if anyone figures it out.

Colour Revolt have crafted a wonderful spring record that will grow as the year goes by. Every time I put this record on in my car, or while doing school work, I find something new in each song, picking apart the album’s inner beauty with each revolution of my iPod’s hard drive. I know there are a lot more records to come, but I see this staying in my Top 5 as 2008 comes to a close.

Matt Pryor (Get Up Kids, New Amsterdams, Terrible Two’s)

October 3, 2008


Singer-Songwriter is critical of older work, writes songs with his kids

Having a family can change a man’s perspective on his career. It can redefine his style. It can open a sense of artistic awareness that harbors into self-critique and reshaping.

Matt Pryor once fronted one of the first and biggest “emo” groups of the mid-90’s for ten years. Along his front-and-center stage presence, Pryor started a side project under the name The New Amsterdams.

After six full length releases from The New Amsterdams, Pryor released Confidence Man this past month under his name, a separate release from The New Amsterdams name that retreats back to the stripped down persona of early New Amsterdams’ releases, but stands as Pryor’s first true solo album.

His daughter Lily is shown on the front cover of the album. “That picture was taken in Central Park,” he says with a smile.

Besides his new solo project, Pryor has also released the second album under the persona The Terrible Two’s, who’s line-up is that of The New Amsterdams, alongside of the release of Confidence Man. “I write songs for my kids,” he says. “There’s been a very positive response. I’ve never heard any one of my records as many times as I have heard those because [my kids] listen to it in the house. It’s like background noise now. They put it on and I don’t even notice it. It’s kind of a test market.”

Pryor cites a lack of music for his kids, or kids their age. He says growing up that he listened to his mom’s Motown and pop records. He says music was never segregated as far as what was for kids and wasn’t for kids. “The only reason it’s for kids is because the lyrics are silly,” he says. “It’s been described to me that its music about kids than for kids. [My kids] write songs and I finish them for them. It wasn’t really thought out. I kept telling people I was going to do it, and then there was this anticipation.”

Pryor also confessed a great distaste for the Miley Cyrus phenomenon. “I don’t agree with the Hanna Montana thing or the Bratz thing,” he says. “I don’t think it’s appropriate or necessary. I come at it as a parent of three kids. I came at doing [The Terrible Two’s] with a punk rock mentality.” Pryor tries to do his Terrible Two’s shows at a low cost. He’s performed not only at clubs, but also at a children’s museum and an elementary school. He says his performance at Lollapalooza this year went well also.

Alongside The Terrible Twos’ Jerzy the Giant release, Pryor is also retreating to his stripped simple antics under just his name.

Confidence Man is about going back and refining something without re-creating the same record twice. Pryor says it’s about going back to a man and his guitar. “I liked Para Toda Vida, but it was an experiment that I didn’t quite get right,” he says. “I thought the vocals could have been stronger and some songs seemed incomplete. I wanted to try to do something in that vein [of Para Toda Vida], and do something I was a hundred percent about.”

Pryor compared his conceptual idea to George Lucas redoing the Star Wars Trilogy. “I would never do that. It’s like a tattoo. That’s the moment. I got it then, but I look back and it’s kind of like, for me, as an ‘artist,’ I critique myself. “

Four Minute Mile, by Pryor’s former band The Get Up Kids, has the possibility to go down (and for some, already has) as one of the seminal albums of the early 90’s. Pryor has a bit of distaste for his own creation. “I hate Four Minute Mile . I think that record sounds absolutely atrocious,” he says seriously, but with an undertone laugh. “The songs are good, but the recording is really, really bad.” He pauses. “Maybe it’s not the recording. I think maybe it was my performance too. My vocals sounded bad, and I was just learning how to sing. The first few songs on Something to Write Home About , I even feel like I was stretching out of range.”

Pryor does understand that the recordings were a testament for the time, and is surprised about the “lo-fi” status that comes with talks of early “emo” records, or records in that vein. “That wasn’t the point,” he says laughing, but still serious. “That’s the point now, but it’s not what we were trying to do. We were in this high-quality studio.”

Pryor says that if things were done differently, the albums may have not had the same impact.

Pryor is still shelling out old favorites from across his career on his solo tour supporting Confidence Man. Older New Amsterdams songs such as “My Old Man Had a Pistol” or “Worse for the Wear,” even reaching deep for “Every Double Life” off of his first New Amsterdams release Never You Mind. He may also be playing “Out of Reach” or “I’ll Catch You,” but don’t expect him to play “Valentine” (the song was retired after Rob Pope’s divorce, TGUK’s bass player) or “Campfire Kansas” (which wasn’t written or sang by him on On a Wire).

