Posts Tagged With: David Menconi

This week’s interview: The only constant is Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

MusicILikeI’ve been writing about music in one place or another for (gulp) more than 30 years now, the last 22 of them at the Raleigh News & Observer. So I’ve been at it long enough to witness the music and media industries be completely transformed — forever, (maybe) not for better. That evolution is ongoing but nowhere near complete, and anybody who claims to know where it’s going to end up is kidding either you or themselves. So Ryan Brymer, a writer who does a blog called Music I Like That Most People Don’t Know But Should, rang me up for a two-part interview about the music and media landscape. Part One ran on Monday and Part Two is up today; check ’em out.

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Ryan Adams and Ethan Johns don’t reach too far

EthanJThere’s still no definitive word on when Ryan Adams’ next album might emerge — maybe October, maybe not. But in the meantime, Ryan’s longtime mate Ethan Johns is releasing his first album under his own name this summer, If Not Now Then When? Ethan is one of Ryan’s collaborators of longest standing, having produced Whiskeytown’s 2001 swan song Pneumonia as well as multiple albums from Ryan’s solo catalog. His father Glynn Johns also produced Ryan’s 2011 album Ashes & Fire.

As for Ethan’s record, Ryan produced and played bass and drums on the first single, “Don’t Reach Too Far,” which they recorded at Ryan’s Pax Am Studios. It’s a stomping garage-rocker with a pulse along the lines of the Van Morrison/Them chestnut “Gloria,” and it looks like that might be Ryan playing bass in the tres-psychedelic video, too. Ethan explained more about how “Don’t Reach Too Far” came to be in a statement:

The recording was completely unplanned. Ryan and I were hanging at his studio in LA and I literally had books of songs on the table. This one came to the surface – a song birthed from a stream of consciousness. I had only ever sung it 3 times – once when I wrote it, and twice in the studio. Ryan kept the second take. It was so immediate – the energy was flying! Ryan just caught it right there and then – kind of like an instamatic photograph. If punk was invented by cowboys in Texas and beamed to a Sears and Roebuck reel to reel in a garage in Long beach in 1963, it might have sounded like this…

That also sounds a lot like the freewheeling, off-the-cuff vibe that prevailed as Ethan was producing Ryan’s first solo album, 2000’s Heartbreaker; see chapter 12 of “Losering” for more on that. And look for If Not Now Then When? on July 30, on Ethan’s own Three Crows Records.

ADDENDUM (5/24/13): Here’s video from Ethan’s album, for the song “Whip-Poor-Will.” Ryan’s name is in the credits, and it sounds like he might be one of the backup vocalists.

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Also under the gun: The Berkeley Cafe’s music hall

BerkeleyCafeWell, heck. Not only are Sadlack’s days numbered, but Raleigh is about to lose yet another music room where some key events in the Ryan Adams “Losering” story happened. The big music hall at the Berkeley Cafe will be no more after June 30, closing to make way for a tobacco shop (and no, that is not a typo).

Well, at least the adjoining cafe space is staying open, and it will continue doing live music. But it will have less than half the capacity of the music hall, which has a legal capacity of 200 and comfortably holds tons more than that. I’m bummed. Check the story on it here.

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“Losering: The Songs of Ryan Adams” — wish you were here

DMMCBack in Whiskeytown’s prime, I really wanted them to break through to widespread popularity, which seems a bit odd in retrospect. Sure, it would have been fun to watch from close range; but I can’t say why I was rooting for them beyond a vague belief that a large audience was going to provide some measure of validation. There was closure that only a large crowd singing along with “Sixteen Days” was going to provide.

Fittingly and belatedly, that happened last night, sort of. The fine folks at Deep South The Bar in Raleigh put together a tribute show inspired by my book, “Losering: The Songs of Ryan Adams,” and I got to emcee. And about halfway through the show, while members of the band Old Quarter were playing “Sixteen Days” — the song I thought was going to be Whiskeytown’s big breakout hit way back in 1997 — I was hollering along with everyone else in the soldout house and feeling chills about the experience.

Ghost has got me running
Away from you, away from you, awaaaaaay…

It was a truly wonderful night, very much a feeling of being among friends and fellow fans; as much a tribute to the milieu Ryan came out of as to Ryan himself. There were multiple highlights, some of which went like this:

Aaron Menconi, shortly before asking why he started that damn country band.

Aaron Menconi, shortly before asking why he started that damn country band.

