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KRC Interview: Eric D. Johnson

Aug 26, 2016

Eric D. Johnson

You’ve got some history with the Red Red Meat guys.

Yeah! For a few years I played in an early lineup of the band Califone, which was the band that sprang from the ashes of Red Red Meat in the late 90’s. I was this fairly shy, unambitious 23 year old who was not part of the Chicago scene in any way, but through a really weird course of events ended up joining that band and like 2 months later going on this massive tour with Modest Mouse and a very early version of The Shins. It totally changed the course of my life. Later Tim heard my weird 4-track demos and liked them, and Perishable Records (Califone/Red Red Meat’s label) put out the first Fruit Bats record, which (RRM drummer) Brian Deck produced. Those guys really took me under their wing and believed in me. I’m seriously not totally sure where I’d be without them. We’re still all pretty close and I even called Tim Rutili up to pick his brain for this project.

Is this when your first introduced to Jimmywine Majestic?

No, I was in love with that record before I knew those guys, and was like a mega-Red Red Meat fan. So joining that band was like joining the Beatles for me. To me they were super famous.

Did this record have an impact on your as a writer?

Definitely. Music-wise, I spent a lot of time trying to emulate those open-tunings. I think this record (and later on, knowing those guys) also made me not so scared to embrace my roots and classic-rock leanings. While Jimmywine is very Sub-Pop-y and grungy and “of its time” in certain regards, it’s also pretty timeless, and there are a lot of blue notes in there. Lyrically it had an effect, too – Rutili has a really impressionistic way of writing lyrics, and there’s a lot of disturbing imagery alongside lots of beauty. I think my first record was me just kind of trying to write like him. But I’ve always thought he takes really beautiful things and makes them dark and disturbing, and I take dark and disturbing things and try to make them pretty.

In addition to your projects under Fruit Bats and EDJ, you’ve scored a number of films including Our Idiot Brother, Here Alone, and Smashed. How does the writing process compare to your approach to your other projects?

It’s a totally different set of muscles that you use for film scoring. The main thing is that a film score is not ‘your’ music, per se. It’s being a musical mouthpiece for the filmmakers and the story. So it’s pretty different every time depending on who you’re working with. Lots of parameters! Coming back to making albums after a couple of movies feels like taking your swimsuit off in the pool! It feels very freeing and kind of weird and great. But I love film scoring, and I embrace the parameters. It’s something totally different, and I kind of relish the structure of it. Which I think kind of answers the next question….

Is it refreshing?

Yes!!

And in addition to all that you recently produced Nina Persson’s solo debut, Animal Heart. How did that come together?

Nina’s husband is the composer (and ex-Shudder to Think guitarist) Nathan Larson. He and I collaborated on the “Our Idiot Brother” score and I spent a lot of time working at their place in New York. I wrote some actual songs for the soundtrack (beyond score) and Nina sang one of them. We got along great and she asked me to help with co-writes for her next album. Then she liked how my demos sounded so I ended up coming in as a co-producer. She and Nathan were a joy to work with, and it was pretty dreamy to spend a month and change in Gothenburg.

You’ve been on the road the better part of the year in support of Absolute Loser. Do the songs tend to morph the more you play them live?

Oh definitely! I try to take Dylan’s “Rolling Thunder Revue” tact. It’s OK to add a little muscle. I change the keys. Speed things up, slow things down. Especially the older tunes, which really are these very gentle “headphone” type songs. I wasted years trying to make everything sound exactly like the record, which unless you’re a punk band is kinda hard. That said, the newer stuff translates from album to live show a little straighter, but when you have big enthusiastic crowds, things stretch out a little more and new bits and pieces become part of the song’s reality. We play 80-90 minute sets, too, and try to mix it up every night. Keeps things interesting when you’re out for a month or longer.

Do they ever take on new meaning for you?

Absolutely. Sometimes songs that you loved on record fall really flat and you end up scratching them. Others that seemed like afterthoughts become crowd favorites. “Baby Bluebird” off the new record is like that. I loved writing that but hadn’t really been putting it into set lists since it seemed like such a slow sad tune, but people kept requesting it night after night so we’ve been doing it now and people love it. You never know which one is going to resonate.

When did you first get into vinyl?

