Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Road Warriors: Crystal Castles (Last article for Express)

For Crystal Castles, the road is home — literally. Neither beatmaker Ethan Kath or singer Alice Glass has an actual residence outside of whatever vehicle they're taking to their next gig.

In fact, the Canadian experimental electro duo's April release, "Crystal Castles (II)," was recorded on the road during lulls between shows. The album's production venues spanned continents, from a vacant convenience store in Detroit to a church in Iceland.

"We were on tour for so long that it made no sense to pay for our apartments any longer. So, we just left our apartments behind," said Kath. When the first leg of their tour wrapped up, the band had no home left to return to. "[W]e would just stay in the last city of the tour and just find a spot to set up our keyboards and pedals and just record wherever we were," Kath said.

The two began making music together in 2004 in Toronto, mixing deep-house dance beats with walls of synthesized sound. Kath figured the collaboration with Glass would be a fleeting thing, in the vein of the one-hit '80s punk wonders he obsessively collected on vinyl.

"The bands are unknown, they've released one 7-inch, gone on a tour and then broken up — I thought we could be that band for some kids in 30 years," Kath explained.
But even if he couldn't predict their staying power, Kath knew from the moment he saw a young Glass perform in 2004 that she was the X-factor he was looking for to match the wild instrumentals he'd been working on.

"She was playing in this small punk club in Toronto which holds like 40 or 50 people, and the people who were there were all these Toronto punk legends from the '80s that everybody knows ... and they were all telling her to [expletive] off," Kath recalled. "And she was, in return, calling them [expletive] and spitting beer at them — and she was 15. I was like, 'This is the most powerful girl I've ever seen. I've never seen such a tiny girl stand up to a room full of punk biker guys. This is insane.'"

After recording a batch of demos in 2005, momentum started to build for the band when they were approached by Milo Cordell of the band The Big Pink, who offered to release their songs on his label, Merok Records. While Kath was only expecting Cordell to press about 50 copies of the band's first 7-inch, Cordell informed him that the number would be closer to 500.

"I said, 'Well, you're going to be stuck with 450 copies for the rest of your life,' Kath joked.

Three days later after the release, all 500 were gone — and Crystal Castles were planning a U.K. tour.

Since embarking on that first tour in 2006, the two have been constant road warriors — with just one major setback. In 2008, Glass was in a car accident that broke two of her ribs. Though she'd been given doctor's orders to take six weeks off, she was back performing after two — no small feat for a performer who scales amps, drumkits and whatever else is on the stage.
"She's possessed," Kath laughed.

The band is currently headlining the HARD Summer Tour, which includes a Friday-night stop at the 9:30 Club. They'll release a few extra B-sides in October when another single off "Crystal Castles (II)" drops, and their tour will finish up in December.

After that, the two will float around some other country until the next tour starts, which is business as usual.

"So we'll just stick around there," said Kath, "Just hang out. I guess work on stuff."

» 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; with Rusko, Sinden, and Destructo; Fri., Aug. 20, 7 p.m., $35.

Written by Express contributor Topher Forhecz
Photo courtesy Crystal Castles

Friday, August 13, 2010

Original Blend: Patton Oswalt

You know what's not funny? When you're a comedian and someone steals your jokes. So, when Patton Oswalt heard that the 2010 valedictorian of Columbia University's School of General Studies had pinched one of his jokes for a speech, it was no laughing matter.

The stand-up veteran, who makes regular appearances on Showtime's "United States of Tara" as well as lending his voice to TBS' "Neighbors From Hell," got an apology from the grad, and now Oswalt is on the road and working on new material for an album set to drop next year.

Oswalt spoke to Express about his voice-acting career, his year-old daughter and the ever-vigilant eye of the Internet.

» EXPRESS: How did you get into voice acting?
» OSWALT: I can't really remember how that happened. I think someone saw me doing stand-up and brought me into do some voices and it grew from there.

» EXPRESS: How do you prepare for your different voice-acting roles? Do you try out a bunch of different voices?
» OSWALT: It's always cold reading, so there's no preparation. You just go in and they kind of flap the script down and you read it.

» EXPRESS: Your daughter was born last year in April, how has your first year of fatherhood gone?
» OSWALT: Sleep deprived, but fun. I can't complain. I like being a dad; it ended up working out really well.

» EXPRESS: Did anyone give you good advice about fatherhood?
» OSWALT: It's your own unique experience, and I was told that by enough people that it wasn't a shock when it was a shock.

» EXPRESS: How did you find out about the Columbia incident?
» OSWALT: Someone sent me a link and then the New York Times called me about it before I knew what was going on.

» EXPRESS: Couldn't have seen that coming.
» OSWALT: It was weird. I was like, "Oh, I don't even want to talk about this, but now I guess I have to." The Internet breeds suspicion, so what are you going to do?

» Warner Theatre, 513 13th St. NW; Sat., Aug. 14, 8 p.m., $27 - $34.50.