The Equivocators — Featuring my dear friend Scott Huler, they kicked things off with three songs from Whiskeytown’s Faithless Street album; “Midway Park,” “Hard Luck Story” and the title track. When Scott got to the “started this damn country band” line, I coached my 18-year-old son Aaron to yell out, “Why’d you do that?”

David Teeter (from the band Martha Ann Motel) — He brought out a couple of more recent Ryan solo songs, “Shadowlands” and “Desire.” And to make the absent guest of honor seem more present, David also played the recording of the infamous Jim DeRogatis voicemail, a legendary moment in artist-critic relations. Guffaws all around.

Ryan Kennemur — Continuing in a humorous vein, Ryan gave a nod to Mr. Adams’ touchier side by belting out a bit of Bryan Adams’ “Summer of ’69.” Then he got down to business, and his versions of “Turn Around,” “Avenues” and especially “If He Can’t Have You” were outstanding.

John Booker and Rachel Hirsh (I Was Totally Destroying It) — Major props go to John, who did a fantastic job with booking the acts for this show. And he and his bandmate Rachel did great with four songs — “Everybody Knows,” “Call Me On Your Way Back Home,” “Don’t Be Sad” and “Firecracker.” There was an enthusiastic audience sing-along on the latter song, and John needled me a bit for not giving it and the rest of Ryan’s Gold album sufficient respect in the book. Touche! Danny Johnson, who plays in about a thousand other bands, sat in.

Bobby Bryson — I’d never heard Bobby before, and he might have played my favorite set of the night with stellar versions of “A Kiss Before I Go,” “Let It Ride” (also much audience singing along here) and “Carolina Rain.” He showed absolute command instrumentally as well as vocally, and I loved his stage presence. Afterward, he presented me with a business card carrying the slogan Songs that gently rip your heart out. I believe it.

DeepSouthCharles Marshall and Richard Bolton (Balsa Gliders) — They put a couple of Strangers Almanac-era Whiskeytown classics through some unusual paces, quieting down “Waiting to Derail” and rocking up “Avenues.” Very cool, inventive versions that they clearly put some thought into.

John Massengil, George Hage and Danny Johnson (Old Quarter) — The aforementioned “Sixteen Days” sing-along went over great. So did “Jacksonville Skyline” and a lovely reading of “Houses on the Hill.” Meg Johnson sat in on vocals (and also with Jack the Radio). Felt like being at the Brewery back in the day.

Jack the Radio — Speaking of sing-alongs, there was a raucous one on “Come Pick Me Up,” maybe the most exuberant of the night. “O My Sweet Carolina” and “Lucky Now” rounded it out.

Adam Lane and Jeff Mullins — Ryan Kennemur returned for an exceptionally sweet harmony vocal on “Desperate Ain’t Lonely” (which they rehearsed once, outside in the parking lot, and Ryan had to read the lyrics off his phone — perfect). They also offered up a couple of nice rarities, “Onslow County” and “Oh My Sweet Valentine,” which never fails to put a lump in my throat. Last night was no exception.

Ryan Mullaney and Ashley Gray — Two fine singers teamed up to harmonize on “Desire” and the Gold standard “When the Stars Go Blue” (take that, Tim McGraw).

Wylie Hunter (Wylie Hunter & the Cazadores) — Back to Whiskeytown days with “Dancing With the Women at the Bar,” and Heartbreaker‘s “Be My Winding Wheel.” Really glad to hear both.

ChipNYNYChip Robinson (Backsliders) — He sat at the piano and covered “New York, New York,” reading lyrics he’d scribbled out by hand. Fascinating, weird and pretty great, made even moreso because he was wearing a Wu-Tang Clan T-shirt. I snagged the hand-written lyrics for my archive.

Debonzo Brothers — Jeff and Keef with another long-lost favorite, “Hey There, Mrs. Lovely” (yay!), plus Heartbreaker‘s “In My Time of Need.”

Be The Moon — And in the closing slot, this trio from Burlington offered up the resurrected Whiskeytown song “Am I Unstable.” It was fantastic, featuring box drum and an arrangement that Peter Blackstock’s memory placed in the ballpark of the original (which Whiskeytown only played live once, nearly 13 years ago).

All told, the event raised $579 for the Future of Music Coalition. I could not be happier, and prouder of everyone involved. Thanks to all the musicians, and especially to Deep South impressario Dave Rose for making it happen.

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My next jacket blurb

Well, what would our Thursday night “Losering: The Songs of Ryan Adams” show be without the obligatory snark from the local weekly, The Independent? It’s below, penned by music editor Grayson Currin (who also wrote the Indy’s review of the book last fall). And I guess it was nice of them to spotlight the show — though unnecessary, since it’s already sold out, but what the heck. Meantime, I’m thinking of having some stickers printed up that say “occasionally intriguing,” suitable for affixing to book jackets.