My family didn’t even own a cassette player until 1985! We were always a little late to the new-technology party. So I bought all of my music on LP and 45 until I was in fourth grade (when I got my first boom box and Mr. Mister’s “Welcome to the Real World” on cassette). Then it took us forever to move over to CDs. My early 90’s stereo had a built-in turntable, and my uncle unloaded a bunch of Pink Floyd and Grateful Dead records on me around then, maybe 1995. There were great record stores in Chicago then (still are) and I started getting used vinyl after that fairly regularly, and new stuff when that started becoming more common in the early ‘aughts. Cliched as it may sound, I love all the classic things about vinyl – the big artwork, the “slow listening,” and warm sound quality.

Do you consider yourself a collector?

Not at all. I don’t really have a collector instinct, for better or worse. If anything I’m more of a purger. It’s actually a New Years resolution of mine to buy more vinyl. But I have a decent collection, just not compared to some of my heavy collecting friends, of whom I have several. I live in Portland, Oregon and we have really good record stores here.

Jealous Butcher, who reissued Jimmywine Majestic on vinyl last year, has a very eclectic catalog (and I’m sorry I had’t heard of them sooner!). What’s your history with those folks?

Rob Jones (who basically is Jealous Butcher) is a friend I met through Matt Ward here in Portland (he’s released several M. Ward records on LP). He’s just a great dude and has become a good friend. Jealous Butcher did 10-year anniversary re-releases on the first two Fruit Bats records, and has been doing vinyl reissues of the Califone and Red Red Meat catalogues as well. He’s keeping the Perishable records family alive. And notably, Rob is a brilliant layout artist and screen printer, so his releases look gorgeous. He recently released the entire Red Red Meat catalog in LP box-set form, and the packaging is INSANE. He should win five Grammys.

You’re still in the thick of touring and promotion for Absolute Loser, but what else is on the horizon for you?

Well, I’m always ready for another movie gig, and that usually gets busy later in the fall in the pre-Sundance rush. But right now just totally focused on Fruit Bats! We have way more road time, which is a good thing because it means people are still interested in my record. Just plugging away!


Get Jimmywine Majestic on double colored vinyl with exclusive intro essay booklet by Eric D. Johnson.

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September 2016: Eric D. Johnson curates Red Red Meat’s “Jimmywine Majestic”

Aug 17, 2016

jimmywine_vinyl

Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats) steers us on to September, penning a thoughtful essay on Red Red Meat’s Jimmywine Majestic. Originally released on Sub Pop in 1994, Jimmywine Majestic was reissued on the acclaimed Jealous Butcher imprint in late 2015 as a double LP.

The product of a band that would eventually morph into the experimental indie-rock outfit CalifoneJimmywine…, more polished and assured than Red Red Meat’s debut, is driven by songwriter Tim Rutili’s “impressionistic lyrics hovering over twangy steel guitars, thick fuzzbox riffs, and barroom drums.”

This month subscribers will receive their own copy of this double vinyl on limited run blue transparent and white vinyl, along with a booklet of exclusive liners by Johnson, detailing his own history with the record.

Sign Up

 

As a bonus, add-on a copy of Fruit Bats’ latest, Absolute Loser on vinyl:

Sign Up + Absolute Loser

 

About Eric D. Johnson

Eric D. Johnson

Eric D. Johnson (source: fruitbatsmusic.com)

Eric D. Johnson is Fruit Bats. And Fruit Bats is back.

Fruit Bats’ sixth album Absolute Loser represents a triumphant return to name, form, and self. Despite implications, its title refers to the furthest depths of loss itself, rather than the state of those who have lost something. It’s the most honest, most confessional album of Fruit Bats’ career.

Johnson draws from deeply those personal experiences, yet Absolute Loser encapsulates universal themes and emotions. While “My Sweet Midwest” could be taken completely literally, it addresses the holistic nature of finding your center during turmoil. “Baby Bluebird” stings in its portrayal of losing what you never really had. Album closer “Don’t You Know That” is about picking yourself up, even when no one seems to care how far you fell.

Musically, Absolute Loser retains the same structural pop elements that made Fruit Bats so beloved in the first place. Its simple sounding melodies belie such thick musical textures, as some tracks incorporate up to 10 guitar tracks layered on top of each other. Johnson also hearkens back to his days teaching banjo at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, and that instrumentation adds a folksy, Americana spirit to record.

