Two summers ago, when this blog was a good bit more active than it is now, I thought I would swing for the fences and try to get an interview with Stefan Grossman, one of my all-time acoustic guitar heroes. Stefan wasn’t the first folkie, finger-picking guitarist that caught my ear… I had previously spent a good bit of time listening to Paul Simon, Nick Drake and Donovan. When my friend Michael turned me on to Bert Jansch, that was it. I was, and remain, an absolute fiend for British guitar music, a story that Stefan plays an appreciable part in. Continue reading
Few voices embody the unaffected, haunting power of folk songs like that of Shirley Collins. Though this author considers her something of an institution, it would seem that there was a long stretch of time where Shirley went underground…
Burning Bridges and Fifth Column Films are currently raising funds for a feature-length documentary on the beguiling Ms. Collins, and I would heartily encourage you to consider donating to their Kickstarter campaign.
During the past few months, we received three excellent albums of what could be described as “old timey” music. We thought it would be apt to do a quick round-up of these. We borrowed the article’s title from The Howling Kettles (it’s the tagline for their website). Continue reading
It was our good fortune to catch up with Sean Smith in order to discuss his latest record, Huge Fluid Freedom, out now on Strange Attractors Audio House. The title of the album and its opening composition come from a piece by the thirteenth century Persian poet, Rumi:
Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity?
why would you refuse to give
this joy to anyone?
Fish dont hold the sacred liquid in cups.
They swim the huge fluid freedom.
Drumsound rises on the air,
its throb, my heart.
A voice inside the beat says,
“I know you’re tired, but come, this is the way.”
W&W: Electric guitar figures prominently on Huge Fluid Freedom, which is a shift from the previous three albums of acoustic guitar solos, or in the case of Eternal, ensemble recordings that revolved around your acoustic guitar parts. I appreciate that you don’t treat the two instruments interchangeably. Your electric guitar playing on the new album has a distinct character… not merely electrified fingerpicking, as one might predict, but ecstatic, celebratory. Can you elaborate a bit on your approach to the electric guitar and how it’s been affecting your solo music?
I appreciate your ability to hear the difference and, as a champion of acoustic fingerstyle, not be turned off by the fact that I’m working with a broader palette. Also, your description of my playing being “ecstatic and celebratory” is a very apt and welcome view. That’s exactly what I’m going for, or rather, what I can’t help but do. Continue reading
While I don’t get out on the road nearly as often as I’d like, it seems that for the last few years, I’ve been able to tour with some regularity… and though I normally relish these trips as an opportunity to be alone with my thoughts and tunes on the sometimes long drives between gigs, my last three outings have been cooperative tours with other musicians, which is really the more interesting way to go. This time out, I had the good fortune to spend a week with Chuck Johnson, in my opinion one of the coolest players recording today. Chuck had secured a small arts grant and was hitting the road to promote A Struggle, Not A Thought, his debut solo LP on the Strange Attractors Audio House label. I’ve been following Chuck’s music ever since his appearance last year on the amazing Beyond Berkeley Guitar compilation, and was really excited to spend some quality time with the man, exploring each others perspectives on our tool of choice, the steel-strung acoustic guitar. Throw in our mutual friend Trevor Healy, not only a talented luthier but a fantastic fingerpicker in his own right, and we had ourselves a week-long guitar bro-down of epic proportions! Having interviewed both men for the release of BBG, I knew that they would be thoughtful and intelligent travelling partners, and alas the short time we spent playing shows together passed far too quickly.