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Further artifacts from long ago: The 1995 “Star Watch”

WtownEarlyWhen I was researching and reporting “Losering,” I went looking for every word I’d ever written about Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown over the previous decade and a half, and I thought I’d found everything — until now. While looking up Chapel Hill native Michelle Dorrance in the newspaper’s archives the other day, I happened across a little blurb I’d forgotten all about. It was in a Sunday feature called “Star Watch” from April 1995, in which the News & Observer’s seven arts critics (oh, those were the days) spotlighted up-and-coming local artists and performers we thought were worth watching.

The list included a few folks who would go on to legitimate national careers, including tap dancer Dorrance, who will be receiving a major award next month; Ben Folds Five, then a couple of months away from releasing their first album; singer/actress Lauren Kennedy, who has had a very successful Broadway career; and, four months before the first time I met and interviewed Ryan, “Whiskey Town” (which is how the band’s name appeared in the credits of that spring’s Who The Hell compilation). Here’s how it read:

Whiskey Town

The Band: Ryan Adams, guitar and vocals; Skillet Gilmore, drums; Phil Wandscher, guitar; Caitlin Cary, violin; Steve Grothmann, bass

The big deal: Why did these ex-punks start playing country music? As Adams puts it in one Whiskey Town song, “So I started this damn country band/’Cause punk rock was too hard to sing.” For a demonstration, check out their brilliant deconstruction of “Blank Generation” on the new Richard Hell tribute album “Who the Hell.”

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The clock is ticking on Sadlack’s

Photo courtesy of John Morris,

Photo courtesy of John Morris,

Earlier this year, when I did a post about local landmarks where key events in the “Losering” story happened, I concluded with a paragraph about Sadlack’s — the beer joint/sandwich shop where Ryan Adams and other employees formed the first version of Whiskeytown in the fall of 1994. That entire block of Hillsborough Street has been on borrowed time for quite a while now, condemned for a big-ass hotel project. Last time I spoke to owner Rose Schwetz, she told me that she planned to stay there “until the bulldozers come and make me leave.”

Alas, it seems that the hour of Sadlack’s demise might come sooner rather than later. There’s a December deadline for all businesses in that block to relocate (including the adjacent Schoolkids Records). And according to a story in today’s paper, Rose says she’s going to hang it up unless she finds another spot by June 1. Still, even if she does find another place to reopen, it’s hard to imagine it will have the same funky ambience that made Sadlack’s a local institution for 40 years. When the weather’s nice, there’s no better spot to hear a band play than the Sadlack’s patio. Between this and the loss of the Brewery, Raleigh has ever-fewer spots from Ryan’s in-town heyday.

But hope springs eternal. Even though it doesn’t look good for Sadlack’s, I’ve got my fingers crossed a miracle happens.

ADDENDUM (5/7/13): WRAL TV report.

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At least you didn’t get a ripoff — but I did

Picture 5There’s a saying in the music business that goes something like this: If you’re not getting bootlegged, you’re not happening. So I guess it’s flattering, in a backhanded kind of way, to find “Losering” in places I’d rather not see it. Pretty much every time I take a spin through the worldwide web to see if my book has turned up anyplace new, I’ll find links to where it can be downloaded for free. Stolen, in other words; the work of pirates. Arrrrrr! No, I’m not going to link to any of them here because they’re easy enough to find and I’d rather you didn’t.

So yesterday, I happened onto one where “Losering” is being offered as a “Free eBook Download.” Between the picture of the cover, publisher’s summary and ISBN serial number, you’d figure this is authorized and legit if you didn’t know any better. It’s anything but. Because while the content (my book) is free, the Usenet account needed to download it is not. Nice setup, eh?

I forwarded the link along to University of Texas Press and heard back from rights manager Laura Young Bost, who spends a great deal of time battling this kind of piracy without much success, and it went the way these things usually do. Laura sent a take-down notice to the site’s operators, who proceeded to pass the buck. They refused to do anything because, Laura said, “the file is not hosted on their site; they only link to the illegal file.” Truly, plausible deniability is not confined to politics. Laura went on to write about the frustrations of seeing UT Press titles in places like this:

This is truly like Whack-a-mole; if we get ebooks taken down one place, they immediately pop up elsewhere. We actually found a couple of books in the past two weeks where pirates had hijacked legitimate websites (one was a carpet company), which went up and down, and they moved on to hijack other legitimate websites before we could even act. I am not trying to make light of this — it is piracy out and out. I wish I could tell you that we can successfully combat it, but unfortunately that is not the reality of the situation. My fondest wish is that everyone who downloads an illegal ebook gets a virus with it.