Written by Express contributor Topher Forhecz
Photo courtesy Patton Oswalt

Friday, August 6, 2010

Heavy Metal Woodstock: Jeff Krulik, "Heavy Metal Picnic"

Maryland's own Woodstock: That was what Billy Gordon was shooting for in May of 1985 when he hosted the Full Moon Jamboree on a piece of land known as The Farm in Potomac, Md. The party lasted only a weekend, but with more than a thousand people in attendance — including some disgruntled police — the Jamboree propelled itself into local-music infamy.

Twenty-five years later, "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" director Jeff Krulik revisits the notorious party in his new documentary, "Heavy Metal Picnic." Krulik decided to make the film after screening some footage of the party shot by a friend who'd been armed with a home-video camera and a CBS microphone swiped from Ronald Reagan's inauguration ceremony.

Krulik then tracked down folks who were at the Jamboree, and those interviews offer viewers a glimpse into the heyday of Maryland's rock scene.

» EXPRESS: What was it about the footage that attracted you to the project?
» KRULIK: It's funny; it's very genuine. ...Everybody was part of that scene so they were kind of making their own home movie. Everybody just let it all hang out for their friends on camera. It's a real kind of window into this period, which is great because this is a time way before cell-phone cameras, way before the proliferation of home video — home video was very much in its infancy. Nobody had cameras and, of course, in a situation like this party, [where the crew] had a CBS microphone, it was like, "What? Is this the news?" And yet, it couldn't be farther from the news. It was just this giant kind of playground all captured on tape. Because footage from that period is really rare, when you get right down to it, that's why it really appealed to me.

» EXPRESS: How did people who were at the party react when they saw the film?
» KRULIK: They were amused and excited and interested and really nostalgic. It'd be like you watching whatever period of time you were really coming of age or really just, you know, sowing your oats. If you saw a video of it, as long as you weren't doing anything too embarrassing, you'd probably really enjoy it. And everybody who I've screened it for who was part of it really got a kick out of it.

» AFI Silver Theatre, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring; Fri. Aug. 6, $10.

Written by Express contributor Topher Forhecz
Photo courtesy Jeff Krulik

Bounce That: Robert Mercurio of Galactic

It's easy to forget that living in a city with a strong musical tradition is a blessing not everyone shares. Robert Mercurio, bassist of the New Orleans-based band Galactic, has been lucky enough to live in two such cities throughout his life. Growing up in Chevy Chase in the early '80s, Mercurio was exposed to the D.C. punk scene at a young age and was later introduced to our town's homegrown genre, go-go.

"I used to go see punk rock shows where the 9:30 Club is," he said. "It used to be called the WUST Radio Hall, and I used to see punk rock shows when I was 13. It was not a good part of town [then]; my parents never really knew I was going down there."

In 1990, Mercurio and future Galactic guitarist Jeffrey Raines moved to New Orleans to attend separate colleges. The two become enthralled with the local music culture and formed Galactic under its influence. The group's sound is a hodgepodge of brazen brass-funk, murky jazz and high-energy hip-hop.

Mercurio said the band's February release, "Ya-Ka-May," was an attempt to reflect the different musical movements happening within the city. The album is a sort of who's-who of the New Orleans music scene, and features an array of talent from local legends like Irma Thomas to up-and-comers like Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews.
"This album ["Ya-Ka-May"] was more like us trying to connect the dots between what's going on in New Orleans ... and how we hopefully all live together even though it's all kind of different," Mercurio said. "It was a uniquely New Orleans-focused album, as opposed to our other albums, which are New Orleans-focused just because we're from there."

Prior to their 9:30 Club gig on Aug. 6, Mercurio spoke to Express about New Orleans culture and the band's recent foray into the video-game industry.

» EXPRESS: There are a bunch of guest appearances on "Ya-Ka-May." Was there anyone in particular you were excited about working with?
» MERCURIO: Working with Allen Toussaint. I've known him for years, and he's such a musical legend, not only to New Orleans, but to the whole country. ... To have somebody like him co-write two songs was amazing. Also, Irma Thomas. I've heard her for years and never in my life thought that I'd actually perform with her and to have her come into the studio; it was amazing. And then, myself, I got turned onto a lot of new music in doing this process too. I got a lot deeper into the "bounce" music [a New Orleans based-genre of rap characterized by fast beats and chants] and bounce scene in New Orleans, and met and collaborated with people like Big Freedia and Katey Red and Sissy Nobby. It wasn't as big of a treat as maybe Allen Toussaint or Irma Thomas, only because I've known of those people for a long time, but it was equally as amazing to have them in the studio. They're going to be legends.