For me, this particular trip started with a whimper: having played a house party the night before and getting to bed in the 3am area, I was not able to rise in time to catch my 7am Megabus from Pittsburgh to New York City, where I was supposed to meet up with Chuck and Trevor to start my leg of the tour. I wasn’t actually on the bill in NYC, but was planning to concentrate on getting photos and videos for this here blog, and I was looking forward to visiting the Zebulon venue for the first time. As it was, it gave me an extra day to pack properly and to practice, which was welcome… but it also meant that I’d have to figure out how I planned to get from Pittsburgh to Cambridge the next day for our gig at Zuzu. I decided to rent the tiniest car that Budget offered (and my budget afforded), which turned out to be a Chevy Aveo. Tiny it was, for my dreadnought case didn’t even fit in the trunk! It mattered little, though, since I’d be leaving the car in Boston and travelling in Chuck’s rental the rest of the trip. I spent that grey, rainy Monday traversing Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and finally gunning it across the Mass Pike to get to the gig with a little time to spare. Continue reading
NJD: The first thing I always notice when I open a new C Joynes album is that it always looks like a very personal art concept on your records.
CJ: Yeah, definitely. It’s one of the things that I’ve always really enjoyed. For me it’s always been part of the whole process – it’s included artwork and design and all of that sort of thing. I’ve always really liked albums that are put together and presented in a way where it looks like a hermetically sealed concept – where it’s stuff that’s been produced by one person or a very limited group of people. For example, all the self-released Sun Ra albums, I just love the artwork and graphics on those. Also the stuff that Billy Childish put out when he was self-releasing his own stuff. So right from the get go that’s always, I don’t know how essential it is to the music but it’s all part of the process of putting together an album.
NJD: Is this album called Congo because that’s somewhere that you’ve visited?
No. There’s a statue that appears on the cover of the album, and the statue was christened Congo. It was given to me as a gift when I was in Kenya. The little statue does actually come from the Congo and he’s been sitting on top of the right hand speaker of my hi-fi system all the way through the mixing process. There’s a little sphinx that someone gave my wife as a gift on the left hand channel and Congo on the right hand channel, and the pair have been kind of like the totems for this album, kind of overseeing the whole thing. It’s got something about it, a real personality. I’m always a little bit suspicious about “concepts”, but it’s definitely contributed to what I see as an underlying theme to this album. It’s the notion of this very distinctive totem that has come from a very different and very unusual part of the world and ended up in this little cottage outside of Cambridge. If there is a concept it’s about the exotic in a small, domestic traditional English setting – the kind of clash of cultures that’s going on there. Continue reading
This interview originally appeared on Pitchfork. Reprinted with permission.
As best as he can remember, Glenn Jones has been playing guitar since 1967, when he was 14 years old. Despite four decades spent behind six strings, though, he still talks about the instrument like an infinite terrain– not only for himself but also for the current crop of new, young guitarists following the sounds of his calloused fingertips. He discovers and sometimes discards new tunings almost constantly, and his best tunes sport the sense that they were considered and carved with the diligence and patience of some elaborate wooden trinket.
“It was a gradual process that came from a lot of time and hours and weeks and months and years playing guitar alone and being alone,” says Jones. “Eventually, it’s to say this is mine.”
The Wanting, Jones’ first full-length album for Thrill Jockey, is a collection of tunes for banjo and guitar that explores dozens of different ideas within its hour run-time. From the redolent moan of the title track to the withdrawn sigh of “Even to Win is to Fail” and from the gentle climb of the opener to the elliptical expanse of the 17-minute closer, Jones has made a record that twists and turns through both feelings and techniques, impressing even as it empathizes.
Pitchfork: Even more so than with your previous records, I was immediately taken by The Wanting. I kept needing to hear it. For you, what’s different on this record than your other LPs?
Glenn Jones: I’m not sure if it felt that different going into it. I’m not a fast writer. It takes me about two years to write enough material for an album. Generally, that two-year period is just a reflection of where I’ve been during that time, new tunings I’ve uncovered, and how I’ve navigated the twain of those particular tunings. The only thing that feels different about this one is that I spent more time with the banjo in the past two years than I had going into Barbecue Bob in Fishtown, which had a couple of banjo pieces. Also, the duet I recorded with Chris Corsano is a little bit of a departure, at least for my solo guitar records. It’s not so unusual maybe to Cul de Sac fans. That may be the extent of what I think is different. People tend to look for new directions, and I’m not sure if there is a marked new direction rather than a further exploration of what I’ve always been interested in. Continue reading