 

 

About Jimmywine Majestic

Red Red Meat (source: subpop.com)

Red Red Meat (source: subpop.com)

In 1993 Red Red Meat released its first record for legendary Seattle label Sub Pop, Jimmywine Majestic. Building on the grungy roots of the band’s self-titled debut, the second album was more confident and refined, with songwriter Tim Rutili’s impressionistic lyrics hovering over twangy steel guitars, thick fuzzbox riffs, and barroom drums.

Produced by Brad Wood (Liz Phair, That Dog, Sunny Day Real Estate), the record finds the band (Rutili, Brian Deck, Glenn Girard, and Tim Hurley) moving away from the thrashing noise of the first record into more nuanced territory, maintaining its menacing swagger but injecting more space into songs like Moon Calf Tripe and Lather, swinging harder on opener Flank and the anthemic Ball, and pushing into blues and reconfigured roots rock with Dowser andComes.

Much of the album’s classic feel was informed by bands like the Rolling Stones and the Faces, a “favorite kind of music for Tim Rutilli,” says drummer and organist Brian Deck. “It was his writing that pulled things in that direction, and it was probably his writing and ambition to be different from that that ultimately drove [the band] toward being esoteric and experimental,” eventually morphing into Califone in the late ‘90s.

Informed by classic rock and blues, the album also benefits from Deck’s musical training and approach. While Red Red Meat’s other efforts, their self-titled debut in 1992, 1995’s Bunny Gets Paid, and 1996’s There’s A Star Above the Manager Tonight found Deck splitting his focus between production and performance, the drummer focused on Jimmywine Majestic from a player’s perspective. The record was the work of an invigorated, young, and hungry band.

“I remember [the album] mattering more to me than anything else in the world when we were doing it,” Deck says. “It’s a sensation that you have as a young artist. You tend to not have that the older you get. But it was the most important thing that had ever happened to me in my life when we were working on it. That was an awesome thing.”

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August 2016: Mac McCaughan picks Jackie Mittoo

Jul 15, 2016

Mac McCaughan closes out the Summer of Merge with the incredible Soul Jazz Records release, The Keyboard King at Studio One, showcasing “one of the defining figureheads of reggae music,” Jackie Mittoo. This double LP compilation features Mittoo’s work as a solo artist at Studio One’s Brentford Road studios in the mid-sixties, recording on a near daily basis, honing his sound and influence as the funkiest keyboard player to ever come from Jamaica.

Featured as our record-of-the-month, this double album will come complete with an exclusive liner essay by Mac McCaughan. Members also have the opportunity to add-on copies of McCaughan’s recent solo releases, Non-Believers and the limited, hand-numbered remix Staring at Your Hologram to their shipment.

 

1 month + “Non-Believers” LP 1 Month + “Staring at Your Hologram” LP

 

Learn more about this month’s curator and record here.

 

Non-Believers

Non-Believers:His first solo album under his own name, “McCaughan wanted to use the album to explore his attraction to that early-’80s era of music when punk evolved into something more introspective, focusing on themes of isolation and eventually turning into post-punk and new wave.”

Staring at Your Hologram

Staring at Your Hologram: “Mac McCaughan’s full instrumental remix and deconstruction of his Non-Believers album. Forty minutes of music accompanied once again by cover art and photography by Trudy Benson and Lucas Blalock, respectively. Limited to 500 copies on translucent yellow vinyl, each hand-numbered by Mac.”

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KRC Interview: Mike Krol

Jun 27, 2016

MikeKrol_Keepers-0027

Mike Krol is one of the newest additions to the acclaimed Merge Records roster. Coming from Milwaukee (via New York via Los Angeles) it took an escape to New York to appreciate much about his hometown, most notably the power of the Violent Femmes self-titled debut. After a blistering performance in Ottawa earlier this month, Krol talked with us about the Femmes, collecting 45s and what’s to come.

Both you and Violent Femmes are from Milwaukee. Did this play a part in this record being your pick?

Absolutely. Violent Femmes were my first realization that you could “make it” on a national or global scale even if you didn’t live in New York or Los Angeles. In the same way the Ramones made me feel like I could play music even though I wasn’t the best musician, the Femmes taught me that if you put out a strong product that you believe in, the rest of the world will notice no matter where you call home. To the people of Wisconsin, they were regarded both as international rock stars and as three ordinary guys from Milwaukee who were just like us. I always thought that was cool that they lived in both worlds.