» EXPRESS: Is bounce more tucked away in the community?
» MERCURIO: To me, it's similar to go-go in a way. It's something that comes out of the neighborhood and it hasn't really surfaced beyond the city itself. ... It's similar to the go-go thing, not that they sound similar, but they both have a beat when you hear it you're like, "Okay, that's a go-go beat." And when you hear a bounce beat, you're like, "That's a bounce beat." It's kind of interesting to me that I come from two cities that kind of have this kind of music, and I forgot that that's not the case in every city.
» EXPRESS: I'm sure you guys get a lot of questions about Hurricane Katrina, but how has the city changed since musically?
» MERCURIO: We lost some people, for sure. People moved out of town and never moved back and that's kind of the biggest loss to the scene. The scene has grown back to what it once was, but it kind of has new faces involved with it. It's amazing to see. I thought five years ago when Katrina happened, I thought, "Oh god, is the city ever going to be like it was, and how could it?" It's amazing. The make-up of the city has really moved back and the culture and, I got to say, it's really strong and the city has a lot of love for it now. I think in a weird way, sometimes you don't really know what you've [got] until you almost lost it.

» EXPRESS: I heard you guys were writing some music for a video game.
» MERCURIO: Yeah, we still are. We were doing it up yesterday. I can't give you the name, but it's a PlayStation game.

» EXPRESS: So it's a major release?
» MERCURIO: It's a pretty big game. It's a sequel to a previous game that sold over a million copies. It's been really fun. We're about a third of the way done with the music and it's been really fun to take our heads and see how far we can stretch it. We don't have to be Galactic. We can kind of create whatever we want. Like today, we were writing some stuff for a string section.

» EXPRESS: How has it been writing the score to a video game versus an album?
» MERCURIO: In general, it's just more of a mood-setting as opposed to songwriting. They still want melodies and they want grooves and stuff like that, but it doesn't have to be as strict as a song structure normally is.

» 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; with Lionize; Fri., Aug. 6, 8 p.m., $25.

Written by Express contributor Topher Forhecz
Photo courtesy Epitaph Records

Monday, August 2, 2010

Body Talks: Robyn

When I told my 24-year-old sister that I'd be speaking with the Swedish pop star Robyn, she began belting out the singer's 1997 hit "Show Me Love" from the album "Robyn Is Here." This is a typical response for an American pop fan, as "Robyn Is Here" was the first — and last — memory many American listeners had of the then-teenage star: A fluffy, radio-friendly album co-produced by Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC hit-makers Denniz Pop and Max Martin.

After that record, Robyn dropped off of America's musical radar, though she continued to release albums in her native Sweden and across Europe. But while many of the American popsters Robyn started out alongside have either fizzled out or clung to nostalgic reunion tours, Robyn returned to the American charts in 2008 with a new, self-titled album and a defiant, electro-pop sound.

Now in her early 30s, the singer's reinvention from pop princess to no-nonsense club queen is directly linked to the creation of her own record label, Konichiwa Records, in 2005. With the dawn of Konichiwa, Robyn gained full creative control of her music. And while she no longer makes music targeted toward teen audiences, it is a past she fully embraces.
"What I used to do earlier on in my career, it's still very dear to me," she said over the phone while in San Diego. "It's not something I try to separate myself from. On the contrary, it's actually something that's making still a lot of sense with what I'm doing now. Being brought up in that tradition of pop music, around people like Denniz Pop and Max Martin, who were a part of actually a thing before they started having hits with Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys, they were doing things like working with Dr. Alban and Leila K and artists that I used to listen to as a kid. To me, it's all come together full-circle."

Robyn is hitting the road on the "All Hearts Tour" — which includes a now sold-out show at the 9:30 Club on Aug. 2 with co-headliner Kelis — to promote her new album, "Body Talk Pt. 1." As implied by the title, the 8-track release is one of three in a series of releases that will all drop this year. The first two albums were written at the same time in July 2009, while the third has yet to be penned.

So far, the series has been full of guest appearances. On "Body Talk Pt. 1," artists like Diplo ("Dancehall Queen") and Norwegian duo Royksopp ("None of Dem") helped produce tracks. The second installment in the series will see Diplo's return, as well an appearance from rap icon Snoop Dogg on the track "U Should Know Better." For Robyn, who describes herself as a "pretty well-informed rapper" and has proven so on previous efforts, it was a chance to work with a kindred spirit.
"It was great. He's a really nice guy, he's very smart," she said of Snoop. "He loves music, and I think that's what we connected on. We hooked [up] in L.A. a couple years ago after I did a remix version of 'Sensual Seduction.' We just talked about music and really clicked and decided to get into the studio together."

Though it may seem unorthodox to release three albums practically back-to-back, Robyn says she wanted to break from the music-industry routine.

"I've released albums for a long time and I think ... I've always enjoyed making albums and promoting them and touring," she said. "But I was getting tired of this typical thing of releasing an album and touring it for two years and not being able to be in the studio as much as I would like to. It's just an experiment where I'm trying to find a way to work where I can do more of all the things I like to do at the same time."