Posts Tagged ‘atlanta’

Noot d'Noot

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Noot d’ Noot are a ten piece band from Atlanta, GA. They blend funk, electro, and soul into a psychedelically tweaked soundtrack to an alternate reality. Their live performances transform whole rooms of unfamiliar listeners into ecstatic, writhing mobs. I recently caught up with founding member Bimbi Garraux.

EM: How has the shift from being a two-person bedroom project based on sampling and loops changed how you write songs now that you are a ten-person band?

BG: It hasn’t really changed how we write songs all that much, but the outcome has changed a lot.

EM: Because of the input of the other people?

BG: The same ideas are still there, just messing around with sounds like it’s a collage project. What we do now is we all get together and play and record it and then listen through for cool pieces–a melody or a cool rhythm or vocal idea. Then we just keep honing it down until it becomes a song. That’s actually what we always did from the beginning.

EM: So you just cut out a little section and say this is the verse? Is that how you guys actually structure your songs, verse, chorus, and so on or is it more open-ended?

BG: It is becoming less open-ended, there’s always room to go back to that if we want. We started with us looping, where Dream Sanitation would play keys and I would play drums and we’d go and make loops and then turn those into songs. So it’s the same process, it’s just ten people instead of two.

EM: You have a vocalist now; is that pushing the songs towards having more structure?

BG: I think that’s pushing it towards that. It used to be entirely instrumental but now we have a bunch of songs with hooks, verses and choruses.

EM: What’s happening with the new record?

BG: It’s coming out in July. We were trying to get it out before this tour but we don’t want to half-ass it. It’s a full length. Ten songs. We recorded it at the Living Room with Ed Rawls so it sounds a lot bigger and more live.

EM: Will this one be more similar to the live experience? I think that was the one thing that threw people off with Fingers Like Steeples; it didn’t have the same manic energy that comes across in the live show.

BG: Yeah, we splurged and got an engineer so hopefully the results will show. We are trying to appeal to what people want. They want us to make a live sounding record so we tried it this time.

EM: Yeah, how big a role does the crowd play for you guys when you’re playing live?

BG: It’s so important, we’ve all been in a ton of bands and so often people in bands think of themselves as artists and it’s all about what they’re trying to convey. This time around, we think of ourselves more as entertainers than artists. We’re on stage to entertain, that’s our purpose. A lot of things we notice playing live that people respond to, we just run with if it gets a reaction.

EM: It’s literally crowdsourcing.

BG: Totally, like when we got the girls immediately people started asking why they didn’t sing more. They had just joined the band so we hadn’t actually had any time to write songs for them to sing on. I think, as an experiment, we’ve just tried to cater to the crowd. It’s been really fun to see the crowd reaction, to see people dancing. It’s awesome.

EM: Traveling, touring, even getting a full band practice together…how difficult is that with ten people?

BG: Logistically, often we don’t have everyone at practice and even sometimes when we play you’ll see James playing drums because Justin wasn’t there when we wrote that song. That’s why we switch around when we play. We write in different configurations. Someone will get up and leave the room and somebody else will grab an instrument. So it ends up being who was on what instrument when the song was being written.

EM: It’s like a claim ticket. With ten people from such different musical backgrounds, are there ever communication problems?

BG: That’s one thing that I think is cool about the band, we don’t really look like we’d be in the same band and we don’t share a lot of the same references or listen to the same music, but it all works out to come across as our sound. Like the percussionists, they have an Afro-Cuban ensemble that they also play in, and they listen to traditional Cuban music all the time. One of the dudes, he has two rock records, one from the sixties and one from the seventies, and that to him is rock music.

EM: That’s crazy to me, like having a space alien in your band.

BG: Totally, it’s bizarre, it’s almost like when we write a song their input is like another song laid on top, it’s like a mash-up but it works out. And the singers are listening to what’s on the radio, modern pop music that I’m not really familiar with.

EM: So is there a theme for the new record?

BG: Yeah, it’s called From Ever Since, and there are a few concepts tied up in that. Like, we think the music we’re making is coming from ever since, we always write as a group and songs comes out of jamming and improv, so it’s more about the band getting together and channeling a song.

EM: Do you think that the organic process of writing creates a greater sense of camaraderie in the band, since songwriting is shared?

BG: I do think so, and I also think it brings out music that none of us would write if we were writing by ourselves. I put out that solo record and I did most of it at home and it’s really chill, but when you have ten people in the room playing, and there are three or four people playing drums and percussion it is pretty hype, you know? It makes for stuff that is good to hear on a Saturday night. It makes you want to throw down.

EM: Sure, it’s a primal feeling. So how much of the show is improvised?

BG: Well, it’s getting less and less as we go along because we have more songs, but we always try to leave room for that.

EM: I think that’s refreshing, a lot bands get away from that, because they either want to be really tight or they have really taskmaster type songwriters in the band.

