I’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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There’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.
Well, 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.
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.
When 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:
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.”
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.
There’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.
So 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.
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.