Is this one of those records that grew up with you or one that hit you later in life?

Definitely one that hit me later in life, and I’m glad that it happened that way. I needed that time and distance away from it being around in my childhood to fully appreciate it as a young adult. But once I heard the album in full, without interruptions on vinyl – I was hooked immediately. To me as an adult, it captures my childhood growing up in Wisconsin perfectly. I’m immediately transported back to being an angsty teenager who doesn’t fit in, but filled with hope and dreams about what the future can hold.

Has the record had an impact on you musically, do you think?

This record single-handedly provided the template for what I try to achieve when I make an album. The length is perfect, the flow from song to song is perfect, the range of emotions is perfect. The minimal approach on production, raw/dry sounds mixed with playing that explodes in attitude and confidence… I could go on and on. But all I know is that no matter what mood I’m in when I start the record, by the time it ends I feel like something was accomplished, a battle was fought and won, and I’m a better person because of it. This is what I hope people feel if they listen to one of my albums from start to finish.

Do you consider yourself a vinyl collector?

Yes, but mostly 45s. I have quite a large collection of 7″ records because I love collecting picture sleeves and the alternate artwork for singles of songs I like. Living in Los Angeles, I mostly listen to music in my car, so I also have a pretty massive collection of CDs (somewhere around two thousand last I checked). But don’t get me wrong, I LOVE vinyl records. And any record that I consider an all-time favorite, I definitely own as an LP. In the case of the Femmes first album, I inherited a vinyl copy from a friend who had an extra, before I ever owned it on CD. And now I have it on CD in three different versions!

I read in another interview you consider yourself a drummer more than being able to play any other instrument. How badly did you want to be Violent Femmes new drummer?

Really funny you ask, because when it was announced that the Femmes got a new drummer in the local Milwaukee paper, my Dad sent the article to my brother (also a drummer) and I as a way of showing us we missed our chance. Although, I don’t think I could do very well on the Femmes songs. I’ve never been very good at using brushes. I prefer sticks.

It’s coming on a year since Turkey was released. What are some of the accomplishments/milestones you’ve made in the last year? Anything you couldn’t have guessed at a year ago?

I think the biggest accomplishments have been the amazing concerts I’ve gotten to play with some of my heroes. I got to tour with Mac McCaughan for the first leg of the tour and that was something I’ll never forget. I’m a huge Superchunk fan and all-things-Mac, so those shows were very special for me. I also got to open for the Sonics in the Netherlands, which was pretty surreal. And I just finished up a West Coast run with Bob Mould! So yeah, if you would have told me any of this a few years ago I would have definitely thought you were talking to the wrong guy.

What’s coming up for you?

I’m playing a few one-off festivals this summer, and then touring the Netherlands in September. Hope to have a new record written and recorded sometime before the year is over so I have something to tour on in 2017. Maybe some 7″ records or a reissue of my first two records also. I’m just getting started though, so I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon!

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Sign up by July 14th to get Violent Femmes with Mike Krol’s exclusive liner essay

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July 2016: Mike Krol curates Violent Femmes

Jun 17, 2016

The Summer of Merge continues with our July curator, Mike Krol, curating the Violent Femmes 1983 self-titled debut.

This Month

“One of the most distinctive records of the early alternative movement and an enduring cult classic, Violent Femmes weds the geeky, child-man persona of Jonathan Richman and the tense, jittery, hyperactive feel of new wave in an unlikely context: raw, amateurish acoustic folk-rock. The music also owes something to the Modern Lovers’ minimalism, but powered by Brian Ritchie’s busy acoustic bass riffing and the urgency and wild abandon of punk rock, the Femmes forged a sound all their own.” (All Music)

In the box:

– 180g Violent Femmes LP remastered for vinyl from the original recordings
– 10 page booklet liner essay by Mike Krol on the LP’s personal impact
– Add-on Krol’s Turkey LP from the Member Shop

About Mike Krol

A Milwaukee native, Krol released his first two albums I Hate Jazz and Trust Fund on Counter Counter Culture before joining the Merge Records roster in 2015 to release his third, Turkey:

Mike Krol got his bike stolen and his heart broken. He bailed on graphic-design-as-career. He kept playing drums and guitars, and he kept writing songs about the stuff he hated and the stuff he loved. Leaving Milwaukee for Los Angeles, he took a few years’ worth of wrong turns. But when he showed up at a studio in Sacramento in March 2014, he had his affairs in order. Plug the vocal mic into a guitar amp. Plug the guitar into an overheating box of vacuum tubes. Put the computer in the closet. Roll the tape.