BG: Yeah, I don’t want to ever lose that element. For me, as a musician coming from a punk background where you only know how to play your songs, to be able to think about music as a language lets you find a place in whatever is going on.

For more visit nootdnoot.blogspot.com, and look for them on tour this spring.

Gentleman Jesse

Friday, April 30th, 2010

gj21

Gentleman Jesse and his Men is a garage/power pop band from Atlanta. Front man Jesse Smith sings and plays guitar. The group is rounded out by Dave Rahn (drums), Adrian Barrera (guitar), and Warren Bailey (bass). Smith is a current member of The Gaye Blades and used to play in The Carbonas, The Weight, and Some Soviet Station. He is also an avid record collector.

EM: So what’s your current obsession?

JS: The last trend was black metal, I was spending a lot of money on black metal from France.

EM: Scandinavian is too mainstream?

JS: Yeah, there was this group of guys called Les Legion Noires who thought the Norwegians were getting a little soft.

EM: Going soft?

JS: Right, I’m shifting out of that now, I’m trying to get into country. I’ve done rock n roll and soul but I still haven’t done country.

EM: Do you feel like country, being unexplored, is sort of looming over you? Like it’s something you have to do?

JS: Yeah, I did blues and that was rootsy enough for a period of my life but now I need to do some white people blues.

EM: Did the exploration of roots music influence you to move away from the open-ended indie rock you used to do towards more traditionally structured verse/chorus/verse three-minute songs?

JS: Structure makes writing a song easier. It’s like an equation, this plus this equals a song. It’s laziness really. And it helps you find if a song is missing something to make it a SONG. The digging, the record collection means that I have a bigger palette to work with when writing. I go “OK this song has this kind of part and this kind of part, what does it need?”

EM: Is that always an undercurrent when you’re writing a song? Because you do have such a large palette to draw from, is it a conscious thing to reference existing songs?

JS: If there are any straight rip-offs, they’re not conscious. Any borrowing I do is not on purpose. I’m trying not to rip people off. But there are stylistic things I am not afraid of borrowing.

EM: You’ve said before that if you could you’d just say “words, words, words” when you’re writing a song. So do lyrics not factor in at all for you?

JS: I’d rather have good lyrics than bad lyrics, but I don’t like writing them. It’s a struggle to write them. The way it works is a line will pop into my head and if I can put a melody to it I can usually remember the words. But the words do start it all. Like “I Don’t Want to Know Where You Been Tonight.” I heard it and said, “That should be a song. How should it go?” [Sings chorus] “Oh, that works.”

EM: So the second record is written but not recorded?

JS: Yes.

EM: How has the writing process been with the new members (Barrera and Bailey didn’t play on the first LP)?

JS: It’s been a lot more involved. A lot less of me doing things myself and a lot more working things out at practice. I hate to give them credit for anything because I want it all [laughs]. I’ll go, “This part needs a harmony and I don’t have the harmony written so we’ll work it out down in the basement, which is always a funny thing to do. That was always one of those things when you were younger it was always so embarrassing even though you’re in the position where that’s what you’re supposed to do. Fortunately, I’ve been put through the ringer in previous bands about singing, so now singing in front of people is not embarrassing at all. I can have a crowd in the studio and my voice will crack and that will happen–I’m not very good at this–so back it up, let’s do it again. So working out harmonies is actually fun.

EM: It doesn’t feel like a burden.

JS: Yeah, when you work on it and it actually comes out right it’s great. We have three part harmonies on this record and that’s been a goal of mine for a long time and it sounds good. So these guys are pulling their weight.

EM: Then is some of the pressure off of you?

JS: No, because at the end of the day I still have to bring a song to the table. The collaborative process is just the finishing touches. If it was a meal, they’d be the parsley on the side. No, no…

EM: The sauce on a steak?

JS: There you go.

EM: How do you take criticism in this band with you being the principle member?

JS: It depends on how the criticism is given. If it is someone who says “you’re not doing anything new, that’s not inventive,” then they’re an idiot, obviously I’m not doing anything new. If I were to be trying to do something new, innovation for the sake of innovation, then it would probably suck. That stuff pretty much never works.

EM: Well it has to work sometimes, or else we’d never have new sounding bands.

JS: Ok, it can be done and it is done but innovation for innovation’s sake is lame. When people strive to be something new they’re just fooling themselves.

EM: Do you feel a pull to put more of yourself into the songs? Like, is writing a song about finding a record digging in the crates just how you’d write a song about meeting a girl?

JS: It would definitely be more honest (laughs).

EM: So you’re about to start recording?

JS: Yeah, 19 songs. Then I’m going to record two covers by myself. Then there will be a 12 or 13 song record. I’m going to figure out what songs I need to make the album, I have a pretty good idea about those, and the rest will be singles that come out before the LP.