Amen to that sentiment. Yes, I know this is the modern age, and I’m familiar with all the arguments about how information “wants to be free,” everyone needs to grow up and join the 21st century and so on. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. Not that I wrote this book expecting it would amount to any sort of windfall. Writing is like making music — don’t do either expecting it to be lucrative because the odds of significant payoff are about the same as winning the lottery.

Still, it’s a drag to see anonymous people brazenly offering up one’s work as bait for their download service, just cuz they can. David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker triggered a huge debate last year with this essay, which elegantly lays out the creator’s viewpoint from the musician’s side (Lowery also had some interesting things to say about the aftermath when I interviewed him back in January — see the last two paragraphs here). Or as Gillian Welch put it in a very prescient song back in 2001:

Everything is free now
That’s what they say
Everything I ever done
Gotta give it away.
Someone hit the big score
They figured it out
That we’re gonna do it anyway
Even if it doesn’t pay.

No, it doesn’t really do you any good to speak up about these things. And yet I can’t keep my mouth shut. For reasons unknown, the aforementioned pirate site actually has a “comments” section. Even though I knew it would be an exercise in futility, I entered the rather pointed comment below. You’ll notice that it’s flagged as “awaiting moderation,” meaning it has yet to be posted where others can see it. But I’m sure they’ll be letting that one through any time now, right? Riiiiiiiiight.


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Save that date — May 9 for “Losering: The Songs of Ryan Adams”

LoseringShowSo things are coming along quite nicely for “Losering: The Songs of Ryan Adams,” the tribute show happening May 9 at Deep South The Bar in downtown Raleigh. Dave Rose (impressario of Deep South Entertainment and also author of the music-business book “My Cousin Rick”) and John Booker have been busy putting it together and booking acts. And Dave also designed a great-looking poster for it, which you can see here on the right.

Checking the lineup for new additions, I’m quite happy to see a couple of names on there: my best pal Scott Huler’s band the Equivocators (who also played the after-party for the first reading I did last fall); and also Chip Robinson from Whiskeytown’s peers the Backsliders, which gives this shindig some very cool back-in-the-day cred circa the mid-1990s.

I do hope you’ll come on out if you can, because I’m very excited.

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Future Binds: The kids are alright

FutureBindsSo my oldest son, Aaron, turns 18 years old today. Happy birthday, kid, even if you’re too old (and tall) for me to get away with calling you “kid” anymore. But please indulge your proud papa.

Aaron has been playing bass in rock bands for a couple of years now, a process I have watched with a mixture of pride, admiration and apprehension. I mean, he’s my son, so I’m going to think anything he does is pretty great. But I’ve watched so many bands crash and burn over the years, I can’t help worrying.

So even though I’m obviously not an impartial observer, I think Aaron’s latest band is fantastic. They’re called Future Binds, consisting of three-quarters of his former band, Pure Scum; same lineup, except for the guitar player. The picture at right is from the first Future Binds show, which happened back in January at the Berkeley Cafe in Raleigh (yes, the same Berkeley Cafe that figures into the “Losering” preface, as the first place I interviewed Ryan Adams).

I don’t go to every Future Binds show because I don’t want to cramp anybody’s style, plus it can get weird having the music critic from the local paper showing up all the time (not to mention the fact that I’m too old and brittle to participate in the moshpit). But I’ve been to a few of their shows, and they play loud, fast and very brief punk rock; I don’t think I’ve seen a Future Binds or Pure Scum show last longer than about 10 minutes.

Since that Berkeley Cafe debut, Future Binds have gone on the road a few times, including a recent spring-break weekend jaunt up to Richmond and D.C. Aaron has learned plenty about just how little money there is to be made in music; I’ll never forget the text he sent after finding a $10 bill on the street in Asheville, which excited him because it meant he’d be returning home “with more money than I left with!” That counts as a win, for sure.

Meanwhile, Future Binds have also done their first demo recordings, which are available for free download here. The five songs clock in at less than seven minutes, so this won’t take up too much of your time. But it’s quite good, especially the last song, “One Less.” Always nice to have a hook, even in one’s hardcore.

For obvious reasons, I can’t write about Future Binds in the newspaper. But it’s mighty nice to be able to do so here.

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