“It has a do-or-die desperation: The sound is scuzzy, but the energy is pure, bristling with the aim to be stronger and more memorable…” (Pitchfork)


 

 

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KRC Interview: Michael Lerner

Jun 7, 2016

Michael Benjamin Lerner, the multi-instrumentalist and songwriter behind TELEKINESIS, is our esteemed curator for the month of June, spotlighting Pavement’s Brighten the Corners LP. This past September saw the release of his fourth and latest album, Ad Infinitum: a noted departure from his power pop roots into a more synthesized realm of analog keyboards and electronic sounds.

Ahead of Lerner’s appearance at last month’s Sasquatch Music Festival, he fielded a few questions from us on Pavement, collecting vinyl, his listening set-up, Ad Infinitum and what’s on tap for the future.

How were you introduced to Brighten the Corners?

You know, I think I was introduced to this record when I was at university in Liverpool, England. This would have been around 2006, I believe.

A friend, named Lucy, was kind of obsessed with Stephen Malkmus. I was only really sort of familiar with the older records, but her favorite Pavement record was Brighten The Corners, so she let me borrow it, and I just fell really hard for the record. It’s that perfect mix of the Pavement thing, with a little more hi-fi recording and fleshed out songs.

How did you get started collecting vinyl?

I’ve always been fond of records, and have been lucky enough to inherit a lot of them from my Dad. He was a DJ on the radio during the time when they switched over from LP’s to CD’s, so he (very smartly) took a lot of ridiculously great records home for free, and I inherited those when I got old enough to care about collecting and listening.

I also worked at a record store for many years, and there, it becomes a ‘spend half your money on records’ sort of thing. You could take it directly out of your paycheck, which was so dangerous.

Vinyl has just always seemed like the best medium for me. It’s finicky for sure, but I think once you get your setup dialed, it’s really the most pure way to listen to music. I still love how artwork looks on a 12” record.

Your new Instagram @arecordadaykeepsthedoctoraway cycles through your extensive vinyl collection, one LP at a time. Are you finding records you forgot about? New favorites?

I’m only at B right now, but man, it’s been really fun. Great to connect with old favorites, and find a bunch of new records that I had no idea I had!

I’ve been really into a bunch of jazz stuff my Dad’s Dad passed down. These two John Abercrombie records on ECM were really great.

I also hadn’t really listened to ‘Smile’ by the Beach Boys all the way through, and that’s a fascinating listen. Staggeringly good.

I also connected with Afghan Whigs ‘Black Love’, a record I hadn’t really listened to, as I was so into ‘Gentleman’. So that’s been fun!

What is your current listening set-up?

I’ve got a Music Hall MMF 2.2 with an Ortofon 2M blue cart, that is going to a Project phono preamp, into a McIntosh MA5100 preamp. I’m running all of that through the Audioengine passive P4’s.

I had always had an aversion to synth-based music, but your latest record, Ad Infinitum completely turned that around for me. Have you ever had a similar experience with a record/sound?

Wow! That’s an incredibly wonderful compliment, thank you so much for saying so!

Yeah, that’s happened for sure. I mean, for truths sake, I wasn’t always into synth music, but I think I only recently got into it.

There’s this band OMD, and they really marry the two worlds of synth / rock very well. I really got into that heavily before making Ad Infinitum, and I think that informed that sound of my record quite a lot.

If it isn’t too soon to ask, what’s on the horizon musically?

Starting to think about writing another Telekinesis record! It’s exciting! I’m not quite sure where this one is going to go, but I’m thinking it probably won’t be as outwardly synthy, but maybe more of a marriage of the first Telekinesis records, with a mix of this new one too. We shall see!

Sign up by June 15th to receive Brighten the Corners on vinyl along with Michael Lerner’s exclusive track-by-track synopsis.

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