EM: Got any touring plans?

JS: Yes, we’ll do it. We need to go to the west coast so that is the priority. We’re going to be on tour all summer, do the east coast first. Then Europe, Japan, and Australia.

EM: Is there actual talk of that or are you just listing off places in the world?

JS: Yeah, Europe for sure. Japan is a little far-fetched but I want to go, we’d kill it, they love power pop. But we’re not a power pop band.

EM: You’re not a power pop band?

JS: No. We’re a rock n roll band (laughs).

EM: Can you split those hairs for me?

JS: We don’t wear ties. That’s a rule.

For more info, tour dates, and music from Gentleman Jesse and his Men, visit their Myspace.

The Coathangers

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

grouplive

“Where are the cupcakes?”
It’s a simple enough query and appropriate in certain situations, many populated with donkeys needing tails and ponies needing riders, but one rarely posed to D.I.Y. diehards moments after the cessation of a screeching sweat-soaked show. Frequently facing the ill-timed confection question, along with an endless stream of musical and wardrobe suggestions, is the workaday reality of The Coathangers, Atlanta’s rambunctious party punk quartet.

“When we first started playing shows, we started the confetti and the balloons and the face paint because we couldn’t necessarily rely on our killer performance,” says keyboard player Candace Jones. The initial buzz focused on their antics and appearances and they were somewhat understandably tagged as a novelty act. Their salacious early tunes cemented that reputation in the minds of many.

Their early shows were loose affairs of perpetual instrument swapping amid a confrontational blur of confetti, baked goods, and general goofiness. Now, four years later, the band, Jones along with Julia Kugel (guitar), Stephanie Luke (drums) and Meredith Franco (bass), have distanced themselves from their earlier tactics while remaining tethered to their original intention of manufacturing inclusive mischief, actualizing amusement for artist and audience alike. Says Luke, “We might not be bringing the cookies but we’re still bringing the party.”

The members of The Coathangers have only ever been Coathangers; this is their first and only band. In 2006, they decided to start a band while making the 10-hour crawl from Washington, D.C back to Atlanta after attending a political rally. That none of them had any previous musical experience and the fact that they had to acquire and learn their instruments were marginal inconveniences.

“In band years, we should have been retiring. When most people are giving up and going to college is when we started,” says Luke.

The band was quickly equipped after a few pawnshop plunders and a Code of Hammurabi-approved exchange in which Luke purloined a drum set from a fellow who had recently stolen her bike. They set about making a racket immediately, forcing themselves to play shows while their sound was still taking shape, feeding off the energy of the exploding Atlanta scene that was propelling other bands to international acclaim. Their enthusiasm and willingness to lay it all out on the line was an authentic extension of the group’s existing bonds.

grouplive2

Reflecting on their inexperience, Jones says, “It ended up working for us. A lot of people have been in bands since they were 15 so they’re jaded; we’re wide eyed and fresh and completely green at this being a profession.”

In addition to rigorous touring (America all the time, Mexico and Canada whenever possible), a unique origin and outlook has helped The Coathangers reach their current position. Their sound has matured from a barrage of post-riot-grrl squawks to something more coherent that playfully incorporates elements of lo-fi garage, syncopated vocal chants, and New Wave-inspired keyboard parts.

They have released two full lengths and are currently in the process of writing a third, their second for Suicide Squeeze. “This is our real record,” says Luke; “we’re doing pre-production and really taking our time.”

Inspired by the focus and meticulousness of many of their former tour mates, the band is in a much more self-aware and constructively critical mode. Says Jones, “We don’t want to rush. We’ve evolved since the last record.”

They have evolved in their technical abilities, a well as in other ways unique to a unit that was a group before it was a band. The instrument swapping has lessened in their current incarnation, but the reasoning behind it and lessons learned from it play a large role in how they interact with each other and how they process writing and performing. Themes of respect and empathy often come up. “It’s good to know how people feel when they’re playing, how they actually physically feel. When everyone experiences that, it helps keep us a democracy,” says Luke.

All four share vocal and songwriting duties, furthering the deviation from typical internal band mechanics. The goal of the songwriting is often to amuse each other and challenge each other in a process that’s not competitive, but collaborative. Humor still plays a key role, but it’s more of a means to an end at this point, a method rather than the goal, as they tackle new musical challenges. “We might not say it in a serious way, but it is serious to us,” says Luke.

Along with a tour centered around shows in Austin, the group has a remix 7” featuring Dan Deacon and Judi Chicago slated for release this year. After a spring run with the Thermals, they will hunker down and ratchet up the intensity on writing and preparing for the studio, continuing their evolution.

Says Luke, “The goal is to write a really epic record that we really love.” If past endeavors are any indication, The Coathangers will have no problem epically slaying it on this one.