For a while in his career, Pryor was frustrated with some of his favorite tunes versus fan favorites. “We wrote ‘Don’t Hate Me’ in an hour, and I can’t figure out why people get into it,” he laughs. “A lot of times the songs that I hate are the ones that a lot of people like, and the ones that I like, people are like, ‘heh.’ If I think of it from a fan’s perspective, then I know they want to hear some older stuff. I’ll play new things, but I’m not going to force feed [newer songs].”

Pryor also has taken out Chris Conley for part of his tour and Kevin Devine for another part of it. “Chris tells me I’m the elder,” he laughs. “I think of Kevin and Chris as peers. If something I did made it easier at some point [for them], then that’s great. The fact is, Chris and I have been through sort of the same things with our bands.”

Pryor is referring to the backlash of critical distaste for The Get Up Kids’ On a Wire and Conley’s band’s release In Reverie. He says that both he and Conley get asked to play songs off both records, but it sometimes seems bitter sweet. “It’s like ‘thanks, could have used the praise earlier.’”

Pryor is going to keep up his simplicity as well. “I think simple is not bad,” he says. “On the last New Amsterdams record, the songs are simple, but I had the other members build on top of it. There’s a song [on that record] called “Drunk or Dead” that is just one chord progression and then there’s all these other things on top of it. It’s great playing with those guys because I can say, ‘This song has one part, I don’t feel like writing anymore parts to it.’ If I played acoustically though, it would be dull.”

Pryor compares this process, but not his music, to U2’s “With or Without You,” where there’s only one part that builds outward. “I’m a simple songwriter. I don’t like writing bridges either.”

Pryor has gotten a great response from the tour thus far, and while he understands the high position his musical career and self image is seen as, he says he is just as simple as the songs he produces. “Someone telling me that I’m influential, doesn’t change anything,” he says. “I’m still going to get up and get breakfast. I still have to drive to the next town. I still have to change diapers. I appreciate it and take it as a compliment though.”

Portugal. The Man – Censored Colors

October 3, 2008


Portugal. The Man has made it to my top five favorite records of the year every year since they have released a record. Usually my top picks aren’t relatively new artists, but this is one of those bands that have never ceased to impress me throughout their short career. Every release shaped up to be something different in texture, but still possessed what is known as Portugal’s signature, larger than life, sound.

Enter now, Censored Colors, the bands third full-length. Recorded around a two week period, the band have once again changed their textures to an array of “colors” this time. Gourley has said the album begins with six tracks, or “colors,” that blend into each other after the record’s intermission.

Gourley also said that he switched writing styles from a riff repetitive compositional arrangement to a chord progressional arrangement. This is more than evident, and mixed with the band’s newest member Alex Neighbors’ key arrangements and a guest cello, well, this is the next step in Portugal. The Man’s catalog of alienating themselves from the crowd, but reminiscent of music’s forefathers.

“Lay Me Back Down” growls and swings into a slowed ragtime downbeat. You’ll recognize the band, just dressed differently. “Colors” signifies incredible drumming and a full blown chorus, vocally thicker than the band. “And I” is the favorite here. Delayed organ and lo-fi opening vocals accompanied by an acoustic guitar, the song simply blast itself into an epic harmonic rocker. This solidifies Portugal’s idiot-savant knack for brilliant song-writing and composition. This is what music is missing these days. The full depth sounds articulated with real vocals that would echo from a church on Sunday along the Bible Belt.

“Salt” rhythmically bounces around, as smooth as the bass lines that drive it home. And when the band launches into the blues rock chorus and repetitive “No, I’ll never come down, never come back down from here,” you’ll believe the band’s larger than life message. “Created” is a far removed acoustic ballad, and is a nice break, elegant, but has a tendency to slow the album for a minute until “Out and In and In and Out.” Acoustically gaining speed once again, it launches itself into Gourley’s rock riff antics.

After “intermission,” things begin to blend and “New Orleans” is pitch perfect with horns and distant vocals that make one think they’re in a bar somewhere in the French Quarter. The song is ambient, yet well held together. “Never Pleased” is radiant with life, frantic vocally and ending again with the repetitive line “I know that you know that I know that you know I try.” “Sit Back and Dream” acts more as a reprise than bridge before the slow jam of “Hard TImes.” “Our Times” sounds like it could be a 70’s sitcom opener, and begins the wind-down of the album.

The dwindling end of Censored Colors is the only flaw in the album. “All Mine,” “1989,” and “Our Way” blend into a three section outro. Each song alone is nothing special, but together make for a blended ending, a la a late Pink Floyd record. Without looking, the last two tracks are passed through the ear without skip to ambiently wind down in what sounds as a single track.

For those fans expecting anything old, there’s keys and wonderfully crescendo-ing song structures that were found on Waiter: “You Vultures!” and blues riffs that saturated Church Mouth. Portugal. The Man have once again changed it up, and have once again solidified themselves as one of the best bands out there, hands down. It will be hard for any other band to contend for the number one spot on my list this year.